The Amazing Race Tasmania

Tasmania. It always was such an intriguing name… I learned about it in school. Named for the Dutch explorer and sailor Abel Tasman, this island always conjured up images of steep, dark jungle for me.  I have never been this close to Antarctica!
Tasmania seems to us, now, to be the opposite of the Australian mainland:
– its roads are windy instead of endlessly straight,
– it is green and hilly instead of red and flat,
– it is wet and cold, instead of dry and hot!
It probably is not right to generalize. I’m sure it’s hot and dry here, too, at times. But right now Tasmania is the perfect transition to home for us. With its mountain tops shrouded in clouds and drizzle, it looks much like British Columbia. I’m so glad my friend Anne moved to Tassie, as it is fondly known, otherwise we might never have ventured here. I’m glad we did since it is gorgeous.
We took the ferry to Bruny Island – an island off an island.
And felt we were back on Salt Spring. Bruny Island has sheep, a cheese maker, a winery, lovely little villages and beaches.
But, unlike Salt Spring, it also has sand beaches and a penguin rookery.


Rain. Pounding rain and storm. Thunder and lightning. This is spring in Tasmania? Locals say it is unusual. I don’t have enough warm clothing. I just have sandals. The scenery is gorgeous: steep hills, green valleys, tree ferns (they look like a cross between large ferns and palm trees).


But oh, the weather. It is pouring, thunder and lightning!

The landscape feels very British: today we were in Exeter, Devon, we see tea shops and butchers…
Green fields with cows. Lots of sheep. This northeast side of Tasmania was settled first, in the 1800’s. Most of the wild forest is gone and it has been tamed to produce crops and keep livestock. Yet, throw in some wild gorges, a waterfall, some rain forest – and you have today’s Tassie.
We’re staying in a Backpackers’ Hostel. Large private room with our own, large bathroom. The owner managed to find us a little electric heater. Trying to defrost our toes…

Woke up to sunshine and blue sky. And a sodden, drowned world. Creeks were overflowing and whole fields seemed like marshes. But we enjoyed seeing the countryside without fog. After tea and cereal in the hostel’s kitchen, we slowly tuffed up and down hill sides. Stopped for coffee in a lovely used bookstore with a Marklin train… Walked on a beach. Made a picnic lunch next to a beach. We both love these quiet days of driving and seeing new places. No rush, no traffic. Kees took a sharp right turn at a sign “Kate’s handmade chocolade”. Discovered a lovely berry farm with a cafe. Kate was one busy lady. And she knew Salt Spring well. We are surprised at the number of Aussies who have been to Salt Spring! We sat on the patio with cappuchino’s and… chocolate covered licorice…

By late afternoon we made it into Hobart. Enjoyed seeing downtown with lovely old buildings on the waterfront. We found a nice room in a backpackers’ hotel (read: lower prices than a luxury hotel). Right in the center of town. Walked through the Tasmania Museum, had a beer in a pub housed in an old customs house. Then a burger in an Irish Pub. Life is good.

The next day we left on an adventure around Tassie in our little rental car, driving first north of Hobart and west. Immediately we were in a vast wilderness. Green valleys, tall peaks, and lonely roads. To our thrill we met a cute cuddly wombat! We spent the night in a delightful, renovated gold rush hotel in Queenstown:

Then drove through more wilderness, past Tasmania’s highest peak Cradle Mountain, via many hairpins curves to Strahan on the west coast, and on to Burnie on the north coast. Tomorrow, we continue our amazing race around Tasmania!

Random Aus-servations

 • Have you ever seen a drive-tru bottleshop?! In Australia you don’t need to get out of your car to buy booze! Just go through the drive-through, order your beer, load it, pay and drive off. Just don’t drink and drive…

• Tassie seems to have much more internet access then the mainland did.

• Hotels and homes don’t seem to have any central heating systems. Just an electric heater in a room. But almost all beds have electric heating pads. In the south this means cold houses; in the north you won’t need any heat.

• Aussies love cake! Every town, even the smallest one, has a bakery with an enormous assortment of pastries and cakes in the window. They also always have meat pies.

• To send a postcard costs about three times more than to buy the card itself. Postage to Canada for a card is a whopping $2.65.

• No left turns allowed on a red light.

• ‘Tea’ means evening dinner. People will say “I’m having steak for tea.” Or “I still have to give the dog his tea.”

• ‘Lollies’ means candy, not just lollipops.

• The ferry to Tasmania costs 95.- one way. It cost us $39.- to fly from Melbourne.

• Size: Tasmania is about 62,000 sq km, The Netherlands a bit smaller at 42,000 and Vancouver Island smallest at 32,000.

• Twice now we have met the Huntsman spider. I do not care to repeat this experience. Google it. The Huntsman spider is an average of 10 – 12 INCHES. Big, black and ugly as only spiders can be. People tell me they won’t hurt me, they only eat bugs. I don’t care. I don’t ever want to see another one up close and personal…
• Aus is expensive. While the dollars are at par, minimum wage here is very high – some 20.- or 25.- dollars for a waiter. In the States a waiter would make perhaps 8.- and 10.- – 12.- in Canada. As a result, everything here is expensive for us. Groceries are about 1/3 higher. Eating out and accommodations are often about double.

• I love shopping in second hand stores, looking for a treasure.  The shops usually benefit a good cause like a hospital or such. In North America these stores are always called ‘thrift’ stores – which, I think, makes them sound cheap and terrible. Here in Australia second-hand stores are called Op Shops. Op is for ‘opportunity’ – now, doesn’t that sound a lot more exciting?

MONA – What is Art?

Tasmania’s number one tourist attraction used to be Port Arthur, the convict colony where ruins of prisons tell the story of its gruesome settlement. Now, Tassie’s prime attraction is a museum built by a man with a lot of money made through gambling, a man who wanted to prove something to the world.
MONA – The Museum of Old & New Art.
The publicity surrounding the opening of David Walsh’s pet project, MONA in January 2011 extended around the world. The unique characteristics of the location, buildings and exhibits continued to please tens of thousands of visitors every month making it the most visited single attraction in Tasmania. MONA has encouraged people to visit Hobart, who would ordinarily never have contemplated it. Lonely Planet named it the top attraction.
And so we felt compelled to see it, even though we are not ‘into’ art and certain don’t love contemporary art. 

The least I can say is ‘MONA is unique and thought provoking’. The overall experience of a visit is interesting. I admired the architecture, the way the building unfolds and embraces the natural landscape is a piece of art in its own right.
As far as the art inside is concerned – well, I did not care for any of it. Weird. Outlandish. Bizarre. After a while I felt like I was on drugs.

Each visitor is given an iphone with a menu that highlights and complements each piece of ‘art’. You can listen to the artist’s musings, read the ‘idea behind the piece’ or a bio. The iphone will give details on which ever piece you approach and is interactive. You can even save your tour, email it to yourself and continue reading about each piece when you get home. Pretty advanced, and cool, use of technology.

Art includes a handful of ancient Egyptian artifacts but mostly outlandish modern pieces, like a room full of TV’s blaring different channels. I’m sure there’s some socio-economic level of interest to it, but it’s kind of lost on me.
A wall full of bees: each one suspended from a thread on the ceiling, creating a 3D piece. Provocative paintings. A video of people crossing a street. A room simulating the inside of a computer. Two brooms on a wall.
A few humorous touches kept us on edge. The museum owner’s parking spot is identified as ‘God’s parking spot’. He must have a sense of humor. I hope. But mostly he must have a lot of money. Personally, I think there are better ways to put that money to use than to spend it on a trampoline with buddhist bells underneath or a blank library, a room entirely filled with blank white books.

Do I think it’s worth a visit? I’m not sure. In a way it was a waste of time and money. On the other hand, it got me thinking. What is art?
And perhaps that was the only motivation that drove David Walsh to build MONA…

“As a boy I had limited access to the great repositories
of artefact but I, like most of us, held a library card.
A real treasure. If a museum is a cultural gemstone
then a book is cultural Lego.”

-David Walsh

From Sydney to Sidney!
Two more days to explore. We drive our little rental Suzuki around the southern tips of Tasmania. One day along beaches, picturebook towns. I like the typical pubs and old hotels with their white, wooden lacework along the verandahs. I splash in the cold waves of the Southern Ocean.
We picnic on Roaring Beach: buns, chicken, fruit, cheese.
The very last day we drive all the way south to Port Arthur. This is one of the main attractions of Tasmania. But we decide that we don’t want to spend a fortune in admission fees to see ruins and learn more about the gruesome penal colony history than we really want to know.
So we walk along yet another white sand beach, have coffee in a lovely orchard and marvel at natural wonders along the coast: The Devil’s Kitchen, Blowhole and other amazing rock features with wild ocean water. On the way we are lucky enough to spot a real live echidna – a kind of small, Australian porcupine with a cute velvet snout that makes me think of an ant eater.
When we come home to our friend Anne’s place, we are even luckier. We are invited to crew on a 37’ sailing yacht in a sail race between the mainland and Bruny Island. So we spend a gorgeous sunny evening, with the perfect amount of wind, sailing across the bay. A glorious end to our three months adventure in Australia.

The next morning we flew from Hobart to Sydney. And just now I stepped off the plane from Sydney to Vancouver – 7900 miles, 14 hours. Then a short flight to Victoria, a taxi to the ferry terminal in Sidney and the ferry to Salt Spring. It’s been an amazing experience to have three whole months to roam and explore. We saw so much natural beauty, met many interesting people and visited places we had only dreamed of.

Splashing in the Southern Ocean

Across the OutBack to Adelaide & Melbourne

Monday, November 11, 2013: The Indian Pacific

     When we planned our Great Australian Adventure, we had many choices to make. How to travel, what to see. We decided that a camper was the most economical way, and it would give us relative freedom to go when and where we wanted. We knew we wanted to hike a bit somewhere and chose the southern cape area to do so once we dropped off the camper. 
We also knew we wanted to experience one of the famous train journeys on this continent. The Ghan and the Overlander or Indian Pacific are legendary names. But when we first checked the website, we were blown way by the prices. Well over a thousand dollar would get us a ticket, for one person, from Perth to Adelaide. We read many travel sites and discovered that tickets ordered by phone were much cheaper. In the process we also discovered the cheaper way to go: the Red Section of the train. This came after Platinum and Gold. Way after. It was, in the end, the only affordable way for us to take the train as part of our three months journey.
Now we are here, in the Red Seats, happily wagging along on the tail end of the 600 meter long train. the train carries 250 passengers, about 30 of them are Red Seaters. It is almost comical how the old British class system is still evident on the train. We don’t get free coffee or tea like the Gold Seaters. We have to pay to go on a little excursion off the train, unlike the Gold and Platinum passengers. We hear announcements about “channel six on your control panel” but we have no control panels. Ha.
Our seats are much like airplane seats, about an inch wider and they recline further back. Sleep is difficult when the train gnaws and grinds long the track, clanging its chains and banging the tracks. But its rhymth lulls us to sleep eventually.

The Nullabor

The view from the train is off an immense flat, empty plain: the Nullabor Desert. Null arbor: no trees. Foot high scrub, red sand and rocks. Suddenly we stop at one house in the desert. A town of two people who look after an airstrip and “run a B&B in case a pilot needs to spend the night.” We passed by one of the largest sheep stations in the world, over 300,000 acres. “It takes eight hours by plane to check the fences,” we were told.

500 km further down the track, is Cook. A town of four. The entire population comes out to see the train, and to collect their weekly mail, water and other supplies. Water here costs more per liter than fuel. A faded sign says ‘Please get sick, our hospital needs you.” Nowadays the hospital is no longer there. The local doctor is 12 hours away by car. With a deserted school this is a modern day ghost town that started as a telegraph station and now only exists because of the train.

Town in the desert, pop. 2

We brought most of our food for the two day/two night journey. Kees said he’d buy a new bottle of softdrink in the next town. No such luck… The one and only town the train stops in on the journey from Perth to Adelaide is Kalgoorlie. Many people, in the Red Seats, bought tickets for a mine excursion here. We arrived in Kalgoorlie last night at midnight… The mine was pitch dark. All they got to see was Kalgoorlie’s red light district… Glad we opted not to spend A$64.- on this outing!

The Matilda Cafe
The Red Seats

We appreciated that, on Remembrance Day – November 11, they played taps and asked for a minute of silence. So many young men from Australia died during both World Wars – a huge percentage of such a small population.

It is 2,700 km from Perth to Adelaide. And, mindblowing enough, the landscape does not change much. We slept a second night in our seats and each time I opened my eyes, it looked the same. Closer to Adelaide the flat scrub made way for flat wheat fields. A few more buildings here and there. And then – a lovely city. Staying in a fun colonial pub in the heart of town.

Australian Pub with a good heart

When we needed a place to spend one night in Adelaide, I searched on Google maps starting with the central bus station from where our bus departs at 7 AM. I tried many links but most Australian hotels are way up there in price. While we like to stay in good, clean places we also travel on a budget.
The Metropolitan looked more like a pub than a hotel. But the photos showed nice, large rooms and a modern restaurant. I emailed and was assured a room. No worries.

We arrived in Adelaide on the train at 7:30 in the morning. What hotel would let you check in at that time? We just hoped we could check our luggage and would then hang around til later. But we were welcomed with coffee and shown to our room right away. A large room with very clean linens, table, chairs and a fridge. We were even able to do our laundry.

The Metropolitan is one of Adelaide’s original pubs, dating back to 1883. With its 14′ ceilings and lovely decor it has the feel of an old country pub. But it is right in the heart of Adelaide, directly across from the Central Market. We walked to Victoria Park, to the State Museum and Library and all the shops.
Sure, the floors creak and there’s a curved staircase to climb. But that’s part of the charm of staying in an authentic place like this. AND.. it has free wireless internet!

We had a great dinner of pumpkin soup, schnitzel, good wine and warm rhubarb crumble. The restaurant even has a court yard. If you live near Adelaide, be sure to have a drink and dinner here. If you need a place to stay in Adelaide, this is the place!

Penguins, Cakes and a Great Ocean Road

Three Days in Melbourne

As the bus pulls into the Melbourne Southern Cross Station, I spot our host. We’ve never met Rupert before but I know him instantly. He’s the brother of one of my best friends and, very matter-of-factly, had invited us to stay with him and his wife once we got to Melbourne. Typical Aussie hospitality is amazing. We drove to their beautiful home, have a great room and toured downtown Melbourne all day.

Aussies love cakes!

What a nice city – with old buildings huddled among modern architecture, the city buildings reflect a similar, integrated mix to its inhabitants. Parks, rivers, a bustling downtown. Tea and cake in a Jewish neighborhood. Mellow traffic. Art galleries. We liked what we saw of Melbourne.

Then, once the sun almost set, we drove all over town to the pier at the harbour. We walked way down the pier. It was almost dark. At the end of the pier, there were piles of rocks.


Suddenly we hear squeaking and grunting and tjirping. And there, from in between the cracks, peeked little tiny penguins! They came swimming up from the sea, at dark, and flip-flopped over the beach to hide and nest in between the rocks. They were so cute… so little. One wobbled out on the wooden dock.

Tiny penguin at Melbourne pier

Two looked like they were hugging and kissing. Too cute. What a treat to see penguins in their natural environment, without any commercial interference. It was hard to take photos since you couldn’t flash and it was dark! I wrapped red paper of my camera..


Great Ocean Road

Our wonderful Melbourne host drove us all over today. Took us out to the Great Ocean Road – a gorgeous winding road along the Bass Strait in the Southern Ocean.

Would have loved to see an echidna.

Vistas of green hills dipping white sandy toes into blue waters. Had a coffee here, an ice cream there. The highlight was a campfire in a mountain park, to roast steaks. Tomato, avocado, bbq steaks and chocolate. What a lunch. We were surrounded by tall gum trees and, suddenly, heard loud grunting and snorting. Wild koalas! They sounded like wild boars. We spotted several in the trees around us. Then a gorgeous red and green parrot landed near us and stayed around. Very pictoresque.

Tomorrow – the last part of our Australian Adventure! Do you want to know what we still have in store?
Two weeks in Tasmania! So stayed tuned.

Australia: Wizards of Auz

Thursday, October 31, Halloween night

Farewell to our camper

October 31, Halloween night and we are checked into The Witch’s Hat in Perth. This morning we were in the perfect campsite to clean out and pack our bags. Our groceries were perfectly finished after our last breakfast and lunch in the camper. Sad to say goodbye – both to the camper and to the lovely sites along the ocean.

Soon after leaving Yanchep we found ourselves on highways, heading into Perth traffic.
We dropped off the camper. Another efficient and friendly Britz office. Then the bus, loaded with our backpacks, into the city. Checked into the hostel. Feels cool to be among young backpackers from around the world.

Our backpacks are stuffed and very heavy. Part of the problem is that we keep finding wonderful books. We bought an iPad specifically so that we
could have lots of books without the weight. The problem is not so much that we don’t like reading on the iPad. It’s fine. The problem is that we don’t come across good books online. We find them in campgrounds, in second hand book stores, on shelves in the youth hostel, etc. So they pile up.

Pizza and beer in the city for dinner tonight.
So now we are spending Halloween night at The Witch’s Hat. We both chuckled when we heard we had room… 13.
So far nothing too spooky but the lights ARE flickering!

Witch’s Hat Hostel

With trees like this

Grass tree
flowering grass tree
and flowers like that
Kangaroo Paw

With names like…

and signs like that…

is it any wonder that I think of Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak every day?!

Sunday, November 3, 2013, The Big Hike

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

Leaving our hostel in Perth, we dragged our luggage to the central train and bus station to catch a bus to Augusta, the southern most tip of Australia’s mainland. Took 5 hours of driving like a bat out of hell, down narrow winding roads. I never get car sick but I did this time…

It was a short five minute haul in Augusta to our motel. We have a nice, self contained room with a kitchenette. Augusta is very blustery – a storm is howling through town right now. Getting here was a total climate change from the 30+ weather we had been having. It was 19 when we arrived, but a lot warmer today despite the wind.
This morning we embarked on our next adventure: hiking the Cape to Cape Walk, 135 km from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste!
Check out:  

We booked the hike through a special agency. This way we did not have to do any of the research and bookings of where to stay, where to eat etc. They book everything, sent us a big book of the trail, step by step, with hotel information, dinners booked, and our luggage transported to the next place.
We are in Augusta for 3 nights so we can wash clothes, and make our own lunches here.

We started off at the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, by touching the corner stone. As the plaque states, the Dutch ship Leeuwin (Lioness) reached the southern most point of Australia in 1622 and the land was mapped as ‘land of the Lioness’. Fun to see all of the Dutch connections here.
The trail today was not easy. 25 km of bush wacking, clambering over boulders, trying not to step into deep blowholes, plowing through kilometer of kilometer of soft, sloped sand on the beach. Once in a while there was a nice section which made for easier hiking. But the Pieterspad was a piece of cake compared to this. The scenery is glorious, but a strong wind (thank goodness it was in our back) whipped up sand that pelted us.

Day 2 was more glorious scenery, great weather (hot sun and no shade anywhere!) but also more very strenuous hiking. Whenever there’s a real path in the woods, it is wonderful. But much of the time it was heavy slogging along the beach. In very soft sand that gives way with every step. Sometimes like quicksand, it pulled you down with every step. Try that for 2 hours… And then it was up the headlands, climbing quickly.
I decided that I was not enjoying this and so I am skipping Day 3. I don’t have anything to proof… The option of spending the day in a resort on a glorious beach, with pool and … with wifi, was just too tempting.  Kees however is bravely trudging along. He loves the challenge. I did buy him some cold, dark beer. So he will be happy when he makes it here tonight!
The wildlife we saw included kookaburras, again finally!, a very large kangaroo on the trail and two very large (1.5 meters long) black snakes!

Australia: Beyond the Books

Camped under an old gum tree in Kalbarri

During our travels we always look for a book exchange. Almost every campground has one. In this manner we picked up some interesting reading.
1] Who Am I by Robert Bernard Taylor
This book was an eye opener to me. I don’t think I was aware of the fact that Britain sent thousands of young children from orphanages to live in Australia. Similar to the criminals that were sent earlier, they loaded ships with children to “get a better life” in the colony. Robert was about 6 years old and promised an education in Australia. However, many of these children ended up doing slave labor, like the author of the book who spent six years in a Catholic Boys Home where the children were terribly abused and used to built buildings and do farm work, trapping rabbits etc. rather than receive an education.
The book was very interesting to read, even more so because Robert Taylor ended up educating himself and becoming a pioneering park ranger, working in many of the national parks we became familiar with on this trip. 

This book mentions another book called Empty Cradles, on the topic of child migrants.

2] Nomads At Large by Monty Dwyer, an Australia radio personality who traveled and interviwed seniors known as grey nomads. This book opened our eyes to the vast numbers of retirees who all buy campers and start traveling around the country, changing the economy of many places.

3] The Salvado Memoirs, a historical account of Australia from a particular Catholic mission in the mid 1800’s with the emphasize on aboriginal information.  It is a biography of a Benedictine priest who ended up being a bishop and who established one of the first missions. The book gives amazing details on customs and language of the aboriginal people. We will probably bring this book back with us so you might want to borrow it!

4] LOVE a book I picked up called My Place by Sally Morgan. It’s labeled as an Australian classic, her biography about being part aboriginal and what it meant to her and her family. Fascinating story, well written.

5] Tanami, by Kieran Kelly. A good read about two guys who walk across this Australian desert with 5 camels. A tough journey combined with interesting history and good storytelling. Kelly picks up where two historic explorers left off, and successfully completes an unfinished trek through Australia’s hottest place.

Kees is speeding through several John Grishams and I just picked up a copy of The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl.

During the last few days we have spent time in towns like Denham and Kalbarri. We are blown away (literally) by the strong storm winds along the west coast. At first we thought it was just a windy day. And a stormy night. But it got worse and people said “Oh, the whole west coast is like this.” We can’t sit outside. Our chairs are blown away all the time. It’s tough to hike in this wind and the flies seem to have developed special techniques because they are NOT blown away by it.Seems like every town here has a memorial, some statute or memento about a historic Dutch ship that hit the coast and perished here, three or four hundred years ago. There’s a whole slew: the Batavia, the Zuytdorp, and more. One plague said, and I quote “It is not clear why the ship perished. Perhaps the captain miscalculate the turn toward Batavia in the Indies.” And I am thinking ‘No way! Those Dutch sailors were the best in the world at that time. They made it all the way around the world. It was the darn storms off this coast that blew them onto the rocks!”

Shell Beach


Pink Lakes and Yellow Pinnacles

 On the way to Geraldton we drove passed Pink Lake. The water is pink because of a microbe releasing beta carotine in the water.


Geraldton was the first regular city since leaving Darwin, several thousand kilometers ago. It was very nicely laid out, with large boulevards and a great waterfront. We’ve noticed in a lot of towns here that the waterfront is preserved as park, often with playgrounds and public beaches. It’s so much nicer than walking along private hotels and restaurants and not being able to get to the shore.
It was Kees’ birthday so we had dinner in a lovely place with view on the water. The library had good, free!, internet access so we got caught up on emails and work.

Now we are staying in Cervantes, right by the beach. Today we drove Nambung National Park to see the Pinnacles. We were curious to see these since they seem an Australian landmark. They are depicted on the cover of an Australian book we have at home. I always wonder what it would be like to be the first to come across a place like this. Normal scrubby desert and then, bang, bright yellow sand with thousands of stone pillars. 
Scientists are not sure if they are stone (shell and sand) structures around which the soil has eroded. Or if they are fossilized wood. I would have thought it’d be easy to determine that, but apparently not. But, whatever it is, it looks cool to be surrounded by these pillars. We walked almost 4 KM among them. In the heat. So now I need a swim…

New Norcia, a Monastic Village

New Norcia college

In 1846 a Spanish monk made his way to the new world after having been given the task by the pope of establishing a monastry in Western Australia and converting Aborigines to Christianity.
Dom Salvado had a somewhat unique view for the time. He did not try to convert and preach very hard but worked with the native populatin to win their trust. He appreciated the wisdom of the native population and made friends with them. Salvado eventually founded a small town in the Australian bush. New Norcia is a Benedictine monastic town. Separated from the Catholic church, these monks live in the town permanently and actively work to earn their own living. They grow and press olives, have a beautiful bakery and make a renowned wine and beer. It’s like a small Spanish town in the Australian bush country, with old mission buildings and palm trees.

Church at New Norcia

We took a tour of  the churches and several other buildings now used by educational institutions for retreats, etc. You can even spend the night in the monastary. If we weren’t running out of time, we would have stayed and experienced that. A night’s stay includes a small room, and three meals a day with the monks, time for meditation and prayer and just quiet time to relax and reflect. Salvado made several trips back to Europe to raise funds for the small village. By 1900 on his 8th trip he passed away in Rome and was eventually burried in New Norcia.

New Norcia stain glass window

We opted to continue staying with our new Australian friends!
It was lovely to meet Australian people. We spent a few days with them and the last night they invited many of their friends for a little party. Wonderful to spend the evening with such friendly, jovial Aussies. They have a very admirable tight-knit community and take pride in building their own facilities like tennis courts, playing fields, a recreation hall and library.

On Wednesday we stopped at Yanchep National Park and, finally, saw koalas! They are so cute, clinging to the tree in their sleepy positions. They look as if they will crash to the ground if they let go. They’d move to a more comfortable fork in a tree, once in a while.

After that we found a lovely spot in Yanchep’s caravan park for our very last night in the camper! Exciting to now embark on our next adventure: a ten day hike from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste in the south of Western Australia. Stay tuned for this adventure! 

Australia: dolphins, campers and more

The dolphins of Monkey Mia

October 16, 17, 18.
We continued down the road, another 100 KM to the tiny village of Denham. A motel, a marina, a supermarket, a gas station and then a lovely caravan park. Got a spot overlooking the ocean from a bluff. But we soon discovered they still had an ocean front site because the wind howls through here at 50 knots an hour… Can’t step outside without being blown out of your pants. I don’t need a hair dryer – just step outside and it’s blown dry in a minute. The showers here are salt water… so how can I rinse off after an ocean swim?

The first recorded arrival of white men on Australian soil, was right here. A Dutch man. A Dutch trading ship, under the command of Captain Dirk Hartog arrived here on October 25, 1616 – more than 150 years before Captain Cook. Hartog left a pewter plate, nailed to a post. The original plate is now back in the Rijksmuseum, but there’s a replica of it here.

Today we drove the short 25 KM to Monkey Mia. I had talked to many people who had visited this resort where wild dolphins come to interact with people. Everyone had said that it used to be really fun, but that now it is very touristy and regulated. But still. When wild dolphins come to the shore, I wanted to experience that. I did not have high expectations. I also suspected it to be commercialized.
BUT it was fun! It’s done in a lovely manner. You do have to pay $8.50  a person entrance fee, but that is often the case at wildlife or nature reserves. The rangers gave a informative talk and the bottlenose dolphins arrived around 8 AM. No one makes them show up, they truly do live free in the ocean. Of course they have been conditioned, know that there is a treat waiting by the shore. But I do believe the regulations are in the dolphins best interest. If they did not strictly enforce rules, people would feed them bread, or worse. They would touch them and affect them with sunscreen or bacteria.
Now, we all had a long, good look at the six wild dolphins that came to shore. They almost beached themselves and showed off. One mother brought a small calf. It was lovely. A few people were allowed to feed a fish to them and then it was over. The dolphins come back as they please but are only fed in the morning, and only up to five females, bringing males and other friends along.

Camping Down-Under: Observations on Australian RVs by Kees

Thirteen years ago when we visited Australia for the frst time, we rented a small camper van, a Toyota Hiace. It had well over 400,000 kms on it and every time we made a left turn the microwave fell on the floor. No airconditioning and since you are sitting on top of the engine in that van, it roasted your behind pretty good. So this time we decided to spent a few more dollars and get a larger, newer camper wth airconditioning and a large bed over the full width of the unit. We initially rented from the Cheapa company (the name should have warned us) but when we checked their reviews on Trip Advisor we found nothing but negative comments from previous users. So we changed to Britz and have been very very happy with their unit and their service, all first class. We used a broker to help us select the company (see Website: and were very happy with their services. You do see numerous rental companies that have units on the road. Not only Britz, but also Maui, Apollo and Kea are well known brands that are first class. There are several other rental companies that cater to different clientele and budgets. Make sure you check Trip Advisor before you rent anything!!

The rental units are mostly similar RVs to the ones you find in North America. Many class C motorhomes, small class B vans and many which would be classed as a large class B or a small class A. That is the one we now have, a Mercedes Sprinter fully camperized.
In North America there are more and more companies which use the Mercedes Sprinter (5 cyl. diesel) to build their motorhomes because it gets very good mileage for such a large unit. We are averaging 20 miles to the gallon, or about 8 liters per 100 kms. They drive well, however when you meet one of these famous road trains on the road (trucks that are 55 meters long and have 74 – 84 wheels) you better hang on to that steering wheel because you get hit with their draft pretty good.

The rental companies also provide many 4×4 camper units and that is a very good idea in Australia. Our (2 wheel) unit was only allowed on paved (sealed) road and as a result we had to forego visiting some National Parks or interesting sites because those would require us to travel down a dirt road (unsealed). A couple of times we  needed to travel 10 -12 km on unsealed roads just to get to a campground and these Sprinters  are not build for rough roads, that became obvious rather quickly. Next time we visit Australia we will get a 4×4 camper. A little more expensive to drive probably, but at least you can get everywhere you want to go. 

The gas (petrol) here in Australia is a little more expensive, the cheapest diesel was $1.64 a liter but in the outback we paid as much as $2.20 a liter. You do have to be careful not to run out of gas because gas stations might be 250 km apart, however signs do warn you about those infrequent services and you would be pretty stupid if you did run out. Many people, especially those travelling the dirt roads in the Outback, carry extra jerrycans with fuel.

There are several other type of RVs on the road here in Australia and in campgrounds (caravan parks). First of all you see more types of trailers (called ‘caravans’ here) than I ever did see in North America. Many of them look rather low-slung when they go down the road, however as soon as they are parked a 1 or 1.5 foot pop up comes up that allows standing room in the trailer but allowed for less drag while going down the road.
Then there are the ‘camper caravans’, which we call tent trailers.
Another type we don’t see much of in North America is the ‘camper trailers’, these look like small utility trailers when being pulled behind a vehicle, but when folded out they become almost regular tents. And there are a few 5th wheels and even fewer large Class A motorhomes. The big Marathon, Prevost, Country Coach, Bounder etc. that you see in North American parks are rare here in Australia. You do see ‘slide on campers’ as they are called here, those are our pickup campers. And then something I have rarely seen in North America, the ‘roof top camper’. These are, usually small, tents that are carried on top of the car and which fold out, on top of the car, to a regular tent for which you need a ladder to get into it. It keeps you away from the snakes and spiders, but it seems a little awkward.

Since most of Australia is well endowed with a lot of sunshine many people use solar panels to charge their aux. batteries. Since the Caravan Parks can be rather expensive (we have paid between $32 and $52 for a site) many people stay in places where there are no facilities (dry camp). Especially the snowbirds (called ‘grey nomads’ or ‘silver seniors’ here) often dry camp for several days and then come into a Caravan Park for a night to replenish the drinking water, dump the grey and/or black water and get a decent shower. The facilities in these Caravan Parks are generally first class with laundromats, kitchen facilities and anything you can think of.
There is a major debate going on in the country between proponents of dry camping and the Caravan Park owners, who of course loose income if a grey nomad camps a few miles away in the bush while he has empty stalls. Several local municipal Councils have gotten into the act and decided to pass an ordinance to not allow dry camping within their boundaries. Or they are camper friendly and provide cheap (or sometimes free) camping spots for tourists.

All together we are very much enjoying the camping experience in Australia and I am already plans for our next trip down under!

Australia: Roadkill & Stromatolites

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Oct 14 (the blog automatically gets dated, you can tell we are a day ahead in Australia!)
Exmouth, Western Australia. It’s still a pretty isolated town. I felt that we had left the Outback but people here still calls this the Outback. We really like Exmouth. It feels like a small, laid-back beach town which might become really popular in a few years. It has a small centre with dive shops, a bakery, a grocery store. I have been to towns that boasted being famous for their wine, their cheese, having a giant lobster, or something like that. Exmouth holds the record for strongest mainland wind gust, measuring 267 kph! While we are here, it’s been trying to break that record. Very windy but that’s actually nice when it’s hot.
But Exmouth is also very different from what we expected. I had imagined the west coast to be a different landscape – hills, greener. I guess that’s because I’m a North American west coaster. Here the west coast, at least so far, is simply desert. Red rocks, shrub, even termite mounds right up to the ocean. There literally is only a row of sand dunes in between desert and reef.
Oh, that reef. I’ll let you in on a secret…
We’ve all heard of the Great Barrier Reef. The west coast, has a similar reef. A bit smaller but still some 300 KM long… and this one is RIGHT off the main land. You don’t need to take an expensive cruise. You don’t need to go way out at 50 knots an hour… You simply put on your mask and snorkel, wade out into the turqoise water and voila…. coral bommies all around, red fish, blue fish, yellow fish too.  It’s awesome.
Kees has graduated to wearing shorts, flipflops and a tan. We camped in town first where, to our amazement, a huge emu visited us. Then we found THE best spot in the entire Nigaloo Reef National Park – right off the beach with a view of the water and sand. The draw back is that national park campgrounds have no facilities. So we went unplugged and loved it. No TV! Yet we watched As The World Turns and The Blue Lagoon.
We had wine with fellow campers, listened to stories of kite surfing and sailing on the blue corral lagoon. Kangaroos lazed around us in the shade. Then we made dinner and watched the sun set.  We watched blues fade to orange, pink, gray-blue. And then we slept, for about 12 hours. But I kept peeking out and saw the moon make a trail across the starry sky, until it was as large and orange as the sun. It slowly sank into the ocean to make way for another day.
At first light, we sipped tea and skinny dipped in the Indian Ocean.
And the best part? It’s Monday morning!

October 14
We’ve been telling you all about how wonderful our Australian travels are: warm temperatures, swimming, tropical beaches… Then we realized that, where you live it may be a blustery Fall. You may be going to work and get really ticked off reading about how nice our trip is… So we figure it’s time to tell you about the down side of traveling. How it’s not at all what it’s cracked up to be.

😦 The distances we have to drive here to get anywhere are terrible… One day we did 930 KM.

:-(The temperatures can be murder. It’s been an average of 33 degree, sometimes up to 41 degrees C.

😦 The flies are awful… they want to settle permanently up your nose.

😦 You always have to walk to a shower building, dragging all of your clothes, towel, toiletries, the key… Then you have to balance on one foot in a wet showerstall, trying to get dressed.

😦 The flies are terrible.

😦 There’s no Heineken to be found in the Outback. !

😦 It’s hard to find good coffee here, especially in the supermarket. Almost only instant.

😦 We track sand into our van all the time. Have to sweep piles of it out. All the time.

: -( You should see the flies here.

😦 We keep hearing about killer jellyfish, crocs, spiders, snakes.. That sort of stuff starts to take a toll on the mind…

😦 Every night we have to take down the table, try to fit all the cushions into a bed and wrestle a sheet around it all.

😦 Every morning we have to take down the whole bed before we can sit at our breakfast table.

😦 We have a sunburn. And sand in unmentionable places.

😦 There’s just two of us. If you want a new conversation it gets limited sometimes.

😦 When we run out of a book to read, all we can do is hope to find a book exchange in the next campground. New paperbacks are $20.- here.

😦 Our stove has 3 burners but you can only fit two small pans on it at once.

😦 Did I mention the flies?

😦 Our fridge is about a quarter of a normal one. And it’s full of beer. “Baby beer,” Kees says, referring to the alcohol content of 2.5%.

😦 Almost no internet, and if we can get it it’s expensive.

😦 You should see the flies. They like beer.

😦 Our bathroom is about half the size of a small broom closet. Try pulling up your pants in that!

😦 We see more roadkill than houses.

There. I hope this makes you feel better.
Now I have to run. To the gorgeous white sand beach with the blue water and palmtrees. Sorry.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Coral Bay and Stromatolites!
Oct 15
This is perhaps one of the most pictoresque beaches of white sand, with aqua water and perfect swimming/snorkeling anywhere in the world. I love it.
But the campgrounds aren’t great. We found a spot in the “beach front” rows of the campground closest to the beach. It really was just a walk past other campers and across the road. But it felt like we were camping in a parking lot, with cars coming and going, a petrol station right next to us. Busy, busy. $48 per night just to camp here. So we’re not staying as long as we would have liked to.

But the snorkeling is out of this world. Right off the beach you immediately float over amazing corral in all shapes and sizes with fishes darting everywhere, in all colors. Large rainbow colored fishes, trailed by little blue, yellow, black & white fishes. Even the occasional turtle. Fabulous.
This morning we walked along the beach to an area of the reef where reef sharks have their nursery. The shallow waters were teaming with reef sharks in all sizes as well as a small ray.
Coral Bay and Exmouth are two places we’d go back to, no problem.

But we did leave and drove 430 KM down the same, boring desert road. It’s called the North West Coastal Highway. It’s not truly boring – there’s something imposing in its emptiness – but there really is nothing to see. Kees loves driving the long distances and I’m getting the tedious sleeves knit on the sweater I’m making.
The same red earth (Uluru’s color really is not that special when you consider that the whole continent is red soil. It’s just that Uluru is so hard, a monolith that has not eroded).
The same dusty green shrubs.
The same dead animals along the road. Not so many wallabees as there were along the Barkly Highway, but kangaroos, birds, cattle, even sheep. The cows are huge Brahmin cows and, apparently, get hit by road trains. They lie on the side of the road with their stiff legs in the air, bloated and dried like gigantic leather purses.

We even see the same people. Similar to the Camino de Santiago, a long distance hiking trail in Spain where you often run into the same hikers each day, here you also meet fellow travelers going in the same direction. We recognize people we saw two, three even five days back in another town. Obviously making the same stops along the same route.

We pass one town of a decent size and do our groceries for the next few days. Fill up with diesel whenever we find a larger town with lower prices. Then we find the turn-off to Denham, Shark Bay and – my long awaited stop – Monkey Mia.

I just finished reading Bill Bryson’s In A Sunburned Country, in which he elaborates about Hamelin Pool and stromatolites. From his book, I knew about these rocks containing the earth’ first microbes. If they had not existed, billions of years ago, and decided to release oxygen into the atmosphere, we might have never ‘happened’. So I was curious to see to whom, or what, I owed this life on earth. Turns out stromatolites do not look exciting. The closest I can think of is lava. Black, grayish rocks sitting knee deep in saline water. No mysterious glow. No fluorescent frills. Not even gory green algae. Just rocks in clear water. But still. Cool to know that this is only one of two places on earth where stromatolites still ‘live’.  They do not look exactly lively and I think that Kees was a bit puzzled by my wish to see them.


Australia: Dreamtime

Thursday Oct 3

Manuel almost died five years ago.
He is an aboriginal man, 50 years of age, who, like many indiginous people, drank too much. He basically drank himself to death. After a 17 day coma, he actually survived. But the doctor told him “One more beer and you’ll die.” Manuel managed to not touch a drop of alcohol since then, and to turn his life around. He now offers a unique, cultural experience which we, as visitors to his country, thoroughly enjoyed. In most places you have no opportunity to interact with locals, and taking photos is not allowed. So when we read the advertisements for Top Didj Cultural Experience, we decided to give it a try. “It might be tacky, it might be touristy,” we thought. But it turned out to be fun, interesting and worth the money.
When we showed up at the art gallery, at 9 AM, we found a gallery and a store full of local art and giftware to browse. But we also found two tiny baby wallabees which we could pet and cuddle.
Then the ten or twelve people in our group, walked to a large outdoor shelter, sat in a circle and met Manuel. He told us about his life. How he was born in the bush, welcomed into the world by the women of his clan with smoke and rituals. He talked about hunting barefooted, living in small shelters and being eight years old when he saw his first whitefellow. (Caucasians are whitefellows, aboriginals are blackfellows.)
He explained family life, how clans can not marry within too close a circle of relations. How families go to other regions to meet families with suitable girls, which are promised to a certain boy at age 4. Once they reach 13 or so, the couple start living together. They don’t know the marriage ceremony. But, he said, much of their tradtional way of life, music, dance, painting and even language will no longer exist in a few more years. “Nowadays,” he said, “young people come home, sit in front of the TV with a Cola and that’s it.” We saw the exact same thing in Nunavut with Inuit people and their culture. But there they seem to have more support to hold on to language and culture. Here there is, apparently, none.
I love their term ‘dream time’. It refers to life before and after your current life. The ancestors live in dream time. 
Manuel showed us how to paint a traditional turtle and kangoroo, using a certain number of lines and colors, dictated by his clan. If you know about aboriginal art you can tell which clan, family and in which region made a certain painting.
He showed us how to make fire in the bush and how to spear a kangaroo. He actually still goes into the bush these days to find his own supper. “I have learned,” he said, “that you always have to work for your food. Either by hunting it. Or by working to earn money before you can buy it.”
The hanting sounds of the didgeridoo lingered as we left the dusty town of Katherine behind us on our way to Western Australia and, hopefully, cooler temperatures than the 40+ degrees here. 

The Cucumber Police

Friday Oct 4

Australia is paranoid about anyone bringing in invasive species: animals, flowers, trees… amything. And understandably so. In the past anything that was brought in, flourished and took off with a passion. Cats. Rabbits. Blackberries. They’re all out to conquer native plants and animals. I was utterly amazed when, upon landing at Sydney Airport, we were told to remain seated with our seatbelts securely fastened. Then the flight attendants opened all overhead compartments and proceeded to spray the entire inside of the plane with pesticide. My mouth had dropped open in disbelief but I quickly closed it and actually huddled under my scarf and tried not to breathe. The smell reminded me of the long banned Flit sprays my parents used in mosquito season. I come from Salt Spring Island where, if you so much as whisper the words “Round Up” people gasp and stare at you.
Having now been in Australia for a while, I am slightly more sympathetic. Think of it the other way. What if we, inadvertently, brought back Australian flies? Heaven help us. The buggers could easily come aboard airplanes inside our nostrils or riding inside our ears. Whereas Canadian flies are polite, almost apologetic if they land on your arm, Australians flies insist on a close personal relationship. They like your mouth. The closer the better. Your eyeballs are fine too. So if there is a chance of importing Australian flies to other parts of the world, perhaps we should spray all airplanes…
Last night we crossed the border between Northern Territories and Western Australia. And there we met the Cucumber Police! They have a real border station and uniformed guards who are out to get your veggies. I’m not sure what exactly they are looking for, but they seem to live in fear of your potatoes. I surrended two wrinkled oranges and some limp lettuce. But that wasn’t enough. The guard boarded our camper and proceeded to go through all cupboards. Two blushing tomatoes were caught in the act and arrested. An innocent zucchini was hauled off as a common criminal. A cold, baked potato was handcuffed and contained. Even the banana peels from the garbage got a life sentence.
Those guards do a good job protecting their state, I’m sure. But I’d hate to spend my life confiscating carrots.
Come to think of it, perhaps they should train all those rabbits. I’m sure they’d sniff out every last carrot from every passing camper van.

A Continent Crossed!

Sat, Sun, Monday Oct 5 -7

We did it! Crossed the entire continent! Left the east coast at Rockhampton and today we made it across the Outback to Australia’s northern west coast! We are in Broome, WA. I had read about a touristy, crowded town but on Saturday afternoon most things were closed and the streets were half empty. Strolled through a tiny Chinatown at 37º. Finally found something I wasn’t able to buy anywhere in the Outback: knitting needles. I had made due with a pair of chopsticks but now I can make more proper sleeves for the sweater I’m knitting. Campground is very close to the white sands of Cable Beach, supposedly one of the top 5 best beaches in the world. But not any nicer than our gorgeous Oregon beach!
“Can I swim here?” I ask in the campground office. “Sure,” says the lady. “Is it safe?” I want to make sure.
“Sure,” she says. Then adds, “Just the odd hammerhead shark and a croc last week.”
I did not swim.
Aussies are such wonderful, lacksadaisy characters! Most men in the Outback are rugged cowboys. When you stopped at a roadhouse, hundreds of miles from anywhere, you see families buying an icecream, roadtrain drivers going for a meal and everyone else just getting petrol. I saw one guy get out of his car. Must have been 65, 70 years old. Standard bush clothing: rugged hiking boots with wool socks. Sleeveless vest showing heavy biceps.
Suntanned face in the shade of a leather cowboy hat (called a bush hat). This one had a long thin, white ponytail and instead of the standard dusty shorts he was wearing a long purle sari wrapped around his waist.

On our second day in Broome we got up at 5 AM for a long, 8 KM, walk on the beach before it got too hot. Lovely.
Spent the rest of the day doing laudry and cleaning the camper. Beat lots of red dust from the pillows and even mopped the floor.
We still grin as we sit by the pool, reading a book. Kees keeps saying “If this is retirement, I can handle it!”

But on Monday morning we continued our drive south. It’s kind of a bummer – no sooner have you made it to the gorgeous beaches of the coast or you need to go back into the desert. More than 500 KM from Broome to the next town. Same long straight roads through shrub and red earth. Even knowing that the coast is about 15 KM on your right, doesn’t help much if you can’t see it. The distances here are amazing. It kind of reminds me of Nunavut, Canada’s Arctic region. If those remote, isolated villages had roads connecting them, it would be similar to here. Hundreds of kms to the next town. And it’s easy to miss the one roadhouse in between where you can get gas. Often it literally is one building. But some places on the map turn out to be one shed with the name spraypainted on it. Have even seen several places that show on the map and are one big truck tire on the side of the road with the name spraypainted on it. Perhaps there’s a cattle station somewhere off in the bush. But you can’t see it from the road.

We followed the bright red track into the bush. It led to brilliant blue sky and a pure white beach: Eighty Mile Beach, which is actually 221 KMs!
They sure could use more surveyors in Australia. Not once have the distances on the maps and on the signs and on our odometer been the same.

Eighty Mile Beach. Life doesn’t get much better than this. White sand and an amazing array of shells. Turquoise waters. Little white waves to play in. Not really swim because of sharks, but still nice. Kees took a long walk, I searched for and found gorgeous sea shells. Watched the sun set with a glass of wine in the sand.

Tuesday Oct 9

Decided to stay another day. The alternative is to drive another 750 KM. It’s some 500 to a town that does not sound attractive, then a roadhouse at 750 KM, after which it will be another full day to Exmouth, the next wonderful beach. So we’ll stay here for another day of shell searching.

It never ceases to amaze me how quiet these campgrounds are. Most campground are pretty much like parking lots. No privacy, the neighbors are mere feet away. Yet there is no noise at night. No people talking. No music. Just the tjirping of crickets.
North American campgrounds are much nicer, with large sites and usually much green between units. Here you are just lined up and right next to each other. But the facilities at the campgrounds here are amazing. Each one has several, usually very clean, bathroom units. There’s always a laundry room with washing machines and large sinks. Many drying racks to hang your clothing. I’ve never seen to many campers doing laundry all the time, everywhere. All the lines are usually full of clothing but also towels, sheets, quilts and blankets. It seems to me that Aussies are the cleanest campers on earth.
Each campground also usually has one or more camp kitchens. These have a large stove, a bbq, a sink, microwave, fridge for tenters to use. Especially in the heat it’s nice to cook here instead of in your own camper.

By now it is Wednesday and we’re driving, driving… Just went over 10,000 KM on this trip. Spent the last two days on the perfect, fabulous  Eighty Mile Beach. Kees hiked long distances while I picked gorgeous shells.
But as soon as we’re on the road again, it’s windswept flat land with stubbles. Long stretches of road, road trains and a million traffic signs that say “floodway”.

The first thing we do when we get to a campsite, is plug the van’s power cord into a little post to give us electricity inside. Free camping sounds like a nice venture, but it also means no facilities. And when it’s +40 degrees, you do want your air conditioner on.
I’ve never traveled with so many items before that need charging. We have a cell phone (here called a ‘mobile’) which is great for making local calls or for our kids to reach us if need be. The boys also gave us an emergency thing with which we can text (but it takes us half an hour to type ‘help’. It also works as a tracking device in case you never hear from us again. IF we turned it on and IF it is charged.
Then there’s the GPS which tells us where to go. This is a lifesaver in big cities, which we are short of here. Unless the GPS is a bit outdated. She keeps yelling at us to “turn left now!” when there is no road to the left. Finally she sighs and says ‘turn around’ but we know we are on the right track. We argue a lot with our GPS but tolerate her for the times she got us out of trouble.
We also have a laptop so that I can work on manuscripts, update our blog, download photos, etc. The camera, of course, needs to be charged regularly too.  And the iPad is the device we use most often, to quickly check email, skype with the kids and my sister and brother-in-law, find a campground, and much more. We love having the iPad. As long as it is charged it has proven to be our best way of communicating with friends and family. We bought the iPad specifically with this trip in mind, thinking it would allow us to bring 100 books with no problem. However, I have not found the iPad all it’s cracked up to be for reading books. In airplanes you still have to shut down any electronics for quite a while, even in airplane mode. You do run out of battery power, something you never need to worry about with a real book.
At home, before we left, I had started to read Bill Bryson’s book In A Sunburned Country. I didn’t want to lug this thick book around so I thought I would borrow the e-book from my local library. Brilliant idea, right? Well, by the time my turn on the waiting list came around, I was in the Outback with virtual no internet access. I saw an email informing me that I had 3 days to downloaded it before the book would go to the next lucky person on the waiting list. I never did find enough internet to download a book. After about a week, all I managed to do was put myself on the waiting list again. And, hurray, one day I was entitled to borrow the book again AND had access enough to download it onto the iPad. I was able to read most of the book this way, but when an e-book is due, it magically zips back into cyberspace. Taking all of my notes and bookmarks with it. So… I still much prefer a real book, thank you very much.

Then there are two iPods with music and a tiny but powerful speaker. That one has been worth the investment. We sing along loudly as we travel down the endless roads.
It’s a day job to keep all of this charged. All of this is plugged in, wit
h the use of an adapter, to th Australian outlet we have in our camper.
BTW, many Australians around us put up  large rectangles of solar panels in order to charge much more than we own: iceboxes full of beer. And fish. TV’s, computers, and whatever else waits inside their cravans.
The one thing we own that doesn’t charge anymore is Kees’ razor. And so he grows a beard.
Tomorrow… we go unplugged. We plan on camping in a national park, which means no electricity, no water. Just us on the white sand beach. Maybe we’ll see some electric eels…!

What’s In A Name? In Australia: lots!

Our dessert after the desert: Indian Ocean beaches

Australia has the best place names ever.
I always liked the Alaskan town called Tok. But Australia has one better:  Bukbukluk!
Did you know that the town in Alaska called Chicken, was originally called Ptargiman. But no one knew how to spell it so they changed it to Chicken.
Australia also has the following gems:
Humpty Doo.
Tom Price.
Monkey Mia.
There’s a town called Wishbone and a place called Useless Loop.
Wouldn’t you love to see a place called The Bungle Bungles? It’s a area of unusual rock formations.
If you had enough pieces, and if you were allowed names  in Scrabble, wouldn’t you love to use Koombooloomba?
Goondiwindi and Toowoomba are not far from each other.
The longest place name is a hill in the south called Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya! Say that one fast.
Many names here are, of course, British. Wales, Victoria, and so on.
But there’s also a bit of Dutch history, especially on the west coast where Dutch sailors either came ashore on purpose or by accident. We are near a town called Zuytdorp. There’s also Dirck Hertog’s Island. Today we visited Vlamingh Lighthouse. And of course Tasmania was named for the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman.
We saw a great t-shirt. It had a sign post pointing to: DIDYABRINGYURGROGALONG. Have to say it out loud to get it…
For now, we are on our way to the Ningaloo Reef. I can’t wait to see it, no matter how it is spelled.  

Australia: Kakado or Kakadon’t?!

Sunday Sept 29/Monday Sept 30
Kakadu National Park is one of Australia’s best known parks. But it’s another several hundred kilometers, hot, muggy.. what to do? Is Kakado worth the extra miles?
After having seen it, we both agree: yes. If you have come from so far, you might as well go the extra mile and see it. We were disappointed with the landscape. It’s just more of the same: desert shrub, flat and long distances. There are more palm trees in the mix and it’s a bit greener, but also hotter and more humid. Wouldn’t want to be here much later in the year.
Much of what is described in the tourist books and brochures is only accessible if you have a 4WD or some rough car that allows you to go down bumpy dirt roads. However, there are a few short, paved side roads that allow you a glimpse into Kakadu. Two excellent visitor centres explain both the aboriginal way of life, their legends and ceremoney as well as the natural history side of the park. 
We stopped at a few view points but the highlight was two extensive sites of aboriginal art. As far back as 20,000 years (!) people have come to these sites. They roamed and hunted on the plains and in the estuaries of the rivers leading to the Timor Sea (Van Diemen Gulf). In Kakadu they had rock shelters, allowing them to spend the rainy season there. And what do you do on a blustery, rainy evening when it’s dark early and you have nothing else to do? You tell stories with your children and extended family around. And while some recalled events, and others explained legends, and the talk drifted to the hunt and the food you had – some of the gathered clan illustrated the stories. They did so with the stones and the ground colors that were in plenty supply. They paint them on your walls and ceilings… Little did they know that, thousands of years later, we would file by and take photos of their art. Thanks to the aboriginal interpretations, we are able to follow their stories. Such as the Rainbow Serpent tale about women coming of age. The yam-man who killed people and lessons about greed and honesty. Pretty cool stuff.
I was grateful that you are allowed to take photos. At Uluru everything is sacred so this was good.
Our recommendation: Kaka do!

Tuesday Oct 1/Wed Oct 2

The day started exciting. We were just waking up when I opened one eye and noticed the speaker on my side of the van. “Strange,” my sleepy brain thought, “I never noticed before that all the wires are hanging out of the speaker…” Then I opened a second eye and said “Holly s…!” I jumped out of bed. Thank goodness Kees was brave enough to attack the gigantic spider, which was draped over the speaker, with a steak knife. It unnerved us for the rest of the day. I kept glancing uneasily at the speaker but all seems clear now. I just wondered if his extended family had hitched a ride, too.
Then we drove. As usual. But this time we had the added excitement of driving from Kakadu to the town of… drum roll please… Humpty Doo! Can you image living in Humpty Doo? We wanted a postcard to commemorate the occasion and were told that the post office was right behind the gigantic statue of a crocodile. We couldn’t miss it.
We did. But drove back in hopes of finding it from a different angle. Which we did. Bought the postcard and continued on to Darwin. The capital city of Northern Territories truly is the Top End. Can’t go any further from here. At 38 degrees we did not galavant all over town. We strolled along the water front, then were thrilled to find the state library which was air conditioned and had FREE wifi. There’s a first for everything.

We are now camped at the backdoor of Litchfield National Park.  We decided to drive straight to the end of the dead end road through the national park, camp there and make our way back in the morning. A plan that worked well. I wondered why I felt totally lethargic until I looked at the temperatures… We have seen -50 in the Yukon but I had never seen the thermometer completely red to the top, + 50º C. The pool was the size of a rain barrel but it was enough to cool me down.
The drive back through Litchfield National Park was lovely. Pockets of rain forest (dense eucalyptus with palms), rock walls and suddenly – amazingly – there was water cascading down into pools. We soaked at one spot with many pools and little falls. Nice and cool before tackling another 250 KM back to Katherine.

Aliens Invade Australia

Wed Oct 2 

I wonder if someone ought to tell Australians that their country has been invaded. I don’t think city people will sleep if they knew the extent to which the entire country has been taken over by aliens!
Cities, networks of roads, amazing dwellings have sprouted up all over the Outback and beyond. Millions, no billions of the invaders have taken over the country. Termites that is.
All over Australia we have seen termite mounds, thousands along the roads, into the bush. In the harshest areas where humans couldn’t hope to live, these creatures thrive.
At first we wondered what the red stone peaks were. Ant hills? But they were too point, too stony. Later we learned that these termite mounds only occur in Australia. I guess when the Dutch and Spanish explorers first spotted the continent, and turned up their noses at it, the termites grinned and said “We’ll take it!” Now they own the lot of it.
From small red mounds along the curb, to yellow towers of over 2 meters tall – termite mounds are everywhere. I even saw postcards of termite mounts. Really.
But they are amazing. Like ants and bees, termites have a queens, nymphs, workers, soldiers and alates. Each has its own job to do. The termite is only slightly larger than an ant, sometimes called ‘white ant’ because their skin is so thin it is nearly transparent. Such a vulnerable insect couldn’t live in this climate if it wasn’t for their amazing architectural skills. The mounts protect the queen, who lives near the bottom surrounded by soldiers. Near the top is the food storage. The mounts are completely water proof (important in monsoon season!), fire resistant, and insulated. The have aligned their homes north-south so that it receives the least amount of heat and one side is always in the shade. Scientists have figured out that these ‘magnetic’ termites sense north-south. They are blind so they can’t see where the sun is. The mounds are ventilated to prevent fungi and bacteria from spoiling their food. The colors of the mounds change, of course, as the soil changes. They range from gray to yellow to fiery red.
Even the style of architecture seems to change per region. I wonder if what the termites teach each other, changes subtly until a whole new style is achieved. In some areas the mounds are skinny and pointy, while lately we have seen much rounder, wider mounds that almost resemble upside-down strawberry pots.  
We can probably learn much for these amazing insects. For now, it’s the most abundant species we have seen. Australians have a wicked sense of humor. They have taken to dressing up the mounds. There’s no other form of entertainment when driving roads that are thousands of kilometers long with not much else in sight but termite mounds. So we see termite mounds along the road wearing t-shirts, aprons, hardhats, sunglasses, even frilly underwear. I don’t know how the termites feel about this, but it sure gives us something to look forward to.

Uluru Red


Monday Sept 23

Another 500 KM of dry shrub land and we actually made it to the heart of the continent: Uluru. The campground is part of a low village of hotels, store, restaurants and visitors centre that, more or less, blends into the surroundings. At least it is nowhere very obtrusive. At sunset we drove 25 KM into the park to a viewing spot where we parked, along with many others and had a perfect, unobstructed view of the big rock as it changed colors in the setting sun.
Was it worth driving thousands of miles for?
It certainly stirred my heart, both as the icon it is and for its stark, natural beauty. Tomorrow… we rise well before the sun to be there as it comes over the horizon.

Tuesday Sept 24
The people right next to us watching the sun set on Uluru, turned out to be a wonderful couple (a teacher!) from Perth, on a year long trek around Australia. When we got back to the campground it turned out they were our neighbors there too. Destiny. We so enjoyed visiting with them and picking their brain both for spots to see on our trip and for information on Perth.
At 6 AM we drove to Uluru only to discover that we didn’t have enough gas in our tank to drive all the way to the sun rise viewpoint. So we didn’t join those crowds but got an early start on our hike around the base. A 10 KM loop that skirts the big orange mountain. It was still nice and cool but we did have to cover our heads with fly nets. Kees looked like a walking raisin bread with all the flies who hitched a ride on his head and shoulders. They didn’t seem to like me as much. Fine.
Our hike was great and interesting. In my head I could hear the didgeridoos of native people…. I think we did hear dingos singing in the distance.
A visit to the aboriginal culture center taught us more about a very recent way of life. People not much older than us, who remember seeing the fist white person. So much has changed in their life time. And not all for the better. Imagine living a peaceful life, living off the land, learning from your elders. And then having that entire rug pulled out from underneath you. They could not practise their way of living, eating, dancing, celebrating, even speaking. It’s hard to understand that fair skinned children were taken from their families to  be raised by white families. Not ‘just’ put in boarding schools but stolen from their families. People our age remember their mothers hiding them when government officials came to their village. What possessed white people to act that way? Slavery, prohibiting other cultures from speaking their own language, taking everything…. The mind boggles at how some people acted. Hopefully in the past tense. There’s a movement on now called “Bring Them Home” trying to locate those ‘children’ to put them back in touch with their families.
Australia’s aboriginal people have beautiful faces, as if carved from mahogany. Broad noses, very curly hair. Women were painting their famous dot stories outside the visitors centre. Inside was information on how the National Park is jointly run by locals and white people. If an elder has passed away, their photo is covered up and their name cannot be mentioned anymore. We were struck by how many similarities there are to Canada’s Inuit people: the sounds of drumming and chanting, the way the words look.
Everywhere signs ask you not to climb Uluru because it is a sacred site and the aboriginal people don’t want you to climb it. Yet we saw a long line of people clambering up… Why?! I asked a ranger why they don’t simply prohibit it. The reply was that government is afraid that less people will come (and leave their money). If you plan to visit Uluru, please don’t climb! It’s kind of like a horde of jolly people entering the Anglican church to have a picnic on the alter.

The rest of the day, we swam in the pool, had showers, took a nap, did laundry and cooked a nice grilled chicken dinner.

Wed Sept 25

Up again at 5:45 AM to quickly drive to the Kata Tjuta range to see the sun rise. These mountains are 50 KM from Uluru, of the same stone but more broken into individual shapes. Nice too. But I was disappointed by how many people are here. Whole bus loads show up and crowd onto the viewing platforms. We couldn’t even get close enough to see Uluru in the distance.  The other disappointment is that you are not allowed to take photos anywhere: around the mountains, in and near the visitor centre, etc. etc.
We started on the hike around Kata Tjuta but it was a clamber over boulders, and too many people. So, after a final farewell to the big rock, we headed back to Alice Springs. The park gave us a fond farewell by having a herd of feral camels roam in plain view!
37ø C in Alice Springs.

Clueless and Timeless

Thurs Sept 2 

We had to meet someone, last night, at 6:30 PM. We were there in plenty of time and waited… and waited… and waited. Finally we commented to someone that we had expected to meet someone at 6:30. He said “But it’s only 6 PM!” First we thought our watch had died, or the battery slowed down. Then we realized we had crossed a time zone and the time was 30 minutes earlier than we thought. We passed that timezone four days earlier and we had not noticed! Ha. But then we slowly recalled all the times this week that our timing had been off. “Remember that roast dinner where we were way too early?” “Oh, remember that the sunrise was so much later than they had told us!” The worst one: “Remember we left because the Aboriginal dances were not on at 4 PM as they had told us…” I guess it’s easy to lose half an hour when you’re on the road. When I asked why there were no signs along the highway or timezones on the map, they exclaimed “Oh! That would be a good idea!” 🙂  

Today we drove 650 KM from Alice Springs to Renner Springs. And that was after we did all the groceries for the next few days. Imagine driving that distance in Europe (Amsterdam to Orleans) or in North America (Vancouver to Portland, Oregon) with only a handful of tiny towns in between. Many towns are called a ‘station’ and are simply a gas station with a store and pub, serving drinks and food, a toilet and a phone and that’s it. Some of the towns have come up with innovative ways to try and make a tourist stay longer (and spend money). Alleron (population: 10) has erected a 12’ statue of a man. Apparently a naked man. I’m sure you can buy caps and mugs and t-shirts with the figure on it. It’s even on the map.
Wycliffe Well has pronounced itself the world’s UFO capitol and advertises sightings of aliens. The pub is painted in spaceships. I’m sure you will see them if you stay long enough.
Perhaps the prize goes to Bana Banka which promotes a visit because they have a rock that looks exactly like the profile of Winston Churchill. We miss that sight because it was off the highway…
We have been in awe of an absolute endless view of desert. Nothing. No town in the distance, no chimney anywhere. Just 360º of emptiness. We haven’t seen natural water since leaving the east coast, 5,000 KM ago.
We are now camped next to the Desert Hotel.

Meet The Wobblies of Never Never Land

Friday Sept 27

Mataranka, NT – a tiny, mostly aboriginal town. Most inhabitants seem to spend the day at the local watering hole, a.k.a. the pub and beer garden. The nearby Mataranka Springs is apparently very popular and very busy. But we heard a rumor of a nicer spring nearby which is much quieter. We followed our instinct and the dusty red road out of town and found a little paradise.  An amazing underground spring that fills a fast flowing river, crystal clear water of a constant 34º. The spring is in a pocket of palm rainforest. Amazing bird life, flying foxes and… wallabees. Or wobblies, as Kees calls them. At first we got excited when we spotted one in the woods. Took lots of fuzzy photos. Then I realized we were surrounded. Wallabees everywhere. They came closer and closer until I was afraid they’d eat our dinner. I like them. They look cute and are nice looking. But the cutest thing was to spot one wallabee with a joey in her pouch! It peeked out, retreated back inside, then picked seeds of the ground as its mama bend over.  Cockatoos, pea cocks, budgies, lorrekeets – especially at dusk they all come screeching and chattering to roost in the trees above our heads. And then, as the sun goes down, bats glide on silent wings to catch mosquitoes and other insects. 

This vast valley of the northern Outback is called Never Never land. Apparently due to a quote from one of the first white settlers who said “Once you’ve been here, you’ll never never want to leave.” I’m not quite sure I agree. In fact, after 5,000 KM of Outback I’d say it was all very interested but I’d never never come back…. The long, straight roads through flat country of all the same, sparse vegetation are getting quite monotonous by now. What WAS really interesting was to watch the movie, We Of The Never Never. It’s based on a book about the first white settlers on a homestead around 1902. It’s the author’s autobiography of the harsh life on a cattle station and how she tried to befriend the local aboriginals. If you have a chance to watch it, I recommend it.

Australia’s Outback

From Barky to Mt. Isa

Wednesday Sept 18
It’s interesting how quickly we get into a daily routine. We are in a “on the road” routine right now. Waking up at 7 AM when the campground comes to life. We wash and dress in the toilet/shower building, make breakfast of granola, milk and yogurt – or sometimes eggs and toast – with a cup of tea. By 8:30 we are on the road.
Drove about 500 KM each of the last few days. From Emerald to Barcaldine (“Barky”) to Winton (“Witton”) to Mt Isa (“the Isa”).
Each town is an isolated dusty place with wide streets, a few pubs, a school and a handful of other buildings. Many have a pub or hotel in a colonial style with a wide veranda with lacey white trim. We buy groceries here, a bottle of wine there. Today we got diesel (“petrol”) in a one house town. And two coffees to go.
The speed limit is mostly 110 KM. We share the road with other caravans but also with the famed (or infamous…) outback road trains. These trucks pull up to 4 enormous trailers of freight and can be as long as 55 meters! They hog their lane and you better watch out when passing them. Once we had to overtake one and it takes a lot of time to get by one.
We’ve finally seen our first wild kangaroos now, small groups in the shade of a tree. But we also see literally hundreds of dead kangaroos and wallabees along the road.  At times it looks like a slaughter house of road kills. I assume the animals come to the warm asphalt when at night the temperatures drop sharply and then get hit by passing vehicles.

By 10:30ish we both want coffee and either pull into a rest area to make our own, or buy a “tall black” in town.
Around noon we try to find a tall tree in any town that will give us some shade. Not much chance of a shade tree once you’re out of town. So we park in front of a post office or school and make our own sandwiches.
By 3 PM we arrive in the town where we will spend the night and find a campground, again with shade being the main attraction. A pool is next. Since buying a SIM card in our iPad, wireless internet is less urgent and it’s hard to find anyway. And never free.  
Our camper is a large van  with a raised roof. It has two good seats up front. The sliding door opens on the left side. There’s a tiny bathroom with a hand held shower, which we haven’t used yet but is good to have – just in case. Then there’s a counter block with 2 cupboards with pots and pans, a toaster, a kettle etc. and a small fridge on the left side. On the right is the counter with a 3 burner stove top, microwave and a small sink. They both close with a nice glass lid. There are food cupboards and quite a bit of storage throughout.  There’s also a TV and air conditioning. The back of the camper is a horseshoe shaped dinette set, with a bookshelf (!) and more storage both along the walls and under the seats. This folds into a KINGSIZE bed at night. We rented an extra package which gives us 2 plates, 2 cups, 2 glasses, 2 bowls, cutlery, mixing bowls, large utensils, as well as 2 towels, 2 pillows, sheets and a nice kingsize duvet. All this was either brandnew or spotlessly cleaned when we received it. There’s also 2 lawn chairs and an outside table. The camper has a pull out stove outside on which we can even grill steaks. We rented this camper from Britz ( and, so far, we are very happy with it. It drives well and is comfortable.

Each campground (here called a caravan park) has pull through stalls and, hopefully some eucalyptus trees for shade. I can’t believe how quiet each one is. Not a sound at night even if it’s full. Most have very clean toilets and sh0wers. And all have a special camp kitchen: a large shelter with counters and a sink for dishes, a cookstove, an electric kettle, often a toaster. And almost always a bbq for grilling outback steaks!
By 9 PM we’ve had our evening coffee and read books for a while, then we undertake the giant task of making the bed, before falling into it and sleeping like a log.
Under the full moon (right now) and the southern cross, the temperatures plummet rapidly.

What I Learned Today: that emus live in the wild in Queensland. I had no idea there would be so many here. We spot them along the road, roaming the sunbaked land.  

Of Birds & Bush Poets

Thurs Sept 19

The number and variety of birds in Australia is mind blowing. Living in the country, we are quite used to having lots of birds around. But multiply and amplify that many times to get what we hear here. None are the same as the European or North American birds with which we are familiar. We see white parakeets with yellow combs, lots of black and white “magpies” types, some black “crow” like birds. Vultures. A cross of dove and pigeon.
Their songs, at the break of dawn around 5 AM, are hilarious. One is exactly like a whistling man who forget the tune, hesitates and tries again.
Another bird sounds exactly like he’s snoring: a loud rattle followed by a whistle.
There are flocks of very excited birds. At the first ray of light they all chant “HERE-we-go! HERE-we-go!”
There are alarm-clock-birds, a Volkswagen-bird (sounds like he can’t get started), a telephone-bird, and of course the kookaburra who laughs at them all.

One night, in a campground, we attended a bush poet evening. I loved it. Two women performed a cross between stand-up comedy and poetry. Bush cowboys are well known for their long entertaining ballads, which relate all aspects of live, funny incidents and everything else.These two performed their own works, poems about grandmothers, about teenage sons, about being a chook farmer (chook = chicken), and more. If you want to hear some, go to:

We stayed 2 nights in Mt Isa at a quiet caravan park with a nice pool. Slept in, had tea in bed, did all our laundry, even mopped the floor of our camper. We visited a small aboriginal center where we chatted with a lovely lady. She told us that aboriginal people have only been recognized in Australia’s Constitution as of THIS MONTH. Unbelievable.
One of the most enjoyable visits was to the School of the Air. In several cities, this special school for Outback children has learning centers where you can get a tour. Many of the students live eight hours of more from the nearest town. Teachers talk with them each day, at a set time, over the phone. The ranches are often so remote that they don’t even have internet access.  The kids don’t see their teacher, just talk with them about their lessons. They even learn music, like playing the violin, via the telephone! The ‘school’ was full of art on the walls and large projects that students had mailed in. Children are schooled during elementary and middle school and sometimes also into highschool but many highschool students go to boarding schools in Queensland. Some boys return to work on the (company or family) ranges. When I asked about further education, I was given an example of a girl from a family of 7 children, who is now doing her PhD in math at Cambridge.

Mango Ice cream and Pythons

Sat Sept 21

You know you are way out there when your GPS says “turn left in 539 KM.” You know it is a lonely road when you look forward to the next traffic sign so you have something to read.  We saw nothing but brush, some dry trees, red earth, a few emus- all day.  We are now camped in Tennant Creek, a small oasis town with trees and even a pool at the campground.  One day north of Alice Springs. Still no internet.
Today we left Queensland and entered the Northern Territories. The outside temperature hoovered between 37 and 38.5.  What a great thing airco in the cab is !!!! This morning we fueled up in Mtn Isa and it was $1.64 a liter, by the time we got to the border it had gone up to $2.00 and now here in Tennant Creek it is $2.20 a liter. I wonder if it is going to cost us our first born by the time we get to Uluru the day after tomorrow.

Sun Sept 22
Left the dusty little town at 8 AM after filling up with diesel. We had over 600 KM to drive today. But our first stop was shortly after town to see Karlu Karlu, or ‘the devil’s marbles’. The aboriginal people say that these huge round boulders, precariously balancing, are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. Geologists say they are hard layers of granite that have been eroded and left behind when softer layers washed away. Whatever they are, they are beautiful and impressive. But the heat and the flies were increasing so we continued on our way south along the lonely Stuart Highway. We stopped again at a rare mango orchard where we had delicious mango ice cream and splurged on a bottle of mango wine.  One minute I was savouring the ice cream, the next moment the car started shaking and swirling. Kees managed to pull over to discover a blown tire! The smoking shreds still clung to the rim and we wobbled to safer, flat ground away from the road. This meant into the red dust. Hordes of flies had lain in wait for us and descended in jubilant droves. We had planned on buying fly nets to wear over our heads in Alice Springs…
Breathing flies, I tried to recite the manual while Kees fiddled with the spare wheel, removed it from under the van (by lying down in the bright red sand of course), manoevered the hydraulic pump in place and expertly changed the wheel. I tried to swap flies away from his head with the manual and encouraged him best as I could. Meanwhile, at least six cars, including a police car, zoomed by us without bothering to ask if we needed help. This was hundreds of kilometers away from anywhere. I was surprised that no one stopped to help. Kees in the ditch, and me waving a book must have look confident enough not to offer help. The termite hills looked on as we wobbled away on the spare wheel.
We did make it into Alice Springs where the very first building happened to be the Britz dealer. Not only did they change the wheel and install a new spare, they put on new tires in the rear, made us coffee, and offered all sorts of help. We are much impressed with the company.
After showers at the campground, we went for a nice Aussie roast beef dinner with all the fixings, complete with a country singer and a reptile show. Met a phython up close and personal.