Back on land in Airlie Beach I spend a night and when I awake the next morning I decide that, since I’m here, I really should go see the Great Barrier Reef so I figure I’ll fly over it. I pay $100 for a one hour trip and get into the backseat of this little plane with 4 other people (that includes the pilot). This is officially the smallest plane I have ever been into. We put our headsets on and off we fly towards the GBR. We go over Airlie Beach, Whitehaven Beach and many other beautiful islands and small reefs. Seeing them from the air is fantastic, especially after just having been there at sea level. As we start to get closer to the GBR I can see the massive deep water channel that runs alongside it, you can tell it’s really deep because the water is very dark blue. So it’s stunning to see the contrast between the aqua and teals of the reef areas and that deep blue depth. We see various reef shapes, one is even like a little heart and then quicker than we’d like it’s time to head back to land. A short trip but well worth it.

Airlie Beach, Australia.

I decide on a trip, it’s a 2 day 2 night  inner reef trip on an iSail Whitsundays boat called the Blizzard. There is a maximum capacity of 10 passengers on the boat and I was worried that it would be all couples and me but it turned out that 2 of the people were cousins and the rest, though coupled up, were super friendly. It also turns out that I get a room to myself, even though there are 2 beds in it, which suits me just dandy. It’s perfectly compact and cozy and at night it feels like a little cocoon. The boat is really new so everything is super clean and pristine. Luke is the Captain and Lauren is the crew. At first glance Luke might not inspire confidence, he’s a shaggy haired young blonde guy who looks like the ultimate surfer “dude” but he quickly impresses with his mad sailing skills. Lauren is the first mate, the chef, the crew and the all-round able body. She does everything from hoisting up sails and pulling ropes to cooking us 3 amazing meals a day, and she makes it all look easy.

We start in the afternoon and sail for a couple hours to the spot where we will anchor for the night. The sail portion is really neat, the boat is slanted way over and we have to sit on the “up” side to help keep balance, an experience I hadn’t anticipated but which was very exciting . At anchor we are sheltered from wind and currents as we watch a glorious sunset, get acquainted, have a few beers and eat a yummy dinner. We have an early night as we’ve been informed that we have a busy day tomorrow.

In the morning we are treated to a fantastic help-yourself buffet breakfast (with really good fresh coffee thank god) as we cruise to our first destination, Whitehaven Beach. We approach on the opposite side of the island when the tide is still very low, it makes maneuvering the tender in a bit tricky but Luke is a star and we make it first out of all the other circling boats. We hike a short way up to the viewpoint over the other side of the island and get to see what we came for. Whitehaven Beach is known for its white swirling sands. The sand and the aquamarine water entwine making serpentine shapes that twist their way up a 7 km channel that narrows into the distance. It’s beautiful and unique and something I have never seen before.

After viewing the beach we get to go down to it and spend a pleasant couple of hours relaxing and exploring. The sand consists of 98% pure silica which gives it its bright white colour. Apparently local rocks do not contain silica so it has been suggested that the sand has been brought here from elsewhere over millions of years via sea currents. The silica sand does not retain heat so we can walk around barefoot without scorching the soles of our feet which is nice, and it is also fine enough to polish up my silver jewelry. Unfortunately a couple hours after leaving the beach I discover to my dismay that I have been bitten by quite a few sand fleas, my nemesis as I learned in Thailand at one point not too long ago.

Back on the boat (and itchy) we cruise to our first snorkeling spot, not far away at all. We are provided with lightweight wet suits as it’s jellyfish season and with Australia being home to 2 of the world’s most dangerous (sometimes deadly) stingers you want to wear these. It’s my first time wearing one and I wriggle into it with difficulty. Once encased we take to the water, it’s nice though not the best snorkeling I’ve ever done, that honour lies in the Perhentians and at Gamut Bay in Inodnesia. However it is lovely to see the fish and other creatures and the wetsuit makes me even more buoyant than usual so it’s pretty easy going to just toodle along. When I finally get out of the water I have my first experience of the water rushing out of inside the wetsuit, quite a bizarre sensation, one I imagine must be like having your water break when pregnant, a surprising gush.

We hit up a couple more snorkel spots that day and they are better than the first though the current is stronger so it’s harder work and then we find another safe harbour for the evening. A few beers, some more fantastic food and another amazing sunset ensue. Luke sets up a strong flashlight to shine down into the water in the hopes it will attract some fish for us to look at. At first only very small fish appear, then slowly slightly larger ones come, probably eating all those small fry, and then bigger ones again. This dance of consumption continues, the fish getting progressively larger and larger, some of them are almost 4 feet long, swooping and diving through the beam of light we have cast. We watch, enthralled, for quite some time until finally the early start today and the promise of another one tomorrow sends us off to our cozy bunks.

On our final day we get another quick snorkel stop in and then head to a large sandspit where we will spend the morning exploring, snorkeling and stand up paddle boarding. There is also a chance we’ll see turtles here, something that all of us are pretty excited about. We all attempt to paddle board and when we suck at it the boards turn into a lazy way of snorkeling, we lie on top of them, 3 to a board and while one person paddles (sitting of course) the other two hang off the side hitching a ride, masks down, we’re on a turtle hunt. We do end up seeing some but only from far away when they poke their heads up out of the water to draw air, we paddle and swim furiously to get to where they were seen but by then they were gone so no real luck. But we have fun, lots of laughing and are surprised when our time is up and we have to head back to the boat. Sailing back to Airlie Beach we are all very happy with this trip, it was comfortable, the food and company was great and Luke and Lauren were fantastic at what they do and fun to boot.

From Alice Springs I fly to Cairns. I’m in Queensland now and it’s much more up to date here then it was in the Northern Territories, there are healthy food choices and stores actually stay open past 8pm and on Sundays. I spend almost a week here and see absolutely nothing. Sometimes it just happens that way. I hung around the pool at the hostel, met people, drank wine (oh sweet glorious wine) and just basically chilled out.  My impression of Cairns is not fantastic though, too touristic and I don’t find that the women that live and work there are very friendly to me, they are to the guys I mention this experience too, but not to me. I don’t get this, I’m nice and friendly and I tip well so really what’s the deal? Nowhere else in Australia did I experience this, I won’t take it personally though, there is no point. This is a party city, a big drinking, clubbing, hook up scene complete with bar brawls, half naked women, and an awful lot of rugby players, not my deal at all. I’m killing a bit of time here because I don’t want to rush south too quickly or I’ll catch the cold weather. But, eventually I get restless and start on my journey south.

My first stop was in Townsville where I planned to spend the night before I could get over to Magnetic Island. Once on Magnetic Island I find a hostel and settle in for a few nights. I meet some people and we play trivia one night in a bar and win! I guess all that useless information in my brain IS good for something. Also I get to hang out with lizards, snakes and birds, I’m even allowed to cuddle with a koala!

Back to Townsville and then a bus to Airlie Beach. I spend a couple days doing research to decide which boat I am going to travel on to see the Whitsunday Islands. There are so many to choose from it’s overwhelming, such a variety of information and options and price ranges. Do I want the party boat, no. Do I want good food, yes, but it’ll cost me. Do I want to dive, big no. Do I want to go to the Great Barrier Reef or just stay on the inner islands, hmmm not sure, need to do more research. Do I want 1 night, 2 nights or 3? Do I want a sailboat or a motorized boat, again, don’t know. I do finally make a decision, choosing to go with a group called iSail Whitsundays and I think I made an almost perfect choice. Just check out this boat that I got to spend 2 nights on!

Australia 2012 219

I haven’t talked about this so I will mention it now, travel in Australia is very different than in SE Asia. Probably the biggest difference is we speak the same language. Also, there is no haggling; the price is the same for me as it is for people who live here. Taxis use the meter without me asking, the water is hot when I want it to be and I can drink it straight from the tap, the coffee is really, really good and there is whole wheat bread. Buses run on schedule, streets have signs, garbage is picked up regularly and traffic laws are obeyed. It’s different and it’s a welcome change after 6 months in SE Asia. I was tired, burned out, frazzled and losing patience, not a healthy combination when traveling so the ease of travel in Australia is a welcome break.

I’m staying in hostels, they cost about $30 a night. I sleep in dorm rooms with bunk beds (always try to get a bottom bunk) and bathe in shared bathrooms, sometimes the cleanliness is dubious. Every hostel has a kitchen I can cook in, though I have to fight for a spot at the stove come dinner time. Sometimes a free breakfast of instant coffee, white bread, jam and bananas is included in the price, if you’re lucky. Meals out are expensive, an average of $20 an entrée or more so I do my own food shopping and have to carry it with me in a soft insulated cooler bag whenever I travel onwards. I try to keep the meals simple so I’m not lugging too much stuff around from place to place. I eat a lot of pasta, ugh. Grocery stores are pretty much the same as at home with a few minor differences. They run out of vegetables a lot, often I want some broccoli and the bin is empty, this would never happen in the ever overflowing horn of plenty that is North America. Also, and this was tragic, they haven’t figured out turkey bacon yet, so disappointing.

I met a lot of people who are in Australia to work and save money. I find that hard to fathom as it’s so expensive here but apparently the wages are good so it is possible. Most of these people are young travelers probably on their first trips. I can see the appeal in that, it’s an easy country to travel through, the prices are set, the food is familiar and the streets are properly labeled to coincide with your map so it’s not that different from the U.K., America, Canada and Europe, where most of the folks I meet are from. These kids are finding jobs picking fruit and veg, working on cattle ranches, doing some skilled labour and sometimes even working in McDonalds (with a starting wage of $20 an hour I can see how that might be bearable). I hear various messages, some people say it’s the best thing they have ever done, that the people they work for are fantastic and friendly, that they feel a part of the family and that they are learning new skills and are well cared for. Others say it’s miserable, lonely and the opposite of everything I mentioned above.

If I had more than the slightly over 2 months I have in Australia I would buy a vehicle and travel the country that way, but time and the fear of breaking down alone in the middle of the outback have deterred me from this approach. It wouldn’t be a huge money saver either from what I can figure. Camping costs around $15 a night from what I’ve heard and I would also have to buy all those supplies (tent, sleeping bag, sleep mat etc). If I had more time I could have spent it searching out like-minded people who already have vehicles and gear and who need travel buddies to share the costs of gas, food, lodging etc. but I don’t have that time. And, in my mind at least, that could take a lot of time, especially the part about like-minded people. I don’t want to be stuck in a car with someone who grates on my last nerve after 2 days. So I am traveling by Greyhound bus. It limits where I can go and when, but not that much and I don’t have to worry about car insurance, gas and selling the vehicle when I am done.

Oh, and there’s Koala Bears here!

Australia 2012 104

Uluru to Alice Springs.

Another very early morning, so early that it’s still dark out, we’re going to watch the sun rise over Uluru, from the same spot we saw it set the day before. Sunset turns out to be more interesting as the sun is shining on the face, creating that red glow so familiar from the countless photos I’ve seen at sunrise it is a silhouette. We breakfast while watching the Rock grow more luminous and once the sun is shining in full we pile back into the bus for the quick drive to the drop off point for the base walk around Uluru.

It’s a 10.6 km walk, over mostly flat ground but my knee is not up for it. Fitzy is terrific and, after dropping off the others, takes me to a point where I will only have to walk about 2-3 kms. I do this easily, taking my time, listening to my ipod and enjoying the solitude very much. It really is an endlessly fascinating pile of rocks. The most interestingly featured areas are typically the most revered so photography is prohibited there but there is so much else to see and photograph that it doesn’t really matter. It really is of epic size, the photos cannot do it justice, and it’s consistently astounding.

I meet up with Fitzy and help him prepare some snacks for when the others return and they soon start to trickle in. Once we’re all there we load up the bus again and head off for the long return trip to Alice Springs. On the way we make a pit stop at a salt lake for a photo opp and bathroom break. Also we stop at a place where we can ride a camel if we so choose. I choose to try and let me tell you it’s a very bouncy experience.

Once back in Alice Springs we are all dropped off and given a chance to get cleaned up. We meet up later at a bar for dinner and drinks, which turns into more drinks and then more. From waking up at sunrise I don’t get to bed until almost 4am. Long day but a great finish to one of the best tours I’ve ever been on. As I told Fitzy, it wasn’t like a tour, it was like going on a road/camping trip with 25 of my newest friends.


TIP: If you are headed into the outback invest in a mesh hat, something like this. It will save you much aggravation from the THOUSANDS of flies that want to land on your face and climb up your nose, into your ears and down your throat. You will look silly but at least you won’t end up swallowing a fly like I did. Gah.

King’s Canyon to Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock).

You wake up early in the outback, mostly because your tour guide insists. We’re up and it’s barely light out. A quick breakfast and we pack up the trailer and get on our way toward our first stop of the day, Kata Tjuta, aka The Olgas. Kata Tjuta is actually taller than Uluru (546m vs. 348m). It’s a striking mass of domed rocks only 35 km west of Uluru. These domed rocks, or boulders, sit shoulder to shoulder and form deep valleys and steep sided gorges. The trail is tricky for me, my knee is really fatigued but I do my best and make it to the first lookout, about a 45 minute hike in. It’s really beautiful but I know I can’t do anymore, I tell Fitzy and as he wasn’t planning on doing the hike either (he never does apparently) he walks back a fair bit of the way with me. I’m slow so I send him a head and plug in my ipod. I’m wandering along, singing aloud, in a valley that’s mostly empty and just taking my time, snapping photos, resting when I need to, it’s really nice. When I make it back to the bus Fitzy is preparing lunch and I offer to help out. We sit chopping stuff and chatting until the others start to trickle back in.

We drive to our new campsite for the night. It’s in Yulara, the Ayer’s Rock Resort, the only place to stay anywhere nearby the Rock. The accommodation here ranges from campsites to a hostel to super-duper high end hotel. There is a pool here for anyone to use as well, so after a quick lunch we all go for a swim. It’s FREEZING! Seriously ice-cold. Hard to believe it could be so cold in such a scorching hot climate but it is and I can only stay in for about 1 minute.

Now that we are clean (yay), we head off towards the Uluru – Kata Tjuta Cultural Center. Here there are displays and exhibits that focus on Aboriginal law, religion and customs, as well as the history and management of the national park. There is an Art Center with paintings, ceramics and a wide selection of boomerangs and didgeridoos and a café where (much to my delight) I can finally get a decent cup of coffee. When we as outsiders are told stories about Aboriginal culture and history we’re told a simplified version. This is all we are allowed as we are considered children in our knowledge and ability to understand.

From the Cultural Center we finally head to Uluru, only a couple kilometers away. From a distance it looks just like I have always seen it in pictures, a big red rock. But as we get closer it seems to grow impossibly in size (it’s actually 3.6 km long and 348 m high). It’s the only feature in a flat landscape and when you stand down below it towers over you. There is something about this rock, something that draws you in and keeps you looking at it. Its undulating features are actually mesmerizing. What I thought of as being a monolith before I saw it becomes endlessly fascinating with its nooks and crannies, caves and rock formations. I can’t do it justice; you’ll just have to go see it for yourself.  Go! Do it!

But for god’s sake don’t climb it! I mean people do, but it’s a question of respect. The Anangu people are the custodians of Uluru and they take responsibility for the safety of visitors. Any injuries or deaths that occur (and they do) are a source of distress and sadness for them. Also much of Uluru is considered sacred to them, traditional rites of passage still take place here, in many areas of the Rock photography is prohibited. I think of it like this: when I go to a mosque I cover my hair and dress appropriately, in any religious place I try to be respectful, even though it’s not my choice of religion. Why should this rock be treated any differently? Finally, Parks Australia has to constantly monitor the climb and close it when the temperature is forecast to reach 36 degrees or higher. So why does it stay open? Because it’s there I guess, and people still want to climb it and the tourism industry believes that visitor numbers would decline significantly, at least initially, if the climb was closed, particularly if tourists thought there wasn’t anything else to do at Uluru. There is a lot of debate on this topic, our guide Fitzy was very vocal with his “no climb” opinion, and none of our group chose to climb. For now people can continue to climb though there is a lot of information out there urging you not to but an agreement has been made that when the proportion of visitors climbing falls below 20% then the climb will be shut. Let’s hope that happens soon.

We visit a few spots around the base of Uluru, and see some cave paintings. Fitzy tells us some stories and legends,­ reiterating a lot of what we learned at the Cultural Center but adding his unique take on it. I really can see the impression this place and its culture has made on him. He is extremely passionate about and respectful of the Indigenous culture, traditions and history. It’s really admirable that this typical Australian kid who grew up in Newcastle on the east coast, without being taught anything in school about Aboriginal lifestyle and history, has really tried to educate himself and, in turn, to pass on to us his knowledge and respect and all in a measly 3 days.

Nearing sunset we head to a view point that is close by. It’s essentially a parking lot and there are a lot of other groups there. Some of these groups are like us, campers, but others are being served multi-course dinners and champagne on linen covered tables, POSH! Fitzy makes a meal out of the back of the trailer while the rest of us drink beer and watch as the sun sinks down behind the Rock. A waiter serving the “posh” group takes pity on us and donates a left over bottle of champagne which a few of us end up sharing, yum.

Once it’s dark it’s a short drive back to our campsite at Yulara for the night. There we join forces with another group from the same company. The beer is flowing, a fire burns brightly and things get a little hectic. Slowly people pass out in a big circle around the fire. I find myself sandwiched between snorers, with no other gaps available near the fire I move a few meters away and snuggle down for the night. Tonight I fall asleep with the top of my swag open, I am vulnerable to the creepy crawlies but I can see the stars.

Alice Springs to King’s Canyon.

I am the last one picked up in the morning, this leaves me with the front seat, right up front with the driver/tour guide, awesome I get to play copliot and see out front and chat with Fitzy (our guide) as we start to travel the 441 kms towards our goal. After a quick orientation chat from Fitzy about how he’s expecting us to act like grown-ups and how we will be doing some of the work on this trip we stop to check in at the office in Alice Springs where we lose 2 of our group right away, I guess they didn’t like Fitzy’s welcome speech.

We drive for a few hours, through scenery that is unchanging, stunted gum trees with scorch marks near the bottom from the control fires that are set every couple years and clumps of yellow spinifex grass cluster all over the ground. The not infrequent remains of road kill are the only thing that breaks up the monotony. Still it’s beautiful, the sky is huge and bright blue and the contrast with the dry dusty landscape is almost surreal. This area is only one step above a desert, I believe the proper classification is semi-arid landscape.

We arrive at our first destination, King’s Canyon, about 300 kms north of Uluru by road, and it’s the inverse of that big rock, as if someone had made an impression in sand. There are 270 meter high cliffs that drop down into a palm-lined valley floor. We walk a 6km loop that starts with a steep climb up steps carved from stone, that hurts my knee but the pain eases off as we walk the rim of the canyon. At around the midway point we walk down a lot of wooden steps and descend to the valley floor where we find a large swimming hole. Most of us jump in, enjoying the break from the scorching sun. Up to the other side of the valley by more wooden stairs and my knee is exhausted but we’re almost done and it’s beautiful so I suck it up.

Back at the bus we continue towards Uluru, we won’t reach it until tomorrow though. We are on the way now to our overnight campsite but before we get there we need to gather enough firewood to last us for the next 2 nights. We stop on the side of the road, Fitzy gives us half an hour and we all start scrounging. It’s harder than it sounds, all of our legs and arms end up scratched and bloodied (3 months later I still have scars) and we are filthy without an opportunity for a shower until sometime tomorrow, hopefully. It takes us an hour but we pull in a good haul and manage to get it tied down on top of the trailer. We stop at a roadhouse not far from our campsite and pick up enough beer to last the rest of the trip. From there it is “party bus time”, Fitzy pulls out a disco ball with flashing coloured lights and has secretly managed to garb himself in about 5 different flashing headlamps. With ACDC’s Highway to Hell blasting over the stereo we fly down the road until the turnoff toward our campsite. He turns the buses headlights off and it’s pitch dark but for our flashing lights, we’re dancing in the aisle as we careen wildly down the pot-holed dirt road, he turns a couple doughnuts in a wide gravel area and then we shudder to a halt.

It’s time to set up camp and prepare dinner. I’m immediately impressed with Fitzy’s organizational abilities, he’s got people chopping vegetables, setting up swags, and building the fire within 15 minutes of us arriving. Pretty impressive for a kid who I think is around 23 years old. But he is a bundle of energy and positivity and he just makes it all happen. Within an hour we’re eating chili, both meat and vegetarian options, and bread made in a cast iron pot. Everything is cooked over the fire and afterwards we all help clean up. Everyone has a few beers around the fire, it’s cold out here at night, and slowly we all start to curl into our swags, dropping off one by one.  I lay in mine, staring up at the crisp night sky, seeing the constellations I recognize turned upside down here in the southern hemisphere. I realize that in all the times I’ve camped I’ve never slept outside under the stars before and a small shudder goes up my spine as I realize that I am doing it for the first time in a country that has more poisonous snakes and spiders that will outright kill you than any other place in the world. It’s not enough to keep me awake though, not after such a long and busy day, I pull the swag’s flap over my head to keep the heat in and creepy crawlies out and quickly fall asleep.


From Darwin I travel by Greyhound bus, making 3 stops before I reach Alice Springs.

First up is Katherine, my impression of which is; very freaking hot (like over 40+ Celcius), very freaking dusty and swimming at night in hot springs that may or may not have freshies in them (that’s fresh water crocodiles to you non-Australian people) also expensive and bad beer. I visit Katherine Gorge, Yup, it’s big and beautiful but being dry season we can’t go as far up it as I would like. I’m tempted to splurge on a helicopter tour of it but just can’t quite justify the expense.

Next is Mataranka homestead. Set in the middle of nowhere with no public transport to get in or out, I’m kinda stuck here. Its redeeming feature is hot springs though they are surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands of bats. Both day and night (and especially at dusk) they fly overhead, squeaking and rustling the trees. Its other redeeming feature is the owner who takes pity on me and introduces me to his semi-wild kangaroo which he has raised from when it was small due to it having been orphaned. Its orphan state is probably due to its mother dying under the wheels of some ridiculous road train type vehicle. (A road train is a series of big trailers all linked together, usually 3 or 4 trailers long and carrying cattle. They can get away with this here because the roads in the Northern Territories are unerringly straight.) In any case I get to feed this little guy and he likes to hold onto your arm while you hold the cup with his grains. It’s a little nerve wracking once I see the length of his nails but really cool. This kindly (if slightly drunk) gentleman also takes me to see other hot springs about 12 kms away and we visit the “town” which consists of a roadhouse and a bar, both of which he owns.

I stop in Tennent Creek, I’m hoping to find a tour to take me to see the Devils Marbles. According to Lonely Planet the one hostel in town arranges these tours. However upon arrival I discover that they have stopped doing so, hence I am stuck in this nowhere town on a Sunday (Sunday in the NT is like Sunday at home 50 years ago, NOTHING is open) . So with absolutely nothing to do for 24 hours while I wait to catch the next available bus out of town I freely utilize the only decent Internet I will find anywhere in Australia.

Arriving in Alice Springs I book a tour to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) right away, I’ll be leaving the next morning for 3 days and 2 nights of camping and exploring.

A few random (and some quite obvious) observations…

–          Beer is WAY more expensive here than I thought it would be. IE: a six pack of a microbrew (imagine Granville Island quality beer) is around $20 AUD ( the Canadian dollar is almost at par)

–          The distances I traveled are huge. I didn’t really realize quite how big this country was until I sat on buses for hours and hours and hours in a row and the landscape never seemed to change.

–          The Northern Territory accent is a wee bit tricky at first. I thought they spoke English here?

–          Wallabies basically look exactly like kangaroos, but way smaller, I had no idea.

–          There are altogether way too many things that can kill you painfully in this country.

–          All the food in the gas stations (roadhouses) is deep fried.

–          What we call a liquor or beer store in Canada is called a Bottle Shop or Bottle-O here.

–          Australians seem to seriously downplay the extreme scariness of all the creepy crawlies that can kill you painfully.

–          Crocodiles have very big teeth and should be treated with the utmost respect and caution.

–          People like to drink here. A lot.

–          An “Ute” is a car/pick-up truck. The likes of which I haven’t seen in Canada since the late ‘70s or early ‘80s (when they all had the wood paneling down the sides) but which are very popular here.

–          The mullet lives.

Wallaby baby with Mom.

Wallaby baby with Mom.

So how to write about just over 2 months in Australia when I’ve already made it back to SE Asia? I’m so behind on this blog that if I try to keep any sense of chronology I’ll never catch up. I’m feeling the pressure as I sit down to write this, what to include? What not to include? What are the highlights, lowlights and must share items?  I’ll just share my impressions then, and maybe a few short stories thrown in for good measure.

Darwin – I arrived here and was immediately shocked by the prices, the heat, the friendliness and the fatness of the people. It’s what I imagine small town America looks like, flat and dusty with fast food and tract housing clad in various shades of beige plastic siding.

I take a day tour and see wild crocodiles leap for chunks of meat offered on the end of very long stick.Australia 2012 067

We make a stop in the excruciating heat, and with thousands of flies torturing us, we visit a couple termite mounds near the entrance to Litchfield National Park. I’m not sure why we have to stop and see these particular ones as there are literally thousands of these mounds all over the landscape. Anyways here’s the mandatory picture of the one we stopped to see…Australia 2012 082

And here’s a few more….Australia 2012 083

We swim at a nice big pool beneath a waterfall that is probably much more spectacular in the wet season though still impressive. Australia 2012 085

The lake shore is surrounded by bush which on closer inspection has HUNDREDS of scary looking spiders lurking in their webs.Australia 2012 097

My dress is stolen as I swim so I am stuck in a damp swimsuit and sarong for the rest of the day. We finish up watching a sunset and chowing down on barbeque shrimp and champagne.Australia 2012 115


Andy, Albert and I spend a night on Lombok and then get ourselves to Gili Air. You get around Gili Air by horse drawn carriage, we’re a captive market, not wishing to walk across the entire island from the ferry and back with our packs on, and they charge accordingly.

We find a nice spot on the Northern side of the island, quieter and less populated with tourists than the other sides. We spend 2 nights and one day here, the day is of epic relaxation, sunshine and beers before noon. It’s the day we coined the phrase “swamp belly” for the prodigious amounts of sweat I can produce, which all comes to rest in my belly button, whilst baking in the sun doing nothing more strenuous then lifting my beer repeatedly. In the evening we eat and have drinks and meet a couple local guys who smoke copious amounts of pot and play guitar badly. It’s great.

We go to Nusa Lembongan and stay in the place I went before, Tamarind Bungalows. They remember me there and treat us very well. We rent 2 bikes, Andy is my passenger (a first for me) and I show them all over the island. Mangrove Beach, Dream Beach and sunset at Secret Beach are the highlights, as is the amazingly good dinner we splurge on.

We book a snorkeling tour, something I very much wanted to do the first time I was here but couldn’t due to that lingering ear infection and chronic ennui. This time we’re doing it though, we’re going to swim with manta rays! We meet our captain early in the morning at Mangrove Beach. As we start to head into more open water he stops the boat and makes an offering for a safe journey. He places a little square boat made of leaves in the water. It’s filled with bits of flowers and food and he says a prayer, a lovely little ritual. And then we’re off, zooming through the water on the way to the areas the mantas like to hang out.

Mantas feed on jellyfish and plankton, something I was not aware of until we were already out on the water. I don’t like jellyfish; in fact I’m down right paranoid about them and start to rethink this whole thing. But then we get there and it’s so exciting trying to spot the mantas and the brief glimpses of these magnificent creatures that I can see from the boat convince me to be brave and go for it. Andy is super supportive (as she always is) and holds my hand the whole time we are in the water. The visibility is not fantastic but we see them, 3 in total. One comes out of the murkiness heading right towards us, we can see the beautiful rhythmic flapping of its wings and it’s glorious as it passes only a few feet away from us.

Having enough of dodging the jellyfish we make our way to a place called Gamut Cove for some more snorkeling. This is really my kind of place, the water is crystal clear, not more than 4 meters deep (mostly less) and it’s like dropping into a tropical fish aquarium where not one of the fish is longer than my arm and most are closer to the size of my hand. It’s perfect. There are literally thousands of tiny fish all in this one small cove, it’s beautifully colourful with lovely coral formations and we hang out here for ages. Our captain hands Andy a banana which she peels underwater and starts a frenzy of dozens of little 3-4 inch fish nibbling away and the banana rapidly disappears. We don’t really want to leave here but finally have to go. We’re waterlogged but happy.

Our final stop is Ubud. Albert stays with us for one night but then leaves as he wants to go to Sanur but I haven’t been here yet and had to see it before I leave in a couple days.  Andy and I spend the remainder of our time wandering around looking in shops, art galleries and eating many glorious meals. I’m leaving a few days ahead of her, on to Australia, and I’m so sad to part with her. She rates top marks with me and I’d travel with her again any day.