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Nightlife in Phuket

We went out in three different places on the island of Phuket – here’s what we found at each of them:

Karon – Quiet

As for nightlife – there isn’t any in Karon. There are a few bars but it is difficult to tell which are the Go-Go bars and which are legit as both have about 3 young Thai waitresses per customer (the pole behind the bar is the giveaway). One night we tried South Karon because during the day Richard had seen a whole street of bars – hurrah – unfortunately he didn’t have his contact lenses in and when we went back in the evening we realised they were all Go-Go bars, names like ‘The Lady Bar’ should have given it away. North Karon near the Golden Sand Inn has a few bars but they have been pretty quiet. One night 6 of us (Jacqui, Sue, Keelly and Lee had a whole bar pretty much to ourselves so we could pick the music and dance to our hearts content. It was the last night Keelly and Lee could get pissed as they were off to Australia a couple of days later and had a really long flight to look forward to and a hangover wouldn’t have helped. We have had a few good nights out in Karon and the bars tend to play good music and have Jenga, Line-up 4 (Connect 4), free pool and Jackpot (a no brainer dice game) to keep you amused – but the company makes it, it is nice to meet people and hear their stories, whether they are people on a 2 week holiday, 6 month travellers or people who liked it so much they stayed (usually marrying a Thai woman first – non Thai’s can’t buy property). Often it was very quiet although Christmas and New Year have been a bit busier but the people in the bars say that it is so much quieter than usual (some have said there are only half or a third of the tourists they normally get at this time of year).

Kata – Medium

There are two bits to Kata: Kata Centre and Kata South (where we are staying). Kata Centre is where most of the dive shops are and a lot of cheap accommodation so there are some cool bars which actually have some ambience (rare around here). We’ve had a couple of good nights out there. The best bar was Dan Kwain which does great cocktails, has a great DJ, funky decor and goldfish bowls for tables. We had a fab night out there with Sue, Jacqui, Tony, Anya and Chantelle where before we knew it it was 1am and we only went for a Thursday night quiet drink. Kata South caters more for the big hotels nearby and so is full of restaurants. There are a few bars where you can have a good game of pool but it is pretty quiet.

Patong – Full on

Just up the coast from Karon is Patong. It wouldn’t be a nice place to stay as it is too manic but it is a good place to go for a kicking Saturday night out. We tended to go to the bars up the Bang-La Road (the less dodgy ones!) which play good music and you can see the world go by and envy the fabulous ball gowns and party dresses the transexuals wear. Then for dancing we went to Irish pubs – either Molly Malones or Scruffy Murphys, both had live bands every night and we would drink Carlsberg, Vodka and Kamikazes, play drinking games (brilliant idea to play spoof Jacqui! – how would we have got completely hammered every night otherwise?) and dance until we fell into our Tuk-Tuks home sometime in the early hours. This is where we spent Christmas Eve and New Year and a few other nights.

Brisbane – This could be the last time

August 27 – October 7

We spent nearly six weeks in Brisbane this time and both of us managed to do some work. When we had some free time we found lots of things to do in and around Brisbane. But what was really nice about staying somewhere for six weeks was that we got to settle down a bit (unpack our backpacks) and meet some really nice people, new friends, and also meeting up with old friends from home.


Jo – Arriving back in Brisbane for the third time we knew we needed to settle down for a month or two to earn some money, so when I was offered the possibility of 4-6 weeks work at Queensland Treasury we decided to take it if offered. The offer was subject to more computer package tests (intermediate word and excel), no problem and I was given the job. I started the next day and had a mad three day handover from a manic but very friendly Janet, who was rushed off her feet. At the end of her last day we got to relax a bit though as there was a work bash with free wine (those are always my favorite ones) being held at the posh Port Office Hotel Marble Bar nearby. It was trendy and completely unlike the traditional Aussie pubs, I could have been in London having a glass of Chardonnay after a day at the Wellcome Trust! Obviously I had too much to drink which is a great way to bond with new colleagues but it was good fun and they seemed like a nice bunch. We’d see on Monday.

Although I’ve done a lot of temping work in the past and I’m OK on computer packages I was worried that some things would be done differently in Australia. So what happens when you don’t know something?, you ask, feel a bit of a prat because it’s usually a simple question but it’s the quickest way to get work done. One thing I had to do in my last job (at Queensland Transport) was to fill in the postcodes for some addresses on letters but I didn’t have internet access (how can we work nowadays without internet access?). Every Aussie would know that postcodes are in the back of the phone book but I had no idea that was the case so I asked and had the answer in no time. So everyone at Queensland Treasury also had to put up with me asking what they probably thought were obvious questions a couple of times a day until I got the hang of things. Luckily they humoured me and were very friendly and helpful – no really I’m not just saying that to get a good reference! They were really nice so thanks, in particular to Helen, Stella, Debbie and Michelle and, of course, Janet for showing me the ropes in the first place.

So what did I do for 5½ weeks? Well, I was helping with the administration for a project and part of that was communicating information to other government departments so I typed up quite a few powerpoint presentations for people to present so I’m a whizz at those now. I also had to set up a laptop and a projector and scroll through the slides everyday for two weeks while someone talked through the slides. It got a bit monotonous because it was the same presentation but the laptop, projector and room were different every time so I was always on my toes working out why the presentation wasn’t being projected onto the screen, every computer has it’s own quirks. There was lots of creating and editing of spreadsheets, charts and I even designed the layout of a work force information kit which was quite fun. I always enjoy being involved in a project because there is some satisfaction seeing it progress and it was nice to be somewhere long enough to get to know people which meant I was a little apprehensive when we had to leave in October because you never know what it will be like next time.

Richard – I carried on with some work for freeloader: which has the benefit of being paid in sterling, and at a better rate than temping, but the disadvantage of leaving me stuck in the apartment all day. Not much more to say about it really, apart from another whinge about using the internet over a modem being really crap. Especially trying to download large files.


Luckily in our last four weeks in Brisbane we had a really nice apartment and, believe it or not, four weeks is the longest we’ve stayed in a place since we came away. It was almost perfect, a one bedroom apartment, 15 minutes walk from the CBD (central business district) where Queensland Treasury is based. It was new and nicely decorated with a spa bath, a full kitchen and a big balcony which overlooked the city. So what was the catch? Well, there were building works going on next door which started at 6am, even on a Saturday for the entire length of our stay!


We did quite a lot in our time off. Apart from going to the pub and stand-up comedy, here are some of the fun things we did and the places we went.

Riverfire fireworks, Brisbane Riverfire fireworks, Brisbane

River Festival

Brisbane seems to have one festival after another so there’s always something to do. The River Festival had lots of events but the only one we made it to was the Riverfire fireworks. The fireworks were set off from bridges, buildings and boats and reflected off the high rise buildings and the river and it was all set to music. It was pretty good, in fact I think it beat the millenium fireworks in London. We met up by the river to watch the fireworks with some friends from home, John and Kath, who’d arrived in Brisbane a few days before and were planning to stay a while and get jobs. Unfortunately catching up properly with them had to wait because John was suffering from a rather bad hangover so they went home early!

Best steaks in Australia?

The Breakfast Creek Hotel (Brekkie Creek) does the best steak in Australia (probably). It’s famous for it’s steak and also because one day in May 1999 Mikhail Gorbachev had lunch there – a well done fillet steak washed down with cabernet suavignon shiraz – sounds good huh? We had to check it out, and then go back for more as it was the best steak we’d had in Australia, so far. We are travelling worldwide trying to find a winner for the ‘Best Steak in the World Award’ and along with The Gaucho Grill in London, Brekkie Creek is a strong contender. It’s recently been refurbished but had just opened when we went there and it’s been done up nicely so there is a trendy bar inside with good cocktails and then a relaxed outdoor restaurant which just serves very good quality hunks of meat, yum.


Dreamworld is one of the theme parks on the Gold Coast, along with Seaworld, Wet ‘n’ Wild and Movie World. It has some awesome rides, the scarier they are the better – The Giant Drop (where you drop from a massive height so that it feels like you’ll never reach the ground) and The Tower of Terror were the best but there were also some OK roller coasters. When Dreamworld opened we rushed in and onto the good rides, queueing for an hour for the popular ones and so by 3.30pm we’d done all the big rides which was lucky because there was a big thunderstorm and it tipped it down with rain. We went to watch the Bengal tigers being fed and they didn’t look too chuffed by being out in the rain.

Janet, Phil and Jamie, V8 Supercars


The V8 races are held all over Australia every year and when we were in Brisbane there was one going on nearby. Janet’s husband Jamie is a big fan of the V8 and we enjoyed it in Darwin so we were definitely up for some more, so we went with them and their friend, Phil. We turned up at their house early in the morning and jumped into the back of their van. Of course, Jamie was well prepared with an esky (cool box) full of stubbies (bottles of beer), one for the road and we were ready to go. Janet and I were the designated drivers for the day, surprise surprise, so that the boys could drink. Richard had said that he wasn’t going to start drinking until later in the day as it would be fatal if he started at 9.30am but it would be rude to refuse (and it’s also practically impossible for Richard to refuse a beer) – you can guess how drunk he got.

The race was pretty good – cars going around in circles (girls interpretation of day – perhaps Richard can illuminate on the technicalities!!) No really it was a 500km race, a sort of endurance race with two drivers and the only problem was that we couldn’t work out who was in the lead for most of the race until we discovered that with our binoculars we could read the scoreboard, just towards the end of the race. It was a really exciting end, when one of the Holden drivers who had been leading from the beginning messed it up, going off the track and then, even more embarrassing, ran out of petrol on the last corner before the end leaving Marcus Ambrose, driving a Ford, to win the day which was a relief because we were with Ford supporters (lucky we have a Ford car else I’m not sure that we would have got a lift). In fact it was Ford’s first win of the season – they’d been getting hammered by Holden, and Mark Skaife in particular, all year. Weather was so-so, there was a bout of rain, quite heavy so I put on my fetching yellow plastic poncho (Richard would rather get wet than wear his). The red tongue is because I’d just had a red slush puppy. By the end of the day Richard was onto cokes and being called a wuss by the Aussies for not being able to take his beer and Jamie was holding his beer but not able to keep his pants on and was mooning from the van as we left the car park. Jamie was also being very considerate towards any Holden drivers asking them to check if they had enough petrol as he was worried they might run out like the racing driver! Top day.

Morton Island

Morton Island

Not to be deterred by bad weather on Fraser Island we decided to visit another sand island, this time by sailing boat. Solo, a former racing boat, has circumnavigated the world three times and won the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race four times and now does tourist trips. When we got there we went high speed ski tube riding which was great fun. Somehow we managed to stay on but others kept flying off at high speed. Then we had a go at sand tobogganing which was the best fun, flying down a steep sand dune on your front. The trick is to pull the front of the board up so that it doesn’t dig into the sand and that way you go really fast. However, we think that they should install ski lifts to get you up the sand dunes because, honestly, it was such hard work, one step up and then you slide backwards. Richard and I both flew down the dune and the only scary bit is when you get near the bottom and have to try to stop the board which is practically flying by this point. I was worried I might end up with my head firmly buried in the sand and my legs sticking up in the air, á la some cartoon character, but as it turned out I stopped OK with the only nasty bit being that as you slow down sand finds it way everywhere – ears, eyes, nose, mouth, between toes, inside swimsuits… On the way back we were entertained by a dolphin riding the bow wave at the front of the boat.

Glass House Mountains

Glass House Mountains

About one hour north of Brisbane, inland from the coast, are the Glass House Mountains and the quaint villages of Montville and Maleny, where John and Kath are going to live. The countryside is beautiful, very English with green rolling hills, wild flowers and lots of cattle and chickens but with the striking mountains in the distance. At the time we were there the whole area was having a scarecrow festival and lots of the houses and farms had scarecrow scenes outside them. Our favourite was the scarecrow wedding.

Good bye to Brisbane

Stella, Janet and Joanna at Janet and Jamie's House John and Kath, Brisbane Our last weekend was spent saying goodbye to our friends in Brisbane. On the Friday night we went for a barbie at Janet and Jamie’s house with Stella (who also worked at the Treasury with me) and her husband, Johnny. And on Sunday we went to John and Kath’s flat for another great barbie. Thanks to all of you for making our time in Brisbane such good fun.

So this could be the last time we see Brisbane which is kind of sad. We spent so long there it was almost starting to feel like home – but not quite. Time to go for some more adventures. We’ve packed the ginger beer and sandwiches, now all we need is an intrepid dog to hunt down a mystery – no sorry just reading a favourite book of mine and got muddled up. Really must move on from the Famous Five. We had planned to go straight to Sydney for a few months and do some more work but after speaking to a few people we realised that we wouldn’t be able to drive around the country in January as we had planned. January in the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia is very hot and wet, some of the roads would be flooded and we would be stuck in the middle of nowhere. So, instead of two weeks travelling it turned out to be a few months and the first leg of the journey was down the Gold Coast to Sydney.

Brisbane – The second time, and Fraser Island

August 20 – August 27

After leaving Mum at the airport I was hoping to hear from Kelly Services with some temping work but in three days there was no word. Unfortunately when Mum had left she had taken the weather with her leaving us with miserable rain and nothing to do but wait for the phone to ring in our lovely seventies style apartment. The only thing that made us laugh in those few days was a trip to the Sit Down Comedy Club where we saw The Regurgitator. I was expecting it to be gross and wasn’t looking forward to it at all but he turned out to be really good – and not at all sick – well not really. He swallowed, and brought back up, ping pong balls, fish (not sure if these were real), rings, butane gas (which he lit as it came back up). Top fun, I’d recommend it (observing, not participating that is).

Hervey Bay

By Saturday, after four days of rain and no work, the weather seemed to be clearing so we jumped in the car and drove up to Hervey Bay where we hoped to go on a tour to a sand island called Fraser. Unfortunately the improvement in the weather didn’t last and before we knew it there was torrential rain but since we were there we thought we should still go on the trip but we picked the two day option instead of three. Overnight a gale blew!

Fraser Island

When we woke up in the morning the sky was partially clear but once again it didn’t last and by the time we reached the harbour it was raining again and it didn’t really stop for the two days we were on Fraser Island. This was the worst weather we’d had since Thailand when we had three or four days of rain, over eight months before. Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island (120km long by 15km wide) and regular cars are no use as they would sink into the sand so our bus was 4WD. It has long beaches, two hundred beautiful lakes some surrounded by sand, picturesque creeks and dense rainforest and is reckoned to be (like the Whitsundays) one of the most enjoyable and beautiful places that most people visit in Australia – if it isn’t throwing it down with rain in which case you spend most of your time moaning on the bus, cold, wet and generally wishing you were in a nice pub with a log fire.

Being an island has also meant that Fraser has retained some unique flora and fauna. For example, the dingoes that live on the island are thought to be the purest in Australia, those on the mainland regularly mate with domestic dogs. Dingoes are beautiful but so far we’ve only seen pictures or seen them in zoos. We did catch a glimse of one on Fraser Island but it was running in the opposite direction. The dingoes on the island have been getting a bad reputation because they seem to be becoming more and more aggressive. This is thought to be because they are regularly fed by humans who think they are cute. They aren’t so cute when they think that a small child looks like fair game and earlier this year a boy was attacked and killed by some dingos. There are also a number of trees and plants which are only found on the island.

Seventy Five Mile Beach, Fraser Island The Maheno, Fraser Island The Cathedrals, Fraser Island

Day One – We had a bit of a look at the rainforest, in the rain. Then drove down to the beach in the afternoon which I imagine is 75 miles long because it is called Seventy Five Mile Beach. The 4WD’s were racing down the sand which looked like top fun. It was raining but we managed to drag ourselves into the rain to look at some magnificant multicoloured sand cliffs called the Cathedrals. We also got out to have a look at a ship wreck on the sand. There are a few shipwrecks in the area but the one we saw was the wreck of the Maheno, a luxury linear that was blown ashore in a cyclone in 1935. Pretty interesting but our driver warned us to be careful walking about inside it because if we slipped there were lots of sharp bits. Five minutes later there was a scream and a little German boy who had been running about in the wreck has fallen over and gashed his head open. Is anyone on board a doctor? Yes, in fact there was a doctor and his family on board from Manchester – I don’t know what he was a doctor of mind you but he looked at the boy’s head and said it was nasty but he’d live. After that we went to a very picturesque creek and we went for a walk with about half the group while the other nutters went for a swim. I know we couldn’t have got much wetter if we’d been swimming but it was the middle of winter and was actually quite cold. That evening the only thing to do was to get drunk so we went to the bar and met a couple from Streatham! We had dinner with them and proceeded to get plastered.

Lake McKenzie, Fraser IslandDay Two – No we didn’t make it to breakfast. For some reason we got out of bed and went to sit on the bus in the pouring rain with hangovers rather than doing what Dougie and Sarah had sensibly done which was to stay in bed and then go to the bakery for breakfast and sit in the warm lounge until we got back at lunchtime. The morning trip was to Lake Wabby which meant driving down the beach and then walking for a couple of hours to see the lake but it was tipping it down so we sat on the bus with another girl who had also wimped out. We were slightly recovered in the afternoon and the sun came out briefly when we visited Lake Mackenzie and I must admit it was beautiful but then it started raining again.

Even through the rain you could get an idea of how beautiful Fraser Island would be on a nice day but we were only to glad to get off the island. It’s not a place to go in bad weather and I wish we could go again when the weather is better but it’s always time to move on when you are travelling so I don’t suppose we’ll make it back. Still, there’s lots of other beautiful places to go.

We stayed another night in Hervey Bay and the next day I got a call from Kelly Services with some possible work to we rushed back to Brisbane.

Holiday with Mum – Part Two

July 29 – August 20

The New England Highway

Rather than covering the same ground up the coast road between Sydney and Brisbane we decided to go back via the inland highway and only go back to the coast when we reached the Gold Coast. On the way out of Sydney we stopped at the Brisbane Waters National Park to look at some Aboriginal Engravings. These were simple pictures carved into the ground and not as impressive as the more colourful rock paintings we had seen in the Northern Territory. Because they were carved into the ground and weren’t coloured they were difficult to make out. We then drove inland and spent the night in Singleton in the Upper Hunter Valley. It was Richard’s birthday but we’d polished off the champagne the night before figuring it would be more enjoyable in our lovely apartment overlooking Manly Beach than in a motel on the road somewhere. But we had a good celebratory dinner at a nice old pub where Richard cooked his own steak on the bbq there – man cook steak on barbie! There are quite a lot of pubs in Australia where you can cook your own steak (chicken, fish etc) which is quite fun.

The next day we passed through another town which had an English name, Tamworth and funnily enough this is where my Dad lives at home! We have been through so many places named after towns in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The inland highway is much more picturesque than the coastal road which doesn’t actually go down much of the coast. That night we stayed in Glen Innes which has a very heavy Celtic influence. They have scottish tea shops and have even built their own standing stones in the style of astronomical monuments such as Stone Henge. We thought they must be quite old but eventually found the date they were erected – 1992! Impressive but puzzling. After a sickeningly hilly and windy drive over the Great Dividing Range we reached the coast again where we saw the Big Prawn.

Surfers Paradise

We spent our final week with Mum on the Gold Coast in a lovely apartment overlooking Surfers Paradise beach. This one had a great, warm, bubbly spa outside but with a roof to protect from the sun and we spent a good few hours in there over the week. There was also an outside pool but it wasn’t very warm so it was a quick dip in and out. But we didn’t put our feet up all the time, we had a great time seeing some of the most exciting wildlife of our trip. Surfers has the reputation of being the party capital of the Gold Coast so Mum wasn’t sure if it would be her cup of tea but it’s actually just a really busy, fun place with lots of cafes, shops and lots of nightlife for those that want it.

Whale Breaching, Tweed Heads

Whale Watching

Every year a few thousand humpback whales swim from Antartica up to the warmer waters off the east (and west) coast of Australia to breed. The most popular place to see them is Harvey Bay which is north of Brisbane because they tend to cluster in the bay for some reason but we found a tour that went from Tweed Heads which was only about 20kms from Surfers. The boat had less than twenty people on it which meant that everyone could get a good view and we were so lucky because once we got out to sea we saw the whales almost constantly for over an hour.

It was difficult to tell but I think we saw about five different whales and at times two or three were swimming together right beside or infront of the boat. A couple even went underneath the boat and then surfaced just in front of us blowing water out of their blowholes, waving a fin or flicking a tail. But the most amazing point was when they breached throwing their massive bodies completely out of the water at least fifteen times while we were watching. It was a good job they breached so many times because often the first we knew about it was when we heard a big splash behind us and then everyone would quickly turn their cameras and wait for the next appearance. On the way back a couple of dolphins swam past the boat.

The Inlet, Tweed Heads After whale watching we went on a guided tour of the Minjungbal Cultural Centre learning about how life was for Aboriginal people who lived in the area. Our guide, Latoya, took us on a walk through bushland and mangrove swamps to the river and then showed us the ancient Bora Ring which is no longer used but was a sacred ceremonial site used in the ritual tribal initiation of aboriginal boys into manhood.

The next day Margaret took us on a tour of the area where she has lived for many years visiting viewpoints in the area where there were stunning views over the coast and inland to Mount Warning and the inland rivers. So many of the houses in this area are built by the water, either by the sea or on a river which is either natural or man-made and it must be one of the most beautiful places to live. The view from Margaret’s house which is on a hill is lovely and from the road behind the house you can see the ocean and whales when they are in season.

The Great Barrier Reef

Lady Elliot Island

This was one of the most exciting days of my life. Richard and I had visited the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns but we didn’t think that we had the time to take Mum to see the reef which was a few hundred miles north of Surfers Paradise – but then we saw this day trip. It was expensive but it was a once in a lifetime trip and it was definitely worth it. Mum and I were picked up at 6am and flown from the Gold Coast to Lady Elliot Island, the most southerly island on the Great Barrier Reef. Apart from the excitment of going to the Great Barrier Reef there was the excitment of being on a 14 seater plane which flew over the amazing coastline from the Gold Coast (over the Surf Regency which was the hotel we were staying in), past Stradbroke, Morton and Bribie Islands which are off the coast of Brisbane, over the Sunshine Coast and Fraser Island to Harvey Bay where we stopped to let some Japanese tourist get off to go Whale Watching and then over to Lady Elliot Island.

Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef
Lady Elliot Island is a coral cay made up of dead coral. As you can see it is a small island completely surrounded by reef and this makes it a perfect place to explore the reef from. No sooner were we off the airplane than we were donning wetsuits and climbing into a glassbottomed boat for a little tour of the underwater world before we went snorkelling. The first bit of excitement was caused by the sight of a turtle bobbing up for air near the boat. I was so excited as it was the first time I had seen a large turtle in the sea. When we were in Cairns some people had seen them but I had missed them.

Turtle, Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef Manta Ray, Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef
The next bit of excitement was snorkelling, well it was for Mum and the other people on the trip because none of them had done it before. Mum was great once she got the hang of it and there were lots and lots of fish for her to see. As you can see we looked very fetching in our wetsuits as well – Creature from the Black Lagoon? Then the most exciting things happened, first of all I spotted this wonderful turtle swimming near me, so graceful and beautiful and not at all perturbed by my presence so I started to swim with it, slightly behind it and then I got the shock of my life as a large black menacing looking creature swam up beneath me right under my body and face. It took a minute for me to realise that it was a Manta Ray which can have a wing span of 2 metres, and although they look so imposing they are completely harmless. I was still terrified because as it glided gracefully beneath me I was worried that I might touch it and hurt it. Amazing.

Lady Musgrave Island

On the flight back we flew over Lady Musgrave Island because one of the other people on the tour had paid for it and, from the air it was even more stunning than Lady Elliot Island. Lady Musgrave Island, Great Barrier Reef Lady Musgrave Island, Great Barrier Reef

And so that was pretty much the end of our holiday with Mum. But what a way to finish. I really didn’t want to say goodbye and driving to the airport and leaving Mum there was hard. But I know that it won’t be long until we are home again and in the meantime there is a big wide world out there to explore. When we left the airport we spent another few days in Brisbane.

Holiday with Mum

July 29 – August 20

We had a great time travelling around with Mum. It gave us a chance to be tourists doing fun things and finding comfortable places to stay rather than being travellers, always looking for the cheapest option. Before Mum came out to Australia she had grand plans to visit Uluru, Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef and more but it is a big country and with less than four weeks to play with she decided to drop Uluru from her ‘to do’ list and see how we got on with the rest. We had a lot of fun and managed to visit a lot of places but I think the best times we had were when we stopped and took advantage of some time to relax, shop, eat, and just be with each other. At Manly Beach near Sydney and Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast we had two lovely weeks in luxury apartments overlooking the sea that I’m sure we would have been happy to stay in for weeks. And for the rest of Mum’s holiday we managed to see stunning Sydney, the Hunter Valley wine growing region and the Blue Mountains not to mention a last minute trip to the Great Barrier Reef. We didn’t think we’d make it to the Great Barrier Reef as it was a few hundred kilometres north of Surfers Paradise but we were lucky and chanced upon a day trip to the reef which flew Mum and I for a day on the most southerly island of the reef. It was perhaps the most memorable day of the holiday but more about that later.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Time to introduce Mum to some of the friendly locals of the marsupial variety. So, on the day we left Brisbane we went to Lone Pine which has lots of Koalas as well as about 130 kangaroos and wallabies. They also have a few wombats (a close relation to the koala except it doesn’t climb trees), a tasmanian devil running around like a fierce mad dog and some beautiful rainbow lorikeets which we’ve seen a lot of in the wild here. I think these lorikeets were wild but hang around as the Sanctuary feeds them everyday.

Kangaroo with Joey, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary Kangaroos and Wallabies
There were many different types of kangaroos and wallabies kept in a massive enclosure which we walked around, patting them and giving them special roo food. They were very tame and didn’t even react when they were chased and had their ears pulled by kids! It was lovely to see a few of the kangaroos (or wallabies – we find it difficult to tell the difference) had joeys in their pouches. One of them was obviously ready for the big wide world as it keep jumping in and out of the pouch undecided about where it belonged.

Apparently kangaroos can have three joeys at the same time at different stages of development: one embryo, one joey in the pouch and one hopping around which means that if one joey dies then the embryo will begin developing which makes them very successful breeders and accounts for the fact that there are millions more kangaroos in this country than people. There were big and small kangaroos but one thing they had in common was that if something attracted there attention they would all stand, or sit, really still but alert facing in a certain direction and looking like a statue as you can see from this photo . The funny thing was we could never hear or see what had startled them and also that they were never all looking the same way.

Jo, Maggie (the koala), Diana and Richard, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary Koalas
The roos were lovely but the most exciting thing we did at Lone Pine was to hold a koala. I don’t know what it is about koalas, perhaps I identify with their laziness and dopey eyes or perhaps they remind me of Richard (same reasons) but they have to be one of my favourite animals. We all wanted to hold a koala and we all got to hold Maggie who was very cute and cuddly but much heavier than she looks. She had thick fur which felt like a soft thick carpet. The koalas that are handled here are only allowed to ‘work’ for very short time periods and not everyday and all the money goes back into their care and conservation. I tried to smuggle her out, as she told me that she would love to travel around Australia with us and catch up with some of her relatives, but unfortunately she didn’t fit in my bag.

After a full day with cute animals we drove down to Tweed Heads, on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, where we met up with with another of our relatives. Great Auntie Margaret very kindly gave us tea and a bed for the night and we spent the evening catching up on some family history. Funnily enough we were looking through some family pictures and came across a picture of Margaret and a friend holding some koalas at Lone Pine fifty years ago. I would imagine that the sanctuary was in its early days then and I wonder if it was the first koala sanctuary in Australia. The next morning we headed off down the coast road stopping at the beautiful Byron Bay for lunch and spending the night in Coff’s Harbour which is a seaside town but which we didn’t really see much of because we got there after dark and left the next morning but we did spare time to take a picture of the Big Banana they have there.

The Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley is one of the many wine growing regions in Australia. It’s a lovely area and full of exclusive hotels because it is very close to Sydney and so is a popular place for a luxury weekend break. In the summer the fields must be full of green vines but we were there in the middle of winter and the scenery was quite bleak but still beautiful as you can see in this picture of the view from our hotel room. If you look carefully you can see the rows and rows of dead vines.

Wine Tour, Hunter Valley Richard doesn’t drink wine (only champagne is good enough for him!) so Mum and I decided to treat ourselves to a relaxing day tour around some of the wineries and what could be more relaxing than sitting in the back of a carriage being slowly driven around by two large Clydesdale horses (Matilda and Linden) and a very friendly guide called Clay – [Jo seems to have forgotton again that Richard spent the day working! – ed]. No one else was booked onto the trip, probably because it was winter, but when we saw people flying around in a minibus we knew that we’d made the right decision. We visited four wine cellers during the day:
Hunter Cellars First drink 10.30am but we tried to break ourselves in gently by starting with a sparkling wine. This unexplicably led to three chardonnays and a veldelho, we were pacing ourselves for the long day of drinking ahead!
Allenmere At Allenmere we were taken on a very informative factory tour, got to wear some attractive hats and had a wine tasting lesson (yes the slurp, swirl and spit lesson – only we didn’t spit – such a waste of good wine!). We learnt about the whole process, saw the bottling works and the traditional oak barrels which red wines (and some white wines) are matured in. The oak comes from 200-600 year old trees in France or America so is quite expensive (upto £3000), especially the french wood because they will only ship their oak as ready made up barrels which costs more to transport than planks of wood. Each barrel can last up to five years before the wine has leached all the yummy oaky flavour out of it. After tasting all of the wines on offer here we bought a lovely bottle of Semillon. I’m usually a Chardonnay fan but Semillon is very nice, fruity and crisp so I’d recommend it.
Tamburlaine We stopped in the gardens here for a luxury picnic lunch which included smoked salmon, cold meats, damper (traditional Australian bread), salads and champagne. Tambulaine don’t sell to any shops, only cellar door sales so I bought an exclusive bottle of Veldelho for Granny.
McGuigans Our last stop was one of the bigger wine companies in the area and it was so busy that the servers didn’t have time to discuss the wines which was a shame because that is half of the fun. But we found a nice bottle of Champagne which we hid until it was Richard’s birthday a few days later.

The great thing about winery tours is that you can try wines that you have never tried before. We had never had Semillon or Veldelho before and would never have bought a bottle in a shop on a whim, always sticking to the safe Chardonnays we know but I would try other wines now knowing that I liked the grape variety. The other advantage is that you can try wines you would never be able to afford so a couple of times we tried wines we knew we would never have any intention of buying which was fun. Of course, on a blind tasting I don’t think I would be able to spot the difference between an expensive and cheaper bottle of wine. The wines we tried during the day were all lovely – just some were lovelier than others – what fun! When we got back to the hotel and saw Richard we were in a surprisingly good state, just happy and giggly that’s all! [I think the technical term is pissed – ed]


Tim and Bromwyn, Newcastle Andrew, Jo, Bronwyn, Mark and Diana, Newcastle

We went to Newcastle to meet Bronwyn and her three sons, Mark, Andrew and Tim who are all in their 20’s. They very kindly dropped everything to spend a couple of hours with us and it was great to catch up with some family none of us had ever met before.

While we were in Newcastle we decided to take a tram (really a bus) tour of the town. The driver, Toby, was from England and told us that his Auntie is the Green Goddess! He was very funny (in an old fashioned un PC way) and raved about Newcastle. It was a big industrial town (steel and coal), like the English town it was named after, but which is undergoing major redevelopment and trying to build it’s tourist appeal (again like Newcastle in England) without building the high rises which line the Gold Coast. The funniest story he told us was concerning a new pathway which we could see was on a very steep hill and had just been completed. He had asked some council workers why the path was so wide when it could have been half as wide and therefore cost a lot less to construct and they said that the regulations said that all walkways had to be a certain width for wheelchair access. Looking at the steep hill everyone on the bus was imaging an out of control wheelchair racing down the pathway and going over the cliff – the classic sitcom scene that has shades of Some Mothers Do Ave Em or something similar.

The other exciting thing that happened in Newcastle was that we saw a wild possum. The owner of the motel we were staying in knocked on the door in the evening and asked if we wanted to see one of the wild possums that come to visit him for a bit of brown bread for tea. Possums are nocturnal animals and quite shy so we were lucky to see this one, he was a bit nervous but if we stood still he didn’t seem that bothered by us.


Manly Beach, Sydney

Manly Beach

We arrived in Sydney from the north and didn’t get any further than the lovely Manly Beach. It is a half an hour ferry ride to the centre of Sydney but has a relaxed holiday atmosphere with surfers and holiday makers and we found such a lovely place to stay. A luxury two bedroom, two bathroom apartment with a large balcony with a wonderful view over the beach. On our first afternoon we had lunch at a cafe then spent the afternoon pottering around the Manly markets. During six days in Manly we visited Sydney a couple of times and spent a day in the Blue Mountains and the rest of the time we just relaxed.

The Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Sydney

Sydney Harbour

We took the Manly ferry into Sydney Harbour which is said to be the most beautiful way to get to Sydney. Our first view of Sydney was of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. As we got closer we could see that the Opera House was having some renovations done and we could see what looked like little ants marching up the bridge, they were actually people climbing the bridge which is something I’d like to do if we make it back to Sydney. It was Sunday so there were markets everywhere adding to the holiday and happy feeling of the place. We pottered around the markets outside the Opera House and then later to The Rocks, both lovely areas which great views and lovely looking cafes and restaurants.

On another day, Mum and I took another ferry from one of Sydney’s harbours to another going past some massive houses owned by the rich and famous which lined the banks of the river. Then we went on a bus tour around the city which took in all the old buildings with lovely architecture and went past a lovely park where we saw flocks of the lovely sulphur-crested cockatoos. Later we met Richard and went to the Aquarium which was quite a good one with lots of sharks and turtles which swam over our heads in the walk through section. There was a good reef section and some amazing jellyfish in tanks. I found myself bumping into them in the Whitsundays while I was trying to get away from them – which isn’t easy so it was nice to be able to just observe these strange and fascinating creatures. We walked back to The Rocks, taking in the city at night and then dining at a wonderful restaurant called Wolfies which had a fantastic view overlooking the Opera House and the Bridge. Even though it was quite chilly we sat outside with everyone else to enjoy the ambience and luckily they had heaters dotted around outside so it was very pleasant.

The Three Sisters, The Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains

While staying in Manly we drove up to and around the famous blue mountains. Of course, they aren’t actually blue but they were named The Blue Mountains because of the blue haze over them which is created by the gas emitted by thousands of gum trees, which collects in the valleys. It is very beautiful and the whole area is very scenic with some lovely rock formations such as the The Three Sisters. We went on the Katoomba Scenic Railway which is the world’s steepest incline railway, and Mum and I also went on the cable car to get some good views of the area.

Leaving Sydney we continued with our holiday travelling slowly back up to Brisbane.

Brisbane – The first time

July 2 – July 29

Brisbane – first impressions

Brisbane Skyline at Sunset Brisbane is the third largest city in Australia, after Sydney and Melbourne, but with about 1.5 million people it’s not big by city standards. For us though it was great because we aren’t used to big cities anymore and the idea of negotiating somewhere the size of London is quite daunting. Brisbane has the shopping malls, parks, pubs and entertainment but it is small enough so that within a couple of weeks we had found our way around and felt we knew where everything was.

Of course the first thing we did was to seek out a stand-up comedy venue. This being our longest time without stand-up comedy since we met at ULU’s Thursday night comedy – remember that? The best venue we found was the Sit Down Comedy Club, a bit like Jongleurs, which had some really good comedians but some of it went straight over our heads – same jokes as you hear anywhere – about relationships, polititians etc but the names were all different.

Looking for work

We had nearly three weeks in Brisbane before Mum arrived so we thought we should try and earn a few pennies – and thats about what they pay over here: ouch!. Not having worked for nine months or so I was surprised that going back to work was actually quite an appealing prospect. First we set up a bank account so that if we did get any work we could be paid – setting up the bank account was very easy, although we had to shop around a bit as they have quite high charges here for current accounts: you can end up being charged for every transaction you make on a sliding scale of, supposedly, how much it costs the bank, so a small(ish) fee for an internet transaction, upto a couple of dollars for taking some of your own money out over the counter, and somewhere in the middle for using your debit card in a shop or one of the banks own ATM’s. We’d also applied for a tax number so we’d only be taxed at 30% rather than 50% which is the emergency tax rate. The 30% tax rate is still a special high rate for non-Australian workers – no personal allowance etc. and they also take 9% for a “superannuation fund” – pension plan basically, although we have heard rumours that it is possible to claim this back when we leave.

Temping agencies – I tried to talk to a few temping agencies but was surprised by how much hostility I encountered. When I spoke to the agencies on the telephone they sounded encouraging as I told them about my skills and experience but after I mentioned the working visa (which restricts me to only working for three months for each company) their attitude would change and they all gave me one or both of these responses. We don’t have any contracts shorter than three months (what about covering illness and holiday I asked which received mubbled replies about ok I could email my CV to them and they would have a look but there was really very little work at the moment) or Brisbane companies like people with ‘local’ knowledge and wouldn’t like to have someone who didn’t know about Brisbane working there!!! Basically they didn’t want to bother employing travellers who might only work for a few days and then run off. So I emailed my CV to a few agencies and the only one that replied, Kelly Services, asked me in for an interview the following morning.

The interview – When I arrived at the agency I found that there were seven other people waiting to be interviewed and they were all wearing suits or at least jackets so I felt a bit scruffy in my cardie. It turned out that we were having a group interview session where we all sat around a table and completed a written test – it was like being back at school. The interview lasted four hours and was the most rigorous I’ve ever had with computer and typing tests and a regular interview aswell as the written test which covered grammer, spelling and arithmetic – readers of this website might wonder how I passed the grammer and spelling tests. Still, I obviously did because they found me some work for the next working day. I’d asked for Government work because the Queensland State Government is based in Brisbane and most of the temporary work in Brisbane is either in Government Departments or with Telstra (phone company) so I thought it would be interesting to find out a bit about the Queensland Government. In the two weeks before Mum arrived I worked at the Department of Employment and Training and the Department of Transport. Neither job was thrilling so I was glad that they were very short term assignments.

Richard didn’t think he’d have much luck looking for short term work before Mum arrived (a likely story – I think he’s just lazy (Duh! It’s taken eight years to work that out! – R)) so he spent a lot of time being bored or trying to catch up on computer stuff but that was hampered by the fact that the phone in our apartment was linked to a digital switchboard which stopped the computer from getting online. Luckily the friendly managers there let us use a spare office during office hours but it was inconvenient. We’ve usually been lucky with internet access in motel rooms as phones have been suitable and in most places there is a flat rate for a local call so we can spend hours on the internet and only pay between 55-85 cents in call charges. Richard adds: What Jo forgets to mention was that the first day she went out hawing her CV around, I’d written up my CV (first time since ’94 I’d needed a real one of those!), and then on checking my e-mail found a offer from freeloader of some work if I was interested. It turned into a fairly lengthy job repackaging a lot of games over a very slow internet connection. So less of the lazy digs please and get back to work Madam….

Meeting Mum (and other family)

I couldn’t believe it when Mum arrived, I was so happy to see her but I had to rush off to work so I left her to catch up with Richard during the day and when I got back in the evening we went for a lovely dinner and talked non stop for the rest of the night. The next day Mum and Richard met me for lunch in the town centre and then they went to the Botanic Gardens while I spent Friday afternoon working – plus Áa change! After work we went to the lovely South Bank Parklands which is on the river and was buzzing with people enjoying their Friday drinks and dinner ourside the many cafes and pubs and browsing the market stalls. It really was a wonderful place to kick back and relax.

Hugh, Paul, Vanessa and Seth, Brisbane We’d planned to have a little holiday with Mum spending a few weeks going down to Sydney and also visiting the Blue Moutains, Hunter Valley wine area and the Gold Coast. But just before leaving Brisbane we managed to meet up with some relatives.

A bit of family history: My Great Uncle Doug (my Mum’s Uncle) and his wife, Margaret, emigrated to Australia many years ago. They had two sons (David and Paul) and there are now five grandchildren (all boys). Doug and David are no longer with us but the rest of the family all live on the East Coast between Brisbane and Sydney and we were lucky enough to meet up with all of them during Mum’s stay – I had never met them before and Mum hadn’t seen Margaret for about forty years. Great Auntie Margaret lives in Tweed Heads and David’s widow, Bronwyn and two of their sons, Mark and Tim live in Newcastle and the middle one, Andrew, lives in Sydney.

Paul and his wife, Vanessa, have two young sons, Hugh and Seth and they live in Brisbane. Mum had met Paul and Vanessa before but Richard and I had never met any of my Aussie relatives so it was nice to meet up with them. As you can see Hugh wasn’t letting go of the teddy that Mum gave him an hour before this photo was taken, he really took a shine to it.

The next day we left Brisbane for our holiday with mum.

Cairns to Brisbane

June 24 – July 2

Sugar is big business in Northern Queensland whose land is filled with sugar cane fields so on our trip south from Cairns we stopped to look around a sugar museum. Sugar cane is about two metres tall and the fields are so dense that they do block the scenery a bit but when they are in flower they are very pretty with huge pink grass-like flowers sticking up a metre above the rest of the plant. We spent the night in Ayr, not a very interesting little place but we did have another one of those strange coincidences in one of the only restaurants there. The barman, an Aussie guy, used to play rugby for Leicester over twenty years ago. Next day we headed straight to Airlie Beach which is a pretty little town by the sea where we booked ourselves onto a three day sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands for the following day.

The following day we were a bit embarrassed because we broke down on the way to the Marina and had to call the boat company only to realise that we had just run out of petrol (the fuel gauge on the car doesn’t work properly we now know) – a quick run down the hill and the fast purchase of a 5 litre can full of unleaded sorted out the problem – we ended up being only 10 minutes or so late for the boat. From now on we will have to fill up when we’ve done 300-400kms (even though on the open road a full tank will last for 500-600kms) just to be safe.

Cruising the Whitsunday Islands

Three days and two nights on a boat called Ambition with twelve strangers – a truly international crowd with a Kiwi skipper (Duncan), a German deckhand and cook (Sylvia), two people from France (Vanessa and Harvey), five from Switzerland (Andrea, Carolyn, Anita, Xenia and Louise) and five of us Brits (Deanne, Tom, Paul and us). Crusing around beautiful islands, snorkelling with loads of fish, watching the sunset and looking up at the stars while the water gently laps around the boat is really special and doing it with a fun group of people made it even better. This was a really chilled out trip, a chance to relax and enjoy ourselves – let’s face it you are a prisoner on the boat and sometimes not being able to go anywhere or do anything apart from what you are told is just what a traveller wants. Ambition, Whitsunday Islands

‘You must go sailing in the Whitsundays…’ – quote from just about every traveller we’ve ever met

So to sea. We were a bit unfortunate with the weather though it did get better over the three days but on the first day the wind speed was over 35 knots (technically gale force!) and we were absolutely freezing, hanging on for dear life as the boat tipped at such an extreme angle that at times I swear I was looking straight into the water below us. At one point I thought we might have to go back but it settled down a bit and we were ok – better than no wind at all for sailing I guess and it was definitely invigorating.

Nara Inlet, Whitsunday Islands

Nara Inlet

First stop was the beautiful Nara Inlet where we hopped off the boat into the dingy and motored to the bank of Hook Island. Here we walked up the hill to get this wonderful view over the inlet. On the way back we saw a snake in the wild for the first time. We don’t know what type it was and we weren’t even sure if it was alive because it didn’t move but a lot of the deadly snakes in Australia, such as the death adder, are brown so we didn’t get too close.

The first night was spent anchored off Cid Island in Cid Harbour and after a barbie and a few drinks on deck we were forced to have an early night by the rain. We were all shattered anyway.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands

Whitehaven Beach

Next morning we cruised through Hook passage to Tongue Bay where we anchored to go to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. Our skipper, Duncan, told us that this beach had been voted third most beautiful beach in the world and it was gorgeous. The clouds spoil the photo a bit but the sandbanks and the turquoise water made it a beautiful spot. We could see sting rays swimming around in the water below us from this view point on the top of the hill and when we went down to the beach we went for a paddle with them. We also stumbled across a massive dead starfish.

Cateran Bay, Whitsunday Islands

Cateran Bay

In the afternoon we went to Border Island where we snorkelled in Cateran Bay with lots of beautiful fish and one absolutely massive fish – a Maori Wrasse which must have been a metre long. The reef here was much more diverse (and alive) than the one we snorkelled around near Cairns. Not many of the group braved the water because it was pretty cold but once in we were rewarded with so many beautiful sights that I didn’t want to get out. Oh, and I got stung by a jellyfish! I was told that they don’t sting at this time of year but they obviously found me irresistable. Luckily it was only a very weak sting but in the summer there are box jellyfish in this area which are a real danger as their sting can be fatal and anybody swimming here has to wear special stinger suits.

The weather was better today and we were rewarded at the end of the day with a perfect sunset at Whitsunday Passage. After which we cruised on to spend the night at Stonehaven Anchorage, a sheltered spot near Hook Island where we had another barbie, a few more drinks and did some elementary star spotting. We saw the southern cross and the milky way but without a planosphere we found it hard to pick out other constellations partly because we don’t know what we are looking for in the southern sky and partly because the sky was so clear that we could see thousands of stars making it more difficult to identify patterns – also trying to use binoculars from a rocking boat is pretty tricky.

Langford Island, Whitsunday Islands

Langford Island

Another day, another beautiful island. Some people explored the island, some people lazed on the beach (including Richard) and the rest of us doned our fins (I’ve been told not to call them flippers – not sure why) and snorkels again to go into that magical undersea world and explore the wonderful coral and fish around Langford Reef.

With our sailing adventure over, that evening we all met up for a few drinks on dry land at one of the backpacker bars in Airlie. Tired but relaxed – oh, did I forget to mention?, you must go sailing in the Whitsundays….it’s the best!

Richard on Ambition, Whitsunday Islands

Sailing is, of course, a time to look cool – nice try, Richard

Eungella National Park

Eungella National Park After our rest we decided to go exploring – we’d heard that there was a chance to see platypus (no-one seems to call them duck-billed platypus anymore) in the wild in Eungella National Park so we headed south and then inland through more sugar cane country and up into the mountains. From the top there was this wonderful view. When we parked near Broken River in the late afternoon we saw our first wild kangaroos (or possibly wallabies, we find it impossible to tell the difference) which were looking for some dinner. It was also a busy time of day for the birds and the really loud squarking and screeching turned out to be hundreds of beautiful sulphur-crested cockatoos like this one.

Platypus, Eungella National Park

Platypus spotting at Broken River

After just a few minutes of patient observation we got our first glimpse of a platypus. They move very fast but they keep coming out above the water so we just had to be quiet and keep alert to spot them. We were surprised by how small they are, probably less then 50cm long. They are such freaks of nature because they are mammals that lay eggs and then they have that funny bill but they are oh so cute that it was fantastic to see them in the wild rather than in a zoo. They move so fast that there is no way we could have taken a photo of them but this picture has been grabbed off the video we took.

Sunrise, Eungella National Park We’re not known for being early risers but for some reason we woke up early at the Eungella Chalet Mountain Lodge (I think it was because it was so cold) and when we opened the curtains this was the view over the mountains and the valley. Before we left Eungella we went platypus spotting again and saw another couple of glimpses including one which sufaced very near us and stuck his bill out at us before disappearing for good.

We also saw some lovely birds here including: the cockatoos, a Kookobura (a bit like a kingfisher and known for it’s laugh) and diving birds that would get out of the water after fishing and sit on branches with their wings extended waiting for them to dry.

Writing this in October (yes I know we are terribly behind – I know we are on holiday but we still don’t seem to have much free time) I can tell you that we’ve seen the sunrise three times in Australia in the past five months, this was the first, since then we’ve seen it rise over the sea at Surfers Paradise and we woke up at 4am last week to see the sunrise at Uluru – well worth it.


Further south to Rockhampton (Rocky as it’s affectionately known) where we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. It’s not a big place but I did manage to pick up a nice fleece for less than £4 which was badly needed as it is the middle of winter here and not that hot – despite the Aussie tourist board hype they do have a winter here, and it does get cold: and this in in the tropics! The other thing Rocky has is a fantastic zoo, and even better it’s free. We spent a great afternoon first of all watching the hundreds of little turtles, ducks and geese in the lake outside and then the rainbow lorikeets, roos, wallabys and saw that rare and odd bird the Cassowary. We’d seen lots of signs to watch out for them on the roads like the one near Cape Tribulation but we’d never seen one in the flesh. But, of course, the reason we went to the zoo was to see our first koala. These wonderful cuddly creatures that spend most of their days half asleep munching euclyptus are soooo cute that we took far too many pictures of them but they are really photogenic. Koala, Rockhampton Zoo Koala, Rockhampton Zoo Koala, Rockhampton Zoo


Onto Maryborough to see a big thing! There are lots of big things to see in Australia, if a town has nothing of interest to tourists then it will have a big thing. Maryborough had a Big Ned Kelly and further down the road in Nambour we saw a Big Pineapple and you can see pictures of them and all the other big things we’ve captured on camera so far on our dedicated Big Things page.

Quite an eventful journey to Maryborough as I got my first, and only so far, speeding ticket. I couldn’t believe it, not another car in sight and then a police car comes towards me, turns around and catches up behind me with lights flashing and pulls me over. I was speeding (122kph in a 100kph zone) but it is very difficult to do 100kph (60mph) on an empty straight highway. As we said before the speed limits here are less than they are at home and with so many empty straight roads in the middle of nowhere it’s difficult to keep the speed down. The fine was $135 which is a stiff £54 but if I’d been in New South Wales rather than Queensland it would have been almost double that. This could be an expensive trip!

After ten days on the road we arrived in Brisbane.

Cairns and Northern Queensland

June 1 – 24

Our first night in Cairns was our last night in the campervan. It had been a great experience and it made us think about buying a tent, getting into the great outdoors and camping our way around Australia until we remembered that most of the world’s most dangerous animals live here. Richard is terrified of snakes and I’m pretty scared of spiders, creepy crawlies and basically anything that can poison you. I know the risks are low but fear isn’t rational and sleeping in a tent seems to be asking for trouble – also we haven’t yet found a tent with ensuite bathroom, TV and modem socket…

So you travel to the other side of the world to escape your family and what happens? They follow you!
First Pat and Clive, who we met that night, but my Mum had also booked her ticket and was meeting us in Brisbane in July. None of them had shown any inclination to visit Australia before but suddenly everyone wants to visit! Actually we were really looking forward to seeing them after not seeing any family or friends for nearly six months and glad that they could all make it out here, both for our sakes and for theirs because it is a great place for a holiday. We went to a cafe in Cairns for dinner which was a BYO (bring your own alcohol) place which is pretty common here. Then we went for a walk around Cairns town centre and the big evening market. There are about 110,000 people in Cairns but at any one time tourists are about 10% of that figure, not surprisingly most people are here to go to the Great Barrier Reef.

My Mum and Dad had been in Australia for three weeks already (longer than us in fact!) – they started in Sydney and had hired a car and driven up the coast to Cairns: a 3000km trip. They’d actually been in Cairns for a few days already due to a mix-up over when we were due to arrive, and had spent a few days in a nice resort on one of the beaches to the north of the town. By the time we met up with them they’d moved to an apartment in town.

The next day we went apartment hunting and were lucky to find a fully equiped place so we could do our laundry and cook roast dinners and shepherd’s pies and all those lovely things that we hadn’t had for six months. It meant that Richard could eat something apart from steak again. It also meant that the four of us had a couple of good Aussie barbies around the pool. Somehow my Mum and Dad had got a great deal on their apartment – it was a nice size studio, with cooking facilities about two minutes walk from the centre of town, and they ended up paying less than we did for an older (but admittedly bigger) place a couple of km’s out of town. In fact it seemed that they had found good cheap accomodation all up the coast – better than we found on the way down anyway!

It was great to be able to meet up here and really catch up on what had been going on at home. Mum and Dad had had a great time on their trip up the coast and we were getting some good tips on what to see on the way down.

Atherton Tablelands

Richard, Pat and Clive, Cairns

The Atherton Tablelands is an area of rainforest close to Cairns, being mountainous it is much cooler than Cairns. We visited them twice, the first time we drove around through beautiful scenery with Pat and Clive stopping along the way to see some of the rainforest, a waterfall and gorge, a lake and a magnificent fig tree called Curtain Fig Tree which is an enormous parasitic strangler fig tree 50 metres tall and 43 metres around the base with a thick mass of tendrils supporting the crown all fused together.

Pat and Clive went on the Kuranda Skyway and Railway which is a cable car up to the Atherton Tablelands and then a scenic train ride back down again but we were trapsing around the second hand car lots of Cairns at the time so we went the week after they left. When we did I went on the cable car by myself and Richard hitched a lift with the bus driver up to the top and met me up there. Kuranda is a cute little village with nice coffee shops and markets and it was were I had my first, and last, Aussie pie. They love their pies here and the pie shop in Kuranda had a good reputation and a selection of 20 or so different flavours of pie – I went for the traditional beef pie – and it wasn’t too bad although you never know with the cheaper pie shops what type of meat you might get in your pie. We went to a butterfly sanctuary where hundreds of big colourful butterflies flew around our heads and landed on our shoulders. There was lots of courtship going on, couples everywhere fluttering around each other doing an inflight dance.

Great Barrier Reef

Cairns is the most popular place to visit the Great Barrier Reef from because it is so close to it – having said that it still took us one and a half hours to get to the reef we went to. There are loads of companies which do day trips to a number of different reefs. We went with Reef Magic on a big boat to Thetford Reef. Some people went diving but we just went snorkelling and saw lots of different types of fish (especially different types of Butterfly and Parrot fish) and coral (hard and soft, alive and unfortunately lots of dead coral too). The glass bottom boat ride was a great way to see the different types of coral and there were also some giant clams. After lunch it was time to feed the fish. Somebody threw small fish off the back of the boat to attract some big fish. Fish that were two or three feet long were jumping out of the water to try and grab some lunch. When we went back in for some more snorkelling we could see the big fish under the boat. Apparently they haven’t learnt that they only get fed once a day and they hang around all afternoon under the boat.

The Great Barrier Reef, Cairns It had been a while since my Dad had been snorkelling, and I’m not sure my Mum ever had before, but they both had a great time in the water, in fact at one point I think my Dad was trying to swim across the Pacific as he got quite a way from the boat. Jo is also a natural in the water, but I’m really not so good at snorkelling in the sea – I really can’t get the hang of swimming with flippers, and even a fairly calm sea is too choppy for me to snorkel in – as soon as I’ve had a mouthful of sea or got it in my eyes I start thinking about getting out. So I only did one, fairly short, session in the water, but still managed to get some good views of the reef and fish (the underwater photos are all by Jo tho’ – my Dad shot off a whole film as well, but we don’t have copies of those pictures to use).
Clown fish at the Aquarium, Cairns A more colourful aquatic picture was taken of this clown fish in it’s tank in Cairns Aquarium. The disposible waterproof cameras we’ve been using when snorkelling are quite good but a bit hit and miss because there has to be a lot of light to get the bright colours. One of things they told us about on the trip was how the nature programs get the really rich colours of the soft coral to show up: they use very bright lights. Normally, as soon as you get a couple of metres down in the water the red end of the light spectrum has been filtered out so the only way to consistently see the very rich vivid colours is shine a bright light onto the coral from close range.

By now my Mum and Dad only had a couple of days left, so we put them to good use ferrying us around car lots in Cairns whilst we picked over what was on offer. And what fun that was…see below for more details.

It wasn’t all car hunting for the last few days – as mentioned above, my Mum and Dad did the cable sky/scenic railway trip to the highlands, and we had a couple of barbies around the pool at our apartment complex. Soon is was time for my Mum and Dad to begin the long trip back to the UK – they were heading back via overnight stops in Sydney and Tokyo, a long journey. So after what seemed like a very short week we were on our own again. Not sure if they’ll make a trip out next year when we’ll be in New Zealand – my Mum has family and friends there, so maybe.

The trials of car buying

We knew that buying a car wouldn’t be trivial – there was bound to be a whole new set of red tape to work our way through, and a whole range of different models to choose from. But we did the sensible things: bought a couple of magazines on used cars (nothing as good as Parker’s used car guide over here tho’) and then started the rounds of the car lots. First thing we found out was that insurance might be an issue – all Aussie cars have third part insurance included with their equivalent of the tax disc (called rego over here), which seems very sensible, but we’d want fire and theft on top of that, and maybe fully-comp depending on the car. So we went off to an insurance company and they were very much of the “No worries, go and pick a car and we’ll give you a quote” frame of mind. So back to the car lots….

Here’s what you could have had!!… a 2000 Ford Falcon

The car we didn't buy, Cairns

We fairly quickly upped what we had planned to spend (suprise, suprise) and decided that a newish sedan (saloon car) from one of the four local manufaturers (Ford, Holden(= GM = Vauxhall), Mitsubishi or Toyota) would be best as there are so many of them about that servicing and parts and re-sale would be easy. And because we knew we’d sell the car in 11 months we figured a newish model would probably hold it’s value quite well. So what we started looking at were 3-4 year old Ford Falcons, Holden Commodoress, Mitsubishi Magnas and Toyota Camrys – those being the names of the family saloon models over here. Family saloon might give you the impression that these are sort of Mondeo level type of cars, and in a way they are: they are what loads of people over here drive, the Camry is about the same size. What they lack over here is the niceties that European cars have, what they do have is engines: all the four models we were looking at come in a 6 cylinder version: 3 of them V6s the Ford a straight six – and ‘reasonable’ engine capacity as well: starting at 3 litres, and going up to 4 litres on the Ford! Just whats needed for cruising around a country this big. In fact you can get the Ford and the Holden in 5 litre V8 versions, but that’s maybe just a bit over the top, and even with petrol being so cheap over here (about 30p per litre most of the time) that was going to cost a lot over the year.

A quick check back with the insurance people on how much one of these would be to insure (a bit less than we paid for 3rd party on the E reg cavalier in Brixton for fully comp!) and we started some test drives. We couldn’t find any reasonably priced V6 Camrys and the Holdens were a bit more expensive than we were prepared to go, so it was down to a Falcon or a Magna. Lots of these about, with a choice of models and age in the range we were looking at. In the end we narrowed it down to a choice between a 3.5 litre V6 Magna Advance that was a 2 ½ year old ex-goverment car that had done just under 20,000 miles, or a 4.0 litre straight six Falcon that was 2 years old and had done a few thousand more miles. Once the two different dealers had cancelled each other out with their ‘Oh the Falcon/Magna will be much easier to sell/cheaper to repair/more fuel efficient/whatever’ it was down to what price they were going for. This is where it got weird. These guys appeared to have absolutely no interest in selling the cars, all week we’d been back and forth around the dealers, and no-one else had ever been on the car lots. They weren’t selling anything. But when we tried to get a few hundred dollars off the price they were quite happy to let us walk away. Weird. And they don’t open Sundays, or public holidays, or Saturday afternoons. How do they ever sell cars?

Fortunately their stubborness on price was real stroke of luck for us. We’d been going over the insurance policy to make sure that it was all OK and there was a bit in it about having to inform them of change of address. Now in our situation that was going to be ridiculous – what do we do, ring them every evening with a new motel address? So we asked the agent about it, and he said not to be concerned, but we were, so we asked for a side letter to the policy understanding our situation and saying we’d inform them everytime we settled somewhere for a month or more. He took this idea to their legal department. It was at this point that my Mum and Dad left to go home. They thought we were likely to buy the car by the time they got home and have a years nice driving in a reasonable car…

We went back to the insurance guy on the Tuesday, just before we planned to stop off at the dealer with the Magna and buy it even if he wouldn’t shift the final $500 we were trying to get out of him. Then they dropped the bombshell: ‘Sorry, we can’t do you any insurance until you’ve lived here for six months. Goodbye.’ An hour on the phone to other insurance companies got much the same response: as soon as they realised we were just here travelling they didn’t want to know. Never mind about fully comprehensive insurance, they wouldn’t even sell us fire and theft policies. And there was no way we could get the car we were planning on without having the insurance in case we had a crash or had it stolen. Too much to risk. So, after a week of being strung along by bloody Suncorp Metway that they’d insure is, we were back to a very depressing square one. And we started to realise that maybe all the backpackers drove around in knackered old heaps because of the insurance rather than them just being cheap…

In a very depressed mood after the visions of cruising around in a (relatively) luxurious car – especially by the old Cavaliers standards – we hit the car lots again. This time tho’ it wasn’t the nice models at the front of the lots, it was the crap out the back we were after…. The name of the first place we went to has been mercifully forgotton, but it was something along the lines of “Stavros’ budget cars”. This was the last stop off before the scrap yard for most cars. YUK! And they still weren’t cheap – real rust buckets, 15+ years old, still priced at 25% of what the newish stuff was selling at! We had days of traipsing around looking at this junk. And I mean traipsing – our handy taxi service in the form of my Mum and Dad were back in the UK, so we slogged on foot up and down the couple of miles that made up Cairns’ car selling strip. In 30°+ heat…fun…not – you really do need to have a car to buy a car. One side note: the dealer we were so close to buying the Magna off never even rang us back to find out if we were still interested – he just let what must have looked like a potential customer vanish! Side note two: as we visited the various lots, quite a few of the dealers reckoned they could get us insurance: mainly by pulling stunts such as using a mate of their’s address and such-like: thanks, but no thanks – not really going to be much use if we need to claim on it is it??

Eventually we found some older (ie. cheaper) cars that would have to do – this time we are talking about 10 year old Ford’s or Holdens, with 100,000+ miles on the clock. At least these dealers were keen to do a deal – you barely had to look at a car and hundreds of dollars started flying off the sticker price. And they’d phone us back after we’d left the lot. We’d pretty much narrowed the choice down to a couple of cars when we decided to give the classified privates sales one last go. This is when we came across John, and his Lexcen.

It was a nice looking car – 10 years old, but lowish mileage and good equipment. The Lexcen is a Toyota car thats actually a Holden Commodore: some weird government rule that the Japanese manufacturers had to use at least 50% components. Toyota didn’t fancy mixing in Aussie parts to their cars, so instead they bought a load of locally manufacured Holdens, stuck a few Toyota badges on them and called it a Lexcen! Anyway, it looked like a decent car, except for some dodgy re-wiring were John had put a CD changer in, so we sent it for inspection. And it failed. ‘No worries’ says John, I’ll get it fixed over the weekend, and you get can it re-inspected and we’ll do the deal on Monday. Monday comes and when, by mid-afternoon, John hasn’t phoned I give him a ring. And out pours some cock-and-bull story about the dealer selling on the part he’d reserved and it wont be available till who knows when etc. When I tried to phone him back a few minutes later he just wasn’t answering – I guess it was either too expensive for him to do, or he’d found another buyer, but it was a bit weird. So another 4 days wasted. We had been due to leave Cairns by now, and seriously contemplated just hiring a car and trying again in Brisbane, but the apartment we were in was available for a few more days so we decided to give it one last try.

Another scour through the classified ad’s and we found a couple of likely prospects. So we went round to see one of them and it was OK – much better for the money than what the dealers were selling, but by no stretch of the imagination anywhere near what we’d been test driving 10 days before. We decided to go and have a look at the other one before making a decision so phoned up for directions: oops! the car was from Townsville, about 300 miles down the coast, so that made that decision for us. We went back to the first one and decided it was worth putting it in for an inspection . It didn’t exactly fly through, but most of the problems were minor and when we went back to the seller he dropped the price down to cover us having the work done. So we bought it. Finally. All in all we spent over two weeks trying to buy a car – but the one we actually bought we had transferred into our name within 24 hours of seeing it. Madness.

So what did you buy in the end I hear you all cry after slogging through that mammoth tale? Well here you go…

The car we did buy, Cairns

…and here’s what we got…a 1994 Ford Falcon

Much like the newer Falcons we were looking at, it’s a 4.0 litre straight 6 1994 ED ‘Falcon Futura Classic’. Only 101,000km on the clock (pretty low for an 8 year old). Big and roomy. Air conditioning (essential). Cruise control (very handy). And very little else. In fact it’s pretty much the local equivalent of a 1988 Vauxhall Cavalier that we left behind at home – the larger engine and the automatic gear box are just norm on this type of car over here. As I write this we’ve done about 20,000km in it and it’s OK. Nothing special at all, but it does the job and has enough umpf to overtake road trains in the outback and pick up speeding tickets if we’re not very careful. A couple of things don’t work, and we have to take care to get it maintained regularly, but hey, it’s 8 years old so you expect that. And it’s not insured against fire or theft, so we worry a bit. But not as much as if it had been the newer cars that cost over twice as much.

By this time we’d spent way too long in Cairns and hadn’t really done any of the things we wanted to, but tough luck, it was time to get moving down to Brisbane to meet Jo’s Mum. But we did manage one trip away before heading off…and it gave us a good run in the car where we could still go back to Cairns and complain to the garage if anything went wrong.

Cape Tribulation

Where the rainforest meets the reef, Cape Tribulation Where the rainforest meets the reef… The last thing we did in Northern Queensland was to head north along the beautiful coast road to Cape Tribulation. It’s great to be able to eat out doors all the time and being on the move so much we don’t have a lot of choice so on the way to Cape Tribulation we stopped at a beach to have lunch and try out our new all singing all dancing chairs. They are fab, they only cost £8 each, are comfy and most importantly have a drinks holder in them – sounds extreme but we might be posting them home when we leave Oz.

Cassowary Road Sign, Cape Tribulation These roadsigns are famous. The bottom sign is of a Cassowary, an odd looking bird, a bit like an emu but with a bright blue head with a horn on it. We haven’t seen one in the wild but wherever they live there are speed bumps and Cassowary warning signs to try to prevent people running them over (because they are rare) hence a speed bump looks like a dead Cassowary.

Other good signs are the picture of what looks like a cow eating a car which is supposed to indicate to drivers that they should be careful not to crash into cows but which has been helpfully defaced with the warning ‘cows eat cars’. The other popular sign we’ve seen right through Australia is the kangaroo warning sign which has skis and ski sticks added.

The next day we left Cairns and headed south to Brisbane where my Mum was going to meet up with us in July. On the way from Cairns to Brisbane we had some fun sailing in the Whitsundays and Platypus spotting in Eungella National Park.

The NT and Queensland’s Outback

May 27 – June 1

Driving down the Track

Barkly Highway, Northern Territory It was time to hit the road and travel through the outback. We had six days and 3000kms to cover. We hired a campervan, cranked the music up and stepped on the gas. During the six days we travelled between 300-800km a day, some days we didn’t see any sign of life by the side of the road (beyond roadkill) for 200-300kms so we had to keep a close eye on the petrol gauge and fill up at every opportunity. Although there weren’t many dwellings or villages there was a steady stream of traffic on the road so if we had broken down we wouldn’t have had too wait too long for help. But we couldn’t rely on the mobile phone to ring for help as it didn’t work in most of the outback. In fact the mobile phone range is pretty bad in Australia as a whole and apart from the area immediately surrounding big towns there is very little coverage – what you need is a satellite phone but they are a bit expensive.

The outback scenery wasn’t just the dry, barren desert that you might imagine. It was very dry and there were barren areas but there was often bush or scrubland and the species of trees and bushes changed frequently as did the colour of the earth so the diversity was quite interesting. The change in colour of the earth was obvious in the colour of the termite mounds which varied from grey to yellow to brown to the bright red earth which is associated with the centre of Australia. We saw quite a lot of wildlife along the way but unfortunately it was nearly all roadkill, mostly wallabies and kangaroos of varying sizes. Often we would come across a large number of birds of prey scavenging on a roadkill site in the middle of the road and some of them took a lot of beeping before they would move. I was worried about a roo running out in front of us which would be impossible to avoid so we tried not to drive at dusk which is when they become active in search of food and often bound across the road straight in front of cars.

Dirt tracks and road trains

The roads were pretty bad compared to roads at home. When we hired the campervan we had to agree not to take it off road (onto dirt tracks etc) and so we had chosen to take the main highway route across the country which was supposedly all sealed roads. Unfortunately there were a lot of roadworks with detours onto dirt tracks which could last for a few kilometres at a time. We were lucky that the campervan could cope with that but we did have one problem when a stone from a passing car flew up and put a big chip in the middle of the drivers side of the windscreen. Luckily we had paid for the full insurance which covered us for windscreen damage aswell. The other scary thing about the roads is that often the sealed roads just fall away to dirt at the edges and they are not wide enough for two way traffic so when another car comes towards you you have to put two wheels onto the dirt which can sometimes be quite a drop from the road level. The roadtrains are the scariest things to pass coming the other way because when they put their wheels into the dirt they throw up loads of dust which forms an orange cloud around your car and can last for a few seconds when you are driving blind. Trying to pass a roadtrain on your side of the road can be fun too. The roads tend to be very straight which is good for overtaking because you can see a long way ahead which you need to be able to do when you are passing roadtrains which can be upto 55 metres long.

Speed limits and driver revivers

The track we drove down in the NT didn’t have a speed limit so some drivers were going incredibly fast but we couldn’t get the campervan much over 140kph because of the bumpy roads and the height of the van which swayed in the wind. However, the NT is unusual and most Australian states have relatively low speed limits compared to England and they enforce them much more stringently, or so we’d heard. Once we hit Queensland the speed limit plummeted to 100kph which is about 60mph and there are so many radars and speed cameras that if you don’t stick to the speed limit you have a good chance of getting caught – not like at home where you can do 80mph on the motorway without expecting to get a ticket. More about speeding tickets later…

Because of the long distances, bad roads and the tedium of driving along dead straight roads for hundreds of kilometres without seeing and signs of civilisation people sometimes fall asleep at the wheel so there are lots of signs encouraging drivers to take lots of breaks. There are also ‘driver reviver’ stops where you can get a free coffee which is a great idea. We had a free coffee not at a ‘driver reviver’ stop but in a pub in Queenslands outback, a place called Charters Towers where the only place open at 2pm was a pub so we asked for a tea and a coffee and were told to help ourselves as it was free. We couldn’t believe it – it was there for people who had had lunch at the pub but when we tried to pay for it they wouldn’t let us – something that truly was free – we were gobsmacked.


Katherine Gorge, Katherine Corroboree, Katherine

On the first day we drove 320km down the track (the Stuart Highway) to the town of Katherine which is a popular place to visit because of this beautiful gorge. We went on a peaceful cruise down the gorge which is in Nitmiluk National Park and saw another croc and some more Aboriginal Rock Art. The boat jetty was surrounded by trees which were absolutely full of big bats (probably flying foxes) hanging upside down and screeching and squealing. I guess they were waiting for the sun to set when they would fill the skies.

That evening we went to see a performance of a Corroboree where the Jarraluk dancers peformed tribal dances to songs which were mainly about food. They had names like bird or wallaby and described how they were hunted and how good they were to eat. The little boy at the front of the picture above was the star of the show demonstrating a great sense of rhythm as he stomped around the fire. There was a digeredoo in the band and during the interview some of the audience had a go at it with amusing results. Mostly it was the men that danced with the women wailing, smoking and chatting in the background and at the end the crowd was encouraged to join in – first the men and then the women. When Richard called me chicken I had to run up and join in with the fun.

We spent our first night in the campervan at a caravan park so that we could hook up to some power and make a cup of tea in the morning. The van was well-equiped with a microwave and fridge (good for storing those tinnies) and it was pretty comfortable to sleep in and nice to be out in the open air.

The Devil’s Marbles and Wycliffe Well

Devil's Marbles, Northern Territory Aliens, Wycliffe Well
The next day we made an early start so we could cover the 830km to our next destination which was Wycliffe Well, the UFO sighting capital of Australia. On the way we stopped at Daly Waters pub, the oldest pub in the NT which had real character; there was even a cowboy at the bar nursing his stubbie (bottle of beer). After a good lunch we filled up with petrol and went back to pay in the pub where they trust us to tell them how much petrol we’d put in the tank. We left the pub just as the tour buses arrived spewing people into the pub for their true Aussie outback pub experience – we were lucky to get that experience sans tourists.

Just before sunset we arrived at the Devil’s Marbles which Aborigines believe are the fossilised eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. The bright orange rocks in this area eroded to form massive orange spheres. There are hundreds of them ranging from football sized to absolutely massive and together they are pretty impressive. The Aborigines believe that they are the fossilised eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. Then we drove the last 100km to Wycliffe Well Caravan Park and were just in time to have dinner before they stopped serving at 7.30pm – this was not unusual so whenever we arrived in a town for the evening the first thing we had to do was find out when the local pub or cafe stopped serving food. The next morning we had a look around the caravan park which is full of these lovely tacky models of UFOs, aliens and even Elvis and the Incredible Hulk. Unfortunately we weren’t visited by any aliens.

Tennants Creek to Camooweal

Wycliffe Well is about 500km north of Alice Springs in the centre of Australia but we were heading for Cairns on the East Coast so we’d taken a bit of a detour (130km) to see the marbles and we headed north back up the track. Just before we headed east we stopped to take a look around a battery stamp at Tennants Creek – an old gold rush town established in the 1880’s. The gold mines and battery stamp aren’t in use anymore but the battery where the gold is extracted from iron ore is still in working order.

During the day we travelled 200km without passing a petrol station and crossed the border between the Northern Territory and Queensland. We were expecting to find some sort of border post and to be searched because there are certain plants and animals you can’t take across state borders but there was nothing but a small sign welcoming us to Queensland. Our destination for the night was Camooweal, population 300. The Rough Guide describes Camooweal as follows: There’s no way to aviod Camooweal but you might wish there were; the township’s atmosphere of lazy aggression is exacerbated by a total lack of charm…., post office and hotel – a risky place for a last drink in Queensland… move on. We parked our van behind the hotel in question but instead of venturing in for dinner we cooked our first meal on the stove in the van – sausages and listened to the sound of angry raised voices in the bar as we fell asleep.

Windmill drawing water from a bore hole, Qld Outback

Camooweal to Richmond

More driving through Queensland’s outback. We spent the night in the town of Richmond which has a population of 800 and is one of the biggest in the area. Other places marked on our map had smaller populations, one had five inhabitants and another had sixteen.

Richmond to Townsville

A shorter drive today of less than 500km to reach the east coast. Townsville a big town but without much to do – although Magnetic Island which is just off the coast is meant to be very nice – but we didn’t make it there. The caravan park we stayed at was on the edge of town on the coast with a lovely view over the sea, as we had our first encounter with the public BBQ system that is all over the country. Basically, parks and picnic spots all over have gas barbeques installed that are free to use – you just bring your food along and cook up something nice, a few we have seen have been a bit messy, but most are kept very clean. They are often quite busy in popular areas, but plenty more places have been totally empty.

Townsville to Cairns

We were heading to Cairns in Northern Queensland to meet Pat and Clive, Richard’s Mum and Dad who had driven up the coast from Sydney. They had actually arrived in Australia before us. On the way to Cairns we took a detour off the main highway to Mission Beach which is a lovely bit of ocean and a sleepy coastal village. We decided to do a loop to get back on the highway rather than doubling back on ourselves and once again found ourselves off road with a map that didn’t tell us when we would find a sealed road again. We went through some lovely countryside and luckily found the main road again after 20km’s or so. To see what we got up to in Cairns go to the Cairns and Northern Queensland page

Darwin, Australia

May 18 – 27

Welcome to Oz!

Finally, after six months, we reached our ultimate destination – Australia. We took the night flight from Bali which landed in Darwin at 6am but didn’t actually get out of the airport until 7.30am, absolutely shattered, after being searched and interrogated by customs and quarantine – the first time in the trip this has happened to us.

Sugar cane, bananas and agriculture in general are so important here that quarantine is very strict in an attempt to stop disease and pests from coming into the country. At immigration we had to give in a form we’d filled in which asked if we had: any medicines (paracetamol); food (water, coffee, sweets); wood (hairbrush, lamp etc); soil (on most people’s shoes) and ten other questions. We answered it
honestly unlike most people who went through without being searched. Our bags were completely unpacked which was a bit of a nightmare because they are at the stage where they are so full that packing has to be meticulous (everything squeezed into the right place) to fit everything in. In the end we only had one thing confiscated which was a diary which I had just bought in Bali which had a tiny bit of banana leaf on the cover – a definite no no but I hadn’t even remembered that I had anything with banana plant on it.
Luckily they tore the pages out that I’d written on so I don’t have to rewrite the final weeks in Bali. The other problem we had was that the customs officers tried to make us pay duty on the laptop, refusing to believe that we weren’t going to sell it at the first opportunity. However, eventually, when Richard
asked how he would get his money back when he left the country with the laptop they realised that that might be a problem and instead have ‘marked his card’ so when we try to leave the country we will have to produce the laptop or pay the duty.

So, eventually we left the airport – the last people – it was 7.30 on Saturday morning and a lot of the hostel rooms were already booked up by the other people on the flight who were an hour ahead of us. We’d heard good reports about the hostels in Oz but we found the ones in Darwin a bit expensive for what you got. The first place we stayed was Gecko Lodge where we paid about £22
for a tatty room without ensuite and no hot water in the shower – spiders, yes – hot water, no. We moved after a couple of nights to Globetrotters Hostel where for a dollar less we got a private bathroom. The good thing at both hostels was the free brekkie and meeting other travellers.

Darwin is a small place, with only about 80,000 residents and it was here that we realised how different Australia is from home. There are lots of small differences – some better, some worse, some just different. The first thing we noticed was that at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon all the shops are shut – Darwin town centre was a ghosttown, everything was shut and none of the shops were due to open until Monday morning!! Sunday opening hasn’t reached half of Australia yet. But we found a few things to do starting with some motor racing the day after we arrived….

V8 Supercar Championship

This was an experience. It was a lovely day and there was some good racing going on as well as drag racing, Formula Holden races, parachuting and all the other entertainments you expect from a racing day. The most amusing thing was the crowd which was 99% Australian but behaved like a goodnatured
British football crowd.
The races were Holden (Vauxhall at home) versus Ford and Holden nearly always win so Holden supporters rip Ford supporters apart with intelligent taunts like ‘we’re better than you’. The retort being ‘no you’re not we’re better than you’, it didn’t get much further than that – except the rapid addition of obscenities as the VB was consumed.
The V8 Supercar series is basically the same as TOCA back home, for those of you who know your racing. The current championship is being dominated by Mark Skaife – he’d won 6 of the first 7 races of the season, and won the major race when we were there as well: he’s further ahead in his championship than Michael Schumacher is in F1.
Jo, V8 Supercar Race, Darwin
V8 Supercar Race, Darwin

The funniest thing about the day was the courtesy bus we got back to town. A woman driver – and unfortunately she lived up to the stereotype atrocious woman driver. The first thing that happened was that a bloke got on the wrong bus – he’d spotted one of his neighbours on the bus so thought he was on the bus home but our bus was going into town. Ten minutes down the road he’d worked this out
and, cheekily (and drunkenly), asked the bus driver to take a detour and drop him at his local pub.
She refused and got some lighthearted verbal abuse about being a woman driver. This obviously rattled her because she took a wrong turning. She tried to hang a U’y but ended up off the road on some gravel. Trying to get back onto the road turned out to be a problem because the bottom of the bus was too low and driving at full acceleration at the slope back to the road we got stuck on the bank four or five times making an awful gratting noise when the underside of the bus ground against the bank.
Hoots of laughter from a slightly drunken busload of people didn’t encourage her and of course, all the woman driver comments came out again. Eventually, she managed to get back onto the road but only by continuing in the wrong direction so she decided to drop this guy off at the pub he wanted to go to after all. The whole bus was in fits by now but also slightly worried that we were at the mercy of a mad bus driver and for the rest of the trip home she kept zooming right past the bus stops when people had rung the bell for their stops, dropping them several hundreds of metres down the road. I don’t know if she hadn’t driven a bus before or wasn’t from Darwin or whether she was just thrown by a happy, drunk and voluble busload of passengers and lost her nerve and marbles.

When in Oz you’ve got to have a barbie……

It took a whole 36 hours in Oz before we were invited to our first Aussie BBQ. Imogen, who made us pancakes for breakfast in Gecko Lodge, was a backpacker from England and she organised a great BBQ for about 15 people where for about £1 we had sausages, burgers, salads, potatos, bread – good stuff. Thanks Imogen for organising a great evening.

So what is there to do in Darwin?

Florence Falls, Litchfield National Park

Litchfield National Park

Well, there are quite a few national parks in the Top End. Kakadu is the best known and was really beautiful (see later) but Litchfield National Park was a great place for a relaxing day of swimming under waterfalls. We saw four of the beautiful waterfalls in Litchfield Park and unlike other waterfalls we’d seen they all had lots of water in them (because they are fed from springs) so were pretty impressive. One of them was inaccessible but the others had lovely crystal clear pools underneath them that we went swimming in. This was where we saw our first scary spiders!!! – the golden orb spider – we never did find out if they were dangerous but they look pretty scary. We also saw our first marsupial here – a small rock wallaby.

Richard, Mel, Sarah, Imogen, Jo and Adam, Darwin

Get thrown out of a pub….

Another thing you can do in Darwin is get thrown out of a pub for being drunk. Richard tried it at The Victoria Hotel, not as posh as
it sounds it’s actually a raucous backpackers pub and we were there with this drunken bunch of people singing and dancing the night away.
Richard, knowing he’d had enough to drink and still suffering from a sore foot after the surfing incident, was sitting at the side of the dancefloor and drinking coca-cola while the rest of us knocked back the beers etc and were dancing away. One of the bouncers approached Richard and escourted him out of the pub before the rest of us realised what was happening. Apparrently his quiteness in the midst of lunacy made him look threatening!!! Drunkeness without disorderliness is more of a crime here than at home so we’ll have to watch out.

Mindil Beach Sunset Market

Mindil Beach Sunset, Darwin

Have you ever seen so many people standing watching the sunset?

Here was a beach filled with literally hundreds of people waiting for the sun to set. Most of them were more organised than us with our bottle of water and cheese sandwich; they had esky’s with wine or champagne and glasses – very civilised!

The market was a cross between Camden and a country fair. I’m sure you can buy boomerangs, t-shirts with aboriginal pictures on them and even digeredoos in Camden but there was also a hippyish band playing, some whipcracking going on, fire jugglers, kids having pony rides on tethered ponies that went around in circles and food stalls selling interesting food – the best was ‘RoadKill – you kill it we cook it’ which had roo, croc, emu, wallaby, possum…etc. So far in Oz we’ve only tried Roo which was pretty good, a bit like a strong flavoured lean steak.

Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park has been the home to Aboriginal families for over 50,000 years. It is now jointed managed by four traditional families and Environment Australia, and is a World Heritage Area.

Aboriginal Rock Art, Kakadu National Park
First stop after reaching the park was Nourlangie Rock where there are some interesting Aboriginal rock art sites.
This was one of the more impressive pictures. They are drawn with ochre which fades away so some of it had almost vanished or was faded and difficult to see while some drawings had been recently touched up. Interestingly the art is often drawn over by other artists and so there were some really old pictures, maybe 2000 years old, intermingled with pictures that only dated back 30 years.

Yellow Water Billabong, Kakadu National Park
Next we took a cruise on the Yellow Water Billabong and our observant guides pointed out some beautiful birds and cute wallabys hopping and bouncing away from us. It is a beautiful spot. We also saw some salties – saltwater crocs (although we were in fresh water). Salties are the more aggressive crocs whereas freshies (freshwater crocs) are apparently quite placid – I don’t want to test the theory by swimming with a freshie though. Mostly we just saw the salties eyes and snout popping up above the water – silent and deadly – they were just lying about in the water watching us watching them. We also saw a couple of crocs basking in the sun. None of them batted an eyelid at our presense.
We tried to keep all limbs in the boat.

It’s difficult to imagine the scale of Kakadu at 19,000km2. Someone told me it was the size of Switzerland, I’m not sure if that is right but it is certainly big. Travelling overland you can only cover a minute section of the park and even when we took a one hour flight we didn’t cover the whole
park. But we did get a wonderful view of the wetlands (similar to the Okavango Delta I’d visited in Botswana), the striking, massive rock formations of the Arnhem Land Escarpment and Dinasaur Valley, a Uranium mine, some purposefully started bush fires (lit to help regrowth and also to act as a fire block
to stop natural fires from spreading) and the coolest shaped hotel we’ve ever seen which was built in the shape of a crocodile

Wetlands, Kakadu National Park
Arnhem Land Escarpment, Kakadu National Park

Good things about Oz

We had been looking forward to arriving in Australia because although South East Asia was a fantastic experience it was sometimes hard going because we don’t speak any other languages (we can say thank you in Thai, Cambodian, Laos and Vietnamise now but that’s about as far as we got I’m afraid) and although these countries and the people are beautiful we did miss civilisation. Having said that our welcome to Australia wasn’t what we’d expected. We gone over the borders of countless SE Asian countries nervous that someone might decide to make life difficult for us and nothing had happened so we weren’t expecting it coming into Austalia and we were very tired from the flight. Added to that was the fact that it wasn’t as cheap as we’d expected and the hostels were worse than some of the accommodation we’d found in Asia. To me the worst thing was the futility of the quarantine system.
Only searching 20 per cent or so of arrivals into a country won’t stop disease and pests entering the country because it only takes one person to slip through with something and other travellers must have known that they would be searched if they filled in the forms honestly and so didn’t.

But there are lots of good things about Australia. Most importantly – wine! For me having access to good wine has been fantastic as I’d really missed it in Asia where I don’t think I had more than a couple of drinkable glasses of wine.
There is such a good choice of lovely wines here and as an added bonus something like a Jacobs Creek or Hardys is the cheap house wine and it’s much cheaper than at home. The weather is great and the scenery and wildlife are absolutely beautiful.

But, perhaps the nicest thing is that the people are really friendly and chatty. As an example, imagine a shop assistant who obviously doesn’t want to serve you and gives you that look which says you are an amoeba (or an even lower life form) and that she (could be a he but they are mainly she’s I’m afraid) has much better things to do than to help you find the suncream or sell you a roll of film. Well we’ve never had that experience in Australia. Here the shop assistants go out of their way to be friendly and helpful even if it means losing a sale by sending you to another shop where they sell the product cheaper or have something more suitable to your needs.

After just over a week in Darwin it was time to move on because we were due to meet Pat and Clive (Richard’s Mum and Dad) in Cairns in six days time so we headed through the Northern Territory to Queensland.

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