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It’s a long way round Oz

3 Feb

….and I only did some of it!



More thoughts

28 Jan


After a very pleasant trip on the new Airbus 380, I find myself in Singapore Airport, waiting to pick up the train to Kuala Lumpur…. not sure where my brain had the 3hr 30 minute time from, but it took us 8 hours. At least I have caught up on some movies…although it was strange to know that most of the passengers were in transit to London.. and I got off the plane!

But some random memories that didn’t make the Australia blog….

Two Australian policeman randomly (and briefly) dancing at the Opera bar on Australia Day. Sadly, no photos.

The support shown by the Australian people for a temporary tax to help with the Queensland floods

Train stations that appear like replicas of English stations.. in fact, looking more like English railway stations than English railway stations. (Trivia point – the reason why the Russian for ‘station’ is vokzal is because when the Russians came on a fact finding trip to the UK and asked ‘where are we’ the British replied ‘Vauxhall’).

Equally, parish churches that look more like English parish churches of the 16th century than ours do. So exactly WHEN was Australia settled?

And a random question, that I have no answer to… exactly WHY did I write in my notebook “Mitch and semi frozen salmon”? Now THAT, I suspect, is a side effect of going out drinking in Bondi.

As one adventure ends….another begins

28 Jan

And so, finally, into Sydney. An overnight stay at another wacky hostel – in Railway Square YHA most of the accommodation is in converted railway carriages on Platform Zero… just next door to the station. Cool!

Railway Square Hostel (3)

I spent the next day wandering Sydney (one of the few places on this trip that I have seen before) – of course, the bridge, the opera house, Darling Bay the tropical gardens…

Tropic Gardens (6)

Blown over in the wind, they will never put this tree upright for fear of damaging it. Cool though.

Tropic Gardens (1)

The gardens are full of Ibises. Ibisii. Ibexes. Ibis. Ibii. Who knows?

Walk Round Sydney (13)

Last time I was in Sydney I was going to climb the bridge.. I still haven’t, but this is pretty close – a view from the bridge

Walk Round Sydney (20)

And a view of the bridge

..and then meeting up with my friend Mitch and his girlfriend Alison, who (god bless them) looked after me during my stay at their flat in Bondi.


Oh, sorry, wrong photo. This is Mitch – we met on the Green Tortoise tour. He’s a great guy, although he hasn’t quite worked that out yet.


Much drinking in the evening – the tone being set by Mitch’s flatmate who immediately proffered a beer on my arrivial (I had got lost on the way to the flat and looked a tad hot & bothered).

A day on Bondi beach followed, with a walk along the headland…

Bondi (1)Bondi (11)Bondi (16)Bondi (19)Bondi (21)Bondi (24)

(there are some even nicer beaches round the headland)

A day spent drinking champagne at the Opera Bar in Sydney on Australia Day (just underneath the opera house under the little white umbrellas in the picture)… watching various reasons for being escorted off the premises (ranging from ‘just plain drunk through ‘footwear violation’ and ‘strange dancing’)

From Manly Ferry (2)Australia Day (1)

A day in Manly (it may just be me, but I feel sorry for the girls in Manly. My heart went out to the very pretty lifeguard with ‘Manly Lifeguard’ on the back of her jacket… and do you really want to be a Manly Girl for the rest of your life?) – but just reminded me of an upmarket UK holiday town. The ferry trip to Manly is magnificent (and a bargain) though with great views of the bridge and the city.

From Manly Ferry (4)From Manly Ferry (16)From Manly Ferry (17)From Manly Ferry (18)From Manly Ferry (28)

A last minute panic to sort my flight out – we’d managed to organise it for the 28th Feb not 28th Jan – oops – so much internet usage and phone calls later and I’m back on track.

(take a look at for more ‘On The Road’ thoughts… I haven’t published this to Facebook but you may be interested to see what I am feeling….)

And then a day at the airport. Next stop Singapore… and then overland to Kuala Lumpur and Penang before I reach Bangkok. NOW the adventure begins – outside of my comfort zone, outside of western culture, and with a profound inability to speak the language. See you on the other side of the equator…

After the flood

23 Jan

So, up and onto a train…. I couldn’t book on line, so I had to get up, rush across to the travel centre, find it was closed, wander back, rush back across, book my seat (at a very elevated price compared to on line) then rush round like a lunatic packing and eating breakfast before rushing back with my backpack to check in. Luggage gets checked on these trains (actually, you don’t have to, but it’s easier than navigating a train carriage with my backpack).


And so on to a relaxing train ride of some 30+ hours through some beautiful (not particularly spectacular, but really quite beautiful) scenery. Up in Cairns it’s quite tropical with banana plantations and pineapples growing… as time goes on it changes to become far more temperate (but still with the occasional palm tree popping up to remind me I’m not in England any more…)

Cairns to Brisbane (11)Cairns to Brisbane (9)

Although there’s a long, long way to go, the train seems quite leisurely about it – unlike The Ghan, there are no extended stops, but we don’t seem to be in much of a hurry, chugging ponderously through the countryside – and occasionally, it seems, straight up the main street in town, turning the train into a huge tram. Cairns has been pretty much free from flooding, but travelling further south the rivers start to look mch more swollen, and it’s clear that some of the lakes don’t really belong (it’s the trees in the middle of the lake that give the game away)

Cairns to Brisbane (5)Cairns to Brisbane (3)

I’ve got to say, I was a little worried about going to Brisbane after the TV coverage, watching bridges swept down river.. but the hostel assures me that it’s above water… and it is. In fact, at first glance, you wouldn’t think Brisbane had been flooded. The town is full of Saturday morning shoppers, and only the sight of concerts raising money for flood relief like this bunch (bands from ‘Weekend Warriors’ putting older musicians in touch with others to get together and play)

Brisbane (13)

and this charming mini duo out playing for flood victims too.

Brisbane (12)

Only when you look closely does it seem that something has happened – the river seems wider than it should be.. the ‘beach’ is closed, as is the tropical gardens. The bridge supports shouldn’t actually be rising from the water, should they? And why all the sandbags? While HMAS Diamantina seems to have weathered the storm OK, its neighbour wasn’t so lucky..

Brisbane seems to be putting its game face on though – perhaps it’s the sunshine. Certainly there’s a bit more mud on the streets than you might expect.

Brisbane from Train (2)Brisbane (9)Brisbane (6)Brisbane (4)

A wander round town yields some surprises though – including a tropical garden that i only found because I got lost…

Roma Park Brisbane (7)Roma Park Brisbane (2)

I take a look on the web at the local dance clubs and find that there’s a freestyle event tonight associated with the Brisbane club. I check Google Maps and Thomas Street is only half an hour’s walk from me. A closer check reveals that the web site hasn’t been quite as helpful as I thought. Thomas Street, for sure, but Thomas Street, Sydney.. over 700 km away. Oh well, nice try! I get lots of stick for being a lightweight and lacking commitment when I mention this…

Brisbane is a lot further south than Cairns but in the same time zone.. which means that sunrise is nearly over by 5:15am, causing me to wonder if I have my watch set right… fortunately, I have, and I’m on the Sydney train by 6:30.. snaking through more lovely countryside.. less tropical and more temperate, but craggier and more dramatic. Next stop Sydney and the last leg of the Australian adventure – and a reunion with my torch and some old friends…

Brisbane to Sydney (7)Brisbane to Sydney (6)

Cairns.. it’s hot, it’s sticky, and I kinda like it…

14 Jan

Wednesday & Thursday

So, into Cairns. The outback was hot and dry.. Cairns is nowhere near as hot – but it makes up for it in humidity. Two minutes and I am drenched in sweat. But I kind of like it though – it’s got character. Which is just as well, because having watched the Brisbane bridge drift downriver on the TV this morning… perhaps I won’t be going there!

So, Cairns is another stop, take a breather place.. well, time to take a breath before my dive trip on Saturday. It’s got a huge mall, and a CameraHouse – which is a good thing, coz I need to get my camera sorted out. And it’s a big thankyou to Chris from CameraHouse Cairns, and Zoran from CameraHouse Melbourne who between them managed to get my camera replaced and we’re back to the high quality images again. Thanks again, guys!

So, spent most of the day sorting that out.. but I did manage to buy another hat and walk along the esplanade, where I managed to survive:

  • getting stung by stingers (by not going in the water – Cairns has year round lethal jellyfish)
  • getting eaten by a saltwater crocodile (there are warning signs on the esplanade, so it must be possible)

Cairns Esplanade (26)

  • getting run over by a skateboarder/rollerblader (far more likely)

Cairns Esplanade (20)Cairns Esplanade (18)

I liked this ‘Chance Encounters’ sign on the sidewalk – in fact, it made me really pay attention – which resulted in a great late night conversation with one of the girls in the hostel.

Cairns Esplanade (24)

– and then Tigger, Snuff and I had a rest on the beach (there’s a saltwater lagoon to swim in – clever Australians)

Cairns Esplanade (6)Cairns Esplanade (3)

Now, I don’t know if it’s the fact that I had a teacher as a parent, or just that I am odd… but am I really the only person who thinks this sign is funnier than they intended….? (branches of this store across the US) (I think I’ve posted this before, but the signs got me thinking around here)

(it’s all in the comma, guys)

..and did anyone sign up for this Cairns fitness initiative?

Cairns Esplanade (15)

And would I want someone to buy me a souvenir from this gift shop (I went to Cairns and all he got me was an OK Gift)


The hostel is nice, though – beautiful handwritten signs all over, nice pool, nice lounging area – shame about the coin operated airconditioning.

Traveller's Oasis (2)

But anyway, I’m leaving dry land for three days to go liveaboard a boat on the Great Barrier Reef! Speak to you when that’s over!!


Thunder and Lightning in Alice

12 Jan

Tonight the skies displayed the power of Creation in thunder and lightning. Shards of light danced like magic between  the clouds and for light relief occasionally earthing themselves as arcs of fire tore down the gap between heaven and earth. As the bold sweeps of energy sliced open the sky, carving edges to the darkness behind, thunder lent weight with sonorous applause, ringing off the hills and rumbling into the distance. All the while, the cooling rain beat down on a land that had been scorched by the heat of a fiery day, bringing soothing peace and ease to those who had gasped in the flames of the daytime inferno. And in and around the razor edge of light and the rolling grumble of the thunder came the softness of rain – sheets of warm rain, bringing relief, but also a strange sensation of peace and of deep inner connectedness, as if the water drops caused me to feel more linked to the earth, and to the storm.

Slowly the energy of the storm moved overhead, the procession of lightstorm and  the deep growl of thunder echoing round the surrounding hills until it moved out of sight and away from our ears – and yet leaving an impact on our hearts, humbled to witness the power of nature unleashed for a short while through coruscating arcs of white fire and the roar of thunder as it rolled with majestic power around us. Each of us left in no doubt that the power that had been unleashed in simple skyborne display could in an instant transform each of our circumstances into new.

One of the things that changed dramatically for Alice Springs was the river. Normally a dry creek bed, where the annual Henley-on-Todd boat race is held – enterprising competitors simply poke their feet through the bottom of their craft and run. It’s cancelled in the event of flood. When I arrived, the river was doing what we would expect… nothing much. This morning, we were confronted with a red torrent, making it tricky to get to the Botanical Gardens the other side of the river.. which was my plan. The locals loved it, splashing and paddling, although motorists looked a bit bemused. I decided that the easiest way was through, so, feet clad in my trusty sandals, waded the river.

Todd River (5)Todd River (6)Todd River (8)Todd River (9)Todd River (1)

There are some great views of the surrounding mountains…

Botanical Gardens (3)Botanical Gardens (6)

I climbed Anzac hill as well, with splendid views across the town and beyond to the McDonnell ranges – these parallel stripes across the surface of the Red Centre are (according to aboriginal belief) due to the activities of three caterpillars crawling on the earth.

From Anzac Hill (2)From Anzac Hill (3)From Anzac Hill (4)From Anzac Hill (6)

And I discovered a very apposite sign for me in Gloria Jean’s Coffee – wicked mudslide mocha – and passed the home of the flying doctor service.

Gloria JeansFlying Doctor

And then out of Alice Springs onto the Ghan, 1500km of train ride across the outback into Darwin. The train has a top speed of around 85km/hr and I reckon they are doing around 70… so it’s a leisurely trip, made even more leisurely by the 3 hour stop over in Tennent Creek overnight, and four hours in Katherine, where the train drops off its payload of passengers for whistlestop tours of the Katherine Gorge (very beautiful, apparently) or the town. And then it hits me – I’m all rocked out! Too many stunning canyons, gorges, mountains, cliffs, volcanos and other forms of weather worn rock. Lucky I am off to the Great Barrier Reef next week!

On the Ghan (1)Katherine (2)On The Ghan (16)On The Ghan (18)

The trip gives you a real idea of how huge the outback really is – kilometre after kilometre of gum trees, eucalypts, termite mounds and the occasional road or cow to break the pattern. It’s strangely evocative and beautiful.australia_termites_2 On the Ghan (6)

(these things range from a few cm to 3m in height and there are millions of them)

And so into Darwin. I have 5 hours to experience all that Darwin has to offer – it takes me 30 minutes. And then another uncomfortable night at the airport before my flight into Cairns the next day (via Gove, which I have never heard of, but seems to be the gateway to untouched Arhemland in the very north of the country). 

Before the flight, we’re treated to another incredible son et lumiere show, the heavens performing as ever with streaks of lightning ripping open the sky and lighting up the airport. And torrential rain too.  Fantastically tropical.

I do discover that it’s bad news to be sat in a window seat on the last two rows on a 717 jet, as the only view you get is of a very large jet engine. Now, don’t get me wrong, they are really good things to have on a plane, and I would prefer if they didn’t fall off… but not outside my window. Fortunately, that route is not the most heavily subscribed, and I manage to move, and even repair some of the damage caused by lack of sleep at the airport.

Oh, and I picked up a couple of late pictures from my Taiwanese fan club from the Uluru tour…

Tim jumpingTim & Toys

Tim & Girls

Uluru–Pukulpa pitjama Ananguku ngurakutu

7 Jan

Tuesday afternoon

So much has happened already this week – so many thoughts spinning in my head, so much wonder and beauty. We start out with a walk round part of the base to the Kantju Gorge. The rules of Tjurkupa (chook-orr-pa) apply – Tjurkupa is what we often translate as ‘The Dreaming’ and is their belief system, their law, their heritage. Much of their beliefs are grounded in creation stories, where the world was created through the magical behaviour of man, animal, bird and fish. Many places around Uluru are so sacred that they cannot be photographed (one, Mala Puta, which is seen as the birthplace of the people, is so sacred that many white people (including our tour guide) avoid looking at it as they pass). Because of the photographic restrictions, we only ever really see the one view of Uluru – the one in all the photographs, taken from the sunset viewing platform. It’s difficult to work out which view is or isn’t permitted, though… so I’ve taken care to limit the Uluru photographs here, just in case. After the walk, a leisurely trip back to our camp site at Yalara resort (with showers. Running water. Electric light) and preparation for a sunset viewing of Uluru – during the sunset the rock changes colour dramatically, and the official viewing platform (Disney Rock, according to the guides) is jammed with people and occasional ‘rock rage’ over seats and viewing space breaks out. Imagine the fury when a hapless motorist parked in between the platform and the rock…

Anyway, we elect to view from the camp site – 10km further out, but with more space.. in fact I spent a couple of hours just watching the rock before sunset – eventually joined by the rest of the crew. But the sky is overcast, and so the rock stays determinedly the same colour. But what we DO have are glorious views over towards Kata Tjutu and some glorious sunrises in that direction.

Uluru from Yulara (32)Yalara Campsite (2)Sunset from Yulara (55)Sunset from Yulara (59)Sunset from Yulara (60)Uluru from Yulara (21)

We spend the evening memorising each others’ names (not an easy task for the Europeans memorising Chinese names – or, come to think of it, the other way round). We play ‘I can see the moon in the spoon’ which frustrates me intensely until the penny drops.

Back to our swags, and another night under the stars. or it would be, if it wasn’t for those clouds. But around midnight the sky clears and a truly beautiful display lights up the sky. And my thoughts are drawn back to that song.. “You light up the sky to show that you love me”. It’s cold, and the swag is welcome… until I am rudely awakened at 4:30 by Paul, the tour guide. He’s an Aussie, so I really do mean ‘rudely awakened’.

And we’re off to Uluru. The stars are still out, but the sun is rising slowly over the rock.

Uluru Base Walk (34)

So, what did I choose? Well, I realised, actually, that in keeping with the beliefs of the Anangu culture, that this is all a dreaming anyway (more thoughts on THAT to come!) – and nothing has any meaning save the meaning we give it. Which is very much at the heart of my personal beliefs. So I don’t need to climb the rock as any rite of passage or to prove anything – I can just choose to decide what is true for me.  But I do send a part of me soaring skywards to see the top of the rock.

Uluru From View Platform (16)Uluru From View Platform (18)

The question is moot, anyway – the climb is closed due to wind. But somehow it seems important to have answered the question for myself.

So we walk round the base of the rock – it’s massive, and immense, and thought provoking as I walk. Many areas are blocked from photography, although I may have got one or two shots wrong.. in which case, I apologise! At one point I do get to walk on the rock at ground level – but since the vast proportion of Uluru is below ground (it’s an insul berg) then I guess I’m kind of walking on the top, sort of….

Uluru Base Walk (36) The Song LineUluru Base Walk (11) The Climb


It almost takes me to a different space – I feel very close to nature, to my Creator, to my purpose and destiny, to other people.. as if the rock is connecting me in some way to truth, and to the Universe.

And then off. Uluru is a truly special place – and yet no place is more sacred than another – and no place is less sacred than another. So somewhere in all this experience, I’ve encountered myself in a deeper way. Much, truly, to think of…

And back on the bus. I’ve got the job of keeping the driver awake on the long haul run home… and it really is a long haul run. The roads are dead straight, and there are huge 5 or 6 trailer road trains that take around a kilometre to stop. We even see the evidence of what happens when one sheds a tyre… a skid that goes on for a long, long, long time.

Finally back to Annie’s, where the girl on reception is still very amused by me (but in a good way, I am assured) and is very pleased to meet Tigger and Snuff.

Celebration with the crew, beers all round, and time to think, to plan, and to plot how on earth I am getting to Darwin (and whether I need to worry about the East Coast floods)

(oh – that headline? “Welcome to aboriginal land”

A town called Alice

6 Jan


Well, a quick(ish) jaunt on a plane to Alice Springs. It was warm in Melbourne… it’s in the mid 40s (and we’re not talking fahrenheit) here in Alice Springs. Which isn’t, as it happens, a very exciting town. Neither is it actually anywhere near any of the exciting places like Uluru or Watarrka.

Hold on a minute. I’m in Alice Springs. ALICE SPRINGS! I’ve always been fascinated by this place, right in the middle of this huge continent, where the doctors fly helicopters and aeroplanes. Ever since I was little I’ve dreamed of going to Alice Springs.

Alice Springs (2)Alice Springs (3)

Anyway, Annie’s Place is a nice enough hostel, where the receptionist (from Rochdale, as it happens) torments me mercilessly about asking so many questions in my emails. We’ve got a bar. A pool. $5 meals. Free internet (although it isn’t working). There are cool photographs and posters glued to the walls and bicycles hanging from the roof.

Annie's Place (1)Annie's Place

Alice Springs is the home of the Henley on Todd Regatta where the competitors run with their feet through the bottom of boats on the dry bed of the Todd River. It’s been cancelled before – when there actually was water in the river.


So, up at 5:15 to join the tour…. Mulga’s tours are based at Annie’s Place so it’s easy enough.. and off on the first stop on this crazy three day tour. It’s 400km from Alice Springs to Watarrka, or King’s Canyon.. we stop along the way to grab some photos.. but it’s flat, flat, flat.

On the Bus (2)To Wattarka (1)

With the occasional bump. The ground is arid as hell – the bushes get their moisture from the air (and there’s precious little moisture in the air) as the ground is totally dry. The crew for today are a mix of Taiwanese, Indonesian, German, Dutch, French, Norwegian – and four Brits, who rib the driver mercilessly about cricket.

And so to Wattarka. This place is sacred to the aboriginal people in the area (and remember, there were 200 + mobs (tribes) in Australia. The huge canyon (also known as King’s Canyon) is awesome – although the first climb up Heart Attack Hill soon sorted out the men from the boys..

Wattarka (16)

Wattarka (6) Climbing Heart Attack Hill

Wattarka (18) Ghost Gum

Wattarka (26)Garden of Eden (12)

The Canyon is truly incredible though, gorgeous rock formations that stand out – the aboriginal people saw them as the dead warriors

Garden of Eden (15)Garden of Eden (5)

And hiding deep inside the canyon, if you avoid the obvious track, is a beautiful oasis called the Garden of Eden. It’s been dry, so there’s no waterfall, but we edge ourselves across the pool and its population of ‘nearly frog’ tadpoles to the other side and look over the edge. It’s another glorious view, even if the water isn’t running..Garden of Eden (6)

Through the Wedding tree – we’re very careful who accompanies who through there – and on to the end of the trail.. and back to the bus. It’s a 6km trail, and it’s taken us just shy of four hours in the heat of the day (and that’s like, 46 degrees). Lots of water consumed – and by the end, it’s warm enough to shower in.

Wedding Tree (2) The Wedding Tree

And off then to our camp site. Another long drive, with everyone excited at the appearance of Mount Conner – another mesa in the middle of the outback.

Mt Conner Viewpoint (2) Not Uluru

We’re staying overnight just outside Curtis Springs but on the Curtis Springs land – this million acre cattle ranch is bigger than the Netherlands. But we really are in the middle of nowhere.. we receive dire warnings about shaking clothes and boots before putting them on, in case something nasty has taken up residence – and make sure your boots are carefully secured in case the dingos take them. (The owner of Curtis Springs also owns the land that Mt Conner is on – and buries his family members at the base). Paul, our guide, cooks us kangaroo tail for dinner – one of the moments I am truly, deeply glad I am vegetarian.

Curtin Springs (6)

We’ve all got swags, which, for the uninitiated, are canvas zipped bags with a hood and a mattress. We only need the mattress, it’s so damn hot. But we sleep well, which is just as well, because we’re up at 5:30 to make our way to Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. It’s cloudy at first, but eventually the stars peer down at us – in the bush, nowhere near light pollution, the stretch across the heavens.. the Milky Way is an iridescent cloud of light, while Orion still looks down from his inverted (to Northern eyes) viewpoint. And every now and then a shooting star arcs its fiery path across the blackness.

So, up and out after a camp breakfast and a meeting with another psycho in a tutu – or an emu, to you.

Curtin Springs am (3)Curtin Springs am (6)

Sunset might have been a bit lame, but sunrise does not disappoint us…

Curtin Springs (11)Curtin Springs (2)

Today, it’s a visit to Kata Tjuta – this crazy rock formation is part of the skyline with Uluru, and in some ways is more beautiful than the better known monolith. We walk the Valley of the Winds, a climb up through the wonderful rock formations to look out at the incredible vista below..

Kata Tjuta (23)Kata Tjuta (39)Kata Tjuta (2)


I elect to take the longer walk back to the bus – it’s an easier walk this time, but the solitude and beauty simply amaze me.. I’m quite a fast walker, scrambler, falling downy sort of tramper – but I just want to linger and absorb the tranquillity, the beauty and the energy of the place..

Kata Tjuta (6)Kata Tjuta (58)

And then a brief drive across the park to Uluru. And perhaps we’ll save that story for another day… but i am already torn by a question: to climb the mountain or not? The aboriginal peoples ask for people not to climb – they do not climb, as it is such a sacred place. The rangers ask for people not to climb, as there have been 40-50 deaths on the rock due to heat exhaustion. For me, I want to respect the people – yet I also feel that the rock belongs to the world – and that there is possibly a rite of passage to be experienced.

My friend Lisa wrote her thoughts . . .

There is no natural feature on earth which does not show the greatness and beauty of its creator. They are gifts to us all. I believe there are good ways to experience everything we wish to – and still respect another’s beliefs. If you decide against climbing the rock, you may find it is more spiritual, for you, to look up at it from the earth below. If you climb, you may gaze at the horizon in wonder.

. . . and what will I decide…..?

First Sight of Uluru

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