We have been offline for a few days now, so here’s an update on what has happened since we left Darwin. Its been a tiring, but a good week, so read on!!
I will try to put some pictures up soon on here and all of them onto picasa as normal when I get the chance!!
Thursday 25th November. 11 days left.
It was an early start again today as the new bus was due to arrive and pick us up at 7.30am.
Our room was up around 6.30 and I was ready to leave by 7. After bringing all our pillows and sheets downstairs we all hung around reception until the bus eventually arrived.
Its not the biggest bus we have had and it don’t have any cup holders or seat back storage, but I think we will cope without them.
We were introduced to our driver/guide – Rick (Good name!) and set off towards Kakadu national park and our first proper Aussie activity – A Crocodile jumping boat trip. It was the crocodiles that would do the jumping obviously.
Only 8 of us wanted to do the boat trip, either because of laziness, skintness or already seen crocodileness, the rest of the group stayed on the coach and spent an hour at the wetlands centre, whilst me, Bev, Donna, Lisa, Mark, Kenneth, Jennifer Parsonage and Chris climbed aboard the absurdly small boat and headed onto the river to see the crocs. We were briefed not to have anything 'hanging over the side of the boat' and waited with baited breath to see some crocs.
It didn’t take long as within a minute and 20 feet of starting the crocs had spotted us and were heading over for some food.
The boat driver – 'Richard' (Yes another one!) explained all about crocs on the way and the dangers of them, plus about how each one has his or her own personality. The next hour was spent drifting down the river stopping every now and then for one of the guides to put some buffalo meat on what looked like a fishing rod and hang it over for the crocs to eat. The crocs would then laze about trying to eat the meat, until eventually they crouched into the water and then using all their strength they rose up and jumped at the meat as it was pulled away from them. These things were huge, especially 'Michael', the croc, who was named after Michael Jackson as he has a white face and coloured body!! He was about 5metres long and 400kg, but still managed a few jumps at the meat.
We also got to see some Black and Whistling Kites who flew down from the trees and were fed by the guide on the boat.
It was a really good hour and well worth the effort and the money. We all got some spectacular shots of the crocs and some videos of them and the kites too.
Back onto the bus after a quick coffee we headed off towards Kakadu.
Rick (the driver/guide – from now on referred to as just Rick) informed us that we would be stopping soon to pick up some supplies for our camping stop tonight. He reeled off in order the things that we might need – Alcohol, food, torch and insect repellent. - Yep, we like Rick, as his priority for the night was booze!!
We stopped and I had a great Bacon, Egg and Tomato toasty which was lovely. A lot of people bought some food for tonight and wine, beers and other alcoholic niceties were also bought. It was the first service station I have ever been in that was basically a shop/pub combined!!
As we reached Kakadu national park, we stopped for a quick photo shop and then continued onwards with a quick briefing from Rick about what we are going to see and what beasties we should look our for while we are here. He also explained that before visiting this afternoons option – an aborigine centre – we would stop at our camp site so that our booze can be put into fridges, ready for tonight! I like his priorities!!
So after a quick stop at Kakadu bakery for some lunch and then to the local supermarket to pick up food for us to cook tonight (I am lazy and bartered a deal with Lisa so she gets booze and I get pasta) (All I bought was a radio to listen to the ashes on the bus!)
We visited the camp-site quickly to put the grog in the fridges and then it was out again to visit an aborigine centre that told us all about Kakadu itself and then we were off into the wilderness.
Rick led us down a country path and through rock formations that have aborigine paintings on that range from pretty recent to 20000 years old. Some of fish, some showing white people with hands in their pockets and rifles. Some others tell stories designed to make kids behave and the stories have been passed down through the generations. We also saw our first 'Australian', spiders in some of the trees and above the path. We all got a bit excited at this and some were a little scared but we can be assured we will see a lot more of them.
Rick then led us up into the rocks, clambering over rock pools and boulders until we reached the top of a 360 degree viewpoint. It was just gorgeous up there with views over the plains below. I sat on the edge for a while taking in the view and it reminded me of when I used to do the same sat on the ledges of buildings in Belfast. It was really peaceful and you could hear the wildlife making noises below. Everyone took lots of pictures and me and Bev too a few panoramic's with a twist.
It was time to leave soon though as we want to be back at the camp-site before it gets dark, so we all clambered back down the rocks and onto the bus, heading back to Kakadu camping site.
Tea tonight is self cook (Cheers Lisa and Bev) and then a few quiet drinks before we leave tomorrow and head towards Katherine.
Well tea was pretty good, Lisa made plenty of tune pasta with veg and all sorts and it was really good! We then spent the rest of the evening going between the two kitchen tents – one which had the beers cooling in the fridge and the other was where we had cooked and were now chatting and mellowing out. A few of us took a wander down to the pool and bar just after 9pm, but it was closing as we arrived so we went back and continued the motion in the kitchens. It was a funny night and after I went to bed I could hear the party continuing into the early hours when it ended up with everyone too drunk and emotional to continue!
Friday 26th November
At 6am we were woken by Rick and after a quick wash and breakfast me and the lads helped him pack up the bags into the bus whilst the girls cleaned the kitchens – at least the ones that were sober enough to do anything did!
We hit the road just about 7.15. After 45 minutes or so we had a short break when Rick spotted a 4metre high termite mound and told us all about what they are, why the termites build them and what’s inside. Rick obviously knows a hell of a lot about the area and Australia itself and is always interesting and happy to pass on anything he knows. We also spotted our first 'big' kangaroos as they ran across the road in front of the bus and into the bush beside us. There were a few of them but I was too slow with my camera.
After a couple of hours we stopped in the middle of nowhere and were led 15 minutes walk down a path to a Billabong. On the way we passed signs stating about crocodiles in the area and the dangers of swimming, so obviously we completely ignored them and we all jumped into the cooling waters of the billabong and swam under the warm waterfalls! Rick knew that the place is safe to swim, so we weren’t being that irresponsible!!
We spent a good hour messing about in the waters, jumping off the cliffs and enjoying cooling down in the hot morning. There were a lot of big spiders about too, one which was right behind where Isabelle, Bev and Jennifer Parsonage were sitting, but I decided not to tell them about it in case they were scared off!
We all dried off on the short walk back to the bus and after a quick stop at a road house for ice cream, and a toilet stop we continued our journey towards Katherine.
After another couple of hours it was time to stop for lunch. We were at Edith falls and there’s a small snack shop selling pies and pasties and sausage rolls – except that it's the end of season and he only had 2 pasties and a few sausage rolls left. I made do with a kit kat and some crisps from the fridge, whilst those lucky enough to get a sausage roll spent their time complaining that it was too hot~~!!
After lunch, most people headed to the lower pool of Edith falls where there is a lovely big pool to swim in – However, Rick took the rest of us up to the Upper pool, a 1km walk away up a big hill in 40 degree heat – A good workout. Me, Liv, Maartje, Awal, Matt and David made our way up the hill and were rewarded with a fantastic view of a 6-7 metre high waterfall cascading into a beautiful rock pool. We spent a good hour messing about in the clear warm water and me, Matt and Awal climbed up the waterfall as far as we could. It was a really good afternoon and really worth the effort to get up the hill – as Rick had promised us.
When we got back to the bus everyone else told us of their swim in the lower pool and it sounded like they had also had a great afternoon.
Back on the bus and we headed towards Katherine to do a bit of shopping before we hit tonight’s camp-site. The bus today, was the quietest I have ever seen it -everyone was sleeping off last nights booze and the heat and swimming from this morning had taken it out of everybody.
We were all awake though when we hit Katherine and were warned to 'ignore', the aborigines who may try to get money off us.
Linda had decided that she didn’t enjoy camping, so we had to unload all the bags to get hers off, before packing them up again with the booze we had bought from the shop. Whilst buying the beers we were surprised to hear that due to the alcohol problem ,everyone needs id to buy booze here in Katherine. Also me and Jennifer Parsonage were surprised by Mills when she told us that 'bed linen', as we know it in UK is actually called 'Manchester', in shops and supermarkets here. That means that we both come from 'Bed Linen', and Manchester United should be called 'Bed Linen United!'
After the shopping and unloading Linda, we were back on the bus and took the 20 minute drive to tonight’s camp-site. It was similar to last nights, but due to a recent storm some of the tents have no rain proof sheet for a roof – I was tempted to take one and risk getting wet, but there looks to be a storm coming in, so I’m now sharing with Michele, Matt and Awal.
There aren’t many toilets or showers here and one of the toilets was in use – By a massive green frog!! I managed to coax it onto a stick and into a bin, but before releasing it Amanda shouted from the ladies where she had found another one in her toilet. I used the same method and freed the 2nd frog, before heading up to the kitchen to charge my net-book and have a beer and wait for dinner.
It has been a really good day again today. Everybody agrees that Rick our tour guide/driver/ new best mate is doing a great job. Not only does he drive the bus, arrange all the trips, give a running commentary and tell us about every tree, plant and animal we see or ask about – he leads us on treks to billabongs and waterfalls – plus tonight he is cooking dinner for all of us!! What a bloke!!
Dinner was great!! Rick cooked up a treat with Buffalo sausages, lamb and chicken kebabs and loads of dips. Salads and sauces. Even though the food was great , there was so much that some what was left over, was packed up to be eaten at lunch tomorrow. We had a couple of power cuts during the evening so we ended up sat around the picnic table with candles and a torch in a bottle to give us light., Poor Maartje was in the shower during one power cut and as the shower is electric she ended up stuck in there covered in shower gel. She was discovered by one of the girls who all got together to help her rinse off and get out.
Michele, Live and Jennifer Parsonage had a wander over to another group who were sharing the camp-site with us and when they arrived they discovered one of the frogs from the toilet was sitting on a water bottle in the centre of the table, all proud and watching the world. The other group was leaving early in the morning though, so soon after I joined them, we came back to our kitchen for one final drink before we headed off for a shower and bed by about 11pm.
Sat 27th November
Another early start today – most people were up and about before 6am. After a bit of breakfast I started my task, which is to put all the ozbussers bags in to the bottom of the bus. It is bloody hot work and I had to go and rinse myself off in the shower again after finishing – Then Awal turned up with his bag and I had to do one more! Aaaargh!
Everyone else tidied up the tents and the kitchen area and we were on the bus and off by 7.15am.
First stop today was a choice of being ;lazy – sitting reading at a visitor centre – taking an easy walk a couple of Kilometre's to a lookout point, or a hard option of a 45 minute walk to a lookout point and a rock pool for a swim. Surprisingly, most people opted for the difficult option and we set off uphill following a simple path. However, after 45 minutes when we reached the lookout point, we realised that whoever was leading had missed a turn and we had in fact reached the lookout that the easy group should be at~!! After a few photos and a quick re-read of the map, we derided that we would have enough time to track back and reach our proper destination and get back to the bus, but may not have time for a swim!
So after another 45 minutes walk we finally reached the spectacular lookout above Katherine gorge. It was beautiful and well worth the effort in reaching it – the paths were a mix of dried up river beds and hard rock, with lots of gradients both up and down.
We saw a path leading to the rock-pool and decided that a few minutes wouldn’t harm anyone -so me, Michele, Liv, Awal, Matt, Mills, Jennifer Parsonage and Kenneth made our way down. It was hard going – steep rock steps and massive boulders to climb over, but as we reached the pool we were glad we had made the effort. It was stunning and there was a perfect high rock on which we could climb and jump into the cool water 5 metres below. The 2 minute swim we had promised us, turned into a 15-20 minute dip and we loved every minute, but soon had to leave to get back to the bus. It was hard going again, but after 45 minutes we got back to the road and soon saw Rick, driving the bus towards us to pick us up! We were 45 minutes late, due to the cock up in the map reading (No names mentioned, but it WASNT ME!) We were hungry and thirsty, so were all glad when Rick headed into Katherine to pick up Linda from her overnight Hotel and give us the chance of refreshment. Linda enjoyed telling everyone about her Hotel with TV, air-con and tea/coffee, but personally I would stay in the camp-site with no electricity every time – It supposed to be an adventure FFS!!
Back on the road and we were this time heading for some thermal springs where surprise surprise, we could have another swim!! Everyone took the opportunity for a quick sleep on the way and we reached the springs pretty soon after lunch. It was a lovely little pool maybe 30 metres long and 6 metres wide with clear warm water. It wasn’t as hot as we expected but we all took a quick dip in the cleansing water before heading to the café for a spot of lunch. Some people couldn’t wait for Rick to get out the remains of yesterdays meal and bought food at the little café there, but I waited and had another Buffalo sausage whilst I watched a bit of the ashes cricket on a TV in the café.
Rick passed around a sheet of paper so that we could all choose our main meal for tonight from the pub in Daly Waters, where we are camping out again tonight.
After lunch it was back onto the bus again! By now, after 2 lots of swimming and a lot of walking and sweating, my clothes are beginning to look pretty dirty!! My white t-shirt is going brown and my grey shirts are going black, but out here it doesn’t matter. Jennifer Parsonage described it well – If she was as sweaty as this in normal life, she wouldn’t like it – but here it just doesn’t matter! Its just normal as everyone is like it.
As Rick drove us down Stewart Highway towards Daly Waters, he suddenly pulled the bus to a halt and did a 3 point turn. We though he had spotted a koala at first, but after turning around again he was off the bus and shouting for us to follow – He had spotted a frilled neck lizard on a tree. This lizard has a really colourful neck which it can inflate to make itself look bigger than it is. Rick caught it pretty easily and after calming it down turned it towards us so we could all get a look and take photos. It's amazing to think that whilst driving down the road, he is constantly looking both sides of the road to spot wildlife and interesting spots to show us and tell us about. He really does a good job.
The weather is now starting to turn and as we got back on the bus, it started to rain – we hope it would stop before we camp out tonight - well most people do – I couldn’t really give a shit!! It might make it a bit more interesting!!
I grabbed Jennifer Parsonage's e reader and continued to read Pride and Prejudice, whilst listening to the ashes on my new radio! Its been another good day – but there’s only a few days left.
After arriving in Daly Waters about 5.30pm, we all unloaded and headed towards the bar – Not because we wanted a drink, but due to the rain this afternoon the bars owner 'Robin', had been kind enough to allow us to sleep inside the pub. Now, Daly Waters is no ordinary town -its basically a staging post before you hit the outback properly as as such it has a bar, food and somewhere to sleep - nothing much else. The bar itself is just a covered concrete patio area surrounded by tables, so it is still outside -albeit with a wriggly tin roof.
After unpacking and having showers, a few people did some bowling in the road outside the pub, others sat and chatted whilst waiting for dinner, whilst some of us, sat by the bus were treated to a show and taught how to crack a whip, by some dude who turned out to be a local and the DJ for the night in the bar. Most people had a go at the whip-cracking – I wasn’t very good, but Kenneth seemed to get the hang of it. At 7.30 dinner was served and we were not disappointed – The burgers were the biggest ones I have ever seen – I should have taken photos, but forgot as my greed took over. The burgers were the size of pizzas and about 5 inches high. It wasn’t just meat burgers either as I had a barra burger (made from the local popular fish) which was just as big. Even though they were massive, everyone still finished their dinner and then had a few drinks and a chat before bed.
The rain had stopped earlier and the grass outside was now dry, so a few of us decided to risk it and sleep outside under the clouds. We grabbed our swags (A swag is a thin mattress inside a canvas zipped up bag, that can be rolled up and carried around easily) and sleeping bags and headed outside just before 11pm. Laura, Natalie, Matt and Awal had already set up their swags, so me, Amanda, Jennifer Parsonage and Donna grabbed a space in the corner of the field and waited for everyone else to come out. The swags were really comfortable, especially after two nights is stuffy uncomfortable tents and we fell asleep pretty quickly. I woke up a short while later at the same time as Amanda, when we heard a noise from Jennifer Parsonage. She was talking about a light, but was still fast asleep and didn’t answer us when we spoke to her. As I looked around I expected to see everyone else outside too, but they had all changed their minds and stayed under cover in the bar. It was their loss and outside it was lovely and cool and inside the swags all we needed was our sleeping bag liners to keep warm.
Sunday Nov 28th
I slept really well until we were woken by Rick at about 5.30am. We got up and had a bit of breakfast before packing the bus up and heading off again – This time towards Alice Springs.
It is expected to be a long drive today as Alice Springs is about 500km away, so that’s why we were getting away so early.
On the bus everyone spent the first hour or so sleeping, until we stopped at a small roadhouse for a toilet stop and breakfast for those that didn’t have any earlier. Also Rick wanted to show us the pets that were kept in the roadhouse – a load of snakes!! He appeared at the front of the café, with a large snake draped around his shoulders and explained to everyone about it as they took turns to touch it and take photos. I spotted an internet terminal and took the opportunity to check online, about the football scores from yesterdays UK games and was pleasantly surprised to see than United had beaten Blackburn 7-1. After Rick put the snakes away we climbed wearily back onto the bus and started the long journey to Alice Springs. Our next stop is Tennants Creek and we are hoping to be able to grab a swim sometime on today’s journey, but the weather today is cool and cloudy so we don’t yet know if it will be possible.
Australia so far has been great. It might be quite expensive, even compared to the UK, but the people are friendly and the atmosphere, where ever we have been has been great. Th weather has cooled a little from the stifling heat of Darwin and the sky is just massive. We wondered why it seems to be so large above us and the best explanation seems to be that its because it is so flat and the horizon is so far away, the sky just seems to go on and on, as does the road. You really cant believe how a road can be so straight and go from nowhere to nowhere for so long. We have bee driving down the Stuart Highway for 2 days now and apart from the roadhouses that we stop in and the night time stops, there isn’t much else apart from tine little towns of aborigines. We see the odd lizard cross the road and have just had a stop in the middle of nowhere to take photos of a strange ring that has appeared around the sun, but apart from all that excitement, its just a long long straight road, with the odd slight curve surrounded by bush. There are trees, wildlife and scrub-land as far as you can see and it just goes on and on. Later in the day we passed over a railway track that carries the famous 'Ghan', railroad. The road in front of us just went on forever and the railway itself stretched away in the distance as far as we could see. Rick explained that when you want to build a route between two places in Australia, you just draw a straight line between them and get building! Theres nothing in the way to stop you!!
We had a stop at Mary Jane lake and dam about lunchtime and actually managed to get in a quick swim in the lake too. The water was a bit brown compared to some of the plunge pools and billabongs we have swum in recently, but it was still nice to cool down and have a dip. After lunch we went into Tennants creek where we stocked up on food for lunch for the next couple of days and filled up the fuel on the bus.
Our next stop was 'The Devils Marbles', a strange rock formation that has left lots of massive round shaped boulders perching on top of each other and sometimes precariously at the edge of a drop or with a crawl space beneath them. I loved it here as Rick led us up and over the top if the rocks, I managed to climb up a couple more to get a better view. I could have stayed here a lot longer than the half hour we spent, but it was really hot and we still have nearly 400km to go to reach Alice Springs tonight.
Another couple of hours down the road and Rick turned on the microphone and explained that the Mountain we could see on the right hand side was Stewart’s mountain – It is the closest distinguishing mark to the geographical centre of Australia and that means that we are currently 1200 kilometres away from the sea. There is nowhere in Europe that is so far from the sea or ocean and so for most people it will be the farthest we have ever been from a beach!! I will have to check on where I have been to see if it is the farthest I have been, but I’m sure it comes close. The only place that may be further is Dushanbe in Tajikistan, but I will have to check.
After the mountain, we drove a few minute more and stopped at another roadhouse. I am beginning to love these places as they have everything – Shop, café, pub, accommodation and anything else you could imagine. They sometimes have an airstrip close by too.
This roadhouse is at a place called Ti Tree – I was feeling tired so I bought a bottle of red-eye. It claims to be an energy drink with attitude and it certainly worked a treat as I am now back to my annoying, random energetic self!! It woke me up a treat! I saw a map on the wall and as I looked at it Jennifer Parsonage, Mills, Janet and Linda came over and we all saw just how far we have come across Australia in the last few days. True to his word, Rick was right – Darwin was 1200ish kilometres away now. That’s about 800 miles or roughly the distance from John'o'groats to lands end. Blimey! As we made our way back to the bus a road train that was refuelling pulled forward 25 metres and blocked our path! The Aussie bloke who was refuelling it, saw our faces and with a smirk remarked – 'Looks like you lot need the exercise!', I laughed with him as me and the other ozbussers took a diversion around and behind the road train, taking pictures as we did. Tonight is Marks birthday and as such a few of us are going out for a meal. I don’t think a lot of people are going as Australia has proved to be quite expensive for some and they are now cooking for themselves, to save money, but I’m sure the 7 or 8 of us that go to the local pub in Alice Springs will have a good night out.
I just had a thought – Alice Springs!! I remember being at Primary school aged about 6 or 7 years old and the class did a project about Australia. It was all about Didgeridoos, Koalas, and Sydney opera house. But for some reason I remember learning about Alice Springs and Ayers Rock, where we are going tomorrow evening. I cant believe that we are in Australia and near to somewhere that when I was a kid seemed so far away. It really has been a great day again and I’m excited at the prospect of reaching somewhere I dreamed of visiting as a little kid.
Well we are here now in Alice Springs and its ace!! A few of us (Lana, Kenneth, Rick, Me, Isabelle, Mark Awal, Matt and Jennifer Parsonage) went out for a really good meal at Bojangles bar and diner. We all had steak or burgers, camel or crocodile or a mix of the lot and the food was great. There was also a webcam in the bar so I texted my family and waved to them all live in the tinternet. Me and Jennifer Parsonage shared a nice bottle of red wine and then we all went back to Haven Hostel, where we are staying to do a bit in tinternetting and do our washing. It has been a good day, but tiring, but after a good meal and some wine we are all now happy. We also have a nice lie in tomorrow as we arent leaving till 11am!! Cant wait for some good sleep and clean clothes!!!
Dont know when we will get internet again, but keep an eye out for more updates!!
None of the places we have visited on the trip seem real – Everest, Taj Mahal, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are all places we have all seen on TV and read about in the news, but we have actually been to them all – In the next few days, if I get the chance I will try an compile a list of my favourites, but that is going to be a hard task. I might have to ask my fellow bussers about their opinion and see what they all think.
I’m really confused about my feelings about the next week on the bus – I’m so looking forward to hitting Sydney next Sunday, finally leaving the bus and starting a new adventure, but I have made some great friends on the bus and am not really looking forward to leaving them and travelling on my own, but you never know what’s going to happen in the next week!