Australia

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September 3 - October 31, 1997

I flew from Kupang to Darwin with Angel, from Argentina, Mark from Australia, and Rob from Holland. We got through customs, and there was a board in the airport, where you could call hostels for free pickup. Most of them also advertised free breakfast and dinner. We waited for Angel to get through customs before calling. And waited, and waited. He finally got through. They figured that, since he was from South America, he was a drug smuggler.

We spent several days in Darwin, which is not that exciting a city, but it was nice to be back in civilization. And the hot showers were great. Darwin is very backpacker friendly. Different bars have free meals every night. Barbequed steak, and sausage, and roast beef, and stuff like that.

When we got to Darwin, Princess Di was still dead. At our hostel they arranged for everyone to get together to walk down to the Rattle and Hum Bar together, to watch the funeral live on TV. Afterwards there was a free keg of beer.

Rob and I were going to go down to Alice Springs together, but we couldn't get a campervan to relocate, and we couldn't find any lifts at the hostels. In the end Rob ran out of time. He had to get to Cairns, where he was meeting some friends. I found a lift with Christine, a Tasmanian woman who was heading home. A German guy, Andreas, also got a lift.

We started by spending five days in Kakadu, which was great. It's a huge national park. It's full of crocodiles, and birds, and great bush walking, and aboriginal rock painting. We camped, and I just slept under the stars. We did some hiking, and swimming in the plunge pools. There was one large pool, with a waterfall pouring into it, and if you walked to the top of the escarpment you could swim in these great, tiny, but deep pools.

We were sitting by a billibong one day, having lunch, when a tour bus pulled up, everyone piled out, took some pictures, and piled back on. They were there for less than five minutes.

From there we went to Katherine, and did some canoing in the Katherine Gorge. It was the first canoing I had done in a year, and it was great. That night, Christine's boyfriend joined us for dinner. He leads tours in the area.

I should mention that it was goddamn hot. In Darwin, it was the hottest I had felt since India. It was 39 degrees, and just starting to get humid.

We drove down to Alice Springs, taking two days, and camping by the side of the road. I should also mention that we saw a lot of dead kangaroos by the side of the road. Or they might have been wallabies.

From Alice we headed into the MacDonnell Range. It was full of great hiking, and really cold swimming holes. The rock is incredibly red. We took a four wheel drive track, where very few tourists go, and saw a ring of mountains formed by a kilometre wide comet hitting the earth millions of years ago.

We got to Kings Canyon late, after a bumpy ride. That night, as I was sleeping under the stars, I woke up in the middle of the night, and thought, gee, the moon isn't very bright. I thought there was supposed to be a full moon tonight. Maybe it's a lunar eclipse. I put on my glasses, and sure enough, it was an eclipse. It was marvelous. The moon was red, and it slowly disappeared. I watched for hours.

In the morning we hiked around Kings Canyon, and then headed to Uluru, better known as Ayers Rock. We went out to watch the sunset, but unfortunately, there were clouds on the horizon. In the morning we were going to watch the sunrise, but it was completely overcast.

We went and circumnavigated the Rock. It's pretty spectacular up close.

Halfway around it started to rain. The rain made amazing patterns on the Rock, and there were all these little waterfalls cascading down.

That night we had kangaroo kebobs and emu sausages.

In the morning we rushed to the Olgas, but we didn't have time to see much, because Christine and Andreas were continuing south from there, and I was getting a lift back to Alice from these Austrian and Swiss girls that we had kept running into.

They decided that gas would be too expensive at the Ayers Rock resort, so they wanted to make it 80 km to the next gas station. They had the air conditioning going full blast, and were doing 130. The needle was dropping fast. Finally I suggested they turn off the a/c, and drive slower. About 8km from the gas station, tank number two ran out of gas, but there was just enough gas in the first tank to get us there.

Back in Alice I checked the notice boards, and within an hour I had a lift to Cairns, with Russell, a Brit guy with a bright green '73 Ford Fairlane. We set out in the morning, and spent three long days driving through the outback. There was pretty much nothing to see. A lot like driving through Saskatchewan. We did do some star gazing at night. Russell had a star chart, so it was great, figuring out all the constellations. I even saw the Southern Cross.

We got to Cairns, and the next morning drove up to Cape Tribulation, a beautiful rain forest. And then down to the Atherton Tableland, with lots of lakes, and waterfalls, and strange fig trees.

Back in Cairns I did a snorkeling trip on the Great Barrier Reef, and saw lots of fish. On a Friday I went to a travel agent and booked a ticket from Sydney to Auckland. She said it would be ready Monday afternoon, or Tuesday morning. I didn't really want to wait around that long, but what could I do. On Monday afternoon, I went back, and the guy told me the woman had made a mistake, and that I couldn't get that flight, but he'd booked me a flight on the following day. I said that was fine. He said it would take two or three days to issue the ticket. I didn't want to wait around that long, so he said I could pick it up at Jetway Travel in Sydney. He didn't know the address, but he said everyone knew it.

I bought a bus pass, and went down to Townsville, which wasn't very exciting, but from there you go to Magnetic Island. The hostel there was small and friendly. I went hiking with Phillipa, and it started to pour. Magnetic Island is supposed to be the sunniest place in Australia.

I went sea kayaking, and it was great, because the waves were two or three metres high, so it was like being on a roller coaster. Stopped for lunch, and saw lots of turtles. Did a hike up to the forts, which had been built to fight off the Japanese in WWII. It was all camouflaged on a hill side. Saw a koala sleeping in a tree on the way.

From there I went to Airlie Beach. Phillipa was at the same hostel, and we hung out with Ian, a Canadian guy. He was supposed to leave, but Phillipa convinced him to stay and drink, because it was her birthday, so he cancelled his bus an hour before it left. The next day Phillipa went sailing, and Phil convinced Ian to stay and look for a job, so he cancelled his bus an hour before it left. Two days later, when Phillipa got back, Ian convinced her to stay and drink, and she cancelled her bus an hour before it left. The bus companies there are very accomodating.

Meanwhile I was taking an Open Water Scuba diving course. The first two days we spent in the pool, learning the basics. The third day we did a day trip to the Whitsunday Islands, where we did our first two open water dives. Scuba diving is pretty neat. Floating under the water. It wasn't as scary, breathing under water, as I thought it would be.

That night we boarded a boat, and spent the next three days diving on the outer reef. After the first two dives we were certified divers. We saw sharks and rays and turtles, and even a few fish. And we did a night dive.

We had eight more dives, and you need five to get your Advanced Open Water, so the instructor convinced us to pay the extra $90 to get it. Navigating at night was pretty scary. There's no reference points at all, and it's very easy to become disoriented.

From there I went to Rockhampton, because it broke up the bus trip. Saw some caves.

Then went to Hervey Bay, from which you get tours to Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island. You book through the hostel, and they give you a four wheel drive truck, camping gear, and send you on your way. Sarah, who had been at my hostel in Airlie Beach was on the trip, along with Marcel, from Switzerland, two Brit girls, and two Dane girls.

We were driving out of town, to the ferry, when the axle started to fall off the truck, so we had to call them and get a new truck. When we got to the ferry we found they had forgotten to book us on it, but luckily there was room for us.

There are no paved roads on the island, just some tracks across it. On the beach you just zip along at low tide. We spent three days there, driving around, swimming in the lakes, and in champagne pools, a part of ocean protected by a ring of rocks, and the only place on the island safe to swim in the ocean, because of sharks. As we were driving along we spotted whales, and stopped to watch them. We camped, and cooked supper on an open fire. The dingos came sniffing around.

We got up in the morning to watch the sunrise, and I discovered that a dingo ate my shoe. One of my tevas was ten feet away from the tent, and the other was missing. Later Sarah found it over by some trees. I guess it wasn't appetising.

Later, as we were having lunch, a dingo took our margarine, and wouldn't give it back.

From Fraser Island I went to Brisbane, which was the first big city I'd been to since Kuala Lumpur.

I only saw two tv shows in Australia. Everyone watches The Simpsons. By the time I hit Hervey Bay, they were showing four episodes in a row. And every Monday night, many of the bars would have Friends night, where they would show Friends on the big screen.

I was walking down the street in Brisbane, when I saw Russell's car, so I left a note on it. The next day he came over to my hostel. We drove up to a hill overlooking the city, and then he headed south, while I waited for my bus.

I went to Byron Bay. At the hostel they had free bikes, so I rode to the lighthouse, where I saw more whales. And hang gliders, gliding over the lighthouse. It looked great. Back at the hostel I ran into Judith, who I had been scuba diving with. She was waiting for the hang gliding van. I ran into her later, and she said it was amazing, so I decided maybe I should try.

I ran into Russell again. His car had broken down, so he was getting it fixed.

The next day I did a tour to Nimbin. They had the Aquarius Festival there in '73, and a lot of the people never left. So it's full of dusty hippies, and nouveau hippies, and the entire town is stoned.

The wind wasn't good for hang gliding, so I took surfing lessons, and actually managed to stand up.

The next day the wind was supposed to be good, so we went out, and waited for hours, but it wouldn't swing around in the right direction.

Finally the next day I went. You go up tandem, with a guy that knows what he's doing. It's amazingly easy to get up. Just a couple of steps. Then you're floating in the air. It's not scary, unless you look straight down. You can take pictures up there. When the previous person was up, the guy got a couple of phone calls on his cellular phone. He let me steer a bit, and it seemed pretty easy.

That night I got the all night bus to Sydney. It left at 8:00 at night, and got in to Sydney at 9:30 in the morning. It was hell.

In Sydney I called my aunt and uncle, who had flown in from LA the day before, but they weren't in. Then I spent the entire day trying to find my plane ticket. I finally found Jetway, but they knew nothing of my ticket, and sent me across town to another Jetway. They also knew nothing of my ticket. Finally she decided it must be at another Jetway, which isn't the same company, but related, and sent me back across town, and I finally got it. Then I went to YHA Travel to book a plane ticket from Auckland to Bangkok, since they won't let you into New Zealand without a ticket out. She said it would be ready the next afternoon.

I met with my aunt and uncle for dinner. It was nice to see familiar faces. They invited me to join them on a tour the next day. The tour went up to Old Sydney Town, a recreation of the original settlement of Sydney. Then we did a cruise on a river, in a boat that was doing a mail run.

We got back to Sydney, and I went to YHA Travel at 5:06, but it closed at 5:00.

In the morning I went back, but my ticket wasn't ready. He said it would be there that afternoon. I've come to the conclusion that all travel agents are morons.

I did the tour of the Sydney Opera House, which is a pretty impressive building. And I bought a restricted view ticket for that night's opera for $20.

I did dinner with my aunt and uncle again, at the opera house restaurant, and then went to the opera.

As I was going to my seat, the usher looked at my ticket, and asked me if I want to be upgraded. I said sure. She told me to stand around until just before it started, and then take my choice of the empty seats. I was somewhere in the $70-$115 seats.

The opera was opera. I'm not to keen on opera. I'm pretty sure I picked out Lorlinda (who had been on the trek in Nepal), in the orchestra pit.

In the morning I walked around The Rocks, saw a free classical rock concert in an outdoor mall, and caught the flight to Auckland.


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Last updated: July 17, 2015