Australia Just Trippin' Part 3 - 26.01.11 - 24.02.11
It was pretty sad when Becca and Andy left, we had planned the trip up until they arrived and had not really planned anything for after that so the pressure was on to come up with a new plan of attack. It was Australia Day and the locals and tourists alike were out in force. There was a BBQ and a movie in the sun all set around the lovely lagoon but it was super hot and we had to go back to the hostel to get busy sorting stuff out. We arranged to go to Mission Beach next, much to the delight of the Fielder family I am sure!
We had been in touch with Wayne who we met in Sydney over new year and he said that he was more than happy for us to go and stay with him although I wasn't sure he thought we would ever take him up on the offer but little Maddie had got so excited that we were coming to stay that she had been sat in the car ready and waiting for our call for nearly an hour, I thought it was just the sweetest thing. Wayne and Maddie came and picked us up from the station and took us back to their house. It was the most beautiful house ever, set just back from the beach with a pool, table tennis table, a pool table, the works. I was so delighted as we even had our own room with en-suite - it was just heavenly. While we were there they could not have made us feel more welcome, Steph and Wayne were wonderful and their beautiful children Maddie and Evan were so well behaved. We whiled away our time in and out of the pool playing with the children. Much to my delight they were also going to pick up 2 new kittens and they were adorable, causing mischief straight away I might add. While we were there we were struck by how safe the whole town was and by the sense of community. No-one locked their front doors, most even left their car keys in the ignition! We were also invited to partake in a slip and slide. Basically this just involves a huge piece of tarp and oodles of water and washing up liquid. The resulting effect was a lot of fun and multiple injuries, mainly attained by the adults. We were fed with amazing food from BBQs to curry nights, the whole stay was bliss. While we were there we could not decide whether to do a skydive or not and by the time we had worked up the courage and the money we were told that all dives were off due to the cyclone. Little did we know how devastating this cyclone was going to be.
As time passed and we were nearing the end of our stay the cyclone, now named Yasi, was getting ever stronger and appeared to be heading straight for Mission Beach. We had booked to leave on a train from Tully to go all the way back to Brisbane but a lot of the trains were being cancelled due to the weather so when we were dropped off at the station we just hoped it would be ok. It was there that a local man dropped the bombshell. This was to be the last train out of the area until after the cyclone and they had no idea what kind of damage it would cause, oh and by the way, Mission Beach residents have been ordered to evacuate. As we sat on our comfortable train we had no idea what would become of the gorgeous town we had just had the pleasure of staying in and the wonderful family who had looked after us.
It seemed that we were not destined to spend any time exploring the Brisbane area as we only stayed here one night to wait for a connecting train to take us to Sydney. We were glued to the news which showed the effects of the cyclone and the devastating news that Mission Beach had been classed as ground zero. It would be a number of days before we could find out what would become of our friends.
We had spent quite a bit of our time in Australia in Sydney already but Adam wanted to go surfing on Bondi Beach and that he did. We stayed with our friends Mel and Johnny who we had met in New Zealand and with whom we had spent new year. They kindly put up with us for a couple of nights. They live in a lovely little apartment in north Sydney and have a pool on the terrace which they had never used till we got there. We were sweltering in the 42 degree heat and just jumped in. They treated us to a yummy breakfast and Johnny whooped Adam's ass at basketball. It was lovely to see them again and I'm certain it won't be the last time our paths cross.
We headed on an overnight train to stay with Karl for a few more days. We had a lovely time with them as always and visited Philip Island where we saw some awesome views. We also went to visit the base of the Peninsula Surf Club where Karl's friend Paul had just taken over the job as caretaker and the place was clearly going to be amazing. We listened to his lovely singing and guitar playing while Adam managed not to break his neck on the half pipe and then we sat and had a lovely dinner around a fire under the stars and a bit of rain.
Karl also took us for an afternoon/evening at Jill's house. Karl does a bit of TV work for an Australian show called Kids in the Kitchen and he wanted to film the making of dinner at Jill's to put onto you tube. Adam and Karl shopped for ingredients and we watched while they slaved away for the camera and us. The end result was an outstanding feed and with some pretty professional editing, a cool 15 minutes of footage for you tube.
We flew from Melbourne to Launceston and Karl very kindly dropped us off at the airport. We hired a car and drove straight to Hobart. It only took just over 2 hours and we enjoyed the afternoon by the harbour and Salamanca Place in the city. However, we had nowhere to stay and as we had blown our budget on renting the car I was refusing to pay for accommodation. I had managed to get some sketchy info from the internet regarding where there were some free campsites as we had brought all our gear with us and off we headed. I'm afraid to say that after driving for a pretty long time we gave up. It was dirt roads and our car hire specifically did not allow this kind of driving. It was dark and there were signs all over saying to watch out for wombats, kangaroos and Tassie devils and all of these were everywhere so it made the driving even more difficult. We headed back in the other direction to a place called Port Artur where we eventually hit the reserve and saw the sign indicating the rules of the campground. However, again after driving down a single track dirt road we came to nothing. I gave up, we parked the car, pulled out our sleeping bags and just slept right there. In the morning as we were brushing our teeth to our embarrassment, 2 huge campervans came round the corner, it appears we were only moments away from finding the campsite when we had given up!
We spent the morning at Port Arthur. This place has a really sad story and was the site of a notorious reform style prison in the early 1800s and many convicts were shipped here from all over. The methods of torture they used here were sickening and the way they treated the prisoners was very harsh. Very few escaped the prison though many tried as there were no fences keeping the prisoners in, just the natural hostility of the ocean and hundreds of very hungry dogs at Eaglehawk Neck, the only way from the peninsula to the mainland. You can search to see if any relatives of people from your home town were held in the prison. I am pleased to say that no Taberner's were held here but 3 Garrett's were, 1 from Tamworth!
We continued our journey and headed up the east coast where we visited beautiful Coles Bay and then found somewhere to camp before dark, we had got cleverer!!! We went to visit a penguin rookery in Bicheno and they were so amazing. I kept having to put my hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming with excitement. It was wonderful to see the baby penguins waddling along and their parents coming home from a day out catching fish.
Next we headed up to Launceston and stopped at a number of beautiful beaches along the way. The drive took us through lush mountain ranges that had huge ferns and lots of greenery - we could have been in New Zealand. It was then off to Sister's Beach. We stayed with Kendall and Chris who we met while we were in Fiji and they were so lovely to us. The first day we arrived they had to go to a wedding in the afternoon so they left us alone in their house, very trusting. We took a drive to Stanley, a small town with a big rock, Tassie's answer to Uluru. We climbed up the 150 metre vertical climb and though my legs were burning, the views from the top were really worth it. The next day the guys woke up a bit hungover and bought a huge bag of chips and gravy for brekkie (it takes all sorts eh?!). We then headed out for the afternoon to a lake nearby where they took their small tinny boat with 25bhp engine and one of their friends brought their Bar Crasher with 150bhp and we were dragged around on sea biscuits (donuts to me and you) and even a body board. The water was very refreshing when you fell in but we had such a lovely day with some epic wipe-outs! It was so nice to stay with them and their dog Bella who Adam wanted to steal.
It was only a quick stop this time with Karl, we hired a car and drove from the airport to his house, slept for 6 hours and then drove back again. The reason for this was to collect a range of cards and presents that head been sent over for my birthday by my lovely mummy so it was worth the trip for sure. It was finally time to say goodbye to this wonderful family who had taken time out of their lives to look after us all 3 times we visited.
When we arrived in the Alice we really didn't know what to expect and to be honest it probably wasn't what we got. Our hostel was pretty good but we were due to go on tour in 1 day so we headed to the supermarket to pick up the all important water. With the temperatures as hot as they are in the Red Centre you are supposed to drink around 6 litres of water a day. On our trip to Woolworths we encountered the locals. Many aboriginal people live in Alice but they live on the streets and are fuelled by lots of booze. They are loud and very smelly and all in all it was a very daunting experience. It wasn't until the next day that someone told us that you should not go out at dark with less than 3 people in a group and even then it's best to get a taxi. We had bought a few snacks and I treated myself to a new pair of $8 trainers from k-mart especially for the adventure and an adventure it was.
Uluru and Kings Canyon
Our tour guide was called Tristan and there were 10 of us on the tour in total though the 10th was to join us at Ayrs Rock Resort. We all got on so well from the start and Tristan did a very good job at making the most boring things seem interesting. At first we stopped at a camel farm but when Tristan said it he said "wooo" afterwards, this was the order of the day and it got so amusing that when he said that we were going to a cattle station next the whole bus went "wooo" This then became a bit of a joke and he loved the fact that we would all whoop and cheer on demand when he said cattle station, it was very funny. The first day we set up camp, made some lunch and our 10th person joined us. We told her that as an initiation we had all done a chicken dance singing a rude song though we actually hadn't but poor Hayleigh dutifully sang the dirty version of Yogi Bear while flapping her wings, we all were in hysterics till Tristan told us to do our dance next, not so funny then huh!
We headed out to do a walk at Kata Kjuta. This is a wonderful rock formation only about 30 kms from Uluru and although Tristan did tell us how it was formed I don't remember a thing! It was very hot and we were all sticky but the heavens opened and water was cascading down the rock faces. This is apparently a really rare occurrence and we were very lucky to see it as the rocks are normally bright red and very dry but I'm not sure we felt lucky at the time. The downside was that when we went to see the sunset there was nothing to see, there was just too much cloud so it was back to camp for our dinner and sleep.
In the camp we slept in swags, these are basically just mattresses that go on the ground with a waterproof bottom and a lightweight cover with nothing that goes over your head. At first I was really worried about the creepy crawlies as it was way too hot to even sleep in a sleeping bag but then I had more to worry about. The rain started coming down really hard and I ended up sleeping in my swag under the kitchen table, not quite how I'd imagined it to be.
It was time to get up at 4am to go and watch the sunrise over Uluru. It had occurred to me that whilst I have seen the sun rise perhaps as I am driving home in the early hours, I have never taken the time to actually watch the sun rise. This baffled everyone, not least our guide who, bless him, came running to find me as he didn't want to miss watching me watch the sunrise. And it was beautiful, the sort of sunrise you see in the movies and in all the pictures, the best one for some time so I was told so I felt very blessed and at peace. As the sun rose the colours and shadings on the rock changed and it looked stunning. However, me and the rock were about to get a lot more closely acquainted. The walk around the base is 10km long and took us 2 and a half hours in the baking heat. My feet were very sore and wet because the paths were all flooded because of the wonderful rain. We were again very lucky because we saw waterfalls coming off the rock. By the time we finished the walk which, despite my moaning and constant weeing, was awesome or as Tristan would have us say, "Staunch!" It was a long drive to King's Canyon but our camp was so good and no rain. We set up a fire, had a really good feed and all slept in a circle around the fire. We also ended up doing dares and for some reason it appears there was a chicken theme as I was dared to go to the next camp and run round the table making very loud chicken noises. It was the reaction of the others that was funny to me as they all just stood and stared, no-one even laughed, glad I wasn't on that tour! I came out to a round of applause from our group, epic!
The walk to Kings Canyon was another 4am start but as I woke I looked to the sky and saw the southern cross star formation, it was beautiful. The walk itself was pretty steep at first and then calmed down. There were wicked views and when we got halfway round we stopped at a waterhole. The guys all went for a swim but I sat on the bank and watched in horror as Kan, a guy in our group, started to choke and drown. I just started screaming rather than reacting with anything useful. Tristan dived in fully clothed but because of the weight of his clothes he could only just keep Kan and himself up so Adam was able to bring them onto the rock for safety. Kan was a bit shaken as was Tristan and Adam but all were ok and we just took it slow. This caused more problems because the longer it took us to get out the canyon the hotter it was getting and with all the jokes about my incessant toilet requirements I can't say I was drinking as much as I should have, more fool me. I started to feel sick and had a terrible headache, I was lagging at the back and then just broke down, again the 2 heroes of the hour stepped in and started lying me down, pouring water all over me and making me drink powerade. We finally made it to the bottom and we were all pretty relieved.
It was back to Alice Springs and time to get ready for the big night out. We went out to celebrate our lives and trip together and had an amazing time. We are all in touch and hung out with a few of the guys who weren't leaving straight away on our last day in the Alice.
The Ghan and Darwin
So I'm not sure if you're noticing that we have been leaving a trail of devastation as we have travelled around Oz and that there appears to be an army of guardian angels saving our ass every time. We got the first train from Perth to Adelaide after the early NSW floods, we got the first bus into Brisbane after the floods peaked, the first train through to Cairns after to the Queensland floods, the last train out of Mission Beach before Cyclone Yasi and then we were due on the Ghan just after Cyclone Carlos had washed half the track away! We were able to get on the Ghan train as far as Katherine and then, as a sorry for the fact that the train was to be replaced by a bus, they took us on a free $80 Katherine Gorge cruise ride with tea and cakes as well. We arrived in Darwin at the same time as the train would have got us there so we hardly missed out. We also stopped in a small pub where we saw the buffalo that Crocodile Dundee moves out of the road, man we have seen it all. The driver of the bus was actually a tour guide and talked the whole way, it was a bit much for me but I did unplug my earphones a few times to listen. She told us about the aboriginal community and made me feel bad for being so judgemental when we were in Alice Springs. These people have only been recognised as human according to Australia law for 40 years and they are used to living in remote communities. However, white men cannot understand this way of living and try to impose on them our western culture which doesn't work. To indicate the kind of problems they have she told us that her husband drives the road trains into the remote areas to provide food and once received a phone call to say that one of the families had a problem with their oven. The government had just spent a lot of money setting up a housing project so the oven was practically new. In fact the man had gone into the bush, caught a kangaroo and turned all 4 burners on and put the kangaroo on top. Then when it didn't work, he turned the oven on and put a log in it. Though this was very amusing to me, it was just a way to illustrate that white men are not dealing with the integration well at all and that I am very closed minded!
It was the wet season in Darwin and there was a lot of rain so there was not much to do but drink and that we did. We also managed to meet up with Marita, a lovely girl from the epic tour. Now it is time for us to leave Australia and head off on the next stage of our journey to Indonesia. We have had an amazing time and though we have spent nearly our weight in gold we have seen things I never thought I would get to see and we have been so touched by the generosity of strangers who very quickly become friends.