Just over 9000kms, two months of travel, a ton of new lifers and we're home. Here we reflect on our birding adventure, what we learned and what we'll do differently - or not - next time! We'd love to hear your thoughts.
We travelled in an AWD Subaru Outback - it was terrific, and got us to 97% of where we wanted to go. We're thinking a 4WD might be a wiser choice next time, to give us just that added confidence on a muddy path or crossing water. The weather can make roads, even sealed ones, unpredictable. Plus, serendipity happens, and you discover so many gems and new places as you go. Perhaps best to be more prepared.
We decided to not tow, and simply use Air BnB or tourist park cabins (particularly the latter). We found the cabins to be more economical, but extremely variable (our best being at Cobram RACV and Griffith Tourist Park - ask for a cottage). It's highly advisable to book ahead - many parks were chock-a-block. Some were pretty dismal and here's the thing - it's almost impossible to tell from park websites. So, it's pot luck. We also got pretty tired of packing and unpacking the car (and yes, we took too much stuff!), and found that staying three nights in one place helped us relax and discover more. We're considering using a camper trailer or similar next time, but we might even just hire one for a stretch, rather than take one the whole way.
STAYING IN TOUCH
Our experience as Optus customers was dismal, as we expected - but so was our Telstra hotspot (a 4G device that got us one or two bars of 3G at best). We're investigating a Sat Sleeve - a device that fits over your phone and makes it a satellite phone. That's a sensible safety strategy. But also, if you're doing photography and art and sharing on social media, you need decent access to wifi - we're still working on how we'll do better with that next time.
We engaged two bird guides during our trip (see here and here) and it was well worth it because we saw and learnt so much more. We figured it was pointless to invest so much to get here, and then not see the birds. We also did our online research (wifi permitting) as well as asked at Information Centres in towns. Some were excellent (thanks Winton!), others not so much. One of our best sources of info was blogs written by other birders, so we really appreciate their efforts (and we hope our reflections help others). We are early in our birding journey, but we felt more confident as we went, and we were pretty chirpy when we found birds on our own steam. We really enjoyed roadside birding too - just pulling up beside the bush and having a go. Though some people are very focused on seeing particular birds, we're happy seeing any bird. Of course, you still have to check bird intel out for yourself, because birds are unpredictable and more so with the weather.
Far North Queensland was unseasonally cold and wet sometimes, and steamy at other times - so pack layers to cater for all seasons. Also, it was fantastic to get to Hughenden and find that the camp drafting was in full swing at the show grounds (we'd never been before) followed by a country music concert that night (another first). We loved them both! Likewise, we didn't plan to go to Winton, but on advice from others did so - and it was a real highlight of the trip. So keeping a bit of flexibility is, we think, important.
Art and PhotogrAphy GEAR
The artist in the team, Rosalie, took along a minimal set of paints and pencils, but sometimes light in our accommodation was poor (so maybe a small light might be taken next time). Also, art paper can change in humid conditions... As for photography, Beverley was glad she took the long (200-600mm) lens, but extra glad she also took the 100-400mm for the more overcast days (there were plenty of those). Also, note to self, always carry on your person an extra camera battery and SD cards, and it was a good idea to pack an extra hard drive (limping home with a full laptop and a Dropbox folder that struggles to upload is stressful).
the people YOU MEET
We made new friends and that's always a joy. But we were also bowled over by the number of people who stopped to ask what we were doing ("You looking for birds, eh?"), to then invite us to go onto their paddock ("don't worry about the cows, they won't hurt you") to find a particular bird or a bower. And we learnt so much from the people we met in tourist parks, other birders out walking and so on. As an example, we stopped for a quick lunch break in Tambo, NSW. Lunch was quickly tossed aside when a flash of blue and yellow suggested a pale-headed rosella was about. We carefully inspected the nearby garden from the curb, and happened to tell the owner what we were doing... minutes later, he called us over to quietly indicate that "there they are" in the corner of his garden...how kind, and much appreciated.
The people and the birds really made the trip - and so did great big wonderful Australia - oh my, what a beautiful country we live in. So worth preserving, we think. We just have to go see more of it - any recommendations?