Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 20: North Island, New Zealand: The Magic of Millions of Glowworms in the Caves at Waitomo

This is the twentieth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the fourth of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about one of New Zealand’s most iconic attractions: the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata where all who visit may believe themselves in the heart of The Shire, that pastoral idyll which JRR Tolkien‘s hobbits call home. For all The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings enthusiasts this was indeed a heartwarming experience, which exceeded all our expectations.

Our next experience was to be another one full of magic: a visit to the Glowworm Caves at Waitomo.

We drove south west from Matamata through the green and picturesque rural landscape so characteristic of the North Island, which reminds me of The Shire. Our destination was the Top 10 Holiday Park in Waitomo Caves Village.

The Top 10 Holiday Park at Waitomo Caves Village

Cabin in the Top 10 Holiday Park at Waitomo Caves Village

Across the road was the visitor information centre, where we booked our tour of the caves.

Visitor information centre at the Waitomo Caves Village

Spellbound Cave Tours departure point

We found our Maori tour leader, Haihei, gregarious, chatty and full of encyclopaedic knowledge about the history, geography and biology of the region, its wildlife, landscape, caves and glowworms. Our group of twelve included visitors from Switzerland, the USA, the UK and Australia.

Map of the Waitomo Caves Region

The landscape of the region is striking: both pretty and rugged, with many hills, steep valleys and rocky outcrops; we were told several sink-holes exist above the caves, and during the course of time hapless animals such as goats and cattle have fallen down these sink-holes into the caves, there to perish.

Here I felt, as before in the North Island, that the landscape appeared ‘designed’ by a landscape gardener; it was so appealing to the eye, moving in ripples and furrows and bumps, hills and valleys. Perhaps this is the consequence of volcanic activity in the past.

We drove for twenty minutes through the Waitomo Caves Region to reach the first cave we were to visit, where we would see stalagmites and stalactites.

walking through Cave 1 at the Waitomo Caves

Once in the cave, our knowledgable guide explained to us that we would find the bones of animals which had fallen through the sink-holes into the cave: and some in the long distant past. We occasionally saw the remains of a cow or a goat which had met this fate; and in one area we saw the ancient bones of a large bird thousands of years old.

the bones of a creature which had perished after falling through a sink-hole into the cave
inside Cave 1 on the Waitomo Caves tour – photo credit Jamie Robinson

Following our visit to Cave 1 we had a tea break in a little hut among the hills, and there the ‘stranger-silence’ was broken and we all started chatting and finding out where each other had come from.

on the way to our tea break after visiting Cave 1

After that we walked down to the river where members of our group were fascinated to see large black eels in the water.

Looking for black eels in the river by the Waitomo Caves

Then we donned white helmets with lights before entering Cave 2 to see the glowworms.

donning our caving helmets before entering the glowworm cave.
entrance to the Waitomo glowworm cave

As we walked through the cave, we learned that glowworms emit their pinpoints of light from the bio-phosphorescence on the tips of their tails: they send down fine silky threads to catch flies and other insects which breed prolifically in the water and rise up to the pinpoints of light to be trapped and eaten.

After we had walked for some distance through the cave we found a boat landing stage; we all boarded the boat which would glide along the underground river in the direction of the waterfall, and where we would see the millions of glowworms.

This was indeed a magical experience; as we glided along in the silence, the water reflected countless pinpoints of light in the roof above us. They shone brighter when our tour leader created a loud booming noise (which he only did briefly, lest you think he was cruel to the glowworms!)

It was amazing to reflect upon the fact that this wondrous fairy-like display was really all for the worms to catch their food. In fact, the caves are a giant 24-7 running buffet for glowworms.

As we glided along we heard the thunder of the waterfall ahead.

Not stars in the sky, but glowworms in the Waitomo Caves

Finally we left the caves, awed by our experience here, and the sense of having briefly entered another world.

leaving the caves

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 15: Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

This is the fifteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre in New South Wales with panoramic views over the pristine rainforest, a glimpse into Gondwana, the remnant of the vast continent which existed before Australia broke off from Antarctica and began to drift north.

City Lookout, Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

After our tour of the New South Wales coastal region, we returned once again to Queensland, and its capital city of Brisbane. Even here, in the midst of a major metropolis, we may find many ways to respect and honour, co-operate and harmonise with the natural world.

Banyan Fig Tree in Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

Today I share some images of the wonderful Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. You may find these gardens inside a big loop of the Brisbane River, opposite the Kangaroo Point cliffs on the south bank.

As the ancient rainforests are our magnificent heritage on this planet, I have been particularly struck by the imagination, expertise, dedication and hard work of landscape architects who within the city environment have recreated lush rainforest areas.

In the gardens you will find the Gardens Club Cafe, which is within the restored Curators Cottage. I can recommend this lovely cafe, situated close to the Rainforest Area, and a perfect place for lunch as you take a break from your stroll around the botanic gardens.

Lunch in the Gardens Club Cafe, Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

You may also walk along the riverside path and enjoy the views of the Brisbane river and the many boats, beyond which rises the city skyline of the south bank.

riverside view from the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

I also love walking through mangrove swamps.

a walk beside the mangroves at the edge of the river, Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

I was fascinated, too, to learn from an interpretative sign along the walk how vital mangroves are to our ecology: and in particular, their potential to offset some of the negative effects of climate change.

Interpretative sign about ecological significance of mangroves, mangrove river walk, Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

In particular, mangroves are an important wetland type, and perform many functions such as:

protecting – acting as a buffer zone between land and tidal waters, storm surges and wind;

providing – habitat and nursery areas for fish, crabs, prawns and birds;

purification of water – a settling area for nutrients and sediments;

Mangroves are now better recognised for their economic value and potential for climate change mitigation through coastal protection and carbon sequestration and offsetting.

storing – mangrove ecosystems are among the most efficient carbon sinks on earth, storing carbon at a rate six times more than that of an undisturbed Amazon forest.

walking beside the mangroves along the riverside path in Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

I find these facts amazing, moving and inspiring. I love walking among mangrove swamps because of their lush, cool, shady, mysterious atmosphere; but now I know of their immense value for the survival of our planet, I am even more in awe of them.

So when we visit places of renewal and restoration in the natural world, we find that our own relationship with “the green and the blue” encapsulates so much more than simply “a good feeling.”

This heals and uplifts us on an emotional and psychological level; and then we find that the discoveries of science accord with our own inner experience.

Our planet, our mental health, our survival as a species depends upon so many delicate, interconnecting threads: and among these, the precious resources of the natural world: mangroves and rainforests and so much more.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 14: Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, New South Wales: a Glimpse into Ancient Gondwana

This is the fourteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about the charming small New South Wales town of Bellingen with its colonial-style buildings, its church with beautiful stained glass windows and its precious colony of grey-headed flying foxes on Bellingen Island.

A climb into the mounttins north of Bellingen brings us to Dorrigo Rainforest Centre. Here visitors may take the Skywalk, with panoramic views over the pristine rainforest. This rainforest gives us a glimpse into Gondwana, the remnant of the vast continent which existed before Australia broke off from Antarctica and began to drift north.

Gondwana Rainforest
Gondwana Rainforest

Dorrigo was one of the few national parks open in the region at the time of our visit, because of the tragic bushfires sweeping Australia. The sky was blue and clear as we drove higher, but later became misty and the atmosphere filled with the smell of smoke, carried by the wind from the epicentres of the bushfires. As I write, bushfires are still burning in areas of Australia; and yet we may see signs of hope, in the power of nature to fight back against our interference in the world’s ecosystems.

In the Visitor Centre, regularly updated information was on display about the national park closures in the area, reminding us all of the vulnerability of this, one of our planet’s greatest treasures: the rainforest.

When we took the Skywalk and the Lyrebird walk through the rainforest, interpretative signs provided all sorts of fascinating information about the history, geography, biology and anthropology associated with the rainforest. We heard the high fluting call of the lyrebirds as we walked.

We learned that local Gumbaynggirr aboriginal people describe the rainforest canopy as “a protective blanket over the land.

Farmers clearing land for agriculture have called it “the impenetrable scrub.

Citysiders wanting to escape from the big smoke name it “the ultimate green.”

Conservationists agree the rainforest is “our magnificent heritage.”

Later after lunch in the Visitor Centre café we saw a film which told us that only 20% of the world’s rainforests survive; in regard to climate change we may already be past the tipping point; the rainforests are crucial to the health and quality of life on this planet.

Rainforests are our most precious natural resource.

Although some experts believe we may be ‘past the tipping point’ we must never give up doing all we can to save them.

View of the rainforest from the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre Skywalk, New South Wales
Interpretative sign at Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, New South Wales, showing a map of the Dorrigo National Park and surrounding area
Interpretive sign on the Lyrebird Walk, Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, New South Wales, “Not all Rainforests Are the Same”
A glimpse of ancient Gondwana

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 13: Bellingen, Charming Small Town in New South Wales

This is the thirteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I shared some stories about the history of Hat Head National Park and Smoky Cape Lighthouse on the New South Wales coast.

Making our way north from Smoky Cape back to Urunga, and moving inland we find the charming small town of Bellingen.

view from Bellingen main street towards the Bellinger river

Beloved of ‘alternative lifestylers’ as are several towns in New South Wales, this little settlement is full of character and colonial-style buildings.

Sited on the River Bellinger, Bellingen Island is home to a colony of grey-headed flying foxes, and it is a critical habitat for this vulnerable species, as you will see from this picture:

Interpretative sign about Flying Foxes at Bellingen in New South Wales

We strolled up the main street of the town:

Main street, Bellingen, New South Wales

Then we arrived at the local Anglican Church, of St Margaret’s, built in the 1930s.

Inside the church, we met a warm and friendly priest who had originally come from Malta, and enjoyed our chat with him. Whilst in the church we admired some of the striking stained glass windows. My favourites were of St Mary, Mother of the Lord; St Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary; St Cecilia, Patron Saint of Music; and St Margaret of Scotland.

St Margaret’s Anglican Church, Bellingen, New South Wales
Interior, St Margaret’s Church, Bellingen, New South Wales

With thanks to the Bellingen Shire Council for their information about the colony of flying foxes on Bellingen Island.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available to pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 7: Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast, Queensland

This is the seventh in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In our November 2019 visit, we found Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary just a short walk around the corner from our accommodation at Currumbin Sandcastles, Gold Coast. The sanctuary is popular with families and has many attractions for young children including a ‘Meet the Gruffalo‘ area – though we didn’t include that on our day’s itinerary.

There is plenty to fascinate visitors of all ages with a wide variety of birds and animals to delight and amaze, along with an Aboriginal Culture Show. The sanctuary also enchants visitors with its magnificent rainforest landscaping, boardwalks and waterfalls.

The sanctuary is famous for its lorikeet feeding opportunity, and on my past visits here I’ve experienced thousands of these exquisite birds swooping down to feed from the dishes of honey held by visitors. Sadly, on this occasion, we noticed a much smaller number of lorikeets; whatever the reasons for this, we felt sad to see the reduction in numbers.

Like Australia Zoo, the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary offers many opportunities to learn about wildlife, and on this visit we were captivated by the Crocodile Behaviours Show. Here we learned intriguing things about the large crocodile in the enclosure. He had been relocated from his previous environment, where he had proved a danger to local livestock and had finally sealed his fate (not such a bad one) by preying on an expensive prize bull.

We learned that crocodiles have inbuilt ear-plugs and nose-clippers, and can stay immersed and invisible in muddy water using their nostrils as snorkels. So they can drown their vicitims whilst avoiding drowning themselves in the process. Another fascinating fact about crocodiles is that they can live for up to a year without eating anything.

However, that day, the crocodile was clearly in the mood for a snack because the keeper fed him on a chicken dangled from a line on a rod; and he was happy to eat it.

If you visit the Gold Coast, do include a visit to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on your itinerary.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available for pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 6: Australia Zoo

This is the sixth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

Australia Zoo is one of the jewels of Queensland; I’ve visited it a number of times during different periods of time spent in Australia. Not only is it a shining example of animal conservation, and of education about respect for and protection of wildlife, but it is also a superlative tourist attraction.

I believe that one of its strongest attributes is the personal nature of the organisation, owned by the Irwin family. Some may even view the prominence of the family members as a little like a ‘personality cult’. And yet the emphasis upon Steve Irwin and the work he did, and now upon his window Terri, daughter Bindi, her fiance Chandler, and her photographer brother Robert, only serves to enhance the profile of the zoo and the profoundly important work it does.

When you visit Australia Zoo, not only are you guaranteed a good day out, and the chance to see and admire a magnificent collection of wild animals, but you also learn about how to interact with wild creatures in a more respectful, understanding and compassionate way. The famous Crocoseum performance always includes a teaching element, especially about how to deal with snake encounters.

This is of course more likely to be relevant for Australians than for those living in the UK. And yet, it becomes relevant the more you travel around the world. Interestingly enough, the correct way for us to behave towards snakes is often counter-intuitive. If you meet a snake across your path, stop, turn, and walk very slowly and calmly away. If you get a snakebite, remain still, (assuming you have someone who can call for help). The more you move around and panic, the more easily the poison can move through your system.

If you visit Queensland, do include a visit to Australia Zoo on your itinerary.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available for pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 5: Brisbane, Queensland: Cloverlea Cottage, Mount Glorious

This is the fifth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019. From now on I’ll be posting twice weekly on this blog: on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

The restaurant at Cloverlea Cottage may be found on Mount Glorious, a short drive up into the mountains behind Brisbane’s western suburbs. It’s very close to Westridge Outlook, the subject of my blog post published on 31st December 2019.

Cloverlea Cottage is not only a delightful restaurant with sublime views across the mountains, but also a meeting point for a variety of native birds, some of whom are keen to perform reception duties, as was the case with this king parrot.

King parrot on reception duty at Cloverlea Cottage restaurant, Mount Glorious, Brisbane, Queensland

As you can see from the photos, the mountain air was cool when we visited – and blankets were provided, to drape over our shoulders during our time there. If you visit Brisbane, do include a trip up Mount Glorious; and make sure you drop into Cloverlea Cottage for lunch, where you may relax over a delicious meal, and soak in the panoramic views whilst meeting the king parrots, magpies, and kookaburras.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available for pre-order now from Amazon.

The Battle Between Spring and Winter in England March 2018

In England we do love talking about the weather and so  during the last few weeks we have had several heavensent opportunities to express a wide range of thoughts and feelings about it.

But beauty is everywhere, and there are few things more poignant and touching than signs of fresh new life juxtaposed with a blanket of virgin snow.

In the last few weeks we have enjoyed bright sunshine and beautiful fresh blossom, interspersed with treacherous ice and white-outs!

So here I share some images of these contrasts in the natural world.

 

What does Eadfrith, artist-scribe of the Lindisfarne Gospels, have to teach creative writers and artists today?

Nothing much, you may think – because Eadfrith was a seventh century monk in a monastery on an island, and we live in the fast, materialistic, time-pressured world of 2016.

20160822_205715
sunset on Lindisfarne

I’ve just spent three days on Lindisfarne (otherwise known as Holy Island), just off the Northumberland coast, where Eadfrith sat in the monastery scriptorium and scribed and decorated the Lindisfarne Gospels every day for two years between  696 and 698 AD, in order to commemorate the elevation of St Cuthbert’s relics. 

So why is it that the book he created is so revered and has such a hold on our imagination now? – apart  from its age and the wonderful fact of its survival?

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Display in the Lindisfarne Heritage Centre, Holy Island

I believe it’s because of the dedication, the patient concentration and the painstaking artistry that breathes out from the pages, and because of what inspired its creation: love and devotion.

Eadfrith created it “for the glory of God and St Cuthbert”.

St Cuthbert himself inspired so much reverence because he was a holy man, at one time bishop of Lindisfarne, who died as a hermit in 687 on Inner Farne (which I recently visited), and around whose body many miracles occurred.

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Sculpture in St Mary’s Church Holy Island, showing the monks who carried Cuthbert’s body to escape from Viking raiders

The astonishing story of his body, which failed to decay for many years, records how he was carried for several decades by faithful monks around Northumberland, to escape Viking attack, before finally it was laid to rest in the spot over which Durham Cathedral was built. You can visit St Cuthbert’s Tomb in Durham Cathedral, a place which has a strong spiritual resonance and atmosphere of holiness.

The glorious book which is the Lindisfarne Gospels is a testament to patience, concentration, love and devotion. preface to St Mark's Gospel, Lindisfarne Gospels

For us now, to gaze at, or to work with, the patterns Eadfrith painted is a pathway to peace and joy – hence the popularity of Celtic colouring-in books for adults, partly because the act of colouring-in forces you to pay close attention and eliminate all distractions. Celtic designs based on the Lindisfarne gospels pop up everywhere20160829_112732 – here’s an image of my lovely metal bookmark displaying Eadfrith’s designs – notice particularly his ornamental birds (Lindisfarne has long been a paradise for birds, so Eadfrith had plenty of them to model his designs on).

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Detail from the Lindisfarne Gospels, in St Mary’s Church Holy Island

In creating the ornamental designs, Eadfrith needed to pay minute attention to the geometrical foundations and symmetry of the overall design – very little was left to chance or the “inspiration of the moment.”

The book he created is now revered not just for the beauty and skill within its pages, I believe, but because that beauty is a physical representation on this earth of a spiritual reality – goodness, peace, patience, holiness and love.

Eadfrith had to source, prepare, or make from scratch everything he used – the parchments of vellum; the pen from a thick reed or quill feather; the ink, from animal, vegetable and mineral raw materials, ground to a fine powder and then mixed with egg white. I have personal experience of something of this latter part of the process at least, because I did an icon-painting course a few years ago and we mixed artists’ pigment with egg-white to paint our own icons on pieces of wood we had ourselves prepared – see the photo here of my own icon of the Archangel Gabriel.20160829_123557

After Eadfrith had created the Gospels, he left the scriptorium and as far as we know he never painted or wrote anything else – not that I’m suggesting this is a model for creative writers of today!

I find his story awe-inspiring and uplifting because it gives me an image of a patient, devoted person sitting alone in a quiet place concentrating absolutely on a work of art, to the exclusion of all else. It makes me think of many others who have created great works in similar circumstances – those who have been perhaps in prison, like St Paul, or Cervantes who wrote Don Quixote, two amongst several examples: or those who have deliberately chosen to go apart into an isolated place like Eadfrith in the scriptorium, free of distractions.

To be free of distractions and able to fully concentrate and devote yourself to the task in hand is such a luxury now, such an ideal for writers and artists to aspire to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Australia: Binna Burra, Rainforest Resort in the Gold Coast Hinterland

As my daughter Abigail and her friend Gaby have just flown out to Australia to stay with my sister in Brisbane for the next few weeks, I’m thinking of Australia – and of the times I’ve visited that continent, and of the four and a half years I spent living and working there.Binna Burra 2007

 

I’ve written before about the Gold Coast Hinterland, Queensland in my Places of Inspiration.  series, along with several other locations around the world.  What all these places have in common is spirit of place.

I found this spirit in India, at Uluru in Australia, in London, in the White Garden at Sissinghurst in Kent, and in Sydney Opera House. Today let me show you another part of Australia – Binna Burra.

On the border of Queensland and New South Wales, behind the Gold Coast, you may find a beautiful mountain range. This is known as the Gold Coast hinterland. The road winds up via many mountain passes from Southport, just north of Surfers Paradise. You travel via the town of Canungra where you may choose between two roads, going to two mountain resorts: Binna Burra and O’Reilly’s. I have spent time at both these resorts but here I’m concentrating on Binna Burra.

Binna Burra is special to me. Why is this so?

Binna Burra holds many memories; and it is a very important stage on my spiritual journey. I’ve been up there on my own, and in company with others, and have always found it a very powerful place, full of spiritual resonance. I remember standing there listening to the birdsong echoing across the mountain range, their peaks and valleys hazy with eucalyptus vapour; of waking up early in the morning, stepping outside my cabin, and tasting the mountain air as if it was fine wine.

I remember going on the Coomera Circuit, the longest of the many rainforest walks visitor may take from the lodge, which passes the beautiful Coomera Falls. there was the time we went out on a night time walk to see the luminous fungi, and another time we went to see the glow-worms.

I remember when I went on my own to Binna Burra, and found a table of other single visitors, who were so welcoming and fun and friendly. Then there was the occasion when I visited Australia with my friend Alison and my daughter Abigail and we met up with friends who lived on the Gold Coast, Paul and Mark, and we all went up to Binna Burra and had lunch in the clifftop dining room with its panoramic views of the mountain scenery.

And then of course there’s the wildlife; the possums and rainbow lorikeets and the red-eyed tree-frogs. And of course the snakes that may be lying across your path; and are a good reason to take a torch with you when you walk by night.

Do you have a special place that means a lot to you, a place of inspiration, that you believe you will constantly revisit, or at least remember for the rest of your life? Please share in the comments below!