Month: February 2014

Days are Numbers (The Traveller) Darwin

Sunday 16th February
I caught the shuttle bus to Perth Airport where my insect repellent (which hasn’t caused an issue on any of my other domestic flight) was investigated and my bag searched. Then I was ‘randomly’ picked for the explosives test despite also bring ‘randomly’ picked the day before. The airport appeared to be pretty empty as it was only 7.15am and I think the staff just wanted to look busy. I don’t take it to heart that I must look like a dodgy backpacker.

The surrounding scenery in both Perth and Darwin couldn’t be any more contrasting. I left Perth and we started by crossing the red desert area where there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Eventually like the guy next to me I fell asleep and an hour or so woke up. The outside view was now thick cloud so I couldn’t see anything. I fell asleep again and maybe half an hour later woke up for the dissent. It appeared I was now landing in a tropical rainforest. I wondered if the cloud hadn’t been there whether I would have seen the two totally contrasting landscapes slowly amalgamate as I’m sure they must at some point unless there is some great natural divide.

I arrived in Darwin and caught the shuttle to the YHA before catching another bus to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. I started off with the Indigenous Art display and watched a short video about the techniques and equipment used to create a rock painting. There was also a display of dot paintings from the desert and various other styles including bark paintings and carvings.

Leaving the Indigenous display behind I made my way to the exhibition on Cyclone Tracey. I first remember reading about this in a book at school on natural disasters when I had to do a geography project when i was 11 or 12. The display was very moving as there were voice recordings from eye witness’s as well as before, after and more recent aerial views to show how the city was affected. The exhibition also included a pitch black sound proof room where you could listen to a recording of the cyclone. Making my way in to the room alone I couldn’t see a thing and literally jumped when the awful howling sound of around 300 Km winds mixed with the screeching of metal suddenly began.

Seeing the display of the aftermath it’s a testament to Darwinians that the city was rebuilt and that the population now exceeds that pre cyclone. The city had not only been the territories capital but in 1970 plans had been put in place to make it the cultural capital of the region. An old museum had been located in the town hall where renovation had just finished that year however the cyclone was too strong and the building collapsed destroying many exhibits. Some of the broken artefacts that had been salvaged were on display however it also made me wonder what had been lost. It appeared no one really knew as all the museum records were also lost.

After briefly seeing the maritime display I made my way to one called ‘Transformations’ which was about the local fauna and how it has developed. This included a number of displays about the poisonous insects/spiders, snakes, jelly fish and other deadly critters. I was surprised at how small the Blue Ring Octopus was especially as a sting from it would result in the entire nervous system being shut down within 15 minutes. I also came face to face with the infamous box jelly fish as well as innocent looking shells and coral that would no doubt also result in death. I tried to familiarise myself with what to avoid but there was to much and I’ll just continue trying to avoid everything.

Next I went to see a stuffed crocodile called “Sweetheart” whose name is misleading because it wasn’t overly friendly and it was actually a male. After destroying a number of fishing boat propellers the intention was to capture Sweetheart and transport him to a zoo, however the tranquilliser caused his body to shut down and he sadly drowned.

Out of curiosity I wondered in to the “Wallace Display” and it turned out that like Charles Darwin he travelled through the Malay Archipelago looking to prove the theory of evolution. I’d never heard of Alfred Wallace at school but it seems he laid out his theory before Charles Darwin however the latter had greater financial backing and I assume that is why it was he who made it to the mainstream history books. The museum went to great length to explain how important Wallace was but the irony wasn’t lost on me that I was after all in the city named after Charles Darwin.

I retuned back to the city enjoying a meal and a pint at ‘ The Tap on Mitchell Street’. I then walked to my hostel via my pick up point and sorted out my bag because the next tour was only 3 days and I was only allowed 10kg of luggage. That done I thought about checking out another bar but the hostel one was dead and the Irish one unconformably full. I returned to the hostel and as those in my room were preparing for bed I did the same so that I’d get a good nights sleep before the next adventure.

Note: This blog will continue with Darwin. Tour of Litchfield and Kakadu is here:

Thursday 20th February
I think for the first time in quite a while I had the slightest of hangovers. Luckily I had always planned for this to be my post tour R&R day and had a number of little tasks I wanted to complete. I have promised various people I’d send them pictures from various events and I admit I’m behind. It doesn’t help that the 32gb tablet I thought would be sufficient for 5 months travelling was full which meant before I could transfer any pictures using the snail speed WiFi I’d have to start sorting and deleting photos. If you’re still waiting – I’m sorry!

The main task of the day however was to face the reality that after 4 months living out of a backpack the journey is coming to an end. Thanks to Kirsten, I have return flights via Bangkok and Dubai with time to explore both of those cities so hopefully the end won’t feel like an end until I actually arrive at Heathrow on 28th March.

Whilst I waited for space to cook I got in to conversation with people in the hostel kitchen. It’s currently the wet/low season for Darwin so there aren’t many tourists and apparently as Darwin is currently more expensive than Sydney to rent and buy most of those in the hostel are either working or looking to work.

Friday 21st February
The previous night I had started talking to a guy from Spain about possible ideas of things to do in the city. I had an idea of what I wanted to see but as I sat in the dining room eating breakfast I remembered I’d been told about ‘Spectacular Jumping Crocodiles’ who offered trips along the Adelaide River.

Unfortunately the shuttle bus they ran from Darwin was cancelled however maybe sensing my disappointment the girl kindly gave me an alternative number for ‘About Darwin’. Places were available with this company however it added in some extra stopping places and included lunch which meant the price was a bit more than i was prepared to pay so I said I’d call back whilst I weighed up my options.

At that moment I saw the guy from Spain clutching the same leaflets as me. I explained the situation and we went to the hostel reception for some local advice. The receptionist said what I felt that seeing the crocodiles jump in the wild would be more spectacular than seeing them in the towns glorified aquarium. I was in a backpackers dilemma. Thankfully at that moment I got a call back from ‘About Darwin’ and they kindly offered me the same price as the cancelled shuttle bus.

The pick up still gave me some time to visit the fish feeding at Aquascene. This only takes place once a day lasting for two hours during high tide at a point called Doctors Gully. The guide was very good at providing interesting information on the different types of fish. The main focus of interest was a huge Giant Grouper that lay just below the surface however unlike the other fish only the feeder could feed it as it ate small fish. The Giant Grouper mostly lay in wait however when it moved to grab the small fish fed to him I glimpsed its whole body and it was possible to appreciate what a big fish it was, approximately twice the size of a Rugby ball.

Some of the other fish were also fairly big and included Milk fish, Catfish, and an interesting flat looking fish, though there were no barramundi. It was quite a sight as there must have been at least 100 fish in the area, all totally wild. Eventually I grabbed some bread and waded in to the shallow water. There were already a few fish around me as I entered the water and as soon as the fish realised I had food even more came over to my hand. The flat looking fish in particular was quite aggressive at grabbing the bread out of my hand. Whilst it probably doesn’t sound that exciting I have to admit I enjoyed the whole event more than I expected and it was actually a lot of fun though an hour was more than enough.

After being collected from the hostel the guide provided a running commentary as we made our way to our first stop at Fogg Dam. He told us about a rice growing project in the agricultural region of Humpty Doo which had failed as the local magpie goose had eaten all the rice. We were also told that Buffalo’s are still farmed in the area as the meat is popular with the Asian market.

We were also told to look out for crocodiles and ironically just as we approached the sign warning us they were in the area we saw a Freshwater crocodile bathing in the water by the side of road. Freshwater crocodiles are quite a bit smaller than saltwater crocodiles and are less likely to attack but we still proceeded slowly on the bus so as not to disturb it.

The road across to the information display was slightly flooded however we were able to make it across and both sides of the road were teeming with bird life. This is meant to be a safe area so we were also able to see a humane trap to capture saltwater crocodiles so that they could be relocated elsewhere. Normally those caught go to farms because if they are released back in to the wild they have a habit of returning to their territory and have been known to travel over 100km.

Eventually we arrived at the jetty for the ‘Spectacular Jumping Crocodiles’ and before we boarded I had the opportunity to hold a python. There was also a statue of a 8 metre crocodile that was over 150 years old when it was shot in Queensland and of course I couldn’t resist getting two pictures…one of me wrestling it, and one of me having lost the battle…

We were told the majority of crocodiles in the river especially the males still ignore the boat and will remain submerged however there are a large number that have become familiar with the sound and know they will get a free feed. However to ensure the crocodiles don’t lose their hunting instinct the company monitors how many times each are fed so if one receives a feed it won’t again for the rest of the day and maybe even the next.

We boarded the boat and almost immediately having entered the centre of the river we saw a crocodile swimming towards us. The first crocodile was a 3 metre female called Barbeque who stays by the area near the jetty which is why she was so quick to approach us. The guides don’t allow the jumps to be performed in the water near the jetty in case it gives the crocodiles ideas so we had to tempt Barbeque away and she obliged. As Barbeque was performing the jumps someone exclaimed a light coloured object was approaching from under the water.

We’d been told the biggest and oldest crocodile was Michael Jackson who is about 80 years old and 5 and a half metres long. Normally Crocs are born with a colour to match the mud of their environment however Michael was born with a disease which meant he has a light coloured head and a dark body. The light coloured object that looked like a ghost was Michael, and he was hungry and were it not for his light coloured head we wouldn’t have known he was there because there was no movement of water on the surface. As he fought his way to the side where the meat was hanging he hit the boat and whilst it was unclear if this was intentional or accidental it added to the excitement.

Barbeque continued to swim near Michael even though the guides kept urging her to yield and they took the meat out of the water because they didn’t want the two to fight over it. As both swam slowly side by side towards the boat with both heads out of the water Michael lashed out at Barbeque with a warning blow. It was hard to tell if he made contact, or if he just thrashed the water but either way the message was loud and clear and Barbeque made a prompt getaway. The guides said he was in a forgiving mood because normally in that situation it wouldn’t have been a warning attack. I’d felt sorry for Michael when I heard about his disease but it clearly hasn’t affected his ferocity and he certainly looked like a deadly monster when he performed his jumps.

Michael continued to follow us for a few minutes knowing there were 12 other meals on the boat (us) but eventually he stopped and disappeared beneath the surface. He may as well have stayed above the surface because if he thinks he’s camouflaged under water, someone needs to show him a mirror.

We were surrounded by Crocs, some that were allowed to participate in the jumps and others that weren’t. It wasn’t long before another female came over and the guides used the meat to encourage her on to the bank so we could appreciate her full size. The crocodile grabbed and caught the meat first time and the guide had to battle to get it free because otherwise she had a forfeit where she’d have to buy the rest of the crew a round of drinks. The intention was to perform the jumps in the water but the crocodile was now settled on the bank and clearly didn’t appreciate being made to look like a circus act so ignored us and we carried on our way.

This time a much smaller male came rushing through the water and we could see why he was called Rocket, especially when he leapt out of the water. All the others had come out about half way but he came out so fast and far only his tail was slightly under the water. The whole event had been unbelievable. I thought the demonstration at Australia Zoo had been impressive, but to be so close and in the wild was something else. No aquarium can compete with that show especially in the wet season when the river and surrounding scenery looks so dramatic as it is.

We were shown a nest however it was explained to us that unfortunately the eggs probably won’t produce any baby crocodiles because the recent flooding meant they were submerged for to long. We also had the opportunity to see some of the wild birds of prey and the guide threw bits of meat in to the air over the river for them to catch before I had a go. She counted me down and told me when to throw it and when I did the bird caught it perfectly in its mouth before swooping in to the air. We also saw a herd of wild buffalo down by the edge of the water which surprised the guides because of the obvious danger they were in as a result of all the crocodiles in the area.

We arrived back at the jetty and once on the bus we departed for the Window of the Water Wetlands Aboriginal Culture Centre. There was quite a bit of information on the eco systems and a nice viewing platform which overlooked the floodplains of the Adelaide River. On our return back to Darwin our guide provided some information about the bombing of the city by the Japanese in the second world war with the first attack taking place on 19th February 1942. I hadn’t realised that it was so soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and carried out as a surprise attack by the same fleet. A mass evacuation of civilian’s had taken place just before the attack though there were still a huge number of casualties and fatalities because a number of Navy and Merchant boats had been docked in the harbour.

After I arrived back in Darwin and during a quick late lunch I chatted to one of the girls from the night before and met a guy from Poland who had recommended I take time to see the sunset. First I made my way to see the Darwin Waterfront and on my way walked past the ruins of the Old Town Hall. The building had been destroyed by Cyclone Tracey and once the ruins had been stabilised it had been left as a memorial. I also saw Christchurch Cathedral which apart from the porch had also been destroyed. Thee cathedral had been rebuilt and the architects of the day had combined the new and the old to create a fairly unique design.

I arrived at the Waterfront and wasn’t surprised that it was really just a modern shopping area as the war and cyclone had probably destroyed anything that gave a indication of the cities maritime heritage. I had considered going for a swim in the Recreation Lagoon but instead I started walking to Stokes Hill Wharf. There was a good vantage of the wharf from the sea wall and as it looked closed I decided to leave the Waterfront.

On my way to Bicentennial Park I passed Survivors Lookout which is apparently where those who survived the attacks 72 years before had gathered to look down on the destruction of the harbour. Trees had grown up and meant the view of the harbour was now obscured however a display provided a vivid description of the harrowing scene they would have witnessed.

Throughout Bicentennial Park there were war memorials to those who died and as the remembrance anniversary had only just taken place all had fresh cards and flowers. As I stood appreciating the view from the USS Peary memorial a little black bird with yellow feet swopped down and rushed at speed right over my head. At first I thought it might have been blind and not seen me, but by the 3rd time I realised it was attacking me and the noise it made strongly implied I should leave. As I did it continued to keep diving towards me so during it’s 5th attack I ducked and tried to swot it away as if it were a fly (totally missing of course). All my defensive move had achieved was to upset it more though eventually the little beast left me alone.

There was also a unobstructed lookout to view the sunset but I was an hour to early so I found a bench and read my book before I took up a position and was joined by some locals. Whilst the sky was clear the sun itself appeared to be behind a storm cloud and as I was feeling a bit bored and underwhelmed I decided to leave. Thankfully as I left the park I took one final look and saw there was a tiny hole in the cloud that the sun was shining out of so I walked briskly back to the lookout. I was astounded. The sky had totally changed in to a range of Bicentennial Park. colours including orange, pink light and dark blue all in the space of a few minutes. As the cloud slowly dispersed further as the sun settled on the horizon the sunset became became even more stunning.

I started talking to one of the locals, a teacher who had just moved up from Melbourne. When I got back to my room I told the Spanish guy to see the sunset the next day and then I prepared for the trip to a rather famous Rock called Uluru.

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Singin’ in the Rain: Lichfield and Kakadu

Breaking with tradition I’ve decided not to do the ‘Top End’ part of the blog chronologically because I spent 1 day before the tour in Darwin and will have spent 2 days after the tour there. It seems to make sense to separate the two parts in order to keep the length down so this is the blog on Lichfield and Kakadu National Parks. Darwin blog will.

Monday 17th February
I made my way to the pick up point, the Adventure Tours store which was luckily on the same street as my hostel and only a 5 minute walk. I’d allowed plenty of time but was still relieved to see someone else waiting for the same trip and it wasn’t long before Patrick joined us. The 4WD mini bus turned up and soon the rest of the group arrived. It turned out some of them had been travelling together for as much as 15 days having started in Melbourne and initially it felt a bit odd to be joining a group that had already been through so much together.

We drove for about an hour before we stopped at the Lichfield tourist and van park for a toilet stop and to get some breakfast. Our guide Ray also used the opportunity to speak to us about the trip and to get us to complete some paperwork. Whilst it was cloudy it was still dry and quite warm and very humid however as we were visiting in the wet season we knew the heavens could open up at minute.

The Lichfield National Park is smaller than Kakadu and Ray told us the crocodile Sweetheart that I had seen at the museum the day before was originally from this area. Our first stop in the national park was a nice lookout over the Florence Falls. It’s been a few months since I felt I overdosed on these features in New Zealand and whilst Florence Falls were not the most spectacular the recent rain in the area had clearly had an impact. The water cascaded over the edge of the two torrents at a phenomenal speed in to the bowel below which was clearly overflowing and gradually expanding.

We headed down from the lookout where the plan was to take a dip in the water however as we were about half way it began to rain. Not light rain, big heavy tropical rain drops and at such a speed within a few seconds my t shirt was soaked. We tried to keep our bags under cover and made our way in to the water which was surprisingly warm. Somehow the rain began to become even heavier than it already was so we grabbed our things and dashed back. Whilst my bag was drenched I had left everything but the camera on the bus and learning from Kaikoura after taking a few quick pictures I’d left it inside the camera bag which was inside a plastic bag, wrapped up in my clothes.

The bus had stunk when we got on that morning but (worryingly) we quickly got used to it and now we sat on the bus in our wet swim gear all trying to dry what possessions had got wet. We were just about to leave when Joke suddenly asked Felix what was on his foot. It was a leech and obviously it wasn’t possible to just pull it off. Someone suggested lighting a match under it so we did that and eventually it was removed and the panic was over.

The road had already been slightly flooded in patches on our way to the falls and on our return there were even bigger patches of submerged road. We had no difficulty getting through but it was about a foot deep and when we got to the far end a few of us jumped out to get a photo. I’m sure the National Park must look amazing in the dry season but in the wet season It felt and looked quite dramatic for different reasons.

It had stopped raining by the time we reached the lookout overlooking Tolmer waterfall. This one was made up of two sections and appeared even more stunning and spectacular than the Florence Falls though this time we didn’t try to make our way down to the plunge pool.

Next we headed to see some termite mounds. I had seen one of these on kangaroo island and had heard they could grow high however I have to admit I was still staggered by the sight of the one created by the Cathedral termites. This was over 4 meters high and yet again I was left astounded by what nature can do, especially as the termites are only 5mm. There were also about 100 magnetic termite mounds in the area all around 100 years old and they resembled large gravestones.

Ray explained that there are two types of termite in the area. The Magnetic Termites which build on flooded soil and with the thin edges pointing from north to south to maintain the perfect temperature. In contrast the Cathedral Termite prefer to build on well drained soil and tend to create bigger structures.

It had been a day of lots of driving and eventually we ended up sleeping at a campsite outside Katherine because there was flooding which meant we couldn’t access our intended campsite. I assumed we would be camping in tents similar to those we used on the Nullabor however these actually looked more like semi permanent buildings. They even had beds (with mattresses) a bed side table (and lamp) and a working fan. In fact initially I thought I’d probably stayed in worse hostels and this opinion was only revised when after dinner Patrick who I was sharing with realised there was an ants nest under his mattress.

Tuesday 18th February
We had an early start leaving the camp at 5.30am. This was because quite a few roads in the Kakadu park were closed which meant we had to travel slightly further to find a area where it was safe for us to swim without either being washed away or being eaten by crocodiles…Though there was probably always a slight risk of the latter.

We travelled for about 2 hours during which most fell asleep, though I stayed awake long enough to see the sun rise. We arrived at a reception where we received the park tickets and I brought a coffee which I had to drink incredibly quickly because the road through Kakadu was so bumpy.

Eventually we arrived in the Yurmikmik area where we started the 1km walk to Boulder Creek which involved walking across a swaying footbridge in single file and an area of tall grass that towered me. The waterfalls themselves are not as famous as the spectacular as Jim Jim Falls however it was still a pleasant spot and the off road drive to them had felt particularly spectacular. There was with no one else around and luckily there appeared to be no clouds in the sky and the sun was already shining unlike the day before

I started by climbed up to top of lower waterfall with a few of the others and then across to a rock in the centre where I was able to look down on the rest of the group below. I scrambled back down where I sat on the bank trying to deliberate whether to change and join the others in the water. In the end I made the sensible decision. I’d probably never have the chance to swim in Kakadu again so I left the group found a tree and changed. A few of the others were jumping in to the water (“Bommeke”) from a rock and using Nic’s Go Pro to get pictures so I followed suit though I have to admit it was a pretty feeble attempt.

This time no one got attacked by leeches and finding another tree I was able to change back in to some dry clothes before we headed to a spot to make lunch. The scenery during the drive was great but tiredness was creeping in and eventually as everyone else seemed to be asleep my eyes won the battle and closed. I awoke a few times, mainly when we went over a big bump and when we arrived at our destination I probably felt even more tired.

After lunch i felt more refreshed and we made a short walk to the jetty for our Yellow River Cruise where we hoped to see some of the 300 crocodiles that apparently inhabit the National Park. The sun was still shining and the view from the front of the boat made me feel like I’d stepped back in time, which in a way I had as crocodiles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs.

Our guide was very informative and told us that the Yellow River Billabong had got its name due to the silt which created a yellow tinge. Some of the trees were overhanging in to the inside of the boat and the river had flooded so much it appeared most of them were growing directly out of the water. In fact it was impossible to see where the banks would normally have been and at times we were probably floating over them.

There weren’t any crocodiles in this section so we made our way to South Alligator River. Our guide told us there are no alligators, only crocodiles however back in 1818 they were mistaken for alligators by Phillip King. Unfortunately by the time the error was realised it was deemed to be to late to rename it due to the costs involved so the name has stuck.

There were a number of areas the guide expected us to be lucky with a sighting and eventually we saw one just on the surface of the water. Initially our guide thought it was ‘Waters’ the croc that had ruled the waterway we were on however on closer inspection he realised it was a rival ‘Waters’ had been fighting for the territory. The guide estimated this one was about 4 metres in length and he said he believed it now owned the territory as ‘Waters’ hadn’t been seen in a while.

As we pulled up along side it, the crocodile slowly started to disappear beneath the surface and once it was under it was impossible to tell where it had swum, if indeed it had even moved from its location. Crocodiles can stay under water for over 1 hour and as I learnt at the Australia zoo they can move through the water without leaving a trace on the surface.

Due ti the wet season we were able to go down channels not normally accessible and visited the dry season jetty and the adjoining boardwalk which was submerged under the water. Apparently a large crocodile normally lay in wait on the submerged boardwalk however it was not there and instead we headed to an area where the territories of 3 crocodiles met.

We didn’t see any more crocodiles however we did see a number of birds including a male nesting Jesus bird, given its name because it appears to walk on water due to its long legs. This bird is also from the same family as the Cassowary and the Emu and like the latter it is the male that raises the young. We also saw a nesting White Bellied Sea Eagle the second largest bird in Australia and a kookaburra as well as some parrots. We also saw a wide variety of trees and were told how a few were used within the Aboriginal way of life and were encouraged to sniff one tree that smelt like honey.

After the cruise we went to the Warradjan cultural centre. This provided some interesting information about the area and the local clans including the Binjini clan. The display included a slightly poignant section on what the clans feel the future will hold and there was certainly the sense that the increase in tourism to the area, whilst not resented, has had a huge impact on the way they are allowed to use the area. I’m not sure how many tourists go to the centre but I’m sure those that don’t won’t ever appreciate the delicate balancing act that has to take place when making decisions in the region.

We arrived at the campsite at Jabaru where the tents were similar to those from the night before. There had clearly been quite a bit of rain in the area and it was a good job the ‘tents’ were raised above the ground because the ground was partially flooded in places. We had planned on using the swimming pool but it was so closed and so Nick Abdu Oliver, Joke and I looked at the pictures from the day before it started raining very heavily and the others joined us. It continued to rain during and after dinner so we played a few games of the card game ‘shithead’ and lit some incense in an attempt to discourage mosquitoes. A small stream appeared to be forming through our campsite and the route I took to the washrooms was

Wednesday 19th February
It rained throughout night which meant the area surrounding our tents was even wetter and the path to the shower block was partly flooded. Unfortunately I hadn’t realised this due to the long grass so my boots were soaked again as were my one dry pair of socks and it wasn’t even 7am. Before the tour I’d had a feeling some of my clothes wouldn’t survive the adventure to Litchfield and Kakadu and it certainly feels like it’s a matter of when not if my ‘new’ walking boots fall apart.

Our first stop was to see some Aboriginal wall paintings at Nanguluwur rock. The walk was about 2km and was uneventful as we hadn’t encountered the bull buffalo there was a warning about at the carpark. There were various styles of Aboriginal wall art on display including ‘Contact Paintings’ which illustrated the relatively recent interaction with new/other cultures. One of the sections of rock featured a large painting of a European sailing ship, likely to reflect the time when the buffalo hunters first arrived and it is therefore likely to be less than 200 years old. Another style on display were a series of hand stencils which is one of the oldest styles.

Next we made our way to Nourlangie Rock to see the paintings at the lower area Anbangbang gallery. Some of the paintings here may be between 6,000 – 20,000 years old dating to the Pre-Estuarine period, examples of the Estuarine period between 6,000 and 2,000 years ago and the Freshwater Period from 2,000 years ago to the present day. At Ubir (which unfortunately was inaccessible) there are apparently paintings which reflect the changes caused by the ice age which if true is quite phenomenal.

One of the display board explained some of the rock art stories that are told are sacred though the displays did provide some information to help us with the interpretation and Ray also had some knowledge. The most famous painting in the Anbangbang gallery appears to include Namondjok who is thought to have been guilty of incest (not necessarily with a family member) and Namarrgon, a lightning being who plays a central role in the creation legends. This particular painting was re-done in 1964 by a member of the Badmardi clan.

After spending sometime appreciating the history and the significance of the site we went to the Nawurlandja lookout which which overlooked the Escarpment area of Kakadu and where if we used our imagination we could see a distant rock formation that resembled the Sydney Opera House. We spent a while just staring in to the vast open space laid out before us, however it slowly started to rain and so we decided to head back before it got worse.

After leaving the lookout we began the journey back to Darwin briefly stopping for lunch before continuing to a Caravan Park that had a 4m salt water crocodile called Brutus and a Freshwater Crocodile called Freddy. Neither were being that sociable and both stayed in water to stay cool. Brutus in particular didn’t enjoy our company and disappeared beneath the surface so we got back on the bus for the final time.

After arriving in Darwin I quickly did my laundry before heading back out to meet a few of the others for a post tour night out at a bar called Monsoon. There was the opportunity to enter a face painting competition to win a $50 bar tab so Nic and I took one for the team with him doing his best to make me look like a koala with fluorescent paint. Sadly the audience didn’t get his abstract creation and we didn’t win, though did receive a free drink and me lots of attention.

I’d only been with the group 3 days but it was a lot of fun and I’m really glad I’m finally making some contacts in other European cities. It has certainly encouraged me to learn a language (probably Spanish) when I get back, though my German is getting better and I’m steadily learning Belgium and re-learning French.

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L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N: Ningaloo Reef

Thursday 13th February
We arrived in Coral Bay and the after checking in I went for a swim in the pool with G, Johanna and the Swiss girls whilst the others went to the beach. Jason soon joined us and after a while Nico came back from the beach and joined us as well. G told us about a game called ‘Marco Polo’ where one person has to close their eyes and catch people in the pool. The person in the centre has to say ‘Marco’ and the others respond with ‘Polo’ so the person knows where they are. After a while Joanna left when it was G’s turn so with the game really coming to an end I cheated and climbed out of the pool but continued to splash my hand and to say ‘Polo’. I thought it was funny.

After dinner Nico, G and I went for a walk around the town (really smaller than a UK hamlet) and down to the beach before heading back to wait for the others. It was nearly a full moon so we headed back down whilst listening to some music and I brought my dance move out, though I think it might be time to retire it soon. We chilled out on the beach before the rest of the group joined us. We weren’t drinking but I suppose as a group we were the main source of entertainment in Coral Bay and soon we had attracted the attention of some locals who also joined us. They seemed a bit drunk and creepy and it was at this point that a few of us decided to call it a night.

G, the swissgirls, Johanna and I arrived back at our room and realised to our horror that the air conditioning wasn’t working. It emerged we were meant to have asked reception for a controller. Not only that the windows didn’t open so our only solution was to use the bin to keep the door open which at least let some air in. The room had been very hot and stuffy but our idea seemed to work and sleeping without sheets meant when I awoke the next morning I was if anything a little bit cold.

Friday 14th February – Valentines Day
Today we had an optional activity to snorkle the Nigaloo? Reef with the main activity being to swim with Manta Rays. The reef is famous for the largest fish, the Whale Shark however they tend not to appear until the end of March. Initially I had hoped to time a trip up the West Coast with seeing these amazing animals but ultimately I realised it wasn’t going to be practical to make two journeys to Perth.

Out of the 12 of us on the bus all but 3 had decided to spend the day this way. We arrived at the boat and the captain and the guides gave us some safety instructions however unlike when I went to the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns 3 years ago, we didn’t travel far at all before we reached the first snorkel site. This was a free swim, in the sense that we could go where we liked within a certain radius of the boat.

During the first swim we saw a number of different fish before a green sea turtle was spotted swimming along. I swam with it for a few minutes before we also spotted one sitting on the seabed though as we were only snorkeling we couldn’t get as close to it. We also saw a number of Blue spotted lagoon rays and a variety of different fish. Nico also spotted a white tip reef shark lying on the sea bed under some coral but you had to dive quite deep down to see it and I seemed too buoyant. The mask and snorkel both worked well so this was definitely one of the more relaxing snorkels I’ve done as no unwanted water tried to make its way in to my mouth.

Back on the boat we had a cup of tea, some pizza slices and a piece of cake before heading up on to the top deck. From here we entered an area of the reef that is popular with turtles to find food and it didn’t take us long to spot one swimming just below the surface. We carried on looking out and a few surfaced away from the boat before eventually one came up close to the boat as well. The sea was very calm and clear so it was quite easy to spot them though I still accidentally spotted the common rock turtle, the slowest and oldest of all turtles. (It was a rock).

We carried on further in to the reef to find the manta rays. To aid the company in detecting the rays a sea plane is used however we started by going to an area they had been found the day before. One of the guides jumped in and it didn’t take her long to find one. I was part of the second group and we were told each group would have an initial 5 minute swim and then longer. We were also told not to splash because if it became unsettled and swam away the Manta rays could swim up to 60 kilometres per hour which would be faster than the boat.

I hadn’t quite appreciated how big Reef Manta Rays are and it was only the night before Nico had told me how large they can grow. The impact was therefore perhaps not as great as it would have been when gradually a male 2 half to 3 metres long kite shaped object came in to view about 4 to 5 metres beneath the surface of the water. It’s movements to turn direction were majestic and a sight to behold. We had been told to keep behind it so as not to scare it however whilst we obeyed it seemed to be quite relaxed for us to be in its vicinity.

Soon our 5 minutes were up and group one re-entered whilst we stayed in our flippers and masks ready to go back in. Eventually we went back in and I tried to dive down so that the guide could get a picture of it with me in the background. It wasn’t long before a even larger manta ray, possibly a female came along and here a bit of confused developed. Whilst the West Coast reef is hardly as busy as Cairns it appeared we had met another group following the female ray and our male decided to go off with her. Initially I thought it was our group one as did a few others (people look the same in snorkel gear) so we followed before being called back. Unfortunately our manta ray had gone but our time had probably been nearly up anyway so we got back on the boat to have lunch.

As we ate we went to another bit of the reef which was different from the first because it had areas that were deeper. Like with the first snorkel it was a unguided swim however I stayed near the guide taking pictures as she was an expert at finding interesting species. On this occasion and at the 3rd attempt I finally clearly saw a white tip shark which was about 1 and a half metres long having missed the previous two. I don’t remember the other species but it was fantastic to have a second chance to see such a colourful underwater kingdom. Not only some of the fish which themselves were a wide variety of colours but the coral itself.

There was one marine animal I was fairly desperate to see however like the whale shark the possibility was unlikely. This was a Dugdon otherwise known as a sea cow and similar to a Manatee. I had first seen this type of animal at the sea life centre in Florida about 20 years ago so when I heard there was a population in Shark Bay I was hoping we’d see some but hadn’t been in luck. The guides said they had seen one the day before but that there wasn’t much see grass in the area so there wasn’t a resident population in the area.

We’d all been on the top deck and I don’t think we were specifically looking for them when one of the guides thought they had spotted one just below the surface. I’d been in the process of talking to the other guide taking the pictures and they’d quickly kept to a prime position at the front. As we got nearer the captain said it was a rock, and the first guide apologised and inside I wished we hadn’t got closer so I could have continued to believe (like a child who doesn’t want to be told Santa Claus isn’t real – sorry if I’ve shattered any illusions). All of a sudden the rock moved and brought it’s tail out of the water. It was a Dugdon. Perhaps Santa Claus does exist. We watched it for a while as it swam under the water before rising again for air.

The captain said he had also seen a large dark moving object. If we saw a whale shark out of season I think I may have exploded with delight but unfortunately we didn’t quite have that much luck and by the time we left the Dugdon to investigate we’d lost which direction it had moved and the sea suddenly seemed very large. It had

I remember 3 years ago being utterly underwhelmed by my dive to the Great Barrier Reef. The day had been a lot of fun because of my fellow group but it had taken hours to get to a site and even then most of the coral had appeared dead. I hadn’t seen a turtle, I didn’t even see a reef shark. The Great Barrier Reef was given its name by Matthew Flinders over 200 years ago and the East Coast tourist industry continues to promote its title despite the fact it’s lost half its coral cover since 1985. In my opinion the West Coast has more accessible unspoilt reefs (from the shore at least), a secret gem and long may it stay that way.

We arrived back at the accommodation earlier than we had expected but I suppose in contrast some groups spend longer on the reef and yet see less than us. After chilling out by the pool we eventually made the relatively short drive to Exmouth. Jason had told us that as it was a full moon it would be particularly good to have the chance to see the baby turtles hatching and that if people wanted to go, we’d leave after dinner. This would not be part of the tour, we were all just members of the public.

We arrived near the Jurabi Turtle Centre and Jason read us the list of rules which included no torches however as it was a full moon even behind the cloud the beach was well lit. We went on a hunt for nests that were hatching being careful to cause minimal disturbance with Jason the only person really knowing what we were looking for. We’d arrived in the centre of the beach and going left we walked all the way to the far end. On our way to the far end we saw an adult that had just finished making a nest and saw it wonder back down to the sea. Jason then found a nest but the turtles were taking their time so Nico, Jason and I walked all the way to the far right end whilst the girls stayed and waited.

We saw nothing on this expedition but on our way back some of the girls were waiting by where we’d left our shoes. They said as they had all been waiting, about 10 baby turtles and started to walk by behind them from another nest. We eventually made it back where most of the girls had stayed and they confirmed what the others had said. Our nest didn’t seem to be doing much and it got a bit frustrating and boring as I began to think I’d missed my chance.

Jason had started to look at another mound of sand and had put his hand in slightly to check and exclaimed that he’d touched something that had moved. He’d immediately taken his hand out and we scrambled over carefully but quickly. Less than a minute later the mound seemed to explode with baby hatchlings. It was quite possibly the most amazing thing I have seen on my travels in Australia (indeed ever) to date. We started counting and it felt like a scene from 101 dalmations. The little turtles seemed to know instinctively what to do and started running down to the beach. There was an initial 35 that came out so we walked down to the sea with them, making sure we were very careful about where we put our feet.

Frustratingly It was a bit to dark for me to work the manuel focus on my lens and as we couldn’t use the flash I was the only person that could take pictures for the group. I had been so preoccupied with just watching it all unfold by the time I started to think about what I needed to do – to maximise the ISO setting it was to late and the last turtle had run past my foot as I’d started to head back to the nest. Even if I had though, I doubt a photo would have captured that emotion. I’d thought it was wonderful seeing the turtle nesting up close in Bundaberg but seeing the hatchlings was just unbelievably wonderful. We were a tired but happy bus when we got back.

Saturday 15th February
I was the only member of the group that was doing the 5 day tour and ending my journey in Exmouth as everyone else was continuing back to Perth on a 7 day tour. I was a bit sad it was over because I’d particularly enjoyed the company of Nico, G and Nuria. It sometimes takes a while for a group to click but for us it probably happened fairly early during the night of drinking (international language) at Monkey Mia. Certainly by the end of day 3 I felt we’d become one group and that was thanks partly to Jason and his efforts to interact with everyone and to encourage us to swap seats on the bus. As the metaphorical barriers were down I knew that they’d all have a lot of fun on the return leg.

My last activity with the group was another snorkel around the Ningaloo Reef, this time north of Exmouth at Turquoise Bay. We had hired masks and flippers from a place in Exmouth and I’d been given a ‘fancy’ mask that in theory meant it was easy to blow out water whilst stopping water from getting in. I say in theory because after swimming out in to the reef with the others water started coming in. This meant that every couple of minutes i had to empty the snorkel of water whilst making sure I didn’t knock any rocks or coral in the process which meant sometimes I had to hold my breath until I got out of a shallow section. I tried pressing against the thin flap of plastic that was meant to stop water getting in but that was no good.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the most enjoyable snorkel but the water was incredibly clear, even more so than the day before and we were lucky enough to see another turtle and another white tip reef shark at a cleaning station. I also saw a large clam and obviously a wide variety of fish. Whilst the majority continued a bit further round the coast, Nico whose snorkel had developed an issue so he had to wear it upside down, Johanna and I called it a day.

Back on the beach it didn’t take long for me to re-enter the water to play a volleyballesq game.  Our objective was to hit the ball to each other for as many times without double hitting, or letting it hit the water. We managed to score 75 and I have to admit I found this simple game even more fun than the snorkeling. Eventually we called time and whilst most of the others went back in for another snorkel I stayed on the beach to dry out.

We had a lunch of various nibbles and during the drive back to the accommodation Nico dedicated “Just cant get enough” to me before Jason took me to Learmouth Airport which literally appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. I thought my plane from Bundaberg was small but this was tiny in comparison with capacity for about 50 people and had the old fashioned propeller blades.

I had a window seat and made an effort to look down as we took off and at various points throughout the journey. There were no clouds so first I had a spectacular birdseye view of the reef before we started to cross the vast barren red sand which due to the nothingness looked equally amazing. As we approached Perth more vegetation started to crop up especially around the river areas and soon we were flying over man made structures on the final approach across the suburbs.

I caught the bus back to the hostel I had stayed at a few nights before. I arrived at the hostel and checked in but when I went to my room the occupants seemed to think all the beds were still taken (and it looked it) so I went back to reception where I got upgraded to a 4 bedroom. I then did the laundry knowing full well that there possibly wasn’t much point as it’s all going to be even dirtier after it has experienced the tropical north and red centre…assuming the clothes even survive. Some of the t shirts are already on their last legs as it seems are my “new” walking boots from New Zealand.

I decided not to head back out in to Perth, partly because on a short trip to find a cash machine less than 5 minutes from the hostel two separate incidents with some Aboriginals had left me feeling slightly vulnerable. In reality it was no different to when I’ve been approached in London by someone who unfortunately suffers from substance abuse but as a tourist I always feel more wary as I mentioned when I was in Russia. Whilst it was all perfectly fine I just became slightly more aware of my surroundings and the fact it was a Saturday.

Once I’d got my money I went back to the hostel and made the most of the internet Ibefore going to bed as I had to catch the airport shuttle at 6.40am. I woke up again about midway through the second half of Watford’s game against Middleborough. We were 1.0 up and it was agony pressing refresh for 20 minutes reading about the number of Middleborough shots that were blocked and saved. Unlike against Leicester we hung on and whilst it seems the possession football of Zola is gone at least we’re grinding out some positive results at last. With the result confirmed and after receiving a message from my dad I went back to sleep happy.

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Go West: Perth to Coral Bay

Tuesday 11th February
A number of times before I left the UK I had looked at various options to travel up the West Coast of Australia. I didn’t know much about the region but it all looked quite remote (there were no trains and few buses) and the scenery looked particularly unspoilt and spectacular. Each time I’d talked myself out of it for a variety of different reasons. It was only when I had been wondering around Sydney trying to find somewhere cheap to eat that I had stumbled upon a local tour agency. I’d gone in for a food recommendation but the assistant and I had also been talking generally about travel before she mentioned a budget company that she’d used which offered a 5 day tour to a place called Exmouth. This tour had sounded pretty perfect because whilst I wouldn’t make it all the up to Broome and the Kimberley’s I knew this wouldn’t be possible anyway due to it being the wet season up in the North. I still made no immediate decision and over the next couple of weeks I’d flicked through the brochure and started/finished reading Bill Bryson ‘Down Under’. As I knew I was unlikely to be over in Perth (or Australia) again anytime soon I finally bit the bullet.

I was one of the first people to be picked up and following the advice from Craig on my last tour i made a point of sitting near the front. This is because it’s always a bit more active and if the driver spots any wildlife or point of interest you’ll have more chance of seeing it than in the back. Aside from Jason our guide Nico from Germany was the only other guy so we sat together and in the passenger seat at the front was Nuria from Barcelona. The 4 of us spent the journey from Perth talking about various topics including good and bad travel experiences, whether the Spanish really take Siestas (they don’t) and whether we listen to music to make us think or to party.

We arrived in the Nambung National Park home to a quite phenomenal desert rock formation called the Pinnacles. Whilst I was on the way to the visitor centre I heard words I’d heard in random areas of Australia before “John, is that you?” This time it was Steffi who had left with Marco, Gabi and Quentin the day before. Soon the others arrived as well and I got to see their wild car as they prepared to leave. I had hoped we would see each other again at some point along the West Coast but hadn’t expected to see them quite so soon.

There are a number of different theories about how the Pinnacles were formed and Jason drew one of the easier to draw theories in the sand. This theory claimed that at one time all the area had been under water and that when the water levels dropped the area was still not as dry as it is today. There were a number of trees that grew up from a layer of sandstone and over time their roots held the sandstone together creating the rocks when the sandstone not held together disappeared. Or something like that.

Either way they were easily the most stunning rock formation I’ve seen in Australia to date. Each was a unique shape and size whilst it was also possible to make out the fossilised roots from the trees in the rocks. The view from the lookout across the rocks towards the sea was breathtaking and it’s amazing that so few tourists visit, in fact were it not for the other group we’d have had the vast area to ourselves. I suppose Australia is a huge country with many unique sights however most of the tourists and settlements are concentrated on the East Coast, many many 1000s of miles from where we were.

We had a brief stop in Cervantes for lunch where we again all helped to prepare the food before we eventually arrived in Geraldton. This is the biggest town between Perth and Broome and in terms of population it s roughly the same as Berkhamsted. The main point of interest was a lookout which featured a memorial to HMS Sydney which sank in the 2nd World War. As I was leaving I saw Marco, Gabi, Steffi and Quentin who had just arrived which meant at some stage we had overtaken them. Marco said they probably wouldn’t make it to Kalbarri National Park that evening so this time we did say goodbye until either they come to London or I go on my self made Belgium/Switzerland chocolate tour.

We moved seats for the next part of the journey and I found myself in front of Georgina (G) from Liverpool. Before we arrived at our accommodation at Big River Ranch we stopped at one final lookout along the coast called Pot Alley. Whilst it was very beautiful it was also very windy, especially once at the top of a small summit made up of rocks

We arrived at accommodation where there were a number of horses in a paddock and a tree which appeared to have parrots for leaves as there were so many of them sitting on the empty branches. Jason had recommended a Belgium style Mango Beer from a brewery in Broome. I had feared it would be a bit sweet like Friuli where one is enough but the mango taste wasn’t overpowering, more a hint of an aftertaste and as a result I’d finally found an Australian lager I could drink all day long. Now to get it exported to the UK…

I chatted to some of the members from the other group including Ashley and Olly from the UK and Rob from Netherlands. Perhaps I just had a perception our bus was quiet because most had slept on the long drive and there was a slight language divide. It had been a long day so after we had eaten we all went to bed fairly early as it was due to be an early start the next morning.

Wednesday 12th February
I’d set my alarm for 5.15am and as I didn’t want to wake G and Nuria who were still sleeping I went to have breakfast where I saw Nico who had unloaded everything. Somehow the time slipped by and I was soon rushing to pack my bag before the 6.00am departure.

We went to the Kalbarri National park and as we approached we could see a big rain cloud in the distance including one strike of fork lightning which looked like an end of the world scene. Soon it was raining gently where we were but fortunately there was no unbearable It is arguable whether the rain was refreshing or made the humid conditions even more unbearable

We made our way to the Z Bend lookout before going for a walk to Gorge along the Murchinson River. The rain had made some of the rocks slippery and we had to climb over a number of rocks to get down but I’ve got used to these moderate graded hikes over the past few months. Not that I’m any where near where I’d like my fitness to be and I think some tough gym sessions are required when I get home.

The rain stopped by the time we got in to the valley and by the time we got to the gorge Nico and I were more than ready for a refreshing dip even though the water didn’t look all that inviting. Nico and Jason also opted to jump from one of the ledges but I wasn’t so keen so just went for a swim before a few of the girls decided to join us. The other group came as we were leaving so we encouraged them to go for a dip as well.

The walk back was easier than going down and seemed to take less time. As we reached the top we looked down and could see a kangaroo sitting amongst the trees. The sky started to clear, the sky started to turn blue and as the sun shone we carried on to Natural Window lookout, a hole in a rock which looked down in to the gorge below. This was almost breathtakingly beautiful. The heat was becoming unbearable for some but on the way back some of us got a picture hanging from a ledge where if the perspective was correct it looked like we were hanging off a cliff and about to fall in to the gorge below. I’m glad we got to see the national park in the rain as it made the view in the sun even more outstanding.

After getting back on the bus and driving through a vast landscape which apart from the road we were on contained no sign of human life we eventually reached the Billabong Road House where we prepared our lunch. After eating we continued the drive to Monkey Mia but first we had a stop at Hamelin Pool To see the Stromolites.

How do I start to describe these? I guess if you don’t believe in the religious theories with regards to the beginning of life on this planet then these organisms are what you need to thank for your existence. I don’t remember hearing about them at school which i feel is slightly odd given their scientific significance and it was only in Bill Brysons book that I became aware of their importance. Now millions of years old these were amongst the earliest organisms on the planet and using a process similar to photosinphosis they pretty much single handedly changed the Earths Oxygen to 21℅ allowing life to develop outside of the ocean.

One of my main reasons for doing the West Coast of Australia was to see these because there are only 3 areas in the world where they can be seen and the only colony outside of West Australia is Barbados. Whilst they are living the stromolites don’t move and they basically just look like rocks. If you didn’t realise their significance it would be easy to overlook and dismiss them and I’m sure many do. The tide was out and whilst enough were submerged it was difficult to spot if any of them were bubbling/breathing but even so it was still an amazing experience to look at the living past.

We carried on to Shell Beach where the beach consisted of compacted cockleshells. The area is also part of a project called ‘Project Eden’ and a big fence has been built on land and out to sea to keep out non native animals. We went for a swim in the sea here and the water was like sitting in a warm bath. The water was quite shallow so it wasn’t possible to swim but it was very pleasant to just float.

We arrived in Monkey Mia and after a shower Nico and I chilled out sorting pictures whilst I had one of the mango beers. A small group were meant to go to an Aboriginal show but the local guide didn’t turn up which was a shame, especially for Ashley who had sounded quite enthusiastic about going. After dinner we played a few drinking games including Kings Cup / Ring of Fire. We didn’t want to wake up the other people staying at the accommodation so we headed down to the beach. We ended up playing Duck Duck Goose which I hadn’t played since my school days and it was pretty hilarious having to chase each other and at least the sand was soft so it was possible to ‘dive’ back to base.

Thursday 13th February
We had to be up fairly early if we wanted to see the dolphin feed but most made it down in time. The dolphins were already swimming around in the shallows when I got there but it wasn’t for another 15 minutes that one of the rangers appeared and started to give us a commentary. This was slightly different to the set up on Moreton Island. We were all invited in to the water but only a select few picked at random would actually get to feed the dolphins.

We all entered the water and the dolphins swam a couple of feet away and this included a mother and its calf whilst another turned on its side so it could get a good view of us all. We were provided with some information about the local dolphin population before eventually we were told to leave the water so that the dolphins could come in even closer for the feed. They seemed to be well rehearsed at the routine and after the 5 ‘residents’ had lined up along the beach area they waited eagerly for the chosen few to enter the water.

Neither Nico, Rob (from the other group) were chosen in our area which was a bit disappointing but possibly not so much for me because I’d had the evening experience on Moreton Island. I saw that G had been chosen from her area and I managed to quickly get a picture for her, but I don’t think many from our tour had success. Before heading back to the accommodation there was a pelican that was strutting around so we all got a picture with it. Their eyes really do look fake and exaggerated so I can’t help but laugh when ever I see them.

After having breakfast I headed back down to the beach for the second feed the commentary of which was already underway. There weren’t as many people especially where I was standing and this time when people were invited back in to the water I was chosen. It was nice to do it in the light but none of the group had come down with me and as I didn’t have time to hand my camera to anyone I didn’t get a picture of the event. As I headed back to the accommodation I saw Rob and whilst he had just missed the second feed that the final one would probably be taking place within 30 minutes.

I arrived back and with Nico helped Jason to prepare lunch whilst the girls relaxed. Rob came back just before we left and I was glad to hear he had been successful and after saying goodbye to the other tour including Olly and Ashley our group left to continue our journey North.

We had a long drive ahead, something I am now used to but our first stop at Eagle Bluff overlooking Shark Bay wasn’t far from Monkey Mia. Here we could see Reef sharks in the shallows and a possible turtle but no Dugongs. There are apparently a number of Dugongs in the area because there is a lot of sea grass along the shallows for them to feed on. It was also yet another spectacular coastal view, the sea made up of patches of both light and dark blue water depending on the depth of the sand.

After a toilet stop a group decision was made to eat our premade lunch on the bus because it was hot outside and it made sense to kill off a few extra kilometres to get to Coral Bay quicker. During the drive I spent the first half writing the blog and napping which only made me more tired. Eventually I decided the best option was to stay awake.

Jason hosted a quiz with the winning team receiving a free beer or ice cream each. I was in a team with Nico and Johanna?! The questions were a mix of where we had been and general Australian knowledge. We all contributed and it was more by chance that during the last question I remembered the gorge had been along the Murchison river winning it for us by a single point. ICE CREAM!!!!! The 3 girls from Switzerland were playing hangman on the windscreen with special marker pens and Nico, Johanna and I kept working it out before those playing and kept claiming more ice cream was owed to us as a result.

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Viva la Vida: Rottnest Island and Perth

Saturday 8th February
My first impressions of Perth had been favourable as it seemed that the CBD was quite a small compared to Sydney and Melbourne which meant that everything was within walking distance. Despite the relatively small size it still seemed to be fairly lively. Before I could explore properly however I had to do my usual post tour chores.

I woke up early to make sure I could use the washing machine and realised that two of the white shirts will be forever dusty coloured as will a pair of shorts. As usual the time slipped by and I still hasn’t sorted half of what I had planned by the time I headed out to get a early dinner having skipped lunch.

I found a South East Asia restaurant which had a deal for one more minute so quickly got my order in. It seemed busy with people from that continent so I figured it would be ok and despite the low cost it turned out to be a good sized tasty meal. I went back to the hostel and sorted a few more things before heading back out to watch the Liverpool vs Arsenal match with Quentin.

We headed to a sports bar that we’d seen on the Friday night. They had a programme featuring an interview between Patrick Vierra and Roy Keane which would have been interesting to hear but they had loud club music on instead. We had a quick game of pool and like in Noosa the end of the Que was a mess. I’d started off strong but Quentin fought back and both of us wasted an opportunity to win before I was left with an easy pot to continue my undefeated record.

The music continued during the game and whilst the bar became busier we’d been there early enough to get some seats. In my head I was thinking it was going to be a slow game but it was anything but. Liverpool scored from a corner inside 2 minutes and then Arsenal should have equalised. The miss proved costly because in the space of 10 crazy minutes Liverpool scored 3 more. Each goal was met by delight from Quentin and the other Liverpool fans in the bar, if there were any Arsenal fans they were doing a good job at not showing it. The match ended 5.1 and It had been my first live match in 3 months.

I woke up in the middle of the night and saw Watford were leading Leicester 2.1. The match should have been over but I kept hitting refresh and just as I had that hope maybe we had held on the score suddenly changed to 2.2. At the same moment i got a message from my dad. Thankfully I’m having a good time over here which makes me feel detached from the football and all philosophical. I sighed turned on my side, went back to sleep.

Sunday 9th February
When I’d decided I was going to Australia one of my priorities was to see the Quokkas on Rottnest Island as I’d seen an article describing them as the world’s happiest animal as a result of their cute faces. Quokkas are effectively miniature kangaroos, even smaller than Wallabies but bigger than a rat. Originally when the Dutch first discovered the island they were mistaken for rats and that is why it was given the name “Rat-nest Island”. Rottnest was also part of the mainland until about 6500 years ago when rising sea levels caused it to become detached.

I arrived at Barrack Street jetty and met up with Sandrine. We had different plans of things to do on the island but it was still great to spend time with a familiar face on the crossing which was quite long. The journey to Rottnest also effectively included a cruise up to Fremantle and on the way we were given a commentary. We passed a few landmarks including Kings Park and a number of houses belonging to millionaires. We arrived in Fremantle to pick up more passengers and my first impressions of the port weren’t what I expected as there were lots of big tankers and it looked a bit more industrial than I had expected.

We arrived on Rottnest and Sandrine and i temporarily went our separate way. As I mentioned in an earlier blog my intention had been to cycle around the island however instead I’d booked a small bus tour and planned to spend the rest time doing the various walks. As is my way I wasn’t planning on taking it easy and as I only had a day my intention was to squeeze in a lot in the short space of time available.

The bus was slightly late leaving and we started by driving past Settlement train station and the railway which goes to the gunnery on Oliver Hill before driving up to the Kingston Barracks. We then headed to the coast where we passed the Shark ship wreck and Porpoise Bay before stopping in Parker point loop?. We carried on towards the ??? Lighthouse and on the way passed Little Salmon Bay where a reef stops big waves and encourages tropical fish making it popular with snorkeling.

Before we reached the lighthouse we saw a Sea Eagle sitting on a nest on a rock just off the coast before also seeing our first Quokka sitting under a tree. The guide tried to assure us we’d see others in the town but I didn’t want to take any chances and wanted to see them in the wild. When we stopped to get a picture I was surprised that i was one off the few that got off. It was slightly larger than I had expected, perhaps the size of a baby wallaby and it didn’t seem to be overwhelmed by people taking photos.

We arrived at Wadjemup Lighthouse which was built in 1896 and rotates every 7.5 seconds. It was a clear day and from the hill it was just about possible to see the Gun on Oliver Hill which if fired could reach the WACA cricket ground. Rottnest Island is 7.3 sq miles and the hill gave a good perspective of its size. There was another Quokka under a tree which surprised the guide because apparently they didn’t normally go to that area and he’d have expected to see snakes instead.

We carried on to the West End crossing Narrow neck, the narrowest point of the island in the process and passing Rocky bay where there was a memorial to Roland Smith. We also saw a number of trees growing sideways because of the strong winds and because they were trying to escape the salt water of the sea. Finally we passed the site of the shipwreck of the Kiya Marue which sunk in 1984 carrying tuna which was apparently popular with the local dolphins.

We eventually arrived at Cape Viamingh in the west end. It was a very nice location and the water was various different shades of blue and turquoise but I have to admit it’s starting to become difficult to find different ways to describe the various coastal rock formations. I don’t at all mean to down play the view it’s just however unfortunately there wasn’t any wildlife e.g lizards, birds or dolphins to add to the scene.

Next we headed up the North Coast on our way back to the information centre where we passed more bays and a salt lake. Salt mining was one of the first industries on the island and the salt mining process has apparently made the salt lakes saltier than the sea.

We arrived back at the information centre and after getting a pie from the bakery I went for a quick walk to the Vlamingh Lookout. I think i had expected to see the islands unspoiled scenery so i found the lookout slightly underwhelming as it really only provided a view of the salt lake below. I more by chance stumbled upon the Aboriginal burial ground (previously a campsite) though for cultural reasons all the graves appear unmarked so only the families know where to pay their respects to individuals. I then made my way back to the information centre and waited to join one of the free tours to learn about the history of the islands settlement.

The walk was quite interesting and was quite moving. A number of times in New Zealand and Australia I’ve felt rather ashamed to be from the UK and to hear of the way early settlers just abused the local population. Here it was no different, Aboriginals from all across Australia were imprisoned on Rottnest and put in small cells many of them dying due to the relative cold of the island compared to areas they usually inhabited. We also visited the oldest intact street scape in Australia still in regular use, the oldest building on the island, Buckingham Palace (Lomas Cottage) and the boat shed which contained a replica of the original pilot ship and the original small dinghy boat.

I still had a bit of time to spare so I decided to do a walk around the salt lake as the guide told me that would be an almost guaranteed place to see Quokkas in their natural habitat. There had been a tour to this area but I was lucky that they had gone so I had the area to myself. I did the whole loop without seeing anything despite looking in shrubs and I was beginning to give up when I turned around and saw two in the distance that I had initially mistook for a tree stump. Filled with a bit more confidence I perhaps became a bit more observant and realised there was one that was about a foot away. I managed to get the pictures I had hoped to before I tried to move to a  new position and I accidentally startled it which meant it hopped away kangaroo style over my foot and in to the bushes. I don’t seem to be scared of the Quokkas so I don’t know how they were mistaken for rats which I do have a phobia of.

I made my way back to the town and brought an ice cream at Simmos the same chain I’d been to a few days before and sampled some of the other flavours I’d missed out on including a berry yogurt and a boysenberry flavour. It started melting on my way back to the jetty and I had to eat it quickly before I met up with Sandrine and we caught the ferry back to Perth.

We had all arranged to meet up with Steffi for her birthday and once we had docked we phoned up to find out the plans. Steffi, Gaby and Patricia were in Kings Park but by the time Sandrine and I were ready they were leaving to spend the evening at the YHA bar. Eventually we all met up and after singing birthday to Steffi chilled out as a group for one final time. Quentin, Marco and Gaby had hired a car to travel the west coast up to Exmouth and convinced Steffi to do join them. Eventually it was time to say goodbye again and as quite a few of us would be on the West Coast over the following week we said we’d keep in contact in the hope we’d pass each other.

Monday 10th February
My plan for the day was to explore Perth and if I had time to also make the 30 minute train journey to Fremantle. I also wanted to take my disposable camera to be developed and to buy more suncream.

After getting the chores out of the way I made my way to the Western Australian Art Museum as I had seen in my Lonely Planet guide there was a free walking tour around the Indigenous Art Gallery. It was very interesting to see the different styles of art and to hear the reasons behind them. One in particular was “Greetings from Rottnest” which showed all the happy tourists above ground and the buried Aboriginals under the ground and forgotten. It felt particularly relevant after my day on Rottnest the day before.

Next i headed across the road to the Western Australian Museum. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the level of information on display at museums and that is why I try to join the free tours but there weren’t any available here. I didn’t want to spend to long at the museum, i really just wanted to check out a few of the key exhibits and as a few of the rooms were closed I was told it would take about an hour.

I could have spent longer if I’d read all the displays but I took in just enough to appreciate what I was seeing. This included a display on meteorite remains from those that have have fallen over Western Australia over the past 30 years. I have to admit it surprised me that some had crashed in to the earth in my lifetime and some of the craters shown in the photographs looked quite large. I also saw a mummified skeleton of the Tylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) which is now believed to be extinct.

The main display I went to was on the Aboriginal population and again it was interesting to know more about past treatments, misguided historic attempts to resolve tensions between the two different cultures and more recent attempts at reconciliation. Some of the stats seemed quite horrific one of which was that Aboriginals have a life expectancy 20 years younger than white Australians. I hope that the country can find a solution that works for both groups but I am sure there is no quick fix.

Leaving the museum I headed back to collect my photographs some of which I was happy with but I couldn’t help but feel it may have just been more economical to get a digital underwater camera. I then made my way to the bus stop so that I could catch the free bus to Kings Park, the location of the cities Botanical Gardens. The journey was quicker than I expected and after having a snack I waited at the visitor centre for one of the free walks around the botanical garden.

The guide was very informative and we saw lots of different species and I appreciated it more than I would have done if I’d wondered around aimlessly not being sure what I was looking at but unfortunately most of the facts have still been forgotten. I remember we saw different Banska?? Trees, and a type of Gum tree which had once been mistaken for a type of Eucalyptus tree. We also did the walk way which took us through the canopy but it was much lower and smaller than the Valley of the Giants. It was quite impressive how they had managed to grow such a wide variety of trees, shrubs and plants, some endangered, in such a compact area especially as some of these are clearly struggling in their natural environments.

I had a bit of time to wonder around by myself and I went to the lookout where there was a nice view of the city below. I decided that as it was getting towards late afternoon I’d head over to Fremantle to treat myself to a few beers at a microbrewery. After wondering down the main road and seeing a number of plaques commemorating the planting of the trees in 1929 to celebrate the states centenary I reached the bus stop and luckily didn’t have to wait that long. I arrived back in the city walked up to the station where again I was lucky and didn’t have to wait long for a train to Fremantle.

I had planned to look at the view but the start of the journey was a bit like the outskirts of London Euston and I suppose that’s what should be expected of a line from the suburbs in to a main city. Instead I did what I do best on a train and inadvertently fell asleep – luckily Fremantle was the end of the line so there was no risk of me ending up back in Adelaide.

I arrived in “Freo” and made it to the visitor centre as they were closing up however the lady kindly still gave me a few tips of what historical sites to look out for as the maps I had picked up were to overwhelming. I made my way back through the town and headed towards the Roundhouse. This was a prison, the first permanent building in the Swan River Colony and it is the oldest building in Western Australia. There was also a hole dug in the cliff by whalers to give them access to the beach as well as a statue to commemorate Bon Scott from ACDC.

I carried on along the harbour and walked passed one fish and chip restaurant claiming to have been voted number one and another called Cicerellos Which claimed to be ‘still the best in Western Australia’. I eventually found the ‘Little Creatures’ microbrewery and sat outside with a refreshing pale ale whilst I tried to figure out what I wanted to eat. Little Creatures did a pizza but I was at the harbour and the fish and chip restaurants had planted a seed in my brain/stomach.

Eventually due to ridiculously slow service my decision was made and after finishing my drink I left for fish and chips. I didn’t go to both restaurants so I can’t compare which was telling the truth but I was happy enough with my choice. Once I was done I meandered back to the station where luckily a train was just about to leave.

I have one more night in Perth before going to Darwin and if I have time I might go back to Kings Park as I’ve been told it is nice to see the city lit up but during the past 3 days I felt I’d done everything I wanted and I’d certainly got a good flavour of the city. Perhaps for some it would have been nice to have spent longer and not been in such

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On Top of The World: The South West

Tuesday 4th February
Thankfully the long 500km drive to the Stirling Ranges was uneventful. I was sitting near the front and spent the time updating the blog which i was behind with whilst also playing the enigma puzzle game called ‘bolted’. Eventually i remember i moved up to the seat next to Nicole to help Baz put a play list together. I don’t remember where we stopped for our toilet breaks but what I do remember quite clearly is the way the Stirling Ranges just appeared to suddenly rise up from the ground. The sunset also looked quite spectacular however unfortunately we couldn’t quite get a photo of it because there wasn’t a convenient pull over place.

Whilst it was getting late the intention was to have dinner at our campsite at Mt Trio Farm Retreat where we arrived just as it was getting dark. We were all well drilled in what was needed and it wasn’t long before everything required was unloaded and Craig was cooking on the BBQ. We had electricity and showers again so made use of the facilities before settling down for dinner and drinks.

Craig had a special mug which kept tea hot and beer cool and when we were unpacking he noticed it had gone missing. I think i speak for us all when i say all the group felt bad. Even though none of us had touched it, we know what it’s like to have possessions that are important to you when travelling. I don’t mean the electronic items as such, more the items that remind you of home. Personally I have a lucky coin that was given to me by Caroline 3 years ago when I last went to Australia and everyday I check to make sure it hasn’t slipped out of my wallet. It’s the little things that make you feel connected and for Craig the mug was even more important because it was limited addition and a birthday present.

I spent that night sleeping under the stars again in a Swag but as I was tired i didn’t take any pictures of the night sky above which I felt bad about the next morning as it was almost like I was taking it all for granted.

Wednesday 5th February
Whilst we had missed out on the planned main walk up Mt Bluff in the Stirling Ranges, we were up early again to ensure we had a full day of activities. Our first activity of the day was a walk to Castle Rock in the Porongurup National Park.

After 2 days of walking I had anticipated my legs would be up for the challenge but despite starting off at the front my muscles began to ache and I decided to go at a more realistic pace. It wasn’t as steep or strenuous as Frenchman’s Peak but it was longer and a fantastic way to start the day as it was still before 7am. I made it to the top and saw the ‘Balancing Rock’ a 6m high granite boulder weighing 186 tonnes resting on a base about 13sq ft.

Next I decided to climb to the top of the more challenging walk to the top of the Granite Skywalk. This involved scrambling up rocks (there were hand and foot holders to help) and a ladder but the view was worth it. I made my way back down and headed for the easier Karri lookout which was rather underwhelming compared to what I’d just seen slightly higher up. Perhaps I should have done them the other way around.

We then drove to the Gap and Natural Bridge lookout in the Torndirrup National Park. The Gap is a 24 metre chasm and when the sea is rough, powerful sprays can be seen however like at Whalers Way it was relatively calm. The Natural Bridge is a large span of granite that has been eroded forming an archway. I was tempted to walk right to the end and thought I could see some of the others but then realised it was another mini bus load and that everyone had already headed back so it was a good job I didn’t.

We stopped in a small town called Denmark for some snacks and a second breakfast before continuing on to the Valley of the Giants. I’d read about this area in my Bill Bryson book and i had been pleasantly surprised when I’d realised we were visiting this unique area. The tree top walk reaching 40m in the air among the giant Tingles trees was captivating. The Red tingle is unique to the Walpole Wilderness and has big buttresses whilst the Yellow tingle has slimmer buttresses. The trees are amongst the biggest in the world and it was amazing to be as high as the canopy whilst the Ancient Empire walk gave a great ground level perspective.

We stopped in Walpole for lunch before carrying on to the Diamond Tree located 17km from Pemberton. The giant Karri tree is 52m high and we were given the option to climb to the lookout at the top. I’ve done a lot of crazy things over the past few months and I had little hesitation in deciding I wanted to try it. The first section was easy enough but the middle section was near vertical and as the ground gradually became further away I started to wonder what I was doing. By now up was the only real option and eventually I reached a ladder taking me in to the fire lookout platform which was built in 1939 making it the oldest lookout still in use today. As i got to the top Marco commented I looked white, and it took a few minutes to regain my usual composure but I’d done it and the view was impressive. The journey down was easier than I thought and it was back on the ground that I realised just how high I’d climbed and in case you are wondering what the fuss was about, there was with no harness.

We travelled through the Karri Forest and reached the Big Brook Dam lake. Pretty much all the group went for a swim except me because I’d yet again forgotten to put my swimming stuff in my day bag. The weather wasn’t that great, and it was quite cold sitting on the bank so eventually those of us that hadn’t gone for a swim headed back to the bus.

We arrived at the Carey Brook Camping Area and set up camp in Snottygobble Loop. Nicole had agreed to make a Swiss meal for us and Craig was making bread. It was unclear how long the meal would take but eventually Baz, Marco, Patricia, Gaby and I headed off on a short walk to Goblin Swamp. This was quite a surreal place and it was clear where it got it’s name. All the scene needed was some rolling mist and an actual goblin…

We arrived back just as the finishing touches to the dinner were being made. By now it was dark and a wondering kangaroo sounding like a person in the trees outside gave everyone a little jump because we were all around the table and in the middle of a forest with no one else around. This was the last night we could make noise and Craig showed us one more drinking game “little pink pig” which as usual frustrated many, especially Quentin on this occasion. Some went to sleep early but I and a few others stayed up a bit later.

As me and Lucas headed back to our tent we realised it was raining quite hard and there was a risk things inside would get wet. We therefore did the sensible drunk thing and carried it to the shelter. Lucas decided to sleep in the shelter in his swag as Quentin was doing but I decided to stay inside the tent, under the shelter.

Thursday 6th February
Next morning our tent had dried but some of the others that hadn’t realised how wet it was outside weren’t so lucky. We drove to Margaret River and on the way passed a number of forests that had been burnt in bush fires. Australian wildlife is better adapted to the conditions so whilst the trees still looked deformed they were not dead and were re-growing as were the shrubs. The non native Pines trees however had suffered badly and it was unclear if they were ever going to grow back.

We spent 40 minutes in the town whilst Craig filled up the petrol but it didn’t appear there was to much to see. We then briefly stopped off at the beach to see whether there were any surfers and whilst there were 2 the big waves were unpredictable making it difficult for them.

The day was really about Cheese, Chocolate and Wine as the region is quite famous for these and after my Hunter Valley experience i was more than happy to be spending another day sampling. Our first stop was the Margaret River Cheese Company where we had feta, cheddar, a Dutch smokey cheese, a camerbet and a chilli cheese. None were utterly amazing but I could still quite happily have eaten more of them.

Leaving the cheese shop we arrived at the Margaret River Chocolate Company. Again there were some free samples, this time dark, milk and white buttons which were nice but I had a few to many and they became a bit sickly sweet. There were a number of Swiss on the bus (7 out of 13) and Steffi from Belgium and I was initially surprised they hadn’t sampled each others chocolates but then realised why would they? I then had the idea of going back to Switzerland and going to all the chocolate factories in the regions I now know people.

We’d saved the best sampling for last and after leaving the chocolate store we headed to our wine tasting at Sandalford wines. We were given the Element Range and tasted two whites, and two reds before having a Late Harvest white that was my favourite and a brandy liquor. I think I have now established what wine I don’t like though I still don’t quite know what I’m looking for when I tilt the glass. We’d all put in $10 each and from this Craig brought us the Cheese and Wine as a group we wanted.

The next stop was probably my favourite of all as it was totally unexpected. Lunch at a local micro brew called Bushshack Brewary. I tried the selection platter and chose the following: Spelt beer – unmalted wheat, Chilli beer – a pilsner with a little after kick, Summer gold’n lager – a typical lager which seemed a bit bland, Chocolate beer – a nice stout, Old St Nicks 8.5% full of Christmas flavour, but it was a bit strong for my liking and finally a Scream’n cream’n – a refreshing alcoholic cream soda. The others made me close my eyes and I did a taste test which I was relieved to pass. Surprisingly the stout was probably my favourite though trying so many ales made me miss some of the British Beers.

I was feeling very content as we boarded the bus to the area surrounding the town of Yallingup. We got off for a brief stop at Canal Rocks another interesting coastal rock formation in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. The day had started off cloudy but the sky was now blue without a cloud in the sky which made the scene particularly beautiful though the waves continued to crash spectacularly. The cloudy start meant I’d not packed my swimming stuff again and getting it out of the trailer seemed a lot of effort. This was a bit of a shame because Smiths Beach our next stop was very pleasant and there were big waves that looked a lot of fun. Even Craig finally had an opportunity to dive in whilst Quentin dug himself a hole which was soon flooded by the sea.

After leaving the beach we headed towards Yallingup Maze Which was where Craig had brought a lot of his puzzles. There was also as maze to do and I thought that more of the group would have taken part as it involved 3D glasses and Water Pistols. Instead it was just me and Baz so rather than being in competition it was recommended we did it as a team. This took away part of the fun but we still got lost before realising there were a few secret doors. When we got to the final lookout Craig came out to join us and we returned back inside where it was evident a lot of people had brought themselves puzzles. Lukas brought himself amongst other puzzles one of those we hadn’t worked out so he had the solution.

We arrived at the camp and one of the other groups soon arrived as well as us being joined by someone working on the campsite. We had two final games of Mafia before settling down for Spaghetti Carbonara and our bottles of wine. There was a 9pm curfew which seemed quite early considering it was our final night as a group and we had drunk a lot of wine. Donkey got himself in to more mischief and I grew long blond hair and as the other group leader played guitar we performed our “Home Among the Gumtree” moves. Craig had helped Marco complete the puzzle we hadn’t been able to solve and gradually everyone on the group some with more help than others worked it out. I was finally able to because Sandrine left the puzzle half done on the table and as I knew/feared it would be the solution had been so simple. It was a fun night

Friday 6th February
The next morning we had a slight lie in but the other groups were up an hour before us and were incredibly noisy to the extent we all decided to wake up as well. We had all been in tents except Quentin who had stayed in a Swag and as he looked a bit like a tramp when he woke up he was told lots of people from around the campsite had taken pictures of him. I was feeling tired when we boarded the mini bus so I vacated the row of seats reserved for the non sleepers. As I had spent the previous days at the front my seat had become a dumping ground and Nicole not used to someone being behind her forgot I was there and accidentally chucked a large bag of ice backwards and towards me which woke me up quickly.

We started our journey back to Perth and stopped of at Ngilgi Cave where we were shown around by a Aboriginal guide before being given time to explore on our own. Our guide gave us some information about the Aboriginal culture including their belief on how the cave was formed, a battle between a good spirit Ngilgi and a bad spirit Wolgine. The caves was discovered by settlers in 1899 however the Wardandi tribe are the custodians of the caves in the area.

Exploring on my own I lost those from my own group and was following those from the other Nullarbor Group from the night before. It seemed the guy I was following was lost or at least I was before I saw the exit sign. Even when I found this I didn’t realise I was now late and everyone except the two behind me from the other group had headed out of the cave. Eventually I realised and made my way to the meeting place where the guide showed us various items including boomerangs, how to start a fire by rubbing a stick in a hole and played the digeredoo.

We had a early lunch near a beach but apart from Nicole, Lukas and Marco no one else planned to go down in to the sea though ironically this was the one day I had everything I needed. Corrine was thrown in the sea by Nicole and Lukas but the rest of us missed it only seeing the wet aftermath.

Part of the reason for not going in was to give us time to visit Simmos Ice cream. There were about 100 flavpours of various different varieties and eventually I settled on a carrot/orange sorbet and a lime sorbet. The carrot and orange one was surprisingly refreshing though I would have happily done a taste test to find out what I’d missed out on.

I slept the rest of the journey, waking up as we hit a traffic jam on the outskirts Perth just as we reached the town of Cockburn which rather fortunately isn’t pronounced how it is spelt. The next two hours are a long blur of Craig getting stressed as road works, a Bruce Springsteen concert and the cricket meant roads were closed. Finally everyone was dropped off and Steffi, Quentin and I arrived at the YHA.

We’d arranged to have a meal at a restaurant and after a quick shower and change headed out in to the city. Aside from the traffic problem my first impressions of Perth were favourable though it was weird to be in a city after 10 days where most of the perceived big towns had been a few 1000 at most. On the way to the restaurant we realised the Perth Fringe Comedy Festival was taking place. Perhaps this was why the city had such a good vibe and the main pedestrian street certainly looked nice with all the different lights.

Marco was running late as he was coming from Freemantle but eventually he arrived and we were able to order our food. I got a calzone because I had been torn between meatballs and pizza and Sandrine pointed out to me the calzone had combined both. After dinner Gabby and and Craig went to check out what was on at the Fringe and seeing a show appealed more to me than just going to a bar. Aside from Gabby and Marco the other 7 weren’t so keen so we split up.

We had to walk to the venue and when we arrived we were told the $10 tickets weren’t available but the girl at the window did us 3 for 2. The show was advertised as being Perth’s best comedians discussing a variety of sensitive subjects. The less said about it the better, it wasn’t the content that was bad (because I’d expected that) but the execution. If they are Perth’s best I should move to Perth and forge myself a new career. I think even they knew it was a disaster.

At times it had felt like a mini endurance test. We’d broken down twice and I’d had my spirit nearly crushed at the halfway stage when I’d been eaten by mosquitoes. But there were also unforgettable highs such as seeing Kangaroos on the beach, hearing koalas in the trees as I slept and swimming with the sea lions and dolphins. I’d known what I was getting myself in to when I’d booked this trip. The Nullarbor isn’t meant to be easy but all those memorable moments (including the not so highs) shared with a special group of people made it a pretty spectacular adventure.

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Highway to Hell – The Nullarbor Plains

Saturday 1st February
I woke up feeling very sorry for myself. Throughout the night I had heard the mosquitoes and the next morning it was obvious what parts of my skin had not been sprayed. Even my legs which had been hidden hadn’t survived the onslaught and my hands in particular were a mess. I took one of my allergic reaction tablets because a combination of heat and mosquito bite means I find them particularly itchy.

We travelled along the road heading for Nundroo the official start of the Nullarbor Plains. There wasn’t much to see and as the sun was already in the 40s after taking a picture of the road leading to nothingness I hid in the shade as I’d failed to put suncream on.

As we left Nundroo I quickly started to apply suncream before after maybe 10 minutes Maggie mentioned she could smell diesel. At almost the same time Craig said he wanted to pull over to check the tyres. The diagnosis was not good, the inner right wheel had blown and we had a broken fuel injector. Part of the jack was also with one of the other buses and an attempt to use a spare piece in the back of the trailer.

Luckily we had only travelled about 15km and lots of road trains (lorries with big loads) were in the area and the first we saw pulled over. They had the bit of the jack we needed so a combination of Craig, Baz and Marco were able to remove 9 of the 10 nuts. The broken fuel injector meant we couldn’t drive anyway and as the final one was impossible for them to remove so after about an hour we received a tow back to Nundroo.

I brought an Ice cream and a sticker saying “I crossed the Nullarbor and broke down in Nundroo”. I was also tempted to buy the sign “where the hell is Nundroo?” which Maggie had seen. Whilst we waited in the air conditioned restaurant we played a game of Mafia which Steffi had introduced us to. I was first to be killed off in the first game and it was funny to see how quick people were to follow the majority, especially the assumption poor Lukas was always guilty because he smiled. Patricia was easily the best though Gaby and I also had success when it was our turn.

Basically there are two Mafia, one police and one doctor. Everyone else is a citizen. Each round the Mafia agree on someone to kill, the police accuse someone (the story teller says if they are right or wrong) and the doctor picks a person to save. Everyone then wakes up and with the exception of the person out of the game decides who to accuse. This carries on until all the Mafia have been caught or until they outnumber the villagers. We were in Nundroo for the long haul so had a few games before lunch and a few games after lunch. We must have been there for 4 hours but luckily the local mechanic Davis Motors/Nundroo Cabin Park had a spare part which wasn’t perfect but that was enough to get us back on the road.

We were running behind Craig’s schedule so we had to skip Eucla but were still able to get a picture of a famous sign of Kangaroos, Camels and Wombats at one of the toilet/refuel stops. I was surprised at how much vegetation there was and hadn’t really appreciated until i was told by Craig that the section of the Nullarbar (Latin for no trees) with no trees was actually only about 17km in length.

Our first stop on the Nullarbar was a lookout over the Great Bright of Australia. This was at the Bunda Cliffs which were nearly 100 meters high and our guide Craig told us they used to be on the ocean floor because there were shells on the cliff tops that were over 40 million years old.

We stopped to get petrol before proceeding to the border crossing where we had to ensure we had disposed of fresh fruit, vegetables and various other items that we were not allowed to carry in to Western Australia. The border officers were efficient but made us feel relaxed about the process with their humour and it was not like the crossing between Russia and Mongolia when the cabin had been torn apart.

After we officially crossed in to Western Australia we stopped to get a picture of the sign and the line marking the boundary. We then celebrated the fact we had made it this far before we performed the dance moves to “Home among the gumtrees” and sang “I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)”.

We arrived at a campsite in Madura much later than had been planned however I think we were all grateful that Craig had at short notice been able to arrange a place with facilities for us. Originally we were meant to bush camp but it had been a long hot day and it was nice to have a place to stay with basic facilities including a much appreciated shower. We set up the tents and a small copperhead snake slithered under one of them which luckily Elizabeth saw. We were all pretty exhausted and possibly jet lagged as the clocks had gone back so went to sleep pretty much as soon as the washing up was done.

Sunday 2nd January
I hadn’t slept well. My mosquito bites had driven me insane and despite Patricia and Maggie giving me cream it felt like I had been scratching most of the night (including when I slept) even though I knew that would only make them more irritating.

The night before we had seen some layered rocks to the right of the main road and this morning we briefly stopped at the top to get a photo though unfortunately it was misty so it wasn’t really possible to appreciate the vastness of the landscape below. Our next stop was to a cave in the Nuytsland Nature Reserve. The entrance didn’t look that big from our position but apparently it took a team 36 hours to explore the inside and there are 100s of similar caves across the Plains.

We briefly stopped again at Caiguna Blowhole which wasn’t particularly active as it was a calm day before proceeding across the Nullarbor. Although we were following a route close to the coast it wasn’t possible to see the ocean. I had anticipated kilometres of nothingness and whilst there wasn’t much of a view the trees and shrubs were more than I had expected though I still found myself drifting off to sleep due to the lack of sleep.

It was still before midday that we hit Australias Longest straight road which was 90 miles (145km) in length. This was what I had expected much of the journey to be like and whilst it is perhaps hard to explain and understand the lack of any standout landmarks or twists in the road was partly what appealed when booking the trip. Craig had given us various puzzles to work out and Baz had started an irritating game called “Good Train / Bad train” all of which had amused and greatly frustrated me/us at the same. We also had Donkey from Shrek on board and as lorries and cars drove past we pretended it was driving the bus. Not a lot probably happens on the Nullarbor so we had hoped it would either be mentioned at a service station or over the “Road Train” radio system.

We stopped in a small settlement called Balladonia for a 2nd breakfast and toilet stop but there wasn’t really anything to see. Its claim to any type of fame was Skylab’s 1979 return to earth which America desperately sought to recover despite their claims it was “only a weather satellite”. The next main settlement we stopped at was Norseman, named after a horse that had discovered gold in the area. Once a main town it is now just the beginning and end of Nullarbor. It was here I thought I had worked out the good train bad train game, before it emerged that I hadn’t.

Throughout the day a strong headwind had prevented us from getting the speed we needed to make up time from the day before and on the approach to Esperance the engine light came on. Craig did his best to fix the issue but ultimately we had to limp in to town, though we did hit 100km per hour going down a hill at one point. We were meant to have been staying in a camp on the coast outside of the town however Craig was able to book us in to a YHA which was luxury after nights in swags and tents.

We had BBQ pizzas for dinner before settling down with some drinks. I introduced the drinking game one up, one down which particularly confused Patricia and Marco. Once the game was understood it was no longer possible to play so Craig introduced Moon in the Spoon. All were simple but until you understood them the over thinking made them appear overly complicated and frustrating. We were also joined throughout the night by various other random people straying at the hostel including a very drunk Estonian who wanted a dance off and who seemed particularly angry when his request was denied.

Monday 3rd February
Craig had to take the bus to be repaired but luckily another group was passing through (going from Perth to Adelaide) and their days itinerary was scheduled to be similar to ours. We were therefore picked up from the hostel by David and his small group which meant we could all fit on the bus before continuing on to Cape Le Grand.

Here we were to do a walk from Hellfire Bay to Lucky Bay via Thistle Cove. I’d started off at the back of the first group and was trying to catch up with Marco and Gaby who were the pace setters. I managed to achieve this just as everyone realised we’d gone wrong so those at the back became the front and this meant I was at the back again. I was mainly walking with Steffi with Marco and Gaby just in front and Baz and Patricia just behind. We brought up the Good Train/Bad train game again and all of a sudden with a hint from Baz we’d worked it out. It was so obvious and i was so relieved because that and Craig’s puzzles had caused me to waste countless hours of my life. When Steffi suddenly fell we all lept in to action to make sure she was ok though we had been told to get pictures with Donkey and I couldn’t resist getting one of him ‘attacking’ Steffi once we knew everything was ok.

The walk had been as strenuous as expected and quite steep in places so we all stuck together as a family (especially once Maggie and Elizabeth had caught up with us so we could provide any assistance) until we reached Thistle Cove. We arrived in Thistle Cove where some of us went for a quick swim and some decided to get on the mini bus to Lucky Bay. I went in and doing so I realised I have been in the sea in each state I have visited so far. After drying out, which as usual didn’t take long, Baz, Patricia, Quentin, Gaby, Marco and I started the final part of the walk to Lucky Bay.

This section of the walk was easier and on our way we saw a big Guanna slowly walking across the path. We arrived at Lucky Bay and rather than going straight to the camp made a very slight detour to see the Matthew Flinders Memorial. When we arrived most of the others had eaten but we weren’t in much hurry as we had a couple of hours to ourselves before we were due to do another walk to the top of Frenchman’s Peak.

I headed down to the beach as sometimes Kangaroos are seen on it but I didn’t expect to see any because they are  nocturnal and don’t normally go to open spaces in the day. I assumed as it was only just after lunch they’d be sheltering in the forest. As I approached I saw a mother and a joey on the path towards the beach however as there were a group camped nearby they disappeared into some trees and I assumed the chance to see them on the beach had gone. I walked down on to the sand and all of a sudden they hopped out.

It was amazing watching them, they seemed quite relaxed around humans but the joey in particular was keeping a watch and any unexpected movement caused them to quickly hop away along the beach. Every movement they made was worthy of a photograph and it was very special to see them in such a pretty location. I managed to get a few pictures of them with Donkey before some unexpected movement by a seagull caused them to move further along the beach.

I returned back to the camp and even though it was windy and slightly chilly I told a few of the others including Maggie and Elizabeth to venture back down and luckily they did before another group of tourists accidentally scared the ‘Roos away. We still had a bit of time before the scheduled walk up to the top of Frenchman’s Peak so just chilled out, mainly making statements about Good Train / Bad Train, seeing the Moon in the Spoon, 1 up 1 down and going “here is *insert object of choice”.

Eventually we set our for Frenchman’s Peak and arrived at the foot. The walk up was much steeper than I expected and as there was a very strong wind I decided the best thing to do was to keep my head down and to hope that I reached the top without being blown over. This was partly because when i was looking up towards the cliffs at the top they didnt seem to be getting any nearer. We got a group picture at the top and Baz’s bag started to blow away but he rescued it in time. Despite the wind, it was a lovely afternoon and the view back towards the sea and of the surrounding Cape Le Grand National Park were very nice. The walk down wasn’t much easier and Nicole in particular decided the easiest way was to sit down and slide in places. We reached the bottom in time for the sunset and headed back to the campsite.

Craig had returned with the bus but there was no chance of us leaving that evening as had once been proposed as the bus needed to go back in for further tests the following morning. Baz, Lukas, Marco, Maggie and I went to get some beer and realised to our horror that in all the confusion our crate had somehow been lost or stolen at the YHA. We spent the night playing Mafia with a couple of members from the other group before going to bed fairly early even though we had a lie in the following morning.

Tuesday 4th February
A few of us had spoken about seeing the sunrise, hoping we’d get a perfect picture of it and some Kangaroos but over in Western Australia the West the sun rises very early at around 5am. Even though all the birds woke me I couldn’t face going out so stayed in my nice cosy swag and tried to block out all the noise.

I emerged from my tent just in time to have breakfast before joining a group that planned to spend the morning doing another walk. We had been told it was 6km one way and had hoped to get a lift with one of the other groups to the far end but it emerged that wasn’t possible. The round trip would be 12km which we knew was to far for us to walk in the time available as the intention was to be back by 12.00pm so that we could leave for the Stirling Ranges after lunch.

We walked along beach and through overgrown bush until we reached a lookout of beach and Frenchman’s Peak. We weren’t really sure how far we planned to walk but the view here was pleasant and we decided to start heading back so that time could be spent on the beach. We arrived back in Lucky Bay and met up with Marco and Gaby before continuing on to the campsite. Gaby and Marco had left us hidden messages on the beach mainly relating to Good train / bad train and Moon in the Spoon and if they were seen by the uninitiated they’d probably think they’d found some kind of cryptic treasure map.

Craig wasn’t back and no one had any news so we all just made lunch and after packing up all the gear we waited patiently. After what seemed an age we saw a mini bus approaching and it was him. He confirmed we were off, and after hooking up the trailer we were on our way, in our 3rd bus.

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The Long and Winding Road: Eyre Peninsula

Wednesday 29th January
Waiting for our mini bus and guide I met Sandrine, Steffie and Maggie outside the hostel and whilst we had all booked through different tour companies it appeared we were all on the same tour. The route we were about to take was the same distance as London to Moscow, included the Nullarbor plain (Latin for no trees) and was all camping under the stars. It really couldn’t be any more different from the East Coast which is so popular with most backpackers. Our guide Craig later confirmed to me that Nullarbor Traveller are the only company that does the whole route from Adelaide to Perth (or vice versa).

Bush fires were burning in the Southern Flinders Ranges and had apparently been doing so for 15 days so it was not possible for us to visit this area. I want to go to the Flinders before I leave and as I will be going to Adelaide again I should be able to see part of it. Craig explained the new plan was to drive straight to Port Lincoln. We started by running parallel to the routes of various railways including the Ghan and the Indian Pacific through sparse shrub land with the Flinders Ranges in the background until we reached Port Augusta. From here landscape changed to more dense looking shrubs and trees as we headed in land to stop for lunch in Cowell.

The tour was to be an interactive tour experience like on kangaroo island and some of the group helped to prepare salad to go in sandwiches and another group washed up. We also all helped to load the trailer back up with our various boxes of supplies. We made a brief toilet stop at Tumby Bay to fuel up and our guide Craig said it was where he had been brought up. I walked to end of the jetty to soak in the view and it was very windy

We finally arrived in Port Lincoln which is claimed to be the fishing capital of Australia most of which is sold to overseas markets. At one time Port Lincoln nearly became the South Australian state capital however despite many explorations the early settlers gradually accepted there was no fresh water. We stocked up on a few supplies, mainly beer, and headed for our first campsite.

We arrived at Mikkira station and had enough time to walk around the preserved old homestead which was the first sheep station in Eyre Peninsula. This was also later used as the central station receiving all the supplies and post for all the local farms. It must have been an isolating experience for the owner who lived to nearly 100 in the late 1800s as even now there is no settlement for 30km.

During the short walk we also saw more koalas in trees including one that was becoming quite active and climbing amongst the branches before settling on one to chew on for I assume the rest of the evening. We had seen two kangaroos hop away as soon as we had arrived but hadn’t seen any in the open spaces though as it was only late afternoon it was not surprising they were seeking cover. I saw two more hop away quickly in a wooded area but I hadn’t initially realised they were there so must have startled them. The other wildlife that was in abundance were some pink and white parrots

Craig prepared a pasta meal whilst we were out exploring and as we sat eating some Kangaroos sat near by. We were a group of 13 so by the end of the first day we had already remembered most though we did a round of introductions again. People gradually started going to bed, perhaps a bit earlier than I had expected but it had been a long day.

That evening I had my first swag camping experience. For those that don’t know what a swag is, it is a cross between a sleeping bag and a tent with a mattress. Despite the mattress the ground was a bit uncomfortable but it wasn’t to hot or to cold and the view of the night sky was nothing short of spectacular. The main cause of sleep disruption was a very noisy koala in the vicinity. Koalas look adorable but at night they turn in to monsters, making horrendous grunting and screaming noises. I therefore believe they are almost certainly the animal that inspired the film gremlins.

Thursday 30th January
After packing up we made a short drive to an area on the coast called Whalers Way. We went on a short drive around the area and stopped at various lookouts the first of which was Wilkes bay to see some New Zealand fur seals. Whilst here Craig also spotted a school of salmon surfing though the waves though i have to admit I struggled to seem clearly.

Our next lookout was Cape Carnot which Craig told was the oldest rock in South Australia and also the most southerly point of the state. There were some huge waves crashing against the rocks some of which were quite unpredictable so we stayed a safe distance. As we started walking from the mini bus to Theakstones Cravass we saw some snake tracks in the sand. The walls of Theakstones Cravass were 9ft high and the water was 13ft deep and as the waves approached the narrow passage the pressure forced the water in. We were told that on stormy days the cliff vibrates due to the power of the waves but on more peaceful days like the one we had it wasn’t really possible to envisage how it looked, felt and sounded.

Our final stop was Pioneer lookout. This was a memorial to the early pioneers in the area. Amongst the seaman, sherers, pastrolists and general practioners was a poet. But then what is society without culture??? (Check brave new world quote) Besides someone had to keep a written record of their early experiences in a new land and region.

We were running slightly short of time but still made our way to a beach where we were able to sand boarding. It took about 5km but unfortunately when we got there the sand boards had been taken by another bus party so instead we headed straight to Venus Bay. I didn’t have my swimming stuff easily accessible and didn’t really fancy just sitting on the beach so did a short walk around the South Heads coast.

I had hoped to see some wildlife, perhaps some Dolphins but the path wasn’t obvious in places as there were no signs and I wasn’t sure how long it would take. I walked quickly and whilst I stopped, I didn’t spend to much time scanning the horizon because it was windy and the waves were quite rough so I didn’t expect to see any dolphins below. The walk was a lot quicker than I expected so I joined the others at the beach. The rest were also almost done so after seeing some locals feeding fish to a pelican we made our way to our camp site at Coodlie Park.

Whilst we waited for the other bus group to arrive (they had had a flat tire so were 3 hours behind schedule) Baz, Marco, Quentin and I played some cricket with a tennis ball. Some of the girls set up some chairs in what I dubbed the pavilion and Maggie explained the basic rules to them. As expected of an Englishman playing cricket at the current time I went for some big shots and was promptly caught by Quentin, the only fielder.

We had our dinner but made sure we saved some for the other group. Kylie who worked at the local farm also worked as a local tour guide and was due to take us wombat and other nocturnal animal spotting. Before we left she showed us a Red back she’d caught and then showed us a Huntsman that had crept up behind us to set up base for the night. We began to wonder what else there might be in the immediate area. Kylie had a great Aussie sense of humour and this is meant as a compliment she reminded me of a female Steve Irwin in the way she told stories and described the wildlife we should watch out for.

The other group had finally arrived and eaten so despite it being gone 23.00 we were finally able to start the Wombat drive. This may have been a slight blessing because the wombats are nocturnal so the later it was, the more active they were likely to be. Those in the front of the mini bus, led by Nichol saw up to four wombats though personally as it was dark I only saw one clearly because it was running towards a bush. We got out of the bus to see a second up close but even though I was near the front I couldn’t make it out before it disappeared down its warren. It was quite an exciting evening despite it being so late though I hope I get to see a wombat in day light because it wasn’t possible to get any pictures of the evening.

Friday 31st January
I slept with swag zipped right up though i left the bit behind me open as I still hadn’t worked out what to do with the flap. I slept a lot better as it felt the perfect temperature throughout though it was nearly impossible to move and at one point I woke on my back which probably had resulted in me sounding like a koala.

We made the short drive to Baird Bay for our Dolphin and Australian Sea Lion swim. Unlike in Kaikoura It was a lovely sunny morning and the sea looked calm. We started off by heading to the dolphins and soon found them but the water was murky so the guide tried to lead them to clearer water and told us to get in to the water in preparation for them swimming towards us. They soon approached but they didn’t stop and carried on swimming though they had come fairly close to Quentin and I.

We got back on the boat and made another attempted drop off. They still weren’t interested in playing with us and this time they were to far off for me to see them clearly without my glasses. I wasn’t ever really sure which direction they were heading in but it seemed to be away from us. We got back on the boat and made our way to the Sea Lions.

The sea lions were amazing and appeared to be all around both at the surface and under the water. I saw a playful fight between two of them under the water which was absolutely amazing because no one else was around and I looked one right in the eye as it swam towards me. The biggest appeared to be one called Louis which had taken a liking to Quentin trying to bite him before the guide came over to give him some attention.

I had brought another underwater disposable camera and wanted to save some pictures for the dolphins so with only a few remaining I eventually got out of the water to get back on the boat. The sea lion experience had far exceeded my expectations and made up for the dolphins ignoring us. They are also an endangered species so swimming with them was a particularly special experience.

We returned back to the Dolphins and made a third attempt. I was one of the first in the water and used all my energy before realising the direction of the dolphins had changed so I was at the back of group and didn’t see anything. As I got back on the boat i was starting to become a bit despondent that the opening experience was going to be as good as it would be, though the sea lions had been fantastic and I wasn’t exactly feeling disappointed.

The captain decided to make one final 4th attempt though I was at the back of the group and in the wrong place. All of a sudden I realised the dolphin had changed direction and all of a sudden I had 3 heading straight towards me. I have no idea how the picture will look until it’s developed but it doesn’t matter. That moment will hopefully stay with me and whilst it hadn’t been the playful experience I had expected I can finally lay to rest my hope of swimming amongst Dolphins in the wild.

Next we went surfing at Scales Bay. My first surfing experience had been 3 years ago at Surfers Paradise where I had after a couple of hours been able to stand albeit for a few seconds. The waves weren’t particularly strong and those in charge wanted us to stay close to the beach where they were breaking. As was the case 3 years we spent a bit of time on the beach being shown how to get in to the standing position before heading in to the water. Quite early on I realised although I remembered how to do everything my body was in rebellion and wouldn’t let me do it. I’m clearly weaker and heavier than I was.

Bashed by the waves, even bashed by the surfboard at one point I was comfortable with the position before standing, I just couldn’t get myself up quickly enough. It couldn’t be taught, it was technique and needed practice and I didn’t have the time or patience. I had to accept that surfing just isn’t really for me and whilst I wasn’t the only one having no success I did drop out after an hour was up to relax on the beach.

After leaving the surfing we headed for Streaky Bay where i was unfortunately unable to meet up with the Streaky Bay girls from my New Zealand tour because I hadn’t been able to contact any of them when I realised we were going through. Really we had just a stop to buy some beers though we also stopped off at the service station because there was the body of a Great White Shark on display. I also saw the events sign outside the hotel which was promoting a chook (chicken) raffle. It didn’t specify if they were dead or not.

We eventually arrived in Shelly Beach camp site just outside Ceduna. It had only been one night without a shower but unlike when I’d been on the Trans Mongolian when I hadn’t done much I’d done a quick short walk, been in sea and stayed in the dusty outback. It therefore felt at the time like one of the best showers ever. We headed to the beach to see the sunset as Craig prepared dinner and then after we’d eaten a number of us played a few games of Ring of Fire. It was particularly funny because Elizabeth struggled with one of the more silly short games where you had to make a chicken sound and poor Lucas struggled with the rhyming game. We were sleeping under the stars again and as the mosquitoes were out we made sure to spray ourselves with repellent. I also tried to sleep with my swag zipped right around me and with as little of my skin on display as possible…

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Walking on a Dream: Kangaroo Island and Adelaide

Sunday 26th January Australia Day
With a pick up at 6.15am from the central bus station it was another early start and I think it’s fair to say that I’ve probably not spent so little time in my hostel. I never saw the other occupants in my room. When i got back from seeing the G Adventure group one of them was already asleep which had meant scrambling around in the dark and the other 4 must have arrived sometime after me. Needless to say I was first up and ended up sorting my bag in the common room to avoid disturbing them more than was necessary.

Still half asleep I made my way to the bus terminal. It was an incredibly simple walk of around 5 minutes but my brain couldn’t process my street map of Adelaide or understand my GPS position on my mobile. Luckily I ignored what my brain was saying and followed my gut instinct and rather stumbled upon it. The departure wasn’t actually until 6.45am and 6.15am had been the check in so I just sat and waited for the gate to open. I slept most of the journey to Cape Jervis, the driver gave a bit of a commentary but I regret to say I’ve no idea what he said and I can’t have been the only one. Once I was on the boat I still hadn’t figured out who was potentially on my trip so sat alone writing my blog whilst the poor lady in front spent most of the journey being sick as her partner looked on with a lost ‘what am I meant to do?’ expression.

I found the mini bus that would effectively be home for the next 2 days and was incredibly relieved when I realised our tour guide Kate was full of energy. We were told it was an interactive tour and after breakfast, lunch and dinner we were to help tidy up so Kate instilled a feeling of family in us early on. Bob and Jill the couple in front appeared very down to earth and open to conversation as well as Yelitza from Columbia who I was sitting next to and Sabrina from Germany in the seat nearest Kate. Any fear I had that this would be a bit like my solo experience with Moreton Island Adventure Tours (when I was the only passenger not part of a couple and not only that the only person spending the night) evaporated. Throughout most of the time on the mini bus it felt that the 6 of us were having some form of conversation (if we weren’t sleeping) and that really helped to make it a memorable adventure.

Our first stop was to Rob’s Sheep Shearing. Rob wasn’t there so the demonstration was carried out by someone else who had a farm locally and was helping out. Compared to my experience in New Zealand it seemed the sheep seemed less obedient to the commands of Toby (the dog) and one of the sheep received a slight cut in the shearing demonstration. Whilst I was there primarily for the islands wildlife, the stop was still fairly interesting because sheep farming has been one of the main traditions and sources of income on Kangaroo Island since it has been settled.

We then travelled past Prospect Hill which also happens to be the narrowest point of the island. It was here that Matthew Flinders the British explorer who discovered the island was able to view Pennington Bay in the opposite direction from that he’d landed. He was therefore able to confirm that Kangaroo Island was indeed an island. If there had been time it would have been nice to have climbed to the lookout to see the view Flinders would have seen but the view from Pennington Bay was pretty spectacular as well.

Leaving Pennington Bay we made our way to the Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery. This is the only one of this type on the island (indeed South Australia) despite it once being one of the biggest industries on the island. The couple who ran it did so to restore an old tradition and because they wanted to generate extra income due to their sheep farm becoming less profitable. I couldn’t quite work it out but I believe the brand name ‘Emu Ridge’ is taken from one of the old Eucalyptus producers that existed in the 1920’s. We weren’t actually shown around the distillery itself or shown how the oils were produced but there was a short video and the owners were very friendly.

It was also here that we stopped to have lunch, the deal being Kate would prepare and cook whilst we would clean and wash up. Luckily we got a good system going and everyone helped out which meant we were able to leave on time. There was an emu in a paddock outside which received the leftovers. When I book a tour I check various itineraries and base my decision on the content but once the tour is booked I tend not analyse it to much so everything that occurs becomes a pleasant surprise. An example of this was our next stop at Seal Bay where we were told we would be allowed on to the beach to view sea lions up close.

We arrived at Seal Bay and from the lookout could see a number of sea lions lying on the beach. It was a clear day with parts of the sea a lovely clear emerald green and as a result we could also make out sea lions playing in the sea with some jumping out of the water and others using the waves to body surf back in to the beach.

We were led down to the beach and whilst we were kept at a safe distance it was still unbelievable to be in the habitat of and within a few feet of an animal I’ve had a soft spot for since going to Whipsnade zoo as a child. The poo absolutely stunk if trodden on (unlike kangaroo poo which is just dried grass) so we made a point of avoiding that as we made our way across the beach. Everywhere I looked was a unique David Attenborough style image; two males that looked like they were about to fight, the ones that were surfing, those that were jumping out of the water, a mother feeding her pup and even those that were just sun bathing (baking). It was unreal. The heat however was also becoming unbearable for some and as there was no shade on the beach they were struggling.

Kate therefore made a decision to take us to Bales Beach to cool off and said those that wanted to go sand boarding at Little Sahara could do so that evening after dinner. I don’t think any of us could have been in the water much quicker and as the water was a lot colder than I’d expected a few dives under the waves had me fully refreshed. After a few attempts at body surfing and diving around to catch a football I felt ready to do what most of the sea lions were doing and to dry out on the beach. It was in the mid 30s and didn’t take long.

We left the beach and drove to our accommodation at Vivonne Lodge. Here there were a number of optional activities we could do at no extra cost including kayaking. Jill, Bob, Yelitza and Sabrina decided to do this however I opted for a little bush walk around the grounds in the hope I might see some echidnas, wallabies or kangaroos. Kangaroo Island was once part of the main land but rising sea levels 10,000 years ago has meant that the wallabies (Tammar wallabies) and the kangaroos (Kangaroo Island kangaroos) have evolved slightly differently from those on the mainland.

First i walked down towards Vivonne Bay and once I was out of the bush on the sand dune overlooking it I realised the beach itself was still fairly far off. I therefore decided to backtrack until I reached the Echidna bush walk which looped around some of the grounds. Unfortunately nothing made it self easily visible it was still fairly hot despite it being early evening. I did however hear rustling in a wooded area and could make out a kangaroo hopping away. The walk had been nice but I arrived back at the lodge slightly disappointed though that soon changed to a smile when I realised the joke nature had played on me. 2 adult kangaroos and 1 joey were grazing on the lawn so despite going on my nature walk, all I’d really had to do was relax and do nothing.

Kate cooked us all a lovely barbeque, my second in a week and equally as good. We had an industrial/restaurant style dish washer which meant cleaning up was a lot quicker and after doing my share I went to get ready for the sand boarding.

We arrived at Little Sahara and started to climb the dune. Despite climbing the one at Port Stephens multiple times I had forgotten how tough it was and Yelitza, Sabrina and I looked suitably exhausted when we got to the top. My first go down wasn’t that successful because I slid off the front as I came down which caused me to stop but some of the others including Kate and Sabrina went for a fair distance when they got to the bottom. I tried to race Sabrina on my second go but was comfortably beaten. On my 3rd go I decided to go down on my front. I was concentrating so hard on keeping my mouth closed so as not to eat half the sand dune that when I came flying off at the bottom I somehow ran my right arm over with the board resulting in a slight friction burn.

I climbed back to the top and got a few sunset pictures and a few jumping pictures before we all headed back where my intention was to shower and then watch the end of the men’s tennis final. Despite my best attempts I didn’t quite remove all the sand during the shower and throughout the evening my ears in particular kept supplying small grains. Jill then saw me and said despite having a TV, the accommodation didn’t have the right channel. This was quite disappointing but it didn’t really matter because when we got on the internet the match was already over. I had expected a longer match and had forgotten we were 30 minutes behind Melbourne time but the result was there “Stan” had done what many probably thought unlikely and beaten Nadal.

The 26th January is Australia Day, the day the first fleet landed and whilst there were big celebrations in Adelaide including a parade and fireworks there was nothing on kangaroo island. I had lost track of the dates when I’d booked the tour and also hadn’t realised England were playing Australia in another one day international cricket match in Adelaide. Whilst it may have been nice to stay in the city for another day to experience both my sole Australia day in Australia was still memorable and heaps of fun. #No regrets.

Monday 27th January
It was due to be another hot day so Kate suggested we left early so that when it got hotter in the afternoon we could cool off in the sea again. Our first stop was to Hanson Bay Koala Sanctuary which was just over 1 hours drive from our accommodation in Vivonne Bay. Whilst it was called a sanctuary the Koalas and other animals were still wild, this was just one of their main habitats.

It wasn’t long before we saw one up in the tree and because it was early they were still fairly active. 2 males were in the same tree which meant one would be forced out. They made a nasty grunting gremlinesque sound that didn’t reflect their cute butter wouldn’t melt external appearance before one launched itself towards the other which almost fell off the branch as it scurried away. Nature in action. Fantastic. We also saw some Australian Magpies, Wallabies and Kangaroos though I failed to get a perfect picture of the latter hopping away.

We left the Koalas and entered the Flinders Chase National Park. Our guide Kate gave us some information about termite mounds including how the guana uses them to hide their eggs and the Yakka tree. She also explained that in most areas bush fires are important for the vegetations development. Most are started naturally for example by thunderstorms and apparently fires are needed every 8 to 15 years to burn fuel on valley floor thereby allowing new vegetation to grow.

We soon arrived at a lookout where we could see our next destination the Remarkable Rocks which are naturally sculptured formations on a granite outcrop. We then headed on to the rocks themselves and they were possibly even more impressive up close than they had already appeared from the lookout. There was one rock with one side slightly off the ground so if you lay down you could fit your legs and feet through so they stuck out the other side giving the impression it had fallen on you. We all got a picture and I got one of Sabrina pretending to pull me out from under it.

Leaving the rocks we made our way to Cape Due Couedic, and briefly stopped to take a picture of the lighthouse before stopping at a walkway which led down to Admiral’s Arch. On the way down we could see a colony of New Zealand Fur Seals though as Kate explained these seals are also are native to Australia it is just when they were first discovered they were off the coast of New Zealand.

We had lunch at the visitors centre and whilst Kate prepared it I went on another small walk along the discovery path before I realised it was going to take longer than 30 minutes. I didn’t see anything on the walk but there was koala in a tree not far fro!m where we were eating and as it was on one of the lower branches it was possible to see clearly how it held on to the trees.

As it had been the day before the sun was relentless so on our way back to Penneshaw we stopped first at a lookout over looking Sneling beach before continuing to Stokes bay. At first the beach looked rather rocky and unappealing but after walking through a cave we were presented with a lovely sandy beach. There was also an area that had been slightly cut off by rocks which was a lot warmer than the actual sea. When I was swimming I saw small fish and then noticed blobs of what I thought was seaweed before Bob who had goggles on said they were jelly fish. He had been told by a local they would keep out of our way but if they did sting it wouldn’t be deadly. With no guarantees a sudden wave wouldn’t push one in to me and not wanting to receive an unnecessary sting I left the water fairly sharpish. We all did. It didn’t take to long to dry and I paddled in the warm water area where Sarah was trying to catch the fish and where Jill had seen a crab.

We arrived in Penneshaw and I did a little walk through an area the little blue penguins come up to at night. I was hoping there might be some chicks or adults that had not entered the sea that might make themselves obvious but none did. This may have been a blessing because Sarah said she had seen a tiger snake in the area and I doubt a baby penguin would be able to put up much of a fight.

Everyone met up again at the ferry wharf and said their goodbyes. The return journey was uneventful as we were all being slightly anti social using the free internet. We arrived back at Cape Jervis and in the chaos of finding out which bus we needed I lost track of where Yelitzer had gone but ended up on the bus with Sabrina Bob and Jill. Not that anyone said anything, we were all exhausted and I think I slept most of the way. I awoke as we approached Adelaide and as I could hear “You’re the Voice” by John Farnham I initially thought I was still sleeping. I wasn’t and was soon dropped off at the coach terminal.

Tuesday 28th January
I had booked the Adelaide Sightseeing Tour because it was free and was only going to take half a day allowing me the afternoon to explore any places that took my fancy at my own pace. I didn’t have great expectations and they had been lowered even more the previous day when Sabrina had told me she’d done it and found it boring.

The guide provided a lot of information about the history of Adelaide, a town which had no link to convicts and was settled by those who brought land from the South Australian Company. The venture was to help pay for poor labourers in Britain to emigrate however after 6 years the company had yielded to government administration as a result of bankruptcy.

Colonel Light was responsible for foundling Adelaide and he laid out the grid system. There are a number of historic buildings that date back to the early settlement which can’t be demolished and whilst they can be used for any purpose the outward appearance can’t be changed. The early settlers used blue stone, sand stone and lime stone for their buildings, many of which are churches.

We drove past the Adelaide oval, one of Australia’s main cricket ground which is being rebuilt so that the capacity is increased so it can host or AFL. We then drove up to Light’s Vision statue on Montefiore Hill which over looked the city below before also passing his burial place in Light Square.

We eventually arrived at our first stop Haig’s chocolate factory. I have to admit I hadn’t heard of this company before but I’ll never say no to free samples of chocolate. I resisted the urge to buy anything knowing that the mercury was due to hit 40 degree celsius. We were also shown how various types of chocolate were produced from behind a special viewing area.

The city tour ended at Glenelg beach and as it was hot some made a decision to stay however it was the same beach I’d gone to on the G adventures trip and I wanted to check out a bit of the city. Once I was back I went to China Town because I’d been told the food portions were good value and very filling. After helping my self to a decent size buffet I made my way to the markets where I brought a refreshing berry and passion fruit yogurt. I walked past Victoria Park which had just hosted a cycling event called “Down Under” So it didn’t really look open for tourists to walk through.

I was torn between visiting the South Australian Museum and surrounding buildings along North Street and heading over to Port Adelaide which sounded pleasant with its lighthouse and slightly more quirky museums. Just over a year ago I’d gone to an AFL game in London at the Oval between the Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide. I have to admit I think I supported the Bulldogs on the day but I remember the match because Port Adelaide were losing with a matter of minutes remaining but won it by 1 point with the last kick.

The bus driver was very helpful at making sure I got off at the right stop and I should have gathered I was off the tourist trail when he expressed such surprise at me not being a local. I don’t know why I expected there to be more visitors at the museum I went to but it turned out I was the only person. This was good because attention was lavished upon me but it did also feel a bit weird. As I was crossing the Nullarbor from Adelaide to Perth I was particularly interested to see a display on the sugar and tea train. This was a weekly train which ran for nearly 100 years until 1996 supplying small settlements along the route of the Indian Pacific line with provisions so that they could survive in their remote locations.

I then made my way to the Port Adelaide Lighthouse on the water front where I had expected a nice view but even in sun it looked a bit uninviting. There was an option to climb the lighthouse for $1 but it was hot and as the view wasn’t anything except what looked a dry dock for ships I headed back to the street to get a bus back to the city.

Unfortunately the buses weren’t particularly regular (by London standards) and so I stocked up on mosquito spray and suncream in preparation for the Nullarbor whilst I waited 40 minutes for the next one. I had heard the expression ‘Bogan’ to describe feral Australian youths (the chav would probably be the UKs equivalent) but despite travelling by public transport over the main summer holidays I was yet to encounter them. That changed on the bus back to town where I finally saw some Bogan’s in the wild. Even the British Chavs would have been impressed at the level of swearing and racism shown towards an innocent bus driver that had merely asked one of the girls if she had a ticket. I think in the end she paid but ironically I later learnt that the next day the drivers were on strike and letting people on for free (though the inspectors were still checking tickets and fining those without a valid one).

I arrived in Adelaide over an hour later than planned so rather than heading for North Street I headed back towards the hostel because the heat had got the better of me. I made the decision that I would explore the areas I had missed including the botanical gardens when I returned on 1st March after travelling from Darwin in the North via Alice Springs.

I arrived at the hostel where I had to do laundry even though I knew a camping trip across the Nullarbor would only leave them in a much worse state. There was one guy in my room that always seemed to be asleep and he was again even though it was only 17.00. I opened the curtain slightly to let in some light so I could pack and then one of my other room mates entered.

I was slightly in his way so apologised and said I was leaving the next day so I’d be out of their way. Marco asked where I was going and what time as he was also leaving and we quickly established we were on the same tour. He headed back out and I spenrt the rest of the night trying to charge everything up for the road ahead because 9 nights of basic and ‘No’ facilities didn’t sound promising…

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