Monthly Archives: January 2016

Lights, Camera – ACTION! There’s Nothing like Australia!

MARK/SARAH:  So what was the real reason for our visit to Australia?

As part of our RTW trip?  To see Shane, George and the rest of the family @ Christmas?  For Sarah to re-live her “alcohol-fuelled” east coast journey sober, 35 years later? Or was it something else?  Stay tuned and find out more after the break!

In the meantime, we didn’t think we would be blogging again from Australia.

BUT, we’ve just had an amazing day on Fraser Island (southern Queensland) and we both wanted to share what was a superb “post birthday” treat for Mrs Bailey.   Rather than the typical format of “prose with pictures”, we have decided to go with a pictorial blog – a few photos, with comments.  A bit like the “Jackie” girls magazine from the 1970s – something a good friend of ours (who will remain anonymous) starred in!  That’s the subject of another Blog in itself!

Background:   A chauffeur driven Hummer picked us up at 0730 from our delightful Colonial Lodge accommodation in Hervey Bay – check out Mark’s Trip Advisor Review (https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ShowUserReviews-g255404-d1852678-r343261729-Hervey_Bay_Colonial_Lodge-Hervey_Bay_Fraser_Coast_Queensland.html) and after a 40 minute “barge crossing” drove us around the largest island made out of sand in the World.  Morning tea with cake, a superb lunch in the middle of a 150 million year old rainforest with a selection of wines and an afternoon finale of champagne, chocolates and strawberries on a beach which was a mere 75 miles in length.

This Mr T look-a-like vehicle picked us up

This “Mr T” look-a-like vehicle picked us up and whisked us away

Up with the Captain as we steamed across to Fraser Island some 12 miles. away from Hervey Bay

Down with the Captain as we steamed across to Fraser Island some 12 miles away from Hervey Bay

View from the front of the Hummer as we travel along sand tracks en-route to Mackenzie Lake

View from the front of the Hummer as we bounced along sand tracks en-route to Mckenzie Lake

MB taking a dip. Lake McKenzie is a perched lake (created by rain water only) sitting on top of compact sand and vegetable matter 330 ft above sea level. Lake McKenzie has an area of 150 hectares and is just 16 ft in depth. The beach sand of is nearly pure silica and enabled us to "shine up" our wedding rings as if they were knew. Water temperature 28C and air 31C - beautiful.

MB taking a dip. Lake McKenzie is a perched lake (created by rain water only) sitting on top of compact sand and vegetable matter 330 ft above sea level. It has an area of 150 hectares and is just 16 ft in depth. The beach sand is nearly pure silica, which enabled us to “shine up” our wedding rings as if they were new. Water temperature 28C and air 31C – beautiful

The water looks dirty - but don't be fooled. It comes from a spring and the water is 200 years old! The depth of the creek is about three feet - the brown you can see is sand. So clear - the forest at the other side has not been changed for 150 million years and is the same now as it was then, T Rex city!

The water looks dirty – but don’t be fooled. It comes from a spring and the filtrated water is 200 years old and some of the purest on the planet! The depth of the creek is about three feet – the light brown you can see is sand. So clear!  The forest at the other side has not changed for 150 million years and is the same now as it was then.  T Rex city!

A beautiful "Yellow" Robin to go with my "Blue" Wren

A beautiful Yellow Robin to go with my beautiful Blue Wren

On the 75 Mile Beach highway. We saw a Cop pull over a 4WD - the speed limit is 80kph and full Highway laws are enforced.

On the 75 Mile Beach highway. We saw a Cop pull over a 4WD – the speed limit is 80kph and full Highway laws are enforced – he was breatherlized and later released

A traffic jam - the cars ahead waiting for the waves t go out before heading around the rocks

A traffic jam – the cars ahead waiting for the waves to go out before heading around the rocks – a bit like Saltburn on a good weather day

Pit stop

Pit stop!

We could not spot any Dingos sadly

We did not spot any Dingos sadly

THANKS TO WIKIPEDIA... A major landmark on Fraser Island is the shipwreck of the S.S. Maheno. The Maheno was built in Scotland in 1905 as a luxury passenger ship for the trans-Tasman crossing. During the First World War she served as a hospital ship in the English Channel, and was then returned to her owners to resume her usual commercial operation....

THANKS TO WIKIPEDIA…
A major landmark on Fraser Island is the shipwreck of the S.S. Maheno. The Maheno was built in Scotland in 1905 as a luxury passenger ship for the trans-Tasman crossing. During the First World War she served as a hospital ship in the English Channel and was then returned to her owners to resume her usual commercial operation….

By 1935 the ship had been taken out of service and was sold to a ship-breaker in Japan. On 25 June 1935, while being towed to Osaka to be broken up, she was caught in a strong cyclone about 80 kilometres (50 miles) off the coast of Queensland. The towline parted, and on 9 July 1935 the Maheno became beached on the east coast of Fraser Island

… by 1935 the ship had been taken out of service and was sold to a ship-breaker in Japan. On 25 June 1935, while being towed to Osaka to be broken up, she was caught in a strong cyclone about 80 kilometres (50 miles) off the coast of Queensland. The towline parted and on 9 July 1935 the Maheno became beached on the east coast of Fraser Island…

... During the Second World War the wreck served as target bombing practice for the RAAF and was used as an explosives demolition target by special forces from the Fraser Commando School. The remains of the ship are now severely rusted, with almost three and a half storeys buried under the sand. Because of the danger it poses, climbing on the wreck is not permitted

… during the Second World War the wreck served as target practice for the RAAF and was used as an explosives demolition target by special forces from the Fraser Commando School. The remains of the ship are now severely rusted, with almost three and a half storeys buried under the sand

On the way back a small Cessna landed just in front of us, the white Landcruiser (right) took avoiding action

On the way back, a small Cessna landed just in front of us, the white Landcruiser (right) took avoiding action

It was a great day!  And a fitting way to end our 3,250 car miles / 5 flight trip Down Under.

So, bet you want to know now why we came to Australia!

Well, the answer is we have been assisting the Australian Tourist Commission with their latest promotional video (launched this week on Australia Day.) Despite protracted negotiations over three months, they did in the end decide to go for slightly younger actors and a different voice-over artist!  Nevertheless, we think they have captured perfectly the spirit of this wonderful country. Click on the link/video graphic below and see for yourselves:

And so finally we say good bye to Australia.  We fly to Christchurch New Zealand tomorrow (Sunday) from Brisbane, where we are currently spending the weekend amongst temperatures close to 39C and amazing cyclonic rain – the light show for which is something to behold.  Cheers from the two of us!

Cheers!

Categories: Australia Blog

Where two greats collide: Rainforest meets Reef

MARK: We’ll never forget that knock on the door. It was the news we’d been dreading.  “I’ve seen your missing cat poster in the newsagent’s window… I buried him”.

The old man, dressed in a brown jacket which had seen better days, took off his cap as a mark of respect and bowed his head.

Rushdie (after Salman Rushdie) our ginger (rusty coloured) RSPCA rescue cat was now no more. It was a CATastrophe for me and Sarah. Our little cat, who’d been such a part of our lives since we lived in York, had been mown down on the backstreets of Stotfold, Beds’ by a hit and run driver. We PAWsed and said a short prayer.

Interestingly, exactly nine months later, ginger haired Joseph Michael Bailey was born in the Lister Hospital Stevenage. Rushdie had been reincarnated and was now a 6lb 13oz baby that pooped everywhere. They were one and the same creation, that there is no doubt.

I suppose that really was the end of our animal magic period. And in truth, neither of us since have ever been fond of cats, dogs or any wildlife for that matter – sorry Janet, Stacy and all animal lovers that we know….

But hang on a minute, perhaps all that is changing.

Love Trixie the Jack Russell that kept us company at the wonderful Sea Lords Bed and Breakfast, in Mission Beach. Also love Sharon’s aptly named pink Crocs

Love Trixie the Jack Russell that kept us company at the wonderful Sea Lords Bed and Breakfast, in Mission Beach. Also love Sharon’s aptly named pink Crocs

Could it be that Australia has been the catalyst for a Dr. Doolittle type transformation in our joint outlook?

Well possibly yes, as we have amazingly encountered all sorts of two, four and “no” legged creatures during the past four weeks.  Plus, if you couple this with the beautiful natural world which uniquely collides as the Tropical Rainforest of Northern Queensland, joins the majesty and wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef.  Yes I think we are now new fans of David Attenborough and Jacques Cousteau!

Rainforest and Reef

Rainforest and Reef

Two worlds meet

Two worlds meet

Our animal epiphany started with a lizard, Eddie my nephew’s lizard.  They’re not creatures that you regularly come in contact with whilst driving on the M3 southbound at Junction 4.  But in addition to Eddie’s mate, we have also fed a small one bread in the wild open spaces of the Blue Mountains (not sure we should have done that) and have been startled by one in a forest where to our surprise they are quite common.

Arthur, Eddie's pet - hope you are ok mate??

Arthur, Eddie’s pet – hope you are ok mate??

This guy loved Sarah's ham and lettuce sarnies... he came back for more

This guy loved Sarah’s ham and lettuce sarnies… he came back for more

Out in the open...

Out in the open…

We’ve also had a number of “Skippy” moments.  “Skippy” as in typical Australian animals that I remember from black and white TV days. Question, I digress, but can you do that “tut-tutting” sound like Skippy the Bush Kangaroo?  If you can, chances are you are 50+!  Happy 56th Birthday Sarah by the way (27/01/60).

Sorry, back on message now.

We met a possum, one of three who lived in Shane’s garage, loved seeing the baby ‘Joey’ close up and had a real fun moment chasing over 100 wallabies around an open area designated as a new housing estate in Mission Beach.  Boy, did those things move quickly.

One of three smelly P's

One of three smelly P’s

Ahhhhh

Ahhhhh

Fav shot

Fav shot

Out of breath trying to catch this lot!

Out of breath trying to catch this lot!

But it’s not just the exotic (to us) animals and birds that have caught our eyes.  It’s the everyday creatures which WE have never seen before and which Aussies just take for granted.

Take the little blue bird that hopped around us like a playful Robin.  Not sure of his name – Chris Towers can you let us know?  Then there is the national bird the Ibis, which you find everywhere.  Pigeons are pretty special too, especially the pure white ones.  Even the bees look brighter and more interesting than the ones in the UK.

Not sure of his name.... can you let us know Chris T?

Not sure of his name…. can you let us know Chris T?

Ibis everywhere

Ibis everywhere

Whiter than white

Whiter than white

I was being very careful when I took this picture

I was being very careful when I took this picture

But it wasn’t a bird, but a bat – ney thousands of bats, which had us gawping in amazement.  We’d been told by the skipper of the boat we went out to the Low Islands on, that there was one of the biggest colonies of Fox Bats in Australia, just around the block from the marina.  He said go there at 1900 as seeing them take off was quite amazing.

He wasn’t’ wrong. Bang on 1900, the sky was blackened as wave after wave of Fox Bats, decided not to hang upside down anymore on their eucalyptus tree branches, but instead head off to the Rain Forest some 15kms away for their evening feed.  I mentioned Skippy earlier on, well now it’s time to name check Scooby Doo and that opening scene as the bats take off or throw in the Adams Family as well to the mix and you get the sort of idea.  These mammals have a wing span of over a metre and could poo from a great height, all over the hire car which was white but soon had fruit stains all down it over the roof and windows.  Unlike certain nationalities I could name, the bats took off in sequence, with each group joining the back of the queue before heading off in the fading light towards the distant hills.  I tried to get some good shots, but sadly the ones below are the best that I could do.

Batty

Batty

Looking for Scooby snacks...

Looking for Scooby snacks…

I had better luck as I managed to photograph giant termite mounds as we headed down from Cape Tribulation, through Port Douglas and Cairns, into the area called the Tablelands.

Amazing what these little fellas can do

Amazing what these little fellas can do

The Tablelands is a beautiful area beyond the Rain Forest at a height of 3000 ft.  Beautiful for many reasons but probably because it is the nearest we have got to Yorkshire so far after travelling 34,000 miles.  We’ve hardly missed home I must confess, but seeing the view below made me think of Wensleydale and the view over the Vale of York from the top of Sutton Bank all rolled into one… I could go on, but you’ll just have to wait a minute so that I can dry my eyes…

YORKSHIRE!

YORKSHIRE!

There, ok now….. stiff Yorkshire upper lip now NOT trembling anymore.

Yes, we’ve seen some stuff during our 2,200 miles on the road “down-under”.  Other sights have reminded us of the UK, but then you drive a bit further and randomly see people riding camels.  I say randomly, but camels are not as random in Australia as you think.  Introduced in the 1840s by the British and the Afghans, there are now approximately 1.2 million feral camels and their numbers are thought to be doubling every 8-9 years.  They are beginning to become a real problem despite a culling and exporting drive of some 160,000 in recent years.

Lawrence of Arabia leading...

Lawrence of Arabia leading…

We could have done with a couple of camels as the road “ran out” into a dirt track a few miles north of Cape Tribulation.  No way were we going to be able to travel 120 kms further north to Cooktown without a 4WD.

Instead we turned around and bingo, saw just what we had been hunting for.

A few weeks ago in Kuala Lumpur we had been amazed to see the Cassowary, a large EMU type bird which was about 1.5 high with lovely blue, red and black plumage.  They are very rare and a lot of locals we had spoken to here have never seen them.  But as we rounded a corner, driving carefully at 50kph (because of yellow Cassowary signs), there was a male bird and his two chicks.  Now the observant amongst you will have read “male”, perhaps thinking I missed out the two letters FE.  Well no, I am right.  The lady bird gives birth and when the chicks are hatched it is the Dad, yes the Dad that looks after his offspring for the next 14 months before they become “adult birds”.  I was very impressed with this male bird – it reminded me of bringing up Joe in the same diligent way 23 years ago… or maybe not (Editor, Sarah).

Respect this MAN

Respect this MAN

I took a few pictures of this amazing sight and then stopped dead in my tracks.  I realised that I had parked on a blind corner and there was a large pick up van coming up behind us his Bull Bars suddenly filling my review mirror.  I flagged him down just in the nick of time and the Cassowary did a runner.  But we saw one – YES!!!

That road had many surprises.  It’s not every day that you have the chance to drive on a road through the middle of a rainforest!  The Daintree River Valley as it is known is where the rainforest grows right down to the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef – the only place in the world where you can experience two World Heritage listed areas meeting.  We stopped at the Discovery Centre and discovered (funny that) that the wet tropics of Queensland are THE oldest rainforests in the world some 6 to 10 times older than the oldest parks of the Amazon.

Champing at the bit, we decided to go walk-about as it was like a scene from Jurassic Park.  You half expected to see a dinosaur as we walked amongst an ecosystem that had been there for over 150 million years. It was stunning. Fast-flowing rivers, deep gorges, numerous waterfalls, hills in the distance and the chance to walk high in the tree canopy at a specially created look-out point 100ft off the forest floor.

We got a good distance into the jungle, sweat dripping through near 100% humidity. Baby turtles in small pools said hello and more giant lizards, scuttled off in search of cover.

Hitching a lift...

Hitching a lift…

But the forest was too dense to walk right down to the Barrier Reef Coast, so back in our Hyundai Hire car we travelled a few miles coastal bound and got out once more.

We were greeted by fantastic trees, shrubs, vines and palms.  Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan) would have been at home.  Rounding a bend on the trail we noticed a change in vegetation as the jungle gave way to mangrove swamps and signs warning us of crocodiles.  We were all alone, miles from anywhere and somewhat apprehensive, particularly as these crocs’ could read German.

Beware

Beware

Mangrove swamps

Mangrove swamps

Pushing on, fifteen minutes later we made it to the beach.  No-one there – result!  Well not quite, we were joined by thousands of small crabs who made beautiful patterns in the sand as they buried themselves in search of food and shelter.

Rainforest on the Beach

Rainforest on the Beach

Amazing patterns made by crabs

Amazing patterns made by crabs

Sarah and crabs

Sarah and crabs

The coastline was quite superb – you can see from the photos – but nothing in comparison to our three offshore Barrier Reef expeditions….

The first adventure (as previously blogged) was just off Port Douglas, 12 of us on a beautiful catamaran heading for the Low Islands, two dots in the National Park.  This was simply amazing for Sarah who for the first time in her life was able to snorkel because the boat operator had prescription goggles.  I’ll never forget being able to share this experience as we swam with giant turtles, dolphins and Reef Sharks that were just a few metres away.  The coral was alive, undamaged and unbelievably beautiful.

A few days later after more walking in the Mission Beach area, we arrived at Airlie Beach next to the Whitsunday Islands.  Sarah had talked so passionately about this area having been here 35 years before when she bought a car with a friend and travelled from Sydney to Cairns.

I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about until we caught a rib boat and sped off at 35 knots towards Whitehaven Beach.  OMG it was beautiful and there were only 20 of us on a white silica sand beach which stretched for 5 miles.

Amazing

Amazing

Stunning

Stunning

Superb

Superb

But more was to come.

As a pre-birthday treat for Sarah, we decided to fly over the outer barrier reef.  Sadly the sea plane was fully booked, but a small 14 seater Cessna 208 “Caravan” was just as good, flying 55 miles out to stunning coral reefs which we had only dreamt about and seen on David Attenborough’s documentaries.

Greens and blues and turquoises contrasted with the reef.  The outline of huge black Manta Rays could clearly be seen as the plane flew at just 500ft above the translucent waters.  I really can’t put it all in to words, forgive me – but hopefully the pictures and captions will give you an idea.

Unforgettable

Unforgettable

Heart Reef - for my loved one

Heart Reef – for my loved one

not a bad view - sorry about the wheel

not a bad view – sorry about the wheel

Back safe and sound

Back safe and sound

Big shout out to Bruce and Shirley at the fantastic Kipara Tropical Rainforest Retreat for all their help in booking of these once in a life time experiences.  Talking of which, do check these guys out if you are ever in the area, you won’t be disappointed.

 

So as we head further south on our journey down the Barrier Reef to Brisbane we leave with a lifetime of memories, a seachange in our views about All Creatures Great and Small and only our footprints left in the sand.

Happy Birthday Sarah – thanks for having the courage to do this trip of a lifetime.

The End

The End

 

Categories: Australia Blog

Kept in the DARK – Mother Nature Will Always Have The Last Word!

MARK:  It had to happen.  It did.  We were gutted.  And there was nothing we could do about it. Best laid plans and all that….

Adelaide – Amazing, The Great Ocean Road – Great, Melbourne – Marvelous, Sydney – Superb…

Down town Melbourne - we could definitely live here - great place

Down town Melbourne – we could definitely live here – great place

Ayers Rock – ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

When we organised our trip to Australia many months ago, Sarah took the lead.  She had been there 35 years ago, working and touring around this great country.  One of the few places she did not visit was Ayers Rock, or Uluru as it is now known in these Aboriginal “correct” days.

We added it to the list of places we wanted to see. But it did take a bit of working out as it was a 1,200 mile detour to the Red Centre rather than flying straight to Cairns from Sydney – our final intended destination, Port Douglas in the tropical north.

After a few hours of online research we hatched a 27 hour action plan, which went something like this:

Book three hour Virgin Australia flight to Ayers Rock.  Arrive at 1245 local time.  Transfer to a “simple” hotel that we could afford (£125 room only, ensuite with two bunk beds).  Brief kip before joining the Sounds of Silence (SOS) Dinner in the open air desert, overlooking the Rock. Watch spectacular sunset and then enjoy an astronomer talking about the sky at night, Patrick Moore style. Next morning, get up at 0400 ready for the “sunrise” tour of Ayers Rock and the chance to see a beautiful red glow effect as the sun rose.  Return to hotel at 0800, check out the visitor centre, attend a talk by a local Aboriginee Guide and relax for two hours before finally boarding the 1530 flight to Cairns.

Sound like a plan?  It was. Did it happen?  NO!  Could we do anything about it?  Er No!

So what went wrong? The weather, that’s what!!

We were in one of the driest, warmest places on planet Earth.  Temperatures of 40C + at this time of the year quite common. Just a handful of days a year when it rained.  Cloud cover rare, sunstroke and dehydration common.

So tell Mother Nature the stats!  But as we all know she is not listening at the moment anywhere in the World.  The warmest and wettest December ever in the UK proved that point.  And here in Aus’ you can have 40C heat one day only for 20C to hit you the next.

We’d had a great few days in Sydney staying at the superb Admiral Collingwood Lodge.  Beautiful weather, blue skies – perfect.  Even the mighty Boro won against Brentford, prior to the diabolical loss against Bristol City at Ashton Gate.

We loved using the ferry from Drummoyne to travel in to Circular Quay

We loved using the ferry from Drummoyne to travel in to Circular Quay

However, as we re-checked our Ayers Rock flight and accommodation online, we also checked the weather forecast.  It could not have been worse. Two days of 100% cloud cover!  Thirty percent chance of rain.  Winds gusting up to 35 MPH.  Temperatures between 17-25C excluding wind-chill.  Surely the forecast was wrong?  A quick check of two other online weather sites confirmed the same thing.  A 36 hour cold front was heading straight though the centre of Australia! And we were in the middle of it.

Worse was to follow as my mind quickly went into Plan B Organiser mode, the crowd cheering on the TV as an Adelaide Strikers’ player hit another six in their Big Bash Cricket Match. I fished out the confirmation of our Sounds of Silence (SOS) Dinner and read the small print.  In summary, if dinner had to be called off because of the weather, they would try to book you on the next day or give you a letter to assist with your insurance claim for a refund of monies paid.  Great!  We were there for one night and secondly, what insurance company would pay out for a cancelled dinner due to rain or high winds?

We prayed that night for good weather. It didn’t work.

We knew we were in for a problem when the flight took 30 minutes longer than scheduled because of strong head winds.  We also had to stomach over two and a half hours of pretty uncomfortable turbulence, the worst we had experienced on any of our 25 flights to date. Not nice on a small plane.

There was no chance to look out of the window and see the marvelous red desert from 35,000ft.  We flew in cloud for most of the way and only saw land on final approach, the ground below looking grey and seriously depressing as we touched down.

With just four flights a day, we breezed through Connellan Airport and 30 minutes after we landed, we were checking in to the Outback Pioneer Lodge.  Ray Croydon – Sails in the Desert much better as you said!

Bags dumped, Sarah was being optimistic as we headed off on a walk around the local area.  “There’s bound to be a break in the cloud” she said as a gust of wind nearly ripped off her fly net!  I had to laugh – we both looked ridiculous.  But our planning and the transporting for five months of our two little head nets had not been a waste.  Damn flies attacked us from all angles. We didn’t care.

No flys on Sarah! Well actually there were, but not on her face.

No flys on Sarah! Well actually there were, but not on her face.

We did care though when we bordered the transfer bus for our “once in a lifetime” Sounds of Silence Dinner, in the middle of the desert.

Road to nowhere

Road to nowhere

It was cold, very cold.  Out came my North Face minus 20 fleece and North Face Gortex jacket.  We needed them.  Other Europeans and Chinese guests meanwhile were left shivering in their shorts and T shirts.  They hadn’t the right kit, we were lucky.

Those marketing people

Those marketing people

Sarah sipping Champagne - AR can just about be seen

Sarah sipping Champagne – AR can just about be seen

The man playing the Digeridoo had frozen hands and blue lips.  Two glasses of champagne crashed off the table, blown by the now gale-force winds.

Uluru was hardly visible in the distance.  It was grey, there was no sunset.  One minute a murky outline, the next nothing.

Sunset minus sun, 17C and 35 mph wind gusts

Sunset minus sun, 17C and 35 mph wind gusts

The dinner was OK, I managed to catch stuff flying off the table.  The banter with a couple from Cambridge was a bit of fun, but when an astronomer rocked up to talk about the wonderful night sky, the evening descended into farce.  It was like one of those Jim Bowen moments from Bullseye where if the contestant “failed” in his or her attempt to win the star prize, Jim said with glee in his voice “here, let’s take a look at what you could have won…”  It was such a shame because seeing the Milky Way with no light pollution was another reason to do the SOS Dinner.  Now SOS took on a whole new meaning, being more of a case of “we’ve had enough, get us out of here….”

More tea Vicar. Kylie (yes really)

More tea Vicar. Kylie our waitress (yes really) looks on as Sarah downs her ninth glass of wine

At 2230 we climbed in to bed.  Midnight with the 90 minute time difference. Neither of us were looking forward to the 0400 wake-up call ready to see the sunrise. Would the weather be better tomorrow?  Fingers firmly crossed, we fell asleep.

0430, head out of door.  Damn.  Strong winds, total cloud cover.  Here we go again.

Five “lucky” punters got on the AAT Kings Bus at 0435.  The bus took 65 passengers – where were the rest?  There weren’t any – what did they know that we didn’t?

Peter, the Driver/Guide was a nice Aussie chap from Brisbane, who sipped at his bottle of water every three minutes even though there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance he would ever get dehydrated.  Twenty minutes later and the black looming shape that was Ayers Rock came into view.  We grabbed a coffee in the car park, and walked through the arid desert, to the raised vantage point.  But what was the point?  Other than a change in the murky lighting, there wasn’t going to be any Eureka or Wow moment this morning.

Sunrise 0605 - but no sun - lots of red soil though

Sunrise 0605 – but no sun – lots of red soil though

By 0610 the sun had risen.  We didn’t know, we had to be told.  So, back to the bus.

But then some good news!  Because there were just five of us on our big bus we had time to go “walkabout” close to the base of the Rock.  Suddenly the mood amongst us and our fellow travellers’ lifted.  We got off the bus and walked a few minutes right under the towering sandstone face of the west side.  The pitted surface was clear to see and touch.  The overhanging rock formations housed interesting carvings.  A full water hole reflected the grey light having been refilled from the downpours that the area had experienced 48 hours before.

Close up and personal

Close up and personal

We saw the chain links up the side of the Rock which Sarah’s Dad, Dennis had scaled 20 years before.  These days few climb at the request of the Aboriginees.  Fair enough.

Chain reaction - if you dared climb

Chain reaction – if you dared climb

Peter points out where many people have been killed by falling over the edge

Peter points out where many people have been killed by falling over the edge

We headed back to the hotel, walked around the local centre, had a cup of coffee and caught up with emails from Barclays Bank that we needed to action.

At 1330 as the shuttle bus arrived the sky began to clear.  At 1500 as we boarded the old Qantas Boeing 717, the sky was virtually blue.  The temperature was in the late 30s centigrade.  I asked an Aussie security guard what the yellow thing in the sky was… he laughed, I didn’t.

One last throw of the dice though… I’d asked (and got) Emergency Exit seats.  I’d gambled that we would be taking off right to left on the desert runway and specified seats 7 A and C.  That meant we’d have a view of the Rock as we had took off.  But the winds direction changed at the last minute and yes, you’ve guessed it, we took off in the other direction – our Cambridge dinner friends enjoying a ringside seat from 5000ft.

STOP:  END OF BLOG WRITING ON FLIGHT, RAN OUT OF TIME.

THREE DAYS LATER – MARK: Hi everyone.  I’m now not in “grumpy old ungrateful git mood!”

We’re in Port Douglas and have had two magical days in the northern Queensland tropics.  The Rainforest has been amazing and the snorkelling on the Barrier Reef literally out of this World.  Sarah has snorkelled for the first time using prescription goggles.  It was not an exaggeration to say it was like a blind person seeing for the first time as she could see the beautiful coral, fish, turtles and reef sharks.

This trip is all about Mother Nature and you pays your money and you takes your chance.  So, Sarah is now happy that I have “got over it”.  Life moves on and there are, as we are constantly reminded much worse things to be upset or worried about than cloud cover at Ayers Rock.

My Dive Buddy the sun always shines when Sarah is in town.... (brownie points)

My Dive Buddy the sun always shines when Sarah is in town…. (brownie points)

Categories: Australia Blog

Where’s Mark? St. John is there. Bailey annoyed!

MARK ST. JOHN BAILEY:    “George, George!!”  No, not the start of a Famous Five Book, instead an urgent call for Georgina Barnard, wife of Shane (Sarah’s brother) and full time nurse.

I was in the back of Shanes’ Mazda SUV, George next to me.  We were waiting for the rest of the family, all excited like kids as we were heading off to the Barossa Valley for a wine tasting adventure to celebrate Shane’s birthday.

But the tone of Shane’s voice immediately caused alarm.  Something had happened in the two minutes since we’d left Sarah and her parents upstairs.

Georgina ran from the car as if she’d just received a “crash call” at work.

All sorts of things went through my head as I followed, none of them good.  As I opened the front door, my worst fears were temporarily realised.  There was Gwen, Sarah’s 84 year old mother, lying at the foot of the stairs being told “not to move” by George and Sarah.  It didn’t look good. But Gwen was conscious and whilst clearly in pain and shock, was talking lucidly.  It transpired that she had somehow “pirouetted” and then fallen half way down the stairs, head first, backwards.  Sarah heard her mother slip and saw it all!

Remarkably, Gwen was just badly bruised and after a few minutes sat up and announced that she was ready for the Wine Tour!  She’s tough as old boots my Mother-in-Law.  George proceeded to closely monitor Gwen, but amazingly she was ok and subsequently had a few wines to celebrate the positive outcome to what could have been a completely different scenario.

Gwen - in the pink - a few days after her accident enjoying an impromtu Aussie BBQ... if Sarah looks half as good at 84...

Gwen – in the pink – a few days after her accident enjoying an impromptu Aussie BBQ… if Sarah looks half as good at 84…

Not much to add...

Not much to add…

We had a great Christmas with Shane and George, their three children (see earlier Eddie Blog) and Gwen & Dennis.  The only downside really was having to eat our Christmas dinner indoors as the temperature outdoors was close to 40C and simply too hot.  So yes, we did BBQ the turkey, but brought it inside to enjoy, in air conditioned comfort.

Highlight of the trip for us was the fantastic night at the Adelaide Oval watching the Big Bash cricket followed by a spectacular New Year’s Eve show with fireworks brightening the sky as the evening came to a close.

"The family - at the Adelaide Oval. Yorky Adil Rashid played really well.

“The family – at the Adelaide Oval. Yorky Adil Rashid played really well

The 4th January 2016 soon came round.  One of those dates historically I would have been dreading in the UK as it would have signalled a return to work.  Not this year.  Instead, the 4th Jan heralded our departure from Crafers, near Adelaide (Shane’s House) and a journey that day of 425 miles along the Great Ocean Road (GOR).

New hire car ready – the first went back after the clutch failed on the freeway – I was now the excited driver of a Hyundai Accent, with 3,000kms on the clock!  But could I remember how to drive after four months?  Fortunately the answer was yes as we headed over the Murray River at a steady 110 kph (68 mph).

Glad I flogged that VW Passat

Glad I flogged that VW Passat

The GOR is often thought of as the entire main road from Adelaide to Melbourne, a distance of some 595 miles.  The reality is that the true “Ocean Road” bit is only 160 miles from Allansford to Torquay.

Day 1 was good, if not spectacular.  Mile after mile of empty single carriage-way road.  The main activity for the first couple of hundred miles was counting the number of dead kangaroos that seemed to litter the highway.  I got up to 12 as the monotonous landscape of scorched brown bush gave way to salt flats which shone in the distance like a desert mirage effect.

We never saw a car for 17 miles

We never saw a car for 17 miles

Flat Salt

Flat Salt

Why don't they read the signs!

Why don’t they read the signs!

Won that got away thank goodness

One that got away thank goodness

Nelson, and the State border with Victoria came and went.  Bye bye South Australia, clocks forward 30 minutes – random.

Then as we approached the picture postcard Port Fairey, the landscape began to change.  Wind turbines as far as the eye could see, along the Limestone cliff top.  Love them or hate them, aesthetically you couldn’t help but marvel at the sight, their tall white blades contrasting beautifully with the blue sea and sky backdrop of the great Southern Ocean. Next stop, Antarctica.

Windy Miller on the right - can you see him?

Windy Miller on the right – can you see him?

Our overnight $110 Motel in Warrnambol was fine; clean and tidy, a good shower and a good bed.  They got the basics right and even had some catering facilities enabling us to visit the local Woolworth’s (an Aussie TESCO) and raid the discounted chiller cabinets for “goodies” that were about to hit their “sell by date”.  If you look after the pennies the pounds will look after themselves, tha knows!

Next morning semi refreshed we were off by 0730.  Today was the day, driving the GOR proper.  There was even a sign for Peterborough which made us feel at home.  John Hodson, one for you.

Closer to home than we thought

Closer to home than we thought

BUT the ABC National news bulletin at 0800 soon confirmed our worst fears on the crackly AM radio. Part of the route, the 30 mile stretch from Kennett River to Lorne was still closed because of a raging bush fire that had destroyed 116 coastal homes over the Christmas period.  Big “shout out” at this point to Shane Barnard and my friend of 44 years, Ian Marr, two part time firemen who regularly put their lives on the line.  Shane fought the Adelaide Bush Fires last year and Ian has ensured the safety of North Yorkshire folk for well over twenty years.  Gentlemen – RESPECT.

Fire warning

Fire warning

But despite the negative news, we weren’t going to be downhearted because the main road past the World famous Twelve Apostles was still very much open, and as always, we had a plan B.  More of that later.

This shot for James Duckworth..... nice car

This shot for James Duckworth….. nice car

With just 250 miles to drive to Melbourne on Day 2, we had scheduled plenty of time to stop at a number of tourist vantage points including the Bay of Islands, Loch Ard and London Bridge before we arrived at the main event.

And OMG – if you pardon the pun – what a sight the Apostles were!

The Twelve Apostles – a collection of limestone stacks just off the shore of Port Campbell National Park.  Twelve is a made up figure – wonder why – as currently there are only eight apostles left, the ninth collapsed in July 2005 after pounding  waves won the coastal erosion war.  No surprise there.

London Bridge - fallen down

London Bridge – fallen down

From the beach, the ever changing light created photographic opportunity after photographic opportunity.  Beautiful white and yellow sand, contrasted with the crystal clear translucent water close to the shore only to be replaced with deep blues and turquoises 100 metres out.  White foam broke over the stunning stacks.  The Apostles may have been wet, but they stood proud, rising over 300 feet from the Ocean floor.  It was one of those “Grand Canyon, wow moments”.

Where's Mark?

Where’s Mark?

Sand - like a bottle from the Isle of Wight

Sand – like a bottle from the Isle of Wight

Stunning stacks

Stunning stacks

Interestingly I always thought Mark was an apostle.  Not true, I found when researching this blog.  So the question I have is how come John and Matthew were apostles, but the remaining two authors of the Gospel – Mark and Luke – were not? Answers please on the back of a post card or sealed down envelope.

Anyway, we had an amazing time and three hours and a quite a few walking miles later, we were back in our white hire car and heading further along the coast, this time to Apollo Bay, with the aim of speaking to the Tourist Information Officer.  The news was the same.  The GOR just a few miles away was still shut – until tomorrow!! I said I’d come 12,000 miles to drive the route, but the lady was having none of it.

No way

No way

So Plan B was put in to immediate effect and there then followed a 75 mile detour inland through the Victoria Hills, dropping down in to Lorne enabling us to “miss out” the blackened, charred and smokey section of coastal road.

And so our Coastal Adventure was nearly at an end.  We sped past Torquay and hit the Freeway into the centre of Melbourne, with the Sat Nav lady finally earning her keep with good instructions albeit with strange strangled Aussie accent.

THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD.  Yes this is one of the great roads, along with the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco and of course the World famous Buttertubs Pass in North Yorkshire. If you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, do find time to drive it.  And if you need putting up in Adelaide, did I tell you that I know a good Bed and Breakfast establishment, run by a bloke from Wiltshire?

1.2km long

1.2km long

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