Cornwall Mar’11

What a lovely weekend to find ourselves in Cornwall.

Catching up with friends and meeting baby Janos for the first time.  A good bit of exlporing the coast in the sunshine, with a paddle thrown in for good measure.  Yes; I can confirm the water is cold!

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Alice to Uluru/Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon

By now our early starts are normal and we meet our final guide for the trip, Marchy.  From Alice we begin the still long trip (450km) to Uluru.  Our first stop is an Outback Camel Farm where I decide to pay $5 for a 2 min camel ride!  Camels were introduced in to Australia in the 1840’s from the Canary Islands, they came as working animals for the overland telegraph system.  Later camels were imported from Pakistan and Afghanistan along with their handlers.  Once the overland telegraph lines were complete the handlers were paid by the government to destroy their animals, but many were too attached to them to kill them and so took the money and set them free.  This has lead to an estimated 1 million wild camels roaming the outback, with the number set to double within a decade.  Anyway, enough about camels!

 

Later we arrive at Kata Tjuta National Park (The Olgas).  Kata Tjuta may once have been a rock ten times the size of Uluru but has been shaped over millions of years by weathering leaving the unique rounded shapes we have today. 

 

We are to follow a 5km trail which will take us to the Valley of the Winds – a fantastic view from Kata Tjuta, very difficult to capture on camera.

 

From Kata Tjuta we make a 50km dash across the bush (in the bus) to reach Uluru for sunset.  There are loads of buses there but we find a spot and crack open the champers and enjoy some nibbles as the sun slowly sets behind us. 

 

We stay at Yulara / Ayres Rock Resort where we have great shower facilities and sleep again in swags under the stars, aware that we have a mega early start (3.45am)to get to Uluru for sunrise.

 

It barely seems we have slept at all when alarms start beeping.  We all stumble around and try to eat a little breakfast and quietly board the bus to head out to the rock.  This morning is cold and dark and we’re all a little subdued.  Arriving at the rock amongst many other buses we venture out in to the darkness and begin the base walk, waiting, waiting, waiting for the sun to appear.  Walking briskly in our shorts to generate some heat.  The sky begins to brighten and we soon realize that there will be no real sunrise as it’s too cloudy.  We get a tinge of red but not the dawn we had all been hoping for.  My early pictures of Uluru at this hour probably reflect my mood because they are all blurred and shaky! 

 

Uluru itself is actually a monolith, it’s one gigantic piece of rock that was forced up by shifting continental plates millions of years ago.  Despite it’s predominant red colour it’s actually grey standstone but the outer layer has ‘rusted’ after getting wet from the rain and dew.  It’s a sacred place to the Aboriginal people, there are places where it is prohibited to take a photograph and if you’re caught you can be issued with a $1000 fine.  The Aboriginal people also request that visitors do not climb the rock, and I can understand why.  If the place is sacred to them then we should respect their wishes.  In reality the actual climb is rarely open these days, any excuse is used to close the climb, usually extreme heat (not in our case!) or high winds are given as the reason.  The rock is ‘owned’ by the local Aboriginal tribes but in the deal agreed, they lease it back to the government/National Parks and it is managed in partnership with the Aboriginals. 

 

Enough Uluru information I hear you cry?  Well  can say that I was half glad to get back on the bus once we’d completed the walk, it was chilly, unusually so, and our guide said it was very rare to have weather like it!  We think it was only about 18 – 20 degrees which is probably 20 degrees below the norm.

 

From Uluru we drove to a new camp closer to Kings Canyon.  Lovely Anita lent me a pair of trousers which means that I did not freeze my ass off!  That night we cooked dinner in the traditional way in cast iron pots on the camp fire, and good stuff it was too, not to mention good timing as it was a lovely warming stew!  I do wonder how good it would have tasted if the temperature had been closer to the norm.

 

Our last day we arrive at Kings Canyon in Watarraka National Park.  We begin our 10km walk at so called heart attack hill, a steep ascent to bring us to the top of the canyon.  We stop a few times on the way up for a breather (see photo).  Once we reach the top it’s a more reasonable walk around the edges of the canyon only taking a dip down to the ‘Garden of Eden’ and a swimming hole.  Only those silly enough got in the water… cue Welsh James, Irish James III and Irish Connor.  I think we were lucky to do the walk in cooler than normal temperatures, the day had dawned cool and hazy, I imagine it would have been pretty hard going to complete the walk in nearly 40 degrees.

 

If you are wondering why there are pictures of me and the gang ‘posing’ it stems back to the Israeli twins Shani and Zohar from the first part of the tour.  They were really very nice girls, very pretty, slim, and very sweet.  Whenever they had their photo taken they went in to model mode and whilst it wasn’t odd at the time, once they had left the tour at Alice we missed it and so we decided to do our own poses… silly I know!

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Darwin to Alice Springs

And so most of us from the Kakadu trip ended up together for the trip to Alice, we picked up one notable member, young James Joe Mccune (James III).

 

This three day trip would be very different from the aboriginal based tour of Kakadu.  From the onset we were pitted against a 2nd bus and the rivalry began.  Our guide for the three days would be Todd.  It’s unusual to have two buses to travel the same route together, in some ways it was good fun but it also meant that things could get a touch chaotic at times.

 

Day 1 saw us travel to Katherine Gorge where we had options of which activity we wanted to do.  I opted for kayaking down through the gorge and teamed up with Dani.  Quite a few of the others kayaked with us and we had a good couple of hours drifting down and then working our muscles going back against the current!  I’m afraid there is no photographic evidence of this as I gave my camera to one who decided to walk the top of the gorge.  Just as we were apx ¾ of the way back up the gorge the heavens opened and it threw it down, but it was never cold!

 

That night we stay again in a semi permanent camp.  During the day my ankle had slowly begun to swell up.  It didn’t hurt and I hadn’t twisted it and we couldn’t see a bite or anything so I was sent to bed to rest it (after I’d had a couple of cups of Goon of course)!

 

Another early start (you’re getting the drift now).  The distance from Darwin to Alice Springs is over 1500km and other than a few isolated sights along the way the drive turns in to a three day pub crawl.  In our case as we were two buses we scored points for each alcoholic drink consumed, each ice cream eaten and random points for any other obscure act performed… in our case the three James’s on the bus and young Gav mooned as we over took the other bus, that earned mega points!

 

Day 2 we headed straight to Mataranka Springs, thermal springs where the water temperature is 30 degrees, not that we really needed it to be warm to get in but it was lovely, a really nice way to start the day, bathing in lovely warm water in the middle of nowhere!

 

From Mataranka we arrive at Daly Waters Historic Pub, again in the middle of nowhere, but this pub is one gold mine.  Travellers from all over the world come to leave some sort of souvenir whether it’s local currency, a flag, a t-shirt or even a thong (flip flop) for the ever growing thong tree (each thong contains it’s own message).  We suffer another fly ridden lunch of burgers, god knows how Todd and the other guide Jaime managed to cook them up in the searng heat.

 

After lunch we enjoy a dip in the pool before climbing back aboard the bus and arriving late at our camp for the night.  This night we would be in swags under the stars… never mind the close encounter with the scorpion in the kitchen tent earlier, or the many over sized beetles crawling around 24/7… my plan of attack was to simply plug in my ipod (which was a handy way of plugging my ears) and wrap myself up and miraculously fall asleep.  Next dawn arrived and we had all survived unscathed!

 

The final day in the bus trip to Alice saw us cross the Tropic of Capricorn which means we were no longer in tropical Australia and that in theory we were no longer in danger of encountering crocs.

 

The highlight of the day would be the Devils Marbles, sand stones precariously perched in the midst of the bush dessert.  Sadly my ankle was still mysteriously swollen and so no climbing for me but a wander around the base.Leaving the Marbles we pass the Stuart Tree, a tree in which John McDouall Stuart carved his initial whilst paving the way for the overland telegraph lines.  Beware history lesson coming…. John McDouall Stuart was employed to find a route from south Australia to north Australia.  It took him several attempts but eventually he found a way.

 

By the end of the day we arrive in Alice Springs.  In my mind it’s one of those mystical places like Timbuktu and so it was weird to actually be there and find it’s a pretty big place, population of 28,000.   We all go out for a meal to celebrate our safe arrival and it is declared that my ankle swelled purely out of age!  Charming.

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Darwin to Kakadu

I arrived in Darwin approaching midnight and the temperature was high, at 30 degrees and it was humid.  I caught the shuttle bus to the Cavenagh Hostel where the pre tour accommodation was included and prepared myself for the early pick up.  It is approaching the ‘big wet’ i.e. the rainy season and during the night it did rain and thunder.  This time of year they call the build up and any kind of weather can occur.  After a few hours sleep I staggered down the stairs to wait for the bus.  Our guide arrived and was a young chap called Aaron.  The bus was a 4WD bus and was predominantly filled with Brits and Irish, a Swedish couple, Israeli twins and two older Dutch guys.  Day 1 saw us head out to Litchfield National Park where I think some of Crocodile Dundee was filmed.  First stop were Buley and Florence Falls, both a short-ish walk and it was lovely to go in to the water for a swim and paddle.  In the afternoon we traveled across to the Mary River where we went on a croc spotting cruise.  At this point my camera persisted in telling me it’s battery was flat even though it quite clearly wasn’t and so I don’t have many pics of the fantastic crocs who were just lounging on the river bank – instead I do have pics of the crocs camouflaged by bushes!  That night we sleep in semi permanent tents at Stuart Wilderness Lodge.

 

We rise early next morning to make the most of the ‘cooler’ weather, never mind it hardly seems any cooler, even at 5.30am!  Today we head to Maguk Creek where we climb up to some more plunge pools for a most welcome and refreshing swim.  Some of the braver souls explored the waterfalls and the caves connected under water but I was very happy to swim in the pools and the dry out in the sunshine and enjoy the view.

 

From Maguk we travel to Ubirr where we take in the Aboriginal Rock Art.  Our guide Aaron was very impressive in his knowledge and respect for the local culture, it was fascinating to listen to him explain the paintings and stories they depict. 

 

Climbing further up the rocks from the art we get an amazing view over the Nardab flood plain, a very green, lush oasis in the middle of the bush.  I must make a note here about the flies – they were an absolute pest.  The worst thing about them is that they treat humans the same as they do cattle… they head unerringly straight for your eyes, nose, ears and mouth, it’s disgusting!  If only I’d bought my fly net in Darwin before the tour.  Fortunately I improvised with my sarong and wrapped it around my face like Dick Turpin. 

 

That night we again stay in a semi permanent camp and enjoy a half hearted storm which clears the air a little and makes the night more bearable.

 

Day 3 in Kakadu saw us head for the much talked of Jim Jim Falls.  It is a relatively short waslk but over difficult very rocky terrain and despite another 5.30 start it was hot and hard work.  I think it was just slightly less than 1km in distance but took apx 1 hr 15 mins.  Eventually we arrive at Jim Jim , it’s a big double pooled swimming area at the bottom of what would be an impressive water fall in the wet season.  We arrived and saw the merest trickle coming down the very long drop from the river above.  The pool was big and very deep – scarily so!  But we enjoyed an hour or so in the water before making the trek back to the bus.

 

We endure another exceptionally frustrating lunch being harassed by never ending and persistent flies.  From afar we must have looked like a bus full of tourettes sufferers as all of us were effing and blinding and swiping madly in the air!  I confess at this point to having a strop (on this our third days lunch) and giving up eating and stomping off, but I should also note that at some point or other we all had what became known as a ‘tanty’!  Lunch pretty much becomes a pointless affair because as soon as you eat anything you just get the sweats and your appetite goes out the window.

 

And worse was to come…

 

Preparing to leave our lunch site we found there was a problem with the bus… a serious problem… THE AIR CON WAS BROKEN!

 

Capable Aaron and multi skilled Welshman James attempted a repair job only to be thwarted.  This meant we had a four hour drive back to Darwin in 35 degrees and 70% humidity with no air con.  We opened the emergency roof hatch and front windows to try to allow some through flow but all that happened was that everyone of us got covered head to toe, belly button, ear and nose canal in red dust from the unsealed road!

 

We stopped at road houses along the way to get refreshments and what a sight we must have looked!  None of us have ever been so happy to get back to a hostel.

 

After showering we all went out together in Darwin for a well earned beer, all the while keeping in mind another early start next day when the journey from Darwin to Alice begins…

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Sydney to Cairns – arriving in Cairns

From Airlie beach we move further up the coast Townsville, taking in another of the Australian ‘big things’.  This time it’s the big Mango… because we’re passing mango plantations.  Arriving at Townsville we have time to take in a view point over the city and towards our destination, Magnetic Island, so named because when Capt Cook sailed past all those years ago his compass went crazy. 

 

We catch the ferry over to Magnetic Island and check in to our fantastic hostel that sits right on the beach.  The accommodation was made up of small cabins all set on the beach.  The place had an amazing vibe and we were all instantly gutted that we’d only be there for one night. 

 

 

Next morning most of us rise early and sit on the beach catching up on writing our journals and pondering that today is our last day.  Crossing back to the main land we get back on the bus and begin the drive to Cairns… I’m afraid that we pass another Australian ‘big thing’… weirdly this time it’s a big Wellington boot.  I can’t remember exactly why there is a big Wellington boot, I think it’s something to do with the amount of rain that falls in the town where it’s located.  You can see in the picture that it’s set against some very dark rain clouds.

 

Anyway, we stop off at a Crocodile Farm.  I was not too sure what to expect from the place but honestly, it’s run by lunatics.  They have very, VERY big crocodiles there.  Ridiculously big crocodiles in fact.  If I was ever in any doubt that we do not stand a chance against these animals I am well and truly over it.  The owner and the handlers take stupid risks with the animals just to show us exactly how dangerous they are.  Along with the crocs they had alligators, cassowaries (a kind of emu type bird with a horn on it’s head) and snakes.  I didn’t get close to any crocodile but I did hold a snake.

 

We eventually arrive in Cairns.  We’re all booked in to various hostels across the city but agree to meet up for a final meal.  Simo pulls out all the stops and recommends the Wool Shed.  The food is cheap and cheerful but we have a good discount on any alcohol and we’re surprised to learn it’s Simo’s birthday.  Celebrations for the birthday and an enjoyable tour were well underway when the entertainment begins.  The Wool Shed auction off goldfish for goldfish racing.  Our group manages to successfully bid on three fish, one owned by team Canada who paid the princely sum of $40 courtesy of another group of Canadians, one owned by Welsh wonder kid Jonathon who paid $12 and the other owned by Simo and Hossein who paid $18.  Several rounds later team Canada had fallen at the first hurdle but Welsh Wonder met Simo and Hossein in the final.  Surprise winner of the night was Welsh Wonder and netted a prize of a sky dive and bungy jump.  It was a great way to end the tour.

 

In summary for this trip, Sydney to Cairns is a long way and sometimes you have to spend a lot of time on the bus as we move from destination to destination.  But it’s not a bad thing as you have time to get to know your fellow travellers and it binds you together.

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Sydney to Cairns – Whitsundays

Sydney to Cairns – The Whitsundays (at last).

 

After a long day in the bus we finally make it in to Airlie Beach.  Once we’re checked in we discover the accommodation for the night really is not up to scratch.  Luckily it’s only one night and so we head off for some food at Beaches and it was probably the best meal we’ve had on the tour and what’s more, it was cheap! 

 

Next day we have time to browse the shops and pick up our alcohol supplies for the two days aboard the Boomerang Yacht.  Before we can get on the boat we have to collect our stinger suit… basically it’s a wet suit that you have to wear to swim in the sea to protect you from the jelly fish. 

 

Eventually it’s 2pm and time to make the short drive down to the marina and to see what would be our home for two fun packed days.  First up we meet the crew, our skipper Kane, first mate (mad) Max and deck hand Irish Trevor.  They check us in and show us to our allotted bunk.  I was expecting small but somehow not quite as small as it ended up being.  It’s probably equivalent to sleeping in a filing cabinet drawer.  After securing our bags under our mattress we were straight up on deck to have a safety briefing and raising the sails.  Six volunteers were required to pull the sails or wind the winches; the rest of us had to take position sitting on the edge of the boat on the right (port) side as the boat would tilt nearly 90 degrees once the wind caught the sails – wow!   The exhilaration didn’t last long as inevitably the rain arrived and we had to don a lovely yellow rain coat (it was too much effort to go down in to the hold and rummage around for your own kag-in-a-bag).

 

After a short while sailing we’d moved away from the rain and arrived at Caves Cove on Hook Island and it was time to do some snorkelling.  Novices were paired up with an experienced snorkelling buddy, I was paired with one half of team Canada, Heather.  I was very excited and raring to go.  A quick lesson in what not to do and we were in the dingy and off towards the shallower water.  Once in the water armed with my noodle, face mask etc in position I was ready to take a look and see what was down there… one peek and I was just astounded, so much so that I was almost hyperventilating – no idea why, it was exactly as I expected.  I was making sooo much noise I think I scared off most of the fish!  It’s just so different to anything you’re likely to see under the sea at home (in the places I’ve been anyway) it’s hard not to whoop and say wow.

 

We spent the night moored at Nova Inlet on Hook Island.  Max and Trevor cooked us up a cracking meal and we sat on deck as the sunset partially obscured by clouds giving off a great contrast. 

 

Next morning we begin to make our way to the legendary Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island and the sun is shining.  We moor off Tounge Bay and have a short walk over the headland to get a great first view of Whitehaven Beach… it’s just so perfect.  White, white sand, whiter than Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island, again it’s full of quartz, and of course crystal clear turquoise water.  We make our way down on to the beach (encountering a Goanna along the way) and have a couple of hours to relax and enjoy it.  I hate to spoil your daydream but our enjoyment of the beach was ruined by, yes you guessed it – rain!  Just as I’d finished exploring and lay down to read my book the clouds gathered and we had a downpour.  The rain doesn’t detract from the surroundings, it’s not cold, it just makes reading a paperback book difficult!

 

Later that afternoon we arrive at Luncheon Bay on Hook Island where we snorkel again.  This time I’m more prepared and have a good look at the coral.  I have to admit to still making a racket if the fish came very close to my face. 

 

We spend the night moored at Stonehaven on Hook Island overlooking the exclusive Hayman Island.  Tonight was party night and after another great meal we tucked in to the alcohol supplies and turned up the music… it’s an added bonus that you don’t’ have neighbours on a boat if you’re moored alone in a cove.  The English girlies got Irish Trev up and dancing to YMCA.  It was a clear night and we could stare for hours at the stars.  With no ‘star’ expert on board it was difficult to spot the constellations… they are upside down to what I’m used to.

 

We’re woken abruptly next morning by skipper Kane starting the engines – I think he got a kick out of encouraging us to party all night then waking us up at the crack of dawn.   Last chance for a final snorkel and the sun was shining so we struggle back in to the damp stinger suits and clamber back on the dingy… it was so worth it.  With the sun shining the colours of the coral and the fish are completely different, much brighter.  We thought we saw Nemo but after checking the posters back on the boat we discovered we’d spotted an impostor… someone who looks very much like Nemo, but isn’t!

 

Sadly we have to make our way back to Airlie beach, but we’re all able to lie on deck, relax in the sun and savour the last moments.

 

Sean, in answer to your question regarding the Whitsunday Islands, they are simply named that way because of the time of year they were discovered and… there is no special celebration on Whit Sunday itself.  I think they’re missing a trick somehow.

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Sydney to Cairns – Caernarvon Gorge etc

If our guide Simo said the word Biloela once on our trip he must have said it one million times.  It was beginning to grate very badly on my nerves.  The only way to avoid it as to plug in to the ipod.  Anyway we started the day saying a sad farewell to Kroombit before arriving early in Biloela for a game of lawn bowls… yes I know, even for this tour it’s a bit of a random thing to do. 

 

So we rocked up at Biloela Bowls Club where we were warmly welcomed and each dolled out a set of bowls (mine were junior bowls with a kookaburra motif) before we divided in to teams of 5.  Our team was me, team France consisting of Monique and Sabria and team Canada consisting of Jen and Heather.  None of us had ever played before and because I am English it was declared that I should take the first turn… which if I remember correctly ended up in the gutter at the far end.  As the game went on it was clear that the French contingent had the right touch, as either Monique or Sab won each game.

 

Finally leaving Biloela (I’m getting on my nerves keep mentioning it now) behind us we had a 5 hour drive inland to Caernarvon Gorge.  We stopped for lunch in a very small town and it was absolutely baking outside, as we all jostled for position under some shade our annoying guide kept quipping that it wasn’t hot and wouldn’t be a patch on what we could expect the next day for our 15km walk up the gorge.  It was at this point that I said to him that 1) it was not helpful for him to continually say that it’s not hot when everyone on the bus is from Europe and finding it very hot and 2) was it sensible to take us on a 15km walk in that kind of heat.  I think he finally realised then that we weren’t joking, that we were all concerned about walking that distance in the heat and what we actually needed was reassurance rather than his silly talk.  I made my point in my usual direct manner but made sure that I wasn’t too blunt, and the comments were welcomed by everyone else in the group so I think I just said what everyone else was thinking. 

 

We arrive at Caernarvon Gorge and I’m really astounded by the quality of the accommodation.  We had lovely little canvas roofed cabins, all well looked after and in a beautiful setting.  The kitchen and other facilities were all shared with the rest of the campers but were in good condition, which was good because we had to cook dinner for ourselves and also another Adventure Tours bus that was doing the same trip but heading Cairns to Sydney.  And so it was that it was mainly the English girls plus team Canada and Michael that took control of the cooking for the evening.  The 5 girls from London (Jenny, Julie, Debby, Stacey and Katie) pulled out all the stops cooking the chicken and all the veg and catering for two vegetarians as well as one lactose intolerant, whilst me, team Canada and Michael were on shifts with the rice cooker.  As the dinner neared it’s completion the others followed their noses and gathered around us laying the tables etc.  Hossein volunteered to cook the garlic bread on the barbie and was rudely interrupted by a giant stick insect launching itself at the girls and somehow finding it’s way on to Hossein and then almost suicidally jumping on to the foil wrapped garlic bread on the barbie!  We managed to swipe him off but probably not before he got badly burnt feet.  

 

There are no late nights in Caernarvon Gorge as the lights are automatically turned off in communal areas at 9.30pm!  And there is definitely no need for an alarm clock in the gorge either for the million Kookaburras and other birds, along with cheeky possums are up with the lark and really are not quiet.

 

So the day of the 15km walk arrived and luckily for all of us the little rain cloud following us since Sydney had caught up with us and the temperature had dropped and we had cloud cover.  Now the walk would be no problem!

 

And so we began the walk and our first stopping point would be the Art Gallery.  We criss-crossed the gorge bed several times before starting to climb slightly upwards and eventually to the gorge side and cliff edge.  In the middle of nowhere there are fantastic Aboriginal paintings on the walls, depicting hunting scenes, animals, spears and people.  The paintings are fenced off but left unprotected from the elements.  The Aboriginal people feel that it should be left as it was intended and when it’s been washed away, it’s been washed away and that’s that.

 

The next stop was a natural amphitheatre.  We had to climb up vertical ladders and pass through a narrow passage to access it.  The rocks were red coloured sand stone. 

 

Final stop on the way back down the gorge was the moss garden.  I think our Aussie guide didn’t realise that moss is a regular occurrence in the UK/Europe as he said he’d saved the best stop until last.  It was a very nice spot but well, moss is moss at the end of the day.

 

That night the tables were turned and we had our dinner cooked for us by the other bus.  They had a slightly easier task as it was just a Barbie, but we went away knowing we’d out done them (the rivalries between buses is sometimes quite fierce).  Another forced early night but this one was welcome for two reasons, firstly we were all knackered after being woken by the numerous birds and also because we faced the spectre of 11 hours trapped in the bus the next day…

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Sydney to Cairns – Kroombit

When reading the itinerary for the tour from Sydney
to Cairns I had
to wonder why it was necessary to have a two night stay on a cattle station,
and even more I had to wonder what on earth we were going to do there. 

It was a 5 hour bus journey to Kroombit and so we had a bit of time to
catch up on some much needed shuteye.  It
was on this 5 hour journey that I got annoyingly intermittent mobile signal and
had the first inkling that a baby may be making it’s way in to the world.  I was assured by our moron guide that there
was a pay fone at the cattle station so I thought everything would be OK.

Arriving at Kroombit the cattle station at first glance looked very
basic, but our accommodation (on Stringy Bark Hut) was actually not too bad,
very small but unexpectedly had air con… which was nice!  The entertainment for the night would see us
participate in a cross dressing night, all clothes would be provided or you
could swap with your fellow travellers.  The
dressing up clothes proved to be mainly dresses so the boys had a wide range to
pick from and then quickly set about borrowing make up and jewellery from
us.  Finding mens clothing was slightly
trickier which is why I ended up in some horrible gold satin trousers in the
style of shell suit bottoms and a womens jacket – there really wasn’t much else
to choose from.  It kind of looked OK
once I’d got my goatee drawn on.

The evening was kicked off with a meal of meat and vegetables cooked on
the open range.  You could purchase wine
and beer at the Bush Bar and then we were addressed by the station owner who
talked to us about what life is like, before giving us a demonstration on the
art of whip cracking.  He made it look
very easy, apparently it’s all in the wrist and girls are usually better at it
than boys.  There were loads of whips
around and we all had a go (after donning the protective goggles), I’m afraid I
didn’t quite make the cut.  So, moving
swiftly on to the mechanical bull… it was very amusing.  In my satin trousers I literally lasted one
nanosecond before flying off the front! 
On our tour we had a few ‘older’ people, in particular an English couple
who were in Oz celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary.  They were really good fun and got in the
thick of it.  John ended up being the
longest standing mechanical bull rider and Sandra was pretty hot with the whip!

After the previous nights enjoyable evening we had a lazy breakfast
before going on a walk across the farmland to the top of a hill, where, in the
blazing sunshine we could try our hand at playing the didgeridoo… it’s
apparently similar to playing the bagpipes as it’s all about circular breathing
(I wouldn’t know because I’ve never played the bagpipes).  Again I was hopeless.  Back down in the open fields we could now
have a go at throwing the boomerang – and actually I wasn’t too bad at
this.  I wouldn’t say I was expert or
anything but it more or less came back to me.

The afternoons activity was intriguingly called Goat Rodeo.  We were taken down to the stables and matched
up with a horse or pony depending on riding experience and ability.  My pony was Topsy and he was very little but
very calm and thankfully easy to ride. 
Our first task was to head up to the field where the goats were grazing
and round them up shouting ‘hey whoop whoop whoop’ at the tops of our
voices.  Topsy stayed very calm
throughout all of this but wouldn’t really go where I steered her and was just
happy to follow her friend in front. 
Once the goats were all rounded up we rode back to the stables and
dropped off the horses before returning to the field where the fun and games
would begin.

First up was a fake goat branding. 
We had to get in to teams of two, give ourselves a team name and enter
the ring, then the cowboys would let one goat in and we had to catch it, grab
its legs, put it on the ground and then fake brand it.  Depending on your goat it wasn’t as easy as
it sounds.  I teamed up with little Jenny
(we were the Goat Getters) and that was a good move because she was quick at
catching the goat!

Next up was clay pigeon shooting and some of us were surprisingly good,
particularly Heather from team Canada
who hit three out of five.

Now the silly games really began as we were asked to make a circle and
join hands where one of us would be touched with the cattle prod.  Assuming it wouldn’t be much more severe than
an electric fence I stood my ground in the circle.  Of course it was more of a shock than an
electric fence – but not as bad as the electric shock I’ve had at home from a
table lamp!  Very amusing though.

The final silly game of the afternoon saw the cowboys send us out in to
an empty field and blast a tennis ball high in to the air from a kind of rocket
launcher for us to try to catch.  The
ball went very, very high up and it was difficult to keep your eye on it.  Nobody managed to catch it so the game turned
to cricket with the cowboys shooting the ball at exceptionally high speed at
the one person silly enough to stand in front of it, Hossein!

After another great meal cooked on the range we were keen to improve our
mechanical bull scores from the previous night. 
This time I was sure that my jeans would mean I’d have better hold and
I’d be able to last a bit longer.  And
this was true… … … but I still only managed about 3 or 4 seconds.  It was very, very amusing though!  The evening deteriorated further and turned
to karaoke during which I think my ears started to bleed – particularly when
Hossein and Franci took their turn! 
Debbie and Chris were the stars of the night and were accompanied by
Katie and Michael doing some line dancing.

And that was it, two nights at Kroombit Cattle Station had passed in no
time at all.  It was sad to leave but we
had a fun packed day ahead of us as we head further inland to Caernarvon Gorge.

I have forgotten to say that I tried to use the pay fone but it was out
of order so decided to try and charm the owner in to letting me use the office
fone… I must be losing my touch because even though I had a fone card he made
me pay $5 and all I got when I called was voicemail!

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Sydney to Cairns – Fraser Island

This morning we have a bit of lay-in as our pick up isn’t until
9am.  We are picked up by a Fraser Island
supa-bus, one that looks rather like a jacked up lorry converted in to a bus so
that it can handle driving predominantly on the beach around the island.  We arrive on the island and begin the drive
up 75 mile beach, it’s great, the sun is shining and we’re scooting up the
slightly bumpy beach swerving in and out to avoid the waves as they break. 

Our first destination this morning is Lake Wabbi,
a traditionally male only place for the Aborigines, a place where boys learned
to become men.  It’s a dune lake of fresh
water hidden amongst the forest and a 2.5km walk through the bush from the
coast.  Suddenly the bush clears and
you’re faced by massive and steep sand dunes with, in the hot sun, a very
inviting lake.  We had plenty of time
available to us and so we could climb the dunes and hurtle down and crash in
the to lake… I had to pass on this activity due to my natural assets – let’s
just say even the girls with smaller assets had trouble holding them in their
bikinis on the way down!  Some of the
guys that did it hit the water at rather an awkward angle and spent some time
talking in a high pitched voice.

Sadly we leave Lake
Wabbi and jump on the bus
for a short ride to the Eurong resort which would be our home for the night and
where we had a buffet lunch.  The weather
had started to turn cloudy and by the time we were back on the bus heading for Eli Creek
it had started to rain, it wasn’t cold, just wet.  Eli Creek is an icon for Fraser Island
and it’s traditional to walk up the creek and then float or swim back down to
the beach, sadly for us the best we could do was walk up, and back in our
raincoats.  From Eli Creek
we headed further north up the island to Indian Head where we climbed the
slippery rocks to the top and stood looking for whales and dolphins, we didn’t
see any but were lucky(?) enough to see the spout from a whale blow – it was
enough though. 

Another stop along the beach was the wreck of the Maheno which was being
towed up the Australian coast in 1995 when it was caught in a winter cyclone
and washed ashore.  The R.A.A.F used the
wreck as bombing target practise in World War II.

The final stop for the day was the Pinnacles where you can see the
different coloured sands.  By this stage
the weather had really set in and to be honest, I really didn’t care about the
coloured sands, I’ve seen it all before on the Isle of
Wight.

Finally we returned to the Eurong resort for a very welcome shower and
later after dinner we were challenged to another pool comp by the locals – who
hustled us all out of $4 each.  They must
make a killing every week doing that!

I’m sorry to keep on about it but it rained all night and yes, in the
morning it was still raining which was sad because we were heading off to Lake McKenzie.  Even Stacey’s sun dance in her lovely bright
orange rain coat couldn’t banish the clouds. 
Before Lake
McKenzie we were dropped
off in the rainforest and took a short-ish walk along the fresh water
creek.  We were walking amongst ancient
forest full of king ferns that dinosaurs would have through, or more likely,
on.

Finally we arrived at Lake
McKenzie which was used
by the Aborigines as a sacred birthing place. 
It is beautiful, perfect white sand (noticeably different to the more
yellow sand at Lake
Wabbi) full of quartz
making it a very good exfoliator, crystal clear turquoise water and a secluded
location.  The water was warm-ish but it
was a bit cooler out of it and I just couldn’t bring myself to get in – the
best I could do was sit on the edge.  Too soon it was time to leave and return to Rainbow Beach.  Tonight there was a live band playing and a
guy with a didgeridoo.

Next day saw another early start for our sea kayaking.  The sun was out and we were raring to go,
especially after seeing our kayaking guide for the couple of hours!  As I’d never been kayaking before I was
partnered up with greatly experienced Jen from team Canada
(there were two Canadian girls on the bus, commonly known as Team Canada).  I was surprised at how easy I found it – and
I don’t think I was leaving all the hard work to Jen in the back seat
either!  I thought I’d find it very
difficult but we did OK, that was until trying to land on the sand bank when I
fell over and then got run over by the kayak! 
It wasn’t too painful but I did get a dead leg and a bruised shin for my
efforts.  I managed the rest of the
session OK and enjoyed just bobbing up and down on the current, it was like
being on a waterbed, very relaxing.  I
was slightly apprehensive about trying to land the kayak again but our sexy
young guide talked us in and we did it perfectly… sadly this was not so for Heather
the other member of team Canada and her kayak partner Monique – they got the
timing all wrong and a wave tipped them up and dumped them out soaking them
entirely.  It made me feel a bit better
about my mishap earlier on!

Back at Rainbow
Beach we had time for the
quickest shower on record before boarding the bus to head inland to Kroombit
Cattle Station… which will be the next instalment.

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