All Around the World: Dubai

Thursday 27th March
I had managed to get about 4 hours sleep before there were to many distractions that I couldn’t ignore any further. This included the person behind coughing and a baby a couple of rows back crying and screaming. It was to late to watch a movie so I watched the final two episodes of ‘The Wrong Man’ which I’d missed when I’d left at the end of October. I tried to rest my eyes but first they came round to give breakfast and then to take the blanket I was using to cover my face.

We landed at around 6am and I made my way to the visa and tour booking desk. The guy at the desk confirmed there was space and because I wasn’t staying at a hotel the solution was for me to be picked from the nearby Premier Inn. It looked nice outside and I was also able to book a morning session to visit Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world). I felt quite apprehensive as I passed the baggage claim and it felt like something was missing when I left the airport with only a small rucksack.

Eventually I made it out of the airport towards the Dubai metro and I was thankful that the machine made it clear how to buy tickets. The notifications on the train were in Arabic and English so I had no problem getting off at the correct station though I had regretted not sitting on the other side as I would have seen the Burj Khalifa. After arriving it was unclear which way I needed to go but eventually I opted to follow signs to the Dubai Shopping Mall though I was surprised that all the signs for Burj Khalifa had disappeared.

The walkway was lot longer than I had anticipated and I wasn’t even sure if I was heading in the right direction. I looked out of the windows on both sides but I literally couldn’t see, and therefore felt lost trying to find the tallest building in the world. I finally entered the shopping mall and I have to admit even I was impressed and slightly overawed by its size. I finally saw some signs to the Burj Khalifa and made my way.

I was in no hurry to rush round the displays so I took my time and was surprised to discover that the Burj Khalifa was nearly double the size of the Twin Petrona Towers I had visited in Kuala Lumpur. I made my way to the lift and travelled to floor 124 which was 1,483 feet from the ground. The view was obviously impressive but there was quite a bit of haze in the distance which meant I couldn’t for example make out the Palm Islands.

There is only a certain amount of time you can spend looking down on a city so I soon found myself feeling ready to go back down. Before I did one of the telescopes became free and it was amazing to see the contrast between the city now and in the relatively recent past when it had been mostly desert. Once I was finished I decided to make my way to the Waterfall inside the mall before going outside to the Waterfront where I was able to appreciate just how big the Burj Khalifa is.

My colleague Sue had given me a suggestion for a vegetarian Indian restaurant called Rangoli where for very little money I could “eat like a King”. After arriving at the nearest station I started walking to the restaurant however as soon as I turned the final corner the local shop keepers were trying to tempt me in to their shop to buy t-shirts. I let out a sigh inside. I’ve been in the situation many times before and have learnt to ignore what I’m being asked but I really feel it is mentally tiring when people stereotype and assume I’m a walking £ or $ sign. It’s very frustrating when you know where you want to go and people keep trying to block your path but luckily I could see my destination so I persevered.

It wasn’t quite lunch so I ordered a mango lassi and waited for the kitchen to open. Eventually I made my way upstairs and ordered the Gujarati Thali. The plate given to me was big and had a few small metal dishes on it but I feared portion sizes looked on the small side. How wrong I was. Soon various waiters were bringing out Chapatis, Papads, and various curries and a dhal to fill up the bowls and when ever one was finished more food appeared. I loved it, though I wasn’t a big fan of the complimentary buttermilk drink.

Full and happy I made my way back to the train station and boarded the train. I had been careful not to board ‘Gold’ class but I made another tourist error. I accidentally boarded the “women and children only” carriage however luckily I was able to quickly move down the train when the mistake was pointed out to me. I arrived back at the airport to get a free shuttle to the Premier Inn but as the carpark was predictably very busy I couldn’t see where it was.

I had been told a taxi would cost about 25AED which I was prepared to pay to avoid the hassle of waiting for the shuttle. Sadly I had the floating £ and $ sign above my head and when I enquired I was told over 50AED so I said no thanks. There was still no sign of the shuttle so I went back in to the airport to the taxi booking desk and again the girl confirmed the price. I was then approached by a taxi driver which is always dodgy and he quoted 80AED. Declining that offer I went back outside and thankfully this time I saw the shuttle bus to the Premier Inn and I waited there for the pick up.

We drove out of Dubai and as we entered the desert I was over come by tiredness and dozed off. Our first stop was a garage to fill up and as I chatted to a guy from New Zealand I hit my head on an overhanging sign which at least woke me up. The owners were trying to get me to wear a traditional head scarf and I wasn’t interested at all. I really wanted a fizzy drink to wake me up but sadly the drinks didn’t have prices on so whilst I knew I was being conned I couldn’t work out the exchange rate quick enough.

Our first proper stop was to see a Peregrine Falcon display. The guide provided quite a bit of information and told us that he had a detonator to blow up the bird if it escaped because it was tame and wouldn’t survive in the wild. We were all quite horrified but he then assured us he was only joking. The Peregrine falcon is the fastest bird and it was impressive to see it in action as it was so fast it wasn’t possible to get a clear picture of it swooping down.

After leaving the display we started our journey to our desert camp but to get there had to cross the sand dunes. I had done something similar in Wadi Rum in Jordan but this seemed even more extreme and it was great fun. The constant up/down and side to side movement meant it was like a never ending roller coaster so I was slightly relieved when it was all over as I think by that point we were all feeling slightly dizzy.

We arrived at a lookout to see the sunset and the lighting really was quite impressive the sun looking like a small orange ball in the sky. It gradually sunk lower before disappearing beneath the sand dunes and with that my last sunset of the holiday was over. I’d travelled across 8 countries but my last day was now over. The next time I’d see the sunset would be back home and that would be assuming it wasn’t blocked by cloud.

The desert camp wasn’t really what I expected because it was much busier than I had anticipated but it still looked nice and had a good atmosphere. I started off by having a short camel ride which was really just around a small area of the camp before getting a henna tattoo. This had seemed a good idea at the time but almost immediately before it had tried I knocked it therefore destroying one of the patterns but still causing it to leave a faint mark / stain on my arm.

The dinner was huge but because I had a flight I didn’t want to over indulge to much however I made sure I had enough to keep me going until I had to board the flight. As we ate the main course the hosts provided a belly dancer for some entertainment which was particularly popular with some teenage boys on the table behind. After the belly dancer had finished the lights in the camp were turned off so we could see the stars. I have to admit whilst it was a clear evening it wasn’t as spectacular as what I had seen in New Zealand or Australia but I still enjoyed it as I knew once I was back in London I’d be lucky to see anything at all.

The Journey back was uneventful and The driver kindly took me direct to the airport where I checked back in and waited at the gate trying my best to stay awake.

Friday 28th March
I boarded my last flight of this incredible journey and saw the plane was a Airbus A380 which I knew had been plagued by engine failures in 2010. After taking my seat I found a movie called ‘The Sapphires’ which had been recommended to me by Victoria over a year ago. The movie had been about 20 minutes in when the safety demonstration began and I must have fallen asleep during the latter because when I woke the movie was playing and we were in the air. Almost immediately upon waking up there was an in flight announcement from the Captain. “Some of you may have wondered why we are only 6,000 feet in the air, unfortunately we appear to have developed a minor engine fault”. I hadn’t noticed and this was a somewhat unpleasant surprise.

I had no idea how serious it was but the captain sounded very calm and very professional however I know that if some Australian’s tell you about the danger of sharks, snakes and spiders they’ll always play down the risk. When they tried to fix the fault but ultimately couldn’t identify it he remained calm, almost jolly as he told us ‘hey folks we’ve tried to fix the minor problem but it appears to be a bit more serious than we first thought’. Whilst I remained calm the thought did briefly cross my mind that this may have been Australian code for there is a snake and it has bitten us.

I was in the middle seat and as i couldn’t see anything carried on watching the film. It almost sounds silly in hindsight but I thought if the worst does happen I’d at least want to know how the film ended. I guess the film was a distraction, whilst it was playing I was in a bubble where the reality of the situation couldn’t get to me. I just assumed we would be fine which is probably a bit naive especially as we had to dump fuel in to the sea to lighten our load as we were initially to heavy to return to Dubai. We were also escorted on to the runway by fire trucks but weren’t told to get in the brace position and the captain did try to assure us it was a formality ‘for the situation we were in’. I guess I’ll never know what situation that was.

The landing was smooth but the captain claimed an over enthusiastic fire engine had parked to close to us meaning we couldn’t taxi. I naïvely thought we’d be allowed off the plane fairly quickly. We weren’t. The airport staff wanted us to remain on the plane whilst the engineer assessed the situation. Personally I wasn’t overly keen on staying on the same plane though I knew the engineer with his neck on the line would have only given a go ahead to fly if he was sure. He couldn’t and the flight was officially cancelled. It was now about 3.00am but still we had to wait on the plane.

There was an interesting looking documentary on formula one racing so I decided to start watching that not really expecting to see the end. Gradually people were asked to leave, starting obviously with business and first class. Sadly I was near the back so I was amongst the last group and by then I had seen the whole documentary which was over 1 hour and 45 minutes. I have to admit the organisation was atrocious. I didn’t mind being amongst the last group because I had no dependants but I just couldn’t believe those with children, especially babies hadn’t been given any type of priority. I was also surprised that where people had a connecting flight from London there wasn’t an effort to fly them direct to their final destination.

Once I was off the plane which was after 6.00am I got chatting to a lad from New Zealand who was about to start a new life in London. We had been told we would all be treated as individuals and those at the front of the queue were certainly taking their time. By the time it got to us the approach had changed and no questions were being answered and all they were doing were handing out meal vouchers. I jokingly asked if I would be home by Sunday and I received the response ‘most probably’. Not most definitely, not even most likely. By now it had gone 7.00am so I’d officially been awake for more than 24 hours.

The duty manager kindly let me use her mobile phone as my phone battery had died after I had updated dad but I wanted to speak on the phone to confirm I was ok and to make sure he wasn’t going to Heathrow. I felt hungry but I also felt very tired and just couldn’t bare the thought of going upstairs so I stayed by the desks saving my meal voucher for when it was less busy. After about two hours of waiting someone at the desk told me to take a seat in the lounge and told me that there was a flight from Melbourne and a flight from Sydney both arriving from Heathrow. They still needed final authorisation but the intention was to combine the flights (effectively cancelling one) and for one of the planes to return straight back to the UK.

At 09.35 we finally received confirmation that we would be departing at 15.00 and due to arrive in Heathrow at 18.30, 13 hours late but at least not 24 hours or more which is what I’d feared. After waiting around downstairs a bit more I saw the lad from earlier and together we went up to the business class lounge. Qantas/Emirates had failed to find us a hotel due to everywhere being booked by the time it had got to our section of the plane. We were both tired and needed somewhere to sit down but we didn’t really expect to be let in however it seemed other passengers in our situation had thought of the same idea.

I have to admit I didn’t really explore the lounge as I was to tired. They had free computers with WiFi and a comfortable chair I fell asleep in, that was all that mattered. I woke with a start and noticed it was 12.30 so I’d probably been asleep about an hour if not more. The food option choices available with the voucher weren’t great but I opted for what I will ensure will be my last McDonald’s for a considerable amount of time.

I had two vouchers which entitled me to two drinks and two burgers of any type. I didn’t really want two of each so asked if I could swap 1 burger and coke for a portion of fries instead. Initially I was told no but then the manager agreed and after exchanging what was left of my money I made my way to the gate. There I started chatting to someone from Australia who was about to do the huge 49 day Topdeck tour round Europe. He was a bit nervous as it was his first big trip abroad and I told him everyone would feel the same and that things could only get better after the start he was having.

Soon we also got chatting to a guy from Devon and it gradually became obvious the flight was going to be delayed further and this was eventually blamed on catering issues. We finally boarded at the time we should have departed and once I was seated I put on my next choice of film “The Delivery Man”.

Rather than trying to sleep I was now trying to stay awake as long as possible and watched ‘The Butler’ which I thought was quite thought provoking. Almost as soon as the film ended I crashed out and woke up about 4 hours later because the guy next to me had jabbed me in the side as he wanted to escape. The flight had fortunately been uneventful and once I made it through security I was officially back in London after a fantastic few months.

Unfortunately the drama wasn’t quite over. We’d all had a bad feeling that changing planes would result in lost luggage and whilst my sleeping bag came out almost straight away there was no sign of my backpack. It was a bit concerning because they would have been added together and as the crowd slowly emptied I was one of a handful of people left. The backpack did eventually emerge but the detachable rucksack was no longer attached and didn’t come out.

There was quite a crowd of people from my flight at the lost luggage counter and when I finally got to the front I was redirected to the back of another queue that dealt specifically with damaged baggage. The guy who served me was helpful and filled out a report however it was understandable that he could give no indication as to whether Qantas would accept responsibility.

I finally made my way through customs and saw dad and Jenny waiting for me. It was nice to see some friendly faces after the journey back I had endured. It all felt a bit surreal especially as I’d only seen the the week before but my journey was now over.

Drops of Jupiter: Thailand

Monday 24th March
During the flight I watched four films because there were a few I had missed at the cinema that I had wanted to see. I started off with ‘Captain Phillips’ followed by Philomena. Both of these had required my full attention and were quite moving so I needed something to lighten my mood and therefore opted for ‘The Interns’. With time still available I managed to squeeze in ‘Rush’ though I made a note to watch the accompanying documentary on my next Qantas flight. I did however watch a few classic Mr Bean episodes and a documentary about ‘The Ashes’ which was effectively a Aussie gloat fest at how embarrassing English cricket has been in all years except 2005, 2009 and 2010.

I arrived at Bangkok and whilst I did have directions on how to get to my hotel the city suddenly seemed very big when I was told the bus I had been told to get no longer ran. I was determined not to get a taxi because I knew mentally I couldn’t face the battle of trying to find one that wouldn’t try to con me and I knew that unlike the good old cabbies of London they didn’t have to sit an equivalent of ‘The Knowledge’. Thankfully I got on the free internet and worked out that the train journey from the airport was simple and it would only cost about £1.

The train was modern but busy though no where near as bad as in Russia and I was able to position myself by the door. I could the see the CBD in the distance and it all looked very modern but the outskirts of the city looked very traditional and seemed to still be surrounded by tropical forest. I guess whilst this looked unusual to me it would be no different to passing through a London suburb such as Richmond that still maintains a ‘traditional English Countryside’ feel.

Once at my station I had a short walk to the hotel and whilst the pavements were either non existent or blocked by food stools I finally made it inside. Compared to some of the places I had stayed it was luxury and to be honest none of the criticisms I’d read seemed justfied for the price but I guess some people had a much higher expectation than me. With free breakfast and WiFi I was in paradise.

After sorting out my things (dumping them on the floor) I went back out in search of some traditional Thai street food. I went to where I thought the stools were but I couldn’t see any and as the road appeared from a distance to be a dead end and had a unsavoury smell I returned back to the main street. I looked at the menus of various restaurants and tired and hungry eventually settled for the one outside my hotel purely because it was close. I ordered a Chicken Pad Thai which was very nice but cost slightly more than I expected though still a lot less than what I’d have paid in London.

I returned to my room and flopped down on my bed. I decided I’d figure out how best to spend my time the next morning.

Tuesday 25th March
I woke up and because my knowledge of Bangkok and Thailand was pretty non existent except for the fact I knew one of the ex Prime Ministers was the owner of Birmingham City FC  and In prison. I knew this had resulted in political turmoil but when it came to tourist attractions all I knew about was to get a Thai massage and toi try some Thai street food.

It turned out there were some lovely Buddhist temples in the city so I decided I would see a selection of them and the Grand Palace. It looked an easy journey on the bus so I went down to fill up on breakfast in the hope it would last to dinner. The selection was as good as that I’d had in India and I was able to have 4 different courses including Indian, traditional English, fruit and pancakes.

I started by booking myself a 1 hour massage for that evening at the spa recommended by the hotel and where I got a discount. My right knee ligament has been aching if I have to cross it since January though I am unsure exactly what caused it and I hoped the massage would cure the issue. I also thought it would be a nice way to relax after what I hoped would be a busy day exploring the city.

I waited at the bus stop and the traffic wasn’t moving at all and there was no sign of the bus. Taxi drivers kept trying to gesture towards me but I stayed strong ignoring them. I’d read a few of the taxi tips that morning and the final quote had said “Don’t worry, for every bad taxi driver there are two good”. Those odds as far as I am concerned are shit and whilst I felt familiar with all the tricks they would try and pull I had no intention of needing to do so.

I realised after a while that it was becoming a bit pointless waiting for the bus because there was a lot I wanted to see. I therefore flagged down a taxi. The driver seemed genuine enough and I made it clear I wanted to go to the ‘Grand Palace’. Unfortunately after about 5 minutes we still hasn’t moved that far. He then told me the Grand Palace was closed and asked if I wanted to go to the ‘Floating Market’. I explained near the Grand Palace was fine and that I wasn’t interested in shopping. He then became persistent and told me that protests had closed the Grand Palace. I had no interest in going to the floating market as being taken there by a taxi driver was one of the cons I’d read about. However at the same time I knew that even if the Grand Palace was open, traffic caused by the protests meant I wouldn’t get there, and I didn’t really fancy being out on the streets in those circumstances anyway. I therefore paid the equivalent of about £1 and walked back to the hotel.

My new plan was what I had originally intended to do in Bangkok, exercise and rest & relaxation. I’d been carrying my gym kit around for nearly 5 months and I finally used it by going on the running machine for 20 minutes. My fitness wasn’t quite as bad as I feared but the machine was old and kept stopping for no reason which is why I didn’t run for longer. I did some weights before going outside and doing a few lengths in the swimming pool. I felt quite pleased with myself and was glad I had at least done something with my day.

I arrived at the Spa in good time and thankfully it looked as fancy and non seedy as I had hoped. Kirsten had told me Thai massages were painful and even though the lady was short she pressed very hard and seemed to know exactly where my body was showing signs of wear and tear. At one point it felt like she was walking across my back, though as my head was buried in a pillow I guess I’ll never know if she was. The conversation tended to be “pain?”, “hmmm no” (even when I once broke my arm I didn’t admit how much it was hurting), “ahh need little pain” followed by some action which resulted in the pain level rising a notch and me yelping.

My body was clicking and whilst I haven’t been a careless owner it was clear I probably haven’t looked after my body as much as I should. Body I promise vegetables and exercise will be the norm once we’re home. In case anyone is thinking it, there was no seedy side and no happy ending once my hour was up. I wish I could say I felt like a new person but I think I need more than a quick fix. I went downstairs, drank some tea and even though I hadn’t had lunch or dinner I returned back to the hotel as I didn’t feel particularly hungry.

Back at the hotel I stayed up later than I should have done considering I had such an early start the next morning. I was trying to use the free WiFi to upload as many pictures to Dropbox from my tablet so i could create space to transfer more pictures from my camera. Time seemed to go by much quicker than I had hoped and I hadn’t achieved everything I’d wanted to and wondered exactly where the day had gone.

Wednesday 26th March
I woke up early so that I could get breakfast before the tour to the Khao Yai National Park however I decided not to eat as much as the day before because I was feeling quite tired due to the lack of sleep. I was probably running off adrenaline because I was looking forward to finally seeing some of Thailand and at being able to travel on an elephant. It was nice being fussed over as the reception staff sought to ensure my needs were met and even said they would let me know when the pickup arrived. I was particularly grateful for this because I was a bit paranoid that there would be a problem with the hotel pickup.

After collecting me the driver said we were picking up two others and we’d therefore have a pretty much private tour. He didn’t seem to know where the other hotel was and had to keep asking for directions but eventually we found it. I’m terrible at guessing accents and I put my foot in it when I asked where in Canada the couple were from only for them to say they were from the States.

Our guide provided us with quite a bit of information about the history of Thailand and his thoughts about the political instability gripping the country as a result of corruption. There were also some more quirky facts for example ‘The Beach’ was filmed at the national park we were going to. He also provided some advice on how to navigate our way through Bangkok and the taxi scams he warned the others about sounded like my own experience. He also gave some other day trio ideas and I personally hadn’t realised the Bridge over the River Kwai was in Thailand.

Our first stop on our way to the national park was at Nakorn Nayok a province around 100km from Bangkok and which our guide suggested would be better suited as capital. We started off by looking round the market and tried some fruit. The first was called Rambutan and looked like a giant grape but tasted like a melon. The second tasted like Mango and may well have been but our guide said it was a fruit that you could only get in Thailand. The other fruit was unidentified though may have been a tamarind however it looked very strange as it came in what looked like a giant pea pod and unlike the others it wasn’t very juicy.

Whilst I had been feeling tired the walk through the market woke all my senses up and the smell of the live/fresh meant (including a pigs head) meant I tried to only breath through my mouth as I’d done on shark cage dive. We saw live eels, frogs and turtles all of which were food as well as dead birds however we were told the live birds weren’t yet for food and were for people to release as part of a celebration e.g birthday. We also saw lots of different eggs including some that were pink which had been treated in a way that means they can last a long time however personally I wasn’t keen to find out if that was true.

We left the provide and as we passed a number of locally built temples our guide explained they were built by families who were seen as doing a good deed because they could be used by the public. Soon we arrived at a rice farm in Baankwan which was owned by the tour company we were with. After being shown around a traditional house and wondering over to see the Ostrich we got on to a cart so that a cow could transport us around the fields.

It was very bumpy and obviously the old wooden cart didn’t have any suspension and I half expected it to fall apart at any moment. It did however carry on going and we just about managed to stay in. The ride was meant to give us an idea about the traditional rural way of life and whilst it was a nice setting without our guide we didn’t know the significance of what we were looking at. We were all wearing traditional hats and after the ride was over we got an opportunity to sit at the front to look as though we had been controlling the cows direction.

We then watched our dinner get cooked and at one stage there was a very impressive burst of fire in the frying pan. Lunch included a shrimp Soup, fried chicken and stir fried vegetables. What I tried was tasty but there was to much and the other two had suffered recent food poisoning so didn’t eat to much.

We arrived at the Khao Yai National Park and started a short walk to the Heaw Narok waterfall. The National Park is listed by Unesco so people are no longer allowed to hunt and as a result there are a number of different species of animals including 250 elephants. We didn’t see any on the walk but we did see evidence that they had been in the area and also a big fence to protect the elephants from getting close and falling in to river. This was built in response to an accident in 1992 when a baby elephant fell in to a chasm and as the adult elephants tried to help they also fell in. In total 7 elephant calves died.

We finally reached the end of the walk and then had to climb down around 190 steep steps to see the waterfall from a lookout. It had been dry so there was actually no water but it still looked quite spectacular. On our way back up the steps we saw a lizard and just before we reached the car park we saw two monkeys, a baby and an adult. Our guide was quite optimistic we’d see more later in the day so we carried on walking.

We drove theough the national park and I drifted off to sleep and woke up to a brief thunderstorm and very heavy rain. It stopped for a while and saw some deer but then came down with even more fury which meant we didn’t stop to see the monkeys. Fortunately by the time we arrived at Pak Chong it had stopped raining and even though we hadn’t seen the monkeys up close at least we had seen them on the walk.

The elephant ride had been my main reason for booking the tour and was great fun. I started off sitting in a special seat which even had a seat belt but eventually my ‘guide’ got down and I sat on the actual elephant. It felt a bit unstable and I was surprised at how hairy it was but it kept plodding along occasionally it’s warm ears flapping against my legs. It was a bit naughty though as one point it got hungry, stopped and started to use its trunk to snap tree branches. The highlight was crossing a small creek which was surprisingly deep after after the ride we got to feed them some bananas.

On the way back our guide was giving us some tips on how we could spend the next day and he was going to take us on a tour of some of the temples as it sounded easier than doing it ourselves after the previous problems I’d had. I thought I still had another day as I still had one final night in the hotel but I just happened to glance the date on the counter and all of a sudden it struck me my flight was in a few hours time and I didn’t have an extra day.

I would have liked to have had time to nap as I’d already had very little continuous sleep and I knew I had to stay up 17 hours in Dubai. For the first time I was looking forward to being home but only because I would be sleeping in a bed again. After uploading some more pictures to dropbox and transferring the days pictures to my tablet I finished packing. I had booked the hotel taxi to the airport so arrived at the airport in good time.

The check in desk was very busy but eventually it was my turn and as I watched my luggage being labeled I had an uneasy feeling that something would happen to it though couldn’t explain why. I made my way to the gate and as I tried to stay awake I ended up talking to the girl next to me who it turned out had also been travelling around numerous countries and was on the way home. This was my first flight with Emirates and it was a nice touch they had left a wash bag on my seat however I was so tired I was probably asleep before the safety demonstration video had ended.

End of the Line: Flinders Ranges

Friday 21st March
I woke up feeling slightly melancholy because I knew that my tour to the Flinders Ranges was my last activity before leaving Australia and I wasn’t sure, when, or if I’d ever be back. It was a tour I’d booked late partly because my trip to the Nullarbor hadn’t gone via the southern section due to bush fires and because my trip from Alice Springs to Adelaide hadn’t taken us off the Stuart Highway. I was therefore also excited because I was looking forward to visiting the outback one final time and to have at least one more night to sleep under the stars in a swag.

The other passengers on the tour were slightly older than me but I think I’ve always been able to have a conversation with anybody and age doesn’t really mean anything to me. Ultimately we were all there for the same reasons. To discover “real” Australia. Besides I’d been one of, if not the oldest on my previous tours so it was lovely to be considered so young for a change.

Our guide Mark kept talking to a minimum letting us rest for the first section of the journey as it had been an early start. Whilst I didn’t sleep the sentiment was appreciated. The lady sat in front of me said she was a tour guide undertaking research and although Mark was having a conversation with Martin the passenger in the front seat the passenger in question kept asking for information to be repeated. Eventually I told her to relax in my belief that if Mark felt something needed to be shared we’d all be told especially as we’d be driving over 1000km in 3 days so had plenty of time to ask questions.

During our first stop it was unfortunately clear I wasn’t the only one that had felt mildly irritated and in fact one person was quite honest about the fact she’d crossed a line in her behaviour. After leaving the first stop we passed some wind farms and in the township of Snow Town there was a propeller blade from one of the turbines which made me appreciate just how big they are. It was a very cloudy and windy day so when we passed the Southern Flinders and saw evidence of the January Bush Fires it was difficult for me to remember just how hot it had been when I’d passed by the area in late January when apparently the fire had been burning for 18 days.

Mark started providing us with some information explaining the Flinders Ranges are made up of a series of mountain ranges not just one. Most of the information however was about the surrounding the vegetation we were passing. As we were passing fairly close to the Spencer Gulf there were a lot of bushes called Mangroves which is evidence of a good water eco system. We also passed Mallee scrub and Acacia’s which we were told grew better in the region. I also finally got to see the famous Ghan train which was heading in the opposite direction as well as a wedge tail eagle, possibly even two.

We had another stop at Port Germain where I walked to the jetty but didn’t walk to the end it because despite it being shorter than it once was it is still over 1.5km in each direction. There was also a lighthouse just before the jetty and it appeared that restoration work was taking place to smarten it up though it is no longer used or in its original location. Before Port Germain we had passed Port Pirie which had a smelter that is currently out of action because the lead levels in the town were to high. In the UK the older generation often bemoan the lack of heavy industry but I think we should consider ourselves lucky we don’t suffer the ill effects especially as I still remember when the chemical factory in Berkhamsted caught fire. Let’s also not forget the Buncefield explosion which would have been catastrophic if it had happened on a Monday and not the middle of a Sunday night.

We stopped at Mount Remarkable National Park for lunch before going on a short walk in the area around Mambray Creek. There were two main types of trees in the area. The first were the only pines native to Australia called Callitris or cypress-pine which are apparently resistant to termites so the wood was used for the original telegraph poles. The other type was the Red gum (a eucalyptus tree) that was also useful to the early settlers this time for railway sleepers. Aboriginals used to make a small hole to ‘burnt out’ the inside of the tree to get rid of insects and this then made it possible to store food or even to use as shelter.

Whilst it was a short walk, it was still a good introduction to the Flinders Ranges and whilst we saw lots of emus and a kangaroo we didn’t see any of the Euros, another name for the walleroo. The views down towards alligator gorge in one direction and the Spencer Gulf in the other were nice. We also saw a slag heap from the copper mine workings and we later passed a mine shaft.

We departed the national park and headed for Quorn. I had heard of this town before the trip because it was one of the stations on the Pichi Richi Railway which runs along part of the old Ghan railway route. It looked quite a spectacular journey through the lower Flinders Range as it passed through tunnels and over dry stone walls. We also passed the Devils Peak as well as Mount Brown which was named after Robert Brown the naturalist on Matthew Flinders boat HMS Investigator. We briefly stopped in Quorn and whilst I would have liked to have had a quick look around the exhibition at the station I didn’t think there was time. Instead I headed with the group from Netherlands to the bottle shop (off licence)

Our final stop of the day was Kanyak Homestead a cattle station which had been built by Hugh Proby in 1852 but was eventually abandoned after severe droughts. It was quite eerie to look at and to think that at one time early settlers had tried to make a livelihood in such a remote location. There was a big ants nest so when we were taking pictures we had to be careful where to stand. There was also a creek bed near the homestead but there wasn’t any water flowing.

We arrived at Rawnsley Park and Mark cooked us a BBQ and I cheekily asked if it was going to be my last in Australia and he said he’d cook another one for lunch on the final day of the tour. It was a really good BBQ as well, and despite eating my fair share we still had a number of sausages left over to have cold the next day. I helped with the washing up and left my cider to one side, turning round a few minutes later to discover that unfortunately it had been mistaken for someone else’s. In their defence we had been sitting next to each other and whilst the flavours were different they were by the same company.

Some of the group weren’t camping like me and the family from the Netherlands so they departed and I opened a 3rd bottle of cider before having a shower and eventually setting up my Swag. Martin and Casey decided to join me outside but they didn’t have a swag so pulled their foldable beds out of the tent. The night sky was as stunning as I hoped and I tried to take some photographs but my mini tripod was too loose to support the camera and it was too dark to work out what was wrong.

Saturday 22nd March
We didn’t have to go to breakfast until 06.30 and because I was packed and only had to leave the swag in the tent rather than rolling it up I had set my alarm for 6am. Unfortunately one of the others had set theirs for earlier and because I was outside I couldn’t escape the noise or activity. I therefore decided to get up as well though it did mean I was able to have a shower before I made my way to breakfast and had what would be my last Vegemite on toast in Australia.

We got on the mini bus and made our way to our first stop Wilpeana pound, arguably the most famous feature of the Flinders Ranges. We were able to drive in to the national park and started a short walk to Hill’s Homestead. We saw a few trees that had fallen down and saw evidence of branches that were effectively forming new trees from those that had fallen as they grew to try and get more light. As it was early in the morning I had hoped to see a kangaroo or a Euro but we didn’t see anything. It was also much colder than I had expected.

We arrived at the Hills Homestead and there was a moving story about the early inhabitants and their struggle to survive in such an isolated landscape. There was a walk to a lookout overlooking the Homestead I thought we were going to do but we didn’t and instead returned back to the mini bus. We took a different route back in the belief it would be warmer and to see a different path. I had been told the day before that the only real way to appreciate Wilpeana Pound was from the air and as we didn’t have time to climb the main lookout I think this is probably fair because walking at ground level you couldn’t get a sense of how impressive and extensive it actually is.

Once we returned to the mini bus we had quite a long bus journey to just outside of the national park to see some Aboriginal rock engravings at ‘Sacred Canyon’. The date of these are unknown but the local clan believe they were left during the dreamtime Stories so it is fair to say they are very very old. The walk there was through a dry creek bed and whilst it was flat there were a few big boulders towards the end but all the group managed to make it through some with a bit of support from Mark.

The engravings were on a rock face in a really lovely secluded location and as the symbols were similar to the cave paintings I had seen I instinctively recognised the pattern for kangaroos, emus and water. There was also some ‘modern’ graffiti dating back to the 1800s though I wasn’t sure what the initials stood for.  It was amazing the engravings had survived so long because if the rivers water levels rise enough there is a risk the symbols can be hidden under water.

The drive to the Aroona Valley was very picturesque and took us through the Bunyeroo Valley where we saw a number of Euros sitting under the trees. From the Aroona Valley lookout there was a nice view towards the Heysen Range named after the Australian painter Sir Hans Heysen. There is also a walking trail named after Heysen. The walk stretches 1200km (750 miles) from Cape Jervis (where I caught the boat to Kangaroo Island) on the Fleurieu Peninsula to Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders Ranges. We had lunch and then did a short walk where we saw an under water spring. When we were at the top of the lookout we heard what sounded like a fire engine and we realised one of the fire trucks had arrived to fill up their tank. Mark had to quickly move the mini bus as we were blocking the fire hose but it didn’t cause any problems as there weren’t actually any fires in the national park.

As we drove through Brachina Gorge Mark said he had a surprise for us and we made our way to the bottom of a much larger slag heap than the day before. There were quite a lot of people looking at what only appeared to be rubble and hope built up inside me that it was a spot that is popular with the rare Yellow footed wallabies which now only live in the Flinders Ranges. It didn’t take Mark long to spot one under a tree. When it stood up and still it was nearly impossible to distinguish it due to its colour but occasionally it shook its head.

We walked along the road a bit more and soon realised there was another one by a big rock. This one was slightly more active and was eating food off one of the branches From a nearby bush/small tree. I’d seen a lot of wallabies and kangaroos but this was a particularly special type because it had a lovely black and yellow ringed tail. The fur was one of the main reasons that this type of wallaby had been hunted by the early settlers and as a result it had nearly become extinct. I had hoped at best to glimpse one from a distance from the bus so it was a highlight of the trip that we got to see them so close. I knew we were lucky that it had been a relatively cool day which had encouraged them out rather than them seeking shelter under the rocks.

We continued our drive through Brachina Gorge, which is known as the ‘Corridors through Time’ to see the gradual evolution of the rocks in the area. This included the Wonoka Formation a limestone and siltstone formation which is 570/580 million years old. We also saw some rocks that had the oldest fossil evidence of animal life known as Ediacara fauna. Having seen the stromatolites on the West Coast it was interesting to now see the fossils of the first animals.

On our way back to the campsite we drove along the Moralana Scenic track. Whilst the scenery was still stunning it had been a tiring day due to all the fantastic things we’d seen we all started to doze off. We did however stop off at two more lookouts. The first was of the southwestern wall of Wilpena Pound which looked particularly impressive framed in between two trees. The second was of the Hills of Arkaba which were a favourite of Sir Hans Heysen when he was painting.

We returned back to the Rawnsley Park and this time Martin, Casey and I made sure we were in a good viewpoint for the sunset. There wasn’t any cloud and it didn’t quite look as good as the day before but it was still a nice way to end a memorable day. There was a wall in the kitchen providing cooking recipes which included “Spaghetti on Toast”. This included useful instructions such as ‘open the can’. I enjoyed the rest of my ciders this time keeping a careful watch over them to ensure they didn’t go missing.

Before going to bed I set my camera up as I was determined to get a picture of the Southern Cross. Eventually I was satisfied I couldn’t do any I rolled out my swag for the final time and fell asleep with a million stars above me.

Sunday 23rd March
I woke up feeling a lot warmer than the night before and feeling quite refreshed and after sorting everything out including rolling the swag as tightly as possible I made my way down to breakfast. I arrived just as the bus arrived and helped carry some of the boxes for breakfast in. Throughout all my other tours breakfast for me has been a slice of toast with Vegemite and a slice of toast with jam. Sometimes I add a bit of excitement by having cornflakes as well. Today however Mark surprised us by doing a cooked breakfast of bacon, sausages and eggs.

Feeling quite full we set off on our long journey back to Adelaide where we passed through Hawker and briefly stopped off in Melrose the oldest settlement in Flinders 1853. I hadn’t planned on getting off the mini bus to get a tea or coffee but the group from Canada came back with some home made ice cream. It wasn’t that warm outside but I suddenly realised it would be my last opportunity to have some in Australia so quickly kept out of the bus. The guy that served me had what only can be described as a Justin Bieber haircut not that I can judge, my hairs not been cut since I was in New Zealand and it now looks like an unshaped scruffy mop.

We were slightly ahead of schedule so Mark made a decision to carry on to Wirrabara where we set up lunch in Wongabirrie Park. Mark then lived up to his promise of cooking a BBQ and this time I knew it really would not only be my last ‘down under’ but due to the British weather my last for a while.

We carried on and despite wanting to stay awake to take in the view of nothingness for the last time however unsurprisingly I was eventually overcome by sleep. Eventually I woke up as Mark started to provide some information about the Clare Valley and eventually we pulled in to Taylors Estate (Wakefield in UK) for a few samples at their cellar door. The first white I tried was a Chardonnay from their Jaraman range which was a fusion of 2 regions. Then I tried a sparkling pinot noir Chardonnay brut cuvee which I preferred but at the price of the bottle I’d have been surprised if it had been disappointing. I may have tried others but they had no dessert wines or sweet late harvest wines and as no one else appeared to be sampling I rounded off with the Tawny Port.

We arrived back in Adelaide and I discovered I was in the same room as before. I hadn’t previously mentioned it but one of the beds had towels all the way around so they had complete privacy and it was above this bed that I now had to spend my final night. I was somewhat startled when as I was packing my bags for the last time someone emerged from behind the curtains as for some reason I had assumed no one was there.

My flight was at around 06.00am and although normally for an international flight check in is 3 hours before, this wasn’t possible because I was told that the airport wouldn’t be open until 04.00am. I therefore set my alarm for 03.00am with the intention of phoning for a taxi around 03.30am.

Monday 24th March
The alarm went off and it sounded particularly cruel. I tried to silently climb down the ladder but anyone that has stayed in a top bunk in a hostel knows this is near impossible and it squeaked loudly at every step. I made my way to the reception and as I waited for the taxi I think there was a small group that were just getting back from a night out.

I got to the airport and even though it had gone 04.00am it appeared it was still locked even though the lights were on and I could see staff. I wasn’t the only person waiting and when they finally did open the doors and then the desks it was clear that like me those serving wanted to be in bed. The lady serving me was particularly miserable and my luggage, despite being within the weight limits was deemed by her to be oversized because I’d attached my sleeping bag. I’ve done this for near enough all my flights so it seemed odd that during the final part of my journey it would suddenly be an issue. Anyway I did as I was told and took it to the oversized baggage desk. As I approached the guy asked why I’d had to come over and when I explained he laughed in that classic Australian way and told me she was being over zealous.

It wasn’t a great start and things got worse when the flight was delayed by 15 minutes due to ‘issues’ at Sydney Control Tower and it doesn’t bode well when the very first flight of the day is delayed. Then it started raining as we were leaving which meant we bounced around dramatically as we lifted off. Turbulence is never a particularly nice sensation but even worse when there is no screen in front to look at in order to create a distraction. Instead I had to make do with the in flight magazine which had a number of articles on different holiday destinations including Antarctica but it then failed to say who the tour operators were. Not that I can or should even consider a holiday for sometime after how fortunate I’ve been to experience what I have over the past 5 months.

The view of the sunrise was spectacular but soon the ground below us was hidden by cloud. We were near Sydney. The air traffic team still had issues so we ended up circling for a further 15 minutes making us over 30 minutes late by the time we landed. Not only that I realised I had to transfer from terminal 3 to terminal 1 and it took longer than expected.

When i reached the terminal required the last call for boarding was already going out for my flight and I had to clear security again.
Three ladies were serving at the Qantas desk but when it got to me they seemed to vanish. Eventually I lost my cool and called out to one of them that was just standing around looking gormless that my flight was leaving in 20 minutes and I was going to miss it because my qantas flight from Adelaide had been late. She suddenly looked a bit faint and came trotting over and gave me a priority boarding card. It allowed me to take a short cut up a hidden passageway but didn’t seem to help with security. I ran through the duty free where I had hoped to buy myself some Bundaberg rum to take home and as I ran I heard someone say anyone for the Bangkok flight. Luckily I had my name ticked off the list and this meant they effectively held the plane for me until I arrived at the gate.

We still departed on time but as we were taxying on the runway 6 planes somehow got in ahead so we were late leaving. I was desperate for the toilet as I hadn’t been since 3am and it was now gone 10.00am so as soon as we were airborne and the seatbelt sign went off I jumped up. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered there was already a queue. I had for some reason expected a routine departure where I should have had time in Sydney to buy souvenirs. Unfortunately it wasn’t at all the way I’d wanted to say goodbye to Australia.

What’s My Age Again? Adiós Adelaide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circle of Life: Coorong and Fleurieu Peninsula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Born to Run: Mount Gambier and Lower Glenelg National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take it Easy: Melbourne to Port Fairy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallelujah: Sydney Finale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London’s Calling: Barossa Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deadly Animals (Come to Australia): Shark Diving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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