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Australia tour

(pic: The Twelve Apostles) Australia and Tasmania tour: 7th Jan - 14th Feb 2003 AUSTRALIA / TASMANIA – PART ONE: Apologies first of all for the tardiness in the appearance of the Aussie page, but we have found that there is a real paucity, nay scarcity, of Internet cafes in Tasmania, so here we are in Launceston, doing a quick update before heading off back to the “mainland” of Australia. Wednesday 7th January: Qantas flight QF36 took us safely from Christchurch to Melbourne. The flight was a bit bumpy a times (pilot obviously using the old “gravel road” again, although he blamed turbulence and a 100mph headwind.) Got through customs and immigration at Melbourne in jig-time (compared to previous experiences in NZ and the paranoid States) and before we knew it we were once again in Aussie. Spent 3 days in Melbourne, having found a nice room in the comfy and friendly Richmond Hills Hotel near the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). It was great to be in Australia which is so very different from NZ, which seems quite parochial and unexciting in comparison. That must be why the New Zealanders invent and resort to all those adrenalin-rushing adventures to spice the place up a wee bit. Melbourne immediately oozed a sense of excitement and a buzz compared to our earlier arrival in Auckland. Melbourne (pop.3,2m) is Australia’s 2nd largest city and is the most European of all Oz cities: ornate 19th century architecture and spacious public gardens – this has bred an innate confidence and serious sophistication amongst its citizenry – a fact which apparently gets right up the noses of the Sydneysiders way up in the north. Waves of European migrants arrived in the 1950’s followed by Asian migrants in the 1970’s. This all added an immeasurable colour, richness and variety to a former conservative state. Now the city delights in its ethnic differences, creating a very cosmopolitan and vibrant city. We saw the city sights – courtesy of an excellent integrated public transport system – the trams are just great. Why can’t the UK learn from the rest of the world and get a proper city transport system in place? One that links in with all the different modes of transport – rail, bus, tram, etc. It is not rocket science after all! Strolled past the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), where we watched with fascination and horror the demolition of the old Members Stand (circa 1920) – huge pile-drivers smashing, pushing and pulling at the edifice until it came crashing down in clouds of dust. Having not paid homage to any movie/TV locations recently, we took tram & bus out to the Melbourne suburb of Glen Waverley and found the fictitious “Ramsay Street” in the “Erinsborough” which is the outside location shoot venue for the TC soap Neighbours. Pin Oak Court (aka Ramsay Street) is just a normal suburban cul-de-sac in a very leafy Melbourne suburb. Two tour buses (full of mostly young folk) were just leaving as we arrived, so we had the street to ourselves. I must admit here to being a Neighbours fan, so this visit had to be made! Then back to city and out to Albert Park – the venue for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in March every year. The normally quiet loop road around the lake in Albert Park gets transformed overnight into an Armco-protected high-speed motor-racing circuit. Even Schumacher would not recognise it in its day-to-day mode: 40kph speed signs, pedestrians, folk walking their dogs, cars cruising slowly by. Also visited the St. Kilda area right on the waterfront – an area of bohemian folk, smart eateries, craft and arty-farty shops and a host of amazing cake shops located on Acland Street. Definitely not for those watching their waistlines or wallet lines! On Friday 8th January, we strolled along to the MCG again, picked up our tickets and entered the hallowed grounds of this famous cricket ground to watch the first of the One Day Internationals (ODI) between Australia and India. These VB Series matches take place over 6 weeks or so between Oz, India and Zimbabwe who play each other in various combinations at various venues around the country. For some this stadium approaches the status of a temple and we were looking forward very much to the match between two such exciting cricketing nations. Australia won the toss and batted first (starting at 1415 – this was a day/night match which means one innings of 50 overs for each side and scheduled to finish at about 10pm under floodlights). Oz were all out for 288 after 49 overs and as this did not seem a particularly high total and certainly one, which the Indians could more than equal, an exciting 2nd session was in store. At the tea-break (very English is cricket don’t you know?), we noticed an Indian lady a few rows in front of us, dispensing typical Indian fare to her group of about 20 people: curry, chapattis, dhal, etc. Now that this cricket catering for you! India started batting at 1830 - initially it appeared that they would win, but then the Aussies inflicted a lower-order batting decimation on them and they only reached 270 all out. But it was a pretty close run thing and a real privilege to watch two such great sides in action. The match finished at 2200 and we joined the thousands pouring out of the stadium to find a tram (which we did) and make our way home. Total attendance was 63,217. Saturday 10th January: With Qantas on a wee 50-minute flight from Melbourne across the Bass Strait to Hobart – the capital of Tasmania. Picked up our hire car and headed west to the Tasman Peninsula where we holed-up in a very cosy s/c cottage at Teranna, the terminus of Aussie’s first tramway – powered by convicts. They pushed the carriages uphill and then jumped on board for the ride down! Terraki Cottages are situated off the road amongst wild bushland: various bushes and shrubs with towering blue gum (eucalyptus) trees, from which the exotic calls of various birds were forthcoming, though we failed to identify most, except for the laughing call of the old kookaburra. Oh, and we got a visit from 2 Long-nosed (Gilbert’s) Potoroos (a fat-cat sized marsupial with short feet and grasping paws). They were just grubbing about in the undergrowth, relatively unperturbed by our presence. A big Huntsman spider (4inches across and hairy) took up residence in our bedroom. He certainly made an impression on us and his presence was memorable. We christened him Fred but did not formally introduce ourselves by shaking hands – besides he had 8 arms/legs to choose from! We criss-crossed Tassie (as the locals call it) from S to N and E to W and back again for our flight from Launceston to Melbourne on At 17th January. Amongst the highlights of our week in Tasmania were: Tasmanian Devil Park at Teranna to view these wee meat-eating marsupial beasties (Sarcophilus Harrissi) – black & white feisty beasts (native to Tassie only). They look a bit like pit-bull terriers with nashers to match, capable of crunching through bones the lot, as we witnessed at their feeding time (road-kill wallabies of course.) Not the place to stick your hand in to say hi!!! Also eagles, sulphur-crested cockatoos, hobby, masked owls, frogmouth (well camouflaged nightjars) and of course, kookaburras; plus various types of possums, kangaroos and wallabies. You were able to walk among the Forester kangaroos and red-necked wallabies – one had a “joey” in the pouch. Also visited the Port Arthur Historic Site – Oz’s largest and most important convict site with its mix of intact buildings and ruins echoing Oz”s convict past. In 1830, Governor Arthur chose Tasman Peninsula as the place where repeat offenders would be confined. The peninsula was a “natural penitentiary” as it was only connected to mainland by a 100 wide strip of land – Eaglehawk Neck – easily patrolled by solders with dogs. A sort of onland Alcatraz. Between 1830 & 1877, 12,500 convicts were incarcerated here – for many of them it was a living hell. The prison closed in 1877, buildings were demolished and it was declared a historic site in 1970. Infamy again resurfaced on 28/4/1996 when a lone gunman shot and killed 35 people at the visitor centre. Moving on, sampled one of the fine eateries in Hobart’s Salamanca Square before heading west on Lyell Highway: following Derwent River for a long time, through Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers Nat Park – past Mt Olympus (1447m) – extensive forested and mountainous area hereabouts along a twisting road with a scarcity of traffic. Stopped at Queenstown (pop.2630): the final twisting descent into this town is a desolate vista of deep, eroded gullies and denuded hills – yellow, orange, red, ochre-coloured: a testimony to the destruction of the local environment by the long-term mining operations. From 1881, gold, silver & copper mining had stripped the previously rain forested hills bare. Three million tons of timber were felled to feed the furnaces – pollution from copper smelters killed the vegetation – bushfires raged – topsoil washed away – only bare, rocky hills remained. Today, limited mining still takes place – about 8,000 tons of copper-bearing rock a day. Queenstown is still very much a mining town – unassuming with a slight parochial air, as if waiting for something to happen! A major tourist draw here is the departure of the Abt Wilderness steam train to Strahan on the coast. We watched it depart on its hissing steaming way. Then headed to coast ourselves via Strahan, Zeehan – the latter is a nice quiet backwater with an excellent mining museum which we visited. From Zeehan, our way went through more rainforests and across buttongrass plains to the tiny hamlet of Corinna where we crossed the mighty Pieman River on a 2-vehicle barge – The Fatman Barge. You press a button which summons the Fat Man from the opposite bank to come and fetch you. It was reminiscent of the Malgas Pontoon Ferry in South Africa, but the Fat Man was not manually operated! Onward through gravel roads through the outstanding Tarkine wilderness area – did not see another car for about 1.5 hours – true, remote Tassie countryside! Past the ghost town of Luina (former mining town, but all buildings gone,) and stopped at Waratah – once the site of the world’s richest tin mine. Stayed at local Bischoff’s Hotel – a slightly eccentric small town hotel patronised by locals, power workers and mining staff. There was a roaring wood fire going in the pub, which was just as well, as it was cold and wet outside. Nothing like Tassie in January! Waratah’s not-so-great claim to fame was the scene of the last verifiably breathing Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus Cyndcephalus) – a large striped marsupial carnivore: it was trapped here and shipped off to Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo where it died in 1936. We also visited the Cradle Mountain Nat. Park – 1,262 sq. km and a World Heritage area: spectacular peaks, deep gorges, lakes, tarns and wild moorland. Did a very satisfying and scenically rewarding 2-hour circuit around Dove Lake with magnificent views of Cradle Mountain (1545m) as a backdrop – a razor-toothed, serrated ridge of towering spires (fresh snow on peaks from last night!) Lots of exquisite wild flowers on the walk and even came across some relatively fresh wombat scat (droppings) on a section of boardwalk. This is quite common (according to the park ranger we mentioned this to) as wombats prefer to leave their cube-shaped scat as territorial markings on the boardwalk and not on the ground hereabouts – must be a more comfortable perch for them. To produce these cube-shaped scats, consider the anatomy required to produce such droppings! Also spotted a quite rare Spotted-tailed Quoll (marsupial small dog-sized predator) on our walk. Onwards through huge natural eucalyptus forests, then past huge poppy fields full of blaze of colour. There are signs on the fences warning of the dangers of consuming them illegally! Tasmania is one of the world’s most successful opium poppy entrepreneurs and has 40% of the world poppy market – the only place in the southern hemisphere where this type of farming is legal! Also visited the Bridestow Estate Lavender Farm near Nabowla – rolling rows of purple lavender across the hillsides in what is the largest and oldest lavender plantation in the S. hemisphere. Went on a tour of the distillery where the pure lavender (Lavandula angustifila) oil is produced – quarter ton of flowers = 3kf of pure oil and 85% of oil is exported. Everywhere the sublime smell of lavender, bees buzzing between the rows doing their thing, harvesting just starting and takes 4 weeks. Purple and green lavender, distant blue hills and red volcanic soil – just like a picture postcard. Stayed for 2 days at St Mary’s Seaview Hostel – 8kms up a dirt road from St Mary’s on a working sheep/cattle farm high on a hillside with commanding views of the coastline and Tasman sea far below. It was bliss and time to recuperate again. Strolling around the policies – sheep all around – tall bluegum trees against a blue sky with cicadas going like billyho – parrots flitting through the branches and kookaburras chuckling and laughing to themselves – or was it at us? Also visited the much-vaunted Freycinet Nat. Park to visit the much-photographed and must-see Wineglass Bay. To be honest, Freycinet is too over-crowded, mis-managed from a visitor’s point of view, parking is a nightmare and the Park authorities seem not to be able to grapple with the popularity-induced problems of this park. Strange, as elsewhere like at Cradle Mountain, they have got to grips with them. Finally – Tasmania is infamous for major logging of old-growth rainforests. Gunns, the giant logging company, has the Tassie government in their pockets, destruction of old forests goes on – fuelled by greed and personal gain of the view – politicians and logging industry both. The Tasmanian logging industry is exempt from almost all Tassie laws that might check their excesses. There is quite an active anti-logging movement at present. An accelerated and unaccountable logging industry is destroying wholesale native forest woodlands. Clear felling is what happens: the world’s last unprotected stands of Eucalyptus Regnans (20m girth and upto 90m high) which just happen to be the tallest hardwood trees and flowering plants on Earth are ending up as paper and cardboard in Japan. Tassie premier Jim Bacon has a lot to answer for. AUSTRALIA PART 2: Saturday 17th January: back in Melbourne on the "mainland" after a brilliant week in Tassie. Picked up our hire-car and headed westwards down the freeway away from Melbourne and away from the coast to sample the Victorian hinterland first of all, before "doing" the coastal bit! First port of call was the town of Ballarat - founded in the 1850's as a dusty tent city and home to thousands of gold diggers. It has lots of very impressive Victorian architecture. Ballarat gold was at the root of a historically significant incident in Aussie history: the miners' stockade at Eureka in 1854. We visited the excellent visitor centre at Eureka Stockade describing the events before and after the Stockade was built and stormed by British troops. That was the first time Aussies had stood together and fought and died under their own flag: the Southern Cross. It is the birthplace of the Australian spirit: as Culloden is to the Scots, Gettysburg to the Americans, so Eureka is to the Australians. In December 1854, Ballarat's miners took up arms against a corrupt and unjust goldfields administration & taxation system which was enfored the the British garrison. After years of oppression, the bloody battle that ensued on 3/12/1854 led to the birth of true democracy in Australia. The miners' leader, Peter Lalor, asked fellow diggers to "swear by the Southern Cross to stand by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties." The miners were outnumbered 294 to 120, lost the battle. However, the subsequent treason trial collapsed, those charged were released, legislation was passed abolishing the unfair gold licence and diggers got the vote. Peter Lalor became an MP! Our journey took us along some quiet country roads - both gravel and sealed (tarred) passing through some typical small Oz towns - Avoca, Moonamble, Landsborough, Crowlands, Ararat (the latter another former goldfields centre). Saw some examples of Oz wildlife doing this: kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas (anteaters), emus, a big fat grey-green lizard which just "strolled" across the road in front of the car! Not to mention all the exotic birds - their calls and colours are something else and need to be heard and seen to be believed! Unlike in Tasmania, we came across hardly any road-kills at all. This either means the animals are smarter on the mainland, or there are less of them left in the first place? Popped into the Dalwhinnie Vineyard (because of the Scottish connection) sampled some of the product and bought some as well. This is the highest vineyard (395m) in the Victorian Pyrenees and situated in a natural amphitheatre. Then towards the coast via even smaller Aussie towns and hamlets: Maroona, Mortlake, Terang, Cobden, Kennedy's Crossing, Lavers Hill, Beech Forest (narrow winding roads through eucalyptus forests.) We hit the coast at Apollo Bay and started the famous Great Ocean Road drive, a thin ribbon of asphalt hugging the rugged coastline, winding its way through tall eucalypt forests and low-lying coastal heathlands along the edge of very high sandstone cliffs - with serried ranks of dramatic golden rock stacks perched in the blue-green Southern Ocean. As the sea eroded the coastline over time huge chunks of rock remained, sculpted into arches, islands, caves, blowholes, gorges (there is one called Loch Ard Gorge after a Glaswegian ship that went down there in 1878 with the loss of 52 lives) and tapering sails. The world-famous rock-group The Twelve Apostles appeared and we obedienly trooped from the huge carpark on one side of the shore-road, using a pedestrian underpass to get to the cliff edge on the other side to view these amazing stacks. It was very, very busy: after all it is the height of summer, Aussie school hols and countless overseas visitors as well!!!! To counteract this over-crowding we stayed on a working cattle farm one night well away from the coast - the owners breed Limosin bulls and some of the bulls were not in a good mood, as they had had their horns cut that morning! A planned trip to a local nature reserve at Tower Hill had to be abandoned: it was closed due to the very high fire risks: there was a total fire ban in force in all of Victoria. As it was, some idiot had been going around lighting grass fires deliberately. Our host at the Limosin farm had been called out to fight one the previous evening - most men are volunteer firefighters. Onwards we pressed - more stringybark forests, red gum woodlands and luxurian fern gullies - even drove along a very narrow dirt road called Mafeking Road just outside Dunkeld. Where are we? Scotland or Oz? Who knows!?! Northwards to the Grampians - a huge mountain range and national park: with stops at various strategic viewpoints: like NZ and Tassie, virtually all of the mountain slopes are heavily afforested which makes it easy to pick your route for a walk: you just follow the one created by the Parks Board! Our motel room at Hall's Gap was a good vantage point from where to view the antics of lots of Eastern grey kangaroos, a couple of emus as well as listening to the incessant cackling of flocks of kookaburras. These birds always sound as if they have just heard a very good & filthy joke and simply cannot stop laughing. After leaving the park at its northern end (at a hamlet called Zumstein) our route took us across flat agricultural plains - enormous wheatfields stretching to the distant horizon (harvested by now) and mountains of grain covered by tarpaulins awaiting uplifting; through a section of the Little Desert Nat. Park and back to the coast, picking up the Princes Highway again, through the Coorong Nat. Park - a long series of lagoons between the peninsula and mainland, bordered by white sandy dunes. The lagoons are very saline but still rich in fish life. Crossed the mighty, brown, fast-flowing Murray River (via free ferry!) at Wellington. The Murray-Darling River basin covers over 1m sq. kms, which is 14% of Oz's surface area and at 3,750km long, is the 4th longest river in the world. Friday 22nd January: Duly arrived in Adelaide, capital city of South Australia. This is where we are having a week of R&R with good old friends, last seen 24 years ago in South Africa. Most mornings spent having breakfast poolside, listening to various parrots, cockatoos, corellas, etc as they go about their loud business in the towering blue gum trees which are everywhere. We even spotted the resident koala bear one morning! Then in the afternoon we might, if the spirit moved us, go on a trip to the hinterland of Adelaide: a vineyard to visit and sample, a seafront to go and see, and so on. It is indeed a tough life out here!!! This is a long holiday weekend as it is Australia Day on Monday 26th January. The Aussie author Germaine Greer has a different view of Oz as per her article which appeared in The Australian on 22nd Jan. It is worth inserting this quote from her, as to why she does not want to live in Oz: ""For the vast majority, life in Australia is neither urban or rural but sub-urban. The reality is not Uluru (Ayres Rock's Aboriginal name) or the Sydney Opera House but endless, ever-expandaing replications of Ramsay Street (in TV soap Neighbours) that spread out as rapidly as oil stains on water, further and further from the tiny central business districts of the state capitals. If your ambition is to live on Ramsay Street, where nobody has ever been heard to discuss a book or a movie, let alone an international event, then Australia may be the place for you. But you need to remember that Ausralians don't live in each other's pockets: Neighbours is a fiction. Most Australians don't know their neighbours or care what becomes of them. It's different in the countryside - but nobody lives there except a few squatters and graziers, flitting hordes of British backpackers and some remnant populations of Aborigines."" This caused some critical comment in the letters page - people basically reckoned thatr Oz was better off without Germaine - keep her in the UK. The people we have met thus far do not fall within her descriptions of Neighbours clones either, so I reckon Germaine was speaking thru the corks in her hat! 26th Jan - Australia Day: we were shown around some of the coastal surrounds and towns close to Adelaide: ending up at Victor Harbour, a former 1830's whaling station, but now a very busy holiday seaside resort - a bit like Blackpool in the hot sunshine - fairground attractions, lots of fast food emporia (emporims?), slightly seedy-looking hotels, hordes of day-trippers, Oz flags and bunting everywhere, horse-drawn trams across the 600m jetty to Granite Island, camel rides on the beach. You get the picture. We even survived a "folk singer" murdering various songs on a pier-restaurant as we supped our beers. On Thursday this week we leave for Perth - then up to Broome before ending up in Darwin in the NOrthern Territory. The visit to the Top End (as that part of the country is called) should be interesting as it is in the middle of the summer RAINY SEASON. Watch this puddle!!! AUSTRALIA PART 3: After our brief stay in Adelaide – due to routing to get way up north – we flew to Perth where we spent 2 days. Founded by Captain James Stirling in 1829, Perth is Australia’s sunniest capital city with an average of 8 hours sunshine a day. Perth has the climate California thinks it has! With a pop. Of about 1.4m, this modern and vibrant city is beautifully situated on the Swan River. We went on a wine-tasting cruise down the Swan to Fremantle, passing some amazing and very, very expensive riverside residences, very smart marinas containing even smarter and bigger motor launches: no shortage of money here obviously! The river was also alive with numerous multi-coloured yachts, wind-surfers and para-gliders. All this under an absolutely cloudless blue sky which made the tasting of some very tasty Western Australian wines a real pleasure. We did not need much encouragement to indulge in this very pleasant past-time! Saturday 31st January: saw us fly up to Broome – way up on the NW coast of Western Australia. Ever further north into more tropical climes. And the combination of emerald blue skies, lush green vegetation and the deep red-coloured earth truly assailed the visual senses. What an onslaught! After disembarking at the tiny airport and entering the small terminal building we were met by a local choral group. This was just like in Samoa in more ways than one! Terry Crisp, our host from our B&B establishment, The Temple Tree met us at the airport and transported us the 2kms to their idyllic house here, where we met his wife Helga. They both looked after us right royally during our 4 night stay in this magical place called Broome, and Terry produced the most exquisite breakfasts (starting with exquisite fresh fruit salads containing dragon fruit, pawpaw, passion fruit, melon, watermelon, pineapple & guava; before a choice of 4 utterly heavenly and delicious hot choices.) The house is situated under a giant, shady, spreading frangipani tree with a lovely verandah out front with slatted framed wall. Broome has quite a big Aboriginal population and is still very much a frontier town – lots and lots of big 4-wheel drives caked in red must all over the place. As this is the “Wet”, a lot of the restaurants and shops were shut: The Wet from Nov – March is when it rains the most and most visitors stay away – except the Gruellichs! Broome was established in the 1890’s as a telegraph cable station and pearl shell diving base, supplying 80% of the world’s peal shell (used for buttons) in the boom years before WW1. The pearl divers were Aboriginal, Japanese, Malaysian, Chinese & Indonesian, resulting in an unusually cultural mix of Asian, European and Aboriginal heritage in the town. Plastic (again for use in buttons) saw the demise of the pearl shell industry. Nowadays, Broome’s boom is cultured pearls, producing the world’s largest and most lustrous pearls, and these command exorbitant prices. Tourism is the other big money-spinner. Broome is a fascinating oasis – turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean backed by red cliffs, with white sandy beaches and green monsoon-watered mangroves, resulting in a town full of vivid colours and tropical lushness. Seafood is what to eat hereabouts and we did – exquisite! We also experienced some cracking tropical thunderstorms – rain lashing down in thick curtains; heavy rolling thunder – you could feel the pressure waves shake the building! The streets would resemble rivers of red water in minutes: it was great fun watching the 4x4’s driving through – each trying to set up a higher “bow-wave” than the one before! Due to the rain, a lot of the minor unsealed (gravel) roads were totally flooded and impassable, except for VERY experienced 4x4 drivers as it involved crossing deep tidal creeks, etc. This rather put the kybosh on getting to various places we had wanted to see! Parks were closed, including the Bungle Bungles; the famous 660kn unsealed Gibb River Road, etc. But still – hey – it was the Wet Season! We shall have to return in the dry season next time. We did visit the beautiful Cable Beach – a stretch of 22 kms of clean white sand on the Indian Ocean – had a lovely seafood supper (what else?) and watched the sun set over the ocean. It was magnificent: the sky went blood red, before going through various shades of pink and purple before total blackness set in. And anywhere from here way up to Darwin and across to northern Queensland, it is the home and range of old “Saltie” – better known as the saltwater or estuarine crocodile. These beasts grow up to 7m long and eat anything and anybody – humans are a particular favourite. Each year there are reports of people being eaten: at the end of January this year, two people asleep in their tent some 15m from the river bank were almost dragged into the nearby river by a 4m saltie – tent and all! They had to cut their way free and watch saltie rip their tent to shreds. This happened on the Gibb River Road. Salties have been seen on Cable Beach as well. Rule number one is: all rivers are potential hideaways for them; even a sign saying there are no crocs is no guarantee there aren’t any. And yes, they do go into the sea as well!!! The undoubted highlight of our stay in Broome was our visit to Sun Pictures – the world’s oldest original open-air picture house. Built in 1916, it is still going very strong with screenings every evening on an outdoor screen with deck-chair seating; most of it under the stars. We saw the Hugh Grant et al romantic comedy called Love Actually. What a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable experience: sitting outdoors in deckchairs under a dark Kimberley sky with a half-moon hanging like a yellow melon above the palm trees – lizards crawling up and down the screen – the movie soundtrack augmented by croaking tree-frogs, chirping crickets, flying foxes (bats) swooping and small aircraft clattering overhead, about 500ft high, coming in to land at the airstrip about 1 km away! It brought a whole new meaning to the term “surround sound”: during a trailer for an action-packed movie, a plane whizzed overhead. First of all I thought it was another set of speakers coming into play! But no, it was the real thing and DID improve the soundtrack. Other Broome things worth doing: visit the very informative Broome Museum – a cornucopia of historical artefacts; Pearl Luggers tour where you learn about Broome’s pearling history and industry – regaled with tales by Richard “Salty Dog” Baillieu – himself a former pearl diver. Visit the Japanese Cemetery – where up to 900 Japanese divers are buried, showing what a high risk job it was: cyclones, the bends, sharks to name but a few hazards. Camel ride on Cable Beach with “Ships of the Desert” led by 2 cameliers. Our camel, Casper, was very well behaved. We escaped from Broome for 2 days: hired a small 4x4 vehicle and drove along the Great Northern Highway to Fitzroy Crossing, 390kms away, across flat countryside – red earth – bluegum forests – boab (baobab) trees and termite mounds. These intricately patterned and built structures can stand up to 20feet tall and are a feature of outback Australia. Everything was unusually green now as during the dry season it is all burnt a uniform brown. Not much traffic – the occasional other tourist, or farm ute (utility vehicle) or long road train (truck with up to 3 trailers totalling more than 50m in length – you have to allow at least 1 km of clear road ahead when attempting to overtake one of these beasts!) Close inspection of the Fitzroy River did not reveal any salties – disappointed all around. Had intended to visit Geikie Gorge, but it was closed due to flooding, so another blank drawn here. Returned to Broome via Derby (370km) situated on the King Sound. Derby is the Kimberley region’s main town and a service centre for the area’s many remote cattle stations and Aboriginal communities. It also boasts the 2nd highest tides in the world at 10.8m (the highest at 14.2m are at Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia). We went to the harbour jetty to see these huge differences for ourselves – it is true – they are massive! Visited the famous Boab Prison Tree (1,500 years old and used as a “prison” by the polis taking the Aboriginals to court.) Then we flew in a 30-seater from Broome to Darwin – the capital of Northern Territory – or the Top End as it is more fondly called. Luckily the weather was kind and we did not encounter any tropical storms during the flight. They occurred once we had arrived! More from Darwin in due course: AUSTRALIA PART 4: DARWIN – We flew from Broome to Darwin in a small 30-seater Brasilia turbo-prop plane – thankfully there were no tropical storms to fly through! DARWIN is the capital of the Northern Territory or “Top End” as it is known up here. This is a region of tropical wetlands, waterfalls and mighty rivers (the latter home to old “saltie” – the equally mighty and fearsome estuarine crocodile), plus sites of the world’s best Aboriginal rock art. Cyclones are a fact of life up here – there is one, called Cyclone Fritz, brewing up off the northern Queensland coast and heading this way – so they say! The most severe cyclone, Cyclone Tracy, which hit Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974, delivered a seasonal gift of utter destruction and death – 90% of the city was flattened! Darwin was also bombed by the Japanese during 1942-1943, again virtually annihilating the place. Darwin has had to shed its skin as regularly as a snake to metamorphose into today’s young, vibrant and multi-cultural city – closer to Singapore than to Canberra – the Aussie administrative capital. We spent 6 days based in Darwin – sharing a rented apartment with our pals from Adelaide – Mark and Sonya – who showed us around and entertained us royally. A visit to the Parap open-air market is highly recommended – with its huge selection of mainly Asian delicacies; as is a visit to Museum & Art Gallery: it houses an excellent collection of Aboriginal bark paintings from Arnhem Land (NE corner of Top End) and an imaginative display of Aussie beasties – everything that wants to take a bit out of you is represented there, including old Sweetheart – a stuffed 5.1m saltie (estuarine crocodile). He was named after the Sweet billabong which was his haunt during the 1970’s and he used to attack outboard motors on the “tinnies” (dinghies), tipping the fishermen into the billabong, although he never attacked them for some reason. The authorities attempted to catch him with a view to relocation, but unfortunately he got entangled in the netting and drowned! Hence his presence in the museum. Quite an ignominious end come to think of it. We also sampled the fare at various fine outdoor eateries situated on Darwin Wharf Precinct and Cullen Bay – despite some of the “wet” conditions in the evenings. Cuisine is varied and international hereabouts: marvellous seafood, huge steaks, Creole and Thai cooking, kangaroo, croc, buffalo, camel – it’s all here waiting to appear on your plate! Also popped along to the brand new railway station (for some strange reason located half an hour’s drive out of the city) to watch the arrival of only the 2nd service of the new Ghan passenger train (the inaugural trip arrived on 3rd Feb). About 200 folk stood around for the arrival of the 1.3km long train after its epic 3,000km trip from Adelaide via Alice Springs to Darwin. It was 20 minutes late due to some severe rainstorms further south down the line! It was very impressive seeing the 2 massive bright red diesel locos slowly hauling this very long train to a halt. Of course, only the last 4-5 carriages ended up at the station building, the rest of the train was about 1km up the line where a fleet of buses awaited the passengers! The whole affair was quite low-key: ground staff still seemed uncertain of how to handle what was only the 2nd arrival, there was no info available regarding the train itself (a bloomer we thought, typical marketing opportunity lost – operators seem to concentrate on foreign market and ignore what is under their noses – i.e. the locals.) Even the Darwin taxi-drivers had forgotten the train was arriving – result: no taxis anywhere for those who wanted them! However, the highlight of our time up here was an excursion with the “Spectacular Jumping Crocodiles Cruise” on the Adelaide River about 100km east of Darwin. What an awesome experience. We were the only passengers on the 1100 cruise as opposed to the 0900 cruise which was full of tour bus punters. What a stroke of luck! We cruised along in the 30ft Wildcat boat and waited for the huge salties to jump out of the muddy brown river waters, enticed to do so by huge chunks of meat dangling at the end of long poles. The crocs use their powerful tails to propel themselves vertically out of the water: the smaller ones manage to get their entire bodies clear of the water, but the biggies (4-5m) are not quite that agile but still manage to get a good proportion of their scaly bodies upright and clear of the river! This is a relief as all this action takes place only a meter or so from the boat’s side. The boat would stop midstream once you could see the crocs slowly approaching – looking like dead logs – only their snout and protruding reptilian eyes visible (plus the tell-tale V-shaped rippling wake behind). Their gigantic scaly bodies only dimly discernible beneath the surface of the sluggishly flowing brown river. Their eyes stare unblinkingly up at you and the dangling lumps of meat. Then, in a frenzied thrashing of white and brown foamy water the croc would rear up out of the water – those mighty jaws lined with fearsome teeth agape – and grab their reward for this gymnastic performance before crashing back into the river. It is true what they say about crocs smiling – looking at the slightly zigzag line of its jaws it does indeed look like it is grinning from ear to ear! We saw about 12 of these denizens in total. Estuarine crocs have been protected by law since 1971 (after years of indiscriminate hunting almost decimated their numbers); although limited safari hunting is being proposed on Aboriginal land way up north as an economic input for the locals there. There are about 60,000 salties in the waterways, creeks, rivers, estauries and shores stretching from Port Hedland in Western Australia right through the Northern Territory and into northern Queensland. There are croc attacks every year: only 2 weeks ago a couple asleep in their tent in the middle of the night some 15metres from a riverbank were attacked. The saltie dragged the tent and its occupants towards the river for a meal. Luckily they managed to cut their way out in time! This happened on the Gibb River Road in the Top End. From Darwin we also did a 360km trip south to visit the Nitmiluk National Park for a boat cruise on the magnificent Katherine Gorge. This is actually a series of 13 interlinked gorges dog-legging their way across the rocky plateau, some with sheer red walls of up to 70m high lining the sides. During the “Wet” (rainy season from Oct to April and we are in it!) is the best time to do the gorges as it is possible to get from one to the other by boat due to the very high water levels and flooding of the gorges.. During the dry season you have to walk between gorges to continue the trip on different boats – or carry your canoe if you are doing it that way. This time of year there are also salties about as they can swim upstream from one flooded gorge to another – a fact worth bearing in mind should you consider going for a swim! (In 1998, the nearby town of Katherine was flooded up to the eaves of the houses and there were crocs swimming in the streets!) We also saw some lovely Aboriginal rock-art on the red cliff faces and had a cooling swim in a deep, dark rock-pool complete with waterfall – we were assured by our guide/boatman that there was no way old saltie could have clambered up the gully to get into this pool! On our drive back to Darwin we went via Litchfield National Park – lots of spectacular waterfalls and monsoon rainforests. We saw a huge field full of tombstone-like magnetic termite mounds, built on a N-S axis to regulate the internal temperature of the mound. There were also other gigantic cathedral termite mounds – up to 20ft high – red, fluted structures situated between the gum trees. Some of them did indeed resemble the Notre Dame! Friday 13th January: we catch a midnight flight from Darwin to Sydney via Brisbane After a day in Sydney, we catch our onward flight on St. Valentine’s Day from Sydney to Johannesburg, where we spend the weekend with friends, before flying to Nairobi, Kenya on 16th February for a 10-day visit and safari there; before arriving back in South Africa on 26th February for our extended travels through Southern Africa – so watch those other pages for updates soon!!! SYNDEY UPDATE: 13-14th February: having left Darwin at 0015 on Friday 13th, arrived in Sydney at 0800 and went straight to our hotel for a bit of kip! Resurfaced at noon, lunch at a restaurant called Wolfies (!) on Sydney's waterfront. Then strolled around the waterfront area, admiring and photographing that famous Bridge and Opera House. In evening went on a harbour cruise to round off the day in this very buzzing city.

The Tasmanian Devil
Port Arthur - Tasmania
Tasmanian National Parks
Eureka - Ballarat

The Temple Tree B & B
Broome - Western Oz
Broome Web Camera
The Pearl Luggers, Broome
Spectacular Jumping Crocs