Bruce and Shiela's Awesome Australian Adventures
Trip Start Jan 16, 2004
11Trip End Sep 18, 2004
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We'll now jump briefly to another telephone company related incident, when we got to Cairns and bought a "Buzz UK & Ireland calling card". On the reverse it was very kind to let us know that "With your Buzz UK & Ireland calling card, you can call: UK & Ireland", I guess you'd say that it does exactly what it says on the tin
Anyway, we arrived in Darwin at some insane hour, arriving at the pre-booked hostel at 05:30hrs. Because we hadn't, as they'd suggested, paid for another full night to cover 05:30 to 10:00hrs, they very kindly ensured the keys that would left in the office weren't and that we'd actually hang around after our sleepless night until something closer to midday. They were a bit shocked to find we'd Harry Houdinied our way through security gate, until I recited the same security code on the email we'd received before our refusal to pay for a further full day.
For our first day and the following morning, it appeared Australian hospitality was put on hold, and only restored when we enquired about hiring a camper van through there advertised service. As we nearly pointed out, we may well be the "winging poms", but I think we're probably the customer as well. Tip for anyone travelling, don't pay for your accommodation in advance!
The people actually lightened up a little afterwards, and we ended up enjoying they stay (pancake breakfast especially), although chose to only book our tour of Uluhru (Ayers Rock) though them. The campervan, as you will see, was booked through someone called Wicked Campers
In Darwin, we got our first real opportunity to start cooking our own food again, and confess the first offering of vegetable fried rice wasn't fit for canine consumption let alone human. By the end of the week, I think we'd managed to sort ourselves out to something approaching what, the London tosser, would call Pukka.
Sport played a large part in Singapore and in Darwin. And I have to say we've been thourougly let down by all quarters. I watched the England/France football (sorry that should be soccer when your in Australia) with a couple of Scots and a French couple (the French went home happy, the Scots ecstatic) in Singapore. While I caught the Swiss game with yet more Scots and a load of Aussie's who delighted at the chance to watch a little pommie bashing. We returned to the same bar for Shepherds Pie and to watch England take on the All Blacks, in the company of a few Kiwi's and decided that we'd probably do well to stay clear of any television or bar for the match against the Wallabies.
The rest of the time in Darwin was spent sorting our remaining flights with Qantas, arranging the campervan and walking in the shallow water along the beach. We eventually dropped the romantic walking at sunset after they hauled nets through the water to find a deadly stinger (jellyfish), in this, the time of year when the sea is supposedly stinger free.
Our flight to Uluru (Ayers Rock) took us through Cairns, flying aside the rock and nearby Kata Tjuta (The Olgas, a collection of sacred rocks that are used for male initiation ceremonies)
The aboriginal people ask that you do not climb the rock, as it is very sacred, and obviously saddens them when someone dies climbing (thirty-seven people have died!). We'd previously held the opinion that many people don't have time for the Aboriginal people or their religion, but if they opened up a little more, people would understand them and therefore respect the culture a little more. A prime example being Darwin's Mindil beach, where a sign asks you respect the ancient burial grounds of the local Aboriginal clan as indicated on the map, by not digging in this area. This particular area, is home to the largely concreted night market area, a casino and the local tennis club.
After little more than twenty four hours in Uluru, we'd seen enough at Kata Tjuta, Uluru and in the cultural centre to understand that many of the customs and rituals that form a major part of the Aboriginal religion and way of life have to remain secretive, because they will be specific to male, female, young or old. What happens in male initiation ceremonies and what the different rock formations of the Kata Tjuta (Olgas) mean, are for the ears of men of a certain age. Our bush guide, Brian knew his stuff and would demonstrate how grubs were found in the bushes, how animals were hunted and how (Vicky had a special "tell me something new" sigh for this one) Aboriginal women are expected to undertake 80% of the work.
After flying back to Cairns, we managed to bump into a guy from Sheffield, who we'd now seen in Ko Samet, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and of course Cairns - the last three by chance walking along the street. We purchased of map from which Vicky could navigate our Wicked Campervan around Queensland (ha ha - don't worry we've got forty days) and picked up enough tourist information bumf to fill a green Woolworths "save the environment" fabric shopping bag (yes they have Woolworths here, but are a food supermarket with the odd eisle of cheap flip flops or plastic deck chairs chucked in for good measure).
Shortly before we collected our Van, Vicky remembered a conversation with somebody in Malaysia, who had suggested many of these vans were decorated with paintings of male genitalia. This particular couple, thought they'd gotten away with a relatively mild Aboriginal design, until they rested hostel for the night, looking out from the second floor onto the roof
Awesome Van 302, as it happens, is not at all offensive in anyway, although still raises a few eyebrows amongst the local Australian population. I wondered if there were any peculiar things that might be different to driving in England and "Sure yeah, you wanna watch for police! They sit all day in between the 80kmph and 60kmph area waiting to have you over a couple of K's". So nothing peculiar at all then! Traffic is light, even in towns and cities, while on the highway there is usually nothing more than a dribble of cars. And the best thing, these roads are supposedly Australia's busiest!
From Cairns we first headed north to Cape Tribulation, a rainforest area that more or less drops into the ocean with just a little sand. We stopped at Ellis Beach the first night, and Wonga Beach the second, stopping midway to see the Mossman Gorge. At Wonga we'd arrived just in time for the 85 year old guy next door to fall off his ladder - he was fine after a little trip to A&E. However we soon realised that eighty-five seemed to be pretty much the average age around the Wonga campsite, mostly full of the retired population of Victoria (southern Australia), where it get's a little chilly in the winter months.
We spent a stupid amount of time trying to spot a Cassowary bird, an endangered member of the Emu family, but unlike everyone else we met, saw nothing
Further into the Atherton Tablelands, we stayed at the Mareeba Rodeo ground, were they were in the final phase of preparation for the annual event, and for a couple of days g'day became howdy pardner - yee hah! Wildlife watch continued, hearing the monkey like call of the Laughing Kookaburra and watching the hump backed oversized rat thing they call a Bandycoot. Vicky fed Rock Wallabies and we even braved beach walk in search of saltwater Crocs (otherwise known as salties).
We found the funny little town called "Walkamin" which, as suggested could probably be walked lengthways in one minute. We particularly enjoyed the advertising board for the property developer that had renovated a couple of houses, and read "If you lived here you'd be home already" - fair enough I guess, but you'd also be a million miles from anywhere else! We moved on to the tiny mining town of Herbeton, where we found the Police headquarters housed in the finest eighteenth century Australian building I've ever seen, designed by one James Miller in eighteen eighty something or other. We nearly burned ourselves in the hot springs, which are surprisingly, nearer to the point of boiling than you'd expect, and stayed the night at Platypus point, where after paying our eight dollars, were told there'd be no chance of seeing a Platypus.
We will always remember the town of Babinda fondly, after the baker gave us three cream doughnuts for nothing (all you have to do is buy a loaf of bread and chat a while it seems) and Vicky mastered the art of playing a Didgeridoo. We eventually saw our Cassowary in Etty Bay, south of Mission Beach and were able get close enough to take a photo or ten. They are extremely dangerous creatures and can either charge you with the bone on their head and jump at you with there feet. Michael Parkinson should feel lucky that Rod Hull hadn't stuffed his hand up one of these things! In Saunders Beach (Vicky's mothers maiden name is Saunders) we found the "Saunders Beach Old Farts Coffee Club" but wouldn't dare suggest that Union Rd, Lowestoft (Nanny's address and the gathering point for several Saunders) be anything like that - terribly ageist.
In all it appears we have spent far too long in the Atherton Tablelands (the Lonely Planet suggested two, we stayed around for seven) and are a little behind schedule. We are seeing everything that isn't in the guidebook and are mixing it up with a couple of the outrageously expensive trips from the book. Now in Townsville, we are staying at another free campsite, this time in a BP garage! In the main though, free campsites are all over the place and provide barbecue area, cold showers and toilets. We've stayed on the edge of rainforests and on the beach listening to the sounds of the ocean.
Must update this thing more often - takes ages when you haven't done it for a while.
Vicky and James.