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Monday, September 30, 2013

Kakado or Kakadon’t?

Sunday Sept 29/Monday Sept 30  
Kakadu National Park is one of Australia’s best known parks. But it’s another several hundred kilometers, hot, muggy.. what to do? Is Kakado worth the extra miles?
After having seen it, we both agree: yes. If you have come from so far, you might as well go the extra mile and see it. We were disappointed with the landscape. It’s just more of the same: desert shrub, flat and long distances. There are more palm trees in the mix and it’s a bit greener, but also hotter and more humid. Wouldn’t want to be here much later in the year.
Much of what is described in the tourist books and brochures is only accessible if you have a 4WD or some rough car that allows you to go down bumpy dirt roads. However, there are a few short, paved side roads that allow you a glimpse into Kakadu. Two excellent visitor centres explain both the aboriginal way of life, their legends and ceremoney as well as the natural history side of the park.
We stopped at a few view points but the highlight was two extensive sites of aboriginal art. As far back as 20,000 years (!) people have come to these sites. They roamed and hunted on the plains and in the estuaries of the rivers leading to the Timor Sea (Van Diemen Gulf). In Kakadu they had rock shelters, allowing them to spend the rainy season there. And what do you do on a blustery, rainy evening when it’s dark early and you have nothing else to do? You tell stories with your children and extended family around. And while some recalled events, and others explained legends, and the talk drifted to the hunt and the food you had - some of the gathered clan illustrated the stories. They did so with the stones and the ground colors that were in plenty supply. They paint them on your walls and ceilings... Little did they know that, thousands of years later, we would file by and take photos of their art. Thanks to the aboriginal interpretations, we are able to follow their stories. Such as the Rainbow Serpent tale about women coming of age. The yam-man who killed people and lessons about greed and honesty. Pretty cool stuff.
I was grateful that you are allowed to take photos. At Uluru everything is sacred so this was good.
Our recommendation: Kaka do!

Meet The Wobblies of Never Never Land

Friday Sept 27

Mataranka, NT - a tiny, mostly aboriginal town. Most inhabitants seem to spend the day at the local watering hole, a.k.a. the pub and beer garden. The nearby Mataranka Springs is apparently very popular and very busy. But we heard a rumor of a nicer spring nearby which is much quieter. We followed our instinct and the dusty red road out of town and found a little paradise.  An amazing underground spring that fills a fast flowing river, crystal clear water of a constant 34º. The spring is in a pocket of palm rainforest. Amazing bird life, flying foxes and... wallabees. Or wobblies, as Kees calls them. At first we got excited when we spotted one in the woods. Took lots of fuzzy photos. Then I realized we were surrounded. Wallabees everywhere. They came closer and closer until I was afraid they’d eat our dinner. I like them. They look cute and are nice looking. But the cutest thing was to spot one wallabee with a joey in her pouch! It peeked out, retreated back inside, then picked seeds of the ground as its mama bend over.  Cockatoos, pea cocks, budgies, lorrekeets - especially at dusk they all come screeching and chattering to roost in the trees above our heads. And then, as the sun goes down, bats glide on silent wings to catch mosquitoes and other insects.

This vast valley of the northern Outback is called Never Never land. Apparently due to a quote from one of the first white settlers who said “Once you’ve been here, you’ll never never want to leave.” I’m not quite sure I agree. In fact, after 5,000 KM of Outback I’d say it was all very interested but I’d never never come back.... The long, straight roads through flat country of all the same, sparse vegetation are getting quite monotonous by now. What WAS really interesting was to watch the movie, We Of The Never Never. It’s based on a book about the first white settlers on a homestead around 1902. It’s the author’s autobiography of the harsh life on a cattle station and how she tried to befriend the local aboriginals. If you have a chance to watch it, I recommend it.

Clueless and Timeless

Thurs Sept 2
Tropic of Capricorn

We had to meet someone, last night, at 6:30 PM. We were there in plenty of time and waited... and waited... and waited. Finally we commented to someone that we had expected to meet someone at 6:30. He said “But it’s only 6 PM!” First we thought our watch had died, or the battery slowed down. Then we realized we had crossed a time zone and the time was 30 minutes earlier than we thought. We passed that timezone four days earlier and we had not noticed! Ha. But then we slowly recalled all the times this week that our timing had been off. “Remember that roast dinner where we were way too early?” “Oh, remember that the sunrise was so much later than they had told us!” The worst one: “Remember we left because the Aboriginal dances were not on at 4 PM as they had told us...” I guess it’s easy to lose half an hour when you’re on the road. When I asked why there were no signs along the highway or timezones on the map, they exclaimed "Oh! That would be a good idea!" :-) 
Desert wildflowers

Today we drove 650 KM from Alice Springs to Renner Springs. And that was after we did all the groceries for the next few days. Imagine driving that distance in Europe (Amsterdam to Orleans) or in North America (Vancouver to Portland, Oregon) with only a handful of tiny towns in between. Many towns are called a ‘station’ and are simply a gas station with a store and pub, serving drinks and food, a toilet and a phone and that’s it. Some of the towns have come up with innovative ways to try and make a tourist stay longer (and spend money). Alleron (population: 10) has erected a 12’ statue of a man. Apparently a naked man. I’m sure you can buy caps and mugs and t-shirts with the figure on it. It’s even on the map. 
Wycliffe Well has pronounced itself the world’s UFO capitol and advertises sightings of aliens. The pub is painted in spaceships. I’m sure you will see them if you stay long enough.
Perhaps the prize goes to Banka Banka which promotes a visit because they have a rock that looks exactly like the profile of Winston Churchill. We miss that sight because it was off the highway...
We have been in awe of an absolute endless view of desert. Nothing. No town in the distance, no chimney anywhere. Just 360º of emptiness. We haven’t seen natural water since leaving the east coast, 5,000 KM ago.
We are now camped next to the Desert Hotel.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Monday Sept 23
Another 500 KM of dry shrub land and we actually made it to the heart of the continent: Uluru. The campground is part of a low village of hotels, store, restaurants and visitors centre that, more or less, blends into the surroundings. At least it is nowhere very obtrusive. At sunset we drove 25 KM into the park to a viewing spot where we parked, along with many others and had a perfect, unobstructed view of the big rock as it changed colors in the setting sun.
Was it worth driving thousands of miles for?
It certainly stirred my heart, both as the icon it is and for its stark, natural beauty. Tomorrow... we rise well before the sun to be there as it comes over the horizon.

Tuesday Sept 24
The people right next to us watching the sun set on Uluru, turned out to be a wonderful couple (a teacher!) from Perth, on a year long trek around Australia. When we got back to the campground it turned out they were our neighbors there too. Destiny. We so enjoyed visiting with them and picking their brain both for spots to see on our trip and for information on Perth.
At 6 AM we drove to Uluru only to discover that we didn’t have enough gas in our tank to drive all the way to the sun rise viewpoint. So we didn’t join those crowds but got an early start on our hike around the base. A 10 KM loop that skirts the big orange mountain. It was still nice and cool but we did have to cover our heads with fly nets. Kees looked like a walking raisin bread with all the flies who hitched a ride on his head and shoulders. They didn’t seem to like me as much. Fine.
Our hike was great and interesting. In my head I could hear the didgeridoos of native people.... I think we did hear dingos singing in the distance.
A visit to the aboriginal culture center taught us more about a very recent way of life. People not much older than us, who remember seeing the fist white person. So much has changed in their life time. And not all for the better. Imagine living a peaceful life, living off the land, learning from your elders. And then having that entire rug pulled out from underneath you. They could not practise their way of living, eating, dancing, celebrating, even speaking. It’s hard to understand that fair skinned children were taken from their families to  be raised by white families. Not ‘just’ put in boarding schools but stolen from their families. People our age remember their mothers hiding them when government officials came to their village. What possessed white people to act that way? Slavery, prohibiting other cultures from speaking their own language, taking everything.... The mind boggles at how some people acted. Hopefully in the past tense. There’s a movement on now called “Bring Them Home” trying to locate those ‘children’ to put them back in touch with their families.
Australia’s aboriginal people have beautiful faces, as if carved from mahogany. Broad noses, very curly hair. Women were painting their famous dot stories outside the visitors centre. Inside was information on how the National Park is jointly run by locals and white people. If an elder has passed away, their photo is covered up and their name cannot be mentioned anymore. We were struck by how many similarities there are to Canada’s Inuit people: the sounds of drumming and chanting, the way the words look.
Everywhere signs ask you not to climb Uluru because it is a sacred site and the aboriginal people don’t want you to climb it. Yet we saw a long line of people clambering up... Why?! I asked a ranger why they don’t simply prohibit it. The reply was that government is afraid that less people will come (and leave their money). If you plan to visit Uluru, please don’t climb! It’s kind of like a horde of jolly people entering the Anglican church to have a picnic on the alter.

The rest of the day, we swam in the pool, had showers, took a nap, did laundry and cooked a nice grilled chicken dinner.

Wed Sept 25

Up again at 5:45 AM to quickly drive to the Kata Tjuta range to see the sun rise. These mountains are 50 KM from Uluru, of the same stone but more broken into individual shapes. Nice too. But I was disappointed by how many people are here. Whole bus loads show up and crowd onto the viewing platforms. We couldn’t even get close enough to see Uluru in the distance.  The other disappointment is that you are not allowed to take photos anywhere: around the mountains, in and near the visitor centre, etc. etc.
We started on the hike around Kata Tjuta but it was a clamber over boulders, and too many people. So, after a final farewell to the big rock, we headed back to Alice Springs. The park gave us a fond farewell by having a herd of feral camels roam in plain view!
37ø C in Alice Springs.

Mango Ice cream and Pythons

Sat Sept 21

You know you are way out there when your GPS says “turn left in 539 KM.” You know it is a lonely road when you look forward to the next traffic sign so you have something to read.  We saw nothing but brush, some dry trees, red earth, a few emus- all day.  We are now camped in Tennant Creek, a small oasis town with trees and even a pool at the campground.  One day north of Alice Springs. Still no internet.
Today we left Queensland and entered the Northern Territories. The outside temperature hoovered between 37 and 38.5.  What a great thing airco in the cab is !!!! This morning we fueled up in Mtn Isa and it was $1.64 a liter, by the time we got to the border it had gone up to $2.00 and now here in Tennant Creek it is $2.20 a liter. I wonder if it is going to cost us our first born by the time we get to Uluru the day after tomorrow.

Sun Sept 22
Left the dusty little town at 8 AM after filling up with diesel. We had over 600 KM to drive today. But our first stop was shortly after town to see Karlu Karlu, or ‘the devil’s marbles’. The aboriginal people say that these huge round boulders, precariously balancing, are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. Geologists say they are hard layers of granite that have been eroded and left behind when softer layers washed away. Whatever they are, they are beautiful and impressive. But the heat and the flies were increasing so we continued on our way south along the lonely Stuart Highway. We stopped again at a rare mango orchard where we had delicious mango ice cream and splurged on a bottle of mango wine.  One minute I was savouring the ice cream, the next moment the car started shaking and swirling. Kees managed to pull over to discover a blown tire! The smoking shreds still clung to the rim and we wobbled to safer, flat ground away from the road. This meant into the red dust. Hordes of flies had lain in wait for us and descended in jubilant droves. We had planned on buying fly nets to wear over our heads in Alice Springs...
Breathing flies, I tried to recite the manual while Kees fiddled with the spare wheel, removed it from under the van (by lying down in the bright red sand of course), manoevered the hydraulic pump in place and expertly changed the wheel. I tried to swap flies away from his head with the manual and encouraged him best as I could. Meanwhile, at least six cars, including a police car, zoomed by us without bothering to ask if we needed help. This was hundreds of kilometers away from anywhere. I was surprised that no one stopped to help. Kees in the ditch, and me waving a book must have look confident enough not to offer help. The termite hills looked on as we wobbled away on the spare wheel.
We did make it into Alice Springs where the very first building happened to be the Britz dealer. Not only did they change the wheel and install a new spare, they put on new tires in the rear, made us coffee, and offered all sorts of help. We are much impressed with the company.
After showers at the campground, we went for a nice Aussie roast beef dinner with all the fixings, complete with a country singer and a reptile show. Met a phython up close and personal. 

Of Birds & Bush Poets

Thurs Sept 19

The number and variety of birds in Australia is mind blowing. Living in the country, we are quite used to having lots of birds around. But multiply and amplify that many times to get what we hear here. None are the same as the European or North American birds with which we are familiar. We see white parakeets with yellow combs, lots of black and white “magpies” types, some black “crow” like birds. Vultures. A cross of dove and pigeon.
Their songs, at the break of dawn around 5 AM, are hilarious. One is exactly like a whistling man who forget the tune, hesitates and tries again.
Another bird sounds exactly like he’s snoring: a loud rattle followed by a whistle.
There are flocks of very excited birds. At the first ray of light they all chant “HERE-we-go! HERE-we-go!”
There are alarm-clock-birds, a Volkswagen-bird (sounds like he can’t get started), a telephone-bird, and of course the kookaburra who laughs at them all.

One night, in a campground, we attended a bush poet evening. I loved it. Two women performed a cross between stand-up comedy and poetry. Bush cowboys are well known for their long entertaining ballads, which relate all aspects of live, funny incidents and everything else.These two performed their own works, poems about grandmothers, about teenage sons, about being a chook farmer (chook = chicken), and more. If you want to hear some, go to:

We stayed 2 nights in Mt Isa at a quiet caravan park with a nice pool. Slept in, had tea in bed, did all our laundry, even mopped the floor of our camper. We visited a small aboriginal center where we chatted with a lovely lady. She told us that aboriginal people have only been recognized in Australia’s Constitution as of THIS MONTH. Unbelievable.
One of the most enjoyable visits was to the School of the Air. In several cities, this special school for Outback children has learning centers where you can get a tour. Many of the students live eight hours of more from the nearest town. Teachers talk with them each day, at a set time, over the phone. The ranches are often so remote that they don’t even have internet access.  The kids don’t see their teacher, just talk with them about their lessons. They even learn music, like playing the violin, via the telephone! The ‘school’ was full of art on the walls and large projects that students had mailed in. Children are schooled during elementary and middle school and sometimes also into highschool but many highschool students go to boarding schools in Queensland. Some boys return to work on the (company or family) ranges. When I asked about further education, I was given an example of a girl from a family of 7 children, who is now doing her PhD in math at Cambridge.

From Barky to Mt. Isa

Wednesday Sept 18
It’s interesting how quickly we get into a daily routine. We are in a “on the road” routine right now. Waking up at 7 AM when the campground comes to life. We wash and dress in the toilet/shower building, make breakfast of granola, milk and yogurt - or sometimes eggs and toast - with a cup of tea. By 8:30 we are on the road.
Drove about 500 KM each of the last few days. From Emerald to Barcaldine (“Barky”) to Winton (“Witton”) to Mt Isa (“the Isa”).
Each town is an isolated dusty place with wide streets, a few pubs, a school and a handful of other buildings. Many have a pub or hotel in a colonial style with a wide veranda with lacey white trim. We buy groceries here, a bottle of wine there. Today we got diesel (“petrol”) in a one house town. And two coffees to go.
The speed limit is mostly 110 KM. We share the road with other caravans but also with the famed (or infamous...) outback road trains. These trucks pull up to 4 enormous trailers of freight and can be as long as 55 meters! They hog their lane and you better watch out when passing them. Once we had to overtake one and it takes a lot of time to get by one. 
We’ve finally seen our first wild kangaroos now, small groups in the shade of a tree. But we also see literally hundreds of dead kangaroos and wallabees along the road.  At times it looks like a slaughter house of road kills. I assume the animals come to the warm asphalt when at night the temperatures drop sharply and then get hit by passing vehicles.

By 10:30ish we both want coffee and either pull into a rest area to make our own, or buy a “tall black” in town.
Around noon we try to find a tall tree in any town that will give us some shade. Not much chance of a shade tree once you’re out of town. So we park in front of a post office or school and make our own sandwiches.
By 3 PM we arrive in the town where we will spend the night and find a campground, again with shade being the main attraction. A pool is next. Since buying a SIM card in our iPad, wireless internet is less urgent and it’s hard to find anyway. And never free. 
Our camper is a large van  with a raised roof. It has two good seats up front. The sliding door opens on the left side. There’s a tiny bathroom with a hand held shower, which we haven’t used yet but is good to have - just in case. Then there’s a counter block with 2 cupboards with pots and pans, a toaster, a kettle etc. and a small fridge on the left side. On the right is the counter with a 3 burner stove top, microwave and a small sink. They both close with a nice glass lid. There are food cupboards and quite a bit of storage throughout.  There’s also a TV and air conditioning. The back of the camper is a horseshoe shaped dinette set, with a bookshelf (!) and more storage both along the walls and under the seats. This folds into a KINGSIZE bed at night. We rented an extra package which gives us 2 plates, 2 cups, 2 glasses, 2 bowls, cutlery, mixing bowls, large utensils, as well as 2 towels, 2 pillows, sheets and a nice kingsize duvet. All this was either brandnew or spotlessly cleaned when we received it. There’s also 2 lawn chairs and an outside table. The camper has a pull out stove outside on which we can even grill steaks. We rented this camper from Britz ( and, so far, we are very happy with it. It drives well and is comfortable.

Each campground (here called a caravan park) has pull through stalls and, hopefully some eucalyptus trees for shade. I can’t believe how quiet each one is. Not a sound at night even if it’s full. Most have very clean toilets and sh0wers. And all have a special camp kitchen: a large shelter with counters and a sink for dishes, a cookstove, an electric kettle, often a toaster. And almost always a bbq for grilling outback steaks!
By 9 PM we’ve had our evening coffee and read books for a while, then we undertake the giant task of making the bed, before falling into it and sleeping like a log.
Under the full moon (right now) and the southern cross, the temperatures plummet rapidly.

What I Learned Today: that emus live in the wild in Queensland. I had no idea there would be so many here. We spot them along the road, roaming the sunbaked land. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

From Great Barrier Reef to Outback!

Fri/Sat Sept 13/14: Surfers Paradise, NSW to Hervey Bay, Qld.

Hervey Bay was wonderful. A smaller town, right on the beach. It seemed like city council here had the foresight to preserve the entire water front as park and green space. A long walk/bike trail led from one end of town to the other, stringing together parks, playgrounds, even a free water park. The three campgrounds, right on the water, were council parks. We had a spot on the beach but it WAS windy! Beautiful warm swimming along with the pelicans. Spent 2 nights here.

Sunday/Monday Sept 15/16
243 years ago. At this very spot. A large sail ship approached the north east coast of Australia. Captain James Cook and his botanist, Mr. Banks, came ashore here as the very first Europeans.
No GPS. No mobile phone. There’s still no internet so that part still feels primitive. But otherwise Cook would probably not recognize this very spot, the Town of 1770. We arrived here by road, not ocean. We navigated north along smaller backroads from Hervey Bay. We were surprised how quickly green and relatively populated areas made way for dry and isolated range land. Sometimes it felt like ‘outback’ already. Town of 1770 has not much besides a crowded campground at the end of the road. Good thing we phoned ahead and booked a site for 2 nights. As soon as we stepped out of the car, a lady said “Hello again! We met at the Horseshoe Bay ferry on our way to Bowen Island!” We racked our brains... until we discovered that she mistook us for other Canadians and that she meant HERE, not in BC! Amazing.  
This is just looking down from the boat!

The campground is fairly run down and feels more like a parking lot. Our neighbors are less than 2 mtr away. But we spent all day Monday away on the Great Barrier Reef! Since we came all this way we decided to follow our heart and see for ourselves what we were taught about even in grade school in Holland. The catamaran took us out into the open ocean for over an hour before we spotted what looked like sandbars. But they were corral reefs, exposed at low tide. The high ocean waves came to an abrupt end into a shallow, peaceful and turquoise lagoon. We navigated through a channel into the lagoon, spotting mating turtles and an amazing aray of fish. The boat moored at a floating dock and we were taken, in small groups, onto Lady Musgrave Island, the most southern of the Great Barrier Reef islands.
Wading thr0ugh the water, we reached a bleached corral beach where two huge loggerhead turtles had stranded themselves on too hot a day. The guide was worried about them dying and so Kees, along with six other strong guys found themselves a loggerhead turtle rescue squad.
It took 7 men to lift the turtle back to water.
Me snorkeling!
They hoisted the 300 some pound turtle toward the cool water. Until she frantically flapped her flippers. But, in the end, they both made it back into the water. Likely after having deposited their eggs on the island, which will hatch in just eight weeks.  The rest of the island was bird paradise. Black Noddy Terns make their nests among the tangle of tropical trees. Their nests are all over and their guana covers everything. The birds themselves are so at ease in this paradise that you can practically pet them. You can be within a foot of them and they still don’t fly away.  I snorkeled in the blue waters, seeing hundreds of different colored tropical fish, ranging from bright blue, to yellow striped to skinny barracuda’s. We also took trips in a glass bottom boat and in a boat with a deep underwater keel and glass windows. We had tea and a lovely luncheon on the boat. All together well worth the cost. It made for one of those fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime days!

Tuesday Sept 17
Drove 500 km from 1770 to Emerald, Queensland. Landscape changed from lush green to dry green. Cacti along the roads. Towns further apart and temps higher. Nice green corner of a campground though. And from now on.. 500 km per day will get us to Uluru!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pelican and I

Pelican and I
bobbing on the waves,
Pelican and I
each have a wish.
Me to see dolphins,
he to catch fish.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Driving in Australia

After driving 1,500 kilometers during the first week in Australia I am well used to the left hand traffic. As a matter of fact it really only took 2 days to get used to it, but I do need to stay very alert when we get to intersections and drive through cities. Fortunately the Australian driver is very polite, even more so than the north american driver. I have not encountered any ‘jerks’ on the road, something I rarely can say after driving 1,500 km in north America.

Finding our way around appears to be easy because I let Margriet do it all :-). I do the driving, she has the GPS, the map and her Ipad to find us the best routes and this way we have a perfect division of ‘duties’.

The Australian governments are actively developing a terrific national highway system. Along the section of east coast we have so far traveled there are large sections with a 4 lane divided highway, while at other sections you slow down to a crawl because extensive road construction is being undertaken. They are obviously spending billions of dollars upgrading the main highway up and down the east coast. ‘Good on them’.

The camper we are driving is a Mercedes diesel, known in North America as a Sprinter. It is the long version of that model and I did have to get used to the width more than the length. Years ago we travelled around North America for an entire year with a RV unit that was 55-60’ long, so the 23-24’ long Sprinter is no problem.

Early September is not an especially busy time on the road, although we are seeing numerous ‘snow birds’ heading south, back after having spent the winter up north (don’t forget it is the southern half of the world down here and the seasons are reversed).

Since we are travelling outside the busy holiday season we are not having any problems finding places to camp. We are sticking to ‘caravan parks’, nice, well appointed campgrounds with power hookups, water and sewer at your site. At the end of next week a 2 week school holiday will start and we would have more problems finding a spot on the coast, but that is when we are planning to turn west - inland. We expect that further inland we won’t have problems finding camping sites.
The caravan parks here are providing any and all amenities you would want. Beside well maintained restroom buildings with showers, there are kitchens, with cooking areas, dishwashing facilities, and laundry facilities. Everything is spotless: the kitchen sinks have cloths, the toilets have brushes by them.
The big difference with north american camp sites is that these are close together, providing little or no privacy and there are no places to have a campfire. That might change when we move into the backcountry, but we’ll find out later.

It takes all of 5 minutes to set up the camper when we arrive at a site. An app on the Ipad functions as a level and in no time we know how to park to not roll out of bed at night. Plug in the power cord, open the propane bottle and we are ready to go for a walk on the beach or sit and relax.

The camper has all the modern conveniences we are used to having at home.  Not only a fridge but also a 3 burner stove, sink with hot and cold running water, airco, 240 electical outlets to charge cell phone, ipad, ipod, in Reach (a satelite emergency assist unit the boys gave me for my retirement) the computer, and last but not least a shower/toilet, although it is barely big enough to change your mind in it.
The fridge automatically switches over from 240 to 12 volt when you unplug the shore power. I remember the older fridges in our camper that ran on 110v, 12v or propane, it rarely kept the contents cold. Best of all the dinette set converts into a  KING size bed. (as if we never left home:-))

I am sure we can handle this for a few more months!!!!
This is retirement PLUS.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Do Take Away My Aligator Pie!

Will That Be a Tall Black or a Short White?
Sept 11: Woolgoolga, NSW
We both had a bit of a sore throat and a cough, the last few days. So it was nice to have “a day off” today. We keep looking at each other and grinning. Less than a week go we faced mountains of laundry, guests for breakfast and the last minute rush of things. Now we have... nothing to do. It’s an amazing change.
After breakfast we strolled into the small, cute town to have coffee. Making your own meals in a camper is a good way to keep the cost of things down. Eating out seems to be very expensive in Australia.
In the afternoon Kees took a long walk on the beach while I swam and played in the strong surf. Now we’re bbqing smokies while the birds are chattering away.

What I Learned Today: is how to order coffee in Australia. A ‘short black’ is a very strong espresso. A ‘tall black’ is regular black coffee, but not necessarily a large size. A tall black can come in a cup or in a mug.
A ‘short white’ is steamed milk with espresso....

Sept 12: Woolgoolga to Surfers Paradise.
Left fairly early today to drive north. First it was flat, lots of green farm fields with cows and a wide river. Had coffee on the river at a little pie shop. Then the landscape changed to much more hilly, but still very green. We had planned to drive north past Brisbane but, on the map, we noticed a smaller road closer to the coast with villages called Miami  and Surfers Paradise. So we decided to swing that way in hopes of finding a nice little laid-back campground on the beach. Imagine our utter amazement when the area turned out to have nothing but highrises, casinos and amusement parks. It’s called The Gold Coast and does seem like a gold mine for the operators. No hope of a little campground. Although we did find a nice site, almost on the water, and with a pool just before heading back to the main highway. But the area south of Brisbane is very touristy and crowded, even in this shoulder season.
I love Aussies. If I had to find one word to describe them, it would be ‘jovial’. They are always laid-back and friendly. Today I asked a man if I could safely swim at the beach in the campground, since no one else was swimming. He said “Oh yeah, sure, no worries. My kids swims here all the time. The bull sharks usually stay where it’s deeper. You’ll probaby be just fine.”
And he wasn’t kidding. FYI I swam.
We were feeling adventurous and courageous today. The little pie shop I mentioned earlier did not have the familiar apple or chocolate pies... We bought a... drum roll please... kangaroo and a crocodile pie! Just had it for dinner. The roo pie wasn’t bad, just like beef pie. But neither one of us liked the croc. Tasted like salt water chicken. But now we know. And I have the urge to email Dennis Lee about his aligator pie poem!
Just when I thought the day was over, I heard terrific screeching in a tree. Huge fruit bats landed in the branches to hang upside down and munsch on fruit. I managed to get some photos of them. They look like flying monkeys.

What I learned Today: that the spiky fields we saw all day are fields of sugar cane. And that sugar cane fields are burned so that all snakes, rats, and leaves burn and they can simply pick up the left over canes, which are hauled off to the many sugar refineries we saw today.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Toowoon, Woolgoolga... only in Australia!

Sept 9: Toowoon Bay to Forster NSW.

Took freeways when we wanted to circumnavigate larger cities, small scenic roads when we wanted to explore the coast. Quite by accident we found a deserted church camp on the edge of a huge bay. We are camped, all by ourselves, under palm trees full of screeching birds, overlooking the water.  I tried to swim since it was clean and warm. But after walking into ankle deep water for half a mile, I gave up and wade back. Not deep enough. 

Sept 10: Forster to Woolgoolga, NSW  Spent the rest of the day driving. Even though the map says we are right on the coast, we haven’t seen the ocean all day. Everyone tells us that McDonalds has free wifi so today we stopped at each one - I can’t stand another order of fries but wifi never worked at any McD. So much for that.

Finally found a campground, in the middle of a little town, that is very close to the beach. It looks good but is so windy that the sand comes right by our camper. Hope some of the beach will still be there tomorrow.


What I Learned Today: ... that kookaburra’s are meateaters.

Sept 8: Sydney to Toowoon Bay

Left The Rocks after breakfast, hauling luggage down to the wharf and train station. The Rocks is where the first British landed and it still has an old world feel to it, with cobblestone streets and lots of staircases to reach the next level. It reminded me abit of Delft - an old European city.

Airplanes are always a bit like time machines, transporting you to a different climate and culture. But here it feels much like home - the temperature is the same, people, traffic, etc. are so similar. Except for the birds and the vegetation. 

We took the train to Mascot and found the camper rental - a 5 minute walk. It was great to have all the time we needed to do paperwork, settle our luggage, register online for toll roads and more - before heading out into left traffic. With my toes curled in my shoes I yelled 'left' most of the way while Kees had no problem driving. Finally made it to a major freeway where driving is easier if you don't constantly have to think. Between our iPad map app and the borrowed GPS we hear many beeps and even loud chiming church bells*. No idea what was setting it all off but I found a general direction on the map and we managed to have all electronic gadgets direct us north and to a campground on the beach, via a supermarket. We are fully wired and I must say it helps to make life easier.
Our first night in the camper and we are sipping wine, had a chicken cordon blue dinner from scratch and listening to the waves of the South Pacific crashing below us. Beats the horrendous noise at the pub in Sydney where we slept for the past two nights.

* turned out to be a warning for 'speed camera coming up', not Kees exceeding the speed limit!

When we picked up our camper, we were made to watch a DVD on how everything works. The camper in the movie looked gorgeous and I was curious as to how closely our real camper would resemble to one in the movie. Lo' and behold, the real one was every bit as nice! It is spotless, with nice upholstery, no stains or smells. Spotless cupboards with plastic wrapped dishes and cutlery. A sealed bag with crips, clean linens, towels, pillows and a kingsize duvet. You have to hold your breath to ever fit inside the shower but at least it's there. I'm sure there will come a day, in the Outback, when we are glad to have it. For now, the campground has wifi and a pool. Not exactly roughing it.
We booked this Britz camper rental online via a broker and I must say it looks good so far. First night we ent on the edge of the south Pacific in Toowoon Bay.
I did just hear our lives come to a screeching halt, or at least a major slow down. No B&B to run... No acreage to maintain... No job. I think we can handle it.

What I Learned Today: that Aussies don’t recycle as much as we do. To my utter surprise there’s no deposit on bottles, even though we see a lot about ‘don’t litter’ and campaigns against bottles on the beach etc.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Welcome to Tomorrow!

Today we arrived down-under, in the land of Oz, in the southern hemisphere... In the land where spring is fall, north is warm and south is colder... And where they drive on the left side of the road to boot.

The more I read, before coming here, the more I learned about vicious snakes, poisonous spiders and killer crocodiles. We'll try to avoid them all in the next three months.

We had an uneventful flight. 16 hours. And now we are in Sydney, in The Rocks - the old cobblestone part where white people first landed. Actually, the Dutch 'found' Australia about a hundred years earlier but took one look and decided it was an empty wasteland. They didn't even bother to claim it. Then the French and the British king played monopoly with really places and the English won. But they decided to use Australia as a dumping ground for their criminals: the Rocks is where the first settlers landed.
Now, if the deadly insects and animals don't kill you, the prices will. The skytrain from the airport was just a few stops but cost 17.- per person one way. We walked by a bakery with little, tiny pastries in the window: 15.- dollars each. But the people are cheerful, the sky is blue and the beer is plentyful. Enjoy staying in the same hotel where we stayed 13 years ago: It's a fun pub with a few rooms upstairs. Not much has changed, the paint is still peeling and the floors creak a bit more. But Sydney itself seems much more touristy and crowded. Tomorrow we take a ferry across the water to explore the Manly Beach area.

Now all we need to do is learn to drive on the wrong side of the road before picking up our camper.