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!

Days are Numbers (The Traveller) Darwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singin’ in the Rain: Lichfield and Kakadu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go West: Perth to Coral Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viva la Vida: Rottnest Island and Perth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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