I wond’r if the boguns are going to bottle us? A battle of words with drunk locals and enjoying beautiful Aboriginal art in Darwin

Unexpectedly our first stop once arriving in Darwin wasn’t destined to be my Cousin Jess and her fiancé Ben’s place; instead it turned out to be O’brien’s Autoglass :-/ While taking a detour past Daly River to have a look round an Aboriginal art centre on friendly advice from wise Grey Nomads (it was very inspiring and we even got a peek at the workshops, although the town felt a little rough), a stone kicked up from a passing caravan smashed violently upon our windscreen. Fortunately the resulting crack didn’t affect my driving visibility too much, although was definitely going to need some attention before departing from Darwin.

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Once we’d booked our windscreen replacement for later in the week (fortunately our insurance was going to pick up the majority of the bill, bar the excess), we headed to Jess and Ben’s place, which turned out to be a large, modern townhouse positioned picturesquely overlooking a marina 🙂 That evening Jess and Ben treated us to a hearty feed of chicken schnitzels, washed down with icy cold golden lagers and conversation about cyclones at the local (water) Ski Club, while the sun scorched the dusky skies as it sank slowly below the warm waters of the Timor Sea.

Escaping the humidity while sightseeing on two wheels

Darwin is (in)famously known for extremely humid conditions, even during its ‘winter’ months, so I was understandably hesitant to trust Joella’s suggestion of saying goodbye to the comfort of our car’s air-con and instead venture out for the day on bicycles. Almost immediately however, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the passing air cooled us, as we speedily navigated Darwin’s superb network of cycle lanes on two wheels.

Our first stop once in town was a much deserved coffee and brunch at Kopi Stop, where we treated ourselves to some lovely veggie jaffles (Aussie for toasty). After refuelling, we were ready to explore Darwin further, and headed to the beautiful recreation area of East Point just past Fannie Bay (snigger snigger..).

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We hadn’t done much research about the Northern Territory’s capital before arriving, and to be honest we weren’t sure what to expect, but once we’d spent time trundling around Darwin’s (surprisingly lush green) coast, beaches and harbours, we quickly grew fond of Australia’s largest ‘Top End’ city. And that was before visiting the magnificent Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory… Conveniently entry was free, and the standard of the exhibitions was superb. We were especially impressed by the Natural World section, full of Australia’s many unique, weird and wonderful animals from past and present including various dinosaurs, sawfish and giant clams.

After being in awe of Aussie’s animals, things quickly turned to a more sombre mood while learning about the devastation caused by Cyclone Tracy back in 1974. The scale of the disaster was shockingly brought to life through full size replica houses to demonstrate the damage caused, as well as a darkened room where a recording of the storm can be heard. It was all very sad, and we struggled to understand recent decisions to relax building regulation that were put in place as a result; no longer needing safe rooms and a decrease in wind speed buildings are required to withstand.

Struggling with difficult dining decisions at the Mindil Beach Sunset Market

Despite Jess mentioning the markets can get busy, we weren’t expecting large crowds in comparison to those we’ve grown accustomed to back in London. However, after arriving then spending quarter of an hour to find a parking space, we soon realised Jess wasn’t kidding! After parking on an unlikely spot along a grass embankment lined with infinite palm trees, we followed the smells, lights and noise towards the market strip that lay parallel with the busy beach peppered with people gobbling food.

There we were greeted by far more stalls than we’d seen earlier in the afternoon when cycling past, all selling tantalisingly tasty looking foods from all over the world, as well as a multitude of other crafty goodies. An up-tempo didgeridoo band provided a fitting soundtrack as we snaked up and down, struggling to decide what we should treat ourselves to. Finally we settled upon a mixture of flavoursome Turkish wraps, stuffed Indian roti’s, chicken laksa soup and superb mini Dutch pancakes – yum!

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Once full, we were able to focus more on our atmospheric surroundings, as we explored the eclectic mix of stalls offering the likes of ‘roadkill’ themed burgers, whipping tutorials and the opportunity to have your name written on a grain of rice. After enjoying another lovely, but busy sunset from the beach, we made our way back home for beers and banter.

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Uncovering the fascinating world of Aboriginal Art

The next day started off productively; sitting in a coffee shop that was suitably blaring the Wombats back catalogue, as we waited for our windscreen to be fixed. Once all done, we headed down-town to go shopping in the many aboriginal art shops and galleries that line Darwin’s streets and alleyways. Fortunately the town centre is fairly compact, allowing us to park up and leave the car, before immersing ourselves in the magical world of aboriginal art

What we expected to be a brief two hour wander, turned into a full-day mission, as we delved deeper and deeper into the many stacks of rainbow coloured paintings. Not only was it a feast for the eyes, but we found it truly fascinating too; learning about the methods used to create the intrinsic patterns as well as the meanings behind the various shapes and symbols.

We were tempted by many of the pieces, however one by Eddie Blitner stood out for us more than others. It features a celebratory brolga bird – which represents going for your dream and expressing yourself creatively on a professional level in Aboriginal culture – formed from what seems like an infinite number of fine white lines across a scorched yellow background. Unfortunately our time with it was short lived, as it needed to be wrapped-up ready for posting – it was far too big and expensive to be chucked in the back of our car! Not only had the painting burned a hole in our pocket, but so did the parking ticket, which had shot up from free for the first 2 hours, to over $50 for the next 3 :-/

Finding ourselves in hot water (literally) with some intoxicated boguns

Having originally planned to squeeze in a day trip to the famous Litchfield National Park, we soon came to our senses, deciding against spending X hours driving there and back (you’re better to spend a night there). Instead, Jess suggested we check out the much closer Berry Springs – a natural hot springs in amongst the rainforest – which understandably didn’t need much selling to us!

After a swift 45 mins drive, we arrived first unexpectedly at an enormous car park, rammed full of fellow hot spring seekers. It wasn’t looking likely to be as peaceful and tranquil as we’d hoped, but happily the size and number of pools meant it wasn’t to be too crowded. Once we’d grabbed our ‘noodles’ (highly recommended long foam tubes to keep you afloat) and taken some amusing photos next to the crocodile warning signs, we excitedly made our way into the surreal balmy waters surrounded by tropical foliage.

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Unexpectedly, our relaxation was soon disturbed by a couple of Boguns (Aussie Chavs / Neds) that had got people’s backs up, by uncaringly taking glass bottled beers into the water. Jess gave them evils, which led to us receiving a tirade of abuse. Fortunately their behaviour was more entertaining than threatening, and we quickly learned to ignore their pathetic grumblings about ‘arrogant tourists’, which made no sense seeing Jess is a local!

For our final evening we all tucked into some pricy, but highly scenic fish and chips at La Beach next to Cullen Bay. There we huddled together on the grass eating out of paper wrappers, in an attempt to prevent the circling seagulls from thieving our golden battered prizes. As we successfully finished the last of our chips without any losses, we were treated to one more beautiful sunset over the water – a highly satisfying ending to our stay in Darwin 🙂

I wond’r if they’ll let me steer the boat? R&R time in Brisbane, followed by seaward voyages en route to Cairns

Despite thoroughly enjoying our rough and ready adventure to Lightning Ridge in the Outback of New South Wales, we were ready to return back to the creature comforts of civilisation. It was fortunate therefore, that Joella had conveniently lined us up with a house sit in the central ‘burbs of Brisbane – Queensland’s cosmopolitan capital 🙂

As I did my best to settle back into the frantic ways of city driving – attempting to avoid cruising at 110 km p/h or failing to stop at sudden red lights, we arrived outside what would be our home for the next week. Although extremely close to the CBD, rather than finding a small ‘unit’ (flat), we were instead greeted by a substantially sized house sat upon stilts, with a massive garage nestled underneath. Once inside, we were immediately welcomed by two adorably fluffy black cats by the names of Boo and Cece, whom we later found out seemed to be big Cisqo fans much to our amusement! Pleasantly, the interior was equally as nice as its exterior, and there was even a futuristic robot cat litter tray that looked like it had come straight from NASA’s R&D department. It was all quite a contrast to sleeping in prehistoric static caravans or in the back of our car!

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Exploring Brisbane

Conveniently we were just a 15 minute walk from Brisbane’s famous South Bank, bursting with a variety of eclectic things to do and see; including a surreal street beach, fascinating museums, striking galleries, lush parks, happening markets, impressive vegetable gardens and even a huge pagoda. Not surprisingly, we spent most days wandering through the maze of walk ways (and cycle lanes by accident), exploring everything this part of town had to offer. We especially enjoyed learning about Australia’s prehistoric past and amazingly unique wildlife in the Museum of Queensland; although I probably spent a little too long in the gift shop, much to Joella’s frustration…

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However, it wasn’t just the South Bank that got our attention; we made sure to check out other areas of town too, including Brisbane’s smart CBD peppered with contemporary sculptures, as well as the hipster haunts of Fortitude Valley and New Farm. The Town Hall in the centre was an impressive building that housed a delightful museum detailing Brisbane’s history, including the many devastating floods that have occurred periodically throughout the last 150 years (hence the houses on stilts). While in the alternative neighbourhoods we couldn’t avoid unintentionally blending in by grabbing an overpriced caffeine fix, then spending our arvo browsing secondhand bookshops and commenting on street art in the various laneways.

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On our last evening we climbed aboard the free CityHopper for a scenic cruise up Brisbane River, en route to check out the monthly comedy show at Brisbane’s impressively large and industrial arts venue; The Power House. The improv show was mediocre overall, but definitely worth our efforts considering the free entry and fun, lively atmosphere. Before turning in for the night, we couldn’t resist grabbing a quick drink at the quirky ‘Big Little House’; an old style, multi terraced bar, sat atop a set of four comically large stilts.

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Driving North

Our next house sit was scheduled to be in Queensland’s tropical city of Cairns later in June,  giving us six days to drive up, in amongst some sightseeing and adventures of course! Having heard good things about the rather well to do beach town of Noosa, we settled upon there as our first stop North up the coast. Expecting something along the lines of Byron Bay, we were disappointingly greeted with a smaller, busier version that unfortunately didn’t grab us like the hippy surf town did (although the cloudy weather probably didn’t help). So after a quick walk along the beach and main strip, taking in the various art galleries and boutique shops, we were ready to skedaddle out of there. Not wanting to pay over $40 at a caravan park for what equates to little more than a parking space, we conveniently discovered that the nearby Sea Scouts offer their facilities for a fraction of the price, so we headed there for the night.

That evening we flicked through the Lonely Planet “Australia’s best trips” book that Joella’s family had kindly got us, for destination inspiration (check me out – I’m a poet and didn’t know it!). After browsing through the various road trips featuring jaw-dropping photos, we decided upon the strangely named town of 1770 for our next days drive. But beforehand, we couldn’t miss out on a couple of capers en route…

First was the the opportunity to feed some wild dolphins at the Barnacle Dolphin Centre in Tin Can Bay. Unfortunately, despite a very early departure long before the sun had risen, we arrived just a little too late, and had to make do with spectating instead, which was amazing none the less given how close the dolphins came in.

Our second stop involved spending time in Maryborough; a small town mostly famous for being the birthplace of P.L. Travers – the writer of Mary Poppins! There we enjoyed learning about its colourful history (e.g. it was home to Australia’s only ever outbreak of pneumonic plague), while completing a self guided walk featuring lots of lovely bronze sculptures, wall murals and subtle nods to its links with the world famous English nanny.

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As was becoming a habit, we hadn’t decided upon accommodation until we were an hour or so away. Although our original idea of a beachside getaway for the night did sound great, the opportunity to stay at a kangaroo sanctuary ultimately won us over! We were immediately rewarded for our decision, as a mob of adult and baby kangaroos jumped past perfectly on cue, to signal our arrival 🙂 The Horizons Kangaroo Sanctuary turned out to be fantastically sociable too, as we found ourselves still up, chatting loudly to the other international guests well past the 10pm noise curfew – oops! In the morning we got talking to a group of Irish girls travelling South, which ultimately led us to changing our travel plans. So, rather than having a relaxing walk along 1770 beach and a leisurely days drive, we instead found ourselves cruising full pelt in the direction of Airlie Beach – gateway to the world renowned beauty spot of the Whitsunday Islands…

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Sailing the Whitsundays

During the nine hour drive we continued to perfect our team skills; with Joella juggling iPhones and iPads researching boat cruises, while I kept my eyes on the road. By lunch time Joella had everything lined up for the next day: rather than being crammed aboard a noisy speedboat with 60 other tourists, we were to be sailing on Providence V – a classic 62-ft gaff-rigged schooner, with a far more intimate group size of 12. After even more driving that gradually became more tiring as day turned into night, we eventually arrived in the touristy town of Airlie Beach, where we picked up supplies and headed to the nearby Flametree campsite for an early night.

Bleary eyed but wide awake with excitement after a very early start to the day, we soon found ourselves walking along the harbour front as the sun began to rise, attempting to spot our vessel while ignoring the ominous clouds rolling in. Once our fellow sailors had arrived, we were led along the marina’s maze of creaking wooden jetties to Providence V, which pleasantly turned out to be just as gorgeous as she was in the pictures online (guys – I’m talking about a boat..). As most of the crew readied things for departure, a fellow Scot named Andy gave us our safety briefing and talked us through the days itinerary, with the help of some weather beaten nautical maps that wouldn’t look out of place in a Pirates of the Caribbean film.

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Once I’d been given the chance to put my sailing qualifications to good use (merely pulling a rope rather then touching the tiller), we begun our voyage with a little help from the motor to maximise our speed, together with an escort of Spinner Dolphins who performed their impressive signature barrel rolls while leaping through the air. The first port of call was to be Whitsunday Island; home of the famous swirly Whitehaven beach. It was refreshingly satisfying heading out to sea, with the ocean spray blasting us while enjoying mugs of warming tea and sugary cake 🙂

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We arrived at the viewpoint overlooking the serene Whitehaven beach just in time to gaze at its beauty and take a few stunning photos, before the blue sky disappeared behind the dark clouds we’d been pretending weren’t there until now. It wasn’t surprising therefore that within 10 minutes of arriving at the dazzlingly white sandy beach below, the heavens opened, resulting in a mad dash back to the boat.

Following a spot of lunch while sailing to a nearby secluded bay, we reluctantly got ourselves ready for snorkelling, even though the gloomy skies made things look more like the North Sea than the outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef! But once we’d taken the plunge we soon forgot about the dreary conditions above, while losing ourselves in the underwater world full of colourful fish below. As the cooler water got the better of us, we waved goodbye to Nemo and friends, then climbed back aboard for our return leg.

A whirlwind tour of Townsville

Our final overnight stop North was to be the mining town of Townsville, pretty much slap bang in between Airlie Beach and our final destination of Cairns. Thanks to putting in the brutal full days drive two days earlier, we had a relatively short three hour drive ahead of us, leaving the rest of the day to stretch our legs and explore the ‘ville…

Once parked up at the fairly central Rowes Bay Holiday Park, we set off on a picturesque walk along the beach fronted esplanade of the Strand, followed by a hard slog up Castle Hill – a large, imposing outcrop of Pink Granite, oddly rising up from the middle of Townsville’s streets. There we found a comfy spot on the hillside, just off from the busier pathways and viewpoints, to enjoy the sky turn a beautifully golden colour as the sun disappeared behind the clouds on the horizon.

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With our thirst and hunger growing, our tastebuds led us to Townsville’s brewery for a tasty tasting paddle, then on to the Herbert for a quick pub feed, before turning in for the night.

Spontaneously, the next day I got us up at the crack of dawn to enjoy an incredible sunrise over the Coral Sea, framed by the surrounding palm trees. As the sun rose higher, we reluctantly dragged ourselves away from the heavenly view before us, to hit the road North once again, for our next house sit in the tropical city of Cairns!

I wond’r if Joella really ran out of air? Scuba scares and other adventures on our ‘holiday within a holiday’

Continuing with our jet set traveller lifestyle, we found ourselves on yet another house sitting assignment; this time looking after some more unusual pets – ferrets! Unbelievably they had their very own room in a rather well to do neighbourhood, full of numerous pipes and tubes to keep them entertained, until we were brave enough to let them out for what can only be described as a whirlwind of mayhem…

Although only playfully, they would often nip your heels, resulting in Joella comically jumping up on the sofa, while I tried to catch ‘em before they disappeared yet again into the various holes and crevices they so skilfully found. We soon discovered that ferrets aren’t the most agile of animals, and often failed miserably to run in a straight line or climb the simplest of things – acting pissed is probably the easiest way to describe their general mannerism!

The flat (or as Australians say ‘unit’) was perched on the steep slopes that make up the suburb of Neutral Bay, lying on the water a short ferry ride from Sydney’s Circular Quay. Despite warnings from unadventurous locals that Sydney Harbour was full of Bull Sharks, we couldn’t help taking a quick dip in Hayes Street Beach one afternoon, following a fascinating look round Nutcote – the home of world famous illustrator May Gibb. May Gibb is mostly known for her children books based on characters inspired from Australia’s plant and animal life, such as the Gumnut babies, Big Bad Banksia Man and Mr Lizard.

Neutral Bay was a convenient and scenic commute for both Joella to Mosman, and I to my new job in the city working for Host / Havas – a global creative agency, part of the massive Vivendi Group. I was to be working on the single largest account in the country – Australia’s Defence Force Recruitment. DFR turned out to be a far more exciting proposition than I imagined, keen on innovation to maximise their recruitment efforts through technology such as virtual reality games.

Before we were due to head off on our ‘holiday within a holiday’, we were kindly put up by my cousin Cass at her place in the outer suburbs of Campbeltown. There we were in the presence of an, errr, eccentric bunch of rescue animals, including a dog with a funny bark named George, a rather angry kitten called Spice, and Cass’ hyperactive Alsatian puppy – Blue.

Having decided to avoid the crowds at the Australia Day celebrations in the city, we instead opted to spend the morning in a slowly sinking kayak, with Cass and excitable Blue, slowly paddling down the Nepean River – it was pleasantly entertaining 🙂 After that we were off on our first proper adventure since Aberdeen in October, to Narooma and beyond!

A blinding stopover at Jervis Bay – Home to some of the whitest beaches on earth

Instead of aiming straight for Narooma, around 6 hours South of Sydney, we opted to stay somewhere en route, in a yet to be determined location – how spontaneous are we! But before trying to find a bed for the night (well actually our bed was in the boot), Hyams Beach and its apparently whitest sand IN THE WORLD was our target. Unfortunately conditions were overcast, but the sand still glistened in what daylight there was – very unlike any other sand I’ve encountered before. Although funnily enough, it did remind me a little of the incredibly white beaches of Barra, an island off Western Scotland – true!

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Following an unplanned afternoon nap, our attention turned to accommodation, and we soon learned that not booking ahead on Australia Day wasn’t a good idea… After what seemed like a million phone calls, while attempting to be as chummy as possible, we eventually secured a spot in Sussex Inlet, a quaint little holiday town 30 mins drive away. Luckily the owner had allowed us to take the ‘overflow’ spot, and on arrival excitedly talked us through the wonders of the Snowy Mountains, Australia’s answer to the Alps. It definitely wet our appetite for an inland adventure following our coastal stay in Narooma… While looking for a bite to eat in the nearby RSL, we unexpectedly encountered the wrath of a jobs-worthy bouncer, who refused to let us in because Joella didn’t have ID on her. Luckily with my drivers licence I was allowed to order a takeaway pizza, just before the kitchen was due to close – phew, I was starting to get hangry.

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Breathtaking views and hard labour – Setting up camp in Narooma

After a morning stroll along the inlet, watching the hustle and bustle of all the fishing mad Aussies racing out in their various boats, we packed up (well, pretty much just shut the boot) and began our relatively short drive that lay ahead of us. Following a brief stop in Batesmans Bay for some more holiday gear – we just can’t get enough of Target and K-Mart (think Primark prices with a variety of goods like John Lewis), we arrived in Narooma.

Having requested a specific pitch on the instructions of my Uncle, we were expecting a lot from our camping spot, and oh boy it didn’t disappoint! We were perfectly positioned on the edge of a steep hill that dropped down to the beautiful beach below; offering us glorious views of the vast ocean stretching off into the horizon, peppered with rocky stacks. After taking in the incredible sight, we couldn’t resist bolting down to the beach for a satisfyingly refreshing paddle.

My cousin Jess and Uncle Martin arrived shortly after (ahead of Cass and Auntie Christa who arrived the next day), and quickly put a temporary hold to our relaxation… We found ourselves signed-up (like we had a choice) to help setup their caravan which took what felt like an eternity. Rather than your average caravan that you park up and you’re done, this was the sort that expands up and in length, then has a gazebo of an entrance tent. Fortunately Martin had a few tricks up his sleeve to speed things up, like using gigantic screws in place of pegs, quickly driven into the ground with the help of a drill. Once done, we thoroughly deserved our ice cold schooners and hearty chicken parmies at the local pub.

Depleted air supplies and power boat rides – Scuba diving off Montague Island

Following a refresher dive a few weeks before, and Joella nailing her SSI Open Water course, we were all set for our underwater adventure that Martin had booked us all on (minus Christa, who kindly volunteered/was told to dog-sit Blue and Lilly). We were up before the crack of dawn, but felt raring to go thanks to the adrenaline rushing through our bodies, and that was even before the power boat ride that saw us flying over the waves to Montague Island while being drenched by the ocean spray and golden rays of the rising sun!

Our first dive was predominantly with a group of lovingly playful seals, although some small sharks – Port Jacksons and Wobbegongs did crash the party. Don’t worry we were told afterwards, they don’t bite – although this is up for debate, as I later discovered there are cases of them nipping people’s legs (by nip, I mean take small chunks off). We also saw some large Grouper (who have been known to swallow 5 foot sharks whole) and tiny, but oh so vibrant sea snails.

After lashings of calming green tea and scrumptious home baked blueberry muffins while staring at the horizon in an attempt to offset the choppy waters, we soon found ourselves slowly disappearing into the turquoise depths once again. Unfortunately, after rescuing Jess’ flipper that had come off mid-descent, my queazy sea sickness got the better of me, and I had to cut my second dive short. All was not lost though, as our guide let me in on a little secret…

A short swim away was a narrow opening that opened up into a small pool, teaming with gorgeous baby seals! There I peacefully lay submerged with my snorkel on, while the puppies of the sea brushed past me, letting their curiosity get the better of them. But little did I know that while I was chilling out in the seal crèche, the rest of the group were (literally) breathlessly fighting strong underwater currents. Due to the extra exertion, Martin’s air almost hit zero, and Joella’s actually run out, leaving her having to use the guide’s spare regulator to make an emergency re-surface – yikes! Once back on the boat, everyone was surprisingly relaxed considering.

Dangerous rips, picturesque villages and campsite games – Settling into holiday life

Clearly not satisfied with our brush with underwater death the previous day, a quick dip the next day almost ended in embarrassment / something potentially much worse. As we slowly drifted outside of the flags, Jess, Joella and I soon realised we were caught up in an infamous rip current, and were being dragged out to sea. The seriousness of the situation was confirmed as we noticed the life guards grab their boards and run to the edge of the water looking intently on. Fortunately a shallow sand bar allowed us to stand up and slowly but surely fight the current, walking ashore – phew!

Understandably at that point point, we’d had enough of the sea (and judging by how it treated us, the sea had had enough of us) so we made a beeline for Tilba Central, a quaint little country town bursting with boutique shops, including a famous cheese factory that didn’t seem to mind us sampling all their smelly wares without making any transactions in return. Following a seafood picnic, in the form of super fresh oysters and melt-in-your-mouth squid, we all (inc the dogs) then took a stroll along the seafront and boardwalk, where we spotted Stingray gracefully swimming by. The rest of the arvo was spent being inspired by Martin inventing new words while playing Bannanagrams, and a nail-bitingly close game of the incredibly addictive pétanque.

Rapidly changing landscapes to Kosciuszko: Australia’s highest mountain

The next day, following a feast of pancakes lathered with the sinfully tasty Nutella and a side salad of the most delightfully ripe fruits, we were on the road again. Our destination was to be the Snowy Mountains, Australia’s answer to the Alps, although that’s being rather generous, maybe the Cairngorms is more accurate… Going from seashore to mountainside was expected to be a journey of contrasting scenery, but it’s difficult to prepare oneself for just how extreme this was going to be. In a matter of a few hours we experienced gorgeous sun soaked beaches with rolling waves, steep winding roads through sub-tropical rainforests, vast desert plains disappearing into the distance, then finally a baron rocky wilderness sprinkled with pine trees and overlooked by distant snow capped peaks. Just wow!

En route we took in the sights along the way, including ‘Gnome Alley’ and a rather creative postbox, before stopping off in Bega, a small country town to refuel – for the car and us. We had some mightily tasty coffees and peculiar pastries. On asking what was in the ‘Ned Kelly’ pie, the elderly lady informed me that it contained “meat”. When attempting to enquire further what sort of meat this was, she simply stared back, and repeated once again, this time with a slightly more raised voice that it had “meat” inside. Ok. So I ate the pie and lived. Nothing more to say really, except that maybe I’ll be converting to vegetarianism sometime soon, as apparently ‘meat’ refers to a mixture of animal meat, potentially including lamb, beef, pork and even horse…

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On arrival in Jindabyne, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with Scotland’s winter sports scene yet again – it reminded me very much of an Americanised version of Aviemore (but with fewer drinking establishments). Similar to Narooma, we lucked out on our campsite, which was situated on the edge of Jindabyne’s picturesque alpine lake. Interestingly, the original Jindabyne town was partly moved up-hill, leaving the rest to be flooded by Lake Jindabyne, making way for a new hydroelectric dam.

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After cooking up a feast of Mexican chicken, rice and vegetables in the homely camp kitchen, while wrapped up (it was forecast to drop to 6 degrees that evening) we settled down to watch the wonderfully appropriate film entitled “Jindabyne”. Similar to Wolf Creek, it featured a psychotic murdering rapist, but luckily for our sanity it focused more on the relationships of the local families involved in a recent disappearance, rather than being a blood curdling horror.

After a night of broken sleep – our set up isn’t designed for winter conditions (we’re in Australia God damn it!) we set off to Thredbow to begin our ascent of Australia’s highest mountain: Kosciuszko! Although, being totally honest when I say ascent, I do in fact refer to the use of a chair lift for most of the way, but we did walk the final couple of hours to the summit, where we were treated to wondrous views reaching far and wide.

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Too hot to eat chilli and museum overload in Canberra

Our final stop saw us visit Australia’s official capital once again – Canberra, the city that’s seemingly built around a park, as Bill Bryson once put it. After driving round the large spacious, but empty roads, surrounded by ridiculously large acreages of lawns and never ending rows of trees, we eventually arrived at our hotel.

Wanting to make the most of our afternoon, we instantly dropped our bags off and shuffled over to the nearby War Memorial and Museum, that sits intentionally opposite Australia’s Parliament some 2 miles away further down the hillside. The view certainly does make you feel like you’re part way in a National Park, not in the the nations capital city! Inside was an incredibly detailed and fascinating look at Australia’s part in the numerous wars that have taken place around the world in the last century or so. Given Australia’s small population, there’s no way one can say they shirked their responsibilities in helping police the world.

Not wanting to join in with the bogun karaoke back at the hotel bar, we quickly freshened up, then hit the town. Pleasantly, Canberra has come a long way in the last few years in the way of drinking and dining establishments, so we had some difficulty choosing where to intoxicate our livers and gorge our faces at. In the end, with a little help from Zomato and Google, The Bent Spoke microbrewery won us over. Their never ending list of beers certainly made for great drinking, although the food turned out to be a little disappointing and, err… painful! Their chilli was so hellishly hot it was impossible to eat, unless you’re Chuck Norris that is.

Before departing back to the bright lights of Sydney, we checked into a couple more galleries and museums, including The Canberra Museum and Art Gallery, where we learnt all about the evolution of what was pretty much some empty grasslands, into what is today Australia’s capital; and the National Museum of Australia, that guided us through the nations past, involving crazily long fences to stop the spread of rabbits, and the shocking removal of Aboriginal children from their families in what’s today referred to as the Stolen Generation.

A stunning drive back to Sydney along the famously dangerous Macquarie Pass, featuring countless hairpins, surrounded by rainforests and stunning ocean views, certainly made for a fantastic end to our epic 10 day holiday within a holiday 🙂