Thursday, 26 January 2012

Alice Springs to Darwin

After the night out not many of us felt up to doing much on our day in Alice Springs, and the overwhelming heat didn't give much encouragement either! I was staying at Haven's resort along with those who were continuing up to Darwin; we spent most of the day by the pool to cope with the heat. A few of us walked up Anzac Hill to watch the sunset before going for a few drinks at Annie's again.

The next morning was an early start on a 3 day trip to Darwin. We sat outside the hostel waiting to be picked up, everyone quite tired and lacking in enthusiasm. A while later Heff turned up – we all assumed he was there to pick up his group to take to the rock but he said he was taking us to Darwin. No one believed him at first and thought it was some kind of joke but he started reading our names off the list and everyone was in shock! Everyone became a lot more lively as we got on the bus – the 6 new people mustn't have known what was going on! That day was mostly driving, we passed over the Tropic of Capricorn and entered the tropics as we headed up to Tennent Creek where we spent the evening. We travelled about 600km through the day and stopped at a few random pubs in the outback along the way as well as taking a look at the Devil's Marbles.

Katherine Gorge
It was another long drive the following day where again we stopped at a few unusual pubs along the way. Before we reached Katherine for the night, we went for a swim in the thermal springs in Mataranka. The next morning we went to Katherine Gorge. We walked to Southern Rockhole which has to be one of the coolest places I've been so far. It felt like a bit of a wild goose chase at first as the path just seemed to keep going and turning at random intervals. Eventually we found the rockpool at the bottom of a waterfall, completely secluded from other places – it was incredible! The water was so fresh and clean and there were several places to jump in (similar to Black Moss Pot). Safe to say that place was one of my main highlights form the trip. From there we finished the trip up to Darwin. As we approached the clouds set in and it looked like the predicted monsoon was about to hit!

Although we passed through patches of heavy rain and thunder and lightening, it wasn't too bad when we reached Darwin itself. That evening we went out for tea at the appropriately named bar: Monsoon. Despite the fact we had an early start the next day a few of us stayed out till the early hours. At midnight, very randomly, a few drag queens took to the stage – very fitting after the day at King's Canyon, but very unexpected!

The next morning, we jumped into a new 4WD vehicle with a slightly new group, and a new guide. We spent the day in Lichfield National park. First we swam at Florence Falls followed by Buely Rockhole. Similarly to the previous day we found places to jump in from but unfortunately it rained for quite a bit of the day. By the time we reached camp the monsoon had well and truly set in! I'd never actually seen rain like it before, within minutes there was a river outside the kitchen area and a sheer wall of water seemed to be falling. Thunder and lightening continued through the night.

Garden of Eden
By the morning it had dried considerably. From there we entered Kakadu National Park. We walked to a second place called the Garden of Eden – far more impressive than that at King's Canyon! It was well and truly hidden, reached only by swimming across one of the rivers, and the more you climbed up, the more impressive it got. It wasn't that long before the rain set in again and by this time we were on our way back to the truck. When we reached the camp at around 4pm we had half an hour before a boat cruise along Yellow Waters. This area was very similar to Daintree in Northern Queensland and following the lack of any sightings whilst up there, I was sceptical that we may actually see a crocodile. Shortly after we started down the river in our aluminium boat, the thunder and lightening kicked off! It was far too close to us for it to be safe to continue so reluctantly, the guy turned the boat around. Just before we reached the jetty we actually spotted a croc in the water! It was about 2 and a half metres longs swimming close to the surface not far from the boat! I was amazed...

Due to the cruise being cut short, we did the same thing again first thing in the morning – this time we saw very little aside from a few different species of bird along the waters edge. From there, we went to Nawurlandja lookout but the view was obstructed by cloud and rain. Our last scheduled stop was at Anbangbang where we saw ancient Aboriginal art work. There were some really impressive drawings here, and the stories behind them were really interesting. After this, it was back to Darwin for the last time. We stopped off and saw a fresh water and salt water croc in captivity and seeing the salt water crocodile up close was pretty freaky – they're huge and scary looking!

When we arrived in Darwin the rain was relentless. Vanessa let me stay in her hotel that night as I had to leave early for my flight. We each got a double bed and it was amazing! We all went out to Monsoon for a second time, but had a much earlier night than the last time. Everyone was pretty exhausted; 21 days on the go for a few of us and it had taken it out of us. We got the dance the Nutbush one last time in Monsoon before we all went our separate ways. It was pretty weird to say bye to everyone, we'd become a bit of a family over the past few weeks!  

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Adelaide to Alice Springs

I only had one full day to explore Adelaide and as it was my first day in a long time I didn't have to get up at about 5.30am I had a pretty lazy day. Jem and I had a wander around the town centre but there wasn't an huge amount lot to see. That evening a few of us caught the tram to Glenelg and watched the sunset and chilled out there for the evening. It's much nicer the further out of the centre you go but after just one day its hard to get a good idea of the place.

We drove most of the following morning to a small town called Quorn where we spent two nights. In the afternoon we took a walk through Warrens Gorge in the Flinders Ranges: yet again I was amazed by the dramatic change in landscape. It was much drier in this area and it was only a few days since quite a bad bush fire had finally been extinguished. We paid a visit to the local pubs after tea with it being such a small town they don't usually get many customers by the looks of it! The landlady in one pub in particular was so happy that we were there and convinced us to visit again the next night where we even got a bit of free wine tasting done!

On our second day in Quorn we went to Wilpena pond and walked to the summit of Mt Ohlssen Bagge It was a really fun walk but the most difficult that I have done here to date. You could see for miles from the top and we had such a clear day for it we were pretty lucky. The decent was much easier and a few of us made it back to bus in no time. After eating lunch we headed to Yourambulla Caves and saw some aboriginal rock paintings; these were pretty cool and Heff started to give us some info on the Aboriginals. I was really interested to learn about their history and as I learned more and more as the week went on it became clear how much western influences have severaly damaged their lives. Its quite sad to hear the way they were treated in the early years following Australia's discovery by the west with farmers being allowed to shoot them as they were considered pests – whilst the treatment has improved they still seem to be second class citizens in comparison to the White man.

This area is actually where the film Wolf Creek was filmed – of course I've not seen the film but on the way back some of the guys decided to try to recreate the DVD cover which provided much amusement. That evening we went back to the pub and it was then I was first taught the Nutbush dance! This became an ongoing theme for the rest of the week.

The next day we left Quorn and headed up to Coober Peady. We stopped off at Port Augusta for the guys to buy “costumes” following the decision to reinact Priscilla Queen of the Desert at King's Canyon. A couple of hours before Coober Peady we made a stop at an ancient salt lake which was incredible. I'd never seen anything like it before and with the bright blue sky that day it looked really cool. We all spent a while taking different photos playing with perspective. In Coober Peady we stayed underground due to high temperatures which in itself was an experience.

Coober Peady is renowned for its opal mines: in the morning we took a tour of one of the opal mine museums and were shown how they are cut and polished. Whilst mining is no longer permitted in the town itself, there are a few sites further away which are still used. Later we had a go at noodling for opals at one of the old sites and whilst they were nothing spectacular, or worth any money, I did manage to find a few nice pieces of opal. As we headed to Marla where we were staying for the night we stopped off at the Breakaways with some more amazing views of the desert.

That night was my first night in a swag! The best way to describe them is they are like sleeping bags, made out of tarpaulin with a mattress inside and are actually surprisingly comfy. It was great to be able to sleep outside under the stars but I obviously slept a little too well as I was woken up by Heff shaking my swag to find everyone had packed up around me – God knows how I slept through the noise but these days I sleep through anything!

We had another long drive that morning and eventually reached Kata Tjuta National Park, home to The Olgas (Kata Tjuta) and Ayers Rock (Uluru). We went for a short walk to The Valley of the Winds at The Olgas to give us a good idea as to how the landform was made. It was interesting to learn that, similarly to Ayers Rock, although The Olgas appear red in colour the rock is actually a white / cream colour but because of the red sand in the desert being blown across the land, they have a fine coating giving the red colour. I was also surprised at how much vegetation there was around in what seems to be such an arid environment. There had been some rain in the previous weeks allowing more to grow than usual however apparently there is still quite a bit for the majority of the year. On the way to the camp we stopped off to try to watch the sunset at Ayers Rock whilst enjoying a glass of Bubbles but sadly it was too cloudy and started to rain – no sunset for us!

Unable to swag due to the weather we slept in tents before our early start of 4am (!!) to watch the sunrise by Ayers Rock. This time it was worth it though; as the sun rose Ayers Rock was lit up and appeared to glow in the distance, it really did look incredible. After sun rise we headed to the base of Ayers Rock to do the base walk. It is possible and allowed to climb on the rock itself however the Aborigines request that you don't due to its sacred properties. Sadly thousands of tourist still climb it but it was actually closed on the day I was there due to the weather. The base walk was a nice easy walk and it was fascinating to see all the different parts. There are areas in which photography is forbidden to anyone so to see the whole thing you really have to go there yourself. There are several black water marks on the sandstone rock where waterfalls form when its raining. Vanessa and I walked round quite quickly in order to avoid the intense heat as it was already heating up. We walked to Katju Gorge (the watering hole) which was so serene and unexpected when observing the surrounding environment. Once everyone had retuned to the bus we decided we'd do the Nutbush before leaving – I think we can safely say we were the first people to ever dance the Nutbush at Ayers Rock before!

The afternoon was another long drive, this time to Watarraka National Park where we were camping for the night. I sat and watched the sunset which was almost as good as the mornings sunrise. The sky was so clear for the whole night so we took the opportunity to get our swags out again and watch the stars.

At 6am we left for Kings Canyon with a slightly different group – 5 of the guys (one of whom was our guide) had dressed up in drag in an attempt to re create Prescilla Queen of the Desert. They looked brilliant and if watching them walk up the canyon in dresses, wigs and feather bowers wasn't enough entertainment, seeing the reactions of on-lookers and passers by was enough to keep us amused for the whole walk. Paddy borrowed my leggins as his dress was a tad too short, but after seeing him in them I decided he could keep them... The initial climb up approximately 300 steps was hard going in the heat (and it was only 7am) but the rest of the walk around the rim of the canyon was easy going, towards the end where there was no shade it was quite intense though! We walked through the amphitheatre, the Lost City and the ancient Garden of Eden. The scenery was pretty spectacular and you had amazing panoramic views for the duration of the walk. Before we started to walk down, Heff said there was one last thing we had to do. He pulled out his speakers and started playing the Nutbush, so we danced the nutbush on the top of Kings Canyon aswell!

A refreshing swim at Kings Canyon Resort was well welcomed by everyone before lunch. All that was left was a 5 and a half hour drive to finally reach Alice Springs! That was painful but eventually we got there. So far I've done 3 seperate parts of my trip from Sydney to Darwin and this last week has been the best yet. We had such a great group, and a really good guide too. We all went out that night for a few drinks which started quite tame in a local bar, then developed into a mass tickle fight on the street (Kirsten fed me monster and vodka to wake me up which resulted in a LOT of hyperactivity) and ended in a casino! All in all a pretty good night, its going to be pretty hard to top this last week!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Canberra to Adelaide

From Sydney I decided to join a trip that would take me to some different places in Australia that not every backpacker would get to see; a 21 day Sydney to Darwin safari. I left Sydney early on the 4th and we drove straight to Canberra, the capital. To be honest, I wasn't overly enthralled by the place, but I can't really judge as I was barely even there. Firstly we had a look around the war memorial, then had a driving tour around the city before going to the new Houses of Parliament. None of these things were of particular interest to me let's be honest, but I least I can say I visited the capital. It was, however, interesting to learn a bit more about the Aboriginals who live in the area. After a few short hours in the city, we headed up to Thredbo alpine village where we spent one night in a ski lodge. It felt so strange to be in a ski resort in the height of summer when there was no snow to be seen, but none the less it was quite a nice change from your standard hostels.

Summit of Mt Kosciuzko
It was another early start the next day to catch the first chairlift before walking to the summit of Mt Kosciuzko – Australia's highest peak at 2,228m. The walk from the top of the chair wasn't too challenging approx 13km return but after not having done much exercise realistically speaking since I started travelling I was a little concerned as to how I would find it. I have to admit I was quite pleased with myself in that I didn't tire too quickly and was able to reach the summit without any breaks. It never ceases to amaze me how different the landscape is all around Australia. As I walked up Mt Kosciuzko I felt like I could quite easily be walking in the Lakes with the similarities of the landscape: that was the first time since getting to Oz I could say that. Whilst sat on the chair lift down (we couldn't walk the whole thing due to time restrictions) I was envious of the several mountain bikers who went past below – the trails looked pretty good and I was itching to be on a bike. Every day I get more and more excited about New Zealand! For the rest of the day we travelled down along side the Snowy River passing several more dramatic views into the state of Victoria towards Lakes Entrance where we stayed for the night.

The next morning we headed towards the most southerly point on mainland Australia, Wilson's Promontory National Park. Most of the group walked straight to Squeaky Beach, but Kevin and I walked to the southerly tip at Pillar Point and the views were spectacular. Crystal blue water and bright white beaches surrounded by rolling hills and rock formations. It really was one of the most picturesque areas I've seen. We joined the others on the beach for an hour or so before leaving. Our guide “Squatter” pulled into an air field shortly after leaving the beach and for the first time since arriving I actually saw kangaroos! I was beginning to think they didn't exist but sure enough we spotted several Eastern Greys along with Emus and wallaby holes. By the time everyone had got their fair share of photos it was time to leave and finish our trip to Melbourne. That night we had a few drinks as a lot of people in the group were only going as far as Melbourne.

Saturday morning, and yet another early start! My trip is split up into sections so it was another group from Melbourne to Adelaide (but some carrying on from Sydney). I'd noticed someone that I recognised waiting for the same bus but I couldn't for the life of me place his face. It was only later when the bus had arrived and we were loading our gear did the girl he was with come over to say hello that I realise it was Sian and Paddy from back home! I knew Sian was out here but had no clue as to where she was or what exactly she was doing. It turned out that the two of them were on the rest of my trip through to Darwin; it really is such a small world. That day we drove along the Great Ocean Road – sadly it was pretty cloudy so we didn't get to see it in its full glory as it were. We stopped at Bells Beach – the most famous surfing beach in Oz – and there were tonnes of people out in the surf. Another random thing we saw was the lighthouse from the kids TV programme Round the Twist – I used to love that show! In the afternoon we headed to the cool temperate rainforest in Otway national park – here we did the tree top walk around the forest to get a better look. That night we were supposed to watch the sunset over the 12 Apostles but sadly it was very overcast and raining so we didn't make it.

12 Apostles
Instead the next morning we got up early and beat the crowds and went to see them. The rock formation was really cool, it just looked amazing. The sky was still pretty cloudy but when the sun shone through on the rock the effect was really nice. With all the different landscapes I'm seeing I'm beginning to wish I had a much better camera as even though some of the pictures I take look good they don't do anything justice! From the 12 Apostles, we carried on to London Arch (formally London Bridge until one half collapsed) the Bay of Martyrs and the Bay of Islands – all impressive sights. In the afternoon we went to the Mackenzie falls and crossed into the Grampians National Park with a few more lookouts along the way.

Before the final leg of the journey to Adelaide, we walked up Hollow Mountain in the northern part of the Grampians which I really enjoyed as there was a bit of scrambling involved. This place looked great for climbing and you could see several routes where people have bolted in. Sadly there was no time for climbing and after reaching the summit we quickly descended before the rain started. For the rest of the day we travelled along the highway crossing into South Australia and on to Adelaide. We made a quick stop in Bordertown where there are some rare white kangaroos but other than that we were stuck in the bus!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Sydney for New Year!

Our night bus arrived in Sydney at 7am and the sun was already shining. With no booked accommodation we decided to do some more couch surfing for the first few days in the city. We sat and had a drink at Central Station whilst waiting for Hass who had kindly offered to meet us there and show us to his place. He lives out in Kensington so we had a bit of a walk then a bus journey then another bit of a walk before we could finally stop and rest after the bus! I'd managed to sleep for the majority of the journey thankfully as I was exhausted from Byron, Inge on the other hand had not been so lucky.

At first I was pretty sceptical about the city with at least a dozen people waiting to cross the road every time and swarms of people on every street but after a couple of days there I actually quite liked it. After a couple of hours chilling at the flat and coming round, we took the bus back into town as Hass wanted to show us around. We got off at Hyde Park and walked down to Circular Quay where the Sydney Opera House is located. After a few snaps, if I'm honest, I was ready to go. Yes, architecturally, the Opera House is quite impressive, however it wasn't as interesting as I had thought. We walked back along George Street – the main sort of shopping street in Sydney, bought some food for the following few days, then headed back to the flat. We watched a couple of films but I was ready for bed pretty early on, especially given the fact it was New Years Eve in a couple of days and I really needed to catch up on some sleep!

The next day we had a pretty lazy morning, it seem to take us forever to come round and get our act together to leave the house! We headed to Circular Quay where we met Stacey and some of her friends before catching the ferry to Manly. I'd been told Manly is one of the better beaches around Sydney but I can't say I was overly enthusiastic about the place. After lying in the sun for a while I decided just to go have a quick look around the shops but I wasn't really in the mood for that either! Back on the beach we started making plans for New Years Eve – naturally Inge and I were planning on meeting up with Stacey and hopefully Digby as he was in Sydney too. We decided on a time and place, so all that was to do now was to buy food for a day long picnic!

Back at the flat we prepared our bag for the morning as we had an early start ahead. We left at 8am to meet the guys at 9am at central station. By about 10am 5 of us had made it to Dr Mary Boothe's Look out at Milson's Point. I thought this was pretty early but there was already people there getting their spot for the fireworks. Other friends of mine queued up at the Botanical Gardens from 6am in the morning in order to get a spot their, and some went to the Opera house. Milson's point is on the opposite side of the bridge to these places, but is a lot less crowded and still has an amazing view of the bridge. The place was getting busier and busier as the hours went by and we were trying to hold a spot for a lot more people. Eventually a few others arrived so it became easier. To my surprise, Alec, Steve and Andy – with whom I had travelled in Malaysia – came and joined our group and spent New Year with us. It was really cool to catch up with them after so long! Digby and his friends who I'd met in Noosa arrived a bit later, as did Sam and Billy who we'd met on Fraser Island. More friends of friends turned up and by the end there was over 20 of us together which made it a lot of fun! We spent the day chilling in the sun and catching up with each other as we'd not seen most people in a few weeks.

The first fireworks started at 9pm – apparently the family show for young children who couldn't stay up late. Even these were impressive. Midnight arrived and none of us could believe we'd been there for 14 hours the day had gone so quickly! I had to admit, the New Year firework show was incredible. I think I had expected something absolutely outstanding because there is such a hype around the Sydney Fireworks, and it was by far the best I've ever seen, especially the ending but maybe not quite as good as I had built it up to be. The show lasted for over 10 minutes and the crowd was constantly clapping and cheering – the atmosphere was great! After the show was over, everyone seem to disperse and no one knew where each other were. I ended up loosing my shoes (and later discovered I lost my sunglasses too) so I was left to wander the streets of Sydney with bare feet! As we weren't with Hass we had to find somewhere else to crash at that night – I eventually reached a friends house in Burwood at 5am in the morning after hopping on and off various trains and walking what seemed miles with no shoes on!

On New Years Day, Inge and I wanted to get back to Hass' as soon as we could. We left Burwood just after 10am and it took us a whole 2 hours to reach Kensington (I still had no shoes at this point) Sydney is huge! We literally got in, got some food, got changed and decided to head to the beach. Hass joined us as we went to Bondi. The queue for the bus from Bondi Junction to Bondi Beach was unreal – clearly a lot of people decided to go there on NYD. The beach was packed, however we managed to find a nice little spot with a decent amount of room so it didn't feel like were too squashed in. A while later Andy and Steve joined. Hass left a little later so it ended up just being the four of us relaxing on the beach until about 8pm. Its amazing how it stays sunny for so long, there wasn't a cloud in the sky all day! It was the perfect way to spend the first day of 2012.

The next morning we left Hass' quite early as we'd decided to check into a hostel as we wanted to be closer to town and wanted to visit the Blue Mountains that day. Initially we'd agreed to hire a car with the guys but they'd had a heavy night and weren't answering their phones so we just decided to catch a train there. We took the train to Katoomba and got a hop on hop off bus pass around the area. The landscape was amazing, so different to anything I have seen in Australia to date. The blue haze on the mountains gives them their name and the views were stunning. We visited Echo Point, The Three Sisters, Leuna Cascades and Gordon Falls. The bus was quite good as you could get on whenever and had the option to walk along the cliff to different sections and get picked up again. It was a scorching hot day but apparently it was only the 2 previous days that the weather had been nice and not raining so we were pretty lucky! It was an exhausting day but a nice last day for me and Inge.

On my last day in Sydney, Inge left early in the morning and then I changed hostels to a cheaper one for one night before spending the day saying bye to people! I met up with Andy and Steve and the Opera house and spent a couple of hours with them before they went to the airport to go to New Zealand then met Stacey and relaxed in Hyde park. I later ran into Charlotte and Ro who I'd met in Byron so had one last drink with them before getting back to my hostel for an early night ready for an early start and a new adventure the next day.