Australia part 1: Falls festival and rock climbing in Tasmania

My adventure in Australia had started: just before Christmas I landed in Sydney! In the process flying to Australia something very strange (among other every-day life strange things of course;)) had happened: I had lost an entire day in my existence! It didn’t make me feel much different and it didn’t hurt at all 😉 Where did my day go? It just vanished in the time-space fabric of our universe? Did I enter another realm? Was I sucked into a wormhole? I knew the only way to get a refund on my loss of existence was to fly back around the world only to find myself set foot on ground a day before I left.. Pretty mind-blowing time travelling stuff, isn’t it?

Chris had arranged his friend Dave to pick me up from the airport 11pm which was great since the airline had lost my bicycle and carrying this big pack of panniers on the public transport would have been a real hassle (the bike was delivered to the house later.., saved me from dragging it and saved me the quite strict examinations at the airport where all the mud had to be washed off, which I didn’t do in Istanbul, so it was perfect!). I was very happy to see both Chris and Dave again after we parted in Istanbul about two months earlier. Dave drove us to his sister’s unbelievable house up at the northern beaches of Sydney, famous for its incredible beauty located between perfect beaches and lush national parks. Chris and I would be volunteering at what JJ calls her permaculture sanctuary on a millions of dollars worth piece of property right at the beach.
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It is interesting to experience the other side of the coin now, whereas my last volunteering position in Bulgaria was at the most poor and remote place you can imagine. This is the exact opposite! How do these people handle permaculture principle, sustainability, closed-loop systems and ethics with so much money? I was curious to find out..

I fell asleep to the sound of the waves and woke up every morning watching the sunrise from my bed.
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Enjoying to be back in summer, swimming in the see and playing my guitar at the beach I felt at peace.

I was excited to look at the stars at night and discover all the new constellations. Whereas I got to learn the night’s sky in the northern hemisphere I would have to start all over and learn (and invent! My imagination is my best friend :)) the constellations here. The Southern Cross was easy to find and I was surprised to see Orion, which apparently is to be seen from both atmospheres! I was lucky that during my stay this incredible phenomenon occurred where five of the planets lined up with the moon to be seen with your bare eyes and I spent some nights admiring them ❤

JJ and Richard (the owners) surrounded the house by native bushland (they are also involved in bush regeneration of the area), organic vegetable gardens,
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11 chickens
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and a couple different beehives: a Langstroth (standard), a Warre (topbar), a flowhive (incredible quite new inventions, curious to see how it works) and two hives for the native bees.
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They also grow fish in their aquaponics system.
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It was the first time I saw such a system in real life and I think it is brilliant! Don’t worry, I’ll explain: aquaponics refers to the marriage of aquaculture (growing aquatic animals like fish) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water), which results in a closed-loop system where the by-products of the aquaculture system (toxic to the fish) are broken down by nitrification bacteria into nitrates and nitrites which are great nutrients to the plants, after which the water is recirculated back into the aquaculture system, everybody happy 😀 Besides all this fantastic farming I was going to experience and learn, we were living right at the beach and the garage was full of bodyboards, surfboards and wetsuits, free for us to use, yeay!
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I had almost no experience with swimming in the waves, with sometimes strong currents and rips so it took me some time to get used to the ocean, and I must say it still scares me a bit. Every year dozens of people drown in Australian waters and I sure don’t want to be one of them! But the surfing looks fantastic and I am eager to start learning 🙂 Chris is a great surfer and took me out. We didn’t have much time though, since we flew to Melbourne just two days after I arrived.

Falls Festival!!

In Melbourne we hitchhiked to the city and took the train to Russell, Chris’ friend. Russell had set us up with a job at the famous Falls Festival: a multi-day music festival annually held on and around New Years at three locations simultaneously: Lorne, Tasmania and Byron Bay). Some of the main acts being: Bloc Party, Foals, Gary Clark Jr, Leon Bridges, Django Django (love m!), Paul Kelly (famous Australian), RUFUS and Hilltoop Hoods. We would be working with Russell on his Green Team. Sounds good, doesn’t it, Green Team? Good for the environment, all about recycling, but in the end of course meant handling garbage :p The festival was about to get cancelled though, because of ongoing heavy bushfires, which are unfortunately frequent events and impact extensive areas. Victoria (where Melbourne and Lorne are situated) has seen the majority of the deadliest and largest bushfires in Australia. Global warming is increasing the frequency and severity of bushfires and will lead to increased days of extreme fire danger. Lorne was evacuated just shortly before the festival. We were a bit worried hopping on the plane, but decided to just go and enjoy our days with Russell exploring the area. We met his wonderful family who made us really feel at home from the minute we stood foot in the house. We explored some of the beautiful surroundings and some of his parents wonderful cooking (and beers) 🙂

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In the meantime some kind of miracle happened, as the festival crew had made an herculean effort and was able to move the entire festival with 16000 festival goers (or ‘punters’ as they call them) to another venue at someone’s vineyard estate. It was insane! Good for us though, cause it meant there was a lot of work to be done and we were able to work very long days (up to 16 hours a day) on the six days we were there. Three of them were public holidays which meant double or 2,5x pay and we made a shitload of money in these days. Australia pays very very well and in these six days I made the same money as I would make back home in a month on a 36 hour workweek as an investigative psychologist with the National Police. The first days I was like ‘why do I have two master degrees and I am handling garbage now’? But that soon changed to: Yiihaaaaaa let’s go guys, this is fun! The dirtier the better 😀 We had a great team with a great hard-working mindset, supporting each other in the extreme (hot) conditions. We were working hard, singing, dancing, making policemen limbo under the trucks, pulling drunk punters out of their tents during the heath, witnessing a toe licking contest, and gently improving the looks of the car we were using :p

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falls 1It was a very fun experience and I would do it again if my visa would let me 😉 From left to right: Tom, Chris, Rachel, Chris, Jonno, Ella, Dan aka Bushy and Russell, you guys are awesome!

I didn’t get to see too many bands, since I chose to work instead, but Gary Clark Jr was great, some unknown singer/songwriters lighted my afternoons and Foals was a good introduction into the New Year!

 

I was overwhelmed with the incredible consumption and accompanying wasting that was going on. People are pigs, really. The sight of the festival ground after it finished.. Made me sick.

I found a lot of drinking tickets in the arena during the morning sweeps which I was able to sell later for an additional 100 bucks, I found some drugs here and there and some money people lost being drunk and dancing to the beats. When going through the campsites, especially after everybody left I just couldn’t believe my eyes what people had left behind. All this brand new camping equipment, food and drinks, cloths, there was so much stuff that was perfectly fine but abandoned. I was fantasizing about renting a truck, load it all in and giving it away. In stead, everything was collected and destroyed, what a shame.. On my bicycle I couldn’t take much, so I just got myself the essentials: a beany, sweater, jacket (I overconfidently packed no warm clothes at all when I flew to Australian summer :p), some tent pegs and food. The end of our festival experience was celebrated with a great staff party where I slow-danced with my newfound inflatable friend the killer wale.

 

We made some great friends, which I will visit again during my travelling through Australia, but it was time to get moving, since we were meeting Chris’ friend Mark in Tasmania for a 10-day rockclimbing trip around the island, yeay!

 

Tasmania

Wow, Tasmania is B.E.A.U.tiful!! What an incredible place to go to. It is the most amazing natural state of Australia, located 240 km south of mainland Australia, with almost 45% in reserves, national parks, and World Heritage Sites. Untamable wilderness all around! Let’s keep it that way J The state was the founding place of the first environmental party in the world and I see conservation and regeneration projects everywhere. It is also home to a sad sad invation story where the Aboriginal population was estimated to have been between 3000 and 7000 at the time of colonisation, but was almost wiped out within 30 years due to wars and imported diseases. Some call it a British genocide.. Im reading more and more about Aboriginal heritage and their ways of living lately. Their way was beautiful. They managed to populate Australia for thousands of years without leaving a trace, living in harmony with mother nature. We came, we saw and we destroyed. I’ll try to find ways to support them on my travels.. if possible.. (good reads: ‘the voices of the first day’ and ‘mutant message down under’)

 

Tasmania is named after the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman (I feel so sorry for my heritage..) and often referred to as Taz or Tassie and Australia as Oz, and I soon discovered that the Ozzies just love to abbreviate everything J: sunglasses are sunnies, arvo is afternoon, hollies are holidays, mossie is mosquito, and rego stands for registration. It took me some time to get used to that and understand what they were talking about :p Then there is this crazy thing where everybody is your ‘mate’ and whether you are interested in the answer or not (mostly not) you ask everybody how they’re going. I just can’t do it.. The sentences most frequently used are ‘No worries’ and ‘Too easy’. This country is just very informal, everybody is supernice and your friend from the start… Which is great! I see two kinds of Ozzies: the surfdudes and the cowboys (they all dress the same, whatever their age) and they are so relaxed that I get to walk around barefooted everywhere. Even in supermarkets and bank offices nobody asks me to wear shoes. So I don’t. Yeay! The culture is obviously pretty similar to our western culture and in that sense not very excited. Easy though, too easy 😉

 

Anyways, so after the festival we flew to Tasmania and met Chris’ friend Mark and his friend Matt at the airport. Mark had driven his car down from the Snowy mountains (ok, not all the way, he took the ferry to cross the water), which was very convenient since on this vast open and fairly unpopulated island (with just over 500.000 inhabitants, of whom half live in and around Hobart, the capital) public transport would have been a real hassle, especially to get to the more beautiful climbing areas. So thanks Mark! Our first destination: the beautiful Freyinet national park! Located on the east coast it is home to dramatic granite peaks, gum tree forests (lots of Eucalyptus in Australia), secluded bays, white sandy beaches and abundant birdlife.
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The kookaburra is hilarious, since it’s call sounds like a high hysterical laughter, which is very contagious. I find myself starting to laugh every time I hear it 😀
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The cockatoo, on the other hand, is such a beautiful bird that it is hard to believe it makes such a horrible obnoxious sound..
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I am very pleased with Australia offering a beautiful variety of birds (I am so fascinated with them! My little eagle is still hanging from my handlebar, travelling with me wherever I fly.. J), for example it has the widest variety of parrots in the world, with over 55 different species. As numerous as they are colourful, including a spectacular variety of cockatoos, rosellas, lorikeets, cockatiels, parakeets and budgerigars. They are commonly seen in rural and urban areas, so everywhere: Lucky me! I tried to snapshot a couple different crazy birds:
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There are beautiful parrots, of which the rainbow lorikeet with its blue head and orange chest is a much seen favourite. Then there is the crimson rosella: mainly green and yellow with blue in the wings and tail and a red head, and the galah which is pink and gray. You’ll see lots of black swans around, very special to me. Then there is the wagtail named so because of its distinctive dance *shake your booty!* and the bower bird is famous for making some sort of dancing area out of blue things to attract the females (in case you wonder where your blue clothpegs have gone..). The whipbird is easy to recognize by its fantastic whipsound (still trying to imitate it, as is the Lyrebird which imitates all other birds, scientists think maybe even birds that don’t exist anymore, whoohoo!).  Magpies are real bastards, attacking cyclists for example (people ride around with sharp things sticking out of their helmets). The superb fairywren is not only amazing because of its name, but the males are blue in summer to attract the females. They turn the same brown colour in winter though :p. The common Myna is beautiful and everywhere but apparently not-native (from India) and quite invasive, competing too succesfully with other birds for food and nesting sites;  its relative the noisy miner is even worse with a real gang mentality, driving off most other species. Another unpopular one is the white ibis. I think they’re pretty cool with their long black beaks, but people find them nasty, they’re real scavangers. I saw lots of pelicans along the coasts as well as oystercatchers with their black body and bright orange feet, beak and eyes.

Spirit animals

On the way to Freyinet Mark suddenly pulled over as he spotted a garage sale alongside the road (apparently very common throughout Australia). I jumped out as well to have a look and ended up having the guys wait for me for quite some time. I found two books about spirit animals and how to find yours and started talking to the lady about her books. Apparently everybody can adopt or has one or more spirit animals that can guide you through life. Many off you will recognize a strong connection or abomination to some sort of animal and studying the characteristics and ways of these animals will give you insights to your emotions and might help you through life. Like the butterfly who helped me start this journey, ready for metamorphosis, while being very fragile and dependent on the wind, helping me to recognize change, welcoming it more and fearing it less, while trusting in its guidance. And indeed, I had this experience of the butterfly landing on my handlebar when I was desperate and starting to flap it’s wings without flying away when I asked it for help. Interesting thought, isn’t it? (I know, some of you may think I’m going delusional now, but I like to explore these ideas, why not). The lady got more and more excited telling me about this and ended up selling me both books, handing me the address of her spiritual guide and went in the house to find her goatskin drums, made by the husband of this shaman.

 

I read the books and obviously found out that the eagle is my spiritual animal (always knew that), as a symbol of inner strength but also of tranquillity and the ability to rise above. I am attracted by it. They say when the eagle comes flying in your heart, ‘it is time to reconnect with your spiritual path. It’s time to listen too and heed your spiritual directives as well as your heart and to allow them both to lead the way for you at this time. When you can find yourself in this state of flight then all the doors will open and the directions you need to follow will be made clear. Like a beacon – your heart will follow the light’ The eagle is reminding me to stay grounded, even when I am soaring high. A beautiful guide on my journey.

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And of course, since my last name is Valkenier, meaning Falconer, I must research my connection to the Falcon. I feel very close to the falcon, was knighted a falconer as a little kid, together with my twin brother at Muiderslot, this beautiful castle in Holland, and the falcons characteristics are very inspiring to me. The falcon is known to be vigilant, has a sharp mind and is very agile; it knows how to mentally work out problems and is often three steps ahead of others. Having the falcon as my guide through life, it helps me to believe in my ability to soar high and see things with greater vision to be able to take advantage of opportunities that may arise around every corner, while my success may depend on quick reactions. At the same time it teaches me to have the patience to wait in order to get the most out of any opportunity that comes my way (sometimes I want things too much or too soon, patience, my dear..). The falcon helps me to stay focused, wait for the best time to strike and more importantly be grateful for all that is coming my way. This gratefulness is very important to me! I wrote it before: since I am not pursuing anything and I don’t ‘want’ anything (I don’t need ‘the secret’ to have the universe help to get what I want), I am free to be grateful for everything that comes my way! It reminds me of this beautiful poem by this great writer Herman Hesse:

‘If luck you chase, you have not grown
enough for happiness to stay,
not even if you get your way.

If, what you lost, you still bemoan,
and grasp at tasks, and dash and dart,
you have not known true peace of heart.

But if no wishes are your own,
and you don’t try to win the game,
and Lady Luck is just a name,

then tides of life won’t reach your breast
and all your strife
and all your soul will rest’

Last but not least, the falcon reminds me of the fact that I am independent and need to have alone time in order to be happy (I forget that sometimes). I must be cautious to keep the balance between giving all my energy to others (as prescribed by the Celestine prophecies) and finding peace to recharge myself.

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Next to the eagle and the falcon I adopted the hummingbird as my guide as well. It is less serious and more joyful as a symbol of love, happiness and endurance. I want to be like that! It’s why I love this movie Big Fish, Mario showed me in Italy. Full of imagination, which makes life so beautiful 😀 And why I am so much in love with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and pleasure. She is identified with planet Venus which is usually the first star you see in the night sky and which is the only planet in our solar system orbiting the other way around, sing with me: ‘isn’t she lovely?’ 😀

So the hummingbird… as a messenger of hope and jubilation, it is teaching me to not take life too seriously, for it is meant to be enjoyed! It teaches me that seemingly small ideas and concepts often possess a lot of potential and power and that my flighty thoughts and frivolous ideas have merit and should be explored. It teaches me that I should pursue my dreams and make them a reality, while inspiring others in need of inspiration and renewal to bring forth the best in them. Isn’t that a great guide to take with me? Don’t you ever think of leaving me, Mr. Hummingbird, I need you, the world needs you!

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Climbing Tasmania

So after this little sidetrack, Mark’s old car (we called her Granny) managed to bring us over some offroad tracks, where we frequently had to get out to be able to make it to this great campingspot where apparently all the climbers go. And when I say all the climbers.. well, there were only a few others and while climbing we only once met another couple climbing. It’s not Europe 😉 We were held company though by the cutest little kangaroos
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and the not so cute jumping jacks and bull ants, which hurt a lot when they get you and they’re not afraid to fight!

Other wildlife we got to enjoy were these babies
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And… Oh my… Abaloney, oh my, aaaaaaaaaabaloney! Damn baby 😀
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Mark would go diving to get us abaloney for dinner every day, so incredibly delicious! Too bad for Chris that he apparently is allergic to it (we found out the hard way..). Was a bit scary when he got hives all over and his throat was closing up on him during the night, being far away from any kind of village or city. We managed though with some antihistamines and I kept a close look on him until the symptoms started to decrease. I sacrificed myself to eat his portion from then on 😉

 

So we went rockclimbing. Obviously in Holland we have no mountains. At all. It’s so sad.. I went to the indoor climbing gym many times and had been climbing outdoors only a couple of times, but was fairly inexperienced. I appreciate Mark, Matt and Chris so much to take me on this trip, where I found out that outdoor rock climbing is fantastic! It’s amazing! It’s beautiful! It’s a great way to enjoy the beautiful nature, a lot of fun and very satisfying. I wanna keep doing this J Obviously I was unskilled to leadclimb any routes, so I would follow and was able to climb around rates 16-18. I was not disappointed with that and ready to improve my skills and one day climb ‘The Nose’ on El Capitan in Yosemite Park (seen the movie ‘Valley uprising’? Beautiful). I just love heights. I don’t know why. It relates to my fascination with birds and the fact that getting my skydiving licence is maybe the most enjoyable selfish thing I did. So the higher the climb, the better! And we climbed some beautiful routes with overhanging rocks, where you see the waves coming in just under your feet. Absolutely loving it. The granite sea cliffs were our best friends for a couple of days. I felt like a little kid again 😉 (more than usual :p)
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There was this overhanging boulder perfect to jump from,
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but when Mark and Chris jumped it, unfortunately Mark broke his back! Holyshit! We got him to a hospital, there was nothing they could do and we still climbed the rest of the trip, Mark was just taking it a bit more easy, such a hero. Mister Hero was also the one that gave me my Australian nickname I still carry: TimTam. TimTam is Australia’s favourite chocolate biscuit, tastes horrible but somehow very popular and is offered to me everywhere I go. I like the name though, I’m keeping it. Somehow Tamar is always a bit difficult (even though there is a Tamar valley and river in Taz!) and I used to travel as Lisa through China and Colombia, but TimTam is nice for now J

 

We dropped Mark in Hobart, where he was attending a folk festival (very nice) and I spent some time at the conservation volunteering office, before the three of us headed off to climb the organ pipes. The vertical dolorite (typically in columns) feels pretty serious, since there is some loose rock and a great amount of exposure while we were overlooking the city (1000m elevation), wow! Beautiful days up on the crags, with only the sound of birds and the wind accompanying us. I was imaging it would be a great place to live as an eagle, maybe I will one day..

After asking around a bit, we decided to just sleep in the park. Many parks have electrical hot plates, very convenient, so we cooked on them and enjoyed the night with our new nervous friend Ben from France. The first night was very nice, sleeping under the stars without a tent. The second night, though, we were awakened by the rain. Shit! And then it stopped again, and started again, such strange rain in Taz. It took me some time to realise what was going on, get out of my sleeping bag and start moving. By that time the sprinklers (hahahaha!) had gotten us fully soaked. So funny!!

 

In the morning we picked up Mark from the festival and made our way to the Tasmanian Peninsula, with the most stunning coastal scenery, home to a wide range of land and marine animals, fascinating rock formations and some of the highest and most spectacular sea cliffs in Australia, damn.

We wildcamped at Dorgbark Road,
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which was funny, since at night I found Matt nervously wandering around his tent when dogs were barking in proximity to our camping spot. In the morning we drove to the most beautiful beach (I keep thinking this every time we find a beach, they really are stunning),
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and hiked for 1,5 hours through beautiful forests along the coastline,
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before ascending down the cliffs to get to these awesome pillars!
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Except from Chris, our pro-climber, we were all pillar virgins, how exciting! And we conquered the damn thing 😀 Incredibly windy and cold, but so cool and blissful! The feeling of getting your feet on the top and enjoying the surroundings from there, wow. I can’t describe it.. This is from up top:
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We were there only two days though, since we were heading for our final climbing spot: Ben Lomond. It was too rough on the seaside so we first hiked up Mount Brown to enjoy these stunning views.
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And this is Ben Lomond:
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At an elevation of at least 1300 meters, the crags at Ben Lomond are mostly jamming cracks (Chris taught me how to do that). We spent the nights in this little cabin with some other climbers. Unfortunately by now, my knee injury had gotten pretty bad and I wasn’t able to climb with the guys. It took a good amount of scrambling up on these rocks to get to the crags and my knee was just wobbling around and swelling up like a balloon.
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I was so frustrated and disappointed! This was my chance to climb and my body gave up on me. How many times in my life did I wish to just be a soul without a body, my body was holding me back from the thousand things my soul and mind wanted to do. For instance the fact that we actually do need sleep often annoys me. Haha but don’t worry, I have made peace with my body and enjoy having it 🙂 So I just have to take real good care of it. I scrambled very slowly up to the summit of the mountain and found myself in this beautiful flat land with the best diverse odours surrounding me, occasionally disturbed by some kangaroos hopping by.
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I also walked my way to the other side where the ski resort is located,
while seeing my first snake! Beautiful creatures, I love them 😀 I listened to Joshua Slocum’s memoires about his journey as the first person to sail around the world alone in the late 19th century. Audiobooks are the way to go for me 😀 So, as a good stay at home wife I cooked the guys dinner in the little cabin, where we played cards and celebrated a beautiful holiday together out in nature. So, so very much appreciated guys!

 

Time to head back to the northern beaches to look after the homestead while the owners would go on holidays to Japan for a month…