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Thursday, October 31, 2013

October 31, Halloween night

Farewell to our camper
October 31, Halloween night and we are checked into The Witch’s Hat in Perth. This morning we were in the perfect campsite to clean out and pack our bags. Our groceries were perfectly finished after our last breakfast and lunch in the camper. Sad to say goodbye - both to the camper and to the lovely sites along the ocean.

Soon after leaving Yanchep we found ourselves on highways, heading into Perth traffic.
We dropped off the camper. Another efficient and friendly Britz office. Then the bus, loaded with our backpacks, into the city. Checked into the hostel. Feels cool to be among young backpackers from around the world.

Our backpacks are stuffed and very heavy. Part of the problem is that we keep finding wonderful books. We bought an iPad specifically so that we
could have lots of books without the weight. The problem is not so much that we don’t like reading on the iPad. It’s fine. The problem is that we don’t come across good books online. We find them in campgrounds, in second hand book stores, on shelves in the youth hostel, etc. So they pile up.

This is the pile we now have in our pack.
I noticed they make a nice spine poem! Probably says something about us...
Who Am I?

Pizza and beer in the city for dinner tonight.
So now we are spending Halloween night at The Witch’s Hat. We both chuckled when we heard we had room... 13.
So far nothing too spooky but the lights ARE flickering!

Witch's Hat Hostel

New Norcia, a Monastic Village

New Norcia college

 In 1846 a Spanish monk made his way to the new world after having been given the task by the pope of establishing a monastry in Western Australia and converting Aborigines to Christianity.
Salvado with aborigals at New Norcia in mid 1800's
Dom Salvado had a somewhat unique view for the time. He did not try to convert and preach very hard but worked with the native populatin to win their trust. He appreciated the wisdom of the native population and made friends with them. Salvado eventually founded a small town in the Australian bush. New Norcia is a Benedictine monastic town. Separated from the Catholic church, these monks live in the town permanently and actively work to earn their own living. They grow and press olives, have a beautiful bakery and make a renowned wine and beer. It’s like a small Spanish town in the Australian bush country, with old mission buildings and palm trees.
Church at New Norcia
We took a tour of  the churches and several other buildings now used by educational institutions for retreats, etc. You can even spend the night in the monastary. If we weren’t running out of time, we would have stayed and experienced that. A night’s stay includes a small room, and three meals a day with the monks, time for meditation and prayer and just quiet time to relax and reflect. Salvado made several trips back to Europe to raise funds for the small village. By 1900 on his 8th trip he passed away in Rome and was eventually burried in New Norcia.
New Norcia monastry
New Norcia stain glass window

We opted to continue staying with our new Australian friends!
It was lovely to meet Australian people. We spent a few days with them and the last night they invited many of their friends for a little party. Wonderful to spend the evening with such friendly, jovial Aussies. They have a very admirable tight-knit community and take pride in building their own facilities like tennis courts, playing fields, a recreation hall and library.
Aboriginal art at New Norcia

Cuddly koala!
On Wednesday we stopped at Yanchep National Park and, finally, saw koalas! They are so cute, clinging to the tree in their sleepy positions. They look as if they will crash to the ground if they let go. They’d move to a more comfortable fork in a tree, once in a while.

After that we found a lovely spot in Yanchep’s caravan park for our very last night in the camper! Exciting to now embark on our next adventure: a ten day hike from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste in the south of Western Australia. Stay tuned for this adventure!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pink Lakes and Yellow Pinnacles


On the way to Geraldton we drove passed Pink Lake. The water is pink because of a microbe releasing beta carotine in the water.

Geraldton was the first regular city since leaving Darwin, several thousand kilometers ago. It was very nicely laid out, with large boulevards and a great waterfront. We’ve noticed in a lot of towns here that the waterfront is preserved as park, often with playgrounds and public beaches. It’s so much nicer than walking along private hotels and restaurants and not being able to get to the shore.
It was Kees’ birthday so we had dinner in a lovely place with view on the water. The library had good, free!, internet access so we got caught up on emails and work.

The Pinnacles
Now we are staying in Cervantes, right by the beach. Today we drove Nambung National Park to see the Pinnacles. We were curious to see these since they seem an Australian landmark. They are depicted on the cover of an Australian book we have at home. I always wonder what it would be like to be the first to come across a place like this. Normal scrubby desert and then, bang, bright yellow sand with thousands of stone pillars.
Scientists are not sure if they are stone (shell and sand) structures around which the soil has eroded. Or if they are fossilized wood. I would have thought it’d be easy to determine that, but apparently not. But, whatever it is, it looks cool to be surrounded by these pillars. We walked almost 4 KM among them. In the heat. So now I need a swim...


October 29, Dandaragan
We are visiting the sister of a Canadian friend, who is a teacher in a small rural town. Lovely, hospitable people. Nice to use a real bathroom again for a change! Today I did readings for little people in the public library, followed by presentations at the elementary school.
Our friends grow Australian wildflowers for the export market. Amazing to see them cut some 8,000 flowers, wrap them in boxes in a cooler and race them to the airport. These flowers might just show up in bouquets on the table in homes in Holland!


Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Photo Eassay of Miscellaneous Tidbits

We see so many interesting new things each day. Here's an eclectic mix of tidbits we'd like to share:
In the city of Geraldton we found this modern, Aboriginal art depicting "things from the sky."

Book art from the Geraldton library. I want to make these for Christmas... just use old paperbacks.

Imagine diving in the ocean and, among the sea anemones you spot... a whole load of silver coins. These came from the Batavia wreck!

My first reaction was "Someone dumped a load of apples on the side of the road... Then I said to Kees "Stop the car!" Upon closer inspection I discovered these wild melons growing everywhere!
Those Aussies have great bumper stickers!

Here is a great idea. The old jail, or goal as it is called here, of Geraldton has not been changed much since the days it was used. But it is now an art center. Each cell has a different art displaying and making their craft, from precious stone jewelry to woodworking.
The lighthouse of Geraldton is picture perfect.
One of my favorite poems is 'Abandoned Farmhouse'. Here it is... Makes you wonder about the hardship these farmers faced, trying to grow wheat on the edge of the Outback.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wisdom From Books

Camped under an old gum tree in Kalbarri

        During our travels we always look for a book exchange. Almost every campground has one. In this manner we picked up some interesting reading.
1] Who Am I by Robert Bernard Taylor
This book was an eye opener to me. I don’t think I was aware of the fact that Britain sent thousands of young children from orphanages to live in Australia. Similar to the criminals that were sent earlier, they loaded ships with children to “get a better life” in the colony. Robert was about 6 years old and promised an education in Australia. However, many of these children ended up doing slave labor, like the author of the book who spent six years in a Catholic Boys Home where the children were terribly abused and used to built buildings and do farm work, trapping rabbits etc. rather than receive an education.
The book was very interesting to read, even more so because Robert Taylor ended up educating himself and becoming a pioneering park ranger, working in many of the national parks we became familiar with on this trip.

This book mentions another book called Empty Cradles, on the topic of child migrants.

2] Nomads At Large by Monty Dwyer, an Australia radio personality who traveled and interviwed seniors known as grey nomads. This book opened our eyes to the vast numbers of retirees who all buy campers and start traveling around the country, changing the economy of many places.
Not sure how I measure up to all these floodways...

3] The Salvado Memoirs, a historical account of Australia from a particular Catholic mission in the mid 1800’s with the emphasize on aboriginal information.  It is a biography of a Benedictine priest who ended up being a bishop and who established one of the first missions. The book gives amazing details on customs and language of the aboriginal people. We will probably bring this book back with us so you might want to borrow it!

4] LOVE a book I picked up called My Place by Sally Morgan. It's labeled as an Australian classic, her biography about being part aboriginal and what it meant to her and her family. Fascinating story, well written.

5] Tanami, by Kieran Kelly. A good read about two guys who walk across this Australian desert with 5 camels. A tough journey combined with interesting history and good storytelling. Kelly picks up where two historic explorers left off, and successfully completes an unfinished trek through Australia's hottest place.

Kees is speeding through several John Grishams and I just picked up a copy of The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl.
Pelican in Kalbarri

During the last few days we have spent time in towns like Denham and Kalbarri. We are blown away (literally) by the strong storm winds along the west coast. At first we thought it was just a windy day. And a stormy night. But it got worse and people said “Oh, the whole west coast is like this.” We can’t sit outside. Our chairs are blown away all the time. It’s tough to hike in this wind and the flies seem to have developed special techniques because they are NOT blown away by it.
Red Bluff, near Kalbarri

Seems like every town here has a memorial, some statute or memento about a historic Dutch ship that hit the coast and perished here, three or four hundred years ago. There’s a whole slew: the Batavia, the Zuytdorp, and more. One plague said, and I quote “It is not clear why the ship perished. Perhaps the captain miscalculate the turn toward Batavia in the Indies.” And I am thinking ‘No way! Those Dutch sailors were the best in the world at that time. They made it all the way around the world. It was the darn storms off this coast that blew them onto the rocks!”
Shell Beach, 15 meters deep of shells...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Camping Down-Under: Observations on Australian RVs by Kees

          Thirteen years ago when we visited Australia for the frst time, we rented a small camper van, a Toyota Hiace. It had well over 400,000 kms on it and every time we made a left turn the microwave fell on the floor. No airconditioning and since you are sitting on top of the engine in that van, it roasted your behind pretty good. So this time we decided to spent a few more dollars and get a larger, newer camper wth airconditioning and a large bed over the full width of the unit. We initially rented from the Cheapa company (the name should have warned us) but when we checked their reviews on Trip Advisor we found nothing but negative comments from previous users. So we changed to Britz and have been very very happy with their unit and their service, all first class. We used a broker to help us select the company (see Website: and were very happy with their services. You do see numerous rental companies that have units on the road. Not only Britz, but also Maui, Apollo and Kea are well known brands that are first class. There are several other rental companies that cater to different clientele and budgets. Make sure you check Trip Advisor before you rent anything!!

The rental units are mostly similar RVs to the ones you find in North America. Many class C motorhomes, small class B vans and many which would be classed as a large class B or a small class A. That is the one we now have, a Mercedes Sprinter fully camperized.
In North America there are more and more companies which use the Mercedes Sprinter (5 cyl. diesel) to build their motorhomes because it gets very good mileage for such a large unit. We are averaging 20 miles to the gallon, or about 8 liters per 100 kms. They drive well, however when you meet one of these famous road trains on the road (trucks that are 55 meters long and have 74 - 84 wheels) you better hang on to that steering wheel because you get hit with their draft pretty good.

The rental companies also provide many 4x4 camper units and that is a very good idea in Australia. Our (2 wheel) unit was only allowed on paved (sealed) road and as a result we had to forego visiting some National Parks or interesting sites because those would require us to travel down a dirt road (unsealed). A couple of times we  needed to travel 10 -12 km on unsealed roads just to get to a campground and these Sprinters  are not build for rough roads, that became obvious rather quickly. Next time we visit Australia we will get a 4x4 camper. A little more expensive to drive probably, but at least you can get everywhere you want to go.

The gas (petrol) here in Australia is a little more expensive, the cheapest diesel was $1.64 a liter but in the outback we paid as much as $2.20 a liter. You do have to be careful not to run out of gas because gas stations might be 250 km apart, however signs do warn you about those infrequent services and you would be pretty stupid if you did run out. Many people, especially those travelling the dirt roads in the Outback, carry extra jerrycans with fuel.

There are several other type of RVs on the road here in Australia and in campgrounds (caravan parks). First of all you see more types of trailers (called ‘caravans’ here) than I ever did see in North America. Many of them look rather low-slung when they go down the road, however as soon as they are parked a 1 or 1.5 foot pop up comes up that allows standing room in the trailer but allowed for less drag while going down the road.
Then there are the ‘camper caravans’, which we call tent trailers.
Another type we don’t see much of in North America is the ‘camper trailers’, these look like small utility trailers when being pulled behind a vehicle, but when folded out they become almost regular tents. And there are a few 5th wheels and even fewer large Class A motorhomes. The big Marathon, Prevost, Country Coach, Bounder etc. that you see in North American parks are rare here in Australia. You do see ‘slide on campers’ as they are called here, those are our pickup campers. And then something I have rarely seen in North America, the ‘roof top camper’. These are, usually small, tents that are carried on top of the car and which fold out, on top of the car, to a regular tent for which you need a ladder to get into it. It keeps you away from the snakes and spiders, but it seems a little awkward.

Since most of Australia is well endowed with a lot of sunshine many people use solar panels to charge their aux. batteries. Since the Caravan Parks can be rather expensive (we have paid between $32 and $52 for a site) many people stay in places where there are no facilities (dry camp). Especially the snowbirds (called ‘grey nomads’ or ‘silver seniors’ here) often dry camp for several days and then come into a Caravan Park for a night to replenish the drinking water, dump the grey and/or black water and get a decent shower. The facilities in these Caravan Parks are generally first class with laundromats, kitchen facilities and anything you can think of.
There is a major debate going on in the country between proponents of dry camping and the Caravan Park owners, who of course loose income if a grey nomad camps a few miles away in the bush while he has empty stalls. Several local municipal Councils have gotten into the act and decided to pass an ordinance to not allow dry camping within their boundaries. Or they are camper friendly and provide cheap (or sometimes free) camping spots for tourists.

All together we are very much enjoying the camping experience in Australia and I am already plans for our next trip down under!

No Monkeys - Just Dolphins!

The dolphins of Monkey Mia
 October 16, 17, 18.
We continued down the road, another 100 KM to the tiny village of Denham. A motel, a marina, a supermarket, a gas station and then a lovely caravan park. Got a spot overlooking the ocean from a bluff. But we soon discovered they still had an ocean front site because the wind howls through here at 50 knots an hour... Can’t step outside without being blown out of your pants. I don’t need a hair dryer - just step outside and it’s blown dry in a minute. The showers here are salt water... so how can I rinse off after an ocean swim?

The first recorded arrival of white men on Australian soil, was right here. A Dutch man. A Dutch trading ship, under the command of Captain Dirk Hartog arrived here on October 25, 1616 - more than 150 years before Captain Cook. Hartog left a pewter plate, nailed to a post. The original plate is now back in the Rijksmuseum, but there’s a replica of it here.

Today we drove the short 25 KM to Monkey Mia. I had talked to many people who had visited this resort where wild dolphins come to interact with people. Everyone had said that it used to be really fun, but that now it is very touristy and regulated. But still. When wild dolphins come to the shore, I wanted to experience that. I did not have high expectations. I also suspected it to be commercialized.
BUT it was fun! It’s done in a lovely manner. You do have to pay $8.50  a person entrance fee, but that is often the case at wildlife or nature reserves. The rangers gave a informative talk and the bottlenose dolphins arrived around 8 AM. No one makes them show up, they truly do live free in the ocean. Of course they have been conditioned, know that there is a treat waiting by the shore. But I do believe the regulations are in the dolphins best interest. If they did not strictly enforce rules, people would feed them bread, or worse. They would touch them and affect them with sunscreen or bacteria.
Now, we all had a long, good look at the six wild dolphins that came to shore. They almost beached themselves and showed off. One mother brought a small calf. It was lovely. A few people were allowed to feed a fish to them and then it was over. The dolphins come back as they please but are only fed in the morning, and only up to five females, bringing males and other friends along.
Bottlenose dolphin coming in to socialize.

Turns out that Monkey Mia is part of a much larger preserve, a UNESCO World Heritage area including Shark Bay, Shell Beach, Hamelin Pool and a few other special areas that deserve preservation for future generations.

Check out for details.

Coral Bay and Stromatolites!

Coral Bay

Oct 15
This is perhaps one of the most pictoresque beaches of white sand, with aqua water and perfect swimming/snorkeling anywhere in the world. I love it.
But the campgrounds aren’t great. We found a spot in the “beach front” rows of the campground closest to the beach. It really was just a walk past other campers and across the road. But it felt like we were camping in a parking lot, with cars coming and going, a petrol station right next to us. Busy, busy. $48 per night just to camp here. So we’re not staying as long as we would have liked to.

But the snorkeling is out of this world. Right off the beach you immediately float over amazing corral in all shapes and sizes with fishes darting everywhere, in all colors. Large rainbow colored fishes, trailed by little blue, yellow, black & white fishes. Even the occasional turtle. Fabulous.
This morning we walked along the beach to an area of the reef where reef sharks have their nursery. The shallow waters were teaming with reef sharks in all sizes as well as a small ray.
Coral Bay and Exmouth are two places we’d go back to, no problem.
Romantic dinner by "candlelight"!!

But we did leave and drove 430 KM down the same, boring desert road. It’s called the North West Coastal Highway. It’s not truly boring - there’s something imposing in its emptiness - but there really is nothing to see. Kees loves driving the long distances and I’m getting the tedious sleeves knit on the sweater I’m making.
The same red earth (Uluru’s color really is not that special when you consider that the whole continent is red soil. It’s just that Uluru is so hard, a monolith that has not eroded).
The same dusty green shrubs.
The same dead animals along the road. Not so many wallabees as there were along the Barkly Highway, but kangaroos, birds, cattle, even sheep. The cows are huge Brahmin cows and, apparently, get hit by road trains. They lie on the side of the road with their stiff legs in the air, bloated and dried like gigantic leather purses.

We even see the same people. Similar to the Camino de Santiago, a long distance hiking trail in Spain where you often run into the same hikers each day, here you also meet fellow travelers going in the same direction. We recognize people we saw two, three even five days back in another town. Obviously making the same stops along the same route.

We pass one town of a decent size and do our groceries for the next few days. Fill up with diesel whenever we find a larger town with lower prices. Then we find the turn-off to Denham, Shark Bay and - my long awaited stop - Monkey Mia.

I just finished reading Bill Bryson’s In A Sunburned Country, in which he elaborates about Hamelin Pool and stromatolites. From his book, I knew about these rocks containing the earth’ first microbes. If they had not existed, billions of years ago, and decided to release oxygen into the atmosphere, we might have never ‘happened’. So I was curious to see to whom, or what, I owed this life on earth. Turns out stromatolites do not look exciting. The closest I can think of is lava. Black, grayish rocks sitting knee deep in saline water. No mysterious glow. No fluorescent frills. Not even gory green algae. Just rocks in clear water. But still. Cool to know that this is only one of two places on earth where stromatolites still ‘live’.  They do not look exactly lively and I think that Kees was a bit puzzled by my wish to see them.

Of Flies and Roadkill...

October 14
We’ve been telling you all about how wonderful our Australian travels are: warm temperatures, swimming, tropical beaches... Then we realized that, where you live it may be a blustery Fall. You may be going to work and get really ticked off reading about how nice our trip is... So we figure it’s time to tell you about the down side of traveling. How it’s not at all what it’s cracked up to be.

:-( The distances we have to drive here to get anywhere are terrible... One day we did 930 KM.

:-(The temperatures can be murder. It’s been an average of 33 degree, sometimes up to 41 degrees C.

:-( The flies are awful... they want to settle permanently up your nose.

:-( You always have to walk to a shower building, dragging all of your clothes, towel, toiletries, the key... Then you have to balance on one foot in a wet showerstall, trying to get dressed.

:-( The flies are terrible.

:-( There’s no Heineken to be found in the Outback. !

:-( It’s hard to find good coffee here, especially in the supermarket. Almost only instant.

:-( We track sand into our van all the time. Have to sweep piles of it out. All the time.

: -( You should see the flies here.

:-( We keep hearing about killer jellyfish, crocs, spiders, snakes.. That sort of stuff starts to take a toll on the mind...

:-( Every night we have to take down the table, try to fit all the cushions into a bed and wrestle a sheet around it all.

:-( Every morning we have to take down the whole bed before we can sit at our breakfast table.

:-( We have a sunburn. And sand in unmentionable places.

:-( There’s just two of us. If you want a new conversation it gets limited sometimes.

:-( When we run out of a book to read, all we can do is hope to find a book exchange in the next campground. New paperbacks are $20.- here.

:-( Our stove has 3 burners but you can only fit two small pans on it at once.

:-( Did I mention the flies?

:-( Our fridge is about a quarter of a normal one. And it’s full of beer. “Baby beer,” Kees says, referring to the alcohol content of 2.5%.

:-( Almost no internet, and if we can get it it’s expensive.

:-( You should see the flies. They like beer.

:-( Our bathroom is about half the size of a small broom closet. Try pulling up your pants in that!

:-( We see more roadkill than houses.

There. I hope this makes you feel better.
Now I have to run. To the gorgeous white sand beach with the blue water and palmtrees. Sorry.