The love is still very much there after our beautiful road trip.
27.05.2012 - 12.07.2012 29 °C
In honour of my good friend Mr Titman, I'll begin with a short hand update that he suggested after my lengthy update in Vietnam:
Having a great time, not dead yet, speak to you all soon.
So I hope that covers everything, for a little more detail please read on...
5 Years of dreaming, and we're back
The last time we were in Australia was in 2007 and we managed to go from Melbourne in the south east all the way up to Fraser Island up the east coast, as well as doing a west cost road trip taking in everything from Rockingham in the south west up to Broome in the north west. We had an incredible time and the memory of Australia has always remained one of our favourites...but we always felt like we hadn't quite done everything that we wanted to do.
For 5 years now we've been itching to get back and travel 'the north and The Kimberley', and since we were in Asia and had the time and money to go back, we decided now was the time, otherwise we may never get the chance to do it. So ensued a lot of number crunching to figure out if we really could afford to go, with budget set the fights were booked as were the two seperate camper vans that we needed for our trip and the internal flights to see some. So we said goodbye to Asia on 27th May and were greeted at Brisbane airport by Sharon and AJ who we met last time we were here and spent a lovely couple of days with them before setting off. Thanks again for the hospitality guys
Hippie camper for the east coast
So on to the east coast in a cool little 'hippie camper'. In all we spent a sleepless night hoping that we wouldn't slip down the wet grassy hill that we had parked on for the first night, another evening enjoying fun and frollocks at a proper outback pub on the side of the road with a rugby club, a stag party, hen party and an apparent psychic who made a premonition that Bethany would give birth to a baby girl who's name begins with 'I' very soon i.e. in the next few months she'd find out that she's pregnant (don't get excited Mum, she turned out to be incorrect much to our disbelief, she seemed so certain!). This got us to Airlie Beach which I'll come to in a minute, after which we spent another couple of days travelling up to Cairns staying at a couple of beautiful camp sites and passing through some rather picturesque towns that line the route up to Cairns.
As mentioned we did some sailing around the Whitsunday islands from Airlie Beach as well as doing some more diving in Cairns. The diving was great, we had two dives, one of which was our first unguided dive which has given us a bit more confidence in our own ability which is always good. The reef was beautiful as were the fish and it was really great to get some more experience in our diving.We also got some lovely pictures because we hired a digital camera for our last dive, so it really was a highlight and we're really glad that we got to visit the GBR.
Without a doubt the highlight of our east coast trip - and our Australian trip as a whole in fact - was our trip from Airlie Beach sailing around the Whitsunday islands. Those of you who remember our wedding day might just recollect a smattering of rain, barely noticebale really, accompanied by a subtle breeze that made mine and Titman's speeches almost inaudible to most of the room. This, we were told, was good luck, which I was sure was something someone made up one day to make someone feel better. That was until the luck came in for us. The weather from the start of our trip was pretty miserable and we were writing the Whitsundays off saying that we didn't want to did it if we weren't going to have decent weather (this was due mainly to our thoughts of Halong Bay in Vietnam which we insist would have been much better if we had had blue skies), but luckily for us the weather cleared and we had blue skies and sunshine for the whole sailing trip. We also got a great deal on the trip that we decided to go for because it had been massively discounted and only had another 4 people on board, when most other boats have between 12 and 28 people. We later found out that the discount was because they couldn't cancel the trip (as they normally would when less than 6 people were booked on) because there were some honeymooners on board, so the luck that we were due for our wedding rain had definitely come in for us. The time we spent on the boat was perfect, we were with two other couples who were very easy to get on with, the crew of two kiwis were great fun and very informative, and the food was incredible. All of that before I've even mentioned how majestic the Whitsundays were, which I won't do because the pictures will tell you everything you could want to know. We also did some snorkelling and saw a few turtles within arms reach, had champagne and nachos on a secluded strip of beach at sunset, and in general had just a perfect time, there really is no other word for it, we really felt so fortunate to have had such an amazing time.
A few long days
The morning after diving we picked up our wonderful 4WD campervan. At the time we were both in awe of it because it was fantastic, but we didn't even know yet what it would take us through whilst travelling to Broome, which only improved our opinion of it. Basically we loved the van and it was very very good to us.
We'd booked 21 days with the van and knew only that we wanted to go to Kakadu National Park, Litchfield National Park and probably Darwin. This meant that we needed to put in a couple of long days driving to give us more time in the national parks. The guy at Apollo where we hired the van from told us about a little known national park in Queensland that was only a small detour from our route, so we visited Lawn Hill National Park as instructed and weren't dissappointed. We had driven for the whole day to get within 100km of the park to make it an easy trip in and out of the park in one day, so the relaxing day we spent there really was welcome. It was literally in the middle of nowhere, flat land for miles around and then this gorge appears. We decided to do some canoeing in the gorge for a couple of hours followed by a short hour long walk and a bit of swimming in the croc infested waters (although they were 'freshies' so nothing to worry about). The guide book describes it as an 'oasis of a place' which we couldn't really argue with, it was wonderful and there were hardly any people there, so a really great day...followed by another couple of long days driving over unsealed roads which was either corrogated, covered in mud tracks where vehicles had been through in the wet, or had river crossings to get through. This brought us out at 2pm to Daly Waters pub for the evening. This place is well worth a stop, you walk in and there's stuff everywhere, a section for bras, another for pants, another for business cards, photos, football shirts...there's just loads of it, and they have entertainment every night as well as serving steak and barramundi with salad for dinner if you go for their famous 'beef n barra BBQ'...which we did as well as their happy hour just before. We didn't partake in the entertainment because we were talking to three Aussie guys from Victoria who were travelling together, we had such a great time and it has gone down as one of our 2 best nights on our trip, the other was in Darwin. If anyone was planning a trip to this part of the middle of nowhere, we've left a picture of us with a few friends for you to try and spot.
Kakadu National Park
From here we went north for Kakadu, Litchfield and Darwin, Kakadu first after a swim at Mataranka springs. We spent 2 nights and 3 days at Kakadu, the first night at a campsite near a waterfall but we shouldn't swim because of crocs, so we didn't, but we did go for a rather beautiful walk that wasn't long but lead to a lovely lookout for sunset. The next day we went to a pathetic lookout that was obstructed by trees, followed by a humbling walk at Nourlangie taking in some Aboriginal rock art and a wonderful lookout. The campsite was our next desination purely because it takes so long to get anywhere in Kakadu because it's so big. We stayed about 6kms from our morning destination and had to eat inside our van for the first time purely because of the ridiculous amount of mozzies around. In the morning we went for a sunrise boat trip at Yellow Water which was such a nice way to wake up. We spent two hours taking in all the wildlife, plenty or crocs and birdlife as well as some beautiful plant life and headed to Ubirr after we got back. Ubirr is the main Aboriginal rock art tourist site because there's just loads of it. This once again was rather humbling - seeing as the younger drawings were 3000 years older than when Jesus was supposed to have died - and led to another beautiful panoramic lookout. We finished with an hour long walk which was nothing to brag about and headed out to a camping spot next to some wetlands which was beautiful for sunset and nightmarish thereafter because of the returning mozzies...in to the van for dinner once again.
Darwin was our next stop, and we'd planned it to be on a Sunday so that we could visit Mindil Beach sunset market. This was the other night that was once of our favourites. It's such a fun market, all the locals come along with their camping chairs or a blanket and sit on the grass fringing the market and just enjoy the atmosphere, food and company of friends and family, a great way to end the week. Needless to say we took full advantage of the fact that we had one night only to enjoy this and ate as much of the different foods and drinks as possible from Thai food, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Chinese, Aussie of course, fruit shakes, juice stalls, ice cream...it goes on. We strolled around the market after the sun went down when the lighting gives it a different feel. The stalls were perfect for meandering around and the street acts made good places to stop for 10 minutes or so, our favourite was a guy at the end of the market who played 4 different didgeridoos accompanied only by a drummer and creating songs of drum and bass. Sounds strange but it was great fun and the Aborigines loved it and got fully involved with some wild dancing that was great to watch and pretty impossible to replicate. The market happens every Thursday and Sunday evening and again, if anyone is around Darwin on one of those days I'd urge them to go!
Litchfield National Park
Kakadu is definitely the most known national park in the north but that's mainly because of the heritage, not because of it's beauty, that is where Litchfield National Park comes in. It's just so beautiful and a lot smaller than Kakadu which makes it far more accesible and easy to do multiple things in one day. The first day we got there from Darwin via another particularly lovely swimming hole called Berry Springs (Bethany's favourite due to it's warm waters together with lovely setting), we went to Wangi Falls and stayed there for the whole day. Wangi Falls is a waterfall with a swimming plunge pool at the bottom big enough to accomodate a rather large number of people, and it also has a little grassy patch at the edge of the water to relax on. So we went for the short hour long walk up and around the falls, placed our things for the afternoon and had a dip several times taking in the beauty, the sun and the relaxing ambience of the place. The pick of our second day was the Cascades and Florence Falls. The Cascades offered a 2 hour walk that ends up following the river down to the car park complemented by, as it's name suggests, several cascades. At that point it was our favourite walk of our trip so we thoroughly enjoyed it. After the walk we went and spent the rest of the day much like the first day at the bottom of the waterfall and swimming plunge pool at Florence Falls. By this point we'd developed a habit of going for morning swims so we headed to Buley rock pools for a dip in the morning and then left the park. So Litchfield served us very well, a place of beauty and tranquility, we thoroughly enjoyed it. There is a saying about the big 2 national parks which we agree with - Litchfield Do, Kaka-don't - but we would say that if you've got enough time to visit both then you won't be dissappointed, they both offer so much but in very different ways, together they were amazing.
On to the west
So we had done the first part of our trip, we wanted to then get across the border to enjoy the second part of our trip. This was done by visiting my favourite swimming hole at Edith Falls, another swimming plunge pool at the bottom of a falls, this time a pretty pathetic falls but it was a huge pool and the walls/cliffs around the pool were fantastic, that with the fact that for some reason nobody else was there meant that we had the place to enjoy all to ourselves, but the water was very cold which is why Bethany preferred Berry Springs. We then went on to Katherine Gorge for the night, did a walk that afternoon and another in the morning which trumped the Cascades walk. We awoke at 5:15am which sounds early but in truth we were waking and sleeping by the sun, so 6am was pretty normal for us to get up and 9pm was a late night, but we got up and went straight for the walk in Butterfly Gorge watching the sunrise on the way and enjoying the beautiful gorge. The best bit was at the end of the gorge as the walk through it was all in the dry but it opened up to the river that flowed through the main gorge, so we climbed up the side of the cliff and sat on a ledge in the silence as the sun had just come up. The cliffs were beautiful and red, the water was a greeny colour and I would say it was the most tranquil place we visited on our trip, just wonderful.
Both Edith Falls and Katherine Gorge were part of Nitmiluk National Park so it's another national park that we'd advise going to. After our walk in the morning we went to Katherine springs for our now mandatory morning dip, but sadly our last one for a while, and headed for a camp spot just before the Western Australia border. In the morning we reached the border and frustratingly had all of our fruit and veg taken off of us by the WA quarantine because they not only don't accept fruit and veg being brought in from other countries (fair enough) but they don't allow them to be brought in from other states either (rather ridiculous in my book), so we had to re-stock in Kununnara over the border, ready for our assault on the Kimberley, which we knew very little about.
All we'd ever heard about the Kimberley since our last trip up the west 5 years ago was that it was 'beautiful' and everyone we met suggested visiting there. It was the same this time around but we still knew very little about what to do there or where to go, but in the end we managed to put together some sort of itinerary, the golden piece of advice that we received was from the three Victorian guys that we met at Daly Waters pub, they suggested dipping in to the start of the Gibb River Road to El Questro, coming back out and going along the better road the goes further south, then dip back in to the Gibb on the west side for a couple of other sights. This is exactly what we did and we can't think of a better way to do it, the Gibb is an infamously horrible road - 500kms of corrogated red dirt road - so if you don't have to go all the way along it then it's wise not to, the way we did it we could take in the best part of the east and west sides of the Gibb and then also visit the Bungle Bungle range along the sealed tarmac road further south. So we were left to discover the beautiful ranges of the Kimberley knowing that we had plenty of time to relax along the way.
El Questro Wilderness Park was our first stop and it was just brilliant. It was different to the national parks because it was privately owned so the roads were pretty dicey any way, but they also have 4WD tracks all around the park for anybody to try, and they had lovely walks and a natural springs as well. We had crossed the NT/WA border that day and decided that we'd go for a short 3.5km walk to a lookout for sunset and then do a longer walk in the morning like we did at Katherine Gorge. We decided to start our sunset walk at about 4:45pm because the sun set the night before at about 6:45pm, so we'd have plenty of time to get to the lookout and enjoy the sunset for an hour or something and come back down by torch light. It was at about 3:30pm that Bethany mentioned the sun was coming down pretty fast...this was when we realised the 1.5 hour time difference in crossing the border made a lot of difference in terms of sunset, we had about an hour or so before the sun was down! So we quickly put our trainers on and got going on a fast paced walk with a bit of jogging, all up hill to get there in time. This after jumping into someone's car to cross the river crossing at the bottom before the ascent began. In the end we had got to the top in 35 mins when it should have taken 1.5 hours which we were proud of, we then enjoyed 30 mins of sunset, and headed back down with no car to take us over the river crossing this time, so we took our shoes and socks off and crossed, put them back on and continued our walk back to the campsite, at which point we found ourselves staring straight at a rather large bull. We decided it was probably best just to continue walking, hoping the bull didn't take a liking to my red shorts, so we carried on and when we were about 25m from the cattle grid the bull let out a huge noise, which shook Bethany into a bit of a jog and celebratory dance when she'd crossed the grid. She was still nervous when she heard more bull noises through the night.
The morning brought our favourite walk of the trip, El Questro gorge, made even better for the route in. As I mentioned the roads were fairly dicey any way, and we'd already done a few river crossings on our trip, but the route into El Questro gorge had the deepest crossing we've done. There were no depth markers, just a sign telling us to engage low range 4WD and crawl across...this at 6am with nobody around. So I asked Bethany to see how deep it was, hoping she'd wade in a bit, and she told me after peering over the cloudy water a bit, that it was indeed deep. Still not knowing how deep it was I decided we were going to go for it, so Bethany jumped in, low range engaged, crawl in motion it got pretty deep. We were both pretty nervous because we didn't want to ruin the car and end up with a massive bill from the hire car company to repair it, Bethany was finding it hard to breathe, so held her breath, and I just made sure my foot was on the accelerator still. It was all going ok when the water got even deeper about 5m from the other side which left us feeling like we were floating. Thankfully we continued and made it across, exhaling together when we were there. We then completed the apparently 5 hour walk in 2.5 hours having had to literally climb over rocks for the second part of the 'track' as well as wading through a swimming hole to reach a conveniently placed log that needed to be scaled to reach the top of another bolder. For pure adventure this walk was definitely our favourite, it was also very pretty and ended with another swimming hole at the bottom of a small waterfall, it was just so much fun, with the crossing as well which was even harder when we had to go back through. We finished our time in El Questro with a smaller walk to Emma Gorge, a more scenic walk than the morning one with another swimming hole at the end, which was freezing! And then we came out of the Gibb River Road and made our way to the Bungle Bungles.
The Bungle Bungle range is probably the most famous part of the Kimberley but even that had a ridiculous road into the national park, this time Purnululu National Park. In short we spent the afternoon doing a walk around the Bungles on the Cathedral Gorge walk which was fairly crowded compared to the places we'd been to, but led to a dead end where the rock formations make an echoing sound like it does in a Cathedral. We then relaxed for the afternoon taking in another sunset lookout, and got up in the morning for the Mini Palms walk, more picturesque than the Cathedral walk and a lovely way to spend the morning. After this we headed out onto the now greatly anticipated sealed road and made our way to the west Kimberley.
This is much easer to short hand. We went to the 'magnificent' Geikie Gorge which we thought was nice at best, certainly not magnificent but we may have been spoilt beforehand with the other gorges which meant this didn't seem as nice as the others, then we made our way back onto the Gibb to walk through Tunnel Creek which was totally different to the walks we'd done before. A flow of water has carved out a tunnel through the limestone which means you can walk through the tunnel underneath the limestone hills, but it's a wet affair, it took 2 days to dry our shoes out and it's pitch black so there's a few moments when you're trying to keep your balance to avoid falling entirely into the water. We also managed to see a couple of bats flying around which was pretty cool. Then we headed to Winjana Gorge which really was magnificent. During the wet season the river running through the gorge would be much higher but at the time we were there it was lower allowing us to walk on the sandy river bed in the middle of gorge walls, and spot the many crocodiles sunbathing on it's banks. Another beautiful way to spend a morning and it fulfilled one of my hopes which was to see crocs in the wild whilst just walking past them rather than on a boat tour or something, we had passed a few on the way which made me happy, but on the return we spotted a full 14 crocs sunbathing on the opposite bank which we both thought was terrific.
We then headed to our last stop of our Kimberley tour which was in King Leopold National Park. We stayed at the campsite at Silent Grove and headed to Bell Gorge for our last morning walk and swim. The walk was pretty average until you reach the top of the waterfall which was particularly beautiful, but then you cross the river and descend the rocks to get to the swimming plunge pool which was gorgeous. The waterfall was a 5 tiered cascade into a big pool of water, seeing as it was the last opportunity we had for a fresh water swim I stripped down to my swimming shorts and got in...FREEZING! I only stayed in for 4/5 mins and had to get out, Bethany then got in as well but couldn't manage much longer than a minute. It was just so cold. But a great way to finish our trip. We then headed to Derby to see the old prison that was used to imprison Aborigines during the 20's to the 50's or 60's in pretty horrible conditions, and then had a look at the Boab Tree Gaol which they think was used as a holding point when Aborigines were being brought to the prison in Derby. After that we headed to Broome and dropped off our beautiful van ready for our flight to Perth.
With our road trip completed we then headed south to visit 3 sets of friends to finish our time in Australia. Jim and Kellie moved from England to Yanchep (an hour north of Perth) in January and we've known them since school, George and Desi have lived near Melbourne for years, Bethany has known Desi since she was 4 when they met on a European road trip that both sets of parents were taking them on, so we met up with them last time we were in Australia and have been in touch ever since, and then there's Ginny and Zoe who we've known since school as well, Ginny being one of my ushers for those of you who might remember him from our wedding last year, and who are now living and travelling in Australia like we did 5 years ago, living just outside Melbourne city in St Kilda.
So we flew from Broome to Perth and were met by Jim at the airport who took us to their new home in Yanchep. They live in a lovely location, about 15 mins walk to the beach, and a bit longer walk in the other direction to a forrested national park, with the luxury of one of the best climates in Australia seeing as we had beautiful blue sky and 20 degrees for the two winter days that we were there for. It was great to see them again, especially seeing as they've had a baby boy called Harrison since arriving in Aus, and they seem to have settled in very well. Even though they've spent 6 months here already it seems like they haven't really stopped since they got here, firstly trying to find a house, then redecorating, as well as becoming new parents, having both sets of parents over and of course a couple of travelling bums. Thanks for putting us up for a few days guys, it really was great to see you again and who knows, we may be back soon, big hug to Harrison too
Jim dropped us off at the airport so that we could fly to Melbourne, our last stop before heading to Indonesia. We were met in the city by George who took us back to their house in Point Cook, about 30 mins from the city to meet Desi again as well as their children Pearl and Spencer. When we were here last time Desi gave birth to Pearl and when we left she was about 10 months old. We saw them again in England when Pearl was about 18 months old, and this was the next time that we saw them, so it was really nice to see Pearl now she's five years old a doing all the things kids love to do, like our neices and nephews do at home. It was great to see Spencer as well, he's a lovely little boy who always seems content, they are lovely children, a credit to the parents I think. We spent 4 days with George and Desi, revisiting a few places we'd been to together last time, visiting new places that we didn't know about purely for the reason of convincing us to move to Melbourne, and spent a girl's night and boy's night respectively at Crown casino in the city. Bethany continued her excellent form at casinos by not winning a single bet, and I managed to come out with the same amount that I went in with. Thanks to George and Desi as well for making us very welcome as usual, it was great to see the kids again, looking forward to meeting up again whenever that might be
Our last visit was to Ginny and Zoe's house in St Kilda, we set of on the Friday morning (Ginny's birthday) and dropped our bags at their place and spent quite a bit of time just catching up, it had been aout 8 months since we saw each other, and for people who normally saw each other most weeks that's quite a lot of catching up. We then went to one of the biggest Aussie Rules games of the season at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) where Collingwood lost to Carlton, probably because we were cheering for Collingwood. Then we had a morning at Queen Vic Market taking in all the Australiana, me and Ginny both bought a pair of Saints socks for the AFL game that we went to that night - St Kinda against Essendon. I have supported the Saints ever since our last visit and because Ginny lives in St Kilda he also supports them, and luckily Zoe's cousin had arranged Medallion Club tickets for that game so we felt rather spoilt turning up for the game, which the Saints won comprehensively! A great way to finish my AFL viewing. Bethany and Zoe went for a meal with Zoe's work friends whilst we were at the game and we all met up afterwards and had a right giggle. The (very late) morning after brought a big breakfast and a nice leisurely stroll around the city for the day, as well as some hilarious antics at the park where Ginny nearly uprooted a tree after falling off a simple looking play thing that makes you dizzy. Our last day was beautiful, we hired a car and visited the Dandenongs just outside Melbourne and basically drove through the villages stopping at various points to admire the quirky shops, cute walks and amazing artwork at the William Ricketts centre. It was just brilliant to see Ginny and Zoe again and we had such a fantastic last few days in Australia with them. Once again thanks for the hospitality and thanks for spoiling us rotten. Can't wait to see you again hopefully in Thailand and we hope the next few months in between then and now are just incredible for you!
Well that brings us to a close, we've arrived in Indonesia, spent a lovely first day in Jakarta at the Jakarta fair and are now planning the rest of our (hopefully) 2 months here. I say hopefully because there was a time that we thought we might get deported before even getting through customs but that's a story for another day.
Hope you are all well. Speak to you soon. Normally I'd leave you with a few more piccies but seeing as there's already a shed load in here I shall give it a miss this time, but thanks for reading :D