“Once a Jolly Swagman” 🎼🎵🎶

So we left Alice Springs at the start of our 2000 miles drive back to the coast as the sun came up revealing another beautiful blue sky. We have been so lucky with the weather and we do appreciate every gorgeous day we have, but we are coming to expect it and I’m sure one day we will have to dig out the umbrella.

The start of another beautiful day.

We had decided to make the first two days pretty long ones in order get as far into the drive as possible. The main reason for this was that we had driven the first 750 miles already, part of it a couple of weeks before, and the rest five weeks ago. So other than a stop for lunch at The Devil’s Marbles, a very quick fuel stop at Tennant Creek, where Steve kept the engine running and Sarah ran in to pay! (Only joking!) and an over night stop at The Barkly Homestead, there was nothing out of the ordinary happening, we were just going over old ground.

During the long miles, on the almost deserted roads, we have passed the time in all sorts of different ways. Sarah’s latest idea was for us to learn all the Kings and Queens of England since the battle of Hastings in 1066. We did it in bite size chunks, a couple of hours each day, until we were both confident we had achieved the task. Steve was enjoying it so much he extended the list by learning the dates that each monarch reigned. “You’ll thank me one day when when I’m on a quiz programme winning a fortune because I know who was King in 1589”…. “Actually it was a Queen” said Sarah! 🙂

After a day and a half of driving we arrived back at the Queensland border. There has been an upswing in the number of Covid-19 cases in some States and certain borders have been closed again. Luckily the Northern Territory has almost escaped the virus altogether so we were confident the border would stay open. We filled out the relevant paperwork, answered the questions of the Police Inspector and were allowed back into Queensland. It was still a bit of a relief when we crossed over. As beautiful as the Northern Territory is, being stuck there indefinitely wasn’t part of our plan.

Soon after the border, if you can call 300 kilometres soon, we turned South East and headed on, what for us was, a new route and we made our first night back in Queensland a stay in the town of Mckinlay, population 178. Mckinlay is the home of The Walkabout Creek Hotel of ‘Crocodile Dundee’ fame. We couldn’t resist camping in the car park and ‘Blowing the froth off a couple’ in the pub. We had a great couple of hours looking at the photographs and memorabilia from the film, and they even had the original bar in a lock up outside. They also had a life size cartoon cut out of Paul Hogan in character with which Sarah had the obligatory photo.

Careful Sarah he might have that virus that knocking about!

We were chatting with the rest of the people in the bar when a truck driver walked in. He looked like he was an extra from the original film, with scruffy worn out boots with dirty old socks, a pair of shorts which he probably got for his birthday in the 1970’s, and an old vest (vests are part of the uniform in The Outback, sleeves aren’t allowed). The trucker walked up to the bar and said “G’day luv, you serving tucker?”. The landlady explained that they had stopped serving food because of Covid-19. “Anywhere close by doing tucker?” asked the trucker. “Yeah”, said the landlady, The Blue Heeler, about 75 kilometers further South” “Great”, said the trucker “Just round the corner, cheers mate, see ya”, and off he went happy as Larry! It shows how distances are seen differently out here, when 50 miles is ‘just round the corner’.

Outside the pub where ‘Crocodile Dundee’ was filmed.

The first stop the following day involved a detour to a small billabong called ‘Combo Waterhole’. The significance of the billabong is that an incident is supposed to have happened here many years ago which led to a song being written by a guy called ‘Banjo’ Patterson. He titled the song ‘Waltzing Matilda’. You might have heard of it! It has become known as Australia’s unofficial National Anthem and it was first performed in public at a pub in the small town of Winton an hour or so South, so we made that our next stop.

A dried up billabong and not a “Swagman” in sight but reportedly the birthplace of ‘Waltzing Matilda’

Winton was a lovely little town, the nicest we had seen in many miles. It had proper shops and cafés and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. Obviously it makes great use of its connection to the song and even has a brand new state of the art Waltzing Matilda museum. The town is also the birthplace of the Queensland and Northern Territory Airline Service, which some people refer to as QANTAS! It is also a big opal mining area and Sarah took the opportunity to get herself a new necklace while Steve took the opportunity to get himself a new cup of coffee while sitting down in a coffee shop watching the world “waltz” by….. simple things and simple minds I think is the expression!

We pushed on from Winton a couple of more hours through the town of Longreach which is home to the massive QANTAS museum. It is quite strange to be driving along and find a huge 747 aircraft parked right next to the road. Although these days aircraft do seem to be parked in strange places around the world.

I wonder if that plane might be heading to The UK?

We were beginning to realise that the boring drive through the outback was starting to become anything but boring. We really had not left enough time to do and see everything we wanted to. We could easily have filled another week or more before getting to the coast. “We are going to have to come back in the future and do all this slow time”, said Steve. “Count me in“, said Sarah.

Our final stop on the long road to the coast was near the small town of Mitchell which had a lovely Artesian Bath complex. One pool was fed straight from the ground at a steady 34 degrees centigrade, while the other pool was kept at a chilly 21 degrees. We spent a couple of hours between the two pools chatting to other travellers and enjoying the relaxation as the long drive started to near its end.

Sarah really is getting good at this relaxing business!

Eventually we started to close in on the big city lights of Brisbane and The Gold Coast. As you approach, it does gradually get more and more populated but before long civilization hits you head on like a sledgehammer. It seems a long, long time since we were last in a big city, probably almost six months ago (Cairns and Darwin are realy just decent sized towns so they don’t count). We were both struck by the density of it all with fast food outlets on every corner, neon advertising signs selling everything you could want and many things you don’t, three lane highways full of vehicles, traffic lights, and people everywhere. It was an assault on the senses. At one point we were stopped at a set of traffic lights and Steve said “I can see more cars on the road around us here than we have seen in total since leaving Darwin”. It’s amazing how quickly you can become used to being quite isolated.

The high rise buildings of Surfers Paradise.

We found our campsite and to be fair, although it was a big commercial operation, they had done a good job of landscaping it and protecting it from the busy road outside. We settled into a quiet area of the site and got straight on with our number one priority of washing our clothes. We were both starting to run out of clean ones and Steve had even resorted to finding his least dirty shorts to wear on the last couple of days! So with everything washed, including ourselves, we set off for the main reason for coming here and that was to visit our friend Glen and the promise of a lamb roast, wine and beer!

“I think they are attracted to your smelly shorts!”

We met Glen in South America at the begining of last year and he is a top bloke. He works as a school teacher on The Gold Coast, and his main job is coaching rugby league or football as they call it here. He is as keen as mustard with his team and by all accounts he is a bit of a task master but his methods seem to reap rewards. He took us for a look around back in January and his office is filled with trophies, press cuttings and photographs of his stars of the past. Some have gone on to play at the highest level and some have even made it over to the UK to play with the top clubs there.

We went around to his house and he was up to his elbows in cooking. His wife Kellie was there and after some hugs and kisses it felt like we were regular visitors there and we had known each other for years. We had a great evening eating Glens lamb roast, chatting away and drinking wine and beer. Luckily we had gone on our bikes so it was an easy three mile cycle back to the campsite at the end of the evening.

The following morning Glen and Kellie picked us up from the campsite, nice and early, and gave us a tour of the hinterland. Within 15 minutes drive we were away from the hustle and bustle of Surfers Paradise and winding our way up and up along twisting roads into thick rainforest. Steve was just a little frustrated that he wasn’t on his bike. “ I’m coming back here to cycle this road”, was his comment as we continued up.

Our first stop was for coffee at a coffee plantation. One thing we have learned on our travels is that you go somewhere because it is well known for one thing or another but sometimes if you look a little bit deeper there are things around you just don’t expect. Coffee plantations on The Gold Coast being one.

Steve finds the waterfall.

Next it was onto a walking trail through the rainforest to a waterfall before pulling into the town of Mount Tambourine, another unexpected place. It was all about quaint shops selling all kinds of things from cheese, to handmade crafts to unusual clothing and the place had a bit of a ‘hippie’ feel to it without going too far. It would have been easy to walk around for a few hours, but we had a lunch appointment to make.

Ummm. An English pub Aussie style. This could be interesting.

Glen had booked lunch at The Fox and Hounds, a ‘traditional English country pub’. Immediately we feared the worst. An Aussie perception of an English pub ….. this could be weird. On pulling into the car park the outside of the pub looked authentic enough and it would have comfortably fitted into The New Forest or The South Downs. Then we went inside and, to be honest, the place was pretty good. We could have easily been back in The UK. Every room was authentically decorated right down to the various bits of memorabilia, photographs and signs. Steve went for a wander around and ended up chatting to one of the staff. It transpired that the owners had worked in England and decided to come back to Australia and set up a pub. So they completely stripped out a pub in West Sussex, transported it to Australia and reassembled it in the original style. Impressive. The food was pretty decent too and after stuffing ourselves on Beef and Guiness pie and Toad in the Hole, and washing it down with some Kilkenny bitter it was time to end the day.

They definitely serve tucker here!

Our final morning with Glen and Kellie was Sunday breakfast overlooking the estuary at Southport. A fabulous setting with sun, blue skies, a tree lined park, and all the Sunday morning activities passing by including joggers, walkers, cyclists, rowers and people heading out for the day in their boats of every shape and size.

We said goodbye after a great weekend with the promise of catching up again in a few weeks time when we plan to pass through on our way down to Sydney. So off we went back in the campervan heading North.

To be honest, by now we were both feeling pretty tired. It had been a fantastic five weeks flying around The Northern Territory and outback Queensland, seeing everything we could fit in, driving ridiculous mileage, doing some fabulous but quite tough walks and generally pushing ourselves on and on. It was time to chill out and relax a little, so we set a course for our old favourite of Noosa Heads and two hours later we were pulling into town. We found a car park right at The Spit where we could reverse in, open the back doors and almost jump out onto the beach.

A room with a view……
…..or two.

We spent the best part of the next four days in that exact spot, only returning to a campsite to shower and sleep. We would pull up in the morning, Steve would go off on his bike and Sarah would sit on the beach, or on the bed of the campervan reading. We would have lunch on the beach, go for a walk in the afternoon and watch the crowds gather around us in the evening to watch the sun go down.

Sarah is teaching Steve about this relaxing thing!

Steve got chating to a guy who was also turning up everyday and where Steve was cycling, he was fishing. “I wouldn’t mind having a go at that fishing lark”, said Steve. “It looks like a good cover for sitting around doing nothing”.

This fishing thing certainly looks a good idea!

After four days in Noosa we decided that before we got too comfortable we had better pack up and continue our progress up the coast. “Let’s go to Hervey Bay and see some whales”, was Sarah’s idea. “Let’s go to town and buy a fishing rod”, was Steve’s….. So we set off for Hervey Bay in search of whales!

Down to The Red Centre

So we arrived in Darwin, the capital of The Northern Territory, a positive metropolis …. OK, maybe not a metropolis, but in comparison to the last week and what lies ahead it’s as big as it gets.

To be honest we didn’t get a great deal out of Darwin itself, other than two new campervans! (more on that in a minute). It’s a nice enough place with a lagoon style waterpark, boardwalk with shops and cafés and a reasonable city centre. It provides everything you would need to get by but it lacked a bit of spark. It is essentially a base from which to explore the nearby National Parks, with tours of all descriptions and length being offered from numerous outlets. It is also very close to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia and as such is an important sea port. It was also an important location during World War ll and the bombing by the Japanese in February 1942 is considered Australia’s ‘Pearl Harbour’ and memorials to that day are all over town.

After a day of wandering around we felt we had seen most of the significant things on offer including Mindil Market (we have seen better) and we were thinking we might have been stuck for something to do on our second day. However, as luck would have it, we had turned up in town while the biggest sporting and social event of the year was happening, The Darwin Cup horse racing festival. So we bought a couple of tickets and set off for the track with, to be honest, quite low expectations. “Don’t get too excited, I can’t see this being up to much”, said Steve “Let’s give it a couple of hours and see how it goes”…….. Ten hours later we were walking back to the van having had a brilliant day! The place was packed out with over 20,000 people, most of whom had made a great effort with their outfits and would have fitted in more than comfortably at Royal Ascot. We felt distinctly under dressed, which is quite an achievement in Australia! We still had a fantastic day and even managed to get a couple of winners using the old ‘shut your eyes and point’ method. Probably the most impressive thing of the day was watching the Aussies drink on a big scale, unbelievable!

We think this horse only had 3 legs.

We also used our time in Darwin to stock up on provisions, recover from a lot of driving and attempt to get a couple of defects with the van sorted out. They included the DVD player (we said it was a posh van!) which wouldn’t play DVDs and the fridge which had turned itself into a heater, which wasn’t ideal considering it was a steady 34 degrees during the day and 25 degrees at night. The hire company had a base in the city so it was the perfect place to get things fixed, or so we thought. I could write an entire post about the events of the next three days, but I will summarise. A replaced DVD player and a replaced fridge fan was the first attempt, and we were on our way, however, the fridge broke again within a day, became a heater again and also developed a horrendous ticking noise. Another call to the company and we were then told there were no spare vehicles and we would have to wait four days for a new fridge to be brought by road from Melbourne. Steve then threatened to camp at the front of the Darwin depot until it was sorted. Miraculously, 40 minutes later we had a call informing us that there had just been a cancellation and a new van was available in Darwin! We drove the 100 miles back to town from our campsite, moved our gear from one van to the other and set off again with a working fridge. We hadn’t got far before another problem arose, this time it was the air conditioning unit which started discharging water into the passenger foot well. Sarah started bailing it out with a dustpan but it was getting too much. “I think we might sink”, was her final shout before she donned her face mask and snorkel.

Yet another call to the hire company and this time a mechanic drove the 100 miles to us, spent less than 10 seconds looking at the problem and declared he couldn’t fix it. Luckily another miracle had just happened, yet another cancellation and this time we were promised another van would be driven out to us the following morning. They were true to their word and the following morning another van appeared. We moved all our gear again and finally we were underway in a van which had a DVD player that played DVDs, a fridge that kept food cold (and even frozen) and an air conditioning unit that kept the cab cool, and better still, dry!

Settling into our THIRD campervan!

Australia is a big old place, very big, and it is sometimes difficult to get a perspective as to how big it actually is, while at the same time feeling very empty. There is an often seen postcard here (yes, they still have postcards!) which has a map of Europe placed inside of a map of Australia and barely filling half of it. This led Steve (who is a bit of a numbers person) to do some research on the figures. 85% of the population live within 35 miles of the coast, therefore, away from the ocean people are few and far between. The Northern Territory is over five times the size of the UK and has a population of less than 250,000, which is around about the same as Southampton. Considering 60% of them live in Darwin that doesn’t leave very many to fill the rest of the space as we were about to find out.

Not too many people around here.

Our first stop after Darwin was Lichfield National Park. Where Kakadu had been all about the crocs and wildlife, Lichfield was about waterfalls and swimming holes. The park is much smaller than Kakadu and while you could easily spend a week or more there you can comfortably see the major sites in two or three days.

There are a few midges and mosquitoes around, so one evening Steve was cooking outside on the barbeque, and decided to spray his arms and legs with insect repellent and then his head as well for good measure. He assembled all his ingredients and cooking equipment and then went to spray some olive oil on to the cooking surface, only to pick up the insect repellent instead. Very slowly he began to realise his mistake of mixing the two cans up just as the olive oil started to run down his head into his face and his arms and legs were covered in it. “SARAH” he shouted “Get me something to sort this mess out” Unfortunately Sarah couldn’t see anything to help as the tears of laughter were rolling down her face!

Wangi Falls and Florence Falls are two of the most popular and for good reason, even though it is the dry season, the falls are still pouring water into the swimming holes and they are great locations to spend a few hours.

Steve having a dip at Florence Falls.

At Wangi Falls there is a lovely, little walk where you can stroll up and around the top of the falls. At one point the path is only wide enough for one person so Sarah strode out in front with Steve, as ever, wandering along a few steps behind! All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a Green Tree Snake dropped off a branch and hit the path between us. It missed Sarah’s head by no more than an inch. Steve stopped mid stride as it straightened up like an arrow and shot into the long grass beside the path. He shouted at Sarah to look but it was so fast by the time she realised what was happening it was gone. “I heard a thud behind me”, said Sarah “but didn’t realise what it was”. “A split second earlier and that would have landed on your head”, said Steve “It’s a shame really as you’re after a new hat”.

Sarah in the pool at Wangi Falls…..looking for snakes!

After Lichfield Park we started our long journey South, with our ultimate destination being The Red Centre and Uluru. However this was a couple of thousand kilometres away so we had a few days on the road to fill. We didn’t actually get very far on our first day as we decided to make another stop just a couple of hours down the road at Edith Falls. We had stopped here on the way North and thoroughly enjoyed it so we both couldn’t resist another dip in the fabulous watering hole there. It’s a bit of a hike up to the pool and in some places on the way down you have to scramble over a few boulders but it is well worth it. This time we arrived in the late afternoon and at one point had the entire place to ourselves!

Edith Falls. Our favourite.

As we slowly made our way along the Stuart Highway, which runs all the way to Adelaide in South Australia, our progress on the map looked almost insignificant. We would see a ‘place’ signposted a couple of hundred kilometers away and we would look forward to getting there only to find it was a roadhouse and nothing more. Eventually we pulled into the town of Mataranka which is famous for its hot springs. We thought a well earned rest and relaxation in the hot pools was in order. It really was a scenic location with a crystal clear stream of water winding its way through palm trees and fed from the ground at a constant 34 degrees centigrade. A real oasis in the outback.

A well earned rest in the hot springs.

The problem was everyone else seemed to be having a well earned rest as well. The place was packed and, after The Darwin Cup, easily the busiest place we have seen in a long time. It was possible to find a little spot to be on your own but it was definitely overcrowded, plus they do love their ‘noodles’ in Australia. Not the edible kind but the foam flotation device kind! They were everywhere. Some regulars had even adapted and shaped them into floating chairs! It was a bit of a strange scene, so we had an hour or so there and moved on.

We squeezed in another night at The Daly Waters pub. We really enjoy it there and it was just as good as the previous time we stopped. The couple who do the entertainment are fast becoming legendary, well at least in our campervan they are. Steve can’t decide if they are a pair of comedians trying to play music or a couple of musicians trying to be funny. Either way they are great entertainment. Sarah thinks they are quite talented. Steve on the other hand thinks that dressing in bright yellow trousers, braces and a flat cap, then playing the ukulele and singing “Wonderwall” by Oasis, whilst reading it off your phone having never even heard the song before, in front of a load of half cut Aussies is just mad and brave!

I’m lost for words!!!

We had considered staying a night in Tennant Creek which is the only sizable town between Darwin and Alice Springs but we had seen some really negative press about the place so we decided to drive straight through stopping only for fuel. The place has reportedly serious issues with alcohol and crime and this was evident as we passed through. Boarded up businesses and people wandering the streets obviously in drink was the theme and this was in the middle of the day. It looked like a forgotten town, left to its own devices. Most countries have places like this and we have seen our fair share around The World, but thankfully, not many at all in Australia. We continued on for another hour and landed on what seemed like another planet to Tennant Creek. The Devils Marbles. This was a beautiful and strange place, a series of rock formations that have been weathered by the elements and eroded into huge, smooth almost spherical rocks. The campsite there was right next to the ‘marbles’ and we were able to walk for a good couple of hours in and out of the rock formations.

Some photographic creativity 😀

We watched the sun go down and the black sky set in as thousands of stars filled the night sky. Light pollution is minimal there in the middle of nowhere, the nearest inhabitants are 100 kilometres away in Tennant Creek and the lights went out there a long time ago! The display of stars was one of the best we have seen. You know it’s a good night sky when the Milky Way is clearly visible to the naked eye.

And a little more!

A final push from the Devils Marbles saw us eventually arrive in Alice Springs. ‘Alice’ is the second largest place in The Northern Territory but is still only a small town. It is a major stop on the luxury Ghan railway which carries passengers from Darwin to Adelaide for a significant price! The town grew up around the gold mining industry and it has adapted itself to tourism with a few things going off around the immediate area but essentially it has become a staging post for the big attractions which lay a few hours further South. We stayed the night, stocked up on groceries and fuel and headed off along the Red Centre Way to Uluru, or Ayres Rock as it used to be known.

We have found that very occasionally you see something for the first time and it is so visually impactive it stops you in your tracks and then in years to come you can close yours eyes and see it clearly in your head. Iguaçu Falls, Table Mountain, Bryce Canyon, Moraine Lake and Torres Del Paine are some that spring to mind. Ayres Rock is now definitely on the list.

Uluru.

We spent three days in the National Park where Uluru is located and we gave it the whole works. Up before sunrise to view it, back at sunset for a different perspective, from a distance, from up close, and we even did the 10km walk around it and explored the little gorges and water holes. It lies there towering in the middle of the desert, surrounded by low level bush, the occasional tree and lots of red dirt and all the time we never got bored of seeing the different colours and textures of the monolith.

It seemed to be different everytime we saw it.

Uluru is not the only site within the National Park as Kata Tjuta (formerly called The Olgas) is also there standing about 30 miles or so from Uluru. It is a series of 36 huge domes which probably looked like Uluru a zillion or so years ago but have been weathered and eroded to create the peculiar looking formation. There is a great walk there called ‘The Valley Of The Winds’ which meanders between and around some of the domes giving great views.

Taking some time out in “The Valley of the Winds”

On our way back towards Alice Springs we took a detour of over 150 miles to go for a walk! It sounds a little bizarre but that’s the sort of thing that happens in The Northern Territory. Luckily it was a great walk, and probably more visually impressive than Uluru. Kings Canyon was the destination and the walk was around the rim of the canyon. It was quite steep to get up to the top and then it was up and down as we walked around the strange landscape.

Spot the runner in Kings Canyon.

It is a very dry area but at one point you can drop back down into a place called the ‘Garden of Eden’ which is an oasis in the dry surroundings, with palm trees and a small lake at the bottom. We had lunch there and again at one point we were all alone. It was so quiet and the structure of the canyon walls made even whispering sound loud.

Lunch in “The Garden of Eden”

After Kings Canyon it was back to ‘Alice’ for an overnight stop and another restock of supplies. We made an early morning start and had been moving along the road with yet again no other traffic in sight. Then on the horizon we saw something in the road. Is it a mob of kangaroos? Is it a herd of cattle? No. It’s a train of camels! You really have to expect anything out here.

“I’m watching you”

We now had over 3000 kilometres to drive across The Outback to The Gold Coast and five days to do it as we had arranged to meet up with our friend Glen again for another catch up. That’s about the same distance as driving from London to Athens. “Lucky we like a good road trip”, said Sarah. “Lets get on with it”!!

“The Top End”

Our last week at the apartment in Clifton Beach was in some ways a sad one. Although it was our decision to leave and move on with our tour of Australia, we were both finding it hard to go and pull ourselves away from such a fabulous location. We were also coming to the end of our time with Mark and Lisa, which we have enjoyed enormously, and so the evening before they left we had our final dinner together. We had a few hugs and kisses, and there was even a couple of watering eyes, but Steve thinks that might have been down to the strong onion that Sarah had just chopped for dinner!! We waved them off as John, the Manager, drove them to the airport at the start of their 50 hour journey home. We then had our final walk into Palm Cove before it was time to do our own packing and go to collect our campervan, which turned out to be quite an upgrade from the previous one we had arrived in 105 days ago. It was seven metres long, with a big bed, small toilet and shower, nice size kitchen area, loads of storage space, a TV screen to watch DVD’s on (no tv reception!) and a separate little dining area. We couldn’t believe the deal we had got!

Our residence for the next 9 weeks.

As we packed our belongings from the apartment, seven of the residents came out to wave us off, as well as Rosie the dog. We really have enjoyed ourselves there and we met some great people, but more experiences await us and we drove off with mixed feelings of sadness and excitement.

After stocking up on provisions we headed in-land with our first stop at Undara Lava Tubes. We arrived there just in time to join a sunset tour where we walked up to the top of a rocky outcrop and were treated to a fabulous view of the outback and a pretty good sunset which was accompanied by a glass of wine and some nibbles for Steve and two glasses of wine and some nibbles for Sarah. Our guide then announced he had a spare bottle of wine left and asked “Does anyone want another glass?” if he opened it. Sarah suddenly discovered the art of teleporting as she disappeared from in front of Steve and reappeared instantaneously in front of the guide with her arm outstretched with an empty glass. “I could force down another glass”, she said!

“Just one more glass for me please”

After the sunset we made our way to the entrance of one of the lava tubes which is home to a colony of micro bats which are about the size of a hand when in flight. These were considerably smaller than the flying foxes we had been used to seeing but when they are flying in and out of the cave in their thousands they make quite a sight. Apparently the colony is 80,000 strong!

At the end of the tour we were dropped off at the entrance to our campsite and made our way back to our new luxury residence. As we passed the shower block we heard the shout, “There’s a snake in the shower!”. We walked towards the shower block, out of curiosity, along with a few others when a woman came running out of the block after obviously getting dressed in rather a hurry. Someone opened the door and the thin, 4ft snake could clearly be seen. There then followed a debate as to what type of snake it was, without any positive conclusion. Sarah, fueled by three or so glasses of wine said “I’m going in to take a photo”, and off she went as Steve shook his head in disbelief. Then after several snaps from different angles trying to get the snakes best side, she emerged saying, “If you’re going to get bitten by a snake you need to be able to identify it”. Or you could stay well away and not get bitten in the first place, thought Steve! In the end it transpired the snake was a brown tree snake and apparently only mildly venemous!

Hissing Sid!

We left Undara the following morning and started our long journey towards Darwin and ‘The Top End’, 3000 kilometres away. With only a couple of significant towns in between, it was going to be a long drive. We had driven across the Nullabor earlier in the year, on our way from Perth to Cairns, so we’d had an introduction to lonely roads. We found this a real advantage and felt quite prepared and when the main road went from single carriageway to single track and a sign saying “Next fuel 345 km”, we felt pretty confident in our plan.  “How much fuel have we got?”, asked Sarah. “Oh, at least enough for 350 km’s” replied Steve.

“Don’t worry we have loads of fuel”

Just like our trip across The Nullabor we loved our journey through the Queensland bush, over the border into the outback of The Northern Territories and North towards the National Parks and Darwin. Our Elton John and Abba CD’s had been replaced by a subscription to Spotify (welcome to the 21st century, thanks Mark!). This was good in some ways but not so good in others, as Steve turned up the volume and re-lived some of the music from his youth. With AC/DC, Rush, Led Zepplin and similar bands on tap he was in his element but it wasn’t long before Sarah drew the line and although she didn’t say anything, Steve knows ‘the look’ by now, and soon a compromise was made and we found some music we were both happy with!

We drove for five or six hours a day, stopping for coffee and lunch by the side of the road, watching the changing scenery as we slowly made progress across the map. During the beginning and end of each day’s drive we were extremely cautious watching for the kangaroos which are more commonly seen at that time of day. We saw several bounce across the road in front of us, as well as a couple of dingos who needed the horn to encourage them along. But probably the biggest hazard on this leg of the trip has been the Road Trains. We became used to them on The Nullabor, where cabs pulling two trailers were common, three trailers were seen occasionally and we saw a spattering of four trailers being pulled. Now the stakes had been upped, with three being the most common and four being quite regular. These beasts can be up to 70 metres long and roar along at 100 kph plus! When you are faced with one coming towards you on a single track road your only option is to pull off the road completely and let it pass. Luckily the roads aren’t busy at all and we probably see about 50 vehicles, at most, all day.

I know he is a small one but I’m still getting off the road!

We have been staying at a variety of different types of campsites. One was on the edge of a fabulous lagoon, another was a roadhouse campsite, one was a commercial site in Mount Isa (the only town of any reasonable size on our route) but our favourite had to be Daly Waters Historic Pub. Originally established towards the end of the 19th century to service the ‘gold rush’, it has become something of an Australian icon. A dirt track road leads to the pub which also has a museum, service station, campsite and entertainment venue. The current owners have created a collection of expertly restored vehicles and memorabilia, and each section of the pub itself is dedicated to a substantial collection of various items, including car number plates, flip-flops (or ‘thongs’ as they are known here), Police Force badges, Fire Station badges, football shirts and country flags. But the real show piece, and where it all started, is the long line across the bar of women’s bras and pants in every size and colour imaginable!  “I’m more likely to take one than leave one”, said Sarah “I’m running short as it is”.

Sat outside the pub at Daly Waters.
Part of the collection inside.

After Daly Waters pub we made our final push towards the main sights of The Far North that you read in all the brochures and the locations for many films, including the three National Parks of Katherine Gorge (aka Nitmiluk), Kakadu and Lichfield. There are plenty of other places in the area but the three mentioned are regarded as the big attractions.

Katherine Gorge was our first stop. We pitched up on a campsite right next to the visitor’s centre and on the main walking routes. The walks connect together at various points so you can choose from an easy couple of kilometres to over 20 kilometres. There is even a multi-day walk that links up to the next Park with primitive camping along the way. We decided on a “difficult” 13 km route which would apparently take us to somewhere we could swim. This was a tempting option as the temperature had been hitting the low 30’s centigrade every day. So with plenty of drinks and snacks we set off.

Sarah having a bit of a rest at Katherine Gorge.

It is peak time for tourism here as we are right in the middle of the dry season, when the weather is cooler and the humidity is low. Apparently it gets to 40 degrees and super high humidty in the wet season and “monsoon madness” is a common health problem….. count us out on that one! However, due to Covid-19 and the international (and some domestic) borders being firmly closed, the number of tourists are minimal. We saw very few people on the walk and after getting used to no-one being around we quite enjoyed the solitude. We scrambled over rocks, wound our way through the bush, walked along dry river beds and were treated to some great views of the gorge and river below. Eventually the route led us down a steep trail with high, vertical walls of rock on either side. We were starting to think we had come the wrong way when the trees cleared and we found ourselves on some rocks, a couple of feet above the water, in the main section of the gorge. We had brought our swimming gear so we couldn’t resist jumping in to cool off. We had been assured that there was little chance of any crocodiles making it to that part of the river, but it was still in the back of our minds!

What a fabulous place to cool off!

After a few minutes of relaxing and floating around, Steve decided he was going to swim across to the other side of the gorge, so off he went. It was an eerie feeling being deep in the gorge with the massive cliffs towering out of the water with no-one around. He made it to the other side then turned around to start his return when, in the distance, he heard the noise of an engine getting louder and then saw a boat heading his way. Soon it became clear the boat was carrying tourists which operate from further down the river. Steve continued to cross back to Sarah making sure he was avoiding the boat. As the boat came within a few feet, some of the passengers spotted Steve in the water. At first they couldn’t work it out. “How was someone swimming miles from anywhere?”, then they started waving and taking photographs much to the annoyance of the guide who was mid flow in his ‘Aboriginal history of the area’ speech!!

Back on top of the gorge

After our swim we resumed our walk and made our way back up to the top of the gorge and back to our campsite. When we arrived we were both tired and hungry after six hours in the heat but we both said it had been a great day. One to remember!

After Katherine and on our way to Kakadu we decided to take a small detour to Edith Falls which is not a regular stop on the tourist trail but we had heard good things about it. We got settled on the great little campsite and then set off on another long walk. This one was a little less strenuous but still a great walk. We had lunch by the river and on the way back we took a small detour to The Falls and a rock pool beneath them. What an amazing place with a waterfall, crystal clear pools, and beatiful rock formations. Another swim to cool off beckoned before the short walk back to the campervan and another great day done.

We are finding some amazing places!

Next stop and our final one before Darwin (we decided to visit Lichfield National Park on the way back South) was the biggest of all the National Parks in Australia, called Kakadu. The place is huge, set within 20,000 square kilometres. It would take at least at couple of weeks to see the major sites so we had to prioritise. Some areas are only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles, which we don’t have, so they were ruled out straight away. We wanted to do some walking, see some Aboriginal rock art (well Sarah did…. Steve just pretended he did just to keep the peace!) and most of all we wanted to see some of the big saltwater crocodiles that Kakadu is famous for.

It was mid afternoon when we finally got to a campsite and, like Katherine Gorge, on the drive through the Park we were already getting the feeling that it was deserted. After setting up we decided to go for a short walk along the Yellow River which was accessible from just a couple of kilometres away. We set off on the walk hoping to see a big croc. It was a lovely setting, the sky was clear and blue, the sun was starting to make its way down to the horizon, but there was plenty of heat left in it. The landscape was full of deep green tall grass, interspersed with the occasional eucalyptus and a herd of cows were making their way across it grazing whilst being pestered by a flock of birds. A family of wild boar with four tiny piglets were also eating and meandering along. Dozens of different types of birds were coming in and out of view. Neither of us are very knowledgeable in this department, but we could identify cormorants, herons, kingfishers, cranes and wedgetailed eagles but there were so many others. It really was a fantastic scene.

Great place for an evening walk.

We walked along in silence next to a shallow tributary taking in the scene. Then the silence was broken. “Is that a crocodile’s head?”, said Sarah pointing at a large rock semi-submerged in the water. “No”, replied Steve “It’s way too big, but I can see what you mean”. The rock looked like it had a couple of nostrils and then a large square forehead with eyes on the top. We continued along the bank, then the rock with the nostrils, forehead and eyes started to move!!! “S#!t, it is a croc, you were right”, said Steve. We watched the croc move very slowly towards the end of the tributary where the water had almost dried out and more and more of its wide prehistoric looking back emerged from the water. It moved onto the mud with one slow moving leg at a time, then its tail emerged, long, thick and spiny. We made a conservative estimate that it was between four and a half and five metres long and we were, at this point, about 30 metres away behind the croc and holding our breath.

There is a croc in there somewhere.

The croc came to rest in the mud, close to a large puddle, so we settled down to watch. We started whispering to one another and it felt like we were doing the commentary in some David Attenborough wildlife documentary. First a crane landed by the side of the large puddle and started to drink, but the croc didn’t move as the crane wandered closer and closer. “It must be in striking distance”, whispered Steve, but the croc never moved. After about 15 minutes the crane had its fill and flew off. Next we saw the family of wild boar ambling along, eating the grass as they went, heading straight for the puddle. Thirty metres, twenty metres. “This is it”, whispered Sarah, “He is going to get one of the babies”. Ten metres, five metres. Then the family of boars deviated away from the large puddle and wandered back into the grass. “This croc wants his dinner served up on a plate with apple sauce and a cold beer”, said Steve.

We watched the croc for well over an hour, then as the sun started to set we decided to head back. Then just as we were about to move a red and brown bird landed in the mud right behind the croc. In an instant the croc exploded, four and a half metres and probably four or five hundred kilos spun 180 degrees in a split second. Its jaws went for the bird as our brains tried to catch up with events. The mud and water settled and although the croc had been super fast the bird had been quicker. We saw it fly off, probably thinking to itself “that looked like a rock to me”.

To see a croc in its natural habitat is a brilliant thing but to see it stalking, moving so stealth like and attacking so explosively was a real treat. A great first day in Kakadu.

We really are getting to see these crocs up close and personal.

We spent another couple of days in Kakadu. One day was taken up almost entirely with one of the longer walks, this one was marked up as “Strenuous”. We found ourselves scrambling up and over rocks and boulders and through dense bush until we reached the top of an escarpment where some great views of Kakadu opened up stretching to the horizon in every direction. The walk took us around the top of the escarpment through strange rock formations which resembled old destroyed buildings. Then it was back down into the bush for the final few kilometres home. The walk took us most of the day but it was worth it as it was one of the best we have done.

Sarah strides out through the bush.

The highlight of our final day in Kakadu was at a place called Cahills Crossing. Again this isn’t necessarily a place where many people head to, but Steve had read it was a good place for croc spotting (it seems like we can’t get enough of these creatures) especially at the turn of the tide, when fish are forced along the river and the crocs just open their mouths for dinner. “See I told you…. on a plate with apple sauce…. or maybe tartre sauce this time”, said Steve. Cahills Crossing didn’t disappoint, in fact it was amazing. In the space of about 100 metres we saw 15 enormous crocs, probably the biggest ones we had seen so far. We really are starting to get a little bit addicted to these prehistoric looking creatures as they are amazing to see close up in their natural environment.

Coming out for lunch!
Save some for me!

Also on our final day in Kakadu we managed to squeeze in another walk at the very North of The Park, this was a much easier walk and led to a great look out point across the wetlands and into the Aboriginal lands. The walk also passed some examples of Aboriginal Rock art so Sarah managed to get a couple of photos which made her happy!….. oh and Steve was just thrilled too!

Aboriginal rock art……apparently!

With Kakadu done we started to make our way towards Darwin and potential civilization, but we had one more stop to make and one more crocodile fix to have. Steve had read about a place called Corroborree Billabong which was apparently a good croc spot. The place is located several kilometres along a 4-wheel drive track and so we decided to take a tour which picked up at the local roadhouse where we were camping. Tours aren’t really our thing. We do them occasionally when doing our own thing just isn’t practical our just too difficult. This particular tour turned out to be one of the best we have ever done. We could go on for hours about how close we got to the crocs but it was more than just about them. The billabong was a fabulous place, the wildlife and plants were amazing and our guide was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable. We were both enthralled with it all, and the sunset to finish it off was stunning!

Last croc photo….I promise!
A Jabiru near the lily pads
A “Jesus bird” walking on the lily pads.

We have had a pretty good first two weeks back in a campervan, let’s hope it continues!

Perfect!

A Pandemic in Paradise!

So it’s “Hello again”. After almost three months away from the blog we have decided it is the right time to write a new post. It’s a little bit longer than normal but after this we should be able to update again every 10 days or so.

The last three months have been absolutely fantastic. It was not at all what we expected or planned to do when we left the UK six months ago, and certainly not what the five year plan was supposed to entail.

The first thing that happened since the last post was that our flight home was cancelled! We had barely just unpacked our bags when we received an email from Qatar Airways informing us of the news. So that’s three flights out of Australia booked, and three flights out of Australia cancelled….. we really did try to make an effort to come back to the UK! The cancelled flight was yet another thing to add to the growing list of cancelled flights, trains, hotels and events. A total of 22 different bookings made from Sydney to Moscow which needed to be sorted out and which was getting to be more than a small task in itself.

Out on the bike again.

The next thing to happen was Mark and Lisa, the Dutch couple we met in Airlie Beach back in March, arrived on a campsite five miles away from where we were staying in Palm Cove, Far North Queensland. As the Covid-19 restrictions allowed you to exercise with one other person, Steve and Mark began cycling together a couple of times a week. They would cycle for anything up to five hours in the hills which surrounded the area. Steve found it a bit of a shock at first and, with Mark being a much better cyclist, it was a case of sink or swim. On one occasion Lisa drove them 35 miles to the start of a day’s cycle. This meant they could cycle an extra long hill and then follow a different route home …. the long way! After almost 100 hilly miles and nearly six hours later, they rolled back into town with Steve once again happy but looking the worse for wear!

Ready for a long day in the saddle.

The restrictions also allowed for a household to have two visitors, so we were able to have Lisa and Mark round to dinner and they also introduced us to a Dutch card game which soon became quite competitive. After a couple of weeks Mark and Lisa had to give up their campervan, and having no immediate urgency to return to The Netherlands, they decided to rent an apartment for themselves and promptly moved in four doors away, in the same block. They were happy, we were happy, and the Manager of the apartments (John) was certainly happy with two semi long-term residents in an otherwise disasterous tourist season. It was a real bonus for him. We had negotiated a good rate for our rent and the situation suited everyone so much that 14 weeks later we are all still here!!

So how have we passed the time?  “Quite easily”, is the answer. In fact, too easily, which is probably why we are still here.

We have been following the news quite closely regarding the pandemic both in the UK and in the rest of the World and, although we haven’t been in the UK to judge it first hand, it does come across that the UK maybe hasn’t handled the situation as well as the Australians. Well at least so far anyway! There are, of course, several factors which have influenced this which could include early border closures, climate, population density and people’s attitudes. But with only 8,000 cases and just over 100 deaths, out of a population of over 25 million, it’s hardly surprising the restrictions have been less invasive and in place for a shorter period of time than most other countries. In fact, as we write this post, we feel very safe as there is only one active case in the whole of Queensland (which is seven times the size of the UK) and that case is over 1000 miles away.

We really have ended up in a great location.

We feel that with the lifestyle we have and location we are in we have been very, very lucky that the virus has not affected us anywhere near as much as most people and we are thankful for that. We are fully aware that many people have lost their lives and that it has had a major impact on others.

In Australia, one major restriction has been that the borders between all but one of the States have remained closed, which has effectively left us stuck in Queensland. However, we are regularly reminded by the locals that there are worse places in The World to be stuck, after all, we are stuck in Paradise. We are aware that everybody’s idea of paradise is different, but we also think that where we are right now would fit most people’s idea pretty closely.

Breakfast with a view!

So what has day to day life been like? Each morning we enjoy breakfast on our balcony. Our apartment is on the second floor and all that separates us from the ocean is a small road and a row of palm trees, so we have a lovely view to start the day. Then, on most mornings, Steve heads off for a bike ride either with Mark or on his own. Sarah passes the mornings with a variety of different activities, sometimes it’s a cycle around the local area, sometimes a walk into Palm Cove which is over five miles there and back, and sometimes she relaxes with her book and a coffee. She has also started walking Rosie, John’s seven month old golden retriever. Steve feels he will never get her away from here now! On Saturday mornings Steve and Mark do their long, hilly ride so Lisa joins Sarah for the walk into Palm Cove. Steve always says that Sarah is a fast walker but even she has to work to keep pace with Lisa! They stop and have a coffee on the beach before making their way back.

Lisa, Rosie and Sarah.

After lunch, if Sarah hasn’t walked in the morning, we regularly walk together. Our favourite walk is the well trodden route into Palm Cove. It’s really scenic as there is a path that runs alongside the beach which then passes through mangroves and has bridges to keep you above the really wet areas, which do quickly flood after it rains! The mangrove area is home to “Charlie” the resident saltwater crocodile. He has been sighted twice since we have been here (not by ourselves though). On one occasion he made the front page of the local paper when he snatched a small dog which ventured too close to the water’s edge. Luckily the dog escaped with a few cuts and grazes and extra “Warning” signs went up in the area!

“Watch out for Charlie”

We tend to walk back along the beach which, on a sunny day, is a fantastic walk.  We are spoilt with beautiful blue sky, golden sand, a thick green rainforest on the hills and virtually no-one around. Everytime we do this walk Sarah is guaranteed to say, “I love it here”.

“Where has everybody gone”?

Sometimes in the afternoons we lay by the pool which is a beautiful area in itself. It has massive palm trees and tropical plants surrounding the 20 metre lap pool. More often than not it’s just the two of us and Mark and Lisa, so we have the place to ourselves. A few hours easily pass by, reading, listening to music and cooling off in the pool. Steve also tries desperately to drag himself off the sun bed and swim a few lengths!

Sarah’s feet……..oh yeah…. and the pool area

On about half of the evenings Steve goes out for a run and Sarah joins him on her bike with plenty of drinks, then it’s back home for dinner. About every five or six nights we have dinner with Mark and Lisa. We take it in turns to cook and it’s always great food and plenty of laughs. We also have a card night about once a week which is getting quite competitive (well at least between Steve and Mark it is). Mark is currently leading but Steve hasn’t given up yet!

Time for an evening run.

We have been here for so long now that we feel a little bit like we are part of the community. We have got to know quite a few people who we stop and have a chat with either by the pool or on our walks and we are becoming regulars in a few cafés. We have also done a fair bit of people watching from the balcony and in order to identify regular passers by we have given them names. Bizarrely enough after a month or so this came up in conversation with Mark and Lisa and it transpired they were doing the same thing! It turned out we had a whole community of walkers, runners, cyclists, swimmers etc who pass us by who do not know they have an alias. The list includes; ‘No Shoes Nigel’, ‘Big Foot Brian’, ‘Morning Malcolm’, ‘Nice Hat Hattie’, ‘Covid Connie’ and our personal favourites ‘Miserable Mike’ and ‘Pissed Off Pam’.

We also make a few video calls and text messages back to the UK each week to keep in touch with family and friends and see how they are coping with the varying degrees of lockdown. It does seem to us that after speaking with our friends in Cardiff, Jamie and Lisa, that Wales has been particularly strict.

On the subject of Restrictions. As Australia seems to be doing quite well in keeping the figures down, the restrictions are being removed more rapidly than the UK. As Queensland is one of the least affected States at the current time, life is very much returning to something like normal, with only social distancing being in place. Because of this, many of the tours and tourist attractions have been open for some time and we have managed to take advantage of that. Steve and Mark did a bungy jump in the rainforest and whilst Sarah and Lisa went along they were both more than happy to bypass the jump and be official photographers instead!

“Why do I do these things”?

We have also had an absolutely fabulous day out snorkelling on The Great Barrier Reef. The reef is an amazing place and we did our PADI open water dive course there six years ago and had an excellent experience. However, this time we were treated to unbelievably clear water and, maybe, because there has been little or no tourism over the last three months there did seem to be an abundance of fish and the coral looked particularly colourful and healthy. The highlight was when Sarah spotted a green turtle sitting on the sandy bottom about five metres below us. Many people are fascinated by these creatures and we are no different. We stayed there watching it for a few minutes and were just about to move on when it started to move up towards us! We moved apart as it got closer and it just swam right up between us, only inches away. It continued up to the surface, stayed there for a while taking a breath and then swam back down to the bottom. It was a brilliant experience to be so close and eye to eye with one of our favourite creatures. For a moment there were ‘Three Travelling Turtles’.

Just a fabulous day on The Reef!

Our next departure from everyday life was to hire a car for a couple of days to get out and see some of the immediate area. Once again Mark and Lisa joined us and on the first day we headed to the Daintree rainforest. Daintree holds the title of the ‘Oldest Rainforest on Earth’ and has some incredibly old, tall trees with twisted and knotted roots which cover the area like a thick green carpet. It is home to zillions…..or at least some huge number that I can’t remember…. of species of birds….but the real attraction for many in Daintree is the big saltwater crocodiles that inhabit the river that flows through the rainforest.

On the way to Daintree.

We drove up and found a dirt track which ran along the side of the river and started to follow it, stopping every so often to search for any crocs. With Steve driving and the rest looking out we felt we had a good chance (with three pairs of eyes) of seeing something. But after 45 minutes it seemed like our luck was out so we decided to retrace our route and then head out on a boat trip on the river. Just as we neared the end of the dirt road the car was filled with shouts of “CROC!!!”. We got out of the car and there on the opposite bank, laying on the sand very close to some cattle, was a crocodile. We estimated it to be maybe three metres in length. We watched it for a few minutes wondering if there would be any action between it and the cattle but it never moved and was probably just warming up in the sun.

We did continue on and took a boat trip. It was marketed as a ‘river trip’ mainly but with the chance of seeing crocs. Steve was not too optimistic about increasing our daily sightings above one. However, Sarah and the others were very optimistic and were guessing on the biggest they would see, with Mark’s four metres being the most outrageous. Over the next hour Steve was proven to be absolutely wrong!

Already better than Steve expected!

It was a fabulous trip. In total we saw six crocs ranging from a three month baby (half a metre in length) right up to the Granddaddy of the area, 60 year old ‘Scarface’, so called due to the battle scars he has picked up in fights over the years. We were lucky to find Scarface at low tide on the bank lounging in the sun. At almost five metres in length and over 600kg in weight he was certainly impressive. We got to within a few metres of him and observed him for quite a while before heading back for the end of the trip.

OK Mark your guess was closest!

Over the rest of the two days we had a walk around the headland of Port Douglas which has great views of ‘Four Mile Beach’ and beyond and we visited the craft and heritage market and a small but really entertaining zoo in Kurunda.  This is where we had to pull Mark back when he tried to climb into the Quokka enclosure to take a photo! and where Sarah almost got knocked over by a rampaging wallaby which escaped from its pen!

A close up of a Quokka.

We also drove inland for an hour to a beautiful little walk which led to a scenic waterfall and swimming hole where we lazed around on the rocks in the sun…a little bit like four crocodiles! All in all we had a really fabulous few days with good friends where we laughed until we cried:-). A couple of days that we will all remember!

Lazing around in the sun like crocs.

It has really started to feel like this part of the world is returning back to some sort of normality and after quite a few weeks of what has essentially just been living our everyday lives here, we are starting to feel confident enough to make a move and get back on the road and see some different places again. We constantly remind ourselves of how lucky we have been to ride out the pandemic so far, in such a beautiful place, in great weather and to meet such a brilliant couple. But it’s not the plan we had when we started this blog 18 months ago. What we have been doing here in Queensland is what we envisaged doing in a few years’ time when all the travelling about is finished. We have had a taste of it now and we have adapted to it pretty well. Staying in great locations for two or three months at a time seems like it will suit us in the future, but right now we both have itchy feet, the borders are opening and so we are moving on.

“We are going to have to move on eventually Sarah”

According to our initial plan for the year, right now we should have been camping around Scandinavia and The Baltic nations. Then in September we planned to be off to Africa for three months. But we are still in Australia and after much discussion both together and with family back home, Australia is where we are staying (visa authorization permitting). We have rented another campervan for nine weeks and we have an ambitious plan to travel 10,000km from the rainforests and beaches of Far North Queensland, through the hinterland and into the bush of the Northern Territories. We will visit ‘The Top End’ and its National Parks with gorges, rivers and saltwater crocodiles. Then we will head South through ‘The Red Centre’ to Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayers Rock). Then it’s back towards the coast where we plan to visit some of the places we completely missed when we rushed up the coast a few months ago in order to beat the border closures. There are also a few places where we visited but felt we could have stayed for longer. The trip should bring us right back to where we are now in the second half of September, when we will take stock, look at the state of play around Australia and the rest of The World and then decide our next move. Right now, our feeling is we will head back over to Western Australia, where we would like to fill in a few blanks there which will effectively complete the jigsaw and we will have seen pretty much all of mainland Australia (I’m sure we will get to Tasmania one day!). Then we would return home in early December in time to help put up the Christmas decorations and eat the turkey!

We would like to apologise for such a lengthy post. We didn’t realise fully what a fabulous time we have been having!

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!

Singapore.

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.

Freaky!

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!!