Driving the Queensland Coast.

Our first stop after crossing the border into Queensland was at our old favourite, Noosa Heads. It seems strange to talk about borders within a country, especially borders with checkpoints and permits to pass, especially in a country like Australia, but that is how the country has now become. Each of the State Governors, with the exception of New South Wales, has seized the opportunity to shut off their individual States, not only from each other, but also from the rest of the World. Australians are now not allowed to leave the country without obtaining a permit and only citizens and a very few exceptions are allowed to enter. They then have to enter a forced quarantine at a Government designated hotel. One person has already been jailed for breaking this quarantine.

From an outsider’s point of view it appears that Australia is happy to isolate itself from the rest of the World in an attempt to keep the number of virus cases and deaths to an absolute minimum. The Government is not saying they want to totally eradicate the virus but the figures suggest that they are not far from it.

So where does that leave us? Well, essentially we are no longer in Australia. We are in the independent State of Queensland!! Travel between most of the other States is either impossible or involves a long quarantine. The only exception is travel into New South Wales where we can enter but would be unable to leave easily or quickly. This situation however suits us down to the ground…. for now.

One of the many coves around Noosa.

Anyway enough of travel restrictions and other inconveniences and back to Noosa. We have visited here a couple of times before and also stopped here for a couple of days with Glen back in January! We decided to stay for four days this time and take some time to enjoy the area and consolidate our plans for the next couple of months. We still have a couple of weeks left in the campervan so a steady drive up the 1000 mile coast to Cairns seemed to be the best option.

Noosa is an extremely picturesque location. Several tributaries of the Noosa river wind their way through the town into the ocean. Road bridges criss-cross the tributaries which are busy with all manner of water activities such as, fishing, rowing, kayaks and stand up paddle boards are everywhere. All of this is surrounded by lush green vegetation and luxury homes which line the river banks. Then you hit the beach with wide, golden sand and warm blue waters. The whole area is pretty good.

While we were there Social Distancing was beginning to take hold and the Police were patrolling the beach but we didn’t see anyone who needed to be spoken to as there was plenty of room for everyone and people were doing the right thing. Adjacent to the beach is a National Park with a network of tracks which climb up onto the cliffs above the beach and extend for about 7 or 8 miles or so. We did a couple of walks in the Park which had amazing views of the coastline. We went to gorgeous coves, only accessible by foot, and watched the surfers in droves doing their thing. There are also apparently several koalas in the Park but after two days of straining our eyes and getting aching necks on the lookout for these little creatures, we unfortunately didn’t get to see any. We did however see plenty of pretty big spiders and lizards along the way!!

Look what I found on the tree.

Whilst in Noosa we also became aware of one or two shops closing for business due to the lack of custom, although most were still open and all cafes and restaurants were still serving takeaway food and drink, but the impact of the virus was definitely making itself known to the tourist industry.

We left Noosa after four days and contemplated staying longer but Cairns was still several hundred miles away and the days were ticking down. The theme of ‘staying longer’ was a reoccurring one and at every place we stayed up the Queensland Coast we could easily have extended our stay everywhere. There were locations we hoped to visit but could not squeeze them in with enough time to do them justice. This part of the World is visually impressive in so many locations.

We made a stop for a couple of nights in a place called Yeppoon. We had never heard of it before, but looking at the map it looked logistically a good location for a break. On arrival at our campsite we found the place mostly deserted and had to fill in a form at registration with details of several things including our reasons for travelling. “This is all starting to get a little serious”, we thought. Yet again our campsite was right on the beach, which was vast and empty. We had a relaxing couple of days walking along the beach and exploring the local town, which was mainly still functioning as normal with the now familiar Social Distancing!

Our lonely campervan on the site in Yeppoon!

Out next stop was the small town of Airlie Beach. This is a town that relies heavily on tourism and markets itself as the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and the Southern end of The Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, due to the virus, the gateway was shut and heavily padlocked!! No excursions at all were operating, the town was deserted and for the first time the virus was having a significant impact on a place that we were visiting.

We found a campsite just a couple of miles out of town and on checking in we were now faced with an even more detailed registration form, including where had been staying in the last couple of weeks, what was our reason for travel and health questionnaire. The campsite was barely 10% full but it was still in a great location and immaculately kept. The staff seemed to have plenty of time to look after all the tropical plants instead of catering for needy campers:-)

When you expect a location to be a hive of activity and it resembles something of a ghost town it can be a little disconcerting at first and this was our initial feeling in Airlie Beach. We don’t have a TV and so our news comes from one or two internet feeds we choose to read so we are not overrun with constant news channels and updates. Consequently, we were a little unsure as to what we could and couldn’t do, but that feeling seemed to be true for locals, business owners, tourists and Police alike. Everyone seemed to have their own interpretation of what was allowed and what wasn’t. It was clear to us that everyone was finding their way in the ‘New’ Australia!

The normally busy main beach in Airlie!

We spent some time sitting back and taking stock of our position. We could still walk, run, go to the beach, get a takeout coffee, go into most shops, drive between towns in our campervan and get a place at most campsites, as long as we kept some distance between ourselves and others around us. In effect, our lives hadn’t changed that much. So that is just what we continued doing, all of the above and Sarah was still finding some great locations to stop for lunch.

Seems like a nice spot for some lunch.

Although the prospect of the marathon in Kazakhstan has now well and truly disappeared, Steve is still keeping up the running in the hope that a race may open up later in the year. One morning in Airlie Beach he went out for a run “I’m planning on doing about 16 miles”, he said as he left. As we are travelling North the temperature is also going North and so is the humidity. As Steve ran the mercury soared and it wasn’t long before it settled in the low 30’s. When he returned his clothes were soaked with sweat and he definitely looked the worst for wear “I feel like a candle that just melted”, he said as he headed straight for a cold shower!

Ready to cool off at a watering hole.

Our neighbours on the campsite at Airlie Beach were a Dutch couple, Mark and Liza. We got chatting (from a distance of over 1.5 metres of course). They had travelled through South East Asia, New Zealand and now Australia and were in a similar situation as we were with regards to travelling to Cairns and then a little unsure about what happens then. Steve noticed that Mark had a bike squeezed into the van and it transpired he was a keen cyclist who cycles for a top level amateur club in The Netherlands. Well that was that…chat chat chat, natter natter natter, Tour de France this, Giro D’Italia that, who is better, Chris Froome or Tom Demoullin? Everyday they were at it, then in the evenings we pulled our chairs to the end of our campsite space, and they did the same on theirs, and the evenings were spent socialising with Social Distancing! Mark could speak perfect English and Liza was pretty good too so this added an enjoyable new dimension to our trip.

Out on our daily walk.

We left Airlie Beach after four days, with Steve even more determined to get a bike ….. especially after Mark had said they should cycle together in Cairns in a couple of weeks time. However, getting a bike was more difficult than we thought. Sarah did some great work searching ‘Gumtree’ (a website she uses back in the UK for buying and selling second hand items). Our problem was since travelling North of Brisbane the area has become less and less populated and everytime Sarah found something that might be suitable was several hundred kilometers away! It became more and more apparent that the only place with a reasonable chance of getting something was as we passed through Cairns.

We had one more stop to make on our way to Cairns and we chose to make it in a place called Mission Beach. This was definitely one of those places where we did not spend enough time. A tropical, picture postcard location which was quite out of the way of the grip of Covid-19. With a campsite right on an almost deserted beach our two day stop was way too short. We both agreed a return visit one day was a must. Mission Beach is also a breeding area for the Cassowary. These are strange looking, almost prehistoric, flightless birds which can grow to over two metres high. The local community is very protective over the Cassowary and there are signs by the road where recent sightings have been made. We were very lucky because as we drove into town Steve spotted one by the side of the road and Sarah was out of the van in flash capturing a few photographs.

A Cassawary wanders by!

We both felt a little sad leaving Mission Beach, not only because it was a lovely place but also we were starting the final leg of what has been an amazing journey both across and up Australia. We have seen so much, visited some new fantastic places as well as some old favourites, and had some great laughs along the way! Although we still had a four day stop in Port Douglas planned we had to pass our final destination of Cairns to get there.

Mission Beach was just Amazing.

Just South of Cairns though we had two important stops to make. Sarah had come up trumps on ‘Gumtree’ and found a couple of promising places to pick up a bike. So promising in fact that not only did Steve pick up a half decent road bike but Sarah also managed to get her hands on a mountain bike. She even managed to negotiate with the guy that he would buy it back from her when we leave! We’ll see how that one works out!

Steve with his new best friend.

So after making a few adjustments to the interior of the van we squeezed the bikes into the back…. and sides…. and front and set off to Port Douglas!

“Of course there is space for 2 bikes”

The last time we were here it was a buzzing hive of activity. With tourists of every description, from backpackers to multi millionaires visiting second homes. This time it was deserted. Except for a few locals and a stray tourist or two there was no one about. It was approaching Easter and the Government here were really ramming home the ‘non-essential travel’ theme, no going away for an Easter break, no visiting second homes, “Stay at home” was definitely the message. This, along with the closure of the State borders, almost completely shut off tourist travel. Police were even sent out to monitor campsites to ensure only authorised people were there. Luckily we fell into the category of ‘not having a permanent home’ and so were allowed on sites.

We started doing more walking again, including along Four Mile Beach, and up to Flagstaff Hill for great views of the area. We started to use our bikes to travel the five miles or so into town and back from the campsite, and Steve started to get out on some longer routes by himself. We also noticed a significant change in the weather. It has been very warm since we entered Queensland, but now there was the added factor of the high humidity. This was just about manageable during the day, especially as our campsite had a lovely pool which was unbelievably still open. But at night, with no air conditioning, it made sleeping difficult. It seemed that every time we did anything, other than sit down, the sweat taps were turned on!! We knew in time we would start to acclimatise, but for now it was hard work.

The view from Flagstaff Hill in Port Douglas.

Whilst we were in Port Douglas we had some big decisions to make. Our campervan was due back in just a few days, we had an apartment booked in a place called Palm Cove for eight days and then we had another campervan booked for 30 days before our flight home. Our main decision centered around the viability of taking on another campervan.  Although it was going to be self contained, and with aircon, we had seen first hand how it was getting more and more difficult to get on fewer and fewer campsites. Being without a campervan would mean being without transport, but on the other hand we now had our bikes and so getting around locally was going to be possible as would be the occasional run to the supermarket which was close by. “Hey, we cycled from Canada to Mexico last year, I’m sure we can carry a rucksack full of food a couple of miles each week!”

So we decided to cancel the campervan and spend the next month in an apartment in Palm Cove, take our foot off the gas for a while, stop all this running around and just enjoy the location for what it is ….. a tropical paradise. So it was with a certain amount of sadness that we unloaded our belongings from the campervan into the apartment and settled down for the long haul.

It has been an amazing trip, one we never envisaged doing when we left the UK back in January. We have seen so much, from the white sand beaches of Western Australia, to the desolate but beautiful trip across the Nullabor, from the vineyards of the Barossa Valley, to the palm trees and sugar cane fields of Queensland, from the bustling cities of Sydney and Melbourne, to the numerous isolated coves along the East Coast, from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. We have driven a total of just under 9,000 kilometers, which is the equivalent distance of driving from London to New Delhi, in India, and we have loved every minute.

Views and a Virus!

After The Nullabor we turned South and headed towards Adelaide. We made our base in a small town called Gawler about 25 miles outside the city and at the gateway to the Barossa Valley, which is the main wine region for South Australia. We had three nights planned here, so after our journey into town we caught up on some domestic jobs which included a trip to the supermarket to restock and a trip to the laundry to put our clothes through a much needed wash. That then left us with two days to explore the Barossa Valley, slow time.

Steve is starting to get his running together and with a marathon less than six weeks away he was keen to get out for a long run, so on the first morning Sarah hired a bike and we set off on a cycle path into the vineyards, Sarah cycling and Steve running. It was a beautiful morning, clear blue skies but not too hot. Up and down the hills, in and out of the vineyards we went, mile after mile. When we eventually got back we had been out for almost 18 miles and had a great little tour through the wine region.

Running in The Barossa Valley.

Across the road from our campsite was the town swimming pool. The Australian psyche towards swimming is very different from that in the UK. Almost every town has a 50 metre pool, even Norseman with its population of just over 500 had one! Apparently there was a big push by the Government back in the 60’s and dozens and dozens of pools were built. Luckily most of them have been looked after quite well and still operate. They all seem to have a similar layout with  a main pool, a smaller one for children, a covered area to sit (often a grassed area with sunbeds and chairs) and some form of cafe. The main pools are always well disciplined with lanes for specific levels of swimming and you can generally get in and swim uninterrupted at any time of day. We spent the afternoon lying on a sunbed relaxing after our morning exertions and Steve dusted off his goggles and got in for a few lengths.

The following morning we gave ourselves a bit of a treat and went into town for some breakfast. We haven’t eaten out much at all on this trip, partly because we have been enjoying the campervan experience but mainly because on our route so far there hasn’t been that many places to go! We tucked into eggs benedict and pancakes and then jumped in the van and drove into the Barossa Valley a few miles further than we had run and cycled the day before. We passed through several small villages, all immaculate in presentation, with tourist shops, cafés and upmarket restaurants making the most of the numerous wine tours that come out of Adelaide. As we drove between two villages we went across a bridge over a narrow dried up river, the name of the crossing was Jacobs Creek!! Now we have heard of that somewhere! Two minutes later we drove past the entrance and couldn’t resist a trip into one of the biggest and most well known vineyards in the area.

Sarah glass in hand at Jacob’s Creek

It was a lovely place with a new modern visitors centre, manicured gardens and a terrace in the sunshine. We wandered around for a while and then sat on the terrace, Sarah with a chilled glass of prosseco and Steve with a coffee (it was his turn to drive).

We thoroughly enjoyed our couple of days sightseeing in the Barossa Valley, it made a nice change to be in the same place for three nights and we moved on feeling refreshed and ready to go again. As we left Adelaide we took a route along the coast enjoying the beach suburbs of the city. We stopped in Glenelg and went for a walk along the beach. It was another warm, sunny day and as it was a Public Holiday the place was pretty busy. We got carried away enjoying the walk and before long we were three miles along the beach!! Oh well, it’s not that we have to be anywhere I suppose. Incidentally, the Public Holiday was for a horse race “The Adelaide Cup”. Imagine having a Public Holiday in the UK for The Grand National!

“How far are we going on this walk Sarah?”

A four hour drive out of Adelaide brought us to our camping spot for the night, another area we had heard about where you can camp just off the road. We pulled in and found only a couple of  other vans in the area so again we had acres of space to ourselves. With another few hours of driving the next day we decided to get up early, just after sunrise. Steve pulled back the curtains and right outside the van were two kangaroos munching on the grass!! We watched them for ages and they kept one eye on us and continued with their breakfast. We even got up and dressed, went outside and they were unperturbed. It wasn’t until Steve got a little too close that they upsticks and hopped off at a surprising fast rate of knots.

“Good morning Mr Kangaroo”

Our destination today was The Great Ocean Road, a 250km stretch of road along what many regard as one of the most scenic in The World, and we would have to agree. Probably the most iconic feature are ‘The Twelve Apostles’ which are often featured in Australian tourism advertising. These days, due to erosion of the ‘Apostles’ by the wind, rain and ocean, there are only seven left, but they still make an impressive sight.

Five of the “12 (7) Apostles”!

The scenery along The Great Ocean Road is extremely varied. It starts off with the classic limestone features and although The Twelve Apostles are the most photographed there are others which are pretty impressive in their own right. The Bay of Islands, The Bay of Martyrs, London Bridge, Loch Ard Gorge and The Grotto are the main ones.

Loch Ard Gorge.

They are situated over a 20km stretch West of the small town of Port Campbell which is where we were staying. “20km”? said Steve, “that’s a nice distance for a steady run”. So we drove down to the furthest attraction, took a few photographs and then Sarah drove to the next one while Steve ran. As we were stood admiring the view a few people commented on how they had seen Steve running. We told them that he was running between the various features and so over the next 15km or so Steve was passed and repassed several times by the same people, honking their horns and waving at him.

London Bridge has fallen down.

Throughout the day we stopped at some amazing places and then in the evening we made our way to The Twelve Apostles where we parked up in the visitors centre car park, cooked some dinner and waited for sunset. We watched as coaches piled into the car park full of people making the long day trip out from Melbourne. By the time sunset arrived there were several hundred people all trying for that perfect selfie! Even with the crowds it was pretty impressive.

Sunrise on The Great Ocean Road.

The other two Apostles.

As we were staying in Port Campbell for another night we decided to get up early and make a stop back at The Apostles for sunrise. This was an excellent call. The short drive there was impressive in itself and with only 30 people at the site we felt we had the place to ourselves. Another stop in the car park, this time for breakfast, and we were on our way back on The Great Ocean Road. The road moved slightly away from the coast and twisted its way up and down through a rolling agricultural landscape, reminiscent of The South Downs in The UK. We then dropped back to the coast where the road was cut through the cliff in spectacular fashion. It was as impressive if not better than The Big Sur section of the Pacific Coast Highway in California that we cycled last October. Sarah did a great job, driving the snake like road as Steve sat back and admired the views. We passed through great looking towns as we passed into the surf coast and before long we emerged into the surf town of Torquay, home to the surf brands of  ‘Quicksilver’ and ‘Ripcurl’ as well as Bells Beach (one of the top surfing spots in the world) and the filming location for the final scene of the cult movie ‘Point Break’. Sarah was looking forward to re-enacting the final surf scene but unfortunately there was no surf….. she does however have the Patrick Swayze hair these days!!

Bells Beach………with no surf!

Torquay was a great place, it reminded us a little of Southern California with the beaches, surf, and so so many people out on the cliff top paths, walking running, cycling etc. As Steve was still training for the marathon in Kazakhstan he took advantage and ran 20 miles along the cliff tops and beaches. With a mixture of clouds and sun, and a cooling breeze, he was in his element. Sarah took advantage of the area as well by doing her own five mile walk.

Our next stop was to be three days in Melbourne, Australia’s second biggest city. The Formula 1 Grand Prix was in town and we had tickets!! albeit the cheap general admission tickets but nether the less we had tickets. Attending a Grand Prix has been on our bucket list for years so we were both quite excited. However, when Steve returned from his 20 mile run Sarah hit him with the bad news…..”The Grand Prix has been cancelled”. To be fair we had been following the news quite closely and the reports were suggesting a cancellation was on the cards. We toyed with staying in Torquay an extra day but we had a campsite booked in Melbourne so we set off for the big city lights.

We visited Melbourne several years ago. It had rained, it was cold and to be honest we weren’t that impressed. This time it rained, it was cold and to be honest we weren’t that impressed!! Many people rave about Melbourne but I suppose it’s “horses for courses” and as much as we try, and we do try, we were positive and looking forward to it but we just can’t seem to find what it gives above the likes of Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. With the rain set for a few more days, we left Melbourne a day early. We will try again another time and one day we will find the Melbourne people talk about.

The Melbourne Skyline under steely grey skies!

** OK Covid-19. Has there ever been a single conversation that is spoken about simultaneously by so many people everywhere in The World? It seems to be impacting everyone to some degree and the whole thing is moving so fast. We have been trying to keep up with news in The UK, Australia and the other countries we were intending to travel through, and we have watched our potential routes get blocked one after another as country after country falls like dominoes in one of those visually impressive tricks.

Our current situation and plan has no resemblance whatsover to when we left The UK and even less to when we first thought up this trip a couple of years ago. “Let’s fly to Australia, spend a few days there to get over any jetlag, then catch a container ship to Singapore and travel overland through South East Asia, China, a couple of “Stans”, into Russia, Scandinavia and home”. Well none of that is going to happen now!

We have a campervan rented until 7th April when we have to hand it back in Cairns. “What then?” has been the question we have asked ourselves several times. Steve’s parents are following the Government advice and self isolating for 12 weeks. Sarah’s mum is doing the same (not in the same house though, that would be a bit weird!). We are thankful they have decided to do this which will, hopefully, remove some of their vulnerability. Sarah’s dad and step mother are in Bali, Indonesia for another three weeks and are keeping well.

This does leave us with a slight problem in that if we returned to The UK now we would have a slight problem with accommodation due to the quarantine issues! Most countries have either closed there borders or require a 14 day self isolation period, so right now the logical thing for us to do is to stay here in Australia. So we have decided to get to Cairns, have a week or so away from the campervan and then pick up another one and drive the bit (or lot actually) of mainland Australia we haven’t done yet. Cairns to Darwin to Alice Springs to Uluru (Ayres Rock) to Adelaide. From there we have booked a flight home in the middle of May.

Obviously this is subject to change by circumstances which are out of our control, but we need to have a plan. We figure that if things start to get shut down here it’s most likely to be in the bigger more populous areas, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne etc. Far North Queensland and The Northern Territories appear to be less impacted by the virus, probably because there are significantly less people there!!

Our day to day life is pretty much unaffected by the virus. Outside of the cities the supermarket shelves are fairly well stocked and we are in possession of enough of that prized assest….the toilet roll! The Government are providing regular updates and the pattern seems to be a few days behind that of the UK. The numbers here are significantly lower, but that could all change in a week or so.

We are down to half a sheet each!

We are still absolutely loving it here and enjoying ourselves everyday. We do have a small sense of guilt that we are stuck here while times are obviously distressing and chaotic back in The UK, but we will be back in a couple of months and we are sure it will hit us hard…..or maybe not. Maybe The World will have a handle on this thing by then….let’s hope so.

That’s it for now. We will post again in a couple of days about our time in Canberra and Sydney and then we will be up to date. All this blogging takes so much time! 🙂

Sarah manages to get a selfie with Vin Diesel!

P.S. Kazakhstan marathon is cancelled!!! I doubt if this will stop Steve training, he is already on the lookout for a secondhand bike!

Driving across The Nullabor

So it is back to Australia. We managed to find a flight with Scoot Air from Singapore to Perth. Scoot is the Singapore equivalent of Easy Jet but yellow instead of orange (just as difficult on the eye!), and we were pretty impressed with them. An intercontinental flight of over five hours, which left on time, arrived slightly early, and for just over £100 each (plus baggage), we thought it was a bargain.  So for Steve’s eleventh time and Sarah’s ninth we touched down on Australian soil.

We spent the first night in Perth and the following morning made our way to the campervan hire location. The office was packed with people and luggage everywhere. It was an extended public holiday weekend for Labour Day and chaos reigned. It was also made worse by the fact there had been a power cut for three hours the previous afternoon which had affected the bookings for the weekend. We were told there would be a delay of about two hours in picking up the van!! But we were happy enough with free coffee, and a good internet signal, it gave us plenty of time to do some research for the upcoming six weeks. The car park was full of campervans of all shapes and sizes, from 4×4 versions with roof tents, to huge six berth ensuite luxury models. As ever, we were on a budget and had booked the cheapest and oldest two berth van. When we saw one being driven to the front, ready for collection, we made our way to the door. It looked pretty much what we had expected. It had more stone chips than paintwork on the front, a couple of hub caps were missing, the curtains were old and torn and the inside looked very much the worst for wear. We were, however, stopped in our tracks when someone else’s name was called out and another English couple stepped forward to collect the keys.

Our studio apartment. Home for the next 6 weeks!

The next vehicle brought round was the same style but a much newer model which was less than three years old. Still a little tired looking, rough around the edges, and showing the signs of a tough life on the road (a bit like us these days), but certainly better than the previous one. Our names were called and we stepped forward to collect the keys to our new home. We were then told, “You’ve been upgraded, we have run out of the old crappy vans”. We loaded up and set off on our 8,000 kilometres or so trip to Cairns!

“Get the kettle on Sarah”

Our first stop was going to be the town of Albany, a four hour drive away on the South coast. The registration number of our van ended in ‘WBL’ so Sarah said we should call it “Wobble”. As we drove out of Perth the backend of a cyclone was passing through and it was pretty windy. The high sided design of the van was making steering interesting and Steve said calling it “Wobble” might be tempting fate!! So we decided to settle on “Womble”.

Not long after leaving Perth we noticed we were getting pretty rural, the towns marked on the map were little more than hamlets, and the accumulative population we encountered over the four hours would have to be less than a thousand. Albany, however, was a decent sized town of almost 30,000 (the fifth most populous in the State). Considering Western Australia is more than 10 times the size of the UK and has a population 25 times smaller, you start to get an appreciation of how sparsely populated this part of the world is.

We had a couple of nights on a campsite in Albany. The town was OK but nothing special however it has some fantastic white sand beaches dotted around the area. We spent some time on “Little Beach” which was in a National Park about 30 miles out of town, pretty local really. It is often voted as one of the best beaches in Australia.

“Little Beach” Not a bad place to spend an hour or two.

After Albany our next drive was a five hour trip to Esperence. Between the two towns is pretty much nothing, another splattering of hamlets which all had fuel stations, a Post Office and a General Store. We had stocked up on supplies in Albany so we had pretty much everything we  needed. It was good to be able to pull up where ever we wanted, flash up the kettle, make up some sandwiches and sit out with our table and chairs in the sun.

Stopping for a cuppa on the way.

Esperance was in many ways very similar to Albany. In fact, when we talk about them now we still have problems differentiating between the two and remembering what we did where! The weather was slightly against us in Esperance and we did not see the fantastic coastline and beaches in all their full glory as it was fairly overcast, but we both agreed a return trip in years to come might be worth while.

Esperance would have been better in the sun!

We did take ”Womble” for a trip along the 30 mile tourist drive. Our first stop was Pink Lake…which isn’t actually pink anymore and hasn’t been for several years since all the salt was mined from it and it lost it’s colour. We stopped by for a look anyway and parked up. We walked through the car park towards the viewing area and were stopped in our tracks by a loud crunching sound!  We turned around and saw another campervan, being driven by a French girl, had reversed into “Womble”…. Zut Alors!! Luckily the damage was only cosmetic and minor, and after a few photos, a call to the campervan company, and exchanging details we were back on the road.

Sarah discusses damage reports in French…….Their hire van is quite colourful….in more ways than one!

We left Esperance a day earlier than we had planned, partly because of the weather and partly because we were both excited about what was coming up. The Nullabor Plain. The Plain itself is a relatively flat, almost treeless, arid piece of limestone bedrock which stretches about 1200 kilometers across Southern Australia, quite close to the coast. The road is single carriageway for it’s entire length and there are no towns, villages or hamlets, only a series of Roadhouses every 150 kilometres or so. The Roadhouses sell fuel (at hyper inflated prices) and hot pies, chips, burgers cakes and coffee. They also have incredibly basic motel style accommodation and provide an area for campervans and caravans with an electric hook up for about £10 a night.

Steve at the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse.

For a few hundred kilometres either side of The Nullabor the road is also fairly desolate. Between Esperance and Port Augusta, a distance of 1800 kilometers, there are effectively two towns, Norseman with a population of 574 …. we drove through on a Public Holiday and it was shut! and Ceduna with a population of 2157, home to an agriculture quarantine station where they confiscated all of Sarah’s fruit!!

So we pulled out of the fuel station in Esperance with Steve driving and Sarah giving directions. “Which way do I go”, asked Steve. “Turn left, then at the next junction in 200 kilometres turn right, then keep going straight ahead for three days”, said Sarah as she threw the map in the back!

“Just keep going straight ahead”
Baladonia and Eucla are Roadhouses but apparently Adelaide has a few people.

We absolutely loved The Nullabor from start to finish. Just the two of us in a campervan, talking rubbish to each other, giggling like school kids, listening repeatedly to our 2 CD’s by ABBA and Elton John and a few miscellaneous tracks Sarah had downloaded on her phone. (Steve can now sing “Waterloo” backwards in its entirety!…….OK maybe not!).  We would wave at the occasional vehicle coming in the opposite direction and critique the quality of the return wave, of which some were non existent and some super enthusiastic.

ABBA or Elton? It’s your turn to choose!

We would swap drivers every hour and the passenger would be on kangaroo watch. There are apparently millions of them out here. One of the warnings when you pick up the campervan is not to drive after dusk or before dawn as that is when they come out to feed and wander onto the roads. Some of them are over six feet tall and would make more of a mess of our van than any French driver could!

All sorts of strange wildlife wander The Nullabor!

We didn’t use the Roadhouses for camping, we just pulled up in the bush a couple of hours before dusk. There is a great App called ‘Wikicamps’ which lists areas which are used for free camping. There are no facilities, just a good place to pull up. We ‘free’ camped for three nights across The Nullabor, all in brilliant locations. On each occasion two or three other campervans pulled into the same area and although they were a hundred or so metres away it gave a bit of a sense of security in an otherwise desolate area.

One of our bush camps on The Nullabor.

Once we pulled up and had a coffee, Steve would go out for a run. Running down the middle of the road, sometimes 80 kilometres from the nearest building, was a strange experience with no-one around, just the sound of his footsteps as he ran along. Occasionally a vehicle would come along and Steve could see the faces of the occupants with a confused look of “Where the hell is he going?”.

This next stretch could be interesting!

Then its back for a bird bath, some food and then watching a movie on the tablet before bed and up again the next morning for another day on The Nullabor. Every hour or so not only did we change drivers but the scenery would also have a subtle change. Sometimes nothing but low level shrubs making the scene look extremely baron and harsh, then eucalyptus trees appear, scattered by the highway some with extraordinary copper coloured bark, then the road rises above tree level and a thick dense carpet of green leaves stretches as far as the eye can see.

At one point the road runs parallel to the coast and The Great Australian Bight, a large open bay which is part of The Southern Ocean. The coast at this point contains The Bunda Cliffs which is the longest uninterrupted line of sea cliffs in the world. A stop off here for a photo opportunity was a must.

The Bunda Cliffs.

Each morning on The Nullabor we were up and away early, both of us excited about the day ahead. We always gave the sun enough time to move on the nocturnal animals and avoid any possible incidents. The “Road Trains” continue all night. These are huge articulated lorries which ferry all manner of goods and supplies from South Australia to Western Australia. We are used to seeing the ever present trucks on the UK motorways, the kind with “Eddie Stobart” written on the side or a shipping container on the back, occasionally you may see a rig pulling two trailers. Along the Nullabor though, three trailers are common and occasionally you see a “Road Train” with four!! These are huge beasts hurtling along at 110kph. There fronts are protected by heavy metal ’roo bars’ with an extra metal bar stretching across the windscreen. In the morning we would drive through the ‘road kill’ carnage from the night before as fresh kangaroo corpses were scattered by the roadside. The ‘roos can be seen in various stages of decomposition, and as only the crows, dingo’s and other scavangers clean them up. Everything from last nights kill all the way to pure skeletons from months ago can be seen. We also saw three wedgetailled eagles feasting by the roadside on meals provided by the ‘Road Trains’.

A small Road Train leaves Sarah for dust.
We had to get off the road to let this one through!

On one particular stretch of The Nullabor the road kill was particularly heavy, over a couple of hundred kilometers we saw at least 200 dead kangaroos, from skeletons to ones only a few hours old. ‘Road Kill’ was not limited to kangaroos. Over the four day period we saw, in increasing size order, lizards, snakes, possums, wombats, small kangaroos, dingos, emus and large kangaroos. We thought we had seen pretty much everything when one day Sarah saw something by the side of the road in the distance. “Looks like a massive kangaroo”, said Steve, “No, I think it’s two or three all mangled together”, replied Sarah. Then as we swerved and drove past the wreckage it was clear to see a ‘Road Train’ had been in a serious encounter with a camel!!

They are all out there.

The day would roll on and at some stage we would pull into a Roadhouse for fuel. As we were camping in the bush we obviously had no facilities, toilets etc, so on one occasion when we saw showers being advertised at $4 a go at a Roadhouse we jumped in and took the opportunity to freshen up. Although they were not the best showers ever, and Steve’s had only cold water, it was certainly $4 well spent.

Eventually we pulled into Port Augusta, a real town, with traffic lights, road junctions, dual carriageway and people. We had driven the equivalent of London to Rome since we drove out of the fuel station in Esperence, all on single carriageway road and had only made two turns. A truly amazing trip which we loved and will never forget!

“Can we turn around and go back the other way?”, said Steve. “Maybe one day, but not now, we have got other exciting places to see”, replied Sarah, “But I will let you listen to Dancing Queen one more time!”.

Having a ball on The Nullabor!


Having escaped from the Vasco da Gama we entered Singapore. As we passed down an escalator into Immigration the passengers gave us one last goodbye laugh. Mr Potato Head appeared at the top of the escalators with both his and Mrs Potato Head’s rather large suitcases. Unable to manage both suitcases onto the escalator, he placed one onto the escalator in front of him unattended!! As soon as it started moving it tipped over and went down like a bowling ball flying down a slippery lane, taking out the passengers on the way. A perfect strike!! leaving passengers and luggage in a heap at the bottom. Luckily no-one was seriously hurt. Goodbye Vasco da Gama….. never again!

Luckily our time in Singapore proved to be excellent. We have both been here together a couple of times before and Steve was also here about 25 years ago. Things have changed dramatically from a time when the main attractions were Clark Quay, Raffles Hotel and The Merlion statue. The city is now packed with ultra-modern hotels, shopping malls, office buildings, theme parks, gardens and a whole host of other attractions. It would be easy to spend at least a week here and never be bored.

The ultra modern skyline in Singapore.

We were meeting up with our friends Craig and Sal. They were here on holiday from the UK, celebrating Craigs 50th birthday which is in a few weeks, and they had arranged to come a little early so our trips coincided. As we arrived on Steve’s birthday it was celebrations all round! Unfortunately, we weren’t staying in the same hotel. They had booked into the fabulous Marina Bay Sands which is fast becoming one of the iconic hotels of the world. So after dropping our luggage at our ‘not so iconic hotel’, we made our way across the city to the Marina Bay Sands to  meet them. They had a lovely surprise for Steve, a small birthday cake with a candle (which was six times the size of the now infamous one inch cake from the cruise). We were then treated to a guided tour of the hotel. Their room was amazing, the balcony and bathroom were both easily bigger than our room. We went up to the observation deck on the 57th floor which had incredible views of the city and is home to one of the largest infinity pools in the world at over 100 metres long…… how the other half live 😉.

Surprise birthday cake with Craig and Sal…(Their room not ours!)

Over the next three days it was pretty much non-stop. We went out for some food and a couple of beers in Chinatown which, probably due to the ongoing Covid19 outbreak, was pretty quiet! The following day we set off early for a walk around the city. Our hotel was about three miles from the city centre, in a lovely area with red neon lights, women standing on street corners and some of the hotel rooms could even be rented by the hour…. very convenient! There was however an MRT (underground) station close by. The Singapore MRT system is excellent, it is clean, efficient, cheap (about £1 a trip) and covers the whole city. Twenty minutes or so after leaving our hotel we were in the heart of Singapore. We walked around the downtown area, past Raffles Hotel, around the Marina Bay area before meeting up with Craig and Sal at The Pan Pacific Hotel (where they had rellocated after three nights at Marina Bay Sands). Not too bad a hotel in it’s own right!

Posing in front of The Marina Bay Sands

We then made our way to the Zoo. Singapore Zoo is without doubt one of the best in the World. As well as housing many well known species it also has a large collection of lesser known species like the Tree Kangaroo (no Sal it’s not a squirrel!). After several hours of walking around the zoo, and Sarah had pushed some children out of the way to have her photograph taken with a couple of Orangutans, we made our way towards the exit. As we walked along one of the roads we saw a lizard come out of the trees. It was at least three feet long (head to tail) and looked as though it had escaped from its enclosure. Then on the other side of the road another lizard of similar size emerged. The two lizards walked around each other in ever decreasing circles before, in a flash, they sprung up onto their back legs and grabbed each other in a weird grip, something between a wrestling hold and a waltz. They battled, pushed and shoved each other for several minutes and one started to bleed on its side. A couple of members of staff passed by and reacted as if it were an everyday occurrence. Eventually one lizard forced the other into some sort of storm gutter and the fight was over. “That was better than any entertainment we saw on the cruise”, said Sarah.

Have these two escaped from an enclosure?
Sarah with a couple of her buddies.

Singapore also opens a section of the zoo at night. So after we had eaten some food we re entered for round two. ‘The Night Safari’, as it is called, involves a tram ride around the zoo past various enclosures which are cleverly lit to give a different perspective to a normal trip to a zoo. You do get relatively close to the animals and some are even free roaming. After the tram ride you are able to follow a designated path which winds its way past the enclosures and exhibits. The highlight for Steve was walking through the bat enclosure where huge flying foxes were hanging from the roof netting and some of the trees looking like something straight out of a horror movie.


All in all we spent almost eight hours at the zoo. That, on top of the 4 hours we had spent wandering the city in the morning, meant we arrived back at our hotel pretty tired and unable to take advantage of any local attractions!

The following morning we made our way to The Gardens by the Bay. This is a huge park area housing all sorts of trees, plants, art exhibits and a couple of huge purpose built glass domes immitating a rain forest and cloud forest. You could easily spend a whole day and evening there and we only scratched the surface. Craig and Sal had visited before we had arrived and had explored the domes and seemed quite impressed. We didn’t really have the time, which was unfortunate, but we had an important appointment to attend!

Raffles Hotel is a Singapore institution. It is over 200 years old. It has been extended and improved over the years, and survived both World War II and the Japanese occupation. It has served nobility, royalty, rock stars and movie stars and has recently undergone a large refurbishment. The hotel looks immaculate. It is a piece of the nineteenth century, slap bang in the middle of a thriving and expanding 21st century city, but although dwarfed by its surrounding it still seems to command pride of place.

The main entrance to Raffles.

So we left the Gardens in the Bay to head to Raffles Hotel for Afternoon Tea in The Grand Lobby. The hotel operates a strict dress code. Walking around Singapore’s humidity and heat dressed for Raffles wasn’t really practical. Our hotel was a little too far out to return there to change so we had carried our finery, on our backs, in a couple of small packs. We arrived at the hotel looking a little hot and bothered, dressed in shorts, t-shirts and flipflops. Steve explained our situation to the concierge, who was more than helpful and guided us to some fabulous toilets from where we emerged ten minutes later, all changed, looking a million dollars (Sarah US dollars and Steve Zimbabwean dollars!).

Save some for us girls!
A pose with the porter.

We were joined by Craig and Sal and the four of us spent a fabulous hour and a half tucking into sandwiches, cakes, scones and ice cream, all washed down with some posh sounding, great tasting tea. This was all beautifully presented, with impeccable service, in superb surroundings. After a quick trip upstairs to see the famous Long Bar with it’s floor covered in monkey nut shells,  a photo at the front of the hotel with the traditionally dressed porters, and a trip to the toilets to return to our normal clothing, it was back to The Pan Pacific for Craig and Sal to get changed. They had been given a voucher for a couple of free cocktails on their arrival (we had been given a small bar of soap) and as Sal wasn’t a cocktail drinker Steve and Craig decided to get a couple of Singapore Slings. Off they went to the bar, sitting side by side, and ordered their free check-in cocktails. Craig pointed out how the situation might look to the waitress, who didnt know them, and was then quick to return to the women as Steve tried sitting on his lap and give him a kiss!

Go on …give us a kiss!

We all went for another walk around the Gardens in The Bay before saying goodbye and heading off to our different hotels to pack as we were all leaving Singapore the next morning. Craig and Sal were heading North to Dubai to finish their holidays and we head South back to the land ‘down under’ for what will, hopefully, be a memorable trip across the vast country.

Goodbye Singapore.

The Cruise.

The Cruise…….O.M.G…… where do we start? It was memorable that’s for sure…… but for all the wrong reasons!!

We shouldn’t forget that the initial purpose of the cruise was to get us from A to B, from Australia to Asia, without flying as part of our overland trip back to the UK. The container ship option, although possible, became way too expensive and so when we saw the one and only cruise ship travelling from Fremantle to Singapore, at a fraction of the price, we jumped straight in. We did very little research into ‘Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ or the ‘M/V- Vasco da Gama’. It probably wouldn’t have stopped us from booking it anyway as it was really our only option, but some research may have left us more prepared for what lay ahead.

On paper the cruise looked excellent. Twelve days with five different ports of call including some which conjured up images of the exotic Far East including Bali, Komodo Island, Java and all on a ship that had been completely refurbished less than a year ago.

It started to go wrong before we even set sail. Due to a Government ban on tourism for the foreseeable future to Komodo Island this port of call was replaced by a visit to the island of Lombok (a close neighbour to Bali) …..”Oh well”, we said “The container ship wasn’t stopping anywhere so any stop ashore would be a bonus”.

The Vasco De Gama!

So we set sail from Fremantle on the good ship Vasco da Gama. Firstly the positive points, it did manage to stay afloat, we only had one brush with potential disaster. Secondly, our cabin was pretty good. Obviously (being budget travellers) we went for the cheapest onboard which was an inside cabin. It was still pretty good, quite spacious, a comfy bed, sofa, small tv and a decent size shower. We did notice early on that the toilet flush had a delay of between one and fifteen minutes after the button was pressed!  We informed the steward who said “Ah yes we know about that” ….it still had a delay of between one and fifteen minutes when we left! The third positive point is the ship looked visually impressive with modern furnishings, some quirky seating and all seemed good quality. That, however, was the end of the positivity. From there on it became a catalogue of poor service, generally low quality food, third rate entertainment and innumerable pieces of broken equipment. We will give some examples but these will only scratch the surface. Don’t get us wrong, we certainly don’t demand luxury wherever we go. In fact, just the opposite, we can sometimes feel a little out of our depth and uncomfortable when faced with a certain amount of opulence, although Sarah does give it a good go when a decent spa is on offer! But common courtesy costs nothing and when something is advertised and not available or clever marketing is used to effectively trick people and when cases of straight forward lying emerge, it’s maybe time for a company to take a look at itself.

We weren’t the only ones who felt like this, as the cruise went on, the muffled complaints became more and more vocal. “There will be a mutiny on here before long”, commented Steve.

It would be very easy to rant on in-depth about each individual incident that left us angry or frustrated or had a detrimental effect on our cruise experience but that we feel that wouldn’t be an interesting read. So we will skim over them and try and be a little positive and light hearted about it. After all nobody died…….. at least we think they didn’t!!

Steve and Sarah relax on deck!

This leads us on to our first point and first piece of advice. If you are booking a cruise for your much anticipated holiday, DO YOUR RESEARCH! We can’t stress this enough, in fact we will say it again “DO YOUR RESEARCH”. Make sure the ship and ports of call suit your needs.  Some ships cater more towards families and children with loads of things to do, others offer more formal experiences, some try to mix it all up and cater for a wide spectrum and some are more for the older generation. The Vasco da Gama fell into the latter of these categories. In fact, it was to the more senior end of the elderly category! Steve thought the average age of the passengers was about 115 but Sarah thought it was much higher. There were 1200 passengers and we counted 9 younger than us! At least the gym was quiet. We would wander around the ship and see people lying on the sun beds or slumped in chairs. “Dead or asleep?” would be our question, which was generally answered for us by a snort or a fart!

Early on our second morning onboard we were woken by an emergency tannoy announcement, calling the ships company to a “ CODE B IN THE INCINERATOR ROOM”. “Emergency…. incinerator…. sounds like a fire to me” said Steve. Sure enough we got dressed, walked out of our cabin into a wall of smoke with the Indonesian and Burmese staff running around shouting “Everything is OK”. “Mmmm …. possibly not” we thought. The smoke filled four decks before it was brought under control and it took a couple of days to fully clear it out.

Clearing the smoke after the incinerator fire!

Whenever people talk about cruises one of the major topics is often the food onboard and more often than not in a positive way. Not on The Vasco Da Gama!  We did have a couple of meals that were pretty good, but in general the food was low quality, badly prepared and presented and served by members of staff who were less than enthusiastic, gave the impression they did not want to be there and in many cases were downright rude. The portion sizes were incredibly small. On one occasion Steve was given seven pasta tubes so he asked for some more. After what resembled a scene from Charles Dickens “Oliver” another four pieces of pasta were reluctantly handed out!  On another occasion he was given a piece of cake an inch square, not even a mouth full!

The 1 inch cake.

At breakfast one day Steve tried to get some prunes and was given a spoonful of cherries in a dark juice. “These are cherries not prunes”, said Steve. “No sir they’re prunes”. “No they are cherries” continued Steve. “No, prunes”, came the reply. After a couple more exchanges of cherries and prunes Steve gave in thinking maybe they are a new variety of prune. He tasted them… no, definitely cherries. He went back to the counter and saw a woman asking for some prunes and the guy was trying to give her dates. As she protested insisting they were dates and he maintained his stance that they were definitely prunes, Steve finally lost his temper and gave the guy a colorful description of the difference between cherries, prunes, dates and a series of other fruits that were on display.

A shrug of the shoulders and a raised upper lip was the general response to any complaint, query or out of the ordinary request and it soon became evident that things weren’t going to be changed or resolved anytime soon. For us, the situation became comical and we had numerous belly laughs at the various situations, but we did feel sorry for some of the passengers whose holiday was being spoilt.

As well as the buffet, which was available for all meals, there were three restaurants for the evening meal. Passengers were seated on a first come, first served basis. All three restaurants were very well furnished and comfortable but getting a table was quite often a nightmare, and there was no queuing system in operation. “Can we have a table for two please?” we would ask. “No, this restaurant is full” would come the abrupt reply. “What are our options?” A shrug of the shoulders and a raised upper lip was the response. “Banana sandwich in the buffet again for me then” said Sarah. “No, you might ask for bananas but you will get prunes” said Steve.

To be fair we did eventually manage to get a table in one of the restaurants on eight out of the twelve nights and were really disappointed on all but two of these occasions. On one evening the food was thankfully really quite good. Sarah had a moussaka for her main which actually tasted like moussaka, although the portion size was pretty small! “I’m having another one” she said “I am absolutely starving I need to eat, I don’t care about the embarrassment”. The second one came and she devoured it. Credit where credit is due, she thought, and thanked the waiter and said how much she enjoyed it. He practically begged her to go to reception and tell them. “Please, please tell reception” he said, “Everyone always complains about the food”.

Another major attraction of a cruise is the onboard entertainment. This, like the ports of call, can be very subjective. I believe the saying is “one man’s food is another man’s poison”. Some people obviously loved it while others weren’t very impressed at all. We fell into the latter category. We found it very repetitive. Each night the same acts were pretty much in the same locations, at the same time, singing or playing the same sets. The options were the Eastern European woman singing a variety of songs including some old rock and roll hits (occasionally using maracas to accompany the singing!), the Thai cowboy playing a mixture of soft rock songs old and new on his electric guitar (“Living next door to Alice” was a regular), the violinist and pianist doing their classical thing, and the singers and dancers playing twice a night in the theatre. Now neither of us are ever going to be judges on the ‘X Factor’, and we don’t profess to be entertainment experts, but even we know when someone is singing out of tune or a dance routine has been basically choreographed. We went a couple of times to the evening show in the theatre (the second time was just to see if the first was just a bad day…..it wasn’t). The highlight for us was the Musical Chairs before the main act came on! The theatre was visually impressive, set on two levels with plush seating in curved, terraced rows. The problem was the terracing was not steep enough and the curved nature of the rows meant some seats actually didn’t face the stage! People would come into the theatre, select a seat and then discover it’s faults. Up they would get and move on to another seat (not easy when you’re 95 years old with a walking stick and glass of wine in hand). The next seat would also have it’s faults and they would move on again until realising that, unless you arrived an hour before the show started and got one of the dozen or so seats with an uninterrupted view, it didn’t matter where you sat you were only going to get a partial view.

Our final point on the entertainment is about the cinema. A small room with a hundred or so seats. We decided to give it a go when they were showing one of the Bourne films starting at 8pm. We arrived a few minutes early, got a seat with a partial view (bit of a theme developing) of the small ‘pull down’ screen. The movie started on time. We could hear it, we could see most of it, so things were looking good. Then, after it had started, a constant stream of people came in and out. They were standing in the aisles, “Oooh, What’s going on in here Sheila?”, “I don’t know Bruce, looks like a movie”. Then in walks Mr Potato Head, the biggest man on board, and takes a seat right on the front row…. the partial view just got substantially smaller! After about fifteen minutes we then realised that the cinema was directly below the Thai Cowboy and The Bourne Supremacy suddenly had “Living next door to Alice” as a sound track! “Enough is enough”, said Steve, “Let’s get out of here, what do you fancy instead?, the maracas version of Blue Suede Shoes or Beethoven’s fifth?….your call”.

The final, main segment of a cruise are the stops or ports of call. On this cruise we stopped at Geraldton, Broome, Bali, Lombok and Semerang on the island of Java. As I said earlier, on paper this looked very appealing but it didn’t quite workout quite that way for us.

Another quality port in Indonesia!

All of our trips have an allocated budget which we have spent countless hours, over previous years, planning, replanning, finalising and refinalising. As much as we would like it there isn’t an endless supply of money so we can’t do everything and we have to prioritise what we want to do and what the trips are all about. This trip was about getting from OZ to the UK by land and sea (well that’s how it started out) and the cruise became a mode of transport rather than a way to visit places. We had every intention of seeing as much as we could but we just didn’t have the budget to go on trip after trip from the ship. Plus that really isn’t our thing and we like to do things independently whenever we can. The logistics of this cruise made that quite difficult and to be perfectly honest the locations were a bit of a let down.

Geraldton was a small town a few hundred miles North of Perth. There was so little to do even the ship didn’t offer any trips. There was a nice pathway alongside a white sand beach and a town that consisted of two streets of everyday shops. We did utilise the local supermarket to stock up on drinks and snacks. Even after one day we had a sense that the food onboard might not be that great!

Steve practising his yoga on Sarah’s head

The next stop was Broome, a town a further 1000 miles or so North (we are starting to head around the top of Australia now). Broome makes a big thing out of its isolated location. It is somewhere Steve has fancied going for a while but it is close to nothing and pretty much on the way to nowhere. It’s main attraction is Cable Beach, 22 kilometers of white sand and the place where Australia was first connected to the world via a huge communications cable, hence the name. We had two days in Broome to explore, with the ship berthing overnight and we were looking forward to it. It transpired we only needed two hours!

The ship berthed six miles out of town in a port with no bus connection so shuttle buses were put on to ferry passengers to and from the town. The centre of town was not too bad, a few bars, coffee shops and souvenir type shops. The problem was that it was Sunday and most places were closed! We wandered towards the outskirts of town and found the Police Station, Courthouse and an unusually large prison clustered together. We then saw an area littered with broken bottles and a fresh trail of blood along the pavement which eventually led to a public phone box which was covered in blood….. someone had a rough night!  Next we found a series of alcohol rehabilitation centres and homeless shelters.

We decided to make our way to Cable Beach which was another five or so miles out of town. We caught the public bus which had a pretty good running commentary about the town and again made a big thing about it’s isolated location and also about some guy called Willie who had a pearl farm?

Miles of sand and blue sky at Cable Beach.

Cable Beach was a pretty nice place to visit. It was vast, the sand was blinding white and the sea a deep blue. The ‘Sunday’ problem struck again though with the only cafe on the beach closed. It was also touching 40 degrees and incredibly humid so the air conditioned ship proved too much of a pull and we made our way back. The bus dropped us off in town near a large neatly kept open green park with large trees scattered around the perimeter. The only people in the park were large groups of Aboriginals sitting under all the trees, drinking and sleeping, with large amounts of rubbish around them and all their possessions in plastic bags or shopping trollies. We have had several encounters both on this trip and on previous trips with people of Aboriginal origin and right now we are going to refrain from making any comment. Although we have been to Aboriginal heritage and cultural centres in the past and read about aboriginal history we feel we need to gain a better understanding and knowledge first. Let’s see what we encounter over the next six weeks.

Aboriginals gather under a tree for the day.

We didn’t bother going ashore the next day, we felt like we had seen enough of what Broome had to offer. It didn’t sound like we missed much with many people questioning why the ship had stayed there for two days.

The remainder of the stops didn’t amount to much either. At each one we were docked a long way from any sort of town. That isn’t the fault of the cruise companies, it’s just where the ports have been built but it does leave you at the mercy of the overly expensive ship organised excursions or at the hands of the incredibly persistent Indonesian taxi drivers. We have travelled extensively in South East Asia in the past and found the Indonesians to be among the most pushy and persistent, in fact 20 years ago Sarah famously lost the plot with an Indonesian taxi driver. Steve had never heard her use such colourful language before, but that’s another story!

Storm clouds gather over Lombok!

We met people who had waited in vain for a ship organised shuttle bus to town before giving in and placing themselves in the hands of a taxi driver promising to give them a good price only to be driven to his brothers shops, cousin’s cafes and friend’s jewelry stores for some high pressure selling and never actually getting to the place they wanted. Oh well, every day is a school day!

So today we disembark in Singapore and are we ready for it? We are looking forward to meeting up with Craig and Sal. We don’t want people to think we have hated our time onboard, we haven’t. We made the best of the situation, it just wasn’t our sort of cruise. We have had some side splitting laughs both at ourselves and at other passengers and crew, so it’s actually been quite entertaining, that is other than the organised entertainment!

Singapore beckons under heavy skies.

There has also been a sad side to it too. It has almost given us an insight into a possible future. When you see so many elderly people in one place it sort of hammers home the point to try and live as much as you can, and do as much as you can, while you are still able to do it because one day for sure certain things will be beyond your capabilities. On a couple of occasions we found passengers wandering around looking a little lost. Over a week into the cruise one woman had completely forgotten where her cabin was and what number it was, and another gent was lost and disoriented unable to work out which deck he was on and in what part of the ship he was. We managed to get them back on course to which they were very grateful. “That will be you one day”, said Sarah. “Which one?” said Steve, “Both” came the reply!

A few days in Singapore now beckon and then we are booked on a flight back to Australia. We have hired a campervan, bought a map (old school, apparently internet and GPS are sometimes unreliable in remote areas). We have forty days to drive over 5000 miles from Perth to Cairns. We are both incredibly excited about it. “Why was this never in the original plan Sarah”, “I don’t know but it should have been, it’s great to have the freedom to be this flexible”.

This could be fun!

A Change in Direction

The last week or so has seen us continuing our time visiting Western Australia, well at least a small part of it. We finished our time off in Perth and then moved a couple of hundred miles South to Busselton and the Margaret River region, right in the bottom left hand corner of Australia. This region is an amazing area. We both love it here and discovered it quite by accident when Steve came to do an Ironman race here a few years ago. There are a few small towns interspersed among the acres of vineyards and the area is framed by a fabulous coastline littered with amazing beaches of white sand and turquoise waters. Once you add into that the endless blue skies and a bunch of really friendly Aussies it’s no wonder this ranks as one of our favourite places in the World, and for Sarah maybe even her number one!

Enjoying the beach.

We haven’t really done that much, just relaxed and soaked up the whole atmosphere of the place. Steve has been out cycling each morning and Sarah drives to one of the local towns to have a browse and meet him there for a coffee and a spot of people watching. We stopped in one small town called Cowaramup. “Difficult to say but easy to stay” is the town motto. The main road is scattered with life-size models of friesian cows!! We discovered that this has nothing to do with the town name which has a reliance on dairy farming for employment, but the town is actually named after the Cowara bird which is a brightly colored parrot you see everywhere.

Steve auditions for the new series of “The Yorkshire Vet”

Whilst in one of the towns and waiting for Steve, Sarah found herself in a clothes shop and decided to try on a pair of trousers. (Steve can never really understand this, why look to buy some trousers when you already have a pair?) Anyway, Sarah went into the changing room to try them on, pulled the curtain across and came face to face with a huge spider!! She said the thing was as big as her palm, all hairy and with an evil look in it’s eye. She told the shop assistant, who calmly said that they can give a nasty bite, and she would get rid of it. When she was relaying the story to Steve he said, “I take it you didn’t hang around to try the trousers on then”. “Didn’t need to” was Sarah’s reply “I finished trying them on before I told the assistant”.

Sarah with Yalingup beach in the background.

After our stop for coffee we make our way to one of the beaches. Yallingup, Meelup and Bunkers are our favourites. They are never very busy at all, even at weekends. They have very few, if any, facilities other than toilets and showers but they are amazing. We spend a few hours in the sun relaxing, in the shade having a picnic, in the water cooling off and sometimes we treat ourselves to a little snooze…. life is hard!  As the afternoon comes to an end we make our way back home and Steve goes for a run while Sarah prepares dinner. We then cook together and settle down with a beer to watch tv or read a book. I think we could both stay here forever.

Busy again on Bunkers Beach!

There is also a very active outdoor lifestyle here and the local town hosts numerous races including triathlons, a half marathon and an annual long distance swim. The swim happened to be on while we were here so Steve considered entering, until he discovered all 3000 places sold out within 3 hours of registration opening almost a year ago! Instead we went to watch. It was quite a spectacle. The route was out to the end of the Jetty and back. Not that far, until you realise it is the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere at over 1.8km in length, so the out and back distance of 3.6km (2.25 miles) makes for a decent swim. Past and probably future Olympians take part and the race was won in a sprint finish, up the beach, as a 17 year old Aussie beat a Dutch guy to the line. Apparently the winner’s father had a bet on his son winning and collected a small fortune!

The first swimmers set off on a beautiful morning.
That is a long jetty to swim around.

Probably our main topic of conversation this week has been “what are we going to do now our planned trip to China has been derailed?”.

When we first started to plan this trip the challenge was to fly to Australia, spend a few days here in and then make our way back to the UK without flying. Our first obstacle was how to get from Australia to Asia. We managed to find a container ship that took paying passengers from Fremantle to Singapore on a nine day non-stop sailing. We booked ourselves into one of the two cabins on a routing in January and started to plan the route from Singapore onwards. Then things started to unravel. The already high cost started to increase when we were informed we needed not one but two medical assessments, to be completed 90 and 15 days before the sailing. These medicals included psychiatric questions and obviously a local GP wouldn’t touch it. We then had to obtain extra insurances (on top of our already comprehensive annual insurance) including “Rescue at Sea insurance”. The whole thing was spiralling out of control. We went back to the drawing board and looked for other ways to make the crossing. A ferry from Darwin to Indonesia?….doesn’t exist. Crewing a yacht to Indonesia….possible but unlikely and we could be waiting in Darwin for weeks. Then Steve saw a cruise advertised from Fremantle to Singapore for 12 days with five stops in Geraldton, Broome, Bali, Lombok and Java. With a price at almost half that of the container ship we jumped in and booked. The only ‘problem’ was the cruise ship was due to depart over three weeks after the container ship, and with our flights already booked, this is why we have been hanging around in this terrible place for the last few weeks!!

Out cycling with the ‘roo’s….there were at least 50 of them.

So, now the question is “what do we do when we arrive in Singapore? Travelling overland through China is now not possible. Going south of China through Myanmar, Bangladesh (been there before don’t really want to go again) then across Northern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan is not that appealing. So our overland trip is off….for this year. So now what? After many hours of discussion and looking at options we have decided to come home…….oh no sorry, we have decided NOT to come home. We wanted to do something that was still a bit of a challenge and also enjoyable. So after we get to Singapore and spend a few days with our friends, Craig and Sal, we are going to fly back to Perth and pick up a campervan to drive across Australia from West to East, Indian Ocean to Pacific Ocean. Then, after we reach Sydney we are going to turn left and drive to Cairns, almost all the way, bottom to top. We reckon it should take us a comfortable six weeks to do it. We will then take a week or two to make our way to Kazakhstan by doing a number of short flights and then pick up our original plan from there, into Uzbekistan, Russia, through Scandinavia, Germany, The Netherlands and home.      

Right here, right now, we have nothing booked at all after the cruise, not even a place to stay in Singapore! It seems that some countries are now advising against travel to Singapore and so we are having to remain really flexible. To be honest, we are both finding it a little exciting as we are getting on a cruise ship in 36 hours and then who knows??

No Sarah, there is no ice cream in there!

One thing for sure, that fish market in Wuhan is definitely stirring things up a little!!

Return to OZ!

***Just for info, if anyone is interested, we have also posted the last section of our Canada to Mexico trip “A Couple Of Vistors”***

So here we are on the road again. We have just spent what is likely to be our longest spell in the UK for the next 5 years. Although it was in the main enjoyable, it didn’t quite go according to plan. We both ended up being quite ill for three or so weeks over Christmas.  Whatever it was we eventually needed a course of antibiotics to sort out. That, coupled with a few other setbacks and a lot of running around backwards and forwards obtaining various visas, meant we were unable to catch up with as many people as we would have liked. Hopefully, we will be able to rectify this in the Spring.

Spending time with the family!

Our plans for the next four months are to fly to Australia, spend a month or so there and then make our way slowly back to the UK following a route which takes us by ship to Singapore, then ferry, train and bus through South East Asia and into China. After a couple of weeks seeing the main sights of China we will then travel to Kazhakstan, Uzbekistan and into Russia before heading home through Scandinavia.

We have now spent a couple of weeks in Australia and things are changing by the day. We never thought the events in a fish market in a Chinese city (which we had no intention of visiting) could affect our plans so much. Coronavirus and it’s knock on effect looks likely to disrupt our plans. We are keeping our options open and formulating a plan “B” and maybe even a plan “C”!  We like to think of ourselves as being flexible and I think both of us secretly like the idea of things not going quite to plan which then gives us the opportunity to do things we might not necessarily have otherwise considered. We will see how things develop over the next couple of weeks and go from there.

So what have we been doing in the last couple of weeks? Our first stop was three days in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Warm weather and blue skies was the order of the day. Abu Dhabi reminds us of what Dubai was like fifteen or so years ago, developing and expanding rapidly with more and more Western influences. It is an Islamic nation and evidence of that is everywhere with The Grand Mosque, the second largest in the world, taking centre stage. But there are shopping malls rivaling anything in the USA, there are waterparks, themeparks, jeep safaris and other trips, sporting events and concerts, nightclubs and bars which cater for tourists coming from all over the world. It is certainly at a crossroads and the message seems to be “Come here and enjoy yourself but remember where you are and abide by our rules”  which I suppose is fair enough.

I’m not convinced about this pampering idea!

After our time relaxing in Abu Dhabi we continued on to Australia, with our first stop being in Brisbane. When planning for this particular trip was in its infancy we were initially heading straight to Perth on the West coast, but after meeting Glen on our trip around South America last year, we decided to take the detour and visit him. Glen is a top guy and we got on well in South America. We had a fantastic time with him here in OZ. He went out of his way to show us around and although we have visited this part of the world before it was so much more fun doing it with a local. We spent four days between Rainbow Beach on the Sunshine Coast and Byron Bay in North New South Wales.

Steve and Glen reminisce.

Glen picked us up from the airport in his Toyota Landcruiser equipped with fridge!! and off we went North before hitting the beach and then driving almost 50 miles along the sand by the water’s edge. It was brilliant. Glen was sailing along picking the best routes making it look easy, and then Steve took over and made it look difficult!! Sliding through the sand, covering the truck in saltwater, he just started to get the hang of it when it was time for a spot of lunch. After lunch Glen got behind the wheel again and normal service was resumed and we ended up in Noosa. This is one of our favourite places in Australia. It has a great town and a fabulous white sand beach bordered by thick forest at either end. We finished off at a bar where Glen frequented many years ago and a couple of Schooners of “Toheys” finished off a great day!

Starting our drive up the beach.

The following day we went to Australia Zoo, of Steve Irwin fame. It was a great zoo with plenty of species with loads of space to roam. The main focus of the zoo is the re-homing of crocodiles who have been causing problems in the wild and are in danger of being hunted down. There are some seriously big crocs there weighing over 1000kg and there accompanying photographs of Steve Irwin in his attempts to catch them. Definitely not for the faint hearted!

He is one of the smaller crocs.

This being Australia there were more than a fair share of venomous snakes knocking around which, along with the Tasmanian Devils, were Steve’s favorite.  Sarah however was all over the kangaroos which were roaming around various parts of the zoo and armed with a bag of “Roo food” she was in her element feeding them. Glen however was not that impressed.  “They’re bloody everywhere and a pest, there are hundreds of them not far from the house” was his take on the kangaroos. That evening we drove past a golf course less that a couple of miles from where Glen lived and there were at least twenty kangaroos all twice the size as the ones from the zoo just wandering around!

Sarah feeds the ‘Roo

We stayed a couple of nights at Glen’s place with him and his fabulous wife, Kelly. They were so welcoming. The family came round for dinner, we had a couple of beers and reminisced about South America. We also chatted about Glen’s next trip as he and his brother-in-law are taking part in the Mongul Rally, driving a 1000cc truck from the UK to Mongolia, taking ten weeks. It sounds a logistical nightmare but great fun. Unfortunately we will miss the start in the UK but there is a check point and a party in Prague along the way so we are going to make every effort to catch up with him there.

Our final day was spent along the Gold Coast. Glen and Sarah dropped Steve off so he could run the eight miles along the beaches and through Surfers Paradise to a surf club for breakfast. By the time Steve arrived, they were already tucking into smashed avocados and eggs. After that we had a tour of some of the great beaches along the coast eventually calling in at Glen’s mum’s house, a lovely place in two acres just north of Byron Bay. She cooked us some lunch and we chatted with her and her partner Don about travel, which they have done extensively. We could have spent all afternoon there sitting on the terrace chatting, but our tour guide, Glen, had us back underway for a stop in Byron Bay. We first came here 20 years ago and although the place still has an unbelievable beach, the town has exploded and you could say it’s lost some of it’s charm.

The beach at Byron.

With our time with Glen finished, and a promise to meet up in Prague in July, we were off across Australia to Perth and the West Coast. One of the questions we are asked most is “What will you do after the five years of travelling are over?“. That is a long way off and we know we can’t travel like this forever but we do intend to travel, to some degree, for as long as we are able. We can see ourselves spending more time in fewer places and without doubt one of those places will be Perth. We love it here. It has so much to offer. The city is relatively small and compact, yet it has everything we need. It is closer to Singapore than Sydney and consequently has an Asian influence. It has endless white sand beaches, some with every facility you could want like at Cottesloe and Scarborough, but there are numerous other undeveloped beaches accessed through paths in the sand dunes with literally no-one on them…… just watch out for the snakes in the dunes!! Perth also has an amazing array of accessible things to do including almost every sport and entertainment.  In our first week we have been to the basketball, T20 cricket at the brand new “Optus” stadium, moonlight cinema in the park (we upgraded to a beanbag and an ice cream ticket there) and we were treated to a 30 minute amazing fireworks display over the city as we were fortunate to be here on Australia Day.

Cricket Aussie style.

Perth is also an easy city to get around. Public transport is excellent, well designed and either cheap or free! We have also hired bikes for three weeks as there is a network of cycle paths to rival anywhere. We are spending our days backwards and forwards to the beaches, down to drink coffee on the famous “cappuccino strip” in the “cool” town of Fremantle, wandering around the 50 miles or so of cycle paths next to the Swan River. Who knows we might just stay here until May!!

Australia Day fireworks.

Steve has also been trying to get back into his running but is struggling a little since we were both ill back in December and with temperatures sometimes hitting the 40’s he is finding it tough going. The other day he ran past the site of the Subiaco Oval. This was the main stadium before the new “Optus” was built and has now been demolished for the building of some swanky new apartments. We have had a few great nights there, including Aussie Rules football and for Steve’s 40th birthday we saw Rod Stewart and Brian Adams there. But for Steve, without doubt his best evening in Subiaco was seeing AC/DC blow 80,000 sets of eardrums 34 years after seeing them perform in Sheffield in front of 3,000! It was quite sad to see the old stadium pulled down but at least the toilets in the new stadium are better….that’s progress!

We are leaving Perth in a couple of days and heading south to the wine region of Margret River and more fabulous beaches before moving on to Singapore and then who knows…..definately not to a fish market in Wuhan though!

Sarah contemplates the next step.

A couple of visitors.

Well after our relaxation in the superb surroundings of Marianellas house in La Jolla it was time to pick up the pace. Steve’s son, Mike, and his girlfriend, Ewalina, arrived in Los Angeles and we had a whirlwind tour planned for them. Neither of them had been to California before, in fact it was Ewalinas first time in the State’s so we felt a bit of pressure to get it right. They were quite easy about where they went so we decided on a few days relaxing in the sun in Palm Springs, on to Vegas for a sensory overload, back to Los Angeles for a city visit and then end up on a Southern California beach. Throw in a surprise or two and we thought we had it covered nicely.

The whole thing went brilliantly and Mike and Ewalina (M & E from now on…. it’s taking me too long to keep typing it) had a fantastic time as well. Palm Springs is a laid back, easy going place in the desert, about three hours drive from the airport. We spent three days at a great little airbnb close to town. Outside living space, hot tub, pool, comfortable sunbeds and a fab barbecue all made for a relaxing time, to get over a bit of jet lag, the cold wet British weather and a few months of hard slog at work (them, not us). We walked around the weekly evening market, ate American breakfasts in town and M & E made the cable car ride to the top of Mount San Jacinto, 11,000 feet above the town, where they went walking and had their first experience of the effects of altitude.

The cable car to Mount Jacinto.

Steve also managed to fit in another race. The Palm Springs Tram Road Challenge, a 6km straight uphill race with an average gradient of 12%. After running a marathon the week before maybe he underestimated this one and with some serious jelly legs he finished in 12th place out of the 500 strong field. “That’s enough running for this year” was his post race comment! After a couple of evenings spent with Mike cooking some great ribs and immense steaks, plus topping up his annual rum intake, and it was time to head to “Vegas Baby”….. hopefully The Hangover Part 4 was not about to happen!!!

“Do you like your steak well done?”

On the way to Las Vegas we stopped off at Joshua Tree National Park, the inspiration behind the title of U2’s iconic album. M & E both do a bit of climbing and bouldering at a centre back in the UK so they were impressed with some of the formations in the park and, although not entirely dressed for the part, scrambled up a couple of the features. We also managed to squeeze in a short drive on the world famous Route 66 and obtain the obligatory photograph en-route.

Joshua tree National Park.
Sarah gets her kicks on Route 66.

We managed to find a studio apartment right on The Strip, close to some of the major hotels and M & E threw themselves into the Vegas experience including 4am finishing in the Casino and 1pm emerging from a sleep. We were in and out of the major hotels and taking stupid rides that hang you over the top of the Stratosphere at almost a thousand feet up. S & S managed to hang in for most of it but bailed on the 4 am finishes…….and the 1pm start!

Vegas Baby!!!

We did throw in a little surprise for M & E one day. We had hoped to make a trip out to the Grand Canyon with them. It is a sight that if anyone gets the chance should see it, but the time, logistics and distances just made it a bit of a problem so we treated them to a flight over the Canyon from Vegas. The flight also took in Lake Mead and The Hoover Dam. They had a brilliant time and Ewalina took loads of photos.

After Vegas we drove back to L.A. The drive took us very close to the huge wildfires which are currently destroying large parts of California, although M & E were oblivious to it all as the pillows came out and they slept most of the way!

What can we say??

The next stop was Hollywood, where M & E spent a couple of days being hectic at Universal Studios, getting soaked to the skin on some of the rides, seeing the film production sets and sampling some butter beer at Harry Potter World, while S & S sat by the pool at the hotel doing absolutely nothing at all and not feeling an ounce of guilt. We figure we have plenty of credits left after our 2000 mile cycle.

Our final stop for not only the visit of M & E but also for this trip as a whole was Huntington Beach. We stopped off here very briefly on our cycle route, it had a really great beach and a nice atmosphere so decided to return for a couple of days before the flight home. With our time split between lying on the beach watching the surfers, wandering around the town and eating on the pier it finished our trip off nicely. Our last meal was at “Hooters” this was at the request of Ewalina not Mike or Steve….honest.

Sunset on Huntington Beach.

So there ended another trip. Probably the most varied so far and it is probably the variety which we will remember most. From the thick pine forests of Washington, to the palm tree lined beaches of California. From the stunning coastal cycling of Oregon and Big Sur to the long straight lonley driving through the Nevada and Utah deserts. From the lush green views in Mammoth lakes and Yosemite to the stark, hot, rocky land of  Death Valley. We will also take away memories of how many fantastic people we met and who were so friendly and helpful along the way. But most of all we will take away a massive sense of achievement. WE CYCLED FROM CANADA TO MEXICO !!! …..

…….We are writing the last post for this trip sitting in a coffee shop back in the UK. It’s grey, raining and pretty waterlogged outside which, from what the people we have spoken to have said, seems to have been the theme here for the past few months. But we are feeling very lucky in how our first year has turned out. For several years we have planned and dreamed of how we wanted things to turn out and sitting here looking back over the last 12 months we feel things have turned out pretty well. Three months travelling around South America with a great bunch of people, three months cycling and camping in France and Italy and then cycling from Canada to Mexico which included the added bonus of a month visiting some amazing National Parks. Each of the trips has far exceeded our expectations.

So far this year we have been out of the UK for 242 days, we have slept in 109 different locations and we have spent 99 nights camping under canvas. (Arlene saved us from hitting the century)!

People ask us which have been the highlights of the year and although it is a bit of a cliché there really have been too many to list. There have been challenges, Canada to Mexico being the obvious one, but climbing the snow and ice covered volcano in Chile was a real achievement, especially for Sarah, and running to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back was a big day for Steve. There have been sights which have just taken our breath away. The views from 8000 feet across Yosemite valley, the Three Towers in Torres del Paine, Iquazu falls (Wow)!!, snorkelling in the crystal clear waters in Bonito and cycling through gorges and medieval villages in France. You know you have had a good year when the latest David Attenborough series is showcasing places you have been.

Another question we are asked is “Do you think you will keep going for the planned five years”? Our answer right now is simple “No……we will probably do more”!

But for the next few weeks we are looking forward to catching up with family and friends especially as it’s Christmas and New Year approaching. Then it is the start of an ambitious year, four continents, about 30 countries, a marathon and an Ironman triathlon. Let’s see how it goes

Oh to be back on the bus!!

Picnic tables and Paradise!

Our next stop after Arlene’s involved a small detour. We headed inland, away from the coast to a town called Solvang. We had read about Solvang during our research for this trip and it looked a little different from many of the places we had visited so far, and so it proved to be. Solvang is a town founded by the Danish community over a hundred years ago in the middle of a beautiful wine growing region. Over the years it has developed into a tourist attraction and to be honest has probably gone a little too far.  The town has effectively become a stereotypical Hans Christian Anderson style village and gives the feeling of being in the middle of a theme park. It was definitely different to everywhere else we have been on this trip and for anyone who has been to the EPCOT park in Florida, it would have fitted in seamlessly there.

Solvang. Town or theme park?

We were soon back on our bikes and making our way back towards the coast. With just a week or so left to cycle there was a definite feeling of excitement between us especially when we looked on the map and saw that the next two days, both of 60 miles, appeared relatively flat. Day one went perfectly according to plan and after an initial 15 miles of up and down we hit the coast and an almost pan flat route for 45 miles. We were flying along and with the reduced weight of a few kilos we were averaging our highest speed of the trip, almost 15mph. The sun was still shining, spirits were high and we were closing in on Mexico fast.

This is easy!

Then came day two. What a difference! We expected a repeat of the previous day but that’s not how it worked out. The Santa Ana winds had blown up overnight and they were blowing at a steady 35 miles per hour straight into our faces and with gusts of 55 mph it was tough from the start. Throughout the trip so far winds have not been a factor, they have generally been light and either a tail or a cross wind and on the occasions we have ridden into the wind they have provided a cooling respite from the heat. But not today.

Stopping for a break at Point Magu.

Central and Southern California are in drought, we have seen evidence of this many times, especially in the dry Central Valley and when the Santa Ana wind blows it creates many problems not least of which is the threat of wildfires. As we pressed on very slowly into the wind we saw fires burning in the hills. In the city of Ventura smoke was spreading along the highway and we saw Police patrol cars positioned on major junctions presumably waiting to close the roads if it became too dangerous. Our progress was pedestrian like at best, long straight open roads (sometimes six miles in length) were draining us of energy, then we would have a short respite as the road made a short couple of turns before heading into the wind again. We checked the map and saw that Point Magu Naval Base marked the junction in the road where it turned South and we would have the wind at our side …. that was almost 40 miles into the day. We moved slowly on, our conversation became non existent, the only focus was battling the wind. Eventually we made the turn and with a huge amount of relief we headed south towards our campsite in Malibu.  Unfortunately this was also the part of the route where the flat road subsided and became a rollercoaster up and down road which would normally not have caused us any issues but with tired legs the road seemed to go on forever. “Will we ever get there?”

You can see the “Smoke on the water” in the distance.

Eventually, after two hours longer than the previous day and an average speed of 10mph, we pulled into the campsite utterly exhausted. We didn’t speak, we rested our bikes next to one picnic bench and Sarah lay down on the seat part of another, Steve lay down on the top of the bench and we both fell sound asleep, in the middle of the afternoon on a busy campsite.

Our Malibu campsite with comfortable picnic tables!

We didn’t see too much of Malibu, our site was in a fabulous location but by the time we woke up, showered, put up the tent, cooked and ate food it was dark and time for bed. Tomorrow was a big day, 50 miles across the metropolis of Los Angeles.

We both slept very well, no surprises there, and we were back on the bikes as the sun came up. We had planned to do this ride early on a Saturday morning and had built it up in our heads from other people’s experiences as one of the most difficult days of the trip, in the end it was nothing like what we expected, we had a great day.

With the sun coming up, very little traffic and the Santa Ana winds subsiding, we flew along Highway 1 into Santa Monica where we picked up a wide cycle path. It weaved it’s way next to, and in many places through the beach where we had sand on both sides. We cycled past the famous pier at Santa Monica, onto Venice Beach and Muscle Beach, passing runners, skateboarders and walkers and chatting to other cyclists. We were having a ball.

All quiet on the cycle path past Santa Monica pier.

The horrible experience of the day before was forgotten, well forgotten in our heads but maybe not our legs. Next came the Los Angeles Airport where we cycled, still on the beach, past the end of the runway before two more great beaches in Hermosa and Redondo. Twenty-six miles on a bike path, on the beach. Amazing.

Passing the airport runway in Los Angeles.

Then it was back on Highway 1 for a few miles before we saw the huge cranes, oil tankers, cargo ships and cruise liners that signalled we were entering America’s largest sea port and the city of Long Beach……It’s Marathon time!

Is it still the middle of the night?

Our Airbnb was only a mile from the start of the race. The Marathon started at 6am so we were up at 4.30am and, after a quick breakfast, we walked together in the dark down to the waterfront. There were all sorts of different distances being run so the area was packed with thousands of competitors and spectators. At 6am Steve was off. With sunrise not until 7am the first few miles were run in a dark, red and orange glow as a magnificent sunrise exploded. Afterwards Steve said he had never started a race to such a fantastic sight.

A great place for a marathon!

At the start of this trip he had expectations of running a pretty good time. But as time and events have progressed he has realised that wasn’t going to happen and, after the day of the Santa Ana winds, survival to the finish was the target. In the end he was pleased with his time especially since he found it quite hard from mile six onwards, but he stuck with it and finished in 3 hours 28 minutes (with an emergency toilet stop which cost him 3 minutes!). He came in 127th position out of almost 1800 finishers and managed a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon.

Right. That’s over, now back on the bikes!

We spent the rest of the day relaxing on the long beach in Long Beach and realising that we had only three more days of cycling left. The next morning we set off to start those three days. Steve’s legs were not feeling too bad after the run the day before much to Sarah’s disappointment. She had secretly been hoping he would have trouble walking never mind cycling and was all set for an easy three days. Unfortunately not!

South of Long Beach we started to pass through stereotypical Southern California (SoCal) beaches and we loved it. Beach town after beach town, palm tree after palm tree, wave after wave and surfer after surfer after surfer. We are sure you get the picture. The sky was cloudless and blue…..again. The sun was shining…..again. It was like cycling through a Hollywood surfing movie. We stopped for coffee at Huntington Beach which is where surfing was introduced to the mainland from Hawai’i. Also if you have ever been into a Hollister clothing shop you will have probably seen the live feed of a beach displayed through a webcam. That is Huntington Beach.

Huntington Beach.

Surfing is a way of life in this part of the world. People surf before and after work and school and sometimes during it too. Any opportunity and the surf boards are out. We had to be content with watching for now but if the weather holds out, we intend to have a couple of days at the beach before we fly home. Steve has threatened to hire a board and show off his skills……that should be entertaining to the locals!

We did have to make one deviation from the coast. Camp Pendleton is a big airforce base situated right on the California coast. In the past it was possible to cycle through the camp, but after 9/11 security was tightened and has continued to be tightened still further so that now if you want to cycle through you have to apply months in advance and have fingerprints and photographs taken, almost like applying for a visa. This isn’t practical for most people so the authorities have opened up Interstate 5 to cyclists for an 8 mile stretch around the base. Cycling on a 10 lane Interstate was an experience in itself. Luckily we hit it at a relatively quiet time and the shoulder was very wide making cycling noisy but easy, that is until we came across an unattended maintenance truck completely blocking the shoulder. We had to cycle around it in lane 1 timing it to avoid the fast moving traffic!!

Sarah on Interstate 5.

After a couple of days cycling from Long Beach we pulled into our final stop before the Mexican border, La Jolla. This is an area on the coast which is at the very North of San Diego, 15 miles from downtown and at the Southern end of the Torrey Pines reserve which encompasses the world famous golf course home to where Tiger Woods has had much success. It is a beautiful area with rocky coves, gorgeous beaches and a town centre with great shops, eateries and a village like atmosphere.

La Jolla Cove.

La Jolla was our big treat of the trip to ourselves and as we were expecting to be pretty tired when we arrived here we had booked an eight day stay in an Airbnb. The plan was to stay here until Steve’s son and his girlfriend arrive from the UK. It was a bit of a gamble, eight days living in someone’s house, who we had never met, could have its problems but it looked lovely on the website and the reviews were good.

The first part of our plan was pretty spot on, we were tired, very tired. In fact we have developed a new saying for ourselves (after our windy entrance to Malibu) “How tired are you Sarah,” asked Steve “I’m picnic table tired” came the reply!

The second part of the plan, our accommodation, well where do we start? As we cycled into La Jolla we saw that the houses looked pretty smart and the further up into the surrounding hills, the smarter they become. As we were heading for the address we were heading further and further uphill. When we arrived we had to check the address several times. In fact we were still checking it when the front door opened, a guy appeared and asked “Sarah and Steve?”

The house was unbelievable and so was our hostess Marianela. The guy answering the door was her son Jan and he was staying just that night before flying to France for a few weeks. So it was just us and Marianela and we had a great time.

The house by day.
The house at night.

The house had been built by Marianela and her family 3 years ago. It is Spanish colonial and Mexican in style, reflecting the family’s heritage and it was decorated accordingly with fabulous furniture, paintings and photographs. It was a real family home with one wall full of photographs from four generations. It was a huge house and everything was of the highest quality but it was it’s location and view that was beyond anything we could have hoped for. Set into the steep hillside it had an unbroken view out across the golf course and on to the Pacific Ocean. Our bedroom had a balcony facing the same way. There was a beautiful pool and hot tub set in gorgeous grounds and we had it all to ourselves. We had to pinch ourselves everyday we were there to remind ourselves it was real.  It was the perfect place to relax and recover from our cycle and everything else we have done on this trip so far.

Paradise. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Marianela was the perfect hostess. Each morning she made us breakfast, with so many choices. Some of it was traditional Mexican and it was delicious. Often we could not eat again until late afternoon. We cycled into town for coffee and spent the days lazing around in the superb surroundings. Steve did try to do some training on the first couple of days but had to give in as the cycling, running, walking and the marathon caught up with him. We were in and out of the pool to cool down and then into the hot tub at sunset with a glass of wine, before cooking dinner and either watching a movie or chatting away with Marianela for hours. We had landed in the absolute perfect place for us that week. We were blown away.

Steve and Marianela enjoy the hot tub and sunset.

Oh we almost forgot…..there was the small issue of the last 30 miles to the border…..we must do that someday!!……..No… we are only joking. On our first day in La Jolla we were up and off to complete the task. Fifteen miles into downtown San Diego and then across the bay to the Coronado Peninsula. As we cycled along the narrow strip of land that links the peninsula to the mainland we had a great view of the city and it’s huge Naval presence. There were massive aircraft carriers and battleships tied up and helicopter gunships flying overhead. Once off the peninsula, things started to get very built up and very Mexican. We weaved our way through the grid road system and we were soon in the border town of San Ysidro and the busiest land border crossing in the world. It was huge, organised chaos, or maybe not organised, who knows. We struggled initially to find the pedestrian route but were eventually guided in the right direction, down a path, around a corner, up a ramp and there it was, a revolving gate into Mexico.

MEXICO. We made it!

We had done it. What started off two years before as an off the cuff comment by Sarah had been researched, planned and executed. We had cycled from the top to the bottom of the USA, from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. We had cycled 1873 miles (3014 kilometers) carrying all our equipment. Job done.

Even though no photography was allowed we explained our situation to a border official who very kindly took our picture and we walked away from the border with a sense of self satisfaction. We went straight to the public transport station and caught a train, with our bikes, back to San Diego and then at a super slow pace we cycled back to La Jolla where we have spent the last few days busy doing absolutely nothing!

A great place to do nothing at all.

We still have the small matter of two visitors from the UK and a trip to Las Vegas to contend with, so we will do one more post before we fly home explaining how we lost all our money at a roulette table on “The Strip”. Viva Las Vegas baby!

P.S. We normally write these posts together. Steve puts the narrative together and then Sarah corrects his spelling and grammer and then adds a few things herself. After that we sit down and select a few photographs to add in.

This last paragraph is done entirely by Steve so apologese for the bad spelin and gramma!

I just want to take this opportunity to say how proud I am of Sarah and what she has acheieved. Two years ago her cycling consisted of accompanying me on my long runs. 10 to 15 miles or so at 7 or 8mph (sometimes 9mph on a good day)! From the moment she made the off the cuff suggestion “Let’s cycle from Canada to Mexico” she has never failed to impress me. She has prepared so well and trained so hard. Just getting to the start was an achievement. Every ride we have been on she has just put her head down and got on with it. Gradually increasing up to 30 miles, then 50 miles, then 80 miles. In France and Italy I would send her up mountain after mountain and she never questioned it, she just did it and became stronger and stronger.

Throughout this trip she has been rock solid. Never complaining, even when I knew she was so tired she could cry she just kept going. The day we cycled 90 miles out of San Francisco, the day it rained from morning until night in Oregon and the day of the Santa Ana winds are just 3 days that spring to mind.

She camped in the cold, the heat the dust and the damp and each morning got out of the tent packed it away and set off on the bike with a smile on her face.

I know this will be a major achievement in her life and so it should be.

Well done Sarah. I am so so proud of you. You are amazing.

P.P.S. You can no longer say “I’m not a cyclist” You are and you are a bloody good one!

Staying at Arlene’s.

Wow!! What a week that was. Not one we really expected. In our heads it was going to be back on the bikes, see a few nice views and move slowly on South camping as we went but in the end it turned out to be slightly different.

Here we go again! Haven’t we been here before?

We had planned to drop the car off back in San Francisco and then do an optimistic ride of around 75 miles towards Santa Cruz (quite a long one for our first day back) but we were fresh, right?….. wrong. The two big walks in Yosemite had left some tiredness in our legs and when we set off we both felt a little sluggish. After a quick stop at the only Decathlon store in America (it wasn’t that great, but Sarah did manage to get a new bikini) we set off from the centre of San Francisco at 10.30. By 11.30 we had only covered 8 miles because we were constantly being stopped at endless sets of traffic lights for minutes at a time. Steve was becoming more and more frustrated, with a long day ahead we just wanted to get on with it. We naively thought going South out of the city would be as simple as coming into it from the North, with the great bike paths through well kept suburban streets. It was just the opposite, six lanes of traffic, the endless traffic lights and neighbourhoods that didn’t look that great. We eventually emerged from the main city area into the edge of Silicon Valley and then onto a bike path. At last no lights!  We had cycled less than a couple of miles on the path and found our path blocked by fences and no diversion signs. We fumbled our way through small residential streets back onto the main highway and with three hours of cycling we could still clearly see the skyscrapers of the city where we had started. It was getting hot and we were getting tired.

After a reload of calories at a “Denny’s” restaurant we eventually turned inland to cross the peninsula, only to find another road blocked due to an old landslide. The day was starting to drag on! We went back to a small town we had passed and called at the local fire station to ask what was going on. One of the fire officers lived close to where we were heading and directed us up a hill called “ Old La Honda”, a hill we will never forget. It went up and up, steeper and steeper, 57 minutes later and at 4.30pm in the afternoon Sarah got to the top after more than 2600 feet of climbing. We were both exhausted and with sunset around 6.30pm and 30 miles still to go, we were destined to finish this ride in the dark. The sun went down, and the temperature dropped like a stone. Eventually after more than nine hours of cycling, cold and exhausted and 90 miles after starting we arrived at our destination. Not the start we had wanted. With two spoons we demolished a huge blueberry pie and got some well deserved sleep.

The next day we were off again, through Santa Cruz where we stopped for a massive breakfast to catch up on calories.

Calorie catch up in Santa Cruz.

Soon we were back into the countryside and enjoying the cycling, through miles and miles of farming and agriculture. California provides much of the food for America. We have passed fields growing an unbelievable array of produce, from artichokes to zucchini and most things in between. That along with Silicon Valley, tourism and many other industries it isn’t hard to see that if California was an independent country it would be the world’s sixth largest economy (bigger than that of the UK).

The main theme of the next few days was the cold nighttime temperatures. Sarah was sleeping in seven layers of clothing and was still cold as it dipped down to two degrees. Not ideal when our sleeping bags are only rated down to 15 degrees!!!  

It’s going to be another cold one.

We were glad to get cycling in the mornings to warm up! We cycled around Monterey Bay and then onto a part of the coast we had been looking forward to for a long time. From Monterey to San Simeon is almost 100 miles and it’s renowned for spectacular scenery which has been featured in countless films. It certainly lived up to it’s billing.

This is what we came for.

The road is carved along steep cliffs, that fall sharply into the Pacific Ocean, and follows the contours as it dives into small bays and back out again.  Anything too severe and it is spanned by a bridge, most of them built in the 1930’s and are consequently decorative in nature. Rock and sea stacks of all sizes are sprinkled along the coast adding more to the already incredible scene.

More of the same please.

The whole stretch is a pleasure to see, great to drive and a dream to cycle. We spent the best part of three days making the trip. We cycled in the mornings before the traffic built up and were then sitting on the beach in the afternoons watching the surfers do their stuff. The advantage of the clear, cold nights were the clear, hot days that followed. We have had unbroken blue skies all the way from San Francisco, not a cloud in the sky for over a week.

Sarah stops for another healthy snack!

One morning we met a guy from Canada who was also cycling to Mexico. We stopped for a drink and sat together at a fantastic spot overlooking the Pacific at the only cafe stop for miles. We chatted for ages about different places we had cycled and experiences we have had. We never asked him his name so have christened him Canadian Cliff because of his nationality and the location we met him!  It made us realise how lucky we are to be doing this together and sharing the experience. We have met several people who are doing it alone and that must be hard in so many ways.

Steve and Canadian Cliff swap stories.

The area is also famous for the whale migration south to Mexico. Unfortunately, we were at the very beginning of the season and we were told there would be little chance of a sighting. That didn’t stop Sarah being on whale watch for three days! “It’s a whale” became a regular call that Steve would hear from behind. “No Sarah, it’s just a wave breaking on a rock”.

Always on the lookout for whales.

As we neared the end of this stretch we could see the landscape change in the distance as the cliffs ended and the low level rolling countryside started again. We both agreed it had been the most picturesque three days of the trip so far. As we started descending the last hill Steve heard the familiar shout from behind “It’s a whale”. He glanced over and there it was about 250 metres out to sea, the unmistakable sight of the water spouting from the blowhole of a humpback whale, then another, then another, then another!! A pod of about eight whales feeding in the bay. We sat and watched for about half an hour but unfortunately our mobile phone cameras were woefully inadequate to capture anything decent. We wished we had brought our better camera but space and weight have been at a premium on this trip, so we will have to live with the memories instead ….at least that way we are sure the whales will get bigger and more numerous overtime!!!

While we were sat watching the whales a group of women cyclists went past us, going up the hill, they were all saying hello as they went and commenting on what a beautiful day it was. They all seemed to be in their 50’s and 60’s and having a great time. One even offered to stop and take our photograph.

Eventually, all whale’d out, we got back on our bikes and continued on our way. We had planned to stay at a State Park about 10 miles away but it was a beautiful day, the roads were quiet and pretty flat and we had a bit of a tail wind so we decided to press on. We stopped to check a map on our phones for possible places to stay further along the coast and as we set off again the group of women cyclists had turned around and caught up with us, so we cycled along with them. Steve was chatting to a lady called Ann who was giving him tips on what to see in the area and Sarah started cycling with Arlene!! It turns out that they had been volunteers for a charity cycle ride the previous day and they were out to do the ride themselves that day. They were then stopping for lunch together at the end of their cycle. The ladies pulled off for lunch and Sarah caught up with Steve and said “Arlene is fantastic, she is 77 years old and flying along, she even said we could camp in her backyard and have a shower!” We both brushed it off as a nice gesture but had no intention of imposing on her. We continued on for about an hour and as were were still feeling good we decided to stay at the campsite we had initially scheduled in for the following night. “Let’s do 80 miles and then have a complete day off tomorrow” had been the conversation. Then things changed….quite a lot!

Why don’t we just cycle all day.

A car came past us and pulled off the road in front of us. A woman in a bright coloured cycling top jumped out and frantically started waving her arms in the air. “What is going on here” thought Steve, whereas Sarah immediately recognised her new cycling buddy Arlene. We pulled over and Arlene straight away reinforced her offer of camping in her back garden. “You’re from the UK, you’re too polite I knew you wouldn’t accept at the first offer”. It was the thought of a warm shower that swung it for Steve as we hadn’t been on a campsite with showers for three days. Arlene gave us her address, which was only a three mile detour from our route, in a place called San Luis Obispo which we had seen on the map but knew nothing about. She then jumped back in the car with her friend Judy and off they went. They even offered to take all our panniers which Sarah was well up for but Steve could see the scenario of “Well Officer it’s like this… We gave all our belongings to these two 70 year old ladies we just met on the side of the road and told us to meet them at this address which doesn’t exist”!!

A couple of hours later we arrived at Arlene’s address, which did exist, in fact it very much existed, it was a huge house in a great part of a great town. Arlene answered the door with her friend Marcia, who I think had come over for her protection, and had envisaged the scenario…”Well Officer these two strangers I met on the side of the road and brought home have taken all my possessions”!

We soon discovered Arlene was a liar…. she was never intending for us to camp in her garden. We were given the Royal treatment. Guest room and our own bathroom. It was magnificent. Then she said. “You two look pretty tired, I think you should stay two nights”. As we had cycled 76 miles that day and had planned to have the following day off it took Steve less than two seconds to accept the offer.

Over the next couple of days we had a ball and we laughed until our sides hurt. Arlene is a true character. She is funny and feisty and a real member of the local community and involved in all sorts of things from cycling, to yoga, to book club. Originally from Brooklyn she moved to California many years ago. She was definitely a case of “you can take the girl out of Brooklyn but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the girl”. “What the hell is this soap still doing on the knives” she would say to Steve while giving him a little slap as he tried to wash up!

I’m doing my best Arlene.

On the first evening Marcia stayed for dinner. She had been to many of the places in South America where we had visited earlier in the year, so we chatted about that. The following morning her friend Shirley popped in for a visit. Shirley is 65 years old and a Rotarian who has raised an enormous amount of money for charity and is off to Vietnam in a few weeks to help with cleft palate operations on children there. She is also a cyclist but does not cycle with Arlene’s group as she is too strong so she cycles with the men!  On the second evening her friend Judy came to dinner, she was also well travelled and great fun and we had another fantastic evening, eating great food and drinking cold beer.

Girls in the kitchen.

When the time came for us to leave. Arlene loaded us up with some of her delicious banana bread and a stack of energy bars for our onward journey. We did meet up 14 miles down the road for a goodbye coffee in a lovely little town called Arrayo Grande. On the way there we passed a group of cyclists coming the other way.  As we crossed one shouted out “Safe travel guys” … it was Shirley motoring along with the men.

No Arlene you can’t come with us!

The whole experience was inspirational. It shows what you can do if you put your mind to it. If you are reading this Arlene, “Thanks, we had a blast” (I wrote that last bit with my best Californian accent, with a little twang of Brooklyn!)

So it is on into Southern California and in many ways the last leg of our cycle, but we still have Los Angeles to negotiate and Steve has the small matter of a marathon to run. “Do I really have to do it Sarah? My legs are sooooo tired”.

“Yes you do. If a dog can surf, you can run a marathon”!

California. Where anything can happen!