Destination: Asia

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This trip started with an invitation:IMG_5502

My friends Linh and Paul were getting married, as she is from Vietnam their wedding was to be in Ho Chi Minh City – and I was invited!

Having never traveled in Asia my plans grew a little bigger than originally intended, but let’s be honest, once the first flight is out the way why not make the most of it.

So Vietnam extended into Singapore, which extended into Bali.

I had been wondering when I would be able to meetup with Lauren during 2018, but Linh kindly invited her along as well, and so everything began to fall into place.

Lauren and I would meet up in Vietnam, spending a week there before traveling to Singapore for a few days. From there Lauren would return home while I extended my trip by meeting Katja in Bali.

Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City was everything I was expecting – and more. The traffic was truly crazy. Scooters everywhere, constantly weaving in and out of the other traffic and pedestrians. It was also non-stop, even through the night.

The wedding was magnificent; an amazing experience. As Paul, an Australian, only had limited friends and family present, we all had the privilege of being part of the proceedings themselves. The generosity, friendliness and welcome of Linh’s family, our hosts, as well as the wedding itself, will live on in my memory for a very long time.

One of the advantages of visiting a new country and meeting up with a local, is they can show you some of the places that only locals will know. During the day, Lauren and I enjoyed the many tourist sights, but in the evenings we visited various different restaurants and cafe’s. One in particular was a coffee shop which was located down a tiny alley and up a couple of poorly lit flights of stairs. We really weren’t sure where we were being taken!

IMG_5702One delicacy served for dinner … chicken salad including head and feet.

IMG_5662A number of the tourist sights we visited …..

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Ho Chi Minh City really was crowded, noisy, constantly on the move, but it was amazing to see, feel and experience. The contrasts between street markets and shopping centers; between different restaurants and hotels, were often extreme. But it was definitely a place I am better for having visited. And with the incredible, once in a lifetime experience of Linh and Paul’s wedding an incredible trip in every way.

Singapore

IMG_5787We left Vietnam on the 21st June heading for Singapore.

Lauren has a plan to visit 30 countries by the time she reaches 30 years of age and so we made a plan to tick off two while we were in Asia.

A short flight took us to the city state and what could have been a completely different world. Leaving behind the traffic chaos and noise, we arrived to a calm, quiet and extremely clean country.

IMG_5889The skyline from the roof of our hotel, Hotel Jen Orchardgateway, was incredible. OuIMG_5910r hotel in Vietnam was, I would say, very traditional with its service, decor and appearance. Hotel Jen was again the polar opposite; very modern in every aspect. The corridors were reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise and on the one occasion we had room service it was delivered by Jeno.

IMG_5881While the city isn’t huge the subway system is exceptional; a tourist travel card gave us unlimited trips which we made full use of in order to see all the sights. It is strange when you get on a train at the front and realise there isn’t a driver. It certainly gives you a better idea of what the tube drivers in London experience every day.

IMG_5895There are many sights in Singapore which are simply unique; the Marina Bay Sands Singapore is just one such place – a spectacular building which you can see across the water during the day and which really comes to life when lit up at night. It is possible to go up to the roof top bars and restaurants but by the time we found the entrance, and saw how much it would cost, we decided to give it a miss for now. What an excuse to go back!

Adjacent to this are the Gardens by the Bay, which again are a night time spectacle with their towering plants lit to perfection presenting a futuristic other worldly sight. The largest and tallest of these “plants” houses a restaurant in its canopy.

IMG_5852The Merlion is the official mascot of Singapore. It combines the fish body representing the city’s roots as a fishing village, and the lions head represents it’s original name – Singapura meaning “lion city”.

During many of our travels in Europe, and other parts of the world, Lauren and I have taken the opportunity to visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission sites and so we ensured that we were able to do the same here in Singapore.

Kranji War Cemetery is the final resting place of over 4400 casualties of the Second World War, 850 of whom remain unidentified. The cemetery also contains 64 First World War burials and commemorations, including special memorials to three casualties known to have been buried in civil cemeteries in Saigon and Singapore, but whose graves could not be located.

IMG_5825 ThLong BarRaffles Hotele Singapore Sling was invented by Ngiam Tong Boon, a bartender working at the Long Bar in the famous Raffles Hotel, sometime before 1915. Unfortunately the hotel was under going extensive renovations so we couldn’t see the bar itself but we did try the cocktail in their “pop up” bar – and it was definitely worth it!

At the end of our short visit to Singapore Lauren and I said our goodbyes and headed off in different directions, to separate parts of the globe.

Bali

My final destination being the Ayodya Resort, Nusa Dua, Bali. Having never traveled to Asia I was now in my third country in just over a week.

While the first part of my holiday with Lauren was about seeing the sights and experiencing the culture, Bali was about relaxing and enjoying a slow pace and being looked after.

Katja arrived the day before me and checked in first. This had the unexpected benefit, from my point of view at least, that the hotel only recorded her name against the room and as such she had to sign for all the drinks!

During our wIMG_6036eek at Ayodya we made sure that we tried all the restaurants and bars; the swimming pool and sea; beanbags on the beach and day beds by the pool. We also enjoyed the dance theater dinner, the dancers by the beach and the spectacle of a couple of Indian weddings.

We ventured off resort only twice to a local shopping area, Bali Collection, just so we said we had, generally preferring to enjoy cocktails while relaxing in the sun.

One exception to all this laziness was a game of squash towards the end of our stay. We weren’t sure who was more surprised by this show of physical excess, us or the member of staff at the courts who clearly hadn’t seen any other idiots wishing to play that day!

All round this was a great trip, from Linh and Paul’s wedding in Ho Chi Minh City to lazing on the beach with a cocktail in Bali.

Three different countries; three different worlds; one amazing adventure!

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Destination: Uluru, Part 4

Day 9 : Wednesday 21st December : Peterborough to Louth via Darling River Road

homewardThe trip was very much one of four clear sections and now we were into the fourth and final part; our route home.

From Peterborough we headed for the New South Wales border before going on into the outback town of Broken Hill.

broken-hill-streetThe town is as far west as you can travel from Sydney before leaving the state. It is known as a mining town and was where the worlds largest mining company, BHP Billiton started; the “BH” in their name actually stands for Broken Hill. Coffee and lunch were well received before heading on. There is much to see in this small town and so it is another place on the ever increasing list of “must return to” locations.

Our destination for the night was Louth on the banks of the Darling River. The bonus of this was another section of unsealed road. At Wilcania we refueled and took a left turn out in to the wilderness again.

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louthA relatively short 223km brought us into Louth. Shindys Inn offered an ideal camping spot for the night within a small grass covered field to the side of the main building. I mention this primarily as grass had not been easy to come by at many of our previous stops, but here it was plentiful and soft, perfect for camping. A couple of beers also went down well in the bar before retiring for the night.

Distance covered; 703 km.

Day 10 : Thursday 22nd December : Louth to Mudgee

From Louth we drove to Bourke and breakfast. This small outback town is known for it’s historic architecture and it was certainly a lovely place to take a walk and explore a couple of the gift shops.

Our intention was to have a slightly easier day of driving, but as we still had a considerable distance to travel it was important to press on.

Again the scenery had changed and we weimg_3016re driving through fields and lanes not dissimilar to those in the UK, but for the variety of trees which lined the road.

We past through Dubbo with a short stop so that Maria could buy herself a proper Aussie outback hat from an outfitters that Phil knew near the end of the high street, and on to our overnight stop at a campsite in Mudgee.

img_3017As this was to be our last night under canvas a couple of bottles were opened to celebrate. After so many nights away setting up had become routine and so we were soon resting with out feet up enjoying some good food and great wine.

Distance covered; 595 km.

Day 11 : Friday 23rd December : Mudgee to Sydney

img_3021More treats and traditions were to be fulfilled along the route home today.

Packed and ready to go, I just needed to sort out the driver!

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wineFirst stop was Logan Wines. A nice bottle of white, cheese and biscuits made for a wonderful breakfast. We also tried a couple of their reds with both Phil and I buying some to take with us. It was interesting to taste two wines made from the same grape but different locations, Mudgee and Orange; the taste being very different.

img_3023Not normally one for spending so much on wine, they were exceptional, even to me, so that coupled with the incredible location and the very interesting back story to the name “Ridge of Tears“, saw me part with some cash! Just need that special occasion to open them.

img_3031From Logan’s we took a short detour to Windamere Dam. A good opportunity to stretch our legs before pushing on.

It seems that when ever we head out towards Lithgow for a day on the tracks our meeting point is McDonalds. It therefore seemed appropriate that we call in on our way back to grab a coffee.

As you drive out of Lithgow up into the Blue Mountains you pass through a point which would have been the highest of our trip. While I can’t recall the exact elevation I know when I check previously it is higher than the majority of the mountains in the UK, with the exception of those in Scotland.

Our second traditional stop in this area is for apple pie and ice cream in Bilpin; it would have been awful to have missed out. This area of the Blue Mountains is known for its apple production. Not only are pies in abundance there is also a well known cider producer located here.

And so finally at about 5pm we arrived back where we started; Cafe Geo, Lane Cove North.

Distance covered; 270 km.

img_2559After over 6500km the trip was done. Our destination, Uluru, had been reach and so many amazing places visited, both on the way and way back. We had traveled sealed roads and unsealed ones. Motorways and country lanes. Seen kangaroos, camels, dingos, emus and more. Viewed salt lakes and pink lakes. Driven through mountains and deserts. We had even taken our cars below sea level while in the middle of this great continent of Australia.

img_3033It was a whistle stop tour which provided magnificent views on every stretch of road we traveled, as well as a long list of places to revisit and dwell in a little longer.

And memories – so many wonderful memories.

We started at Cafe Geo and so it seemed only appropriate to finish there, 6673 km and 11 days later.

Now to choose the next destination and plan a whole new adventure.

TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED; 6673 km / 4146 miles

Destination: Uluru, Part 3

Day 7 : Monday 19th December : Erldunda Roadhouse to Williams Creek

It is safe to say I had no idea what to expect on this part of the trip. While I am well aware of the nature of the iconic Outback tracks, I am not one for studying them in detail and I certainly wouldn’t be able to name any beyond Birdsville. So when we decided to travel back via the Oodnadatta Track it didn’t mean a whole lot to me, other than dust. While today’s overall distance wasn’t as great as some others, the unsealed section was certainly going to slow us down and so an early start was needed.

img_3068First stop was Marla, a roadhouse on the edge of the Stuart Highway and the perfect place to grab some breakfast, a coffee and to contemplate the track to come. This was a 255km section of nice smooth tarmac, the last we would see for a couple of days.

From Marla we took a left turn and headed out into the unknown on the Oodnadatta Track.

ood-track

What an experience; what amazing views; hard to contemplate just how remote we were; how far from any form of civilisation or even other human beings.

Even with lowered air pressures traction was often hard to find sending the car sliding or snaking. Breaking and corners were contemplated with extreme care; you are always on the lookout for a cattle grid, floodway or pothole which could cause damage if taken at speed. When this remote you really don’t want any damage.

While we have UHF radios in both cars so can scan the airwaves and call for help, these only have limited range. No mobile signal or satellite phone and so extra care was taken to avoid any need to make an emergency call.

210km of gravel track took us through to the small town of Oodnadatta. The town grew around a water hole as a stop over for the Afghan cameleers as they worked their way from the south up through to Alice Springs and beyond. In 1890 it became the terminus for the Great Northern Railway and remained a stopping point when the railway was extended in 1929.

oodnadatta

After the railway was dismantled in the early 1980’s the town became a centre for the indigenous population.

Many remnants of the railway still exist as you drive the track. Stations, workers cottages, bridges and watering points, complete with desalination plants.

I love history and so was perhaps a little disappointed that time didn’t allow us to stop and explore all of the structures along the way. The heat was also a factor which simply emphasised the harsh, remote and extremely dangerous work the railway workers undertook.

railway

Afghan Express : Having returned home I have read up a little about the railway which was originally called the Great Northern Railway but become known as the Afghan Express and later, and even to this this day, simply as The Ghan. The story goes that one of the cameleers was in a hurry to get through to Oodnadatta and so the name “Afghan Express” was born.

On YouTube I found the following program which was recorded back in 1980 as the original Ghan railway was coming to its end. While dated in their appearance they do provide a fascinating incite into a bygone age of the railways and how the towns we traveled through looked back in their day: The Ghan is Going, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

I have read somewhere that Australia has the largest mob of wild camels anywhere in the world. These animals are not native to the continent but were imported from the middle east, along with their handlers, the cameleers, in order to move goods, assist with construction of the telegraph and then the railway. As mechanisation increased with the railways and then trucks the need for the camel reduced. With no work there was no money to feed them or to pay the licenses that government imposed. The Afghans named every camel as they were far more to them than simply an animal and so when they could no longer feed them they simply set them free to run wild and survive if nature allowed. It was from these beginnings that the wild camels of Australia grew.

track-and-fliesAt one point a long the track we thought it had begun to rain. You could hear the rain drops hitting the windscreen. Not rain but flies – millions of them pelting into the car as we drove!

We continued on the track to our overnight stop at Williams Creek. A remote roadhouse hotel and the permanent home, we were to discover that night in the bar, to just two people. The following day the owner was flying out on business and so the official population would be just 1! The town, settlement, hamlet – not really sure what to call it – is made up of the hotel, camp site, petrol station and air strip. They are very proud of the fact they have a sealed landing strip as well as a grass one and are part of the emergency search and rescue network. When an emergency beacon is triggered in this part of the world they would be dispatched to fly out and establish the nature of the incident.

williams-creek

While the food was interesting, we were warned by the cook that she wasn’t very good, the drinks were cold and the stories about the area and way of life fascinating to hear. A storm blew through as we were in the bar, the noise of the rain hitting the tin roof deafening, followed by the lose of the television picture and then failure of the generator. The owner reestablished the power within a few minutes but the isolation was compounded at that point.

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Post Script: Generally when I’m traveling I like to try and write the outlines of my posts at the end of each day. Sometimes this can just be notes, other times it’s complete bar the addition of pictures and links. The reason for this is the amount I forget as time goes by. So much can happen during the course of a day it’s too easy to miss a detail if I try and catch up later. Destination: Uluru was written after our return, several weeks later for some elements, and as such some small details were missed.

One such item was the story of the “Second Best Outback Pub“! For several days prior to visiting Williams Creek Phil kept telling us that he had read an article which listed the Williams Creek Hotel as the second best pub in the Outback. The second best! Not for us the best, but only the second best! This became a standing joke leading up to our visit, and continued as a source of amusement after, mainly at the expense of those on the rest of the list. if Williams Creek was the second best, just what are those on the rest of the list like!

Well it turns out that number three on the list is The Pink Roadhouse, Oodnadatta. We had tried to get a drink here as well but it was shut! Perhaps if it were open it may have been number two!

Update: 21 January 2017

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Flooding : During the week after Christmas heavy rains affected both Uluru and the Williams Creek areas. Pictures of waterfalls on the rock were posted by every media service, particularly here in Australia, but also around the world. During our drive along the track we commented many times about the size of the riverbeds and the rocks that were littered within them. They were dry and dusty as we pasted through. It was impossible to contemplate the amount of water needed to fill them.

The following pictures were posted on the Williams Creek Hotel facebook page and show clearly what happens when the rains come. Without doubt we would have been cut off if this had happened while we were there.

floods

Distance covered; 665 km.

Day 8 : Tuesday 20th December : Williams Creek to Peterborough

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img_2878We packed and headed out of Williams Creek reasonably early. There was a lot more gravel to drive today and it is essential on these surfaces to drive to the conditions.

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About 100km along the track from Williams Creek you get your first view of Lake Eyre, or the south lake to be more accurate.

The lake has a number of claims to fame – it is the lowest point in Australia at 15m below sea level (where we pulled over to have a better look we were 12m below sea level), when full, which doesn’t happen very often, it is the largest lack in Australia, and perhaps most interesting to an Englishman, it was the site of Donald Campbell’s 1964 land speed record,a YouTube video of which can be seen here. Note the series Land Rover doing its bit!

The view out over the lake was, like so many things we have seen, incredible. It simply went on as far as the eye could see. It is only when you look at a map you realise that what you can see at this point is only a small part of the lake as a whole.

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We pushed on.

Our time on the Oodnadatta Track was coming to an end. After 547km we were about to turn right on to Borefield Road, the name doesn’t seem appropriate for a track in the middle of no where, and head for Olympic Dam, one of the largest mines in Australia.

We had thought this to be an open cast mine, but chatting to a conservation ranger we found out that it was all underground, with tunnels big enough to drive the huge dump trucks down into the center of the earth. After doing our right turn we had noticed a large pipe running alongside the track. At one point what appeared to be a huge pumping station had been constructed. The ranger told us this was for taking the waste water away from the mine where it was pumped deep under Lake Eyre. You have to hope that this is done with the best possible precautions as Olympic Dam Mine has the largest deposit of uranium in the world!

Now back on tarmac we pushed on for our overnight stop in Peterborough, skirting the Mount Remarkable National park.

Distance covered; 665 km. (Amazingly the same as yesterday!)

Destination: Uluru, Part 2

Day 4 : Friday 16th December : Coober Pedy to Uluru

We had another long drive ahead of us but our destination was now very much in sight. A few days before we had booked ourselves a special treat for when we reach Uluru and so we had a deadline to achieve.

roads

Having left Coober Pedy we headed north on the Stuart Highways for 490km before turning left on to the Lasseter Highway for the final 260km into Uluru. Had we not had a couple of breaks along the way this would have been our only turn!

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One of our stops was at the Northern Territory border, the forth state we would enter on this trip. After this I only have Western Australia before being able to say I have been to all the states in Australia!

Not sure why but it seemed like an amazing achievement to have reach this far!

Continuing on our next short break was to check out the amazing sight of Mount Conner which appeared off to our left.

img_2640So far I had been happy just to push on and reach our destination, but increasingly there were places I would have liked to have visited. Unfortunately when time is limited you simply cannot stop and admire every sight; but you can note them and go back. Mount Conner is one such place that is on my list.

As you approach Uluru the rock slowly comes into sight. It is without any doubt an amazing sight. After such a long lead up to this trip and an incredible drive over the preceding fours days our destination didn’t disappoint. Uluru is truly one of the wonders of this world; impossible for me to describe or for my photo’s to do justice. All I can say is if you haven’t already, go visit. Everyone needs to see this place!

uluru

As we were slightly ahead of schedule we headed straight for the national park to get a closer view. When we arrived the temperature was 40C+ and so while we did take a walk to get up close and personal, it was a short one.

Uluru, as most people are aware, is a sacred site for the local indigenous population. I had heard before going that while climbing the rock was still possible it was discouraged as a point of courtesy. When we arrived the climb was closed because of the extreme temperatures. A sign near the climb entrance stated that the park was working towards closing it on a permanent basis. While not wishing to cause controversy, I really don’t understand what there is “to work towards”; just close it. You don’t need to climb this place to appreciate its size, magnificence and wonder!

img_2655Our campsite for the night was at the Ayers Rock Resort; this wasn’t a difficult choice as there are no other camp grounds any where nearby. We setup, had a much needed shower and header off for the evening.

uluru-1As mentioned previously, we had decided to treat ourselves for reaching our destination. We booked “A Night at Field of Light“; watch the sunset while drinking a glass of the sparkling stuff – or beer as my companions preferred – followed by dinner under the stars, a talk about the constellations and then a walk through the the Field of Light, an art installation by Bruce Munro.

It was a brilliant experience and the prefect way to end the first leg of our journey; too much to drink, amazing food in the middle of nowhere (not sure how they managed to produce such good food in such a location), good company, both my fellow travelers and the other guests around our table, and an incredible view of both the rock and the stars.

Distance covered; 750 km.

Day 5 : Saturday 17th December : Uluru to Kings Canyon

After a late night and too much fun it was a very early start!

It is essential to see Uluru at both ends of the day and while our alarms were set it was still a struggle to get up and going after the night before. Rather than pack all our gear we simply emptied the back of my car – currently I only have the two front seat – and set off on a mad dash to make the viewing point in time. It is safe to say my car isn’t made for quick corners and so Phil had a rather uncomfortable journey.

However we made it, just, and what an incredible sight.

The Outback is amazing in the way that it transforms as the sun moves across the sky and the light patterns change. Uluru was truly spectacular in the dawn light. Every bit as magnificent as it was during the sunset the previous evening.

An amazing experience. An amazing adventure. An amazing destination.

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img_2702Having had four long days in the car, today was to be a little easier; if you can call 320km in +40C temperatures an easy day!

img_2704We left the Ayers Rock Resort after a leisurely breakfast and headed for the Red Center Way and our next stop, Kings Canyon. A much steadier progress giving plenty of time to enjoy the views.

Once at the canyon we took a slow walk. The temperature hadn’t let up; there was a storm in the air which increased the humidity and discomfort further.

At the canyon car park there is a sign giving details of the various walks. One was around the rim of the canyon itself. Without doubt it would have been incredible, but there was an almost vertical 100m “staircase” climb to get to the top! Thankfully, due to the extreme temperatures, the walk was closed so we didn’t actually have to bottle out.

kings

Instead we took a gentle stroll along the canyon floor which provided spectacular views up the almost sheer walls. The sights were just amazing adding to the ever increasing list of incredible, spectacular, sights we had seen so far on this journey.

One negative however, were the bloody flies! They were everywhere and extremely persistent.

Camp for the night was at Kings Canyon Resort. Hot showers, cold drinks and very tasty pizza’s. A quiet and relaxing evening.

kings-1We hadn’t seen that much wildlife on our travels so far. A few kangaroos as we left the campsite in Baroota and emu’s on the side of the road in various places but that was about it.

As we drove through the campsite there was a sign warning about dingo’s and advising caution. We didn’t take much notice other than to make a general comment, but as we walked back to the bar we came across a female scavenging for food. One more species for our list.

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Finally before bed we decided to take a walk out to the sunset viewing platform. None of us were sure we had the energy but it was definitely worth the effort. As the sun slowly descended a storm began to build. It had rattled around earlier in the day and now it was back. The clouds building combined with the lowering sun to create some incredible colours in the sky and across the hills in the distance. At one point fork lightening struck the canyon in the distance to complete the impression that the gates of hell itself were opening.

Nature can certainly beat any man made light show when it decides too.

Distance covered; 320 km.

Day 6 : Sunday 18th December : Kings Canyon to Erldunda Roadhouse via Alice Springs

Breakfast and then off. Our destination today was back down the Stuart Highway in preparation for the next step of our adventure.

I said at the beginning of part 1 of this blog that we had a destination but no defined return route. There were a number of options, one of which was to take a track north of the Simpson Desert back round to Birdsville. Well that will have to wait for another time because in the end we decided to head south and a track which, to be honest I hadn’t heard of before, that would hold a whole new set of memories and destinations to which one day I would like to return.

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From the campsite we hit the first proper dirt road of the trip heading for Alice Springs. While we had seen plenty of red dirt over the past few days this was our first experience of really being part of it. The proper Red Center!

It is true to say I am beginning to run out of different ways to describe just how incredible the scenery is. I have used “incredible”, “amazing”, etc., so many times but still this journey and this country continued to give new views, new scenes and new memoirs. If you are reading this and can’t get your head round what I am trying to describe then get on a plane, hire a four wheel drive and get out there. If you don’t drive anywhere else in the Outback do the Red Center Way. You will not be disappointed and I have no doubt you will end your holiday knowing that you have experienced a real Australia adventure.

camelsSomewhere along this section we came across some wild camels. Australia has the largest population of wild camels in the world, but more of that later. I have included a picture which unfortunately isn’t the best as we were too far away, but it does go to prove their existence.

glen-helenAs we continued towards Alice Springs we crossed through the West MacDonnell Ranges. img_2788So much to see but no time! However we did make a couple of stops. First at the Glen Helen roadhouse, sorry Homestead Lodge to be correct, for a cold drink and a short break in the cool and then at the Ellery Creek Big Hole where one of our number was brave enough to go for a swim – she was warned about the wildlife but we decided if the worst happened one less passenger would increase my cars fuel economy.

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As today was Sunday it turned out that Alice Springs was shut! Well that may be a little unfair but we did try and get something to eat in a bar but they didn’t server food. We tried to get some beer for the evening stop but all the bottle shops in Alice Springs are shut on a Sunday – this apparently being due to a considerable problem with alcohol abuse in the area. Woolworth’s was open, just, so we stocked up on provisions, found a McDonalds to grab some lunch, they never close even in the very center of Australia, and headed south to our overnight stop.

Our final 200km of the day was down the Stuart Highway on nice smooth tarmac with a cold drink and dinner waiting for us.

Distance covered; 530 km.

Destination: ULURU, Part 1

While dates and routes were only finalised a short time before we set off, the destination was never in any doubt. Neither Phil or I had been to Uluru and the opportunity for me to undertake a proper Outback Adventure was way too good to miss.

img_2560While we both had our cars, me a Land Rover Defender and Phil a Land Rover Discovery, there was an awful lot of other stuff to get sorted before we could set off.

The list for me seemed almost endless and without doubt the credit card took a huge hit. Tent, sleeping bag and bed, cooking equipment, table, chairs, fridge, awning and so it went on. There were also the bits for the car itself such servicing, a new tyre, two way radio, etc., etc., etc.

Once we settled on the start date for our adventure, Tuesday  13th December, everything began to come together. We even managed to set out our first three overnight locations although the return journey was to remain undecided until we got to our destination.

By Monday afternoon pretty much everything was packed, loaded and ready to go. Maria, who was joining us for our trip, arrived from Brisbane on Monday evening and so we were set for a very early start next day.

Day 1 : Tuesday 13th December : Sydney to Balranald

6am Cafe Geo, Lane Cove North, the designated start of our journey to Uluru.

But first some breakfast!

Rigged and ready to go, we set off about 7am heading west out of Sydney through Katoomba and the Blue Mountains. Our route took us through Bathurst, past the icon Mount Panorama motor racing circuit and onward.

Today was all about distance and covering the miles, but none the less we got our first feel of the amazing scenery to come. This was particularly the case along the Stuart Highway between Hay and our overnight stop of Balranald where the land became flat and increasingly baron with a huge sky that carried on forever.

img_2565Our stop for the night, after over 10 hrs driving, was the Yanga Woolsheds near Balranald, a spot Phil had visited on a previous trip. This was my first opportunity to set up all my gear and make sure that not only was it all complete, but that it all worked. Only one minor problem was a missing part on my brand new ARB awning. Of all the things which could have gone wrong this was simply an annoyance, and easily resolved as it turned out.

img_2576As always when I go travelling my faithful sidekick Safari Bear was on hand to make sure that we didn’t get into too much trouble or lost somewhere in the Outback!

Distance covered; 875 km.

Day 2 : Wednesday 14th December : Balranald to Baroota (Port Augusta)

Again we needed to cover the miles with a good 8 hours driving ahead of us, before we added a slight detour. Maria made a couple of phones calls once we were on the road and managed to locate a replacement for the missing awning part and so we headed for ARB Regency Park, Adelaide. It seemed rather strange saying we would be there in approximately six hours but this didn’t seem to phase them. Distances and journey times are very different in this country.

Having left our camp site we soon crossed our first border into Victoria, which also meant the first time zone change. Only half an hour this time but sufficient to leave us a little confused about what the time was until we got back in to New South Wales some days later.

We continued to head west crossing through into South Australia; not only did we have another time zone change, but we also had to go through a quarantine station which required us to give up all our fresh fruit and vegetables. For one of my companions the loss of oranges was almost too much to bear!

At some point along this route, but unfortunately I didn’t note exactly where, we got a sight of one of South Australia’s pink lakes. Although I had read about them before the trip I wasn’t expecting to see one. The colour, which is very pink, is caused by an algae not minerals as I had previously thought.

The detour into Adelaide was very successful with the missing part waiting for us when we arrived as well the fly screen awning room Phil wanted. This proved a huge benefit a few nights when it was almost impossible to do anything for waving mosquitoes, and other insects, away.

For reasons I can’t quite remember Port Arthur was mentioned as a possible destination for dinner. Which was an interesting choice as it soon became apparent that Phil was actually thinking of the penal colony in Tasmania. However, on checking the satnav’s we realised that there was actually a Port Arthur in South Australia and it was roughly on our route – clearly it would seem wrong not to visit.

Although Port Arthur is available to select on our various navigational devices and is shown on Google Maps – feel free to check – there isn’t actually anything there! Not a single thing! No buildings, nothing. Just a road straight through empty fields. Have a look on street view. Having checked google while writing this section I have discovered that it is listed as one of South Australia Lost Towns! This became another standing joke of the trip – who suggested going to Port Arthur.

By this time it was getting late and we wanted to be off the road before it got dark. Kangaroos start moving about at dusk and they haven’t yet been taught their Green Cross Code; hitting one could well end our trip. As it was on our way we pulled into Port Pirie and had dinner in a local pub. An interesting experience; one of many on this trip.

img_2572While eating Phil found a camp ground at Baroota (Rodeo Campground) which proved to be an excellent choice. Although wet and muddy as we pulled of the track we were met by the owner who pointed us towards his brand new barn which provided the perfect cover for our camp keeping us nice and dry as it poured with rain over night.

Distance covered; 700 km.

Day 3 : Thursday 15th December : Baroota to Coober Pedy

From Baroota we headed north on the Stuart Highway for our next overnight stop and a place I have wanted to visit for some time; Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world.

But first we had a long distance to travel.

There were three things that we experienced while driving this section of our trip which will stick with me …..

The long straight roads! Several times we stopped just to look at where we were heading and where we had come from. The roads were straight heading off in to the distance with nothing around but hot, barren earth.

At one point the main highway had been widened and signs posted at each end of the section to designate it as an emergency landing strip for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. Its when you see things like this that you begin to realise just how remote the area is.

Following this link to see exactly where the RFDS planes are flying in real time.

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img_2599Next came our first Road House. As with any long, remote, trip you always have your eye out for the next fuel stop, in my case I generally had to refill twice a day. Spuds was one such stop on the junction between the Stuart Highway and Olympic Dam Road.

Not far on from Spuds, out of the right hand side of the car, you will see Lake Hart. A shimmering white salt lake which appears to go on for ever. My picture doesn’t do this incredible natural wonder any justice. In the heat and bright summer sun it was just truly amazing to behold.

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img_2606We pulled off the highway and stood on the railway track to take in the full wonder of the view. This proved to be our first proper “off road” driving of the trip, albeit just a few hundred yards.

coober-pedy-outback1Coober Pedy was exactly as I expected, having seen it a number of times on the the TV.

coober-pedy-outback2You know you are getting nearer as the number of man made earth piles increases almost to the point were the entire landscape is disrupted by mining. The process, as I understand it, is rather simple. You did a shaft, lower somebody in and if there is an opal you keep digging; if not you start again. And so it goes on. The evidence of this is everywhere you look as you approach the town. Clearly some people have struck lucky, or simply got better organised, as their spoil heaps are considerably bigger.

img_2614The town itself is very functional, dusty and as I would image mining towns in the Outback have looked ever since man started digging holes. It is a small town with only the necessities, grocer, bank and of course a bottle shop. There are a few concessions to visitors such as the Underground Hotel, working mines to be toured and an underground church. All except the church were shut when we arrived.

As the summer heat is extreme in this part of Australia many people choose to live underground where the earth maintains a manageable ambient temperature all year round.

The Stuart Range and Highway were named after John McDouall Stuart who was the first European explorer in the area. He was the first to complete the South to North crossing of the continent which he achieved in 1862. The plaque in the photograph below commemorates this achievement.

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Distance covered; 600 km.

 

Visiting the Old Country, July 2016

UK visit number three for 2016!

Although I have a few plans for this trip I am not sure which will be achieved and which will be postponed. While I am likely to have two further visits this year I don’t want to postpone something and then find I run out of time.

I landed back in the England late on Thursday 23rd July. Having applied to renew my drivers license while in Australia, my new one being delivered to Lauren, it dawned on me the evening before my flight that trying to pick up a hire car with an out of date license may not be a good idea, and so I was meet at Heathrow by my smiling daughter with my license and the new DVLA driver history document – what a great idea that isn’t.

Friday was about sleeping and working, but Saturday was about getting out. Lauren wanted to go to a shop in Cheltenham and so we headed up the M40/A40 skirting Oxford and on into Gloucestershire.

The Wholefood Store was apparently some form of heaven, although to be honest it did little for me, after which we grabbed lunch and then took the very scenic route home.

The Cotswold Hills, through which we travelled back, has to be one of the most picturesque parts of England. The rolling farmland, open countryside and little villages with their honey stone coloured cottages. Dotted about are the huge manor houses now owned by the rich and famous, purchased in order to live within a quintessential, but bygone, age. An escape from the hustle, pressure and noise of the modern age.

File_000(6)There are absolutely no bad places to visit, it is all about the time available or any preferences you may have. The Rissingtons (upper and great) or the Slaughters (upper and lower) are all well worth a visit along with the better known locations of Stow-on-the-Wold and Burford.

Our first stop was Broadway. a beautiful small country town with a wide, shop lined street. As you would expect there are numerous gift shops and tea rooms to tempt a visitor.

File_000(7)Having  stretched our legs and visited a couple of our favourite shops it was backed to the car and on to Bourton on the Water, another very special place. The river runs through the middle of the town with small bridges crossing it at a number of locations. Again there are the gift shops and cafes that you would expect, but there are other attractions as well which means it is always busy, especially when the sun is shining.

We took a slow walk all round the town looking in various shops finishing our visit with the essential ice cream by the river watching the ducks swimming up and down.

Saturday was quiet, relaxed and rather easy going ….. Sunday on the other hand was going to be LOUD!!

Goodwood-festival-of-speed-LogoNever having been before, this was a long planned trip. The Festival of Speed is held at Goodwood each year and attracts the very best of cars, manufactures and racing drivers. Nico Rosburg, currently leading the F1 championship, was on site during our visit, Jenson Button having been there the day before.

As well as the sales and display areas featuring every car maker you have ever heard of, and a few you haven’t, there are a huge number of cars on display which take part in one of the key features of the event – The Goodwood Hill Climb. The 1.16 mile track starts in the centre of the show ground and then races past Goodwood House and on up into the woods.

All types of car take part from the vintage pre-war cars to modern Forumula One machines. During the day we saw Martin Brundle take Jenson Button’s 2009 world championship winning car up the climb followed my more recent F1 cars. For the first time I really understood what the fuss is all about over the noise made by modern F1 cars – they are certainly quieter than the older ones!

A great day, a great experience, definitely one I would recommend.

Road Trip, December 2015

For reasons I cannot start to explain I have so far failed to write up my first Australian road trip and so, while it is rather late, I thought I would make an attempt so there is some record of this momentous event.

December 2015 and Lauren was coming over to join me for my first Christmas in Australia. As part of her holiday we planned a road trip to Brisbane. Two days up, a day there and then two days back getting us home in time to complete the final arrangements for our Christmas in the sunshine.

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Safari Bear has accompanied me on all my major adventures from my trip to Nordkapp in Norway, the most northerly point of main land Europe, to the edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco, and so as he had arrived in Australia with Lauren it seemed only appropriate that he should be part of this journey as well.

 

 

Saturday 19th December

Packed and ready to go, we headed north out of Sydney with a view that we wouldn’t make our first stop until well past Newcastle. From the Pacific Highway our first detour from the main roads was towards Mungo Brush and the ferry across the lakes blocking our way towards Seal Rocks.

 

IMG_0803On the way we saw a sign which just needed to be investigated further – The Tallest Tree in NSW! The Grandis, Eucalyptus grandis (flooded gum), near IMG_0802Bulahdelah, New South Wales. Circumference: 10.07 metres. Height: 70.5 metres.

Next stop was Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse at Seal Rocks. Readers of my blog will be aware of my fascination with these buildings and will not be surprised to know that this was the first of many visited on this trip.

In fact, while we made many stops and detours on the way, out next location was another lighthouse, this time Smoky Cape Lighthouse in Hat Head National Park. It was while here that Lauren had her first sighting of wild Kangaroos. A small group were grazing in the picnic area near the car park.

IMG_0846Lauren had found all our accommodation via Airbnb.com which meant that not only were we staying somewhere different each night, each location was somewhat unique. Our first night was spent at “Nestled in the Treetops” in Valla, a truly magnificent house up in the hills completely away from the world.

Distance traveled : 700km

Sunday 20th December

ChristmasBefore continuing our journey we took a short detour to Valla Beach in order to take our Christmas family photo. It was already extremely hot that morning and so we got a few odd looks from the locals. This wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously although many people seemed too.

From Valla we followed the coast road as much as possible through Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga before heading inland to Grafton and following the Clarence River back towards Byron Bay.

IMG_0854At Woolgoolga we stopped to admire the Sikh temple.

A short stop at Byron Bay confirmed immediately we needed to go back and spend more time there. Plans were made to come back on Tuesday before we headed to our overnight stop Tugun. Having dropped off our bags we took a drive to Gold Coast – not a place we will be rushing back to.

Distance traveled : 440km

Monday 21st December

IMG_0876Today is all about Brisbane.

In many ways Brisbane is all about its river of the same name, but what amazed us was just how quiet it was – I guess having become so used to the continuous hustle on Sydney’s harbour a waterway with so few boats seemed very strange.

 

IMG_0915We parked the car under South Park and surfaced next to the Christmas Market and a short walk from the famous “beach” which was packed with kids of all ages having a brilliant time. Crossing the river via the Goodwill Bridge near Queensland’s Maritime Museum, we walked up through the Botanic Gardens and past Old Government House which is now part of Queensland’s University of Technology.

IMG_0890This part of Brisbane is full of magnificent old buildings, some still used for the purpose with which they were constructed, others converted for modern needs but retaining their original facades. One such building I wanted to visit was the IMG_0908Commissariat Store Museum, but unfortunately it is closed Mondays! One for another day.

The Museum of Brisbane was not only open but extremely interesting and so we sent a good couple of hours out of the heat learning the history of the city and surrounding areas.

Tonight’s accommodation was in the Mullum Hills, Wilsons Creek, back towards Byron Bay and near the small town of Mullumbimby – remembered for its magnificent name!

Distance traveled : 268km

Tuesday 22nd December

We had promised and so it was to be ….. An early start saw us back in Byron Bay.

First we headed for Cap Byron Lighthouse before the crowds descended. The views out over the bay were truly magnificent. Breakfast next and then a long walk around the town looking through the eclectic mix of shops. A friend of mine, Steve, had traveled to Byron Bay back in the late 80’s and had said then there was little more than a back-packers hostel and pub – how times have changed. An amazing town with an a great atmosphere. Having visited I can understand why it is so popular and has been been for so long – although I’m not sure I could exactly explain it if anybody asks.

IMG_0933IMG_0938Next we headed south to Yamba and the Clarence Head Light and a replica of the original Clarence River Lighthouse which was in a style we would see again; several times.

IMG_0945Having had wonderful weather for out trip so far, it decided to change as we arrived at Tacking Head Lighthouse and so this was a very brief visit – just enough time to tick the lighthouse off my list and take a few photographs.

Our final stop of the day was Port Macquarie and so a steady drive in grotty weather was the order for the afternoon.

Distance traveled : 755km

Wednesday 23rd December

IMG_0961There were two sights we wanted to see in Port Macquarie. First was the Koala Hospital, the nearest either of us have been to these lovely creatures, and the second was Roto House which happened to be right next door. IMG_0972The house was occupied by the same family from when it was built until 1979 and houses a fascinating history of the family, their life and expansion of the area.

 

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Time for one final lighthouse, this time at Crowdy Head, before heading home.

Distance traveled : 440km

A trip to remember …… first of many I hope!