Category Archives: Australia

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Tasmania & Goodbye Australia

We took a short flight from Melbourne to Hobart, Capital of Australia’s only island State – Tasmania, on Friday 27th January.  Upon arrival we picked up a campervan, a Ute with a 3 berth camper on the back – we called him Arthur as our first stop was Port Arthur about 95km south of Hobart on the Tasman peninsular.

Port Arthur is the site of a historic notoriously harsh penitentiary, established in 1830 and used until 1877, convicts who had committed serious crimes were sent here or those who were considered in need of more severe punishment, i.e. former escapees.  The stone buildings set in some scenic grounds at first glance give you the impression of a stately home, but look deeper and you find there is a grim history.

It’s quite an eerie place and it’s not surprising that there are numerous ghost stories, and unfathomable photos, associated with the place.  The isolation cells were in good condition and gave us a good fell of how life might have been here.  It was particularly sad to learn of the fate of many of the prisoners who were sent from Britain to this ‘hell’ on the other side of the world, never to see their families again.  It must have been quite a bustling place at one time, with prisoners, military, and civilians all living in this colony.   To allow the noble folk to escape the unwanted presence of the prisoners there are cottages, some grand gardens, and a gothic style church.

We spent a few hours looking around the site, which as it was late in the day was quiet, before driving further south to the tip of the Tasman peninsular where there is a secluded car park at the so named ‘Remarkable Cave’.  The views, particularly of Cape Raoul (a rocky outcrop made up of rocky spires), were great so we decided it was the perfect place to stay overnight.

With the sounds of the crashing waves we slept well and after breakfast we walked down to the cave, which has been eroded to form a long square tunnel through which waves whoosh through – indeed quite remarkable.

Retracing our journey from the previous day we drove back north on the Tasman peninsular, stopping along the way at several scenic cliff erosion sites along the way.  ‘Devils Kitchen’ was a very deep arch ground of cliffs, and the ‘Tessellated Pavement’ site proved that nature sometimes can make straight lines with the rock eroded in a way that has left it resembling a tiled floor.

Further north we entered the Freycinet National Park where we went for a walk to a lookout overlooking the very picturesque wine glass bay lookout, which is rated as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.  It was a 45 minute uphill walk to the lookout, but the views were well worth it.

Mum enjoyed the tame wallabies that hung out in the car park and even tried to get in the camper van!  We stayed overnight in the seaside town of Bicheno just north of the National Park and then next day drove a hundred kilometres or so north to Launceston, Tasmania’s second city.  It was a boiling hot day, too hot to be in the sun too long, and the town seemed deserted apart from a Scottish festival for Burns night in the park.  It’s a nice town with lots of stone buildings that give it a historic feel.

Just fifteen minutes walk from the town centre is the Cataract Gorge, which lies on the South Esk River and makes for a scenic spot.  A peaceful retreat from the town and we enjoyed the views from a shady spot.  It probably would have been a sacred place for the Aborigines, but unfortunately nearly all of the original Tasmanian aborigines have been wiped out so there is no way of knowing the stories that would have most likely been associated with this place.

After a coffee and a cake we drove west and picked up a tourist route through some lovely rolling countryside until we found an basic but idyllic camping spot, next to a cricket pitch (well done to Lisa for finding it) in a village called Chudleigh (no similarities to the one back home!).  It was a lovely summers evening, the perfect camper van life!

Unfortunately the next morning we awoke to a gloomy rainy day, quite a contrast to the day before as the temperatures dropped considerably.  We had to find some indoor things to do and we took the chance to use the internet (my last blog post) in the quaint town of Moles Creek and visited the Marakoopa Caves.  The caves are a cool 9 degrees year round and have a system of underwater streams which makes them a perfect home for glow worms – water brings with it flies which are attracted to the glow and snared in a sticky net by the worms).  There were about 200 glow worms in the main chamber, which was an amazing sight.  Although not all were visible as they only glow when they are hungry – the more hungry the brighter the glow.  There’s also some amazing stalagmites formed over millions of years, being wet these caves had different formations to the dry caves we visited in South Australia.

Back in the rain we took shelter in a nice cafe for a coffee and a Kransky (Polish style sausage popular in Tassie) before we got on the road again driving west to the Cradle Mountain National Park.  Just as we entered the park we nearly ran over an Enchidna (Australian hedgehog type thing that is a monotreme – egg laying mammals) so we stopped and tried to usher him off the road – a cute little fella.

We left him waddling off into the bush and went to the visitor centre from where we took a shuttle bus to Dove Lake at the foot of Cradle Mountain where we did a short walk to an old boathouse.  It was a little overcast but nevertheless the scenery against the backdrop of the mountain was simply stunning.

When it got dark, the optimum time for wildlife watching we took a ‘spotlight tour’ along some roads in the park.  The guide gave me one of the spot lights and there were masses of animals to see including lots of Wallabies (Paddy Melons, Bennett’s), Wombats, and Possums.  Unfortunately no Tasmanian Devils but an Eastern Quall (a close relative of the Devil) had a run around the bus, which are apparently quite elusive so we were lucky to see that.  I didn’t snap the Quall but here’s one of the Wombats.

We stayed at a campsite near the visitor centre in the middle of the forest where it got pretty nippy overnight – we could see our breath, felt weird after being in so many hot places lately.  The chilly morning gave us a real feel of how life must of been for early settlers as we visited the former chalet of an Austrian immigrant, Gustav Weindorfer, who lived here in the late 19th century – it must have been blummin cold in the winter!  We did a short walk in the forest near the chalet through a pine forest covered in moss which gave the forest a lush green colour.

It would have been nice to spend a few days around Cradle Mountain but sadly we were on a tight timescale and had to get on the road again.  We drove about 150km to the west coast town of Strahan, on the way I got stopped by the police for speeding (71km in a 50km zone – oops!) in the town of Tullah – thankfully they let me off with a caution, phew.  We spent the afternoon in Strahan and had a walk around the bay there, a nice town in a remote part of the island.

It got even more remote as we got back on the road and drove East (back towards Hobart) through some mountain ranges on some very steep and windy roads (slow going in a big camper van!).  It was about 100km of wilderness, albeit very scenic wilderness!  At one point something that looked like a Tasmanian Devil ran across the road in front of us, unfortunately it was so quick we couldn’t say for sure but we are claiming it as a Devil (they are very elusive)!

We made a brief stop at the Franklin River but with darkness falling we needed to find a place to camp so continued on to Lake St Clair where there was a campsite in the forest on the shores of the lake.  A very tranquil place, it was so quiet and still that it was almost a bit eerie but still very picturesque.

It was another cold night but we went to bed wrapped up and ready for it this time – first time I have worn socks in bed for a while!  Our final drive took us along the Derwent River, where we stopped at a view point and admired masses of Black Swans.

On the way to Hobart we visited the historic town of Richmond which reminded me of a Cotswolds town with its limestone buildings and bridge.  Here I took the chance to try a Tasmanian speciality a curried scallop pie, crammed full of scallops in a curry sauce it was great!

In the late afternoon we returned the camper van and checked into a cabin at the airport campsite before taking a taxi into Hobart.  We had a walk around the city centre, Salamanca market, and the Battery Point area – all nice but not too exciting.  It was our last night with Mum so we had some fish n chips on the wharf and reminisced about our Tasmanian adventure – a lovely place that is well worth coming to see, probably the highlight of our Australian tour.

Next morning, after waving a sad goodbye to Mum who flew back to the UK, Lisa and I took an early flight to a very rainy Sydney.  Our old flatmates kindly let us stay over for a couple of nights and we enjoyed catching up with them and visiting some of our favourite cafes again.  We took it easy, both because of the rain and from being in need of a rest!

Despite torrential rain we still braved the open air cinema in the botanical gardens set against the city and harbour.  It was actually good fun (even with water sodden shoes), we took Dan and Lily from the house with us, donned plastic ponchos and enjoyed the views – the film wasn’t bad either, Tower Heist with Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy.

Yesterday was our last day in Australia after nine months, it seemed Sydney was crying as the rain didn’t stop but we took a cruise around the harbour and enjoyed the sights one last time.  We have seen many places, had highs and lows, but have thoroughly enjoyed Australia and will think back very fondly of our time here.  If only Sydney were closer to Europe….

It’s not all sad though, the adventure continues and today we flew over to New Zealand for the next phase of the journey.  We’ll stay here for five weeks and we have lots of cool stuff planned, very excited!

There are some photos, if you’re interested, from our trip round Tasmania here and last days in Sydney here.

Adelaide to Melbourne

After our two week tour through the outback we were ready to ‘do it ourselves’ again, and having met my Mum in Adelaide on January 16th we rented a car and cruised towards Melbourne stopping at some really cool places along the way.

However, before we left Adelaide we had a walk through the city and were impressed by the architecture and laid back vibe of the city. We briefly checked out the natural history museum, art gallery (which features some impressive works depicting South Australian history), and had a stroll through the botanical gardens. The highlight though was the Central Market which was a bombardment of smells and colours from the food on offer from around the world – there is almost too much choice!

There are some Adelaide photos here.

In the late afternoon we rented the car and drove about 100km south to the small port of Cape Jarvis, at the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula, from where we took a vehicle ferry over to Kangaroo Island. It was a scenic 45 minute ferry ride, especially when we sighted a pod of dolphins not far from the boat. We disembarked the ferry at Penneshaw.

Immediately it felt like a nice place with quiet roads and spectacular scenery. The island is about 160km long and we drove west about 20km to Island Beach where we stayed in a lovely two bedroom cabin surrounded by bush land just off the quiet beach.

It felt very remote, a world away from bustling Adelaide, and it was a great place for spotting wildlife – this wallaby was right outside the bedroom window.

We had two fantastic days on the Island which allowed us to get around a bit and see the main sights. On our first day we drove all the way to the Western side of the Island stopping along the way to see the Sea Lion colony at Seal Bay, the sand dunes at ‘Little Sahara’, for lunch at the picturesque Vivienne Bay, and did a walk through a forest looking at Koalas. The highlights though were the ‘Remarkable Rocks’ and ‘Admirals Arch’ sites in the Flinders Chase national park. Remarkable Rocks are a cluster of weather eroded granite boulders on top of a rocky dome that arcs down to the sea – indeed quite remarkable!

Admirals Arch is an archway dug out by the oppressive waves, which is scenic enough but as it is also home to a colony of New Zealand fur seals it is all the more impressive – we enjoyed watching the young seals playing in the surf.

On our second day we stayed in the east of the island, firstly we visited the American River which is a heaven for birds and on the suitably named Pelican Lagoon there were loads of Pelicans. We also drove up to the north shore to Emu’s Bay, which has a tranquil beach with turquoise blue water – very picturesque. Our final stop at the island was its capital, Kingscote, which is way more developed than the rest of the island where we enjoyed a cappuccino (luxury!) and a cake before checking out the town’s penguin colony and a pelican feeding – they went crazy for the free feed!

We took a late ferry back to the mainland and stayed in a quaint log cabin at a sheep farm just outside Cape Jervis where we disembarked the ferry. We thoroughly enjoyed Kangaroo Island, the abundant wildlife was fantastic – Mum saw as much as have seen in 8 months in Australia in two days! There’s a load of photos from Kangaroo Island here.

Next morning we were up early as we had a big drive ahead to get over to the town of Penola, which is located in the Coonawarra wine region that produces a fair proportion of Australia’s wine. It took us most of the day to get there following the coastal road (not a great view), but we broke the journey up and especially enjoyed stopping at the village of Hahndorf, first settled by Germans, for some German baking products!

When we finally pulled into Penola we were glad to get out of the car, but enjoyed some wine tasting at the Balnaves winery selecting their Cabinet Sauvignon to go with our BBQ! There are 24 wineries in the area and there are vineyards as far as the eye can see. We stayed in a very plush cottage in the town, much more luxury than we are used too!

With the big driving day we could now take our time and we checked out the World Heritage listed Naracoorte Caves. The caves are have the heritage status as fossils have been found here of giant ancient marsupials that have given scientists a view into Australia’s history, but with lots of stalagmites and stalactites the expansive caves are pretty amazing themselves.

Next we crossed into the state of Victoria and headed into the Grampians National Park, a range of mountains that are rich in flora and fauna. On the way through the park we stopped at some waterfalls, including the large McKenzie Falls, and some lookout points that gave us some a view over the mountains – here’s me and Mum and Reids Lookout.

We stayed overnight in the small village of Halls Gap which is nestled in a valley between the mountains. It was a lovely peaceful place and the local wildlife (Kangaroos, Wallabies, Kookaburras) came into the town and were easy to see which was a nice bonus – there were lots of ‘roos grazing on the cricket pitch!

Next morning we went for a walk through the bush to a peak overlooking Halls Gap known as ‘the Pinnacle’. It was quite a strenuous walk even more so in the intense sun, a bit too much for Mum, up a rocky gorge and between large boulders. The view at the top was worth it though, even Mum agreed it was worth the effort!

After the walk and a well deserved lunch we drove south to nice seaside town of Port Fairy. It’s a rustic place with a decent beach on a secluded bay and the nearby Griffith Island is home to hundreds of Shearwaters – sea birds that go out to see all day but return to their nests as darkness falls. It was quite a spectacle as one moment the sky was empty and the next it was full with these graceful flyers – not so graceful with their landings! I couldn’t get a photo of the birds but Lisa took this nice sunset shot.

There’s some more photos from this leg of the trip here.

Next day we visited the nearby Tower Hill reserve where we saw lots of Koalas, Emus, and butterflies. We climbed the hill for some good views along the coast and over the reserve.

It was a short drive from the reserve to the town of Warrnambool where, according to a sign the Great Ocean Road (GOR) officially began (although we had been driving along a road next to the ocean for quite a while). The GOR winds its way about 250km along a very picturesque and rugged limestone coast. The road, originally an unsealed single lane, was constructed by veterans who had returned from fighting in Europe during First World War as a monument to their fallen comrades – today it is one of Australia’s major tourist attractions.

Due to the limestone cliffs and strong southern ocean seas there are some fantastic rock formations along the GOR that are the result of many years of erosion. At some points we were stopping 5 minutes to see some of these sites. Amongst others the highlights were the Bay of Islands (Islands of limestone), The Grotto (a scenic arch in a rocky cavern), Lord Ard Gorge (Scene of numerous ship wrecks), and London Bridge (a double arched rock platform linked to the mainland – one of the arches fell down in 1990).

We stayed overnight in a lovely B&B (thanks for the recommendation Dad) near the GOR’s most famous landmark – ‘The Twelve Apostles’. These rock stacks have been eroded from the mighty limestone cliffs – once there were twelve apostles but now only six remain as the others have toppled into the ocean. After some fish ‘n chips at the nearby village of Princetown we headed to the Apostles viewing area and joined the throngs of tourists taking in the view whilst enjoying a lovely sunset (not quite over the apostles but the light was great).

As an added bonus with the last few rays of light coming over the horizon a colony of little penguins came up the beach in front of the Apostles to roost for the night (they do this every night whilst raising a chick who remains in the nest during the day). As the name suggests they are tiny! Fortunately Mum brought her binoculars which allowed us a better view, with the naked eye you could only make out a dark line moving up the beach.

Next morning after a hearty breakfast and some good advice as to where to stop on the road ahead we set off on the GOR again. We didn’t go too far as we stopped at ‘Gíbsons Steps’ which lead down to the beach alongside one of the Apostles, which gave us a different perspective.

Further down the GOR we stopped at Johanna beach, which had some massive waves, here we met an old German couple who are touring Australia in their campervan that they have shipped over from Europe for the trip – we were surprised to see a German number plate this far from home! Later we had a nice walk through the rainforest at ‘Maits Rest’, which has some incredibly large gum trees.

We had an ice cream stop at the seaside town of Apollo Bay and at plenty of lookout points offering superb views along this impressive coast – we actually got a bit tired of lookout points! We passed under the GOR marker, which is a monument to the soldiers that built the road, and of course we took the touristy photo.

Just before the end of the GOR we stopped at the Split Road Lighthouse, which is where the kids TV show ‘Round the Twist’ was filmed. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside but the views around were good and a fitting way to end our GOR drive – we enjoyed it from start to finish, possible the most spectacular road I have drive along.

There are a load more GOT photos here. From there it was an hour or so drives up the highway to Melbourne where we stayed in a hotel just outside city centre.

We had wanted to visit Melbourne for ages, before we moved to Sydney we were seriously considering working in Melbourne instead. It is a nice city that felt a lot more European than Sydney and perhaps a little more laid back – we found the people to be very friendly. We spent a couple of days in the city, enjoying the luxuries of city life, i.e. cappuccinos and sushi! We followed a city walking tour route that took us around the main sights of the city centre – Federation Square, Parliament House, the Royal Arcade, Flinders St Station, and the Old Treasury Building which is now an informative museum on the city’s history.

An old friend, Tim, whom I met when I did the Conservation project on the Galapagos Islands lives in Melbourne and it was great to be able to meet up with him after 5 years to catch up. We had a look round the Queen Victoria night markets and went for some dumplings in China Town.

Our second day in Melbourne was ‘Australia Day’ (26th January), which marks the day the first fleet of settlers and convicts arrived on Australian soil in 1788 (at Sydney). It was a day of celebration (although the Aborigines call it invasion day) with parades from immigrant communities from around the world, music festivals, etc – an excuse for Aussies to have a few drinks, not that they need it!

We found time to visit the National Gallery of Victoria (silly name) to view some of the paintings there from around the world before taking a tram north of the city centre to Brunswick St where there are a load of shops and cafes. We met up with Tim again and he took us to the Italian district on Lygon St to an excellent Italian cafe called Brunetti – there were so many great looking cakes it was hard to choose what to have! In the evening we went to the banks of the Yarra River which flows through the city to watch the Aussie Day fireworks display, which capped off a nice day.

We liked Melbourne, it doesn’t have the shiny glitz of Sydney, but it felt a bit more real and I think one could have a nice life there.   Next morning we headed to the airport and caught a flight to Hobart, capital of Tasmania, and we are taking a campervan round the very scenic island – I’ll write about that in my next post.

Alice Springs to Adelaide

We left Alice Springs early on Tuesday morning, driving south on the Stuart Highway before turning right onto the Lasseter’s Highway which leads out west to the Uluru (Ayres Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) National Park.

On the way we stopped at a Camel Farm, which was a bit touristy offering camel rides around a field but nevertheless interesting. Initially a handful of Camels were brought to Australia in the late 19th century for use in exploring the arid outback. They were used to good effect but soon became redundant to modern transportation methods. The camels were released into the wild and now there are thousands of them roaming the outback, like many introduced animals, they are considered an invasive as they destroy native vegetation which affects the bush land ecosystem. We have seen several Camel herds on our journey through the outback.

Unfortunately when we arrived in the national park it was a very wet and cold day, the area has been experiencing an unseasonably wet summer – much like Sydney.  We glimpsed Uluru from the highway and sadly it was looking grey with the sky covered in cloud. We didn’t stop at the rock though, instead we trekked in the Valley of Winds at Kata Tjuta, which means ‘many heads’ in the local Aborigine dialect. It was cloudy here too but this made for a nice temperature for the walk and added an element of mystery to the impressive rock formations.

The rocks were formed from an orogeny thousands of years ago which pushed up large blocks of granite from the Earth’s core, thousands of years of exposure to the elements has shaped them into their present head like form. We hiked up to a lookout point and the view looked like something from the ‘Land before time’.

After out walk we headed back to Uluru to see the ‘sunset’, supposedly to see the rock change colour with the setting sun, unfortunately a bit pointless given the cloud cover. Still our guide produced some Fizzy Wine and we had a bit of fun with the camera.

After camping overnight at the nearby ‘Uluru Resort’, a hotel and campsite complex where the tourists stay as there is no town nearby, we were up at 4am(!!) to see the sunrise over Uluru. We joined the throngs of tourists at the newly built sunrise lookout point, elbowing our way into a vantage point. Unfortunately whilst the clouds had cleared a bit they were still too thick to allow much sunlight onto Uluru – the full moon actually gave a better effect.

Once the sun was up we walked the 10km base walk around Uluru with our guide, Jason, explaining to us the many Aboriginal sacred sites around the rock. The rock looks quite different, but no less impressive, up close with many caves featuring rock art, waterfalls and pools, and strange erosions on the rock such as a head of a mythological warrior.

It took us a couple of hours to walk the loop around the rock and about halfway round the clouds finally dispersed and the sun shone through and brightened everything up nicely – the rock glows orange in the midday sun and we finally got our postcard photo!

After a brief visit to the interesting Uluru cultural centre we had lunch back at the campsite before driving three hours to Kings Canyon. On the way we passed Fooluru, Mt. Connor, which is often mistaken for Uluru by tourists. However, Uluru is formed from Granite pushed up from underground, Mt. Connor was formed by glacial movement – making it impressive in its own right.

Jason was good at spotting lizards as we were driving along and he spotted this tiny ‘Thorny devil’by the side of the road – apparently he isn’t as vicious as he looks.

We stayed at a dusty campsite at Kings Canyon, which featured a lace fly next right in the middle. These big winged flies were attracted to any light and there were masses of them – flying in your face and in your food not nice! Even with yet another 5am start we were happy to leave – we were up early to do a trek around the impressive Kings Canyon.

The trek started with a steep 15 minute climb up ‘heart attack hill’ but then levelled as we walked around the ridge of the canyon. On the way Jason told us a bit about the Aboriginal spiritual places around the canyon and pointed out ‘bush tucker’ that was used by the Aborigines to survive in this arid environment. The scale of the canyon was overwhelming and views were stunning, a very impressive place.

The trek took us about 4 hours after which we drove for 6 hours through endless desolate bush land to the small settlement of Marla. On the way we crossed the state border into South Australia, of course we stopped for the ‘tourist’ photo at the border sign.

There was nothing to see at Marla it was just an overnight stop to break up the journey. As it was a clear night a few of us took the opportunity to sleep in Swags, which are glorified sleeping bags in which one can kip out under the stars.

Despite some initial concerns about snakes, spiders, dingoes, and scorpions we were so knackered from the trekking and early mornings that we soon dropped off to sleep and slept straight through until morning and awoke feeling fresh 🙂

From Marla it was a two hour drive down the Stuart highway to the town of Coober Pedy, which is a Opal mining town that largely resides underground. Houses, churches, and pubs are dug out under hills to offer a cool escape from the intense heat of the desert – this is one of the hottest places in Australia with temperatures regularly over 40 degrees.

We had an interesting tour of an Opal mine where we learnt about the history of the town which was formed after Opals were found here in the late 1800’s sparking an ‘Opal Rush’. 90% of the worlds Opals come from Australia, and with 80% of Australia’s Opals coming from Coober Pedy it is regarded as the Opal Capital of the world. Opals are only found in places where there were once oceans, such as the Outback of South Australia. Drilling machines are used by miners to dig out mines but rocks have to be carefully hand sifted to see if Opals are present.

We stayed overnight in an underground bunkhouse and went for a beer in an underground pub, all very quirky but we appreciated the cool escape from the intense sun outside. We had a chance to sift for some Opals ourselves, a long and dusty process, and actually found a couple of small low grade Opals – unfortunately not worth enough to retire on!

We also checked out the nearby ‘Breakaways’, a stark but colourful area of arid hills about 30km outside of Coober Pedy. The white, orange, and yellow hills are stunning and quite photogenic compared to the repetitive plains of the Outback.

We also saw the ‘dog fence’, which spans over 5000km and as such is the longest man made object (longer than the Great Wall of China) in the world. It was built in the 1940’s to keep Dingoes away from grazing pastures where they would devastate flocks.
Next day was another day of driving as we headed to the town of Quorn just south of the Flinders Ranges, which we had come to explorer. On the way we stopped at Lake Hart, where there was no water to be seen, which is one of many Salt Lakes in South Australia. Whilst very picturesque it allows one to take some funky photos!

Quorn is a small town that was once a bustling livestock trading town, nowadays it’s just a historic country town. The buildings here are some of the oldest in Australia and we stayed in a quaint former Mill that has been renovated into a bunkhouse.

The area was deemed suitable for grazing in the 1800’s but the intense heat and regular flash flooding made life here difficult and most farms closed in the early 1900’s. We visited the remains of a former sheep farm, literally in the middle of nowhere, which gave us a view of how life must have been here for early settlers. The building is actually younger than many in the UK but you wouldn’t think it when you see it!

We also visited some nearby Rock paintings at the Yourambulla Cave, which were a bit simpler than we had seen in the tropical north – unfortunately no one really knows what they mean as the tribe that painted them have now died out.

We trekked through the Wilpena Pound which looks like a meteor crater but was formed from erosion as the inland oceans receded, the name derives from it being a natural sheep pen with mountains all around, no fences required. It was a nice walk and we saw kangaroos, goats (not native and considered a pest), and an old cottage that housed a Shepherd’s family until a flood in 1906 forced them to abandon it.

We had a good view around the pound when we walked up to a lookout point. In the evening as the sun was setting we went looking for some rare, and endangered, Yellow Footed Wallabies at the Warren Gorge. Keeping quiet and waiting a while, they are quite elusive, we managed to spot a few on the rocky ledges.

We stayed in the Mill for two nights before heading to Adelaide, and on our final morning we were up early for a trek up the nearby Dutchman’s Stern. A mountain that was named by the naval explorer Matthew Flinders, whom first discovered the area (hence the name Flinders Range), as it apparently looks like the Dutch ships of the 1800’s. It was a hot morning, South Australia has a very dry heat and the sun is intense, although it is more pleasant than the sweaty tropics of the north. It was an 8km trek up and down, we saw plenty of Kangaroos and Wallabies along the way, but the views from the top were well worth it.

From Quorn it was a 4 hour drive to Adelaide, and about halfway we stopped in the Barossa Valley for some wine tasting at the Knappstein brewery. I didn’t rate the wines much, but the beer was welcome refreshment. 🙂

The final leg of the journey brought us through vineyards and rolling countryside – very different to the red dusty Outback we had become used to. Here we concluded our 3000km (14 day) tour through the centre of Australia from Darwin in the Northern Territory to Adelaide in South Australia. We were a bit unsure about doing a tour but it has been a thoroughly enjoyable and hassle free trip, and we have met some really cool people along the way. With the vast distances we have covered between places of interest it has been nice to let someone else do the driving, it was the right choice for the trip through the Outback where one must take caution before setting out alone.

We are now looking forward to going it alone again and in Adelaide we have met my Mum who will be joining us for the next few weeks as we drive from Adelaide to Melbourne down the Great Ocean Road before flying over to Tasmania. Today we pick up a hire car before taking a ferry out to Kangaroo Island, which is supposedly something of a wildlife haven so we are excited about that.

There’s a load more photos from Uluru and around here, and some from the journey to Adelaide here.

Darwin to Alice Springs

We arrived in Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory, in the late afternoon of January 2nd and upon disembarking the plane immediately began sweating – it is very very hot and humid here, 35 degrees plus with humidity over 70%!  After checking into our hostel we had a quick look around the centre of Darwin, which whilst the capital of the Northern Territory is pretty small and feels very different to Sydney.  There’s a nice walk way along the esplanade and a small beach that faces south, which gave us a nice sunset.

Darwin is subject to many thunder storms and it didn’t disappoint as midway through the night a very loud and spectacular storm kicked in, the lightning reminded me of the pulsing lights of a nightclub.  Next morning we were up early to join a three day tour through the nearby Litchfield and Kakadu national parks.  Our group of 14 people, mainly Germans and Swiss, were a nice fun bunch.  Thankfully the 4WD truck had air con, it would have been very sticky and stinky otherwise! First stop was at a field of giant termite mounds, called Cathedral termites, which were to become a common sight throughout the national parks.  Here’s a very big one, which apparently takes a few hundred years to grow.

We visited numerous picturesque waterfalls in both national parks which were gushing owing to the wet season rains.  This included Florence Falls, Wangi Falls, and Tolmer Falls and, depending on whether there was a risk of crocodiles being present (checked regularly by rangers), we enjoyed a refreshing dip in the pools under the falls.

In Kakadu we checked out the Nourlangie rock paintings, which are apparently many thousands of years old, some of the oldest art in the world – hard to appreciate when you see it as it looks quite ‘fresh’.  The aboriginals used rock art as way to tell their stories and pass knowledge to the next generations.  Many paintings feature animals, hunters, families, and serpents such as Narbulwinbulwin, here’s Rich trying to explain what it all means to us.

We took a cruise down the Alligator River (named by an American who confused the Crocs for Alligators) which is haven for birds and Crocs.  Unfortunately as it’s the wet season the Crocs were hard to spot but we did see one briefly poke its nose out of the water in front of our boat.  The waters were so high that many of the trees and vegetation were deeply covered by the flood water.

Most nights we have been sleeping in tents, which were like saunas in intense humidity in the north.  One has to be careful at night as many creatures seem to come awake, the Cockatoos nosily come into roost, Wallabies graze in the campsites, mosquitoes buzz annoyingly around you, cane toads hang out in the toilets, and big nasty looking spiders appear – this one on our tent is a Golden Orb, thankfully non posionous!

After a couple of nights in the national parks we had a night back in Darwin, enjoyed civilisation again, before joining the next tour (our 14 day tour to Adelaide consists of several shorter tours), a 3 day tour down to Alice Springs.  This time we were on a mini bus with a new guide, Keith, but with many of the group who were with us for the Kakadu tour – funny how quickly you can make new friends J

There’s a load of photos from our trip around Darwin and Kakadu here.

We left Darwin early and cruised down the Stuart Highway (named after John McDouall Stuart – the first European to cross Australia from South to North, no mean feat) which runs from Darwin to Adelaide.  We drove to the small town of Katherine, where we would camp for the night.  We were here to see the nearby Gorge, Katherine Gorge, in the Nitmiluk national park.  We did an 8km trek through the bush to the ‘Pats Lookout’ point, which overlooks the Gorge river system.  In the heat the trek wasn’t too easy but the view at the end made it worth it.

It was a nice campsite, although if you needed to sit on the toilet you had to fight it out with the frogs who had made it their home!

We also had a snake slither through the camp, it was a small and brown so we thought it might be the deadly brown snake, but our guide thought it was a python – either way we gave it a wide berth. Our guides have prepared us some very impressive meals using the limited campsite facilities, I have to hand it to the Aussies they do know how to do a good barbie.  Sleeping was a bit sticky with the humidity remaining high even through the night, but the early starts made us tired by 10pm so we quickly feel asleep.

Next day we started early as we had a big distance to cover, first stop was the Mataranka Thermal Springs where we had a swim in the crystal clear water.  The water can be up to 35 degrees, heated by an underground spring, but thankfully it was much cooler when we visited – a lovely place to relax.

For lunch we stopped at the town of Daly Waters, which was established by the Americans as an airforce base in WWII (the Japanese bombed Darwin in 1942).  It was at the time the first ‘airport’ in Australia to have international flights, now it is just a small airfield in the middle of nowhere!  The pub in the town was like something out of Crocodile Dundee – this was the Australia we had come to see!

We camped at a cattle farm in Banka Banka just off the Stuart Highway, this felt really remote with only occasional road trains (massive trucks hauling up to three trailers) passing by.  It was a quaint place and the nearby hill gave us a great view of the surrounding area and a nice sunset.

We also saw a Goanna digging for grubs, he didn’t seem to be too worried about us so he must be used to humans being around.

Next day we visited the fantastic Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu to the aborigines) – gigantic granite boulders poised in a way that looks like someone has placed them so.  I’m not sure why they only in this place, but they make quite a spectacle against the endless bush/desert.

The ‘marbles’ were formed millions of years ago from a volcanic explosion, initially they were square but over time with exposure to the elements they have eroded into their present form.  The sun heats up the rocks and they expand through the day and shrink at night, which has caused some of the boulders to crack in half.  This was the highlight of the trip so far, a very impressive place.

On the final leg to Alice Springs we made a quick stop at Wycliffe Well, famous as having the most reported sightings of UFOs – our guide said this was down to the amount of beer they drink here!  We also stopped at the British built Barrow Creek telegraph station, which is a reminder of times gone by when telegraphs were forwarded from remote stations across the world.

We arrived in Alice Springs late yesterday afternoon and sadly we had to say goodbye to some of our group – Nad the crazy Swiss girl (we have lots of friends to visit in Switzerland now!) and Gabriel our German photographer, both will be missed on the next legs of the tour to Adelaide but we enjoyed a bit of a knees up in ‘the Rock bar’ with them last night.

Alice is a bit of a strange place, maybe it’s the heat, there’s not much to it just a small strip of pubs and shops set on the dry Todd River on the northern side of the MacDonnell Ranges.  We have had a day to ourselves today and have mainly been chilling out by the pool.  We did visit the Royal Flying Doctors station in the town though, which has a small but interesting museum explaining how the service works.  Partly government funded they rely on donations to provide a very valuable service to remote communities who are a long way from their nearest doctors surgery.

The town, like many we have passed through in the Northern Territory, is home to many Aboriginals, which has been interesting for us to see as we have rarely encountered them elsewhere.  It is apparent that there are many issues of integration between their culture and the western world, alcohol addiction and substance abuse is a big problem here.  It is sad to see that the two cultures struggle to integration, although considering the Aborigines have been in Australia for 65’000 years whilst the Europeans only 224 years it still very much a transitional period and hopefully things will improve in the future.

Tomorrow we head off to the famous Uluru (Ayres Rock) before picking up the highway south towards Adelaide where we will arrive next week.

There’s a load of photos from our trip down from Darwin to Alice Springs here.

Happy New Year 2012

Happy New Year!

As you can see we had a very spectacular New Years Eve in Sydney!  We went over to the look out port at Mort Bay in the Western suburb of Balmain and sat in the sun all day with our friends, before the stunning firework display at midnight – a fitting way to round off our time in Sydney.

There’s a load of NYE photos here.

We are travellers again from tomorrow – next stop Darwin!