Still got the final few Aussie posts to upload (and Dubai) but since I’m typing this from JFK airport…

Yes, I’ve been home for 6 weeks and and off again – to the US and Canada. The highlight will undoubtedly be Hawaii – I’m going there to see the Venus Transit, the rare occurrence of the planet Venus crossing the path of the sun. It’s rare – VERY rare. There’s a pair 8 years apart, followed by a gap of 105 or 121 years. The one on June 5th/6th is the 2nd of the pair so is a once in a lifetime viewing if you didn’t see the last one. It’ll be the 2nd and final time I get to see it as I doubt I’ll be around in 2117 and even if I make it to my 132rd birthday I doubt I’ll be in a position to travel to this side of the planet again.

I’m heading to Hawaii as it’s by far the best viewing location – most places on the Pacific Rim will be able to see at least a part of it but in Hawaii I’ll be able to see the entire transit – it takes around 6 hours for the full event, so there’s plenty of observing time. Europe will miss most of it, though if you get up very early on the 6th you’ll be able to see the end of it.

Hopefully it will be as good as last time, in the slightly less glamorous location of Birmingham Uni – still, the weather then was perfect and it should be in Hawaii too!

Weirdly, my bag is lighter than it was in Australia, even though I’m carrying a 5kg telescope with me. My bag was always 18kg or more and whilst I posted a fair bit of stuff home it still seemed far fuller than it is here in the US – doesn’t make sense to me, but a lighter bag is definitely something I can’t complain about!

Getting into the US was easy enough, though carrying the solar filter paper in my hand luggage was rewarded with a closer inspection as it went through the scanner in JFK – no such issues in Heathrow.

Before I go to Hawaii I’m stopping in Seattle – home of Fraser Crane. Newport was once called the “new Seattle” so I’m intrigued to see how people came to that conclusion. And since Vancouver is no further away than London is from Manchester, a trip across the border is on the cards – so long as there’s no potential Visa issues getting back into the US.

I’ll be on the west coast for 10 days before flying to Hawaii on June 1st, staying there for 2 weeks before flying home. 27 days away – far less than the 69 I had in Aus and Dubai but still long enough for what should be a very different experience. More soon…

Newcastle, Byron Bay and Nimbin

It’s better now but while I was making my way north through New South Wales the weather has been pretty bad.

From Sydney I went north to Newcastle. I got there early to take advantage of the free hostel BBQ and the weather wasn’t too pretty good for the evening…

That was a good night – I met Bryan who was on the Bridge Climb in Sydney in my hostel and we ended up playing pool with a bamboo stick and diving into the sea at midnight with a girl from Germany. Good times… not to last though.

Friday rained. A lot. I had soup on me so cooked that for lunch (not without one of the flies in the hostel kitchen jumping into the saucepan though) and made it out to the southern breakwater via Fort Stanley and the lighthouse. The fort in particular had something about it but simply wasn’t that enjoyable in the rain. Walking on the breakwater was the same – though some of the waves were worth seeing.

Saturday was better – no rain. But no sun either. I crossed the river to have a look at the beach and the other breakwater (massive difference between the 2) and found the ocean museum. But the Skytower was closed so the views weren’t brilliant (though I managed to get up there Thursday night).

Basically, Newcastle isn’t a bad place but for me it’s somewhere that’s easy to skip through (and definitely not an essential stopping point).

It worked out reasonably well though – I booked the overnight bus for the extra day in Newcastle and got to Byron Bay at 7am – the right decision in hindsight. Since the hostel bed wasn’t available until 11am I went to the beach with 2 German girls I met on the bus the night before – the timing in particular worked out, as it started raining as we went for breakfast…

It didn’t last long though and the monthly market was on too, so I went there for an hour – nothing particularly good to buy (not that I could have carried it anyway) but I did have sugar cane juice – probably not something I’ll have again…

From there I got a lift to the airport to skydive – something I hadn’t planned on doing in Australia but since mentioned to me in Alice it’s something I half planned on doing if the opportunity was right. Jumping on Sunday was the right decision – good weather and it allowed me to go to Nimbin on Monday…

The skydive itself was brilliant – unlike anything I’ve tried before or since and it will definitely be one of the highlights of my time in Australia. I paid extra for the video – I’ll post it online when I can, probably when I get back home though…

I had enough time to borrow a bike and go up to the lighthouse – it marks Australia’s most Easterly point. Some pretty good views, though again the weather was obviously going to get worse…

We still had enough time to have a game of poker in the hostel. Naturally I didn’t win – having started with 4,500 chips, I had 7,000+ at one point but lost a 2 pair I made on the flop to a flush made on the river and lost over 5,000 chips. I couldn’t recover from that.

I went to Nimbin on Monday – hippie central where the locals are very happy to offer drugs on the street. It’s in a bit of a timewarp – the whole place has a very 1960’s feel. Definitely somewhere to see once…

It still rained a lot whilst we were there but it wasn’t too bad – it’s obvious though that northern NSW gets far more rain that most of Australia…

From there I got the bus to Brisbane, where I am now. I’m heading off to the Gold Coast today until Tuesday before coming back to get the flight to Melbourne on Wednesday morning. More soon….


Difficult to know where to start with my time in Sydney….

I took a late bus from Canberra which took about 3 hours – nothing like as difficult as the 19 from Adelaide. But I did make what is in hindsight the foolish decision to walk to the hostel from the bus station – 30 mins when carrying 25 kgs isn’t too clever. Managed to make it over in one piece, had food and then went back to Oxford St to meet Craig, who I haven’t seen since I left school 8 years ago. Fairly quiet night, though it still ended at 3am.

There’s only one obvious place to start when considering the tourist attractions in Sydney – the Opera House. A quick(ish) afternoon tour was definitely a good idea, if only to see that the Opera House is not white at all – it’s a dirtyish yellow closeup. Both halls are huge, though we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside. They did however insist on taking pictures against a green screen to sell a photo pack (which I ended up buying anyway). We spent the rest of the day in the pub – starting with lunch at Scruffy Murphy’s (more on there later) before meeting 2 Londoners and moving to Cheers to play pool. It isn’t anything like the TV show namesake but was still a good use of the day… though I didn’t win on the greyhounds.

Thursday was even more laid back – I took a quick walk around the Botanical Gardens before deciding to play the game of going to a random suburb and having a look around. I ended up in Parramatta, which looks nice enough but has nothing for the tourist except for the ferry ride back to Sydney down the Parramatta River… and thanks to the tide, it wasn’t running.

Friday was weird. I decided to go to the Blue Mountains and rather than take the train and do it myself I went instead on a day tour which started at 7am. I started early but it turned out that the pickup at the next hostel would fill the bus… turns out that you can do backpacking as a package holiday, via Oz Experience. Definitely not something I would have done but there were plenty of people to meet, unlike the tour down from Alice Springs to Adelaide.

The Blue Mountains are a definite must see – stunning views from Wentworth Falls (especially if you take the 850 steps down to the base of the waterfall) and the 3 Sisters are equally beautiful. Rather than take the 1,000 steps back up though, we took the old coal train – not for the faint hearted, the incline is 52 degrees!

It turns out the Blue Mountains are named as such thanks to the forest that covers the landscape being mainly Eucalyptus trees, which give off a blueish water vapour.

Saturday – my birthday and for the first time, 28 degree heat and sunshine. Perfect for hitting Bondi Beach in the morning. It’s exactly as you’d expect, packed with people… but there’s still plenty of space to find a spot to throw the towel down too.

Bondi was the first beach I’ve been to where I felt the Aussie rips (strong currents). It’s pretty nasty swimming out to quickly find that you’re further out than anyone else without a surfboard in no time at all. It’s far more disturbing when you try to swim back to the beach and find yourself not moving at all… it’s just a case of waiting for the right wave.

Following Bondi I headed up to Hyde Park to meet Craig – there was a wine tasting festival that weekend featuring wineries from New South Wales. It’s a good setup, even if it’s expensive – it’s $20 for a strip of 5 vouchers, which give you one 60ml or 2 30ml tastes of different wines. Add in the extra $5 for the glass and it’s an expensive way to drink a large glass of wine. It’ was still definitely worth the effort.

From there we headed to Darling Harbour for the last fireworks display of the month (there’s one every Saturday in February) before moving on to Scruffy Murphy’s to watch the rugby. That was a tense but ultimately brilliant evening, hands down one of the best days I’ve had out here.

Sunday was the comedown – not helped by the weather. Back to the wine festival before finding the Greek festival further round in Darling Harbour – we didn’t stay there long after the promised DJ turned out to be traditional Greek music instead. Unsurprisingly it started nearly an hour late…

Monday was better, though still undecided in the weather stakes. I headed back to Darling Harbour to do the obvious tourist attractions, starting with the Aquarium before going to the Wildlife park next door. Both were impressive considering their location in the heart of Sydney – the aquarium for it’s huge underwater tunnels in the shark/stingray tank, the Wildlife park for the huge crocodile they have there. Then the bridge climb…

The Harbour Bridge is one of the big landmarks in Sydney – the climb wasn’t too difficult for me (but for some on the trip it was clearly too much). It was definitely worth the effort and saving a bit by going at night – Sydney by night was very different than by day. I also had a train cross the bridge as I was doing the climb down – the line runs less than a metre from the ladder so was pretty thrown by that!

Tuesday was another quietish day – though we did another bit of climbing, this time up the Olympic Stadium. It wasn’t easy to get to but worth waiting for the gantry tour that takes you up to roof level to see the stadium. A pretty impressive sight – and we were able to walk onto the pitch and stand on the actual podium they used in the stadium at the Olympics.

Wednesday was unfortunately a write off thanks to the heavy rain. We spent the day in the pub – my plan on going up to Manly wasn’t worth it considering how heavy it was. We still had time to go out in central Sydney in the evening though.

I left Sydney the day after but not before taking a trip up the Sky Tower for views that were even better than those at the Harbour Bridge… before getting a late afternoon train to Newcastle, where I now am.

Sydney left me with mixed feelings. As a city it’s definitely got everything you’d need and it certainly feels like London at times. But I’ve not taken anything massively life changing from  it – far less so than the week I spent in Adelaide. It’s not lost on me that Sydney is half the size of London whereas Adelaide is about as big as Birmingham… and whist Sydney is somewhere I could easily live, it’s not somewhere I’d necessarily enjoy. Certainly not in the same way as Adelaide…

Saying that, I definitely see myself coming back. There’s plenty I didn’t get round to see – Manly for starters, though I missed some of the quieter beaches to the south, and Manly itself and the beaches to the north. There’s also Luna Park, built on the site of the construction area for the Harbour Bridge. It’s now a theme park – and a pretty good one by the sounds of it too.

I’ll cover Newcastle in my next post but the weather is definitely following me north. I arrived yesterday evening in time for the free food but today has again been a write off – the weather really is worse than pretty much everywhere else I’ve been today. Tomorrow isn’t looking much better either – I leave late tomorrow evening to get the overnight bus to Byron Bay

This wasn’t supposed to be a holiday to find myself but I’ve learned a lot over the last few weeks…

Package holidays definitely aren’t for me in any form. The odd tour here and there is fine but only in places that are difficult to get at without transport or to places that are too small to realistically do alone. I certainly can’t have everything planned out for me in advance. I definitely need the ability to mix up what I do and where – museums, beaches, walks, bars – all in equal measure. Obviously it works for some – that’s definitely OK, but not for me. Canberra made that obvious – it’s basically full of museums which are pleasant enough, but there’s simply far too many of  them to take in everything… and doing 2 or 3 in the same day without doing something different is very difficult for me.

I’m clearly not spending my time as either a hard-core backpacker or as a proper tourist – I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle. Hostel price isn’t too much of a concern so long as it’s decent enough – I’m certainly not against going up to $35AUS per day for a hostel. Having said that, I’ll quite happily find somewhere cheaper if I can and it doesn’t result in too many compromises… and I’ve found a place in Brisbane that’s charging $19 for the Monday night…

Some tips too if you’re thinking of coming to Australia…

Australia is expensive. VERY expensive. The only thing cheaper than in the UK is petrol. Even AUS $100 is pushing it sometimes, especially in Sydney.

YHA hostels are an easy option. They also attract a more varied crowd from the traditional backpacker or 20 something worker, ueually including a few older people. The major advantage is that as a network it’s possible to book a hostel elsewhere and pay before arriving there – I’ve just done that today in Newcastle for my next hostel in Byron Bay. But it’s not necessarily the best choice. For starters, they charge more unless you have a YHA membership card. I’ve only previously used the hostel in Augusta – which was so far out of the way that the YHA was the only hostel in the area. I’m trying a few more but this one certainly isn’t the best – the kitchen is pretty well stocked… and that includes flies too. I had what looked like a small flying cockroach land in my soup as I was cooking it at lunchtime. YHA hostels also charge for wifi access and it’s simply far too much money, especially on top of the cost of the hostel. I doubt I’ll be using one again whilst I’m in Australia after Byron Bay.

Also, if you’re thinking of heading to Australia, check to see if your phone will work properly here – my phone only supports the 2G networks so I lose 3G, data and large chunks of places have no 2g coverage… which makes phone calls a very mixed bag.

I’ll stop there before I end up rambling too much. Just hope the weather improves over the next few days – rain isn’t that much fun.

Canberra and the ACT

A weird long weekend…

Being the capital usually means a big city. Not when it comes to Canberra…

I had planned to go to Melbourne for a few days first to break up the journey but as there aren’t any sensible buses from Adelaide to Melbourne I decided to go straight to the capital…

I got there at 6am on Saturday thanks to a stupidly long 19 hour bus from Adelaide. It was fine until it got dark but was pretty soul destroying not being able to sleep…

…so Saturday was pretty much a write off. Slept until 2 and managed a quick walk around Dickson/Chinatown before heading into the centre. Then it rained…

Sunday was better, as I had time to see both the old and new parliament buildings. The old one is now a museum and had some pretty interesting stuff about Aussie political history, whereas the new building is far more impressive. It’s not every parliament building that you can legally walk over – doubt anyone would be able to try that in London… and the views of the mall overlooking the old parliament building and the war memorial on the other side of the lake are pretty good too.


Since I had an extra day to play with, I took a hire car to head out to the Canberra Deep Space Network. I’m undecided as to whether that was worth the effort, mainly as the museum covered space flight which I already know a fair bit about. Was pretty cool to see a bit of moon rock though… and the radio telescopes were impressive.


I also took the car up to the Telstra Tower – a fairly standard TV tower with a viewing platform. The weather wasn’t ideal but the views were stunning… and it showed just how small the city is. IT may be a planned city but the northern side of Canberra certainly doesn’t feel like that.

I also had a random envelope left at reception to $50 for me! No idea who gave left it either… possibly the owner of the hostel or the 2 Danish girls who were in my room but certainly an unexpected surprise.

Having checked out and returned the car, I spent Tuesday covering a few more museums – the National, Canberra and war memorial. All pretty interesting places but it leads me to the major problem I had with the city…

Basically Canberra is just a city with museums and the political heart of Australia. There’s very little else to do, so it’s not somewhere easy to cover. I left out the National Gallery and Portrait museums as it would have been far too much to take in. It’s certainly a place to go to for a day or two but I probably spent too long there – and it’s the first place I’ve been to that I doubt I would go back to. The backpackers I used was one of 2 cheap options and a bit out of town… good location and Dickson is pretty interesting in it’s own right but the extra charges ($6 for cutlery hire and only $5 on return) definitely put me off a bit, as did the very restrictive rules on cooking. It’s a decent enough place but only as there’s very little in cheap alternatives.

I didn’t help that the weather was pretty bad too – the only properly sunny day was the very last before I got the bus to Sydney (thankfully a much shorter 3 hours) but otherwise was mainly cloudy and the thunderstorms were pretty nasty too.

The other big problem is that most of the museums closed at 5pm – they are at least open at weekends but it leaves very little else to do in the city. And the bus numbers are different at weekends too…

It’s definitely a place to go once, but I doubt I’ll be going back. Sydney on the other hand…

8 nights/7 days in Adelaide

Good sign isn’t that?

Adelaide wasn’t a place I expected to be spending more than 4 days in, so it’s nice to have found somewhere completely unexpected.

Whereas Perth had the location (and weather) but lacked the personality and the people, Adelaide delivered the opposite. Immediately on arriving at my hostel, it was obvious I was onto a good place…

Day 1 in Adelaide was supposed to be a quiet rest day following 5 days of tours… instead I was up at 6am to go dolphin swimming. Not in a pool with specially trained dolphins – totally wild ones instead. Thanks Ji Hyun!

We missed the tram, which was a good thing as we wouldn’t have made it to Glenelg in time anyway… one taxi later and $98 and we on the Temptation, a catamaran to take us into the harbour.

It was borderline torture – being dragged on a rope behind a boat at 8am isn’t exactly my idea of fun but it was worth the effort (even if I had to bail out a few times). We certainly saw some dolphins – including a little baby one too (no more than 2 weeks old). Definitely worth the early start.



From there we headed back into Adelaide Central Market – somewhere completely unexpected. It’s a mecca of fresh fruit and a tourist haven. Noodles in the Chinese quarter for lunch capped off a pretty good day (I slept for most of the afternoon).

Day 2 ended up being my quiet day doing the essentials (like washing) but I did manage a quick walk around Adelaide Botanic Gardens and the old F1 track… and ended the night in Grace Emily –  a pub with live music. There’s plenty of places like it at home, not many in Australia… certainly a good suggestion by my tour guide Sandy to go there (more on her later…)

The next 2 days I spent on Kangaroo Island – where I managed to meet Amalie and Sofie from the Uluru tour… and kept bumping into Sandy again, who was doing a one-off Kangaroo Island tour for a different company…

It’s an astonishing place – certainly far more interesting than Rottnest in Perth (though Rotto definitely has it’s charms). Another early start didn’t help, especially after the tour company I booked through gave me the meeting address…. failing to mention that they meant the bus terminal.

It’s a long way there – 2 hours on the bus, another on the boat (again, a place not for mother unless flying in). Once there, we started with a sheep shearing demonstration, followed by the Eucalyptus farm, Sea Lion watching and sandboarding…


I’ve learned that sandboarding is definitely not something I’m good at. “Tumbling with Style” is perhaps more accurate, since I didn’t make it down the slope once without falling off the board. One fall was particularly nasty – and our guide Kate was “kind” enough to take a picture of me afterwards…


before heading to our accommodation for the night, we had a few hours to do our own thing. 90 minutes on the river in a Kayak was certainly worth the effort… and we had a wild Koala to take a look at…


There was just enough time for a quick cycle to the beach for sunset… Amalie and Sofie definitely missed out on a a stunning sunset!


Day 2 took us to Flinders National Park, the Remarkable Rocks and the Natural Bridge – far more impressive than the one I saw at Torndirrup National Park on the South Coast near Albany… especially when there were plenty of seals to watch!

From there we headed up to Stony Bay for an hour on the beach before heading home. 2 pretty awesome days…

…but not the end of the story. Again, I’d planned on going pretty much straight to bed…I checked back into My Place hostel to find JB and Alonso. After hearing the suggestion of going to Grace Emily…

…2 Frenchmen, one Taiwanese and a Welshman go to a bar. With live music. The punchline?

Once again, I met Sandy. My night ended around 4am.

Valentine’s Day was mainly spent wondering why men who obviously felt at home on the beach were carrying single red flowers. Clearly not one of my finer days…

The Barossa Valley was far more interesting – a day of wine tasting, including seeing THE Jacob’s Creek that’s named the safe wine option I buy for house parties… along with 3 other wineries, including one that has a family tradition of making port that’s kegged and left untouched for 100 years. Today as I’m typing this (Feb 20th) is the day they’ll open the 1912 keg (apparently a 500 litre keg will reduce to 200 thanks to fermentation over the years). It’s not cheap stuff – a 375ml bottle of 100 year old port will set you back $975. Thankfully you can pay $30 for a quick taste – definitely worth putting the money down for that. Compared to the 3 and 10 year old ports we had, the 3 year old is caramelly in taste and texture, the 10 is syrupy. The 100 year old is similar to the 10 but the texture is closer to water and the taste is ridiculously strong….



Which leaves my final full day in Adelaide – a final walk around the Market before going to the Zoo (where I got to touch River the Koala thanks to his keeper being there to feed him when I went to have a look) and the South Australian Museum – not as interesting as I’d expected, except for the opalised fossils.



There’s no question that Adelaide has plenty to offer – certainly far more than I expected it would. I’ll definitely be going back at some point. Just a pity the bus to Canberra took nearly 19 hours. I’d also definitely recommend “My Place” at a good hostel to stay – it’s certainly the best one I’ve had so far.

I’m almost up to date now. I’m typing this from my hostel in Canberra, where I’m moving on from tomorrow evening to Sydney. A completely different place, if only for the thunderstorms… more soon.

Alice Springs to Adelaide via Uluru–Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon

OK, it’s not lost on me that it’s been nearly 2 weeks since my last update… but I’ve done so much since I left Alice Springs 2 weeks ago to see Uluru that I haven’t had the time to update recently…

As I type this I’m in Canberra – but more on that later, plenty to talk about…

As I said in my last post, arriving at Alice Springs airport was hot – VERY hot. 42 degrees – something I haven’t experienced before. And to think that people in the UK were complaining about snow…

Thankfully, there’s a free bus to the Alice Lodge Backpackers, where I stayed the night… and was introduced to Monopoly – The Card Game. One to buy on my return home…

This was the trickiest bit of my time away to plan – I gave myself 2(ish) weeks in WA and 6 on the east but timing the tour to fit in with various travel options to Adelaide was the difficult part. I was going to take the Ghan from Alice Springs to Adelaide (I didn’t and it’s a good thing too, as a Copper Sulphate spillage had closed the passenger train).

Sunday morning… and 3 tour buses show up, none with my name on the list of people on their tour. Thankfully, the fourth and last was my bus. Onwards to Uluru!

It was a pretty good group – as I’m finding, there’s plenty of Germans in Australia – we had 6 on our tour of 19. We had what is probably a typical mix of people, mainly 20 somethings but with a few older couples. Talking of which, only 5 of us were travelling alone…

We also had a pretty amazing tour guide. Heff certainly kept us entertained (Water pistols and Frisbee helped, as did a few games of Bus Cricket) but he was very good, especially after having had a week off…

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park might look close to Alice Springs on a map but it’s still a 6 hour drive away.  We stopped a few times on the way too – Stony Creek where we could ride camels (I passed as it’s very expensive), Erldunda (where the Stuart Highway – the main road between Darwin and Adelaide meets the Lassiter Highway, the main road to Uluru) and along via Curtin Springs before arriving at Yulara, the town purpose built to serve the National Park. Typically, it’s $25 for 3 days access and $32.50 for a year…

After lunch, we started with Kata Tjuta – The Olgas. It’s pretty impressive in it’s own right and, in hindsight, far more so than Uluru itself. We only completed about half of the Valley of the Giants Walk but the scenery is impressive to say the least.

From there, we headed to the Uluru Sunset Viewing Point – it’s that big a tourist magnet they have to have a separate place to watch it from. The colour changes are as dramatic as described – and the sunsets are very fast in Australia compared to the UK, so there’s not long to get pictures… still, we had champagne at sunset (though in plastic cups, far more classy!)


From there we headed back to our campground at Yulara, where I ended up cooking on the Barbie. No shrimps, but Kangaroo – can’t get more Aussie than that!

Before bed, we had the option to sleep on Swag’s – Aussie bedrolls (I’ll let Wikipedia explain in better terms). I couldn’t refuse that, so slept outside with most of the group but not before checking out Yulara lookout and getting possibly the best picture I;’ve ever taken – The Southern Cross over Uluru.


Day 2 started very early thanks to getting up in time to get back into the National Park (you’re not allowed to stay inside overnight – that’s what Yulara was built for) in time to see sunrise over Uluru. Again, pretty impressive stuff.


We’re also apparently in the quiet season… still not sure I can believe that after taking this one…


Then followed the Uluru Basewalk. Usually it’s pretty tough thanks to the heat (and they suggest finishing before 11am). No such worries thanks to the coldest day of the year so far – a mere 28 degrees at its hottest. From there, we spent the rest of the day travelling to King’s Canyon, about 300km away. Again, places aren’t close in Australia! We had a bit of a wait as our tour guide went to help another with a blown tyre… so we got the Frisbee out at King’s Canyon Station… only for the dog to take an interest and literally leave it’s mark…

King’s Canyon is perhaps the highlight of the tour – a 4 hour walk around but it’s pretty easy… after the first 20 minutes of climbing straight up.

It’s got a massive variation of scenery – and again, with much cooler temperatures than normal, was a pretty fun way to end the tour.

Having said that, I’m pretty annoyed with STA travel – when I booked the tour I asked them if they had anything from Alice Springs directly to Adelaide – which they didn’t. Turns out that the tour split after getting back to Erldunda, which most of us heading back to Alice Springs and six continuing on to Adelaide. Annoyed doesn’t cover it…

So we got back to the hostel… only for me to have a message from the tour company I’d booked to get me to Adelaide. Three people made it pretty pointless for them so they wanted to cut a day off the tour and get us to Adelaide in 2 days. In hindsight it’s a blessing in disguise, though it certainly wasn’t at the time.

Tour 2 started with Sandy picking me up, again from the Alice Lodge. From there it was a pretty intensive drive down to Coober Pedy, the Opal Mining capital of South Australia. We had a tour of the mine, got our underground bunkhouse and went to the local Pizzeria for dinner… only to bump into the remaining members of the tour I’d left the previous day! Small world indeed… though I had an inkling it would happen.

Coober Pedy is a strange place – mainly built post WWI thanks to very little in the way of building material, so underground was the way to go – around half of the town is under the rocks. We got a pretty impressive sunset too.


Even better, we got an amazing sunrise too!


Day 2 was even more intense – most of it spent in the bus travelling the 850km to Adelaide. We did stop Lake Hart, a large Salt Lake (not anything like as big as Lake Eyre, but still huge).


It’s also very salty – being a salt lake, that should be expected but even so I had to have a taste…


From there we drove pretty much straight to Adelaide. Five pretty intensive days. My plan was to have a rest day in Adelaide when I got there. That certainly didn’t happen! I’ll finish that story tomorrow… I’ve typed enough for one day!

Final few days in WA…

I’ve just got back to Alice Springs from a tour of Uluru, Kata Tjuta and King’s Canyon. I’ll post about them later but first…

the final few days in WA were pretty good. I spent Wednesday in Waneroo in north Perth with the last member of my extended family in WA and saw plenty of the coast in Northern Perth around Joondalup. I also reconnected a VCR to an old TV…

I stayed until Thursday afternoon, which was spent getting across town to Cottseloe to my new hostel. Unfortunately the weather made a turn for the worse, clouding over with some rain for good measure. Cottesloe is a pleasant enough part of Perth (and the hostel was certainly cheap) but the 1km walk from the hostel to the train station with 3 bags wasn’t a fun experience (thanks to having the car I aquired plenty of extra bits). I managed to squeeze in a return to Fremantle Prison to do the “Great Escapes” tour I book the week before… which was different tahnks to being the only person on the tour! Thankfully it still ran and I got plenty of insights about Moondyne Joe, a Welshman who managed to escape on many ocassions (possibly as many as 30).

I went back to Freo on Friday to see the Maritime Museum, along with the Shipwreck Galleries and the Roundhouse (oldest building in Freo) before going back into Perth to see the Bell Tower. The Maritime Museum was probably the highlight of the day, though the mad dash to the post office to post the extra bits I no longer need before closing was definitely a close 2nd.

Saturday was flight number 3, Perth to Alice Springs. Unlike booking online with Emirates, I had to checkin for the Qantas flight at the airport – not the easiest experience but smooth enough. The flight itself was a weird experience thanks to  flying for nearly 3 hours over nothing but empty land… except for Uluru, which I got some pictures of thanks to someone offering the view (helpfully I had a huge choice of seats when checking in… the allocated seat being on the right side of the plane. Since I like to gamble on the small things, I chose a window seat on the left side of the plane. Guess which side Uluru was on…)

Alice Springs was hot – 42 degrees on arrival. I’d have been much happier with the snow in the UK! Thankfully it cooled pretty quickly and the night was pretty good thanks to the Monopoly card game.

I’ll cover Uluru and the tour itself in more detail when I’ve done the next one that leaves tomorrow and takes me to Adelaide but whilst it’s been pretty hot, but Alice Springs standards it’s been very cold – Monday at Uluru was the coldest day of the year so far – a mere 28 degrees. It certainly made the walks far less intense than they usually are!

I’ve also managed to get what is probably the best picture I’ve taken – the Southern Cross over Uluru. I’ll post that in a few days when I get to Adelaide since the wifi here, whilst free, is useless at uploading anything.

I’m also getting to Adelaide sooner than intended – there’s going to be 3 people (including myself) on the tour so the tour company are reducing the length and cutting a day off (and knocking $70 off the price). I’ll fill you in when I’m in South Australia – and have DST to worry about too!

Augusta to Bunbury via Albany

Yes it’s not an imaginative title but what that doesn’t cover is the distance involved…

The drive to Albany was some 370km, so to break up the day I took the coast road and stopped at the tree-top walk at the Valley of the Giants, near Walpole. At a very simple level it’s nothing more than a forest. Except someone decided to build a 40m high walkway through it. Stunningly beautiful and it’s nice that they allowed full wheelchair access too. It was just a bit unnerving to see just how far trees sway in even a small gust of wind. For once luck was on my side, as I arrived early enough to get a tour of the ground level part of the site so got the full insight into the Red Tindle, a native tree that grows 80m+ tall. It turns out that the trunks rot from the inside and that people used to park cars inside one of them – until it fell down…

From there I continued to Denmark, only to find that I’d overshot the Elephany Rocks by 15km. Naturally I backtracked to see them and the Green Pool. The rocks are pretty impressive – it certainly does look like a herd of elephants trying to storm the beach! It’s just annnoying that the weather took a turn for the worse, being very windy and relatively cold (“only” 20 degrees) so I didn’t stay long. Good thing too, as  after 410km on the road I finally reached the hostel at 7pm (having left Augusta at 10am) to find the end of the free Sunday BBQ!

I spent Monday in Albany – and really could have done with an extra 24 hours to see it properly. I started at Whale World, the last place where commercial whaling took place in Australia – and it closed mainly due to economic reasons (could really do without hearing that one again). It’s a fascinating place and getting an idea of the size of the larger whales takes seeing to believe it. Some pretty gruesome descriptions of how whales were killed too – harpooned in the brain with a mini-grenade that explodes on contact. It’s the method still used by the Japanese so I can certainly now understand why people are against whaling.

From there I headed back into town, intending to talk a walking tour of the town. Annoyingly the flyer I had didn’t mention that the afternoon tour was “by special appointment” so I had to make other plans… I still went to see the Brig Almaty (a replica of the first ship to enter King George Sound) and the local museum, before heading back south to Torndirrup National Park to see the many natural sights – the Gap, natural bridge and Stony Hill were, in very different ways, spectacular. The Blowholes were something of a disappointment as the weather wasn’t right to see them (after an 800m walk even more of a disappointment) but that’s how things somethings work out.

One big thing I’ve noticed is how expensive beer is – a six pack of Hahn is around $18/£13. I can get 12 for £10 in the UK!

The 1849 backpackers is fantastic – by far the best place I’ve stayed at so far, mainly as the people there were fantastic. Like most hostels there’s a fair few people working and using it as a cheap bed but unlike the Underground hostel in Perth, they were far easier to get on with. One iPad being handed roundwith everyone taking turns to play music, an Australian Katy Perry lookalike and a not to crazy Californian made for a very good night (along with Canadian, Dutch, Scottish and English for good measure).

Today was more intense behind the wheel than the drive down to Albany. 525km later and I’ve made it to Rockingham, via Bunbury.  The 150km from Mount Barker to Manjinup in particular was pretty gruelling as it was nothing but forrest and identical looking roads – except for the only set of traffic lights I saw all day before getting to Bunbury.

Bunbury itself seems pretty nice – I’ve not spent too much time in the town as there’s far too many family members in the area, so I spent the afternoonwith my 2nd cousin – who shares my “pixie ears” as they’ll be called forevermore…

Tomorrow I’m seeing the final part of the Aussie side of the family, before going back to Fremantle on Thursday and Cottesloe beach on Friday before leaving WA for Alice Springs on Saturday, with Uluru following that. Can’t wait….

Augusta and around

You can tell when its been a mixed day…

This morning started well enough at Cape Leeuwin – named after a Dutch boat that first explored the area. It’s a big highlight, as the Indian and Southern Oceans collide at the cape. The lighthouse tour was also worth the effort.

Less so was Augusta Museum. I struggled to stay for 45 mins though a complete mixed bag of memorbillia (in fairness Augusta is a very small place, so to have a museum that raises some interest is an impressive feat). A plate from last year’s royal wedding in the same section (cultural) as the bell from a ship which sank (SS Pericles) made for a strange experience. The ship itself is far more interesting, having been owned by White Star Line and sinking in 1910. They also had some interesting pictures on local whale beachings, with letters from children in a big book. A bit strange being invited to open books and cabinets to see more…

It’s taken a while to spend the $400 I came out with, mainly thanks to spending most of the last week with family. I finally had to get to an ATM (easily found) an headed for Jewel Cave up the road, only to find out that it’s tour only and that they had sold out for the day. 30km further up the road is Mammoth Cave, thankfully self-tour so was able to spend an hour having a look around. Impressive sights inside and it’s certainly big.

Being pretty close to Margaret River I took a quick look around and visited the local Coles for food (think Tesco) before heading back to Augusta. It’s an interesting enough place but even 24 hours is being generous for a solo traveller – it’s probably much better in bigger numbers…

Tomorrow is the epic drive to Albany, some 360km. Assuming I don’t find anywhere interesting to stop on the way…

Detour to Augusta and pictures

Yesterday I went up to Cape Naturliste. Near Dunsborough, it’s the northernmost part of the 100km long cape that forms the far south west of Australia. A really enjoyable 90 minutes, though the flies were murder at times!

From there I spent yesterday taking a slow drive south (having finally managed to find a decent(ish) hat in Dunsborough), taking the far more scenic Caves Road over the Bussell Highway. Not that there’s much difference anyway…

I also found Prevelly beach – a surfer’s mecca, though obviously devastated by bushfire. The beach is unlike any I’ve seen before – waves far bigger than any I’ve seen and a stunning location. Somewhere to go back to, though I doubt I’ll have the time to do so on this trip.

I’m currently in Augusta – it’s a tiny place right at the bottom of Australia – you can’t go further southwest than here. It sits on Cape Leeuwin, where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. I’m spending a few hours here this morning before heading up to Margaret River for the afternoon.

The hostel I’m at is pleasent, if a little basic. And it lacks aircon, an essential in this heat.

I hadn’t planned on coming here but it looks like it might be the right decision – there’s plenty to do!

Tomorrow will be the 5 hour drive to Albany. It won’t hurt too much thanks to the aircon in the car but will be a long drive – I’m hoping to see the Valley of the Giants on the way and do the tree top walk too.

I’ve finally used the first set of camera batteries too – it managed 800+ pictures so I’m pretty happy with that! I’ve uploaded a few to Facebook but you don’t need an account to see them – just go here to have a look.

Right, time to explore Augusta!

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