The Land Down Under….

… Where women glow, and men plunder. So the song goes. But then it also claims “Where beer flows and men chunder”, which is plainly disgusting – so instead of quoting terrible pop songs, how about we get on with the blog?

Day 243 – Monday, December 23rd 2013

When in Rome, eat pizza and admire aqueducts. When in Oz, head to the pub. It was within a few hours of landing, and after reuniting with Vaughan’s Liphookian (and childhood) friend Ben along with his girlfriend Tracy, that we found ourselves in the comfortable surroundings of an Adelaide beachside public house.

We stoically fought off any sleep deprivation, and spent the afternoon at a winery in the surrounding hills. Carefully selecting a couple of bottles from the Bird in the Hand vineyard took a fair amount of tasting and deliberation – but we got there in the end, settling on a Montepulciano and a Rose.

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Back to town from the Adelaide Hills

Back to town from the Adelaide Hills

With a muddled collection of wines laying heavy in our stomachs, and the travel finally catching up with us it was not long before we all sloped off to bed that night. And a good thing too, exciting times were ahead – IT’S NEARLY CHRISTMAS!!

* for any of our French readers, please replace any reference to Australian “wine”, “winery”, or “vineyard” found within this blog with words relating to grape juice. We didn’t mean to cause offence, and don’t want you to think any less of us on our return (but really, you should try some, c’est tres bon)

Day 244 – Tuesday, December 24th 2013

Mainly a prep day, so we could welcome Santa into the house with open arms tomorrow. Tracy’s family would be coming over for the main event so foods had to be bought, and some of the meat mountain would have to be cooked up in advance. There was just enough time to take the dogs for a walk on the beach in along with all the other prepping that had to be done.

With all under control back at Chrimbo HQ, there was enough time to take a tour round the neighbourhood to see some of the efforts people had been to with the Christmas lights. A garish tropical island themed attempt was our victor.   We relaxed with a couple of cold drinks and again had to get off to bed early – Big Beardy and his reindeer come early to this part of the world, so it was vital we were asleep before he showed up.

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Day 245 – Wednesday, December 25th 2013

Wow, we’re writing this in April – shows how behind this blog’s gotten. Anyhow – HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!!

We started the day taking Willow and Ivy, the two house staffies, for a walk along the beach. Enjoying the novelty of needing sun-cream on Christmas day, we headed back for a brunch of king prawns and oysters before getting all sorted for the afternoon’s festivities. The masses arrived, merriment was had, nephews and nieces went wild with excitement, and stocks of sangria demolished – and all before the main course. Cold meats and salads were order of the day – with temperatures of 37 degrees predicted outside, a steaming roast dinner would not be called for. Having skyped to Vaughan’s family, while they unpicked the wrapping on their Nepalese gifts, we saw in the first few hours of Boxing Day before getting some shut eye.

Day 246 – Thursday, December 26th 2013

A Skype call to Kim’s family to catch them on their Christmas afternoon, some tidying, packing, and all that sort of fun in the morning – then we were off on a road trip that would take us along the coast, including the Great Ocean Road, to Melbourne in time for New year’s Eve. With camping gear, dogs, and provisions all loaded into the back of the Ute (short for utility vehicle, known as a pickup truck in other lands), we left town headed east. IMG_9818

Out from Adelaide we passed through Caoron National park, seeing salt lakes, a shingleback lizard, and an emu all in the first afternoon.

Turning off the beaten track at Rome (no aqueducts or pizza though), we took a route through the dunes and the beaches until we found a spot out of the way that we could pitch our tents for the night.

Day 247 – Friday, December 27th 2013

Our day would alternate between staring in amazement at the scenery, and gripping onto which ever parts of Ben’s truck came to hand first as he put it through its paces.

Bouncing our way through the dunes, we gradually made our way east along the coast, ending up at the town of Beachport where Tracy’s family had rented the same cottage that they do every year. We camped in the garden, like children getting their first taste of adventure.

Beachport Pier by night - the longest in South Australia apparently.

Beachport Pier by night – the longest in South Australia apparently.

Day 248 – Saturday, December 28th 2013

This morning worked out well – we were slow enough in setting off that Vaughan and Ben could make the most of the spaces that had opened up on a boat to go cray fishing. Some guys in the area have clubbed together and got some licences to put out some cray pots, and they tour round them once a day to see what they have caught, re-bait them, and relocate them if they’ve not been lucky.

Using markers on the GPS the pots were found, and the tasty sea critters brought on board. Coming ashore with a good haul, the booty was drowned in fresh water before heading straight to the boiler. These delights would fetch 200 aussie dollars per kilo sold to a fancy Adelaide restaurant – and two of the bigguns would be coming with us on the camping trip. No bush tucker for us.  Kim and Tracy spent a relaxed morning chatting with Tracy’s family and walking the dogs.

Finally getting on the road around midday, we stopped in at the aptly named Blue Lake for a picnic before getting onto the Great Ocean Road properly.

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With the help of the tourist info we found a great free campsite, and some of our new friendly neighbours pointed out some of the wildlife that they’d managed to find.

The wife had managed to lure wallabies close enough to the campground to take food from her hand, and the husband lead us through the woods to where he had just spotted a koala. We caught a glimpse of the wee fella up in the trees, and were pretty lucky to have done so. That evening we even had a young family kookaburras coming to the trees around our camp. Some good aussie wildlife ticked off already, and it was only day 3 of the trip. Just Kangaroos left to go and we’d be happy – the snakes and spiders can stay in hiding, we’ll be just fine if we miss out on them.

Day 249 – Sunday, December 29th 2013

With an endless string of picture-postcard viewpoints to choose from, the GOR winds its way along the finest sections of the South Australia and Victoria limestone coastline.

That evening we managed to land ourselves one of the last two spots at another free campsite, just inland from Apollo Bay.

After an early evening walk to the Stevenson Falls, we hunted out some fire wood. The evenings had been steadily dropping in temperature, and despite now wearing almost all of our clothes yet more drastic action / huddling was required. We’d moved in on yet another set of friendly neighbours (with a little understanding, they can make the perfect friends), and we inherited their campfire as they headed off to bed – so we were spared the blowing, wafting, and puffing that goes along with trying to light one of our own; we could simply dump our wood on top and create an inferno.

Day 250 – Monday, December 30th 2013

After the normal packing up, and supping cups of tea, our morning got underway with a little more Ute testing. Unfortunately this time a rutted patch of quagmire would claim the truck barely 20 meters from the surfaced forestry trail that we’d just left. It was cross axled and sat on its belly – no amount of wedging logs under the tyres or digging was going to set it free. So off we trotted back to the campsite to find someone to gives us a tow.

With the truck suitably muddied, and having cleaned the worst off ourselves in a nearby stream, we hit the remaining section of the GOR, stopping in at Apollo Bay on route.

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Another freebee campsite was found, and despite the no-dogs sign we figured we could get away with pitching our tents there. The set up for camping in Oz is superb – at many major tourist sites there are areas prescribed for it with fire pits and toilets all ready to use, you don’t have to pay for them, and everybody seems to respect them keeping them clean.

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Day 251 – Tuesday, December 31st 2013

We were up early, with quite some miles to cover before party time in the evening. This gave us a chance to tick ‘Kangeroo’ off the Aussie animal spotter list, since no one had yet scared them off into the bush.

Resisting the temptation to get Ben’s truck stuck anywhere else, we headed straight for the freeway that would lead us around Melbourne and towards the Yarra Valley wine region – the location for the evening’s festivities.  We’d rented an apartment for the evening, so the dogs could be left a safe distance from any firework displays.

All sorted with enough time to meet up with one of Vaughan’s old biking buddies, Kym, and the other assembled party people in Healesville town for some warm up drinks and a bite to eat before things got too out of hand… With some last minute phoning around Kym managed to secure what must have been the last minibus in Healesville to take us to the party, and more importantly, to collect us afterwards in the wee hours – contrary to popular belief, this confirmed that Kym could organise a piss up in a brewery (or more accurately, a knees up in a winery).

The combination of free flowing beverages, clear skies, and an enthusiastic party crowd meant that the evening was a total success, filled as it was with dancing and merriment – even Rochford Winery’s questionable music bookings were not enough to hold us back.

There’d been a slight communication failure, possibly due to the tones of the Robbie Williams tribute act still ringing in our ears, and the driver was not prepared to drop us all the way home to our apartment – leaving us with a slightly wobbly 3km walk from Healesville, but hey, that might have helped us feel better the next day.

Day 252 – Wednesday, January 1st 2013

New Year’s Day would not feel as painful as we perhaps deserved, though we were still a little slow to cook up the breakfast goodies that had been left for us in the fridge. We were dropped back in Healesville where we waved goodbye to Ben and Tracy, so that we could hitch a ride with Kym and Justine towards Melbourne. We’d not gotten as far as  booking accommodation for the evening, so Kym’s offer of a night at his parent’s place, a tour of Melbourne the next day, followed by a ride to the airport all came at the right time, and were gratefully accepted. It was a perfectly lazy evening that we had ahead of us – take away dinner coupled with an education in Aussie movies, in the form of ‘The Castle’ and ‘Red Dog’.

Day 253 – Thursday, January 2nd 2013

Sightseeing would be too strong a word for the casual sloping between the coffee shops and pubs of Melbourne’s marina area, with occasional breaks for strolling along by the beachside. It was good to catch up with Kym, and we had no real hankering for photo’s of yet another towns business district.

The fun fair gateway

The fun fair gateway

We made it to the airport, and our flight to Sydney with ‘no dramas’, as the locals would put it. On landing, we received some refreshingly genuine advice from the rental car counter as the girl behind the desk steered us towards the bus stop to save a load of dollar. The journey to Bondi Beach bus station was easy enough to arrange, and the hotel simple enough for the taxi driver to locate. It has to be said, that travelling in these English speaking developed nations, although costly, is a lot less complicated.

Day 254 – Friday, January 3rd 2013

Meeting Vaughan’s cousin Rachel, and her fella Gareth, we picked up a car (that was much cheaper than if we’d collected the previous evening from the airport).  Vaughan was first to take the helm of the mighty Nissan Micra motor car, and had clearly become all too well adjusted to driving in countries with less decorum on the highways than Australia. His freestyle approach took a good few traffic light and ‘no-right-turn’ violations to get out of his system.

Having somehow safely navigated out through the colossus that forms Sydney’s downtown road network, we were on our way towards the Blue Mountains, and as we gained altitude, the cloud that had been enveloping dispersed. The area, famous for its beauty, did not disappoint. We joined a queue of tourists and descended the 1000 steps to the valley floor – and generally strolled around taking in the area – and very nice it was too.

 

We made it back to Sydney that evening without a hitch, and grazed on Japanese food before hitting a pub in town with some of Rachel’s friends.

Day 255 – Saturday, January 4th 2013

“Don’t worry Sydney – we’re not ignoring you, we know that one evening is not enough to sample you properly, it’s just that we’ve got some people to meet, and some stuff to do in Canberra – we’ll be back, we promise”. Despite our plea’s Sydney was just not keen on letting us go. By holding metro trains stationary, and hiding signs to the intercity bus terminal, the city managed to keep her grasp on us. We missed our bus. Not only that, but when we first arrived in a panting sweaty mess at the Murrays booking office, it looked like every other one was fully booked that day. Had it not been for a sympathetic ticket clerk phoning head office to get us ‘emergency’ reservations on the very next bus, Sydney may well have held us captive for another full day.

Andy and his wife Shaz would be playing host to us for a few days in the capital. They are both Australian, and had been living in the UK back when we worked in Portsmouth where Andy worked with us at Astrium. They’d headed home some 6 years earlier, so we had quite some catching up to do.

A BBQ at their place would be the perfect setting for a catch up, and another ex-Portsmouth buddy, Joc, came over too. Andy and Shaz had been very busy, and had even managed to find the time two create two little people since we’d last met – Ruby and Cameron.  Joc found himself a lovely wife, Emily, they had a cute little boy together, Max, and we finally met Joc’s older daughter Emerson. Unfortunately, we managed to miss this amazing opportunity to get photos of everyone together – shame on us.

Day 256 – Sunday, January 5th 2013

Finally in a country with some form of space program we could satisfy our inner-geeks, particularly being hosted by a fellow aerospace engineer we could visit the local NASA ground station without anyone getting bored. Even Ruby had a play area outside so she could serve us goodies (wood chippings) from her pretend shop.

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That evening we relaxed at the house and fetched an Indian takeaway – in preparation for our trip to the High Commission of India the following day – where we would try and get some Visas sorted to give us enough time to get Ivor out of their country

Day 257 – Monday, January 6th 2013

The helpful guy at the High Commission assured us that if we submitted our applications in the next day or two, they could be processed and sent to Kim’s friends in Perth in plenty of time for us to leave Australia with them in our possession. This was of course absolute nonsense, but we didn’t know that at the time, and it was also not possible to predict bureaucratic nightmare that would ensue as a result (stay tuned for ‘bribing officials as we try to swap passports at the Nepal / India border). So without the benefit of foresight, but with an uneasy ‘I got a bad feeling about this’ in our stomachs, we filled in the forms and handed our passports over to the VFS agency in the hope of having the elusive visa stickers added. It was BBQ and movie night back at the Bull household, another night of kicking back; just what we needed.

Day 258 – Tuesday, January 7th 2013

Kim, Shaz, and Cameron

Kim, Shaz, and Cameron

It was time to head back to Sydney. We caught the bus early in the afternoon and were deposited at the unimaginatively named Kings-Cross, before catching the metro in search of our new hotel in the Potts Point part of town. Inspired by the availability of popcorn and cider in the nearby shops, another movie night was called for, so we giggled at ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ on the DVD player in our hotel room.

Day 259 – Wednesday, January 8th 2013

Our day of necessary internetting and blogging was interrupted by meeting another old friend of Vaughan’s for lunch. This time it was a Jar of Branston’s pickle with which we would become re-acquainted. A gift from Mike back in Thailand, the English treat was served in the traditional partnership with cheese in a baguette. In the evening we made for a swanky area of town to meet with Clive, one of the China crossing bikers who had also made it to the land down under. We swapped travel tales over a delicious meal and a drink or two in a pub. He was coming to the end of his journey since he would be flying from Oz back to the UK (albeit via Los Angeles). Both sides felt a little saddened to be parting, realising that this travelling game cannot go on forever.

Day 260 – Thursday, January 9th 2013

Finally today was the day for Sydney sightseeing. We started with a nice picnic (yes, more cheese & pickle) with views across the harbour towards the Opera house. Our walking tour would take us through the botanical gardens, past the famous concert hall, where we would stop in to get tickets for a performance later that evening, and then across the bridge before re-tracing our steps in time to catch the show.

We took at a drink at one of the pop-up bars that appear on the hard during the summer months before heading in to get good places for ‘La Soiree’.

The thriving pop-up bar scene

The thriving pop-up bar scene

The show was a kind of circus performance with a modern twist – mixing in comedy & performance art all topped off with a good helping of dare-devil acrobat routines. Not taking itself too seriously, it was superb and put us in good spirits to go off and sample the nightlife that Sydney has to offer.

On the recommendation of a pop-up bartender, we hunted out a venue that formed the peculiar combination of pizza joint and late night rock club. The pizza and freshly squeezed juice cocktails were considerably better than the DJ, but with an entertaining crowd we had a good time on the dance floor all the same.

Day 261 – Friday, January 10th 2013

The 10:00am checkout should have been easily achievable, but to our enthusiastic revellers it was just a little too early, 10:30 was just hat little bit more bearable. We ditched our bags at the hotel and headed back to Bondi – this time determined to at least visit the world famous beach.

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We did a little shopping – some souvenirs for Ivor (duct tape, and sealant, impossible to find in Nepal), and we spent some Christmas money on shirts with inbuilt Mosquito repellent (thanks Vaughan’s Mum and Dad). Since the dengue episode we’d been even more paranoid than normal of the little fuzzy biters. We caught a cheap minibus transfer to the airport and were Perth-bound in no-time. The taxi driver on the other end relieved us of an incredible 55 bucks to get to the Doubleview neighbourhood. By now we were exhausted from the excesses of the night before and were only too happy to be delivered to the house of Becky and Matt (Kim’s friends from back home). Becky and Matt, not yet back from their Chirstmas trip to Canada had left the key with a friendly neighbour. We found our room and slumped asleep within minutes.

Day 262 – Saturday, January 11th 2013

We thought we were up early enough to fit in a run before the heat took a hold of the day – not so, a squewed time zone and temperature that would soar to 41 deg C during the day would have us returning from the local park with sweat streaming off us, and vowing to head out earlier if we were going to be this enthusiastic again during our stay.

We did make it out to the shops today, but other than those brief excursions, the day would be wholly administrative. Our overland trip still needed a good deal of planning, and that means an internet connection. We were in the process of assembling a party to cross north through China, and we’d heard that India had once again opened its border with Burma to ‘third country’ travellers. We were making good progress with both, but it would take just a little more effort to seal the deal – and to ensure (as far as possible, without gaining control of all Asian politics) that our return journey to Europe could be completed entirely overland – sparing us the indecency and expense of international shipping again.

Day 263 – Sunday, January 12th 2013

Yet more planning… but we took a break to go and pick up a second hand phone for Kim – who you may recall had released her previous one back into the wild of the Andaman sea. The neighbour Jon had gone to pick up our hosts, the Reaumes, from the airport – and we were there to welcome them home. Becky and Matt valiantly fought off jetlag, a 70 degree C difference between departure and arrive, and 24 hours of travelling with their 3 children to have a BBQ with us in the evening.  Becky somehow even managed to take a trip out with us to head to the seaside to grab a smoothy. As we said: Valiant.

Day 264 – Monday, January 13th 2013

We were both lucky enough to be getting booster injections for some of our vaccinations. It really is an exhilarating start to the day. While we’d been off enjoying ourselves, poor Matt had already needed to go back to work; No rest for the wicked, or those with limited vacation. Becky and the kids took it pretty easy that day, and we were happy to join in. In the evening we upped the BBQ count again, making sure we’d had a genuine Aussie experience, and once the kids were in bed we assembled the play kitchen that Santa had left for Vivian and Simone.

Day 265 – Tuesday, January 14th 2013

After a lavish, if imaginary breakfast prepared by the ecstatic Reaume daughters on their new kitchenette, we borrowed the grownups racer bicycles for the day. The Perth coastline is well suited to a pedal along its cycle paths, gently weaving its way along perfectly smooth stretches of asphalt – we gained perhaps as much as 50 meters of altitude during the whole route. A puncture stuck us down a couple of hours in, and though we had one spare tube, we didn’t fancy our chances of making the return journey without another. We took directions into Freemantle (Free-O, so called by the incessantly abbreviating Australians), where cycle shops and a lunch stop awaited us. We’d not been pushing too hard on the way out, so hadn’t really noticed the headwind – but our return journey would be, quite literally, a breeze – it took half the time of the outbound route.

 

Becky took us out to show us the outdoor cinema / film festival, and we lay on the grass as we watched ’12 Years a Slave’, an intensely gritty film, that could not even be softened by the fact that we could recline with a bottle of wine and home-popped corn in front of it.

Day 266 – Wednesday, January 15th 2013

An exciting day for kids both old and young – we were off to Penguin Island. Catching a ferry to the Island, it was a bad time of the year to see penguins in the wild since they were either hiding in nests or out to sea getting some munch – but they have a few of the pint-sized birds being looked after in captivity that we could see.

We were still treated to some real wild wildlife, since there were plenty of sea lions on the next Island along, and one of the lazy fatties had fallen asleep on the beach of Penguin Island too.

 

Back for some more internetting – our return journey was beginning to take shape – if things carried on like this, we really were going to be able to keep Ivor free from the confines of a shipping container for the whole journey home – very exciting news indeed.

Day 267 – Thursday, January 16th 2013

In the morning we joined in for a family trot, with kids loaded into strollers we set out to get our sweat on down to the sea front. Then we had to spend the afternoon sorting things for the rest of our trip – starting with our missing Passports – since there was still no sign of them emerging from the Indian bureaucracy system, we would have to leave Australia on our second passports (which we have because we are spies, it’s very James Bond {and the true explanation is both lengthy and dull}). The first step of sorting out this mess was to make sure that Becky would be able to collect the delivery on our behalf, so we took a trip to Australian Post – yep, that was fine, one obstacle avoided. We also had to arrange some crisp, uncreased, unmarked US Dollar bills to pay our way into Burma, and to use as we travel through – since they are unnecessarily picky there.

As evening came, it was of course time for another BBQ, this time down at the beach with some other friends of Matt and Becky.

Not a bad spot for a BBQ

Not a bad spot for a BBQ

Day 268 – Friday, January 17th 2013

More admin was on the cards today – like visiting the immigration office, to swap the passports that our aussie visas were associated with, so we’d actually be able to leave the country. Of course that was again more complicated that it should have been, since Kim’s surname is Brown in the Canadian passport, but the Portuguese like to add to the maiden name, leaving her with Mitchell-Brown in the other – and the Aussie computer system needed some persuasion to accept it. Boring tasks behind us, we could head out to see King’s Park, overlooking the city.

Then the neighbour that had let us in when we first arrived to Perth (Jon and his lovely wife Jenny) put on a BBQ for the evening, and Vaughan’s buddy Paul came over too. Vaughan used to race dirt bikes with Paul back in the UK, but he’s since moved to Kalgoorlie (inland from Perth) working as a geologist at a gold mine.

Day 269 – Saturday, January 18th 2013

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A family beach outing, followed by lunch with Paul and his fiancé Nora, then back to the Reaume house for a chilled afternoon. That night a friend had agreed to baby-sit, so Becky and Matt were free to help us paint Perth red.

Day 270 – Sunday, January 19th 2013

With a strangely sluggish start, we did our best to ignore our respective hangovers before heading to the airport to catch our last domestic Aussie flight back to Adelaide.

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We landed with enough time to catch up a little with Ben and Tracy, and then it was off to bed.

Day 271 – Monday, January 20th 2013

With a good tour of Australia behind us, it was time to wave goodbye to the land down under and get back to trucking our way around Asia. We’d seen only a flavour of the country in the month we’d spent there, but we’d caught up with many old friends and had a good time to boot. We caught our morning flight from Adelaide to KL, excited for the journey that lay ahead. We now had Burma and China crossings to look forward to, that had replaced potentially painful shipping experiences with yet more holiday. We settled down in our KL hotel room looking forward to getting back to life on the road.

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One thought on “The Land Down Under….

  1. It all sounds so exciting…you must be having the time of your lives!
    We are in St Petersburg now and will be in Ulan Bator on May 11th. Are you going through Mongolia? We stay there for a few days before moving on to Beijing. What a life.

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