Australia (24 September 1999 - 8 December 1999)

Queensland

I arrived in Cairns mid morning, and booked into Parkview Backpackers, just outside the center of the town. Having not slept much last night I spent a lot of the first day asleep. My first few days in Cairns were spent doing very little, trying to figure out how I was going to travel round such a vast country in the short space of time I have remaining, and wondering which places to stay longer at.

I did one days diving on the great barrier reef, it was OK but definitely not the best diving I have ever done. I also took a trip on a 7.5Km cable gondola which travels above the rain forest outside of Cairns to the village of Kuranda. The journey was very interesting, and there were two The Skyrail stops along the way where I could get out and walk through the rainforest. I then had a few hours to walk around Kuranda, before getting the very scenic Kuranda Scenic Railway back to Cairns.

Then I headed up the coast to Cape Tribulation. On the way we stopped at the Daintree River to go for a short boat ride, we saw one esturine crocodile, but sadly (I think) it was less than a metre long. At a cafe on the shore I had a "croc dog" a sausage made from crocodile meat, in a bun, it was so heavily spiced that it was difficult to tell what the meat tasted like. Then it was on to PK's Jungle Village, a backpackers place in the rainforest and a short walk from the beach. For two days I did nothing except take short walks and refresh my sun tan which had faded a lot whilst I had been in New Zealand. On the way back from Cape Tribulation we stopped at Mossman Gorge for short guided walk through the rainforest.

After some deliberation I have decided to use McCafferty's Coach's to travel round the country, and have purchased a pass which takes me from Cairns to Adelaide for A$315. After arriving back in Cairns, from Cape Tribulation, I had a few hours to wait before getting the 1.00am bus to Airlie Beach, 650km south. Arriving in Airlie late morning I checked in to my hostel and then walked around the small town.

Early the next day I was on the dock of the marina, standing next to The Card, an 83ft maxi sailing yacht, on which I had booked a three day cruise around the Whitsunday Islands. The three days were an amazing experience, the weather was perfect with a reasonably strong wind most of the time, allowing us to really experience the full potential of the yacht. Thanks must go to the crew of Jonny (skipper), Neil (deckhand), and Nicki (hostess & "assistant deckhand") for their efforts in making sure we all enjoyed ourselves. The sailing was broken up by visits to various beaches, including the amazing Whitehaven beach, for snorkelling in the crystal clear waters with many corals and fish surrounding us. On our return to shore most of the twenty of us who had been on board met up for an enjoyable evening.

After a break of one day I booked myself onto a PADI Rescue Diver course with Oceania Dive. I had a day of theory and exercises in the pool, and then joined their dive boat for the start of a three day trip to the Barrier Reef. The dive boat was only a few months old, a purpose built 27m catamaran, and a very nice place to spend three days. The course was good, but we were never sure when the next simulated "emergency" would arise. As well as the dives for the course we were able to get a few fun dives and really appreciate the corals and fish life on the reef. I stayed in Airlie Beach for a few days and then travelled overnight down to Hervey Bay.

My main reason for going to Hervey Bay was to use it as a base for a three day trip to Fraser Island. I was staying at Koala Backpackers, and they organised the three day four wheel drive trip. There were nine of us in the Toyota Landcruiser and it was a little cramped with all of the food and camping gear in the back as well, the vehicle should really have had a roof rack so we could have stored all the gear up there. We had an early start on day one as we had to have a briefing, pack the car, and have breakfast before getting the 8.30 am ferry to the island.

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world, and is 125km long. The main north-south "road" is the eastern beach which is only driveable a few hours either side of low tide. The first day saw us drive quickly up to Waddy Point where we stopped for a while and had lunch. Then we went a little further south to Indian Head where we were to camp for the night. We walked the short path to the top of Indian Head to see what wildlife we could find and were rewarded by the sight of turtles surfacing in the ocean below, sadly we did not see any whales or sharks. After a little confusion as to how to erect the tents we soon had the camp set up and were cooking our supper, and then we shared a few beers around the camp fire as other groups came to join us. On the second day I had an even earlier start, waking at 5.00am as one of the girls thought that it would be a good idea for us all to go and see the sunrise, she promptly went back to sleep and only four of us got up, but even 5.00 am was too late as the sun had already risen. Two of us did walk back to the top of Indian Head, but again all we saw were turtles. At about 9.00 am we had packed up the vehicle and went to Champagne Pools, natural rock pools by the ocean's edge that froth as the waves break into them, a short swim in the pools acted as our early morning shower. Our next stop was Lake Allom, about 10km inland along a bumpy sand track. We stopped there for lunch and took a short walk to the lake to see the small freshwater tortoises which inhabit the lake. We then drove back to the beach and started the race against the tide on our journey south. On the way we stopped at Red Canyon, The Pinnacles and Rainbow Gorge. I was doing the driving at this stage and it was good fun, at one point we even had to stop to allow a light aircraft to take off. Towards the southern end of the beach we drove inland to Lake Boomajin, our campsite for the night. The next morning we drove to the lovely Lake Birrabeen for a short swim in the clear waters and then went off to Lake McKenzie where we had lunch. All too soon it was time to head back to the west side of the island to the ferry terminal in time to get the 2.30pm ferry back to Hervey Bay. I stayed there overnight and then took the bus to Brisbane, it is now the 24th October and I have been in the country for a month.

I have to say that from the three days I was in Brisbane it seems like one of the most attractive cities I have ever been to. This is no doubt helped by the fact that at this time of year the Jacaranda trees are out in blossom and there is a lilac shade to large parts of the city. I took a a bus tour round the center and also spent two hours on a catamaran shuttle service on the river. On another day I went to The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and spent a few hours there looking at koala's (I even got to hold one), kangaroo's and wallabies.

Next it was down to Surfers Paradise, which has a lovely beach, but has been spoilt by rampant hotel development. I stayed a few days, going down to the beach and bodysurfing on the waves.

New South Wales

Next on the list was Byron bay. I was expecting to stay only a few days, but the weather was bad and so I hung around waiting for it to change. I have to admit to being a little disappointed with Byron, I thought it all would be a lot more alternative and laid back. I tried boogie boarding one day, but was surprised how strong the current was, and how quickly I became tired. Of the six days I spent in Byron five of them were wet, for some reason I didn't fancy learning to surf in the rain, and so now have managed to spend three months in Hawaii, and almost two weeks in Surfers/Byron Bay and never once been on a surfboard!

I did at last manage to meet up with Ken, who I had first met on Fiji, we had tried to meet in New Zealand but our paths never coincided. Unfortunately he was only in Byron for one day of the six that I was there. We went up to Nimbin on a day trip, definitely a strange place, a throwback to the sixties.

After Byron I travelled down to Sydney, I had hoped to travel overnight, but in order to arrive in time to see the final of the Rugby World Cup I ended up spending thirteen hours on the bus during the day.

I've had a really busy time in Sydney, I have hardly seen the inside of my hostel at all. I've visited the site of the Olympic games, it was quite interesting to walk around it and I went on a tour of the aquatic center, I would have liked to go in some of the other venues but the cost was too high. I have also been out to Bondi beach, it was so windy I could actually lean into the wind and not fall down! The same day I visited the suburb of Manly, and took a walk to the top of the cliffs for a good view back across Sydney and also out along the cliffs towards Bondi. My best views however were when I climbed to the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge, with Bridgeclimb! I was a little nervous about it, but in the end it was no problem at all, the whole thing took about three hours, with a briefing before hand, and stops along the way. Continuing my theme of seeing Sydney from on high, on my last full day in Sydney I went up the AMP Tower the highest building in Sydney for views across the whole city. It was surprising how small the city appeared from up there.

Victoria

After an uncomfortable bus journey I arrived in Melbourne at 7.00 am and checked into Toad Hall, a clean quiet hostel near the center of the city. I then walked to the botanic gardens and joined a tour of the place, just me and two guides! Over the next few days I took bus and tram rides to various parts of the city, but have to say that the place did not appeal to me much.

From Melbourne I took the Wayward Bus tour to Adelaide. This is a smaller company which takes three days to travel along the coast stopping at various points of interest along the way. As we travelled along the Great Ocean Road our first stop was Bells Beach, a popular surfing beach, but it was rather flat. The highlights of the day were The Twelve Apostles (large rock pillars standing in the ocean), Loch Ard Gorge, and London Bridge ( a very large stone arch). We arrived at Port Fairy and went to The Star of The West pub for a meal and then checked in to the YHA. Then three of the sixteen of us went back to the pub for a few drinks. It was a very friendly place and we ended up staying longer than we had intended.

Next day our first stop was a walk around Tower Hill Reserve, just outside Port Fairy, where we saw a few koalas in the wild. Next stop was Cape Bridgewater where we had coffee and a walk along the beach.

South Australia

Next we stopped at the sunken garden in Umpherston sinkhole and then went to view Blue Lake, both near Mount Gambier. It was then on to Beachport, a small seaside town, for the night.

First stop on the third day of the bus tour was a sheep shearing shed where we had breakfast and then watched a sheep being sheared. Next we went on to the town of Robe and saw some dolphins in the ocean. We stopped in the Coorong National Park for a late lunch and then drove through the park arriving in Adelaide at 7.00pm.

I was met at the bus station by a friend and then taken to another friend's house where I will be staying for the next four days. After a good nights sleep in a room all to myself my friends took me on a tour of some wineries in the McLaren Vale area. The following day we went to Port Adelaide which is one of the older parts of the area and then on to Glenelg on the seafront. The next day we went a little way outside of the Adelaide area to the small town of Hahndorf, originally a German settlement, we spent some time in the town. Then we went to The Cedars, a house which belonged to Hans Heysen, a famous Australian artist earlier this century. We had a tour round the studio and house and then were free to walk round the gardens.

For my last night in Adelaide I moved into a hostel in the center of the city so that I could meet up with a couple of people I had met on the Wayward Bus for a meal and some drinks. I spent my last day in Adelaide wandering around the center of the city, and then took the 8.30pm McCafferty's bus to Coober Pedy.

On the way to Cooper Pedy I saw my first wild kangaroo, just as it disappeared under the front of the bus with a dull thud! I left the green hills of Adelaide and arrived at 6.30 am in the yellow/orange desert of Coober Pedy. I checked in to one of the more unique hostels I have stayed in, Radeka's Underground Motel & hostel, as the name suggests a large part of it is hollowed out of the solid rock.

In the afternoon I went on a tour of the area, the town has to be one of the stranger places in the world as many of the houses and other buildings are below ground. We visited an underground church and the construction site of a large motel being mined at present. We also tried our luck at Opal "noodleing", sifting through the ground looking for Opals, most of us were not lucky. Lastly we went out into the desert for some spectacular scenery and to look at the worlds longest fence, the Dingo fence running from South Australia into Queensland.

Northern Territories

After a night sleeping underground at Radekas I caught the 6.25 am bus to Ayers Rock Resort arriving in the late afternoon. Near the hostel was a self-cook BBQ restaurant where I had some kangaroo kebabs on my first night. On the first full day in the resort I went on a tour out to Ayers Rock, this was organised through AAT Kings and, like the other tours I was to do with them over the next few days, was very good. We went all the way around the rock, stopping on a number of occasions for some short walks, and then parked a little way from the rock to see it as the sun set.

When I first got to Australia it had been my intention to climb Ayers Rock, but as I read more about the Aboriginal culture I found that they really did not like this happening on one of their sacred sites and so in the end I did not climb it. Almost as a consolation on the next morning I took a short helicopter flight over Ayers Rock, it was definitely worth it. Later that day I went on a tour out to The Olgas, a group of Rocks 50km from the resort. These again were quite spectacular, and we had a few short walks here, although our walk through The Valley of the Winds was cut short as the temperature had exceeded 36C. Again we stopped to see the sunset, this time having a BBQ and champagne.

A 5.00am start the next day saw me on a bus for the four hour drive to Kings Canyon. We had a three hour walk around the canyon rim before returning to Ayers Rock Resort.

An early start the new day saw me on the bus to Alice Springs. I stayed at Annies Place, a very nice hostel, with its' own pool, and cheap restaurant and bar, its' definitely to be recommended. I didn't do a great deal in Alice, a short visit to The Royal Flying Doctor Service emphasised how big the country was, and highlighted the great service they provide. I met up with a few people who were on the Wayward Bus with me between Melbourne and Adelaide. After three days I left to head north to Tennant Creek, a small goldmining town six hours up the road. I stayed for one day and visited the Gold Stamp Battery for an underground tour of a mock mine. It was an interesting visit and gave a good demonstration of the techniques, if not the actual hot and dusty conditions, in an actual mine. After a day there it was time to move on to Darwin.

The bus trip north was uneventful and we arrived into Darwin in the late afternoon. Getting off the bus I noted the high humidity which was to be a feature of the next few days. The northern part of Australia is now in the "wet season" and although there was not much rain whilst I was there the humidity remained high. The only thing of note which I did in my three days in town was to visit Crocodylus Park, a crocodile farm on the outskirts of town. We saw a number of crocodiles being fed, and I got to hold a small one about 1.5m long. On my last day I visited the museum and art gallery which had a large exhibit on the cyclone which devastated the town in 1974 and also had many items of aboriginal art.