Tag Archives: Australia

The Great Ozzie Road Trip, Part 6, hippies, dunes and stats

23 Apr

Back on dry land we watched the surfers and ate huge quantities of ice cream at Noosa then headed inland to the Hippie enclave of Nimbin which Lonely Planet says is “highly” recommended. It’s a strange but interesting place to pass a day. Full of aged hippies, new world shops, and folk just hanging around. The local pub had an alcometer which proved to me that French genes are better at metabolising alcohol than any others. I had, allegedly, more alcohol after a sniff of beer than Elvi had after a few…tskk tskk call me Scottish?

After Nimbin it was nice to be back at the coast again though Byron Bay proved not be the free livin of Nimbin when the van was refused entry to several campsites owing to the risk that the slogan on the back could upset children….give me a life….

We left Wendy here. She headed back North to Surfers’ Paradise to meet up with a mate before her trek in Tasmania.

Elvi and I continued South where we admired the beautiful breakwaters of Nambucca Heads complete with “graffiti by locals” to commemorate everything from births, deaths, to marriages and happy holidays.

We camped at Emerald Beach arriving by night to awake to a beautiful emerald beach the next morning. Some locals gave us cucumbers as they had grown so many they couldn’t use them all.

We trekked on the dunes of Myalls Lakes, camped by the beach in Buoti Buoti National Park to be awoken by early morning surfers, drank more Bundaberg ginger beer, chatted, laughed…..and then it was all over…we arrived in Sydney and the Wicked van was returned….

The Great Ozzie road trip was over….but won’t ever be forgotten!

Some stats….

We did over 10,000 km during the trip…in around 26 days…

The van had a staggering 467,000 on the speedo.

It only needed one repair which took about 5 minutes.

The van was frightfully photogenic and much better than a sensible, modern, airconditioned and fuel efficient Jucy van.

Most of the time was spent on dry land.

The van only did one ferry and island trip.

We drank a LOT of ginger beer.

We ate a LOT of couscous with cucumbers and tomatoes.

We also ate a LOT of peanut butter and jelly sándwiches.

We killed a LOT of mosquitos using the van light as an attraction.  I still got a lot of bites…

We didn’t kill any animals en route…or perhaps a few frogs of course not deliberately.

We laughed a lot.

We swam a lot in the ocean.

We listened to a lot of rock and roll.

We adopted “van names” (or maybe Elvi gave us van names).

Wendy was Petra.

I was Zulene.

Elvi was, funnily enough, “Elvi”.

All in all, it was, without  doubt, a five star road trip and a thousand thank yous to Elvi and Wendy for making it one trip I will NEVER forget…see you in IBIZA guys!!!!!

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The Great Ozzie Road Trip, Part 5, my first leech bite and a rainy sandy island

22 Apr

Direction South….destination Sydney….

After a few days chilling out and catching up on washing and stuff at Airlie Beach it was time to head South down the East Coast.

It was during this part of the journey that I experienced my first leech bite.

We had spent the day platypus spotting at Eungella National Park. Later when we stopped for gas I noticed that my trouser leg was covered in blood. Obviously I was a little alarmed so headed into the service station to see if I could use the toilet. After I’d cleared the blood away there was only a tiny hole which Elvi (having previously experienced leeches whilst trekking) assured me was just a leech bite. First leech bite…done…

Elvi and I then headed off to Fraser Island.  Wendy had already rented a 4 by 4 and travelled around Fraser Island so had a few days of alone time with the van.

The trip was a gift to Elvi for some work she had done for someone and she kindly took me with. Merci beaucoup mon cherie!  C’etait fantastique!

As we were out of the five star van gone was Elvi’s control over weather conditions.

It rained.

Cats and dingos.

From when we arrived to when we left.

Fraser Island is incredible. Like everything else in Oz it is huge. 120 km long. The whole island (complete with rainforest and huge dunes) sits atop meres and. Incredible!

We did a tour of the island in a 4 by 4 bus. This bus had to be seen to be believed. It felt like a rollercoaster rattling around the tiny sand tracks of the island.  We even travelled along the beach in it. Not being put off by the weather Elvi and I made the most of the freshwater rivers and Lake McKenzie where the sand was so soft we used it to clean jewellery.

Our guide regaled us…all day long…with tales of the island. She  told us about the Frasers (from whom the Island gets its name) who were shipwrecked here in 1836.  They ended up staying on the island with the aborigines and integrated into aboriginal life quite nicely until Mr Fraser went out hunting with the aborigines one day and was not seen again. Mrs Fraser stayed eventually being spotted by some other adventurers.  She went home to England and wrote about her adventures.  Our guide told us she then returned and married one of the locals.

Fraser Island is also home to the purest breed of dingos.  The aborigines used the dingos to help them with hunting.  Unfortunately we didn’t see any on our trip. No doubt they were inside given the inclement conditions!

After two nights it was back to land…out of the five star resort and back to the five star van..

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The Great Ozzie Road Trip, Part 4- from Tennent Creek back to civilisation

20 Apr

There’s not that much to see in the roughly 1,500 km from Tennent Creek to Townsville.

We did score some points for wildlife spotting. We almost ran over a python on the road while driving at night.  This guy was huge. Stretched from the side of the road to the middle white lines.  By the time we turned around to take a photo it had slithered away into the undergrowth at the side of the road.

At Mount Isa, another of the mining towns and full to the brim of men we had the van fixed. Something had been rattling. The mechanic took about 5 seconds to twist something (the technical terms) we visited McDonalds to check wifi (it worked but super slowly) and then we hit the road again.

The good thing about the Great Ozzie Road Trip is that Australia is all set for road trippers. There are frequent signs telling you how far it is to the next gas station and plenty of rest stops with toilets, picnic tables  and information on the local area.  Some of the toilets come complete with wildlife, from frogs to crickets to ants.  It’s all provided.  Many of the parks even in the small towns have barbecues where you can cook outside. We don’t have these in Scotland so this is still a bit of a novelty to me.

After so much nothingness it was strange to hit Townsville where we were back in civilisation and where there was no chance to see the stars at night anymore.  We headed out of town to park up the van and next day we took the van  to Magnetic Island.

It was raining cats and dogs when we boarded the ferry and we were  worried that our trip might be  a waste of time.   The skies cleared for us arriving.

Elvi assured us, once again (¡) that the Wicked was a Five Star van and with that came weather on demand which meant sun for walking, rain for driving (and washing the van) and a requirement to keep on Schedule otherwise the rain might arrive during the walking even though it was scheduled for afterwards to clean the van!

We did some nice hikes around the island and even found me a chair which had been washed up on the beach. After a clean with some sand and salt wáter it was almost new! That night we enjoyed a night out with the locals…well most of them weren’t locals but people from overseas working there.  Next day another hike and then we found the most delightful wáter hole to bathe in.  We met some lovely “indigenous” people as Elvi called them who took us to en even nicer wáter hole only known by the locals.  We barbecued by the beach, went to see the wallabies and then had an early night.

Next morning we headed back to Townsville..our island adventure was over.

The Great Ozzie Road Trip – Part 3, and then there were aliens

19 Apr

We may not have seen the crazy quantities of wild animals we had hoped for during our Great Ozzie Road Trip but we did see some other truly unique stuff on our trip from Alice to Tennent Creek.

We stopped for petrol at the Barrow Creek Outback Hotel.  This place has to be seen to be believed.  The shearers used to pin up a banknote with their name on the back to ensure they had enough for a drink when they next passed through.  This age old tradition has taken on a travellers’ tone with travellers giving the owner money from their home country when they pass through. The owner has quite a collection which he showed us.

I’m not sure if you do have a note and if you leave it you will get a drink when you next pass through and given its remoteness I doubt many travellers ever pass through this way again….being a Scot I didn’t leave a note in any event.

Some days even though I always had in mind Rule 1 of the Great Ozzie Road Trip I did feel as if maybe all the time in the van was affecting my senses…and never more so than in Wycliffe Wells.

Allegedly this place has an incredible number of alien sightings.  The website advertises that if you stay up all night you will be “unlucky not to see anything” at the place “recently ranked 5th for top UFO sightings in the world”.  Alas we were only passing through and the only aliens we saw were when we posed at the cutouts….

Next stop was the beautiful Devil’s Marbles or Karlu Karlu.  This place is amazing.  In aboriginal stories the Devil’s Marbles were the eggs of the rainbow serpent.  We had great fun taking photos around the rocks especially when we found an old car abandoned among some of them.

Elvi kindly brought the Wicked camper into the shelter since it was super hot in the sun and too hot for lunch outside…a few minutes later we were joined by a tour group.  Great day! We even got a free talk on the history of the marbles! Result!

We met up with the tour group again in Tennent Creek.  Maybe I should add another Rule to the Ozzie Roadtrip Rules…always believe the Lonely Planet if it describes a place as “wearing an air of despair”.  This is how Tennent Creek was described in the LP and how it felt.

The liquor store pretty much only sold hard liquor through a tiny window opening and even trying to find a beer in it was hard.  There was a nice reservoir to swim in though at the end of the town.   We bumped into the tour group again there.

At Tennent Creek we took a right towards the East Coast though it would take a bit of time to get there….

The Great Ozzie Road Trip – Part 2, the Rock and the Red Centre

19 Apr

Now being au fait with the rules of the road it was time to relax and see the sights…

Our first stop was Uluru.  Standing 348 metres and 867 above sea level it is quite a sight.  It is believed that another two thirds of it are underground.  You can climb it but the Anangu people prefer that you don’t.  For the Anangu people the path up the Rock is the route taken by the Mala ancestors on their arrival at Uluru and has great spiritual significance.  We didn’t climb.  We did a wonderful guided tour with “Andy” one of the National Park rangers and walked the 10 km around the Rock.  Only downside was the flies…everywhere…never again will I mock tourists with fly masks or those hats with corks which are seemingly designed for the same thing!!!!

I managed to leave Uluru without a single grain of red dirt after Andy told us tales of people who had picked up a rock or some dirt and then sent it back..bad things seemingly happen to those who take away a part of Uluru….being a superstitious Scott I resisted the temptation!

Next off it was off to Kata Tjuja which means “many heads” where we did a fab walk through the Valley of the Winds.  Again I regretted the lack of fly masks….we met a little French girl who had bought herself a car and was just touring around..she had already done many 1000 of kilometres alone. When I asked her if she ever got bored driving she reasssured me that she is learning to play the mouth organ so that keeps her awake on the long drives!!!!!

We headed to King’s Canyon where we sat at the end of the world….the little French girl turned up just as we were leaving..proving that it is indeed a small world…

Then we headed to the West McDonnell National Parks to the West of Alice Springs.  Here I learned that where there is a sign from the National Park advising that a hike may include a swim..this means that the hike may include a swim.   And not a small swim.  Three times we had to cross the gorge. Thankfully Elvi saved the say with her dry bag! Always prepared the French!!! I termed this “swiking” = a hike which includes a swim.

After another stop in Alice where we stocked up on some bits and pieces using the ubiquitous Coles and K-Mart we hit the road late to start the long journey to Tennent Creek, well short in Ozzie terms only 510 km…..and crossing the Tropic of Capricorn en route….

The Great Ozzie Road Trip – Part 1, Rules of the Road

19 Apr

The Great Ozzie Road trip had begun.

It was time to learn the rules of the road.

Rule 1 – accept that the distances are huge.  It might seem that Alice Springs is just next to Uluru and in Australia terms it is…after all it is only 445 km away or about 5 hours, drive at máximum Wicked van speed of 90 kmh.

Rule 2 – accept that you might not see a lot en route but what you do see will be different from anything you’ve ever experienced.  Australia is huge but a lot of it is vast, open, empty bush, the so-called outback.  It’s magical.  The sense of space is awesome. Being so far away from lights means that on a clear night the stars are wonderful. The contrast of the red dirt and the stark white of the “ghost” gums is amazing and every so often you see one of the iconic watermills.

Rule 3 – believe the words insribed inside your Wicked van “Where is the fuckin wildlife?”. You don’t see kangaroos, snakes, emus or even the over 1 million wild camels (now considered a pest)  at every turn in the road.  Animals don’t come out on demand. Kangaroos come out at dusk but more so in Winter for the heat of the tarmac, snakes don’t come out much at all and are usually scared off by noise and as for the emus and camels I’m still not sure where they were hiding.  And although it looks like there should be there are no giraffes here.

Rule 4 – get petrol at every opportunity. There can be hundreds of kilometres between gas stations.

Rule 5 – accept that driving until midnight can make sense when the heat inside the van is intolerable and the mosquitos buzzing around drive you crazy.

Rule 6 – accept that having the windows down and blaring out road trip songs is much, much better fun that having a cool, air conditioned “Jucy” van without the character, charm or rattling of the Wicked van.

Rule7 – accept that the Wicked van will not always be accepted into campsites. In Byron Bay two campsites wouldn’t accept Wicked vans because “sometimes they have slogans which can upset children”.  What? Surely children are far too busy reading from their i-pads or other electronic device to read the back of a campervan?

Rule 8 – accept that it’s cool to wave to other campers.  Yeah I too have spent a life in a car where I don’t wave to every car I pass just because it’s a car but this is Oz and taking into account Rules 1 and 3 above it might be a long time before you see another van or any other civilisation.

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65 hours with a pack of cards, a muffin and a beer served by a barmaid in skimpies – the joys of the Indian Pacific

7 Apr

Sometimes I wonder where I get my ideas from.

Mention train travel in Australia and most people just laugh.  After all, they have budget airlines with cheap prices and fast air travel across this vast continent.  And it is vast. The distances are huge.  Sydney to Perth / 4352 kilometres, Adelaide to Darwin 2979 kilometers.

You can fit all the land area of Europe into Australia.  They have postcards showing this for the non-believers.

Of course not one to be deterred by mere distances nor scared by long journeys (I’ve got all the time in the world these days after all) I eagerly purchased my backpacker train pass for $450 for 3 months with its unlimited travel on the Indian Pacific (Sydney to Perth), the Ghan (Adelaide to Darwin) and the Overland (Melbourne to Adelaide).

Eager to escape the rain of Sydney for the blue skies of Perth I duly boarded the Indian Pacific at Sydney Central Station with a few good books, a year of travel photos to sort and a muffin to eat.   In my mind was the romanticism of the Orient Express and maybe a murder to solve on the train (joking of course!)

And plenty of time …the journey takes 65 hours and involves 3 nights’ sleeping on the train in a day / nighter seat.  Average speed is 85 kilometres per hour.  The premium service costs $345o for a cabin but for a mere backpacker it’s a seat, a sleeping bag and a lot of hours to pass upright.

The Indian Pacific

The Indian Pacific

DAY ONE

Day one we rolled out of Sydney at 2.55 pm.  I had a very quiet carriage so two seats to myself and turned them round to form a foursome for sleeping purposes.  I wasn’t so organised so ended up a little hungry with only a muffin and a bit of bread and nutella for tea…mmm…met David a backpacker from Boston who inspired me with his super light backpack and penchant for sleeping rough in cities..he has slept in parks in Sydney and Melbourne and in an alley in China..of course as always he was a contradiction having spent $400 on a hotel room in Singapore where he swam in an infinity pool with a view of the city. Nice!

DAY TWO

Day two we arrived at Broken Hill early doors having been warned by train staff that it was the end of double seats..of course I didn’t believe that…after all who would be getting on at the so called “Silver City” of Broken Hill?  This town has the world’s largest deposits of silver, zinc and tin…but not much else.   However, the platform was crowded..turned out that there was an annual horse racing event at Broken Hill which is well attended by those from Adelaide..

I was joined in my double seat  by Maria a Swedish 60-something backpacker. This lady has visited Australia 6 times so far. She owns a small farm holding in Sweden and sells off a bit of land to fund each trip.  At this rate she’ll  soon be living on a postage stamp.  Truly inspiring, she has wooffed, taught Swedish, been to a yoga camp and learned a new meditation technique during her trips to Australia.

One of the good things about train travel is the time you have to chat to your fellow travellers and the restaurant car where you can all meet up to have coffee, play cards and chat some more!

We got into Adelaide late afternoon.  It was raining.  Maria left me here.  We exchanged details, book ideas and I encouraged her to try South America for her next adventure!

I managed to stock up on some groceries at Adelaide with a delightful local dropping me at the supermarket and then dropping me back at the station.  People are super kind to backpackers with a Scottish accent in Oz….

We left Adelaide 6.40 pm.

I was joined in my double seat by Patricia a sixty something Canberrian off to visit her daughter on a merino sheep station in the Outback situated 9 hours’ drive from Adelaide.  We chatted about Outback life, her daughter having left a career in PR in London and Sydney to live in the middle of nowhere where she now does a 6 monthly food shop, her kids are educated over the air and her nearest mate to meet for coffee is a 4 hour drive away.  Still they can hear the birds singing, see the stars and they also have satellite internet access!

Patricia left in the middle of the night near Tarcoola waking me up to say bye and pass me her details should I ever be in Canberra.  I moved to sleep on the floor with my sleeping bag.

DAY THREE

After yet another not too bad night’s sleep we arrived early morning in Cook on the huge, harsh Nullarbor Plain.

By this time I was rather confused by the time.

Passing through 3 time zones during this journey (eastern standard time, central standard time and western standard time- that’s how huge Australia is) on the train they use “train time”.  Perth is 2 and a half hours behind Adelaide.

” Train time” involves changing clocks one hour at night and then another one and a half hours the next day.  This allows the time change to be “phased in” and ensures that everyone is on the same time for meals and stuff.  And when staff tell you how long you’re allowed off the train they talk in “train time”.

Cook which is situated 1,100 km from Adelaide and 1,500 km from Perth,  was once a thriving railway settlement but now has only a few residents. It’s one of the world’s most remote outposts.

There is pretty much nothing here.  The few residents run a local shop and work on the railway.  Their population is more than doubled with flies.

Me and the resident flies at Cook

Me and the resident flies at Cook

There was a hospital here once.  Its been demolished recently.  One of the guys on the train was a bit sad as he came to visit it having been an inpatient some 30 years previously.  I think they hope to re-open it if they get more support…

Cook..advert for hospital patients

Cook..advert for hospital patients

After Cook it was back on the train and into the restaurant car where Emily a young Kentuckian was celebrating her 22nd birthday with a muffin and a candle provided by train stuff…we played cards for a few hours and chatted. We made friends with Alissa, a nurse from Canada and a Jordanian engineer who was sad to be leaving Adelaide to start a new life in Perth.

Between Watson (just before  Cook) and Nurina lies the world’s longest straight section of train line.  It’s 477.8km long though when first measured they thought it was a mere 477.14km in length.

Longest straight length of railway track in the world

Longest straight length of railway track in the world

That night we rolled into Kalgoorlie.  Described in the Lonely Planet as “an outback success story with streets wide enough to turn a camel train in” Kalgoorlie is truly unique.  There is something fascinating about this place. I mean where else can you do a tour of a supermine and a brothel all in the same day?

Kalgoorlie is a mining town.  This means it’s full to the brim of men, brothels (and not shy and retiring ones at that!), diamond shops and bars where you’re served your drink by a barmaid wearing “skimpies”.  We HAD TO celebrate young Emily’s birthday of course so headed along to one of the Wild West style pubs complete with Wild West doors, barmaids in skimpies and men who seemed more than happy to see some girls! Had a few beers with the locals who told us about life in a mining town.

Then it was back to the train just before 11 (train time!) for a quick shower and another not too bad night’s sleep on the floor.

DAY FOUR

We rolled into Perth early morning.  I felt quite refreshed after my long journey.  In fact I wasn’t that keen to get off the train.  After all I’d still not finished  any of my books nor had I sorted out my photos but hey ho I’d been served by a barmaid wearing skimpies, learned and played a card game called “spoons” which I lost on many occasions and met some awesome fellow travellers.

You know it’s maybe not that daft travelling by train in such a huge continent after all….

Me and the Indian Pacific

Me and the Indian Pacific

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