What’s My Age Again? Adiós Adelaide

Wednesday 19th March
Over the course of the week I had been promoted to navigator but this was the first time I’d actually sat in the front. I was very confident on the route we were taking to Adelaide but navigating our way through a busy city with roadworks and with a map that only showed some of the roads was more challenging. Luckily as I had been to the city, my Samsung and Google maps had stored the GPS information so I could see exactly where we were and where we wanted to go.

I started directing dad to the YHA as it was on the way and seemed to make sense to drop my stuff off before continuing on to the location where we had to drop the hire car off. Almost immediately ‘Murphy’s Law’ struck as road works prevented us going down Waymouth Street and there had been no prior warning at the earlier turn off we could have taken. Then when we finally arrived at the YHA there were no car parking spaces and when we turned up the near by street were met with a garbage truck heading towards us. When we pulled over it then proceeded to take the garbage bin from behind us lift it over us and then put it back in a position which meant we were trapped so Jenny had to move it.

Abandoning the YHA idea we set out for the hire car office which we found however there were no signs for the garage. After doing one loop I ran in to the office for directions and was told it was the next left (a narrow street). About one minute before a fire engine had passed and unbeknown to us all had parked up the street we wanted. A car then almost ploud in to our side because they were impatient and didn’t realise there was a reason no one could go up the street. We therefore had to do another loop and I had to repeat the process. Third time was lucky and we entered by a different street though of course the fire engine had left by then anyway

Amy one of my friends from Adelaide had been travelling South America during both of my previous visits but we had finally arranged to meet at the Exeter Hotel at 17.00. This gave me less than two hours to my laundry done before my final trip in to the Outback and my eventual return to the UK in under 10 days.

I met Amy and it was good to catch up and to share our thoughts on travelling for a prolonged period of time. After a couple of drinks we went to another pub where I had a chicken parmigiana and I disgraced myself by having a bit of tomato ketchup on the side of my plate. I had claimed in all innocence this was for my chips but I was caught in the act when I dipped the chicken in it therefore apparently destroying an ‘Australian Classic’.

I returned to my hostel and whilst I still had a whole day I knew it was going to be busy with a late night to hopefully see some platypus. I therefore decided to pack my small bag and rucksack in preparation. It was weird knowing my time here was almost up especially when I started talking to a girl from Portugal that was about to visit most of the places I’ve been so lucky to visit. I probably won’t ever have another journey like this but having met so many people from Europe I’m looking forward to exploring the continent I’m from in a bit more detail. Weekends away to regions as different as Scandinavia and Turkey and to cities of such historical importance as Athens. Not many, if any continents can offer that.

Thursday 20th March – My Birthday
I woke up and I have to admit it didn’t really feel like I was another year older though perhaps that was partly because it was still only the 19th back in the UK. As it was my last day in Adelaide it was my last opportunity to see the parts of the city I had missed and that evening we were doing a nocturnal walk around a sanctuary to see native animals in a protected environment.

I met Dad and Jenny at their hotel before we walked along to the Botanical Gardens at the end of North Terrace. I had moaned for a number of days about how cold it had been (anything below 23 degrees now requires a jumper) however I’d forgotten just how hot Adelaide could get. Dad had already checked the time of the guided walk so we made our way to reception.

The group seemed very busy, certainly compared to Perth when there had only been 5 of us however the lady was very patient and informative and I took in more than I would have done reading signs. She explained that the climate of Adelaide is similar to that of the Mediterranean so many plants suited to that region can grow. We saw a tree called the ‘Wheel of Fire’ which I heard as ‘Ring of Fire’ but it looked quite spectacular as the flowers on the end of the branches were various shades of red and yellow.

Some of the European names given to Australian fauna and flora isn’t all that imaginative but it’s not that surprising when you consider that the botanist Joseph Banks discovered 1000 species of plants and animals in 70 days alone. It was therefore hardly surprising the ‘Bottle Tree’ had got its name because it looked like a bottle. However it also had a secret and the Aboriginals had discovered it could store water in its bark if it was squeezed. Next we saw a fig crown, a fig plant where the flower was shaped like a crown and the leaves of which felt like sandpaper.

I was enjoying the walk but it was getting very hot now and I was struggling to pay attention as there weren’t many places to escape the sun. We were shown the rose gardens and sniffed different varieties, apparently Mister Lincoln was historically the best for perfume. Some of the varities were unnamed because they are planted as part of a competition to see what can grow best in South Australia’s climate.

After walking around the gardens we sat to have lunch and made sure not to sit under the Bunya Nut Tree which drops nuts weighing 10kg. Being knocked on the head by one of them may not have been a great way to celebrate my birthday as it would have probably prematurely ended my holiday. We left the Botanical Gardens and went to the South Australian Museum first as we had an hour before there was a free tour around the South Australian Art Gallery.

There was an interesting Aboriginal display and it was the first time I’d really seen such an extensive collection in a museum. It also struck me that whilst the British Museum has collections on Egypt, Greece, and other ancient civilisations a display on the Aboriginals is shamefully lacking. Being interested in history I really can’t express just how overawed I have become by their culture. They managed the land for over 40,000 years and yet in just 200 years mostly British settlers destroyed vast areas especially in South Australia. With the federal election of the liberals in Tasmania it appears that the modern Australian government haven’t learnt the lessons and want to remove an areas UNESCO listing so they can commence logging. Unbelievable.

The display included some of the bush tucker foods I had heard about over the past few months such as Witchetty Grubs but hadn’t seen. One of the things I have been surprised about is that I didn’t have the chance to taste bush tucker foods especially when I was in the Northern Territories. The display also included a couple of paintings by Albert Namatjira one of which was on the West McDonnell Ranges. This was particularly pleasing because when I’d asked to see his paintings at the Art Gallery of NSW I was told they were in storage as they are fragile and fade easily due to being water colours.

There was also a display on native animals and I got to see some off the animals that are common especially in South Australia. I thought there may have been a deadly creatures section but if there was we couldn’t find it. Perhaps they don’t want to scare the tourists away unlike Darwin where it was almost celebrated as a way of showing how creatures had evolved to suit the landscape. It was still a good informative display though I realised it would sadly be the closest I’d get to a wombat before I left.

We left the museum and arrived at the art gallery. It seemed to be a fairly large group though we were the only non Australians, or at least the only people not living in the country. The guide was absolutely brilliant, very enthusiastic and it seemed she wanted to do her best to ensure we saw everything or at least as much as possible.

We saw an idyllic portrayal of Australia painted in 1927 which showed Australia in a Greek/Roman classical style and it was meant to represent how Australia was on the move. It was a nice painting but the landscape looked so fake an un-Australian that it looked like some type of over the top propaganda which I suppose it was intended to be. I preferred the painting called “The Breakaway” by Tom Roberts in 1891 which was also a nationalistic painting because it showed the rural hero in the outback. It looked and felt like Australia.

We also learnt that because France and the UK fell out Matthew Flanders was imprisoned on Mauritius and it was here that one of the few paintings of him was made. A painter called John Glover is believed to have been the first to paint a ‘Gum Tree’ and to understand Australian light. Prior to his paintings Australian artists seemed to continue putting English trees in to the background to make it feel familiar. There was also a painting of a wealthy looking lady called Elizabeth Soloman which at first glance didn’t look all that interesting. It was however a classic case of don’t judge a book by its cover. Whilst she was wealthy and her husband a gold merchant her father in law was Ikey Soloman. This was the real life person Charles Dickens based Fagin on in Oliver Twist and so it showed that the early settlers could overcome their convict past.

Finally despite going beyond the scheduled hour we had an opportunity to see the Dark Heart exhibition. The piece that stood out for me was entitled “someone died trying to live a life like mine”. It was a modern marble sculpture called Alex Seton and portrayed 28 empty life jackets which looked so realistic it was hard to believe they were marble. It was also a very moving piece as it made reference to 28 asylum seekers who were discovered washed up on the islands off the coast of Western Australia in 2013.

After leaving the art gallery we left to get ready for our Platypus walk and met back up an hour or so later to get some food from a cheap Malaysian restaurant dad and Jenny had stumbled across the day before. After eating we made our way to the bus stop and using the GPS on my phone was able to assure dad when I knew we’d have to get off. We then had to walk over 2kms through the Adelaide Hills which I suppose predictably weren’t flat and there were no pavements but luckily few cars.

Eventually our guide arrived and took us down in to the sanctuary and explained it had previously been known by another name and open during the day but had closed down. He seemed fairly confident we had picked a good evening and we began walking around the different lakes. There were more than I had expected and the largest lake was bigger than I expected but I suppose that means there is a bigger source of food which is why they have survived.

The time passed very quickly and soon my hopes of getting a picture in day light were fading quicker than the light. There had been a lot of false hopes which had been caused by tortoises and lots of ducks as well as some unexplained activity but no sighting. I did however see a Bandicoot which I mistook for a rock because it had lost its tail so I didn’t take a picture and only realised my error when it was to late and it had scurried away in to the undergrowth.

Soon it was dark but we continued walking around d the lake, the guide saying that the signs weren’t good as there appeared to be no evidence of platypus activity. There were a few more false alarms, which when he shone the torch were again the tortoises and eventually he had to say it was time to go. At least we had tried, but it still felt a huge disappointment especially as the indication had been they are seen more often than they are not. It had however been exciting and we’d learnt a lot so it was reminiscent of our failed tiger spotting tour in India. On the way back we saw a bettong which is another small type of kangaroo and not something I had seen before so that at least was some compensation.

I had really enjoyed the times I spent in Adelaide, the largest settlement in the area it was the business and entertainment hub of South Australia the self proclaimed ‘festival state’. It was my gateway to the West, and can be a gateway to the East, to the Centre and to the North. It has a beach to rival Bondi and has not one but three wine valleys and the oldest mountain range is within a days drive. The CBD had retained many of the older buildings and it fortunately lacked the taller skyscrapers of Sydney and Melbourne. I haven’t got a job with the Adelaide tourist board.


Circle of Life: Coorong and Fleurieu Peninsula

Sunday 15th March
The lady in the motel had told us to visit the marina and the headland before we left. As the tourist information centre hadn’t opened we walked to the marina and it was slightly disappointing and to be honest rather boring. Perhaps when the water sparkles in the sun it looks nicer but the way she had spoken I think we all expected more from the way it had been built up. The takeaway fish and chip place she had recommended looked like it would blow down at any minute and I was glad dad and I had opted for our Italian the night before.

After getting some ideas from tourist information on how best to spend our time in the Coorong National Park we decided to quickly drive to the headland. The headland was actually quite nice though the Commodore was quite modern and looked out of place and overall I was glad we hadn’t walked to see it. When we’d arrived in Robe the lady had asked why we were going to Meningie as there was “nothing to see there”. All I’ll say is people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

We left Robe and travelled along the Princes Highway towards Kingston S.E where it had been suggested we could do a short walk around the Butchers Gap Conservation Park. The first half of the walk was pleasant but rather uneventful as there weren’t even any birds around. Then after we passed the salt lake trees began to creep in to the mostly shrub and wild flower vegetation. This was obviously a more suitable environment for wildlife because we saw a number of different groups of kangaroos which included a joey. I still haven’t however seen one in the mothers pouch. These ‘roos were more timid than some I’ve seen and each time they realised we’d spotted them they hopped away quickly which to me is still an awesome sight.

We drove in to Kingston S.E and had our lunch where again as with Nelson the day before it was cold and windy though at least there was blue sky and nothing blew away. On our way out of the town I saw one of the town highlights was a ‘Giant Lobster’. A lot of Australian rural towns on the highways have big decorations of some sort but this, one of the more famous ones was actually the first I’d seen.

I was meant to have visited the Coorong on my way to Adelaide back in January but for reasons not entirely known we’d taken the inland road. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but it reminded me a bit of the Nulklarbor as the road was mostly straight and it looked like an arid landscape. Eventually we came to Salt Creek which was really just a roadhouse and a toilet. The toilet had a number of signs from the roadhouse owner asking for a small donation or at least a thank you. As I felt guilty I gave a small donation

Dad and I looked at the map and it appeared that we could do a short route that would go round in a loop allowing us to explore on foot which would give a much better perspective than the window of a car. By the time we reached the walk to Hailte Lake and Pipe Clay Lake (Lakes Nature Trail) we had already been walking nearly an hour. Whilst this was longer than expected it had been quite a spectacular walk in terms of scenery even if we hadn’t seen any wild life except for some pelicans, parrots and a few other birds.

We decided to carry on and whilst we continued to see old wombat droppings there was no evidence that they had come out early or indeed were still in the area. The walk was on flat terrain but by the time we got to the bridge to do a slightly longer path back to the car we’d already been out longer than planned. The lady at tourist information had suggested we should go to Parnka Point but as it was close to Meningie we decided we could go back the following morning.

We arrived in Meningie an hour later than planned and it seemed the person behind the desk was slightly disgruntled at this fact. He did however provide some useful information and told us to eat as soon as possible before places began to close as it was a Sunday. I booked a table at the Hotel and I got the impression we’d be the only guests. As it were we weren’t though originally we’d gone through the wrong doors to the bar which looked how I feared the restaurant would be. Empty, dark and three guys including the barman propping up the bar.

The restaurant was lovely and knowing we were outsiders now outside of the peak season the waiter gave exceptional service and was almost over the top in his friendly manner. The local guide book had told us to eat the mullet in Meningie so we all had ‘Maca Mullet’ which was served in a chilli, lemon style and fries. I was impressed and had the Banana cake with lemon myrtle ganache for dessert. I’ve not had many on the trip but had now had two in consecutive nights.

I got back to my room and watched Carlton vs Port Adelaide. Port have become my team because as previously mentioned I saw them in london and when I was in Adelaide I made a special journey to that part of the city. They were losing but one of the commentators was confident they’d win. He was right they turn it around and he was right. It was a great game and both sides

Monday 16th March
As we were getting ready to leave it was hard to tell if the guy working at the motel was still slightly irritated at us for being 1 hour late or if all had been forgiven. We told him of our plans and he suggested a scenic route around Lake Albert and to try the bakery at Tailem Bend.

We set off heading back approximately 20km back where we had driven the day before towards Parnka Point. We saw the sign though made a fatal error by not looking at the display board and map instead opting to just drive straight down the dirt track. We drove about 20 minutes at low speed though the car still shook. We reached a turn off to a campsite but continued straight on before the road just got to rough and we had to turn around. We continued back to the original car park and realised we had been on the right road but it was 4km and we’d only travelled half the required distance. It was a slightly disappointing end this section of our Coorong adventure.

We returned back Meningie before commencing the drive which on the map looked like it was a scenic drive around Lake Albert. I’ve got used to with roads seemingly being close to the coast or lakes when in fact whilst they are the view is blocked by sand dunes or trees. Disappointingly there wasn’t much of a view and we barely saw the lake at all. We had to cross the Murray River and as it was lunch carried on to Tailem Bend the name allegedly coming from a sheep farm where they used too cut the tails off the sheep and shouting “tail ’em”.

Tailem Bend had left an impact on me when I visited back in January though if I’m honest this had been because it epitomised all the lunch stops in townships in the middle of nowhere. Ordinarily it would have been forgotten but in a day of driving for 8 hours it had been the main stop of the day. I was however willing to give the township a second chance. Sadly yet again it was still closed except the bakery which dad and I went to in search of coffee. We were very much non locals and it was somewhat surreal when we were recognised and the guy from the motel started talking to us.

We left Tailem Bend and crossed the Murray River on a different ferry before taking the pleasant sounding ‘Fleurieu Way’ which would take us along the Fleurieu peninsula to Port Elliot. It looked on the map, and we had been led to believe this would be a scenic route with views of the Coorong. There weren’t, for most of the journey it was impossible to tell we were near a water source let alone a unique environment. We had intended to stop at one of the lookouts highlighted on the map but it wasn’t sign posted so we missed it.

We arrived at Currency Creek where we saw examples of ‘Canoe Trees’. These were trees where Canoes had been cut out of the bark by the Aboriginals, though the trees had not been chopped down and the bark had been allowed to regenerate leaving a canoe shape. We decided to stop at Lion’s Park where we did a short walk to perhaps the smallest waterfall I’ve ever seen. Still it was great that the local community had a volunteer group that had done work to conserve the area and had created a footpath. The walk was nice and took us past huge gum trees, under an old viaduct, an old mine shaft and a canoe tree.

We stopped off at Goolwa information centre to pick up some leaflets of walks in the area because apart from planning on doing the Cockle Train from Goolwa to Victor Habor we had no plans. The lady was very helpful and even helped us to identify some of the wildlife we’d seen. They had a book on Australian Mammals which I was tempted to buy as it would help me to work out what I’ve taken pictures of but I decided not to.

We carried on to Port Elliot where the couple running the hostel told us that it would be a full moon and to watch the Moonrise just after sunset. We went to the Port Elliot hotel for dinner because it was the only place that appeared to be open and they had a deal with the YHA. Dad and I also tried a beer from the local brewery which was nice but more expensive than we had expected. That evening I was in a 4 person dorm but yet again travelling slightly off the backpacker trail and out of season I had the room all to me.

Tuesday 18th March
We started the day by driving to Hindermarsh Island which was just off the coast from Goolwa. Initially we had hoped we’d be able to explore the Mouth of the Murray and to experience the Coorong by doing a cruise. The dates it ran didn’t suit our available days and this was actually a blessing because the lookout on Hinderarsh Island would provide us with a view of the Murray’s mouth to the sea.

We parked slightly earlier than we should have done but this meant as the tide was out we could have a walk along the beach towards the lookout. We passed lots of different birds before we came to the lookout overlooking the Murray mouth where the Younghusband sand dune and the Sir Richard Peninsula sand dune meet. It was initially difficult to establish whether there was s sea water connection however there must have been a water way because a small boat appeared to make it out in to the ocean.

We then drove to the end of another road where the leaflet suggested there was a short walk to Scab Creek. The name didn’t sound that glamorous and despite walking down two separate paths we were never that sure if we found the area we were looking for. I had expected a bit more from Hindmarash Island and apart from the mouth of the Murray the views were underwhelming. I did however spot a lizard I hadn’t seen before which looked rather ugly and I later found out it was called a sleepy lizard.

We returned back across the bridge to Goolwa and had lunch by the beach. Much to dads dismay the coffee shop was closed and as we had become accustomed to it became windy just as we sat down. After lunch we walked up a short boardwalk to a lookout facing towards Hindermarsh Island, the Coorong and over looking the town. We didn’t spend long as it wasn’t that much of a scenic a view.

We started walking to the Barrage but it was along a pedestrian road and after just under one km we realised it was still another 3km to go. We therefore decided to walk back to the car and to drive down. We arrived at the Barrage which separated the salt water of the sea from the fresh water of the Coorong. We walked along the Barrage and saw two sea lions bathing before one of them dived in to the water.

After returning to the car we drove down to the Old Wharf where we had a nice cup of coffee on the bank of the Murray looking towards the bridge over to Hindermarsh Island. At the coffee shop I saw what I thought was a great sign which said: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, Martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “WOO HOO what a ride!” After leaving we quickly had a look around the local micro brewery and brought a bottle each for that night.

It was still early afternoon so we decided to drive to Victor Harbor. That is not a spelling error by me but named by Captain Richard Crozier after his ship HMS Victor in 1837. Lonely Planet claimed it was a spelling error in 1837 and hadn’t been that complimentary perhaps because they visited in the peak busy summer season where as we were visiting outside of the main season. The town seemed really pretty and it reminded me of some of the English seaside towns that have retained their old architecture.

One of the main attractions of Victor Harbor is Granite island which can be accessed by a Horse Drawn Tram or on foot across a causeway. The island has a small colony of the Little Blue Penguins I’d seen in Tasmania and on Philip Island however the walk to see these at night was guided. The island was closed two hours after sunset however we had plenty of time to undertake the walk of the island which was estimated to take one hour.

The walk was lovely and much more like what I had expected Hindermarsh Island to be like. We had just finished crossing the causeway when the horse drawn tram began crossing in the opposite direction. The service had originally ceased in the 1950s but in 1986 the local government celebrated the 150th anniversary of settlement by restoring the tram as part of a project to mark the occasion following a public vote.

We saw numerous impressive granite formations which reminded me of Kangaroo island though they were perhaps less spectacular than the Remarkable Rocks. There was also a lovely view of Encounter Bay named after the meeting between Matthew Flinders and the French explorer Nicolas Baudin. We looked out for seals and sea lions but couldn’t see any though we did see plenty of birds a number of which dad and Jenny hadn’t seen and could tick off in their book bringing the total to over 100.

After completing a circuit of the island we returned to Port Elliot where we had an Indian meal at ‘Mr India’. The waitress seemed particularly interested to speak to us because we were from near London and it was a really lovely meal. I haven’t had much indian food over here and my taste buds are out of practice because even though it was mild by my usual standard it still seemed quite hot. I’m looking forward to going back to Diwana in Euston, the curry garden in Berkhamsted and the various delights of Southall when I get home.

Wednesday 19th March
Dad had read about a tourist train that ran between Goolwa and Victor Harbor known as the Cockle Train which only ran on selected dates. Whilst we had already seen both towns we thought it was going to be a steam train and that it would be a nostalgic way to view the beautiful coastline. The steam train wasn’t working but as the road didn’t really pass along the coast we still thought it would be a nice journey.

We parked at Goolwa because it was nearer to Adelaide and meant we could catch the first train of the morning and therefore leave sooner. Unfortunately we sat on the wrong side of the carriage as the nice views were on the other side. We also thought we’d be able to stand on the balcony at the back but it appears strict health and safety regulations extends beyond the European Union. UKIP might want to be aware of that if they want to blame ‘Brussels’ for everything. It was however a nice journey and the volunteer staff appeared friendly.

After arriving in Victor Harbor we waited on the platform so we could get seats on the side with the ocean views. It was surprisingly busy on the return journey as a tour group of 42 turned up so had a carriage to themselves. On the way back we saw some of the beaches that are popular with surfers and saw a number of small groups trying to master the waves. After returning to Goolwa we had a quick coffee stop at the cafe we had been to the day before and then began the drive to Adelaide.

Born to Run: Mount Gambier and Lower Glenelg National Park

Thursday 13th March
One of the people had already left my room when I woke up to get ready at 8.00am. I checked out and waited for Dad and Jenny before we made a short drive across town to a bridge (more a man made causeway) leading to Griffiths Island. This was to do a short walk to the lighthouse to see Muttonbirds though we knew it was unlikely because they only fly in after dark and out before the sun rises.

It was a pleasant walk and during the walk to the lighthouse we saw two swamp wallabies and we could see the nests of the muttonbirds. We also saw some that had been killed and saw a number of bird of prey in the area that were waiting for one of the chicks to show itself in a fatal error. It was nice to start the day with a walk and once we were back in the car we started the drive to Halls Gap in heart of the Grampians National Park.

We wanted to stop off at a tourist information centre on the way to the Grampians to seek some advice on walks and what had reopened after the devastating fires in January. In the end we settled for Dunkeld because it appeared to be the last township of any notable size on the road we were on before we entered the National Park. The lady serving whilst very friendly unfortunately couldn’t really help because she didn’t have all the maps available and in hindsight she probably didn’t have knowledge of all the walks. The best leaflets available contained a brief synopsis of the walks but only general directions and whilst the maps weren’t that detailed we had no option but to pay for them.

On our way through the national park we saw a sign for the Mirranatwa lookout and decided to explore. This was partly because the lady at the YHA in Port Fairy had said we’d see nice views and it was a nice walk even though it isn’t currently signed. The walk was longer and the path steeper than I expected. Once we were at the top I climbed on to a rocky ledge where the view wasn’t blocked by the top of the tree canopy. I hadn’t been sure what to expect of the Grampians but I was surprised at the density of the forests growing on the different mountain ranges.

We scrambled back down to the bottom and continued along the Grampians Tourist Road as we searched for the Jimmy Creek Campground which was the start of the Teddy Bear Loop walk. Somewhat surprisingly there wasn’t a map of the walk on the information board though a small sign pointed us in the correct direction. After a while we came to a cross roads and after walking for about 15 minutes accepted we’d probably taken a turn too early as we were going down hill not up.

We made our way back along the path back towards the crossroads and this time headed up the steep hill. As with the walk earlier in the day it was tougher going than we had expected but at the top we did have a nice view of the Victoria Ranges on one side and of the highest peak Mount William on the other side. On our way back towards the campsite we caught up with a group that had left just before us and were surprised that they had achieved the entire walk because one of them had completed it on crutches. Just as we saw them we also saw a swamp wallaby on the path before we finally arrived back at the campsite and saw a Red neck wallaby.

We checked in to the YHA and after having a light lunch stayed in the kitchen/dining room area where dad and I got talking to two people that had driven the west coast. During the course of our conversation we found out they were from Milton Keynes and their dad was a Luton Town fan.

Friday 14th March
We had already explored a lot of the Grampians and both of the walks we had done had been tougher than expected but I was looking forward to exploring some of the more well known locations. We decided to do the walk to the summit of Mount William first because it appeared that it would be a hot day and we wanted to do the most strenuous walk when it was a bit cooler. The elevation change was greater than the walks we had done on the previous day however the path was sealed and it therefore seemed less strenuous. Even on the way up the views appeared to be better and when we reached the top they were truly spectacular.

When we reached the top we got chatting to a couple from Jervis Bay and they seemed equally impressed with the views. They asked if we had done the walk to the Pinnacles and as we hadn’t they suggested that we should. We were already planning on visiting a Aboriginal Shelter outside of the Grampians to see some rock art and to visit ‘Reeds Lookout and the Balconies’ so it was difficult to see how we could fit anything else in.

It was already lunchtime when we visited the Brambruck Cultural Centre and I spoke to the lady at tourist information who surprisingly said we could comfortably fit it all in advising that Reeds lookout would be good for the sunset. After having our sandwiches we walked around the display learning how The Djab wurrung and Jardwadjali used sophisticated farming burning the land to allow regrowth and to herd animal. The first contact both groups ever had with outsiders was in 1836 when Major Mitchell climbed Mt Abrupt therefore becoming the first European to view “Gariwerd” as they still know it.

During my time in Australia I have come to appreciate that a lot of the old myths about the Aboriginals are unfair. They were, they are, more in touch with their surroundings and know how to get the most out of the land in a way that is almost inconceivable to ‘modern’ society. They are one of the oldest civilisations, they have been in Australia long before the end of the last Ice Age and they have outlived both the Ancient Greek and Ancient Egyptian Empires despite living in a harsh environment.

We briefly left the Grampians and drove to the ‘Bunjil Shelter’ in the Black Range Scenic Reserve. This is a particularly sacred site because the painting depicts Bunjil (the creator) and two dingos who are his helpers. The site was quite phenomenal because there were huge boulders around and we had a fine view looking back towards the Grampians. The painting itself wasn’t as big as some of those I had seen in Kakadu but it was still sobering to think how old it could be. The actual date is actually still unknown but tests have shown it was painted using traditional clay ochres though it was painted over in 1911.

We drove back to the Grampians and after first taking the wrong turn off eventually arrived at the Sundial Carpark where we started our walk to the Pinnacles. Whilst the walk itself was mostly up hill it had been steady and it wasn’t until the end that we had to scramble over a few of the rocks. Shortly before we reached the final section we saw another Red necked wallaby and it’s quite amazing the terrain they and the kangaroos can cover as it seemed too steep and unstable for wildlife. When we reached the top the view was in the words of my dad “Awesome”. A balcony led out from the cliff providing a jaw dropping view of the valley below. The Pinnacle is one of the famous lookouts and it didn’t disappoint.

We were all feeling slightly tired and our legs were heavy but thankfully we knew the walk from the Reeds Lookout carpark to the Balconies was short and flat. During the drive we saw some of the devastation that had been caused by the fires that had prevented me visiting earlier in my trip. It was quite phenomenal how the road must have become the barrier used by the firefighters because one side of the road was totally burnt out. The other had a few scorched trees but seemed mostly unaffected.

We had intended to see the sunset but we arrived slightly earlier but the sky had started to cloud again which meant it was unlikely much of one would occur. The Balconies still provided a good view and it was an  unexpected bonus that we also got to see the ‘Jaws of Death’ Rock one of the more photographed rock formations.

It had been yet another fantastic day and after all the walking we had done over the past two days it was nice to enjoy a proper dinner including (much needed) veggies at the restaurant just outside of Hall’s Gap. Returning to the hostel Dad and I watched our first AFL game together which was between Collingwood and Fremantle. The manager of the hostel supported Collingwood and had decided not to travel to Melbourne for their opening game which was a wise decision as they lost by 70 points. I returned to my room and discovered to my complete surprise that whilst I was in a 4 bedroom dorm no one else had checked in so I had the room completely to myself.

Saturday 15th March
When I was having a shower one of the guys was playing loud music and it sounded like he had a bit of company. The bra lying on his bench merely confirming the matter or implying he enjoyed a bit of cross dressing. I left before they came out and finished packing before making my way down to reception. I commiserated the manager of the hostel on the rather humiliating defeat Collingwood had suffered and I genuinely meant it, I’ve been there with Watford. Jenny and dad soon came down and we set off Robe.

We called in at the Portland information centre as we had seen there was the possibility of seeing Wombats in the Lower Glenelg National Park but we needed a bit of extra information on potential walks. Unfortunately the lady didn’t have to much local knowledge but kindly phoned the office in Nelson as an ex ranger worked there. They were able to tell us exactly where the wombat holes were located and the time in the late afternoon that they had recently come out at.

We stopped in Nelson for lunch where it was ridiculously windy. We successfully ate our sandwiches outside but then as everything was lighter things began to blow away. First I chased a sandwich bag which a number of times I could have caught if I’d dived to thee floor. Eventually it evaded my capture by disappearing in to some long reeds the other side of a steep slope of the river. As I was returning I saw dad chasing a coffee cup and as I wasn’t going to let two things get past me I managed to intercept its path.

At some point we crossed the Victoria/South Australia border though it was without much ceremony because there was no sign welcoming us on the back road we had taken. Shortly after we had to back track up an even smaller sealed road. This meant by the time we arrived at the Dry Creek River Walk we weren’t sure what side of the border we were on or therefore what the time officially was. To be on the safe side we went with South Australia time which was half an hour ahead so we wouldn’t lose track of time and be late for our check in.

We started the walk and almost immediately saw the bizarre but unmistakably obvious square wombat droppings. This is part of the way they have evolved as the square shape stops the droppings from rolling back in to their holes and this allows them to mark their territory. We were still a couple of hours earlier than the lady had suggested and we knew we’d need a lot of luck as Wombats are particularly nervous creatures and can spend several days underground.

We wondered round and saw a number of holes before I saw something moving up at the top of a bank where the grass was shorter. With my naked eye and without the aid of binoculars it appeared to be the size of a small wombat and even the picture I took on my camera seemed to show it as such. Dad looked through the binoculars…”it looks more like an echidna” and he was right, in my second photo you could just about make out its nose. So close.

We returned back to the car and almost immediately it began to rain quite heavily though it passed over fairly quickly. We assessed our options and decided to go on a walk in the opposite direction towards a viewing platform which over looked the Glenelg river. The previous walk had been mostly in open shrub land though this walk was amongst the trees of a forest. We continued to see a number of wombat holes though surprisingly we didn’t really see much wildlife. The view of the river was good and it seemed a bit surprising that we were the only people that appeared to be out though tourists probably miss this area because it wasn’t on the Princes Highway.

We returned back to the start of the first walk and before entering the valley with all the short grass had a look to see if there was any movement. There didn’t appear to be so we gradually and silently made our way down. We walked to the area most of the holes had been and waited but we couldn’t afford to stay to late and unfortunately no wombats decided to come out early, or if they did they alluded us. It was a bit of an anti climax as we knew by the time we got to Robe loads would have been investigating our foot steps. I have seen one during my time over here, at night on the Nullarbor, but I am slightly surprised I didn’t have another encounter.

We arrived at Robe and there were signs warning us about Wombats crossing the road and luckily none ran out in front of us though neither did we see any at the side of the road. We arrived in Robe and dad and I decided to have an Italian but Jenny stayed back at the motel as she wanted to get some chores done and to relax after all the recent busy days. The restaurant was surprisingly busy considering we were in a town with less than 2000 people and the food was excellent. I did however over indulge by getting a dessert pizza which consisted of nutella, banana and strawberries.

Take it Easy: Melbourne to Port Fairy

Sunday 9th March
The couple next to me on the flight were both quite elderly and had sat in the wrong seat but were very friendly and were interested in where I had been. Eventually they asked why I was going to Geelong and I explained I wasn’t, I was going to Melbourne however I immediately realised I’d booked a flight to the wrong Melbourne airport. As we landed I realised Melbourne Avlon is tiny compared to Melbourne Tullamarine however this had the advantage that I was out quicker. The disadvantage was I was in Geelong not Melbourne.

Luckily there was a bus shuttle to Melbourne but it was an hours drive and after I arrived at Southern Cross station I had to walk to the hostel. I had arranged to meet Finja and Marianne at 21.00 so I had plenty of time to do laundry, cook some food and to meet Jenny and dad in the Treasury Gardens to look for possums. It was a bit surreal to see them outside the hotel and as we sat on a bench it became apparent just how much there was to catch up on.

We eventually moved to a different area and almost immediately I saw my first possum. It was funny how they ‘stood up’ like kangaroos but walked on all fours like large rats though it appears my rat/mice phobia doesn’t extend to Australian fauna. After watching them for a while I left to meet the girls for a final drink before we went our separate ways and we’d have to wish each other “Gute  Reise”

Marianne, Finja and her friend met me in Federation Square and we made our way to the Yarra River to see a firework display. It was very crowded and we weren’t sure what side of the bank to stand on, or where on the side we chose would have the best view. The fireworks were nice but ended quicker than I expected and whilst the display took place so both sides of the river had a good view the more spectacular display seemed to be behind us.

After leaving the fireworks we made our way to Fitzroy with Marianne leading the way because and despite my legitimate excuses I had effectively got us both lost in Coober Pedy only a week earlier. It was a long walk, and as it was dark and late on a Sunday everywhere seemed to be closed except for two pubs neither of which were suitable for a quiet drink. Instead we went to Coles, brought some non alcoholic drinks and snacks and sat on a park bench. We saw more possums before walking all the way back through town to our hostels and I had to say “Auf Wiedersehen”

Monday 10th February
I walked along Flinders Street with my backpack which took slightly longer than I expected but eventually met Jenny and dad outside their hotel before finding their hire car. We then set off on our trip to Adelaide and the first notable place we passed was somewhat cruelly my hostel.

It was labor day so the roads to the beaches were fairly busy and Torquay in particular appeared to be a popular destination. Our first proper stop was therefore at the Great Ocean Road Memorial Sign which was unsurprisingly busy. We carried on to Lorne where we stopped to have lunch and visited the tourist information office to determine where within the Otway National Park we’d explore.

We started off with a short drive and then a short walk to the upper and lower lookouts at the Erskin waterfalls. The car park was very busy and it appeared this was another water source locals had fled to and some were swimming in the pool of the waterfall. My dad and Jenny felt they were arcadian, reminiscent of the scenes painted by romantic painters. I thought they were nice and definitely worth visiting but I was preoccupied because I was more excited about our next stop at Lake Elizabeth where i would have one final chance at trying to see Platypus.

During the drive to Lake Elizabeth we had a bit of a drive along unsealed roads with very few signs and were reliant on a map that did not show all the roads. It was therefore hardly surprising that we eventually took a wrong road but thankfully the GPS on my phone was working and we were eventually able to correct ourselves. This meant we lost at least half an hour so we had much less time to explore the lake than hoped for.

I had a good feeling when we started the walk but it was much longer than I expected and we past a number of families coming back on the way. The weather was clear when we got to the bottom but the lake was green not clear which would make sightings harder. I looked but other than ducks I could see nothing. Platypus only spend 17 of 24 hours a day outside their nests and of that time most is spent under water. We needed luck and time, but didn’t have the latter. I walked around the edge for a closer look and whilst I thought I saw something that wasn’t a duck I’m probably just trying to delude myself and I have to accept the Platypus is the one that got away.

Disappointed I made my way reluctantly back to the car where we drove back along the coast to Kennett River. This was where I had seen koalas on my G Adventures tour and I was fairly confident we would see them again. This is because there are a lot of Manna Gums which are their favourite type of eucalyptus tree. We were lucky and saw 4 koalas including a couple that were becoming active as it had gone 17.00 one of which was on a low branch.

We finally arrived in Apollo Bay and after checking in we headed back in to town to find some food. Dad and I opted for fish and chips at the ‘Blue bird cafe’ which had a nice collection of pictures of the township in its early days. After going to the IGA to buy some beers as we were due to do a lot of walking and would need some kind of reward. That evening I got chatting to two of my room mates, a father and son ironically from Watford, who were over for the Grand Prix, something I had hoped to see but which hadn’t fitted with my dates

Tuesday 11th February
Dad said the 9.15 start to the Cape Otway Lighthouse was early. I think we now have different definitions of this word because as I said by 9.30 in the Olga’s I’d already seen a sunrise and completed a 6km walk. The early starts I’ve endured have opened my eyes to what can be achieved before i even start work and at the very least I’ll do a gym session. Kelly, Tim, Anthony and Sue you can hold me to that!

Arriving at the Cape Otway National Park Lighthouse. We started off at the Telegraph Station where there was information on its use, the first of which was to communicate with Tasmania via an under water cable which failed after 2 years. There was also a display on dinosaur fossils that had been found in the area and one of the guides decided to take us on a personal tour of some of the key exhibits whilst providing quite a bit of information.

We had been told the estimated time for the entire complex was an hour yet we had spent nearly that long at the Telegraph Station. This was partly because having seen and started chatting to those in my room the guide had decided to join in and a conversation on Watford FC had gradually turned in to the average rainfall in Victoria.

We made our way to and up to the lighthouse where again a guide was providing lots of information whilst also trying his best to tell people to climb down the ladder backwards. His audience was continually changing but he didn’t appear to repeat any information and it was unclear if he ever would so I went outside to take in the nice views before going back down.

We continued our way around the site and reached the Aboriginal culture display. The guide seemed to be particularly emotional when he voiced his thoughts on various topics but that made the encounter all the more interesting. It was interesting to know that prior to European settlement there had been 30 main languages across Victoria alone so whilst Australia is now one country, there was a time when it was split like Europe. The guide also told us that a new constitution will be put before the Australian population within 2 years and whilst he didn’t think it would go far enough it’ll be interesting to see how things develop.

Leaving the lighthouse we drove to Aire River Bridge where we had decided to do a walk from the dunes up to a lookout with views of the escarpment. On the way up we saw two snakes which looked to be copperhead snakes which doubled the number I have encountered however apart from a few birds we didn’t see any other wildlife of note. I don’t think I’ve become blase to the Australian scenery but I’ve probably become slightly spoilt with my adventures in the past month. The view of the river mouth was nice, but I didn’t think it was spectacular though that may have been because it was overcast. We saw more koalas back at the carpark and one of the locals spent some time chatting to us.

We had already done a lot of exploring of the Great Otway National Park though I still suggested we stop off at Maits Rest where I had done a short 30 minutes walk a month before through a rainforest. We saw different types of trees including the Myrtle Beech tree however whilst it had just stopped raining it hadn’t encouraged any of the unique wildlife out.

We returned back to Apollo Bay where I finally decided to eat some Barramundi as I felt that was the only animal available in Australia I’d not tried. I convinced dad to try Kangaroo steak and I don’t think he was disappointed though Jenny couldn’t bare the thought of eating poor Skippy.

Wednesday 12th February
After checking out of the hostel we started our journey along the Great Ocean Road towards Port Fairy. I had already seen some of the limestone rock formations but I was looking forward to seeing some of those I had missed and I had produced a bit of an itinerary for the day for us.

Our first stop was to The Twelve Apostles which is arguably the most well known of the formations and closest to Melbourne certainly the most visited. There are not actually 12 stacks and they only gained the title in the 1960s apparently to generate tourism. It seems to have worked because when we arrived the carpark was already filling up though it was less busy than when I’d last visited. Unfortunately it was slightly cloudy which maybe didn’t make the Twelve Apostles look as majestic as they were when I first saw them and it was cold meaning I wished I’d put a jumper but it was still nice to wonder round the site again.

Our second stop was to Loch Are Gorge which is named after a boat that sunk in route to Melbourne with only one day of the 3 month voyage remaining. The site was much bigger than I expected because for some reason I assumed it would only be a lookout overlooking the area where the boat had sunk. Whilst this was one of the routes there were another two including one to see the ‘Razorback’ formation which due to its unique shape was particularly spectacular. We ended up spending a lot of time at the site as we also walked to Thunder Cave and Mutton Bird Island though didn’t see the Rufus Bristlebird which apparently nests there.

We did also walk to the head near where the boat had sunk but even this exceeded my expectations. The small bay with dominant cliffs either side was breathtaking especially as the waves were particularly aggressive. Hearing the waves whilst reading the display boards made me think just how horrifying it would have been for those on board as they must have known they had little hope of survival. As it was two survived both in equally miraculous circumstances though despite press opinions of the day no romance occurred between the two.

Our next lookout after a brief lunch stop at Port Campbell was London Bridge. This had been particularly memorable during my previous visit due to the story associated with its partial collapse in 1990. Whilst it had got warmer and it didn’t feel particularly windy the sea still looked very rough. London Bridge, now an arch was taking a real battering and it looked like a crack was forming which one day will result in it being a stack like the Apostles. Dad and Jenny still hasn’t been fortunate enough to see a sea eagle though as we were leaving we saw a Peregrine Falcon flying overhead.

Initially we had driven past ‘The Arch’ without stopping and whilst we knew what it would be I was still intrigued to see it so we decided to drive back to it. Whilst like London Bridge it was an arch (as we’d expected) the view was arguably more spectacular because it was possible to get a different perspective of the formation.

After leaving the arch we drove the short distance to the interestingly named ‘The Grotto’. I really had no idea what to expect though thought perhaps it would be a type of cave. It wasn’t, it was a sinkhole. The lookout had a path leading down to its base which allowed us to get closer than we had to the other formations and meant it was easier to appreciate the forces of nature.

The drive to the Bay of Martyrs (previously Massacre Bay) just outside Peterborough wasn’t much further along the coast. We tried to do a walk to learn about the local aboriginal community but it wasn’t well directed and we ended up at one of the look outs we’d decided to miss. I was surprised that there wasn’t any signage at the carpark about how the Bay got its name and whilst I accept it is a sensitive subject I don’t feel the event should be ignored in a perceived attempt to re-write history. The walk and lookouts provided a lovely view towards the ‘Bay of Islands’ though again we didn’t see any of the Rufus Bristle Birds that live in the area.

We had now visited most of the formations along the stretch of coast and each had been stunning in their own right. After leaving the Bay of Martyrs we continued along the coast towards Port Fairy before turning off for the Tower Hill State Game Reserve. It was after 17.00 when we arrived and we hoped that the wildlife would start to make itself more obvious to us. My last visit had been a lunch stop and whilst I’d had time to climb to the top of the steep lookout I was looking forward to exploring the area in more detail.

The area was formed by a volcano more than 25,000 years ago and was declared a National Park in 1961 and since this date native wildlife has returned to the area. We had already seen an emu in the picnic area by the time we started doing a walk around the wetlands though it seemed quite overgrown with vegetation. Dad and I saw a Eastern Grey Kangaroo which unfortunately hopped away before I could get a picture or before Jenny had caught us up. A while later we heard rustling in the overgrown reeds and all of a sudden an Emu came out though it quickly headed back in for cover.

Carrying on across the boardwalk we saw a swamp wallaby amongst the reeds that didn’t seem to be mind us being nearby and was more than happy to have its photograph taken. We returned back to the start and commenced our final walk which was appropriately called “Journey to the last Volcano” as it would take us to the craters ridge. We saw a bird dive down to the path not to far from us and when it flew back up it appeared to have a snake hanging from its beak which it took to a tree.

During the walk I heard some rustling and to my surprise and excitement saw an Echidna rummaging around in the undergrowth. Unlike some animals its reaction wasn’t to run away but to stay still and to look like a ball though eventually it brought its nose back out. I had hoped I’d see one again as I hadn’t really appreciated how significant they were when I’d seen one on the way to Melbourne from Tasmania back in early December. The Echidna is unique like the Platypus as both are the only mammals that are egg laying. As we continued to the car I saw a mother and baby koala in the tree which was nice because whilst I’ve been lucky to see a lot of koalas this was the first baby I’d seen.

We arrived in Port Fairy and arrived at the YHA which is apparently the oldest hostel in Australia and located in a building dating back to 1844. My dorm was quite small and not really suitable for 4 people but I’m complaining as it was very nice to spend a night there and the lady at reception was particularly helpful and friendly. Despite having an early night (it was before 21.30) both people in my room were already in bed as were those in the room next door by the time I went up after dinner. Due to the design of the corridor the hall light would have lit up both rooms so I had to use my torch. Luckily I had already packed my bag with everything I needed for the following day so kept any disturbance to a minimum.

Hallelujah: Sydney Finale

Thursday 6th March
I arrived back in Sydney after an absence of nearly 2 months and contacted Maze Backpackers as they offered a free shuttle service. Luckily I was already in the correct terminal and near the correct luggage carrousel and was told it would be half an hour. I wanted to be at the Rocks by 6pm however I still felt I had time and it seemed silly to pay for the train if I could travel for free.

The check in took ages as the girl on the desk was having issues and punching away at different keys before asking for help. When I’d booked it, I had been slightly paranoid there would be an issue but luckily what ever problem existed was resolved and I made my way through the Maze hostel. It was literally a maze. It looked small from the outside, but inside it was huge with different coloured zones on each floor with a range of corridors heading off in all directions. Luckily my room was easy to find so I dumped my bag and headed to the bus stop.

In hindsight I could have probably walked quicker than the bus took though eventually it got to the stage where I knew my only hope was that the bus made up some time. Thankfully it did and I arrived outside Cadmans Cottage at 18.00. Before I had left I had posted a message telling people my plans for the night and to invite them along though this was more in hope than expectation as I knew it was a Thursday evening and very short notice. I was pleasantly surprised when Gaby from my trip across the Nullabor had said she’d meet me and she was already there when I arrived.

I had wanted to do a tour of ‘The Rocks’ and I had the same guide that had led mum and I during the 3 hour city tour a couple of months before so I knew what to expect in terms of his delivery. Whilst Gaby and I weren’t sure whether some of the stories were more myth than fact the stories about the areas early, modern and more recent history were still interesting.

We left Cadmans Cottage and passed a statue of Governor William Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) who was only in charge for a short time as he suffered a mutiny by the army. He must have had a way with people! We then walked up a steep street which was once notorious for being an open gutter meaning ‘The Rocks’ could apparently be smelt from the coast before they could be seen.

Next we saw a number of the old style houses before walking through the Observatory Hill and past two of the pubs claiming to be the oldest in Australia (on different technicalities). We also saw an area of ‘The Rocks’ that had been excavated and where evidence suggested George Cribb had produced illegal alcohol something which police had suspected at the time but never proved. We also learnt that many of the residents have tied ribbons to their doors in a symbolic statement of solidarity as the government wants to move them out so they can sell the land to developers.

I had been told to visit the Australian (Heritage) Hotel more for the novelty value than any other reason because they made pizza toppings with various Australian ‘Bush Foods’. In the end I ordered half a “Coat of arms” Emu and Kangaroo) and half a “Crocodile”. I admit it sounds a weird combination but apparently according to the waitress it’s what every tourist orders.

There were lots of different craft beers on offer and as I couldn’t make a decision I just opted for the beer of the month. We also decided to get a dessert and whilst there were only two options I was torn because the choices were Pavlova or Chocolate Brownie. As I was having an Australia themed night I went for the former however I am aware New Zealand claims they created it and Australia ‘stole it’.

During the tour we were told there were 3 pubs claiming to be the oldest and ‘Hero of Waterloo’ had an interior most likely to reflect how it would have appeared in the 1800s so we opted for that one. It was nice to have shared the evening with someone as being alone wouldn’t have been so much fun and it was interesting to share experiences of the West Coast. Eventually we headed back to our hostels, stopping off in Circular Quay where I said a final goodbye to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. When I got in I was pleased that no one from my room was already asleep as I hadn’t had time to make my bed when I’d left and everyone being out allowed me some space to sort my bag.

Friday 7th March
I had planned to wake up quite early to visit the museums but I was feeling quite lethargic when I woke up and it was late morning by the time I actually left the hostel. I walked through Hyde Park and as I got to “The Domain” I got photographed by the Google Car. I wish I’d known it was there so I could have struck a pose. Instead when ever someone wants a street view of the Botanical Gardens they’ll get me head down lost in my mobile phone.

Eventually arrived at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. There was a tour of the 19th Century Australian collection at 14.00 so I decided I’d come back for that. Instead I therefore started the day at the Hyde Park Barracks where I was able to use my YHA card so entry was only $5. Entry included a free audio self guide around the museum which would hold my attention for longer but still allow me to explore at my own pace. I’d been advised it would take between one and two hours so I wouldn’t need to rush to still be back in time for the art gallery tour.

I was glad that I was visiting the museum and art gallery towards the end of this trip because it held a lot more significance for me. The names of the early settlers were more familiar to me than they were 3 months ago, I remember when over 1 year ago I couldn’t even say Macquarie now I could probably sit a test on how he transformed Sydney. It was the same when I eventually went around the art gallery. I believe I was the only non Australian in the group but I was also the only person to have been to Lake St Clair In Tasmania, which in 1875 was the subject of the first painting by an Australian to be acquired. I knew who the Indigenous artist Albert Namatjira was and had been around the West McDonnell Ranges where he had painted.  It all meant more than just names on a display.

The Barracks were designed by an ex convict Francis Greenway on the instructions of Governor Macquarie who wanted Sydney to be a colony and more than just a penal settlement. The barracks were to house the ‘most useful’ convicts and they would eventually build the many other grand buildings such as the hospital that Macquarie envisaged to achieve his goal. The Barracks museum provided information on Sydney’s early convict history and are one of 11 sites across Australia that have been Heritage listed by UNESCO. It had some interesting displays, especially one on how old rat nests in between the floorboards have been the source of finding out about daily life within the building over the centuries.

I also liked the panorama of how Sydney appeared in 1822 as it was interesting to see how much the view had changed and which buildings had survived. I had assumed that there were immediate tensions between the Aboriginal population and the new settlers however this appeared to be misguided. Displays indicated how the new settlers went to Aboriginal sporting events and one observer of the day stated how popular they were amongst the new settlers. Sadly as the city expanded tensions escalated which ultimately resulted in numerous wars and the modern day issues the two totally different cultures appear to face in trying to co-exist. I have loved Australia and I truly hope a solution can one day be found that satisfies everyone.

I made my way back to the Art Museum where I joined the guided tour and it was interesting to see how the styles of Australian art changed throughout the decades. Perhaps the highlight for me was seeing one of the famous Ned Kelly paintings by Sidney Nolan. After the tour had ended I was going to have a look at some of the other displays on Aboriginal art work but despite really enjoying the day I was suffering from museum fatigue.

I made my way back through Hyde Park and thought I finally saw a Possum but it could quite easily have been a rat. There was a busker playing Hallelujah and despite having just told a charity seller / chugger I was in a rush I couldn’t help but listen and reflect on my time away. I returned back to the hostel where I quickly got changed before I left to meet up with Gaby at the Paddy Markets. As it was her last night in Australia Gaby was planning on having a Kangaroo kebab but I had to leave before she ordered it as I got a message from Jonathan telling me to meet him at his apartment near Bondi Junction.

I quickly said goodbye to Gaby and made my way to Bondi Junction and using the GPS on my mobile phone managed to find the address without any major issues. One of the few places that I wanted to visit was Watson’s Bay as I had heard that it gave good views of the city sky lime and Jonathan kindly agreed to drive me there as it was only slightly north of Bondi.

The view from Watsons Bay towards the city was very nice and we did a short walk around the cliffs and we saw the Hornby lighthouse and a number of derelict turrets from the second world war. Whilst initially there were ominous looking clouds and there had been a few drops of rain luckily any sudden downpours held off as I didn’t have a coat and had dressed for a night out rather than a walk. As we made our return to ‘The Gap’ the sunset was beginning and this made the cities skyline look particularly impressive though it wasn’t possible to see the Harbour Bridge or the Opera House as I had expected.

We arrived back at the car and returned to Bondi where we went for a few drinks at a German bar called Bavarian Bier Cafe. Jonathan’s housemate from Liverpool joined us and we all ended up all ordering the same burger and the same beers though this at least made us popular with the waitress as it was easy to remember. It was a good evening that lasted longer than I expected and it was great to meet up again as it had been about 3 years since we last saw each other when we went to Budapest with the ‘Berko Boys’.

Saturday 8th March
I spent the morning and early afternoon relaxing because I knew that it was likely to be a late night as that evening I was going to be seeing Bruno Mars in concert with Victoria. When we got the tickets back on 26th May last year I only really recognised a few songs. I had however become much more accustomed to his music over the past few months as his tracks have been played regularly on the tour bus play lists.

It seemed the others in my hostel room also intended to spend the day not doing very much though they were there for the music festival which had prevented me booking accommodation at the YHA. We got in each others way a bit and it wasn’t really helped by the fact we had tried to be quiet as the guy below me slept until 14.00 in the afternoon.

Eventually I left to meet Victoria at Epping so that I could collect my smaller backpack which contained the winter clothes I’d packed for Russia. When I did the Transmongolian before arriving in Australia it had sounded a great idea however now I faced the issue of trying to find space for a scarf, gloves and hat in an already bulging bag. It had all fitted in when I’d left and technically I’m now carrying less weight.

After dropping off my bag at the hostel we made our way to the Sydney Entertainment Centre where the concert was taking place. I had hoped, somewhat naively, that I had assumed I would be able sell my spare ticket for the gig I couldn’t make to a tout but unlike in the UK they didn’t appear to be out in force. We made our way through to the arena where we decided to stand quite near the front though this meant we had a side view.

The arena wasn’t that full before Miguel started but quickly filled up though I have to admit I don’t think I had heard anything by him before or if I had I didn’t recognise it. He tried to warm the audience up for the main act and at least tried to interact with us compared to some backing bands that just play their set list without uttering a word to the audience. During the interval I was going to get some popcorn and a beer though I feared it would be like UK prices so decided not to though Victoria had got a Champagne and popcorn which was surprisingly reasonable.

We made our way back inside and decided to stand in the middle looking head on towards the stage which had been changed to look a bit like a jungle. Bruno Mars started predictably with “Moonshine” as it was the Moonshine Tour. Like Jack Johnson he made the crowd sitting down stand up so they could dance though it wasn’t really until “Marry You” That the crowd around us became a bit more active. Bruno Mars put on a really good show and I was glad that he played the older songs I recognised. Victoria and I have been to a lot of events and it seemed a fitting way to say farewell until next time.

We were going to stay to see if we could get an autograph but in the end we left with the main crowd and tried to quickly get back to the station as Victoria had to catch a train home. We said our goodbyes not entirely sure when we’d next see each other but knowing the other was only a whatsapp message away and headed in our opposite directions.

London’s Calling: Barossa Valley

Tuesday 4th March
I arrived back in Adelaide and because both my ruck sacks had a combined weight of less than 7kgs I didn’t have to wait for my baggage to arrive. It was only just 10.00am and I knew it wouldn’t be possible to check in to the hostel so instead headed for the city centre so I could finally replace my lost toiletries.

I was planning on spending the afternoon with Kirsten and after a number of text messages we finally agreed to meet in Glenelg at 13.00. After finishing at the stores I made my way to the hostel where they confirmed it wasn’t possible to take my bags to the room. Thankfully however I did have access to the showers and was I was able to leave my bags in the secure storage area. I then made my way by the ‘famous’ Glenelg tram to the pier where Kirsten was waiting.

Whilst this was my third visit to Glenelg I’d never eaten there but luckily we almost immediately stumbled upon a restaurant offering wood fired pizzas. We ordered quickly and also got a cider each before just chatting about what had been going on back in London and with me over here.

I thought it might have been weird meeting up in the southern hemisphere but really it just felt like we were enjoying a day in London on a hot day. A very very hot day. It especially felt like we were back home when Kirsten decided to go in to some shops. Somehow despite not needing anything it was only me that brought something in each, though this did include a packet of crocodile jerky. 3 years ago I brought a variety pack of Australian ‘Bush Tucker’ Jerky which included crocodile only to lose it at Heathrow. As a result I’d never actually got to try it.

Kirsten was staying with a friend who kindly invited me to join them both that evening in the ‘Garden of Unearthly Delights’ at the fringe and also to join them on a trip to the Barossa Valley the following day. I hadn’t got anything arranged for either so gladly accepted and made my way back to the hostel to get ready for the evening.

I thought there might have been a chance of a quick power nap but those hopes were dashed when just after I’d sorted everything out I got a message from Kirsten saying they’d be 20 minutes. I left the hostel and as I was crossing the main road saw Finja who was on her way to get the coach to Melbourne. We quickly exchanged hellos before carrying on in opposite directions.

I met Kirsten and her friend Jucinda at the Garden of Unearthly Delights. For those that have been to Winter Wonderland in London, this was a summer version. It was a big site, with various rides and different festival foods and all the trees had been decorated with lots of lights. We met up with Jicindas friends (one was celebrating their birthday) and everyone but me got some food as I was still full from the pizza. After that we got some poffertjes And I did get some of these as I hadn’t heard of them before but they looked like pancakes.

It was only on my way home I got a message from my mum saying it was pancake day. It obviously isn’t a big event in Australia but at least I’d had my fix with the poffertjes.

Wednesday 5th January
I was worried that I was going to be late getting to the place I’d agreed to meet Kirsten and Jucinda so left early to allow plenty of time. As it was the route was simple and there was a petrol station on the crossroads I’d been told to wait out. Feeling slightly tired I wondered in to the store to see if they had any deals and opting for an iced coffee waited. The others arrived on time and once the tank had been filled up we were on our way.

It was sunny as we left Adelaide however as we left the city heading towards Mount Lofty the sky seemed to turn to grey and it looked cold outside. After a bit of confusion on the Sat Navs part which led us to the to somewhere fancy advertising wedding receptions we finally arrived at the lookout and visitor centre. Unfortunately there was no view due to the low cloud, though their was the occasional shape of a buildings somewhere amongst the mist. We went inside to get a drink and I noticed that the cloud and miss was starting to disappear. By the time we returned outside the view was as we had expected and hoped for.

We got back in the car and drove past the place the sat nav had tried to take us to. We could now see the building and the view it offered and it did look quite grand, but I’d certainly feel sorry for anyone that had their reception in the mist. We drove through the Adelaide Hills and arrived in an old German settlement called Hahndorf. This was founded in 1839 by Lutheran migrants and the architecture certainly it certainly had that German rural feel about it.

The first place we visited was Utter delights cheese shop? Where we tried a number of free samples including one which was imported from Netherlands. Next we made our way to a chocolate shop where I saw they sold sherbet fountains. These were different from the ones in the UK as they had a spoon and no liquorish however I couldn’t resist the urge to get one. Finally we made our way to our first cellar for wine tasting, Rockbare? cellar door. We started with a Chardonnay Pinot Noir Sparkling Fizz which was very nice before working our way down the list.

After leaving Hahndorf we drove to ‘Birds in Hand’ for some cellar door samples before we left the Adelaide Hills and entered the Barossa Valley where the most famous producer of wine is Jacob’s Creek. We weren’t initially going to stop at the Visitor Centre but Jucinda kindly squeezed it in. There is a new style that is shortly going to be released in the UK called “Twin Pickings, Pinot Gris” and there is a chance that single handedly I will make it worth their while to export. Kirsten and I however decided to buy a bottle of Gramps Botrytis Semillon though the St Hugo’s Grenache Shiraz Mataro was also nice.

After we left Rockford’s of the Barossa where we had yet more samples it was just after lunch so we got a pie at the Apex bakery before heading for Maggie Beers farm. Maggie Beer is a famous ??. We had various free samples of chutney, olives and chocolates before sitting outside and enjoying some items that we had brought watching some turtles in the lake.

By now i was feeling very merry but we still had time to stop off at two more wineries. The first ‘Seppeltsfield’ where I liked the Eden Valley Late Harvest Semillon Riesling and the second was ‘Artisans of the Barossa’. On our way back we stopped off at Menglers Lookout and i was able to reflect on what had been thoroughly enjoyable day. I really did feel I’d drank and eaten my way around the valley and when I got back to the hostel I was ready for bed.

Thursday 6th March
I hadn’t sorted my bag the night before so I had to do that before checking out. It never ceases to amaze me how each time it comes to leaving the hostel the bag becomes more of a struggle to pack even though it is now quite a bit lighter than it was when I began. I had taken a rather laid back approach, also sorting some Internet chores however eventually I was ready to leave.

As I was leaving one of the guys that had still been sleeping asked what the time was. I said 9.55am. He couldn’t have been out of bed any quicker as he was meant to check out at 10.00am like me. I made my way to the bus station and arriving at the airport wished Adelaide a temporary goodbye. I’d be back in 2 weeks but the next stop was Sydney where I would finally be able to catch up with Jonathan and attend the long awaited Bruno Mars concert with Victoria.

Deadly Animals (Come to Australia): Shark Diving

Sunday 2nd March
Somewhat naively I assumed as Port Lincoln had almost been the South Australia state capital there would be a bus or shuttle to the airport. When the one stewardess asked if we needed a taxi I wasn’t sure but I assumed at least one other person would be going to the town centre. As I was walking out of Port Lincoln airport I saw a taxi driver holding up a YHA sign and he said I could share the cost with the person who had booked it. Luckily Holly agreed to this as the airport was even further away than I expected but soon we arrived.

It took a while to check in because the lady at the desk was almost to helpful even taking people on a tour of the building. Once check in was complete I decided to see if there was more to Port Lincoln than I’d seen on my first visit. My first stop was to a local museum to learn about the local industry and whilst I was glad to support a local organisation as soon as I walked in I regretted my decision as it appeared very ‘specialist’.

I was the only visitor and I was personally led to one of the separate buildings and as I walked around the attendant sat down. This was one of the most arkward moments on this trip. I didn’t want to appear rude but at the same time I had absolutely no interest in reading about or looking at a display on different types of spanners and bolts. It was like being in a giant ‘Man Drawer’ which had ended up taking over a small wharehouse. I wondered what the attendant was thinking about the situation as he can’t have found it interesting watching me pretending to look interested.

I left that section within probably 5 minutes before looking at the other displays which were marginally more interesting because there were colour photos. I left the museum and headed to the Pier Hotel to get some food as they offered a food/drink deal for those at the YHA. Service was incredibly slow and I’d heard a joke that the more remote you get, the slower the pace of life also gets. I guess this makes sense as it is probably often to hot to rush about.

After dinner I returned to the hostel and chatted to my room mate from France who should have done the cage dive but had overslept and missed the pickup. Luckily he had been able to book at no extra cost for another day though it meant returning to Port Lincoln. Once i had sorted everything for the following day I went to the lounge where I just relaxed though because people were already watching Dodgeball there wasn’t any conversation.

Monday 3rd March
My room mate had gone to all the necessary precautions to ensure he didn’t oversleep again and although I had set my alarm for 10 minutes later there was no danger of me doing the same or getting the extra sleep. It took a while for my brain and eyes to function, but I remembered the key items (camera, wallet, sun cream, hat, swimmers/towel) and made my way outside. There were two different companies which none of us had realised and although the taxis were reserved for certain companies it seemed people were just getting on anything and the drivers were only counting people not names. I was one of the few on the correct bus, and luckily for those that weren’t we all ended up at the jetty anyway.

I got chatting to 2 lads from Scotland and one from the Netherlands in the queue and as the only free table available when we boarded was at the far end we took it. This however did meant that the crossing was slightly rougher despite us being constantly told that conditions were particularly calm. I wasn’t taking any risk about motion sickness so whilst I’d never taken them before I took two sea sickness prevention pills which had cost $2 each (one the night before, one after waking up).

After the initial excitement had worn off, and the reality that we’d be on the boat for 3 hours sunk in I started watching a video on Great White Sharks. Unfortunately this had no sound and as I felt tired I closed my eyes and slept. The others must have soon followed as I realised when I woke up. I’m not sure how long I slept for, even if it it was a proper sleep but either way I felt more awake when I went on the deck to take in the views of the disappearing coast.

Those that have followed this blog from the beginning will know prior to 2014 I hadn’t had the best of luck on my dolphin cruises or attempts at sighting them from the cliffs. Imagine my surprise then as I stood on the lower deck talking to two guys from Adelaide about the Ashes a dolphin came right out of the water alongside me. I didn’t have my camera and so I just appreciated what I was seeing until as we were travelling quite a bit faster we left them behind.

Whilst I’d had advice that if there are a lot of sharks it is more exciting to be in a later group on quiet days my gut told me there is a risk the later groups would be standing around on deck for a long time with no guarantee they’d have a closer sighting than the early groups. I knew I’d be satisfied seeing any type of Great White Shark activity so I was more than happy when I found out I was in the first group. We passed a colony of New Zealand fur seals (a popular meal for sharks) and arrived at our anchorage off North Neptune Island. Then the cage was prepared and the captain gave us some safety information. There was a lot to take in and it was all slightly overwhelming but I felt the key message was don’t stick your arms out of the cage.

The captain and one of the younger looking lads started throwing ropes with meat out in front of the cage. I was halfway hearing Holly tell me about her night at the hostel when suddenly it was announced that they had a bite, my adrenaline levels shot up as my group made our way towards the cage. I was last in so I had plenty of time to watch the entry procedure, 2 steps down, a quick photo, grab the mouthpiece/regulator, splash it in the water, then purge it before putting it in the mouth.

The shark had disappeared when we got down in to the cage which was probably lucky for me because the first thing I did was swallow a load of salt water as I didn’t have my lips properly around the mouthpiece. I didn’t let this setback affect my confidence but I was grateful to have some time to get used to my surroundings without a shark potentially smashing the cage. It was a very strange sensation to only breath through the mouth, and every time I looked down to my feet as I was under the non solid section of the cage pressure built up in my ears. It is difficult to get across just how much of a blur and how uncomfortable the first 15 minutes were but I was determined to stay under. I “ate a teaspoon of cement and hardened up” as I knew it wouldn’t last and once I was back on deck I’d quickly forget how much I hated the initial feeling.

I’d noticed the cage had started to rock violently and smashed against the boat. Initially even though i couldn’t see it, I genuinely thought that a shark was either behind or under us. I didn’t feel scared. By this point I’d got used to the breathing and I had been able to take in my underwater surroundings. Gradually I realised it was a false hope that the shark was already near. The shaking of the cage was just the choppy waters, the noise I could hear was the captain banging the sides to attract a shark and the only view was of the large lumps of beat that had been thrown over board. There were also a large number of fish though these seemed more interested in the propeller.

6 of us had entered the cage and there was no guide but we tried to communicate using hand signals and shrugs of shoulders. Eventually after about 45 minutes the general situation became to much and one of the lads left. This created a mass exodus which left 3 of us including me. left. When we filled out our forms I got the impression most of the group were qualified divers but out of the 3 left 2 of us had no real experience of scuba diving (I had a 10 minute failed attempt 3 years ago). I knew something would come along in the end, it was just a case of watching and waiting. We all experienced the same conditions and whilst I know only to well I am not physically as strong as some guys I more than make up for it with my mental strength.

Speaking to them a couple had admitted they were impatient and I think they believed they could leave the cage and get back in if shark reappeared. Of course it didn’t work like that. Back in the cage I continued staring out ahead as moving to much was causing icy cold water to seep down a slight tear in the diving suit and I think I’d started to day dream. Mark suddenly shook me from my thoughts when he jabbed me in the side and pointed over to the right side of the cage.

I always thought I’d be scared when I saw my first glimpse of a Great White Shark. Perhaps that’s because I always thought it would suddenly appear all teeth showing right in front of me rather than it being pointed out to me as it majestically swam past. It didn’t seem to be in an aggressive mood but then crocodiles also look uninterested when they are calculating the situation. The shark was clearly doing the same because it seemed to be circling an area on the right side of the cage and when it appeared the second time we tried to follow its path but lost it even though visibility was good. That was a slightly errie feeling because the same happened in Jaws when it suddenly attacked and as I’d been watching it so intently I couldn’t work out how it had vanished. At over 4m it wasn’t exactly a small fish.

All of a sudden there was a huge hissing sound and a load of bubbles. This is it, now it’s about to attack us and I braced myself but nothing happened. The problem seemed to be with the pipes providing oxygen to us which is quite a large problem to have but so far as I could tell I was still breathing though I think inside I was freaking out a bit because and this might sound silly, how would I have known I wasn’t actually breathing anything in until it was to late to leave the cage. One guy did leave and as he didn’t return I gestured to Mark I’d go up “Do we have to come out I asked?”…the response I got was classic, small town Aussie. “Can you still breathe?”…”ummm yes”…”well get back down and look for the shark”. So that’s what I did, and boy was I glad I did.

This time Mark was looking the wrong way when I grabbed his arm. It all happened within 6 or 7 seconds but the shark had suddenly appeared and was heading straight towards us, slightly on the right as its mouth slowly opened. All of a sudden it rose up and aggressively grabbed a piece of meat before disappearing in the bubbles that had been generated by the splashing. The top of the cage was clunked two times, now it was time to get out and for another group to take over. There were at that point 4 or 5 of us in the cage and I’d tried to alert those on the left side and assumed we had all witnessed what had happened. Sadly two people had missed it and hadn’t been in the cage for the other viewings.

I think we had all expected more but compared to those guys I considered myself very lucky. At that stage of the day it was more frustration for them than worry because we all thought that more sharks would appear and we’d get another chance. In fact we almost considered ourselves unlucky for having to wait so long before we saw anything. This view was partly reinforced when the same shark returned quite quickly as we stood on deck getting out of our wetsuits. It was quite  crowded but I still saw the shark go along the front of the cage and then thrash at the meat. As a result group two were only under for a maximum of 15 minutes as the captain had a policy to ensure people stayed down until they lost patience or until they saw a good piece of shark action.

In terms of what groups saw what I’m not sure but at some point the shark returned and again went for the meat on the right side. When I first saw the shark under water it looked light green, looking down on it in the water from the top deck I would have described it as light grey but when it came out of the water Its fins and upper body were almost black.

This was the last time we saw this shark and as another group entered the cage it vanished in to the distance had left one group had as long a wait as us until another shark came over. I was standing at the front and the captain indicated that the shark seemed nervous of the meat and rather than going for it just circled the boat a few times before heading off. It was very exciting each time it appeared but it didn’t attack the meat so we didn’t see it come out of the water.

Over the course of the day we were given free breakfast, lunch, snacks and soft drinks. As the sunset, I guess I felt philosophical about my experience. More than 10 years before, when walking along the coast of Hartenbos in South Africa my dad and I had spotted through a pair of binoculars a fin circling a bird (I think a cormarent). We watched it for a while when the fin (belonging to a shark) had suddenly come jumping out of the water and grabbed the startled bird before both disappeared under the water. The cage dive hadn’t been the adrenaline activity I’d expected and instead it had felt more like a nature watching activity requiring lots of patience however for me it was still enjoyable and an unforgettable experience.

I sat on deck with Holly and a few of the others with a beer whilst we chatted about travel and our lives back home. Then as we started to near Port Lincoln, an elderly man who I wasn’t was a friend of the crew or had actually participated in the cage dive approached me as I stared out at the islands. He gave me some information on ‘Cape Catastrophe’ and the islands around us. Each island was named by Matthew Flinders after 8 individual sailors all presumed drowned when the rowing boat they were on to find a source of fresh water had suddenly disappeared.

We returned back to the hostel by taxi and saw people who had cage dived with the other company and unfortunately it sounded like they’d had a day even less successful than us. A few of us were going to go out to get some food but it was already quite late and In the end I decided I’d save my money for another day. This decision was partly made because for the second time on this trip I’d left my shower gel and shampoo at the hostel and I knew replacements would cost the price of a meal!

From this point on my evening got progressively worse. Victoria had asked me to send details of my Sydney accommodation and when I logged on to my YHA I realised that my YHA accommodation in Sydney hadn’t been confirmed. I couldn’t remember which I had tried so I phoned both but neither had any record and all were sold out on the Saturday for a music festival I wasn’t even going to. Out of all the days that was the one day I couldn’t afford to be homeless because it is the date of the long awaited Bruno Mars gig with Victoria. Luckily I finally found some where called the Maze which at least is near the station.

Next I realised to my horror that hotmail/outlook had decided to suspend my account because they wanted a validation code and would only send it to an email address that they had closed due to inactivity. During the next 30 days please use my Gmail account which will probably become my main email address anyway. Still I was a bit frustrated and sent an email to the Outlook Support Team from my other outlook account thanking them for encouraging me to use their competitor and to ditch an account I only clung to because I’d had it so long. Unsurprisingly, despite having confirmation of receipt and being promised an answer in 24 hours as at the time of writing I have heard nothing.

Tuesday 4th March
I had arranged to leave the hostel slightly earlier to share the costs of the taxi with a guy called Ben who had travelled with the other company and had been unlucky because he’d not seen any sharks when in the cage. I felt almost guilty I’d seen one, especially as it was something I’d finally decided to do more as an afterthought. Their captain had however agreed to the half price return offer and he intended to take the offer up later in the year.

Whilst I had an extra hour at the airport I didn’t mind because I’m used to earlier starts and It gave me a bit of time to catch up with this blog. I’m fairly used to the overly relaxed style at small airports, but Port Lincoln took it to a new level when I realised we didn’t have to put our cabin luggage through a security check.

Take Me Home, Country Roads: Alice Springs to Adelaide

Thursday 27th February
I had one free day in Alice Springs and hadn’t really thought to much in advance how best to spend it. Plans to visit the museums had become a less favourable idea after I’d seen the town and realised it was more spread out than I expected. I had been told that the West McDonnell Ranges were a bit of a secret gem that most backpackers missed and as it got me out of the town that seemed the best way to spend the day. Erec had been stuck at the hostel for 3 days so decided to join me.

We left at 7.30am and our first stop was to the spot where John Flynn’s ashes were scattered. John Flynn was a missionary who was founder of the Flying Doctor Service and devoted his life to helping those in Central Australia. The stone marking the site was originally taken from Devils Marbles however over the years the local tribe had pressed for its return as it was from a sacred site. Eventually a compromise was reached, the original was returned and a replacement stone was found by the Aboriginal community as they acknowledged he had done a lot to help them.

Our guide explained that John Stuart was the first European to travel from Adelaide to Darwin and it was he who named the mountain range the McDonnell Ranges. The West McDonnell Ranges formed over 300 million years ago and they were originally taller but they have been exposed to erosion which has formed current shape. The Aboriginals believe the range is the remains of a caterpillar and this is what they refer to in their dreamtime creation stories.

As we made our way in to the ranges we came to Simpson’s Gap and as it was still fairly early in the day this was the location that would give us the best opportunity to see the Black Footed Rock Wallabies. We made our way to the gap which was nice enough when on the way back we saw some movement towards the top of the rocks. The wallabies looked small compared to the boulders but we were lucky enough to see a total of three, including two that were sitting on a rock before they decided to hide under a small gap.

We then made our way to Standley Chasm where we did a short walk which forms part of the 230kmn Larpinta Trail. On our way in to the gorge we walked along a creek bed which was quite rocky and our guide pointed out ghost gums and cycads to us. Cycads are particularly interesting because fossil records indicate the species of plant has been around since the time of the dinosaurs.

After the walk we had morning tea which included some lamingtons before embarking on the long Namatjira Drive to Glen Helen Gorge. Just outside we stopped at a lookout over the Finke River looking towards Mount Sonder. The view was much greener than I expected and I mentioned this to the guide who said it was a common misconception that the area was bleak.

We drove back to Glen Helen Gorge where we had a nice salad lunch which included a complimentary beer. After lunch Erec and I walked down the path towards the gorge. The water didn’t look very nice and whilst we had a chance to swim at the next stop the brown colour had put us of. On our way back to the bus I saw an old building in need of restoration which used to be a meat house.

On our way back to Alice Springs we stopped Ormiston Gorge which those from the centre consider to be the closest thing they have to a beach and sea. The gorge was named by Ernest Giles in 1872 and was a popular place with the Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira. Some of the group went for a proper swim and whilst the water looked nicer than I expected I’d left my swimmers on the bus so just went for a paddle. On our way back to the bus where we saw a small yellow, black and red lizard which our guide had forgotten the name of so somewhat jokingly called it a tartar lizard. Personally I reckon it was a Watford fan.

When I was at the Kings Canyon I saw a small ochre mine however the colours at the Ochre Pit in a dry creek we visited next were even more vivid. There were a number of different colours within the limestone ranging from yellow to a browny-red colour and the colour depended on the amount of time it had been exposed to iron-oxide. The Aboriginals mixed the ochre with animal fat to create the pigment and as some areas like Ularu did not have any ochre it became a product to be traded.

Our final stop of the day was to Ellery Creek Big Hole which is the biggest permanent water hole in West McDonnell Ranges. It was another very scenic gorge and it seemed popular with swimmers as there were already a small group there however none of our group went in. Instead we returned back to the bus where we had an afternoon snack.

Throughout the day we had been pestered by flies and quite a few had joined us on the bus for the ride back to Alice Springs. As we got to 100km an hour we opened as many windows as possible to suck them out. It may not have worked but was funny. Apparently for every person in Australia there are 250,000 flies. I’m not sure how reliable that is but I seem incredibly popular with them where ever I go.

During the journey back we were told W.W Mills was finding the route for the telegraph system when during his journey he found a waterhole near what is now the old telegraph station. He thought the waterhole was permanent so he named it Alice Springs after the wife of the former Postmaster General of South Australia, Sir Charles Todd. The water hole wasn’t permanent however as a settlement subsequently built up the name Alice Springs was still favoured over Stuart Town. It had been a very nice day out and it seems a shame that so few people visit the ranges despite their close proximity to Alice Springs.

That night we met up with Finja and whilst we were going to have the barbeque it seemed to be taking to long so we ended up going to subway. We then spent a couple of hours chatting and getting to know each other better beyond the standard backpacker questions. Eventually we returned to the room as all of us had to pack as we were all leaving the next morning.

Friday 28th February
Although I’d set my alarm for 6.45am I woke up slightly earlier as I had heard Erec getting ready to leave. Marianne, Finja and I got up shortly afterwards. Whilst I was checking out of the hostel I saw Ray (my guide in Kakadu and Litchfield) and he said he wanted to try and leave early so I quickly went back up to tell the others, to grab some toast and to collect my backpack.

Ray had told me to sit up the front so I did and we started the long journey to Coober Pedy. The first part of the drive was over 2 hours and we just chatted about travel experiences and how its easy to become detached from the outside world. Our first toilet/food break was the roadhouse at Erldunda which according to Ray I’d been to two times before (on the way to/from Kings Canyon/Ularu). I recognised it when we arrived due to the Emu enclosure but the name had meant nothing to me and it could have been any roadhouse in the middle of nowhere.

The only ‘highlight’ between Alice Springs and Coober Pedy was the sign welcoming us to South Australia which did look slightly more grand than some boarder signs. We were quite a small group so it was easy to get everyone together for a couple of group pictures. The crossing also meant the clocks went forward an hour which meant lunchtime was nearer than I had expected. When we did eventually stop off at Marla a couple of hours later I was hungry and had to settle for a pie as the roadhouse had even less choice of food than Erldunda.

There weren’t any other features or highlights during the drive to Coober Pedy. I kept expecting or rather hoping to see a kangaroo hoping along the side of the road but there weren’t any and as there was still more vegetation than I’d expected it is likely they were seeking shade somewhere. It was over 30 degrees so if I was a ‘Roo I’d have been anywhere but the side of the road as well. The only living wildlife I recall seeing was cattle. We did however see a lot of roadkill. At some point I also saw a dust devil but mainly during the drive I tried to keep myself amused by putting together a 70+ song playlist which still wasn’t long.

Ray explained Coober Pedy is the Opal Capital of the world and the name is an aboriginal word meaning ‘white man’s hole’ (due to people living under ground) People live under ground, or rather in houses dug in to the hills, because regardless of the temperature outside the heat inside will be fairly stable around the mid 20s. On our approach to the town we started seeing mullucks (mounds of dirt and rock) which are caused by a blower (big vacuum machine) sucking dirt from the Opal Pitts and dumping the contents on the ground. There were also cartoon signs warning us not to run or to walk backwards because there are a number of unmarked holes and shafts in the ground. We got a picture outside the ‘Coober Pedy Sign’ because it was slightly quirky as it had a blower on top. As we approached the town it looked an errie place and it’s no wonder it’s been used as a set for movies such as ‘Pitch Black’.

After seeing our accommodation which had been dug in to the hill we went for a tour around an underground mine museum. First we watched a video on the history of the area, how Opal is formed, and how it is refraction of light. The museum also included a display on how the early settlers lived compared to a more modern room. Due to the early settlers digging by hand the roof was lower than the more modern room which had benefited from machinery. The modern room looked very cosy, especially the bedroom and with the bare rock walls it really felt like living there you’d be at one with nature.

Finja, Marianne , 2 other girls and I then walked to a public area where we could noodle for Opals amongst the dirt and rock mounds. Unfortunately by the time we got there Marianne and I barely had any time so just got a couple of pictures of us pretending to have discovered our fortune. I looked at the map and it appeared there was a shortcut but it probably ended up taking even longer than the original route. It was quite frustrating because we were on a path parallel to the main street but on a much higher level and when we considered taking the steep path (shortcut) down a local told us not to. This meant we had walked pretty much all of the settlement by the time we finally reached John’s Pizza Place however luckily we arrived just as the pizza came out.

After dinner we went to Josephine’s Art Gallery which was also a Kangaroo Orphanage. This was a bonus and not something I had expected to do. We got to feed some of the Kangaroos that were being looked after by the centre and most of which had been rescued a few years before, for example from the pouch of a mother that had been killed in a car crash. The absolute highlight though was seeing a baby joey being bottle fed and watching it hop along the ground before it climbed in to its makeshift fabric pouch the owner was holding. It was utterly adorable but quite heart breaking to think of the reason it had arrived at the centre.

A few of us then headed to an underground bar which for Marianne, Finja and I meant our last night together. It had been a bit strange travelling with a constantly changing group of people but it was nice there had been some continuity and it was a bit sad that our journey together through the centre was nearly over.

As we had another 5.30 departure we left after a couple of drinks and headed back to the accommodation. There weren’t individual dorm rooms but instead a big bunkhouse which had net curtains to divide each section each of which contained 2 bunk beds. The room temperature was ok but it initially smelt a bit stale though I’d probably slept in worse hostels and feeling quite tired had no issues sleeping. During the previous few days Finja had tried to teach me various German phrases and after forgetting it on numerous occasions I was pleased when I finally got “Träum Schön” (Sweet Dreams) correct.

Saturday 1st March
As has been the case with all the very early starts it was still dark when I emerged, literally from a cave, to get some breakfast. We got in the bus and Ray said he’d turn the lights out so we could sleep until our next stop about 2 hours away. For some reason, despite the fact there was nothing to see, and even if there was it was to dark to see it anyway, I felt excited and wanted to stay awake.

The excitement lasted longer than it should have done as I didn’t see anything except a rabbit that ran out in front of us. I went to sleep and when I woke I could see the beginning of the sunset but by now I had little enthusiasm to stay awake so dozed off again. I don’t know how much time had passed Ray then woke us up and pulled over so we could get a picture of the final sunrise.

Now the sun was up, I felt guilty going back to sleep because as I was in the front seat I felt I had to stay awake to chat to the driver. Luckily I finally saw a kangaroo bouncing along the road, the exact scene I had imagined. That woke me up a bit and I got my camera out in case it happened again. Amazingly it did but the bright sun meant the camera wouldn’t focus and I missed it. I didn’t get a 3rd chance but it’s unlikely a picture out of the squashed fly stained window would have done the scene justice.

After Glendambo the scene had become even more desolate and unfortunately all we saw was roadkill (mostly  kangaroo’ s) providing food for birds and some looked particularly gruesome. There was nothing living and as the land was flat and dry with only a few small shrubs our view of what lay ahead undisturbed. Apparently there were some Emus on the drivers side but I somehow missed them, as I’d become hypnotised looking at the road ahead which glistened like water.

Eventually we reached Lake Hart, a salt lake and the main highlight of the day. As we were crossing under the railway a huge freight train approached which really showed how vast the landscape was. Due to the flat landscape we were able to get a number of funny false perspective pictures including one of me ‘holding’ Finja and Marianne.

We briefly stopped in Port Augusta for lunch and then Port Wakefield for a final toilet stop. At this stage I moved to the main section with the others and with a seat to myself stretched out and slept not waking up until we got to the outskirts of Adelaide. After more than a month I had finally completed my journey. I had finally seen the south coast, the west coast and the centre. Aside from the north coast which doesn’t have a highway I feel over the course of two visits here I can say I have now circumnavigated an entire continent/country.

Finja and I were at different hostels but they weren’t to far apart so we had made plans to meet up to get some food. Neither of us really knew the city so eventually we settled on Nandos before heading to ‘Gluttony’ in Rundle Park to check out the famous Adelaide Fringe Festival. We asked at the information desk and we were told that there was a free cabaret show starting in about 30 minutes. Whilst we waited we were given a flyer to another cabaret show involving puppets but as it was $20 we weren’t really tempted.

Instead it seemed they came to us as they provided a free preview to try and gain some audience members. It was quite clever as each puppet was operated by 3 people but I don’t think it would have been something I’d have wanted to pay money for. The guy we were there to watch only performed for 15 minutes but it was quite funny and certainly had us shocked at the end when he appeared to swallow a balloon. We knew he probably couldn’t have put it still looked good. The information desk had suggested we take the bus to another venue but we were both tired so decided headed back to our hostels.

Sunday 2nd March
I was due to leave Adelaide for Port Lincoln but first I had to do laundry and to pack another day bag in order to leave the bulk of my stuff at the hostel. This was because when I checked the terms and conditions I realised Rex Airline had quite a small luggage limit of only 15kg. I therefore had to wake up early which was quite annoying as it would have been nice to have had a lie in after a month of early starts. All the tasks done I made my way to the airport and boarded a plane even smaller than the one from Exmouth. I was about to cage dive to hopefully see some Great White Sharks…

Waltzing Matilda: Uluru and the Centre

Monday 24th February
It had been a particularly bad nights sleep because at some point someone had decided to turn off the air conditioning so even without a sheet and top it was far to hot and stuffy. I was already awake when my alarm went off so getting out of bed I tried not to wake anyone as I got ready. The task wasn’t made that easy because someone had opted to sleep on the floor. Eventually I was done and as I left Erec said goodbye before Katie and the others started calling out goodbye Little Koala.

I checked out and went to get the free breakfast before I realised I had no appetite at 5.45am. There was a mass crowd of backpackers waiting outside the hostel for their transport to the “Red Centre”. It was a bit shock for me to see so many people as I’d spent nearly a month in the places that are less visited. If this was the low season I can’t imagine how busy the high season must become.

We travelled about an hour before we came to our first toilet stop where we could also get breakfast. Whilst the activity didn’t necessarily appeal to me, this was one of the more interesting stops because it was a camel farm where there was an option to ride a camel. I remember hearing that Australia has the largest wild camel population in the world even though they are not indigenous to the country however I’m still yet to see one in the outback.

We continued for another hour to our final toilet stop before hitting the Lasseter Highway and travelling another 2-3 hours to Kings Canyon. The weather outside was cold and cloudy however the vents to my air conditioning were still open so it freezing. I have also had a saying on this ‘Walkabout’. “A wise man pees when he can, a fool pees when he has to”. Sadly on this occasion I was very much a fool and as every crucial minute ticked by and the road became bumpy I became increasingly desperate to get to the camp.

We finally arrived and as it appeared a storm was approaching and because we were the only tour, our guide had made a decision to upgrade us so we wouldn’t have to sleep in the Swags. Instead we were sleeping in ‘tents’ similar to those in Kakadu and Lichfield though slightly more basic. We prepared lunch just as it started to rain and I was glad I’d packed my poncho just in case.

Thankfully it had actually stopped raining when we reached the start of our 6km walk around the rim of Kings Canyon. It was still cloudy but there were a few patches of blue sky and we were probably lucky that the rain had cooled the temperature which had been estimated to reach 35 degrees Celsius.

We had been told the start of the walk was tough and that it would be easy after that and there is no exaggerating just how steep the walk up “Heart Attack Hill” was. I thought I’d finally got over feeling aches and pains from walking and whilst we had a few stops on the way up I was quite relieved when I was told we only had one short section to go.

Whilst it was still cloudy it didn’t detract from how spectacular the gorge looked. The walk around the rim was mostly flat and because we were going at a leisurely pace it was easy to appreciate the interesting rock formations including a series of Rock Domes. During the course of the walk we also saw one of the Aboriginal Ocre mines and could still make out some of the different colours that had been obtained from the rock. In fact it is likely the Ocre used in the paint at Uluru had came from Kings Canyon. We also visited The Garden of Eden where a small oasis was helping to populate a mini ecosystem separate from the other wise dray landscape.

Our guide Mark provided some interesting information about how the  canyon may have been formed and the difference between a gorge and a canyon. Kings Canyon has no exit so it is a canyon whilst technically the Grand Canyon is a gorge because a river flows through it. He explained to us how some of the rock formations were caused by erosion whilst how others were originally sand dunes that had become permanent because the spinefex root system had caused the sand to congeal hold.

We called in to the bar on our way to the campsite to get some takeaway alcohol if we wanted it. I’ve not drunk much on the trip because I’d rathger spend the money on an experience but it’s always nice to have a social drink. We all however decided to have 2 dry nights when I was quoted $32 for 6 pack, up to $100 for a crate and even $12 for one can of Bundaberg and coke

At the campsite we had dinner and I mostly chatted to Emilie and Cecile from Denmark and Amber from Halifax. The group contained 23 people so it was hard to remember every name however at least it meant there were different people to speak to. One of the things I have liked about some of the recent tours is the fact we’ve had to help to prepare food which I feel helps to to break the ice a bit and gets everyone working together. Mark explained we had to be up by 4.30am so we could get to Uluru early to complete a walk and because it had already been a long day we went to bed by 21.00.

As we were getting ready Mark and I heard some screaming coming from one of the rooms and on investigation discovered a few spiders, including what turned out was a Huntsman, had taken up residence. I was sharing with a guy from from South Korea and we undertook a thorough search of the cabin before going to sleep.

Tuesday 25th February
I woke up 4.30am and bleary eyed headed straight to breakfast before getting ready to leave. There was only one seat left when I got on the bus, right at the back next to Silva, and whilst it was lower than the other seats I was so tired I didn’t care. Mark kept the music off and turned the lights out and I think we all slept as we travelled across to Yulara, Ayres Rock Resort.

Mark explained Yulara was the 5 largest settlement in Northern Territory with a population of around 2000 people and that it is totally self sufficient as they even produce their own power and water. The town was built in 1983 in preparation for the 1985 handover of Uluru and Kata Tjuta back to the local Aboriginals. The handover also meant the two places are now referred to by their original titles and not the names Lasseter to them by English explorers. The area was heritage listed 1987 for its unique wildlife and landscape and then again in 1994 for its cultural significance when it was acknowledged the site had been continually occupied by local tribes for nearly 30,000 years.

The weather outside the bus was even worse than the day before at Kings Canyon and it looked very wet and cloudy. I had expected it to be dry and if anything for it to be to hot so this was not the weather I had prepared or indeed hoped for. I couldn’t believe we’d driven so far in 2 days and that we were still under cloud cover. I have to admit I slightly concerned that my first sighting of Uluru would be of the famous rock shrouded in mist but it wasn’t. Everyone has seen it and I knew what to expect having seen pictures of it on postcards, calendars and everything else for 3 months but seeing it for the first time still took my breath away. It was just so impressive how it seemed to grow so high from the otherwise flat ground.

We started off at the cultural centre and I tried to absorb as much as I could about the 3 main Aboriginal stories each of which provided a fasinating interpretation of the rocks different geographical features. There was also a very interesting video which included footage of the different dream time stories. And a reenactment of the first interaction between white explorers and local tribes.

Fortunately whilst it was still cloudy, it wasn’t raining when we undertook our 1km Mala walk to see some of the famous rock art and cave paintings. Some of the oldest and most sacred are now closed to visitors to protect them. This is because one of the most sacred cave paintings was vandalised whilst others were damaged in the early days of tourism when they were covered in water to make the patterns stand out for black and white cameras.

The ones we saw however were still very interesting and the patterns could clearly be made out. The symbols were more basic than I’d seen in Kakadu where some had been surprisingly detailed. Mark explained this was because food resource at Uluru was more scarce than at Kakadu so tribes would have less time to spend in the area before moving on. He showed us a number of the more common symbols used including Kangaroo footprints which represented Kangaroos and the symbol for a waterhole.

Whilst we were told about the rocks cultural significance we also learnt about some of the scientific reasons behind the interesting geographical features of the rock. During the walk we also saw a Bloodwood Tree which has many different uses in the Aboriginal society including bush medicine We didn’t however see any of the native wildlife such as the Marsupial Mole however as these are nocturnal this wasn’t really a surprise.

After finishing the walk we made a short drive to the lookout where many of the famous ‘postcard’ pictures are probably taken. Obviously Uluru has a number of different moods depending on the weather and for us it looked quite bold as it tried to provide some colour to an otherwise bleak looking horizon. There were patches of blue sky behind us as we took our pictured and as it still wasn’t lunch time I continued to cling to some hope we might still get to see some type of a sunset.

We headed back to the camp where I was put in charge of cooking the chicken burgers on the barbeque. I say cooking, they were actually pre-cooked so there was no danger of me killing the group but I took my responsibility very seriously as I tried to ensure each was golden and crispy. After lunch we headed back to the national park to do a 5km walk around the base.

The base of Uluru is approximately 10 km so we were doing about half however this was the section that allows tourists to get closest to the rock. The other half of the walk passed a number of sacred areas tourists are not allowed to enter including the smaller rock Taputji so the path has to divert away from the rock. The sky was starting to clear in one direction so I decided to walk maybe 1km towards Taputji Which allowed me to get a picture of the rock with a bit of blue sky behind.

I made my way to the start of the walk the others had already taken and because they were out of sight I had the path to myself. Whilst I was walking quite quickly to ensure I wasn’t late it was quite nice to be alone and I think it helped me to appreciate the geographical and cultural features even more. At about the half way stage I caught up with some of those who were walking a bit slower and this was good because by then it was nice to have some company. Uluru is an amazing rock and there are many slightly different features however I think there comes a time when if you aren’t a geologist you become overloaded and overwhelmed by the information.

We all met in the carpark and we drove back to the camp. A few of us decided to go for a swim however after getting changed I got lost and couldn’t find the right path. In my defence there were no signs and the campsite all looked exactly the same. I could hear screams of laughter and lots of splashing so knew I was close but the shrubs meant I couldn’t see the path. Eventually backtracked found the path and reached the pool as most of the girls were leaving.

I entered the pool very slowly because it was quite cold but then the guy I’d been sharing a room with started spraying me with water from a hose which was warm. A couple from the Netherlands soon joined us and then two people from another tour. After leaving the pool, having a shower and getting ready for dinner a group of us played some card games. Dinner was a proper outback barbeque featuring Kangaroo steaks and camel sausages, the latter of which were surprisingly nice.

Despite the bleak start to the day we were very lucky and the patch of blue sky had slowly expanded. Whilst there was still heavy cloud around it wasn’t in an area that would affect the sunset. As we made our way up to the lookout our guide Mark realised it was a particularly good one so we ran the last section.

On reaching the top I exclaimed I wasn’t sure where to look. The sun was setting behind Kata Tjuta so the mountain range had created a lovely silhouette whereas as the sun was shining on to Uluru that also looked spectacular especially as there were some small wisps of cloud. You know it’s a good sunset when your guide who does the trip twice a week brings out their phone. We all felt very lucky because for most of the day we’d expected the cloud to prevent us seeing anything.

We were all slightly buzzing when we returned back to the campsite for some fruit salad which Mark had lovingly prepared from a tin before again knowing we had an early start to see the sunrise we prepared for bed. The stars were out and it appeared any chance of a second night of storms had evaporated so Amber asked if she and a few others could sleep in a swag. I wasn’t going to miss out on this as I’d really enjoyed my past experiences with the exception of the night I got eaten by mosquitoes in Ceduna. Not everyone can say that slept under the stars within range of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

I don’t know when I’d last seen a shooting star, I don’t think I did when I was in Wadi Rum or even Egypt so it’s been a very long time. That’s assuming I had even seen one. Amber saw one quite quickly however I was distracted and missed it. I carried on staring in to the sky and eventually thought I saw one though realised it was probably a bird. Just as I could feel my eyes getting heavy, a small bright light that lasted perhaps a second disappeared from left to right. The milky way also looked fantastic and I definitely need to remember my mini tripod next time I’m in a swag.

Wednesday 26th February
My night in the swag had been comfortable, I hadn’t been eaten by dingo and no spiders or snakes had tried to snuggle up to me. In fact I felt very cosy and I found it a huge struggle to get out of my sleeping bag but knowing I was about to see a sunrise over the world’s most famous rock I got myself in gear.

We made our way to the lookout and the scene already looked quite fantastic the sky split in to 3 colours, orange, light blue and dark blue, Uluru nicely centred with Venus and a crescent moon directly overhead. The Olga’s were still in the dark and we waited as the dark sky slowly turned to light though the sun remained hidden. Eventually it began to make appearance and as is always the way despite all the waiting it all ended rather quickly. Spectacular is a word it probably seems I’ve overused but this had been and not a bad way to the start the day.

The rising of the sun had caused thousands of flies to descend on us and despite having a fly net I’d left it on the bus. After soaking up the atmosphere we made a quick escape back to the bus to start our 6km walk around the Olga’s. Despite it still being early it was already hot and much more like the weather I had expected.

The walk was very nice, not to strenuous and without a steep continuous hill like at Kings Canyon. Mark provided some information about how the rocks were formed and explained that it was a slightly different process to that which took place at Uluru. We made our way to the top lookout which was fairly windy due to its narrow channel but the views were wonderful. Kata Tjuta is a series of 36 Domed Rock Formations with different summits and the highest is Mount Olga which is taller than Uluru. Climbing to the lookout it was possible to appreciate just how big the rocks are, especially as the surrounding landscape leading all the way to the horizon is so flat. I felt quite small.

Before heading back to the camp. Mark had promised that if it was sunny we’d return to the Uluru lookout we’d been to the day before so we could get a proper postcard picture. The view was much more what I had expected but in hindsight I was almost glad the weather had started so badly because it made me appreciate the view in front of me even more.

After lunch we returned back to the camp and after eating lunch set out back across the highway to Alice Springs. Every one associates Alice with Uluru however a 5 hour drive separates the two and by the time we checked back in to the Haven we’d travelled 1600 km in 3 days.

I asked to be in the same room as I had been a few nights before so I could catch up with Erec and when I entered the room Finja who had checked in before me was there as well. Soon the guy I’d shared the tent with joined us, then Marianne from the Darwin to Alice tour and It was nice to see so many familiar faces. Slightly more bizarrely as I stood in reception I heard my name and looking up saw Nina from my Perth to Exmouth trip.

A few of us had arranged to have a few drinks at a local bar recommended to us and after we’d sorted our own separate meals we made our way in to town. Sadly Finja and Emilie couldn’t join us as their bags had been invaded by little red ants when they’d put them in storage so couldn’t join us. Marianne and the Canadian couple were also unable to join us as they were going for a post tour dinner with their group.

There was still a good group of us though and we had quite a bit of fun as we enjoyed a couple of drinks. It wasn’t as lively as we had expected but there was a live acoustic guitarist who was quite good and played some well known songs. Towards the end our group was gatecrashed by a group living locally and we decided to make a move as nearly everyone either had an early flight or an early tour. The Red Centre had been pretty special and my only regret is we hadn’t got a big group photo but 3 days just hadn’t been long enough for 24 people to bond properly

Blowing in the Wind: Darwin to Alice Springs

Saturday 22nd February
I had a sense of DeJa Vu As I made my way to the Adventure Tour shop for my pickup and on boarding saw Fabienne from my last tour sitting on the bus. Our guide Sauce explained this was a two day journey with lots of driving with a few stops. 650km on the first day between Darwin and Daly Waters and over 900km on day two between Daly Waters and Alice Springs.

On leaving Darwin our first stop was after about an hour at the settlement called Adelaide River. Whilst this was really just a quick toilet break the local bar is home to Charlie the water Buffallo who appeared in the film Crocodile Dundee.

Next we arrived at Katherine where we had the opportunity to do a short walk in the Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park. Most of the Gorge beyond where we wanted to visit was closed due to flooding however we were able to make our way up to the Barrawei lookout to look down on the Katherine River below. The sun was shining so the views of the gorge was quite spectacular however we were probably to high to appreciate the rapids and torrents churning through the gorge. The climb up had been quite short but very steep in places and I feel I’m slowly turning in to a Mountain Goat.

We also had a quick round of introductions though we were all doing slightly different journeys and some of us would only be together for two days. I did however make an effort to talk everyone at least once including a guy called Erec from the Netherlands that told me he had done the Crocodile swim at Crocosauruscove.

We headed back down the path and made our way to the visitor centre. I had a look at a small display on the Australia Day floods in 1998 And then went to look down on the river from the visitor centre platform which had been slightly submerged at the peak of the flood. It was impossible to comprehend that the water had risen as high as I was standing especially as I was there in the wet season and I knew the river was already high.

After we left Katherine we continued for another hour or so before we came to some thermal pools at Mataranka. This was a welcome stop after being stuck on the bus on such a hot and humid day. The warm but not hot pools were also set in a lovely location as they were surrounded by palm trees and tropical vegetation. Until we were about to leave we had the area our to ourselves and I’m sure in the high season the small pool must get very busy.

We then briefly stopped at Larrimah Where there was a quirky old hotel with various statues of the Pink Panther outside. Then, out the back there was a menagerie of different animals including a young Red Kangaroo that received a lot of lot of attention from us. There was even a saltwater crocodile but aside from his head he remained under water.

Finally we arrived at our accommodation in Daly Waters which was named when John Stuart found water nearby in 1861-62 and it became an important place in the early days of aviation. As with some of the other obscure places I’d first read about this in my Bill Bryson book and I was quite glad we’d have a chance to spend the night there rather than just passing through. When we arrived it wasn’t what I’d imagined. This is proper outback territory so I expected sand, sand and more sand. In fact it still felt quite tropical and there appeared to be quite a bit of vegetation. The main street had the pub on one side and a petrol station on the other and It seemed ever so slightly tacky almost like it was a free outback amusement park. It is however home to 25 people so we’d increased the population that night by 50%.

The people running the pub were very friendly and as country music played we enjoyed the massive burger and chip portions whilst having a refreshing drink. I’d opted for the novelty choice – an alcoholic slushy which included Bundaberg Rum though I did get a normal drink later as we got to know each other a bit better. I walked down what appeared to be the only other street to get a picture of the sunset and saw the old abandoned post office on my way back. Even though it was a Saturday we had an early start and so some of the group gradually started sneaking off to bed and by 9.00 those of us that were left decided to do the same.

Sunday 23rd February
Waking up I felt very refreshed and had every intention of seeing how exactly the scenery changed from tropical forest to desert as the cloud had prevented me from doing so on my flight from Perth. The journey was broken up with regular stops so we could stretch our legs even if there appeared nothing to see or do. An example of this was when we briefly stopped at Tennant Creek which was the largest settlement we’d see all day and which appeared to consist of a garage and cafe.

We listened to some prank calls from “Gotcha” on Fox FM and a few were absolutely hilarious though i wont describe them as you probably had to hear them. I asked Sauce what people did on the 3 day trip as 2 days had seemed enough time to get a gist of the area between Darwin and Alice Springs. For me this was about doing another epic road trip to get to my destination and to appreciate ‘seeing nothing but nothing’. It was also cheaper than flying.

Our main highlight of the day was the interesting rock formation called the Devil’s Marbles which are the rounded remains of an eroded layer of granite. The local Warumungu call them Karlu Karlu and their creation story says the rocks are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. The site therefore has great cultural significance.

The rocks were quite remarkable and there were a few where we could get different types of pictures such as pushing the rock up a hill and cutting a rock in half with our hands. It was amazing how the surrounding area was so flat with nothing except for a few small trees and shrubs and yet in one patch it appeared a load of smooth marbles had sprung up from the ground. The marbles are however still eroding and one day will form the sandy ground we’d walked across to access them.

Erec suggested a group photo and whilst I was keen there had been lots of flies in the area and it seemed most had lost the will to fight them and were done appreciating the rocks. Therefore there was no group photo and we quickly boarded the bus trying to prevent the flies from joining us.

After a final toilet stop at a roadhouse in a place called Ti Tree we carried on the journey to Alice Springs. We had one final stop at the Tropic of Capricorn which was marked by a monument however it appeared the road had been relaid so the line is no longer there. The Tropic of Capricorn was only 20 minutes outside of Alice Springs so the 900km journey was nearly over.

Initially I was due to stay at the YHA in Alice Springs however on my free day in Darwin I’d noticed the pickup for all the tours I was doing was from the Haven Resort. Having been told by two separate people the Haven was cheaper, more fun and offered a free breakfast I decided to change. I’d gone to Peter Pan Travel to book something else and after a general chat about travel and enquiring about a sneaky discount it turned out the agent was able to get me a free night at the Haven. I returned back to the YHA at Darwin knowing I was still within the period to get a full refund but as it was apparently a complex process the guy on the desk couldn’t have been any more grumpy about having to perform the task. It was a decision I wouldn’t regret because everyone on the tour was staying there.

Eric and I opened the door to our room and there was an explosion of greetings from the group of people already in the room. Those next 30 minutes were probably filled with more laughter than any of the previous 48 hours and no one had touched a drop of alcohol. Erec and I were due to have a post tour dinner with the rest of the group but I think both of us would have been tempted to stay with our new friends. After a pizza and a few drinks half the group wanted to go and as Alice Springs has a unfavourable reputation we decided to leave together.

Erec and I got back to the room and as most of the others were out I decided to start getting ready for bed as the pickup was 6.10am. About 2 hours later Katie and Hannah got back and whilst by then I probably should have been asleep it was fun to laugh so much. At some point over the following hour I got the nickname “Little Koala” for a variety of different reasons and I just hope I’m considered the cute type, not the Gremlin!