A Travellerspoint blog

Northern Queensland to Brisbane

The last leg of my Australian adventure

sunny 30 °C

Bid a sad farewell to Sydney and flew to Cairns for some warmth and sunshine. Met Dan (crazy Canadian guy) and Jennifer (English) at supper on the first night at the hostel. Jennifer and I took the Skyrail to Kuranda next day - a 7.5Km ski lift affair over the rainforest and river gorges of Barron Gorge National Park - pretty scary stuff - daughter Hannah knows how good I am at ski lifts! We took a lovely riverside walk at Kuranda and then walked through the town before catching the train back into Cairns, down the mountainside. The engineering needed to cut the line through the mountains was incredible but the frontiersmen were driven by the promise of gold in the outback beyond the coast.

We had a lady in our room who could have won world snoring competitions, so Jennifer and I managed to move ourselves to another room which we had in splendid isolation - great! This is one of the hazards of dorm rooms but most times it's pretty bearable with good earplugs.

It was another early start for our trip up to Cape Tribulation. Our first stop was on the Daintree River where we went crocodile spotting. Felt a bit cheated as we only found really tiny babies and no real monsters. We then had a walk through the rainforest and were lucky enough to encounter a family of Cassowarys which are the weirdest bird you will ever see - a cross between a peacock and a turkey. After lunch at Cape Tribulation and a walk on the beautiful beach, we headed back along the coast to Mossman Gorge and then Port Douglas which is a lovely, affluent resort town with a beautiful church which has a picture window behind the alter, looking out into the bay.

November in the north started with the most fantastic day on the Great Barrier Reef. I am terrible on boats but it had to be done!! It took nearly three hours to get out to Fitzroy Island and then on to the outer Moore Reef where we had our own pontoon for diving. Some people were sick on the journey but I was fine. After getting kitted out with snorkel, mask and flippers I set off swimming to the outer limit of the reef where there was a sheer drop into the depths of the ocean. Every film you have ever seen of coral reefs are true - the variety of fish and corals is astounding. Fish varied so much in size and colour and the different corals were breathtaking - literally! All I kept thinking was "What a lucky cow I am to be witnessing all of this natural beauty". After a sumptuous lunch on board, I took the glass-bottom boat trip to search for turtles. I just had to snorkel again and spent more than an hour just tripping out on the sheer beauty of nature. Towards the end of the afternoon, I was talking to our helicopter pilot and he offered to take me back to Cairns at half the normal fare - how could I refuse! After getting loaded up in the helicopter, the pilot took me out over the reef again, really low so that we could spot even more turtles. It then took just half an hour to get back to Cairns - a great improvement on the three hours of potential seasickness! This was the most memorable day in Australia so far.

On my last day in Cairns I went inland to the Atherton Tablelands to see magnificent trees and wildlife in Crater Lakes National Park. I went canooing on Lake Tinaroo where we saw kangaroos, water dragons and kingfishers but no platypus or snakes. We painted each others faces with ocre from the river, just as the aboriginals used to do. We then drove back to Cairns for the long wait for my midnight Greyhound bus south to Bowen and my first work for some time.

For two weeks, I helped manage about ten horses at a riding school where the owner, Pam, competes at State level in Dressage competitions. Each early morning (6:00am) I would bring horses in from the paddocks, feed and water them and get them prepared for being ridden. Of course, there was also loads of mucking out and general 'stable management', along with being stamped on by one of the more naughty horses. Pam was away for the first weekend so her parents invited me to go cattle mustering with them, first on a quad bike and then on horseback - what a fantastic experience. While we were rounding up the cattle on Rod's huge cattle station, we saw a brown snake in the grass and my horse was very keen to get away as quickly as possible! I managed to stay on while he danced around for a few minutes - scary stuff as brown snakes are very poisonous and I didn't want to get any nearer to it!

After my two weeks, I left on the Greyhound for another overnight drive south to Agnes Water where I joined about 30 other people to spend the afternoon on a 'hog' motorbike. This may be the closest I come to my dream of riding a Harley! After being kitted out in leathers, helmets and temporary tattoos (my one said 'Love Hurts'), we were shown how to ride the bikes. I drove straight into a bush, much to everyone's amusement. I just couldn't get the hang of riding slowly round corners and was told off for going too fast!! The culmination of the 60Km ride was watching the sunset over a tiny bay called 1770 - the year it was discovered. The ride back to base was pretty scary as everyone was trying to go as fast as possible - all of 80Kph!!

I finally arrived at Brisbane after yet another very long Greyhound trip and contacted friend Cilla who was good enough to put me up for my last days in Australia. I was walking through the city early Saturday morning (20th November) and it transpired that there was to be a huge 'Welcome Home' parade for Aussie troops returning from Afghanistan. The most moving part of the parade was the riderless horses with helmets on the saddle and boots facing backwards - symbolising the fallen men. There were hundreds of people lining the streets, waving flags and cheering as the troops passed. I had lunch in the beautiful City Botanic Gardens then walked over Goodwill Bridge and along the Boardwalk and City Beach. The river has become the lifeblood of Brisbane and is well used with cheap ferries taking people from on end of the city to the other.

Cilla drove us north through Glasshouse Mountains for a day at Australia Zoo; Steve Irwin's legacy to the world after his untimely death by stingray! I'm not particularly keen on zoos but was won over by the koalas and kangaroos - still haven't seen a platypus. The weather in Brisbane has been very warm and sunny, giving me the opportunity to spend a lot of time walking through the city, looking at the historical buildings along the river. Monday evening, I met up with Margie who I had met in Vietnam, and her 35 ladies of Hash House Harriers. This is an international organisation for runners (and walkers!). We spent the evening running along the river's edge and the cliffs of Kangaroo Point, seeing the city lit up like downtown New York. I also saw a young guy landing a baby shark that had managed to swim right up to the city. Next day, Cilla took me to Mount Koo-tha Lookout for drinks whilst looking over the entire basin that is Brisbane and its suburbs - lovely.

Thursday saw the beginning of The Ashes test match at The Gabba and I was ready with my sunscreen, baggy green hat and loads of water! Beer doesn't get served until 10:00am and then it's just a constant flow until 5:00pm - who said the Aussies don't give a XXXX! As I was walking around the stadium to my entrance, I saw the England team practicing in the nets - KP, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior. It was such a shock when Strauss was out for a duck 3rd ball - the Aussies around me just loved it but they were all very good-humoured, as were the Brits although the Barmy Army was very quiet. When Siddel got his hat-trick, the stands just about erupted.

Cilla and I both went to the cricket on Sunday. This time, I saw Collingwood, James Anderson, Stewart Broad and Trott in the nets, just a few feet away from me - good fun. It was a cloudy day so we didn't have to worry about the sun. Strauss redeemed himself with 110 and the rest of the day was pretty slow so we got home early enough to see the end of play on television. It was a fabulous experience to be at the ground but you see far more on TV - even Warnie's new hair. I watched the last day at the YHA in the city as I needed to get up really early for my flight to New Zealand and my meeting with daughter Hannah.

Australia has been the most incredible experience - such diverse geography, climate and people in different regions. I loved it all and met some great people who I will definitely keep in touch with. Apart from The Great Barrier Reef, there is no way that I can isolate any part of the four months to say it was better - it was all GREAT in so many different ways.

Posted by amazingali 13:21 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Melbourne to Sydney via Tasmania and points north

October has been amazing in SO many ways

all seasons in one day 25 °C

At the end of September, I had a couple of days in and around Melbourne with friend Salli who had driven with me from Adelaide via the spectacular Great Ocean Road. There is a free City Circle Tram that runs around the whole of downtown Melbourne and is a great way to get introduced to the city. These trams have been in use since 1936 and are doing a great job of getting tourists around to the main attractions. Our tourist day started with coffee in an oak-panelled cafe by the Princes Theatre where we bumped into an Australia TV celebrity who I didn't know from Adam. We later had lunch at a true French creperie that reminded me slightly of Ste Foy. The city is very cosmopolitan and apparently THE place to live in Australia. I enjoyed the tram so much that I did the circle again and then met Salli again with friends for drinks and supper.

Next day, we took Salli's sister and her two small kids to a place I had heard about called William Ricketts Sanctuary in the Mount Dandenong Hills. This man had placed carvings of aboriginal people and animals in a secluded woodland - very magical and the boys had a great time running around looking for hidden carvings. We then spent the afternoon at the Puffing Billy Railway, an old mining line that wandered for more than 10Km through the majestic woodland in the hills above Melbourne.

Nearly missed my flight to Hobart next day but Qantas staff pulled me out of the line. We then had to wait for half an hour on the plane while they tried to shut the baggage hold - good job that was spotted BEFORE we took off! The approach into Hobart was spectacular - we flew alongside Mount Wellington which was still covered in snow. My first day in Tasmania was spent visiting Port Arthur, an old convict colony in a beautiful bay on the Tasman Sea. The scenery was also beautiful on the road out there via a narrow strip of land called Eaglehawk Neck where fierce guard dogs used to patrol to keep the convicts on the peninsula. Taking the harbour cruise around islands such as the Isle of the Dead (cemetery) and Boys Prison Island, it was so hard to imagine the conditions that were suffered less than 150 years ago. On the journey back to Hobart, we passed through a place called Doo Town where all the houses are named with 'Doo', such as This'll Doo and Nothing Dooing - Australian humour.

Clocks forward - the end of summer in Europe and the beginning of spring in Australia. I travelled by coach to the remote west coast of Tasmania via the most beautiful Lake St Clair, the clearest blue water and the deepest freshwater lake in Australia. There was equally beautiful scenery with snow still on the ground as we drove through the mountains. Conversely, we passed through some mining towns, such as Queenstown, that looked like deserted ghost towns. In the evening, I went to a small theatre on the Strahan quayside that performs the longest running play in Australia, called 'The Boat That Never Was', a very amusing tale with audience participation - not me I'm pleased to say.

Next day, I headed to Devonport, via more depressing mining towns and also stopping at Cradle Mountain. Unfortunately, the mist and rain stopped any chance of a view but we did encounter a wombat, wandering through the car park - very amusing. My HelpX host, Rachel, found me at Devonport and we headed back to her spread at a place called Penguin which actually has a giant Penguin sitting at the beach front. My accommodation for the coming week was going to be a caravan by the stables - great in good weather but there were nights when I was literally rocked to sleep by the van moving with the gales outside. I wondered if I would get blown away but, after having a few stubbies with Rachel's partner Dean, it didn't seem too important. I spent a really enjoyable week with Rachel, her daughter Chook and her partner Dean, feeding and mucking out horses which are being brought on to train as race horses - very lively and quite scary sometimes. Dean used to wrestle bulls in rodeo and Chook competes in barrel racing at rodeos all over Tasmania - horses are in their blood. We went to Horse Trials on the one day when the weather was OK and on another day, we visited Rachel's new foal which had been born only hours before. On Horse Trials Day, we also stopped at a Chocolate Factory AND a Cheese Factory - very hard work for me as you can understand.

On my way back to Hobart, I spent a night with the parents of John and Sue, who had the vineyard in McLaren Vale, near Adelaide. Mike and Sarah were fabulous hosts and showed me the suspension bridge over Cataract Gorge in Launceston and we also had a drive out to Beauty Point where Sarah and I stole rock daisies from the foreshore for her garden. Mike is tracing his family back in England and has past relatives who lived in Earl Soham. I promised to visit Ipswich Records Office on my return to help with his investigations - what a lovely couple.

One more night in Hobart (love it, especially the Salamanca Market and Quay) before flying to Sydney. As it was a clear day, I could see all of Tasmania as we flew up the eastern coast, past areas such as Wineglass Bay which I had not managed to get to. We then flew over the Bass Strait, over Canberra and then into Sydney. The airport is in Botany Bay, just where Captain Cook landed in a slightly different craft. The YHA is brand new and in The Rocks area of the city, right by Circular Quay. From the rooftop terrace, there is a fabulous view of Sydney Harbour Bridge in one direction and The Sydney Opera House in the other - people pay hundreds for this kind of view and, for the pleasure of sharing with five other females, I get it for $40 a night - how cool is that!! I spent a glorious sunny afternoon walking over the Bridge and back again, looking at the famous views and saying hi to loads of people. I then walked around Circular Quay to the Opera House to pick up my concert ticket for tomorrow night - very exciting.

Next day, I again walked to Circular Quay and got a ferry across the harbour and out to Manly, so called because the first Aboriginals encountered there by the settlers were considered to be very manly - true. I walked through the town and out to Manly Beach and Shelly Beach - yes you've guessed it. The weather was very stormy but didn't dampen the glorious outlooks across the sea towards New Zealand. Once back in the city, I visited a living museum called Susannah Place, very close to the YHA. The Rocks area was the first settled part of the bay and some houses have been preserved and are some of the oldest houses in Australia - nearly 200 years old! To complete the day, I made a luxury sandwich and took a small bottle of fizz to have my supper on the steps of Sydney Opera House before attending the concert - what an experience! The conductor was an entertainment in himself and the excitement of the evening was capped by the fabulous music of Beethoven's Violin Concerto and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. As I used to do in London, I had a glass of fizz at the interval and drank in the glorious surroundings.

I met friend Marion (from the Kimberley desert tour) and partner Andrew for breakfast in Surrey Hills and then Andrew dropped us at Bondi Beach so we could walk the 2 hours along the coast to Coogee Beach, seeing loads of surfers, not just at Bondi but at many of the coves which apparently have better surf. In the evening, we ate at Oxford Street which is the gay centre of Sydney - great fun. On my walk home, a drunk young guy called me Mum - oh horror!

Again, walked through the city's Hyde Park and out to Kings Cross to meet my cousin. We visited Paddington area for breakfast and then went to the beautiful Botanical Gardens and Mrs McQuarie's Chair for the afternoon. Mrs McQuarie used to sit at the end of the promontory, looking out towards the harbour entrance - not sure why but a beautiful spot on a lovely sunny day.

My last day in Sydney for this visit was dedicated to visiting the Blue Mountains to the west of the city. Passing through Leura, a picturesque little village, we finally arrived at Katoomba and Echo Point with fantastic views over the mountains and the Three Sisters Rocks. Rather than pay a fortune to travel on a cable car, I spent the time walking along the trails and enjoying the views. The return trip included a visit to Featherstone Animal Park where I saw my first Koala and of course had my picture taken. It's against the law in New South Wales to hold a Koala so you just have to get up close and personal. They really are as sweet as you imagine and sleep most of the time because the eucalyptus leaves they eat are so toxic - not too smart. We also saw Tasmanian Devils, huge crocodiles, dingos and snakes. I decided to take the jet boat from Parramatta Quay which was the site of the 2000 Olympics, back to Circular Quay for yet another spectacular view of the city.

I had decided to move north as far up the coast as I could afford to go and ended up in a place called Kempsey, an 8-hour train ride from Sydney. My HelpX host met me at the station and off we went, into the jungle bush 50Km from human habitation - nearly! What can I tell you about this man, Jeff. He is 72, asthmatic and vegetarian (in that order) and has built this house by himself, making the bricks from mud collected on the land. The toilet was outside in the garden (lovely views) and the shower was also outside, just by the kitchen door. The upstairs of the house was one open space with his bed at one end and mine at the other - God, how had I got myself into this? I helped him work on his catamaran which he believes he will sail up into the islands north of Australia (asked me if I wanted to go!) and we also spent a day dragging huge logs that he had cut out of his forest. The wildlife was also interesting - a huge monitor lizard walks across the roof each morning on his way to his favourite tree; a 3m python lives in the eaves of the house and the leaches jump onto your feet as soon as you set foot in the wet grass. This has to be done if you want to go to the toilet so then you spend a bit of time lifting the buggers off your feet and legs. One evening, Jeff insisted on giving me a foot and hand massage and said that he wanted to give me a full body massage - no way Jose!!! By the end of the week, I was pretty stressed out but the experience will certainly not be forgotten quickly.

Got back to civilization and the train to Sydney for a few days more sightseeing. Went on a walking tour of the city which was really unusual and informative. I also visited the Observatory which overlooks the Harbour, close to The Rocks, had supper again with Marion and Andrew and met an Austrian guy who had been part of the support team for disabled people who had taken just 6 days to cycle across Australia from Perth to Sydney - what amazing people.

I have now been travelling for five months and have had the time of my life! The people I have met, the places that I have seen and the different climates I have experienced have all been tremendous. North Queensland, Great Barrier Reef, Brisbane, New Zealand and North America - BRING IT ON.

Posted by amazingali 01:30 Archived in Australia Comments (4)

The Red Centre, Southern wines and The Great Ocean Road

Fabulous contrasts in Australia

all seasons in one day 13 °C

I had an uncomplicated flight to Alice Springs, the true heart of Australia. Treated myself to a taxi so that I got to the hostel in good time, ready for an early night. The town of Alice is quite desolate - I witnessed a number of Aboriginal people drunk in the streets. I hope that this is not too much of a stereotypical perception but it was indeed true. I learned that I had sadly just missed the annual 'Henley on Todd' boat race which consists of guys in no-bottomed boats, running the river course as there is rarely any water in the River Todd! What a fabulously excentric, Australian thing to do each year - and of course, beer is involved. While out buying supper, I walked past the old 'Governor's House' with a plaque which proudly stated that Prince Charles had suffered food poisoning whilst staying there - shame.

The tour bus picked me up at 5:00am for my two day trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kings Canyon and The Olgas. Wayne, the tour guide, drove for 500Km to reach the first stop of Kings Canyon. We walked 7Km around the rim of the canyon - very steep in places but well worth the climb to see the dramatic scenery across the desert and down into the canyon. We then drove another 500Km along the Stuart Highway, through the real outback to our night camp at Yulara. It rained during the night and also in the morning while we were preparing to drive to Uluru for our sunrise walk! Rain is quite a rare event in this part of the world and not very welcomed by us when getting up at 4:30am. Despite the rain, seven of us walked the 10.6Km around the base of Uluru, walking through rivers which are very rarely present. We also witnessed waterfalls coming from the rock and beautiful rainbows when the sun finally peeped out. Because of the adverse weather, the rock climb was closed but anyway, we had all agreed that we would not climb in deference to the local Aboriginal tribes who believe that it is their responsibility if anybody is injured on the rock. After more than five hours in this breathtaking place, we then travelled to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and walked into Walpa Gorge, another sacred site of the Aboriginals. The 800Km drive back to Alice was very tiring for us all, especially Wayne who had to keep awake and cheery for the entire two days!

Next day, I was picked up in Alice and driven out to the Ooraminna Homestead where I was working for a week. What a fabulous place - only 22Km outside Alice but you could be on the moon. Bill and Jan organise corporate functions in and around the Homestead which resembles a film set from a cowboy western. Due to the wet weather, both events that I should have helped with had to be relocated to town as the dirt roads were too boggy for any coaches. So, I spent the week doing a bit of housekeeping in the cabins and not much else but had a great time in the wilderness, watching the kangaroos and 'yabbying' with some guests and the homestead caretaker. Yabbying is catching freshwater crayfish in a creek with lumps of fresh meat on a pole. We then cooked them in a billy over the open fire, along with bush tea - real outback stuff. The only thing missing was the damper bread. The guys were laughing because I had walked to the guest cabins instead of jumping in a 'ute' and driving. We had so much rain during my week at Ooraminna that it was possible that I wouldn't be able to get out for my flight to Adelaide but the ute made it with time to spare - a wonderful week with the most lovely, interesting people.

Salli, who I had met on a train in Vietnam, met me at Adelaide airport and we drove to McLaren Vale, a luscious wine area south of Adelaide. We had arranged to stay with John and Sue and help with their small, but perfectly formed, vineyard at Blewitt Springs. John is very knowledgeable about wines and he and Salli had in depth discussions about noses, fruit, soil and all that stuff - I just drank! It turns out that, in 1996, Salli had worked at a vineyard in France, just 20Km from me - quelle coincidence. John took us on a wine tasing tour on Sunday afternoon as a reward from raking out all the prunings from between the vines - really hard work but when we stopped for a rest, the scenery through the valley was lovely. We also had a trip to Woolunga Market on Saturday morning - very alternative and hippy. The week flew by, mainly because I was in an alcoholic haze for most of it! As well as being a great cook, John was more than happy to share his wines with us. Adelaide didn't have a lot to offer except Glenelg where Salli and I went after an afternoon in the city. On our last night, we all went to Sellicks Beach for supper - again, very alcoholic but also lovely food.

Sad farewells to Blewitt Springs and we then drove to Hansdorf, an ancient (by Australian standards) settlement town and then on to the Barossa Valley, just north east of Adelaide, where famous wines such as Jacob's Creek come from. An afternoon of wine tasting for Salli while I cheered from the sidelines. Next day, we headed south through country much like the York Moors and then on to a place called Tailem Bend where a man, Peter Squires, has collected more than 100 pioneer buildings and arranged them like a village. We met Peter as he cycled down the high street and he told us the history and how the place was used in various films such as 'Australia' with Nicole Kidman - a lovely, excentric man. We then started our coast drive for our first night stop at Robe with a lovely beach where we saw (or think we did) seals close to the shore.

Now we have sobered up from all the lovely Australian wine, we have the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of The Great Ocean Road, along with the Blue Lake at Mount Gambier. Salli trusted me to do some of the driving on the way to our second night stop at Port Campbell - what a lovely little fishing village with a beautiful, sheltered cove. We dashed to The Twelve Apostles for a stormy sunset. The rock formations on this part of coastline are awesome (aaah!) the only word I can think of. Very similar to Pacific Coast Highway in California with the wild surf breaking against the cliffs and rocks. It was a good job we had made the effort to get to the cliffs that night because, next day we awoke to driving rain. However, this made the best setting for visiting the site of the Loch Ard Gorge where a ship was wrecked on its way to Melbourne and only two survived - you could certainly see how a sailing vessel would not have much of a chance if it got too close to the treacherous rocks.

After driving through the Otway forest, we had a surfside lunch at Lorne then on to Bells Beach which, I am reliably informed, is a World Famous Surf Beach. We spent some time watching a few intrepid surfers attempting the waves, with not much success as the sea was still pretty stormy. Dedication is definitely needed to perfect the sport - it looked pretty cold to me! We then drove into the south west suburbs of Melbourne where Salli's parents live. They're on a Pacific Cruise so Salli and I used the place as a base for two days of Melbourne sightseeing which I'll tell you about next time.

Posted by amazingali 17:27 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Western Australia

WWOOFING in the bush

sunny 28 °C

My first day ever, south of the Equator and Perth welcomed me with brilliant sunshine but a mere 18 degrees of temperature. My wonderful cousin was at the airport to meet me and take me, firstly, to an Op Shop (charity shop) to buy some warm clothes! Then back to her apartment in South Perth, overlooking the Swan River and the city of Perth - how wonderful is that!

Perth is the most beautiful city with the huge Kings Park just west of the highrise business district. Even though July is classed as winter, families were out in the park, using the gas barbeques supplied by the city and enjoying watching the kids climbing over model dinosaurs by the lake. The next day, we took the ferry across the Swan River and did a 'tourist Sunday' walk, visiting buildings old and new such as the Bell Tower (bells donated by Britain), Supreme Court and Government House where the Queen stays when she's in town. I then took the train to Cottesloe Beach to visit old friends from France for the afternoon which was a great time to catch up with news and new children. I very proudly managed to get myself back to South Perth by train and bus - another fantastic public transport system.

Fremantle was on the agenda for the next day with its famous prison, harbour and beach. I also spent some time on the foreshore overlooking Perth city, sitting in the winter sunshine and watching the black swans and pelicans. Dolphins can sometimes be seen in the river but they are rarer than in previous times and I didn't get to see one. My last trip into the city consisted of buying a head torch and working clothes for the outback. We visited Perth Mint where my cousin used to work and I also visited the WACA (for all cricket fans) and got a personal guided tour of the ground, with photos!

Now, off to the bush! I took the coach from Perth north to Kalbarri and was dropped off close by the YHA. The journey was pretty uneventful, through bush most of the way. Saw about ten kangaroos but they were all dead, by the side of the road. This is serious roadkill and I can now understand why everyone in the bush drives 4WD trucks with huge bull bars on the front. Kalbarri has beautiful surf beaches and my new friend, Manu and I walked more than 5Km out of town along the cliff headland to watch the surf and look for whales. We were so hot and tired on our return that I suggested we hitched - not something I have done for years! We were picked up by a couple of 'grey nomads' in their camper van and taken back to town. Grey nomads are older Australians, mostly just retired, who are "spending their kids' inheritance" travelling the length and breadth of Australia before they get too old to enjoy it - rather like me!

Before I start my two weeks of working at the Bush Station, I took a tour into the National Park to the Murchison River Gorges. The scenery was very arid and the narrow gorges nearly dry as there has been so little rain this winter. It seemed like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon with rock formations nearly as dramatic. Wild flowers should be everywhere but they are late because of the lack of rain.

After being picked up in Kalbarri by Belinda and driven out to the homestead, I was shown my accommodation and told to have a 'look around'. Murchison House Station is a mere 15Km from Kalbarri but you could be in the middle of nowhere. The Station spreads over half a million acres and supports rangeland goats, Brahman cattle and sheep. There are five other WWOOFERS staying in the old Shearers' Quarters, close to the main house. WWOOFING stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms and is now run throughout the world. The idea is that farmers who need help will offer free board and lodging to people who want to experience a different way of life and learn about different types of farming. I want to experience as much of Australian life while I'm here and also work for my supper. Australia is a hell of a lot more expensive than South East Asia was so my money will need to be supplemented in this way.

Work - an unfamiliar concept for me for the past few months. All that changed at Murchison House Station. Up at 5:00am to herd wild goats into a transport truck after driving for two hours across the land to reach them. I got to drive the 4WD truck through sand dunes, over rocky tracks and through flooded riverbeds with the other WWOOFERS on board. On the early morning trips, we saw kangaroos, emus, cattle and sheep as well as spectacular, barren landscapes with not another soul around. We also got to collect rocks from a distant limestone area and bring them back in a trailer to place around the homestead. Various other tasks, done in rotation, were feeding the chickens, ducks and ponies; sweeping the front verandah and collecting horse poo off the lawn; washing up after Belinda's huge suppers and general maintenance chores in the machine sheds. Three kids (baby goat variety) had been orphaned and were brought back to the homestead for tlc from the girls. We had to witness goats being shot and finding dead animals in the transport truck - not pleasant but it had to be done. When on one loading run, a goat jumped clear over my head as I was trying to load him into the transporter - pretty stressful stuff. I managed to cut my hand quite badly and was taken to Kalbarri Medical Centre - no stitches but very painful irrigation of the wound.

After a week of working, we were given a day off to visit the thriving (!) town of Geraldton. It seemed so strange to be in a town, albeit not a very interesting one. Stefie was our chauffeuse as she was the only one of us with transport. On the way home we drove by Lynton Prison where Anna (of King and I fame) used to live as wife of the Governor before heading off to Thailand (Siam as it was then). Hutt River Province is also quite close by. This is an independent territory, claimed in the 1970's by a farmer who got fed up with the taxing system of Australia. It really is classed as its own country, with passports and everything. Surprisingly, the Australians don't talk about it much.

At the end of our stay at Murchison, three of us bid sad farewells and left on the Greyhound Bus which took me to Coral Bay where I met up again with Manu who had been trying to learn scuba diving. We had a lazy weekend on Paradise Beach, trying to find turtles but the weather was not that great. We couldn't go out to see whales (phew) so mooched around the hostel, getting ready to take the overnight bus north. This was the weekend of the Australian General Election and we saw all the locals queuing up to vote in a huge marquee near the beach. Voting is compulsory in Australia and New Zealand - very good idea I feel.

Manu and I spent 18 hours on the bus to Broome and arrived in the early evening to a crap hostel. Broome is a lovely town with a fabulous beach and great facilities in the town itself. It also had great weather which was a bonus. One evening, the full moon allowed us to go to Town Beach and witness the Staircase to the Moon - as the moon rises, the light shines on the low tide sand which looks like stairs going all the way to the moon. I also attended a fabulous annual concert entitled 'Opera under the Stars' which says it all! They performed my favourite duet from The Pearl Fishers so I was VERY happy - great company, good food and wine and wonderful arias.

Whilst up so far north, I had to visit the Kimberley desert and spent a very long day driving along unsealed, dirt roads to get to Windjana Gorge where we saw freshwater crocodiles fighting in the water. We then went on to Tunnel Creek where aboriginals used to hide from the evil white man. We walked thigh-deep through the waterlogged caves with our torches picking out what were supposed to be the eyes of crocs! After Tarzan-like swinging off tree roots among the bats, we swam in a lagoon before heading back to the truck where our guide was mending a puncture, ready for another long drive along the Gibb River Road and back to Broome via the Fitzroy River and a roadhouse for supper.

My last day up north started early with low tide at Gantheaume Point where dinosaur footprints can be found! We then walked the 5Km along Cable Beach and had a camel ride - as you do - along the beach in the morning sunshine. In the evening we went to the oldest outdoor cinema where you sit in deckchairs and watch the film - great fun - and free popcorn as Manu is a YHA member.

After flying back to Perth, my cousin and I spent a day at Cervantes and the Pinnacles Desert before I hired a car and drove south for a long weekend of solitary sightseeing. I finally saw whales at Albany, the site of the first European settlement in Western Australia. Just a few hours before I got there, the authorities had blown up a whale that had got stranded in the harbour - messy. The coastline is quite dramatic and inland, green fields with sheep grazing reminded me somewhat of England, except with the wrong trees. Huge Karri trees in the Valley of the Giants with a Tree Top Walk which (wussy) I passed on as it was 40M above in the treetops. As I had a hire car, I didn't think it would be prudent to take the dirt roads to some of the more remote sites such as Conspicuous Cliffs so I don't know why they're conspicuous - big I guess. Spent the night at Augusta and then drove to the other cape and saw even more whales, quite close to shore. The geography south of Perth is so different from that of the north and I was really glad that I had the opportunity to see so much of Western Australia before heading east. Next stop Alice Springs - don't miss the next exciting instalment!

Posted by amazingali 01:02 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

My last tour in South East Asia

Rushing back to Singapore

33 °C

After saying a sad farewell to Lee and his motorbike, I spent a couple of days in Ho Chi Minh City (I have to say Saigon as it's so much easier to spell!). The huge Ben Thanh Market was really humming as it was Saturday. Women in the toilets were completely bare-arsed whilst washing themselves in the communal area - a bit weird. Notre Dame Cathedral was not quite up to Paris standards but lovely nevertheless. Again, because it was Saturday, loads of couples were having pictures taken around the Cathedral - not actually getting married there. Much more sobering was the War Remnants Museum which is the Vietnamese account of the American War - very chilling. The most beautiful building in my opinion was the Central Post Office, right by Notre Dame. The heavens opened as I walked back to the hotel after a great curry lunch.

I spent the next day in the Mekong Delta with two Vietnamese sisters and the Belgiun husband of one. We had a great day, dodging in and out of showers and hopping into different boats to travel to various islands where we sampled honey, snake whiskey, local fruit and local singing - very plaintive. A small row boat took us through the narrow channels to lunch on Tortoise Island where a tropical storm shifted one of the rafters from the roof of the restaurant - quite a hairy experience. We then travelled by high speed jet boat for two hours back to Saigon up through the delta and the very wide river - a lovely day with great company.

The taxi to Saigon airport was my last experience of Vietnamese traffic and was just as hair-raising as central Hanoi. I flew straight to Siem Reap, bypassing Phnom Penh as I wanted to spend as much time as possible at the temples. As we approached Siem Reap, I had a fabulous view of the huge Tonle Sap Lake but was not able to see the temples. Met Bev from Canada at the airport and we shared a tuk-tuk to our hotel. As it was only lunchtime, we decided to make the most of our time and hire the same tuk-tuk (Mr. Van) to take us to Angkor Thom and Bayon. We earwigged on a tour guide who was taking a newly married couple around - they didn't mind! We then walked through along the Terrace of the Elephants, past the royal swimming pool and the Terrace of the Leper King - so many ruins but all so beautiful in their various ways. Mr Van recommended that we climb Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset. The summit was crowded but there was no sunset as the rains came. Bev and I were nearly the last to leave as we were sharing her poncho, hoping that the rains would clear but no! Mr Van met us coming up the hill with umbrellas for us then, very soggy, we got back in the tuk-tuk for the drive back to the hotel through the flooded streets of Siem Reap.

I 'reserved' Mr Van for the next day as Bev and her friends were off further afield. We visited the temple where Indiana Jones was filmed and the temple with the trees growing out of it. After a lovely lunch, we finished the day at Angkor Wat - what a fantastic structure - unfortunately in the process of renovation so the usual image was not available to me but never mind - another great day and now I'm all templed out! We had a lovely buffet supper with Apsara dancing as an extra and finished off by walking through the night market.

Next day, I took a taxi 160Km to the Thai border - great roads but I witnessed a collision between a cow and a car. The car was a write-off and unfortunately, so was the cow! Crossing the border to Thailand was fine, rather as one imagines walking across no-man's-land to East Germany, then a lovely train ride (clean and peaceful) to Bangkok. Strangely, it felt as if I was coming home when I arrived at The Atlanta Hotel for a great dinner and wine shared with Roly, the man from Brisbane who had been at the hotel on my last visit!

Banana pancakes for breakfast then off for the sleeper train south to the Malaysian border. South Thailand has quite a bit of unrest and we had armed police on the train in the early morning. Again, I walked alone across the border into Malaysia, this time about a mile in the sun but I needed the exercise! Then bargained with a taxi-driver to take me to Kota Bharu which, because it was Friday and this area of Malaysia is VERY muslin, the place was just about closed. Hotel was crappy but had to get up at 4:00 am anyway to take the Jungle Line train south to the Taman Negara Rainforest. Frankly, after all my train travel through South East Asia over the past two months, I was a little disappointed in the scenery - there was some great stuff but not as spectacular as I had hoped. The train was crowded with Muslim girls on their way to school at Gua Musang so when we arrived, the train was then nearly deserted for my last few miles to Merapoh. Then I had the challenge of how to get into the National Park. As Zucini, the Merapoh Station Master, did not have another train to deal with for a few hours, he drove me to the park entrance. It then turns out that I cannot do any cave trips alone AND I have no real money to pay for my jungle bungalow so Zucini then took me back to Gua Musang to get money and food for my two day stay - all for a fee of course but worth every penny. He insisted on stopping at a cafe on the way home so that he could show off his Western friend. During my first night, we had a terrible storm and lost all electricity - the Park Ranger came with an emergency light for me which was very thoughtful as it kept the cockroaches hiding in their crannies.

As it was considered too dangerous to tackle the jungle walks on my own, I just walked about 10Km along the only track, listening to the gibbon and bird noises of the jungle and hoping an elephant or tiger (!) may appear but no such luck. The Ranger took me to an outpost station in the afternoon where he caught fish with his bare hands after ringing a bell to attract them. We then stopped at a lookout tower where I could survey the whole jungle and the peak of Gunung Tahan, the highest mountain on the Malaysian peninsular. On the way back to my bungalow, we stopped to watch a snake sunning itself on the road - close enough!

The Park Ranger drove me back to Merapoh station next morning where Zucini was organising a couple of guys with a huge caterpillar crane to climb the jib and collect rambutan fruit (like lychees) from a nearby tree and delivered the fruit to me. They then tried to knock down some coconuts but were not successful. The train finally arrived and I said goodbye to Zucini, promising to send him photos! We finally arrived at Singapore and I treated myself to a luxury hotel as I was too tired to search for an alternative - pretentious and not worth the money.

After making the most of all the hotel's amenities (sunken bath etc) I took the train to the Singapore Flyer - just like the London Eye but bigger I suspect. There were fantastic views of all Singapore laid out before me, including the course for the upcoming Formula One Grand Prix. I then went to the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel and had the required Singapore Sling - well, you just have to don't you! I spent the next two nights with friends of friends who have a fabulous house in the hills just north of The Botanical Gardens where I spent another very enjoyable day with more wedding couples being photographed by the Lake and Bandstand. Of course I also had to shop in Orchard Road but bought nothing more exciting than a sweater and slacks as I understand that Australia is going to be a bit colder!

My last day in South East Asia was a very lazy affair, getting to my airport hotel and vegging, ready for the flight to Oz first thing tomorrow, the last but one day of July. Two months into my travels and I have had the most fantastic time - met some brilliant people and seen some of the most breathtaking sights I could ever hope to experience. What a start to my year of travel.

Posted by amazingali 00:28 Comments (1)

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