Australia is the world's sixth largest country and the world's largest Island. Is is the only island that is also a continent and the only continent that is also a country. It the only continent that was conquered from the sea and the only nation that began as a penal colony.
Australia is the home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef. Australia has more things that can kill you than anywhere else on the planet . Of the world's ten most poisonous snakes, all are in Australia. Five of its creatures - the funnel-web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, papalysis tick and stonefish - are the most lethal of their type in the world. Or you may be champed by sharks or crocodiles, or swept out to sea by irresistible currents.
The Epic Journey -
Our first stop of interest was the Australia's Capital, Canberra. Unfortunately we arrived on the week-end of a motor car race that had the Capitol Hill section closed to traffic. Therefore, we could not get close to the Parliament Buildings or any other government building located on or near Capital Hill. I managed to take one photo from about 2 kilometers away. We spent the night then headed into the Blue Mountains National Park east of Sydney. We did manage to get to the National Art Gallery and see the Monet Exhibit.
The Blue Mountains get their name from 91 species of Eucalyptus trees that line the valley floor. They give a "bluish" tint to the forest canopy. The mountains are only 1050m high but there are spectacular views of the valley.
Here are some great names of the little towns we are
It's good to be on the road again. We have settled into a hectic pace. I am usually up before fist light to listen to the BBC World Report or Voice of American on Short Wave. We break camp between 9:30-10:00am, have a look around the town we are in, by then it is 11:30ish and time for a morning coffee break. We are now ready to leave for our next destination. We stop driving around 5:00pm, have dinner and hit the sack 8:30 - 9:00pm. At this pace it could take a year or more to get all around this island.
Managed to find our way in and out of Brisbane and worked our way up the "Sunshine Coast" to Tewanton where we spent three days at a wilderness camp site by the sea.
We finally found a true 'outback' golf course in the little town of Eidsvold in Queensland. The fairways are dirt and scrub grass. The T-box and the greens are good. The 9 holes you play twice from the same tees.
We will be in Townsville from July 4th until July 16 for the Music Festival and Golf. From there we start Chapter II as we head north the Cairns, Cooktown and the York Peninsula.
Having a digital camera with a zoom lens makes taking pictures a snap (pardon the pun). With the ability to erase, there is no such thing as wasting a shot.
|The Epic Journey
Townsville to the Top
16 July - 12 August 2001
A wonderful sub-culture exists in Caravan (RV) Parks where permanent residents form a community. Most tourist parks are only for transient travellers. They fill up for the night by tea time (dinner) and empty by 8am. For 11 Days we stayed at the Coonamblah Caravan Park about 7 km from town where 80%of the sites are occupied by permanent residents.
Once again we were to hear world class musicians play chamber music for a magic eight days. But Townsville, like many other places, is growing rapidly. It is busier, noisier and more bustling than last year. Its sprawling suburbs are multiplying like mushroom spawn, and the number of American style shopping malls is amazing.
After Townsville we managed to find 'the Caravan Park from hell' two days drive North of Townsville, at Lucinda, a place on the backwaters of the Hinchinbrook River across from Hnchinbrook Island National Park. A town dominated by a sugar factory belching pollution into the sky and with its beautiful bay scarred by seven kilometers of pier(the longest in Australia, for taking the sugar out to deep sea vessels in the bay.
A Fishing Tournament was in full swing, so, in a park of 190 camp sites there were 400 Fishermen, too many of whom were cleaning the day's catch right behind us!
We then drove to the Atherton Tablelands and stayed in Milla Milla Millaa (adjacent to a golf course) and afterwards on the shores of Lake Tinaroo. The Tablelands are beautiful with their rolling hills, tropical rain forests, waterfalls and historic villages.
Now we have arrived in Cairns, a culture shock after the beauty of the plateau. We expected that Cairns and its caravan parks might be a trial and we were right. Tourism is rife.
We are in another over -large caravan park (and there a lots of them in Cairns) crammed with caravans on tight little sites, so close one might almost shake hands with the neighbours without moving. We cannot wait to move on!
Cairns' major attraction is its close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. It is very popular with the Japanese, with a JTB office and a OK Gift shop right in the centre of town. Figuring that this is the last decent size town before we head up the Cape, we stock up on supplies at the last really big supermarket we will see in the next 3 months. Towns North of Cooktown are only small outback communities with limited services.
After spending two days in Cairns we moved 85kms North to Mossman. Once again we camped next to a beach - a nice place to spend the next four days.
We also spent four days in Cooktown, with 8053 Km behind us and 586 Km's to go.
Cooktown, is named after Captain Cook, who sailed around Australia claiming it for England Cooktown is an historic spot also, not only because the Endeavour ran ashore there, but because it was a thriving gold mining town in the 1880s. Evidence of which can be seen in the one or two fine buildings which have survived from that era. Ten kilometers North of Cooktown the bitumen road becomes dirt. Apart from odd stretches this is how it remains all the way to the top.. No wonder it is impassable in the rainy season.
The Cape York Peninsula is one of the last true outback areas of Australia. A whole tourist industry thrives on its 289 kilometers. The Peninsula Development Road is a fairly wide dirt road with a corrugations like you have never seen before . It is heavily traveled.
The original Old Telegraph Road, which most 4WD enthusiasts like to do, is a single track with major creek crossings . This is where you truly need a 4WD vehicle. You are continually warned of the hazardous road conditions, deep creek crossings and that there are crocodiles to be found in most creeks. This information combined with the advice to walk ahead of your vehicle, if you are unsure of the depth of the creek you are crossing, is a bit worrying. There are one or two falls and swimming holes which are welcome after a hot drive. It is a lot prettier than the Developmental Road but unvaried in vegetation.
On the development road there are stations where you can camp and refuel, and also wash off at least the surface layer of red dust you have accumulated on the journey.There's no point in cleaning your vehicle because there's plenty more where that came from!.
Most of the camp talk is centered around the difficulties of the Old Telegraph Track , the finer points of crossing Palm and Gunshot Creeks , who got stuck where and who had to be winched out. People with fancy $60,000 4WD (SUV)Toyotas often decide to stay on the Developmental Road, bypassing the Old Telegraph Track with its opportunities for doing damage to your car.
As we went through Palm Creek, a couple who had gone through just before took a picture of us crossing, so at some stage we should be able to add this to our picture gallery..
Star date: 10 August. We are camped 14 kilometers from the most northern point of Australia at Punsand Beach, and once again we are almost on the beach. It is very windy...and hot...and our next move is to Thursday Island . Our total km's to this point is 9316.
Cape York Peninsula...
|The Epic Journey
The Top to Darwin, Northern Territory
15 August - 10 September 2001
Outback Australia is hard to describe- but you certainly know when you are there. You face thousands of kilometers of red dust, empty tracks which pass for roads, with few or no services, strange wildlife, tall tales and two seasons ( wet or dry). It is the ,perhaps, the true Australia.
At one time it was only for the hardy, now 4WD's and modern transportation make it accessible to anyone who has the urge to explore. There are some sealed highways but most tracks are not even maintained. It is expensive to live there and many people survive on bulk orders put into supermarkets hundreds of kilometers away.
Many of the small towns were formed during the mining boom, in the early part of the century. Some, like Daly Waters started because some hardy soul set out to supply travelers or the Cattle Stations. Cattle Stations are huge parcels of land leased or bought from the government and are usually 100,000 plus hectares. Rounding the cattle up and getting them to market used to take months but with the use of modern methods, helicopters , motorbikes and trucks the whole process is much faster.
The Aboriginal people who live an urban life have a hard time with unemployment, alcohol, living next to other tribes, and trying to hold on to their traditions, rituals and tribal laws. Many were driven from their land by force and now battle to get their land back. Like other hunter-gatherer peoples in the world they were true ecologists and their ways do not adapt to the concrete jungles in which most of us now live.
Our first stop after Musgrave was Dorunda, a homestead 40 kms off the Burke Developmental Road. That was something different. Two years ago, an immense and terrifying fire, in which barrels of fuel blew up and were escalated into the air, had wrecked much of it. Now it is left in charge of a seventeen year old and pretty much nothing happens there. Three months of the year, in the wet season , the entire station is submerged. Truly remote, with the nearest neighbour over 100 kms away, telephone repair man calls by helicopter, returning frequently when the phone breaks down again. Just think what that does to your phone bill.
We had meant to stay at Karumba but one look at the 'wall to wall' caravan parks was enough to drive us on. After a quick glimpse of the wonderful turquoise blue of the Gulf of Carpentaria we headed West.
Normanton made an impression because of a statue of a 25 ft crocodile, captured there in the river in the 1960s! Terrifying to think it would have been possible to come across it. Next came Burketown, Gregory Downs and Riversleigh (where fossils over 20 million years old have been found) and then a few relaxing days at Adels Grove and Lawn Hill National Park and the sheer bliss of swimming in a water hole after a long hot dusty drive.
We have adopted the pace of life of the outback as we meander slowly across the country.A few days here and a few days there without much thought or planning.
We drove through Hell's Gate ( in the early settler days a traveler's personal safety was not guaranteed beyond this point) and on to Daly Waters. A wonderful pub and full of history and atmosphere. the nearby airport was the first international airport in Australia and all sorts of important people stopped here on their arrival in Australia.
After all this and a couple of thousand km's of dusty roads Katherine felt exactly like a big metropolis with a 'real' supermarket. Best of all we could take a power jet to the Toyota and clean it, inside and out of the chunks of Australia that have stuck to it. But the best part of Katherine has to be the gorge. Too often the brochures and guide books use 'over the top' adjectives so that you get weary of them. Katherine Gorge really justifies the descriptions. The bird life is great and the Fruit Bats (a large Hawk size bird with bat wings) filled the trees. In the wet season it has to be truly spectacular (one of those over worked words) and we have even thought of returning then to see it.
The highlight of Kakadu was the early morning cruise on the Yellow River. The mists still hung over the water. Crocodiles abounded, gliding noiselessly in their sinister fashion, mostly imperceptible until pointed out . We saw every possible species of bird found in the Wetlands. It was a great experience. We then made a dash f or Ubirr, away from the highly comercialised section of the Park, and saw the best Aboriginal Rock Art so far in Australia.
Now we are in Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory.
|The Epic Journey
Darwin to Broome
15 September - 3 October 2001
North-West Australia noted for its wide open spaces and stunning scenery brings us to the rugged Kimberely and Pibara Ranges following the Gibb River Track (701 k's) to Derby.
Darwin is hot and steamy, and, curiously enough despite its size, lacks a pleasant camp site. We were pleased to leave it even though we managed to catch up with civilization to the extent of seeing two films.
Out of Darwin we made our way to the Lichfield National Park. Many had told us it was spoiled by a big 'burn off' and this proved to be true. We did not see it at its best so made our way to stop at Edith Falls.This was a wonderful break because the swimming in the water hole made up for the heat of the day. The walk to the falls was good and the camp ground pleasantly deserted.
Western Australia. Land of Untidy Termites and enormous Boab trees (see picture gallery). Why 'untidy'? Well, throughout the Northern Territory we had marveled at the dreaming spires, the fairy tale castles, the modern sculpture which N.T termites produced for their mounds. Not so in W.A. Imagine large, sometimes enormous, untidy heaps of mud, thrown carelessly from afar - that is what constitutes a mound for a W.A. termite.
The Gibb River Road was our next destination and we spent a couple of days at the oddly named homestead, El Questro. Doubtless the hype about this place can be justified, if one is prepared to spend $825.00 for a two night stay in their lodge! We didn't -and we found the camp site expensive also with no services.
The Gibb River Road is dirt, corrugated and hot, though nothing like as bad as the Developmental Road South from Cape York. Practically all the sites worth visiting along the Gibb River Road are on private land. We camped at Jack's Waterhole on a river, where we were assured that the crocodiles were 'only small ones and very shy' so we could swim.
The King Leopold Ranges were dramatic and a welcome change from endless flat red earth, but our favourite spot was Windjana Gorge. Here is the place to see crocodiles. Nine or so lay out on the banks of the River sunning themselves. One, half submerged, draped himself over a rock near the bank we walked on. A cold unblinking eye reminding us that these creatures are very aware of every movement around them. Fortunately 'freshies', which these were, do not leap out and attack without provocation as 'salties' do.
A shallow sea once (about 350 million years ago) and many fossil remains of prehistoric creatures, including a 7 metre long crocodile. A fossil nautiloid, a prehistoric crustacean can still be seen embedded in the rock face. It was a beautiful spot.
We reached Derby, a small town, and went through the usual 'operation clean up'. There is a kind of fellow feeling among travelers. Thick red dust and mud covering a vehicle means a shared experience of outback conditions.
Broome, 'every Australian's archetypal holiday resort' says the guide book, and rightly so. Blue sky, azure blue sea, white sailing boats and fishing vessels bobbing in the water, palm trees and tropical plants and cool sea breezes.
|The Epic Journey
Broome to Perth
7 October - 8 November 2001
Now travelling south down the west coast to the sights attractions that Western Australia has to offer. The countryside is flat and the roads endlessly corrugated with the usual clouds of red dust arising all the time.The Karinjini National Park was dry and dusty but with truly spectacular gorges, well worth the driving.
Camping on the banks of the Fortescue River in the Millstream National Park was a delight with abounding bird life and a tranquil river to swim in. A three day stay on the Indie homestead gave us an insight into life on the outback stations with all its hardships, and what three years of drought means to farmers.
Every so often on the long dusty road there is a glimpse of the beautiful turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. At Coral Bay the reef is within easy snorkeling distance from shore, and the fishing magnificent if the catch of our neighbours on the campsite is anything to go by the fish and chips is great too!
We passed this sign on the highway as we drove South, "Little water available for the next 483 kilometers"...that's how arid the country can be.
Now I am going to tell you about the Australian fly.
If there's a rival to the Australian Ant for persistence, annoyance and down right bloody mindedness, it's the Australian Fly. It is the most tenacious creature on the planet. In my estimation Australian flies out number Australians 500 to1 and a good percentage of this number are likely to alight on you at any given moment.
Once a fly finds you it is no easy matter to discourage it.. You shoo it away -it returns- to the same spot time and time again. Eyes, ears, nose and lips are favourite alighting spots. Multiply the effect by 30 or 40, because that's how many are attracted to you at the same time, and you have some idea of the torture they inflict.
Walking a trail demands a fly net over the face, or, better still a complete body net, even then flies will accompany you back to the car prepared to travel vast distances to enjoy your body fluids for for longer. For some reason this aspect of wild life is never mentioned in the travel brochures!
One of the highlights of the trip was the visit to the Pinnacles Desert in the Nambung National Park, 590 klm's north of Perth. Why they are not down as one of the great wonders of the world is beyond me. Although first seen in the middle 1600s by Dutch sailors, who were misled into thinking they were the ruins of an ancient city, the area was not made into a National Park until 1980.The Pinnacles consist of thousands of limestone pillars, up to 5 meters tall and 2 meters thick, stretch over the desert as far as the eye can see - a truly spectacular sight and worth travelling far to see.
Less spectacular to the eye, but impressive in other ways, are the stromatolites at Hamelin's Pool, on the road from Monkey Mia. Rocky masses of blue green algae which, because of chemical action appear black and unappealing. However, they can be regarded with awe as they are several thousand years old and, when you learn that their ancestors from the pre Cambrian era, over 3 billion years ago, made life on earth possible because they create oxygen, you find yourself regarding them with new- found respect. But for these stromatolites mankind would not be here...
The coast has some remarkable and beautiful scenery and some pleasant little resorts, like Kalbarri, to stay a while in. Most are a fisherman's paradise. We missed the peak of the wildflower season but still saw some wonderful displays by the roadside.
A memorable place not to be missed is New Norcia, a small town built by Benedictine monks and dating to 1846. There are numerous very fine buildings in European style with the Spanish influence very apparent. The founding Abbot seems to have been a very tolerant and far- sighted man, who, with a little help from a miracle brought about by the Virgin Mary, made a great impression on the Aboriginal population.
Education was high on the agenda and an attempt was made to educate Aboriginal and European girls together, but the European parents objected so strongly the experiment had to be abandoned. The Abbot's tolerance and respect for the Aboriginal culture was remarkably ahead of his time.
It is amazing to come across this oasis of civilisation in the middle of nowhere, as it must have been at its inception. Now it is a couple of hours drive from Perth. There are only sixteen Benedictine monks in residence.
It is still true to say, though, unique and fascinating as many sights are in Australia, there are vast distances of very boring roads to be covered between them. Also strong winds, a common feature along the West Coast, blew us about and, seriously lacking sleep because of them, on 8 November we arrived in Perth, tired, road weary and looking forward to some much needed rest.
|The Epic Journey
Perth to Home/Epilogue
20 November -16 December 2002
We stayed in Perth for 12 Days 'doing' the sights, playing some Golf and attempting to be rid of the Northern Territory's red dust- a near impossible task.
On 24 November we reached Augusta, the South Western edge of Australia where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet.
By then the nature of the country had totally changed. Before Perth, two weeks ago, it took two days to get from one destination to the next, now it takes two hours.What a contrast! Perversely we missed the challenge of a long, hot, dusty and boring drive.
There are small and pretty towns set close together, Ballingup, Nannup and Bridgewater. There are magnificent forests with giant tingle trees. A tree top walk, some 40 meters up on steel walkways into the forest canopy. this was an amazing experience. You can even climb the 60 metre high Gloucester tree if you are so minded.
Esperance experienced a huge storm the night before we arrived, a storm so bad that crops were ruined and lots of cars out of action because of hail damage. All hopes of a few days relaxation in sunshine with some golf, were dashed. Our planned route Eastwards, into the Arid National Park, had to be abandoned. All roads were closed because of the rain, and, as the long range forecast showed no signs of relief from bad weather, so we pressed on.
According to the travel brochure 'Crossing the Nullabor Plan is a special pilgrimage that every Australian has a hankering to do at least once... and having completed it, the Nullabor will call you back.' Well , maybe, for some, but not us.
In fact only 73 of the 1181 kilometers of the Eyre Highway crosses the actual Nullabor Plan. To cross the Nullabor you need to be on the Cook Highway, further North, and to travel that would take a very long time. It is, according to locals, a very rough 4 wheel track. In grey and overcast weather and with petrol at $1.16 per litre, we did not feel tempted.
Tourist brochures, without exception use the same vocabulary. 'Spectacular' is a very overworked word, with the result that one's attitude becomes a trifle jaded in time. It is certainly great when the actual matches up to that description.
The Eyre Highway has the longest absolutely straight stretch of road in the world, (140 kms) but we're not sure how much research has gone into that statement.
We explored the Eyre Peninsula, from Streaky Bay down the West Coast, into Coffin Bay National Park and up the West Coast before we take a final drive South through the Clare Valley wine growing area to Adelaide.
You need to plan your grocery list carefully!
The Government, Federal and State along with Telstra (the Australian telephone company) have done an incredible job in supplying and maintaining Outback Australia with basic essential services and infrastructure, considering the fact that there is hardly any tax base and not a great number of votes to be won there. Of course, one has to add that if the Federal government had not spent a billion dollars on advertising or elections they could do so much more.
Government and control are centred the Eastern one third of the country. An area where people seem to have little awareness of what a privileged life they lead compared with the Outback. There are many similarities with Canada in this respect.
We noticed that as tired and beat up as we got from the red dust and corrugations of the track, the longing for a smooth highway vanished within the first hour of returning to the bitumen roads of developed Australia, they are boring and hold no challenge.
Also, once back to the 'developed' Australia, the camaraderie of the road vanishes. The friendly acknowledging wave from driver of an oncoming car or road train , for the most part stops. The 'Hi' or 'G'Day', at the camp sites is no longer routine but exceptional. That is a great loss.
We have met some wonderful people on our journey and that has been an essential part of our enjoyment of the experience. We have made great friends who we hope to see again and have met strangers who were wonderfully kind. Perhaps one action in particular sums up what this means.
We talked to one couple of fellow travelers briefly one evening, only because we were camped next to the. They left next morning saying, 'goodbye'. About 20 minutes later they were back. We assumed they'd left something behind, but no, they'd returned to say that if we were in their district (Albany) at Christmas time would we like to join their family Christmas? They did not like to think of us 'on the road' and with nowhere to go on the 25th December!
We weren't in Albany at Christmas because bad weather dogged our journey down the coast of Western Australia and seemed to get worse as we made our way East across the Nullabor. More and more dismayed by high winds, rain and chilly temperatures we found the experience becoming less enjoyable. Camping is fun when the sun shines but not so good in wet cold conditions.
Cactus beach (East end of the Bight) was beautiful, apart from the high winds, we would have stayed longer in Coffin Bay National Park (Southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula), but it was overcast and windy. As we got nearer to Adelaide the urge to get home and out of the wind became stronger....
So aome 27,700 kilometers (16,410 miles), 5220 litres of fuel, 3 tyres (two of them blowouts), 2 solenoids, 1 battery and 1 mud guard later, we arrived home on the 16th of December.
We hope you've enjoyed following our 'epic journey'. We're glad we did it, it was a great experience and, we have no plans to do it again...