12,350Km later… (yes we really did drive 7720 miles in a Hyundai!)
Despite promises of smaller more manageable blog entries (a little like GCSE bitesize revision) we are forced to update you in one massive chunk of information. Blogging, although a good way to keep in touch and relive our happy days, is very very time consuming! Luckily there is comparatively little to do in Perth, so if you're sitting comfortably…
We landed in Sydney 5 weeks ago, despite being sad to leave NZ we were happy to see some sunshine and blue sky. Having survived a hairy bus ride from the airport we dumped our bags and spent the afternoon exploring and ticking tourist boxes (opera house, bridge, botanical gardens). The next day was spent at the beach where we walked the 5km from Bondi to Coogee, past a phenomenal number of joggers, roller bladers and cyclists. Having felt cheated by the Sydney signs (the walk was more like 15k!) we treated ourselves to ice-lollies. That evening we met up with Emily and Dan (friends from David Lloyd) for some drinks.
Our plan was to see Western Australia and the only viable option was to hop on a plane, the journey from Sydney to Perth was 2 hours longer than from New Zealand to Sydney. Our original plan was to hire a 4x4 but this dream was quickly shattered as you need to A. be 25 and B. have loads of money. Undeterred we decided to go for a 2 wheel drive and stick to the bitumen (mostly). Another strange quirk of car rental is the vast one way charges, to avoid this we thought it would be fun to drive in a huge loop from and to Perth via Darwin, Alice Springs and Adelaide, it only looked like 10,000km on the map. Nevertheless despite the cost of the hire and sometimes filling the tank twice a day we still saved compared to pre organized tours and got to see a lot more on our own time.
Heading north from Perth we stopped off at the Nambung National Park to watch the sunset over the stunning and numerous 'Pinnacles' rock formations. We left the campsite slightly fearful of encountering roadside wildlife (eg kangaroos) and low and behold two appeared within minutes. For those who have driven round Australia the sight of road kill every few kms is no surprise. Throughout the drive we saw numerous kangaroos, dingos, possums, cows and a huge camel, all cut down in their prime by thundering Road Trains (articulated lorries with up to 6 trailers measuring a massive 55m in length, who literally stop for no-one).
The next day we drove (a recurring theme) to Denham to visit the Shark Bay World Heritage area, home to the Monkey Mia Dolphins (see photos). Further up the coast we spent a couple of days in Coral Bay sitting on the beach and snorkeling the Ningaloo Reef, unlike its famous cousin the great barrier, Ningaloo is easily accessible from the shore, and according to Rachel just as impressive. This day also saw us cross into the tropics where seasons aren't really an issue, it is either wet or dry. Luckily it was the dry season for all of our time up north as in the wet season roads can turn to rivers and Hyundai Elantra's are not insured for this sort of off road action!
The next stop was Broome, which required a two day drive stopping in the uneventful town of Port Hedland. Unbeknownst to us, this uneventful town was holding a rather large horse racing event. Upon arrival it seemed as if half of Australia's population had arrived armed with prior knowledge of this event and had booked their accommodation months in advance. Needless to say, we had not and were left with no option other than to sleep in the car, as the next town was 300km away, the sun had set and when Hyundai's collide with kangaroos, kangaroos win.
In Broome we stayed in a nice hostel by the beach with a sporadic supply of electricity; Rachel was unimpressed that she had to complete cooking a risotto with a head torch (luckily the cooker was gas). The next night we visited the oldest picture garden in Australia: this was literally going to the cinema in someone's back garden. Included in the ticket price were bats and the occasional commercial jet flying overhead, as it was on the flight path - the 1913 picture gardens predated the airport.
After our Port Hedland nightmare and on advice from locals, we begrudgingly booked our next 10 nights of accommodation. This was a good job as our next drive was 1055km in one go (Broome to Kununurra), meaning we were arriving late and didn't want to spend another night in the car. In Kununurra we visited the 'mini Bungle Bungles', also known as Mirima National Park. The Bungle Bungles are interesting orange and black striped rock formations. We couldn't go to the real thing as the road was unsealed, but the mini version was still beautiful.
The next day we crossed over into the Northern Territory, via Lake Argyle, a man made lake created by a dam which has a capacity 18 times that of Sydney Harbour. It was a surreal sight in the middle of desert country. We stayed in Katherine for a couple of nights, the state's third largest town, in order to visit Nitmiluk National Park (also known as Katherine Gorge). Here we canoed for half a day amongst fresh water crocodiles (the non-dangerous kind), river snakes and lots of tiny fish. Australians seem to have a very laid back attitude when it comes to crocodiles. Park Rangers say it is safe to swim in rivers as they checked for estuarine or salt water crocodiles (the dangerous kind!) at the beginning of the tourist season but they warn that the 'salties' can arrive in the area without anyone knowing! As we paddled past neither of us could decide if it was a good thing or not that the crocodile trap designed to catch salties was empty! Despite many renditions of row row row your boat we didn't encounter any, not even the harmless freshies.
From Katherine we headed north into Kakadu National Park, home to 70,000 salties! The park is vast and we decided that only having a couple of days, a scenic flight was the way to go. We turned up at the airfield and climbed into a small Cessna for our flight, only Rachel and I were booked on the morning flight so we had the plan and pilot to ourselves. From the air the scale of the park becomes even more apparent. To the east of Kakadu, the Aboriginal territory of Arnhem Land dominates the horizon (Arnhem land alone is the size of Israel). From the safety of the plane we saw numerous salties, even from 500feet they looked massive! As we flew away a particularly large one was eyeing up a couple of wild horses!
Seeing as all our chocolate had melted, water risen to a disgustingly warm temperature and shower gel turned to useless runny liquid we decided it was time to head south. On the road to Alice Springs we stopped in Mataranka for its thermal springs and the next day wandered round (accompanied by sand flies) the impressive and precariously balanced Devil's Marbles.
We used Alice Springs as a base to explore the Uluru National Park. Arriving there in the morning we set about the 14km base walk. Despite numerous pleas from the local Aboriginal people many philistines still insist on trudging their way to the top of this sacred rock. We satisfied ourselves by viewing it from it's perimeter. Along the way we encountered a scared Dutch couple who had stopped in the path as a tiny Thorny Devil blocked their way, only when I zoomed in and took a picture did they realise it wasn't some sort of scary fire breathing dragon and continued their walk.
We stayed in the park and watched the rock change colour as the sun set. We were now presented with the slight problem of driving back to Alice in the dark. As it turned out this journey proved to be the most impressive of the whole trip, we saw a whopping 10 kangaroos. Roughly halfway back we pulled over and turned off the car lights and were greeted by literally millions of stars unspoilt by cloud or light pollution, or even the moon (which hadn't risen yet).
South of Alice Springs, is the bizarre town of Coober Pedy, aboriginal for 'White Man's Hole in the Ground'. The inhabitants of this Opal mining town choose to live underground to avoid the summer temperatures which are often in excess of 50 degrees Celsius. Although we were not there in the height of summer, it was still pretty hot and we were grateful for our underground hostel (6.5m below the surface), which afforded cool pitch black rooms and a chance for our shower gel to reconstitute itself. Not much to see around here as it is littered with 250,000 former mines which are now uncovered holes in the ground.
Continuing a theme of place names with literal meanings, we arrived in Ceduna (a place to sit down and rest). All that now stood between us and civilization was the Nullarbor Plain (Latin for no trees), 1000kms of straight Tarmac dotted with snakes and emus. However thanks to our previous experience of long boring roads, we soon found ourselves in the lush forests of South West Australia.
The SW coast of WA is littered with impressive beaches and forests. En route to Augusta, we took a detour to the tree top walk in the 'Valley of the Giants'. This is a large steel structure that spans the canopy of the forest. The highest point is 40m above the ground and the structure is designed to sway in the wind (to simulate being in the tree tops) so it felt pretty scary at times!
On our last day before arriving back in Perth, we took a tour or Lake Cave, with its stalagtites reflected in the mirror lake below. 28 days after picking up the car, we returned it and have spent the last few days in the city arranging South East Asian practicalities, and enjoying England's domination of the fifth test (fingers crossed we haven't jinxed them by saying that).
Tomorrow we fly to Singapore for a couple of days, then we plan to make our way through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before flying to India on 9th November. We promise blogs will follow at more regular intervals.... Thanks again for messages on here.
As you can see we have uploaded more photos, mostly edited this time so there aren't hundreds for you to look through. Sorry the last few of Australia aren't all the correct way round, we blame the rubbish internet cafe computer! If you view them one by one by clicking on the first one and then scrolling through, you will see we have named some of them so you can follow our travels. Why the name doesn't appear when you view them altogether, we are not quite sure but there you go.
Hope everyone is ok back home, lots of love Rachel and Simon