Monday, September 24, 2012

Australia's LAMINGTON NATIONAL PARK: A Birdwatcher's Paradise

View of Lamington National Park, Queensland, Australia from O'Reilly's
(April, 1999.  Excerpt from my Melbourne diary, written during our three month stay in Australia.)

On Saturday morning Art and I left Brisbane and drove about two hours south to Lamington National Park (a World Heritage site) where we stayed at O’Reilly’s, a family owned guest house perched on a mountain ridge (elevation about 3000 feet) in the middle of the park and surrounded by lush, subtropical rainforest.  We made our way to O’Reilly’s up a narrow mountain road 20 kilometers from the nearest town.

Entrance to O'Reilly's with Regent Bower Bird
When O’Reilly’s homestead first started taking paying guests in the late 1920's  there was no road and getting there was a two day trip from Brisbane, first by train, then by carriage, and then by horse.  We ate dinner one night with an 88 year old woman who had been coming to O’Reilly’s since 1931 and told us that in the early days she made the last part of the journey sidesaddle on a horse!   A full schedule of activities come with your stay at O’Reilly’s, beginning with a bird walk at 6:45 each morning, plus guided morning and afternoon hikes and evening programs.  On Saturday night we went to what was billed as an Australian Bush Dance, which turns out to be much like American square dancing and line dancing.  This is the only kind of dancing I really like to do because the caller tells me where I have to put my feet!

Caroline with Rainbow Lorikeet
The symbol of O’Reilly’s is the regent bower bird, and in the morning these large luminescent gold and black birds will come down and sit on people’s arms to be fed.  So will hundreds of parrots and crimson rosellas.  Dozens of other bird species, as well as pademelons (a small rainforest kangaroo), are also seen around the guest house.  Needless to say, it is a bird and animal lover’s paradise.  For those who don’t get up early, there are bird feeders outside the dining room windows so you can watch the birds as you eat.

Treetop Walkway
Another feature of O’Reilly’s is a treetop walkway, a series of suspension bridges about fifty feet above the ground that allow you to view the canopy of the rainforest at eye-level.  For those (unlike us) who do not have height fright, you can climb another fifty feet to a platform above the trees.  When we walked along the paths on the rainforest floor the trees were so tall we couldn’t even see the tops and in some places the foliage was so thick that it was almost dark where we were.  Also impressive were the giant air plants clinging to the trunks of the trees high above our heads.

By the time we left O’Reilly’s on Monday we were stuffed with good food from their dining room and exhausted from all the activities.  In a little while I will go to the photo processing place to pick up our pictures.  I hope that some of them will be good, but I know already that the photos will only hint at the actual experience.

Air Plants

MORE POSTS on this blog from our 1999 Australia trip:

Brisbane 9/17/12
Phillip Island 3/5/12
The Great Ocean Road 1/23/12
Tasmania:  Cradle Mountain 9/5/11
Tasmania:  Hobart to Queenstown 8/22/11
Alice Springs 7/4/11
Uluru (Ayers Rock) 6/27/11


Monday, September 17, 2012

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA: Queensland Museum, Koalas, and More

Botanical Garden, Brisbane, Australia
(April, 1999. Excerpt from my Melbourne diary, written during our three month stay in Australia.)

Last night we returned from another activity packed trip, this time to Brisbane and Lamington National Park in southern Queensland.  In the central business district of Brisbane (or the CBD as they call it) one finds turn of the century churches and other historical buildings as well as high-rise office buildings.  The main shopping section, on Queen Street, has been turned into a walking mall with outdoor restaurants, entertainers, etc.  Our hotel, which opened in January, was a few blocks from the shopping area and was built in about 1910 as medical offices.  A few years ago the building changed hands and was restored to its original splendor (including a creaky lift) and all the doctor’s suites were turned into hotel rooms.  One wonders what medical specialty our room once represented!

The Brisbane river winds its way through the city and on the south bank there is a park and arts complex.  I walked across the bridge from the city center and visited the Queensland Museum which had a number of interesting exhibits including one on the role of women in pioneer days (how they washed and cooked and stored food with no electricity or refrigeration and how the party line telephone kept people connected even when they lived long distances apart.) 

Megalania skeleton (photo by Richard Hewett in my book Dinosaurs Down Under)
At the museum there were also numerous dinosaur skeletons and fossils of other extinct animals such as the giant lizard, Megalania.  There was a realistic life-size animated model of Megalania with a warning that small children shouldn’t look if they were easily frightened.  (It also had realistic sound-effects.)  Megalania was a MUCH larger relative of the modern Komodo dragon and I must say that when I turned the corner to view the exhibit, I jumped.  Unlike dinosaurs, this real life monster was roaming Australia at the same time as the early Aborigines and would have been a fearsome animal to encounter. The Megalania exhibit reminded me of a book I wrote called Dinosaurs Down Under: Fossils from Australia (out of print but available online or at your library).
In another part of the museum there was an exhibit of a device invented by an early state meteorologist, a man by the name of Clement Lindley Wragge.  Although his device, a kind of giant cannon intended to seed rainclouds, never worked, Wragge is famous for being the first person to give names to cyclones (hurricanes.)  According to the label on the exhibit, he named them after politicians of the day on the grounds that they were both national disasters!

One morning I drove to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, an animal park on the river about a half-hour from the city center.  This was a nostalgic trip for me because that was where I had researched one of my first animal books, Koala.  Although the ownership of the park has changed and most of the staff are new since I was there in 1985, they welcomed me and gave me a nice tour.  It is still one of the few places in Australia where visitors can “cuddle a koala” and, of course, have their pictures taken.  I was lucky to have beautiful, warm weather and spent most of the day watching the animals, including the wild turkeys and lizards that roam the grounds and are a bit of a nuisance.  I also found a mother wallaby and her joey who was cautiously exploring outside the pouch.

Note:  This was actually my third visit to Lone Pine.  The first time was in 1983 on my first trip to Australia when I visited with my family. You don't have to go to Australia to see the Lone Pine koalas. They now live at zoos in San Francisco, San Diego, and elsewhere.  The story in my book Koala follows a young koala born at Lone Pine who eventually makes her home at the San Francisco Zoo.

(To be continued next week with our trip to Lamington National Park.

Monday, September 10, 2012

NORTON SIMON MUSEUM, Pasadena, California

Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California, view from sculpture garden
On a recent Sunday afternoon we visited the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, one of my favorite art museums in the LA area.  Familiar as a backdrop for the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, it had been a long time since we had been inside to view the collections.  Walking up from the parking lot to the main entrance we passed the Burghers of Calais and several other Rodin sculptures, bringing back memories of our visit to the Rodin Museum in Paris.

14 year-old Dancer by Edgar Degas
We were reminded of Paris again on the inside as we viewed the impressive collection of Impressionist works, notably more than 100 pieces by Degas. I was pleased to see his sculpture of the young dancer (in the photo you can't see the yellow silk ribbon tying back her hair.)  On our visit to Paris in 1998, we took an almost identical photo of me with this sculpture in the Musee d'Orsay.  The statue was originally cast in 1922. Twenty-seven copies have been made.  Later, on our way out of the museum we received a (free) beautiful frameable print of a Degas painting. 

Hiroshige, Noto Province, Waterfall Ba
In a small gallery off the main foyer was a wonderful temporary exhibit, Lessons of the Cherry Blossoms, Japanese Woodblock Prints, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Japan’s gift of 3000 cherry trees to Washington, D.C. in 1912.  Each print in the exhibit features cherry trees or cherry blossoms and explores the significance of cherry blossoms in Japanese culture. While most of the prints are landscapes, or meisho, some are of beautiful women.  Japanese artists often equated beautiful women and cherry blossoms as symbols of the temporary nature of beauty and life.  The detail in the prints is remarkable as is the subtle range of colors.  A fold-out book in a glass case demonstrated how separate blocks add each new level of color and detail.  The exhibit closed September 2nd.  The prints are all from the Norton Simon permanent collection.

It was a beautiful day to be outside so after a refreshing drink in the Garden CafĂ©, we took a stroll around the pond and sculpture garden.  Apparently, some of the trees in the garden were gifts of naturalist John Muir to the Carr family, the original owners of the property, who settled it in the late 1870's.  Tucked into shady nooks and open spots along the path are sculptures by Henry Moore and various other 20th century sculptors.
The Basel Murals by Sam Francis
We then went back inside to spend some time in the 20th century wing and pay a visit to the 17th and 18th century rooms and admire the Rembrandts.  I’m always amazed by how much art is packed into this museum and the quality of the collection.  On this visit we focused on the exhibits on the main level .  The whole lower level features the collection of South and Southeast Asian art.  We’ll have to go back another day and start there.
For information about visiting the Norton Simon, click here.


Monday, September 3, 2012

WRITERS' and ARTISTS' HIDEOUTS: Great Getaways for Seducing the Muse by Andrea Brown

The Berwood Hill Inn, Lanesboro, MN

Writers’ and Artists’ Hideouts: Great Getaways for Seducing the Muse is a wonderful guidebook to inns and hotels where you can find peace and quiet and inspiration for your work.  But even if you are not a writer, these are great places to relax and get away from the hurly burly of daily life.  Combined with advice from editors, literary agents, authors, illustrators, art directors, and other creative people, this is a great resource for all of us who sometimes want to get away.  Here are some excerpts from Andrea’s introduction to the book: 
My friend and agent Andrea Brown’s book

     Many of my most memorable life experiences are times when I left the comforts of home, took off by myself, and escaped to a scenic, peaceful place to do some serious thinking or some serious writing.
     Solitude can be bliss, but, for myself and many other creative people, it is a necessity.  Since I began working in the book publishing business in 1976, I have listened to numerous authors and illustrators complain about working at home–as most writers and artists do.  Distractions at home often involve spousal demands, children with needs, pets to feed, ringing phones, chores to finish, refrigerators to raid, and on and on.  Even the most disciplined and organized find it a constant challenge.  If a writer or artist is under deadline, the pressure can be enormous.
     I am lucky enough to have built a career that allows me to indulge in my travel passion.  Over the years, I have kept notes and brochures on my favorite places for those times when I needed to decamp to recharge my enthusiasm or to simply get the creative juices flowing. I often make friends swear they won’t divulge the names of some of these prized locations, as I don’t want them getting too crowded.  But, after hearing more and more writers and artists complain about needing a special place to which they might escape, I decided to share my findings.
     That’s what this book is, a roster of special places; a guide to the wonderful, the beautiful, the relaxing.  In these pages you will find sites that are as good for the eye as they are for the soul, from small cabins and hostels to luxurious hotels–and I’ve even included a hotel or motel chain if it meets my criteria.
     The book is organized by region.  Many locations included in this book are not on the beaten path, yet I have tried to narrow the selection to places that are welcoming and safe, especially for women who may be traveling alone. I have included places in major cities that are easy to reach without a car.  For instance, if you live in New York City, find it difficult to work at home, and don’t want to travel far, I suggest comfortable and reasonable places in Manhatten.  It can be especially fun to stay in a hotel in your very own city if only for a change of scenery.
     So, let loose!  From the rustic Red Fish Lake Lodge in Idaho to a luxurious oceanfront room at the Marriot Wailea-Outrigger Hotel in Maui; from a cabin on an ocean cliff at Lucia Lodge in Big Sur to the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City, explore your creative self, meet those dealines, grab some peace of mind, and arrive home refreshed and rejuvenated.

As I leafed through the hundreds of listings in Andrea’s book, I looked for places that I have stayed on my travels and found several of my favorites, including The Redwoods in Yosemite National Park, where one can rent a cabin up to a large house, a perfect place for a getaway or a family reunion inside one of our most spectacular national parks; the Suncatcher Bed and Breakfast in Tucson, Arizona, located just outside the Sonora National Monument with its many trails and opportunities to enjoy desert wildlife; and the Chalet Kileauea, The Inn at Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, in the perfect central location for exploring the craters and lava flows of Volcanoes National Park.  And, now that I have Andrea's book, I have found many more tempting places to go!

Writers’ and Artists’ Hideouts: Great Getaways for Seducing the Muse by Andrea Brown (Quill Driver Books, 2005) is available on Amazon or you can call 1-800-497-4909 to order a copy.