The Long and Winding Road: Eyre Peninsula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking on a Dream: Kangaroo Island and Adelaide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Way Back When: Great Ocean Road

Tuesday 21st January
Having failed to make it to Southern Cross to say goodbye to Victoria and Jess properly before they got their bus I returned to the hotel to pick up my own bags before making my way to the Nomads Hostel I had stayed at after my trip around Tasmania.

I saw my room mate Hugo and we briefly sat on the roof terrace if it can really be described as that. It was a bit sad to be back in a hostel, after being in a hotel apartment with such good company though at the same time it was good to know I was about to meet some new people and really a hostel is just meant to be practical and somewhere to sleep.

At 19:00 we had a pre departure meeting and we briefly introduced ourselves and then headed to the hostel bar to have a few drinks and some takeaway pizza. I wanted to watch the tennis between Novak Djakovic and Stanislav “Stan” Wawrinka. Eventually having spoken to everyone I moved to the sofa area for the final area where Phyllis who was also watching the match joined me. We both wanted “Stan” to win and the match was unbelievably close with both players breaking each others service games in consecutive attempts. Eventually “Stan” was successful however it was now around midnight and our departure time was 6.30.

Just as we were about to leave a fight kicked off in the bar which resembled a wrestling match. A number of punches were thrown and to be honest it was almost impossible to tell what had caused it or who was actually fighting who. With no bouncers the hostel staff were not prepared to get involved. The fight then moved outside to the reception area though I don’t know what the final outcome was because we were able to leave at this stage.

Wednesday 22nd January
We were told that due to the recent bush fires we wouldn’t be going to the Grampians and whilst this was disappointing first and foremost my thoughts are with those who have been directly affected and lost their livelihoods. I’d seen a newspaper article from the locals the day before saying as this is the peak season they need the tour companies to return as soon as possible or else the impact of the fires will be even greater.

Our guide Brett had been unable to buy breakfast supplies prior to departure so we brought them en-route to Bell’s Beach where the plan was to have breakfast. The beach itself was very pretty but as it was still early in the morning it was a lot colder and more windy than the conditions appeared from the comfort of the mini bus. Bell’s Beach is regarded as one of the world’s best surf beaches and is meant to be the beach portrayed during the film ‘Point Break’.

After leaving Bell’s Beach we had to introduce ourselves including an answer to the question “Are you a folder or a scruncher?”. For the record I am a folder. It wasn’t long after this that there was a sigh to marking the start of the Great Ocean Road. The road had been built following the first world war by returning soldiers and had helped with employment during the Great Depression. It was also possible from the Eastern View beach to see the lighthouse that was used in ‘Round the Twist’.

The road twisted round the coast rising up and down and it quickly became evident just what an achievement completing it was. I had been told that the Great Ocean Road would probably be my best opportunity to see native Koala’s in the wild and we stopped off at the Kennett River where a number have their habitats in the eucalypts trees. We were lucky enough to see two that were not to far high in the tree tops and whilst I have seen them closer in conservation it is always special to see animals in their natural environment.

We stopped at Apollo Bay to get some lunch before we continued along the Great Ocean Road to go on a temperate rain forest walk around the Great Otway National Park. The walk itself was quite short but the trees were huge and the moss which grows on them has apparently been around since life started coming out of the ocean.

Our final stop of the day before arriving in Port Campbell was to arguably the most famous rock formation along the route, the Twelve Apostles. There are actually only around 6 of these stacks but they are certainly very impressive. There was an option to do a helicopter ride but the coastal walk gave various different perspectives and views and as the weather was absolutely perfect there didn’t seem a need to pay $200 for a 15 minute flight.

We arrived in Port Campbell in the early afternoon and we all went down to the beach and a few of us had a swim in the sea. The waves were a lot bigger than they looked from the beach and despite it being a hot day the sea was surprisingly cold. Once we were out of the water it didn’t take long to dry and so Hugo, Ben, Sam and I then headed to the liquor store to get some beers.

In the evening we headed out to get some food before going to a local pub that was showing Andy Murray vs Roger Federer. Murray was already two sets down and in trouble as Federer appeared to be at the same level he was against Tsonga. When Federer was serving to win the match Murray dug in to not only break back but to take the resulting tie break but Federer always appeared the more comfortable of the two. It looked like the 4th set was going a tie break before Murray found himself 0-40 on his own serve. He tried to salvage it but the damage was done and Federer broke. He didn’t make the same mistake as in the 3rd set and successfully served out the match. I congratulated Ria saying I hoped both “Stan” and Federer won both their respective semi finals to make it an all Swiss final.

Thursday 23rd January
Our first stop of the morning was to London Bridge a rock arch formation that partly fell down in 1990. I had read about this rock formation in my Bill Bryson book and the story surrounding its collapse is worth repeating. It had previously been possible to walk out to the headland and a couple had crossed to the far side shortly before the 1st arch, after years of being smashed and eroded by the sea crashed down. The couple were unharmed and were rescued by helicopter but during subsequent newspaper articles it later emerged they had both allegedly been having an affair which became very much public knowledge. The break looked completely clean and despite it being a nice day the waves still looked quite aggressive. Eventually the pressure on the remaining arch will be to much and that will also crash in to the sea.

Our next stop was the Bay of Martyrs, previously named Massacre
Bay where a number of Aboriginals were herded off the cliffs and killed by the European settlers. The site has been renamed to reflect that the Aboriginals were the first settlers of the land and from a modern perspective the killings were totally unjust and those killed should be regarded as martyrs.

We briefly stopped at a bay (Logans beach?) which is a good lookout for Southern Right Whales that migrate up the coast but this was the wrong time of year. Blue whales can also be sighted at this time of year on the horizon and whilst the weather was perfectly clear we didn’t see any signs of them despite looking for spray on the horizon.

Our lunch stop was at the Tower Hill National Park an area of extinct volcanoes. It is also home to emus and almost as soon as we parked the bus we saw these large birds patrolling the area trying to intimidate innocent day trippers. Hugo, Sam, Ben and I decided to have our lunch on top of the hill and whilst the final section felt like we were walking up vertically the view of the national park below was worth it.

We arrived in Mount Grambier where I was spending another night in a fairly recently closed gaol. Before checking in we stopped at the Blue Lake. As the name suggests the water was blue, but it was a particularly perfect blue, a deep dark blue that was the shade a child might use if they were drawing a picture of a lake. It basically looked like someone had poured blue paint in to the lake. The lake is only this colour a few months a year, so we were lucky to see it like that and not the normal grey colour. Scientists are still unsure exactly what causes the change but the water is pure and provides the town with its supply.

Throughout the journey we had to play 5 songs each. My slightly cheesy selection was: ‘Which song sums you up/how you feel’ “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi because, well it’s my life and I’m doing what I want. ‘A song that reminds you of your childhood’ “3 Lions on a shirt” by the Lightning Seeds because it combines my love of britpop style music and football (soccer). ‘A guilty pleasure’, I could have chosen one of many but instead I went for what I decided was the most cheesy “Stay Another Day” by East 17 which I cut off before the end. Next was my party song/a song i enjoy dancing to and eventually I opted for “Mr Brightside” by the Killers. Finally my funeral song which was “Imagine” by John Lennon. Whilst i acknowledged it was a bit cliché it seemed to sum up how I’d want people to feel and remember me. All in all I think the playlist went down well, especially 3 Lions which no doubt brought back happy memories for some of the Germans from my generation on the coach as they ultimately won Euro 96.

We arrived at the gaol and unlike when I stayed at the one in Christchurch where only one wing had survived this appeared to be totally whole however it was a different style and was was only single level. Hugo, Sam, Ben and I were staying in the old kitchen rather than a cell but when we were taken on a guided tour of the grounds we saw the interiors of an the old cell and it actually looked very luxurious.

After the tour a number of us made use of the free WiFi and drank some free beers that had been left behind by a previous group whilst we waited for our guide Brett to tell us the BBQ he had prepared was ready. I don’t think I shall ever get tired of having BBQs over here, the weather just makes them the the right way to spend an evening and this one didn’t disappoint.

After the BBQ I helped J, Katie?? and Fran?? to wash up before heading in to town to find an ATM. This ended up being a much more difficult task than i expected because i had been led to believe there was a machine by the service station. There may well be but in the dark it didn’t present itself to me so I ended up walking to the main shopping area. By the time I got back to the hostel the bar was just being closed so all in all the mission had failed. Most of the group were playing ‘Ring of Fire’ or ‘Kings’ depending on which country you’re from. I’d only been gone about 40 minutes but this game always causes drunkenness to escalate quickly and it was hilarious to watch them finish.

Friday 24th January
As we had not been able to go to the Grampians it meant we didn’t have a long journey ahead so we were allowed bit of a lie in and a day of relative “R and R”. Brett had still found us a couple of things that we would be able to do in the area including a walk around a lake and a lake that is popular with locals to jump in to from cliffs and ledges of different heights.

Despite the promise of a lie in the other G Adventures group that were also staying at the hostel hadn’t read the script and managed to burn their toast setting off the fire alarm in the process. Initially before knowing all this Sam Hugo Ben and I had thought it was a mobile alarm belonging to another guy that was meant to have been in our room but I soon realised it wasn’t so i went to investigate whilst the others tried to sleep through it. I saw some of the girls who told me what had happened and once I had returned back to bed I must have slowly got used to the dreadful noise and gone back to sleep.

The walk was only about 5km and whilst it was quite strenuous and steep in places, especially on the approach to the Centenary Tower it was never going to take the two hours that the sign had advised. There used to be a series of lakes which like the Blue Lake had formed in old volcanic craters though Brown Lake had dried up and the only lake still visible was Crater lake.

Hugo runs half Marathons so when we were probably about a 1/4 of the way around Brett set him the challenge of running round and catching us before we reached the mini bus. At various stages when there were gaps in the scenery we looked to see where Hugo was. As we approached the 3/4 mark Brett said he had seen him coming down the slope just past the point the challenge had been set so it was going to be a tight finish. We kept the same pace to make it fair and just as we could see the car park sign we heard a scream of excitement from the girls at the back as they had been caught. Whilst Brett started sprinting as Hugo came round the corner he knew it was all over.

We briefly went to the town to get some supplies before we returned to the hostel for some lunch. After our quick pit stop we headed back out to a different lake where I would have the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do but been a bit nervous of doing, jumping off a cliff in to the water below. Whilst there was a sign saying no jumping we had been assured by locals it was fairly safe because again the lake was in an old crater so the water was very deep so there were no hidden rocks just beneath the surface. A group of locals were already there and performing a number of different jumps but I was quite happy just doing a standard jump. Even though the drop wasn’t far at all, and despite doing sky dives, canyon swings and a bungee this activity gave me a surprisingly big adrenaline rush despite the fall probably lasting less than a second.

A few of the others went to the highest point to jump but this meant leaping a bit further out due to the angle of the cliff and not only did I not want to take any chances I was happy enough to jump from the lower level. The water of the lake, despite having an algae that could potentially cause a skin irritation was the best place to be because there were millions of flies on the shore. Whilst I had developed a good technique of killing them by clapping just in front of my face when they were on my nose the survivors were relentless. At one point my foot resembled that of a corpse there were so many that had set up camp. Flies in Australia are particularly annoying and persistent and once they have vomited to mark their spot there is no chance of peace.

We returned back to the hostel where Sam Ben and I chilled out watching the cricket between England and Australia whilst playing some pool. Despite once considering myself half decent having played with and mostly lost to some very good players at uni who were part of the local league team that was before I broke my arm back in 2009. Since then I’ve not had much game time with the exception of the fairly recent double games in New Zealand and the shockingly long game in Noosa. How I was undefeated so far on my travels remained a mystery.

My main objective was not to be 7 balled and I was quite pleased with my break because it separated everything giving plenty of options though I did sink the white in the process. Luckily I got a quick pot which settled the nerves I always have and something seemed to click. My old eye seemed to be back; in the previous games I knew what I wanted to do but had totally failed in the execution though I was still fairly surprised when i sunk the black to win.

After joining other members of the group in the WiFi area the owner soon came over to let off steam. Due to a misunderstanding the room with a big sign saying laundry wasn’t actually to be used by the public and various members of the group had used it because as I’ve said before laundry is the main thing that gets done on the chill out days. Normally chill out days don’t exist on the tours and groups would not normally spend so long at the old gaol so this has probably not been an issue in the past. It had been a slow paced day and after eating dinner and playing some cards which coincided with Nadal making Federer look average and wrapping up a quick victory in the tennis pretty much everyone went to bed.

Saturday 25th January
Despite a good and fairly long nights sleep (relative to the previous nights) I struggled to wake up after my alarm. Eventually I went to have a shower and seeing no sign of life outside the breakfast area went back to the room to finish packing. I lulled myself in to the belief we had more time than we did and it was only after I went to the WiFi area and saw Brett carrying a blue box that I realised breakfast had actually already ended.

Ahead lay a long travel day from Mount Gambier to Adelaide. Our first was to a service station where I got an ice blaster coffee that I’ve discovered I like and a breakfast pie. The second and third stops were in small towns. The 3rd, Tailem Bend seemed heavily train themed with an old loco in the park for children to play on, a small railway museum in the station (i wouldn’t drive out of the way to visit it) and every sign with the towns name had a picture of a train beside it. It also appeared that one of the weekly trains was a cause for celebration as there was a flyer for ‘train spotters’ advertising the time it would pass through.

We were meant to have stopped at the Coorong National Park which is apparently particularly stunning due to its lagoons and dune systems. When we left Mount Gambier we were told we were going there and it was only when we got to the final stop we were told this was being skipped so we could get to Adelaide sooner and visit the beach to relax. I don’t know how the others felt, but personally I felt this was a bit disappointing because as a result of reasons beyond our control we’d already missed out on walking in the Grampians and spent the whole of the previous afternoon relaxing. Whilst it was nice to go in the sea especially as it was a lovely weather the day felt slightly wasted due to the long distance travelled and it had needed something more interesting to break up the long drive.

The evening plan was for those of us leaving to meet up with the others for a final group dinner and to meet the new people that would be taking our places. I made my way to Rundle Mall, the street where i believed the others were staying but couldn’t see their hotel. Luckily there was free WiFi in the centre and after putting a message on Facebook Line and Katharina responded I was able to find it.

It was great to meet up one final time and although it had only been 4 whole days it was surprising how quickly the ice had broken though Brett our tour guide had certainly helped with this. I’ve been on a number of tours but it felt particularly hard saying goodbye. Maybe that was partly because I knew they would all be carrying on together where as I would have to start the whole introduction process again in a few days time. Safe travels to you all and I’m sure you’ll have an awesome time in Alice Springs and Darwin. Perhaps our paths will cross again in Australia but if not let me know if you have any plans to come over to London.

Don’t Stop Believin’ Australian Open Part 2

Sunday 19th January
I had initially considered doing one of the free walking tours around the city because we had tickets for the evening session so the day was free to what we liked. However I also wanted to take my disposable camera to get it developed and the shop wasn’t open until Monday so I decided to postpone the plan. Victoria, Jess and Lucia planned to go shopping but I wasn’t so keen and neither was Justin. The heat wave was becoming a memory and with a cold breeze a day at the beach was out.

Justin and I had brought a big crate of beer and we still had a lot remaining. I also still had some cans of Bundy and Coke so despite it only being mid morning we decided to enjoy a cheeky drink whilst watching the tennis in the hotel and waited for some laundry to finish.

After watching Ivanovic defeat Serena Williams I noticed that there was a one day cricket match between Australia and England taking place and it was live on TV. That was my afternoon sorted. At one point the maid came round to clean the apartment and I felt a bit awkward lounging around on the couch while she spent nearly an hour making the place look like we’d never been there.

Eventually the others got back from their day of activities and in support of Australia’s last hope Casey Dellacqua against Eugenie Bouchard, Victoria and I had our faces painted by Lucia again. She did another fantastic job and decided to have hers done as well with Victoria doing a fine job under pressure and attempts by Justin to put her off.

We arrived at the Rod Laver Arena (the Australian Opens Centre Court) and got to our seats just as the players were coming out. A few rows in front were a group in fancy dress and they made a decent attempt at starting an atmosphere before other pockets within the crowd started to join in.

During the first set both players gave it everything, and just as one looked like they had the upper hand the other came storming back. At one stage Dellacqua had broken serve and only had to hold her own service game but she couldn’t and it went to a tie break. The crowd did their best to lift Dellacqua including my own fine attempt. “Casey Casey Casey”, (the other four shouting) “Oi Oi Oi”, “Casey”, “Oi”, “Casey, Casey, Casey”, “Oi, Oi, Oi”. The first half of the chant certainly sounded very effective and no doubt caused some looks due to it being said in a British accent.

The attempts by the crowd throughout the first set may have given Dellacqua that extra bit of energy and she managed to win the first set tie break. Unfortunately despite the match being a lot closer than the final score suggested she lost both of the final sets. A few millimetres the other way and Dellacqua may well have broken the Bouchard serve in the second set before her own was broken but it wasn’t to be.

I thought the defeat may have dampened the spirits of the local crowd but that wasn’t the case. The second match was Stanislas Wawrinka vs Tommy Robredo. A group of Swiss fans were standing at the back and suddenly removed their tops to spell out “Stna”. The group in costume noticed and started to chant “Swap around, swap around, swap around” and eventually the Swiss group realised they’d messed up their moment and had to shuffle seats to spell “Stan”. It was however enough for the majority to get behind “Stan” and to keep the atmosphere alive.

Vic and I believed this would be a good men’s game that might have the potential to ‘go the distance’ but “Stan” was hungry for victory and won the first set fairly quickly and comfortably. People had got behind both players, though mainly “Stan” with some fairly hilarious comments and chants being audible. I was surprised no one had shouted “Stan, Stan, he’s our man, if he can’t win it no one can” so took it upon myself to do the honours. This one actually caught on and was heard being shouted by another group later on in the evening.

There wasn’t any chanting or shouting during points, and there was nothing rude or disrespectful it was just fun and nothing like the hoity toity polite atmosphere of Wimbledon. Not that Wimbledon isn’t fun, the atmosphere is special in it’s own way and as Victoria said you could probably almost convince yourself you’d gone back in time there. The attempts by the umpire to quieten the crowd by saying “Thank You, Please” in their ever overly polite tones was slightly funny because as Justin remarked they probably just wanted to shout “shut Up!” The Swiss fans were however eventually told to put their shirts back on so clearly there were some boundaries.

I wanted the match to go to at least 4 sets, or for a few sets to go at least to a tie break so I switched allegiance to Tommy. He certainly tried to make the next 2 sets more competitive and both went to a tie break but he couldn’t win either set. Vic and Jess had made their way to the other side as there were a few empty seats in an attempt to get a signature. Vic was successful and got her ticket scribbled on/signed by Stan.

We made our way home by tram and ended up playing the Charades game again for a couple of hours until Justin and then Lucia who had an early flight the next morning called it a night.

Monday 20th January
I felt quite tired when i woke up even though I’d woken up a bit later than initially planned. I was also grateful Lucia had been so quiet when she’d left. I eventually left the hotel, making my way to the photography shop to get my film developed. The staff were very friendly and confirmed they could have it processed that day at no extra cost and would transfer the pictures to a usb stick if I provided one.

I then made my way towards the State Library to join a ‘free’ (you can pay a tip if you like) walking tour offered by the same company that hosted the tour of Sydney I did with my mum. First though I needed breakfast and seeing a subway deal of coffee and a sub for under $5 I was sold. I did however feel a bit guilty at not going to a cafe, especially as I believe Melbourne is the food capital of Australia.

The tour was great and luckily there were a few other solo travellers that were open to conversation. We started off seeing the area around the Old Melbourne Gaol before making our way to many of the areas I hadn’t thought to explore. This included a number of the shopping centres some of which were very ornate and reminded me of Leadenhall Market in London. We also went down a number of narrow streets where graffiti was legalised and one had recently been covered in black paint so that the process could begin again. It is fair to say I wouldn’t have seen any of this had I not been on the tour but if by chance I had I probably have appreciated it as much as I did.

We also went past more familiar land marks including the Great Exhibition Hall, the Parliament building and Federation Square before we eventually crossed the Yarra River where there was a nice view of the Melbourne skyline. The guide also pointed towards the Shrine of Remembrance and the Botanical Gardens. I still had 2 and a half hours until my photos were ready and whilst my initial plan had been to return back to the hotel and rest before our night session i thought I’d check them out.

It is fair to say I thought the Shrine of Remembrance was closer than it was from my starting position. I probably went a long way initially heading to Victoria Park as I thought it was there. There appeared to be a number of memorials however it gradually dawned on me these were not what I was looking for. It probably took 30 minutes to find it though I actually arrived at 2pm just in time for a 3 minute silence. This was a hourly demonstration using a spotlight to show how on 11th November each year a gap in the stone work allows the sun to pass along the memorial stone before lighting up the word “love” at 11am.

I then headed towards the botanical gardens just because I was in the area rather than having any real interest in seeing something in particular. I wondered around for a bit and it was very pleasant but it was probably something that was lost on me in terms of what I was seeing. There were signs saying turtles were nesting in the gardens and to watch out for them but I didn’t see any. After doing a loop of the lake I headed back towards the CBD.

I had planned to pick up a USB stick from the hotel but the photography shop was on my way back and whilst I was early I thought I would see if the photos were ready. I knew Justin had his laptop and that it would probably be possible to copy the photos from the CD to the USB stick myself. Luckily they were which meant I got back to the hotel earlier than planned.

After a quick change of shirts (the Watford shirt was now on in preparation for another sporting event photo) we went to get some dinner. After a quick drink on the rooftop terrace at the same venue we headed downstairs. Just as we were about to order we were told about the special deal. Meatballs with either Mash, Pizza or Pasta and a free drink. I was sold and so was Justin though he went for Mash and I went for Pizza (though received pasta – not that I cared).
During the meal Victoria announced the plan was to cycle to the tennis along the river which i wasn’t so keen on because I’ve not got on a bike since I was 12 when I had a bike ride I’d rather forget in Devon. However the more I thought about the more I thought I should give it a go. In the end Jess and I caught the tram but I told myself as I’ve skydived, I would cycle at the next opportunity which is likely to be Rottnest Island.

I think we were all slightly nervous about being late but we didn’t need to worry. Whilst Nadal had won 2 sets he had not done so comfortably and the match had overrun meaning the start to our session was delayed. He won the match just as we all met up again, and it might be of interest to some that the bike was the quicker form of transport. The delay to our session created a slight logistical issue for the organisers because there was no way of stopping people entering the concourse and a large crowd was forming.  I need to add that all seating was reserved so there appeared no reason to be in such a rush especially as an announcement kept saying there would be a delay whilst the arena was cleaned and no time scale was put on that.

We therefore decided to finally check out the Heineken beer area which we’d not done on Friday because of the heat, been unable to do on Saturday because the queue was over 2 hours and not done on Sunday as we were running tight on time. Andy Murray was on the big screen and seemed all set to win a tie break to win the match when during the process of Vic taking a few pictures of me in front of the screen he suffered a mini collapse and lost the tie break and therefore the set. He also appeared to suffer a mini meltdown about a decision that had not gone his way and broke his racquet in the process.

We returned back to the arena and weren’t waiting much longer before we were let in. The first match was a men’s single game between Jo Wilfred Tsonga and ‘The Great’ Roger Federer. The stadium announcer listed all the honours for both players and when he did those for Federer I did began to wonder if we’d be waiting all night to finish. I wanted a long match and hoped Tsonga would be adequately prepared to challenge.

Federer was rolling back the years for most of the match and the result of the match was never in any doubt. Some of his shots were stunning and it was annoying just how good he was because it meant we didn’t get the close long drawn out match we had hoped for. Tsonga 0-40 down and on the verge of losing serve for the second time in the 3rd set let his frustration out on the ball and smashed it out of the stadium. It stirred something because he came back to win that game but he couldn’t break back and lost within a couple of hours.

The next match was Agnieszka Radwanska vs Garbine Muguruza. We .?had already seen Radwanska and as it was after the Federer match it felt a bit of an anti climax especially as we had hoped to see a variety of different players over the 4 days. A large section of the crowd clearly felt the same and about half must have left. This did however at least allow us to move to other seats around the court throughout the breaks in play in the final set to get different perspectives.

The first four games were close and lasted about 10 minutes each but eventually Radwanska broke and from then on the result was a certainty. At the end of the match we all hung our tickets over the side to get them signed/scribbled on by Radwanska. Initially i was missed but was successful when she came back the second time and I wished her good luck in the next match.

After leaving we Vic, Justin and I made our way to the bike station though there weren’t any available so we had to walk I instead. We were also feeling a bit hungry but Lord of the Fries that we had planned to go to was already closed. Eventually we managed to get something and headed back to the hotel and went to bed.

Tuesday 21st January
I had to repack my rucksuck as over the past 4 days I hadn’t exactly unpacked but had allowed everything to spill out. It didn’t take to long and at 10.00 we checked out and our bags were put in storage. Justin had to catch a flight but Jess Vic and I went to find breakfast. Unfortunately the place Victoria knew from being at the Melbourne cup horse race a few months earlier had closed due to a serious fire so we found some where else in the Victoria Arcade.

After that we headed to Federation Square to watch the tennis and Victoria and I took part in a pedometer competition which involved a series of mini cardio tennis related challenges. It was only a bit of fun with some other members of the public and whilst I put in quite a bit of effort I was still surprised when it was announced I had won by about 40 steps. I think this was mainly because on at least one occasion I’d had to jump off the stage to run after the ball.

We left Federation Square and I finally planned to cycle again. The bikes looked simple enough and Vic had said it was only 15 minutes along the river. I was quite excited about getting on for the first time in over 15 years and I thought it would be good practice for my trip to Rottnest Island where with no public transport the bike is the only option if you want to see anything. Quite quickly it emerged it wasn’t a good idea as Victoria was in a rush to get back to the hotel in order to get the flight and we therefore had to say goodbye there and I abandoned my mission.
It had been a fantastic four days on the whole but the end of the tennis meant the final stage of my journey was about to start which made me feel quite reflective. From the moment Victoria had confirmed the dated we had tickets for the tennis I had organised tours from Melbourne to Adelaide and on to Perth. When i looked at my itinerary at Heathrow back In October they felt so far away but now they were here.

You’re the Voice: Australian Open Part One

Thursday 16th January
I checked out of the hostel and made my way to Sydney Airport to meet Victoria and her friend Jess before we all took a flight to Melbourne. The opportunity to attend sporting events during my time travelling in Australia had appealed greatly and having seen the Ashes three years ago this time I wanted to see the tennis. Victoria had been able to get us tickets for not just one day but for four and these were for a mix of day and evening sessions. I was buzzing.

After an uneventful flight we arrived in Melbourne which was in the middle of a heat wave with the temperature hitting over 40 degrees Celsius. The heat didn’t feel as bad as I expected when we got outside the airport and after catching the shuttle bus we made the short walk to our hotel apartment. After a quick change we went on the hunt for the electronic Myki card that is needed for all public transport around the city. After the 3rd or 4th Seven-Eleven we finally found one that either had them In stock or where the machine wasn’t broken.

Cards purchased we caught the tram to St Kilda where we would spend the afternoon on the beach. The tram journey felt quite long and it was a bit uncomfortable due to the heat though we did at least have seats. We were planning on meeting Vic’s other friend Justin and he had suggested a number of bars. She read them out to me and Jess but we were equally unsure what would be best but a guy nearby over hearing our conversation told us to head to “Republic”.

Eventually we arrived in St Kilda and decided to get some food though perhaps because of the heat I didn’t feel as hungry as I thought I was though the portions were big. Justin was experiencing transport issues caused by the extreme heat so we headed for the beach.

Vic and I went for a swim and Jess a paddle. I still had my underwater camera from Moreton Island which had 6 potential photos left so we tried to get a couple of under water pictures together. Unfortunately because it was only a disposable we wouldn’t have any idea until the photos are finally developed. Despite there being a bit of cloud cover blocking the sun it was still very hot and I felt as though I was totally dry after 10 minutes.

We met up with Justin and headed for a bar called the Vineyard to get some cocktails. I got a very spicy Bloody Mary which normally I would have loved but on a warm day probably wasn’t the most sensible choice. Justin headed off to meet some friends and Vic Jess and I headed back to the hotel before going back out to Federation Square so that we could watch some of the tennis on the big screen.

It wasn’t as busy as I expected and despite it now being dark it was still very warm. We saw the end of two matches before the main game of the evening from an Australian perspective as Nick Kyrgios the last remaining male hope for the locals was playing Benoit Paire. It was getting late by the time the match began so we had to decided to stay for the first set then depending what was happening to watch the rest back at the hotel.

After a tight, enthrallingly first set where the young Australian who had won the Boys tournament only last year played superbly and with great determination to more than match his French seeded opponent. Kyrgios finally took the first set in a tie break so we quickly headed back so we would see how the second set unfolded. He won that in a tie break as well and there was real belief amongst us that he could make it. Unfortunately he seemed to pick up an injury due to cramp and eventually lost the 3rd set before fatigue set in. The experience of Paire in such situations also became more evident and he showed no mercy winning the 4th and 5th set comfortably to win the match.

Friday 17th January
We woke up and having brought a few supplies for breakfast the day before enjoyed some croissants with ham cheese and tomatoes. It was scheduled to be around 43 degrees Celsius so on Vic’s advice I had put my water in the freezer and it was suitably frozen. First we headed to the supermarkets to get some lunch but the early heat was playing havoc with my appetite so I was happy with us just getting snacks.

We walked down to Flinders Street and caught the free tram that was operating to the tournament. When we got on it wasn’t overly busy however by the time we got to near the arena complex it was packed and if there was any air conditioning it was struggling badly and not overly pleasant.

We arrived at the Hisense Arena just in time for the first match of the day which was a ladies match between Kerber and Risks. Walking up the steps and in to the arena it was a relief we were in the shade however it still felt very hot. The heat made it difficult to concentrate on the match details and In truth I don’t remember to much of it, though Kerber seemed to win fairly comfortably in 2 sets. I just found the whole experience of actually being there very exciting.

Jess Vic and I seemed to lose Justin on our exit so we got a few pictures in the surrounding outside area. This included a room which had been set up to look like the post match press conference room and where it was possible to sit with a replica trophy. Jess and I then made our way to the Margaret Court arena where more by chance we bumped in to Justin. There was a queue to get in but there were a lot of empty seats. The problem was they were in the blazing sun.

We had gone to the court to see a men’s doubles match where two Australians Chris Guccione and Thanasi Kokkinakis were competing. I know I have never endured such heat, it was extreme and the arena shape probably only helped to amplify the heat by keeping it in the cauldron. The ice in my water bottle had well and truly melted and if anything was now becoming warm.

As for the match itself the Australian duo battled well and it looked like it was all set for a first set tie break before Kokkinakis dropped his service game. Jess, Justin and I made a escape seeking the air conditioned bar area of the Hisense arena. We were watching a match on the TV and then I decided to have a lie down. Eventually Vic rejoined us and we had our snacks before heading back to our seats to seeing Berdych vs Dzumhur. Reentering the arena it was like opening the door to an oven and feeling that heat hit your face but rather than closing the door you proceeded to enter the oven. Even our seats which had been in the heat were now scorching hot.

Dzumhur was from Bosnia and had progressed through qualifying. He also seemed to have a small but very lively fan base who were standing up and chanting so the atmosphere felt more like a football match. He battled well in the first set and at one stage I thought he was going to break the Berdych serve but he didn’t and instead was broken himself to lose the first set. It was very hard to concentrate are on the score and during the second set I thought it was 3-3 when it was actually 4-2 to Berdych who won that set and the 3rd set 6-4.

After leaving the arena we realised we hadn’t taken the exit for the trams so instead enjoyed a pleasant walk along the Yarra river to Flinders Street station where we caught the train to Southern Cross station close to our hotel. We were all feeling rather affected by the heat but the initial plan was still to head out again. However eventually a decision was made to stay in where we played a scrabble type game called bananagrams before going to bed.

Saturday 18th January
Whilst we waited for Victoria’s other friend Lucia to arrive we confirmed the schedule to see who would be on court including Andy Murray who was going to be in action against Lopez from Spain. Victoria and I therefore decided to use some face paint for the occasion as whilst she had a soft spot for Murray she also liked Lopez and so decided to support him during the match. The efforts by Lucia to paint two Spanish flags on Vic’s cheeks and to cover my entire face with the union flag were stunning.

I was surprised at how little attention people paid to me as we walked down the street and it wasn’t until we were on a crowded tram that I received a few comments. Apparently I looked ‘scary’ though as Vic said that was good as it would help to intimidate the opponent. The weather was a lot cooler than the day before and as I’ve not acclimatised I actually felt cold even though it was still just over 20 degrees Celsius.

We took our seats in the Hisense arena where I watched the end of the first set between Jankovic and Nara before heading off hoping to see two British men (Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins) in action in a men’s double match. They had won the first set and lost the second so I hoped to see the 3rd however there was a big queue to get in. There appeared to be a few seats but people were only allowed to enter when ends were changed and eventually the Steward made a decision not to let anyone else in until the end of the match. This ended up being much quicker than I expected as the Brits suddenly collapsed and lost the final set 6-2.

I started to head back to the Hisense arena when I saw Vic and the others heading towards me. We had hoped to see Sloane Stephens on Margaret Court but there was a queue to get in and apparently all the seats had been allocated. We then headed back to Court two where I’d just come from as two Australian women were in action in a doubles match. It was at this point I realised it was this match that had caused the crowd which prevented me seeing the game I wanted to.

Instead we went to court 3 to see a men’s single match between Robert and Klizan. Whilst both were unseeded Robert appeared to be in control winning the first set 6-0. We arrived and stayed for the second set which was a lot more competitive though eventually Robert comfortably won the tie break. I later realised he was the opponent of the Andy Murray match which we now made our way towards.

We arrived back at the Hisense arena where a ladies single match was still in action and I was surprised to see Radwanska was a set down to Pavlyuchenkova. Perhaps our arrival signalled a change in fortunes, at 2-0 down she won 6 games to win 6-2 before winning the 3rd set by the same score. At one point Pavlyuchenkova called for the trainer but she battled on however perhaps this was the reason for the sudden decline and apparent one sided nature of the match.

Finally it was time for the Murray/Lopez match. Vic and I headed to the front to get some pictures together as did Jess and Lucia. The atmosphere was quite good and there were a group of guys in kilts though mine and Victoria’s faces seemed to grab the most attention as one lady wanted a picture of us together.

Murray was first to serve and after a long game was eventually broken though he then immediately broke the Loprez serve. It seemed like we would be in for a close and long match. The rest of the set went with serve and it was Murray who finally won the tie break and one point during the set Victoria got a video of me shouting “Come on Andy!!!”

Murray seemed to play better in the second set though Lopez still hit more winners he just also made nearly double the number of unforced errors. Murray broke Lopez to win the second set 6-4 and the 3rd set was even less competitive in terms of score as he won it 6-2. However in both these sets there had also been some long rally’s with good shots from both players where a matter of inches or even millimetres on at least one occasion could have changed the outcome.

We left the arena and after getting some jumping pictures outside the Rod Laver arena headed along the Yarra River to do the same route back as the previous day. After a quick shower and drink Justin and I headed off to watch a Twenty20 cricket match between the Melbourne Renegades and the Sydney Sixes. Sydney had a number of current and previous Australian test players I recognised including Brett Lee and Steve Smith though the English bowler Chris Tremlett wasn’t in the match day squad. I have to admit I don’t think i knew any of the Melbourne players with the exception of Muttiah Muralitharan but as they were the home team I felt I should support them.

The match was a lot tighter than I expected having looked at the table and whilst the run rate of the Sixes was higher the Renegades had lost less wickets and a couple of boundaries would change the whole match. It wasn’t a totally dramatic end as in the final over Brett Lee was bowling and he kept the run rate down so that with 2 balls left the Renegades needed 10. The penultimate ball went for 2 so the game was as good as over, though the batter hit 6 on the last ball to make the final score look a lot closer than it really ever was.

I had wore my Watford shirt so that I could continue my plan to get pictures of it at different sporting locations and got some pictures at half time. There was also a motorcycle stunt event at half time whivh was very entertaining and despite the ground probably only being 1/4 full the 14,000 strong crowd seemed quite enthusiastic. The atmosphere can’t really compare to a football match as there was no chanting but it was still lively as the DJs played rock songs to a ‘air guitar’ big screen competition when ever there was a break in play.

Justin had met some of his friends at the entrance and as we were all hungry headed to China town to get food. It was however 11.30 by the we got there and most places including the dumpling house we planned to go to was closed. Eventually we found somewhere and got a selection of different foods. It was gone midnight by the time we left and I decided to call it a night. Vic, Jess and Lucia were playing various charade games on an iPhone app so I joined in. There were a number of different options including “Act it Out” which was particularly hilarious.

By the time I went to bed it was nearly 2am and the Watford vs Bournemouth match was just starting. I fell asleep with my phone next to my face and when Justin got back half an hour later I quickly checked the score. I woke up again about 5am and saw the match had ended 1.1 which I was initially disappointed with but then I saw we’d had a sending off and Almunia had saved a penalty so I went to sleep content.

The Life of Riley: Bundaberg

Monday 13th January
As had happened the morning before the two girls were up first as they were leaving for Frasier Island. The 4th bunk still appeared to be free but appeared to have been made during the night and a copy of women’s weekly lay on it. Not one of us had heard anyone enter though Pam had joked about the building being haunted.

I packed and made my way downstairs to meet Konstantin for breakfast though he said he was running a bit late. He already had some water melon and I’d forgotten it was Monday so the cooked breakfast wasn’t available. The girl serving was the one who did our introduction meeting on the Saturday and we briefly chatted whilst I waited for the other two.

Since Tasmania Konstantin had done a fair bit of exploring along the East Coast and was now on the final leg back to Brisbane. We both checked out and then I had to go as I needed to catch a local bus to a place called Cooroy where I would then be catching a train to Bundaberg. Bundaberg had been a destination I’d been intrigued to visit, firstly it was home to the rum which had been the source of many happy evenings 3 years before, Caroline my housemate is from there and I’d heard it was a great place to see turtles.

The bus to Cooroy arrived on time though I then had to wait over 1 hour and 30 minutes until the train. The station was unmanned and completely empty except for one other passenger who I got talking to. They were from Gympie, an old mining town that I remembered passing through 3 years ago. It was somewhere I may have been interested to visit if I’d had more time or was passing through again but I hadn’t been able to fit it in to this section of the trip which was already fairly intense in terms of activities. We discussed various things though it was mainly the weather in the US, the terrible flood damage to Bundaberg in January 2013 and the recent storms in the UK.

Her train arrived first which meant for 30 minutes I sat alone until other passengers for my train arrived though I didn’t talk to any of them. Instead I read my Bill Bryson book to seehow his travel experiences around the country compared to my own. The train arrived nearly 20 minutes late, and whilst my ticket led me to believe a guard would help check in my luggage that wasn’t the case so I had to guess where to leave it.

The journey itself was fairly uneventful, the guy behind who had recently retired sounded good company as he chatted to the person next to him but I was sat next to someone watching a movie on their laptop and whose handbag had originally been sat on my seat. We uttered not one word in the 2 hours and 30 minutes. During that time a GPS satellite image showed our route and how was we were travelling and I was surprised we didn’t really go above 90mph. I looked out of the window, mainly we seemed to pass through forest before as we approached Bundaberg the trees cleared and were replaced by bushes. Possibly some of the sugar plantations. I have no idea.

Arriving at Bundaberg station home to 60,000 people I naively assumed that a bus to the hostel would be easy but no one seemed to be around to ask and I had no map. Unfortunately even my trusty lonely planet guide didn’t say how to get from the station so I had to get a taxi. The driver dropped me off at the wrong hostel and it was only with a bit of luck I found mine behind the coach station.

I had booked the hostel because my Lonely Planet guide said they ran tours to see the turtles at Mon Repos (so long as you already had an entrance ticket to the national park). Unfortunately it seems they are no longer able to offer this service due the local government and whilst they could still take me there for free I’d have to find my own way home. They suggested I try tourist information to get on their bus so no sooner had I dumped my bags I was off out again.

Predictably tourist information were unable to assist as the sole coach with room for 30 people was full despite I believe 360 national park entrance tickets had been sold for the night. The reason the local government had I was told ‘clamped down’ on tours was to ensure there was less traffic (even though the 360 entrance tickets remained the same). All I can say is a bus for less than 10% of people attending would mean a lot of cars. Worse because the hostel mini bus had driven off I would have to walk back to the hostel.

I’d asked at tourist information how far it was to the hostel expecting to be told an estimated number of kilometres however instead I’d received the response “depends how fast you walk”. I left tourist information and had been told to head down a particular street what I wasn’t told was that the street ran in both directions. Left? Or Right? Somewhat exasperated at my introduction to Bundaberg I stood at the traffic lights and asked the lady next to me if she could direct me. Not only could she do that but she was walking to the same street as me so we chatted as we walked along together. It probably took about 20 minutes.

I entered the hostel and explained that the national park bus was full so they drove me down saying you’ll probably be able to get a lift back or share a taxi. I knew I’d figure something out, I just wanted to make sure I got to Mon Repos. I arrived very early but others had had the same idea and it wasn’t long before I go it chatting to a couple of locals called Dom and Ed and we got chatting to some other locals. Apparently plans have been approved to build a new facility which is fine but they’ll need the infrastructure and promotion to go with it. After about an hour I happened to mention my transport issues and the first pair I met offered me a lift back.

The ranger then caused a slight issue with this plan. Tourist information had said get there early as that’s how they sort the groups – therefore as the 5 of us were standing together we assumed we’d be together. The ranger had other ideas. The groups were to be determined by when the tickets were purchased. I’d got mine Christmas day, the two that had offered me a lift had only brought theirs last week. Somewhat miraculously the other two we’d been chatting to had two spares and got theirs on the 20th so as luck would have it we were all able to be in the same group. Good karma.

The first group had “an event” straight away and the rest of us started to watch a presentation. Just as it said “not everyone is guaranteed to see something” my group was called. Phew. It hadn’t occurred to me that the group system worked in the way it did and I was glad I’d booked it early. When we returned a couple of hours later a lot of people were still waiting in the visitor centre to get taken down to the beach. Some possibly had to wait until 2am before being told it was to late.

We saw a number of turtles on the beach but were told none of them were ours. Ours seemed to be right at the far end of the beach near some rocks and by the time we were allowed up she had already dug her hole. It felt very intrusive staring in to the behind of a turtle but as it’s tube (I have no idea what the technical term is) began to wobble it was quite amazing to see eggs pop out. If you can use your imagination it was a bit like a cartoon machine that was spitting out oversized products

The rangers quickly got to work measuring the nest and checking the health of the turtle. She’d been tagged and before this year had last been seen on the beach in 2010 though this was her 5th nest of eggs this season. Apparently she’d have laid 280 eggs there was less than a 1% chance any of them would reach adult hood. The turtle then began using her flippers, again possibly not the correct term, to cover the eggs doing so until the sand was hard and there was no trace of them. Whilst I couldn’t smell them apparently a fox would be able to and a number of eggs are lost that way.

Soon the little turtle, actually it wasn’t little, it was big, much bigger than i had anticipated, it was a lump about 3 ft long and a 1ft tall, began to scuttle back off to the sea. Now I thought turtles were slow but this one was clearly in a hurry and the ranger said she was surprised at how quickly this particular turtle had gone through the process. Before I had hoped to see the hatchlings but actually in hindsight I’m glad I saw this aspect of the reproduction process, it was magical seeing nature at work.

We were back at the visitors centre much earlier than I had expected and brought Dom and Ed the certificate for our turtle as an advance thank you for giving me a lift back. I arrived back at the hostel expecting the room to myself as I’d been moved from my original room because it appeared the other occupant had taken over both beds (using one as storage) and I was therefore surprised when I saw someone else in there. At least the light was still on and I didn’t have to make my bed in the dark.

Tuesday 14th January
I didn’t need to pack next morning because I hadn’t been around long enough to unpack so after checking out I was taken too the distillery for my Bundaberg Rum tour which was I felt the perfect way to end this part of my journey. The lady on the desk was waiting for me because I’d tried to book online to get a discount but couldn’t. I emailed and discovered as my address was in the UK and (silly) Australian alcohol licencing laws prohibited alcohol being delivered outside the country. You may note I was trying to purchase a ticket, not alcohol. Kindly the staff had also emailed me to confirm they’d honour the discount but more importantly would book me on the tour. I felt like a mini celebrity, I was certainly the only non Australian on the sold out tour.

The tour itself was really informative and the two guides were great fun. We were given a history of how Bundaberg Rum came about, basically the local sugar cane was crushed and produced molasses and they realised they could turn it in to rum. We were led around the various buildings and then the moment of magic, free samples. I’d been told by the the girl who served me in Brisbane to try the liquor so made thgat my first choice. I don’t really like Bailey’s but I liked this especially when it had a layer of fresh cream put on top. It’s a travesty that only those in Australia can enjoy it at the current time and even they can only by it at the distillery.

What to try next, I’d had the original (which I have to admit I don’t like) and the Red label (the version I fell in love with but which isn’t sold in the UK). There was a version with ginger beer and a spiced version though in the end I went for the most expensive which was a aged version of the original. I had it neat on the rocks but I think the quality was lost on me slightly and I had to ask for a dash of coke. Though Bundy and coke is a winning combination.

I made my way back to the hostel. It was before mid day and I was in a very content mood. The reception was closed so I went to find some food and failing to find anywhere open in the vicinity had to settle for McDonald’s but judging by the crowd all the locals had had the same idea. I returned back to the hostel and was then given a lift to the airport.

I had arrived two hours early but I hadn’t appreciated as there was only one flight with Qantas the check in desk wouldn’t be open. I therefore waited before eventually someone came down to open up and then waited again until someone opened security. It was a very cute operation and the plane was tiny as well.

During the flight I was offered snacks and a free drink. As I was in Queensland I opted for a XXXX beer. I hadn’t done a domestic link before and wasn’t that trusting of the situation so in a slightly paranoid state confirmed with staff that my luggage would continue to Sydney without me having to check in again. The flight was delayed but once we’d taken off we got a free meal and another free drink, this time I chose a white wine just so I could complete the set. Best still I hadn’t paid for any of them (well technically I had by buying the tour ticket and the flights…but still).

I arrived back in Sydney after 21.00 and the airport looked a bit empty. Initially I went to the wrong luggage collection and as I saw the same items going round and nothing else began to think mine had gone back to Bundaberg. I asked someone and they told me where to go. My flight had been pretty empty and by the time I got there my bag was the only thing going round and round. There were no more dramas and as I knew my way to the hostel I was in bed by 22.30. the only other almost event was walking along a underground passageway when 2 police officers were in front of me, as guy was murdering Summer Nights. I really wanted to say to them in my merry/possibly drunk state “I wish to report a murder” and then point but wisely decided against it.

Wednesday 15th January
The next day was a typical free day. I had to stock up on toiletries as the huge supply I’d brought from the UK was finally running out. This meant as my bag was steadily becoming light, dipping below 19kgs including my sleeping nag at one stage it is now over 20kgs again. Each time I do laundry another chore I had to do, it seems impossible to fit it all back in.

I spent much of the day in the lounge chatting to people that were also catching up on life including a girl called Jen who has moved over here to be a mid wife. I also saw one of the guys I’d shared with the last time I was in the hostel, only a week ago but I was still surprised he remembered me. I felt a bit bad to be inside on such a lovely day but with no electrical sockets outside no one really had a choice.

I also finalised my accommodation for Adelaide and Perth as both those destinations are quickly creeping up. The end of January seemed so far away at one stage but now I’m over half way I know time will fly because that’s how it always seems to work on the tours. In fact it’s weird to think won’t be back in Sydney until 1st March by which time if all goes to plan I’ll have made my way all the way along the South Coast, part way up the West and right through the centre. But first off it’s back to Melbourne and the Australian Open.

Somewhere Only We Know: Noosa

Saturday 11th January
I initially assumed that I was going to have another early start in order to get my Greyhound bus from Brisbane to Noosa however I checked the day before and it was actually scheduled for 13.45. In hindsight I could have used the time to re-explore Brisbane or to do the XXXX Brewery tour however I was feeling a bit lethargic. I checked out and waited for Lewis and Alex to arrive for breakfast as arranged. Alex arrived but there was no sign of Lewis and I spent the rest of the morning catching up on my blog and dozing off.

Unfortunately whilst I had intended to further catch up on the blog on the Greyhound bus I dozed off and woke up at one point to a view of a lovely coast before tiredness hit again. We stopped at a few places to pick up and drop off including Maroochydore before continuing to Australia Zoo where we picked up those that had been on the day trip from Noosa. The weather compared to the day before couldn’t have been more contrasting.

Most Australian coach drivers, in fact most Australians I’ve encountered so far are polite, a good laugh and overly helpful but our driver was grumpy, reminding me of a bus driver I had on the Megabus once. I guess he has to put up with backpackers on a daily basis that don’t listen but at times it felt like I was on a school trip. We arrived at Noosa Junction and he turfed everyone off and started unloading bags. My ticket was to the next stop so initially I was confused why we weren’t being dropped off at the hostels. It was however rather simple – the hostels would come to pick us up but why this wasn’t explained during the journey I don’t know.

I wasn’t the only one confused, in fact everyone was. Eventually I and 4 girls found the mini bus for the YHA and we were taken to Halse Lodge which is heritage listed and apparently the oldest wooden structure in Queensland. We checked in and were told there was a introductory meeting at 18.00 where we could introduce ourselves and get some information about things to do in Noosa. We would also get a complimentary glass of wine. It seemed a nice idea.

I quickly prepared myself and went back downstairs. The girl leading the introduction meeting was also from the UK and in fact it seemed most people were. Afterwards I started talking to a local from Brisbane about various topics including the behaviour of children in Peterborough and East London (they were a teacher who had worked in the UK). They had approached me because during the meeting I’d said I was looking to travel to Mt Tinbeerwha the following morning. They wanted to tell me the local Laguna lookout and coastal walk would be a more effective way to spend my time.

After getting a chicken parmigiana from the adjoining restaurant I started chatting to a guy from Canada and we had a game of pool and table football both of which I won. Though in a way there was no winner with the pool because there was no chalk and it was a painfully slow game to finish. I then went up to my room and realised that mine was one of the rooms without electric sockets because the building was heritage listed. There were also two girls in the room – Amy and Kirsty from Germany and when I initially opened the door I thought I had somehow unlocked the wrong room. They’d just arrived and I went back downstairs armed with a charger in an an attempt to use one of the public sockets in the lounge to charge my tablet and mobile. It was at this point I got chatting to another Canadian called Dave?

I spent an hour or so charging things so they had a bit of life in them before heading back upstairs. The girls had an early start to Australia zoo the next morning and had already turned off the light when I got back. I could have got everything sorted in the dark as I’d already unpacked but as they were still awake and reading on their iPads we turned it back on. The room was stuffy even with the window open and all 3 of us found it hard to get to sleep because there was a lot of noise coming from the beer garden down below.

Sunday 12th January
The girls alarm went off at about 5.15 or some horrendous time like that. Worse whilst it immediately woke me up both of them continued sleeping. I wasn’t sure what to do. Lie there and wait or jump around the room and shout. I had no energy to do the latter so opted to lie there. Mercifully one of them heard it and leapt out of bed to turn it off. They left and I sleepily wished them a good day before drifting back off to sleep.

When my alarm eventually went off I struggled to get going though I knew I had a lot of walking I wanted to get done before meeting Pam from my trip around America later that afternoon. I headed downstairs and was surprised they didn’t have a map of the walks around the National Park. I went to tourist information and had the same result as apparently the maps can only be issued from the entrance at the national park. I didn’t understand this because it meant without a guide or the internet you couldn’t plan in advance what to do, or even know what to expect of the scenery. Still I’m only a tourist and surely therefore the target audience but what do I know. (I never quite got used to the general backward approach in this part of Queensland towards tourism opportunities but more of that in Bundaberg).

I started by walking to Laguna lookout which had been recommended to me by the driver on the way back from Moreton Island and the local from Brisbane. I have to say I was very slightly underwhelmed as it had taken over 30 minutes to get there and there wasn’t anything to tell me what I was looking at. It was a beautiful day and the beaches below looked very inviting and I could see the distant mountains but none of it really meant anything to me. Perhaps it would have appealed more if there had been someone to share the view with or if I’d just come in the car like most and not gone to the effort of such a steep climb. I’d also just received a text from my dad saying Watford had lost. Ah.

Returning back to Hastings Street I set off towards the National Park and finally got to see my different walk options. Pam was due to be in Noosa around 14.30 and as it was still only about 10.00 I had plenty of time to explore. I opted for the coastal walk because it looked the longest and had appeared to have a bit of variety. The opportunity to possibly see Koalas in the trees and dolphins and turtles in the bay.

It started off pleasantly and the sun shone down but when I got to Tea Tree Bay the best chance of seeing a koala I realised my luck wasn’t in. The forest suddenly seemed very big, the trees tall and I’ve struggled to see koalas at a zoo when there is a sign telling me which tree they were in. With few fellow walkers around and certainly none peering up in to the canopy I reluctantly headed on.

By the time I got to Hell’s Gate the wind was blowing wildly. Peering down in to the shallow bay I saw for a few seconds a turtle being bashed around by the waves before it decided to dive under. I waited with the camera pointed for it to reappear it didn’t and then I noticed the sky had turned a ominous dark grey colour. I even felt a bit of rain. I could see blue sky in patches and had a choice. I could head for Sunshine Beach in hope the name was symbolic of its weather or head back through the forest. In the end I opted for the coast.

I started to cross Alexandria beach on the eastern side of the national park. I noticed there were quite a few tents and it was fairly busy at the southern end considering its remote location but thought little of it. I was happily taking some photographs from a distance of Lion Rocks out to see when I got that feeling that I was being watched from the distance by some of those near the tents. I carried on walking towards them along the wet sand as that was less strenous and they were soon to my right.

It was only then i realised why i looked out of place. I was the only person with clothes on. I was on a nudist beach. Now, this no doubt has you cracking your sides with laughter and or be creating a glamorous image in your mind. I can assure you it was not the latter, or not in my mind. These were not young sporty types but…well I’ve probably said enough. All I’ll say is they were brave to be swimming in that rough sea near sharp rocks. I continued head down and reached an information board near Devils Kitchen. Here I found a national park map where someone had graffitied “Please remove all items of clothing”.

The walk was now nearly over and I must have allowed my legs to relax and as I was walking up some steps I suddenly just fell over forward. Luckily I didn’t get any major injuries and I had antiseptic gel and water to wash out the wounds and a plaster to keep them covered. By now I was at sunshine beach and somewhat miraculously the sun had come back out. I travelled across the pleasant beach until i reached the Surf Rescue where the bus back to town departed from. I felt I deserved an ice cream so went to a place called Massimos which Victoria had offered as a suggestion and ordered a cup of raspberry sorbet and blueberry frozen yogurt

I arrived back at the hostel and waited for Pam and her friend Lisa. In the time i had been out walking the town seemed to have filled with cars and when they turned up a spot in the hostel car park had just gone. We drove to the national park and after doing 2 loops of the car park a place eventually turned up. We decided to do a mini walk around the rain forest before doing the section of the coastal walk as far as Tea Tree Bay.

We left the car in the national park and as we were walking in to town I heard someone call out my name. This was a bit bizarre because so far as I was aware I knew no one in Noosa other than those I was with but it turned out Konstantin from my Tasmania tour was there with his girlfriend. We had a very quick chat before we went our separate ways and eventually Pam, Lisa and I got an ice cream at a place called Nitrogenie. This was a bit more of a novelty ice cream than Massimos but it was still very nice, I opted for lemon meringue pie which even had a little top to it.

We sat and ate our ice creams on the wall whilst a nearby busker played a guitar and then headed back to my hostel to get some food. We sat outside and there was a little lizard nearby that kept trying to eat some potatoes wedges. Sadly time always passes when you’re having fun and it was soon time for them to head back and because of Queensland’s time difference it was starting to get dark anyway. I walked with them both back to the car and they dropped me back off at the hostel.

Back at the hostel I got chatting to a guy called Dave who I’d briefly met the night before when we were both trying to charge our devices. He’d been at Australia Zoo and we exchanged experiences. I then text Konstantin to find out where he was staying, having a hunch it would be the same place. It was, so after having another quick catch up in the lounge we arranged to have breakfast the next day.

Summer of 69 – Australia Zoo

Friday 10th December
3 years ago one, if not my biggest travel regret was failing to go to Australia Zoo. I was all set to go on my free day at Surfers Paradise but those that I was going with pulled out, the tour guide didn’t seem enthusiastic to book it (mainly because he didn’t rate it). Since then I’ve matured and I’m not prepared to miss out on something just because no one else wants to do it.

Going to Australia Zoo for me had become a pilgrimage. When I was growing up I used to love Steve Irwin’s TV show. I still remember when I was volunteering up in North Wales and sitting in Boston Lodge on a coffee break when news came through that he had been killed by a stingray during the production of what was his latest series. I think he successfully got a generation of kids across the world interested in wildlife, especially crocs and snakes.

I made my way to the Brisbane Transit Centre and the “Croc Express” wasn’t exactly hard to miss. It wasn’t long before we were out of Brisbane that it began to rain with a great ferocity. It was obvious that despite being on the ‘Sunshine Coast’ it was not going to be a dry day. Almost predictably this was perhaps the first day I’d taken my rain coat out of my day bag.

The bus driver gave us some tips of what to see and when. I have to admit I’d done very little research about what to see so I found this quite useful. Having held koala’s and fed kangaroo’s else where those activities were not high priority. Instead it was mainly about seeing the live shows especially at “The Crocoseum” and the tiger feeding show, the newly born tiger cubs whilst also visiting the wildlife animal hospital and the ‘Croc Hunter Museum’. Any enclosures I’d pass en-route to these would be a bonus.

The driver also gave us a history of the zoo. I hadn’t appreciated for example that the zoo was started by Steve Irwin’s father and that the name of his daughter “Bindi” means little girl in the local aboriginal language. The Crocoseum was Steve Irwin’s own idea and despite the concept of having different crocodile enclosures with a central, shared waterway leading to the arena being ridiculed he was eventually proved right and it was finally completed in 2003.

Arriving at the zoo I attempted to see whether I could survive the seemingly endless tropical downpour without a poncho. After about a minute of walking I realised the answer was a no so headed back to the gift shop. At least I now had a souvenir and carrying a poncho in my day pack in future would be lighter than my thick raincoat. I headed towards the Crocoseum as that was the location of the museum and the food courts. I figured if I got a late breakfast/early lunch I wouldn’t be caught in the queues and I’d be free to see the afternoon shows.

The croc hunter museum had a whole wall of various photographs of the Irwin families animal encounters with a number of stills from included from the various tv shows. There was also a display case with a lot of items that had been sent in my fans and friends following his death including some quite emotional poems and newspaper articles. There was also a small display case containing some dead/preserved spiders and snakes. Finally towards the back of the room a TV played footage from one of the series and I felt like I’d gone back to my childhood.

I ordered some food and even though it wasn’t busy still had to wait about 20 minutes to the amazement of the guy that ordered just after me. Getting food an hour before lunch now seemed a sensible idea if I wanted to see the 12.00 Australia Zoo Wildlife Warrior Show and then make it to the tiger feeding show at the other side of the park at 14.15.

Bindi Irwin was performing a song and dance routine prior to the main show during the summer season. This was probably because on sunny days the Crocoseum fills up early and it’s a nice way to provide some entertainment however as it was raining the park wasn’t as busy as I feared it would be and whilst by 11.30 some had already taken their seats there didn’t seem much urgency. A lady at the counter gave me the tip to sit towards the middle on the side so that I got the best perspective of the crocodiles shape under water whilst also having a good view of the big screen to see the action replays.

The set by Bindi was a bit, if not very cheesy but if she follows in her dads footsteps and successfully gets children to look after the environment then such a show has my support. I knew I wasn’t the target audience, I was there for the next show but in some ways it was an added bonus. I have to admit I didn’t really expect any of the family to be at the zoo and even if they were I thought the entertainment side would be left to those working there.

The main show began with a bird display one of which I felt came unbelievably close to my head though their various flying path must be well rehearsed to ensure there are no full impacts. The most impressive aspect involved a random member of the audience being picked to hold up a $5 note. The bird flew up took the note and gave it to the ranger who then pretended to keep it before giving it back to the bird to return to the audience member. There were also snakes that were carried amongst the audience but the main reason we were here was to see the Croc display.

As previously mentioned i didn’t expect the family to host the show so imagine my surprise and joy when the main crocodile show started and the whole family came out. Again the dialogue was a bit cheesy and over the top but then the dialogue of tv show had been in the same vain and it wasn’t a bad thing.

We were going to be introduced to Mossman a relatively new crocodile to the park. As he is fairly new he still has a lot of habits from his time in the wild and therefore he was in control of how the show would develop. Terri made it clear how it was important to keep an eye on him at all time and to keep a distance because he was slower out of the water and it would be possible to get out of the way.

First however we were told that as Robert was now 10 it was felt he was old enough to feed the crocodiles. He was therefore given some food and the doors to the arena opened and atmospheric music played. The crocodile that slowly entered was a little baby and whilst it was all part of the act it was quite funny to see Robert pretending to look brave. Saying that when it did reach launch itself from the water it still did so with a good deal of ferocity.

Eventually the main act began and Mossman slowly entered the arena and it was evident that swimming under water he made no ripple. If he had been in murky water there would not have been any evidence that he was travelling through the water. One of the game keepers stamped in the water to create vibrations to tempt him over and then Terri tempted him with food to demonstrate how he launched himself from the river to grab his prey. At one point Mossman pretended not to be interested however this was a ploy in the hope either Terri or the game keeper would turn their back so he could get more than a small lump of meat.

Next Bindi fed Mossman from a platform to sshow how crocodiles can also jump up and attack vertically with equal ferocity. Finally Robert did get his chance as well though Mossman again pretended he wasn’t interested. Finally with a piece of meat on the end of a rope the gamekeeper demonstrated by pulling on the rope how a crocodile would act if its prey tried to escape. Mossman pulled the meat and rope in to the water causing the gamekeeper to fall over in the process and then did 2, possibly 3 ‘death rolls’ which if the meat had been a live animal would have probably drowned it, if it had survived being caught between the jaws in the first place. With that Mossman was tempted back to his enclosure and the show ended. As Steve Irwin said “Crocs Rule”.

Next I began to make my way to the tiger enclosure but to get there I had to pass through the aviary, the wombats, an open area of Kangaroos and the snakes/lizards. Eventually I arrived and saw the two cubs with a small crowd around them. Those people had paid $400 each, which is more than the cost of my 3 day tour round Alice Springs not that it’s probably fair to compare the two experiences, it just seems a lot to me.

I arrived at the tiger temple and despite there being no adverts anywhere else in the park this confirmed the show was at 14.15. The arena is quite small and according to our driver the solution to keeping spectator numbers within capacity is to not advertise the time as much as the other daily demonstrations. I was about 20 minutes early and took a seat as I saw people were already doing so.

The demonstration was very impressive, with lots of interesting facts. Apparently if you took every tiger either in captivity or in the wild there would still be less than 5000. No wonder I didn’t see one in India. The gamekeeper managed to get the female tiger to perform a number of the hunting moves including climbing up and then jumping from a tree.

After this I headed to the new Africa safari section and I saw the Cheetah’s being walked (again an expensive hands experience) as well as the Zebra, Rhinos and the Giraffes but with the cloud cover it could easily have been Whipsnade. Perhaps because of the rain the walk didn’t really seem worth it and it may have been because there was no quick route back to the visitor centre and an area near by was under construction. Maybe once both are finished it won’t seem such a mission to get to. Maybe also when it’s hot and sunny it also looks more like the Serengeti.

Luckily as I wanted to go back to the entrance/exit I was allowed on the shuttle as the queue was getting ridiculous as people realised the only way to anything was in the rain back across the long route they’d just made. My intention was to leave the park and check out the wildlife hospital.

I got lost trying to find the entrance as there were I believe two, if not three including one for if you were bringing an injured animal. I must have looked a sad sight in the rain my poncho absolutely drenched and when I saw one of the shuttle trains I really felt a bit paranoid that people were watching me. Quite quickly a friendly voice at the back asked if I was ok and I explained I was looking for the tour entrance. I suddenly realised who it was. On the back of the train were the 3 Irwin’s and I assume they were doing a private tour. I quickly said how much I loved the show that afternoon and then explained I was looking for the visitor entrance. They pointed me in the right direction then asked where I was from and I said I’d come all the way from London. As they pulled away they wished me safe travels and waved/smiled. It was very touching.

The hospital exhibition didn’t have a lot going on as it appeared the vets were packing up but it was still great to see the work that is done to nurse injured animals back to health before they are released back in to the wild. It didn’t take long to see it all and I’d planned my time perfectly to be back at the entrance/exit for the coach back. The driver put on a DVD which would have probably been more appropriate to see before we arrived as along with highlights from the tv show it had tips of things to see inside the park.

I arrived back at the hostel and decided to do the $5 BBQ in the hope I might get to socialise with people in the hostel as I hadn’t seen much of my room mates. Luckily I hit gold. There were 4 other single travellers on my table and initially I think we all thought at least two of us were travelling as a pair because of the way conversations had began straight away. For example the girls Alex and Helga thought me and Karl a guy from Germany/South Africa knew each other because we sat down at the same time and having just met in the kitchen when trying to find cutlery were talking. Likewise I assumed they’d arrived together having been sharing the same room.

After the BBQ we went to the hostel bar where happy hour had been extended before we headed in to town. This was the first time since before Christmas I’d had a spontaneous night out with people I’d just met and whilst we weren’t allowed in to the first place (because I assume it was full) we eventually found an Irish Bar that was playing the Proclaimers. I performed my classic signature dance move and also had a good dance to Billie Jean and as i followed Michael Jackson’s moves on the the big screen all I was missing was the hat.

Me Lewis and Alex got back to the hostel where we agreed to meet for what would possibly be a hang over curing breakfast though it hadn’t been a messy night. Most of it had been chilled out and the topics kept to the standard where have you been/where are you going backpacker topics of conversation.

Beautiful Day – Moreton Island

Wednesday 8th January
My pickup for Moreton Island was one of my earliest yet. 06.10. I think I’d had a fairly good nights sleep and I’d been sensible so I didn’t really need to sort to much once I was awake. The mini bus arrived and I realised I was the only one with luggage as everyone else was just doing the day trip. It had sounded like a typical tour in the brochure but, and maybe it was because the other 4 travellers were two pairs I realised I’d be on my own for much of the time especially as I was the only one staying the night.

We arrived at the ferry and once we had boarded I tried to engage with one of the pairs who were part of a yacht team that had travelled across the World and as part of it had participated in the Sydney to Hobart race. I felt that I was intruding a bit and looking around for other potential solo travellers became aware most of the other passengers were families. I started to wonder just how much longer the school holidays would last; I am not optimistic that Noosa is going to be any less popular with families.

We arrived at Tangalooma resort on the Island and I lost where the other 4 had gone because I along with a few others (2 families) were met at the jetty and taken on a small tour of the resort. It probably took between 5 to 10 minutes to get from the jetty to the Tangalooma watersports tour company. Two times, including when I went to the accommodation reception I was told breakfast was included only then to be told i was on a different package and it wasn’t but this news didn’t really bother me either way.

I made my way to main tours desk as part of my dead meant I could do 3 options out of 9 available on both days. Essentially this meant finding 3 activities I didn’t mind missing however the main reason I’d come was to see the dolphins which come in to the jetty at dusk. If you had a particular package it was also possible to hand feed them but I believed mine was to view only. I was however keen to do the snorkeling around 15 wrecks of boats that were intentionally sunk to create a breakwater and which in the process has created a man made reef.

The guy at the counter spent a number of minutes looking at all the different times that the options were available and eventually came up with an itinerary for me. Day one would be as follows: jet ski at 10.30, snorkeling at 13.00 and Sedway at 15.00. Day two would start with a catamaran lesson at 10.00, followed by sailing if winds weren’t to high, kayaking at anytime for a maximum of 3 hours and finally a cruise at 2.45 to see the wrecks and feed the reef fish. The boat back was at 16.00 so as usual I was cramming it all in.

At 10.30 I headed down to the beach for the jet ski and it wasn’t long before we were going full speed through the harbour towards the wrecks. As we approached we had to slow down because there were a number of people kayaking and snorkeling in the vicinity. This however gave the guide a chance to spot a turtle which he pointed out to me however by the time we’d started going over for a closer look it had disappeared beneath the surface.

I had a couple of hours where nothing was booked in and saw it was possible to do a walk to an area called ‘the dessert’. It is unclear how this area formed but there is basically a small area where there is no vegetation, only sand. I had hoped to clearer map than the one I had but nothing else was available though apparently the track was obvious once you were on it. In total it was meant to take 2 hours and 30 minutes but I figured for no good reason I must add, that I could do it in under 2 hours.

Setting off along the beach i eventually found the steps leading up to the path and started walking through the bush. This is what I had envisaged Australia to be like. Me completely alone walking through the bush. It was quite liberating to be clear of the crowds though of course they were only only probably 20 minutes walk away from me at the other end of the beach. I heard the occasional unexpected rustling sound in the vegetation and assuming it to be a snake each time quickened my pace rather than checking to make sure.

My pace was pretty frantic as I knew I had to be back by 13.00 though by walking back along the other path I knew I’d at least end up at the correct end of the resort. Eventually I came to a sign at a crossroads saying the desserts were only 700m so I pushed on. When I came to the dessert it was quite a bit smaller than I anticipated and I could see the trees abd other vegetation growing around it. As I started down the sand dune I realised it was bigger than it looked and without any shade the heat was very strong. There was no real reason for me to go down except to say I had so I headed back up the sand dune and started the walk back.

It wasn’t long before I got to the crossroads but this time took the ‘bush path’ back to the resort. I don’t know how this bit of bush was any different to the section to the beach as I still heard rustling though I did have to overcome a few fallen trees that blocked the path. A family came towards me and we exchanged pleasantries, I encouraged them on as they looked a bit concerned and then they told me the child had asthma. I don’t really know what cures that but I asked if they needed my big bottle of water to refill supplies but they said they were ok so I headed on. They didn’t need it but I’d stupidly left my own phones in my locker so I knew if anything had happened to me I wouldn’t have been able to contact anyone for assistance which wasn’t the most sensible planning.

I arrived back in the resort an hour and 30 minutes after I set out, so even had time to get a much needed bite to eat before my snorkeling. It was around this time I decided I liked Moreton Island a lot. Maybe my attitude had changed by the time i got back but the staff also appeared to be becoming more friendly towards me especially once I had told them that I was effectively backpacking around a huge country alone having started more than 2 months ago in Russia.

Our guide around the wrecks was clearly very passionate and knowledgeable about marine life and as the age group was quite mixed with a number of young children participating she had to keep it interesting for them as well. We saw a number of fish and even a cormarant diving under the water to try and grab some fish as well as swimming in between and over the wrecks. We didn’t see any rays or turtles but it was still a great way to spend an hour and I was glad I’d got the underwater camera.

Next I headed to have a go on the sedway. This felt very weird to control but i soon felt I had got used to it as I’d stopped making it flip forwards and backwards. I was doing quite well at following the guides tracks which made it easier as the sand was already flat and it allowed me to keep up with the pace.  However the person directly in front kept just going in a straight line and whilst going in the direction of the guide was not following the route. I kept trying to overtake subtly but the sand was a bit too deep to negotiate.

One girl fell off twice including when we were meant to be stationary but the guide missed it and congratulated us on not falling off. I then became a bit to confident on the return journey. I’m not quite sure what happened, I was going along fine when all of a sudden I must have lost my balance and flipping me backwards and forwards I somehow went over the top to luckily to one side. The machine did an emergency stop so there was no pretending it didn’t happen as the guide had to restart it. It had certainly been exciting and a few minutes later it happened to another guy who agreed it was the most exciting part of the activity.

I returned back to reception as I’d received a message saying my room was ready. Now bearing in mind I thought at worst I was camping and at best I was going to be in a dorm what I saw when I opened the room nearly made me faint. After more than 2 months of slumming it I had my own room and not only that I had en-suit. i even had electric sockets that were all mine and was safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t wake up in the night to find my mobile unplugged as happened in one place.

I showered and flopped on the bed before heading back out with the intention of filling the next couple of hours before going to the jetty for the dolphin feeding. I’d noticed there was a opportunity to see kookaburras being fed and I assumed this would also be a chance to see them in a natural setting. Unfortunately the ranger said that most were nesting and there weren’t any around so instead we were only able to view a nest. Instead I decided to walk along the beach the opposite way I had earlier in the day when I went to the dessert. This direction took me to the wrecks and as I was now out of the resort and had the area to myself I started thinking how cool it would be to be ship wrecked and to be washed up on my own island. I then made my way back to the jetty and took a seat.

The area was already filling up and one family had laid out all their bags to save spaces along the front row overlooking the deepest part of the water (nearer the sea end). I took the next seat where their space seemed to end as I figured it would be better than sitting in one of the higher rows and there was still water in front of me. The waiting began. The dolphin feeding began at 19.15 and it was still only about 18.30. It was however dry and not cold so it wasn’t to bad. Besides I was excited. Surely now I’d finally get to see one properly and not just a distant fin.

The first splash happened a lot sooner than I expected and it wasn’t long before some of the other dolphins came in to the shore. Whilst they were wild they were clearly used to entertaining and were very playful diving out of the water and poking their heads above the water. The guide then said those feeding the dolphins and going back on the ferry could feed them first before saying those who were staying and on a feeding package could go.

I wasn’t sure what package I was on but thought I’d wonder down just in case. when I gave my name and it was ticked off I nearly, in fact I probably did yelp with excitement. I kept imagining that just it would get to my turn the dolphins would decide they were full and swim away and it didn’t help that children were crying and saying similar thoughts. Still as I edged closer down the beach the realisation of what I was about to do sunk in.

I picked up my fish and waded in to the water. The ranger that fed the kookaburra recognised me and started telling me about the dolphin I was about to feed. whilst in recent years my multi tasking ability has increased and I can perform basic tasks and listen there was a dolphin less than 2 feet away. Most probably less than even a foot away. I couldn’t concentrate on what she said, but I knew it was one of the babies just seeing one in the wild was a dream I’d been trying to fulfill for 10 years and there I was about to feed it. I put my hand under the water and it came over and took it out, tickling my hand in the process. I tried to take a picture with my other hand having lined it up before putting my hand under the water but this was one memory I didn’t just want to witness down the lens. The ranger actually let me have a second go as I was on my own and that time I did try to get a picture but it came out dark. Still they’d taken an official photo and I’d already decided I’d get that.

I was nearly jumping with joy when I head back to the beach. I was clearly smiling because a number of the guides stopped me and asked how it was, at which point I told them the tales of my failed sightings over the past 10 years. It was all to much excitement and although it was only 21.30 when I got back to my room I crashed out shortly after (having removed the smell of fish from my hand first).

Thursday 9th January
I wasn’t in a great hurry to wake up the following morning as check out wasn’t until 10.00 and as had been pointed out to me (twice) breakfast wasn’t included. I re-packed my bag to ensure everything for the next couple of days was at the top, made sure everything was fully charged and most importantly that my bag was labeled in order for it to be collected from outside my room for the departure.

After checking out I went to the Tangalooma Water Sports to confirm my activities. I was told the wind was still to high to go out to sea on a catamaran but that the introduction session on the beach was still going ahead. I was surprised to learn the only person that wanted to have an introduction to sailing and I felt even if I couldn’t do the activity that day at least I’d have some background knowledge if I did in the future.

Another guy did join us but the teacher seemed a bit fed up at the low numbers attending his session and possibly because whilst there was no noticeable wind on the beach, the wind out to sea had prevented the catamarans going out for the past week as it was above the permitted speed.

Since being in New Zealand I had wanted to have a go at kayaking, it looked like a decent activity, not overlay strenuous if the waves weren’t to big and a good way to cover a greater distance than it would (probably) be possible to swim. I had planned to do an hour just to see how it was and to get some practice should I ever get the chance to do it again. With the cancellation of the catamaran I decided to hire the equipment early and to spend more time rowing around.

I started off just seeing what the current was like as i didn’t want to row for 1 hour 30 in one direction and then realise it was going to take double that to get back. I rowed up and down the area close to the beach then became more adventures slowly heading towards the wrecks. I kept expecting to see a turtle right next to be but didn’t and after about 45 minutes i have to admit I was feeling a bit bored. I was going with the wind but without a sail I don’t think it really helped. The wrecks still seemed at least 10 minutes away and I wasn’t even sure what I’d do when I got there. I therefore decided to start heading back.

The journey back was tougher because I was sailing in to the waves but I put in more effort and it took me much less time. I started to continue over to the jetty but as with the wrecks wasn’t really sure why. It kind of felt like I was rowing for the sake of rowing rather than to see something new and inspiring. It felt like it was a good workout, especially due to the sun and I actually felt I was quite good at it so I would consider doing it again if it meant I saw something not accessible by foot.

I had a quivk swim in the sea and then decided to read my book in rge sun to dry off. This was how I’d imagined my Christmas Day was going to be. Unfortunately there was no where to have a shower so I had to go on the cruise feeling a bit salty.

The cruise ended up being a perfect way to say goodbye to the island. It was a bit overcast and the sea wasn’t that clear so we couldn’t see the rays or turtles beneath the surface. We did however see a splash not to far from the boat and it wasn’t long before the dolphins that were in the area started to come over. Our guide said it was the closest she’d ever seen them from the boat but the main purpose of the trip was to see the wrecks and there was probably a license involved with dolphin watching that meant we had to move on. At the wrecks the fish swam near the surface, especially once we started to throw the fish food in to the sea so we could make out the different colourful types.

2 cormorants were also in the area and kept ducking and diving trying to grab one of the fish. It wasn’t long before one succeeded. We saw it grab the fish, shake it a bit then gobble it down whole. Nature can be brutal. We headed back, running slightly late but there wasn’t anything that caught our eye. I collected my return ticket and boarded the ferry back to Brisbane.

Arriving back at Brisbane I got chatting to the guide that picked us up and learnt that he also ran weekend trips to Noosa. As that was my next stop he gave me some tips of the walks to various lookouts that were accessible from the town and suggested the a walk I could do around the national park.

Having checked in to the hostel i asked where was cheap and good for food and the girl on the desk helpfully suggested an Indian takeaway so that’s where I went. It wasn’t bad, but in my opinion not as good as those in London though it did probably only cost the equivalent of £5. Having eaten I wasn’t ready to go home so I walked in to the local cinema just to see what was on. The Railway Man with Colin Firth was about to start, the blurb appealed and when they said I could get a YHA discount I was sold. The movie itself was very thought provoking and a very interesting subject matter being about the effects the second world war had on a prisoner of war and the guard. I was certainly ready for bed when I got back. It had been a busy 2 days.

Walkaway – Sydney to Brisbane

Monday 6th January
Firstly apologies for the length of the last few blogs. I think the length really does reflect just how much mum and I fitted in. Not that the upcoming weeks are going to be any less relentless. Therefore a day of downtime was crucial before I left for the Sunshine Coast.

Not that downtime meant resting – as usual the tasks had built up one of which was to collect my sleeping bag from Victoria because I’d read it was needed for Moreton Island. That was arranged for the afternoon so in the morning I brought myself a new UV filter for the camera and did what I always have to do after a week of activities – laundry.

After making my way to the suburbs of Sydney to collect my sleeping bag I returned to the hostel. Due to the number of people in the room it hadn’t been possible to charge any of my electrical items as everyone uses adapters so although they made 8 available in reality only 4 could be used. Finding a socket in the lounge I therefore set up camp there using the time to start catching up on my blog and when I got weary of that to continue forming the final part of my journey in Australia.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to see the whole West Coast from Perth to Darwin via Broome as it is the tropical season up that side of the country. I did however notice I could potentially fit in a 5 day trip to Exmouth and use a spare day to fly to Darwin before commencing my trip round Kakadu before heading right through the centre back to Adelaide via Alice Springs. It was perfect in theory. I had however made a fundamental error. When checking flights I’d made the search Exmouth to Perth (not to Darwin) and despite appearing distance wise to be closer to Darwin the shortest route found was going to take 24 hours via Brisbane and would cost over $700. There were only direct flights to Perth and no direct flights from Perth to Darwin in the afternoon. Luckily I was able to find a cheapish work around though it means I’d have a stop over in Perth and have to cut my trip short by half a day.

Mum being around had rejuvenated me a bit and I realised i’d begun to grow slightly tired of having to introduce myself again and again to people I knew I’d be unlikely to see again. Although each time I went through the standard conversation: where are you from?, how long have you been here? How long have you got left? This of course had sometimes made me feel isolated but now I felt fresh again.

I heard two people discussing the disastrous performance by England in the Cricket and kind of butted in on their conversation. It turned out the ‘After Party’ was the following day though in my opinion the atmosphere was going to be more like a wake. It seemed the organisers were desperate to sell tickets and that tickets would only be $25 on the door. If I’d been around I’d have gone but I was Brisbane bound. It’s been a bit surreal being here whilst the cricket was on, 3 years ago I built the end of my trip around it, but this time I was always somewhere else when it was on. I probably saw less than 6 hours play on TV and most of that was unintentionally at a bar in New Zealand. I even seem to be in the wrong place when the Women’s Ashes matches take place and again when the Men begin the ‘One Day’ matches. This time I seem to have built the trip around the Australian Open but I’d love to see some local sport as well.

Tuesday 7th January
I woke up early even though checkout wasn’t until 11am as I had a few calls to make once of which was to the company I was using to get to Moreton Island the following day. I’d seen in the fine print I was meant to re-confirm 48 hours before and obviously it was under that. I don’t know if it’s only here they do that, but surely if I’ve paid over $200 for something that shows my intentions to participate in the activity are clear enough. Still I started phoning at 9.00, the officer opening time and there was no answer so kept trying. It took a whole 10 minutes before I remembered Queensland was backwards and still had day light saving so was an hour behind.

Finally I got through about 10.30am New South Wales time, just as I was boarding the train to the airport. The battle to spell ‘Catchpole’ to the person on the other end (non English speakers have always found the ‘tchp’ bit difficult to comprehend) became near impossible. I’d had the reference number on me all morning which would have made the task much easier but I’d had to put it away. Thankfully I was eventually found and confirmed.

I arrived in Brisbane 20 minutes after I had left Sydney or that’s what my watch said anyway. I caught the train from the airport and made the fairly short walk to the hostel without any drama. Once I was checked in I contacted Philippa to check where and when we were meeting. I spent the time in between sorting out a potential day/night bag for Moreton Island as I still hadn’t been able to establish if there was a maximum load I could take.

Eventually I commenced what I thought was a 15 minute walk to our meeting place in China Town though It ended up taking slightly longer. It was still fairly early so we decided to get a beer before heading to get some dinner. It was great to catch up again especially as I blame Philippa for putting the idea in my head to do 30 countries by the time I’m 30. We also reminisced about our Egypt tour; some of the memories I have from those few days on the cruise are my most memorable and some of the sayings have crept in to my vocabulary. “Same, same but different” the name of a shop in Dahab but which I use to settle a dispute when the point of an argument is basically the same and “Yalla Yalla” Arabic for hurry/let’s go.

As I was heading up to Bundaberg in a few days and as I was now in Queensland I decided to make my next drink Bundaberg and coke. I made a comment to the waitress that I was ordering it because I was visiting and she said she was originally from there. She told me to try the coffee liquor which they only sell at the distillery and which she claimed was nicer than Bailey’s.

Next Philippa and I went to a Korean BBQ restaurant where we ordered a selection of foods that we had to cook ourselves similar to the ‘Hot Pot’ restaurant experience in Beijing. We probably overloaded the BBQ to start with and couldn’t quite eat as quick as stuff became ready and when I was briefly alone I had to abandon eating to ensure that I wasn’t going to start a fire. It was a very nice restaurant, the food was cooked perfectly and I was certainly full by the time we left.

We then went on a small drive through the city before stopping to go for a small walk where we saw Brisbane “London Eye” which was rather small or If I’m being polite cute. Philippa then took me to a place that did ice cream where you could add sweets to the mix. I really was a kid in a sweet shop but in the end settled for lemon sorbet with nerds and fizz wizz, on!y spotting the popping candy as we were leaving. It could probably have done with something sweet as it was a bit sour but I bet Ben and Jerry’s didn’t get the formula right first time.