Friday, September 25, 2009

Update from my travels #2

So, where did I leave you? Ah yes... in Broome.

Well first off I should mention that I totally forgot to tell you in my last update that I had hand fed a WILD dolphin with a fishy for brekky. Awesomely cool. Never been near a dolphin before and my eco-ness highly appreciated that it was wild, and therefore only eating my fish because it felt like it.

OK, so what since Broome? Well.... in my last I told you all about how I had been served on a platter for bed bugs in my hostel, and how those bites had blistered. I set off into the Kimberley with 6 major blisters and about 4 others I disregarded. Major, by the way, means at least a centimetre in diameter. 4 on the top of my arm, one on the calf and one on my wrist. Just a scene setter there, as the Kimberly is one of the most remote regions in Australia - medical attention is 3 days away in some spots and infection is a BAD idea. How brave/silly am I?

Now onto the fun stuff.... We headed north on the first day, straight onto the Gibb River Road. If anyone has ever been cornered in a pub by a four wheel drive enthusiast you will certainly have heard of the road - its a hobbiest's idea of heaven. It is basically the road formed by the drovers (a la Hugh Jackman in Australia) droving cattle to Darwin. Only they never bothered to make it good, coz they whacked highway one about 200km beneath it eventually. So slackers take highway 1, and 4WD capable vehicles embark upon 5 days of AWESOMEness. We found on the road the following:

- Gorgeous gorges (one walk you can only start by loading your manditory 2 litres of water, clothes, hat, shoes etc, into a polystyrene box and swimming across the river with it)
- A walk through a gorge which is basically a cave and you have to wade through ankle deep water (with crocs) with a torch
- The BEST scones I have ever eaten (on a cattle station in the middle of nowhere, with a wild wallabee hopping around, an outside bath with a view, gorgeous birds....)
- Some fabulous stubby coolers (if you have no idea what this is, google it - Australians won't drink beer bottles or cans without one. It keeps the hand warm, and the beer cool). I have resisted this particular souvenir since my arrival, but finding a souvenir for - say - a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere on the Gibb, is pretty unique.
- Mucho scenery from the film Australia (which I love a lot already, but can now annoy Luke by not only making him watch it, but now also pointing out stuff)
- Zebedee hot springs (in El Questro station, a million acre plot - (??!!)). This is the springs that reputedly helped Nicole Kidman's man get her up the duff... along with 6 other members of the crew of Australia (not him, you understand, I think their own men got involved)
- Three men GENUINELY mustering cattle
- An aboriginal community (you have to phone ahead for permission) and their art gallery. They have no tradition of painting on flat surfaces until the seventies, and their stuff has no outside influences but is really lovely. Check out Warmun in the google).
- Sunsets
- Sunrises
- Road trains shifting cattle - droving is now done by diesel power

We came off the Gibb River Road to head south into Purnululu National Park (home to the Bungle Bungles). I was very excited about this - I have wanted to see them since I can first remember hearing of them and never thought I would get there (not being the adventurous type). And wow. I can't wait to download my photos. After a couple of gorge walks I opted to helicopter over the range. Caps required.... WOW. I had to stop taking photos at one point to have a serious internal word with myself; "Emily," (I said) "you are in a helicopter flying over the bungles. Just how much can life ROCK?"

Lots of swag action all along the way - in 21 days since Perth (and gosh just get back on Google and look up on the map how far that is from Darwin, where I currently sit. 6,600km no less!!) - I have slept in a swag too many times to be bothered to count.

What else...? Its hot. Bloomin' muggy. I naively thought the tropics simply had two seasons - wet and dry. Well they do, but these things don't change over night. The 6 weeks before the wet are called The Build Up (caps probably not required). That's when I appear to have chosen to head to the Top End. Wally me. This is the time of year when every other advert on telly up here is a suicide hotline, because Territorians (folk from the Northern Territory) all go "tropo" in the mental unescapable heat. Clouds come over around 1pm for a couple of hours. They are tantalisingly gray and heavy. Yet they do nothing. We all continue to wait for rain. Apparently when it appears everyone dances in the street and holds BBQs. I plan to escape long before that. In the meantime I am spending far too much time in overly air conditioned tat souvenir shops. Bliss.

But Darwin is a really nice city. On the way in we all got a shock when we stopped at traffic lights. No I really did intend to end that sentence there. Nothing happened - they merrily turned green again and we went on our way, but we hadn't had traffic lights for about 3,000km - possibly more.

Other things we have done that I have neglected to mention include:

- Taking a boat on Lake Argle - this man-made lake cost just $20 million in the seventies because the damn is, frankly, underwhelming, but it successfully flooded some unloved valleys to make a lake which (although I can't remember the dimensions) is vast. I think the water that flows through from the River Ord into the lake is enough to fill Sydney Harbour every hour. Or something. And to show how much rain they have in the wet season, this lake which was supposed to take 8 years to fill, filled in just 3. Anyway, it has successfully irrigated the Ord River region around Kununurra to become the nation's fruit bowl. Although now they seem to be growing a lot of Sandalwood - a controversial move according to the lady who made me a delicious mango smoothie.
- Driven through gushing rivers in our trusty 4WD bus
- Aboriginal rock art
- Walked more than 15 gorges, all of which (except 2) had a rewardingly paradisial (made up word?) waterfall/pool at the end to swim in.
- grass hoppers of around 4 inches in length
Crossing the border from Western Australia to the Northern Territory (WA goes on much longer than I thought, NT is a really narrow state and much of the north coast is WA or Queensland)
- Full roast dinners cooked in the camp fire. The last night goes down on record as one of my favourite meals of all time

So here I am in Darwin. We got in last night and all headed to the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. Bustling busy craft and food stalls. Lovely. Today I went to a croc place (Again. Because they are fascinatingly ugly and beautiful, big, scary, cute...) had a nice brunch with some pals, a good thai dinner). Tomorrow I think I am the last one from my bus tour in left in Darwin so I plan a lazy day and then heading to the outdoor deckchair cinema with our tour guide Pete in the evening. Then Sunday morning I head off for my 3 day tour into Kakadu. Except it has been cancelled so I am instead going on a Lichfield/Kakadu one. Which is pretty cool because I heard on the route that Lichfield is lovely.

Signing off with love from a very happy and life-enhanced,

Update from my travels #1

Written on the 15th September but not uploaded due to internet time running out and me feeling a little miserly - I bought a beer instead....

Today is my last day in Broome before I head out for 9 days in The Kimberley. I am having a great time, although over the last two days I have been eaten alive by something and a couple of the bites have now got massive blisters. VERY not ideal to be heading into the most remote part of Australia. I just stopped in at the pharmacy and am carrying a massive first aid bundle. Advice from the pharmacist - just don't let them burst and get infected... whatever you do. Still, because I was feeling sorry for myself I stopped in at the outback supplies store and just treated myself to a nice camping pillow. Swag luxury here I come!

So what have I done so far... gosh... loads!

Um. First we went to the Pinnacles. That's these odd rocks that stick out of the sand in the desert all up the west coast of Australia. Then we went to the beach and sand boarded down a big dune.

(This is the much abridged version of everything by the way, for your sake).

We went to Shell Beach, which is entirely made of shells. And Coral Bay where we went out on a boat for the day, snorkelling the Ningaloo Reef. We swam for about 20 mins with a 5 metre manta ray as it had its mouth open for feeding. It was right below me and spinning round and round. Incredible. We saw turtles and some massive bright fish, giant clams, starfish and even a gray nurse shark on the edge of the reef. It was all amazing.

The next main thing was heading into Karijini National Park. Which is simply stunning. We camped there for 3 nights and did lots of gorge walking (which involves lots of death defying shimmying). Its really beautiful there - despite the casual nature with which the locals approach redback spiders and king brown snakes (the most deadly snake in the world). We did lots of swimming in pools at the bottom of gorges - all deliciously tropical looking although a little chilly in the morning! We also did a star watching thing in the evening one night, which was one of my favourite things so far. The sky in the southern hemisphere is a lot busier and more interesting than in the north, and Karijini is one of the best spots in the world for stargazing. We were using these GINORMOUS telescopes and saw Jupiter, its rings and four of its moons. Plus we learnt all about other bits on the sky. Scorpio, Libra, Sagittarius (or as the Australians call it 'The Teapot'), the southern cross (including alpha centauri) the milky way... we also found the closest galaxy to ours, and a star nursery where suns are being made. It was all incredible.

We got into Broome on Sunday and have spent the time washing clothes, pottering around the town (its very cute, and the centre of Australia's pearl industry) and relaxing while we have bunk beds. Yesterday I went to the Malcolm Douglas crocodile park (Malcolm Douglas is like Steve Irwin before he was a twinkle in his parents' eyes). All the crocs had been caught locally - problem crocodiles - and there were some big buggers!! We went on the feeding tour and saw them in action. Ahem... I may swim in fewer water holes in the Kimberley!! We will be swimming with fresh water crocs, which are smaller and only attack by accident (if they think you are a fish), but still ... losing a hand is not in my plan! I was supposed to do the sunset camel ride on cable beach tonight but have cancelled in case the friction pops the blister on my calf.

Tomorrow at 6.30am we head back out on tour - 9 days to Darwin. We have met our guide, who seems nice, and its swags all the way this time. The majority of the group from the last tour are coming on the next, which is nice. This next tour is pretty hardcore, the Karijini camping was a kind of preparation, so I will probably be exhausted by the time I reach Darwin! Still - I have my pillow now, and a couple of nights to recover in Darwin before Kakadu....

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