Monday, December 18, 2006

Greetings from a very wet Taupo (and I'm not just talking about the lake)

Wednesday 6th December 2006

Got bus from Albany to Perth. I think travelling such vast distances has been good for my patience as the 6 hours seem to pass quite quickly. It is noticeably warmer on arrival in Perth (30C+). I spent the afternoon updating photos online and then went for a long walk along the Swan River. It was beautiful in the evening sunshine, and interesting to watch all the locals cycling and jogging. After cooking and eating I had an early night to prepare for the long day/night ahead

Thursday 7th December 2006

I took it fairly easy in the morning, mainly staying around the hostel, prior to getting the airport shuttle bus at 3pm. I did some further stuff on the internet (managing to get some extra free time when the whole system crashed on me), cooked a leisurely lunch and read for a bit.

I met a chap from France (Thomas, from Annecy), while waiting for the bus. He had been staying in the room next to mine at the Perth City YHA, but we hadn't met previously. I spotted his french accent, so we started chatting from there...

Also spoke to a Kiwi (a person from New Zealand, that is, not a flightless bird!)) on the bus, so got some tips about where to go in New Zealand.

On checking in at the airport, Thomas discovered that his luggage was overweight (a bit like being in an episode of "Airport"). Some re-packing was required, before going back to try again. He had got the excess baggage charge down quite a bit, but there was still some money to pay (which he as prepared to do). The next problem, however, was that he only had a single ticket, and New Zealand immigration requires an onward ticket in order to let you into the country. He therefore had to buy an expensive (but fully refundable ticket) which could be reimbursed on arrival. Ah, the joys of antipodean bureaucracy!

We finally got our seats allocated (next to each other, so we could have some in-flight language lessons) on our third attempt and the kind ladies at the service desk waived the excess baggage charges (either feeling sorry for us, or won over by our anglo-french charm offensive).

Thomas proceeded to buy me a coffee as a thank you for my translation services.

The flight was really good, mostly spent chatting in French and English and drinking a very nice Pinot Noir. Didn't manage to sleep a wink, so I think the first few hours in Auckland will pass in rather a blur.

Friday 8th December 2006

Arrived in Auckland very early in the morning. Customs were kind enough to wash my boots (a bit of poo on one of them apparently) and took away my tent for a thorough inspection. The bloke in front of me had 2 big spiders in his swag, so I guess they have a good reason for making a thorough check. Still, it was a bit annoying that they had made a pig's ear of repacking my tent - I ended up having to spread it out on the airport floor and start again.

Got the bus into Auckland city centre and dumped my bags at the hostel (Auckland Central Backpackers - just off of Queens Street in the centre of town). Couldn't check-in until 11am so went for a coffee and pastry with Thomas. Lovely little cafe and excellent coffee. Good first impressions. Auckland seemed much busier than Perth, which made a nice change. Giant papier-mache (well, maybe fibre-glass) Santa attached to one of the buildings. Rather creepy looking, as it has a winking eye an a come-hither finger. A bit sinister and rather disturbing. The Daily Mail would be outraged and probably instigate a campaign for its removal.

Managed (somehow) to keep going during the day. Wandered around Auckland, did some food shopping (cheaper than in Australia - hooray), had a leisurely lunch/dinner and carried on practicing my French with Tomas, who is a really nice bloke.

Spent the evening with some more french-speakers (France/Quebec) and finally went to bed once the bar - right next door to our room (typical!) - had closed. This was at 11pm because whilst it normally closes at 7:30pm, there was a special party on (with pumping dance music - oh joy), to celebrate our arrival (?)...

Saturday 9th December 2006

Slept for 12 hours solid. Luckily not too noisy one the party had finished.

Spent the day making further excursions out into Auckland. Had lunch with Thomas in an Asian food court. $6 - almost like being back in Singapore. Booked bus up to Paihia and bought BBH card.

Later in the afternoon went to supermarket (again) to assemble picnic stuff. Took this up to the Domain for the Christmas in the Park extravaganza. Lovely park with museum in the background (the new atrium was opened by the Prime Minister the day before). The rain began almost as soon as we had sat down and opened the wine. It was really cold - my hands quickly lost all feeling. Up until that point the weather hadn't been too bad. There had been a brief band of rain on Friday evening and a couple of short showers during the day on Saturday, but out of the wind it had been warmish when the sun came out.

Still, we sat it out and munched on bread and salami... all the while enduring the awful entertainment. Perhaps that should be in inverted commas. It really was sub-Royal Variety Performance stuff: kids singing carols, precocious child singer-songwriters, assorted other tat. We made it to the interval, getting wetter and wetter all the time. By that stage we had had enough, so decided to head back to the hostel and eat our fruit-course (good strawberries) and finish the wine in the dry.

We finished off the evening by going to a couple of bars for a nightcap. Nice to be in the warm and dry...

Sunday 10th December 2006

Up (too) early to get the bus to Paihia. Beautiful journey - green hills, glimpses of the sea and estuaries along the way. Lovely stuff. Arrived at lunchtime.

After erecting the tent and eating I had a wander around the town before lounging on the beach for a couple of hours. Quite nice out of the breeze and in the sun. Otherwise pretty chilly. Seemed like a nice quiet town, with a lovely location looking out to the bay (rather unsurprisingly dotted with islands). Got some bits from the supermarket (including a heavily discounted bottle of Pinot Noir) and headed back to the hostel.

Really friendly bunch of people around the hostel (including a nice couple who are looking after the place while the owners are away). Nice courtyard for eating al fresco, although several layers are required.

Monday 11th December 2006

Beautiful sunny start. Starting to feel more human after a really good night's sleep.

Quite chilly, but the eat-as-much-as-you-possibly-can buffet breakfast does a good job of warming me up. Absolutely stuffed: minimum lunch will be required for the next week...

Got ferry across to Russell. Chatted with friendly middle-aged couple from Wellington (NZ, not Somerset) on boat. Lovely relaxed holiday atmosphere.

Russell is a really pretty little town. Clapboard houses (is that the right term? Anyway, painted wooden constructions) and lush green hills behind the town remind me of Carriacou. Gorgeous.

I spend the day walking all around the peninsula on which Russell sits. Amazing views from various lookout points - especially from the end of the peninsula: the 360 degree views of the bays and islands is indescribably beautiful. This, plus the fact that my camera has miraculously started working again, makes me feel almost euphoric. So much so that I even braved a swim in the freezing (16C) water. By this time the air was really warm, so it was actually quite refreshing (and the sea lovely and clean). Further walks through pretty, fern-filled woods led me to other nice beaches and viewpoints. I eventually worked my way back to Russell for the return ferry. All in all an amazing day.

Met some more nice people back at the hostel including Gallit (who went to Art College in Exeter), Simone from Italy (changing from French to Italian and vice versa seems to be getting a bit easier - maybe I'm learning to switch more quickly), Faye (from Coventry) and Colin (from USA, via Melbourne)

Got told off by the dragon-like owner for talking after the curfew (1 minute past 11pm). Her face is so sour she could curdle milk. It must be years since that last time she smiled. Luckily the gorgeous star-filled sky meant that I went to bed happy despite the altercation.

Tuesday 12th December 2006

Another gorgeous sunny day. And another gluttonous attack on the breakfast buffet.

Today walked to Opua and back. First up to the look-out behind Paihia (amazing views of the bay). Beautiful forests - still amazing to see so many tree ferns and other unusual plants. Feels like tropical rainforest. Track follows a ridgeline a few kms behind the coast. Unfortunately the trees obscured what would have otherwise been fantastic views (Dad, you would have been really irritated by this), but the tranquility and isolation (didn't see a single person) made up for it. Glad to be in the shade in actual fact as it is really quite hot by the middle of the day.

Joined gravel road and followed it down the hill to Opua. Lovely views as I approached the coast. Opua is a pretty little town/village. Loads of flowers and some stunning looking residential properties (probably all holiday homes).

The track then follows the coast back to Paihia. It's rather reminiscent of sections of the SW coast patch around the estuaries of S. Devon/Cornwall. I stopped for a brief snooze on the beach continuing.

Later in the afternoon I managed to have a Wood-style mishap while standing on a bench (rather precariously) to take a photo. I somehow lost my balance, slipped off the back of the bench, scraped my shin and took a chunk out of my foot. Luckily I had my first aid kit with me, so I was able to clean up the wound and apply a plaster (thankfully I was not seriously injured).

I hobbled back to the hostel - I was already nearly back when I had my whoopsy, so there wasn't that far to go.

Put feet up and had some wine for its anaesthetic effect. It was a nice Cab/Merlot from Hawkes Bay (I'm trying to drink local!), which goes rather well with my Spag Carbonara.

Spent the rest of the evening chatting with Gallit/Faye/Maya - the latter from Slovakia - very pleasant... helped me forget about the chunk missing from the foot.

Wednesday 13th December 2006

After two mammoth walking days I decided to take it relatively easy and do some organisational stuff. I decided that it would give me some peace of mind to know where I will be staying over the Christmas period (other people have spoken about places being booked up, etc.). I also had a lovely chat with Mum and Dad, making use of the free credit I got when buying a BBH Hostel Discount Card.

I found out about the Naked Bus from Faye (I'm hoping it won't be full of naturists). It has fares starting from $1. I managed to book a few cheap tickets online and even splashed out on a $6 fare. Naked bus can't quite get me everywhere that I want to go on the North Island, but it covers a big chunk. I will fill in the gaps with Intercity/Shuttle services.

I also called a few hostels, which responded with varying degrees of friendliness. One tells me that it is ridiculous to book so far in advance (the person on the phone made me feel really stupid for trying to do so), so I decided that perhaps I don't want to stay there after all. The Cat's Pyjamas in Whitianga seems really good, on the other hand (a lovely lady answered the phone and it only costs $12 a night for tent pitches). So I decided to stay there over Christmas. It's quite satisfying to have a plan - especially when it costs so little. I hope the South Island proves to be a similar bargain, but I rather doubt it, from what I've heard...

Another nice evening, out in the courtyard of the hostel. The friendliness of my fellow guests is the polar opposite to that of the owners. It is good that Gallit, Faye and Maya are all staying at the hostel until Saturday, like me, as that helps to give the hostel a really homely feel. They are also all going on the same trip to Cape Reinga tomorrow.

Forgot to say the exciting news that I found a Woolworths earlier in the day, which has a much better selection of foodstuffs than the Four Square in town and is still quite a bit cheaper than Australia, even in a touristy place like this. That's an added bonus for a food obsessive like me.

Thursday 14th December 2006

I managed a brief raid on the buffet table before catching the tour bus at 7:15am. It would prove to be a long day ahead (12 hours), taking in 90-mile beach, the Kauri Forests and Cape Reinga, etc. The Guide sounded just like Clive James, but without the sense of humour. He seemed to find it amusing to make unfunny jokes about Australians, women, rugby... groan. The selection of music was awful too. Instrumental (mainly saxophone) muzak versions of "classic" hits and Boney M's Greatest Hits on repeat. Joy. Luckily the sights compensate.

The journey up the coast is beautiful. More bays, estuaries, hills, forests, beaches. Lovely.

Our first stop was to look at the giant Kauri trees in an ancient forest. Nice boardwarlk through the forest, but quite cool in the cloud (it was the worst weather since Auckland, but at least it didn't rain.

Next we stopped at a bit of a tacky Kauri-wood souvenir shop for morning coffee. I resist both the overpriced coffee and the tat on offer in the shop. The drive along 90-mile beach was much better. It was really strange to drive along such a long beach in a Coach and the driver took great satisfaction in telling us all about all the people who has got stranded by the tide/caught in quicksand, etc.. The weather was still a bit overcast, but not too cold.

We stopped at some giant sand dunes for what proved to be the highlight of the day: boogie boarding down the dunes. It was quite a trek to the top (the dune must be 100m high), but was worth it for the views and the thrill of sliding back down and getting a lung/nose/eye/ear-full of sand!

Got to Cape Reinga about lunchtime. Interesting to think that there is nothing between us and Russia. Otherwise it is a bit disappointing. Have seen nicer coastlines in the UK. Ah well, at least I can now head South in the knowledge that I haven't missed anything... The drive back in the afternoon was a bit of a drag. We stopped at a nice beach for a late lunch stop, but after that it was just straight back down the road, only stopping a couple of times (for a refreshment break at the same tat shop as in the morning, and then a fish and chip stop for an early tea at 5pm. Naturally I declined on both occasions).

We were all pretty tired when we got back in the evening, but had another nice sociable courtyard dinner (with the bonus of finding quite a bit of good stuff in the "free food" box). Getting freebies are proving to be definite highlights of the trip.

Friday 15th December 2006

Morning spent gorging myself on breakfast, doing my washing, and beginning to write this (I am now finishing it and posting it from Taupo, where the internet connection is slightly cheaper and better).

In the afternoon I walked to the waterfall (can't remember the name - all the Maori names sound really similar to my ignorant western ears), through more forest and mangrove. Lovely walk and the falls were quite nice in an understated way, although the sign warning of raw sewage meant that I wasn't too impressed about getting covered in spray. I saw several interesting birds, including a Tui, which has white baubly things under its chin.

Another evening of chit-chat under the stars. The weather has been really good and so has the company. I really enjoyed my time in the Bay of Islands... it was very laid-back and relaxing. I'm sure it would have been a bit dismal in the rain, but so far I have been lucky...

Saturday 16th December 2006

I got really lucky and met a couple from Sheffield the previous day who were driving south to Auckland in the morning. They offered to give me a lift and so I was able to get a refund on my bus ticket. Maya from Slovakia also got a lift so we bought them a case of beer to say thank you (but still saved over $30).

We stopped at Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa en route. Really interesting to have a small culture fix after so much natural scenic beauty. The detail in the toilets is amazing, although it feels a bit odd taking photos of a thunderbox/pissoir (luckily no one was in there at the time).

The kind couple dropped me off right at the bus station in Auckland, so from there I jumped on my bus to Taupo. It was a long drive and the bus stopped twice for refreshment breaks, which was a bit annoying as I just wanted to get to my destination.

The drive was quite scenic, in an pastoral English kind of way. The weather was still quite good, so things looked especially nice in the sunshine.

Arrived in Taupo in time for my first Pak'n'Save experience (New Zealand's Lidl equivalent), which yielded a few bargains (e.g. heads of broccoli for mere pence!) and made me a happy bunny with a full shopping trolley and later an even fuller stomach (accompanied by more wine sampling).

The hostel seems nice. A bit bigger than the one in Paihia, but still friendly and welcoming. Went out for a drink with a few others (English, Danish, Australian, German), although the local Irish bar wasn't up to much. Quite a late night, so rather exhausted come the end after 9 hours travelling during the day.

Sunday 17th December 2006

Rather overcast today, with rain forecast for the afternoon. Still, it wasn't cold so I decided to get out early and walk up to Huka Falls and beyond. It was a beautiful riverside walk, with the river an amazing blue colour, even in the cloud. Passed some hot springs which flowed out into the river and thought about going for a dip on the way back (the trail was the same there and back).

Got to the falls quite quickly and was impressed by the flow of water (more a giant series of rapids than a waterfall, but stunning nonetheless). Decided to carry on along the trail to a place with another name I can't remember (it begins with an 'A'). There, the river has been dammed and the water is only released a few times each day. Luckily I arrived just in time to see the discharge and it was amazing to see how quickly the rapids filled with water after the gates were opened.

It seemed quite a long walk back (a good 3 hours each way) and the clouds were thickening all the while (it had been relatively bright in the morning). It was just beginning to spit with rain when I reached the hot springs so I decided to plough on back to the hostel instead. This was just as well as the rain increased in intensity just as I got back inside. Excellent timing and a really satisfying day!

The hostel is proving to be just as good as the previous one and I'm finding loads more nice people to talk to. Either I'm getting more tolerant in my old age (btw I have been asked for ID on several occasions - so can't look that old), am picking the right hostels, or just being lucky. Whatever the reason, it is rather nice and shapes your impressions of a place so much...

Monday 18th December

I don't think the rain stopped since yesterday evening, and it rained steadily all morning (and all afternoon... it is now 6pm and has just [finally] stopped raining). This rather scuppered my plan to walk up the mountain behind Taupo, and even my plan B of walking around the lake was scrapped when the rain refused to stop, even momentarily. Instead I went to the library to read some newspapers, and then to the supermarket... followed by long lunch, a snooze, several cups of tea and now some time in the internet cafe (5-7 is happy 2 hours, and therefore a bit cheaper). It really was a grim day weather wise, and the forecast is for it to continue in this vein for the next few days. Ah well, I have been really lucky thus far, and being in New Zealand, I know that I have to take the rough with the smooth and the wet with the dry. It is also a bonus staying in a nice hostel, with nice people as at least this provides a diversion from the greyness outside.

Several people did the Tongariro (sp?) crossing today in the rain (normally it is closed in bad weather but the forecast was much better than it actually turned out). They all came back totally soaked and miserable. You couldn't see beyond your feet, apparently. One chap got lost and only found the path when he heard voices in the distance. I'm glad I decided against it...

And there we are... just about up-to-date. At least if the weather continues like this I won't have so much to write about in the future!

Sorry about the epic posting. You've done well if you've got this far without falling asleep or needing a toilet break (even the spell check is telling me that it is too long!).

Time to go and eat my first New Zealand lamb (under 1 pound for two chops!), with ratatouille and sweet potato. Which rather calls for a nice bottle of wine, methinks.

Best wishes to you all,
James xx

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Resumption of play

Well, I am back in the library and have been informed that I can happily type up my blog on the computer's word processor for free, save it to disk and then upload it from a different computer (outside of the library). I think I should be able to bypass the second step and paste it directly into my blog (as long as no-one is watching). If this appears then it is England 1 – Australia (or, at least, Albany Library Services) 0 (unlike the latest Ashes disaster, which just doesn't bear talking about).

So, where was I?

Friday 1st December 2006 (continued)

Got to the hostel in Albany in time for lunch and discovered, much to our delight, that in addition to the v friendly and welcoming owners (who somehow managed to remember the first name of everyone in the hostel), there was free bread around the clock. Bonus.

After a carbohydrate-packed lunch, we drove into the Torndirrup National Park, where we saw beautiful beaches, interesting rock formations (so many huge lumps of granite around here) and impressive blowholes. It was at the latter where an amusing incident elapsed. Sebastien and I were almost upon them when they first blew (a violent gush of spray about 10m high). We almost jumped out of our skins (or as Melanie later put it, “into each others arms”). Melanie, who was a few metres further back, found it hilarious. Well, it was funny at the time. The swell was huge, so the views, as well as the blowholes, were all very dramatic.

On the way back to the hostel we visited Dog Rock, which, as you might well imagine is a large granite boulder in the shape of a Dog's head. The locals have painted on a collar, and its likeness is so rubbish that it is actually rather amusing.

Arriving back at the hostel I discovered that Rob and Caroline (who I had met in Augusta) were staying at the hostel. I spent a very pleasant evening with them and the two Canadians, over a couple of bottles of wine which we had accumulated on our various tastings (them more than me – their car was a veritable wine cellar).

Saturday 2nd December 2006

Started off the day going to the office of the bus company to claim my refund. You'll be pleased to hear that this amounted to the princely sum of 90c (mainly as a result of me being issued with the incorrect – and overly discounted – ticket in the first place). Ah well, even 90c isn't to be sniffed at, especially when I got a free tour in place of the bus journey.

Later in the morning we went to the farmers market (pretty rubbish and usual overpriced “organic” nonsense) and saw an exhibition of wildlife photography. But the highlight came when we popped into Alkoomi Wines to see if they had any tastings on offer. And did they ever! Their vineyards are in Frankland River (a couple hours north of here) and as it is rather off the tourist trail, they offer tastings in Albany as well.

Perhaps the wines weren't quite as good as those that I had tasted in the Margaret River/ Pemberton/ Denmark areas, but what they lacked in quality (and they weren't that lacking) the lady more than made up for in quantity. Each “tasting” was a good three mouthfuls and after 12 wines, we (me and the 2 Quebecers) were decidedly tipsy.

We felt a bit more with it after a long, bready lunch (I'm going to look like a loaf soon), so, together with Melanie and Sebastien, I went to Two People's Bay Nature Reserve. Little Beach was another corker and we managed to find a spot out of the wind (which was just as well, because in spite of the glorious sunshine there was a chilly breeze). Went in for a couple of swims and messed about in the surf. Very refreshing/invigorating but not as cold as I thought it would be (apparently the Leuwin Current reaches around the corner as far as Albany and thus keeps the temperatures higher than would be expected for the Southern Ocean).

A seagull bit Melanie while she was sunbathing (they are worse than they are in Sidmouth around here) and there was an amusing incident with a “bastard fly” (a bit like a horse fly – they bite – but I don't know the name so I invented my own). Anyway, one landed on Melanie, she screamed, we told her to sit still so that we could swat it (they are quite slow and death-prone), she carried on with her fit, insisting that at least that way it wouldn't be on her. Well, a couple of seconds later Sebastien slapped Melanie on the thigh, and lo, there was the dead fly. Hmm... another on of those “you had to be there” comedy moments, I suppose.

Another pleasant, wine-fuelled evening with the same group and after finding anywhere nice to have a night-cap, we went to have another look at Dog Rock. This time by night. And still rubbish.

Sunday 3rd December 2006

Lost an hour's sleep overnight, as the clocks went forward for the first time in W.A. (for a 3 year trial period).

Sad to say goodbye to the Quebecers and Liverpudlians, as we had spent a really enjoyable few days together. Still, it was nice to have a morning to myself, which I spent looking around town and doing some food shopping. The shops (including the big supermarkets) all operate rather archaic opening hours here, so the only place open was the local IGA (a Super Spar, if you like).

After lunch (some lovely seed bread from the free-bread bread-board – which made me feel a bit homesick), I went on a mammoth walk to Middleton Beach and Emu Point. Another 20k-er, I reckon. It was a beautiful sunny day and much warmer than the previous few days (high 20s). There were loads of lizards (King Skinks) about, clearly enjoying the warmth as much as me.

Albany has a really lovely setting, with granite strewn hills, white sand beaches and deep blue natural harbours. The town itself isn't up to much (typical sprawling Aussie suburbia), but the surroundings, and areas of wilderness within, more than compensate. It rather reminds me of Sardinia and is more Mediterranean in Character than I expected (someone else at the hostel likened it to the coast of Turkey). I thought it would have been lusher, but the vegetation is maquis-like and aromatic, rather than damp, woody and vivid-green.

I made another lovely curry (trying to use things up before moving on to NZ) and then had a very early night. It had been a hectic and very sociable few days.

Monday 4th December 2006

Spent the morning catching up on diary and internet housekeeping (mainly at Albany Library, where it is free). Weather took a turn for the worse again (preparing me for New Zealand?) so there was no great rush to get outside.

After lunch (yup, you guessed it, more bread – this time in the form of tuna sandwiches), I went for a walk, up to one of the hills overlooking Albany. This was delayed to begin with by a large patch of drizzle, so I popped back into the library for further blog updates (it's taking longer than I thought).

The sun sort of glimmered through the clouds, but the views weren't as good as the previous two days. It's amazing to note the difference between here and Perth. It was 35C in Perth today and struggling to reach 20C in Albany. Still I was reading on the interweb about the flooding in Scotland (and have since heard about Budleigh Salterton's storm-related power cut) so I mustn't grumble.

Had another quiet evening. Chatted for a bit with a pleasant divorcee from Holland, read for a bit and then had another early night.

Tuesday 5th December 2006

Penultimate full day in Australia today. Another morning of chores. This time washing, blogging and weather-watching (the sun came out at about 10am – hooray – I managed to get my washing dry).

Went for a long walk in the afternoon with Petra, the aforementioned Dutch lady. Very pleasant, although I'm quite glad to be moving on tomorrow (I think we just about exhausted her surprisingly limited English). The weather was great. Warm and sunny, but with a cooling onshore breeze. Walked up to another viewpoint overlooking the city, which still houses some gun emplacements which we were able to look around (and even go inside some of the large gun-type-things). Also revisited Middleton Beach (much quieter than on Sunday – only a handful of people along the entire 5km length). More lizards, birds, wildflowers... it's just a shame that Albany town is such a sprawling mess, as we had to walk back through endless bungalow land (and not everyone is proud of their gardens here, unlike the majority of Poms). Car is king, and if you haven't got one you just have to endure roads which weren't designed for walking.

Well, here we are, up-to-date at last. I am sitting in the Library at 7:30pm, the sun is still shining (thanks to the clocks going forward – it doesn't get dark until after 8pm now), and the Aussies are doubtless being smug about our latest cricketing disaster. I think it is time for me to flee the country, which (with mixed feelings – I have really enjoyed Western Australia) I will be doing on Thursday. I notice the 5-day forecast for Auckland is for rain on my first 2 days, so I had best pop out into the late evening sunshine and enjoy it while it lasts...

Best wishes to you all,
Love James xx

Snorers delight

Good morning. I've just had a sleepless night, courtesy of a very loud snorer. Earplugs were useless against this particular beast, and the whole bed shook with each blast. I'm typing this through tired eyes, so please forgive any perceived bleariness.

Thursday 30th November 2006

I ask the Canadian couple (who aren't actually a couple, but a bloke called Sebastien and the sister of his ex-girlfriend [Melanie]... it's a long story) if they would mind dropping me at the nearest vineyard, so that I could walk back. They said that they were planning a tour of various vineyards themeselves and that they would be more than happy for me to join them. I jumped at the chance.

First stop was Howard Park Wines. V friendly lady, who advises us on which other wineries would be best for our subsequent stops (there are lot!). Good selection of wines (Mad Fish = cheaper range; Howard Park = more expensive - both the same winemaker). Unfortunately they are out of Temperanillo, which is a shame as it would have been interesting to compare it to a Rioja.

Next stop Karriview Wines. A rather sour-faced lady here and a tiny winery with only 3 wines available for tasting. One Pinot Noir was decidedly odd.

Next up was Harewood Wines. Seriously good wines (lots of awards) and v (over?) friendly chap. Things take a turn for the surreal when said chap (Peter) announces out of the blue that he has terminal cancer and only 6 months to live. What do you say to that? At first I wonder (rather cynically) if this is some form of elaborate marketing ploy. But it is just too sad/bizarre for that, surely. It emerges that he has shunned conventional treatments (against the advice of his doctors) and is now following a purely spiritual path (partly thanks to his new girlfriend - who he has just met [gold-digger?]). He showed us his crystal and proceeded to hold it against his cancer. He also talked about his magnetic bracelet and the hours of meditation he does every day. And the piece of resistance: He insisted on a group hug before leaving.

Prior to this episode the Canadians were considering buying a case of wine (and I was half-inclined to buy a $24 bottle of delicious Pinot Noir), but we were completely thrown by Peter's little announcement, so ended up making our excuses and leaving without making a single purchase (after what must have been at least 30 minutes of trying to make the right noises and listening to Peter's spiritual ponderings). Very sad and not just a little odd, he must have desperately needed to get it off his chest, although talking to a bunch of strangers who had just rocked up for a bit of wine tasting might not have been the best time or place.

Luckily there were no such revelations at Somerset Hill Wines, just fresh mushrooms grown in their cellars and some nice wines (I bought a half-price bottle of the 2002 Pinot Noir for $12). Before that we had briefly popped into another winery (can't remember the name) with a cheese-tasting place attached, but the woman there was so off that we only stayed long enough to fill up on cheese samples, quaff a couple of wines and beat a hasty retreat.

By this stage of the day we were all feeling in need of some further solid sustenance (the cheese didn't quite succeed in soaking up all the alcohol), so we popped back to the hostel for lunch.

This left just two of the best wineries in the area for a final fling. West Cape Howe was first, where the wines were excellent and the lady helpful and informative. We also tried some delicious olive oil. I bought a bottle of cleanskin (no label - therefore cheaper) Pinot Noir for $10.

Fortunately, we had saved the best experience for the end of the day (or maybe it was because of our ever-increasing intoxication*). Either way, Forest Hill was fantastic. Despite a heavy cold the lady was charming and funny (even joking about the fact that her 3 step-children hated her... we were beginning to feel like counsellors by this stage!). She seemed to give us bigger measures as we went on (and they were pretty big to begin with). Then, at the end of the tasting, she asked us if there were any wines that we would like to taste again. We said that we had rather enjoyed the rose, so she proceeded to give us the bottle and tell us to help ourselves. A nice end to a rather epic (and at times frankly bizzare) day. Cheers to that. Hic.

It was also the perfect way to avoid the worst weather of my trip so far. It was overcast and cool all day, with rather frequent heavy showers, so it was nice to just have to run between the car and the cellar door.

* well, for Melanie and I, but not for Sebastian as he had drawn the short straw and was driving (and therefore skipping a lot of the wines and spitting rather than swallowing).

Friday 1st December 2006

The two Canadians were driving to Albany so offered me a lift (and tour en route), instead of taking the bus. I was therefore able to cancel my bus ticket and would be able to pick up the refund from their office in Albany.

On the way we drove the scenic route and popped into West Cape Howe National Park (almost as good as the winery of the same name). My camera sort of started to work again, but only in video mode (it takes photos but they are massively over-exposed and therefore almost a complete white-out). Shelley Beach was stunningly beautiful. The water was crystal clear despite the huge waves and I saw a seal playing in the surf. From the lookout above the beach you could see the Porongorup and Stirling Ranges in the distance... quite beautiful.

Have to upload this now as apparently I am not allowed to update my blog on the library computer (it counts as e-mail in their [somewhat skewed] eyes). So, the remainder will have to wait until later.

Bye for now,
James xx

Monday, December 04, 2006

Second update of the day (avoiding the drizzle)

For some reason, this computer won't let me go into the previous post and edit the title - hence the air of strangeness (now corrected - blink and you'll have missed it). The weather today has taken a turn for the worse, so I have postponed this afternoon's walk and decided to continue updating the blog from the library instead. Hopefully the drizzle will cease and I will be able to make full use of the extra hour of daylight that Western Australia now enjoys. Anyway, back to 26th November for the next installment...

Sunday 26th November 2006

Bought the Sunday Times, which is more of a Mail on Sunday. At least it gave me a slight flavour of what is going on in the world (well, mainly Australia, but there was the odd international story). The front page showed the England cricket team with rabbit ears, under the headline "England's Bunnies". The lady in the newsagents didn't get my joke when I asked if there was an alternative front cover. It must have been my French accent which threw her.

I cooked a substantial pasta meal for lunch, making full use of the hostel's excellent kitchen, as I wasn't sure what time I would arrive in Pemberton (the bus was scheduled to arrive sometime after 8pm). I then went for a walk along the estuary. It wasn't as nice as yesterday's coastal walk but I saw an interesting lizard and lots of nice wildflowers. The weather was hot and sunny, so it was nice to be out and about and there was a bit of a breeze right next to the water.

In the evening I caught the bus to Pemberton (only one other person on board). It was a beautiful drive through fields and forests, with the evening sun casting an amber glow across the landscape.

It was dark upon arrival. They had no record of my booking, but luckily I was able to take the last available bed. Lucky, or what?

The other person on the bus (a Danish girl), checked into the same hostel, so we decided to go to the town's (only) pub for a drink. It was the final of Australian Idol (on the big screen), so there were quite a lot of drunk Aussies, which made of interesting people watching. And the standard of the competitors made X-Factor look positively professional in comparison.

Although I am unsure whether or not the Danish girl irritates me (I am erring towards yes-she-does), I decide to give her a chance and arrange a plan for the following day, which will involve a long walk through the forest and a visit to 3 wineries. It will be good to walk with another person because I am always conscious that it would be a bit dodgy if anything should happen to me in the middle of the Australian bush.

Monday 27th November 2006

An early start today as a lot to pack in. We got a lift to the Gloucester Tree with an Australian man (from Adelaide*) who was staying in the same dorm. We climbed to the top (60m up). The views were really good, but it wasn't quite as exciting as I thought it would be. In fact, it could have done with a death-slide from the top to complete the experience. There were some friendly parrots at the bottom (very colourful and noisy)... which gave it something of the feel of a tropical forest (as did the temperatures, which were already pretty warm).

After this we left our taxi driver behind (he was driving on to his next overnight stop) and went to a nearby vineyard (Gloucester Ridge) for some early-morning wine tasting (we arrived at 10:05am, just after they opened). Nice range of wines although a bit more pushy on the sales front. Luckily we had the excuse of a 15km walk ahead of us.

From the vineyard we walked back into town and then out into the forest along the Bibbulmun Track (a long distance patch connecting Albany and Perth). The eucalyptus forest was beautiful with some absolutely massive specimens (even higher than the one we had climbed). Interesting sounds (birdsong, insects and assorted rustlings in the undergrowth) and the wonderful smell of Olbas Oil heightened the sensory experience.

We had lunch next to a stream, dangling our hot feet in the cool, clear water (which also smelt of Eucalyptus). Lovely. Got to Big Brook Dam feeling rather hot (there wasn't the cooling sea breeze this far inland) and so were glad to have a refreshing dip in the reservoir.

From there we walked back towards Pemberton, stopping at a couple more wineries en route. A couple from Stuttgart, who were staying in our hostel, gave us a lift for part of the way, which was welcome as the walk had seemed further than anticipated.

The first winery (Hidden River Wines) was the best one of the day. Really friendly staff, sizable measures, good selection of wines and no obligation to buy. Feeling a bit squiffy upon exit.

Walk to next winery (Woodsmoke Wines) for more tastings (not as good as earlier ones - the Chardonnay tastes of armpits) and then start to stagger back to hostel. A kindly Australian couple (from Melbourne) must have noticed our zig-zag path, as they offered us a lift back to Pemberton. Perhaps the Danish girl (who had hitched part of her way around Australia - yes, she's a bit crusty) was able to telepathically persuade drivers to stop and pick us up.

After getting back I scrumped from fresh fruit (nectarines and loquats) from the hostel garden and made a noodly dinner. In bed by 9:30pm, after a full and satisfying day.

* I have met quite a lot of Australians travelling around, either visiting places as a tourist, or travelling to a new area to look for work. This seems to illustrate both the sheer enormity of their country and the questing, pioneering spirit of such recent colonists.

PS Saw a snake during our walk (not sure what kind, either a Dugite or a Tiger Snake... both of which are pretty venomous).

Tuesday 28th November 2006

Up early again. Leisurely breakfast and more scrumping of fruits (I'll be getting the squits at this rate) before checking out at 10am. Danish girl has already left, after securing a lift with a couple heading in the same direction. Quite glad about this as she was getting more irritating as time went on. Unfortunately she said she'd come and find me in Denmark, as we would both be staying there that evening.

I left my stuff at the hostel and went for a wander around the town. It's got a real wild west feel - timber houses with big verandahs, an abandoned railroad and a large timber mill at the bottom of the hill. And all this is surrounded by massive forests, increasing the middle-of-nowhere atmosphere.

I found a nice spot next to the town swimming pool (a dammed-up lake in the forest) to sit and update my diary. There were lots of little beasties around (including mozzies), so I hoped I hadn't been bitten to shreds* (which luckily, as it turned out, I hadn't). More walking (it was a bit cloudy and much more humid), followed by a trip to the supermarket to get stuff for lunch and dinner.

I sat outside to have my lunch, but was forced to seek shelter by a heavy shower (the first rain since leaving Perth). It didn't come to much but was quite grey. A further few showers drove me back to the hostel to read and wait for the bus in the dry.

Another scenic bus journey through hills (getting a bit bigger) and forests...

Arrived in Denmark a bit early as, once again, there were very few people on the bus. Hostel is tiny and very homely (there is a smelly dog - flint - and chickens pecking around under the building - like a lot of places around it is built on stilts). Have a lovely evening cooking curry (enough for 2 nights) and chatting with fellow guests. They wind me up about the Danish girl, who despite staying in a different hostel comes to see me and asks what I am doing the following day. She is becoming a bit too clingy (I know I am in Denmark, but this is surely a joke), so I decide to say that I would rather have the day to myself. Funnily enough, I don't see her again. Phew.

* I'm not sure what tense I should write this in... I was writing it as it happened, but now that is several days ago... appologies for any grammatical errors/air of confusion.

Wednesday 29th November 2006

I am offered a lift over to Green Pool by a German lady (I was thinking about hiring a bike to cycle there), so I decided to accept the offer and walk back from there along the Bibbulmun track (about 20km one way).

The weather is rather unsettled and the heavens open almost as soon as I set off. Luckily my waterproof is up to the job and I soon dry off once the rain stops. Then the sun comes out and eveything looks beautiful. The sea is a fantastic range of greens and blues, the sand is white and the smooth granite rocks frame everything wonderfully. I decided to scramble around the coast to look at the different beaches and rock formations (Elephant Rocks - which look like a herd of elephants, Waterfall Beach and other coves, pools and inlets).

After the rain the rocks were quite slippery... and so, following the Wood tradition, I managed to slip into the water at one point (my trainers got soaked and so did my bum!). Luckily the sun was still shining at this point and I soon dried out. This was aided by stopping for an hour (lunchtime) at Light's Beach, where I was able to change into my swimmers and lay my wet stuff out in the sun to dry. There were a few mozzies/flies about, but otherwise it was stunning.

I start walking up the steps from the beach and was about to take a photo when I realised that my camera was missing. I searched everywhere to no avail... so start to retrace my steps (it wasn't long before lunch that I was taking pictures, so it can't be far away).

It doesn't take long to find it, but unfortunately it is lying at the bottom of a rock pool. Aaaarrrrggghhh. This is pretty gutting, especially as I really can't understand how it got there. I take it out and try to dry it off the best I can, but obviously it doesn't work. No life at all. Not a sausage.

I just don't know how it could have happened. I am always so careful (almost to the point of paranoia). Maybe I had left my bag unzipped, or it had been in the pocket of my waterproof coat (also unzipped?). Maybe as I swung around to swat a mosquito, it was somehow flung into the rock pool... who knows... just one of those mysteries, I suppose.

That incident rather marred my journey back, but the scenery was wonderful (immense granite boulders, in and out of the forest, some so big that they jutted above the trees; dramatic coastal scenery and lovely wildflowers... a shame I couldn't capture any of this on film).

Got back to the hostel and decided that a glass of wine was required. Luckily, everyone in the hostel was very friendly, so they consoled me about the camera and my mood was lifted. As the German lady (who had given me the lift) said, at least I hadn't broken any bones. Furthermore, the pictures I already had on the XD card were still there (I was able to check on another camera which took the same type of card), so not all was lost.

Later in the evening I got chatting to a couple of friends from Quebec. They currently live in Montreal, but originally come from a place near La Patrie, which just happens to be the tiny village where I used to have a school penfriend. Another "small world moment" on A Sidmouthian Abroad! They are really nice and amazed that I can speak French, as for some reason they seem to have the impression that on-one in England can speak a foreign language.

Well, time is getting on and the sun is back out, so I think I shall venture out for my walk now. I hope to finish updating my blog tomorrow and upload those photos that I have when I get back to Perth. Until then...

Best wishes,
Love James xx

Last few days in Australia: trying to get this thing up-to-date before NZ

Tuesday 21st November 2006 (continued)

Left Bunbury at 3:30pm after a leisurely lunch and some "chill-out" time reading the paper. Gorgeous weather - warm and sunny. Nice drive to Dunsborough, close to the coast with good views of the sea. Beaches and sea got nicer as we approached Dunnie. Dropped off close to the hostel, which was just as well as it is 3km from the hostel to the town centre.

YHA has a beautiful setting, right on the beach. Full of Japanese, working at nearby vineyards. First of all it seems a bit cliquey, but I soon find people to speak to. Get a free lift from the manager to do some shopping in town. Buy a bottle of Margaret River Cleanskin, which turns out to be a very nice, Bordeaux-style wine.

Later in the evening I relax in The Shed, overlooking the beach/sea and with amazing views of the southern sky at night. Start speaking to a couple of Aussie chaps who are in a band, touring the area, and who will be playing a free gig at the hostel the following night. Good to speak to some people who share the same taste in music and don't just listen to the same surfer-music-nonsense. Get given a free copy of their latest CD, which, unfortunately, I can't listen to on my MP3 player...

Wednesday 22nd November 2006

Walked along footpath/cycle-track to Dunsborough (6km there and back - which you may already have worked out from yesterday's entry). Alter bus ticket to get picked up from the same place as I was dropped off. Pasta for lunch with a glass of wine to help thin the blood! Then a nap...

Walked along the beach to the west in the afternoon. Gets rocky towards the end with red granite rocks, white sand and beautiful clear blue water. Stunning (especially under a cloudless sky). Water is shallow a long way out, which means that sharks can't eat you and the water is really warm. Luckily it is the perfect depth for swimming, so I have a gloriously refreshing dip.

Get back to the hostel just as the band are setting up. Band played two early-evening sets, one acoustic and one electric. Pretty good sound from just voice, drums and guitar. Lovely setting in the (pretty) garden of the hostel, with sea and emerging stars as a back-drop. Hostel is probably the best one that I have been to so far. Really friendly management, fantastic garden and location and lots of really nice touches around the place (beds ready made on arrival, free tea and coffee, herbs from garden, nice pictures on the walls, good decorations, general friendliness, etc.).

Stay up quite late (past 10pm!) chatting... just sitting under the stars (so clear and bright, and, of course, totally different from the northern skies). Gets quite chilly as soon as it gets dark. End up wearing both of my jumpers (amazing to note the difference, as it was up to about 30C during the day).

Thursday 23rd November 2006

Took it relatively easy in the morning: relaxing on the beach, swimming in the crystal-clear sea, and making the most of the free tea and coffee. Really hot today and sun is burning by about 10am, forcing me to stay in the shade...

Got bike in the afternoon (luckily by 2pm it had hazed-over and cooled down a bit). Meant to pay 10 dollars for 4 hours, but got it for free! Cycled out to Cape Naturaliste, via Eagle Bay. Beautiful coastline... more red rocks, little coves of white sand and lovely turquoise sea. Much greener than further north, but more Mediterranean than British. Still quite a lot of wild flowers about. Rather hard going on a fat-tyred mountain bike in the increasingly strong wind.

Got to Cape Naturaliste only to find that you had to pay to get into the area around the lighthouse. Rip off! Therefore the views up and down the coast aren't as good as I hoped they would be. I would have had to walk a few kilometres further to get right to the point, and I didn't have the time/energy - my legs were beginning to ache!

On the way back to the hostel I stopped off at Wise Winery. Really nice place and lovely lady at the cellar door. Had a great conversation about food/wine and got to taste 16 (sixteen) wines. This included their premium wines ($45) which they don't normally offer for tasting, but which the manager had accidentally opened earlier in the day. All really nice and quite European in style (suited my palate perfectly)*. Winemaker uses quite a lot of oak, so all the wines share an earthy house style. Delish!

Wobbled my way back on the bike and after dinner had a well-deserved early night (I think I cycled about 30km in 3 hours and what with the wind and the wines I was pretty shattered upon return).

Today was the first day of the Ashes, so there was lots of banter from the Aussies around the place.

*The 2002 Primitivo in particular was great, but at $45 not exactly a backpacker wine!

Friday 24th November 2006

More Ashes banter today. Things are not going well in the cricket at this early stage. Everyone is forced to leave the hostel today because school-leavers (schoolies) have booked the place out for the next 10-days. Luckily my next stop (Augusta) is far enough south not to be affected by the plague of young revellers. Although, having said that, the ones that I have met so far have all been a lot friendly (and more courteous) than their British counterparts.

Had a nice relaxing morning (I needed it - and so did my bum - after yesterdays endeavours) - updated diary and went for a nice swim. Still hot and sunny in Dunsborough. Cooked big lunch before getting the bust at 1:15pm.

Nice bus journey through vineyards and forests. It could have been Burgundy if it wasn't for the Eucalyptus and the lack of ancient Citroens, Peugeots, Renaults... Chatted to a nice group of Aussie lads, one of whom was born in Exeter (to South African parents).

Weather clouded in during the journey, but the sun was back out on arrival in Augusta, which seems to be a pretty little town (and pretty quiet too). The town is perched on a slight hill, overlooking an estuary and the Southern Ocean. The hostel is very clean and spacious, and consistently wins awards it would seem.

Nice group of people but generally quieter than Dunsborough. I treat myself to half a bottle of local Pinot Noir (must have been the early associations with Burgundy). Second half tomorrow...

P.S. The same annoying Swiss woman from Bunbury (did I mention her?) is now in Augusta and is still poo-pooing everything that I say and generally winding me up!

Saturday 25th November 2006

After some impressive triple snoring during the night (not bad for a 4-bed dorm, in which I am occupying the only snore-free bed), it is amazing that I don't feel more tired than I do (thank goodness for my earplugs - proving to be absolutely essential).

Things are going even worse in the cricket. I am pretending to be French. Bof. What ees ziss game, creekeet?

Walked out to Cape Leuwin, mainly along the foreshore. Brisk wind meant that it didn't get too hot. Beautiful wild seascapes. Quite different from the west coast. In fact, it could be parts of the South West of the UK in places.

Still lots of wild flowers out down here (courtesy of the cooler, wetter climate). Nice contrast between smooth granite boulders, white sand and rough sea. Highest lighthouse in Western Australia at point where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. So much sea spray and a real surge between the two oceans.

Walked back to Augusta slightly inland. Warmer here, out of the wind. Didn't see a cloud (or another walker - well, apart from the annoying Swiss lady) all day long. I covered at least 20km so I was pretty tired as I wrote this. The second half of the Pinot Noir (14%) saw me off...

Lots of friendly people in the hostel, including a young Liverpudlian couple (Rob and Caroline), who I might meet up with again in Albany. They've got a hire car, so it might prove to be a useful contact! Glad to chat to them as it allows me to avoid the Swiss madam. I think she probably invented the word shadenfreude as she takes the utmost pleasure in other peoples misfortune ("ah, the weather was so much better when I was there", "well, I wouldn't want to go there, I've seen the same thing better elsewhere", etc, etc...).

Monday, November 20, 2006

Bunbury Library

Hello, I'm reporting today from Bunbury library, where I have discovered you can use the internet for free (for everything except for e-mail). Thus blog updates are on!

Sunday 19th November 2006

Woke up early this morning, feeling rather tired after a late-night out in Northbridge with two of my fellow dorm-mates (both Australian, funnily enough). It was good fun... and because I cooked for them and shared my (cheap - 6 bottle of clearskin for $11) wine, I didn't pay for a single drink - bonus!

I met up with Victoria (Scottish) and Clay ([nice] American) and we headed up to Kings Park to watch the Red Bull Air Race from there. We thought it might be a bit quieter away from the main spectator areas, but we were wrong (well, it may have been a bit quieter, but was still awash with picnickers and revellers). There were hundreds of people and it was hard to find a spot with a good view. It was also a bit distant from proceedings, so it didn't seem as exciting as I thought it would (having seen it before on the TV). Still, we had a nice picnic and Kings Park is really beautiful (although most of the flowers had gone over since my last visit - I timed it right in October it would seem). I'm obviously more impressed by the natural wonders of Australia.

Later in the afternoon (after doing the newly re-opened tree-top walk in the botanical gardens - another anti-climax - perhaps it was the wrong time of day... but we didn't see a single bird or anything else of note), we went back into the city to look for a restaurant for dinner (we decided to treat ourselves). But after much wandering we didn't find anything suitable (we all fancied Mexican). So, in the end we went to the supermarket and got various Mexican things to cook for ourselves. It turned out really well and was nice to have a weekend of company after my somewhat lonesome wanderings on Rottnest.

Monday 20th November 2006

Was planning to get the train from Perth to Bunbury this morning, but when I got to the station (in the rain!) I discovered that the train service was cancelled and replaced with buses instead. Boo. This meant that the journey was an hour longer and there was much malcontent muttering in Perth (mostly silver foxes on this particular route it would seem).

I started chatting with a fellow backpacker (the only other person under 60) and she was really nice so the journey went really quickly, despite stopping at every small town between Perth and Bunbury (the sun came out shortly after leaving the city). She's a teacher from Switzerland (around my age, I guess), and as she liked cooking we decided to make a Thai green curry together in the evening.

Beforehand, we wandered around the city (well, it's called a city, but seems about the size of Honiton) and went up Bunbury Tower (10 storeys high) and up another look-out point for the views and to get our bearings (there's not much to it so this was pretty easily done). Doris went back to the hostel for a rest and I checked out the beaches and mangrove swamp (the most southerly mangroves in W.A. apparently), which made for a nice walk but didn't offer anything in the way of awesome sights. Then I came to the library and discovered the internet which I am taking full advantage of today.

Hostel is full of odd-bods. This includes a fat middle-aged man with bottle-bottom specs, who cooked half a cow and 2 huge burgers for dinner, and ate it as it was, just with a bit of barbecue sauce as an accompaniment. He followed this with a massive bowl of ice-cream and (fake) chocolate sauce. A healthy meal indeed. Perhaps he is on the Atkins diet.

Our curry was delicious and considerably better for us (unless you're an Atkins advocate*). Also, a hugely-fat retired couple from Blackpool (who have lived in Oz for 40 years but still retain broad Lancashire accents) and a decidedly odd woman/girl who hasn't uttered a word or cracked a smile since I've been there. I think I'll be glad to move on tomorrow (although the hostel itself isn't too bad and the staff are friendly).

*I'm thinking it must be international alliteration day today - I can't seem to help myself!

Tuesday 21st November 2006

Another early start today (I think I'm still running on a Rottnest rhythm). I got up at 6am and there was a decided chill in the air - I've just looked on the internet and it went down to a mere 8 degrees overnight - brrr. The coldest I've felt since I don't know when. Luckily the sun was already high in the sky by about 7:30am and feeling much warmer. Also no wind, which was a bonus after the strong onshore breezes of yesterday.

Went to go and see if the dolphins were in the bay. Apparently it is a bit hit and miss whether they come or not, but we were really lucky and saw six come right into the bay, and got to go into the water up to waist height (deeper than in Monkey Mia, the previous dolphin place), so they came and swam around our legs. We were then asked if anyone had goggles/snorkels, so (as I did) I was able to go up to chest-height in the water and put my head under for a close up look (and listen - amazing to hear all the clicks and whistles underwater). There were only two of us able to do this so it was quite an honour (I think one of the volunteers took a bit of a shine to me as she kept talking to me about the dolphins long after the rest of the crowd has dissipated. Very friendly. Shame about the moustache). All in all, very impressive.

After this large dose of excitement I went for a quiet walk along the beach and around Big Swamp Nature Reserve. Lots of wetland birds to see and a beautiful area of reeds/swamps/pools. Very tranquil. The beach isn't quite as impressive as those further up the coast, but it is still quite dramatic, with some pretty hefty surf and long stretches of golden sand. So spoiled!

Crikey - I've packed in a lot already today and it still isn't lunchtime.

Reet, that is enough for now; my stomach is rumbling. Back to the hostel for lunch with Doris (leftover Thai Curry). She is staying on for a bit longer in Bunbury, but has kindly offered to put me up in Berne if I ever want to visit Switzerland. I'm turning into the Lord of Dunscombe (family joke), what with my newly-improved networking skills.

I shall be leaving for Dunsborough on the 3:28pm bus, so might not get the chance for further updates until I find my next public library (thanks, Mr [and Miss/Mrs/Ms] Australian-tax-payer).

Best wishes all. Take care...

James xx

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Back in Perth

Monday 13th November 2006

Rottnest Island is beautiful. In fact it is one of the nicest places I have been to. The water is perfectly limpid, the beaches pristine. Even the seaweed is beautiful (when it is not rotting, that is). Of course, it helps that the sun is shining, and the temperatures are back up into the high 20s.

I saw my first Quokka (rare marsupial, that looks like a cross between a wallaby and a rat - very cute) as I pitched my tent (the campsite is half empty - actually, make that 9/10 empty - there are only half a dozen tents). I then made my way to the first of several beaches. The water is in the low 20s, so ideal for a refreshing dip.

The quality of the light is superb and the skyline of Perth is crispy outlined on the horizon. I thought at this point that I was going to enjoy my few days here...

...well, that was until I experienced the full force of the Rottnest fly invasion. They were so annoying that at one point I literally thought that they were going to drive me insane. Oh how I can empathise with all those poor, famine-stricken children in the Horn of Africa (I was quite hungry by this time)!

Talking of little critters, it turns out that the quokkas are capable of a degree of iritation which belies their cute good looks. They were everywhere around the campsite (alongside armies of crows and seagulls) - I even managed to kick one in the head as it scavenged for food under my table (Dad - you would have had friends galore!). And the piece of resistance came when two of them decided to use the porch of my tent as a public toilet. Dirty bastards!

On a brighter note, I saw a large ray up close while snorkelling and loads of other fish (including some pretty big ones). The snorkelling here is on a par with Ningaloo, although there are mainly temperate species, rather than tropical. (so the colours are slightly more muted - why is this so?).

Oh and the drinking water at the campsite is yellow. It looks like pee.

Tuesday 14th November 2006

I was sat writing this peering through the gap between my t-shirt (right up over my head) and hat (pulled down as far as it would go)*. I feel a burkha would have been appropriate. It's 11am and the flies are out in force. They seem to home in on all the most irritating places (eyes, ears, nose, mouth). It's lucky that I'm not a naturist.

Fortunately, other things about the island more than make up for it. I saw a pod of dolphins frollicking in the bay, not far from the shore. Then I went snorkelling and saw loads more interesting fish, in possibly the clearest water I have ever experienced. Utterly beautiful. The limestone formations underwater are amazing. Caves, arches, stacks, all with hundreds of fish swimming through and around.

Had a picnic lunch, which presented the interesting discovery that Ryvita is made in Poole. Well, I never knew that. That's a few thousand food miles racked up right there. Environmentalists be damned, I wanted my whole-rye (with seeds) goodness. Found a nice shady spot for a post-prandial snooze (in full body armour, of course)

The wind picked up in the afternoon (in more ways that one - must have been last nights mixed bean salad), which seem to result in their being fewer flies about. What a relief.

I felt pretty exhausted by the end of the day. I reckon I must have walked a good 12 miles in total. In bed even earlier tonight - must be the sea air.

Covered most of the south east of the island today... tomorrow the north...

*I had foolishly left the fly net in the tent (grrr). You would think it should be a case of just ignoring them/not letting them get the better of you. But no. Just as you think you are winning, one finds a special way of irritating you just that little bit more.

Wednesday 15th November 2006

Slept for 11 hours last night. I must have needed it after all the exertions of yesterday. Up until writing this at 11am I had not been bothered by a single fly. What's going on? Maybe there is a change in the weather afoot. It was gloriously hot and sunny in the morning, but hazy cloud appeared to be thickening from the north. Luckily, I had already done a fair amount by lunchtime (including nice swims/snorkels), so as long as it doesn't rain (thundery showers are forecast) it should be ideal for walking. Needed to try and find a shady spot for lunch and a snooze...

There are loads of different terns about (well, at least 2... and I'm sure a load of different sub-species) - including the very pretty/delicate/rare fairy terns. So much nicer than seagulls.

Well, the cloud melted away soon after lunch so it would have been pretty hot for walking and I thus spent a while longer lounging in the shade. Lucky I did as I had a close encounter with a very friendly lizard. It came and sniffed/licked my shoes, bag, rubbish, etc. Meanwhile his/her (how do you sex a lizard?) friend watched from a distance (as did I when it started approaching my foot). Also saw two Ospreys, which was nice (and later saw one fishing, during which felt like being part of Springwatch... except I wasn't wearing a hat, a la Simon King).

The sea was really warm in the afternoon (the warmest I had felt it since Broome). Saw a couple of naturists (safe now the flies had disappeared), which was unsurprising as the island really reminds me of Formentera. Otherwise this part of the island was completely deserted - just a few passing cyclists (frantically pedalling to try and see the whole island in a day). Had so far had almost all the beaches to myself.

It felt like quite a long walk back, although it was broken up with sites to see along the way (including pheasants, of all things, as well as the now ubiquitous quokkas, a wind turbine, salt lakes...).

In the evening I managed to cut my finger opening a tin of sliced beetroot (oh how us castaways survive). That's the last time I shall use that tin opener.

Early to bed again (such is the life of the camper on the unlit campsite).

Thursday 16th November 2006

Decided to take it relatively easy today (think I may have been over-doing it and perhaps the finger-slicing-incident was the result).

Bought newspaper in the morning and pottered around the settlement (for that is what it is called). Went to the museum and discovered a few interesting things about the island (readily available on the interweb, I am sure). This included finding out that the pheasants I had seen previously were introduced onto the island during the 1800s and have been flourising ever since (not the exact same ones, obviously).

Very windy, so back to campsite for lunch and a lie-down. Was hoping to find sheltered beach in the afternoon (the wind had changed to a more southerly direction and it was quite cool in exposed places).

Interested to read in the paper that Tom Cruise is planning to get married in Bracciano. Been there!

The plan to take it easy on the beach was scuppered somewhat when it clouded in at 3pm. It was too cold in the wind on the beach so I decided to go for a(nother) walk instead. Had a look around the gun emplacements/look-outs from WWII (I must have been bored). Nice views if nothing else. Saw my first snake on Rottnest - only one variety: the highly venemous (yes, really - according to the museum) dugite - and more cute (baby) quokkas. So much sweeter in the wild (and less mangy) than the ones scavenging around the campsite. Was offered a lift back to the campsite (v. kind) but it was still quite early so I declined. Perhaps I should learn to say yes more often.

Was lying in the tent listening to Joanna Newsom (new album - very, very good) when I felt something push against my head. Turned around to discover a baby quokka had pushed under the canvas and was proceeding to try and get into the fly sheet with me. Shooing it away didn't work so I watched it snoop about until it got bored. And lo, it kindly left me a little present before leaving.

Friday 17th November 2006

There were a few showers overnight (tent wet this morning, although not enough to have washed off all the birdshit). Got bus over to the far end of the island and the general tone of the day was for things to get better as they went on...

Got off bus and almost immediately after commencing my walk I managed to get both sandals wet (a freak wave), which then stared to rub. Then I got persistently attacked by bloody seagulls*, which I literally has to fend off with a large stick. Then (final straw) it started to piss down while I was walking along the most exposed beach on the entire island. At this stage I had had enough and wanted to go home (the last couple of days had seemed the loneliest of the trip so far... with so few people about. Perhaps, in the words of the Vauxhall Zafira advert: over-tired?

Luckily, the sun came out at lunchtime and the day (and my mood) turned a corner. This also co-incided with reaching the west end of the island and turning round to head back the other way up the coast. I found some lovely beaches along the way, had a couple of nice swims/snorkels and met the friendliest lizard I have ever seen. It climbed over my shoe (while I was wearing it) and licked my toe. Michelle - you would have loved it!

The weather is much improved - it is really clear and Perth stands out loud and clear on the horizon.

*this incident reminded me of Simon getting attacked by Sidmouth seagulls on his way to our friday morning French lesson at school.

Saturday 18th November 2006

Had an enjoyable final morning on Rottnest. Sunny and warm. Packed up early (dispatched luggage with handlers who take it directly from the campsite) and, after buying the paper, went to the beach as it was already hot by 9am. Had a nice swim/snorkel, but the definite highlight of the day was watching a dugite devour a mouse under a rock on the beach (just a few meters from where I had put my stuff). After my San Deigo experience I have decided that it must be the year of the munching snake.

Got back to Fremantle just after lunch to discover that they had lost my luggage. Ah. The lady phoned everywhere she could think of... but to no avail. Panic! She gives me her phone number and tells me to call/drop in later to see if it has turned up... Hmm...

...well, after a while spent reading the paper/ generally fretting about what to do if it doesn't turn up, I decide to head back to the office to see if there are any developments... And what do I see whilst passing a rival operators section of the quayside? Yup, my bags. She had already phoned across earlier only to be told that they didn't have my bags there. Well, they obviously didn't look hard enough, did they? Muppets.

After that exctitement I made my way over to Perth and checked into the hostel (the same one as when I arrived - it is clean and centrally-located... and as Kylie sang: "it's better the devil you know"). I discover that the internet is really fast and manage to upload all my photos in record time ( - sorry, there are a lot of them!). Then write this before thinking about a shower and dinner.

Tomorrow: Red Bull Air Race Day.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Off to Rottnest

Saturday  11th November 2006

I had a bit of an organisational morning, trying to work out where to go on my journey south of Perth. The weather was a bit duff (sunshine and showers - some fairfly beefy ones at times), so it was good to be able to shelter inside.

In the afternoon I went into Perth to try and book tickets for the various coaches that I will be using to get myself around the south west corner. I was thwarted by the fact that both booking offices were closed (and one was quite a trek out of town - grrrr). Saturday afternoon is the only time during the week that they are closed - it would have been fine if I had gone on Sunday instead.

Luckily the weather had bucked up so I made the most of my dayrider train ticket. I explored Northridge (scruffy backpacker area - a bit seedy), Leederville (slightly bohemian), Subiaco (plush and chi chi) and Cottesloe (affluent beach suburb). The last three were all very nice to wander round, and, I imagine, very expensive to live in (Carolyn - where did you live when you were in Perth?).

The weather was still a bit changeable, but I managed to largely avoid the rain, apart from a very brief shower when I was walking along the beach at Cottesloe. I haven't worn trousers since... I don't know when, so it can't be too bad!

In the evening I made further use of the free internet and booked some hostels for my trip south... so I hope I can get the buses that I want!

Sunday 12th November 2006

Another morning of sorting stuff out... this time getting ready for tomorrow's camping trip. I washed my clothes, went food shopping and even shaved! Oh, and I did a bit more stuff on the internet (like a child who has been deprived of sweets for several weeks...).

After a pasta/spinach/garlic/parmesan/olive oil lunch I had a nice chat with Francis the Frenchman (the place seems more friendly now that I am about to leave...) before going to the Market (for bargain fruit and veg) and then to the beach at South Fremantle. The weather had improved since yesterday but there was still a cool southerly wind (although it was quite warm in the sunshine). I got the free CAT (town bus service) back to the hostel and cooked risotto followed by french beans (not a patch on the ones from the garden!).

Chatted with a Polish chap after dinner... got an interesting insight into their migratory zeal. Bed by 9:30pm (it might be the last sleep I get for a week... my tent beckons).

I grew to like the Old Firestation hostel during my stay. This always seems to happen. First you think it is a complete dump, with unfriendly people, then gradually as you get to know the place you feel more comfortable, open up to other people (who you realise are nearly all in the same boat as you) and start to enjoy staying there. And, yes, the free internet was a major bonus. I have saved $$$$$$!

Monday 13th November 2006

Getting 11:30 ferry to Rottnest Island. Looking forward to some open space and tranquility after the (relative) bustle of the city... Hopefully a full report next weekend (although I am staying in Perth City YHA [to go and see the Red Bull Air Race] and they don't have free internet). I'll see what I can do...

Best wishes,
James xx

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fremantle, Freinternet

Hello from Free-mantle.

You should have already seen that my photos are now in the public domain. In case not, they can be found in the following locations:
This free internet malarkey is a major bonus after the slow and pricey backwardness of the west coast. So here is an update of what has happened since I last spouted forth my witterings...

Monday 6th November 2006

I was woken up at 5:00am by an Aussie chap who was cycling from Taiwan (!) to Perth. He was a bit of an odd character (travelling for over 7 years and the first time since then that he will have been back to his home city) but quite friendly (the day before, that is... it was too early to more than grunt on his departure). I'll have to look out for him on the way to Perth (see later entry!).

Had a mooch around town in the morning and walked a little way up the Murchison River. Watched the pelicans for a while before going to the supermarket to get a few bits for lunch. Had a post-prandial snooze (the weather is still hot and therefore conducive to torpor) and then dragged myself to the beach. Found a nice spot for a swim (just inside the river mouth). The water was warm and very clean, not unlike the River Sid! There were a few fish about but it wasn't a patch on Ningaloo.

Was planning to watch the sun set, but it got a bit chilly (low 20s) and I didn't have a jumper with me. I am now even softer than before! Got back to the hostel and cooked minestrone to share with Marylene (French girl) and Matthias (Swiss kite-surfing bloke - bit of a nobber who reminded me of my Swiss exchange person). Bed by 10pm. (Rock 'n' Roll!)

Tuesday 7th November 2006

After watching the daily pelican feeding, which was total carnage (the pelicans kept on eating* the seagulls instead of/as well as the fish), I walked to the Kalbarri Wildflower Centre with Marylene, only to find that it was closed for the season. Still, we saw a dying bat in the car park (of the flying mammal variety) - soon to be eaten by a crow no doubt - and a massive shed-snake-skin lying beside the road.

Got chatting to a friendly chap from Aosta, Italy (Mattia) and had a leisurely lunch with him. Got rather confused linguistically as I had previously been speaking a bit of French with Marylene. Still, it was good to have a bit of a mental challenge - I don't want my brain to atrophy completely.

In the afternoon I walked along the beach to Red Bluff with Mattia. It was about 10km return, but seemed particularly hard going in the predominantly soft sand. The beautiful sea and scenery more than made up for it, however.

Was pretty exhausted by the time we got back (me slightly less so than soft-Italian-boy!), but managed to cook risotto to act as a starter before the nice steak that Marylene and Mattias had bought and cooked.

*well, getting them trapped in their mouths, before releasing them, at any rate.

Wednesday 8th November 2006

It was a mainly quiet day today before the travails of travelling south. I spent the large part of the day brushing up on my Italian with Mattia from Val d'Aosta (he's got Calabrian roots, you know, so that's all right then...). After he had left (heading north) I walked along the coastal cycle track. It was a beautiful walk but I have never seen so many flies (see picture of my green jumper on I really should have dug out the fly net, but the twin evils of embarrassment and it being in the bottom of my bag somehow dissuaded me. As it was, every time I did a sudden movement, I was surrounded by a swarm and looked like Linus from Peanuts/Charlie Brown.

There was a gorgeous sunset and the colours in the sky afterwards were amazing. There were huge flocks of galahs (, which seem to be the equivalent of the urban pigeon around these parts. In the evening Clay and Victoria arrived on the incoming Easyrider bus, along with various other people who I had met along the way.

I enjoyed my stay in Kalbarri. It was a bit quieter without the majority of the Easyrider crew, but it was a good change to reflect and recuperate before moving on. Kalbarri is in a lovely setting on the river/sea and the whole place still had a real sense of being in the middle of nowhere. It was so laid back it was positively recumbent. The hostel was nice and quiet, although a bit lacking in atmosphere, perhaps.

Thursday 9th November 2006

It was back on the original love bus today (it had done a complete tour of the west coast and was back for another circuit). Bart was the driver, who turned out to be the best value since Rebecca on the first leg (not bad for a South African). Perhaps the old Toyota with the green upholstery somehow brought the best out of people. We stopped briefly at Geralton for coffee and saw the first traffic lights south of Darwin! There is definitely a sense of increasing urban sprawl as we move south (although that means a farm every 30kms or so, rather than every 200km)...

After playing musical chairs on the bus (I was the MC), we stopped at Dynamite Bay for a swim. The water was warmer than I thought it would be, which bodes well for Rottnest Island.

We visited Namburg National Park (the busiest NP in Australia, apparently) to see the Pinnacles. Beautiful area - it would have been nice to spend longer exploring (especially to see the colours at sunset). Passed the cyclist I met in Kalbarri en route and had the good fortune to see copulating kangaroos (a first for everyone on the bus). How we laughed...

We passed through the Great W.A. wheat belt (approx the size of the UK), but there was also some interesting scenery; salt lakes, sand dunes, small hills. Played bus cricket (which involves trying to invoke a response from passing drivers) and bus surfing (standing in the aisle, without holding on, for as long as possible). Road safety campaigners would have had a field day. It was quite an entertaining journey as they were generally a friendly bunch of people on the bus.

As we pulled into a service station on the outskirts of Perth we experienced the first rain for weeks! It was only a light shower, but also felt quite chilly (probably a mere 23C).

Got to Fremantle without and problems and checked straight into hostel. It's a bit noisy for my grandad-tastes, but the free internet more than makes up for it. Meet Francis, another French person who hates France (there are a lot of them in Australia). And he is threatening to move to the UK....

Friday 10th November 2006

I'm rather serendipitous with the weather today. Spent the morning doing odd jobs, which principally involve the internet (of course: it's free!). Am glad to be able to upload my photos and start clearing out the full memory cards. It was just as well I was indoors as there were frequent showers. It was also fortunate that I hadn't walked too far because my left sandal decided to break (after less than a month of [albeit extremely heavy] use), whilst walking around the hostel kitchen. I think I should be able to fix it, or get away with sporting a strapless version - otherwise a trip to the shops may be required. Exciting stuff!

The sun had come out by lunchtime so I ventured to the supermarket and booked my ferry for Rottnest Island. I also has a good wander around the Quayside, which included the stunning (slightly less-so on closer inspection) Maritime Museum. This was only from the outside - I didn't pay to go in, obviously. I wrote this entry from a bench outside the MM. Not a soul about (repeating theme, here), so just the sea gulls and passing boats for company.

Well, it's 11pm and clearly time for bed (exhaustion!), so I'll leave it there for now and update today and tomorrow tomorrow.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Up-to-date at last...

Tuesday 31st October 2006 (I'll try to avoid CAPSLOCK nonsense this time!)

I think I probably forgot to say that there was nearly always a cooling breeze in Coral Bay, although it was fine and sunny throughout. The breeze continued down to Denham, which was my next stop.

We left Coral Bay at 8:30am for the long drive south. We said goodbye to Clay and Victoria in Carnarvon, where they were stopping to go fruit picking. Jane, the new Easyrider driver, wasn't as good as Rebecca and the bus was a bit cramped, but it was still an interesting drive. You could pick up subtle changes in the landscape, but there is still a whole lot of nothingness over vast distances. Scott, Sofia and Kathleen (from the earlier part of the trip) are back on the bus. Generally quite a good crowd, but some quiet Japanese and Koreans and an odd Eastern European couple (of men), who will later try to get a double room (to no avail).

Got some shopping in Carnarvon, at the first proper supermarket for several hundred miles (still finding W.A. quite expensive in general) - it is nice to have a proper range of goods after the limitations of Coral Bay. The rest of the bus comments on my bulging trolley! We stopped for a break at the Overlander Roadhouse before before heading to see the stromalites at Hamelin Pool. Different shades of blue/green water here and interesting to see and read about the stromalites (google it if you want to know more - I won't bore you with the details). From here it was a nice drive along the road with glimpses of the sea on both sides. Visited shell beach, which is made up of billions of shells and an incredibly shallow and saline sea. Got to Denham at about 5:30pm. It is an incredibly laid-back, v. small town, right on the beach. The hostel is homely, with a kitchen/bathroom/lounge for every two dorms. Sharing with the rest of the Easyrider Crew. We watched a slide show of various people's photos on the TV and I provided the soundtrack from the MP3 player (I'm so glad I brought it with me - it has been great).



Into the second month of my travels...

I was sat writing this diary entry on a bluff overlooking Shark Bay, along the beach from Denham. It's amazing to see the narrow peninsula and islands on the other side of the bay (many miles away, naturally). Spent the morning wandering about and getting my bearings before heading back to the hostel for lunch. It started off partly cloudy (shock) but soon brightened up.

After sorting out some flight changes (Air New Zealand had cancelled some flights and I had to rebook onto alternatives - but thankfully no major problems) I walked the other way along the beach. Saw sharks swimming just feet away and an eagle soared overhead. Didn't see a single other person all afternoon. It is eerily quiet around here (especially with predatory animals about!). Climbed up to the top of duney cliffs for amazing views over Shark Bay. Almost shat myself when I saw a snake trail and almost immediately afterwards put my foot down what I assume to be a snake hole! Otherwise a lovely afternoon and a good (3 hr +) walk.

In the evening we all tried some of the shark that Richard (rather obnoxious character from Wales) had caught earlier in the day. Had a couple of free games of pool before going to bed. Luckily I had my earplugs in as apparently our neighbours were being very noisy indeed during the night (it turned out it was the son of the hostel managers - typical).

Thursday 2nd November 2006

Got free Hostel shuttle bus over to Monkey Mia at 7:45am. Passed Little Lagoon en route - it looked really nice so hoped to get there for a walk the next day. Arrived at Monkey Mia just in time to see the first dolphin feeding of the day (well, they were just leaving actually, but got quite a good view of their fins!). Had a walk along the beach before seeing the second and third feeds of the day. Great to see dolphins up close in the wild (albeit in in a rather packaged, touristy way). At least the rangers provided an interesting commentary and the water was clear and warm, so we got a good close up view of the dolphins.

After a cool windy start it got really hot so spent the middle part of the day in the shade (I had already got a tad sunburnt by then, standing around watching the dolphins). Had a nice swim before getting the free bus back to the hostel.

In the evening I managed to bag some more free shark from Richard (perhaps he isn't so obnoxious after all) - so I roasted some butternut squash and carrot to go with it and had some asparagus as a treat. This is the exciting culinary life that I lead.

Friday 3rd November 2006

After much hmmming and hawing, I decided to spend the day with the rest of the group, on a working pearl farm. Good decision!

We paid $5 to cover the insurance for the day and then got shown around their operation and helped them out for a while by doing a spot of light work. In our case this was pulling up racks of oysters, cleaning them and then putting them back into the water. This was more interesting than it perhaps sounds as we got to see all the accompanying sealife (crabs, little fishes, sponges, etc.). We also got the chance to go swimming. At this point Kathleen thought she saw a shark fin (it was just me and her in the water) - so she had a bit of a panic attack (v funny in hindsight - especially with her strong french accent). It turns out it was a dolphin - so I guess you could say that I swam with dolphins, as well as wading in the water with them. The day also included several boat rides (and numerous cups of coffee and slices of cake) - we all ended up getting totally soaked as the wind picked up - great fun.

Got dropped off at Little Lagoon to walk back to town from there. Went for a swim in the lagoon - lovely warm, clean water, but a high risk of stonefish (most people die from the shock apparently - it is such a painful sting). I kept my sandals on.

It was a beautiful walk back alongside the river/coast. Saw more sharks and rays.

Pretty knackered after getting back but found the energy to go to a naturally-fed hot tub with some of the others. I didn't go in though, because the water looked filthy and I had just had a shower. I might be becoming slightly more tolerant and open-minded, but I have my limits.

Overall, I enjoyed my time in Denham. The group of people wasn't quite as nice as in Coral Bay and perhaps the place was slightly less stunning. But not bad. Hmm... I think I'm probably getting spoiled!

Saturday 4th November 2006.

Went to Monkey Mia again first thing to see the Doolphins. Not as good as on Thursday. There were more people and the rougher water meant that you couldn't see as well.

Got on Easyrider bus with new driver (Mike) for journey to Kalbarri. Had the following stops en route:

  • Ocean village - an aquarium place run by marine biologists. Interesting to see and hear about local wildlife, especially the stuff that we had previously seen in the wild.
  • Eagle Bluff - beautiful lookout point over Shark Bay. Amazing shades of blue and yet more sharks.
  • Shell Beach (again) - not as impressive as it sounds, but nice to stretch legs.
  • Kalbarri National Park - viewpoint overlooking gorge - lovely spot, but loads of flies (will have to dig out Michelle's fly net at this rate!)
  • Red Bluff - beautiful red cliffs. Watched sun set. Gorgeous.

In the evening almost the entire group went to a seafood restaurant for dinner. Massive mixed seafood platter for $10. Most people couldn't finish theirs, so I did my best to help. Felt pretty stuffed afterwards, but managed to avoid feeling sick, which was a bit of a bonus.

Said goodbye to most of the group, as the vast majority were continuing to Perth without stopping in Kalbarri. Got on really well with most of them but it will be nice to have a quieter few days and a bit of time to myself.

Sunday 5th November 2006

Easy Sunday today. Bought Sunday papers, did a bit of stuff on the internet and generally took it easy in the morning. Wandered around Kalbarri in the afternoon. It's a more attractive/interesting town than Denham, with a beautiful coastline reminiscent of Portugal/Southern Californina.

Writing this up now before cooking dinner and having an early night.

I'm up-to-date at last - hooray (well, apart from photos - they're going to have to wait until I find a good, fast, cheap internet - probably in Perth, I'm guessing).

That's all for now. I hope all is well with you all.

Best wishes,

Over Halfway down the West Coast

Longtime, no update. The internet has been decidedly crappy down the West Coast. Very expensive and very slow. So this is the fist real opportunity I have got to update the blog. And now I have got such a backlog of diary entries that the task of updating it is quite intimidating. Ah well, best get started then!

Tuesday 24th October 2006

Eary start today to catch the Easyrider Bus at 6:45am. There are 14 people on the bus and initial impressions are good (the driver also seems really nice and friendly).

Most of the day is spent driving through seemingly neverending scrublands. The landscape is very flat and the road stretches for miles with no other traffic, or much to see (apart from a burnt-out road train about 100km out of Broome). We stopped off at 80 Mile Beach. Saw a fisherman land a huge shark and beachcombed for shells. Again, as in Broome, the water is an amazing colour and the place has a decidedly languid air.

Arrive at our first overnight stop - Pardoo Cattle Station - at about 4pm. Saw fan-tailed eagles beside the road and my first real-wild-kangaroos! The people running the joint were what I imagined to be typical oz farmers - tough as nails and as coarse as the roughest sandpaper... and that was just the Sheila! Interesting place, with myriad bugs all over the shop (spiders, grasshoppers, beetles) and a lovely setting among the trees (a welcome break form the scrub!). We had a nice swim in the sea as the sun set, then had a barbecue with the group. Good spread of tucker: Kangaroo steaks, lambchops, kangaroo sausages, loads of different salads.

So far the group seems to be a really good mix of people and the tour leader is lovely (Rebecca). She's really enthusiatic about everything and that makes all the difference when covering vast areas of nothingness (she's interested in Aboriginal culture, so has little stories to tell us all the time). Overall Pardoo was a lovely place and really relaxing. Slept like a log in a proper bed.

NB Here in Kalbarri (where I am writing this) you pay ($1) to turn the screen of the computer on for 10 minutes, so I am typing this blind, so as to save money!

Wednesday 25th October 2006

Earlyish start (7am). Landscape starts getting more interesting with the beginnings of the hamersley ranges. There is already water in some of the water holes which is untypically early this year. They must have had some of the rain we had in Broome here too. The only oyther vehicles about are either campervans or road trains (interesting fact #1: road trains with 4 trailers are only allowed in certain parts of Australia, and this is one of them). Saw the giant salt mountains of Port Hedland gleaming in the sun and various other industrial activity. Arrive at Karijini National Park at about lunchtime. Walked to circular pool at foot of impressive gorge. Stunning scenery and lots of interesting flowers. Continued walk, stopping at 4 different pools to swim. Water was lovely and clear and warm. So rerfreshing! Played around on a rope swing, which was great fun. Walked via fern pool to Fortescue falls and then back to the bus. The falls as Fern Pool were great to stand under - it gave my back a wonderful massage (which, touch wood, has been holding up well).

The was actually some heavy rain in the morning (luckily while we were driving), so there was plenty of water about and when the sun came out the colours were incredibly vibrant. Got back to our campite after dark and slept under canvas. All in all a wonderful day.







sET OFF AT 7ISH (turn screen on to check that all is okay and realise that I must have hit Caps Lock halfway through writing (oops!). Can't remember the shortcut to change it back, so will leave it for comedy effect!

Drove up into Shot Hole Canyon in the Cape Range National Park (not really on our itinerary, but we manage to persuade Rebecca to make a detour!). Beautiful Mediterraneanesque landscapes. Loads of termite mounds on road (well not literally on the road) from Exmouth to Coral Bay. Arrive in Coral Bay at about 10am (1.5 hrs behind schedule thanks to our little detour). I'm sharing a room in the Nigaloo Club Backpackers with Mitch, Clay, Victoria and Alex from the Easyrider bus. Unpack and then head to beach for snorkelling, swimming, sunbathing, etc. Really beautiful beach and sea. Loads of different fish and coral, just off shore. Amazing Parrot Fish (munching on the coral) and huge clams, which clamped up when I stuck my finger in (only joking!) - swishing water in was enough to make them do their stuff. I cooked dinner with my roomies (such a nice group of people) and then played table tennis with Mitch (2-1 to England)!

PS Also saw a shoal of cuttle fish earlier in the day.

PPS A man from Darwin showed us his crocodile injury (how Australian is that !)

PPPS Sea feels surprisingly cool after Broome (only 23/24C)

Saturday 28th October 2006

Walked left along the beach today to Pasradise Beach. Wonderful snorkelling. Millions of fish - just like swimming in an aquarium. Got back for lunch and a rest from the midday sun. Ate first Aussie Meat Pie!

Walked to shark nursery (natural breeding area and creche for sharks) in the afternoon after a quick game of table tennis with Mitch (2-1 to England again). Didn't see any sharks but had a snorkel and saw some fish. Walked back into brisk wind - reminded me of both Furteventur and the time we cycled into Guinea-Bissau! I cooked risotto for the troops and we scored some free cream cakes from the girl at the bakery (they would have been thrown out otherwise). You wouldn't believe the outbreak of excitement that that caused! Being the party animals that we are, an early night was had by all (it's very tiring this holidaying lark).

PS Saw large lizard today (Goanna) and took some good photos of it, which I will post when I get the chance).

Sunday 29th October 2006

Today was my best day of the trip so faR (i THINK - IT'S NEARLY ALL BEEN GOOD UP TO NOW). mITCH AND i WALKED RIGHT ALONG THE BEACH IN THE MONRING. wE WENT AS FAR AS WE COULD GO BEFORE THE COAST TURNED BACK ON ITSELF. oUT ON THE SANDY CAPE THE SEA WAS AN UNBELIEVALBE SHADE OF BLUE. wE SAW MANTA RAYS FROLLICKING JUST OFFSHORE (and a turtle). Clay and Victoria came to join us and we all went snorkelling (different corals from yesterday and all sorts of fish). We walked back along the beach, stopping for an impromptu lunch en route. Then we got to the nursery for the sharks and saw loads of reef sharks and sting rays -only a few feet away - an absolutely amazing experience. Got back for a bit of lunch and a snooze. Woke up for chocolate raisins and a nice glass of cold coke (courtesy of Clay). Played table tennis again to take it to 3-0 in the series to England and a series whitewash! An omen for the Ashes, perhaps?

Went to watch the sunset on the beach - absolutely gorgeous. The sun looked huge setting behind the boats in the bay. We then cooked together again (the group dynamic is working well!). Pasta with tomato, sausage and spinach. Yummo. Got more free cream cakes from the girl in the bakery.

After dinner walked out into bush behind Coral Bay to look at the stars - (note to former colleagues: my leaving-present-torch is powerful indeed)!

PS Place we went snorkelling yesterday was the same place that we saw all the sting rays and sharks today!

Monday 30th October 2006

Put contact lenses in this morning to make the most of the last day of snorkelling in Coral Bay. Made use of a free day's snorkel hire (courtesy of Easyrider). Walked left along the beach with Mitch, but he slipped and cut his foot, so, as Mitch didn't want to act as shark bait, I was left to snorkel alone. Again, there was a brilliant range of fish in crystal clear water. Snorkelled until I started to get cold (a first on this trip!). Walked along to the cape - to see what was around the corner (Dad!). More azure/turquoise/aquamarine seas, sand dunes and endless blue skies. So gorgeous (I cant stop using these superlatives!). After lunch and a snooze (and an update of my diary) I went for a mammoth swim with Clay to try and retrieve some sunscreen that Victoria had left on a boat from a trip earlier in the day. The swim was in vain, as the sunscreen was locked away in the cabin, but I enjoyed getting some proper exercise nonetheless.

In the evening we walked into bush to watch sunset and spot kangaroos. Saw a kangaroo silhouetted nicely against the sunset, jumping along a ridge. Very nice.