2005-2006 - Australia
Tuesday 15th November
In the evening we flew to Darwin (having spent several hours at Singapore airport using their free internet facilities).
Wednesday 16th November
We arrived at 4.25 a.m. and were pleased to find the tourist information office open at the airport as we had no accommodation booked.
We managed to secure a good deal on a four and a half star hotel - the Darwin Central (2). We paid for immediate access as we were so tired but, as no room of the type we had booked was available immediately, this secured for us one of their best executive rooms at no extra charge.
We slept until nearly lunch time and then went to explore the town visiting the shopping plazas (very small shop units & small town feel), enquiring at the Tourist Office re trips, shopping at Woolworths for breakfast provisions, etc. 4,000
Thursday 17th November
More exploration, booked trip to Kakadu and extended our hotel booking (via Tourist Office where best deals are to be had), and walked along sea front visiting Lamaru Beach. Exceptionally hot and humid. Meal at Thailicious in evening. Severe storms over night.
Friday 18th November
First went briefly to the shops - Jill buying a pair of knee length trousers and Adrian a phone card. Then caught a #4 bus from Darwin Bus Station to as near to the Museum as it would take us. Walked the short distance from where we alighted to the Museum in the scorching heat - past people playing bowls!
Before we went in, walked just past the museum buildings down to Fannie Beach heeding the warnings not to even paddle in the inviting blue sea because of the Box Jellyfish - the sting of which can prove fatal! As we always seemed to find, there is no such thing as paradise!!
After a light lunch at the Museum Cafe, we spent nearly two hours going round the exhibits - including of Hurricane Tracy.
We then walked back into the city - first of all passing Darwin High School and then going to Mindil Beach along the Fairweather Track (James Fairweather, born in Scotland, and then resident all his life in Oz, was an acclaimed artist.)
It was exceedingly hot and we walked in the shade whenever possible. We went through the Botanical Gardens and along the side of the Golf Course where there were again people playing in the searing heat!
Once back in the city, we found an even larger Woolworths than we had visited previously and bought some frozen ready meals to microwave that evening. Before we ate them we went to email the children.
After our sumptuous meal, we spent over an hour dividing our luggage into what we would take, and what we would leave at Darwin Central to await our return.
Saturday 19th November
Left the hotel at 6.10 a.m for our pre-booked tour to Katherine - first doing a pre-tour of various hotels (including returning almost half an hour later to within 50 yards of our own!). We then headed southwards along mile after mile of virtually straight and almost empty roads.
After a stop at a "hotel" in the middle of nowhere, ( a metal shack with very limited facilities - somewhat reminiscent of some cafes we had visited in Cambodia) we visited the War Cemetery just down the road. This was beautifully kept and frequented by several peacocks.
We travelled on towards our first proper stop at Edith Falls when a large red kangaroo suddenly leapt in front of the coach. The driver braked as soon as he saw it but nonetheless, sadly, there was still quite a large bang. "He'll have a sore tail for a day or two!" he commented - hopefully he was right and we did indeed only catch a glancing blow to its tail.
Once at Edith Falls, several folk, including Adie, went swimming in the pool fed by a fairly small waterfall. We also bought some cold drinks there before travelling on to the Katherine Visitor Centre where we had a buffet lunch. Then on to Katherine Gorge itself and a two hour venture on an open boat before alighting and walking about 500 metres past Aboriginal Rock paintings before clambering into another boat and sailing on again in another lake or billabong. We passed a film crew who are shooting a new film set in the Katherine Gorge called "Rogue".
Our boat was piloted by a kiwi girl called Susanne who pointed out the flora and fauna at each side - including a colony of vociferous and large black bats. Katherine had totally flooded in 1998 and virtually all the trees that had formerly clung to the cliffs had been uprooted and swept away.
After our visit to the Gorge, we began the long journey back to Darwin, watching a documentary on board of the life and times of a Kookaburra resident at Kakadu. Following this we stopped at the same "hotel" we had visited in the morning. There we again saw Charlie the Buffalo (now stuffed) who had starred in Crocodile Dundee. We ordered baramundi - a local fish widely acclaimed in this area.
We arrived back at Darwin passing through a thunderstorm (which was followed by a rainbow). We checked into the Mirambeena Hotel (3) at about 9.00 p.m. after a long and tiring day but one that had given us a much better idea of the Top End of Australia.
Amongst other things, we learned to-day that Australia has just two Territories - the Northern Territory and Canberra itself. Only in these does the Government have absolute sway. All other regions are States and the Federal Government may not over-rule laws made by their parliaments.
Texted Zo asking for a response as we hadn't heard from her. Got one so now can stop worrying. She is going to a Ball tonight.
Sunday 20th November
Really violent and prolonged thunder storm in the early morning which ensured that we were awake even before we needed to be for our 6.15 a.m. departure.
Set off (after the usual round of hotel pickups) along the Stuart Highway as we had done yesterday but turned off for Kakadu rather than proceeding to Katherine.
Our first port of call was to Nourlangie Rock where our ATTKings Guide, Wayne, led us on a guided walk to view Aboriginal rock art. It was, as usual, exceedingly hot and humid and flies were an enormous problem. (Definitely no such thing as paradise!)
After this we visited the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre where there were many exhibits portraying Aboriginal life. We then travelled a very short distance to our lunch venue where, as yesterday, there was a buffet with salad and mixed fruit desert. There was also a shop - and we were delighted to find that they sold (for $6) some nets to keep flies away from our faces. These were effective but were very hot to wear and draped against our faces in an uncomfortable manner.
After lunch we went for a cruise in an open-sided boat on the Yellow Water Billabong. Almost immediately we caught sight of a crocodile that surfaced just in front of us. We watched and filmed it for several minutes and then travelled on - seeing many different types of birds (including a small blue kingfisher) on the banks.
Towards the end of the billabong, the pilot of the boat commented that he had seen a large baramundi towards the rear of the boat. So, too, had a crocodile lurking in the reeds at the water's edge. He pounced without warning and the baramundi came to a sudden end. However the croc would not oblige by flipping it in the air before eating it and remained motionless with it clamped in its jaws. We waited for several minutes and then had to give up to retrace our river journey and alight to reboard our coach.
We then toured the three Kakadu hotels dropping off people at each. Ours was the last - the Aurora (4). We had a very nice room overlooking gardens frequented by magpie geese that came right up to our window and wallaby which were rather more shy. However one was a little braver and stood not far away with its joey clearly visible and viewing the world from the safety of its pouch. I was able to catch it on video.
We went to have as cheap a meal as possible from the hotel's bar - sharing a table with Ron Clifton from Perth who, in his mid 80's, put many of us to shame with his energy and agility.
Monday 21st November
We had to be ready on the coach for 7.15 a.m. and then went round to the two other "local" hotels to pick up the rest of the passengers.
We went to view more examples of aboriginal rock art and climbed to the top of Ubirr which afforded panoramic views of the very different local scenery here. Several rock wallabies hopped around nearby and the numerous flies made us follow suit!
To-day we were fortunate in spotting two or three frilled lizards, some white and black cockatoos and a whole host of different types of birds.
We went to the Cahill Crossing before joining the Guluyambi cruise along the East Alligator River where we saw a number of saltwater crocodiles. Our Aboriginal Guide, Tasha, told us how her people utilise the local fruits, bark, roots etc and she took us ashore in Arnhem Land to show us various artefacts used by her people - including spears and baskets.
Lunch was a picnic at Jabiru Airport and we then went on the coach to tour part of the perimeter of the Ranger Mine watching the lorries as their cargo was essayed to see if it contained uranium - most of which is exported to France.
We finished our stay in Kakadu by visiting the Bowali Visitor Centre where we watched a fascinating video of the area before returning to Darwin. We were back at our hotel (the Darwin Central) shortly after 7.00 p.m.
This evening we ate at a Vietnamese Restaurant before purchasing food for tomorrow's breakfast from the larger of the two Woolworths. We posted some cards before returning to our hotel for a longer sleep than we have had recently. 6,500 (but not working accurately)
Tuesday 22nd November
Enjoyed the best night's sleep since we've been here and got around to a leisurely departure at around 10.00 a.m.
First of all went to check our email and had some difficulty logging on to Tiscali. When finally successful after enabling cookies, forgot to log on to Hotmail! We had heard from Keri about the implications of altering our flights and therefore felt we would go ahead and investigate travelling to Adelaide on the Ghan.
We left the internet place and went to Top End Tourism - where we were becoming fairly well known! We spent at least an hour and a half investigating our options and then making our bookings. We will travel on the Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide and break our journey at Alice. We also have two ATTKings tours booked: a half day around Alice itself and a full day to Uluru. We have also extended our hotel booking at the Darwin Central so that we will now checkout on Wednesday 30th November.
After sorting out the next stage of our itinerary, we went for lunch at the Noodle stand beneath our hotel before spending some time reading in our room.
Then, at around 3.00 p.m., we went to check our Hotmail Account and found several emails that we needed to deal forwarded on from Tiscali. After this we bought a cool vegetable drink from a Smith Street Plaza and set off for a fairly longish walk to the Wharf Precinct. There we found a number of different eating places and succumbed to temptation in purchasing a crocodile burger which we shared between us! How the wealthy live!
After our meal we walked back into the city with flocks of scarlet parrot-like birds passing noisily overhead. When we returned to Smith Street these were perched in their hundreds in the trees and the noise of their song was deafening.
Spent the evening reading and watching television.
Wednesday 23rd November
We walked in fairly hot conditions to the Marine Pacific Museum where we watched a video about the creation of coral reefs - where coral larvae traverse miles of ocean. We had not really appreciated before that these are living creatures which give the colour to the reef and leave the calcite deposit when they die.
The proprietor of the museum had caught a box jelly fish that morning for display. These are very deadly and prevent use of the sea in this area for at least six months of the year. They have 36 eyes and long trailing tentacles.
After lunch at the Wharf where we had visited the previous evening, we called in at a pearling exhibition that was reasonably interesting.
On the way home we booked at Parliament House to go on a tour this Saturday. 11,300
Thursday 24th November
We bought a Bus Rover Ticket and took the scenic route to Casuarina where we visited a large shopping mall where we bought some books, enquired about phones and had lunch.
Believing that Emma may live in Palmerston, we took a bus there and at last succeeded in purchasing "A Town Like Alice".
We headed home on a different bus route and walked along the sea front in the early evening before using the internet.
Friday 25th November
Again caught 10.15 a.m. bus from bus station and went to Burnett House - a National Trust House - at Myilly Point. This was built in 1938 and designed to keep the occupants cool before the invention of modern air conditioning.
We then caught another bus to Fannie Bay where we first bought a cool fruit juice at the local cafe before visiting the Gaol which was in use until the late seventies. There were notices warning people to keep off the grass because masked lapwings can prove aggressive when protecting their young at this time of year. In fact we did not see any.
We then walked in the usual searing heat to the Museum where we ate lunch in the restaurant there before revisiting various exhibits and then catching the bus back into Darwin.
We went out in the evening to use the internet and, on the way heard carols being sung. On investigating, we saw hundreds of people in Smith Mall gathered round a band that was playing. There were many children present and school choirs were singing. Many people were wearing Santa and reindeer hats. On 25th November it was a little surreal - particularly in the heat. The band and carol singers were competing with the scarlet parakeets who were again singing lustily in the trees immediately overhead!
Saturday 26th November
We joined our pre-booked tour of Parliament House at 11.00 a.m. and found it extremely interesting.
Later in the day we visited Lyons House - the British Australian Telegraph house with photographic displays of former occupants as well as general views of life in bygone Darwin. Admission to both this and Parliament House was free.
We purchased some sunglasses each and a hat complete with mosquito net for Adie - and acted on a tip from the lady selling Jill's sunglasses to cut down and file Adie's old much too large clip-ons.
Lunch was in local mall and after returning briefly to the hotel we went for a walk to the cinema and to purchase our supper from the large Woolworths store (so unlike ours at home).
In the evening phoned the children who had all met up, with Amalia, at Zo's.
Sunday 27th November
In the morning we walked to the Chinese Temple in Woods Street since our guidebook had said the museum, as well as the temple itself, were open on Sundays. Not so - therefore we walked back into the centre of the city and went into the massive Woolworths store to save a little money by purchasing a ready meal to microwave for lunch. Before eating it we collected our books and sat in Bi-Centennial Gardens on the Esplanade to read for about an hour.
In the afternoon we walked to Dr's Gully to watch the fish come in from the ocean to be fed. The greatest number were mullet and they were quite happy to be hand fed and to be touched.
We then went for a short walk up Dr's Gully itself and then back along the Esplanade with a short detour to Lamaru Beach as I had not taken a digital photo of it on our last visit.
In the evening we went to phone Zo. Our phone card means that we could have placed an 800 minute call!
Monday 28th November
To-day was a day of getting things done - posting excess clothing & my walking boots back to England, doing the washing and ironing, and buying some sandals and some food. We also opened a bank account with ANZ.
Whilst our washing was in the machine, Adie went swimming in the hotel pool. I finished my book of Australian short stories. Keri texted to say she was thinking of doing 1-1 or small group dyslexic/special needs teaching.
Tuesday 29th November
Before we got up there were fairly violent thunder storms with torrential rain.
Adie woke with a tremendously painful neck and bad headache and we went to Salvatore's below the Darwin Central, for coffee. He had two cups followed by some Meltlets and began to feel somewhat better.
We again took it fairly easy to-day - our last one in Darwin. The early bad weather cleared and after a less warm than usual start (but still hot), the temperature increased during the day.
After going around the shops for a while we walked to the Oil Storage Tunnels near the sea front not far from the Wharf. These were commenced in 1942 and never finished. They were larger than we had envisaged and interesting. After this we walked back to the hotel and washed before going out to share a chicken teriyaki sub from Subway and reading in the park for a fair bit of the afternoon.
We came back to our room to cool off for a while and then, at 5.00 p.m. our time, we went to phone Keri as pre-arranged so that, before she went to work (7.30 a.m.) we could answer some of her questions about her idea of teaching special needs children.
Later we went to email everyone and found that the Halifax had responded to our query. This enabled us to go and phone them after we had packed and to arrange the transfer of funds into our new ANZ account.
Wednesday 30th November
We left Darwin Central at 8.00 a.m. and went to the Transit Station next to Chillies Backpackers. At about 8.30 a.m. the shuttle bus arrived to take us to the Ghan. The driver tagged our luggage appropriately for our detraining at Alice and we then drove to the Passenger Train Terminus at Palmerston.
The Ghan is enormous with 32 carriages including lounge and dining cars. We were travelling Red Kangaroo which meant a day nighter seat. These were all facing forwards and were quite self contained. There was quite an age mix in 'R' carriage and the English man and his wife who we had got chatting to at the transit station and on the bus were in our carriage a few rows back. We learned quite a few tips from them - including the fact that Nationwide have no charges at any of their ATMs world wide and that often the best way to see a country is to go on a cheap tour, use their accommodation, and then head off on one's own - eventually making your own way home. They are a similar age to us and have come to Australia for six months as part of an eleven month stay away this time. They have sold their house and are living on interest from capital and pensions.
Katherine was very hot and (basically) of little interest, comprising a smattering of shops and a few eateries. Following our tradition we had a "sub" from Subway. We then caught a shuttle to an 1880s homestead - stonebuilt and remote. We met a Dutch girl Tanya who accompanied us for this part and also for the trip back to the train.
We then set off again at 6.20 p.m., seeing little change in the scenery before it became dark. We were very pleasantly surprised by the good quality and modest pricing of our dinner that evening.
Sleeping proved as difficult as on a plane although there was much more room to move around when leaving the seat.
Thursday 1st December
The next morning we arrived in Alice Springs at 9.20 a.m. and caught a hotel shuttle that primarily served Malankas - a hostel attached to the Alice Springs Plaza (5) where we were staying.
We saw how the system works and how easy it can be for backpackers to find their way round. At the hostels plenty of tours are available as well as the wisdom of other travellers.
The afternoon tour that we had booked proved very successful - taking in the School of the Air, the Telegraph Station that had linked England to Southern Australia when the cable was laid in the 1880s, Anzac Hill, The Flying Doctor Base and service and a display of Australian reptiles.
In the evening we went out to buy some food for the next day's meals when the sky became vivid red with threatening clouds overhead. Sure enough, a violent thunderstorm ensued and we had to take refuge in the nearby Macdonalds and eat there - whether we wanted to or not! When the rain had largely stopped we went to find Coles and duly purchased supplies as we had intended.
Friday 2nd December
We were on the coach and leaving Alice Springs at 5.55 a.m. - ready for the long journey to Uluru and back.
About one hour out of Alice we stopped at Jim's Place where we met Dinky - a full-blood dingo that had been rescued as a pup by Jim and had developed a passion for walking up and down the piano keys "singing". We videoed this national and international celebrity performing.
Then we were back in the coach until we stopped to photograph Mt Conner at about 10.30 and had some drinks brewed by the coach driver.
We arrived in Yalara at 12.00 and had lunch in the shopping complex under its "sales" - designed well before this became a feature of modern planning.
Then on to Uluru itself! Some of our number (about half of the sixteen travelling) elected to climb the mountain. We did not - partly in deference to the aboriginal wish that people should not do this, and partly because we had heard all sorts of warnings about the strenuous nature of the climb in the heat of the day. In the event, only three people made it to the very top - one a 13 year old boy.
Whilst the climbers were left for 2 hours, the rest of us were taken to the Uluru Cultural centre where there were many fascinating exhibitions including sound-tracks giving aboriginal views and reminiscences.
Our driver then took his depleted party on a couple of walks around the base of Uluru before we all met up at 3.00 p.m. and set off on the drive to the Olgas.
The Olgas are of a different rock formation to Uluru and the party walked up through a gorge in the intense sunshine - the sky was cloudless all day.
We then returned to watch the sun set over Uluru - in a designated area where many coachloads of people all come to have an alfresco dinner preceded by champagne or soft drink.
We took many photos of Uluru as the sun gradually set - only eventual comparison of them on the computer will reveal whether there were many different graduations of colour change - it was fairly hard to tell at the time.
We then acquired a new driver for the 280 miles back to Alice Springs. He was seemingly in his early 20s and appeared determined to get back in the shortest possible time. We made one stop at Mt Ebinezer of about ten minutes and then hurtled on our way again - collecting literally thousands of dead insects on our windscreen and arriving back in Alice at 12.15 a.m.
We were in bed at 12.45 but barely asleep when the fire alarm sounded at 1.15 a.m. and we, together with others, piled out onto the street to await the arrival of the fire engine and its crew. In the event it fortunately proved to be a false alarm and we returned to our room to try again.
The night was certainly not quiet and Alice apparently has quite a noisy indigenous population - however we did get quite a long sleep until shortly before 9.00 a.m.
Saturday 3rd December
We packed all of our things and checked out of the Alice Springs Plaza shortly after 10.00 a.m.
We then walked into town and spent some time listening to various local people speaking over a public address system to a crowd of some 20 or 30 - who we joined in the shade of the town's museum (which was closed for the summer). The subject of the moment was global warming - how it is effecting central Australia, its inhabitants and tourist industry - and what can be done about it.
Lunch was a toasty in a local shopping plaza and we then walked back to our hotel to collect our luggage and the courtesy bus to the Ghan station. We arrived there at about 12.45 and had to wait til 1.30 before we could board the train. In the interim we talked with other travellers from the UK and shared experiences and plans.
The Ghan departed at 2.00 p.m. and made its relatively slow way south. We were requested to advance our watches by one hour immediately because South Australia operate summer time whereas the Northern Territory does not.
That night we discovered the disadvantages of seats at the end of the carriage as we were passed both by people using the toilets and also smokers going to their segregated section in the next carriage. The result was very limited sleep!!
Sunday 4th December
The countryside continued as scrubby bush with very red sandy soil, eventually giving way (after many hundreds of miles!) to huge fields of wheat with some periodic herds of cows by water holes at the track side.
We arrived in Adelaide at 9.30 a.m. The station having no tourist information desk, we took a taxi to their office in the city centre.
It being Sunday there were only 2 staff on duty and it was close on an hour and a half before we left, with a modest hotel (6) fixed up, just perhaps 200 yards away. Here we were eventually to stay for about a week.
We noticed the weather to be very much cooler, especially in the evening when even a jumper or light fleece left us feeling a bit chilly.
Monday 5th December
Much of the day was spent back in tourist information where we booked a car to drive to Melbourne and the first 2 hotels for our journey there which would commence the following Sunday.
We also picked up bank cards relating to the ANZ account we had opened in Darwin the week before. We were pleased to find that our funds from England had been successfully transferred to this new account.
Adelaide is very different to Darwin and much like other cities although attractive, with a mix of old and new buildings and much open space. It benefits from an excellent free bus service as well as a number of free attractions - including the Museum of Migration which we visited in the afternoon.
Tuesday 6th December
Using a day pass for the transport system we took a tram to Glenelg on the coast. This afforded a very pleasant sandy beach with a fairly boisterous sea but almost unbroken hot sun. We sat on the beach reading for a while and then took lunch before visiting a museum in the sea-front Town Hall, a charming building dating back to the 1880s. The museum was dedicated to the arrival of the first settlers at Glenelg as well as its development over the 170 odd years since then. Glenelg boasts a good number of old buildings including 2 storey shop buildings with verandas and wrought iron railings and decorations.
Glenelg is where the settlers first landed in 1836 and where the same year a formal declaration was made establishing it as a British colony.
We could not resist a bus ride to Brighton (!) passing near Hove on the way! Brighton had many bungalows typical of the housing we had seen throughout the 30 minute tram ride we had taken earlier from the City to Glenelg. However it proved much prettier and far smaller than its namesake. Behind the white sandy beach and dunes there were perhaps 6 shops and these together with the jetty seemed to comprise the main highlights of what is evidently a suburb of Adelaide.
By 6 pm it was getting too chilly to sit around and we headed home by tram again from Glenelg. We phoned Keri at work to arrange to be listed on flights to and from Tasmania and then spent the evening in our hotel room reading.
Wednesday 7th December
We travelled by bus to Port Adelaide, again passing through extensive suburbs of numerous different style bungalows. Port Adelaide proved a disappointment being very small, with no significant old buildings that we could see. We therefore set off walking over the harbour bridge towards Semaphore but realised the distances were too great and instead caught another bus.
We sat on the beach for a while reading and then returned to Adelaide where we completed our tour of the Migration Museum and then walked along beside the river and the Festival Centre.
Thursday 8th December
We took another day trip, this time to the Adelaide hills and the Fleurieux Peninsular. The first were reached by a long climb out of Adelaide to Mt Lofty from where we had extensive views to the distant city and the coastal suburbs.
We continued to a German founded village in the hills by the name of Hahndorf. This retained many small old stone buildings but had become a tourist centre which nevertheless remained very attractive. We visited a museum in the old school house.
Then we headed southwards and picked up the coast with a really beautiful little cove at Port Elliot before moving on to Victor Harbour. This again was a small attractive settlement providing a number of cafes and Granite Island which was home to fairy penguins and our first distant sight of a pelican.
On our way back to Adelaide, we stopped in McLaren Vale - a centre of the wine industry and bought the children some small Christmas presents in the Craft Shop there.
In the evening, we had a snack in Macdonalds and witnessed an encounter between the Manager and a customer who had fallen asleep and turned abusive on being woken and asked to leave. The police were called and he was taken off in a small cage attached to the rear of the police car - following the arrival and departure of two mounted police as well as the two incumbents of the police car.
Friday 9th December
A 6.15 a.m. start was the commencement of a two day trip to Kangaroo Island. We travelled for two hours by coach down the Fleurieux Peninsular - this became increasingly hilly and beautiful.
We took the ferry from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw on K.I. and travelled down the island first stopping at a small bay with incredible aquamarine/ turquoise water and golden sand.
Our group of 14 (the majority of whom were German and French) then visited Clifford's Honey Farm for a talk on the keeping of Ligurian bees - imported in 1881 from north Italy. We enjoyed some delicious honey ice-cream there and also bought some lip salve for the girls.
Lunch was an excellent fish meal with apple strudel and we then visited a wild life park with local birds and animals including tame kangaroos. Most of these were either orphaned or injured - it was therefore something of a rescue centre for local wildlife.
A national park was our next stop where a beach was home to hundreds of sealions resting as part of their cycle of three days fishing and three days rest. We were able to view these at close proximity under the superintendence of a guide.
Later in the afternoon we arrived at Kingscote where we were to stay the night in the Ozone Hotel (7) - a traditional balconeyed stone building on the sea front. First we enjoyed an amazing experience of pelicans who arrived to be fed by a local man who does this every day of the year. The birds were in touching distance of us in large numbers.
Kangaroo Island (150 km x 55 km wide) is occupied by only 4000 people and is the third largest island in Australia. It is one third national park, one half original vegetation and a wild life haven with some creatures being unique to it. A great place to retire? But what about all those flies?!
Saturday 10th December
At 9 o'clock the following morning we set off for the southern part of the island. We visited a eucalyptus plant where oil was extracted from the leaves to make medicines, fly repellent and skin creams etc.
During the day we had got to know Don and Trish who had been farmers in the outback in Queensland and whose huge farm and outback existence reminded us of "A Town Like Alice".
We visited a cave complex with considerable stalactites and stalagmites. We went on to a barbecue lunch and saw a number of wild koala and wallabies.
We visited the coast which had beautiful turquoise seas and cliffs. The high light was "the Remarkables" - a rock outcrop on the cliff top which had been eroded into the most amazing shapes.
Our final visit was to a farm which produced yoghurt and cheese from sheep's milk. A temporary power cut which affected the entire island rather limited what they were able to show us.
On the ferry home we again bumped into Tania from Holland and shared time with her and Don and Trish on the 45 minute crossing.
Our arrival in Adelaide was at about 10.30 pm.
Sunday 11th December
Having picked up a car, we again crossed the Adelaide hills and headed south-eastwards to the Coorong coast. We did not find this of huge interest although there were salt lakes (one of which was of a striking pink-purple hue - for which we have been unable to find any explanation).
Our destination was Robe (8), four hours away. It proved to be a small coastal village with a high proportion of "heritage buildings". Jill was by now suffering from a very bad cold and with the effects of this, we did not find Robe captured our imagination.
Monday 12th December
The next day dawned cold and wet which was a surprise as the temperature had been 37 degrees yesterday. Jill still not feeling well, we spent the day sending off a Christmas parcel to the children, using the free internet facility in the local library, and sitting reading.
Tuesday 13th December
An hour and a half drive brought us to Mt Gambier (8), a volcanic area. Its main attraction are three lakes in a volcanic crater. One of these is particularly unusual in turning a vivid blue colour for three months of each year. The area also has a number of sink holes, one of which we visited in the town centre before spending some time sitting reading in the surrounding gardens.
Wednesday 14th December
We travelled along the Prince's Highway which later becomes the Great Ocean Road. The first "town" proved to be a tiny hamlet. We stopped at Cape Bridgewater, a beautiful bay with white sand, turquoise sea and white breakers. The adjoining headland gave access to a petrified forest and some blow holes.
We did not stop at Portland, which is a fair sized town with numerous heritage buildings, but instead headed for Port Fairy - a settlement of some 2000 people, again with many old buildings. This proved more to our liking and having found a modestly priced motel -$70 (9) we spent the afternoon sitting on volcanic rocks at the side of a rough sea. The sun lost its reticence and shone on us all the while we were there.
Thursday 15th December
The morning started warm but cloudy and we set off for the relatively short trip to Warrnambool but decided not to stay there as it seemed too big and busy. We soon came to spectacular cliff scenery with islands, sheer cliffs and numerous stacks. These comprised the Bay of Islands and the Bay of Martyrs. We specifically stopped to see the Grotto and London Bridge. The latter originally consisted of two arches, the nearest to the main land mass having collapsed in 1990 leaving the other arch as part of what is now an island. It must have been particularly impressive when both arches were there. Apparently the collapse stranded two tourists on the "island" and they had to be rescued by helicopter.
We moved up market a little in accommodation when we stopped at Port Campbell (10), a small settlement consisting almost entirely of accommodation for tourists. Apparently it has a population of 300. Our motel room looked directly out over the bay. The weather remained hot but overcast until some rain moved in in the evening.
Jill made some progress with her cold that has troubled for the last four days. This enabled us to see the wonders of modern science as she obtained advice from a pharmacy web cam giving access to live consultation with a pharmacist based 15 kilometres away. The pharmacist remained on line while Adrian went back to the car, retrieved Jill's existing medicine and brought it for inspection over the weblink. She then prescribed some cough medicine that was compatible.
At Port Campbell Jill filled the hole in her tooth that had appeared yesterday. The emergency dentistry kit came into its own!
A newspaper cutting was proudly displayed on the door giving details of the satellite link and how it came about. We went out in the evening to take a photograph of the cutting and on our return to our motel room discovered, to our horror, that we had left the key inside! There were no onsite staff and we had to telephone for someone to come with the master key and let us in. Fortunately they were only three to four minutes and we were able to escape from the car where we had been marooned in the rain!
Friday 16th December
We left Port Campbell at around 10.00 a.m. and again stopped many times to see the limestone coastal scenery along the Ocean Road. We wound down through forest to Apollo Bay where we secured our lodging for the night (at the Budget Motel) (11) before setting off back along the same road to visit Otway Fly. This is an aerial walkway leading to the forest canopy and attaining a maximum height of 47 metres. Initially we were rather disappointed having recently seen a presentation at Guildford Travel Club of just such a forest canopy outlook. However, this was really mainly due to us being in a bunch of people. On a second time around we were virtually by ourselves and found it easier to look and to listen.
We travelled back for 20 kilometres on an unsealed road through part of the rainforest that we had just been looking at.
Saturday 17th December
We set off quite early from Apollo Bay for about a twenty mile drive to Lorne. This section of the road was much more what Adrian had anticipated as it wound between cliff edge and sea giving spectacular views of the coastline.
Again we managed to find accommodation early - this time in a rather bohemian style cafe (12) that let out four rooms. The views from the cafe itself were of uninterrupted coastal vistas.
Jill was still not at her best and in the afternoon Adrian walked down to Erskine Falls in Otway National Park and we then sat on the sea front watching the surfers.
That evening we watched a film at the cinema about the Windmill Theatre called "Mrs Henderson Presents" starring Judi Dench, Bob Hosking and Will Young.
Sunday 18th December
We headed towards Melbourne, working our way along the coast. The weather was cool and overcast and nothing particularly appealed to us. We pursued the suggestion of the proprietor of the Mermaid Cafe where we stayed last night and drove to Queenscliff. The first part of the journey is quite spectacular as we followed the road cut through the cliff side adjacent to the sea.
Queenscliff is an old settlement with many historic buildings but we still felt we would push on. The Tourist Information Office at Queenscliff were extremely helpful and allowed us to use the internet for no charge. We were able to book up an apartment at St Kilda (13) for 2 nights very reasonably and just managed to catch the 12 o'clock ferry across to Sorrento.
St Kilda was bustling with weekend tourists making use of the numerous cafes and wine bars as well as the beach.
We had quite a nice studio apartment with kitchenette and separate bathroom and toilet. Cut Adie's hair and sorted out mine too before phoning the children.
Monday 19th December
We stayed at St Kilda and took it comparatively easy spending time on the beach (where it was extremely hot and we got rather burned) and on the internet booking up our accommodation at Launceston, a car for whilst we are in Tasmania, and our Melbourne accommodation on our return.
Tuesday 20th December
We returned the car to the airport and transferred our cases to yet another hotel (14) nearby before heading into the city centre on the airport shuttle. With the help of a waitress at a coffee shop in the stock exchange tower, we enjoyed not only a good snack but also found out where to board the free tram that circuits the centre of the city. We noticed the area for Cook's Cottage and went to look at this. We then visited the parliament area and explored some of the shops before catching the tram back to the area of our hotel. We had to telephone for the courtesy bus to pick us up from the shopping precinct at the end of the line. This eventually arrived and took us back to our airport lodge hotel.
Wednesday 21st December
After an early start (6.45 a.m.) we were pleased to board the flight to Hobart at 8.20 having heard from Keri the previous night that it was looking very busy. We took the shuttle once in Tasmania to the Tourist Information Office and arranged a hotel for two nights in Hobart (15).
We spent part of the day at the harbour side, eating at a fish restaurant, sitting in the sun and reading before visiting the Tasmania Museum.
Tasmania from the air and our experience of Hobart today have struck us as very attractive. The city has many old and elaborate stone or brick buildings. Again the prevailing demeanour of the local people is extremely laid back and also friendly.
Thursday 22nd December
A journey to the east led us along "The Convict Trail" to Port Arthur, a convict community and one of the earliest settlements in Tasmania. It is on what would be a fairly large island but for an extremely narrow connecting piece of land known as Eaglehawk Neck.
We had decided to try and get the car a day early and this enabled us to leave Hobart. On the way we saw some spectacular coastal scenery, in some ways reminiscent of the area around the Twelve Apostles. Large gorges had formed on the coast where cave roofs had collapsed and the sea now drives inland.
Port Arthur has been developed as a tourist destination and comprises many of the original buildings but adds in features such as a short cruise around the bay. The setting is idyllic and belies the misery that must have been endured by transportees, many of whom died there - largely due to diseases arising from damp and general deprivation. Nevertheless, it was surprising to learn that it was considered that their lives were in many ways better than those of city dwellers back in England.
We visited the Isle of the Dead, a very small island where more than a thousand were buried. The Guide told us of the lives and stories of some of the people which certainly helped to bring history alive. Adrian became a stone mason for a brief moment of time.
On the way back to Hobart we diverted to drive through Richmond, a village of Georgian properties and highly regarded in Australia.
Friday 23rd December
Our schedule was to Launceston, about 200 km to the north, but we started by going in the opposite direction for a drive to the top of Mt Wellington (1270 metres). The views were spectacular despite a slight haze and showed us the irregular shaped coastline, rivers and lakes, that constitute this part of Tasmania.
The Heritage Trail takes an old route through Tasmania and therefore passes several early settlements. These are bypassed by the present road but this restores something of the peace of these small communities with their early 19th century houses. We even visited a windmill at Oatlands.
Unfortunately a serious car accident then blocked the road just north of this village and we waited for nearly an hour whilst emergency vehicles, including a helicopter, brought aid to two women who were seriously injured.
By four oclock, we arrived at Launceston having also visited Ross, feeling fairly weary but the hotel (16) proved quite attractive and a walk around the city centre, together with a light meal, refreshed us.
Saturday 24th December
To-day was a day of recuperation and emailing. We rewarded ourselves in the evening with a visit to the cinema to see "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire".
Whilst not the only people in the hotel, clearly there were not many this Christmas Eve.
Sunday 25th December
Christmas Day was a complete contrast. We attended morning service at City Baptist Church where several people made us welcome both before and after the service. We then enjoyed Christmas Lunch at the Hotel. This was a large affair with about 400 people including many local town residents. We all tucked into a wide ranging buffet of a very good standard - but then the cost was $105 a head!
Launceston is sited close to a gorge of the river Tamar and this proved a relatively popular destination for those wanting an afternoon stroll. We were transported across the gorge by chair lift and then walked fairly high up along side the cataracts.
In the morning we had been invited to tea at the home of one of the church stewards and his wife (Mike and Jenni Dell). This proved a very enjoyable event at which we also met John Potts (Pottsy) and Linda. It was really good to just talk with local people and also hear of the history of their families and of Tasmania.
We returned to our room for 8.00 p.m. when the children called as pre-arranged. We chatted for about an hour and it was really good since both phones in our room linked to the one outside line and enabled us both to hear what all three were saying and to fully join in the conversation all the time.
Monday 26th December
Boxing Day - The Tasmanian Tourist Board has devised routes through each region designed to show off the main sites. We headed westwards towards the mountains via further historic villages with their early nineteenth century buildings. We had planned not to go as far as the mountains themselves and spent most of the day at a wild life park that rescues orphaned and injured animals especially the Tasmanian Devil and Wallaby. "Bill" told us much about koalas, wombats and the Tasmanian Devil. The latter he insisted was very friendly and affectionate, albeit that they growl and scream and that their strong jaws enable their sharp teeth to devour not only flesh but bones as well. This small creature tackles kangaroos and even cows. Nevertheless, he clearly had a close bond with the animals he showed us.
We then sought out some of the wild kangaroos that occupy part of the park and took photos of them.
Finding food on Boxing Day we realised might be a challenge - but along with many others we discovered that a food court near the cinema was open and we would not starve after all!
Tuesday 27th December
A day too long! Having committed ourselves to accommodation in Launceston til Wednesday, we instead left a day early to enable us to take a mountainous route via Scottsdale to the east coast at St Helens. Thereafter, the road largely followed the coast passing through occasional small settlements and meanwhile giving us some superb ocean views. We made a detour to the Freycinet Peninsula as we wanted to visit Wineglass Bay, voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We arrived at Coles Bay early afternoon but in the end decided not to pay a $20 National Park fee and take an hour's walk in uncertain weather to see Wineglass Bay. We contented ourselves with the beauty of Coles Bay instead.
Misjudging both distances and accommodation availability now that high season was in full swing, we passed the only ideal location with a vacancy and ended up in a motel near Sandy Bay (17) on the far side of Hobart. We had travelled around 300 miles in one day and it felt like it!
Wednesday 28th December
With time to spare until the car needed to be returned to the airport and our 5.00 p.m. flight to Melbourne, we headed south to Kingston. Whilst not particularly beautiful as a settlement, the location was outstanding with a tropical beach and a backdrop of Mt Wellington. The reason for our visit was to see the town where Ruth Herweynan and her family now live. It certainly looks very attractive although we did not find the actual road in which she lives.
By 8.00 p.m. that evening we were back in Melbourne but in a new location (18) just north of the city centre.
Thursday 29th December
Our first task was to collect some air tickets that Keren had sent out with acquaintances who had arrived in Melbourne yesterday. We were amazed to find that the couple concerned were in a Backpackers' Hostel just five minutes walk away. It was also a relief to us that we had decided to make this our first activity as, when we arrived, Steve and Sarah were waiting for a hire car to arrive for their proposed journey along the Gt Ocean Road. Our tickets would have gone with them since they had forgotten all about the arrangement to leave them at Reception!
After so much travelling, a day of culture was called for! We spent a fascinating morning in the Melbourne Museum, re-housed five years ago in a very futuristic building. As well as displays on the development of Melbourne, our guided tour showed glimpses of sections dealing with Aboriginal history in the area, wild life of Australia and even a living forest. In the Aboriginal section there was reference to several Lovetts who had been living in the area in the 1930s.
In the afternoon I had my hair cut for $40.00. The male hairdresser "re-styled it with a slither cut" but I was not sure I liked it. I also used the internet for an hour whilst Adie did some research at the Visitor Centre, browsed the second hand bookshop, and read his book.
Friday 30th December
A day of rest with the morning spent reading and the afternoon mainly on practical details. We needed to plan the next section of our travels. After reading and discussion, we decided to visit the Tourist Information Centre but first went up the Rialto Tower (830 feet to the top) - the tallest office building in the southern hemisphere. It has a look out from the 55th floor. Whilst there we enjoyed a long chat with a Londoner who had emigrated to Australia in the 60s and his Asian wife. We took the opportunity to book two coach tours - securing a 20% discount.
Saturday 31st December
This was heralded as, and proved to be, Melbourne's New Year's Eve on record with the temperature reaching 42 degrees. We travelled to the Grampian mountains, 260 km away but the temperature was pretty much the same. The Grampians are not high (3,500 ft) but provide a contrast to the much flatter area we had travelled through out of the city. As well as providing distant views over the hills themselves and the surrounding plain, there were sights such as McKenzie Falls and a rock formation called the Jaws of Death in the Balconies.
Whilst returning to the small town of Ararat, we could see smoke building up ahead of us. We were forced to a halt, perhaps a dozen cars back from a bush fire which was in the process of leaping the A8 Highway. We were stopped by firefighters who were later joined by the police and other fire tenders, as well as a helicopter and light plane. Along with the other vehicles, we were sent on a diversion, only to find after about ten minutes driving that we were back near the fire again and in danger of being stopped once more. However, we were allowed through and stopped in Ararat for our evening meal with a heightened awareness of all it means to live with the threat and presence of fires in this area. Later, we found that the fires grew into something really major, heavily reported on the National News. They burned out of control for 20 hours, affecting at least four townships and destroying seven homes, farms and livestock as well as a huge area of bush.
We arrived back in Melbourne at 10.15 p.m. inordinately tired after the drama we had witnessed and the fact that we had had little sleep the previous night as people in the hotel had been talking, shouting and partying outside our window at around 4.00 a.m. We therefore could not summon the energy to join the hundreds of thousands celebrating the New Year and therefore slept in the New Year!
Sunday 1st January
Another early pickup at 7.25 a.m. for a day's outing! What a contrast in the weather. To-day a cloudy start with a temperature of 21 gave way to an afternoon of steady rain with the temperature dropping to 15.
We visited the gold mining town of Ballarat, an hour and forty minutes away and north west of Melbourne. The town had many attractive "heritage buildings", some in elaborate stone work and others with the wrought iron balconies and decorations that featured so strongly in 19th century Australia.
Our destination was the living history mining settlement: Sovereign Hill. By dint of early photos and considerable research, a township has been recreated showing what it would have been like in the nineteenth century. It worked very well, with even the staff in period costume as bakers, blacksmiths etc and towns folk generally seeming realistic rather than tacky. A visit to early sections of a disused gold mine was particularly interesting.
Monday 2nd January
It was necessary to organise the next stage of our journey and this we did by making another visit to Tourist Information. Whilst not the most helpful assistance that we have received from offices in Australia, we were able to fix up a Greyhound bus to Canberra for the next morning. A quick visit to an internet cafe secured our accommodation entitling us to have the afternoon off, visiting the Immigration Museum.
It was interesting to see the conditions in which people travelled to Australia over the past 150 years and to learn more of their motives and backgrounds. The Immigration Policy has altered many times but currently is open to people from all countries. We are very conscious of the frequent reference in the media to being Australian or things being "unAustralian". There is a sense of national pride. There are also clearly some problems with the multi-culturalism that is constantly celebrated as a great achievement of the country. Race riots in Sydney just a couple of weeks ago and also Aboriginal youth problems have shown that all is not well. Even Australia does not have all of the answers to a society where one in four people resident here were born outside of Australia. It was also very interesting to find that proportionately Britain takes three times as many asylum seekers and also more immigrants. None of us has all of the answers yet.
We then visited Melbourne Central, a large shopping mall embracing a railway station and also totally encasing a 19th century shot factory and tower.
Tuesday 3rd January
The day of our journey to Canberra by road started with two notable events. The taxi driver (not fluent in English) had not listened carefully enough to the instructions to go to the bus station and headed instead for the trains! Once at our correct destination, the coach driver then said we were not listed and gave our seats to a couple of elderly ladies. He then discovered that we were listed after all and found room for us but later took off the ladies whom he had told from the staff had no authorised seats. We felt difficult about this but really it was pure coincidence that we out of the 50 passengers had had our seats wrongly given to them in the first place.
The scenery was the usual eucalyptus tree and dead grass but with periodic flocks of sheep and herds of cows.
Our travelling adventures continued. Having tracked down the taxi rank, a driver told us to walk as it was close. A passing post office official told us it was not and expressed his concern at the "lie" we'd been told. He hailed a passing taxi for us. Our accommodation ( booked through wotif on the internet) was on the campus of the Australian National University (19) where surplus student accommodation has been upgraded a little and is let out to the public. At least this gave us a good night's sleep, a cooked breakfast and free internet useage.
Wednesday 4th January
For some obscure reason, Tourist Information is close on 3 km from the town centre. We needed to investigate transport to Brisbane and thought they might help. Ultimately we arranged our own through Flight Center - we were to fly Virgin Blue at a total cost of $135 for the two of us.
We then took a bus out to the Parliament House, a very large modern building erected in 1988. As in Darwin, we took a guided tour and learned not only about the building but about the Australian Constitution. This obviously must have wetted our appetites as we then took a tour of the nearby Old Parliament House which had served as a temporary home for the Parliament from 1927 to 1988. We are now ready to take our degree in constitutional law!
The aboriginals have set up camp, with their flag, outside the Old Parliament House. This is called "the Aboriginal Embassy" and was erected by them to publicise their complaint that they have no say in the government of their own country. It has been taken down several times but always re-erected.
The city shows signs of design on an Architect's desk and therefore lacks the variety and erratic development of most cities but does therefore offer some quite spectacular views along three broad avenues radiating from the parliamentary complex. The main axis runs the entire depth of the city, crossing the lake and ultimately reaching the very large war memorial building. The lake was formed in 1964 by the damming of the river that flows nearby.
Thursday 5th January
Internet access at the university library is free and we seized the opportunity to book our Brisbane hotel courtesy again of wotif.com.
In the morning we bought a daily saver ticket and went to the extremely impressive National Museum where the three themes were 'Land', 'People' and 'Nation'. We watched a presentation about these themes whereby we were moved on between three tableaux with changing photographic and moving image displays.
In the afternoon we visited the War Memorial and War Museum which are vast. Our local service bus was not going as near the buildings as another route does - however, the driver took us and another couple round and dropped us right next to it as he had no-one else on the bus. We thanked him profusely and told him we'd do the same for him if he ever came to England - he replied he'd come last year!
We listened to a talk about George, the Lucky Lancaster Bomber and then a sound and light presentation of scenes involving Australian forces in the war before touring the rest of the museum and going to the Commemorative Area.
After this we caught the bus (eventually - as they had cut out some and we walked around for a long time and covered a lot of ground to another stop) back into the city and went to the Canberra Shopping Centre. When we got back to our hotel we used the internet for a while before going to bed.
Friday 6th January
Canberra Museum is much smaller than the National Museum and rather "tired" compared to its much newer and larger big brother. However it does house the interesting history of the Ryan family. Edward Ryan was an Irish convict who was transported for his part in a protest against English rule. Once he had earned his freedom in Australia he ultimately became wealthy by land acquisition. He then was a well-known local philanthropist and his family endowed a Catholic School.
We had lunch in the city and then returned to our hotel to collect our luggage. We managed to get this onto the service bus which took us from the university area to the city centre where we caught an airline shuttle bus.
From Canberra Airport we flew to Brisbane in the late afternoon and arrived an hour and a half later in a thunder and lightning storm which was quite scary.
After we left the airport and were nearing our hotel the storm became a tropical downpour and inches of water lay on the road.
No receptionist was on duty at our hotel which rejoiced in the name of "The Snooze Inn" (20) at Fortitude Valley and we used the intercom outside as we needed urgent access in the torrential rain. We were let in by a foreign guest who said we wouldn't be able to gain access to our room. However Adie had been given the code to a box on the wall that contained our room key card and so all was well - we thought! No sooner had we inserted the card in the light slot when our room lights went out plunging us into darkness with our luggage still not unpacked. At least two other rooms also lost their power.
We telephoned the manager who came and ultimately we traced the problem to being something wrong with the circuitry in our new room - we were therefore given another!
Saturday 7th January
We researched hiring a car only to find that this is a very busy time and few cars are to be had. The Tourist Information Office said we would not get one.
In the morning we took the town ferry in one zone and explored the city centre including Queen Street Mall.
We then returned to our hotel area where we had learned there was a Car Hire Company that might be able to let us have a car. We are staying in a rather depressed area quite near China Town. We saw a protest against the communist government in China by a largely Chinese group supported by white folk. We were handed a leaflet and a newspaper about issues.
After booking our car, we had lunch in an English Pub and then returned to the centre where Jill looked for sandals.
Sunday 8th January
The car proved considerably more expensive than we had anticipated but at least we had one. After we picked it up, Jill bought the sandals she had seen the day before from the outdoor clothing shop near the car pickup point.
Heading north on the Bruce Highway was both boring and crowded. We turned off to the Glasshouse Mountains and found ourselves in very unusual and beautiful countryside. There is a group of about thirteen extinct volcanoes where the original rock surrounding the volcanic plug has largely eroded away. This leaves spectacularly narrow and steep needles of rock rising perhaps a thousand feet from the surrounding land.
As we headed on northwards, the land became more generally hilly and beautiful views emerged over the coastal plain to our right.
Having spoken with an English Tourist Information man (who left Leicester 35 years ago) we had Montville as our destination. There we found a small settlement reminiscent of the Lake District due to its hilly location and crowded small cafés and souvenir shops. Not only this but it would win in a competition on the intensity of its rain as we discovered mid afternoon. We waited for perhaps 45 minutes for it to slacken so that we could return to the car, but with the odd short break, it lasted through much of the night.
We had treated ourselves to a "tree cabin" (21) being one of 14 set in 40 acres of largely rain forest. Even in the rain, we very much enjoyed this particular accommodation. In previous visits to rain forest we have been disappointed that there seemed so little wild life to be seen or heard. During the night and at dawn the audio side of this observation seemed very unfounded because of the noise of bull frogs and a host of other creatures.
Monday 9th January
We rejoined the Bruce Highway as far as Gympie. Despite comments in Lonely Planet as to its historical buildings and gold rush background, we did not find it particularly attractive and instead took a more minor road out to Rainbow Bay. We looked at some cabins in the holiday village there but were concerned about possible noise so looked further and found a very nice room in a newish development run by a lady and her dog Susie! She couldn't have been more helpful. (22)
Rainbow Bay is a jumping off point for Fraser Island but itself has some attractive scenery. Most noticeable is a huge cliff of sand known as the Carlo Sandblow which we visited in the afternoon.
Tuesday 10th January
The day was devoted to a tour of Fraser Island on a 4 wheel drive bus. Having no metalled roads, Fraser Island is a haven for 4 x 4 vehicles (no others being allowed). It has even more than Chelsea! It is a great excuse for people to drive without the usual restrictions although the rules of the road do still apply. Much of the driving is on the beach but also along sandy tracks inland.
Fraser Island (120 x 15 km) is the world's largest island that is entirely comprised of sand. It is home to packs of dingoes about which there are lots of warnings - but we never saw any.
Our tour included a 2½ km walk through the rain forest, which was actually excellent although there were far too many people. The path was largely beside a stream so clear that it is difficult to see that there is water in it, flowing over clean white sand.
Curled up within a few feet of the path was a large snake which we later found out was a carpet python. It was approximately 12 feet long!
We moved on to Lake Mackenzie. This 100 hectare lake is able to form in sand because of a deposit of decayed vegetation providing a seal. Nevertheless, the floor of the lake and its shores are beautiful white sand and the water is the clearest possible. We both went in!
After a buffet lunch, we watched a light plane taking some of our coach party on tours over the southern part of the island.
A strange mixture of boys having fun with their cars and the beauty of largely untouched national parkland, provided an excellent day out.
Wednesday 11th January
The next day we left Rainbow Beach early so that we could see friendly dolphins at Tin Can Bay. For the last three decades they have come in from the ocean at around 8.00 a.m. each morning where an organised hand feeding by the public takes place. We arrived for just the last few minutes but did see one light grey dolphin swimming amongst the adults and children standing in the water with food for her. Apparently care is taken to give only a rationed amount so that the dolphins maintain their ability to feed themselves.
By 9.00 a.m., we were in Maryborough, a smallish town (26,000) well provided with historic buildings - some of which were quite flamboyant. With some difficulty we tracked down a general stores: Brennan & Geraghty. This had opened for business in 1871 and was run by the same family for over 100 years before the 87 year old then proprietor decided he had had enough! It is a time capsule, nothing seemingly having been thrown away. Its business had declined over the latter years and the shelves and store rooms remained stocked with products going back decades. It had sold everything from jars of jam to pianos. It is now in the hands of the National Trust so we were able to gain admission free!
We then went on to visit Harvey Bay which we felt to be far more attractive than Lonely Planet suggested with its description of recent development. When we arrived a possum advanced cheekily towards us and we just managed to take its photo!
In view of the distance we need to cover in total, we decided to press on a little further north and we stopped at Burnett Heads where we took a caravan on a quiet site at our lowest price so far: $55 (23)
In fact we were scarcely there as in the evening we visited the Turtle Rookery at Mon Repos. This is a national park viewing of giant turtles coming in from the sea to lay their eggs. When these hatch, the matchbox size babies dash for the sea again watched by the supervised public. This is part of a research project that is open to the public rather than pure entertainment and they are satisfied that there are no adverse effects on the turtles breeding habits. We were there for about 3½ hours and returned to our caravan at about 10.45 p.m.
Thursday 12th January
A two hour drive from Burnett Heads took us first through sugar cane growing country, then eucalypt forest and finally cleared woodland grazed by beef cattle. We then reached the coast! Our target was the oddly named Town of 1770. This and neighbouring Agnes Water are very attractive so far as the natural countryside and coastal beauty are concerned and have been only minimally detracted from by pretty small scale development. We secured a cabin in the woodland where could be had the odd postage stamp view of the sea (24). However, we did see at close quarters, a land monitor (which climbed a tree posing for us to take its photo) and a variety of birds. The chattering of the latter was incessant.
In the evening we watched the sunset but unfortunately it disappeared behind a cloud before it had fully set. We then went for a Thai meal in the minute hamlet nearby.
Friday 13th January
We knew this had to be a long day because of the great distance that had to be covered within the 19 day period of car hire. After driving for perhaps an hour we stopped at Calliope River Historical Village which turned out to be collection of buildings rescued from Queensland. The venture was relatively small, and clearly lacked funds. Nevertheless it gave an interesting insight into some aspects of life over the past 150 years. As well as a school, church and some early houses, there was a miner's shack. This showed man's inventiveness in creating a house from the most basic materials.
We avoided Gladstone, one of the busiest ports in Australia, and after endless fields of sugarcane and partially cleared woodland grazed by beef cattle, we reached Rockhampton by lunchtime. This relatively small town retains its older centre with some very elaborate buildings paying tribute to its past as a mining centre and its present as Queensland's "Beef Capital". More recently endless motels and newer development have attached themselves to its outskirts.
We pushed on a long way, nearly to Mackay. The Bruce Highway is close to the coast at this point and we took a short diversion to Sarina Beach. For $78 we secured a beachfront motel room (25) in a slightly dated development.
We bought a takeaway for our evening meal from the one local supermarkets - where bare shelves reminded us of communist stores of the past. The shopkeeper's wife was however extremely helpful to us and gave us lots of recommendations of places to visit further north.
Saturday 14th January
It was delightful to be able to walk on a tropical sandy beach, almost deserted and immediately outside our room, at 6.30 that morning. There was plenty of activity by birds, however, and this was a source of interest to us.
The journey was shorter today but still long enough as we made our way to Airlie Beach, the access town for the Whitsunday Islands. This area is stunningly beautiful with the most amazing turquoise sea, tree covered islands and palm lined roads. It was very hot!
Again we considered ourselves fortunate in getting a reasonably priced cabin (26) in the rain forest with an abundance of rainbow lorakeets and cockatoos.
Sunday 15th January
We left the Flame Tree Tourist Park at 7.45 a.m. in the coach that was already waiting for us. This took us to the other side of Airlie Beach where we boarded a large catamaran in good time for its departure to the Great Barrier Reef at 8.30 a.m.
The catamaran took us for a brief pickup call at Daydream Island before heading out east on a 2 and 1/2 hour journey to the Reef. The Whitsundays are unlike anything we have seen for real as against film and photo. Uninhabited, relatively low hills, covered with trees to the water's edge or just bounded by white sand, rise from a turquoise sea. It is real picture postcard stuff - unbelievable unless you have seen it for yourself.
The company we went with have a large pontoon moored there with the diving equipment, platforms and even a water flume for the youngsters. It also has a glass bottomed boat and a mini submersible submarine. We went on the latter straight away before having lunch prior to our one-to-two snorkelling lesson at 1.30 p.m. There were shoals of brightly coloured fish and fantastic coral formations. Even when you have seen it on films, it is truly special to be there.
We wore wetsuits and had selected the right size flippers. With the rest of our equipment we were ready to begin our half hour session. Adrian was able to snorkel with the minimum of input whilst Jill held on to a large flotation ring held by the instructor. She experienced periodic difficulty with unwanted water both in her mouth and nose - possibly from a poorly fitting mask - but did see the beautiful coral of the reef and its inhabitants clearly. After the lesson Adrian went back in the ocean again. It was a first, and memorable experience for us both. The coral has many different forms and colours and is quite amazing.
On the long voyage back to the main land, the crew held "Story Time" and read us two stories - no doubt for the kids but greatly enjoyed by all the adults who joined in the "Oooooohs" and "Aaaaaaaahs".
Monday 16th January
Another day at sea! To-day was a tour of the Whitsundays with stops at Hook Island, Whitehaven Beach (on Whitsunday Island) and Daydream Island. Each provided a different facet. Hook has a very unobtrusive simple development which you scarcely notice. This was an opportunity for us to practise our new-found snorkelling skill. The soft coral was of less interest than that of the Outer Great Barrier Reef but the sea was alive with numerous brightly coloured fish.
Having had a surprisingly good lunch on our small vessel, we landed for about an hour and a half on Whitehaven Beach which gave opportunity for further swimming. This is an uninhabited island with no buildings other than toilet blocks. It has an amazing white sand beach. As is typical of the area, you clearly see the sand through the ultra clear water no matter what the depth. Apparently the sand is virtually pure silica and it certainly reflects the heat away remaining cool under the feet.
Our final stop was Daydream Island which has been developed. Whilst a few of the islands have resorts on them, they appeared generally to be very low key and in no way spoiled the beautiful appearance of the area. The possible exception was part of Hamilton Island where we saw a couple of recently erected high rise buildings.
During the course of the day, we gained much local knowledge from Susan and Arthur a couple who own a sugar cane and beef farm west of Mackay. Susan is also a High School teacher.
Tuesday 17th January
We had heard good reports about Bowen - a small town on the Bruce Highway not far north of Airlie Beach. However, it seemed to us to offer very little and after a lunch there, we visited Horseshoe Bay, a nearby beach. Whilst sitting reading we suddenly realised that the sea was full of jellyfish. Although looking beautiful, it was far too deadly to swim in. This proved to be a feature of many of the beaches from here northwards. The inland waterways were no better since they offered crocodiles!
We pushed on to Townsville. Whilst having a population of 150 thousand, the centre proved quite attractive. We took a room in a hotel on The Strand (27) with beautiful views out to Magnetic Island.
Wednesday 18th January
As we were admiring our beautiful views first thing in the morning, we noticed that a man had climbed one of the palm trees outside the building. We believe that this was done without the benefit of any ropes except those which he trailed to the top to form a belay point. We spent quite a considerable amount of time watching him tackle the pruning of three trees and lower their coconuts to the ground before they were ripe enough to drop onto the busy street below.
Townsville appealed to us in the city centre as it was relatively small and very relaxed. It reminded us of Darwin and had the heat, the numerous aboriginal people and the frequent empty shops as well as friendly laid-back inhabitants - all so typical of Darwin.
After sending off our third newsletter email, and having an early lunch, we again headed up the Bruce Highway but took a detour to Paluma where we hoped we would find accommodation. This former tin mining settlement is approached by a ten mile winding narrow road through wet rainforest. An attractive waterfall half way had a number of visitors but on the remainder of the journey we passed only one or two cars.
Paluma seems to have enjoyed more prosperous times since even in peek holiday season the very few facilities were shut. We therefore retraced our steps and continued to Ingham. This is another sugar cane area and the settlement that we used as our base that night (Lucinda) had as its main claim to fame the world's longest sugar cane jetty which is 6 km long. We found an attractive small motel (28) fronting the river.
Thursday 19th January
Leaving at about 9.00 a.m., we rejoined the Bruce Highway after about 20 km. There was still much sugar cane and cane railway tracks.
Our first destination was Tully, noted for being the wettest place in Australia. Indeed it lived up to its reputation and we arrived in what the locals described as monsoon rains!
A giant wellington boot commemorates the 1950 rainfall of 7.9 metres although the average annual rainfall is 4.4 metres. Mixing their measurements, they record that the highest daily rainfall was 45"!
The small town lies between the coast and the mountains and is described in one book as being typical of what a Queensland town would have looked like in the past with its 1930s and 1950s buildings. We noted that it has a very high Aboriginal population possibly due to the proximity of Mission Beach.
We headed for Mission Beach which is one of four very small settlements on the coast. It offers a few motel and caravan sites together with a handful of small shops and café/takeaways. The beach is again very beautiful but once more cannot be used for swimming because of jelly fish.
We secured an ensuite cabin for $78 (29) providing our own linen. In the afternoon we sat in the shade on the beach and read - then purchased a meal from the supermarket to heat in our microwave.
Friday 20th January
We had decided to forsake the Bruce Highway and to use the route of the old road through Silkwood. Before we commenced our journey, we visited the site of the old mission where aboriginals were forcibly detained "for their protection" in the early years of the 20th century.
Again we passed through sugar cane and banana country and endless crossings of the road by the cane railway tracks. The small settlements were picturesque. In due course we reached the Palmerston Highway and headed westwards up into the mountains. This was clearly a fairly major road (although still two-way) and not the more minor road that we had expected. The views became more distant and hilly and we eventually reached the Atherton Tableland where we stopped for lunch at Millaa Millaa where there is a memorial to Christie Palmerston who was the first European to discover and mark a feasible track through the rainforest. He was accompanied by a young aboriginal companion - Pompo.
We headed on to Malanda, an area of ancient rainforest. The small town shows little sign of change for many years. It is noted for a large hotel which Lonely Planet describes as the largest timber structure in the southern hemisphere. The Tourist Information Office seemed not to think it was a great place to stay, however, we chose instead a cabin (30) on a site adjacent to the waterfalls. We were assured we would see tree kangaroos here, as well as tropical birds - but all we saw was a kookaburra!
Saturday 21st January
Bright and early, we started our day with a visit to Lake Eacham. This intensely turquoise lake is one of several crater lakes in the area. As with an extinct volcano that we visited later in the day, the crater was not particularly obvious especially as the land was covered in rainforest. We were delighted to see two small turtles swimming in the clear water.
We continued on to Yungaburra, a small and picturesque village of old buildings. We were also able to see a huge strangler fig tree nearby called the curtain fig but were unsuccessful in our attempts to spot the illusive platypus.
We thought that we might stay at Atherton, a town of around 5000 people, but it did not strike us as very special scenically, its main interest to us being as a small non-tourist town that we felt bore many similarities to small towns in the U.S.
One of the destinations that had appealed to us was Kuranda, described as Queensland's only village in the rainforest. It also has a skyrail that travels over the tree canopy for 7.5 km. Deterred by the cost and by the village not being quite as quaint as we had hoped, we travelled on to arrive in time to spend the night in Cairns - in a motel to the south (31). The view descending from the tableland was magnificent as we caught many glimpses of the coast and the lowland strip.
Sunday 22nd January
Waking to a rainy day, our chief objective was to establish whether we could travel by bus direct to Broome rather than flying via Perth. This was possible but prohibitively expensive at well over £500.00. Direct flights were not available either.
It proved a puzzle worthy of Mensa how we might secure accommodation, possibly deliver the car back early and also arrange a couple of trips over the next three days. However taking the Broome factor out of the equation made the first step a little easier.
Having arranged a hotel, the Great Northern, in the city centre (32) we booked the trips through them and then enjoyed our first exploration of Cairns. We had trailed round the shopping area prior to lunch but now visited the Botanical Gardens and the Estuary Front on the Esplanade. We saw two types of parrot - one so tame that it allowed itself to be picked up - and several pelicans. Again there were warnings about crocodiles in the water.
We estimate Cairns to be about 90% Japanese - both in the retail assistants and in the tourists visiting.
Monday 23rd January
We took an organised trip (with 5 others) heading north along the coast. Initially it was more sugar cane but soon we wound along next to the sea through rainforest that comes down to the beach.
Port Douglas was a very small settlement once it ceased to be a port for mining. However, in the last 10 years there has been considerable development. Apart from a large colony of fruit bats and a few back along the coast, it had little of great interest.
We then took a river cruise on the Daintree. We saw a female crocodile guarding her eggs - which we were told she had laid in a totally inappropriate place as her nest would be washed away when the rains come in earnest. We also saw an enormous male "floater" (about 4 metres long) and a baby crocodile on the river bank. Apparently only about 1% survive to maturity. We also saw a tree snake - our first!
During the day we had 2 rainforest walks led by our driver. They were especially interesting as this is the oldest section of rainforest in the world, dating back over 100 million years and containing plants, especially huge ferns, not found elsewhere. We were also thrilled to see 2 dragon lizards trying to appear invisible on trees. Our knowledge of mangroves was expanded as we learned that the sticks protruding from the mud are in fact roots and enable the tree to breathe. One type grows long "runner beans" that drop point first into the mud and almost immediately unfurl leaves, grow roots, and become and instantaneous new tree.
It had been intended that we should swim before lunch but 100 mm of rain the previous day meant that the river was discoloured and fast flowing and the presence of numerous mosquitoes settled the point for us! Our talented bus driver barbecued fish and steak for us and we enjoyed a range of exotic tropical fruits.
In the afternoon, we travelled as far as Cape Tribulation and Mt Sorrow beyond which the narrow twisting road becomes unsealed on its 27 km journey on to Cook Town, the most northerly town on the Cape York peninsular.
Although by now we had completed numerous rainforest walks, to-day's certainly proved amongst the most memorable and interesting.
Tuesday 24th January
Having read "A Town Like Alice" Jill had a yen to visit Green Island. This is a tropical cay on the barrier reef. We learned that this is unusual, being where the reef grew to the surface of the sea and sand and decayed coral eventually formed an island on this base. Vegetation gradually expanded to become tropical rainforest seeds having been dropped by birds and washed in by waves.
We really pushed the boat out by staying at the five star resort there and taking the most expensive accommodation - a "Reef Suite" (33). However, we did feel we had value! As well as the boat trip out and back, there was included nearly all of the facilities, even extending to windsurfing lessons. Adrian thought these were great and did extremely well! He also went snorkelling again with equipment included.
A fish feeding session proved very interesting with numerous fish up to two feet long joining in the frenzy. Adrian then spotted an eagle ray which obligingly swam back and forth for numerous photo shoots. Within a few minutes, a shark was seen close to the water's edge feeding on small bait fish which were then also attacked by a shoal of larger fish.
Having arrived in "the Wet" we then had a good demonstration for a couple of hours of good tropical rain.
Outside our window a colony of bats hung from the trees in the evening.
Our package included a three course meal of very high standard but selected from a choice of only two items per course. In consequence, we both chose something that otherwise we might not have done: crocodile and kangaroo proscuitto followed by emu in a red wine jus. We differed on the dessert - Adrian having apple cake and Jill chocolate cheesecake. The whole meal was excellent.
Wednesday 25th January
The rain of the previous evening continued with great intensity. In fact, because of this, we advanced our leaving time from 4.30 til 2.30. Nevertheless despite this we greatly enjoyed a morning that included a glass bottom boat ride, a visit to an underwater observatory, and (for Adrian) an attempt to put into practice the windsurfing instructions of the previous day. These first two items showed us a large number of fish of numerous different types and of the most vivid colours.
Jill found T-shirts of just the type and colour she was looking for at the shop on the pier.
We both agreed that the whole trip had been highly enjoyable.
We concluded the day with a good Thai meal at a Cairns restaurant recommended by the friendly staff at our hotel.
Thursday 26th January
Our only means of getting to Perth given the constraints of our tickets involved taking a flight to Ayers Rock and then another to Perth. Two bag inspections took place, and one lead to some items being left behind at Security. When we later reclaimed these, we were told that our clothes line was a security risk and therefore we could only keep it if we checked through one of our day bags with it safely packed in it.
On Australia Day (today) the nation seems to pat itself on its back about how friendly and welcoming they are. We have found this largely true but we did have a rather offhand set of dealings with a Perth taxi driver and the male receptionist at our very cheap Airport Hotel - Formule 1 (34). It proved such a contrast to the attitude of the staff at our Cairns hotel who couldn't have been more friendly and helpful.
We were stuck out of the city and the hotel room was very small. This saved money but did curtail our activities. We watched for a few moments from outside the hotel, the distant fireworks over the Perth waterfront.
Friday 27th January
We were awake and up early and the taxi we had booked the night before arrived shortly before 8.00 a.m. The taxi driver proved much more communicative and said he envied us our trip to Broome. We had no problem with the flight and arrived in Broome at 12.45.
Broome is a very isolated and quite small town (12,000 people). It was built on the pearl fishing industry but now tourism and a natural gas field are equally important. Indeed, growth is both anticipated and planned for. As in many Asian countries, there seem a lot of unfinished projects - not so much buildings but rather roads. Numerous roads have been built with intermittent footpaths but no buildings alongside many of them. Drainage is very poor with the result that deep pools of water lie everywhere. It had not been helped by our arrival in the wet season. We stayed at the Tropicana Hotel out near Town Beach (35) and went to the nearby Matso's Restaurant for our evening meal.
Saturday 28th January
We had decided to move nearer to the centre of town and therefore took our luggage first thing to the Broome Motel (36). We then went to the Tourist Information Centre and fixed up our proposed bus trip to Perth. An afternoon tour showed us the major sights of the town and its immediate environs.
One of the oddities of Broome is that the airport is situated in the central region and planes come along the main street before landing about 200 yards from the shops. Our first experience of this was something of a surprise to us! Broome is a strange place. With a history based on pearling and this still representing a significant income, it is apparently seeking a future in tourism. There seemed few tourists and little to see, but in high season it is spoken of as getting crowded and apparently caravan parks are booked up two years ahead. It still seems very much a small town (with a high aboriginal population) quite reminiscent of town centre Darwin but even smaller.
The buildings are all made of a form of corrugated iron on a steel frame. Being metal, the outer walls heat rapidly but also cool speedily unlike brick.
Sunday 29th January
Seven hours on the Greyhound bus took us to Port Hedland. The intervening scenery comprised 630 km mainly of bush. There was really a total absence of buildings apart from two roadhouses. These provide fuel, very limited food, and basic accommodation.
Our first impression of Port Hedland was that it offered very little more than the roadhouses. It is a large industrial port handling iron ore and salt. The town centre comprises a few single storey buildings all coated in a thick layer of red dust. The facilities are most basic since it is catering for the work force rather than tourists. There were very few places offering accommodation and we ended up with our first night in a backpackers' hostel (37). A Norwegian man, probably in his seventies, had been on the coach with us. He also stayed at the hostel but indicated that it was not of a very good standard. We had a small room with a bed and two bunks for which we paid the equivalent of £18.00 total so we could not really complain that we had been robbed! Everything was very basic and not very clean.
Monday 30th January
The bus was due to leave at 4.00 p.m. and our day was spent in the Tourist Information Office arranging the journey and accommodation for the next few days; in cafés eating; and in a tour of the iron ore works at the port. Our lady coach driver waxed lyrical about items of machinery and train rolling stock. The basic principle, however, was quite straightforward. Iron ore is brought by private railway from about 300 km inland. The trains are usually 3.75 km in length. The trucks are rotated in a special unit, dumping the ore onto a maze of conveyor belts for crushing, sorting and storing before more belts deliver it onto ships.
We paid a short visit to a small art gallery in a former court house. It is run by a lady who had previously lectured at Sydney University but now enjoyed the very different life offered at Port Hedland. She had seen a great growth in interest in art and also cited an Aboriginal life whose life had been turned around "by religion" and his new found skill in Art.
That afternoon we moved on by bus to Karratha some three hours further south where we stayed at the Pilbara Holiday Park (38) - both the other hotels in the town being fully booked.
Tuesday 31st January
This was a day of enforced leisure. Fortunately, the Garage where Greyhound stops was prepared to take our luggage for the day. The only excitement within walking distance was the Shopping Centre of this new town (built late 1960s). We passed our time reading, on the internet, shopping - Jill bought two tops - and eating!
Then, the exciting part of our adventure! This was the overnight section of our bus journey towards Perth.....
Wednesday 1st February
We departed Karratha at 7.30 p.m. on Tuesday 31st January and having stopped after two hours on two separate occasions at closed road houses, were surprised to find that the turnoff for Exmouth (at 1.30 a.m.) was no more than a rock at a road junction. This was clearly desert land and the only thing to be seen at night was the amazing array of stars. Within just a minute or two, a bus joined us from the Exmouth direction and then a third which was headed for Darwin. This obviously represents the social highlight for the drivers in their otherwise lonely night vigil. There was then an interchange of people and luggage. The three buses then set off again bound variously for Perth, Darwin, and back - with different passengers - to Exmouth.
We left the bus at Overlander Roadhouse at around 8.00 a.m. and after a short break connected with a mini-bus that took us on another 130 km to Monkey Mia. This is a small resort (39), built around the feeding of wild dolphin which come in regularly because of the large quantity of sea grass in the ocean. Feeding was taking place as we arrived and we joined others at the water's edge. Two dolphins, swimming in tandem, came close to everyone and when the food arrived, they took fish from the hands of onlookers chosen by the CALM (Conservation and Land Management) staff.
We were also very interested to see a good number of pelicans both on the beach and in the water.
We slept for part of the afternoon and then went for a walk through the
local bush and along the beach before having our evening meal at the
Thursday 2nd February
We took a day tour with four others to see Denham and the Shark Bay area. We had only gone a short distance along the road out of the Monkey Mia resort when four emus appeared from the bush just ahead of us. They seemed reluctant to move out of our way and were taking time to preen themselves! They were father and babies - the mother lays the eggs and then disappears, leaving Dad to care for the fledglings when hatched until they are around 18 months old.
One of the buildings in the town of Denham (population 600) is a church built of blocks of sea shells which have been glued together by a weathering process.
We had lunch at the Old Telegraph Station (mentioned specifically by Bill Bryson in his book "Down Under") and then saw a small quarry where the sea shell blocks used to build the church and other structures are cut from the ground. It was exceedingly hot but we walked on from the quarry to see stromatolites - which look like rocks at the edge of the sea. However, they are actually living organisms which date back, it is said, three and a half billion years when they were the first form of life on land. They stand six or nine inches high and appear as a large group of rocks separated by channels of sand. They are noted for their production of oxygen, having at one time produced 20% of the world's oxygen.
We moved on to Shell Bay, a large bay where the entire beach is composed of shells. This gives it a very white appearance and a very different feel to a normal beach. Local conditions give high salinity which is conducive to the growth of the shell creatures. There were a good number of dead jelly fish on the beach and some live specimens in the water.
We then made a brief visit to Ocean Park Sea Water Aquariums where we saw rescued turtles, and also sharks and other marine specimens. There were two stone fish in a tank - these are found in large numbers in the river and lake near Denham and, if trodden on, give a sting that is incredibly painful and can leave the victim in intense pain for three days. Their 13 spiny spikes that eject a poison can also cause fatalities.
Our guide, Jenny, confirmed the sense of remoteness of this part of Australia. The 600 local inhabitants of Denham, live 200 miles south of Carnarvon and 275 miles north of Geraldton with nothing in between. Her 13 year old son had just left home to go to boarding school there as there is no senior education (other than the school of the air) in Denham itself. Children come home only eight times a year and flights are free.
The area enjoys only three inches of rain a year!
Friday 3rd February
We were up bright and early and waiting for Jenny's husband, Alan, to collect us with his mini-bus at 5.45 a.m. There was one other traveller from Monkey Mia and a local fairly elderly lady, Faye, who we picked up from Denham.
As all four of us were going south, we had a little time in hand and Alan very kindly took us to see both Denham's schools when he knew of Jill's interest. The junior has about 70 pupils including 20 aboriginal children. Jill was able to get off the minibus and take photos although was disappointed to see that the flags had been taken down overnight. She also took a photo of the outside of the nearby shell-block church.
The senior school follows the School of the Air Curricula and pupils attend to study their separate programmes of work under supervision of the staff.
When we reached Overlander, we had about half an hour to wait for our connecting Greyhound coach which would drop us at Cervantes where we had pre-booked a room in a Best Western Motel (40).
We arrived at 3.15 p.m. and having settled into our room (which had the distinction of facing a brick wall!) we walked down to the beach and back and then had a meal in the Motel restaurant in the evening.
Saturday 4th February
In the morning we went to the local parade of about eight shops for Jill to buy a pair of sunglasses as she had discovered that she had left hers on the Greyhound yesterday.
We then returned to our room to collect water and hats and to walk the half mile to Lake Thetis where we wanted to see the stromatolites. In fact, the half mile turned out to be well over a mile each way and, in the extreme heat, was no easy journey. However, we were glad we had made the effort and have some good photos to prove our presence there!
We ate at the local roadhouse on our way back as we needed instant revival, and then spent nearly an hour on the motel internet (where for the first time it proved impossible to get into either Hotmail or Tiscali). We were able to access the Wotif site, however, and booked our Perth accommodation. The Receptionist did not charge us for our internet useage because of our difficulties.
An hour by the pool was then followed by a three hour visit to The Pinnacles commencing at 5.00 p.m.. We turned out to be the only ones on the tour and so were able to dictate some of the pace and lengths of stops. The area is very large and contains many thousands of pinnacles. Apparently there is a limestone bed running a huge distance down the west coast of Australia. This had been covered by sediment and vegetation had grown. Water and tree roots had created crevices in the limestone. When erosion took away the covering, the limestone has been left exposed as pillars which in turn have been eroded by wind-borne sand. Moving dunes cover the pillars and then later leave them exposed again.
There are miriads of different shapes that can be found in the pillars and part of the fun of the visit is identifying animals, rockets etc. In addition we greatly enjoyed descending on foot down an immensely steep and large sand dune.
Our visit lasted about two hours and ended with us watching the sun descend into the sea and give reflected light on the stones. Jill found this one of the most magical places she had ever visited.
Sunday 5th February
In the morning we went for a long walk along the beaches around the peninsular. The sea was a most unusual colour - the like of which we had never seen before - and which gives The Turquoise Coast its name.
Mid afternoon we took the last leg of our Greyhound journey to Perth. As we neared the city, sheep farming and viticulture replaced the bush land that had accompanied us for most of the miles of our trip down from Broome. It had been a most interesting visit to some of the most remote parts of the continent. Had we proceeded non-stop from Broome, it would have been a journey of 2,400 km in 35 hours. The drivers appear to do shifts of up to 11 hours. The one who brought us into Perth at 6.45 p.m. started at Overlander at 8.15 a.m.
The passengers had varied in number from as low as six or seven in the early stages to about 24 at the end. They had included backpackers, several single people of various ages and a number of aboriginal families.
We checked into our hotel - Aarons at the corner of Pier and Murray Streets (41) which we had pre-booked via Wotif.
Monday 6th February
This was another day of internet useage and itinerary planning as we worked out our visits for our final week in Australia. An afternoon walking tour led by a lady volunteer from the Tourist Information Bureau gave us a good introduction to the historical buildings. The centre of the city is quite small and we felt that a number of old buildings had been retained whilst the city nevertheless presents a modern face.
Tuesday 7th February
Billed as Australia's only monastic town "having a beauty found nowhere else on the continent", our destination to-day was New Norcia. This is Australia's only monastic town and dates back to 1846.
Most tour companies link this visit with one to the Pinnacles, which we had seen a few days earlier. Therefore we chose a little Company that seems just to consist just of Sylvia and her Range Rover. As her only passengers, we had a day of talking over many things about Australia.
New Norcia is situated in the hills 130 km north of Perth. Whilst described as a town, it is a community more like a country estate. It comprises a monastery, four schools (now closed), a museum and art gallery and farmland producing wine, olive oil, bread and other commodities. Once a 100,000 acres, it is now reduced to 20,000 acres and survives on the business of the farm and on tourism. The monks once numbered nearly 80 but are now reduced to only 13. The National Trust and various Government grants have helped to maintain the building in good order.
The schools (which closed in 1991) were of special interest, along with our attendance of afternoon prayers with the monks.
The buildings are certainly most unusual for Australia and show both a Spanish influence and features of European architecture of the late 19th century.
We were both struck by the sadness that the vision and devotion of many people had produced something that had died so relatively early. The original desire of the Benedictine Monks was to bring the Gospel to the Aboriginals and to extend education not only to white boys and girls but also to Aboriginals of both sexes. It seems rather quaint to us now that this required four separate schools.
On the way back to Perth, we made a slight detour to see more of Guildford. This is an old settlement with a good number of 19th century buildings as well as an area called Woodbridge and Guildford Boys Grammar School.
As we neared Perth, Sylvia shared with us that just the other day she had taken Terry Waite to New Norcia and had been most impressed by him.
All told, a very fascinating and different day!
Wednesday 8th February
Rottnest Island is home to Australia's main or possibly only colony of Quokkas. This small marsupial is about the size of a rabbit and has been wiped out on the mainland by foxes and cats. Rottnest Island is free from these predators. Our trip today was largely to see this creature.
A cruise of one and a half hours gave us beautiful views of Perth from the Swan estuary and ultimately brought us to the Island - about twelve miles off the coast.
No vehicles are permitted apart from those connected with island services and also buses. We therefore investigated the island on a two hour bus tour which covered much of the coastal scenery. This is limestone and has many rock ledges and eroded land forms that make it particularly beautiful as the turquoise waters break over them.
Originally, an aboriginal penal settlement, and later containing a reform school, the island was then taken over by the army for defensive purposes.
Thursday 9th February
This was another planning and administration day - we booked our ticket to Kuala Lumpur with Student Flight (who turn out to be part of Flight Centre).
Friday 10th February
About 350 km to the south-east of Perth lies a most unusual geological feature known as Wave Rock. This was our destination - together with 23 others - as we set off in our 4x4 small coach.
The journey was mainly through agricultural land, sheep and wheat being produced in far greater quantity than we had realised. Buildings and townships remain extremely few and far between.
After one and a half hours we stopped at York. Now home to 3000, it had clearly enjoyed more prosperous times as it had at least three of the old-style hotels with which we had become familiar. None of these seemed to prosper and one was for sale - offering a five course meal @ $49.00 together with free accommodation. Apparently the trend is for rural depopulation in this area as young people move to the mining of the north and the towns on the coast.
We stopped at Hippo's Yawn around 1.00 p.m.
Lunch was at a small restaurant at Wave Rock (rock lobster) and we were then led by an aboriginal guide to the rock itself. This is a large granite outcrop, rounded by weathering, but along one side it has been eroded into an overhang. Perhaps a hundred yards long and forty feet high, it curves inwards like a breaking wave and its uniqueness is added to by the different coloured streaks that run vertically through it. The guide showed us gnammaholes dug by tribes in the past to provide them with a reliable water supply.
We went next to a small wildlife park where we saw, amongst other things, a talking parrot and white kangaroos. Then on to Mulka's Cave - a small cavern approached via a narrow horizontal entrance with hand prints and aboriginal paintings inside.
On our way back to Perth we stopped at Babakin - a "town" of 9 adults and 9 children. Each day about 4 people prepare tea for the Wave Rock coach tour just from the company with which we travelled. This small community supports a school of just under 20 children from Babakin and outlying areas. There are just four houses in the town itself. Charging just $5 for an "all you can eat" tea, the townsfolk provided an impressive spread - much of which they were sadly left with!
We returned to Perth at about 9.00 p.m.
Saturday 11th February
In the morning we booked our KL accommodation and train journey to Singapore.
We were in Perth when the Queen's Baton (on its year-long journey to the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne) arrived with a para-Olympic champion and was passed on to the next relay participant. We were surprised at how few people were gathered in Forrest Place to hear the speeches and the choir sing "Waltzing Matilda!" Unfortunately the representative of the city council made a number of slipups - including referring to the Games taking place in Manchester!
Peter Yin picked us up from our hotel, as pre-arranged, at 3.00 p.m. When we had put our luggage away in the room (42) we had very kindly been given, Richard, Charlie and Josie the dog took us to see Scotch College where the boys are now at school. We also saw some of the locality where they live - including the golf course and lake with much wild life at the end of their road.
In the evening, some friends of the Yins - doctors called Ed and Nicola, came round for a meal with two of their children and their visiting parents (who are also doctors). They were accompanied by another mutual friend, Jo, who is a lady director of the Halifax. Ed and Nicola emigrated to Australia some twenty years ago. Their parents and Jo still live in the U.K.
Sunday 12th February
In the morning we were dropped off in Fremantle at about 9.30 a.m. and spent the day exploring the town by ourselves. We visited the Round House and the History Museum as well as touring around on the free CAT bus and having lunch.
At around 4.00 p.m. we caught the train to Claremont where Penny picked us up at the station.
In the evening, Peter's parents - Jack and Kwai - came round for a meal. They were accompanied by Peter's brother, Richard, and his German wife Gabby. They have two small sons called Andrew and Alexander.
We very much enjoyed meeting them and talking with them all. I just wish that I had asked if I could take a photo of the whole gathering!
Monday 13th February
The children had all left for school by 8.15 a.m. and we had breakfast outside with Penny. After washing up and clearing away, Penny took us to the international airport which we reached at around 10.30 a.m. - thinking we needed to be there for 11.00 a.m. In fact, it turned out that (not yet having our tickets) we had wrongly remembered the time of the flight and instead of it being at 2.00 p.m. it was actually scheduled for 4.30 (and a delay was already publicised as 5.20 p.m.!) This meant that we had several hours to "kill" at the airport but we managed to pass the time by making a few purchases - a necklace, earrings, washing line and magazine - not to mention food and drink!
We had enjoyed a wonderful three months in Australia and were really sorry to be leaving.
We had booked a hotel (43) near the airport since it is 78 km away from KL city. Unfortunately, because our plane was late we did not reach it until 12.45 p.m. and fell exhausted immediately into bed.
Tuesday 14th February
We left our airport hotel by taxi for the Swiss Garden Hotel in the city (44). After settling in, we went exploring by foot to try to find the tourist information centre. We had some difficulty and ended up hailing a taxi - whose driver told us that it had moved location and took us to it via the back streets of KL. Whilst there looking at brochures, the usual 4.00 p.m. rains started and became absolutely torrential. To shelter, we went into the adjacent hotel for a drink and discovered there was a dinner and cultural show there later that evening. Adie decided this would be a fitting Valentine's Day treat and Jill readily agreed.
A taxi was hailed for us as we wanted to go back to our hotel to change. There were major traffic jams in the city centre, however, and eventually we had to get out of the vehicle and walk back the rest of the way.
We did not attempt to get another taxi back to the dinner and show as traffic was still static. Instead we caught the monorail and then walked the short distance after travelling two stops.
The show itself was enjoyable and we thoroughly enjoyed our evening out.
Wednesday 15th February
In the morning we explored the nearby shopping malls and had coffee and a light lunch there. In the afternoon we went on an organised tour of the city - ending this at the Petronas Towers.
We had a Chinese meal at our hotel in the evening and spent time composing our fourth and final email to our friends and family.
Thursday 16th February
In the morning we left the hotel fairly early and took two trains to the Petronus twin towers. Just 1500 tickets are distributed free every day on a first come first served basis and we secured ours for 12.15 p.m. We used the intervening time to go around the shops and also to seek to find out more about how we might book tours.
When we arrived to ascend onto the sky bridge, we found that all tickets had been sold for the day. We were fortunate to go up when we did as the daily rains came early - at around 3.00 p.m. and anyone visiting then would not have had much of a view.
Rain was coming down in torrents as we finished visiting the tourist office and nearby travel agents, and so we took a taxi back to our hotel. Once there, we booked trips from the resident agent outside to Melaka, Langkawi and Penang.
Friday 17th February
Taking a tour, the two of us plus the driver, took the three lane dual carriageway out towards the airport and down to the old port of Melaka some 150 km away. Although we past palm oil plantations, the driver told us that petroleum oil was now the most important export and that rubber and tin had declined significantly in importance.
Melaka was settled by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century, by the Dutch in the seventeenth and by the English in the nineteenth. In addition, it has a high Chinese population and our visit included lunch in China Town. We also visited two Dutch churches (one later "Anglicised") and the Dutch Townhall before moving on to the Portuguese 16th century church, now in ruins but giving good views out to the sea.
As we had not been able to visit some of the places due to their closure on a Friday, our Guide very kindly took us also to Putra Jaya, the new administrative capital being constructed over a twelve year period a little distance from KL. This proved to be a very large, dramatic and beautiful new city with a great air of spaciousness and a mixture of modern and traditional styles in architecture. Their intention is to emulate Washington and it is certainly spectacular.
Saturday 18th February
We had opted for two three day tours but communication was somewhat difficult with the Chinese agent who sat at his desk just outside the hotel. Something was put together, not entirely to our satisfaction, in part because the six days shrunk to four but without any concession on price. Nevertheless it proved to be an excellent venture up to the north of the country.
Our first stop (reached by air on the equivalent of "Easy Jet") was to Langkawi. This is a travel agent's delight being a modest sized island covered with lush foliage of tropical trees and ringed with white sand. Our hotel, the City Bayview (45) was in Kuah about 25 minutes drive from the airport and we saw some of the traditional Malay wooden houses on stilts but also the development of new roads.
Our hotel room had the most amazing view over the turquoise sea to some of the 99 islands that form part of Langkawi. However this is seen over delapidated corrigated iron roofed market stalls.
The evening proved adventurous as we negotiated broken pavements and deep drainage ditches at the road edges when going to phone the children. Modernity has not yet reached the telephone system of this place and the exercise proved somewhat frustrating, not least because every four minutes we were cut off!!
Sunday 19th February (14 weeks)
Our package included a half day tour. A small car arrived at 10.30 a.m. and took the two of us around the island visiting some of the "man made" attractions with which Lonely Planet had indicated the natural beauty was being supplemented!
Our stops included an aviary that was of particular interest since many of the birds were native to this area but would not otherwise have been seen by us.
We moved on to a very attractive large new building housing presents given to the former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who had held the post for 22 years before retiring in 2003. He was responsible for the spectacular new airport at KL and also Putra Jaya as well as for leading the country through a period of stability and rapid economic growth.
We next visited hot salt water springs of boiling water at Air Hangat Village and a black sand beach looking out over the water to Thailand just 35 minutes away by sea.
Our final stop was the cablecar ride to the highest point on the island, some 705 metres above sea level. This showed us the beauty of the Langkawi island group with their unusual shaped mountains reminiscent of Guilin and Halong Bay.
Monday 20th February
We knew that we had the morning to occupy as we were to be picked up from our hotel at 1.00 for the 2.30 p.m. ferry to Penang. We therefore decided to go into the town on foot to explore it more thoroughly. Before leaving, Adrian went to the front desk to get some notes changed for smaller currency. Whilst there, a call opportunely came through for "Mr Andrian" from the taxi firm charged with booking our ferry tickets. They had been unable to get us on the ferry and we were now booked on that leaving for Penang at 5.30 p.m.! Revised pickup time: 4.00 p.m.
This gave us plenty of time for our walk and we covered quite a distance, avoiding the holes in the pavements, deep drainage ditches at the road edges and crossing roads where there was no provision for pedestrians at all - let alone those who wished to traverse from one side to the other!
It was intensely hot and we purchased a drink from the local KFC - feeling that it was likely to be served in hygenic conditions. We then walked back to our hotel and checked out at nearly 1.00 p.m., leaving our luggage with them whilst we went to the nearby internet facility. For just over £1.00 equivalent (7 RM) we were able to use two broadband enabled PCs for an hour and caught up on all our email and management of inboxes etc. We then returned to the hotel and had a late lunch - leaving the restaurant at around 3.00 p.m. to read for a while at the pool side.
A little before 4.00 p.m. a minibus duly arrived to take us to the ferry terminal - about 5 minutes drive away. Since the ferry did not board until 5.00 we had an hour to wait but met several other Europeans so chatted to them. The area where we had stayed - and certainly our hotel - had been frequented almost entirely by local folk so it was nice to be able to converse freely in English and know we were completely understood! Our impression was that we had been put in the Asian and less developed area of the island. This did enable us to see more of the typical living and working conditions but meant too that there were less facilities for us.
Two and a half hours by a fast boat (with no provision for luggage for a full complement of passengers) brought us to Penang. Once more we were approached by someone asking for "Mr Adrian".
Georgetown appeared very attractive by night but we soon found that our hotel was situated well out of the main town.
Arriving at the Copthorne Orchid hotel (46) at nearly 9.00 p.m. , the staff told us that the Agents had not yet paid and we would need to give security.
Tuesday 21st February
This hotel has a large number of Caucasian guests together with some Asian (Japanese or Chinese) but very few of the islamic people that had made up the majority of those staying with us in Langkawi.
"Due to its unique location, the hotel boast of a 'private' beach, away from hustling petty traders and prying eyes of the public. Here, you have the luxury to choose sun or shade but what you will value most is the privacy, the tranquality and the safe sanctuary that we can offer you to be in complete harmony with Mother nature." (hotel brochure).
We spent the morning there reading and enjoying the views.
Our afternoon tour took us to two Buddhist temples (Burmese and Thai), Chinatown (60% of the Penang population is Chinese) and the Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse. This last building had the appearance of great age. In fact, whilst following traditional Chinese design, it had been built only in 1906 to give succour and help to those fleeing from China.
We moved on to Fort Cornwallis, a late eighteenth century star shaped fort bearing similarity to those we had seen in Quebec and Scotland. A Museum with posters gave us something of the history of Penang and its fort.
The driver was very articulate in English and enabled us to increase our general knowledge of Malaysia:
1. A mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian. In the country as a whole, of every seven people four would be Malay, two Chinese and one Indian. In Penang 60% are however Chinese.
2. Consequently there is a mix of religions - Hindu, Buddist, Islam, Taoist and Christian. The country is officially Islamic.
3. Fast development is taking place, seemingly based on oil discovery. Much of the housing is high rise flats. In the country and in parts of the towns, traditional housing is poor and comprises modest buildings on stilts and also the dilapidated corrigated iron shacks that we have seen in other Asian countries. In contrast to those other countries, we have been told that "everyone owns a car". Higher purchase is available with no down payment, repayable over nine years at about 3.5% interest. With secondhand vehicles, loans often exceed the price so that the buyer goes away with cash as well as a car! In consequence, there seem far less pedestrians than one normally expects in a developing country and also less motorbikes although these remain fairly numerous.
4. Langkawi showed us the innumerable roadside eateries (including shacks) where food is prepared in very basic conditions and washing up is a cursory exercise in dirty water that is then poured into the open drains over which we often had to step at the side of the road.
Wednesday 22nd February
After a morning reading on the beach, we returned to the Swiss Garden hotel in KL - but in a different room on a different floor (47). We were collected at the airport by our same tour company but with six of us in the mini bus on this occasion. May be they are bigger than they seem!
Having settled into our new room, we went out to the internet in the evening.
Thursday 23rd February
To-day we took advantage of the lower costs of Malaysia, combined with the savings of internet booking through "Wotif". We transferred to the five star Crowne Plaza (48) but still for less than £50.00 including a full buffet breakfast. Our room was very tastefully fitted with a light wood finish unknown to us.
From our 16th floor window, we had a suberb view of the Petronas Towers just a short distance away.
We spent the afternoon visiting the other high rise attraction of the KL Tower, the fourth highest telecommunications tower in the world. From this we had great views over the whole of KL and this was enhanced by an audio headset that described what we could see from each viewpoint. Only at the last did we discover that its screen gave additional information and pictures regarding the various buildings of the city!
We noticed that there was a nature walk through a section of remaining rainforest near the foot of the KL Tower. We greatly enjoyed the idea of walking through this whilst still within a busy city. What we had not bargained on was the presence of biting flies that left us both with a large crop of swellings, with Jill particularly badly affected. Nevertheless, the sight of many monkeys playing in the trees and coming close to us offered some consolation.
That evening, we enjoyed one of the most formal (and expensive) meals that we had had since Christmas.
Friday 24th February
We had decided to take one more trip, this time heading due west to the port of Klang and a small island: Pulau Ketam (Crab Island). The island is some half an hour out from the mainland - reached by a long speed boat that travels extremely fast. It is home to a fishing community of some six thousand, largely Chinese, inhabitants. What makes it of particular interest is that all of the buildings and, indeed the paths and roadways, are on stilts in the water. The buildings range from poor looking corrugated iron structures to some smartly maintained single storey and rendered properties. It is difficult to entirely assess this community as there are signs of some poverty and yet are these smarter properties and all have mains water, electricity and access to television and telephone services. Between the buildings are channels where there is considerable rubbish and plenty of rats. As we walked along, we had to many times move aside for bikes and motor bikes, the latter mainly battery driven.
With a little trepidation we tucked into our seafood meal in a fairly scruffy restaurant. In fact the five dishes were very tasty.
As has often proved the case, our conversations with the driver/guide were very informative. Once again, there were just the two of us - in a Proton saloon car. This seems to be the way that most of the tours (at least for Westerners) are run.
Our trip home looked problematic. Our standby tickets had so far given us no trouble but for this final stage from Singapore, Keren had warned that there were few seats and that we might not get on at least the first two flights. We therefore visited a travel agent in the same building as our hotel and booked a flight from KL to Gatwick via Dubai. This unfortunately meant the loss of our proposed train journey to Singapore. Against this, we had seen much of the countryside and felt we would prefer the certainty that these arrangements gave.
Saturday 25th February
We left our hotel mid morning and took the monorail to Times Square. There we went into the exceedingly large shopping plaza that has a theme park built into it.
Debenhams there had a sale with stalls outside in the public atrium area - there was a watch that Adie liked and, with 30% reaction, it was a good buy.
Elsewhere in the Plaza we found a shop stocking outdoor and travellers' gear including Eagle Creek. Jill bought the larger size black shoulder bag that she had determined to get back in the UK.
We ate in the Food Court on the 10th floor and also visited Borders Book shop.
After shopping, we walked to the internet cafe and caught up with our email before returning to the hotel late afternoon.
We ate at the hotel restaurant before packing for the final time and watching television.
Sunday 26th February (15 weeks)
Checkout time at the Crowne Plaza was 12.00 noon - as in other hotels that we had stayed in during our time in Malaysia. We were amazed to find that we had slept until 9.00 (although our night had been somewhat disturbed by thunder storms and fits of wakefulness).
We enjoyed our last breakfast before checkout and then read for a while in our room until it was time to leave. Neither of us felt 100% fit and so we decided against travelling to Chinatown and went back, instead, to the Times Square complex before again using the internet for 3.5 RM an hour (approximately 50p).
We returned to our hotel mid afternoon and read in the Lobby whilst listening to Australians at the adjacent table seemingly tell men from Saudi Arabia whether or not they had passed their driving tests and details of why they had failed - where this was applicable! We were not sure where the tests qualified them to drive.
A car had been booked for us at our request at 6.00 p.m. and we journeyed the 78 or so KM for the last time to KL's very futuristic and impressive airport. Once there, we "killed" the five or so hours to our Emirates flight departed. We changed planes at Dubai - with another four hours to wait there - and arrived back at Gatwick at around 12.00 noon.
For £40 we were able to get a taxi all the way back to Rudgwick.