Its my last afternoon in Perth as I fly to Hong Kong at 1am tonight. Perth has been a very pleasant place to be and I’m kinda sad to be leaving. To be honest, I’ve done very little whilst here except chill out and a quick visit to Freemantle.
Freemantle has a couple of locations for beer fans: The Little Creatures Brewery and The Sail and Anchor. Little Creatures is a large building containing in half of it a brewery bigger than the IOM’s Bushys and the other half is a pub & restaurant. Surprised that they only appear to brew 3 different beers but good nonetheless. The Sail and Anchor is a more typical brew pub with around 6 of their own beers on at one and all having their own distinct character. I’ve yet to come across a place as good as this anywhere in the UK. As a whole the town seems well set up for a nice meal, a few drinks and watching the world go by.
Perth is a nice compact city that is easy to stroll around but provides regular shuttle buses on a couple of routes. Railway lines split the entertainment & hostel district from the rest of the town centre creating two areas of distinctly different feel. The hostel I stayed in, Spinners Backpackers, has also been one of the friendliest places that I have stayed in on the trip. I’ve enjoyed myself here and its a place I could picture living in easily. Its only problem (and also in some ways good point) is that it is so remote from anywhere else of size.
I’m feeling slightly strange about tonight’s flight as its the first stage in my final leg of the journey taking me home. OK, it is a long route that I’m taking but distance will be covered faster than in most other stages of my trip so far.One of the few things I did manage in Perth was to arrange the trans-siberian portion of the trip and to arrange to do it with my dad. Hong Kong will primarily be for getting all the visas I need.
Broome was a pleasant place to spend 3 days, based in the Last Resort backpacker hostel. The hostel itself was a fun place where the staff all remembered you name after asking once, providing free buses to the beach and nightspots. Basically I spent 1 day exploring Broome, 1 day on the beach and the final day writing up the previous journal entry with a slight hangover. Most evenings I caught up with Hettie and Zoe for a chat or a night out.
Fri 11th June
There are only 3 of us continuing from the first bus: Ian, Kat and myself. On the first night in Broome we meet Karen who will be joining us but it is not until the bus turns up that we meet Manuel and Maura. With us all on board it’s basically a long day of driving down to Indee Station, passing via Port Headland where most of WA’s iron ore and salt is exported.
The owners of Indee station are a friendly old couple that put on some bar snacks for us on arrival giving us an opportunity to chat to them. It appears that gold has been found on the station and before long it could be worth a lot more. It’s quite quiet when we are there as the exploration miners have the week off.
Our guide, Jodie, knows how to cook so it looks like I’ll have more free time in the evenings. Shame really as it was entertaining giving Blair cooking lessons in the knowledge that he would be quoting the notes he took verbatim to the next few tour groups he has.
A major disappointment is that we can’t build a campfire and find out there will only be one night where it’s possible. This is a blow, as the campfire tends to act as the centre of the evenings socialising. Still at least my head will be safer.
Sat 12 June
Its up with first light and a reasonable drive into Karijini National Park. A quick stop at the tourist centre and then we make several hikes though Fern Pool, Circular Pool, Dales Gorge and Fortesque Falls. At one of these most of us have a swim but the weather is cooling off and most of the pools are quite cold.
Sun 13th June
In the morning I can’t immediately find one of my socks. When I do its about 20m away from my swag and not in the direction I’d headed to toilet in the night. Jodie thinks it must be dingos. Its also been a cold night this high up, so tonight I will borrow one of the companies sleeping bags to put around mine in addition to the swag.
It’s a second day in Karijini and the one where we would have done the Miracle Mile walk if tour groups hadn’t been banned from it. Unfortunately a few people had fallen recently and one rescuer was killed by a flash flood. We did hike down to several stages of it and it did look fairly intimidating. To even access the bits we did involved edging around on narrow rock ledges, wedging ourselves across narrow gullies and lowering ourselves on ropes down steep rock faces. It was good fun and very different to any of the other hikes I’d done on my trip so far.
Mon 14th June
During the night I hear dog like snufling round my swag. I’m only just awake and don’t want to wake more by opening my eyes. I make a bark like sound and am please to hear several sets of paws running into the distance. I sink immediately back to sleep. In the morning Jodie reports she also heard dingos all round her. Maura had heard my bark which provided amusement for much of the day.
We left Karijini and spend most of the driving to Exmouth. We stop at the mining town of Tom Price to pick up supplies and find a shop with Internet access to read the story of England’s first game. Ian and I aren’t please by the last minute loss to France.
Eventually get to Exmouth in the evening where we are staying in a hostel dorm. That night we’re having a BBQ and as the tour company won’t provide any “Aussie” food I bought a couple of packs of roo (“Skippy”) fillets in Tom Price. The food is good and the roo goes down a treat with everyone who tries it.
Tue 15th June
The only reason for Exmouth being on the itinerary is to drop off and pick up passengers. We don’t have any changes so we don’t gain any benefit from the town. It means we are up really early to get down to Coral Bay before 8am so that people who wish to dive on the reef can do so. I’ve booked myself on a glass-bottomed boat with some snorkelling later in the day along with Ian and Karen. The views from the boat are great and the snorkelling is good fun.
As the sun is setting I grab a cold beer and head for the beach to have a drink in honour of travellers past who’ve had their wings clipped. The colours are good and there are a few clouds to add some drama. Its then off to the only pub in town for happy hour.
I’d met Hettie earlier in the day and whilst waiting for the rest of my tour group she and a friend joined me for a drink. When our group did turn up it was quite late so they all grabbed 3 drinks each. We were all having a good time so we persuaded Jodie to be the Psychologist for a game. It was OK but my briefing may need some work, as she was too concerned about working out the link between us instead of extracting our murky past.
Wed 16th June
We have a quick stop at Shell Beach on the way to Monkey Mia. The camp area tonight is connected with a hotel so the facilities are fairly good. This is also the one night with a fire in a specially prepared area next to the camp kitchen. The Adventure Tours bus coming the other way also arrives and is full with 21 people so our nice quiet campsite is suddenly quite congested.
In collecting the wood for the fire the soles of our shoes become covered in two types of thorny seed. We only realise on returning to the bus but it would have been agony if anyone had gone out in bare feet.
Thurs 17th June
It’s up early to catch the dolphin feeding at 7 am. This is where female dolphins are fed a limited amount of fish (after a study into infant survival rates feeding of immature dolphins and males was stopped). The mothers bring along their calves that then remember when older and the feeding is now on its 4th generation. We had around 9 dolphins turn up including a couple of calves and a few adolescents.
As the volume of fish fed was limited only a few people get to toss them a fish. Ian was the only lucky member of our group but we all got some good photos. At the same time they were feeding a few pelicans whose comedy fighting over the fish was very entertaining.
It was then south to the Stromatolites, one of the oldest forms of life on earth at around 2 billion years old and responsible for enriching earth’s atmosphere with oxygen.
Its then on to the Kalbarri National Park for lunch before hiking to Natures Window and the Z Bends. Z Bends was fun as it has the steepest entrance and exit of any hike so far, basically scrambling over rocks wedges in cracks in the gorges side. Hard work but satisfying.
Fri 18th June
Another big driving day with a stop at the Pinnacles the only real relief. These are stones that formed around the roots of plants long dead. When these exposed stones were first found they were thought to be the remains of a lost city.
We get into Perth at around 6pm and meet up for some food and a drink later. Only Maura is up for a big night as the rest of us fancy catching up on our sleep deficit.
All in all the trip wasn’t as outward bound / adventurous as I hoped. It was good fun though and that counts for a lot. I’ll look to update this entry and the previous one shortly when I have a little more time, accurate information and inspiration.
It was an early start as we were to set off at 6am and the bleary eyed group gradually formed up to that time. Although the truck had a capacity of 16 there were only 8 of us on this run plus Blair the guide. It meant we could spread out and our packs could come inside instead of being stashed on the roof. The “bus” was a converted 4wd truck with an air conditioned passenger cabin added where the flatbed would have been and linked to the cab which had a couple of rows of seats. We would later find that though generally comfortable with good air-con it had a very loud gearbox at high speed and a crap stereo that couldn’t cope with the noise.
We were warned that the first day is a lot of driving and little else. So it proved. Our small group meant we got away quickly, however this meant we passed through Katherine too early for the bottle shops to be open so we had to buy our cased of beer later in a far more remote location and at a far higher price.
Late in the afternoon we reach the border between the Northern Territory and Western Australia. There is a checkpoint at the border to stop you taking any fruit or veggies in WA. Initially this seems bizarre but apparently it’s to stop crop diseases spreading to WA from the rest of Oz where their endemic. It also means we have to eat up the small stock of apples we have or they’ll have to be binned.
Not long after we reach the campground at Lake Argyle after a quick look from the viewpoint over the lake. The weather has been strange all day with a full cover of cloud high up in the sky. The poor quality of light stops us taking any photos believing they will be better tomorrow morning.
The weather also means we pitch tents instead of just using swags as it could rain in the night (which it does eventually). Dinner is largely pre-prepared fish and fried rice and we eat it round the campfire whilst telling the rest of the group a little about ourselves. A background worry is that the Gibb River road is closed to vehicles as big as our truck. It’s the major part of our trip and we should be OK if the weather clears up, however a weather system is stuck over the west of the Kimberley’s and is dropping a lot of rain.
Blair gives us some background into aboriginal family culture. Basically all your mother’s sisters are also your mothers, plus all your dad’s brothers are also your fathers. Their offspring become your brothers and sisters. Once reaching puberty siblings of the opposite sex are allowed to have almost nothing to do with each other as this is seen as incest however the children of your mother’s brothers and father’s sisters don’t face the same restrictions. It takes a little thinking about and is very different to western culture. The discussion is also used to split us into two groups who will prepare alternate meals
We have a minor incident when collecting wood for the campfire. Blair has tied the bullbars of the truck to a chunk of dead tree with a tow rope so we can break it off for the fire. Unfortunately the bull bar is made of plastic and the entire middle section breaks off instead of the desired branch. I begin to doubt the bar’s usefulness should we ever actually hit a kangaroo.
Tue 1st June
We got up as the sun rose (5:30) as we would for the rest of the trip and had a quick breakfast before heading off for a boat ride on the lake. The sky is still overcast so it’s a fairly cool morning and most people are wearing a fleece. Almost immediately after setting off on the boat we have spotted a fresh water croc in the water, apparently hoping we were off to feed the fish farms so it could get an easy meal from the catfish attracted.
First stop was to see a group of rock wallabies. Basically these are small wallabies nimble enough to live on rocky faces. I’m not sure how they manage it with their small front legs and hopping walk but somehow they do. Although nocturnal the family of 3 come out for some food.
Next it was off to a location where there were numerous 7 spotted archer fish. These spit water at potential food sources to knock it into the water. We are given some very mouldy bread which we hold out over the water. Sure enough the fish lines up and spout of water hits your hand. When we drop a chunk of bread in the water the feeding frenzy is incredible with a lot of catfish joining the archer fish.
The island we are near to at this point is covered in a particular breed of spider (I forget the name). It has two features of note: 1 its webs are very strong & 2: some of them carry flesh eating bacteria on their fangs that can cause problems years after being bitten. Nice.
We moved on to a place where you could take a 4m jump from the rocks into the lake. Normally in the heat this would have been fantastic but today’s weather only encouraged a few of us in (and not me).
Finally as we were heading back we were lucky enough to catch the Barramundi farmers feeding their stock. It’s a staggering feeding frenzy as the pellets hit the water both inside the cage where the barramundi are kept and round the outside where the catfish collect in the hope of a few stray morsels. It’s the catfish that drive the boat’s dog nuts as they swarm just out of his reach.
Unfortunately it’s another long drive to tonight’s camp. The distance isn’t as far but the road from the Great Northern Highway to where we are to stay for the next two nights in the Bungle Bungles is 50km of slow 4wd only going. As dusk approaches Blair asks me to look out for likely firewood to collect. I spot a couple of dead trees and we stop. I then make a staggeringly stupid mistake; it’s so daft it’s hard to admit to, but here goes. I see a great looking branch about 8 feet up. To get it down I throw the tow rope over and pull down on it. Unfortunately I have shifted directly underneath it so when the branch does come down it lands on my head. I realise as the branch breaks off I am in trouble and duck out of the way. Not far enough. Its not a stunning blow like when I hit the tunnel roof in NZ, but hard enough. I reach up to check for blood and am horrified to find my palm covered. I clamp my hand back on my head and head slowly back to the truck for help whilst trying to keep calm. This isn’t helped by the cascade of blood running down my arm with 2 or 3 drips heading for the dust every second. Nor is it helped by the realisation that we are several hours from anywhere useful medically and that a might have screwed up the tour for not only myself but the others as well. The good side of the realisations was it meant I was still able to think fairly clearly.
Blair got a large sterile pad from the first aid kit and I held it over the wound whilst Zoe helped me wash the blood off my face and arms. Once the worst was off we wrapped a stretch bandage round my head and chin to hold the pad in place. By this point the bleeding seemed to have slowed significantly if not stopped. It left the decision of what to do next. Based on the fact my mind worked and I wasn’t bleeding to death we decided to continue as planned.
A bit further along the road Blair suddenly stops the truck and jumps out. He’s spotted a carpet snake and is soon holding for inspection. Everyone except me jumps out for a look, I’m just happy to sit there for a bit and chill.
Although people wanted me to do nothing that evening I didn’t feel the same way and slowly put my tent whilst the others did their, also sticking my oar into our teams cooking of pasta carbonara.
The bandage wasn’t the most comfortable thing to wear and I’d avoided any alcohol or painkillers because it was a head injury but sleep came easily enough. So did wakefulness when in the middle of the night it started raining and I realised I’d left the windows of my tent open.
Wed 2nd June
Got up feeling OK but the first priority today was to replace the bandage with a more subtle method of holding the pad in place. Some work with a set of scissors to crudely trim away some hair and a lot of adhesive tape and we had a more workable solution that also looked a lot less like a nun’s habit.
We went for a walk up to the dramatic Cathedral gorge followed by a stroll down Piccanny?? Creek. Again the weather was cooler today so we were able to head further than normal. At one point we come across a wild passion fruit plant and have a taste of the delicious seeds. You need to know what you’re doing because there are several poisonous plants that look similar.
We then headed over to the airstrip as Daniel, Sonia and Hettie were taking a helicopter ride through the region. Whilst they were flying we prepared and ate lunch.
It was then a down through Echidna Gorge with Blair telling us to note the coarser sediments that make up the rocks here compared with earlier. The last part of the gorge is quite a scramble over fallen chunks of rock but its good fun. On the way out we pass a large older group on the way up. Its a reminder that although somewhere remote we are definitely on the tourist trail here, something we almost never escape on the trip except at our most basic bush camps.
On our return to camp my dressing is loose from being stuck to too long hair and the sweat of the day. Using my beard trimmer Blair trims the hair down further around the wound and sticks a new pad on for the night. Its then time for a quick shower under our improvised system of a hosepipe and a punctured beer tin, being careful to keep my head dry.
The other team cook up a curry tonight and after this we play a psychologist game that Blair knows. One person is removed from the group whilst the rest of us establish a consistent relationship between us. The person then comes back and asks us questions trying to work out the relationship. They are encouraged to ask anything they want, no matter how rude as the person being asked won’t be offended. It’s a lot of fun but I’ve not posted a clear description here as it would stop anyone reading this from being the psychologist if I play again.
Thurs 3rd June
Another long day of driving starting with the 50km of 4wd road that takes over 2 hours. We arrive in Wyndham around 2 o’clock dropping me off at the hospital whilst the others buy supplies in town. The nurse checks me over quickly and seems happy with the state of the scab and is pleasantly surprised by the neat hair trimming job round it. She then redresses it with a giant square plaster, handing me a several more for the next few days.
By 3 o’clock we arrive at the 5 rivers lookout for a very late lunch before a short drive to Perry’s Farm. The campsite here had proper showers so it time for a thorough clean and a shave. The dressing came off easily in the water and from that point on I never replaced it. The one thing I did start to notice in the shower was the huge number of mosquitoes in the area, killing around 15 of them whilst I was cleaning up.
Dinner that night was to be a roast beef with roasted potatoes, pumpkin and carrots. The managers of the campsite used to work with the tour company and generously allowed us to use the oven of their restaurant. The meat wasn’t done at the first attempt but was good half an hour later. I’d not seasoned the roast heavily enough but the garlic and rosemary roast spuds came out well. A nice bottle of wine, good food and good company helped the evening pass happily being able to largely ignore the resident mossies.
Once in my tent for the night I noticed that I had around 15 of the blood sucking little bastards in there with me. With my torch and a rolled up pamphlet I set around killing as many as possible and making a mess of the inside of the tent. You realised which ones you had got too late as they left a red smear when killed. What anyone who witnessed my performance would have though I’m not sure. Unfortunately they whole ordeal was repeated when I headed to the toilet in the middle of the night.
Fri 4th June
On waking I thought I could hear the buzz of mossie wings, but although I could see 15 or so at each meshed window on the tent it didn’t seem enough to account for the sound. Breakfast was hell as if you stopped moving you were surrounded by a swarm almost immediately. We all kept it short aiming to pack up and get the hell out as fast as possible. It was really horrible as I repacked my rucksack as there was a cloud of mossies in the tent swirling round my face. The real shock however was when I removed the flysheet of the tent; there were hundreds of the buggers sat on the tent inner and who now came at me. That was where the sound had come from earlier.
Although it was probably the fastest we had done it packing up to move on never seemed to take so long. We constantly had to check each others backs as you could find 20 or so mosquitoes landed there. It was the nearby billabong (lake formed up by a partially dried up river) that had acted as the breeding ground for our nemesis so it was with a certain lack of enthusiasm that we headed for our first stop at Marlgu Billabong. Our fears were unfounded and the nature reserve had an incredible range of birdlife in a lovely tranquil setting.
Next came Emma Gorge one of the loveliest settings I have known as a tall fine waterfall plunged into a pool suitable for swimming. I had been advised against swimming so sat by as the others chilled out in the water and tried to pose in a line for a group photo. It was a great spot and a taste of things to come over then next few days.
That night was our first proper bush camp with no facilities on Russ Creek. The toilet for solids was a spade and a walk to somewhere private (easier said than done in this location). Some of the group went for a short walk to see sunset on a nearby hill whilst the rest of us had a beer and set around the prep work on tonight’s dinner: fajitas. In particular the shop bought salsa was souped up with fresh ingredients and a touch more chilli.
After dinner we went to look at the stars which are truly incredible where you have so little light pollution. We got a good look at Scorpio and the southern cross before the moons light obscured the constellations.
Sat 5th June
In packing up we noticed a couple of tatas, small lizards that apparently will wave at you as if in goodbye, hence their name. Cute little suckers.
It wasn’t too long before we had arrived at Galvin’s Gorge. This was another waterfall with a swimming pool at its base and there was no way I was staying out. It was fabulous, you could sit on the rocks at the base of the falls and have the water cascade over you and at one side someone had built a rope swing in a tree that Zoe and I made use of.
Blair had hung back and when he arrived he was carrying a 2 foot long water monitor. He had come across it on the way up and it hadn’t got out of the way quickly enough. It was worth being careful around it as its powerful tail could still hurt if it hit you. A few photos and strokes and we let it go. Unfortunately for him, by the time Blair was ready to swim the rest of us were out and sunning ourselves. Lunch was had on a rocky shelf just next to the fall.
It’s not a lot further down the road where we park up for Manning Gorge. It’s probably the longest hike of the trip to get there but that’s still only an hour, is easily done and well worth it. It’s a very wide fall plunging into a large pool and if you negotiate the currents you can swim in behind the falls. There’s also a good 5m high rock jump you can climb to. It’s the first set of falls we have had to ourselves and its wonderful. As we are sunning ourselves afterwards I get Zoe to trim the rest of my hair to Grade 1 so it better matches the area round the wound before plunging back in for a swim to wash all the little bits of hair off. Hettie joins me for the swim and we challenge ourselves by swimming against the current of the falls; good exercise but tiring. I think I’m keeping up with her OK until she puts a sprint on and then she’s off, must have fish genes or something. It’s a relaxed afternoon of sunning ourselves on the rocks before setting off for our second proper bush camp.
Dinner tonight is spaghetti bolognaise but before dinner we head for more star gazing, in particular the Milky Way and the Aboriginal Emu.
Sun 6th June
Our only real stop of today is a Bell’s Gorge where a large waterfall plunges into a very large pool, before continuing down a set of smaller falls and pools. It’s a great place but also busy. Again Hettie and I head for the currents at the base of the falls before chilling out on the rocks.
That afternoon we drive to Wyndjana where we set up our last camp and have a BBQ for dinner with backed spuds and a whole range of salads.
Mon 7th June
We leave the tents up this morning to dry whilst we head in to look at Windjana Gorge. It’s a dramatic place, home to fair number of fresh water crocodiles. On a gravel bank to the river we find one around a couple of meters long. He looks harmless enough and doesn’t seem too bothered by us either. Nearby is a rock that the local Aboriginals believe contains the spirits waiting to be born. Eating food from the river here is the key to becoming pregnant as that is how the spirit enters the mother.
Not far away is Tunnel Creek a set of tunnels carved by a river through the rocks. The main tunnel is a couple of hundred meters long and involves wading through the river, which just about reaches my shorts on a couple of occasions. There are many side tunnels and this allowed the place to become the hideout of an Aboriginal outlaw at the end of the 19th centaury. Only by employing the witchdoctor of a neighbouring tribe were the whites able to eliminate him.
The rest of the day is a drive to Derby where we have lunch on the harbour. A quick visit to the Boab Prison Tree where Aboriginal slaves would spend the night on their journey to the pearling towns and then on the final drive into Broome.
We arrive around sunset and take a look at cable beach before dropping people off at their hotels & hostels. The 3 of us that are continuing with the company to Perth (Kat, Ian and I) are staying at the Last Resort hostel along with Blair & Julia, Zoe & Hattie are at Cable Beach and Sonia & Daniel at the Tropicana.
Everyone gathers at the Last Resort for a few drinking games and pizza before heading to a local bar a 11ish. Unfortunately it closes at midnight and nothing else appears open; Zoe, Hattie and myself are gutted we needed to club.
Just noticed this BBC story about an eruption on Mount Bromo that I visited a fortnight ago!!!! Looks like I was lucky in my timing as it killed a couple of people.
Have just added a load of photos to the last couple of months worth of posts. To see them all you will have to use the links to the archives at the bottom of the page.
Otherwise I’ve been having a look round Darwin. It really is a pleasant place to be with a few things worth seeing locally as well as being the travel hub for this part of Oz. Had a quick look in the WWII oil storage tunnels, the views across the port, checking out the markets, etc, etc. Much of my time has also been spent sorting myself out for the next few weeks, buying supplies, replacing worn out clothes, posting momentos home, sorting out my photos….
Arrived in Darwin at 5am this morning. A quick look around and it seems a quiet but pleasant sort of place and a welcome contrast to Kuta. I’ve got until Monday to sort myself out before heading off on a 19 day overland trip to Perth, round the north-west of Australia. Hopefully I’ll update the site with a few pics before then.
I fly to Bangkok today and am looking forward to it. So far most of my trip (Canada, USA, New Zealand, Australia) has been in cultures derived from and related to the British culture. South East Asia should be very different and for me this is where the proper travel starts; what came before was more closely related to a holiday. That is not to say the trip so far has not be good, its been a lot of fun but with the exception of Samoa not exactly challenging or educational.
I’ve done a little preparation for the next stage : buying extremely expensive malaria tablets, clearing out the pack and sending the excess home or binning it (should be 5kg lighter), doing laundry and getting my hair cut. Basically making my initial couple of days there as easy as possible whilst I get used to the place.
Australia has been interesting, the trip into the Outback being superb, it was great to meet up with relatives but with me failing to make the best of Sydney. The lack of entries in this journal for my time spent in the city is an indication of how little I achieved here. However I suspect that after 5 months or so in Asia I will quite look forward to my return to Oz in the middle of the year. Suggestions on the most interesting route to take between Darwin & Perth are welcome.
I had relatives (4th cousin) living in the Blue Mountains at Wentworth Falls so took the opportunity to visit them. It was nice to hop off the backpacker circuit for a couple of days. The train from Sydney runs a regular service and I was met at the station before heading to their home. It was not what I had expected, styled as a castle with a tower and with medieval antiques inside and out. Johnnie had designed the place himself, had it signed off by an architect and then had to find brickies capable of building it. Its unique and nicely reflects his character.
Lyn has a strong interest in family history and it was through her tracing of Johnnies family that we got in contact. My parents had met them at a wedding in Ireland so one thing led to another and here I was. We spent the afternoon seeing the local sights such as the 3 Sisters, Wentworth Falls and the local Hydro hotel built in the 1920’s very Art Deco and almost lost in a recent forest fire. We ate at home that night and it was great to get a good home cooked meal.
Next day Johnnie had to present one of his two weekly radio shows at the local community radio station Blu FM 89.1. Wednesdays is his country slot & I joined him in the studio. As I know little of country music I had little to offer but being there took me back to the days when I was involved in MCR 100 FM in Manchester.
I stayed that night but had to be off early next day to return to Sydney for my final preparations for Thailand. These include sending home excess clothes & kit (I want to look 5kg from my pack), picking up malaria tablets, replacing wrecked clothes and updating this journal. Also hoping to catch up with Paul from Samoa & NZ, John from the Stray bus and Julie from the Green Tortoise before I fly off on Sun.
Struggle out of bed at 6am to check out and catch Ando’s bus from Central Station at 7am. Our driver, Ted, is running a little late by the time he gets to us and things only get worse. Someone called Pong cannot be found nor contacted at their pickup point and two Swiss guys missed their pickup at 6am. Pong is never found and never calls either Ted or the office, but the Swiss guys have hired a car and will follow us round the tour.
We stop for a look at the 3 Sisters rocks in the Blue Mountains, climbing down a steep staircase to a natural platform on one of them. They valley around appears almost totally unspoilt and is almost completely covered in trees. The two Swiss guys catch up with us here to reveal that they have brought along a mate and there are now three in the Swiss army.
We drive to Sofala, Oz’s oldest mining town, for lunch and a swim in the river. The cafe is a small place that can just about handle the numbers on our small bus. Just as we have finished being served the Oz Experience crowd turn up in a huge 3 axle bus, so we get to sit eating in front of them as they queue up. It is here we start to realise the annoyance of the Ozzie bush fly; they are everywhere, are very persistent and seem to have a fondness for your nostrils and ear holes. Most of us are eating sandwiches but Tony has ordered the full English brekky which gets covered in flies the second he stops waving them off. The swim in the river is fun and cooling but before long we head off.
The next stop is at Hill End where we go Gold Panning in a creek. I’d done this before in New Zealand, but the technique demonstrated here was very different and far more aggressive. This may have had something to do with the mud we were panning here, instead of the fine gravel we had back in NZ. It was hot work in the creek bed, with the flies driving us mad, but we all found little bits of gold. It was clear, however, that gold panning is not a good get rich quick scheme and you have to admire the determination of those who had made it their livelihood.
Just up the road at the village of Hargraves we joined the locals who were having a BBQ for a quick game of football, tourists vs locals and a beer. We had the advantage of numbers but they had the advantage that the little kids were fairly handy with a ball, but none of us was going to go in with a crunching tackle on people under half our size. It looked like a 0-0 stalemate and halftime was going to be declared when the 1st goal was scored. I was forward on the right when a high ball came in to me; I took the speed out of it with my chest and then volleyed it past the keeper with my left foot. 1-0, half-time & I have just played the best bit of football of my life. The second half saw more goals for both sides but our team prevailed.
During the drive we found that Ted is the owner & sole full time employee of Ando’s Outback Tours. The company was started by an Andy before passing it onto his son. The two of them managed about a year before they were burnt out when Ted bought it up and has been running it for the last 4 years. Late that evening we arrived at Ted’s farm, Eulin Sheep & Cattle Station, where there was a great BBQ dinner (including roo steak) and a party into the night. Ted warned us he was waking us early and that we should not get cleaned up but should dress in closed shoes and long trousers. I took the hint and headed for the hay around midnight. Others partied on until 4am
Monday 5th Jan
We were woken up at 5:30 just before the sun rose. Within half an hour we were all in the back of 2 Toyota Landcruisers with 4 dogs and off to hunt wild pigs. The dogs were wearing wide leather collars to protect their throats from the tusks of the pigs. When we got to the hill where the pigs were meant to be, the 2 trucks headed round either side with 2 dogs in each. We dismounted and Ted led our group up the hill at a fierce pace but despite seeing a few kangaroos we didn’t find any wild pigs (to my relief to be honest). When we caught up with the other group they had had little luck either but it was blast hooning round the farm trails clinging to the backs of the 4×4’s.
It was back to the farm to get cleaned up and to have a quick breakfast before we went to shear a few sheep. Time restrictions meant we only sheared two sheep between up, doing small parts of the easy sections each. Ted also gave us the recent history of sheep farming where wool prices fell catastrophically in the early 90’s forcing many farmers out of business. Ted only retained a few sheep to shear as part of the tour.
It was then off to Ted’s house to fire a shotgun at a paint tin (it got a good hit sending it spinning away) and to pack some roo meat up for a BBQ later in the trip. We were to be joined by a couple of backpackers who had been helping Ted look after the farm for several weeks and Ted’s largest dog, Mad, who had to go and see a girlfriend in Lightning Ridge. It wasn’t long before Mad was renamed Scooby and became the most pampered mutt in the world.
We left the farm late that morning stopping at the Warrumbungle National Park for a hill climb followed by a picnic lunch. It was 44 deg C so the hill climb was shorter than usual, but we still got some great views. It was then a long haul to the Glengarry Opal Field where we were to stay the night at the Glengarry Hilton. This was a pub with a few portacabins out back for accommodation and a bag shower. Most of us pulled our mattresses out onto a tarp outside to prepare for sleeping under the stars as it was still well over 30 degrees and wouldn’t cool off much at night. The pub was a great place with a few locals keen to chat and a good supply of well chilled beer.
Tues 6th Jan
Woke up just after sunrise because of the flies and the whine of mozzies. Got an early shower before the rush and then went for breakfast. It was 32 deg C at 6:30 am and climbing.
One of Ted’s mates had originally discovered the Glengarry Opal Field and it was to his place we headed for a look at the equipment and to scavenge through the tailings of his mine. As long as we didn’t find anything stupidly valuable we could keep the stones we found. We all did find little pieces of coloured opal and several of us had ones that looked worth cutting. Down at the mine area itself was a lake of water used for washing the dirt brought up from the mines to leave only the stones. The process is done in modified cement mixers, with mounds of dirt from various mines waiting their turn. As Black Opal is one of the most valuable gems in the world it is likely that some of these mounds would be booby trapped to prevent theft. The lake itself is the colour of clay from all the dirt washed into it and this stopped many from having a dip. Not me, in the heat the opportunity to get into water was one to be taken. The swim was great with alternating warm and cool currents, but came to a sudden halt when one of the guys found a leach stuck to his arm. You have never seen a group of people leave a body of water so fast, checking their bodies to see if there were any more blood suckers. Fortunately not.
Lightning Ridge was only a short drive away and had a set of hot springs with showers. We were all keen to wash the clay off and swim in clean water but the hot springs really were hot. Most didn’t stay in long, I didn’t go past my calves as with the air temp in the 40’s getting into water also in the 40’s seemed mad. The shower was nice and cool though.
After lunch we went for a whip cracking demo from Ted’s mate Pete. Pete is a leather craftsman who did work for Mad Max III. As it happened there was a pool next to the garage Pete rented space from (strange place to have it). We all dived in with Pete telling lewd jokes and horsed around for while.
One of the local mines which was still working had also been opened up as a museum. We watched a video on the process, sweating horribly, before descending 80 feet or so down into the mine. I suddenly realised one of the reasons these guys do this without going totally mad…. its nice and cool down there. Our guide gave us a rough idea of how much Opal mining costs and the chances of finding anything that will pay this back. Except for the lucky or talented few its not a get rich quick scheme either but more like an excellent way to burn money.
A pottery demonstration was laid on before we went to a Aboriginal museum with the proprietor telling us what is known of the culture before the arrival of the Europeans and wrong assumptions made by them. Ted, meanwhile, was arranging for some of our more hopeful Opals to be cut.
Ted had arranged for some of us to go up in a small airplane owned by one of the locals. Because of the heat of the day the time was limited to the evening whilst still light. As there were limited numbers, I had flown in small planes in Samoa and to Stuart Island and had flown a two man glider before I passed the opportunity to others. Whilst the flights took place that nights BBQ was being prepared.
Ted owned a small camp just outside Lightning Ridge with a couple of small buildings, a train carriage as a dorm and a BBQ area. When we arrived after the flights the food was cooking and the beer chilled. Lots of Ted’s local mates joined us for the evening, including Pete and a couple of other with guitars. We kept going till the beer ran out and I crashed in the railway carriage.
Wed 7th Jan
After breakfast we looked at one of the more interesting buildings in the town. An Italian guy decided he had always wanted to live in a castle, so he built himself one. It doesn’t have council approval but that counts for little out here. (the local shops sell 4 times as much food as would be expected for the population registered in the area).
A local artist, John Murray, who was achieving a fair amount of acclaim designed the poster for Andos Tours. We dropped by the gallery for a look at his work which captures the scenes of the Outback and its cattle stations as well as humorous pieces. Before leaving town we picked up our Opals that had been cut, mine now worth around $200 and Tony’s around $1000.
We pick up Scooby & a Dutch girl who has spent 6 months or so in the outback for a long haul east towards Bingara where we were spending the night. 20 minutes into the drive Jan realises he has left his wallet in the gallery. We are suddenly glad the Swiss guys have a car as it will be much faster than the bus in the hills so they can head back for the wallet and catch us up for lunch at the RSA club in Moree. After lunch we passed though a rain storm with some impressive lightning. This was concerning, our packs were in a trailer and had got covered in dust every day on the unsealed roads. Adding water to the dust wasn’t going to help matters any.
We arrived in Bingara late afternoon with enough time to feed some orphaned roos and throw boomerangs by the river whilst drinking beer (some swam, I was determined to develop my throwing). I eventually got OK at getting the boomerang to come back but by this time I was holding a beer and you need 2 hands to catch the thing.
On arrival at the hotel we were told it had been 46 deg C there that day. We could believe it, the bus’s aircon couldn’t cope so it shut down and we had to rely on opening the windows. Several of us got put in a large 7 person dorm, which wasn’t great until we realise that it was fitted with aircon. Bliss, a cool nights sleep.
Thurs 6th Jan
Most of the group were up early to go horse riding but I plumped for the lie in. My last experience with horses, in the USA, was muddy, painful & humiliating. As good a recommendation as that is for a good time I decided against it. Around 11 am we set off for Byron Bay. It was a long trek so a short lunch was grabbed at Glen Innes where we were also shown some of the local Sapphire. By the time we arrived in Byron, had a shower and changed it was almost 9pm by the time we arrived at Cheeky Monkeys Club & Restaurant. Dinner was OK, we managed to rig a competition so Tony won it (and a free sky dive) and headed for the dance floor. There was a girl I’d got on OK with on the bus and had my eye on tonight; with little warning one of the other guys had swooped in there and they were off together. Despite being pissed off it was strangely reassuring that after 4 months of travelling and on the other side of the planet things were playing out as normal, I can’t have changed much.
Fri 7th Jan
Most people spent the day getting sunburnt on the beach and messing about in the breaking waves. Although the tour had finished Ted volunteered to take us round the bay to the eastern most point in Oz to see the lighthouse and the sunset before having a last few drinks and dinner together.
Sat 8th Jan
Ted & Gabi headed off early for the 12 hour drive to Sydney. Gabi was off to Ted’s farm to look after the dogs for a couple of weeks before heading south. I was staying in Byron for one more day before catching a different bus to Sydney. Most of the others were heading north up the coast. It had been a great trip, seeing stuff & meeting people I wouldn’t have seen any other way.
Found a short 5 day trip that heads inland, before finishing in Byron Bay. It sounds like the company, Ando’s Outback Adventures, has one van and that does the one trip. I set off early tomorrow and am not sure what internet access I will have on the trip so I may not post up anything further until next weekend.
If I can delay my flight to Hong Kong for a couple of days I will be able to spend a few days in Byron, before returning to Sydney and taking a short trip to the Blue Mountains.
Managed to get a great spot on the penisula just to the east of the Opera House by turning up at 1 in the afternoon. Spent the day snoozing & picnicing in the park with Matt, Jo, Adrian, Laura & Dieter whilst waiting for the big event. By 9pm and the first fireworks it was very crowded, but after they were over the families with children headed off and we had some breathing room. The midnight display was truely spectacular, lasting a full 15 minutes. That was then followed by a light show on the bridge. I don’t have any great firework photos but do have a nice one of the light show I will post up sometime.
As far as mad parties were concerned it was a comparatively quiet night as long bar & toilet queues limited the drinking, but lead to a nice chilled atmosphere. Does mean I feel better today than any other New Years day in memory, and I do actually remember it.
I’ve now got to sort out my travel plans for ther next couple of weeks including visiting relatives in the Blue Mountains and a quick trip up to Byron Bay. I’ve got to get stuck into South East Asia and will fly to Bangkok mid January; the rest of Oz can wait till I get back here around about June.
Hope you are all set for a great 2004, Happy Hogmanay.