MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the category “Australia”

Wildlife of Australia

Scotland will always be my first home, and New Zealand my second, but being lucky enough to have it on my doorstep, I have visited Australia often and fondly consider it a third home. Whilst all three countries are visually stunning in their own right, in my opinion, Australia wins hands down with their wildlife. I can’t get enough of it. But whilst the country is most famous for its marsupials and its bragging rights as being home to the largest number of venomous creatures, there is so much more to Australia’s wildlife, thanks to a variety of climates and landscapes. Even out in the vast desert that fills the centre of the country, there are so many creatures to spot, and I have been very lucky to see so many of them.

MAMMALS – MARSUPIALS

Koala

Spotted: Great Ocean Road (VIC), Kangaroo Island (SA), Magnetic Island (QLD)

 

Red Kangaroo

Spotted: Side of the road (SA), Side of the road (QLD)

 

Forester (Eastern Grey) Kangaroo

Spotted: Mornington Peninsula (VIC), Narawntapu National Park (TAS)

 

Kangaroo Island (Sooty) Kangaroo

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

Red-Necked (Bennet’s) Wallaby

Spotted: Maria Island (TAS), Freycinet National Park (TAS), Cataract Gorge (TAS)

 

Swamp Wallaby

Spotted: Griffiths Island (VIC)

 

Tasmanian Pademelon

Spotted: Mount Field National Park (TAS), Maria Island (TAS), Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park (TAS)

 

Quokka

Spotted: Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat

Spotted: Mornington Peninsula (VIC), Maria Island (TAS), Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park (TAS), Narawntapu National Park (TAS)

 

Tasmanian Devil

Spotted: Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park (TAS)

 

Echidna

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

Bandicoot

Spotted: Perth (WA)

 

Antechinus

Spotted: Blue Mountains National Park (NSW)

 

 

MAMMALS – TERRESTRIAL

Camel

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Water Buffalo

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Wild Cattle

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Water Rat

Spotted: St Kilda (VIC)

 

 

MAMMALS – MARINE

Humpback Whale

Spotted off the coast of NSW, QLD and WA.

 

Humpback Dolphin

Spotted: Coastal QLD

 

Australian Sealion

Spotted: Great Ocean Road (VIC), Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

New Zealand Fur Seal

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

 

BIRDS

Emu

Spotted: Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

 

Black-necked Stork

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Pelican

Spotted: Triabunna (TAS), St. Helen’s (TAS), Adelaide (SA), Wollongong (NSW), Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park (NSW), Hervey Bay (QLD), Currumbin (QLD), Noosa (QLD), Cairns (QLD), Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Royal Spoonbill

Spotted: Noosa (QLD), Cairns (QLD)

 

Australian White Ibis

Spotted: Sydney (NSW), Brisbane (QLD), Adelaide (SA), Currumbin (QLD), Darwin (NT)

 

Feathered Ibis

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Black Swan

Spotted: St. Helen’s (TAS), Narawntapu National Park (TAS), Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), St. Kilda (VIC)

 

Cape Barren Goose

Spotted: Phillip Island (VIC), Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

Magpie Goose

Spotted: Cairns (QLD)

 

Great Egret

Spotted: Port Fairy (VIC), Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), Cairns (QLD), Perth (WA)

 

Little Egret

Spotted: Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT)

 

Cattle Egret

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Masked Lapwing

Spotted: Cairns (QLD)

 

Nankeen Night Heron

Spotted: Port Fairy (VIC)

 

Fairy Penguin

Spotted: St. Kilda (VIC)

 

Bar-Tailed Godwit

Spotted: Cairns (QLD)

 

Radjah Shellduck

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Australian Shelduck

Spotted: Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Pacific Black Duck

Spotted: Currumbin (QLD), Cairns (QLD)

 

Australian Wood Duck

Spotted: Currumbin (QLD)

 

Australasian Swamphen

Spotted: Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), Melbourne (VIC)

 

Dusky Moorhen

Spotted: Adelaide (SA), Melbourne (VIC)

 

Australian Coot

Spotted: Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), Currumbin (QLD)

 

Comb-crested Jacana

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Pied shag

Spotted: Hobart (TAS), St. Helen’s (TAS), Kangaroo Island (SA), Currumbin (QLD), Noosa (QLD), Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Australian Darter

Spotted: Noosa (QLD)

 

Osprey

Spotted: Noosa (QLD)

 

White-Bellied Sea Eagle

Spotted: Noosa National Park (QLD), K’Gari/Fraser Island (QLD)

 

Brahminy Kite

Spotted: Noosa (QLD)

 

Black Kite

Spotted: Darwin (NT), Adelaide River (NT)

 

Australian Kestrel

Spotted: Phillip Island (VIC)

 

Masked Booby

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Brown Booby

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Red-billed Gull

Spotted: Everywhere!

 

Crested Tern

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA), Noosa (QLD)

 

Caspian Tern

Spotted: Noosa National Park (QLD), Cairns (QLD)

 

Bush Turkey

Spotted: Sydney Harbour National Park (NSW), Brisbane (QLD), Currumbin (QLD)

 

Orange-Footed Scrub Fowl

Spotted: Cairns (QLD), Darwin (NT)

 

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Spotted (and heard!): Sydney (NSW), Blue Mountains National Park (NSW), Great Ocean Road (VIC), Tamborine Mountains (QLD), Mount Lofty (SA), St. Kilda (VIC), Hamilton Island (QLD)

 

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

Spotted: Blue Mountains National Park (NSW), Darwin (NT)

 

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Long-billed Corella

Spotted: Great Ocean Road (VIC), Corowa (NSW)

 

Galah

Spotted: Sorrento (VIC), Hobart (TAS), Benalla (VIC), Perth (WA), Fremantle (WA), Yulara (NT)

 

Australian King Parrot

Spotted: Blue Mountains National Park (NSW)

 

Rainbow Lorikeet

Spotted: Sydney (NSW), Tamborine Mountains (QLD), Adelaide (SA), Melbourne (VIC), Hervey Bay (QLD), Magnetic Island (QLD), Perth (WA)

 

Yellow Rosella

Spotted: Taranna (TAS)

 

Crimson Rosella

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA), Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT)

 

Tawny Frogmouth

Spotted: Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park (TAS)

 

Kookaburra

Spotted: Mornington Peninsula (VIC), Sydney (NSW), Noosa National Park (QLD), Hamilton Island (QLD)

 

Black Currawong

Spotted: Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park (TAS)

 

Australian Magpie

Spotted: Fremantle (WA)

 

Common Bronzewing

Spotted: Yulara (NT)

 

Bar-Shouldered Dove

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Crested Pigeon

Spotted: Yulara (NT), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Magpie Lark

Spotted: Melbourne (VIC)

 

Common Myna

Spotted: Melbourne (VIC), Coogee (NSW)

 

Blue-faced Honeyeater

Spotted: Noosa National Park (QLD)

 

Helmeted Friarbird

Spotted: Townsville (QLD)

 

Forest Kingfisher

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Australasian (Green) Figbird

Spotted: Townsville (QLD)

 

Red Wattle Bird

Spotted: Perth (WA)

 

Black Butcherbird

Spotted: Kuranda (QLD)

 

The Unidentifiable Bird

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Brown Honeyeater

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Singing Honeyeater

Spotted: Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Black-faced Woodswallow

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Rainbow Bee-eater

Spotted: Darwin (NT), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Welcome Swallow

Spotted: St. Kilda (VIC), Kuranda (QLD), Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Flame Robin

Spotted: Maria Island (TAS)

 

Pale Yellow Robin

Spotted: Kuranda (QLD)

 

Willie Wagtail

Spotted: Noosa Everglades (QLD), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Superb Fairy Wren

Spotted: Tamar River Valley (TAS), Brisbane (QLD)

 

The Unidentifiable Bird

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Zebra Finch

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

 

REPTILES

Saltwater Crocodile

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Freshwater Crocodile

Spotted: Kuranda (QLD)

 

Perentie

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Goanna

Spotted: Noosa Everglades (QLD)

 

Marine Turtle

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Hog-nosed Turtle

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Krefft’s Short-Necked Turtle

Spotted: Kuranda (QLD)

 

Water Dragon

Spotted: Sydney Harbour National Park (NSW), Brisbane (QLD), Currumbin (QLD)

 

King Skink

Spotted: Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Shingleback

Spotted: Perth (WA)

 

Spotted Skink

Spotted: Bay of Fires (TAS)

 

Eastern Water Skink

Spotted: Blue Mountains National Park (NSW)

 

Central Military Dragon

Spotted: Yulara (NT)

 

Gecko

Spotted: Brisbane (QLD), Hervey Bay (QLD)

 

 

OTHER – INSECTS, ARACHNIDS, FISH

Manta Ray

Spotted: Coastal QLD

 

Stingray

Spotted: Noosa (QLD), Whitsunday Island (QLD)

 

Wrasse

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Giant Clam

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Eel

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Parrotfish

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Golden Orb Spider

Spotted: K’Gari/Fraser Island (QLD)

 

St. Andrews Cross Spider

Spotted: Palm Beach (NSW), Litchfield National Park (NT)

 

Tent Spider

Spotted: Brisbane (QLD)

 

Soldier Crab

Spotted: Rainbow Beach (QLD)

 

Sand Crab

Spotted: K’Gari/Fraser Island (QLD)

 

Snail

Spotted: Freycinet National Park (TAS)

 

Chocolate Argus Butterfly

Spotted: Litchfield National Park (NT)

 

Bee

Spotted: Perth (WA)

 

Spiny Spider

Spotted: Cairns (QLD)

 

Green Ant

Spotted: Whitsunday Island (QLD), Litchfield National Park (NT)

 

Ant

Spotted: Yulara (NT)

 

Termite

Spotted: Litchfield National Park (NT)

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Homeward Bound

In the darkness of another cold desert morning, I waited for my ride to a nearby farm where I had signed up for a different kind of Outback sunrise experience: a camel ride across the desert sands. Originally imported into Australia in the 19th century for transportation, many camels were released into the wild when they were no longer of use and now a massive feral population exists in the country, the largest in the World. Due to their potential for environmental damage, the Australian Government has taken steps to keep their numbers in check. In an ironic twist, Australian camels have been exported back to the Middle East for breeding stock and consumption. In Australia itself, some camels have been farmed, and the camels at the Uluru Camel Tours make up the largest working camel farm in Australia. This was to be the last sunrise that I would witness on my great Australian adventure, and it was the coldest I had been on my trip. It still amazed me the extent of contrast between the cold desert nights and the hot desert days.

In the darkness we were introduced to our camel train. Each camel could take two people, so each group were assigned their camel, with myself and a couple of others getting a camel to themselves. I’d never ridden a camel before, although in my past I’ve ridden horses, elephants and an ostrich. I had many layers of clothes on in an effort to keep myself warm, and was grateful that I had a pair of gloves with me. With the battered sun hat I’d purchased in Adelaide, I looked comical as my photo was taken while my camel took to his feet. Once the large group of people were mounted, we were off. It was an hour’s gentle wander through a well marked trail across the red sands to a series of lookout points where we could watch the sun rise above the horizon and light up the now familiar outline of Uluru. The shadows of the camels added to the experience and whilst there was a lot of waiting around whilst people got their photos taken, I actually didn’t mind because the camel behind me kept me entertained as he chewed religiously next to my foot. The second lookout point that we went to gave a view across to Kata Tjuta and both went through the same colour changes I’d seen before. Like each day previous, it was to be another gorgeously sunny day in the Outback.

Photography by Uluru Camel Tours

Photography by Uluru Camel Tours

Photography by Uluru Camel Tours

 

Back at the farm we got a homemade breakfast before we were driven back to the Ayers Rock Resort. I was checked out of the Outback Pioneer Lodge, and had a few hours left before my transfer to the airport. With a plethora of lookout spots to choose from, I’d already made use of several of them over my stay, but one I hadn’t been to was the Uluru lookout which was within walking distance of the lodge. Following a red sandy track across the desert landscape, it felt like I was leaving the resort behind and heading out in to the wilderness, although the occasional noise of traffic told me this wasn’t really the case. I came across a colony of ants bursting up from under the ground and there was so much interesting flora to look at.

 

When I reached the lookout I had it to myself, and proceeded to go snap happy taking all sorts of angles and selfies in a last ditch effort to record this amazing place. There were several points to choose from and I made use of them all. Only when some other people arrived did I leave. A little further along was a war memorial, and from there I cut back to the resort, taking my time admiring the plants, and the birds that accompanied me. I even managed to capture a photograph of a lizard, when normally they would just scurry under a bush before the opportunity arose. When it was time to board the bus to the airport I was sad to leave the place, but I was happy that I’d done it justice.

 

At the little airport, whilst waiting to check in, a trainee ground staff accidentally pressed the wrong button on the computer system and managed to shut down the whole flight whilst I was at the counter. There was a long wait to fix the problem whilst people in the queue became increasingly restless. I’m sure many of them thought I was the hold-up, but eventually the flight got reopened and things got moving again. I had a window seat on my flight to Sydney, and I looked down on both Kata Tjuta and Uluru as we took off, flying past the latter before banking to head east. Like the previous flights, there was a long expanse of desert below, occasionally broken up by large dried lakes. Finally we touched down in Sydney, my favourite city.

 

I always stay in the same place whenever I come to Sydney, the YHA hostel in the Rocks district. Aside from being the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in, not only is it in a prime location, but its rooftop terrace has an awesome view. It was dark when I finally got out to explore. I stuck to Circular Quay and wandered around the waterfront absorbing the view and the atmosphere. It is always a vibrant place to be. I was undecided about dinner, and in the end just ate dessert at the Guylian chocolate cafe.

 

Whenever I visit a place I’ve been before, aside from going to my favourite places, I always try and do something new. My best friend lives in Sydney so we met up for breakfast at one of my favourite cafes, then caught the ferry to Cockatoo Island in Sydney harbour. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has been used both as a dockyard and as a convict establishment, and now you can wander amongst the remains of both of these at your leisure. It was an interesting place to walk around, although mainly we were catching up on each other’s lives as we walked. Being in September, there were seagulls everywhere with plenty of chicks around, some of them in rather precarious positions. In the end we went from looking at the historical sites to chick spotting as the birds were everywhere. We sat with a cider in the sun at the little bar, and later before catching the boat back to Circular Quay, we sat at the little cafe near the pier with the Harbour Bridge visible behind us.

 

That night we headed out of town to go to a comedy show. One of the good things about exploring a city with a local is that you get to see places that you wouldn’t normally go to as a tourist. My friend lives south of the city centre, and in the darkness I quickly lost my bearings, and still have no idea where we ended up. It was a good show and a nice end to my last full day in Australia. My friend had plans the next day so I was on my own again for my final hours in the country. My flight wasn’t till the evening, so after checking out, I was quick to jump on a boat to Manly.

The ferry ride over is a great way to view the harbour, and being the weekend, it was busy. I was lucky to get a table at an Italian cafe on the main strip, and had a delicious sandwich and dessert with my coffee for brunch. On my first visit to Manly back in 2012, I did extensive exploration around the nearby national park, but I didn’t have the luxury of time on this occasion, and so stuck to the promenade that hugs Manly beach, and then around the popular coastal track to Shelly Beach. Out here it was sweltering and sunny, and eventually I retreated to the air-conditioned shops for a breather. I got sucked into a donut shop near the ferry terminal and found some shade by Manly Cove to enjoy it.

 

Despite the sun at Manly, the cloud was building up over the city and the wind brought up a bit of spray over the boat on the way back. There was a large market on in the Rocks district and I used the last of my time to walk through it. The market itself was packed but nearby one of the pubs was running Oktoberfest and aside from the crammed outdoor seats, there was an audience of tourists taking photos as the bar staff walked around in lederhosen, carrying large jugs of beer. Eventually though, I retreated to the rooftop terrace of the hostel to stare over the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge one last time. I adore Sydney, and hate to leave it as much as I love to visit it. But after 5.5 weeks, my Australian adventure was over, and now it was just time to head to the airport and head home.

Kata Tjuṯa

It was following a poor night’s sleep, from a hot and stuffy room and roommates coming in and out in the wee hours of the morning, that I was thrown awake by my alarm. It was still dark outside when I was picked up by Bruce who drove me and a band of other early risers to head back into the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park. Previously known as the Olgas, Kata Tjuta is a conglomerate of 36 domes made of a mix of granite, basalt and sandstone. Located 25km (15.5miles) to the east of its more famous neighbour Uluru, Kata Tjuta proved itself to be just as worthy of exploring, and once more I was up before dawn to witness yet another staggering sunrise.

There were already colours blending into the sky as we parked up and walked to the lookout spot. It quickly became packed and there was a silent jostling match as people vied for prime position. Like Uluru the day before, the rock mounds of Kata Tjuta went through a colour change as the sun got closer to breaking the horizon, and in the distance, the hulk of Uluru became surrounded by a beautiful purple-peach glow. By the time I realised that the sun was actually broaching the horizon right next to Uluru, it was too late to get anywhere decent to see it and I, like many others, were forced to perch on the fence struts, balancing precariously just to see over the heads and shoulders of those in prime position.

 

Kata Tjuta itself came into its own once the sun was above the horizon, and it suddenly started to glow red. I really wanted to stay and watch the colours burn more, but we were under strict instructions to be back on the bus within 10mins of sunrise, so that we could get moving. It is always my bug bear of organised tours, being tied to the schedule and crowds that go with them, but without my own transport, I didn’t have much choice in the matter. Another 40mins or so would have been perfect, but we had a hike to do, and our guide wanted to get going so as to beat the crowds that would soon accumulate.

 

There are two hikes to do in the valleys of Kata Tjuta: the Walpa Gorge walk and the longer Valley of the Winds walk. I would have loved to have done both, but was only given the option of one on the tour, so I naturally went for the longer one. We all set off together, but gradually the group spread out. The Valley of the Winds forms a circuit, and our guide recommended we walk it anti-clockwise, so we all duly took his word. With a time limit to make it back to the bus, I duly became snap happy as I took in the desert flowers and creatures amongst the rocky landscape.

It was a rocky walk in to reach the loop track. There was shadowing in places which hid some of the detail, but those rocks that had sunlight spilling on to them, were clearly as scarred as Uluru was. The Karu lookout on this track is where the route can be closed in hot weather. The track is completely exposed to the elements with little shade the whole way round, so there is a 36oC temperature limit, above which, walking further is prohibited.

 

Once the loop track was reached after a descent, there were suddenly bushes and vegetation littering the route. Birds were flitting between the branches and flowers were blooming in pockets near the side of the track. The initial section was in sunshine, but after crossing a dried-up stream and gaining altitude, it was in shade all the way to the Karingana lookout, deep within the valley. The sides were steep in this shaded section, and as I got easily distracted by the flora, I was soon left behind by the rest of the group. As I dawdled my way up to the lookout, it soon became clear behind me that the tourists had arrived en masse, a steady stream of people behind me or overtaking me at regular intervals.

 

It was windy and cold at the lookout, the wind driving up through the channel created by the mounds, and it was easy to see how the walk got its name. I descended down the other side of the lookout, spotting a beetle among some flowers, and continuing to marvel at the fauna here in this harsh environment. In front of me now were more of Kata Tjuta’s mounds, and once on the relative flat, I was exposed to the full power of the rising sun.

 

Most people had overtaken me now, and I found myself alone for sections of the return leg. Not realising I wasn’t even halfway yet, I continued to dawdle, and spent a lot of time looking backwards, where the best view was. A few people walked the trail clockwise, but the vast majority, like us, had walked it the reverse. With the sun low creating great shadows in the valley, and my constant want to turn around and look behind me, I can’t help but feel it would have been better to walk it clockwise after all.

 

Behind me, many of the domes were still dark in colour, but the ones nearest me on the trail were bright orange. To my right, spanning a great distance was the flat desert landscape of the Outback: red sand speckled with low-lying vegetation. Away from these rock formations, there was not a landmark in sight, and it was easy to see how you could get lost away from here.

 

At a water station, I found a flock of zebra finches, a pretty little bird, and afforded them some time to watch them before pushing on. With the sun getting higher, and the temperature pushing up with it, the crowds of walkers had long since dissipated, and suddenly conscious of the time, I quickened my pace to complete the loop and head back out the track to the waiting bus. I made it back within the allotted time, but it was clear that I was the last to arrive and that they’d all been waiting a while for me. But I had paid a lot of attention to the flora and fauna, and was satisfied that I’d done the hike justice.

 

It was still morning when we returned to the Ayers Rock Resort, and I used my time to wander round the retail precinct, organising another couple of spur-of-the-moment tours, and buying the obligatory fridge magnets that I collect from anywhere I visit. The resort runs some free activities at various times of the day, and a little after noon, I joined the Bush Tucker talk, where one of the staff taught us about edible plants and flowers that were in the vicinity, and how they are used by the Indigenous people of the region. I got to eat some food that had been made out of the local vegetation, and afterwards, with my stomach wanting more, I had lunch at one of the cafes in the square.

 

From the Town Square, I cut behind the Emu Walk Apartments, one of the many accommodation options in the resort, to visit the Wintjiri Arts & Museum which was one of the free things to do there. I love Indigenous artwork and found many paintings that I loved and would have loved to have bought had I had a house to put them in and money to spare. Aside from the art gallery of local artist’s work, the compact museum gave a fascinating insight into the geology and natural history of the region, as well as a concise history of the local Indigenous groups. For such a small museum and gallery it was very interesting and kept my attention for some time.

 

Now well into the afternoon and under the blazing hot sun, I went up to the little mound at the back of the complex which offers yet another lookout over to Kata Tjuta. From this location, the view was across a giant field of solar panels that harness the sun’s energy to power the resort. From back at the Town Square, I then cut across the large expanse between the retail centre and the Outback Pioneer lodge where I was staying, via the Imalung lookout. This desert expanse between the sections of the resort was teeming with pretty little flowers, and at the top of the mound I was rewarded with the same view of Uluru that I had been grinning over for the last couple of days. As I walked back to the lodge, a little lizard skittered between the low vegetation.

 

As the sun started to lower again, I was collected from my accommodation for that evening’s sunset tour. This time I was headed back to Kata Tjuta, and our guide was immensely passionate about it, explaining that it is believed to be the place where Anangu’s creation ancestors first appeared on Earth. As with the day before at Uluru, I lapped up the information about the local people’s culture, this whole area being immensely sacred to the Indigenous people of Australia.

In a scene reminiscent of the sunset sail in Darwin, I was quietly excited to discover there would be unlimited glasses of bubbles and plenty of canapes to accompany the sunset. I made it through 3 glasses whilst watching the spectacular colour changes of Kata Tjuta’s rock. The guide who brought us there proclaimed the sunset here to be far superior to that at Uluru, and whilst there was clearly a bit of bias, I did find that the colours seemed a bit more stark and dramatic this close up. It was less crowded here than the sunrise spot had been and this meant I could move around at leisure as the sun dropped towards and then below the horizon. Nicely warmed by the alcohol, I shut away thoughts of my impending return home and just absorbed the scene in front of me, living in the moment, as I had done with every sunrise and sunset that I had witnessed thus far on my great Australian adventure.

 

It seemed only right to stop for ice cream at the supermarket on the way home, and now in pitch dark, I again walked back to the lodge across the central expanse of the resort. In the spot of light lit up by my torch, a little mouse ran into the bush in front of me, and above me the stars sparkled on my last night in the Red Centre. The next day I was to fly out from the place that had well and truly taken me under its spell, and that meant just one more sunrise to wake up for…

Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park

Growing up in Scotland, I feel I’ve lived a somewhat sheltered life. Into adulthood, immigration became a hot topic in the years before I emigrated myself, and whilst I always had an awareness of what has and is occurring in other countries around the world, it is only since moving to New Zealand, where not only am I not a native, but my race is not the indigenous one, that I have had my eyes opened a little more to the realities of race relations. Whilst it looks like progress is being made in both Australia and New Zealand with regards to Indigenous rights, there is still a long way to go it would seem, and a lot of dissidence, misunderstanding and prejudice still remain in both countries. I’ve had a side-ways interest in the Indigenous Peoples of Australia for some time, mainly sparked through movies and books over the years. I was interested to see what my experience would be upon visiting the Northern Territory. I’d already been made aware of the lack of recognition by many people within and outwith Australia of the return of naming Ayers Rock to Uluru, being met by blank faces multiple times when I chatted to people about my trip plans. Having visited Fraser Island, now renamed K’Gari, just a few weeks prior, this slow rate of progression was very evident.

So when I got off the Uluru Hop On-Hop Off bus at the Mara car park, excited to be next to this most famous of geological structures, it was with a divided heart that I watched the people climb up the rock face to the summit in front of me. I’d long since heard about the request of the Indigenous landowners not to climb Uluru, and right in front of the track up there is a sign stating this also. However it is not illegal, and so there was a steady pilgrimage of people hauling themselves up with the chain that is still steadfastly bolted into the sacred rock. I was divided because it looked so achievable, and I love summiting mountains, but I was brought up to respect other people’s beliefs, and understanding the significance of this rock, I knew it was not right to climb it. But as multiple tourists turned up to climb including a busload led up by their guide, I did wonder about why these tour companies were allowed to do this, and why they were not promoting the right message. I was waiting for the guided walk to start, and had a bit of time to kill at the base. It was already hot at 10am and there was little shade around. I watched and pondered for some time, distracted only by a large perentie, the largest monitor lizard in Australia.

 

I would highly recommend the guided walk, which follows a small section of the base walk around the bottom of Uluru. The Indigenous guide gave a fascinating insight into the spiritual significance of Uluru to the Indigenous landowners, the Pitjantjatjara Aṉangu, as well as covering flora, fauna and geology. I’d already been amazed in Queensland about how knowledgeable the Indigenous Australians are about living off the land and utilising it to its best potential. From understanding the seasons and what to harvest when and how, to navigation and survival in the harsh Outback. The stories can vary from one Indigenous group to another, and within them there are rules and traditions, which can mean some things can only be passed on by women, and some only by men. Others are sacred and cannot be translated. And others still, require trust and understanding to have the privilege of hearing them. To the local Aṉangu, only the chosen few should summit Uluru. As the guide pointed out, if you were asked to wear a head scarf or take off your shoes to visit a church or a mosque, you would do it. So why would you climb Uluru when you were asked not to? To them, it is akin to respecting someone else’s religious beliefs, and I totally agree.

 

I took few photos during the guided walk as I was absorbed in everything the guide told us, but after it was finished, I had a lot of ground to cover in the heat of the day. I planned on walking the base track that circumnavigates the base of Uluru, despite the insane heat. I was slathered in suncream, had the hat on I’d bought in Adelaide, and I had as much water as I could carry. There was no point rushing, and once on my own, because hardly anyone else was crazy enough to hike in the heat, I became snap happy as the shape and pattern of the rock next to me constantly changed. In places there are signs requesting no photographs are taken due to the significance of that part of the structure to the Aṉangu, but large portions can be photographed without disrespect, and I was as much fascinated by the flora and fauna that surrounded the track as I was by Uluru itself. I was just loving the oranges and reds of the rock and the desert.

 

As the track heads east along the northern face of Uluru, there were all sorts of gouges and crevices in the rock face, creating an effect of artwork, the largest of which looked to me like a brain and face. The vegetation surrounding the path was a mix of desert shrubs and flowers and occasionally there were insects and birds flitting amongst them. When I eventually reached a shelter after some time in the full exposure of the sun, I took the opportunity to hide out in the shade for awhile before pushing on.

 

As the track turned south around the eastern end, it passed a no-photo zone before reaching a car park. There were a few people around here, and from this point onwards, I had a bit of company on the track, after having the northern aspect pretty much to myself. Whereas the northern and western aspects had been more about steep verticals, the eastern and southern aspects were more rolling and rounded. It was still steep but the look and feel of this side was quite different and even the nearby vegetation seemed different too. It was possible to see fissures and cracks with rocks breaking apart, and streaks of black through the orange denoted where waterfalls streamed down after rain.

 

After some time, a track split off to cut up to a little pool and nearby was an overhang where some Indigenous rock painting could be seen close up. From here onwards, the track hugged the base of Uluru quite closely, giving a close-up view of the make up of the rock. When I made it back to Mara car park I was dismayed to see a coach load of tourists heading up the track to the summit. I retraced part of the track I’d done with the guide earlier that day in order to photograph a few of the spots we’d stopped at in the morning, before returning to the car park once more, 4hrs after starting the walk.

 

From the nearby toilet block, the Limu walk cut across the desert to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta cultural centre where I had planned on getting back on the bus. I’d originally planned on getting the last day bus back, but after chatting with the driver at the centre, there was space for me to go on the evening bus which included an additional stop on the way back. This meant I had a bit of time to spend at the centre and explore. Aside from the shop which sold me some much desired ice cream, and a few galleries of local artist’s work, there was an interpretation centre giving more insight into the local Indigenous culture and tradition. Ownership of Uluru was taken by the Northern Territories Reserve Board and it was renamed Ayers Rock before the Australian Government later returned it to the Aṉangu on the condition that they lease it back to the Government, resulting in it being co-managed. This lease lasts for 99 years, starting in 1985. The footage of the handover was an interesting video to watch, and it was clear there were mixed emotions about getting ownership back in theory, whilst still not getting it back fully.

 

I got picked up by the very last hop on-hop off bus to join a small band of people to head to a special lookout spot to watch the sunset over Uluru. In an uncomfortable and awkward moment, the bus driver accidentally killed a perentie that was sunbathing on the road. This immediately reminded me of one of the excursions I’d done in the Galapagos Islands when the bus that was taking me to see the endangered bird life, accidentally killed one of the endangered birds. It was yet another reminder of what implications tourism can have on local wildlife. The driver felt really guilty and kept apologising to us for the rest of the way.

There was only one other small coach there when we arrived, but we were warned it would get busy, and sure enough, coach load after coach load began to pull in and unload a crowd of sunset watchers who spread out across the viewing spot, jostling for the perfect place to watch the colours of Uluru change. As with the night before, the sky went through a range of blues and Uluru itself turned from orange to red as the light level faded. After a while, I crossed to the far side of the lookout to view the opposite direction, where the hint of Kata Tjuta just about peaked over the horizon close to where the sun sunk low. The colour palate was beautiful, and despite the crowd around me, it was a magical experience.

 

Back at the Outback Pioneer, I had some laundry to do before dinner, and now in darkness with only the low-level lights marking the pathways, I came out of my dorm room to head towards the main building when suddenly a creature shot out in front of me from near the kitchen disappearing into the darkness. The moment was over as soon as I acknowledged it but I was excited after the failed sightings on K’Gari to add wild dingo to the list of animals spotted on my trip. Taking the shuttle to the main square, I had a delicious dinner at one of the eateries in the resort, seemingly confusing the staff by being a lone diner. Perhaps they don’t get many there, but I personally don’t have a problem eating out on my own. Afterwards, there was a long wait for the shuttle bus back. I was tired and full and didn’t want to walk back, but I got antsy waiting, aware I still had to sort out my laundry before getting to bed. By the time I crawled into my bunk, I was eager for sleep but despite the coolness of the night outside, the dorm room was oppressively hot. I had my stuff all ready to make an early exit, as I had another early rise the next morning. As impressive as Uluru is, there is more to see within the National Park, and I was determined to see as much as I could.

The Red Centre

It’s interesting how different an experience people can have at a place. I recently heard someone say their friend described Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) as ‘just a big rock’ and as such they weren’t fussed about going themselves. To say my opinion of Uluru is the total opposite would be an understatement. From the moment I stepped off the airport transfer bus at the Ayers Rock Resort, there was the hint in the air of something special. I cannot put in words the emotions that I have attached to the next few days of my trip. I’m neither religious nor spiritual, but something about this place spoke to me in a manner that I cannot describe. Perhaps it was the immense heat fogging up my perception. Or the mesmerising idyll of the red sandy desert. Or the fact that I saw some things that I’d wanted to for a long time. Or perhaps it was all of it, combined together into a hot desert perfection. Whatever the reason, Australia’s Red Centre is a very special place for me.

A lot of people visiting Uluru do so from Alice Springs, nearly 6hrs away. Without your own transport this means being tied to the constraints of an organised tour. When I found out about the Ayers Rock Resort in Yulara, the nearest accommodation to Uluru, I knew that this was where I was going to stay. Offering a choice of accommodation types, a retail and eatery zone, and ready access to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, it was the perfect base to explore the area. I was on a budget and had booked into the backpacker wing of the Outback Pioneer Lodge. The complementary shuttle from the nearby airfield circled the upmarket resort accommodation first before dropping me off at the lodge. There was a bit of queue to check in, but getting this out the way, I was soon dumping my stuff and getting out to explore. The resort is set up in a large U-shape with a wide wild zone in the middle. The tourism and retail centre was at the far side of this central wilderness zone from my accommodation, but despite the heat and availability of a resort shuttle that regularly loops between the zones, I decided to walk under the blazing sun to the retail area to arrange some excursions, grab a drink at the cafe and visit the supermarket to stock up on food. Reliant on a twice weekly train delivery for supplies, there were quite a few empty sections where stock had run low. This was life in the Outback.

 

Taking the shuttle bus back to the lodge, I followed a trail leading out the back of the accommodation, up a small hill to a view point where I could see not only across the desert to Uluru but also Kata Tjuta (formerly known as The Olgas), the lesser known rock formations in the region. A crowd gathered as the sun lowered, and we watched the changing colours across the famous red rock. The resort is littered with walking trails, several of which lead to natural hillocks offering a sunset and sunrise viewing spot. Aside from the people, I was accompanied by some doves and as the sun lowered, a large colony of ants appeared out of the ground. Aside from a few wisps near the horizon, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I watched in silence as the rocks turned from orange to various shades of red, and the sky went through a range of blues. Only once the colour changes faded into darkness did I leave to eat dinner before going on a night time excursion.

 

My trip to Yulara coincided with a temporary outdoor art exhibit called the Field of Lights. At the time of visiting, it was only due to be there for a few months, but it has since been extended until 2020. Made up of 50,000 lights spread across the equivalent of 7 football fields, the artist Bruce Munro has created a colour-changing light display to be enjoyed in the darkness of the desert night. It has proved very popular and was close to being booked out during my visit. I had had problems making a booking online in advance and as such thought I would have to miss out on it, but I was lucky to be able to grab a last minute ticket the day I arrived, and at the scheduled time on my ticket, I joined several coach loads of people to drive out to the field in the middle of nowhere to go see it. After a briefing from the staff about how best to enjoy it, and when to be back at the bus, I did my best to escape the crowd and take it all in.

Two paths lead through the exhibit – a long path and a short path. I opted for the longer one first and once the crowd of visitors thinned out a little, it was easy to get lost in my own thoughts. Early on into the experience I looked up to see not only an amazing array of stars but I was overwhelmed to see the Milky Way very distinctly sweeping across the sky above my head. I’d never seen the Milky Way before and I was awestruck at how clearly it appeared. I spent the rest of the night torn between the dazzling light display below eye level and the mesmerising astronomic display above me. Following first the long path and then looping back round through the short path, I was last to get back to the bus pick-up area, only to discover our bus was running late. I spent the time staring up at the Milky Way until it was time to board and return to our accommodation where I attempted to sleep in the hot and tiny dorm room.

 

The next morning I was awoken by my roommates stirring so it seemed like a good idea to get up and watch the sunrise. Donning my clothes and making the short distance to the lookout hillock, I huddled in the chill morning air watching the colour creep back into the sky and the landscape below it. It amazes me how cold the desert night is, considering how hot the desert day is. I’ve read stories of people lost in the desert succumbing to the cold nights despite putting up with the hot arid days. As time passed I was eventually joined by others although less than had ventured out the night before for the sunset.

The hulking outline of Uluru grew clearer and clearer as the sky turned from a deep blue, lightening through to peach and pink ahead of the sun bursting above the horizon. Then the form of Uluru changed once more from a deep red, lightening up to the characteristic orange. In the distance, Kata Tjuta went through the same changes and it was very evident it was going to be another cloudless day. Aside from those other early risers, there were a couple of courting doves strutting around the lookout, and unfamiliar birds flitting around the nearby foliage.

 

The sun rose quite quickly and there was plenty of light spilling across the landscape by the time I retraced my steps back to my room to get ready for the day. I had pre-purchased a ticket for the Uluru Hop-On, Hop-Off bus service and arranged to be collected for the first day trip into the park. Ready and waiting, I was excited to board and get going, ready to explore up close the behemoth that I’d come all this way to see. Just a short drive from Yulara, we reached the entrance to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, an exposed tourist mecca under the baking Outback sun. This was the day I had waited for for a very long time.

Heading East

My visit to Western Australia’s Rottnest Island, an absolute gem of a place, marked the most western point of my great Australian adventure. From now onward, it was all about moving eastward. I’d arrived back in Fremantle in the darkness, and made my way back through the streets with the hope of grabbing some dinner at the Fremantle market. Unfortunately, I arrived just as the place was beginning to wind down, and I was forced to pick my way through the Friday night revellers to find a place to get dinner. Thankfully the market was open again on Saturday morning, because my brief foray into it had looked like it was worth some time, so that next morning, after I lazily got myself up, packed up once more and checked out of the prison hostel, I headed down there for brunch. And it was awesome.

Full of stalls selling artwork, gifts, homeware, clothes, jewellery, and a ream of other things, it also had a fresh fruit section at one end, nestled amongst a choice of food options, with sweet treats, meat, and drinks also well catered for. Whilst quite different from Adelaide‘s Central Market (my favourite market in Australia), my enjoyment of the Fremantle market rivalled that which I had had wandering around Adelaide’s market, and I wished many times, that I not only owned a house, but also lived locally, so that I could go to town buying beautiful paintings and the like. I spent quite a bit of money there, finding gifts for my family, buying gifts for myself, and sampling several of the food and drink options. I have a rule that I will never diet on holidays – travelling is all about enjoying, experiencing and embracing cultures, and I very much include cuisine in that category. After 4.5 weeks on the road though, I had definitely overindulged and was both looking it and feeling it. But I wasn’t ready to stop pigging out yet.

 

Eventually though, it was time to bid farewell to Fremantle and head back to Perth. My flight was leaving early the next morning, so I needed to be in a more convenient location to get to the airport, meaning I was returning to the hostel in Perth’s city centre that I had stayed at a few nights prior. It was a noisy trundle through Fremantle’s streets with my suitcase, returning to the train station to catch the convenient service back to Perth, then after trundling to the hostel and dumping my stuff, I was ready to explore the state capital’s city once more.

I was aiming for Elizabeth Quay, but I got side-tracked at Stirling Gardens where there were some life-sized sculptures of kangaroos and a view across to the pretty St George’s Cathedral. At the far end of the garden was the Supreme Court building which stood looking rather grand. Towering above it was a hint of what was to come, as I discovered a plethora of large cranes dominating the skyline as I moved closer and closer to the quay. The Bell Tower is a rather distinctive spire that points sharply up towards the sky, and for a small fee you can go up it and get a view over the nearby area. What I discovered sadly, was that its view is very rapidly diminishing as a multi-million dollar development including casino and restaurants is rising up from the ground right next to it. The view it used to have over Elizabeth Quay and the city centre skyrises, was marred by the cranes at the time of visiting, but will eventually be blocked out. As unique as the building is to look at, I feel the value in going up to the lookout level will soon be rather limited.

 

Skirting round the construction site, the area around Elizabeth Quay was much more pleasant to wander around. The broad expanse of the Swan River lies to one side, and the waterfront development to the other. It was yet another roasting hot day, and after taking in the views over Elizabeth Quay from Elizabeth Quay Island, I managed to procure a table at the exceedingly packed rotunda-shaped restaurant overlooking the waterfront. In a moment of thoughtlessness, I requested a table in the sunshine, and proceeded to perspire greatly as I sipped on a chilled cider and tucked into a pizza. Nearby, the beautiful archways of the Elizabeth Quay bridge led off to the far side.

 

Once full, I joined the steady stream of people to meander across the bridge, arriving at the sparkling First Contact Sculpture which stood proudly on the banks of the river. From this far side, the cranes made an interesting juxtaposition against the spire of the Bell Tower, and I simply followed the waterfront back round in a circle, admiring the large arches of Spanda up close, and finding myself at Gusto Gelato, a locally famous gelato parlour with a rather long queue out the door. I did not need any more food, but I wasn’t going to miss out on a local legend, and thank goodness I didn’t skip it, as it turned out to be the most deliciously delightful ice cream I have ever eaten.

 

After vegetating at the waterfront to allow for a bit of digestion, I decided to round off the afternoon by taking a long walk north in an effort to justify all the calories I’d eaten that day. I had my sights set on Hyde Park in the north of the city, and made a beeline for William St, a long road that led from the waterfront all the way there. This led me first through the streets of skyrises in the CBD (central business district), across the railway lines of the central railway station, and north into a student area and then Chinatown. The TAFE building had some artwork on its walls which distracted me briefly away from the main road, and I perused the windows of the Asian food marts and Chinese restaurants as I passed.

 

By the time I reached Hyde Park, after what felt like a very long time, the clouds had begun to pack in a little, and I was a little disappointed with the park itself. I think the name had led me to believe it would be some beautifully grand expanse, but although the central lakes provided some incredible reflections as I walked around, it was smaller than I imagined, and being September at the time, the plant life was not in its prime. It was however very busy: surrounded by residential streets and being a Saturday, it was abuzz with families and friends enjoying themselves with picnics. I sat for a while in contemplation. I was moving into my final week of my trip, and it was suddenly hitting me that my adventure was nearly over. Grabbing a bubble tea on my way back through Chinatown, it was time to return to my hostel, ahead of an early rise the next morning.

 

After all the overindulgence the day before, I awoke feeling a bit rotten. In the end, I had to quickstep to the bus stop to catch the airport bus, making it with just a few minutes to spare. Being early on a Sunday, both it and the airport were quite quiet. Taking off and heading east, I was returning to Adelaide in South Australia, a city I hadn’t been to since 2014. One of my old work colleagues from my former life in Scotland has made Adelaide her home, and having not seen her since that last trip, I was to have a flying visit with her for 24 hours. My stay coincided with the Adelaide Show, and after picking me up, we headed straight there.

A smaller version of the Melbourne Show which I’d attended back in 2012, it was still full of activity, from carnival rides to eateries, to outdoor shows and beyond. We decided to do one carnival ride, a 9D movie experience that was pretty terrible, then we watched drone racing, a sport which I’d never known was possible, and then we stood for ages for a prime viewing spot at the pig racing, an event which proved highly popular and entertaining despite not lasting very long. We hung out over drinks and food, catching up on each other’s lives, before heading indoors to join the crowds at the show bag arena, something which had amused and intrigued me in equal measures at the Melbourne Show. An entire hall was dedicated to selling bags containing whatever themed goodies your heart could desire, from kids shows, to daytime tv and movies, as well as perfumes and magazines. My need for a hat at my next destination tempted me to buy the Home & Away themed show bag, and finally it was time to head back to my friend’s place for dinner and drinks.

 

My friend’s partner ran me back to the airport the next morning. There was a sense of familiarity about the place, and I grabbed myself some breakfast before meandering around the displays and shops. I was amused to find a smiling face at the bottom of my cup of coffee, but it seemed fitting as I was heading to a part of the country that I had wanted to visit for some time. I had an indirect flight with a very short connecting time, so I was a little anxious when my flight was delayed. After take-off we headed north over the great Australian desert landscape, the near-featureless expanse stretching out for miles below us. Against the burnt orange, great grey-white lakes offered occasional contrast, and then finally we descended towards Alice Springs, a semi-green little oasis amongst the burnt orange. We’d managed to make up some time, and in the end the plane landed just 10 minutes late. Alice Springs airport was small, and in the shortest time I’ve ever spent in an airport in my whole life, I entered the terminal building having disembarked the plane, to find myself already at the gate for my next flight, and they were announcing boarding as I walked in the door. Assured that my luggage would be there to greet me at the other end, I headed back out onto the tarmac to board my second flight. Then it was just a 40 minute plane ride to Yulara, the closest airport to Uluru, previously known as Ayers Rock. And so began the incredible trip to Australia’s Red Centre.

Rottnest Island

When I stepped outside to be greeted by a grey, overcast morning, I was a little disheartened. But with a ferry to catch there was no time to waste on disappointment, and so I hoofed it down to the Fremantle wharf near the mouth of the Swan River. It was a busy sailing with workers, locals and tourists all in the mix. In just 25mins, the Rottnest Express whisked us out onto the Indian Ocean and across to one of Western Australia’s gems: Rottnest Island. When I first read about it, I discovered that it was home to a marsupial creature that I hadn’t heard of prior: a quokka, and out on the island, they were effectively a guaranteed sighting. I’d booked a deal with the ferry company to get a day’s bike rental with my ferry ticket, and this opened up the whole island to explore at my leisure. I was certainly going to make the most of it, and it didn’t take long for the island’s charms to grasp me firmly. What followed was the highlight of my short but sweet Western Australia explorations.

Arriving into Thomson Bay, there was a flurry of activity as supplies for the island and bikes for the tourists were unloaded. After saddling up, my first port of call was the IGA food mart to get some edibles for the day. It wasn’t until I came outside that I realised I had walked right past a quokka, and having spotted one, I suddenly realised there were many others. Whilst I tried to remain casual about the whole thing, there were several people kneeling and lying down trying to get selfies and close ups with the inquisitive creatures, and it was hard to resist joining in. I succumbed eventually, as they were more than eager to come up close, and it left me feeling excited for the day ahead.

 

I cycled along the Thomson Bay foreshore towards Kingston Barracks. I had tried to book a night here but unfortunately they were closed for the season, and the other accommodation on the island was outwith my budget. So I was eager to cover as much distance as I could before the evening ferry back to the mainland. The barracks themselves didn’t hold my attention for long, but nearby there were more quokka nibbling on the verge, and further round there was a peaceful and deserted little beach.

 

There were plenty of other cyclists, but it never felt busy or overcrowded, and there were several routes and directions to choose from. Following the coastline, I reached Henrietta rocks where a walkway lead down to a rock-strewn beach and a shipwreck lay sticking out of the water a little off shore. I read that it was a good place to snorkel, and I had planned on going in for a nosy, however there was not another soul in sight, and with my track record of sea swimming, I was nervous about going on in my own with no witnesses. I had an internal argument for many minutes before eventually moving onwards.

 

Skirting along the expansive Porpoise Bay, I took a detour out to Parker’s Point where I nabbed a picnic bench to have a snack. There was a cute little beach down the steps from here, and I was excited to find a mother and baby quokka asleep in the bushes nearby. After watching them in silence for a while, I sat back on the bench and opened up some of the food I’d bought. Suddenly, one of the quokka that had been asleep, shot out of the bushes at the sound of the wrapper and not only came right up to me, but started trying to climb up my leg to get to my food. Clearly they’ve been fed in the past, and had a clear association of food and humans, but whilst I stood my ground and gave her none, it was an incredible experience to have her sit right by my feet and watch me intently. Eventually she realised that I wasn’t giving in, and with the food finished she wandered off.

 

Still hungry, I opened another packet of food and out shot a mother and baby to play the same game with me. I was busy trying to join in the game of quokka selfies, and failing badly when a couple from New South Wales joined me. We chatted for a while as they ate, the quokkas again paying them a lot of attention, and as I readied myself to move on after a while, two large king skinks were spotted near the verge.

 

It had been hard to leave that spot, but there was so much of the island to see. By now, the cloud was well on its way to burning off and it was actually turning out to be a gloriously hot and sunny day. As the road continued to follow the coast, there was a consistently beautiful outlook to be had. Round a few bends was Little Salmon Bay and then a beautiful stretch of white sandy beach that curved round Salmon Bay. Considering how beautiful a beach it was, there was only 1 family on it, the kids splashing around in the shallows. Had I had the benefit of more time, I would have lazed on this beach for some time, but with time marching on, I too had to move on.

 

A little further along the road, I took a turn-off onto one of the inland roads, back-tracking a little to take the road to Oliver Hill. Despite the road winding up the hill to the remants of the World War II battery, I was dismayed to see a sign at the bottom saying you couldn’t cycle up. I’m still not sure why this was the case, but I ignored it for half the distance, then dumped my bike in the bushes before marching up the rest of the way, sweating in the heat of the day. After rounding the bend, the slight gain in altitude provided a sweeping view across the large expanse of Serpentine Lake which stretches out towards the island’s airport.

 

At the battery itself, it is possible to do a guided tour into the tunnels, but I wasn’t really fussed about this, so just wandered around the hilltop and a nearby path to soak up the view. From here, there was a view across to the Wadjemup lighthouse and back towards Thomson Bay. Inside one of the guns there was a pair of swifts flitting in and out to a nest. Outside the gunnery, a little train stop marks the end of a railway line that takes people to the battery from the Kingston barracks.

 

Reunited with my bike, I cycled to the shore of Serpentine Lake before back-tracking to the coastal road I’d left before. At the next turn-off I headed towards the lighthouse. A pretty white-washed lighthouse, I parked my bike up and wandered up to the base to discover it was possible to pay a small fee to be taken up by a local guide. On such a beautiful day, I thought it would be worth it just for the view alone. The small group had to squeeze into the increasingly narrow space as we climbed the circular steps up towards the light itself, and a door led out onto a terrace where despite a bit of wind, there was a 360o view over the island. I was enjoying the view immensely until I looked down to see someone walking off with my bike, and then I couldn’t get back down the lighthouse fast enough. I was immensely relieved to discover that my bike was still there and I had confused my bike for a similar looking one.

 

The view from the lighthouse had made me realise how much ground I still had to cover, so I was quick to get back to the main coast road and pedal the distance to the Neck and onwards to the West End. There were a few more people around now, but even with the regular passing of other cyclists, it still didn’t feel overcrowded. There was so much choice of bays and beaches, that everyone seemed to be finding their own wee spot of paradise. At West End however, it was a little busier. On the bus route from Thomson Bay, there were people milling around waiting for the next one.

This was supposed to be a good location to see seals, but unfortunately there were none to spot whilst I was there. After taking a look down at the cliffs and bays that lined the coast here, I sat myself down at a seating area to have a late lunch whilst staring out to sea. Incredibly, I saw two passing humpback whales, which although quite far out from the coast, were still very recognisable, and after all my luck whale watching in Queensland, I couldn’t believe that I was seeing them again on the opposite side of the country.

 

It was quite a beautiful spot to hang out, but it was the busiest part of the island aside from the wharf, so eventually I pushed onwards. The peninsula had a few side-tracks that I took, winding my way back towards the Neck. I found a viewing spot overlooking Mable Cove and Eagle Bay which I had to myself, and then back at the Neck, I took my time passing the white sand of Rocky Bay. The beach here was long and expansive, covering a large section of the northern aspect of the peninsula and neck.

 

Once back on the main section of Rottnest Island, I took the road that headed round the northern coastline, and this brought me first to Stark Bay which was the far end of the same beachfront as Rocky Bay. As much as I was enjoying the sunshine, I was exceptionally hot and sweaty, something that makes suncream application a rather messy affair. Further along the northern coast, was a little turn-off to City of York Bay, and as I’d been at all of the beaches so far, I was tempted to go for a swim and hang around for a bit. There was simply too much choice, and not enough hours in the day.

 

After spotting another quokka mother and joey at the side of the road, the beautiful Catherine Bay was next and after this, I took a detour down to Parakeet Bay which was both stunning and absolutely deserted. A hot and sweaty mess, I decided that this would be the perfect spot for a swim, and took my shoes off to wade into the water. Luckily I did this before getting changed, because as it was September, the water was frigid and my hopes for a cooling dip were dashed. I paddled for a while then wandered across the sand looking at the quokka and seabird tracks that swept across the beach. The sand was a beautiful white colour and the beach was backed by a small dune, making it the perfect rest stop even without the swim.

 

After a while, I rejoined the northern coastal road, passing part of the large Lake Baghdad. The Wadjemup lighthouse stood proud on the hill at the far side, and before I knew it, I reached the settlement of Geordie Bay, a cute little place with holiday homes overlooking yet another gorgeous beach. There was a small store and cafe here, and I took the opportunity to grab refreshments before it closed. Beyond here was a loop leading around the Geordie Bay to Longreach Bay and an area known as the Basin where there were yet more quokkas.

 

Shadows were beginning to stretch across the ground as the sun lowered, and as sunset approached, I picked my way through the holiday park to Bathurst Lighthouse which overlooked Pinky Bay. This turned out to be a popular spot to watch the sunset, with people appearing on the beach and by the lighthouse, many with picnics and wine to watch the approach of dusk. It was yet another beautiful sunset, and I watched the sky change colours before returning to my bike in the growing darkness. Suddenly there were quokkas everywhere, and whilst the light was no longer amenable to photographing them, there was no shortage of them to look at as I meandered back to the wharf at Thomson Bay.

 

Everywhere was closed up for the night with the exception of the Rottnest Hotel. Being a Friday night, it was packed, and I had to forego getting a meal due to the long wait time, instead settling for a cider in the beer garden. It was amusing to watch the quokkas and their joeys move through the sea of feet in the beer garden, and I was immensely sad, though tired, when it was time to pedal back to the wharf to catch the ferry back to Fremantle in the darkness. I’d definitely covered as much of it as I could in one day, thanks to the bike hire, but with the World’s cutest marsupial and a plethora of beaches and bays, Rottnest Island definitely deserves far more time.

Incarcerated in Fremantle

It’s been close to 16 years since I headed off on my first solo adventure, and over that time I’ve stayed in a myriad of accommodation, often hostels, across 6 continents. Many of these places are a blur: forgotten blandness that served no more purpose than to give me a pillow to lay my head on at night. Then there are those that have stuck in my mind, either because of the premises itself or because of a strong memory that it is attached to it. Whilst looking around for a place to stay in Fremantle in Western Australia, I decided to make use of my YHA membership and stay in the hostel that was attached to Fremantle Prison. The hostel itself has been converted from the former Women’s Prison, and as such, the dorm rooms are old cells, and the social areas the old exercise yards.

From the train station near the Swan river, it was a bit of a slog through Fremantle’s streets to get there. I checked in and walked straight round to the prison to inquire about their tour options and decided to splash out and get the all-tour pass. With 4 different tour options offering a variety of styles, these are the only way to access the prison beyond the entrance courtyard. First up would be the torchlight tour that night. The prison ‘guard’ recommended I visit Old Shanghai for dinner, what was effectively a large shed containing a selection of Asian eateries. Whilst my food choice was disappointing, it was a great atmosphere, the place packed full of families and friends enjoying a weekday get-together. Thoroughly satiated, it was time to head back up the hill for my tour.

Built in the 19th century by the convicts it would contain, it remained open as a working prison until 1991, although its condition during those later years of use brought some controversy. It later achieved heritage status, and is now open to the public. My evening tour was to be conducted completely by torchlight, and so followed tales of some of the interesting characters that graced its cells, and warnings about the ghosts that have been seen wandering. Even the former Women’s prison where I was staying is reported to have one. We wandered through a couple of the cell blocks, the kitchen and exercise yards, and round to the hangman’s gallows. In the darkness, this was a rather uncomfortable place to visit, although I guess that’s the point. Afterwards, I found a convict board at the hostel, and did my very best impression of an inbound prisoner.

 

With the 4-tour pass valid for 12 months, I was told most people spread the visits out, but the next morning I was booked to spend the day at the prison completing the other 3 tours. I seemed to amuse a few of the staff there. The morning tour was at a civil hour and so I was able to escape to the main street of Fremantle to get a coffee and muffin from a couple of the area’s recommended eateries. Back at the prison, I was 1 of only 3 people that had signed up to do the Tunnels tour: kitting up and descending into the depths below the prison. After a safety briefing and donning up in protective clothing, a harness and a life jacket, we were ready to go, heading down in pairs down the 20m drop via 3 sets of vertical ladders. The immediate section of the tunnel system was dry and we wandered through, crouching where necessary. When we reached the lower sections which are flooded, we each boarded a little boat to paddle our way through the labyrinth. The tunnels were built by convicts, and I could only imagine how miserable it must have been to work down there day after day. We weren’t able to go into some sections as the air was deemed unsafe, and at one point, our guide told us to turn our flashlights off and navigate in the pitch black. It was difficult not to feel unnerved, trying not to bash into the boat in front whilst not being left behind, following a voice to make sure you took the right turn and grabbing onto the limestone walls to feel your way through the darkness. With the lights turned back on, we passed a cockroach running up the beam, and eventually we headed back to where we’d started, and began our paired ascent back to the surface.

 

We got taken up to the guard tower at the back of the prison which came with its own ghost story and then we were done. After lunch in the prison cafe, I joined the lunchtime Doing Time tour with the same guide I had had the night before. We covered a mix of sections that I’d seen in the dark the night before, and new sections I hadn’t been to yet. We were told about life in the prison and what it would have been like to be a prisoner during the various times throughout its years of use. Finally, immediately after finishing, I found myself to be the solo person on the Great Escapes tour, which being an introvert was a little on the awkward side for me, but my guide regaled me with stories about some of the exceptionally crazy attempts that had been made by convicts desperate to escape. The vast majority failed but it was fascinating listening to what incarceration had driven these people to attempt. This last tour took me into a section of the prison that no other tour had, and by the end of it, I could confidently say I’d covered a large percentage of Fremantle Prison.

 

After changing clothes due to the heat of the day, I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the main streets of Fremantle, zig-zagging back and forth to see what I came across. There are some pretty buildings dotted around the place and I followed a trail of these round to Bathers Beach on the western coast. Even on a weekday, there was quite a crowd here, and as the sun set over the Indian Ocean, there was a choice of vantage points to watch it from. Sunsets and sunrises are so regularly missed during my day to day life. In fact, if it wasn’t for travelling, I could probably go a whole year without seeing a single sunrise, and only seeing sunsets at the weekend. But when I’m on holiday, or abroad somewhere new, they take on a whole new significance for me, and I had seen so many of them on my great Australian Adventure.

 

Once in darkness, I was lucky to get a table at the very popular Little Creatures Brewery. My view whilst I ate was overlooking a replica Tall Ship which was moored up right next to the brewery. With an outdoor deck and a children’s sand pit on site, there was a nice vibe to the place. Heading back to the hostel afterwards, a large Ferris wheel lit up the nearby park, and I took an indirect route back to visit the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlour that I had spotted during the day. Finally reaching my hostel, I noted the lack of ghosts, and settled in for a sleep ahead of another early start. But my reward for this early rise was what turned out to be my favourite place in my brief foray into Western Australia.

Terra Australis – Western Australia

In a country as big as Australia, navigating distance also means navigating time. Leaving Darwin behind in the Northern Territory, I flew west towards Western Australia (WA) which was an hour and a half behind the city I’d just left, two hours behind the city I’d started my adventure in, and five hours behind my hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand. Australia likes to confuse things by not adopting daylight savings in every state, so the time differences between states have a seasonal fluctuation. I landed in Perth, the biggest city and state capital of WA and sat on the bus into the city as the sun set. I walked through the city streets to my hostel in descending darkness, eager for a good night’s sleep. Aside from my immensely enjoyable night at sea on the Great Barrier Reef, I had had a plethora of disturbed nights due to the activities of my roommates in shared hostel dorms. I was booked into a dorm room once more, but was pleased to discover there was an available private room to upgrade to. I stepped inside and jumped on the double bed, only to soon discover that the room was overlooking the multiple train lines that headed into Perth’s main train station, and with every train announcing its arrival with a horn, my initial elation dulled slightly as the reality of repetitive train noises sank in.

After an obligatory night in doing laundry, I fell asleep with ease, only to be awoken early by the morning trains tooting below my window. There was no point lying in, and with blue sky above, I got up, checked out and headed out amongst the city workers heading to their day’s employment. I was headed towards Kings Park and the Botanic Gardens within it. I had a particular route in mind, but got a little way-laid, stumbling upon the Barrack’s Arch and then Jacob’s Ladder which was a steep collection of steps which had a surprising amount of people running up and down it for their morning exercise. Beyond here, the entrance to the park was only a little further, and before I’d even made it to the Botanic Gardens, I had fallen head over heels in love with Perth. Kings Park itself is massive, and the views back to the city centre and across the Swan river were stunning. Past a few lookouts, the large war memorial stood proudly on the hilltop against a blue sky. Nearby was a popular cafe and a gift shop which I made the most of by buying some unusual souvenirs.

 

With the mercury rising and the sky remaining blue, it was time to explore the Botanic Gardens. There are a myriad of routes to take through the gardens, and the entrance was marked by a light-catching sculpture that bus loads of tourists crowded around for photo opportunities. Despite being a weekday, the place was mobbed. I opted to take the long loop around the upper aspect of the gardens first and was rewarded with a stunning array of plants and viewpoints as well as wildlife. There were birds I’d never seen before and couldn’t identify, rainbow lorikeets, and a lizard I’d never seen before either. The route took me across a beautiful glass arched bridge also and below me a school party walked on one of the lower trails.

 

Cutting through a woodland section where the light through the branches created a beautiful dappled effect, I made my way back to the garden entrance via a lake with a fountain. This fountain pattern changed over time, and the lawn around it was littered with people enjoying the beautiful weather. After watching the cycle of water, I headed through a wilder section of the gardens with reams of colourful flowers in great swathes spreading away from the footpath.

 

After grabbing a snack at the cafe, I took the clifftop walk which skirted past the Botanic Gardens, and followed the river at height into the depths of Kings Park. This took me under the arched bridge and once away from the Botanic Gardens was a much quieter trail to follow. In fact I stumbled across three furry creatures at the side of the track which I think are bandicoots but I’m not completely sure. It was turning out to be a great place to spot wildlife even although I was still within the city. Eventually the track ended at a lookout and I cut up into Kings Park which was more arid in comparison to the lushness of the Botanic Gardens. A myriad of walking trails cut through the bush and with my park map, I found myself in the far corner of Kings Park at May Drive Parkland.

 

By now it was well into the afternoon and I was starving so a late lunch was in order, and the cafe here was still busy. Nearby a children’s play area and zones to explore lay around a small lake. It was still really hot under the baking sun, so I took my time shade hopping, wandering around the parkland before cutting up a long length of cut lawn back up an incline towards the DNA tower. A metal lookout structure designed to look like the helix of DNA, the view at the top wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped, with the city of Perth a little hidden from view. It had also started to cloud over by the time I’d reached here, and the haze that was forming was a little disappointing.

 

A nearby nature walk followed by a meander through other sections of Kings Park led me in a drawn out way back to the top end of Kings Park, where I trudged my way back to the hostel. After a fantastic day cruising around the incredible inner city green space, it was now rush hour, and I had to join the crowds of people in commuting across the city. Retrieving my luggage, I dragged it to the nearby train station which had woken me up early with its comings and goings, and found my way to the very busy platform to take me to Fremantle on the other side of the Swan River. I’d read so many recommendations to spend more time there than in Perth itself, but frankly my first day in Western Australia had set me off well for loving the place.

Darwin Delights

During the Top End’s dry season, the Mindil Beach markets run weekly, and having been recommended a visit, I was sure not to miss out. Returning to Darwin from Litchfield National Park, I asked to get dropped off there instead of my hostel and the place was buzzing. The sun was still up although lowering and there were crowds packed into the market itself as well as draped across the sand, which was now cool enough to walk on, many of them parked up with edible delights to watch the sunset. There was so much choice for food and the queues at many of them were long. Seeing as I was at the seaside, I opted for fish & chips, and was sadly disappointed with my choice. Nevertheless, I ate what I could stomach whilst the sky turned from orange through to red. Over three weeks into my Australian adventure, I’d been utterly spoilt with sunsets.

 

After the sun dipped below the horizon, I returned to the market which was amazing. Aside from the food stalls, there were some incredible craft stores, and I drooled over a lot of the stuff, wishing I had a big enough house and a lot of money to own it. I ate ice cream, and dutch pancakes, and drank iced tea as I meandered. I was told that Europeans are a great lover of Indigenous artworks, and true to my roots, I saw beautiful painting after beautiful painting. I was determined to find myself something made by an Indigenous artist that was transportable and affordable, and eventually gave in and bought an expensive satchel made by an Indigenous artist through a Co-op. It is so beautiful and was so expensive that I’m actually reluctant to use it, but it came with a photo and bio of the artist that made it. At the outskirts of the market there was entertainment in the form of fire juggling and whip cracking. Having gone round and round the stalls, darkness was now upon me, and being on a backpacker’s budget, I walked past the taxi rank and walked the streets of Darwin back to my hostel.

 

I had one final full day in Darwin and it was yet another scorcher. In fact the sun symbol displayed on my phone’s weather app for many days ahead on the forecast, and my whole time in Darwin had been a fairly steady 35-36oC. Despite the heat, it was going to be a day of walking. I headed to Cullen Bay marina, the picturesque and upmarket part of the city down the hill from where I was staying. There were some boaties eating and planning their race, and I people watched in the outdoor seating area of the cafe, against a background of boats. Nearby, a life-sized statue of a crocodile stands with its mouth agape, a friendly reminder that this is croc country. There are some boutique shops here and the Sea Link ferry to Mandorah on the far side of the immense harbour, and the Tiwi islands leaves from here.

 

I followed the path round the coast and back up the hill to a wasteland patch of grass that overlooks Mindil Beach. A black cockatoo strutted about near the top of a walkway through bush, down the hill to the beach. I walked as far as the bridge at the casino where more black cockatoos were causing a ruckus. Mindil Beach was deserted, partly because it was a weekday, and partly because the sand quickly gets too hot to walk on during the day. After admiring the view, I retraced my steps, happening upon some unusual birds as I returned to the bush.

 

I found myself back at Bicentennial Park, where I’d wandered on my arrival in the city a few nights prior. Overlooking the expansive Darwin Harbour, there are a myriad of viewpoints to look out from. I took my time, ending up at the war memorial and the lookout over Stokes Hill wharf. Round the corner from here is the Supreme Court, the Christ Church Cathedral, and the Smith Street Overbridge which crosses over Kitchener Drive a few stories below, and ends up at the Darwin Waterfront precinct where there is an incredible view and a lift that takes you down the drop in altitude.

 

On the hop-on, hop-off bus two days prior, I had spotted the WWII tunnels that dove into the cliffside, and had decided at that stage that I would go in them before leaving. However, now that I was here, I wasn’t overly fussed, my stomach demanding attention instead. Nearby, I took a table at Chow!, an asian restaurant. I regretted sitting outside as it was unbearably hot, but the food was incredible. I had seen laksa on menus everywhere in the city, and finally got hold of one to eat. I chose roast duck laksa washed down with a chilled cider, but between the hot weather and the spices in the soup, I was sweating buckets.

 

Winding my way to the end of the Stokes Hill wharf, I spotted a ray in the water below. I followed it for a while before it disappeared, and I pressed on to the recently opened joint venture of the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) and the Bombing of Darwin museum. I knew a little about the RFDS already thanks to an Australian soap called The Flying Doctors that aired in the UK when I was growing up, however like the cyclone that destroyed Darwin which I’d learned about at the Museum & Art Gallery of Northern Territory, I’d never heard about the bombing of Darwin that occurred in 1942 during the Second World War. On entering the museum, I was guided to a virtual reality headset experience which was incredible, and placed you right into the thick of the action via an animation. Although the exhibition was small, the videos and holograms meant it was easy to pass quite a bit of time here, and I was impressed with how well it had been done.

 

After indulging in some ice cream, I returned to the Waterfront Precinct and went to the Wave Lagoon. I’d made it here later than planned, and had somewhere to be in the evening, so I had only 40mins to enjoy the place. I couldn’t believe it when I saw someone in the pool who I’d seen regularly on my Queensland travels, and I managed to make an idiot of myself several times trying to get myself into the rubber tubes that are provided to ride the waves. I was only able to experience one cycle, and would have loved to stay there longer: the water was so refreshing. But I had booked myself on a sunset cruise and time was marching on.

 

I raced back to the wharf and boarded Sundancer, my sailboat for the evening. There had been a few options for cruises in the harbour, and I went for a mid-range price, which had included canapes and a glass of champagne in the price. However from the moment we left the wharf behind, not only was there a constant service of delicious nibbles, but the champagne was free flowing. After all the heat of the day, and the hours of walking, I found myself relaxing and frankly getting rather merry. I’m not a regular drinker, or a big drinker, but it felt great to let my hair down, and every time my glass ran dry, I was more than happy to accept a top-up. I did take photos of the passing scenery at the beginning, and then later as the sun was setting, but I spent quite a bit of time chatting with a fellow passenger, as well as sunbathing, and stuffing my face. I was positively pissed by the time we returned to the wharf which made for an interesting walk back to my hostel. Needless to say I woke up with a wicked thirst.

 

My flight out of Darwin wasn’t till the afternoon, so I had one last morning in the city. Long before I’d even booked my trip there, I’d heard about a place in the city where you could cage dive with crocodiles. Upon discovering of its existence, I told myself that if I ever made it to Darwin, I’d do it. Unfortunately, I had underestimated its popularity and didn’t bother to book ahead. When I was in Cairns, a few nights before leaving Queensland behind, I’d gone on the website to discover it was booked out for my entire stay. I was gutted. Nonetheless, I decided to spend the morning at Crocosaurus Cove, effectively a crocodile zoo, right in the heart of Darwin’s city centre.

I’m not a fan of zoos or aquariums, so didn’t have high hopes for the place, but it turned out to be bigger than I expected. I spent a good bit of time in the reptile house looking at the scaly creatures that inhabit the Northern Territory. The crocodiles outside were huge and included Burt, the crocodile star of Crocodile Dundee. I got to feed some juvenile crocodiles and watched as people took part in the cage-diving experience that I had wanted to do. Whilst I always leave these places a little sad at the enclosure sizes some creatures are kept in, it was still an interesting experience.

 

But finally it was time to collect my luggage, and jump on the shuttle to the airport. By the time I’d queued to check in my luggage, I didn’t have long to wait. At my gate, the flight was called and they requested row after row, but mine was never called. The gate emptied out and I sat there waiting and wondering. Suddenly, they announced the gate was about to close and I shot up and ran over. The ground staff crew gave me a curious look as I’d clearly sat there all along without boarding. I’m assuming I missed my row being called, but nonetheless, I was on my second domestic flight of my great Australian adventure, and another new region awaited.

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