Riverside meanders

 The common thread today was the floodplain of the Murray River, where the red gums towered majestically in unusual shapes, depending on the way the floodwaters had shaped them. Sunlight filtered and gleamed on the trunks.  
The township of Tocumwal had been bypassed by passenger trains but the Lions members served us a classic morning tea in the station staff room. Meanwhile, a modern diesel locomotive engine stood ready to cart containers across the river and down to Port Melbourne.   
Rainbow bee eaters fluttered high in the red gums, catching insects. Three paused briefly on a branch and I managed to zoom in on their vivid colours.

 

From a bird hide on Quinn Island, we observed a friar bird attending to its nest, suspended in the shape of a Viking ship and tastefully decorated with blue twine.

  
Further upstream, we came upon a narrow bridge with a three-tonne load limit. David assured me that the Prado weighs only two tonnes, so we were all right. We carefully eased the 4WD over the wobbly planks to the other side.

   
It was the first day of the fishing season and fishers in little tinnies were trying their luck for Murray cod.

 

Kookaburras kept an eye out for edible movement. A platypus wriggled its flat tail in the snags near the riverbank, but I wasn’t quick enough to capture them on record. All about was spring activity.

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Turtle and Koala by Murray River at Cobram

  
A short-necked turtle ignored us as we tootled by, heading upstream on the paddle boat Cobba.

Riverboats don’t need a wooden helm these days. The skipper of the Cobba uses a remote control. A diesel engine drives a generator that powers each paddle wheel separately, so each paddle can be controlled independently, at different speeds or direction.

   

The Cobba paddle boat moored at beach on River Murray, Cobram. The Murray is Australia’s longest river system, defining some of the boundary between the states of Victoria and New South Wales and finally emptying into Bass Strait in South Australia.
 
A pleasant cruise from Cobram up the Murray River took us under a historic drawbridge, past houseboats, then alongside an island sanctuary where koalas looked down at us from red gums above century old post-and-rail fences.

   
Disused drawbridge on River Murray, built in the days of paddle steamers and sailing boats.

 
Koala in red gum on Quinn Island, now a sanctuary.

   
Houseboats moored at the anabranch at the end of Quinn Island.

 
Post-and-rail fence from early twentieth Century stands above eroded bank of Murray River on Quinn Island.

Capetown photo montage

 
African penguin glistens as it emerges from the sea at Boulders, Table Mountain National Park.

  
Kirstenbosch national botanical garden lights up with spring protea  display.   
 

Street performers entertain bystanders at V&A Waterfront, Capetown.
 

To reach the Constantia wine region, take the Blue route of the City Sightseeing Tour then switch to the Purple route at this corner.

 

The cold Atlantic Ocean doesn’t discourage surfers on the beaches south of Capetown, under the watchful gaze of the Twelve Apostles (peaks).
   
The Cape of Good Hope is wild and windy!

 

Kirstenbosch gardens have developed the softly coloured Nelson Mandela Strelitzia.
  
Ostrich chicks parade along the cliff top near the Cape of Good Hope.

Saving St Helena’s unique cloud forest

  
Patsy called in this morning bearing gifts of pink sponge fingers. She had heard that Lamingtons were part of the Aussie diet and wanted us to know that St Helenians have an equivalent – different colour and shape but same principle of sponge dipped in icing rolled in grated coconut. St Helenian women are good at baking – there is no cake shop, so it’s the only way they can serve goodies for events.

Like all travellers, we had to commit some time to washing our clothes. We then visited the museum at the base of Jacob’s Ladder, where I photographed a cannon salvaged from the Dutch White Lion, a seventeenth century wreck. It had been preserved because it was covered with peppercorns, which formed part of the cargo.

  
I bought a certificate for successfully climbing Jacob’s Ladder. Providing such certificates to climbers supplements the museum’s budget. The RMS St Helena is back in Jamestown Harbour, having returned from St Helena. This means that Jamestown is abuzz with visitors, including salvors from two naval ships. We find ourselves giving advice to the newbies re Jacob’s Ladder, the necessity of buying bread early and other essentials of life in this remote outpost.

Jason (he’s the one who showed us High Peak the day before leaving the island) had asked government ranger Mike Jervois to show us St Helena’s unique cloud forest in The Peaks National Park. We drove a different way via Francis Plain, where the Royal Navy were playing cricket against St Helena on the oval at Prince Andrew’s School.

  
The cloud forest is formed because the leaves of the endemic cabbage trees take in moisture from the clouds which regularly cloak the peaks in the highest part of the island. The Environment Management Division has extended the area of forest by clearing flax and replanting indigenous flora propagated from its adjacent nursery.

   
  The plant above is black cabbage.  
She cabbage (a different species) is shown above.

 And this is jellico. The leaves are edible and taste a bit like celery.

  
The cloud forest provides habitat for a diversity of invertebrates, including this blushing snail.

We returned via St Pauls Cathedral, which is near Plantation House. In the dusk it looked quite atmospheric.

   
 
As we continued via Half Tree Hollow, the smooth Atlantic Ocean shone like silk beneath the filtered sunlight.

 A a treat we dined with Australian teachers Peter and Bill met on the ship. Five courses included island gammon followed by creme brûlée at Farm Lodge, a fine country house deep in the interior. Marijke and I posed on the chaise lounge used by Napoleon. Hosts Stephen and Maureen’s complemented the gracious setting.

  

Conserving the endemic Gumwoods on St Helena

   
 This morning I visited Jeremy Harris, director of the St Helena National Trust and gave him bundle of info from his Australian counterpart. With over 900 listed sites on the island as well as conservation work and caring for cultural artefacts such as shipwreck salvaged items and finding a fitting way to recognise the remains of hundreds of bodies of slaves who were “freed” on St Helena, only to die of the mistreatment they had received at the hands of people smugglers.

I decided to “purchase” two gumwood trees for the Millenium Forest project to restore some of this lost resource. Three hundred years ago the island had a Great Forest, which was cleared for timber. Much of the island was later invaded by various introduced plants. The ground was rock solid with very little topsoil, but with a scoop of gelatinous wetting agent at the bottom of the hole and generous amounts of “grey water”, we planted our seedlings this afternoon and agreed to come back on Thursday to help the French, who aim to plant 200 for the Napoleonic Bicentenary.

   
After this physical labour under the guidance of volunteer leader Harry, we photographed the endangered Wirebird running around the golf course before doing another Post Box walk, this time across rugged coastal slopes to Cox’s Battery.

 Just in case I felt the need for more physical exertion, I decided to climb up Jacob’s Ladder and down. The ascent took 20 minutes and the descent a bit less. The Royal Naval vessel Lancaster gleamed in the setting sun. She has just arrived for the celebrations.

We deserved the pasta dinner that Marijke created!

  

In the middle of an island….

Today we had a problem. I had arranged to meet Jason from the St Helena National Trust who had kindly agreed to show us the conservation work that he and other volunteers with the St Helena Conservation Trust were doing in the relatively unspoilt High Peak area. The problem was that we were to meet him on site in the middle of St Helena and our rental vehicle arrangements had fallen through. Philip to the rescue. We had met Philip on the RMS and he’d kindly offered to drive us if we were stuck. 

Well…we discovered just how generous this offer was when he picked us up after lunch and started driving up Ladder Hill. The two roads out of Jamestown are horrendously steep and single lane. Down gives way to up, and the speed limit is 20kph. Patsy, Philip’s Saint friend gave instructions as we took our life into our hands and gradually made our way up in low gears. Our housemate, Marijke also came along for the jaunt.

The meeting spot was high on the volcanic peak and Jason and his colleague Mike clambered and skidded down the hillside pointing out the island’s only remaining stand of mature endemic Gumwoods. The photo shows us under a Gumwood beside bamboo rat traps with a little shelter behind.

   
 
This is a close up of Gumwood.

Due to its isolation, St Helenian vegetation evolved without terrestrial mammals, but since contact with humans, settlers have introduced many threatening species.The Gumwoods are under attack from both terrestrial and tree rats, which if not eradicated can ringbark them. After Jason left us to finalise his packing, we helped Mike and Shayla by carrying the rat-traps that they laid under trees, adding a few grains of anticoagulant rat poison.

After this conservation work, we returned to Jamestown via Sidepath on the other side of the valley, drove right down to the seafront and shared a cleansing ale with Philip and Patsy at sunset. This, Patsy tells us is the traditional Saints way of returning to town.

  
Copied out of my diary for Thursday 8 October as the wifi was too expensive to post on St Helena.

Fabulous Capetown 

  
The Waterfront has a vibe by day and night, with brightly decorated sculptures of rhinos and tastefully restored remnants of days gone by.

   
   
People are posing for photos in front of Table Mountain even though it was blanketed by cloud.

But this morning we awoke to a fine day and caught the Hop-on Hop-off double decker bus and braved the hour and a half queue for the cable car, along with half the city.

   
 
Table Mountain was a riot of Spring colour, both human (see top photo) and floral.

   
   
The Red tour took us back along the coast, where more locals were at play.

   
 
We topped our sightseeing with a walk along the waterfront canal system and photographed high tea at the six-star One & Only hotel.

   
 
We felt as content and weary as this seal near the canal.