Australia - An overview
Trip Start Jun 18, 2008
72Trip End Ongoing
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Taking the trip was a gamble. I've mentioned it loads of times before, but quitting our jobs, putting our careers on hold, and going off and doing something like this was a real big deal for us. Did it pay off? You bet your ass it did.
Did we achieve what we set out to do? Well we didn't have anything we wanted to achieve. The plan, if you can call it one, was to pick up a van in Perth, and drop it off 5 months later in Cairns. Everything in between was a mystery. However, we have achieved loads. We had a bloody good time, we learnt new things, did new things, met new people, saw sights that will never leave us, and we learnt about each other as well as ourselves. Surely that's everything you can ask from a trip like this?
I have so many highlights, that it would be boring for you to read, and painful to my wrists to type. So I'll try to limit the word count, and hopefully the photos can give you at least some perspective on why they were highlights of the trip, at least for me.
Honest, funny and as friendly a nation as you will ever meet. I'm not talking about the people who work in the tourism industry who have to be nice. I'm talking about the locals, from the outback miners to the suburban housewives in Melbourne. I'm talking about the old fellas sitting out their retirement in a caravan by the sea, the young guys hiking in the national parks because they can. I've lost count of the people we met who helped us out - from the Van breaking down to advice on remote routes in National Parks. Or those who just wanted a chat with people from the opposite side of the world, ending up with us at Barbecues with a drink in our hand.
They take no shit, they will be upfront to your face and are honest about their feelings. I love that. No mincing around, no waffling trying to avoid the subject, no bullshit lingo. It's very refreshing. They get off their arses and do stuff. They go out and enjoy what their country has to offer them. They don't make excuses, they just do it. They have common sense. They don't need nannying.
* Ningaloo Reef / Great Barrier Reef:
Opposite sides of the country, but both a highlight for me, for different reasons. Ningaloo Reef is closer to the shore, meaning you can in places literally swim to it from the beach. It's also far less visited than the GBR, meaning you can have whole beaches to yourself. I'm especially fond of Cape Range National Park, which has a host of fantastic places to snorkel - I won't forget swimming alongside various Stingrays there, just myself and them, in the late afternoon sunshine.
The Great Barrier Reef I love for different reasons - because of the three Dives I took there. I still can't believe I left it so long to try Scuba Diving, and now I have the bug. Even without the various wildlife I saw - a Shark, Eels, Stingrays, huge Wrasse and thousands of different types of reef fish - it was just a great feeling, swimming under water, almost weightless. I love the feeling of that as much as I love what I saw.
* Aboriginal Rock Art:
We saw examples in various places, but two stand out for me: Dampier and Kakadu. Dampier was a highlight because it was unexpected, plus it was fun searching for it - scrambling over rocks, up river beds and all sorts. It was a highlight also because it was unprotected from the elements or people - it was just there, thousands of years later. I think the one that stood out for me was the drawing of a European soldier, almost certainly the first white person they saw.
Kakadu was a highlight because there is so much there, and they also explained the stories behind the work, which is just as much a highlight as the art itself.
I'm not an art fan normally, but there is something almost magical about art that is thousands of years old, which depicts stories and lessons that are still passed on.
I make no secret of my love for wildlife, wherever it may be. Australia, however, really is the ultimate place to go wildlife spotting. Why people choose to go to a Zoo in Australia is beyond me - just take a drive and you'll soon see all sorts of stuff. I think the only animal we didn't see in the wild was a Echdina. Otherwise we saw and almost ran over everything you can think of - Kangaroos, Wallaby's, Emus, Cassowaries, Eagles, Parrots, Cockatoos, Budgies, Wombats, Possums, Snakes, Spiders, Sharks, Whales, Stingrays, Turtles, Platypuses, Lizards, Koalas, Dingos...the list goes on and on. There is nothing more exciting than seeing an animal you haven't seen before, in the wild. Zoos do not count!
* Kings Canyon / Uluru:
Kings Canyon is breathtaking - literally. You catch your breath back after the tough hike up to the rim, then it's taken away again when you see the full scale of the Canyon. It's really quite awe inspiring. A fantastic hiking route too, with so much to see on the way around.
I'm not a spiritual person, unless it's JD or Jim Beam, but Uluru is something....else. It's hard to describe, but I definitely felt something. I'm not the only one either to do so. There is something about it. It's very, very cool indeed and is really worthy of the hype and the long journey to get there. Just please walk around it, not up it. Don't be a ***t. (Insert your own profanity here).
* Cape Range National Park:
As mentioned before, it is home to the Ningaloo Reef, but there is so much more to it. There are some fantastic hikes to be had, up and around gorges and rivers, with lots of fun rock scrambling to be had. It is also chock full of wildlife - at dusk, it's definitely best to slow down, because those Kangaroos are big!
* Outback Australia:
I'm talking about the Pilbera, The Kimberley, and the route down from Darwin to Alice Springs. It's a harsh, tough land. It's full of hard locals, each with a million stories to tell. It's the "real" Australia to me, full of people who manage to live in a land in which we were not meant to. It's also the only place to see real Aboriginal culture - it's not in a shop in Sydney. It's about 8 hour drives through a landscape that doesn't change for 7 hours of that, then in the last hour, it rapidly changes, but it's still lots of....nothingness. It's about seeing maybe two other vehicles in all that time. It's about having lunch with the driver of a roadtrain at an outback roadhouse, shooting the shit over a minging sausage roll and chips. I suppose I like it because it's men being men...and the tourists are scared. I like that. It's a world away from an office in central London - and that's a good thing.
* The Rainforests of New South Wales and Queensland:
Full of cool wildlife and even cooler waterfalls, they are also a throwback to an ancient world. There are very few places like it on earth, so go see it, respect it and don't fuck it up for future generations. Don't go on a tour where you see half an hour of it. Go camping there, go for a day long hike, live a little. There are few better places in which to get back to nature.
* Adelaide and Melbourne:
I like them because they are not tourist destinations. They are just cool, livable cities, operating in the way cities should. They are full of things to see, down random alleyways in the city centre or in the suburbs. The public transport systems work. They are cheap. I didn't get stabbed in the head coming out of my front door. They have decent music scenes, and worldclass sporting facilities. They are lively places, where the locals enjoy living, and don't need to broadcast it to the world. It's no surprise that Melbourne is often in the top 5 places to live in the world. They are places that you can enjoy just being in.
Why, oh why do people still go to Hostels in Australia, then take a guided tour? Why? For less money, you can get a cheap, second hand campervan (rent or buy), and go where you want, when you want, at a pace that suits you and not the tourguides. Why spend money on a shitty hostel, full of drunk wankers who don't know the meaning of the word "clean" or the phrase "respect for others", when you can get free camping in the middle of a national park, just you and the stars? Or on a beach (literally in some cases), waking up to the sound of the surf and having miles of sand and surf to yourself?
Everywhere we went, from bush camps to roadside reststops, the facilities were clean and actually worked, were free of charge in almost all cases, and it's the ideal way to meet people who really do share a certain bond with you. You end up going off the route with your new friends, just seeing a bit of the world you otherwise wouldn't. Plus, at the end of it, you get new mates on Facebook. Cool eh?
It's the ultimate in freedom, and that cannot be a bad thing, surely? Having almost total freedom in where to go, when and at a pace that suits you?
I could go on, but my wrists are killing me. You get the gist, I'm sure. We had a cracking time, we took a risk and it paid off. Sure, by the time you read this, we are back in the UK, looking for employment and a house again, but it was worth it all. Whats stopping you doing the same eh?
So have we changed? I'll save the bullshit for job interviews, but I do think I've changed...I've become free. I can't describe it, but the things that were holding me back, that stopped me doing things, have gone. I don't have to worry about life. Life is fun. It shouldn't be a hindrance. You shouldn't have to spend your life worrying about the future, doing what everyone else does. I guess, at the end of it, I'm actually thankful.
Thankful for living.