About George & Shelly .... Off The Track

Married couple who love 4WDing, camping and travelling around this great country of ours. Join us on our journeys around Australia.

Vivid Sydney at Taronga Zoo

All the Sydney-siders would know that Sydney recently held the ‘Vivid’ festival, but for those of you who are not aware of what this is, let us explain.

So what is Vivid Sydney all about?  Vivid Sydney is a festival of light, music and ideas which runs for close to a month every year.  It’s a free event featuring creative displays of light, sculptures, installations and music.  These light displays and pictures are projected on to various buildings around the city, including the famous Opera House. Most would have to say that the display on the Opera House is the highlight of Vivid. I guess you could describe the event as a huge outdoor ‘art gallery’.  Vivid Sydney has been running for a number of years now and it’s a very popular event for locals and tourists alike.

Every few years we brave the crowds and head in to the city to see Vivid, last time we even did a dinner cruise to view it from the harbour. This year we thought we’d try something different and purchased tickets to see Vivid at Taronga Zoo and it was amazing.

dsc_0301What happens at Vivid at Taronga Zoo?  Now this is another experience altogether. With incredible giant animal sculptures scattered throughout the zoo, this is truly a great experience.  Add in the incredible views back towards the lights of the city and it’s a breathtaking experience.

Unlike the Vivid displays in the city, you do need to purchase a ticket to visit the Zoo, but we think it was worth it.  It’s a totally different experience and, as the ticket numbers are limited and you are limited to a certain time slot, it isn’t as crowded as the city.

As you arrive at the Zoo you are greeted with amazing pictures projected onto Taronga’s heritage-listed main entrance.  From here you are issued with your interactive wristband and head down the illuminated trail that winds its way through the grounds of Taronga Zoo.  Every so often there is a huge light sculpture of one of the zoo animals.

The great thing about this event is that proceeds from all tickets go directly back to Taronga Zoo’s work in conservation and wildlife care.

Below are just a few of the photos we took at this year’s Vivid at Taronga Zoo.

 

 

 

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Keeping in touch while on the road

With the privilege of outback travel comes great responsibility. Recovery and medical help can be hours, if not days, away once you get into ‘remote’ territory. Travellers need to be equipped with the appropriate tools to contact the outside world should anything go wrong.  Now yes, we do live in a world of mobile phones and technology overload and this is probably the very thing you’re trying to escape by going on holiday, but there are a few very important things you should take with you if you are venturing off the highway.

With all the technology of today, we are actually in a much better position than ever before, as long as you use common sense and carry the appropriate equipment, you can be assured that you have taken all precautions possible and will hopefully be able to make contact should something happen.img_0102-1

We all rely on mobile phones, computers and social media so much these days, sometimes I think a little too much (yes, us included!), but there can be a place for it and it’s now made travelling and keeping in touch so much easier.

This blog post is intended to give you an overview of how you can keep in touch with loved ones while you are travelling and also what is required to make contact in the case of an emergency.  If you are reading this you will know that we use blogging as a way of keeping in touch with family and friends while we are away. This also has the added bonus of people like you being able to read our blog and live our holiday with us! You may not know us, but we can hopefully inspire others to travel to the amazing places we are fortunate enough to visit.

Below are a list of what we use to keep in touch with family and friends (and our social media followers) while we are away. Some are for safety, some are for communication and updates and some are just for a little fun.

Everyone has a Mobile Phone these days and they are so easy to keep in touch with people. In saying this, please don’t rely solely on this for emergencies. Australia is a big place and there is a lot of nothing in the middle of it and this nothing includes no mobile phone towers! There are plenty of places that you will not have phone or Internet reception, even in many towns.  Some people will think this is a great thing as part of getting away is getting away from technology and work aswell, so they don’t want the distraction. BUT what happens in an emergency?  What if you have an accident, someone gets sick or you get lost or break down.  IMG_9202

Telstra is by far the best provider as far as outback travel is concerned, you still won’t have reception in a lot of places, but it is available on and off in many places. We always have a Telstra phone with us.

Not only do our phones come in handy for communication, we also have our HEMA Maps app loaded onto the Iphone and Ipad.  Once loaded this app doesn’t need cellular coverage to run, which makes it perfect for our remote travels.

This was a great purchase, don’t know how we ever lived without this app now!

Satellite Phones have progressed a lot in recent years.  They’ve become much smaller and lighter and more affordable aswell.   Whether you buy a phone outright or hire one really depends on the length and frequency of your trips.  For us, it made sense to purchase a phone rather than having to hire one each time.  But if you are doing a once-off trip through remote country for a few weeks, then hiring would be much more affordable.  Also keep in mind that satellite phones do have to go on to a phone plan and call costs can be very expensive, so it’s best to thoroughly investigate all of this before making any decisions.  In Australia, we have access to four satellite networks. Two are Geostationary (GEO) systems (which the Inmarsat and Thuraya networks use) and two are Low-Earth Orbiting (LEO) systems (which the  Iridium and Globalstar networks use). The latter two seem to be the more common ones, we use Iridium.

img_0835The benefit of having a satellite phone in remote areas is that you will generally have phone reception at all times, regardless of whether there are mobile phone towers in the area or not.  Satellite phones work off the satellites, therefore, as long as you can see the sky, you can generally make a call.  Our satellite phone is used for emergencies only (luckily we’ve only needed to use it once when a friend’s car broke down and nothing more serious), but it’s always there just in case.  We also leave it on when we are out of normal mobile phone service areas for an extended period of time in case family back home need to contact us in an emergency.

EPIRBS & Personal Locator Becons (PLB) are lightweight to carry and relatively cheap to purchase.  We use SPOT, which we’ve detailed below, but there are numerous options to choose from.  In an emergency you activate your device and they transmit a distress signal, along with your GPS coordinates, to the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite network which then relays the information to your nearest search and rescue authority.

SPOT MessengerNow this one we love!  We love our ‘SPOT’, he is one of our favourite purchases (yes it’s a ‘him’ and his name is SPOT!).  There are numerous ways that we use SPOT to keep in touch while travelling.  Like the satellite phones, SPOT uses satellites to communicate, meaning that he works as long as he can see the sky.  While travelling we always have SPOT sitting on the dash recording where we are going, if we go for a bushwalk we clip him onto our backpack for safety aswell.

So, how do we use SPOT ……. firstly, we use the tracking feature.  Once you turn this on, SPOT plots where you are every so often and records a detailed map for you.  We have this displayed on our website while travelling so our family can always see where we are.  We can also then download the map and save it as a record of where we have travelled.

Then there is the Check-In button which allows you to let family and friends know you are ok.  You can customise your message and set up who you want it to go to (whether by email or SMS) before you leave home.  You then just click on the Check-In button and it sends them your preset message.  This also sends your exact GPS co-ordinates of where you are at that point.  We use this every few days if we don’t have phone reception, just so they know we are alive and well!

There is also the Help button which you also customise before leaving home as per the Check-In button above.  This would be used if you are in trouble, but not in a life threatening situation.  Eg, you might be broken down, but have plenty of food and water so not in any trouble, but it allows your family to give your GPS location to local authorities and they can go find you.

Lastly there is the SOS button.  This one is to be used in life threatening emergencies only.  By pushing this button, the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center provides your GPS coordinates and information to local response teams to act immediately.

UHF CB  Radio Due to their convenience and relatively low purchase price, this really should be one of the first things you purchase.  Whether you are travelling the outback or just spending a day in the bush with mates, a CB is one of the most handy things you can have.  Not only can you use it to keep in touch with fellow travellers in your group, but you can use it to help when passing trucks or vehicles towing.  Quite often you will hear things over the CB to warn you of traffic, accidents or incidents up ahead which can be handy.   IMG_9201

We will quite often make contact with a truck or long vehicle up ahead to advise that we are wanting to pass and they can let us know when it’s safe to do so.  We will also make contact with vehicles behind if they are going faster than us and let them know they are free to go.

When used correctly, this can be a handy piece of equipment.

Remember that there are different channels which are used for different things, so it’s handy to know this.  Generally when travelling we tend to stick on channel 40 which is the one all the trucks use (keep in mind that you do sometimes get some interesting stories and questionable language on this channel, which can be quite entertaining, but maybe not always suitable for little kiddies ears!)

We initially started our Website purely as a place to display photos when we got back from holidays and it was an easy, central location for family and friends to view them.  Our website has changed from the early days and now includes informative information for others, but it’s still as much for us as it is for everyone else.  It’s our go to place for our photos and notes from all our trips.  Since we first started the website we have moved on to blogging and using social media much more and we’ve now incorporated this into the website aswell and everything is intertwined together! Eg All of our blogs and Instagram posts are displayed automatically on our website as they are posted and Spot tracking automatically shows up on the website when we are travelling. Shelly built our whole website and manages this, so if you are a little tech savvy, you could do this too. All it takes is a little time and a yearly fee for your domain name and hosting fees. 

Blogging can be a great way of letting people know what’s going on.  To put it simply, a blog is basically an online personal journal or diary.  Years ago you would have written in a travel journal and documented your trip, but now we do it online.  You have a record of your trip that you can refer back to at any time, but it also allows you to let family and friends (and anyone who follows your blog) know exactly what you are doing.  When we are away we try to write a blog post every few days.  We use a blogging site called ‘WordPress’ for our blogs and this in turn is embedded into our georgeandshelly.com website.  People can ‘follow’ a blog and by doing so they will be emailed a copy of your blog every time one is posted.

img_0836Itinerary.  Personally we have an itinerary (or trip plan) for every big trip we do.  I know a lot of people don’t agree with this and just go day-to-day, but we like to have an idea of where we will be.  We sit down and plan out our holiday and have an itinerary for each day, but this isn’t set in stone.  Nearly every trip we make changes along the way, we add a day in here and there, skip a place or change the route altogether!  There are even people who you can pay to prepare a trip plan for you which is what we have done on occasions.  Not only does the itinerary help us, but it’s a great security measure to leave it at home with family and/or friends.  If anything unfortunate should happen, at least they have an idea of the area you should be in at any given point. 

Social MediaOK so who isn’t on Facebook these days! We all love sharing photos and posts of what we are up to with life and we all love prying into everyone else’s lives by seeing their posts!  Most of our family and friends are on Facebook so it made sense for us to create our own page “George & Shelly . off the track” to use, rather than our personal pages.  This way, anyone (not just our family and friends) can like our page and join in on our adventures and be inspired.  It’s so easy to upload a photo or ‘check in’ and let people know where you are and what you are doing at any time.  

Instagram is another social media app that is very popular.  It allows you to post photos or short videos for your followers to see.  We have been on Instagram for a few years now (georgeandshelly.offthetrack) and have gained quite a few loyal followers.  We don’t know these people personally, but it’s nice to be able to share our adventures with like-minded people, or even share ‘Australia’ with many of our followers who are from overseas.

Once you get set up using social media you will see how handy this can be.  For example, we post a photo via the Instagram app and it auto posts onto our Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr & Flickr profiles without us doing anything. 

Many people are now turning to social media outlets to find information or photos, just in the last year we have been contacted by GWN News in Western Australia asking could they use one of our photos on one of their nightly news segments and by Department of Commerce in WA asking to use one of our photos in a publication.  Both of these parties searched via social media to find photos relevant to their stories and then contacted the owners (us!) to ask for permission to use.  Just goes to show just how big and how important social media is becoming.

Who doesn’t like to receive an oldschool letter or Postcard in the mail! This is still a great way to let people know what you’ve been up too and let them know that you are thinking of them.  As a kid I collected post cards from every place we visited, it was nice to look back on these years later and be reminded of all the amazing adventures we had as a family.

Hopefully this will give you a little insight into how and why we use some of these services or devices to keep us safe and in contact with family and friends while we are travelling.  Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or let us know your own tips.

PCFA Charity Rally

Everyone knows we love travelling and have been lucky enough to see our fair share of Australia already.  Generally we tend to travel by ourselves, but one of our friends, Vic Widman of Great Divide Tours, has teamed up with Charity Car Events to run an outback 4WD rally to raise money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. We realise we are very fortunate to live the life we do and we therefore like to give a little back to others who may be struggling in life.  When we heard about this event, we decided this was something we would love to be part of.

Did you know that 3,300 men die from prostate cancer each year in Australia, that’s 9 men each and every day.  And 20,000 Australian men a year receive a new diagnosis. 

Cancer is one of those horrible diseases that has affected nearly every one of us at one stage or another, even personally we have been affected so if we can do just a small bit to help raise money for any type of cancer research we are happy with that.

On Sunday 30 July 2017 a group of 4WD enthusiasts will start a 7 day convoy from Cobar in Far Western NSW and over the next week we will travel to Tibooburra, Innamincka, Birdsville, Maree, Flinders Ranges and finally finishing up in Broken Hill. The trip will also include a day trip in to the Simpson Desert to tackle the iconic ‘Big Red’.  At 30 meters high, this is the biggest sand dune in the Simpson Desert. We tackled Big Red years ago in our old Prado, so will be great to take the new one out there as well.

We have been lucky enough to visit all of these places before, but always happy to head back again!  The most exciting part is that this time we will be able to step foot inside the Birdsville Hotel!  Our last visit to Birdsville was just prior to the Birdsville Races and we couldn’t even get near the pub, let alone get inside!

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Tibooburra


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Innamincka


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Birdsville


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Simpson Desert


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Big Red, Simpson Desert


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Flinders Ranges


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Broken Hill

It looks like a great trip and a great way to see a little of outback Australia, so if anyone is interested in joining the rally, click here to read all about it.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Now this is the important part, if anyone would like to donate, please click on the link above.  The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and us would be grateful for any donations, large or small.

All donations go directly to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and of course all donations over $2 are tax-deductible.

Of course we will be updating everyone along the way so stay tuned for blog posts or follow us on Facebook www.facebook.com/georgeandshelly

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Moreton Island (part 2)

So yes we have returned back home from holidays and already looking forward to the next!  We had a great time away and spent a lot of time catching up with all our Queensland based friends.  We enjoyed our first visit to Moreton Island, it’s very different to Fraser Island, a lot smaller, fewer people and less ‘things’ to see.

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So how do you get to Moreton Island you might ask?  Well it’s on this ferry below, the MICAT. We arrived at the Port of Brisbane early in the morning and were loaded on to the ferry.  Once you are parked up you can set about deflating your tyres ready for your adventure ahead.  To help on your return back to the mainland, they even have air hoses on board the ferry.

Once that’s done its time to head upstairs where you can relax and enjoy the 1 1/2 hour journey to the island.  Snacks, tea, coffee, alcohol and souvenirs are all available for purchase on board.  The ferry ticket was by far the most expensive part of the trip at about $250 per vehicle, then factor in that we were towing the trailer so we had to double that cost, it was a fairly expensive journey! 

We spent 4 days on the island and saw most of it during that time.  It really is a beautiful place.

The main thing people know about Moreton Island is the Tangalooma Wrecks and who doesn’t love a shipwreck!

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Here you will find 15 shipwrecks which were deliberately sunk to form a breakwall for small boats and to also create a dive and snorkel site, Brisbane’s only shipwreck snorkelling site.

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In recent years the tops of the wrecks were cut off for safety reasons, but the ship hulls are still there waiting to be explored.  The waters are clear and full of marine life and coral and only a very short swim from the shore and you can be amongst this.

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There seems to be quite a bit of history associated with Moreton Island and I guess we will have to explore this during our next visit!  From 1952 to 1962 a whaling station, Queensland’s only whaling station, operated on the western side of the island and the remains now form part of the Tangalooma Resort facilities.   Each season up to 600 humpback whales were harvested, with a maximum of 11 whales per day.  Thankfully these actions don’t take place today, but it’s still an interesting part of history.

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During the wars, major coastal defence bases were located on Moreton Island with the purpose of protecting the approaches to the port of Brisbane.  Cowan Cowan Point provided a main defence base in World War I and World War II saw two defence battery complexes built at Cowan Cowan and another on the eastern side of the island.  Remains of the batteries and other relics still remain on the island and hopefully during our next visit we can explore these.

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Moreton Island offers the most stunning sunsets, every day is different and the colours can vary so significantly.  It was so beautiful to watch the sun set over the calm waters after a fun filled day of exploring.

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Below is the view from our camp ground.  We were camped in the Ben Ewa camping zone and it was very central to everywhere.  It was your typical National Parks campground with facilities and they do allow you to have your own campfires on site.  There are numerous different camping zones available on the island, some basically on the beach and some more remote, as well as accommodation at the resort and various holiday houses.

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Below is the photo of Blue Lagoon.  This lagoon is a natural fresh water lake on the north-eastern side of the island.  The interesting thing about Blue Lagoon is that it features equal parts of cool clear water and tea tree oil.

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Next up it was on to visit the Cape Moreton Lighthouse.

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Cape Moreton lighthouse was built from local sandstone in 1857 by the NSW Government (Queensland was not declared a separate state until two years later).

It stands 23 meters high and is the only example of a stone lighthouse in Queensland.

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The walk up to the lighthouse from the car park is relatively short and well worth it for the views, these are spectacular.

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After leaving the lighthouse we made our way to the township of Bulwer for lunch and this is where you’ll find ‘Castaways at Bulwer’.

This little township consists of holidays houses and permanent residents, but the main drawcard is the cafe/bar.  We had lunch and beers here and the food was great, highly recommended.

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After leaving the town you head back down to the beach for a short while and this is where we came across the Bulwer shipwrecks, these we had not heard about so looked to google to find out about them!  It turns out that 3 ships were deliberately sunk there back in the early 1930’s by a gentleman named Robert Alexander Gow.  Why would he do this? …. well apparently it was so he could have a sheltered area to load and unload his 12 metre boat!

If you head towards the southern end of the island you will find yourself in the township of Kooringal, home to the ‘Gutter Bar’.  We found this end of the island to be a lot more secluded, not too many people on the beach or tracks.

We stopped at the Gutter Bar for a beer, great little pub.  At the time we were the only ones there, but when it was busy it would have a great atmosphere.

After leaving the pub we had to make our way back to camp via the eastern beach, before cutting across the island half way up.  As it turns out, this trip ended up being a little concerning as we ended up having to race the tide.  It was starting to get dark and we were still a fair way from the road that cuts across the island.  As we were driving and the light was fading it became harder to see any drop offs in the sand and our  spotlights got a good work out that night!  It was really just a matter of trying to follow the water line, which in places was very narrow, or waiting for the wave to go back out.  With us monitoring our progress via phone maps I think we were all relieved when we reached that turn off and we were off the beach!  Getting stuck on the wrong side of the island, at night, with the tide coming in was not really our idea of fun!

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After a great few days exploring the island and spending time with great friends it was our time to leave and head back to Sydney.  As always, we had a great holiday and glad we were able to share it with all of you.

Would we head to Moreton Island every year like we do with Fraser? ….. probably not.  Would we go back to visit again at some point …. definitely.

Moreton Island

Yesterday we arrived on Moreton Island for our 3 night stay.  This part of the trip we are spending with our friends Danny and Cat and their two young children.

After arriving on the island we proceeded straight to our campsite to set up the camper trailer and tent.  We are staying in the Ben-Ewa camping area which is just behind the beach but, as with a lot of national park camping grounds, the sites are well set out and this zone even has toilet facilities.

After lunch we all took a drive down the beach and then crossed to the eastern side of the island for a look.

We arrived back on the western beach just in time for sunset, which turned out perfectly for Shelly to take yet more photos!

Day one on the island is over, but we still have plenty of exploring to do.  Hopefully the fact that we both got bogged (at the same time, but on different tracks!) today isn’t a bad omen for the rest of the trip!

Goodbye Fraser Island, hello Moreton Island!

Unfortunately Saturday meant the end to our time on Fraser Island. As usual we had an amazing time and it was sad to leave, the only silver lining this time was that our holiday continues on Moreton Island!

After leaving Fraser Island we detoured to visit Rob, one of Shelly’s old school friends for a quick catch up.  It would have to be about 25 years since they last saw each other! We then headed back to our home for the next two days at Danny & Cat’s house.

Sunday we all went round to see our friend Stewy’s new house and spend some time together.  We all had a great afternoon of beer and BBQ while catching up with all our friends, always great to catch up with our Queensland friends we don’t get to see too often.

Monday morning was an early start for our trip to the Port of Brisbane to board the barge to Moreton Island.  We were the first on the barge for the 1 1/2 hour trip to the island.

Moreton Island here we come!

First time visit and we are a little excited!

Travel Blog Awards 2017 ….. we’ve been nominated!

Travel Blog Awards 2017

So, here’s some exciting news …… we’ve been nominated in the Travel Blog Awards 2017 held by Mr Promocode.

We enjoy writing this blog, it gives us a record and memories of our trips and it also allows us to share our adventures with family, friends and our many blog and social media followers. It’s rewarding to know that people enjoy reading our stories.

But now is when we ask you for something.  We need your help and ask that you vote for us if you think we are worthy of this award. Simply click on the link to see who we are up against, search for “George & Shelly” (you’ll see our logo) and click to vote for us!

Travel Blog Awards 2017