Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Reef, The Rainforest and The Jump

Hola comrades,

As the next leg of my journey fast approaches, I thought it high time I update you on what I have been up to since arriving in Cairns just over a week ago! As those of you who are on Facebook will have possibly noticed, I have been a busy girl and I have completed my first ever scuba dive (on the Great Barrier Reef no less), spend a night at Cape Tribulation in the world's oldest living rainforest and completed two bungee jumps recently. I will start with the Reef!

As most of you will know the Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven undisputed natural wonders of the world, and is so big it is visible from space. My expectations of the reef were based on postcards and Finding Nemo - which are arguably pretty accurate since the reef is just as stunning as you hope it will be, and sure enough Nemo and his pals are frolicking away down there in the colour-drenched corals. I headed out there last Friday, on a gorgeous sailing boat called Ocean Free - the very same boat my sister took out there 6 years ago - and tried my first proper scuba dive. I was more than a little nervous, given that I had tried diving when I was about 15 in a swimming pool back home and had really struggled with the breathing. I was prepared to get in the water, freak out and commend myself for at the very least giving it a go, but instead I found myself struck with the determination that since I was at one of the most beautiful places in the whole world, I would bloody well scuba dive. (This is a new, no-nonsense addition to the various voices in my head - and it sounds suspiciously like my Grandma.)

So naturally I was chosen (along with my friend Sam) to go first. We had parked up on the reef near a gorgeous island aptly named Green Island (they don't miss a trick these Aussies) and I was strapped up with a ginormous tank of air and all sorts of contraptions I was told not to worry about. The first challenge was standing up with all the weight of the gear, and the second was jumping into the water without dislodging your mask or breathing apparatus. I had visions of landing in the water and dropping like a stone, only to be found weeks later half eaten by sharks - but thankfully no such dramas occurred and I swam over to the side of the boat to cling on for dear life. As I was waiting for Sam to jump in, I tested the breathing by sticking my face in the water and immediately panicked at the sight of some HUGE fish all swimming around the boat. Before reaching total hyperventilation I remembered that I was in fact in the sea and fish were to be expected, and before I knew it I was excitedly scanning the water for anything interesting (i.e. I was looking to see if I could see Nemo yet).

As soon as Sam and I were both in the water and feeling good, our instructor took us each by the hand and we started our descent into the darker depths of the ocean. The first thing she pointed out was a giant clam, which slammed shut as she brushed her fin over it - then there was the obligatory hand gesture that pointed out Nemo was in our midst, though the clownfish we saw were a different colour to the usual orange hues. I smiled to myself before remembering facial expressions led to leaking masks, and had to put up with water sloshing around my nose for the next half hour. We also saw black tipped reef sharks (cue another (very different) facial expression and more water in mask) before we went even deeper to scope out the corals and the parrotfish and the various other creatures of the deep. Put simply, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I am now thinking about doing a PADI open water qualification - something I never thought I would have the balls to do. Ignore anyone that ever tells you that snorkelling the reef is just as good - nothing compares to really being down there, just you and your breathing (and a good underwater camera) and the whole Great Barrier Reef stretching out for miles in front of you. If you ever, ever turn down a chance to experience that, you are missing out on something extraordinary. I loved it.

After our dive we went snorkelling for a bit, then headed to Green Island where my friends and I got a mojito and sat on the glorious white beach. If that's not paradise, I don't know what is! :) We then did some more snorkelling (during which I managed to skin my knee on coral) so I had to head in a bit early as the only image in my head was a shark four miles away smelling breakfast. I was the only one to emerge from the sea bleeding profusely, and it was only while my instructor was pasting orange crap over my leg that I learned the dodginess of coral wounds. Did you know if you don't disinfect one, the algae can live in your skin and can resurface in your hands and all sorts over the rest of your life?! I have been blasting it with industrial strength dettol ever since. After being patched up, we set sail back to the mainland for a leisurely two hour trip home and were fed cheese, wine, cake and fruit, which makes for a very happy Ashley. It also turned out to make for a very sunburnt Ashley - NB Piz Buin 'one-day-long' suncream does not work on the Great Barrier Reef, or indeed anywhere in Tropical North Queensland. The term 'one-day-long' really ought to read 'one-hour-then-you-get-roasted' and my pink shoulders, forearms and other non specific areas have only just stopped glowing. Needless to say, I am finally able to sit down without discomfort, which really is an advantage in 30 degree heat.

The day after the Reef trip, I was picked up by the AJ Hackett bus and whisked off to try bungee jumping - another 'sport' I had long doubted I had the courage for. My sister and my dad, both being adventurous sorts, have bungee jumped before (with my sister's last jump topping 200m) so I felt that if my old man and my sis could do it, a 45m jump in the rainforest really should be a piece of cake. Alas 45m on paper seems like not much at all, but 45m from the top of a tower half way up a small mountain overlooking the ocean is another story altogether. When I am afraid I become extremely business-like and resist showing any said fear. I strolled in and nodded solemnly at all the risks as they were explained, and paid ridiculous amounts of money to have the whole episode filmed for DVD. Of course on the inside my brain was asking questions like, what will they do if this kills me? Will they let my mum and dad have the DVD for free? Would my last moments be recorded with a bloodcurdling scream, or would that ridiculous techno music blasting from every speaker obscure it?

Of course to the casual observer I just looked a tad pained - as if this was some slightly unnecessary detour on the way to a very important business meeting I was going to later. As you can see, my head is a very complicated place to occupy. All the insanity aside, I skipped off up the tower (with a slight retracing of steps once I remembered I would not need my handbag up there) and after three million flights of stairs later I was there. At the top. Ready (!) to throw myself into oblivion with just an elastic band attached to my feet. Goodbye gentle world, goodbye ma and pa, farewell sister dearest, all the best Marks and Spencers, and toodlepip to everyone I have ever known and loved... but no. As you can see, I survived. God knows how.

When your name is called, you have to strap on a waist harness (cue totally inappropriate memory from PGL and you saying weirdly, 'we don't do dangly bits' to the totally bemused bungee man) and then you are sat on a bench while a towel (yes, a towel - the kind you lie on on a beach) is strapped around your legs. I looked from the towel, to the tattooed man, to the drop and back again and accepted that I might actually die doing this, so I resigned myself to cheerfully pretending not to care. Soon enough I was being told to shuffle to the end of the platform and to wave at the camera man a few metres below. Then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and I just sort of jumped. I had practised this part in my head - a very elegant, Pocahontus style swan dive, body all long and graceful and emitting not a squeak as I serenely (and in slow motion) fell towards the earth. Not so. When you jump, the first thing you notice is that gravity is really bloody strong, and you are freefalling towards the ground at remarkable speed. I made a noise I have never heard before - somewhere between a girly scream and a moose bellow and a few seconds later the bungee kicked in and I was flung up in the air to face it all for a second time. Quite frankly, it was the scariest thing I have ever done. You dangle upside down for a bit until you stop swinging about like a mad woman and then the burly man in the boat below catching you trapeze style and lowers you onto the boat. I have since watched the DVD of this and my second jump - there is no elegant Pocahontus moment, just me jumping with my legs in the fetal position, being flicked around like a ragdoll on a string. And they very kindly zoom in on your scrunched up red face just as you land on the boat, so all in all, it is not the most elegant of activities. The second jump was actually scarier than the first, and for a moment of two I wondered if I could do it again, but the determination to achieve the swan dive was still there so away I went. Amazingly, I look completely identical in the both jumps, so I have accepted that elegance (which eludes me for the most part as it is) would not be part of the bungee experience.

I also did a Minjin Swing, which was far more enjoyable and much less scary than the bungee jump. I did it with a girl named Amanda, and you are strapped into an outfit that looks like a big apron, then you are dangled horizontally from a rope and winched up 45, so you hover around the rainforest canopy. Then you have to pull this cord and you go flying through the air at 135kmph and it is all very fun and exciting and playful. It is the poor man's bungee to be honest, but it is a great way to finish your day and to help dissipate all the tension that the jumps have built up. I am incredibly proud of myself for jumping though, and I can probably safely say that I would be totally fine with never doing it ever again. :)

After the bungee day I headed up to Cape Tribulation for a few days chilling in the Daintree Rainforest. Cape Tribulation, so named because that is the point at which Captain James Cook's problems began, is the only place in the world where two world heritage sites meet - namely the rainforest and the reef. It is full of mangroves, swamps, giant palm trees, lizards, insects and cassowaries. Cassowaries are huge birds - and they look like the result of an orgy between emus, peacocks and turkeys. They are extremely endangered and territorial, with one female cassowary controlling an area of 21km squared, so it is very rare to see one. There are hundreds of warning signs with cassowaries on them (which look like parachutes with turkey heads) along the road as they are often killed by cars. They are 6ft tall and the girls eat 15-20kg of fruit every single day. We were lucky enough to see one on our guided tour of the rainforest - she was very weird and looked like some sort of genetic experiment gone awry - she would definitely look at home in Jurassic Park. But since they are so rare, it was really exciting to see one.

We also went on a river cruise in the pouring rain along the Daintree River and saw a couple of crocs and a kingfisher, though to be honest once you have done the Top End, crocs just aren't as exciting down here. Up in our hostel in Cape Trib it rained and rained for the first day (sort of to be expected given its the rainforest and not the sunforest) and I went to bed fairly early with my book. On our second day the sun was out in force and we headed down on a long walk to Mason's Swimming Hole, a popular place to swim in the creek nearby (despite croc warnings 200m downstream). As I was strolling through the rainforest I heard my name called, and turned to find a girl I had known at school! Such a small world. It was a lovely surprise to see a familiar face in the middle of nowhere, and totally surreal. I will be catching up with her when I get down to Melbourne (where she is studying for the year) which is something nice to look forward to! After swimming we headed to the glorious Myall Beach and took lots of very Paradisey photos and read our books for a bit.

On the way back to Cairns, we stopped at Alexandra Lookout and saw the area where Steve Irwin was killed, and we also went to the Mossman Gorge, which is a gorgeous (freezing) swimming spot and finally to Port Douglas which is gorgeous. I almost wish I had stayed there instead of Cairns as it is a beautiful little town (popular with celebs in fact) but alas there is no time for regrets, and my journey is taking me southward. Cairns is not what I expected by any means - it is bigged up an awful lot by backpackers and to be honest I have been a little disappointed. It doesn't help that a German backpacker was attacked around the corner from my hostel three weeks ago, and I have not felt particularly at home here. My initial plans were to stay here and work for a couple of months but following my snap of homesickness last week and my general dislike of Cairns itself (not the Reef and the Rainforest of course!!) I have decided to move on. Thus the beauty of travelling alone. On Friday I am heading south by Greyhound to Airlie Beach, where I will spend two days and two nights on a boat sailing the Whitsunday Islands (picture below!). As my Bavarian friend Sabine puts it, 'the money is running through my hands' so I have to find a job in the next few weeks. If not Airlie Beach, then Brisbane! After Airlie I have planned a trip to drive 4WDs and camp on Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island and home to the purest dingoes in Oz. Then it's Brisbane baby!

That's all for now folks. Love and snuggles xxxxxxxxx

(Ps - all photos are mine except the one below!!)

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


Hello one and all,

Although I am now in Cairns, I have many exciting things to tell you from Darwin and a smidgeon from my last day in Alice Springs to share! I will confess that I have had a sudden and unexpected attack of homesickness (no doubt brought on my excessive dreaming about Marks and Spencers) so I am here to regale you with my tales of fabulous adventure in a sly effort to make myself get a grip and remember that I am living the dream!

My last day in Alice was really good - after checking out of my hostel and leaving my bags behind, I took a stroll to the Alice Springs Desert Park - which is 7km outside of town. Not quite the most gentle of strolls since I arrived red faced and shiny after an hour and a half walking in 30 degree heat with a 3kg handbag! (suffice to say I immediately on arrival booked the $10 shuttle bus back for the afternoon!) The Desert Park is a great little place with free audio guides, so you can walk leisurely around the park and look at the three different types of desert areas - dry rivers, woodland and the bit with the red sand. I learned loads about all the plants (mostly now forgotten) and saw hundreds of different birds (though I was mostly excited by the flocks of wild budgies that kept appearing!) and saw plenty of beautiful desert scenery. People assume because the desert is so dry that it is dead (or at least, I mostly thought this) but in fact the desert is teeming with life! My favourite part was the nocturnal house, where you could see all the various creatures you would never normally see. I fell in love with the Mala wallabies, which are nearly extinct due to the introduction of foxes and feral cats from elsewhere. They are very cute, and there is a nature reserve in Western Australia that is entirely devoted to looking after them and shooting cats on sight. Not good for the cats, but very good for the mini skippies out there. Saw lots of geckos and snakes too, though they are incredibly hard to spot in the dark! And hunting for the stick insects was like where's bloody wally. (All the pics in this entry are my own by the way - finally got a new camera and got the pics off the old one)

After the Desert Park I jumped back on the Ghan for another 24 hour trip and headed towards Darwin. Now the Ghan is very sneaky with the way it makes money, as it likes to stop in the middle of nowhere for up for 4 hours and you are forced to pay your way out of boredom. In the case of the journey north, the train stops tantalisingly close to Darwin at a wee place called Katherine, which is home to the famous Katherine Gorge. Instead of killing time on the train, I elected to go canoeing, thinking that there would probably be a group of us and we could have a merry old time paddling around in circles for a couple of hours. Instead, I was loaded onto a bus full of elderly people and told that I was the ONLY person in a train of several hundred that had elected to canoe, at which point I was promptly shoved out of the bus and directed towards the canoe hire. I expected that there would be a guide or someone; some health and safety insurance policy that required I be supervised at all time etc etc. But no - I was pointed to the paddles and lifejackets by a guy who seemed more or less completely stoned and stuck in a canoe. As I was paddling out I made a joke about crocodiles, to which he replied that this area was 'infested' (seriously, no one EVER wants to hear the word 'infested') with fresh water crocs, but that the salties (the ones that eat people) only come up when the wet season starts (a month from now) and oh-don't-worry they only get salties once every couple of weeks. But I was in the canoe and I was floating away and it was way too late to chicken out, so away I went. I should mention at this point that the last time I canoed was when I was about 10 at PGL.

When you are fearing a sudden and unknowable death however, you figure these things out pretty quickly and I was soon paddling along, taking a few pictures (most of which are wobbly due to the extreme shaking of my hands). To cut a long story short, canoeing in the Katherine Gorge was one of the single most incredible things I have ever done. Not just because I eventually gave up on the fear and embraced the chance of a watery grave, but because the Katherine Gorge is simply stunning. It is like canoeing through Middle Earth - and I temporarily renamed myself Ashwen of the River Deep. (It is safe to say that being alone merits a certain amount of craziness.) It was the single most peaceful place I have ever found myself. I even stopped shaking after the first hour. :)

Back on the Ghan, I resumed talking to Sabine, a girl from Bavaria that I started talking to in the station at Alice. We agreed to meet up that evening in Darwin, and she brought along Catharina (from Holland) who was in her room. The Vic is a tacky pub in Darwin which does a free meal when you buy a drink - though after two nights of soggy chips and questionable lasagne you start to reconsider the word 'free'. The following day I booked tours to Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park, at which point we met Litten, a med student from Denmark who we persuaded to join us in Litchfield for the day. We then spent the afternoon together the four of us and then saw one another every day for the rest of my stay. They were my favourite thing about Darwin - travelling becomes so much more exciting when you have lovely friends to share it with! I was also lucky enough to get three lovely girls in my room in the hostel, so Darwin was really looking good! We went down to Aquascene, which is a daily fish feeding that happens in Doctors Gully off the Esplanade. Hundreds of fish come in with the high tide to be fed by hand! It was very cool and a totally unique experience. One of Darwin's quirky attractions! We also went to the waterfront - a little man-made lagoon near the harbour where it is safe to swim due to the big croc fence keeping the nasties out. It was lovely to swim - as it was 35 degrees that day and incredibly humid. The following night we did the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets which were loads of fun - with yummy food and arts and crafts type stuff.

Litchfield was the next adventure - it is a couple of hours from Darwin so we took a tour out there, which did a Jumping Croc cruise on the way. The Adelaide River is home to a lot of salty crocs (not somewhere you would want to swim!) and on the cruise they dangle meat off a long pole and the crocs leap out of the water to get it. Seeing my first huge croc was pretty scary - they look absolutely prehistoric and all you think when you see them is 'why is that dinosaur still alive?' It was an awesome cruise and I got to hold another snake too, which was fun (though the snake man did not look happy when I told him Tiger the Centralian Carpet Python felt just like a handbag I have back home...)!

After the crocs, we headed to Litchfield to see the giant termite mounds, which are over 12m high. The termites take 10 years to make 1 metre, so they were often 120 years plus!

We also went to Wangi Falls and went swimming in the waterfall, which was stunning. You literally feel like you are in a shampoo advert! You can't help but think you're in Paradise - it was breathtakingly beautiful. We also swam in Buley Rockhole which was also stunning. It is so different to the UK, it feels otherworldly. If you are ever in Australia, head north. It is worth every cent.

After Litchfield I did Kakadu, which is the more famous of the two. Kakadu is full of sweeping rock formations and bright Aboriginal cave art, as well as waterfalls and rivers. We did a walk to the top of a big rock to look out at the view which was incredible (I am running out of words for beautiful!) and then we saw the cave art, some of which was several thousand years old. Kakadu has such a rich history with its Aboriginal keepers, and it is inspiring to see hundreds of years of dreamtime painted over the rocks.

We also did a cruise on the South Alligator river (a total misnomer - there are NO alligators whatsoever in Oz - only crocs) and saw loads of birds and more crocs and some generally beautiful things. It was 38 degrees in Kakadu which was extremely hot for my poor British body, but I am gradually getting a bit of of tan, so that's making me feel a bit better about it. It's hard not to wilt in the heat when you are 6 shades paler than your average person!

After my last day in Darwin (complete with waterfront swimming and more market time) I bid farewell to my Darwin buddies and went to the airport at 2:30am for a ridiculously early flight to Cairns. After an hour sleeping on a couch at the airport, followed by the most uncomfortable flight I have ever taken (even worse than Ryanair!) I arrived in Cairns at 8am, looking like the back end of a badger on a bad day. I spent yesterday half heartedly exploring the town, and today I went north to scope out a job I will not be taking (two weeks working in a bar on Osborne Road has put me off bartending for the rest of my life) so tomorrow I will get a grip and go find some things to do. I am hoping to bungee jump while I am here, as well as explore the Great Barrier Reef. I am also thinking about heading out to Cape Tribulation to see the rainforests there, and might do a tour of the Atherton Tablelands too since they are so close. I was originally planning to stay longer in Cairns and work here, but so far I am not in love with the place, so I am considering heading south a bit sooner and hunting for work a bit further down the coast. Who knows eh! We shall see :)

That's all for now! Miss you all - you guys are never far from my thoughts and I feel so lucky to have such incredble family and friends back home. Thank you as ever for your unfailing support, especially when I ring up feeling sorry for myself. Lots of love to the UK - and someone please send my love to Marks and Spencers.


Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Ghan, The Alice & The Rock

Hello from Alice Springs!

I arrived in Alice on the Ghan Railway, which runs from Adelaide in the far south to Darwin in the far north. The journey between the two is just over 48 hours, and the main stop in the middle is Alice, so I got off here for a few days in the red centre. Despite the fact that 24 hours on a train is appealing to almost no one, it was a fabulous way to see the outback and the vaste amount of Australia that is totally unpopulated. The sunset on the first day was a mixture of burnt orange and dusky yellow, which gradually gave way to this incredible lilac light that you can only truly find when you are in the middle of bloody nowhere. The Ghan itself is quite nice really - despite being in the most economy seats (most people opt for tiny cabins) there was loads of leg room and the seats reclined quite a long way. The man in the seat next to me (who was large and mustachioed) disappeared during one of my naps and never returned, so I had a bit of room to myself. One of the funny things about such a long trip is that you can take people watching to the next level - instead of glancing at the people walking past the window of Starbucks, you get to see a window into a day in the life of your train buddies. My favourite was Lanny, who was about my height, had a huge flower arrangement in her hair, two pierced eyebrows, two nose rings and bright blue finger nails. She was about 70. Nearby were a Japanese couple who had three pairs of shoes each around their feet, including (but not limited to) trainers, crocs, slippers and heels. They also seemed to have brought a kitchen with them, as across the 24 hours I saw them produce 2 loaves of bread, 1 pot of jam, 1 squeezy mayo, 2 whole lettuces, 4 tomatoes, 4 pints of milk and a box of cereal. Very strange.

I have worked out that the train takes so long for 2 reasons - it chugs along at about 60mph and it stops for up to 3 hours at a time randomly along the route. One such example was at Port Augusta (a town I can safely say is not worth visiting) where we were told we could 'explore the station and not stray far' for an HOUR. Never one to find a barren station all that interesting, I trotted off to town and got myself some dinner before returning to find that some people hadn't even left the train! Back en route we were treated to regular tannoy announcements about our whereabouts and sights outside (shrub, shrub, shrub, wild horse!, shrub, shrub) which was amusing. We were invited at the start of the trip to have our photos taken with the train crew, who were each introduced with a round of applause. To my shock a queue formed and people were duly snapping pictures of the crew - so that gives you a little idea of what they are like. I can only assume this is for the Americans. (By the way, none of these photos are my own as I have been an arse and forgotten my camera cable!)

In the morning when we woke up we were in the outback, which is very nice if you are looking at it from an air conditioned train, but not so nice if you are stranded out there on your own as it is one of the most hostile environments in the world. If the heat doesn't kill you, the snakes, spiders and other such beasties probably will. The outback does have a rugged charm of its own, though I can't imagine swapping my leafy dreams of suburbia for a small station out here. The earth is richly red which is of course one of the iconic elements out here. All in all, The Ghan was a great way to see some of the middle of Oz, and I can look forward to another 24 hours of train when I shimmy up to Darwin on it tomorrow.

Alice Springs is the biggest town for hundreds of miles, which ought to lend it some charm, however I have not been greatly moved by this place. My hostel, The Haven (clearly a misnomer) is close to town which is great, but the atmosphere is a little lacking and the bathroom in my dorm smells like swamp. I had to tell the disdainful voice in my head (which had started up a round of oh god, oh god) to shut up, and I reminded myself that I am woman, I am invincible etc etc. The first person I met here was a Brit from Harrow of all places so it was obvious from the start that I am going to meet many, many Brits. I made some friends with the girls in the dorm and we went out for a beer and whathaveyou which was great. Unfortunately they all left at 5am the next day, so I spent Friday wandering around Alice on my own, which was surprisingly good. The shopping sucks but I went to the Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame which was so good. It is only small and run by volunteers, but in the middle of rural ish Australia there is a place dedicated to celebrating the fantastic achievements of little-known women who worked the land, fought for Aboriginal rights and raised scores of orphan children as their own. It was lovely. I left feeling very inspired and feministy. I then dropped into the Reptile Centre (despite hating most reptiles on the basis of fear) and was told not to worry if a big lizard was strolling around the place, and that I could stroke his back (!) but under no circumstances was I to touch his head or tail. Lovely. I stared uneasily at all the most deadly snakes snoozing in their tanks, and hoped there were no parceltongues strolling around for a Chamber of Secrets sort of a moment, then went outside to meet Terry, who is a saltwater croc from Darwin. He was not very friendly but he obligingly snapped his huge jaws in my direction for a photo. They did a talk too, and I managed to shake off my fear and hold a beared dragon and let a blue tongued thingy lick my face! Australia is doing funny things to me clearly. I also (much to my own surprise) volunteered to hold Barry, a huge olive python, who promptly wound himself around my body and licked my neck. I am so proud. I am woman!, etc etc.

Yesterday I took a day trip out to Uluru (also called Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (also called The Olgas). The park out 460km southwest of Alice and it is the equivalent of driving to Newcastle from London for a day trip (clearly foolish as Newcastle is best at night). However two five hour coach trips did not scare me (24 hours on a train makes 5 hours seem like a picnic) so I left Alice in the dark corners of 5am to head south. Uluru and Kata Tjuta are both very sacred to the Anangu Aborigines, who have lived in the area for 10,000 years plus, and it is generally regarded to be one of the key things to do on a trip to Oz. I met an Aussie called Janine on our tour and we got on like a house on fire which was great. (I have learned that I am a great person for sharing - I love to share experiences with everyone, and when you have no friends in a country thousands of miles away, you have to befriend everyone in sight in order to do so. It also helps because it is not easy to take a pic of yourself in front of a huge landmark without some help.) Anywho, we headed to Kata Tjuta first of all and went for a walk around it. It is quite different to Uluru as it is made up of several domes (Kata Tjuta is in fact Anangu for 'heads many') but it is also very impressive, and it has a great presence. The whole area around it is wonderfully tranquil.

Uluru is however the main attraction and it is exciting to see it standing solemnly on its own. It is such an iconic, familiar image that you cannot help but stare at it. It is so sacred that the Anangu ask you not to climb it, but unfortunately idiot people ignore them and there is now a visible white scar on the face of the rock where they have walked. We went for two walks around the base with our guides (which was great as there were only 10 of us in our group)and saw lots of Aborginal cave paintings. There are so many stories behind the rock - every crevice, wave or indent has a tale behind it (often of an angry snake or a naughty lizard). It is very powerful, that is for sure. We had a sunset BBQ (the sunset that never happened due to a thick cloud base) and headed home, watching Crocodile Dundee en route - a movie that, despite being iconic, has very little in the way of a plot. Once we were back in the middle of nowhere, the clouds lifted and we could suddenly see thousands of stars and the milky way. I don't know if it was the rock, the stars, or the exhilaration of the day, but I felt charged with energy, and spent the last two hours of the trip staring up out of the window at the perfect sky.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


So I have finally found some time to sit down and regale you with what I have been up to since I arrived in Australia some 10 days ago. I am currently living it up in Adelaide with my godfather and his family which has been amazing. Given it is my first time backpacking - and backpacking alone at that - it has been so comforting to have somewhere to call home while I settle in to the Aussie lifestyle (which as it turns out is not so different to English life, except for good weather and better wine). I have to confess I really scoffed at the idea of it being 'winter' here, having seen on the weather that the Adelaide winter is often about 17 degrees this time of year but it has been bloody chilly since I arrived! Having packed almost no warm clothing (it's Australia for crying out loud!) I have pretty much lived in the only two jumpers I brought with me. Often worn one on top of the other while I huddle with the dog by the fire in the lounge.

Aside from the hurricane style winds and rains that accompanied my first three days here the weather has been fairly decent considering this is the coldest winter Adelaide has seen in decades. It was quite a balmy 20 degrees (only one jumper required) this weekend at the coast, where I went to my godfamily's beach house in Carrickalinga (which has to be the best name for a seaside town in the world, ever). I saw my first kangaroo on the way down which was really exciting, followed my my first sight of kangaroo roadkill, which was only slightly less exciting. My GF took me out on his boat for some 'touristing' and some fishing, which is one of the highlights of the trip so far. We found a whole load of sealions sleeping on the rocks on the cliffs (I really wish I hadn't asked about the great white sharks at this point as sealions and seals are literally their bread and butter, and as my GF cheerfully told me, they do indeed come this close to the shore and yes they are still around this time of year). We also went fishing for snook (best name for a fish ever?) and caught one, at which point my triumph withered away into yelps of DON'T GET IT NEAR ME! as it flopped about in my GF's hands. Squid are very popular here and are often served BBQ'd with salt and pepper (why, god, why?) and we (my GF) caught three, including one that inked everywhere. You have never truly seen it all until you have watched a squiggly slimy creature shoot mucus-y ropey black snot all over the back of a pristine white boat. Ick. The best bit of the trip for me was when we found a pod of wild dolphins (infinitely more successful at catching squid than yours truly) and played with them for a good 15 mins. They came up very close to use and even swam along side us under the bow. I have never seen anything like it! The fear of great white sharks dissolved as I found myself hanging off the front of the bow to watch these beautiful creatures play. It was truly a magical moment!

Adelaide itself is reknown for being very beautiful, which is very true in some parts (alas not in the main shopping street of Rundle Mall, which looks like the place 60's architecture came to die). Its Saturday Market is a fantastic hub of local life and character, and I had a lovely Malaysian meal with my GF and his wife down in the China town area. The River Torrens runs through the city, and it's catchment creek thingys are all over suburbia - the parks all have these gorgeous streams which makes walking the dog totally idyllic. Architecture aside, the shopping in Adelaide is pretty good and though I haven't really bought anything yet (what with saving my dollars for food and shelter and all) it has been lovely to see the Aussie fashions and whatnot. I have also realised that one of the benefits of being a literature student (or indeed anyone who loves reading) is that wherever you are in the world, you can feel totally and utterly at home in a good book shop. I like to visit the books if I get a wave of homesickness! A nerdy but comforting Mecca - and Borders even has a little Paperchase which was way more exciting than it should have been. :)

Adelaide also has the Adelaide Hills on its doorstep and my GF's wife and I went up to Hahndorf in said hills this week. Hanhdorf is a popular tourist trap as it is an old German settlement. It is pretty and would be quaint if there weren't signs screaming about bratwurst and other German wares, because as we all know, bratwurst was designed to be a hilarious word, and not in any way cute or charming. The village looks more North American than anything I have ever seen in Germany! We found the most incredible shop at the very end of the main street called Chocolate at No. 5 (like Chanel!) and I had the single best coffee I have ever had! In the UK an iced latte is just milky coffee with a couple of ice cubes, but I was presented with a tall glass decorated with frozen melted chocolate, filled with gorgeous coffee and topped with ice cream! I am starting to like this country rather a lot.

We also went for an amazing organic lunch and then an amazing glass of vino (Australia has seduced me with its Reisling wines!) and we went out to Mount Lofty viewing platform to view the view. You could see everything! Truly beautiful (even in the rain) and so expansive. Australia is so BIG. You just don't realise when you look on a globe because it is so removed from all the other big countries, but it is huge.

So what next? Well I have decided to completely reverse my original route since I don't want to be cold and wet any longer than I have to, so I am now heading up towards Darwin next. I am taking the Ghan Railway up to Alice Springs on Wednesday - it is a 24 hour train journey through the outback and it is meant to be one of the most breath taking train journeys you can take. I am thinking of it as the Orient Express of Oz, though I will of course be slumming it in coach as opposed to living it up in the private suites (which cost about $3000 compared to my super awesome deal of $149!). I am staying in Alice Springs for about 5 days and I am hoping to get out to Uluru (Ayers Rock) for a day as it is meant to be stunning. I am then jumping on the Ghan again for another 24 hours up to Katherine, then Darwin. Got about a week in Darwin where I am hoping to get to Kakadu National Park to see some crocodiles and whatnot, then flying to Cairns on 20th Sept for who knows how long. They money will be pretty thin on the ground by then so I am planning to get a job in Cairns and stay there for a while. It's reputation as the party town of the north makes me nostalgic for my own party toon of the north so I have a feeling I am going to fit in just fine. :)

Just want to end by thanking some folks. First of all, Ma, Pa and Sis for being incredibly supportive and very good at emailing. Second of all, to all you lovely folk who wrote me plane letters - I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are all warm, kind and hilarious people and I will cherish those letters forever. And finally, and most importantly, I dedicate this blog (not much to offer but I have made them cupcakes!) to my godfamily for being so welcoming and so kind - you have put me up for two weeks and you have made my first taste of Australia really wonderful. It means the world to me.

That's all for now folks. Oodles of love to you all back home xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

PS - to all who were concerned, they DO have crumpets here and they are HUGE. at this rate i will be emigrating here. :) xx
PPS - photos to follow soon hopefully!