Camping at Tumbledown Nature Refuge

We had experienced our most stressful travelling day before arriving at Tumbledown Nature Refuge. One of the kids was feverish and unhappy, and a vital part had fallen off our rented camper trailer while driving over the Main Range, which meant that we had to frantically find an RV supply store for a replacement so that we could inflate the camper to sleep in. Consequently we were all feeling slightly frazzled as we drove through Stanthorpe and out towards Greenlands, where we had booked a campsite at Tumbledown Nature Refuge.

As we drove slowly down the 1.5km driveway, deep into the heart of the property, I felt myself relax. Our campsite, Quoll’s Hideaway, was nestled in the bush, past the dam. When we arrived, a little basket with homegrown herbs and fruit awaited us, atop a treasure chest of thoughtful items just in case we’d forgotten something, and a map of walks on the property. Log seating encircled the fire pit, and neatly stacked piles of firewood and kindling were nearby for our use.

unnamed (1)

A path with a sign pointing to the “Thunderbox” leads to a sweet little shelter which contains a marvellous composting toilet, ingeniously built into a wheelie bin, and a camp shower you can fill with water. Signposted walking paths tempted us to explore. A short walk around the dam from our campsite led to the homestead, and its neighbouring building containing a camp kitchen, a solar-heated shower, and another composting toilet.

unnamed (2)

Jayn, the owner of Tumbledown, has built all of the structures on the property, including the homestead and a delightful little log cabin. She is a thoughtful host, happy to assist with anything we needed. She clearly puts so much thought and work into her management of Tumbledown, and learning more about her custodianship of the land makes the property seem even more special.

48288484617_adc904e729_kThere are 12kms of bushwalking tracks over Tumbledown Nature Refuge, and we only explored a few of them. We followed the Granite Walk one afternoon, which is marked by a mixture of tree markers, and stone cairns where the track goes across slabs of granite. Edward really enjoyed this experience of finding and following the trail, and eagerly became our trail leader, leading us past stunning views and winding through the trees. We felt like we were the only people in the world – the only sounds that of the birds, the wind, and our footsteps (and less idyllically, Frances occasionally grizzling in my ear that she was tired, even though I carried her the entire way).


Tumbledown is only a 20 minute drive from Stanthorpe, and it was the perfect base to explore some of the touristy delights of the area. We had planned to go into Girraween National Park, but we were enjoying exploring Tumbledown so much that we did more of that instead, to make the most of our time there. On our last evening we took the track to Sunset Rock and sat there with a drink, looking across to the sun setting behind the distant mountains, bathing us all in orange light. 

I cannot recommend Tumbledown Nature Refuge enough as a spectacular camping spot in the Stanthorpe area. It is a unique experience on a very special property, and is a showcase of the amazing forests in the Granite Belt area.  The Tumbledown homestead and the log cabin are also available to stay in, and next time we plan to hire the homestead for a quick weekend stay so that we can enjoy more of the area.

Tumbledown Nature Refuge doesn’t have an internet presence as yet, but you can contact Jayn on the details below to enquire about booking campsites, the homestead, or the log cabin.

tumbledowntumbledown log cabintumbledown homestead

Up north

Some scattered memories from our recent holiday:

Green Ants

Edward and I left a chilly winter morning in Brisbane, and arrived to warm sunny weather in Cairns. Mum picked us up from Cairns airport in a borrowed car. “The air conditioning doesn’t work,” she said. “I mean, you can test it, but I turned it on and it just made the car hotter.” The sun burned my legs through the windscreen on the drive to Daintree as Edward obliging fell asleep in his car seat.

Mossman smelled of the distinctive heavy molasses of cane harvesting, and a thick column of smoke was rising from the working mill. Closer to Daintree, a couple of kids perched on the back of a truck on the side of the road next to a hand-painted sign advertising “$10 ugg boots”, which presumably fell off the back of a truck themselves.

Sacred Kingfisher

We spent a lot of time at a local beach, tropical winter being the perfect time for a toddler to waddle around in the sand digging holes and joyously crushing the sandcastles painstakingly made and decorated for him by his grandmother. I spent a lot of time wandering around with my camera, taking photos of hermit crabs and snails squiggling around in the shallow water of low tide, and a hopeful kingfisher perched on a log, waiting for something to catch.


Edward wasn’t as captivated as I thought he would be by floating past basking crocodiles and he lost interest in our surroundings about halfway through the morning cruise. I suppose it isn’t entirely clear to a three year old that crocodiles are really real, particularly as the most attention they tend to pay to the boats is to follow us with their eyes.


The bamboo garden now looms metres high above our heads, and the wind blowing through the trunks made a complex background creaking soundscape as we walked down to one of the wetland ponds. After Mum paddled Edward around for a while in a little canoe I took a turn and promptly got tangled up in weeds, causing Edward to shriek with gales of laughter as I pulled wet bladderwort into the canoe. “What?! Are you doing?!” he gasped in between giggles when I got us lodged on some fallen bamboo. Mum laughed along unhelpfully from the bank and took a number of unflattering photos of my concentrating expression, as a mother should.

Pink berries

I was watching Edward busily gathering up pink berries scattered over our friend’s garden, as he muttered about them being “tiny ‘matoes”, and asked our host if they were safe to eat. “Oh yeah, the lilly pilly berries. I think they’re actually deadly poisonous,” he told me laconically, watching his own children play with them. “Johnno told me that his dog ate some of them and got real sick.”

I told Edward firmly that the berries were not tomatoes, tiny or otherwise, and that he mustn’t eat them, before sidling off to google “lilly pilly berries” on my phone. I was relieved to discover that they’re edible and can in fact be made into jam. Presumably Johnno’s dog became sick from other sources. They certainly look edible, crisply pink with touches of white, like tiny little apples.

Edward loves the easy access to the outdoors at our friend’s off-the-grid property, and spent much of the Easter weekend running around covered in dirt; his idea of paradise. The final mud stains on his feet have only come off after a few consecutive days of long baths. We camped in the garden, watching the full moon each night from our beds (apart from the evening of the lunar eclipse, when the clouds disappointingly wouldn’t shift). Despite the presence of three young children, I was able to spend a reasonable amount of time each day sitting in the late afternoon sun drinking wine and reading; a very satisfying way to spend a long weekend.

On the South Island

In preparation for our holiday in Wanaka, I ordered several sticker books from the Usborne sticker book range on such varied themes as dinosaurs, trucks and farm animals, and I recommend them heartily as plane entertainment aids for two year olds. “Where do you think this dinosaur should go, Ted?” Edward considered the matter with due seriousness. “Maaaaaaybe… in water!” he said every single time. Soon all the dinosaurs stickers allocated to that page were stacked on top of each other in a small pool of water. Watching this requires a certain amount of parental restraint in not rearranging the dinosaurs in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion, but the lengthy decision making process over each sticker makes it an enjoyably time-consuming exercise.

We stayed in a house next to Lake Hawea, and did various wintery holiday things. The area around Wanaka was a great place to holiday with children with plenty of interesting things to do within easy driving distance. Two year old Edward’s highlights were:
1. the dinosaur slide in the playground next to Lake Wanaka. It’s a slide shaped like a dinosaur. You slide down the dinosaur’s neck. From the perspective of a two year old, this is obviously the greatest thing of all time.
2. repeatedly sliding down on a tire with a parent down a snowy slope – “again! again!”.
3. making “snow balls” and a “snow man” ie. playing around with extremely icy snow which didn’t compact into balls at all.
4. staying “very very quuuuuuiet” in one of the dark kiwi houses at a bird park, and watching a kiwi scurry over a and take a drink from a little pool next to the glass.

Before this holiday, I had underestimated the vicarious enjoyment I get from watching Edward gleefully experience new things. I had wondered whether I would wistfully remember how holidays were pre-children, but instead I really loved watching his first tentative experience with snow and his wide-eyed gazing out of the back seat window as we drove through mountain ranges. (I also very much enjoyed my mother spending a day with Ted so that I could go skiing at Cardrona – vicariously enjoying your child’s wonder is always more fun when you’ve had a day off).


Some of my favourite moments from our recent trip to NZ’s South Island:

1. Queenstown would not be my usual favourite holiday spot – it’s so touristy, and my preferred kind of travel is out of tourist season. Hanging out with crowds of other tourists is not my idea of a good time. But Queenstown makes up for its touristy feel by being jaw droppingly gorgeous – I loved picking our way along the snow covered ground along the shore of the lake at the end of the day, and sitting in our apartment drinking a glass of cheap red, watching the changing light over the lake and surrounding mountains.

2. The inland lakes, like Lake Tekapo, which are such a vivid turquoise blue that they don’t look real – particularly after it snowed, the lake glowed against the surrounding whiteness. We went snow tubing when we were there, hurling ourselves down a hill in inflatable tubes while looking out on the spectacular vista of the lake.

3. Tuatara are the only living members of the order Sphenodonti and have a variety of sci-fi-esque features like a photo receptive “third eye” on top of their head. And they probably live for hundreds of years. Seeing them moving around at the bird park (very very slowly, as befits such a long lived creature) was pretty incredible.

4. I wanted to stop every 5 steps or so as we walked around the Kaikoura Peninsula and take a photograph of the slightly different angle of the views we saw in every direction. Looking down to the ocean, we could see a small seal colony basking in the sun at the foot of the cliffs – looking behind us, we saw snow capped mountains across the horizon, past a green field of grazing cattle, and stepped hills that were once the site of fortified pa. No other people in sight, and we sat for a while on the clifftop watching a seal swimming and listening to the sound of the waves.

In zid

Things I’m loving about New Zealand:

– the amount of farmland, and the sheer number of sheep I have seen grazing in fields, in the snow, and on seemingly sheer mountainsides. I love sheep. I am going to move here and run a sheep farm. With other people doing all the hard work – I’ll do the fun stuff, like moving stock (well, it looks like fun).

– “Sweet as”
– seeing an ad for a type of sheep dip while watching rugby on tv

– being able to chuck some wine and a six pack of beer in your trolley at the supermarket
– the fact that it’s not a trolley, it’s a trundler
– that the sort of weather that results in road closures is so beautiful

– the national and very enthusiastic obsession with rugby and the upcoming World Cup
– the graceful way that keas waddle towards vehicles pulling into carparks

On the beach

It was fairly overcast when we went across to Stradbroke Island a couple of weeks ago, but there were odd rays of sunshine that broke through the cloud cover. We took advantage of a relatively clear late afternoon, and walked down to sit on some rocks by the beach, drinking red wine and smoking a cigar (in the case of my father). The waves peeled in to the shore, and we watched the fishing boats on the horizon and the clouds slowly moving across the sky.

I hadn’t been to the beach in ages, and spent a while squatting on the sand with my macro lens taking photos of shells. I like taking photos of shells. They don’t move as much as insects, so I don’t have quite as many blurry shots to delete at the end of the day.

We stayed in a little beach house – a townhouse with three levels and little balconies, where you could see a glimpse of the sea. The townhouse next door was full of blokes celerating a buck’s weekend, one of them told us apologetically. “Just, you know, come over and tell us to shut up if we get too noisy.” Crows and kookaburras hung around in the trees outside, eyeing off the barbecue. The blokes next door threw scraps of meat to the kookaburras, and I watched them diving to catch the food in mid-air. We decided they were a group of siblings – three young birds, similar in size.

My brother pointed out a group of whales spouting out to sea – puffs of mist rising from a slightly darker patch of sea. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen whales – if you can call such a small glimpse seeing a whale. I am wondering whether to go on a whale watching cruise while we are in New Zealand next week – I think it would be amazing to get a bit closer, but equally wonder whether a trip would be worth it to get a brief glimpse of a whale tail before it dives again.

In the distance

We were driving second, which meant we watched our friends’ four wheel drive sliding crazily along the muddy track before we followed them. It didn’t fill me with confidence. I don’t think I particularly enjoyed clinging on in the passenger seat as we drove through some particularly steep and muddy sections – I mean, it’s a bit of an adrenaline rush, but it’s also fairly terrifying, feeling the car slip about underneath you. I enjoyed the places we got to though – standing on the side of a hill looking out over the Maleny valley.

On the dirt

We went driving in the truck this morning, up Shaws Pocket Road, which I had read a bit about online. If you look at the road on maps, you can see that it narrows down and continues through past a quarry to somewhere in Ormeau. After reading various forums online, I’m still not sure whether access to the road is entirely legal. It’s on maps, and there’s no signs forbidding access, but I have a feeling that if you follow it all the way to Ormeau it might go through some private land, particularly the bit near the quarry.

It was the first time we’d actually driven the truck in four wheel drive, so we locked the hubs in and headed up the steep dirt track. I wouldn’t want to go up there if it was raining, not unless we were much more experienced – it feels very steep, and there’s lots of dips in the track that would fill up with water. We only followed it for a little while, coming across one trail rider who saw us, swung around and rode away again (which somewhat confirms my feelings about the legality of access). I think it takes you up a ridge and then along the top of a range of hills – we could glimpse views down into the surrounding valleys through the trees.

I would be tempted to try out heading into the Logan Village pine forest, which is literally at the end of our street, but there’s plenty of signs around there forbidding access to cars and bikes. Despite that, it’s constantly full of trail bikes, judging by the noise on weekends, but it would be rather difficult to pretend you weren’t supposed to be in there – and I think the police do occasionally do some patrolling through there. I have this strange desire not to get arrested for trespassing. I think we’ll just stick to unsigned tracks and hope for the best.

Long weekends

We stayed in Stanthorpe over the long weekend, and did a walk in Girraween National Park to Castle Rock – it’s about a 5k return walk, with the most fantastic views up at the top of the rock. It was overcast and freezing, as we were trying to fit our walk before the forecast rain, which helpfully arrived later in the evening. Despite the temperature we got hot while walking and took off our jumpers – we were amused when descending (in our shorts and t-shirts) to see other people beginning the climb in long pants, jumpers, beanies, gloves – it wasn’t that cold. And I was pleased I actually had removed the jumper I’d borrowed from the husband, as it has a pair of mating unicorns on it and I feel a bit self conscious when people give it sideways glances.

“What was James Bond’s number again? Zeros… it has zeros in it. Nine zero zero?”
“Are you kidding?”
“Oh! Double oh seven. I remember now. Well, it does have two zeros in it.”
“Nine zero zero? [in evil Bond villain voice] ‘Come come, Nine Zero Zero – you enjoy killing as much as I do.'”
“If double oh seven is a license to kill, what is nine zero zero’s license? To severely bruise?”
“It’s a license to carry a hammer.”
“Is it a license to carry a concealed hammer?”
“No, not concealed – just out in the open, in a hip holster.”

Apart from walking, we also occupied ourselves visiting wineries and gardens, playing tennis on the derelict grass tennis court where we were staying, and eating enormous amounts of cheese and wheat and sugar. We planned to do a six week cleanse when we returned home, and frankly I think there is no healthier way to start a cleanse than by filling yourself full of crap.

[The husband is in the kitchen of our cabin as the football comes on.]
“I’ll commentate for you, shall I? That was a tackle. That was another tackle. They’ve kicked the ball. Oooh, it just hit someone in the head. Now a Titan has grabbed the ball and fallen out of the field.”
[The TV commentators scream, “What a magnificent try!”]
“Yes, thanks all the same, I think I’ll just come and watch it myself.”

Bee IV

The sun burned through the clouds on our last morning, and I found a bee and played around with my macro lens. I feel I am finally getting the hang of this lens, particularly when there’s plenty of sunshine – it either needs flash or a lot of light if you’re getting really close to something. I love getting so close to a bee, and being able to see all the little tiny hairs on its legs – bees don’t seem particularly bothered by an camera lens following them around. They’re focussed on the task at hand.