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DIARY OF OUR ADVENTURES

What we did and When

Library Otago Peninsular, New Zealand

Annie's Diary 31st Jan-14th June 2017

31st Jan - 28th Feb

Tuesday 31 January 2017

Left Keef’s mum at around 5am – still dark. Took hire car (Easi Rent) to Sheraton Skyline Hotel & dumped it off. Caught free hopper bus to Heathrow (one bus drove straight past the hotel without picking us up so had to get the next one). Met Chris & Allyson at Heathrow for our flight with Emirates to Singapore via Dubai. 9.10am departure. Very exciting & looking forward to our great adventure in the southern hemisphere. Had to change planes in Dubai.

Wednesday 1 February Singapore

We were met at Singapore airport by Doug at 8.30am which we were not expecting, so it was a nice surprise. Chris & Allyson took a hotel hopper bus to their hotel Grand Mercure Roxy, Marine Parade Road. We got a taxi with Doug back to their flat in Marine Terrace. Met up with Phoenix in their lovely spacious flat on the 18th floor which they had moved into last August. We went to collect Charlie from her local playgroup. So nice to see Doug & family again, although it had only been a few weeks since they were with us at Christmas/ New Year. We went out for lunch at Babalicious, East Coast Park & had Singapore chicken & rice. Then we went for a paddle in the sea nearby with Charlie and we all sat on the beach. Joined by Chris & Allyson who walked along East Coast Park from their hotel. They came back with us to the flat for a drink, although Charlie & Phoenix had returned earlier for an afternoon nap. Later in the evening we all met up with C & A at Din Tai Fung, a famous & popular Chinese dumpling/noodle restaurant chain in Parkway Parade shopping mall, opposite C & A’s hotel. Very tired – jet lag kicking in as did not get much sleep on the planes.

Thursday 2 February Singapore

Took Charlie to playgroup. After lunch in a food court near Marina Bay Sands Hotel that we all went to the Science/Arts Museum. Saw brilliant Future World art/light/techno installations which Charlie loved. Keef went to see the Escher art exhibition and Doug saw the Nasa exhibition. We all thoroughly enjoyed the Future World installations which was very hands-on and magical & we were in there for hours. C & A visited Gardens on the Bay which they really enjoyed. In the evening we all met up at the Eurasian Community restaurant which Doug & Phoenix had recommended. Had various curries which were very good. Charlie had not had her normal afternoon nap so very tired. We got a bus back to the flat & C & A returned to their hotel.

Friday 3 February Singapore to Perth

Doug had to go back to work today. He & family had just returned from a short trip to Vietnam with P’s parents on Monday 30 Jan. After Charlie’s playgroup (9.45-11.45am) we walked with Phoenix & Charlie to their local library, then had lunch in the indoor food court at Parkway Parade. Keef & I got the bus back to the flat whist Phoenix walked back so Charlie could fall asleep in the pushchair. Had afternoon nap for 1 hour as still jet-lagged. Big rainstorm. Then we took a bus & walked to meet up with C & A & Doug at the outdoor food hawker centre in east Coast Park. Doug had his cycle gear on & his 21 gear bike. Very nice BBQ chicken wings/thighs & duck satay sticks etc. Doug cycled back from the park to the flat 7 the rest of us got taxis. Re-packed bags & Doug ordered taxi for us to Changi airport. D & P looked after us so well & sad to say our goodbyes but at least we will visit them again for 2 weeks at the end of the trip in June. Charlie is so adorable- we love her so much (soppy grandparents!) Met with C & A at airport – our flight to Perth was at 11.40 pm.

Saturday 4 February Perth

Night flight to Perth, arrived at 4.47am – still dark & quite cool temperature. We got a large taxi to our hotel in central Perth. As it was too early to get into our rooms we changed into shorts & sandals in the staff toilet & left all our bags in the lock-up room behind reception. Walked from our hotel (Pensione Hotel, 70 Pier St) at 5.45am along to the city centre & down to the Swan River. The area by the bell tower had changed beyond recognition since 2008 when K & I had visited. The large grassy area next to the river had now been landscaped with paving, seating, plants, pergolas of bougainvillea, new bridges, Walked across the new footbridge to Elizabeth Quay & saw a replica of an old Dutch sailing ship. Perth looked so different now. City was very quiet apart from a few joggers & cyclists. Fab views of the Swan River across to the residential suburbs on the other side.

Got tickets ($40 each/ £23.20) on Captain Cook Explorer cruise to Freemantle along the Swan River. Departed at 9.45am – weather very sunny, breezy & blue sky. Relaxing boat trip with commentary. Architect designed houses along shoreline – one house bought in 2009 for $57.5 million. Lots of sailing clubs & marinas along the river. Apparently there are more pleasure boats registered here than in any other Aussie city. Docked at Freemantle & had 1hr 15 mins to see the town. Walked around the streets – saw Victorian heritage buildings & Aussie pubs with wrought iron long balconies. Had lovely fish, chips & salad lunch in a local pub where we sat outside. We got the boat back at 12.45 to Perth. Allyson took photos of K & A as we cruised past the Freemantle passenger terminal where we emigrated & first landed in Australia in 1961 (Keef) & 1967 (Anne). We were migrant families & £10 Poms back then. Lovely relaxing river cruise back to Perth – lots of yachts, jet skiers – glorious sunshine – arrived 2pm & now very hot.

We all returned to our hotel & had a 3 hour power nap as still jet lagged. Apparently for every hour flight time difference it takes a day to recover – i.e 8 hours difference = 8 days to recover! Dark at 7.30 pm. We all walked down to the Swan River again to see the city lights. The buildings had amazing LED coloured lights on each storey. By the quayside we saw a free Chinese new Year area with coloured LED large animal inflatables, LED red Chinese lanterns, lots of food stalls & a small exhibition about Chinese people who had come to Perth during the gold rush era + old photos of them. Had pizza & drinks in a bar near our hotel. We were lucky with the weather as we were told that Perth had the worst rain in 6 years over a couple of days. Allyson’s fitness watch said we had walked 7.4 miles today.

Sunday 5 February Perth

Sunny & hot day. Had breakfast in croissants & coffee café & sat outside. Went on free red CAT bus & stayed on for the whole loop around Perth, then got off at King’s Park to get high panoramic views of the Swan River & city. Temperature increased around 1.45-3.30 – very hot. We walked around the Botanic gardens – very well laid out in WA regions. Native plants included baob trees, banksias etc. C & A did a circular route which included a glass sided aerial bridge. Lovely views from the park & nice breezes. Saw a sign at entrance to a track down a slope which looked more like rough bush, which said ‘ Beware snakes seen in this area’. Rushed past & headed back to the visitor centre. Then we took the red bus back to the city centre & swapped onto the free blue bus route, which was not to interesting. Aching feet & tired so headed back to the hotel for a shower. Went out in the evening to a pub called The Lucky Shag Bar on the waterfront. Could see lights across the wide Swan River to the other bank (mainly residential area). K & A had chicken parmigiano, chips & salad – very nice. Walked back to the hotel – 10.30pm knackered.

Monday 6 February Perth to Ledge Point, WA

Had breakfast at the croissant/ coffee shop – lovely sunny day again. Then we checked out of the Pensione Hotel & took a taxi to Britz Motorhomes hire in Redcliffe, near the airport. Took a while to do the run-through of instructions for the motorhomes & admin. Our van is a Maui & C & A’s is a Britz. Both are 7 metres long panel vans with air con, fridge, hob, sink, shower & toilet, 2 person berth & automatic. Then we all set off towards a suburb of Perth which had a Coles supermarket & stocked up for the next few days on food & water supplies. Stopped off the highway to have a chicken sandwich made by Allyson. Headed north & joined the Indian Ocean Drive road towards Ledge Point where we stopped for the night. Ledge Point is a beautiful spot with lovely sandy beach & turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. Stayed at a Big4 campsite $34 per site with a swimming pool. As we had joined the Big 4 in England (cost £25) we saved 10% on every campsite stay. All of us went for a swim & then I did a big load of washing for $4/ £2.48 & left it on the washing line overnight. Weather sunny but getting very windy. Keef cooked steak with salad, pasta salad & jacket potatoes. We were all quite tired having unpacked our bags & sorting out things in the motorhomes. Went to bed at 11pm.

Tuesday 7 February Ledge Point to Geraldton

Weather sunny but still windy. After shower, breakfast we set off from Ledge Point heading north along Highway 60. Keef & I had been on this coastal route as far as Geraldton in 2013. This time we could continue north on the Indian Ocean Drive as it was now a tarmac surface (previously a dirt coastal road) rather than returning to the main highway. We stopped at the Pinnacles, a national park which cost $12 entry for each couple. This was a large desert area inland from the coast with eroded rocks caused by wind erosion. Some of the rocks were 1 – 4 metres high. The wind was blowing the sand into our bare legs. We went in the visitor centre and then as we were walking back to the car park we saw a blue tongued skink (small lizard) crossing the path in front of us. It had 4 little legs and a fat body. We took some photos & video of it walking along very slowly until it went into some bushes.

We drove along the coastal road to Cervantes, a small town & went to a car park with fabulous views of a white sandy beach & turquoise sea called Thirsty Point. Further along the road we stopped at Jurien Bay where there were nice houses & holiday homes. Arrived in Geraldton about 5.15 pm. This place is termed a city although it’s not as big as Nottingham. We booked into the Big 4 Sunset Beach campsite $35 a night & the lady who booked us in warned us that there was a Category 1 cyclone due in Shark bay/ Monkey Mia area that night. Also she said that the police had closed the road because of potential heavy rain & flooding. She strongly advised us to turn around & head back south.

We were rather worried to hear about this as the road to Monkey Mia is a small road and the only route in. A cyclone is a tropical version of a hurricane with winds of 100kms an hour and heavy deluges of rain. The flat coastal roads can flood & be impassable for vehicles. We bought some tomatoes, red peppers & a rock melon for $5 from the campsite lady – bargain.

Chris did a lovely BBQ with prawns on skewers & barramundi fish with salad & rice. We gad mango as well. Chatted to a very suntanned Dutch couple who were retired travellers in a small motorhome & they had returned from Monkey Mia. Noticed that the campsite had a solid fence all the way round it and the staff wore snake protectors up to their knees. The campsite had a pool but we didn’t swim. Went to bed at 11pm – very tired. Extremely windy – the van was being rocked & the sky looked black with clouds but no rain.

Wednesday 8 February Geraldton to Northampton

We finally got over our jet lag by sleeping 9 hours. Still very windy but sunny & blue skies. No sign of any cyclone yet. After breakfast we went shopping at an IGA supermarket & got some alcoholic beverages from the separate bottleshop next door. Supermarkets in Australia are not allowed to sell alcohol. We had problems with the key to our motorhome not locking the van properly from the begging of the trip & thought it was the battery in the key fob. Also we were supposed to get 2 key fobs for the motorhome but we only got 1 as the Britz staff said that the previous renters had lost it.

Got diesel fuel, then headed back into Geraldton down the Great Northern Highway as the campsite was 6 kms north of Geraldton. Visited the old convict hospital & gaol & took photos, then drove through the centre of Geraldton which had a very long high street with shops. Visited tourist info centre to find out about the cyclone & state of the roads but the ladies there were not very helpful. Allyson bought a map of Australia to record the route taken. We walked along the seafront & saw the marina. Keef thought he saw a stingray in the water but it turned out to be a plastic bag – needs to go to Specsavers!.

We visited the Western Australia museum (free) which featured local historical events such as the Australian Navy ship Sydney which was torpedoed in 1941 in WW2 by a German mine layer. Also the shocking story of the Batavia, a Dutch east India ship. In 1629 it was bound for Batavia (now called Jakarta, in Indonesia) to pick up spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves. It caught on a reef round an island off Geraldton and the 300 crew & passengers were shipwrecked. The captain and some crew rowed a small boat to Jakarta which took 33 days but the rest of the men & women endured a terrible time on the island with murder, rape & cannibalism- a gruesome story. The museum had the cannon, coins and a skull from the ship.

K & I visited the police station to enquire about the cyclone & road closures. A nice lady on reception rang the police in the Shark Bay area and Carnarvon town. There were no signs of any cyclone so we decided to drive to Monkey Mia the next day. We set off up the North Western Highway through wheat farms and hills and stopped the night at a small campsite in Northampton $35. This town had Victorian architecture. The campsite was a private one & not as good as Big 4. There was no pool but the kitchen area & toilets/ showers were clean.

Met up with girl backpackers from England in the kitchen. They were travelling around WA in a second hand car & had work permits. Also met a German lad who was a student at Sydney Technology University – all the young ones were very chatty & friendly. The gas camping stove on the kitchen worktop caught fire when the girls were cooking spaghetti Bolognese and we had to evacuate the area incase the gas canister exploded. The site manager said that the rubber tubing had a small hole which he replaced. Luckily no one was injured.

Keef & I did chicken wings, breaded escalopes, salad & jacket potatoes + a bottle of white wine from Margaret River. Saw a large flock of pink/grey galahs which roosted on a tree near our vans & were very noisy at dusk. Still windy. Went to bed at 10.45pm.

Thursday 9 February Northampton to Monkey Mia in Shark Bay

When I was washing up breakfast dishes in the camp kitchen I nearly stepped back onto the resident pet parrot – a Major Mitchell cockatiel that was on the floor. The parrot was pink and white, very friendly & used to humans. Took some photos of heritage buildings in Northampton then we all set off for the World Heritage area of Monkey Mia reserve. Stopped off for a rest & drink at a red dust pull-off area next to the highway. Windy & loads of flies. Drove on to the Billabong Roadhouse for another break. Saw an emu at the side of the road- scrubby desert area with no trees just bushes. Stopped again at the Overlander Roadhouse then turned off the highway towards Denham and Shark Bay area. Started raining & heard on the radio that the road from Carnarvon to Port Headland further up the coast had been closed because of potential flash floods. Luckily the road to Monkey Mia was open & OK & the rain eased off. We stayed at the Monkey Mia Resort $78 for 2 nights per motorhome. On the edge of the beach you can see wild dolphins come right in close where they are fed fish. Apparently there are some baby dolphins around as well. Monkey Mia is world heritage status because of the 14,000 dugongs (aka manatees or sea cows) which frequent the bay to feed on sea grass. Pouring with rain when we checked in to reception which took a long time to get allocated some pitches with electric hook up.

Forgot to mention that we all saw a second emu which was right next to the road – took lots of photos. We went to the bar for a drink & had a brief walk through the resort which is very small but has a shop, pool, restaurant & motel type accommodation. C & A cooked lamb steaks, sauté potatoes & salad which was very tasty & I cut up a mango. By 9.30 we were all feeling very tired – we had driven 320Kms approx. Rained most of the night. We decided to set our alarms for 7am to be ready for the dolphin encounter on the beach. Really looking forward to seeing them.

Friday 10 February Monkey Mia

7.20 am walked down to the beach where the Park Wardens were & there were about 30 people. The dolphins usually come in around 7.45 for a fish feed but the weather was rainy, with stormy grey skies & still very strong winds. We all waited patiently on the beach until 8.30 am but no dolphins appeared. Very disappointing but that is nature. Saw a turtle near the jetty though. Had showers & then Keef did a bacon & egg roll for breakfast. Took our camp chairs down to the sandy beach with our Kindles to read. Still very windy & twice K & I had to duck into the restaurant/ lounge area because of sudden heavy rain showers. Eventually the grey clouds & rain disappeared & the sun came out, although the winds were still strong. The bad weather must have been due to the cyclone. Chris & Allyson joined us for the afternoon & we read our Kindles & relaxed. There were two emus wandering round the campsite which seemed used to humans. Lots of flies at this resort which were a pain but less so by the windy beach area. Thought the rooms, restaurant & bar were fairly basic & did not feel like a luxury resort. The resort is owned by RAC. Also the wet gritty sandy paths & roads made the motorhomes dirty & the washrooms all gritty on the floors.

Afternoon was very pleasant although still very windy but warm. Had tea/ coffee in C & A’s van & then Keef & I did the evening meal. We had sausages, chicken thighs, lamb steaks leftover from yesterday carrots, sweet potatoes, creamed sweetcorn & rock melon. Also had some red wine called Yalumba from South Australia. Sunset was beautiful. Went for a walk on the beach in the dark & Chris pointed out Venus in the sky which was very bright. We returned to our vans & I wrote my diary & read my Kindle. Keef checked mail on our laptop. Tomorrow getting up early again to see dolphins.

Saturday 11 February Monkey Mia to Carnarvon.

Got up at 7am – went to beach 7.25 to see dolphins – none appeared. Hot & sunny today. Probably because the storm made the sea murky with weed and broken sea grass. The beach had lots of debris & piles of sea grass washed up. The dolphins did not come into the bay probably because with the poor visibility underwater they could not see any sharks. Gave up at 8.15 & went back for a shower & breakfast. Disappointing again. We left the site at 10am but parked in the car park outside & went back to the beach for another look. Other holidaymakers said still no sight of any dolphins. Left Monkey Mia & drove to Denham, the nearest town on the coast, after seeing the Little Lagoon which looked lovely with turquoise water. The lagoon links to Shark Bay with a narrow channel & is very salty seawater. We drove along Shark bay Heritage Drive & stopped at Shell Beach which had a vast area of compacted tiny cockle shells as small as a little finger nail. The white of the shells was so bright to look at in the bright sunshine. Back on the main highway we got diesel fuel & icecream at the Overlander Roadhouse and then turned left to head north to Carnarvon.

Picked some bush melons up from the side of the road. Saw eagles, wild goats & cattle -including a dead cow. Low scrub vegetation on a sandy flat desert even though we were going near the coast. Stopped briefly at the next roadhouse before arriving in Carnarvon. We booked 2 pitches for 2 nights at the Big 4 Plantation campsite, situated near fruit (mangoes) & banana plantations. Carnarvon is a big fruit & veg growing area + fishing for prawns, crabs & lobsters. Did shopping at Woolworths in town, then drove along seafront & around town – a very sleepy place. We drove to One Mile Jetty which from 1897-1966 used to ship cattle & sheep out to ships. The pier was no longer used & looked dilapidated. Lots of rusty machinery, wooden wagons & a lighthouse keepers cottage. Returned to the campsite & Chris & Allyson did BBQ burgers in buns, salad, leftover sausages & rock melon – very nice. Keef & I looked at the map & saw we only had 13 days left to tour WA & there was still so much to see. Went to bed at 10.15 – really tired – Keef did 355 kms today. Forgot to mention that on our way back to the campsite a policeman stood in the road & asked us to pull over for a random breathalyser test. Chris was asked to pull over as well. We had only drunk water all day so passed the test.

Sunday 12 February Carnarvon

Didn’t wake up until 8am. Had shower & relaxed breakfast. I did the washing ($5) & hung it out as boiling hot today. I chatted to the campsite manager’s wife in the laundry & she said it was going to be 31-33c today. She told me that Kalgoorlie had been flooded because of the heavy rains – I was surprised as this town in the outback WA was normally very dry and dusty. This was bad news as we were aiming to do a circular route via Kalgoorlie, Norseman, Esperance, Albany, Margaret River & back to Perth. We drove to the Space & Technology Museum ($10 per adult) and C & A wanted to walk there. The volunteer lady at the till in the museum said that Ravensthorpe (between Esperance & Albany) had a collapsed road due to flash flooding. She showed us a photo on her phone – not good news either. There is only one road through Ravensthorpe and as we need to take this route later on in our trip we may have to divert.

The Space & Technology Museum was brilliant – it showed the important role that the satellite tracking station had played in assisting NASA in many space voyages including Apollo 11 when the moon landing occurred. 180 people worked at the tracking station from 1964-1975, which was one of many trackers worldwide. Carnarvon helped process data & tracked the speed & position of spacecraft & fed this back to NASA. Now the Australian government are using the tracker at Perth to assist with wifi through a satellite in space so that outback people get free wifi. Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11 mission & actually landed on the moon) opened the museum. He is now 85 & is doing a world tour speaking about his time with NASA & the moon landing.

I was 15 & living at Frenchs Forest, Sydney when I watched the moon landing live on a TV set up in the school hall. Keef was in Clapham, London , Chris was on holiday with his family at Butlins & Allyson was 10. The museum showed the first ever TV satellite broadcast between Carnarvon & London when families could see & talk to one another for the first time on either side of the world. We went into a replica of the Apollo 11 command module where Michael Collins, Buzz (Edwin) Aldrin & Neil Armstrong all sat in cramped conditions with their spacesuits attached to the rocket below them on the launch pad. The space was very small in the module & we heard the actual recording of the countdown to take-off & communications between the astronauts & Houston control centre.

We watched a series of short films in a small theatre about space exploration & missions to the moon & the part that Carnarvon played. Had a free mug of tea at the end of our visit. The two staff were very friendly & chatty. We all thought this was an excellent museum. Outside was saw the huge satellite dish.

Keef & I then drove to the IGA supermarket to buy some chicken & a mango. We drove along the fruit plantations seeing, bananas, mango & peach tree. Saw the Gascoigne River with muddy water – it had been dry for 3 years but was full after the recent heavy rains. This river is normally the largest in Western Australia. Luckily the banks hadn’t flooded & we took photos from the concrete road bridge.

Returned to the campsite & Chris, Keef & I went for swim in the pool as it was such a hot day. We saved a small frog from the swimming pool by scooping him out. Had another shower. Keef & I did dinner – BBQ chicken, salad, jacket & sweet potatoes & fried onions. We sat outside to eat & got bitten by mosquitoes. Looked at lots of stars in the clear sky.

Monday 13 February Carnarvon to Port Denison

Got up at 7am as a long road trip today from Carnarvon to Dongara/Port Denison. Keef & I called in at a shop in the town to buy a container of blue liquid for the motorhome toilet $20. Left Carnarvon at 9.30am. 28c & a few clouds in the sky. We stpped at 2 roadhouses on the way down & kept to Highway 1 & the Brand Highway. C & A bought me a Magnum icecream – lovely. Stopped for lunch at the Billabong Roadhouse – now very hot. Stopped again at Northampton for a quick break. Allyson said she drove over a large lizard which ran out in front of their motorhome. We saw a small lizard cross the road in front of us. Quite a lot of cows & goats grazing near the road.

We went to the town dump station at Dongara/ Port Denison as the Big 4 booklet did not say there was one at the campsite. We arrived at 4.30pm at the campsite in Port Denison. Keef & I remembered we had been to this town before in our travels in WA & had a picnic lunch by the shore. Had showers, then we all walked along the seafront to a restaurant/ bar called Southerlys. I had a chicken & bacon burger, Keef had King Red Emperor fish & chips with garlic prawns, Chris had calamari & chips & Allyson had a lamb burger & chips. The waitress who served us used to live in Guildford, Surrey as a child, then emigrated with her mother. The sunset was pretty with the boats in the marina in the foreground. Walked back to the campsite. A long day but pleased we had travelled so far south – we did 570kms/ 360 miles. Sent an e-mail to Brian & Gina. Very tired.

Tuesday, 14 February Port Denison to Northam

After breakfast we chatted to the campsite handyman/ gardener & he advised us that the road on either side of Esperance had closed due to flooding & the road had collapsed. We looked at the map & decided to change our route – i.e to avoid Kalgoorlie, Norseman, Esperance part of the loop & just do Wave Rock & hope to take road south to Albany & then turn west along the coast back to Perth. Two people had drowned in the floods (one man trapped in his car in a raging river). We set our target to camp at Northam & took the Brand Highway south, passing banksias bushes at the roadside, mulga scrub & sand. Saw a large kangaroo dead on the road with eagles on top & also a small wallaby. Travelled through the wheat belt- farms where wheat had already been harvested. Now & again there was uncultivated land – scrub & later on bush with eucalyptus trees.

Went through Moora (small town)- the town council office had roses, green lawn & bedding plants – looked strange against the rest of the Aussie terrain. The road out of Moora had been flooded during the recent heavy rain but was now clear. Lots of farms, some with sheep, cows & some Brahma cows & alpacas. Saw men repairing railway line track. We stopped for a late lunch around 3pm at the side of the road. Arrived in Northam at 5pm having seen the flooded Avon River close to the highway. The road at the bottom of the hill in the town was flooded & closed so we took the detour. The Avon River in Northam was very wide with a fast flowing current – very muddy looking water & there was a weir on the river. I called in at the tourist info office to ask about campsites as there was no Big 4 here, but it was closed. Allyson used the internet on her phone to find out the nearest campsite in town - $33 per pitch. At the campsite the river was close to our pitches but down a gradual slope. At the height of the floods it covered the camp kitchen floor, so the kitchen was out of order. Saw some lovely green & yellow parakeets in a tree near our pitches. I tried to lure them to my hand with some pieces of rock melon but they were more interested in the tree seeds. Took some photos of the birds. For dinner we had tuna & salad wraps with corn on the cob. Keef got splashed with some boiling water on his hand but luckily not burnt. Lots of stars out tonight – Chris was very knowledgeable about them & could identify the brightest ones. He pointed out the Milky Way which was clearly visible – had not seen this before. He & Keef saw a shooting star but I missed it as I was swatting a mosquito away.

Forgot to mention Allyson did a quick Skype with Alistair this morning & we all said hi. We were having breakfast & it was 1.15 am for him in Brighton where he was at university. Allyson’s mum said it was 44c in Sydney & there were some bushfires in north NSW. Also most of the pilot whales stranded at Farewell Spit at the very top of North Island, NZ had been rescued. They had been rescued & taken out to see by volunteers & local people – over 400 pilot whales had been stranded on the long beach at Farewell Spit.

Wednesday 15 February Northam to Karlgarin (wheat belt area)

Went to Coles in Northam to do food shopping (we do split bill) then set off on the Great Eastern Highway to Merredin. The road follows the large water pipeline that is above ground and services Kalgoorlie & the Indian Pacific railway track. K & I had been to Merredin before – a small town with 1913-1920 buildings, railway station & theatre. Chris bought some pies from a bakery for lunch which we ate sitting outside the tourist info building. Allyson went inside to get some brochures on Wave Rock. Lots of wheat farms, sheep & cows on huge fields. The wheat was cut just prior to Christmas so only stubble left in the fields. After Merredin saw lots of flooded fields & some mulga scrub areas under water. We took some country roads towards Wave Rock.

Not far from Hyden the road was completely awash with water & floodwater on either side. Whilst we paused to consider our options, a road train shot past us sending up spray on either side. We paused wondering what was the best/safest thing to do – we could have turned back (K & I had visited Wave Rock last time we were in WA). Chris decided to proceed across in their van & managed to get to the other side of the flood. Keef & I followed slowly – it was quite scary as if water had got into the engine & exhaust then the van would have stopped. We got across & then took some photos.

The small township of Hyden was about ½ mile down the road. We followed the road signs to Wave Rock & arrived just after 5pm. The temperature had cooled (it had been 36c in Merredin at 2.30pm) & it was now quite pleasant with a breeze. We parked in the car park & noticed that additional toilets had now been built + a caravan park. Took the path to Wave Rock – a spectacular granite rock which had weathered & looked like a huge wave with mineral deposits causing ochre, grey & black streaks down the sloped rock face. We followed the path round (I had my snake boots on) & read the interpretive signs – the rock was 2.7 billion years old and was only discovered in Victorian times, although the Aboriginal people would have probably known about it.

We went up some steps & walked along the top of the rock – very uneven & craggy surface with a few boulders on top. Difficult to walk on. Time was creeping on & we didn’t want to go down the very steep incline at the other end so decided to walk back to the steps. By now it was 6.45pm & it gets dark at 7.30 so we zoomed off to get to the campsite at Karlgarin 21 kms away. We got there at dusk. The reception, amenities & kitchen all looked 5* & brand new. It was situated on a family wheat farm but the family had decided to sell up because of the adult sons had cancer. The farm had been in the same family for 95 years. The mother & other son were friendly & chatty when we checked in. $30 for 1 night per pitch with electric hook-up. They said they would show us round their museum of old gramophones & Arnotts biscuit tins in the morning. We didn’t take them up on their offer as sounded a bit boring. The son wore a Stetson hat & looked like a cowboy. We had cold roast chicken & salad for dinner.

Thursday 16 February Karlgarin - Kojonup

The population of Karlgarin was only 50. Whilst we were having breakfast sitting on a picnic bench outside the kitchen we chatted to the cleaning lady. She said that Hyden had been flooded a bit & people had got out their kayaks for a paddle – obviously an unusual occurrence in the outback. Apart from the cleaning job she also was the local postwoman. She told us that the wineries in the Swan valley in Perth were underwater & the vines were ruined. She & her husband had run the village shop & post office in Hyden but a willy willy (Aussie term for small tornado) had destroyed it & put them out of business. She also talked about yabbies (Aussie term for a type of crayfish) which she said were delicious.

As we left the campsite we saw some old rusted farm machinery and an old Ford car on the farm. Set off down country roads at 10.30am having liaised with the campsite lady about a route that avoided flooded roads. Along the road we saw many blue tongued skinks at the side of the road. Also saw a dead snake which we photographed (it was a light tan colour). The journey took us a long time & we passed small floods on either side of the road but the road was clear. We were still in the wheat belt – vast fields but saw no kangaroos. Saw a few budgies fly across the road in front of us.

We stopped for lunch at Dumbleyung, a small village with an interesting pub with a wrought iron balcony along the front (Victorian). Dumbleyung (sounds like something from Harry Potter books) is famous for Donald Campbell completing the world water speed record on the local lake in 1964 in his speedboat Bluebird. He had also set a land speed world record in Bluebird on Lake Eyre in South Australia. There was a replica of the Bluebird & information boards on the main street. Quite a claim to fame for such a small farming community.

We continued our journey through country roads & wheat farming areas to join the Albany Highway at Kojanup. Stayed at a very grotty campsite in town which was mainly permanent people staying in old clapped caravans & buses. The amenities were old fashioned & not very good at all – we were charged $30 for this dump. This was the same price as the lovely 5* site the night before. Chris & Allyson cooked ratatouille with bruschetta & I cut up a mango. We take it in turns to cook & the others wash up. Before it got dark we saw some green parakeets in the nearby trees.

Forgot to mention that the road leading to Kulin had tin sculptures of horses placed in the fields by creative farmers & their families. Very quirky. The road was re-named the Tin Horse Highway & is listed as a tourist attraction now. Some of the sculptures were quite humorous & had a sense of fun. Took some photos. Went to bed at 10.30pm (I had woken up at 6am) so very tired.

Friday 17 February Kojonup to Albany

We drove down the Albany Highway & stopped at Mount barker tourist information centre. This was a fairly large town with views of the Stirling Ranges. The guy in the tourist info was very helpful & suggested a tourist road to Porongurup National park where there was a walk to Castle Rock called the CR Skyway. This rock is a granite cliff with lots of huge boulders. There is a track through the bush up a steep hill & then you have to scramble over small boulders & then climb a metal ladder to get to the top to see the views. C & A did the whole thing but we gave up halfway up the steep path because of a) possible snakes b) K’s was in pain with his knee ( I kept hearing rustling in the bush next to the track which made me nervous). We decided to return to our motorhome for a rest. We got out our chairs & read our Kindles. When C & A returned we had an icecream as it was so hot today. They said that the last bit of the hike involved a difficult clamber over & up the boulders & they showed us their photos of the views.

We then continued on the tourist road which joined the main highway to Albany. We re-fueled on the outskirts, then went to Woollies for food supplies including fresh strawberries @ 60p a punnet – very cheap. Carried on driving down York Street (main shops) downhill to a replica sailing ship called the Amity on the grass in front of the bay. We walked the gangplank aboard & took some photos. A British ship with soldiers & convicts landed here in the Amity to start a new colony as it was a safe harbour for ships. Then we drove to Middleton Beach Big 4 campsite over the steep hill where there were stunning views of the ocean and rocky islands. K & C booked us in at reception but because it was Friday evening the campsite was packed. As we wanted to stay 2 nights we were allowed to share a large pitch with grass, concrete hard-standing plus a private bathroom with loo, shower & sink which we each had keys for. The walkway to the beach was right next to our pitch. There was also a lovely BBQ area for everyone to use with nice wooden table & chairs & stainless steel sink & worktops. C & A cooked barramundi fish on the BBQ with vegetables & white wine.

Saturday 18 February Middleton Beach

I did some laundry $5. Keef cooked bacon & egg butties on the BBQ for breakfast. Then we all went down to the beach for a couple of hours – very sunny but also windy. Keef & I went in the sea up to our waists but only within the shark netted area. When K & I had last been at Middleton Beach the authorities had closed the beach because of a shark attack on a man swimming early in the morning & they were trying to usher two Great White sharks out of the bay using boats. We never knew the end of the story apart from the fact that a woman surf life saver was kayaking and she saved the man. I found out from the lady on reception that the man who was a teacher had survived thanks to the woman who was very brave.

Due to the strong winds there was a lot of sea grass washed up on the beach. We had an icecream & sandwich back at our vans, then later in the afternoon we went for a swim in the campsite pool. Keef cooked pasta bolognese. Played Trivial Pursuit game borrowed from the campsite.

Sunday 19 February Albany to Northcliffe

Left campsite at 10.20am & took scenic road back to Albany. We stopped at the viewing point at the top of the hill to take photos of Middleton Beach & the bay. We had a quick walk around the old part of Albany near the tourist info centre (late Victorian buildings). Went to the under cover Sunday market (bricabrac). Bought a pack of cards. Drove along highway westwards & stopped for a break at Denmark, a small town with houses & a few shops along the road. The tourist info confirmed to me that there was a tarmac road out to Elephant Rocks.

Drove to Elephant Rocks (yes the granite rocks did look like elephants) & Green’s Pool nearby where many locals were swimming. Being a hot day and a Sunday there were lots of people there. Turquoise sea & blue sky. At Elephant Rocks some people were climbing onto the boulders from the sea. Someone told Allyson that a man had been washed off a boulder by a freak wave & was never seen again.

Drove along to Parry’s Beach where we had lunch on a picnic bench. Saw an old hippie guy in a convereted lorry which he had made into a camper van. Some of the locals in 4WD cars drove along the small beach but no surf today.

We stopped at the Valley of the Giants, a treetop walkway among the canopy of tingle trees 75m tall. Then we did the ground level boardwalk & were surprised to see a quokka on the path right in front of us. Took lots of photos of the quokka placidly chomping on some grasses – cute. Then we carried on towards Northcliffe. A large grey kangaroo hopped across the road in front of our motorhome – our first sighting of a roo on this trip Then saw about 6 roos in fields at the side of the road as it was nearing dusk when they come out to feed.

We stayed the night at the Round-to-it eco campsite $30 which was a couple of kms out of the small township. K & I remembered this campsite from 10 years ago as having wild roos visiting at dusk & early morning for food. The owner guy was quite terse & there were 2 roos in the clearing in front of his house (took photos). He said he fed the roos at 6.30am before he went to work. He was a carpenter working on a local new build home. Keef & I did tuna wraps, salad & corn on the cob.

Monday 20 February Northcliffe to Cowaramup

Got up at 6am & saw 2 kangaroos, including a joey in the mother’s pouch. The campsite owner came to feed the roos & 2 green parakeets also ate some of the food, which was muesli. The 3 kangaroos had been hand reared by him & had names. After breakfast we set off & stopped at Pemberton to get some bread & pies from a bakery. This small town had a few shops, a working tram track for tourists & some pretty roses & flowers. Then our sat nav system took us the wrong way out of town. Keef realised we were going the wrong way. Found a secondary road back to town – the detour took us past some nice rural scenery & a winery. Drove on to Augustas, a large town where we stopped for fuel. Visited a bottle-shop to look at wine prices prior to visiting the Margaret River wine region. Wine cost $23-24 – not cheap. Went through the town to Cape Leeuwin lighthouse in the national park. K & I had visited the lighthouse before but now you could not access the lighthouse & had to pay $20 to go through the visitors centre. We did not go in. Had pies & tea for lunch. Allyson saw a blue tongued skink in the bushes by the car park.

Went to Margaret River – very busy as the schools were out & the tourist info I went in was packed. I picked up a map which had 82 wineries listed. The town was basically one street of shops with some residential streets behind. Decided to visit the cellar door of Cape Mentelle winery as Allyson said a friend of hers knew it. We saw the vines were overloaded with red grapes. When we went in the woman behind the counter was ‘supercilious’ & walked off when I said we wanted to sample some wines. We did not like her attitude. She offered Allyson & I complimentary wines – a white wine, a Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was expensive but OK, I was not keen on the white wine. Allyson decided to buy the Shiraz which was very good. Keef asked about a photo on the wall of a man & the woman serving us said “that’s David of course”. We hadn’t a clue who David was so asked & apparently he was the original vineyard owner but he had sold out to a French wine company. The vineyard was started in 1994 & was one of the oldest wineries in Margaret River. One wine on sale cost $600. I noticed that they had not won any awards in Australia or abroad for their wine. The sales lady said they were closing at 5pm along with the majority of other cellar doors. She told us that Lenton Brae winery closed at 6pm.

We drove to Lenton Brae winery which was a few kms north of Margaret River. All of the wineries were situated quite close to the sea, which was surprising with strong salt-laden winds from the Indian Ocean. At this winery we rang the bell on reception desk & eventually an old lady appeared. She told us she had set up the vineyard with her husband, who had been an architect in Perth. He died a couple of years ago but her son operates the wine business now. Keef & I bought a Cabanet Merlot for $22 & the old lady was quite chatty but a little deaf. She then gave us a guided tour of the barrels & fermentation process. She asked us where we came from & when K & I said Nottingham she was amazed as her husband’s family had emigrated from Lenton, Nottingham. Their name was Tomlinson. We said we would photo the house in Nottingham & send it to her when we got back to England. It was now about 6.20pm & dusk was imminent so we drove to the Big 4 campsite at Cowaramup. This small town had a strange fixation with lifesize black & white cows which were everywhere. The campsite was next to a highway on a sheep & cattle farm. Had burgers for dinner.

Tuesday 21 February Cowaramup to Bunbury

Keef asked the campsite lady to phone & reserve 2 pitches for the Freemantle Big 4 campsite, which she said she would do (but later found out that she hadn’t). We called in at the Cheeky Monkey brewery nearby & bought some beers. Then we drove to Busselton & did the walk to the end of the famous extremely long pier. It was 2.9 miles return in very strong winds, but not cold. Did not see any sharks or dolphins – quite cloudy as well. There is a small train which takes tourists along the pier. We had lunch in the van & cup of tea. Drove on to a shopping mall on the outskirts of Bunbury & went to Coles for food supplies. We arrived at the Big $ campsite at Koombana Bay near Bunbury around 4.30pm. Had a mug of tea & then we all walked down to the beach to see if any dolphins were coming in to the bay. Stayed for 1¼ hours but disappointed as did not see one dolphin. Chris cooked sausages on the campsite BBQ. The camp kitchen looked brand new & was very clean. Quite a cold wind tonight. We received an email from Kacky to say that K’s mum had turned her car over on its side on Hook Road & firemen had to get her out through the boot. Luckily she was OK apart from a few cuts on her hand.

Wednesday 22 February Bunbury

We moved pitches on the site to get further way from the busy road. I did some laundry $4. We all went for a walk along a boardwalk above some mangrove swamps. It was at the back of the campsite & was part of a sea inlet/lagoon. There were information boards about the mangroves & the part they played in the coastal eco system. Saw a few little fish in the water but no crabs. Saw lovely tropical shrubs at the outer perimeter of the campsite. Walked along the path to get a better view of the lagoon & boats moored across the water. Chris & Allyson continued their walk & we returned to our van for a tea & apple for lunch. I took in the washing which was dry. Weather was warm & it got sunnier in the afternoon. Keef & I went & sat by the pool & read our Kindles. Keef swam 16 lengths in the pool. Chris & Allyson returned & said they had gone up a look-out tower & walked along the harbour front & saw a dolphin in the bay. Chris & Keef went for another swim. For dinner C & A did BBQ barramundi fish fillets with lemon, rice, green beans & carrots. Played cards – Rummy until 10pm. A warm evening compared to last night.

Thursday 23 Frebruary Bunbury to Freemantle

A hot day with bright blue sky.We set off along Highway 1 towards Freemantle & stopped at Mandurah by the Indian Ocean. It’s classed as a city & has lots of housing estates. Very dry grass along highway so obviously did not have the recent heavy rain that affected Perth. Noticed that there was a lot of urban growth along this coast south of Perth & there was a new railway line to Perth. Headed to the coast to visit Penguin Island which is a short ferry trip across. We paid $39 each for the ferry, a glass bottomed boat cruise & the Penguin Discovery centre on Penguin Island. The boat cruise had an informative commentary about dolphins. We saw seven dolphins by a reef as they were hunting fish. Then the boat took us to see huge Australian sealions basking on a beach of a nearby island. There was also a large pelican nesting site near the sealions. We sailed past 2 ospreys which were nesting on top of an island of craggy rock. The boat returned to the jetty on Penguin Island & we went along the jetty to the Penguin Discovery Centre. Penguins live & breed on this island (about 1200 of them) but during the day they are out at sea catching fish. We saw 10 penguins in a small man-made indoor pool & a park warden fed them small fish & gave a talk about them They were called Little Penguins (or Blue Penguins in New Zealand) & had all been injured at some point so were being cared for by the wardens. The penguins were about 12” tall & were very cute. After the 2.30pm penguin feeding which took 25 minutes we returned to the wooden jetty & caught the ferry back to the mainland.

Then we set off for the Big 4 campsite at Munster, about 10kms south of Freemantle. We passed a heavy industrial area & port on route. This campsite we had not been to before. Decided to get up early tomorrow to go to Rottnest Island.

Friday 24 February Rottnest Island

Drove into Freemantle docks & booked the 10am Rottnest Island boat trip. Keef & I wanted to do the coach trip again (in the past when we visited we had forgotten the memory card for the digital camera so could not take any photos) & C & A hired bikes for the island. Very very hot today. Rottnest Island is 18 kms/ 11 miles from Freemantle & the boat trip took 40 mins. Chris & Allyson got their hire bikes on the jetty + cycle helmets & they were aiming to cycle round the island on the tarmac roads. K & I bought pies from the bakery for lunch. We wandered around the town & looked at the history info boards & the gaol where 300 Aboriginal men were imprisoned in Victorian times. They had not committed any crime – they were rounded up and sent to the island & used for hard labour on the fields & salt pans. The prison housed 4 or 5 men per small cell. In effect this was a shocking & cruel form of ethnic cleansing to reduce the aboriginal population. In 1917 the gaol closed & those men remaining were sent to Freemantle prison. All very sad but the Aussies had now updated the cells & hired them out as tourist accommodation – we thought this was very insensitive & separate accommodation could have been set up for tourists by the WA state government/ Rottnest Island Authority who owned Rottnest. The island has about ½ million tourists a year.

Keef & I saw several quokkas, one of which had a baby in its pouch. They are very cute furry animals that look similar to wallabies. Early Dutch mariners sailing up the WA coast thought that these animals looked like giant rats, so called the island Rats Nest, which later became known as Rotts Nest. We had our pies for lunch on a picnic bench by a bay called The Basin. We walked back into the tiny town & went on the guided coach tour round the island for 90 mins. Very informative & we saw lots more quokkas including 2 cute baby ones out of the pouch, 2 ospreys, some dolphins near a reef, NZ fur seals in the distance in a rocky bay. Beautiful sandy bays & coves with azure seas. Really enjoyed the island tour & took loads of photos.

We had an iced coffee & icecream back at the shops. Met up with C & A who had no lunch & had run out of water on their cycle tour & there were no drinking water taps. Apart from the small town centre the rest of the island was uninhabited. We got the ferry boat back at 4.55pm which was quite full with people. At the campsite we had chicken salad for dinner. We were all very tired & it had been an extremely hot day.

Saturday 25 February Freemantle to Perth Our 39th wedding anniversary

Left Freemantle campsite – temperature was 40c today – headed back to Perth along Highway 1. Took both motorhomes back to Britz. Keef complained about the faulty electronic key fob which had never worked all through the van hire period. As we only had one key fob we had to access our motorhome by key through the driver’s door & we had to go round & lock all the doors separately which was a pain. Keef negotiated a day’s hire money (£108) to be returned as compensation which the manager agreed to reimburse. We also claimed back $9 for the battery inserted at the VW garage in Geraldton when we produced the receipt, although it was not the battery that was the problem. We also all got away with not refilling our gas cylinders & Chris & Allyson also got away with with a large dent to the back roof of their motorhome when they reversed into a large tree branch. Luckily the woman checking the condition of their van did not notice as they had parked it right up against a high wall.

After Britz we got a taxi into Perth & arrived before 2pm, but luckily were allowed into our rooms at the Royal Perth hotel, a heritage building. Had showers & then at 4pm we walked down to Elizabeth Quay – still very hot. We went to the Lucky Shag Bar for a drink but very noisy & lots of people out for Saturday night drinks so decided not to eat here again. Went to the restaurant upstairs , the Aqua Bar, which was quieter with seating outside on a flat roof. The food was lovely & was like tapas sharing platters. I had a Mai Tai cocktail, Allyson had wine & Chris & Keef had beers. A lovely meal for our 39th wedding anniversary. Walked back to our hotel in the evening. Keef & I packed a small bag to take into the cabin on the Indian Pacific train tomorrow.

Sunday 26 February Perth to Kalgoorlie on the Indian Pacific Railway

Got up at 6.30am & got a taxi at 7.45am to East Perth station. The train left at 10am, so we had plenty of time to look at the Indian Pacific train memorabilia & have complimentary coffee/tea/orange juice & small cakes whilst a musician played. Allyson & I chatted to the train driver (one of two drivers for the trip) who was up at the front of the train. There was a wagon with a full car transporter which had to be hooked up to the engine so the driver had to stop talking to us & assist with that. Took lots of photos & felt excited to be going from Perth to Adelaide on the Indian Pacific which would take 3 days/ 2 nights and crossing the Nullabor Plain & deserts.

Chris & Allyson & us had adjacent cabins near the front of the massively long train (carriage O, cabins 7 & 8). The cabins were very compact with a pull-out bed & bunk bed above with ladder, plus a small shower room with sink, mirror & toilet. The staff were all very friendly & helpful. We went to the Queen Adelaide dining car for lunch – all food & drinks were included in the ticket. The train went very slowly through the Perth suburbs & past Northam & Merredin which we had visited in the motorhomes.

Some time after Merredin and past Southern Cross (an outback town) the train stopped for about an hour. We heard on the internal PA announcement by train staff that a stowaway person had been spotted by a passing freight train & the driver had informed our driver who had then seen the man on the video surveillance cameras. The stowaway was seen moving in one of the cars on the vehicle transporter. The Indian Pacific staff radioed the police at Southern Cross & they took a while to get to the stationary train. The man was arrested and stupidly had no water or food with him in the car for the 3 day trip & with outside temperatures of 36c + he may not have survived.

We went to dinner in the dining car – we were travelling gold class. Red class was lower & Platinum was the top class. When we returned to the cabin the staff had made up the bunk beds & left some gifts for us as we had mentioned that it was our 39th wedding anniversary yesterday. I got a blue pashmina scarf & Keef got a cap plus a nice note from the staff. There was a free coach trip at 9pm round Kalgoorlie & to see the gold mine (the Super Pit) which we had all signed up to do that evening. However because the stowaway had caused a delay to our journey we did not get off the train onto the coaches until 10.30pm.The temperature had been 30c at 9.15pm and it was very dark. The coaches went to the Super Pit but did not get any idea of the scale of the gold mine as it was pitch black with lorry headlights moving in the bottom of the giant pit. Luckily Keef & I had seen it before in the daytime on a previous trip to Australia. We drove round the town & there was nobody around. The coaches all dropped everybody off at the gold museum where we saw a short 15 minute play about Paddy Hannan. He was an Irish prospector who first found gold nuggets on the ground in 1893. A woman was also in the play – we did not think it was very good. Back in our coach we did not think the driver’s commentary was very good either – he kept pausing mid-sentence (his day job was prison officer). We were very tired and after the two hour excursion we re-boarded the train and went to bed.

Monday 27 February Indian Pacific Railway

I was still awake when the train finally left Kalgoorlie station at 1.20am & picked up speed. The delay in leaving was probably due to goods trains having priority on the line. The train lurched violently from side to side so much that I found it difficult to get to sleep on the top bunk. I climbed down the ladder, Keef woke up and kindly offered to swap bunks. Eventually got to sleep. We were woken up at 5.30am by train staff knocking on our door. We had all wanted to do the early breakfast outdoors at 6.15 at Rawlinna station. This was a scheduled stop on the Nullabor Plain halfway between Perth & Adelaide. Not all the passengers wanted to be woken so early for breakfast. The temperature was 20c at 6.15 bright sunshine with a bright blue sky. This place was a lonely outpost on the railway track, with tiny station, post office plus a sheep station which covered 2.5 million acres with 70,000 sheep.

When we climbed down the train steps it was some distance to the station where breakfast was being served. We all sat on benches by lots of long wooden tables & ate sausage, quiche, large mushroom, tomato plus tea & coffee. We saw a local ute & Aussie famers come to the station to pick up their post & parcels. When we re-boarded the train the staff said on the intercom that there was a ‘creature’ on the track at the front of the train – probably a snake. We weren’t allowed to walk anywhere at all apart from the cinder track by the train to the station platform.

Today we’re spending the whole day on the train crossing the Nullabor. We had lunch in the Queen Adelaide restaurant car with pre-dinner drinks & some nice wine with our meal. I had an hours sleep in our cabin as I was knackered. Then we spent the time gazing out the window and listening to music on the cabin radio. Keef thought he saw a snake at the side of the track.

At 3pm the train made a scheduled brief stop at Cook on the Nullabor. It was a god-forsaken place in the middle of nowhere. It was named after an Aussie Prime Minister not Captain Cook. It was 38c and after the air con on the train it was like walking into a hot oven. We had 30 mins stop here as the train had to re-fuel, take on more water (arterial bore) and change drivers. There were lots of flies so had to continually swat them away from our faces or they crawled into our mouth, ears & noses. We were told before disembarking that we were not to walk into the desert but to strictly keep to the paved paths towards a few abandoned buildings.

There was once a small community living there but now the population is 4. Their job is to help with re-fuelling the train. They live in a typical Aussie house – bungalow with corrugated iron roof & a small garden with picket fence. The soil was very red and dusty with a few trees around. We were told not to enter the abandoned buildings as it was too dangerous as snakes were very active at this time. Luckily saw no snakes or other animals/ reptiles thank goodness. I was very careful to watch where I was walking!! We all took photos & reboarded the train before the 30 mins were up as we felt we did not want to linger in this dangerous & desolate place.

Glad to get back to our air con cabin. Crossing the Nullabor we only saw a few cattle but no kangaroos or camels. A lot of the mammals are asleep during the day and only feed at dawn & dusk. Later in the afternoon the landscape suddenly changed from the flat desert where you could see for miles to rocky & sandy gorges with large bushes & trees and there was a dirt track alongside the railway line. This is probably so that maintenance men could drive along to check the condition of the track. We could see that once heavy rain had scored deep gullies in the red sandy soil but were dry as a bone now. We wondered if the lack of kangaroos was due to the fact that they were being killed for the pet food industry. Had dinner & had a game of cards in the bar area. Very tired.

Tuesday 28 February Adelaide

At 5.30am (pitch black outside) we were woken by a man on the intercom saying we were arriving in Adelaide at 7.25am & a snack breakfast of drinks & Danish pastries was being served in the restaurant. Had showers & then breakfast as dawn broke. After the train arrived in Adelaide we collected our luggage & thanked our train crew who had been excellent – they had been so friendly & had really looked after us. It was quite an experience on this famous rail journey.

We waited until 8.30am for a taxi & took all the bags to the Adelaide Shores Big 4 campsite. Chris & Allyson took their rucksacks with them as they wanted to see the city to look around. Keef & I had already spent 4 days in Adelaide on a previous trip so decided to go straight to the campsite. We arrived at 8.50am & luckily our deluxe chalet was ready for us to stay. It had 2 bedrooms, bathroom, open plan kitchen, dining & lounge plus an outside table & benches. The large fridge had milk provided together with tea & coffee. The campsite reception had kindly provided a golf buggy to help transport all the heavy bags to the chalet. K & I went for a paddle in the sea as it was a boiling hot day. Adelaide Shores has a beautiful white sandy beach & large sand dunes. Hardly anyone on the beach. We spent the rest of the time in & around the large camp swimming pool. K & I had lunch in the campsite café, then icecreams & iced coffees. Felt very tired after getting up at 5.30am so we had our showers & had a nap.

Chris & Allyson arrived at the chalet having done a lot of sightseeing in the city and had got a bus to Glenelg. They brought back a bag of fresh figs from a market in Adelaide which we decided to have at breakfast. C & A had showers & later we all went to the campsite café for dinner. Barramundi/ chicken burger/ fish & chips.

1st-31st March

Alice Springs, Northern Territories, Australia

Wednesday 1 March Adelaide to Alice Springs

Had the fresh figs for breakfast which were delicious. Another hot sunny day. The campsite staff drove the golf buggy with all our bags to reception and from there we got a taxi to Adelaide airport. Keef & I didn’t recognise it (we had flown from Alice to Adelaide 10 years ago) so it had obviously had a bit of an architectural make-over. Our flight to Alice Springs left at 10.40am & we had to change our watches as Northern territory daylight saving time was one hour behind Adelaide time. At Alice airport we got the Alice Wanderer shuttle taxi service to take us to our motel – Elkira Motel. We walked around the town & it was very hot at midday. Saw the Residency house & garden which was open to the public. The Queen & Price Phillip had stayed there in the 1960’s for 2 days & he had got food poisoning. Charles & Diana had also visited Alice & stayed there on a later date. Next to the Residency there was a new Northern Territory Supreme Court building almost finished. Walked through Todd Mall & went into tourist info. Keef & I enquired about about the shuttle bus taking tourists to all the best sites in & around Alice but unfortunately it had ceased running. Also the man who used to do the free didgereedo lessons had gone bust & was now a bus driver (we had bought our didgereedo from him 10 years ago). The tourist info staff recommended us to visit the Desert Park a few kms outside Alice so we decided to do this the next day.

We visited an art gallery which exhibited Aboriginal art works – dot paintings. An Aboriginal lady called Margaret was sat on a cushion on the floor concentrating on her dot painting. When we tried to talk to her she was not communicative. The gallery owners probably make a handsome profit from these paintings. We walked on to the Royal Flying Doctor Service museum at 4pm. We had missed the film presentation so instead looked at the museum which was very interesting. Went back to the motel & K & I swam in the pool & then had showers. We all went to the Red Ochre Grill restaurant in Todd Mall for our evening meal.

Thursday 2 March Alice Springs

Had motel buffet breakfast which was very good. Keef had the full English breakfast which was huge. Then we got a taxi to Desert Park ( a wildlife park in the desert outside Alice). I was not feeling well, weak & occasionally light-headed with a cough & swollen glands in my neck – a virus probably picked up on the plane. Hope none of the others catch the bug. C & A kindly gave me some tablets which I took.

When we arrived at the park we had to hurry at top speed to catch the wild birds in flight demonstration in the amphitheatre which was just about to start. The ranger gave an excellent talk about desert birds & the setting was spectacular with the MacDonnell Ranges as a backdrop. We saw owls & kites fly low over our heads & wedgetailed eagles flying at speed towards the amphitheatre. The temperature was 37c according to one of the park wardens & it got even hotter in the afternoon.

We saw animals such as roos & emus & watched an informative presentation about Aboriginal bush tucker by a female Aboriginal park warden who showed us food , wooden tools, weapons & bowls. It was very interesting to hear how the women gathered berries, bush fruits, plus seeds & grasses to make damper (a flat bread) whilst the men’s role was to hunt game. She said that witchety grubs tasted like runny egg yolk & were nutritious. They had to bite the heads off the grubs which were found in dead tree branches or tree trunks. The grubs were about 2½ - 3 inches long & ¾” wide. Luckily she only had a plastic one to show us which did look quite realistic.

We walked into two bird aviaries to see more desert birds, including a large black cockatoo. Then we went to the nocturnal house where an Aboriginal guide told us about the exhibits – small mammals such as the bilby, desert rat, numbat, plus snakes & lizards. He said that the small & thin Death Adder snake is so toxic if it bites you that you only have 40 mins before you die. Thinking back to us walking around Cook on the Nullabor it was no wonder that the train staff did not want any snakebite victims. Most of the roos were asleep & lying down so we couldn’t see them properly. Did not have any lunch but drank a lot of water. At the end of the afternoon at 3pm we watched a 20 min film about the desert in the cinema. We all enjoyed the Desert Park. Got a taxi back to our motel. Had a shower then I went to bed & slept for 3 hours. In the evening we all walked into town to a pizza restaurant. I ate hardly anything as still unwell. I don’t know how I managed to walk around in the desert heat all day. Went to bed & slept for 10 hours!!!

Friday 3 March Alice Springs to Adelaide

We ate breakfast in the motel again then caught the shuttle transport back to the airport via various hotels & backpacker hostels to pick up other tourists. The Qantas flight went over the desert & some massive salt lakes – no habitation visible at all from the plane apart from dirt road tracks. When we got to Adelaide we collected our large bags from the left luggage lockers & got a taxi to our motel – The Atlantic Towers in Glenelg, a suburb of Adelaide by the coast with very fine white sandy beaches. This motel was a tall round tower & even our rooms had curved walls. The rooms were very modern & spacious with an excellent bathroom. We all went for an evening stroll & had some drinks at an oyster bar. As it was Friday evening the restaurants & bars in Glenelg were packed. Walked past the marina & more restaurants. There were some very large expensive boats in the marina & designer apartments with sea views. Saw the Glenelg pier, tram & clock tower & then walked back. We decided to have dinner at an Aussie Outback bar/restaurant where we managed to get a free table. I could barely manage my meal (chicken salad) and had to rush to the loo with severe diarrhoea. Walked back to the motel & I took some tummy tablets which sorted me out. Had no idea what caused the bug as no one else was ill.

Saturday 4 March Adelaide to Tanunda, Barossa Valley

Got taxi from our motel to Britz Motorhomes in Adelaide to pick up our two vans. We were there 1½ hours waiting for our van to be serviced as the previous hirer had brought the van back a day later than scheduled. Eventually we got it sorted & then we all went to Coles to do some food shopping. We then headed north towards the Barossa Valley (famous wine growing area). We went through some flat uninspiring marshes after the Adelaide suburbs & joined a highway north east of Adelaide. Eventually we came to rolling hills with vineyards, although no grapes were visible. The Aussies call the vineyards “wineries”.

After 73kms we reached Tanunda, a town in the heart of the Barossa. We went into the tourist info centre to pick up some wine maps & decided to visit a few tomorrow. At 4pm we went to a campsite on the edge of the town called Discovery Parks Tanunda. It was packed out with families staying for the weekend, but luckily we got two pitches next to each other. Allyson & I did some laundry. Keef was feeling unwell (probably the same virus that I had) & it took a while for the aircon in the van to work properly. It was 36c inside the van & we sweated trying to unpack our bags & get everything sorted. Chris & Allyson walked back into town (K & I had walked round Tanundra 10 yrs ago). Keef felt ill so we made up the bed at 4.30 & he went to sleep. He woke briefly & then he changed into his PJs & went back to bed at 7.45pm & slept through the night. .Keef had no lunch or dinner today.

Rather worrying - there were notices on the toilet blocks & laundry that snakes had been spotted in the campsite area – yet there were little children running around & on bikes. I ate with Chris & Allyson who did some salad with the roast chicken we’d bought at Coles. I went to bed at 9.30pm. Quite cold in the early hours, so was glad of the duvet provided with the van.

Sunday 5 March Tanunda & Barossa to Hahndorf

Sunny warm day. Brought in washing from lines whilst nervously scanning the ground for snakes. Keef is feeling much better today. After breakfast we did part of the Barossa wine trail and then visited the Wolf Blass winery in Stockwell, just north of Tanunda. Mr W Blass is aged 82 (originally from Germany) & is the most celebrated winemaker in Australia, winning hundreds of awards, both in Australia & internationally. His career started in 1966 when he first set up his own vineyard & prior to that he had assisted other wineries by passing on his wine knowledge.

We had several tastings including the gold & platinum labels. I liked the Gold Label wine the best. The lady who served us for the tastings was a Kiwi from Wellington & was very chatty & knowledgable about wines. She had worked there for a long time & said that Mr Blass lived in Adelaide but made about 4 trips a year to his winery for promotional purposes. All his awards, glass & silver platters, cups, trophies, medals & certificates were displayed in glass cases – certainly a prestigious career & his wine is superb.

We then drove to Angaston, a small town in the Barossa with heritage buildings & lots of roses in bloom. Bought some bread & pies from the local bakery. Had the pies for lunch. We drove along the scenic route to Mengel Hill Lookout which gave a panoramic view of the Barossa Valley below us. There was a sculpture park there as well which Keef & Allyson went to see. I overheard a local man telling some Japanese tourists that a bushfire had raged through some of the wheat/corn fields but luckily the wind had changed & Angaston & the vineyards were saved. Growing vines is a high risk business & decades of work on the vines could wipe them out & bankrupt the owners.

Then we headed down Mengel Hill & through Bethany to Rowland Flat where Jacob’s Creek is situated. This is the oldest vineyard in the Barossa – established in 1847 & wine was produced commercially. The visitor centre at Jacob’s Creek told the story of the German family who had emigrated to start a new life & information about the early days of its history. The creek was dried up. Keef & I had visited Wolf Blass & Jacob’s Creek 10 years ago & the creek was dried up then. Chris, Allyson & Keef had small tastings of the wines & Keef was obviously feeling much better after yesterday. I didn’t want to try any – felt too sleepy in the hot afternoon.

We drove to Hahndorf through the countryside – very rural farming community. Before we reached the town we were held up by a road accident. A ute had crashed into some trees & was being put on a tow-truck. We arrived in the Big 4 campsite at the edge of town at 5.45pm. This campsite was brand new & was built on the side of a steep hill, with staggered levels & roads. Allyson & Chris used the camp kitchen to cook fish, rice & veggies for dinner. Chatted to some friendly German tourists. A nice campsite.

Monday 6 March Hahndorf to Milang (on Fleurieu Peninsula)

Very overcast today & some drizzle overnight. The hills look covered in mist. Chilly so I wore a cardigan for the first time on this trip. After breakfast we drove into Hahndorf, a German village established c 1843. Some of the buildings were original & very small. Now all the houses have shops inside selling touristy rubbish. However, you could look beyond this to see what the place looked like in the past with German immigrants trying to make a life for themselves. Some of the buildings had original photos displayed outside including the people who ran businesses such as blacksmith, pub, grocery store etc. People love to flock here at weekends to sample the wineries, shop in the village & eat in the numerous cafes & restaurants down the main street.

Leaving Hahndorf, we headed to McLaren Vale to visit Hardy winery. It had a very interesting visitor centre telling the story of Thomad hardy, a grocer aged 20 from Devon, who emigrated & paid his own fare to South Australia. He made his way to the goldfields in Victoria & instead of prospecting he shrewdly decided to make his money by butchering meat & selling it to the miners. With the proceeds, he then bought some land in McLaren Vale & decided to plant grapevines. Now Hardys has a 6th generation running the business.

Continued our journey to a place called Meadows where we had lunch (sandwiches). Then on to Strathalbyn, a heritage town with some quaint old buildings. We stopped at Langhorne Creek so the Langthornes could take some photos. A short drive south took us to Milang & a campsite that Keef & I knew. When we arrived there were hundreds of white cockatoos circling above & settling in trees on the campsite making quite a racket. They were Corellas, a small cockatoo with pale lemon feathers under their wings.

Keef cooked chicken pieces, onions & peppers on the camp BBQ & I did the jacket spuds in the microwave + broccoli & carrots on the hob in the van. I prepared a big bowl of fresh fruit salad. The grass pitches we were parked on had lovely vies of Lake Alexandrina, a large salty lake where the River Murray flows into it. There is a peninsula which is the Coorong National Park but this does not block out the sea water. I tried to offer the Corellas a piece of apple but they were not used to humans. Had some NZ wine called Clean Skin from Marlborough – a white Savignon Blanc – very light & refreshing. C & A washed up & then we all had a game of cards. Went to bed at 10.30 pm – too tired to read my Kindle. My virus has now turned into a runny nose!

Tuesday 7 March Milang to Robe

Left campsite & I bought bread & milk in a local store. Milang was the most important inland port in South Australia in the old days & had a railway line – now all gone. Drove along flat salt marshes & salt lakes to Wellington & got the free car ferry across the Murray River. Went down the Princes Highway 1 to Meningie, a non-descript tiny town. Along the shore at Lake Albert there were information boards with photos & info on the town & its past history. Had lunch in a lay-by – chicken pieces & salad leftovers from last night = cup of tea. Further along the road there were kangaroo signs, but they would be resting during the day.

We stopped at Kingston SE an area of Rosetown, on the Southern Ocean, the town with a massive lobster made out of plastic or fibreglass. Photo opportunity taken by the lobster. Along the seafront was the old Cape Jaffa lighthouse & a long green space with tall Norfolk pines – lovely views of the ocean & we could see the curvature of the Earth.

Drove on to Robe Big 4 campsite. Arrived at 6pm & it shut at 5.30. Managed to contact them by phone & got 2 pitches for a night. Keef & I did tuna mayo wraps for dinner + melon & grapes.

Wednesday 8 March Robe to Mount Gambier

After breakfast we visited the beach by the campsite. The beach was 9 miles long with beautiful fine sand & blue sea. Temperature today 35c. Chatted to an Aussie lady on the beach. We drove into town & went for a walk (4 miles) in 35c heat. Sun was very intense. I was the only one to take a bottle of water – mad dogs & Englishmen etc!! Saw a statue of Matthew Flinders who named some small islands off the coast Baudin Rocks. Back in the 1850s lots of Chinese arrived at Robe & then travelled 200 kms by road to the goldfields. We saw a stingray in the marina & Keef took a photo. The marina looked brand new & a lot of the large homes were empty (obviously holiday homes as all the blinds were down at the windows).

After Robe we drove through vast wheatfields to Millicent where we had a short break from driving. Keef & I saw a small tornado about 1 foot across churn up some dust & move across the road near us. Moved on to Mount Gambier, a large town (Aussies call it a city) built around an extinct volcano. The crater has several vivid blue lakes which is a major tourist attraction. We shopped at Coles & stayed at the Big 4 campsite. Chris & Allyson did burgers & salad & I cut up some rock melon. We were trying to use up all our fruit & vegetables before we cross the border into Victoria due to the quarantine regulations (mainly to prevent fruit fly & other pests damaging crops).

My cough & cold are easing now – had this virus since we were in Alice Springs. Have not been 100% at all since then & my coughing at night kept waking me up.

Thursday 9 March Mount Gambier to Portland, Victoria

Very hot today again. We drove to the viewpoint over the Blue Lake which is at the bottom of the volcanic crater. The water looked like blue glass with a thin edging of turquoise – very calming & spectacular views. C & A did a walk for an hour along a trail which followed the rim of the Valley Lake. The middle lake called Leg of Mutton Lake does not have any water in it. We stopped at Valley Lake – swimming is forbidden due to bacteria & algae in the water. Lots of moorhen type birds with red heads, blue feathers on chests, black backs & VERY big feet! Chris & Allyson met up with us in the car park & Allyson briefly went into the nature park by the lake whilst the rest of us waited outside the fence.

We all drove into Mount Gambier, parked up & walked to a large sink hole & cave just behind the Town Hall, which we’d read about in the tourist info. There were a few shrubs, plants & a red flowering tree along the path & steps down the MASSIVE 50 METRE deep hole in the ground. We could see the dark mouth of a cave further down – took lots of photos. This sink hole was situated right next to a busy street, a bank & the town hall – never seen anything like this before.

We went into the tourist info centre & in the small theatre we saw a free one hour film about the volcano erupting thousands of years ago & subsidiary explosions with the force of an atom bomb caused by the build up of water pressure underground. The film was very detailed with excellent photography & it showed the fault line where the two tectonic plates had rubbed together. There had been two earthquakes in Mount Gambier & the last one was in the 1940s.

After Mount Gambier we drove to Northumberland Point further along the highway. This was on the coast with a lovely sandy beach & azure sea. Had lunch in the bright sunshine on a picnic bench – egg mayo cobs & mug of tea. However, this was spoilt by the overpowering smell of sewage as we drove further along the road past houses. It must have been discharged down an outlet on the beach – not nice & good job we didn’t go for a paddle after lunch. Most of the houses were shut up – holiday homes- so like a ghost town.

After we had crossed the state border into Victoria & on the outskirts of Portland, the next town, we were surprised to see a lone adult koala crossing the road directly in front of us!! We had to brake in order to not run him over. I took a photo of him – gorgeous cuddly!! We stopped for fuel ($1.24 litre for diesel) & drove into the town. It’s a port with container ships but did not look that busy. We spied out a fish & chip shop on the seafront for later & then found a campsite. When we returned later at 8pm the fish shop had closed so instead we went to a restaurant further along the seafront & had barramundi, chips & salad. Back at the campsite we had a game of cards.

Friday 10 March Portland- Warrnambool

Sunny & hot again. After breakfast we drove to Cape Bridgwater to see the blowhole, petrified forest & seal colony. The blowhole was not very spectacular – more like a wave crashing against the rocks. We had to take a wooden boardwalk down to the viewing area & were attacked by annoying biting flies, especially as we were wearing shorts. The petrified forest was a misnomer – it was limestone rock eroded by sea water & then eroded by wind to form weird vertical tube-like shapes which were several metres tall. We saw no seals or other marine life. On the return journey we found the seal colony car park and found that to walk to it along the headland took 3 hours. We didn’t have time was we had food to buy & we were aiming to get to start the Great Ocean Road scenic route along the coast the next day.

We returned to Portland & did a big food shop at Aldi (did not know that Aldi supermarkets were in Australia). When we left Portland, unbeknownst to us all at the time we got speeding fines from a camera which clocked us doing 6mph over the limit & this fine ($197 = £106) was posted to our home address in England as Britz had given the police our address. As our post was being re-directed to Craig & Leanne’s house they got the fine a couple of weeks later & e-mailed us about it. Obviously we had to pay the fine to the Victorian police.

Drove to Port Fairy – a lovely little town on a river with a heritage wharf with small yachts & motor launches moored. Some of the old wooden houses looked fab with beautiful cottage gardens, white picket fences & wooden verandahs with wrought-iron work. Thought it looked a bit like New England – very pretty. Stopped at a bakery for a late lunch with seating outside & bought pies & cake. The chicken & leek pie was the worst pie I had ever had – it was mainly a glutinous white sauce. The town was busy as a 3 day folk festival was about to start with thousands of people expected. The tickets were more expensive than the Glastonbury festival. There was an afternoon concert for children with musicians singing silly songs. We couldn’t stay in the Big 4 campsite here as it was fully booked, so we decided to drive on to Warrnambool & look for a campsite near there, although we knew there wasn’t a Big 4 there.

At Warrnambool we called in at the tourist info & the helpful lady there found us the last 2 available pitches at a Top Tourist campsite in town. We stayed one night & they both had en-suite loos/showers etc on the pitches. We got 10% off & the site was packed. Keef cooked pork & vegetables in a Japanese sauce with rice & I did some papaya & passionfruit for dessert. There were still people arriving with trailer tents in the dark – lots of families with kids as it was a Bank Holiday weekend in Victoria – Labor Day.

Saturday 11 March Warrnambool &, Great Ocean Road to Princeton

Cool but & sunny today. Set off along the Great Ocean Road, one of the top scenic coastal drives in the world and visited all the places of interest & viewpoints. This was the 3rd time Keef & I have visited. The Bay of Islands & Bay of Martyrs were spectacular rock formations along the coast. At The Grotto further along the route we saw an echidna waddling along a grassy bank next to the steps leading to the grotto. Took lots of photos. Saw a thin (pencil) black snake on the same bank.

By midday the weather had warmed up & it became hot & sunny. At one of the viewpoints & spotted a creature in the grass next to the path & took a photo – it looked a bit like a rodent. It got very busy at Loch Ard Gorge as there were lots of coaches. Also very busy at the 12 Apostles – now there are only 6 rock stacks left as the rest have fallen into the sea with erosion. The visitors centre no longer has info on the rock stacks & erosion (2 cms of coast eroded a year) as it’s now a kiosk selling snacks & drinks. There were lots of signs warning about venomous snakes around the car park. It started to drizzle with rain as we left the 12 Apostles.

At the end of the day we stopped at a campground in Princeton which was reached down a very short dirt road & a bridge over the Giltbrook River. The campsite was a council owned recreational ground & was only $20 a night but had no electric hook-up. We parked next to some tents. It was raining by now, but overnight it became torrential. Keef & I slept well with the rain drumming on the roof.

Sunday 12 March Great Ocean Road to Geelong

Awoke to see ponds had formed near our van. Some of the tents had leaked & the occupoants had spent the night in their cars. Left Princeton & drove down a secondary road to Cape Otway, through the Great Otway National Park – 11 kms. We looked out for koalas but did not see any. Near the Cape there were a lot of dead trees with no leaves. There was a charge of $19.50 (£11.70) each to visit the lighthouse which was set back from the entrance so you could not even see it from a distance. Being a Bank Holiday weekend the car park was jammed & Keef & I did not think it was worth the money to see the 1856 lighthouse. We’d been inside the similar aged lighthouse on Rottnest Island which was free to visitors. Chris & Allyson decided to do it so we agreed to meet up later in Apollo Bay further along the GOR. Keef & I returned along the road & kewpt stopping in lay-bys to look for koalas but saw none.

Apollo Bay had changed considerably since we were last there in 2008 & not for the better in our opinion. Now so touristy & full of coaches, fast food joints & not attractive. Keef & I went into the tourist info centre & asked the lady if the Kennett River campsite was still operational & she confirmed it was. We then went to a supermarket to buy milk & bread & had lunch in our van. C & A used their walkie –talkie to say they were in Apollo Bay & we met up. They stayed in Apollo Bay to get some lunch & we went on to Kennett River & unfortunately found the campsite was full. While we were waiting for them to arrive by the campsite Keef & I saw some koalas in the gum trees & took some photos. One was asleep & the other was higher up eating leaves.

Chris & Allyson arrived & were excited to see some koalas. A man alerted us to some other trees where a koala was eating leaves & moving around lower down the branches. At one point I thought he was going to fall but their claws are very sharp to help them cling on. Took lots of photos & video. Love those koalas – they are so adorable. Lucky to see 3 koalas at Kennett River. We carried on along the Great Ocean Road to look for another campsite & it was so busy everywhere. Gorgeous views of the blue-turquoise Southern Ocean with cliffs & waves crashing on beaches.

After the town of Lorne (like Oxford Street at sale time) we decided to turn inland as it was so busy & we knew we’d never get a pitch at any campsite along the rest of the route judging by the packed sites around the Lorne area. We drove over the Otway Ranges & I saw another koala asleep in a tree branch above the road. Eventually the National Park ran out & we came to hills with fields & farms. We tried at Winchelsea to find a campsite but no luck – we were advised to go along the Princes Highway 1 towards Geelong & stay at a service station area for the night. It was free & had some toilets. Keef & I did tuna & salad wraps & papaya for dinner. Tomorrow we head into Melbourne.

Monday 13 March (Bank Holiday Monday) Mount Macedon & Hanging Rock to Melbourne

Another hot & sunny day. Set off north of Geelong to Mount Macedon on the Great Dividing Range. Lots of open bush as it was a national park & therefore very susceptible to bushfires. Drove through the town & on to Hanging Rock. Now you have to pay for car parking so we had to get a day ticket $10 as there was a barrier across the entrance. Keef & I went to the visitor centre again (we last climbed the Rock in 2008) & read about the book & film ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’. It was the remains of a volcanic caldera that once erupted a long time ago. Chris & Allyson followed the path to the top & they said it was busy as it was the Bank Holiday. We said we would do the picnic when they returned.

Keef & I read our Kindles in the field where our vans & other cars were parked. We got quite a surprise when a large grey kangaroo suddenly bounced between the two motorhomes. It saw us sitting in our picnic chairs, skidded on the gravel edge of the car park road right next to us & then did a U-turn & hurriedly jumped back past our van when I exclaimed Oh! The roo had obviously panicked when he saw us. We knew there were kangaroos in the park as there were notices but we certainly didn’t expect to see one so close in a field with lots of vehicles parked round the edge. It’s strange how you come across wildlife when you least expect it, like the koala walking across the road.

After Hanging Rock we headed south to the Big 4 campsite at Coburg, North Melbourne. We booked two nights at this campsite so we could visit Melbourne tomorrow. We could not get two pitches next to one another though. I did two loads of washing & hung it between the van & a tree & some of it was dry by the evening.

Tuesday 14 March Melbourne

Walked through Coburg residential area to get the tram into the city centre. A very hot day 32-33c especially as we were doing a lot of walking. Did not like the graffiti on walls, houses, shops, flats & anything that was stationary – looked tacky & unkempt. We saw Federation Square, then walked along the River Yarra to the 1950s Olympic Park, entertainment stadiums, tennis centre where the Australian Open is held, & the cricket ground. Next week-end is the Oz Grand Prix motor racing round Melbourne. Had a rest & drink to cool off in the café at the cricket ground. Allyson & Keef, who were ardent cricket fans, took lots of photos of statues of famous cricketers including one of Shane Warne complete with mullet hairstyle. A security lady was doing bag searches on everyone who went inside the building.

We caught the tram from the cricket ground back to the city centre & then took the old style tram which is free around the central route. We got off at the Greek Quarter expecting to have a late lunch there. Unfortunately it had virtually disappeared as there were only two restaurants left and they were closed. The tram commentary said that Melbourne had the highest concentration of Greeks in the world after Athens.

Instead we went into a Greek cake shop & had drinks, savoury filo pastries & baklava, which were tasty. Then we decided that as it was after 4pm it was not worth tramping the streets in the heat until the restaurants opened in the evening, so walked back towards Collins Street & the tram back to Coburg. On route we stopped at a pub for some cold drinks. I had pear cider and the others had beer. The pub was called James Squire who was a convict sent to Sydney with the first fleet for robbery. He set up a brewery with some hops & became a successful brewer in Parramatta. We returned on the tram in rush hour but Keef was offered a seat because he had a walking stick with him. Then a long walk back to the campsite – in all we walked 6½ miles today in the heat !! We were very tired. Did a snack supper of tea & cheese & biscuits & apple in our van as it was too dark to sit outside. Had a lovely cool shower- bliss!

Wednesday 15 March Melbourne to Gippsland & Traralgon

Left Big 4 campsite & got fuel then the sat nav took us through the outskirts of Melbourne which took about an hour- a big city. Headed down the Mornington Peninsula from St Kilda (lots of tall palm tree, a funfair, beach & beautiful homes) which had a bit of a Miami vibe. We did some food shopping at Woolies in Frankston & Chris bought some more toilet blue liquid stuff at Bunnings $17.50 as our supply had run out.

We ate lunch at Mornington on a picnic table & the seagulls were pestering us as we ate our roast chicken rolls. Looked at the map & decided that if we wanted to spend 2 days at Lakes Entrance then we needed to get a move on as it was 3 o’clock & we were still on the Mornington Peninsula. Decided to cut across country inland to a Big 4 campsite just off the Princes Highway at Traralgon. This was a brand new campsite $32.40 with a swim pool & excellent camp kitchen. Had burgers, potato salad, Greek salad & strawberries & nectarines.

By now it was dark. I chatted to a woman from Scotland who had lived 37 years in perth & never been to Rottnest Island or Monkey Mia! Played cards.

Thursday 16 March Traralgon to Lakes Entrance

Keef did a bacon & egg cob for breakfast in the new camp kitchen. Drove along the Princes Highway to Sale, which used to be a busy Victorian inland port. Cargo & people used to arrive by boat through Lakes Entrance & there was also a railway line which went all the way to Melbourne. My ancestor Edwin Masters was a ship’s captain on the Emeo which carried wood & coal from Lakes Entrance to Sale in Victorian times. He lived at Lakes Entrance & died in1921. I only discovered this in my family tree research after Keef & I had already visited Sale & L/E in 2008.

Saw some sulphur crested cockatoos in a tree at Sale harbour. Drove to Lakes Entrance & went to the lookout to see the sea lakes & isthmus & further down the hill we saw the entrance channel to the three lakes. We were hoping to stay at the 4* Big 4 in Lakes Entrance for two nights. It had 3 swimming pools but unfortunately it was full. We ended up in a Tops Park in the town which was small & cramped but at least they had two pitches next to each other. We decided to stay 1 night rather than 2. We walked along the foreshore & across a pedestrian bridge & saw some black swans.

We crossed over the narrow sandy isthmus to the beach which was called 90 Mile Beach. Another ancestor of mine, Capt Alfred Masters who was a brother of Edwin, & had been a master mariner in the Merchant Navy in England, drowned off this beach in 1892 when his schooner carrying cargo sprang a leak & he couldn’t swim to shore. Captain Masters was only 33 & engaged to be married. The bush along the coast was not a good place to walk through due to venomous snakes & paralysis ticks.

The weather was turning very windy & cool so Keef & I walked back to the motorhome whilst Chris & Allyson walked 6kms along the isthmus track. They said that there were signs warning people about snakes so good job I didn’t go. Keef & I used the camp kitchen (which was very good) & did chicken, jacket potatoes, carrots, beans & onions.

Friday 17 March Lakes Entrance to Mallacoota

Another day of warm weather but not as hot as previous days. We stopped four times on the journey mainly travelling along the Princes Highway. We stopped briefly in Orbost to see the tiny pioneer wood house which was original. The house once had a family with 10 children. It’s now the tourist info & the lady there recommended we go on a loop road to Marlo and Cape Conran which we decided to do. We followed the road by the bank of the mighty Snowy River (made famous by the Oz poet Banjo Patterson in ‘The Man From Snowy River’ which I read at school in Sydney). The river starts in the Snowy Mountains in NSW & empties into the Bass Strait, Victoria. Marlo was a tiny place with a little pier and we were surprised to hear a huffing noise from under the jetty. It was a large seal who was looking for fish. We saw him at very close range & he was looking at us. Liked his big eyes & long whiskers & we took some photos. The sun came out & the sea looked blue with the breakers crashing on the shore. Right near the mouth of the Snowy River we saw an old man panning for gold by using a suction tube to get the sediment from the river bed and putting it through a sieve.

We went to Cape Conran but did not see any koalas. Did a short walk onto a beach which stretched for miles along the coastline. This area of coastline in Victoria is called the Wilderness Coast & mainly national park. Saw a dead seal on the beach. We rejoined the Princes Highway & stopped after Bell Bird Creek to do a rainforest walk. This was in an area called the Benum River Rainforest which was a tiny pocket of temperate rainforest with tree ferns, creepers and trees with a small stream. The walk was about a mile and some of it was boardwalk & the rest was forest track & dirt road. Luckily didn’t see any snakes. We were looking out for a duck billed platypus in the small stream and though we saw some holes in the bank we did not see any. I saw a small lizard on top of a mossy fallen tree trunk and Allyson took a photo of it.

We continued along the Princes Highway & drove through virgin bush where the eucalyptus trees stretched for miles. This was called Alfred National Park & Croajingolong National Park. We drove down a side road to Gipsy Point which K & I had visited before – a quiet little sea inlet with a few homes, holiday cottages & boat jetty. The tourist brochure said that lyre birds & sea eagles could be seen here. We did see 3 large kangaroos lazing on a lawn in front of someone’s house.

We carried on the route to Mallacoota & on the outskirts of the small town I saw a whole group of kangaroos in a field. We just got booked in at the Foreshore Camping Ground ($32 a night per pitch site) before they closed at 5pm. Nice views across the inlet to virgin bush, some tiny islands and the Howe Range hills in the distance. Had sausages for dinner. We are staying two nights here.

Saturday 18 March At Mallacoota, Victoria all day

After breakfast Chris & Allyson walked to the shops in Mallacoota and Keef & I went for a long walk (about 2 hours) around the campsite. This was a big site with 769 pitches but the facilities were very old fashioned but adequate. It was popular with fishing people who even brought their boats with their caravans. At one of the many boat jetties we saw a very large stingray come up to the surface looking for fish & crustaceans. It had orange spots/splodges on its brown back, orange under its wings & was about 3 feet across. Unfortunately Keef was not quick enough to get a photo before it swam down from the surface & away. We then walked out of one end of the campsite towards Shady Gully looking for koalas in the trees. We returned to the jetty on the way back but the ray had moved on. Then we called in at the camp reception office to ask about koalas & other wildlife.

The man there was very chatty (he was a retired volunteer) but he did not know the type of stingray that we’d seen. Then he said that a koala had been spotted high up in a tree on the other side of the campsite so we walked along looking at the trees in the area specified. We saw it asleep & Keef took some pictures. We could hear the surf loudly crashing on the beach part-way across the inlet. By 1pm it started drizzling so we returned to the motorhome.

Chris & Allyson returned and said they had found a good café to have breakfast tomorrow morning & they had seen a nice eco driftwood sculpture that they wanted to buy in a local art gallery. For lunch we had tuna wraps & salad. It was drizzly all afternoon so I did some cross-stitch embroidery (a Christmas sampler). Wi-fi was difficult to get into & was very erratic. We’ve had this problem in nearly all campsites where the free wi-fi is very restricted or it does not work unless you’re seated on the top of the nearest telecoms mast!

Just as dusk I went back to look for the koala but he had moved away from the tree. On the way back to the motorhome I saw 11 kangaroos (including a rare albino one) feeding on a grassy plot across the road from the campsite & I took some photos. Chris & Allyson cooked fish on their campervan pull-out BBQ, with veggies & wine. Shame that the weather had turned overcast & showery later in the afternoon. We had some heavy rain during the night.

Sunday 19 March Mallacoota to Pambula Beach, NSW

Weather brighter & some hot sunshine later in the morning. We drove into the town & went to the café called Lucy’s for cooked breakfast which was tasty & coffee. We then drove through the residential area of Mallacoota where there was a sign by some woods which showed lyre birds were around, but we didn’t see any. Keef thought he saw a snake by someone’s front garden so we turned round the block to have another look but it had gone.

Stopped at a car park at Double Creek where there were some very noisy bellbirds but no koalas. At Eden in New South Wales we stopped to visit the Killer Whale museum which Brian & Gina had recommended to us before the trip. It was $10 each & well worth it as we were there for a couple of hours. It showed the history of whaling in the Eden coastal region from the 1840s onwards. A pod of killer whales had helped humans to catch whales by driving the large whales into the bay towards the men in boats. The killer whales were then rewarded by the men allowing them to eat the tongue & lips of the whale (gory). Often the pod of killer whales splashed to alert the men to a nearby whale. It was the only example known in the world where the interaction of man & killer whales was for mutual benefit.

The whale blubber was boiled down to create whale oil which had various uses back then, such as lamp oil (before electricity was invented) & the baleen from whales’ mouths was used for whalebone corsets of Victorian women. The locals who had rheumatism used to sit for hours in a large hole cut in the top of a dead whale where the rotting flesh meant that the temperature rose to 40c - yuk. The local people swore that this treatment did them good although a hot steam bath/sauna may have been more environmentally friendly. No doubt the horrible smell from the rotting whale meant they forgot about their rheumatism.

In the bay at Eden the whalers caught a massive Blue Whale that was 93 feet long in Victorian time. The killer whales continued to help three generations of one whaling family at Eden & the whales were all given names based on the characteristics of the dorsal fin. Killer whales live to be about 37 years old on average. A skeleton of a killer whale called ‘Old Tom’ was displayed in the museum.

The whole whaling industry & the rheumatism cure was pretty disgusting and repugnant to us all now. We want to preserve whales & love watching them rather than killing them. The museum also covered the local timber & tuna fishing industries. The tuna was caught off the Eden coast and then taken to Narooma further along the coast for canning then exported to the USA. There was a section on local people who had fought in France, Belgium & Gallipoli in WWI & WWII. The museum was fascinating.

We drove to the harbour to take some photos & the lookout point on the steep hill but it started to drizzle & the sea mist was coming inland so the views were poor. We finished the afternoon at Pambula Beach where we stopped for one night at the Big 4 campsite $35. The site was flat, grassy and right by the sandy beach. There were several kangaroos who wandered around eating grass & were obviously used to people & vehicles. Took some photos & a video. We saw some rosellas in the tree (red, yellow & green). I nearly got knocked over when a very big grey kangaroo bounded right past me from the corner of a chalet which took me by surprise. The other grey kangaroos were quite little. Allyson saw some black cockatoos in a tree but didn’t manage to get a photo.

Keef, Chris & I went swimming in the indoor heated pool – the weather had turned cool & misty/drizzly. Keef even went in the unheated outside pool. This campsite is very good for amenities (camp kitchen, BBQ, showers, pools with changing room/shower, TV room) & the fact that it’s so close to the beach. There were a couple of people surfing on the big waves but hardly anyone on the beach apart from a lone sea fisherman. In fact the campsite was less than half-full – so it felt more spacious with so few vehicles.

Keef & I cooked pasta & sausages/ stewed apple & nectarines with yoghurt. There was no wi-fi as a lightning strike on the Bank Holiday Monday had damaged the power lines so Keef & I read our Kindles.

Monday 20 March Pambula Beach to Dalmeny

We set off along the tourist coastal route from Pambula to Tura Beach. We parked & walked to the long stretch of lovely sandy beach with hardly anyone on it. We continued on the tourist drive to Tathra, NSW and we stopped at the historic wharf/ warehouse where lots of kids & adults were fishing. There were some large rocks next to the wharf called Point Danger. The sea looked very blue & a lovely sunny day. Saw no dolphins. People were catching fish called ‘flatheads’ from the wharf & we could see lots of salmon in the clear water by the jetty. The warehouse was now a restaurant. Steamships used to call in at the wharf to deliver goods, post & passengers.

We drove round the hill top down to the beach at Tathra & walked on the beach to admire the view & saw the wharf across the bay. We had our lunch at the car park by the beach & Allyson did some rolls with chicken salad & mayo- yum! Very hot at lunchtime & I could feel the intensity of the high UV rays.

Then Chris & Allyson set off to meet Laura & Steve who were driving down from Sydney & the plan was for us all to meet up at a campsite in Dalmeny, which was further along the coast in NSW. Chris & Allyson hadn’t seen Laura & Steve since last summer when they came over to the UK & France. We planned on staying for two nights at Dalmeny. Keef & I did a slight detour before joining them all at the campsite at 4pm.

Keef & I drove to Tilba & Central Tilba – two villages about 2km from the Princes Highway. Central Tilba is a National Truct village with Victorian buildings & pretty little front gardens with roses & lovely shrubs. We realised when we got there that we had visited the village 10 years ago! The single storey houses looked like small shops from the pavement but due to the steep hillside they were jutting out on 2 or 3 levels at the rear. We had an icecream from the village Emporium which was for sale – the owner had run the shop for over 30 years & was retiring. We noticed that a lot of the buildings in the village were for sale. We were the only tourists in the village.

We continued our journey north along the Princes Highway to Narooma. Very sunny. Like a lot of coastal towns most of the houses were shuttered & closed up as they were holiday homes. Also not much work in these places either & lots of businesses & homes were for sale. Narooma has a sea inlet with a small harbour. There were no fish shops, oyster shops or restaurants. We arrived at Dalmeny Campground about 4pm & saw Laura & Steve who had just arrived & checked in to reception. Nice to see them again after 4 years. We checked in & were given a space next to C & A. Laura & Steve put their tiny tent up & then we all gathered for drinks (Laura opened some champagne), appetisers, cheeses & lots of chatting with a great view of the coast & beach below us.

Just before 7pm we decided to go & get some fish & chips across the road from the campsite. We ate them overlooking the coast. They were the most expensive fish & chips takeaway that we had ever had ($21 including chips, which alone were $12 – worked out at £12.60 each). We carried on chatting until it was dark. Laura & Steve had spent 6 hours driving down from Sydney today so we were not surprised that they were tired after this long journey. Later that evening we had some heavy rain. Our pitch was already muddy from previous rainy days but it got worse overnight.

Tuesday 21 March Dalmeny, NSW

We stayed all morning in the campsite. Steve had organised a boat trip for us all at Wagonga Inlet , Narooma as he knew the owner of the electric boat there who did boat trips. Keef & I went in Steve & Laura’s car & Chris & Allyson drove their van. The boat was built in 1905 & had been diesel/ petrol but had been converted to electric some years ago. Electric boats are very quiet & there is no smell of diesel either. We left the jetty at 12 noon & had a very informative & humorous commentary from the 66 year old captain. He had lived all his life in the area & since a boy had fished & rowed to school in a small boat. He told us lots of yarns including his dad catching a Mako shark & a Great White Shark which had swum into the inlet after fish. There were lots of oyster beds & we found out a lot about the industry. We also saw sea eagles & their nest high up in the tree tops.

He pointed out a ‘stinging tree’ which is toxic if the leaves touch your skin. The pain can be very intense & last for weeks or even months. Apparently there are 3 types of stinging tree – all in Queensland & NSW. Keef & I had heard about these trees when we went on a river trip up the Daintree in Queensland. Also Great White Sharks are now protected in Australian waters & you are not allowed to kill them. The captain also told us he had worked in a tuna canning factory in Narooma in his youth. The boat trip cost $30 per adult – well worth it & very enjoyable.

As we neared the jetty it started raining & then it stopped briefly. We had tuna mayo wraps for lunch which I had prepared for everyone & sat at a picnic bench with a view of the inlet. It started raining again & got heavier. We did a short walk past the marina & jetties, which looked rather decrepit & unused apart from a couple of boats moored.

We drove to an oyster shop on the other side of the bridge across the inlet & some of us bought oysters & ate them. We then parked nearby & did a boardwalk along a bay of the Wagona Inlet. By now it was pouring with rain & only Laura & Steve had sensibly brought rain jackets with them. It had been sunny when we set off from the campsite & we thought we were just going on a boat trip which had undercover seating. From the boardwalk we saw two large stingrays and a small brown one.

We were quite soaked so went back to the campsite, got into dry clothes & had a cup of tea & then all chatted in Chris & Allyson’s motorhome as it was still raining. The ground by the door of our van was extremely muddy & boggy & we sunk in by about ½ inch. Gradually the weather improved & we could all sit outside again. Later on Chris & Keef cooked a lovely BBQ of beef burgers, sausages, fish, salad & cobs. Lots of stars out in the sky.

Wednesday, 22 March Dalmeny to Mittagong

Chris, Allyson, Laura & Steve had planned on staying on at the campsite for a bit & then travel north to Jervis Bay National Park & camp there for two days. Keef & I thought we would head inland as we’d been all along the coast in the past & wanted to take another route to Sydney. We said our farewells after breakfast & left at 9.30 to drive to Bateman’s Bay along the Princes Highway. Then we turned left to take the Kings Highway across the Great Dividing Range. We hadn’t done this route before & we drove through National Parks on both sides with eucalyptus bush stretching for miles. It was sunny, the scenery was great & it was quite a steep climb over the mountain range with steep drops at the side of the road. Some of the eucalyptus trees were very tall & there were deep valleys with a few sharp hairpin bends going up. We met a few road trains going the other way but the highway was not very busy.

We reached Braidwood where we stopped for a break. Had a walk around the town looking at the heritage houses. Braidwood is a historical town with extremely wide streets, old shops, a supermarket (IGA) & a pub of course. Bought some pasta sauce from the IGA store & then drove on to Bungendore & on to historic Bywong goldmining town. When we eventually found it we were disappointed as there was not much left of the town – a couple of wooden mine shafts.

We joined the Federal Highway to Goulburn. This was the first inland city in NSW & was quite big – 24,000 population. The city streets were built on a grid system and it had a big shopping centre with old Victorian & 1930s buildings & numerous churches (we counted 6 just on one street).

Then we took the Hume Highway towards Sydney. We turned off the main road to a small sleepy village called Marulan where we bought some pies & a cake for lunch. A Chinese family ran the bakery & cooked everything on their premises. Another Chinese family ran the new general store (or they were all part of the same family). The buildings were very old & interesting, including the Royal Hotel & general store. It suddenly started raining very heavily with lightning.

We rejoined the Hume Highway again & the rain became torrential, so much so that our windscreen wipers could hardly cope. We pulled over onto the hard shoulder as the road was awash with water & visibility was very poor. Despite this we were amazed to see lorries & cars rushing past at high speed. On downhill slopes the rain was collecting in the dips which was worrying if it became too deep to drive through.

We got to Mittagong where we decided to stop for the night. The rain had stopped & we found an excellent campsite with no mud & hardstanding for the motorhome @ $35 a night. For dinner we had pasta, sausages & sauce. There were some large noisy cockatoos that made quite a racket at dusk. We saw some more lightning but no more rain & it turned into a nice evening.

Thursday 23 March Mittagong to Narrabeen Lakes, Sydney.

Dry weather today. We took the country route through NSW via Balmoral & Thirlmere. We saw some old train engines & carriages behind a fence in a museum in Thirlmere. Keef took some photos. Saw some kangaroos in fields & a flock of white cockatoos. Quite a lot of farms, homesteads & horses in paddocks – very rural. We went to Warragamba Dam which I had last visited as a teenager with my family in the late 60s-70s. I remembered that there used to be a lion safari near the dam which my family had visited but this no longer existed.

The dam had an excellent visitors centre & a viewing area overlooking the dam. Warragamba is one of the biggest dams in the world supplying domestic drinking water. In fact it supplies 80% of Sydney’s water. The dam’s volume of water is four times that of Sydney Harbour. It was built between 1948-1960 & 15 men lost their lives during the construction. There was a wall of plaques commemorating them. A lot of young immigrant workers were recruited to work on the dam & a whole town was built to house them. Warragamba Dam was considered to be a major engineering feat in its day. I didn’t know that Sydney also has a desalination plant to convert sea water to drinking water & is powered by the wind. We found the visitors centre was very interesting.

We then headed to Narrabeen Lakes, a Big 4 campsite in Sydney which we had pre-booked for 1 night whilst in England. This was the 3rd time we had stayed at this site. We went to the local Woolies supermarket to do some shopping & it started raining. Had cheese & biscuits back at the campsite for our evening meal.

Friday 24 March Narrabeen to Britz (to drop off motorhome) & then to Beacon Hill

After breakfast we packed our bags & drove to our apartment in Beacon Hill (78a Beacon Hill Road) to drop off our luggage & food supplies. We were met by the owner Katrina Dell as her husband Roy was on their boat. She showed us around & explained how all the equipment worked, such as washing machine, dishwasher, coffee machine etc. She was very chatty and pleasant & said that they also owned the house adjoining the 1 bedroom apartment. They rented out the house to an English family. The landlords owned a boat & they had moved there whilst we were staying in their flat. They had previously lived on their boat for 4 years.

The apartment in Beacon Hill had magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean and beach suburbs. It had a swimming pool, sundeck, BBQ & thatched dining area that Katrina called a Bali hut. The fully equipped kitchen was open plan with lounge/dining area, TV, downstairs loo and bedroom with balcony, TV & en suite bathroom. We weren’t used to this luxury after being in the motorhome & on campsites. They left milk, wine, coffee, butter & chocolates for us which was very kind. Keef was pleased we could use the De Longhi coffee machine.

After Katrina had gone we put the food away & then drove the motorhome across Sydney to Botany Bay, Meadowbank. We left Beacon Hill at 12.45 & it took us almost 2 hours to get across Sydney because of the heavy traffic – such a busy city. We dropped off the motorhome at Britz reception & then saw Chris & Allyson who arrived there after us. They had travelled up from Jervis Bay which took them 3 hours along the Princes Highway.

Keef negotiated a refund of $80 for a half day’s motorhome because we had been kept waiting for hours at the pick-up in Adelaide as the previous hirer had returned the van a day late. Also we said that the toaster had blown a fuse & there was a small fault with the pull-out BBQ on the outside of the van which meant that the knob on one of the gas rings didn’t work. Chris & Allyson had a nice time at Jervis Bay with Laura & Steve & they were waiting for them to come & pick them up from Britz in their car.

Keef & I caught a bus outside Britz which took us to Redfern station & from there we got the train to Chatswood on Sydney’s North Shore. At Chatswood bus station there were no timetables for buses but having asked several people & bus drivers we found a bus that would take us to Beacon Hill. However, we were misinformed and when we went past my old house in Frenchs Forest & turned somewhere I didn’t recognise I realised that we were not going the right way. Noticed also that a massive new hospital is being built on the outskirts of Frenchs Forest called the North Shore Hospital. We had to change buses & luckily caught another one that was going the other way. This bus dropped us off at the top of the road where we were staying. It started to rain at 4pm as we walked down the hill to our apartment. Too tired to unpack our bags & Keef said he had found it stressful driving across such a busy city.

I did some washing in the machine & hung it indoors on a clothes airer while keef cooked us steak, vegetables & jacket potatoes. We watched a film on TV – The Bucket List with Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman which we had seen before. Quite a busy & tiring day.

Saturday 25 March Beacon Hill, Sydney

We had a relaxing morning- had showers, did some more laundry, Keef cooked us bacon, scrambled egg & baked beans, which we ate outside on the deck. The sun came out for about an hour & I put the clothes airer outside our bedroom on the balcony. Keef was sorting out finances & checking transport routes in Sydney on the laptop. The wi-fi here is quite slow. The family who live in the adjoining house have a boy (junior school age) & a teenage girl aged about 13 & they went in the pool for a bit.

We had lunch (egg mayo roll & cheese & biscuits) & then watched a film ‘Eddie the Eagle’ about the ski- jumper from GB who was in the Calgary winter Olympics – a good film & true story. Then we watched an Aussie film called Red Billabong which started OK but then got ridiculously stupid with a monster terrorising people on a country homestead – a dire plot! Saw a cruise ship go along the coast at Dee Why.

We did a Skype video call with Doug, Phoenix & Charlie who was bouncing around & happily showing us her new 20 piece jigsaws which she had completed- clever girl. It was so lovely to see them again & chat. Charlie had a virus with a temperature yesterday but she is OK now. She kept waving to us & telling us the animals on the jigsaws. Doug & Phoenix told us that they were going on a cruise with P’s parents at the end of June. It’s for 5 nights from Hong Kong to Japan on an American cruise ship. Charlie is only two & already she’s been to China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Bali & England – very well travelled!! P’s parents have organised the cruise for them all – sounds good. Doug said he’d been to an interview with another bank this week with Standard Chartered Bank (English) & may get a second interview. It was 7pm in Singapore & 10pm here in Sydney – they signed off as their dinner was ready. Went to bed at 11.45pm.

Sunday 26 March Beacon Hill & Sydney

In the afternoon we caught a bus to Manly from the top of Beacon Hill Road as we were meeting Laura, Steve, Chris & Allyson in Sydney for a picnic & the opera (Carmen). The bus went to Dee Why & Warringah Mall & then to Manly Wharf. We asked at the tourist info in Manly about return buses on Sunday evening after the opera but all buses stopped by 6.20pm!!! For a big city this was ridiculously early.

We took the very crowded Manly ferry across the harbour to Circular Quay. On Sundays there is a cap of $2.50 per adult to travel anywhere on the NSW transport system (bus, Manly ferry, train) which is very good value. We had bought our Opal travel cards whilst in England & they allow you to put money on the electronic travel card & then use the card to register trips on the transport system (similar to the MRT/bus cards in Singapore). The maximum daily amount you can be charged is $15. We started with $40 on each card. This is such a good idea for Sydney & NSW as you don’t need cash for travelling.

From Circular Quay we walked to the Botanical Gardens where we were to meet up with our friends. Very hot today in Sydney & the gardens were tropical. When we found the Victoria Lodge Gate (which wasn’t signposted anywhere) we waited a while before Laura came to collect us. They had trouble parking the car. The venue for the opera was in the gardens opposite the Opera House & Harbour Bridge.

Laura & Steve had prepared a picnic for us all & we took along a bottle of wine. The sunset was around 7pm but it was overcast & cloudy – very humid & sticky. After the food & drink we took our seats at the opera (the tickets were a Xmas gift to us from Chris & Allyson) & we were really looking forward to the performance & music. We had a good view of the stage which was like a floating pontoon with 2 access ramps on either side of the stage for the opera cast to use. There were 2 cranes either side of the stage & when the show started they swung round to deliver a tank & truck to the stage. The whole performance was spectacular & the setting of the night- time Sydney skyline, illuminated Opera House & Harbour Bridge enhanced the event. Very enjoyable show by Opera Australia. There was a 25 minute intermission.

At 10 pm Keef & I had to leave 15 mins before the end as we had to walk a long way back to Circular Quay to get the last ferry at 11pm. All the gates round the Botanical Gardens were closed at dusk so we had to exit at the Victoria Gate Lodge entrance. We could not walk round the edge of Farm Cove to the Opera House which would have been a much quicker route. Instead we had to walk into the central business area past the Art Gallery & museum & past the Cahill Expressway (underground tunnel across the harbour) to Macquarie Street. On route we saw a large possum on a grassy area & took some photos. He was oblivious to us & was intent on searching for tree seeds. We made it to Circular Quay with about 10 mins to spare! Good job we left when we did. The Manly ferry left at 11pm on time & when we got to Manly we got a taxi back to Beacon Hill ($20.80. Had showers when we got back as such a humid day (80% humidity).

Monday 27 March Beacon Hill

Had a relaxing day in & around the swimming pool. I did some laundry & ironing. Watched some films on the TV. Keef cooked burgers on the BBQ for lunch by the Bali hut. Winds were strong in the afternoon – palm trees were swaying & weather turned cloudy – storm coming.

Tuesday 28 March Beacon Hill

Strong winds & heavy rain drumming on the roof woke us up during the night. Cyclone Debbie was hitting the Queensland coast around Townsville, Mackay & Airlie Beach (we had been to these coastal towns in 2008). It was a category 4 cyclone with winds recorded at 270kms/hour which is 167.7 miles per hour. The townspeople had plenty of warning about the cyclone & were told to stay indoors. There was lots of damage to houses, boats in harbours & businesses & schools were closed. The news said that this was the second worse cyclone to ever hit Queensland.

We decided to go to Warringah Mall in the morning and then watch a film called ‘Lion’ at the cinema complex there. The film was a true story about an Indian boy aged 5 who was adopted by an Aussie couple in Hobart & he wanted to find his roots & family back in India. A very good film starred Dev Patel & Nicole Kidman. I got a new watch battery at the Mall & we did some food shopping at Coles before getting the bus back to Beacon Hill.

Wednesday 29 March Beacon Hill

Hannah & Connor came round at 3pm which we had arranged & Connor had a little dip in the pool with his swim nappy on. We had bought him a cardboard book of Australian animals which we bought yesterday at the Mall. He is 20 months old & knew shark, koala & crocodile & the colours apart from orange. We then went in Hannah’s car with them back to their apartment in North Balgowlah as Hannah had a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon. She is expecting a second child in July & knows it will be another boy.

We looked after Connor whilst Hannah had her appointment. Hannah & family had just returned from a weeks holiday in Thailand. They were off on Friday for a few days to Orange, NSW for the food & drink festival which they had been to last year & really enjoyed. They’re staying in the same rented accommodation nearby as last year. David came home from work (he cycles into the city centre which takes him 40-50 mins).

We hadn’t seen the family for 4 years which was the last time we’d visited them in Sydney when they lived in Vaucluse. Riley, their dog, was still as cute as ever. We took along a bottle of sparkling wine & Hannah cooked us a lovely dinner. Hannah gave us a lift back to Beacon Hill at 10.45. It was lovely seeing Hannah, David, Connor & Riley again & just before dinner we did a Skype with Brian & Gina, as it was Gina’s birthday. B & G were going to some national trust gardens for the day.

Thursday 30 March Beacon Hill

Rained all day non-stop & it was quite torrential at times so we decided to stay in the apartment all day. Watched some films & read our Kindles. The cleaners came 9am to do the apartment – took them 1½ hours.

Friday 31 March Trip into Sydney & Darling Harbour

Got bus 169 through Dee Why & past Warringah Mall to Manly Wharf & took the ferry to Circular Quay. We walked round the Quay & saw a huge cruise ship called ‘Emerald Princess’ moored at the overseas passenger terminal. We walked through the business/office district to Darling Harbour. There were lots of restaurants around the harbour & it was 12.30 so lots of business people were having lunch. As we walked along the quayside there were information boards & pictures showing what Darling Harbour used to look like.

We walked all the way round to the Hard Rock café where Keef bought yet another T-shirt costing $40 to add to his collection. Then we had lunch there – we shared some chips& chicken goujons. After a rest we walked through the shopping centre called Harbourside which wasn’t very good (a few tourist tat shops etc). We crossed back to the other side of Darling Harbour on Pyrmont Bridge, built in 1905. We caught the ferry from Darling Harbour wharf back to Circular Quay, then the Manly ferry & bus. We got wet as it was raining when we walked back down Beacon Hill Road. Turned very overcast & then the rain was torrential in the evening. Watched TV & had dinner.