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Fish River Canyon, Namibia

I have never been the most adventurous of souls, but in May 1993 I joined my oldest brother Doug and three others, clinging to a chain with a twenty Kilogram pack on my back, and descended the almost vertical cliff down into the Fish River Canyon in Southern Namibia.

So began a five day hike in the excellent company of Wally, Robin, Dave and Doug.


We had been transported to the start of the trail in the pre-dawn darkness on the open back of a truck (as you do in Africa). Before our descent, we posed for a picture.

My friend Dave on the right, was a geologist and a keen nature lover. While we pose for the photo (taken by Doug) in the pristine morning light, Dave finishes his sandwich and then, poker-faced, says “OK lets go ” and chucks the scrunched up tin foil to the ground. The 3 men who did not know him were in momentary disbelief. Then they realised they were sharing the next 5 days with a dry comedian with a sense of the ridiculous.

Reaching the base of the cliffs at the bottom of the Canyon was a surreal experience. The Fish River Canyon (FRC) is second only to the Grand Canyon in most respects. Having suppressed my fear of heights to perform the descent, I was now in a different world. There was no way out of the Canyon until about 2 days further along the hike where there was an “escape route” up the cliffs which in itself could present some challenges. 75 kilometres to go.

My co-hikers were up to twelve years older than I was. I was possibly the least physically fit and had back pain due to a prolapsed disc. I sometimes wore a back brace or corset which probably produced more sweat and discomfort than relief. One of our team kindly tried to coach me how to propel myself forwards more efficiently. Obviously I am a bit of a plodder. That’s me in my “corset” below.


We hiked until about 3pm every day, then bathed in the Fish River, dined and slept under the stars. A tin of sardines was relished as if it were lobster. I had a bottle of Scotch which I tried to jettison early in the piece to save weight. Dave was both astonished and horrified. He immediately took charge of it.


Dave, gazelle like, covered the ground faster than any of us and often ended up 50 metres ahead, showing us the best route across the rocks. When we caught up, the kind person that he was, he would be waiting with a dishcloth over his forearm, and a shot of scotch on offer for those of us who felt inclined.

Our camping areas were occasionally visited by wildlife while we slept.


Breakfast stop for instant oatmeal.


Chillingly we saw that no further parties had been allowed into the Canyon after we had been dropped off. In time, we discovered why. The river, usually just a stream at that time of year, was much higher than normal. We had to cross the river 16 times as we ran into sheer cliffs on the outside of each river bend. Usually, this would just mean wading through a shallow creek. This year, it involved removing your clothing, putting your boots, backpack and all your possessions into a survival bag and swimming across the current. Fortunately my adventurer friend Dave had a survival bag and we had a couple of them between us. This is a pic of Doug swimming across with a survival bag. Then the bag would be returned to the other side for the next person.

Then we caught up with the large group ahead of us. They seemed to be on a corporate team building adventure. We were able to loan them our survival bags to help get their stuff to the other side. Below is one of their number sorting out one of the bags while the rest of the 15 or 16 hikers can be seen on the other side trying to dry out their clothing and possessions.


In the Canyon, there are wild horses known as the Feral Horses of Garub. There are a few theories as to their origin including connections with the German army during the war.  They have successfully bypassed their role as working or breeding horses. They are to a large extent independent of humans. We came across one of them (below).

And so onwards towards our destination Ais Ais. A wonderful German run hot Spa resort with very comfortable beds was beckoning.


Towards the end there was a sense of sadness to be finishing the trip. On the last day or two the canyon opens up with no difficult river crossings and we finish the walk in a relaxed mood.


And so finally the much anticipated ice cold Windhoek Lager and the soothing Hot Pools at the Ais Ais spa resort. Plus the most comfortable beds in memory, or so they seemed.

Acknowledgements and thanks: Wally, Robin and Doug for the photos, excellent company and organising the hike. To my brother Doug for convincing me to join him in this unique environment which he loves. To Dave who did his best to introduce my own kids to wildlife and adventure. He passed away recently and is sadly missed by me and so many others.


Photos: Contributed by all the hikers and shared after the hike.


Brisbane River Ride

Starting at the sailing club near Orleigh Park, there is a cycling and pedestrian track which hugs the south bank of the Brisbane river for a couple of kilometres as is snakes along the edges of the CBD. It is a route well used by walkers, cyclists, runners and scooters. Across the river you can see the legal precinct of the city, the municipal library, a monstrous sized entertainment complex with its own pedestrian bridge under construction , Queensland university if Technology, and the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. After cycling through the leafy South Bank you come to the maritime museum some riverside eateries, and then the rock climbing facilities at Kangaroo Cliffs. This was obviously planned to be action central as depicted by the action cut-out figures along the river banks. Here you can also book kayak outings, river trips and other activities. Soon enough you reach the Brisbane Jazz Club, a well oved local institution . Then you will see Story Bridge, a Brisbane landmark which links the Wooloongabba precinct south of the river to the central city attractions of Fortitude Valley and Chinatown. Shortly after, a good place time for a sit-down in the shade in the park, looking across towards the very old and established inner city suburb of New Farm.

The route continues further towards the sea, but for today we will turn around and head back to west end. With maybe a coffee along he way.


“Why don’t we do this more often?”


Morning surprise

6.30 am is the time I usually kick off with one of these. I am using a plunger aka French Press because the noise from the Nespresso machine would give rise to plenty of passive aggression at this early hour from down the passage. Also, the coffee beans need to be ground the night before, for the same reason.

I am using beans from Aldi. Intense and cheap.

Quite soon after, I will be in the garden. Right at the back where I have planted some vegetables. Well, tomatoes, swedes and kale. The radishes have done their dash and I will leave them for now. Not quite sure how I feel about radishes. When you pickle them, they don’t smell good!

Anyway, now for the surprise. The Orchids growing on the neighbour’s fence. Staring at me. Like a crowd of faces wearing masks from “Scream!”

Gave me a bit of a startle, that did


A spell in Tasmania

The lure of the Apple Isle

A truly magical place. In June 2020, in the thick of the COVID19 pandemic, I decided to up sticks and head over. The drive was 1700 km to board the Spirit of Tasmania ferry at Melbourne for an overnight sailing to Devonport on the Northern Tasmanian coast.

COVID19 rules meant so I had to do a 2 week quarantine spell after driving off the ferry to a Devonport hotel under police escort. After a stressy sort of year, this isolation period provided a quite a welcome chill out. I was lucky to have a great view over the harbour and watched the Spirit of Tasmania coming into port every morning. The room was comfortable and the days were punctuated by coming and going of the ferry and the delivery of quite decent food at the door. I had good television and my laptop to keep me occupied, with constantly changing views from the window.



When isolation was over, I retrieved my car from the secure area near the harbour (again under police supervision) and drove further south to Hobart. I had booked a B&B in West Hobart which turned out delightful. The hosts were fabulous people and the home had stunning views over the city and the Harbour from the steep slopes below Mt Wellington.

August brought snow up on the mountain and ice on the windscreen in the early mornings before work.

Nearby were some of the steepest streets I had ever come across. Hobart has trees planted down the middle of some streets and the homes are old and quirky.


The views were truly magical. The fog would roll in up the river some mornings, known by the locals as Bridgewater Jerry.

The city was quiet during the COVID era. Many shops and businesses were closed and people were careful despite an almost zero case count. Other than when the passengers off a cruise ship returned home, we were almost COVID free.


Seven mile beach was a beautiful place to walk on my day off after working to a busy schedule .


Driving out to Peppermint Bay was a treat, (great fish and chips) and once, in a fierce wind, I drove the hairy route to the top of Mt Wellington.

Finally, by October 2020, with no end in sight to COVID19, it was for me time to return to my brood in Brisbane. It seemed that no-one knew quite where this was going and so for me it was time to go home. Due to COVID, The ferry was not carrying passengers so I had to go home by air, and the car had to be loaded up and shipped home via road and ferry.


A sad and bittersweet farewell to Hobart and Tasmania. It was time to end my courtship with this grey and charming place.


Air display

We wandered down to the riverside at Botanical gardens in Brisbane CBD to watch the “practice session” of the F16 flyover for the Brisbane festival. I took along my usual outdated camera gear. Some people had gathered on the cliffs across the river and a few people gathered where we were, armed with coffee and macadamia cookies from somewhere in Albert street.

Experiencing these aircraft in such close proximity is a visceral experience. The sound and sight is difficult to describe but it leaves one feeling kind of hollowed out and a bit shaken.

Water condensation occurs in the trough between two crests of the shock waves which creates this cloud effect, Wikipedia tells me.

You are left with a mixture of feelings: awe that these amazing machines exist and regret that they actually need to exist in this world.


A vegetable patch

Growing things in Queensland can be a challenge. You can have too much heat, too much water, not enough water and then there is the wildlife. Possums know a good feed when they see one, and so do the rats.


This is what happened to every one of our capsicums the last time we tried growing things.


So I’ll take you to the bottom of the garden which in July was into the “too much water” category. After the rains this area was under water like a small lake, 20 cm deep. So we truncated some of the timber sleepers diagonally, to allow the water to flow through.


I repurposed the left over timber to build a double height garden bed for growing some veggies.


We had eventually managed to produce some pretty good compost in our compost tumbler. It took a while to turn it from a soggy mulch into proper compost.


First off, I planted some radish seeds.


Then from our annual neighbourhood roadside collection

I found enough “chicken wire” and other bits to build a possum proof (I hope) cage.


Take that, pesky possums !!

Radishes, Kale, Swedes and Cucumber and now tomatoes. It’s gonna be a bit crowded in there but we’ll see how it goes.


Queenslander

“Queenslander” is the term for houses built along the traditional lines typical of the old homes in the Queensland outback and on Australia’s East Coast. As a comparative newcomer, I’m no expert but these are my impressions and gleanings.

As a newcomer to Brisbane in 2009, I was shown around by an extremely helpful real estate agent. He took care to point out how, particularly in low lying properties near the Brisbane River, many homes were elevated on tall posts which kept the floor level well above ground. He pointed out that this was done to keep the floorboards above the water level when the rivers and creeks flooded. It gradually sunk in that flooding was not just a matter of getting your feet wet. More a case of water coming up to the window sills or maybe even the ceiling.


Most Australians recognise the term “Queenslander” and it is an old design that many homebuyers aspire to, embracing the fact that these homes come with various quirks and idiosyncrasies.


Space under the house: The space under the elevated house is usually put to good use. It can be used for anything from housing a full sized pool table to a random storage area containing lawnmower, wheelbarrow and miscellaneous left over gardening and building materials. Importantly , it is a place where the owners can escape the extreme heat that is Queensland between September and March. So expect a few deckchairs down there and possibly a fridge full of beer too.

Queenslander homes are typically built with hardwood framing, timber chamferboard outer walls and tin roofing. Internal wall claddings were often “VJ’s” which meant vertically jointed tongue and groove strips or panels. Otherwise internal walls may have been made out of Masonite or asbestos.


Inside the ceilings are usually high and the accommodation is often spacious. Bathrooms may sometimes be off the main living area, or even the kitchen. Old Queenslanders are not known for having very good insulation. Hot in summer and quite cold in winter.



Many homes have been “raised” to get the floorboards above the flood level. It is an interesting process to see. Jacks are used along with stacked hardwood timber sleepers until the required height is achieved. The final result is sometimes remarkable.

Queenslander homes are not likely to ever lose their charm or attraction. They are part of the Australian backdrop whether you are in the outback or in the leafy city suburbs. They are probably easier to renovate than bricks and mortar homes and they exude an aura of comfortable but modest well being.

Above all people love a home which will catch the cool evening breezes in the summer and if anything can do it, the Queenslander will with it’s spacious decks and veranda areas.


Cheesecake the easy way

An oldie. This if for those of you that have not tried this super simple lemon no bake cheesecake.

You need:

  • A full packet of tennis biscuits
  • 40 grams of butter that is very soft or melted.
  • About a litre of plain unsweetened yoghurt. Aldi sell a Greek yoghurt which does the trick, but any one would do.
  • A can of condensed milk. This is a pretty standard size here in the southern hemisphere and probably elsewhere too.
  • A lemon. A decent sized one would be good. Really only needed for the zest.

How to do it:

  • For the crust base, crush the whole packet of tennis biscuits (or similar biscuits) and combine with the soft butter to make a buttery crunchy base which you press into the bottom of a glass pie dish. Set aside.
  • Grate the lemon skin till you have a little pile of zest. A couple of desert spoons full would be good but more is better. Keep a some zest to sprinkle over the top at the end.
  • Get out a big mixing bowl and pour all the yoghurt into it
  • Pour the whole tin of condensed milk in. If you are like me you’ll scrape out every drop for the sweetness.
  • Pop the zest into the mix with the yoghurt and the condensed milk
  • Get out the hand held mixer and mix the ingredients thoroughly for a good 5 minutes, on medium speed.
  • Now pour the mixture over the biscuit base and let it settle
  • Place in the microwave and set for 30 seconds on full power. Repeat the 30 second bursts 10 times.
  • By the end of this, there will be some warming of the cheesecake, and it will have a bit of a wobble to it.
  • Place in the fridge, preferably overnight and enjoy the next day.

We made a nice raspberry coulis which went well with the cheesecake

Oxley Creek Common

Brisbane walkers and wildlife lovers are lucky to have birding and wildlife sanctuaries very close to the CBD. One of these is the Oxley Creek Common. It is found on one of Brisbane’s best known floodplains (there are many in Brisbane). This one is on Sherwood Road towards the suburb of Rocklea and perhaps a hidden gem. I understand that over 100 bird species have been identified along this walk. Talking to fellow walkers along the route, it also has quite a good snake population.

The walking path is about 3 km with lots of native vegetation. Community volunteer groups are involved in caring for the environment. Worker bees, planting more indigenous plants and clearing out the pests.

New planting by volunteers with marker flags (below)


Jabiru Swamp(named after the Black Necked Stork, occasionally seen here ). I once inadvertently captured this blurry image of one in the background without knowing.

I am no birding or wildlife expert but it sure is nice to wander around a nearby place where you can come across a bit of birdlife and enjoy nature. I am also a bit of a photography tragic and I wander around with my dated Canon SLR, a mismatched 20 year old telephoto lens and sometimes a monopod fashioned from a hiking stick. Once in a while I manage to steady myself enough to get a shot.

Spoonbills:


This is an extremely flood prone area, as borne out by the picture below showing a barrel in a tree and a window frame on a line depicting the water levels at the height of the floods in 2011.


The Oxley Creek area feels secluded but is surprisingly close to nearby industry and farmlands which unexpectedly pop into view.

Pelicans, Ibis and Cormorant gather at this pond.

On the walk home, markers on the tops of the poles indicate the height of the water when it has flooded.

A reminder of the rather mixed blessings that living in a flood plain brings


Larry’s back

Our quiet co-habitant reptile has come back into plain sight, to everyone’s delight. We call him Larry the Lounge Lizard but more accurately he is a Blue Tongue Skink.

My first sighting of Larry was five years ago, at the bottom of the garden, quietly making his way across some building rubble. Around that time , when clearing an area, I had come across the almost full skeleton of what must have been one of his ancestors. Our next encounter was when I lifted an upturned wheelbarrow and found him in a state of hibernation. To be honest, I initially thought he was a rather fat snake when I saw just he tail but on reflection and some internet searching I found that he was a Blue Tongue Skink.

Anyhow, he has put in another appearance this winter. He comes out of his “home” under a wooden garden structure for a few hours every day to enjoy the winter sun. It has been cold and he must be pretty desperate to warm up.

Yesterday he ventured over to an area we have mulched where he is quite well camouflaged. I am fearful that he may be bothered by the Magpies and Butcherbirds and I think he is equally cautious about this.

Here’s hoping we will see more of him.