Thursday, March 31, 2005

See Ya Cobbers!

In the end I decided not to head down to Alice and Uluru as I found the idea of driving 2500km one way just to see a big rock (albeit a very impressive one) unappetising. Anyway, it's not like it's going anywhere fast so there are plenty of opportunities for a next time.

So this is it: after 50 days in Australia I'm heading off to a new continent and hopefully some new adventures as well. Which just leaves me the task of summarising my experiences and impressions of Australia for you.

I must say, and I'm sure I'll get some hate-mail for this, that overall I am slightly underwhelmed. Now before the inevitable cries of "how dare you!" ring throughout the land I feel I should justify my previous statement. It's probably because we (Brits especially) are deluged with images and stories of Oz that we perhaps tend to place it on a pedestal and give it Nirvana-like qualities in our minds. It's the cities (especially Sydney and Melbourne) that are particularly elevated; and they are pleasant, cosmopolitan and vibrant places, but no more so than many European cities, though without the history. For me, the reason to visit Australia, unless seeing friends or relatives, should really be the natural wonders on display. For that reason I am glad that I chose to explore the less travelled west coast as opposed to the east coast which, I am reliably told, is swarming with pommie backpackers (by the way, for all you Aussies that insist that pom stands for Prisoner Of Mother england, it is in fact an abbreviation of pomegranate, which is what Aussies used to call newly arrived Brits because they would almost immediately turn red in the sun). Instead the west is wonderfully remote and wild, with breathtaking landscapes and some stupendous national parks. or me this was the true Australia, and certainly worth a visit, despite it being difficult to get to many of the more inaccessible places without my own means of transport. Another thing definitely going for Australia are the spectacular sunsets and clear night skies where one feels like it's possible to reach out and touch them.

Another thing that makes Australia unique is the people. They are undoubtedly more open than Europeans and are quite likely to come up to you and start a conversation even though you are a total stranger. On the other hand they do tend to be quite racist, something that saddened me somewhat especially as the people themselves are immigrants to the country, few of them being there for more than three generations. However I think it is best I leave this land before it is too late for me and I won't be able to stop saying "aaww yee-eh" and "nah worries" (already I can feel the phrases' corrupting influence upon my brain!).

So, I'll see you all in Singapore.

P.S. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank everybody that took me in, gave me a lift, and generally showed a lot of kindness without me being able to give nearly as much in return. To all of you I owe a debt of gratitude and remember you fondly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Kimberley To Top End Adventure

It's been a while since my last post in Port Hedland because I've been almost constantly on the move, but now I've finally arrived in Darwin and can sit down in peace and try and recount some of what has happened to me.

The start of the trip was inauspicious: I tried hitching out of Port Hedland, but after 4 hours of sitting by the side of the highway I admitted defeat and took the bus to Broome, even though it pained me (or more to the point, pained my wallet) to do so. Broome's the main tourist and administrative centre for the Kimberley (which is what this part of Australia is called) and is especially famed for its pearls and Cable beach. Seeing as I'm not interested in jewellery I had to make do with the beach which, I have to admit, was actually really pretty. The white sand is soft, yet firm, beneath your feet, there's plenty of space for everybody and the water is very clear, not that that matters though as you can't go in the water due to stingers (small, almost invisible, yet deadly, jellyfish also known as irukandji).

The town and beach having been fully inspected, and found to be in their correct locations, it was time to leave. From Broome though I had more luck in finding rides than in Port Hedland and have steadily made my way along the northern coast to Darwin with a succession of kind and friendly people, most notably a couple of French guys (Vianney and Pierre, who happen to have their own website for their trip, though it is far more professional than my humble blog) who I've been with for the past 3 days and who have taken me for the past 1800km.

There have been several interesting sights along the way, such as a natural quartz formation that looks uncannily like the great wall of China (so I don't need to visit that now). The Kimberley is also full of sandstone valleys and gorges with beautiful rock formations, so just driving from one town to another (and believe me, there's a lot of driving) can be interesting (at times). The landscape is also littered with termite mounds, ranging from the humble foot-high bungalows to the 5m+ skyscrapers of the animal world. Then there are the boab trees that dot the landscape, looking like enormous bowling skittles that have decided to sprout branches: very amusing.

Whilst driving around this remote area of Australia there have been a couple of things that have really struck me though. In Britain we have lorries, in the USA they have trucks, but that just doesn't cut the mustard over here in Australia, oh no. Over here they have ROAD TRAINS! These monsters of the road are just enormous and can easily reach over 50m in length. These behemoths take over 1km to stop, although they never do, whether you're in your car minding your own business or whether you're a herd of cattle (hypothetically speaking, of course), they will plow right through you. If you see one coming your way you just get well off the road and pray you don't get sucked up by the turbulence! Then there are the random bushfires. On the road to Darwin we must have passed through about 10 of them. They weren't raging infernos or anything, probably because the wet season has just finished, but when you see flames just metres from the road it makes you a tad worried. Still, at least it allows you to see tons of birds of prey as they circle above the flames waiting to pounce on all the cute, furry animals fleeing the conflagration.

Now though I'm going to chill out for a day or two before trying to find a lift down to Alice Springs so that I can visit Uluru (Ayres rock), though if I don't manage that then I'll just head on out to Singapore. Either way you'll find out in a few days.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Totally Tropo

First of all happy No Ruz to all full, semi-, honorary and even part-time Persians, as well as to anybody else who celebrates new year on the Spring equinox.

I'm still in Port Hedland waiting for a ride out of here. The weather around these parts is just ridiculous: often topping 40 degrees and with high humidity to boot. It's at times like these that you appreciate Winters because hell, I can afford a jumper and, if push comes to shove, maybe even a jacket as well. What I don't like, however, is dissolving in a pool of my own sweat whilst doing nothing more strenuous than reading a book. This isn't helped by the Australians' inability to build houses that remain cool whilst it's hot outside (even the use of simple shutters would aid matters immensely). Another gripe I have with this place (and I can't believe I've waited so long to mention it) is the flies. Now they might seem smaller, and therefore more harmless, than your common or garden European housefly, but my god they are evil incarnate. If you tell a European fly to bugger off it will stay away for a fair length of time, but an Aussie fly, on the other hand, once it has found you, will never stop hounding you, incessantly flying up your nose and into your ears. Needless to say within minutes of such an onslaught insanity is imminent. Under these circumstances those silly Australian hats with the dangly corks are actually very sensible (and I'm now in the process of collecting corks to make my very own DIY one).

Friday, March 18, 2005

No Ticket To Ride

Is what you've got when you're hitching and bumming rides. And since you're at the mercy of other peoples' generosity you sometimes have to wait, which is what happened to me at Exmouth where I stayed a couple of days longer than I would have liked; then two rides came at once (which goes to show that they are like buses in more ways than one). I got given a lift by a Swiss couple who I found a bit strange (although that feeling was probably mutual). For a start their entire CD collection (without exception) was composed of what can only be called religious rock. Anyway, they were going my way and beggars can't be choosers.

From the coast we headed inland to Karijini national park, home to some spectacular gorges that run through layers and layers of red paving slabs. Actually there are only 4 colours here in the outback: the rusty red of the earth and termite mounds; the blue of the sky; the green of the eucalyptus leaves and hardy spinifex grasses; and white, for clouds, gum-tree trunks and the bones of roadkill that litter the side of the road.. I would have liked to have stayed a bit longer to explore the gorges properly but the Swiss couple were reminiscent of stereotypical Japanese tourists: arrive at car park, walk to lookout, take picture, back to car. To me they didn't seem moved by the amazing spectacle before them and were rather non-plussed. Though I suppose I might be a bit similar when it comes to looking at pieces of Art. I mean what's the minimum amount of time you need, say, to look at the Mona Lisa, to get the entire "fantasticness" of it. So maybe I'm being a tad cynical. Either way the park was spectacular and I definitely found it highly rewarding.

From there we made a bee-line north to Port Hedland, Australia's main port for raw materials (e.g. iron ore) export, where I am at this very moment.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Reefer Madness

Oh my, it's been 6 months since I left on my trip, though it doesn't really feel like it. Though I can't believe I've only managed to visit 7 countries (8 if you count Hutt River Province) in all that time; I'll have to do better in the next 6 months. Whilst travelling through Oz by car (without aircon) you get to see and smell a lot of the outback, and one thing they don't tell you in brochures is that the predominant odour of the bush is the sickly-sweet smell of rotting meat that comes from all the roadkill. There are stretches of road that easily have at least one kangaroo, in some stage of decomposition, every 200m. Not particularly pleasing, but then you probably won't starve to death out here at least.

Now I am in Exmouth at the north-western tip of Australia and home to Ningaloo reef, a coral reef that is so close to shore that you can easily swim up to it from shore. It's also one of the few places in the world where you can easily see whale sharks and manta rays (even though I haven't, yet). So I have spent the past couple of days paddling out to the reefs and snorkelling around them. The abundance and diversity of fish, corals and other marine fauna is just astounding and the colours are all so bright and vivid. The corals are also shallow enough for you to be able to swim right to the bottom of them to see the rays and other bottom dwelling fish. So far I have seen, amongst others, parrotfish, angelfish, wrasses, eels, rays, turtles, sea slugs and starfish. Unfortunately today I've been unable to go snorkelling as there is a tropical cyclone (Willy) sitting about 100km off the coast creating huge swells and churning up the sand from the sea-bed, thereby reducing visibility almost to zero. So instead I'm stuck in this small town (population 2500, which is a heaving metropolis for these parts) with not much to do, so I'm guessing I'll spend most of the day in the pool.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Meet The Ancestors

From Cervantes I've been hitch-hiking up the coastal highway. Even though I've been told by pretty much everyone I meet not to hitch it has been quite entertaining (and let's not forget, cheap) as I've met some interesting characters. At the moment I'm travelling with a couple of backpackers who have their own car, and tent, and are going in my general direction, which makes life a lot easier for me as it is very difficult to see much in this vast and barren continent without your own means of transport.

My first stop was at Hutt River Province Principality, which is Australia's second largest country (complete with its own money, post office, army and even a navy, even though it's landlocked). It was founded by an irate farmer in 1970 who was annoyed at Australia's wheat quotas and since then Hutt River has been recognised by a number of countries including Spain, although Australia still doesn't. This hasn't stopped HRH Prince Leonard (who I have met and shaken hands with) declaring war on Australia! Even though Hutt River isn't much to look at (some fields and farm sheds) the audacity of Prince Len just has to be admired and the visit has definitely been one of my highlights here in Australia.

Further up the coast is the Shark Bay peninsula, which is a haven for many endangered species such as dugongs, bilbies, and several turtles, as well as being one of only two places in the world where one can see living stromatolites. Stromatolites are photosynthetic bacteria that live in colonies forming living rock clumps and they live in shallow sea water. As you can see from the picture they aren't much to look at, but they are living specimens of the oldest fossils found on earth, examples of which have been dated back to 3.5 billion years ago. Which means that in all probability all life forms on earth are descended from them. I therefore thought it only fair that I should pay a visit to my ancestors. Another attraction at Shark Bay is the group of wild bottlenose dolphins that come in almost regularly to the beach at Monkey Mia to be fed (if they so choose). The dolphins come incredibly close to shore and sometimes even swim amongst the bathers in the shallows. That was a very special experience and I hope it won't be the last in the series as I'm heading off towards Ningaloo reef, which is supposed to be as spectacular than the Great Barrier Reef.

Friday, March 04, 2005


I am now on the west coast of Australia, in what is probably the world's most isolated city: Perth (the closest comparable cities are Adelaide and Jakarta, both about 3000km away). It's nice enough, as cities go, and quite good shopping-wise (though as I'm a bloke I'm not much of an expert on that front). Luckily there are also some pretty good museums, of which the museum of Western Australia I found the most interesting as it had a fair amount of information on the local fauna (particularly the dangerous variety). They also have one of only two specimens of megamouth sharks (see link for fact sheet) on display, so that was definitely worth a detour.

I went to see my first ever game of Aussie rules football here when the Western Eagles (Perth) played the Kangaroos (north Melbourne) in the semi-finals of the Wizard cup. The game itself is certainly fast-paced with very few lulls, and so is certainly very watchable, however I did not find there to be as much skill and finesse as in (proper) football or rugby (union). Still it was enjoyable and what's more we (the Eagles) won by a comfortable margin.

From Perth I travelled up the coast about 250km to a sleepy little sea-side town of Cervantes (because it is one of Australia's newest towns it has decided upon a Spanish-theme gimmick, so all the roads are named after towns in Spain and the only restaurant is called the Quixote) which is the gateway to the Pinnacles national park. The park contains thousands of limestone spikes that jut out of the desert, forming spectacular shapes, and are incredibly beautiful (needless to say I snapped off an entire roll of film). As if they couldn't get any more spectacular I also witnessed the most amazing sunset there that turned the pinnacles from orange to red to pink, definitely the most beautiful thing I have seen in Oz so far (I can't wait to see the piccies when I get back home). From here I'll be continuing up the coast until I reach Broome, before heading inland.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


As I've already mentioned before, one of my highlights in South America was the Torres del Paine national park in Chilean Patagonia. So it was with great sadness that, whilst reading some online news articles, I discovered that it was being severely damaged by forest fires. What's even worse is that is was started by a (Czech) camper who wanted to save money and camped outside of the designated camping grounds. And even though it shouldn't surprise me any more, whenever I hear stories like this it makes me marvel at Man's boundless stupidity.