Thursday, 17 September 2009

Summary and Reflections

Our Australian friends Kerry and Lyn said that it took them quite a while to get used to living a “normal life” again after such a long period on the road. We also have found the return strange and occasionally difficult.

Over the past 14 weeks we have lived, slept, eaten and travelled in a vehicle whose external dimensions are only 5.3 metres long and just under 2 metres wide (roughly 2 1/2 times the size of a double bed). We have:

KIW 771

  • driven 18,522 kms (11,576 miles)
  • used 2144 litres of diesel at a cost of $2942 ($1.37 a litre)
  • seen the exchange rate sink from $2.06 to around $1.91 to the £ (a decline of 6%)
  • stayed at 50 campsites and 5 hotels
  • drunk at least 72 cans of beer
  • travelled through 11 times zones including a new one that we (and a number of the Australians we have met) had not heard of before – Central West Australian time (GMT plus 8 hrs 45 mins)
  • sent 55 postcards (or at least Pat has)

Bruce on Heartbreak Trail

If you superimpose a map of Australia upon Europe, we:


  • started just over the the border of northern Russia;
  • drove to the west coast of Ireland (via Latvia, Estonia, Sweden and Norway, across the North Sea, along Hadrian's Wall, across the Irish Sea and into Northern Ireland, then down to Shannon);
  • ignoring the difficulties of driving on water, we proceeded south through the Bay of Biscay to San Sebastian in Spain; then
  • went across France into Switzerland; and
  • through Austria into Croatia;
  • then we went north, through Czech, and Germany;
  • across the Baltic Sea; to
  • finish our trip in Sweden at Helsinki.

How much did it cost? We decided before we went that because this was to be one of our “holidays of a lifetime” and we were unlikely to go back to most of the places again, we would not let cost decide if we did something (to hell with the inheritance!) so we spent quite a lot which (excluding van hire) averaged out at a bit under $200 (£100) a day.

Would we do it again? Yes, we have already booked a van for an expedition to New Zealand next year, this time the trip may also include Tasmania and some of the Pacific Islands.

What would we do differently if we did the same thing again? Possibly hire a bigger van and swap to a 4WD on those occasions when 4WD was essential. We might also delay doing the south until summer in the south thus avoiding the rain and cold down there. Reluctantly, we would also book ahead in the more popular areas and therefore sacrifice some of the flexibility that a van gave us.

What was the worse bit of the holiday? Being bitten by mosquitoes and sand flies and going outside at night to the toilet.

What was the best bit of the holiday? Swimming with Manta Rays; Cathedral Gorge in the Bungles, the sunset at 80 mile beach, the giant ocean waves, the …….

What would we not take with us next time? Keeping our clothes clean was easier than we had imagined so we would pack fewer clothes and not take the iron!!

What extra would we take with us? A better mp3 player and some small loudspeakers plus a few clothes hangers (I am told)

What was the most useful items you took? A retractable key chain which fits on my belt to which the van keys were always attached, even when driving, the laptop for email etc and the Compendium holder for numerous essential small things.

What are you looking forward to most when you get back? The Sunday papers, a vegetarian chilli and not having to go outside to the toilet in the middle of the night.

What are you least looking forward to when you get back? The traffic on the roads, problems parking, traffic congestion, large crowds and noise.

What did you miss most when you got back? The noise and natural sounds of the world outside the van. For 3 months, when it rained, it did so just above our heads and we heard it. The birds were outside of our van and woke us up at any hour of the night, when the wind blew in a gentle breeze, the van shook enormously. You get none of that in a house.

Australia is a wonderful, vast and varied country. The hardships endured by the early pioneers, explorers and settlers are difficult to comprehend even when you have seen for yourself, what they had to cope with. Areas of Australia are still very young and that places such as the Bungles were still unknown about 60 years ago is astonishing.

The Aboriginal issue is one which troubles most of the Australians we met and none of them had a solution for the problem or professed to understand it. We heard Australia described (by an aboriginal) as a land of two worlds, that is quite accurate and the problem is that the worlds are so dissimilar that co-existence is very difficult.

We have met many really nice people, some of whom will remain life long friends. We are looking forward to returning in the near future.

This blog has had over 12,000 hits since it started – we do not understand why and have no idea how but we hope you have enjoyed reading it. No more now (perhaps) until we go to America for a short trip at the end of November.

Paul and Pat Harvey

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Alice Springs, Darwin and Home

Australia Map Alice Springs

Alice Springs is almost at the geographical centre of Australia and has changed over the past 20 years from a backwater to a large town with thousands of visitors each year.

Our intrepid travellers are spending their final three nights in Australia in a good hotel in Alice with clean white sheets, hot and cold running water, an indoor toilet, a bath, television, electric lights, lifts, more than two plates on the table…… will they be able to cope?

Yes is the answer!

Alice got very mixed reviews from our fellow travellers, some felt it was really interesting, others did not like the atmosphere. We tended to be more in the latter camp than the former because the town felt a bit threatening at night. Reluctantly we came to the conclusion that this is in the main due to the very large number of Aboriginals who seem to have nothing at all to do and just hang around the city, sitting under trees or strolling aimlessly from one place to another. When the bottle shops opened (off-licenses) there was usually a stream heading towards them despite the strict “no drinking in public places” law.

To us, Alice Springs seemed a surprisingly small town despite having grown in the past 20 years or so. From the top of Anzac Hill where

Anzac Memorial

the memorial is dated 1914-19, you can see most of the town.

Alice Springs

It has a few interesting buildings, including the old Prison with an Art Deco gate, the old hospital and Telegraph Station.

One of the most famous icons of the town is the Ghan Train so two train

Ghan 1

spotters went to the station to see it leave on its 22 hour trek to Adelaide.

Ghan 3

Ghan 2

Even though the train was 14 carriages plus a baggage car and a vehicle

Ghan 4

car long, there seemed to me to be surprisingly few passengers. Fares for the complete trip of Darwin to Adelaide range from nearly $3000 to around $350 (for the most uncomfortable seats).

One of the things we have learnt on this trip is that other travellers are often very good sources of information on what to see and what not to see – usually with more on what to see than what not. We were advised to go to see Simpsons Gap near Alice. This is a gap in the McDonnell Ranges which form a wall to the south of Alice and quite a sight it turned out to be.

One of the largest lizards in the world is the Australian Perentie Lizard

Perentie Lizard

and this carefully camouflaged specimen (all of 1.5m long) walked in front of us as we were reading the sign boards in the information centre. They can grow up to 2.5 m long and apparently are food for the hungry traveller.

In front of the gap is a river with a slightly superfluous sign encouraging us

No Swimming

Creek Bed Simpson Gap

not to swim – apparently it does flood in the wet season. The gap itself is very impressive with the remains of a pool there – this encourages animals to live in the immediate area (including the Rock Hopper Wallaby which must have been in bed when we were there).

Simpson Gap Pool

Also whilst we were in Alice we attended a slightly disappointing presentation at the School of the Air (bored presenter), went to an exhibition of aboriginal art (very good, bought a print of a painting by Albert Namatjira for the kitchen), the National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame which is housed in the old Alice Springs Jail, possibly the only one in the world with an Art Deco Entrance

Entrance to Old Jail AS

and went to an evening concert put on as part of the Alice Desert Celebration.

Then on our penultimate day in Australia, having added over 18,000 kms onto the clock, our van (aka Bruce) is returned to Apollo looking extremely grubby outside but possibly cleaner inside that when he started his trip. We were a bit sad to see him go but he needed a service and


a rest before he started driving again two days later.

Despite having bags slightly over the weight limit, our return flights (three legs) started ok. Having a five hour wait in Darwin we went to the Museum

NT Museum Darwin

of the Northern Territories which is housed in a new museum overlooking the bay. The bay looked just at it should, peaceful and fringed with palm trees.

Darwin Bay

The main exhibit which most people want to see is the very good exhibit on Cyclone Tracy which as good as destroyed Darwin in 1974, see some examples of Aboriginal artefacts (interesting and well described) plus examples of stuffed local flora and fauna.

Darwin is now totally rebuilt and most of the houses are much nicer to look at than elsewhere being built on two floors with living accommodation high

Darwin House

up to benefit from the breeze and the town was surprisingly green – our taxi driver said that this was because the wet season was just starting and the atmosphere was quite humid and sticky. Frangipane was blossoming everywhere and we were told it gets even better over the next few weeks before the rains start in earnest in November.

One of the things we have been wondering about is how easy will it be to return to a life living in a large house with numerous rooms, toilets and space etc. Kerry and Lyn whom we met on the road a couple of times phoned us at Darwin and during the goodbye conversation, said that it had taken them about a week to get used to living in a house again (as against a van). We are about to find out how easy it will be for us.

And so, two days before our visa expires, we leave Australia for the UK and see the remains of our last sunset from the cabin window as the plane

Last sunset

heads north for Singapore.

And so, 37 hours after leaving Alice Springs, we walk into our house in the UK to try to get used to living our old life again.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Uluru and Kings Canyon

Australia Map Ayers Rock

Uluru attracts around 350,000 visitors per year and although the Rock is an icon for Australia and an important sacred symbol for the local Angara Aboriginal people, that does not prevent anyone involved from regarding managing access to it as a commercial activity.

It costs $25 per person for a three day permit which allows access into the National Park within which Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kati Tjuta (The Olgas) reside. If you want to stay overnight, you have to stay at the Ayers Rock Resort run as a monopoly by the Voyages Company, you cannot bush camp within about 50 kms of the rock and if you try to, there is a $200 fine. The campground is the most expensive we have stayed at anywhere in Australia ($38 per night) and the facilities are nothing special. If you want to pay for anything by credit card (food, petrol, camp fees etc) there is a 1% surcharge imposed since Voyages manage and run everything and can do what they like.

Having got the grumble out of the way, Uluru and Kata Tjuta are indeed very impressive and well worth visiting. In fact, can you really say you have been to Australia if you have not seen them? During our three days at Uluru and Kata Tjuta we have:

Seen sunset on Uluru from afar

Sunset from afar

Seen sunset from close up and seen the famous colour change take place. We think the colours are most impressive during the minutes before sunset

Sunset minus 30

Sunset minus 30

Sunset minus 15

Sunset minus 15


At Sunset

The surface texture is responsible for the colour change

Surface of Uluru

and it is described as having its origins in the rusting (or oxidising) of the normally grey sandstone.

Seen sunrise on Uluru (5.30 am get up for that one)

Before Sunrise

just before sunrise

After Sunrise

just after sunrise

Attended an excellent walk and talk given by the National Parks Service on the Aboriginal view of the origins of Uluru, aboriginal life, culture and the local environment (plus a bit of bush tucker)

The Aboriginal belief is that the world was once a featureless place. None of the places we know existed until Anangu ancestors in the form of people, plants and animals travelled widely across the land. In the process of living and travelling, they created the landscape as we know it today. As to the origins of the rock, an ancestral spirit (called Mala Tjukurpa (in the physical form of a rufous hare wallaby) came to the rock and made some caves with her claws for the Mala people to live in.

Creation Spirit claw holes

The closest we ever got to a Rufous Hare Wallaby was a stuffed one in a museum in Alice

Rufous Hare Wallaby

The rock was also the place where the Mala people were attacked by an evil monster called Kurpany created by another tribe (in the physical form of a black dog). Some of their number were killed and the shape of the

Mala Mans Head

head of one of the dead men (brains, eyes, mouth etc) are clearly visible in the rock face (right hand side of the rock in the above picture)..

There are a number of pieces of Rock Art in the caves around the base and they are certainly not as good as those in Kakadu. Our guide (a senior aboriginal ranger) interpreted those he was allowed to for us

Water nearby sign

The spiral shape means “there is water nearby” – just around the corner actually!

Ulhuru Rock Art

The circular shapes at the bottom of the photograph (just left of the middle) describe a group of people coming together for a meeting

Rock Art 3

The big “C” shape just to the left of the middle means “a person sitting”, the spiral circles means “water”, the leaf shape means “a leaf”. Rock art is frequently over painted and therefore there are up to 30,000 years worth of paintings on this wall.

At the moment, anyone fit enough can climb the rock by going up a fairly challenging path. The local Aboriginals' (the Anangu people)have long been mounting a campaign to try to persuade people not to climb the rock because it is of particular spiritual significance to them. They are also concerned that when people get to the top, a number of them find a quiet spot and go to the toilet (there are no facilities on the rock). The best way of understanding their concern is to imagine that visitors to churches in the UK were to go in wearing bikinis, go to the toilet in a quite corner, play radios, eat take-away food (even deposit the ashes of dead members of their family in a handy hole in the wall).

Please do not climb

We had decided long ago that we were not going to climb the rock and whilst here we heard that it is likely to become a thing of the past in a few months or so.

Had part of Uluru (The Mutitjulu Waterhole) to ourselves for a few minutes, we arrived just after sunrise and before anyone else had got themselves organised.

Mutitjulu Waterhole

The Mutitjulu Waterhole is the home of Wanampi. an ancestral water

Path leading to waterhole

snake who has the power to control the source of the water in this water hole.

Home of Wanampi

Seen Kata Tjuta (literally translated as “Many Heads) aka The Olgas and undertaken a challenging hot walk through them to a couple of lookout points.

The Olgas

The Olgas are a group of mountains some 50 kms from Uluru of religious significance to Aboriginal men. Exactly what we are not allowed to know since we are not Aboriginal.

Sleeping Creature 1

some of them look like sleeping creatures, the above is some sort of animal

Sleeping Creature 2

whilst this is definitely a tortoise.

 Karingana Lookout 

The view from the Karingana lookout – a gap between two massive rock faces looking out onto a plain between Olgas. It may not look much but it was very impressive when there and was only achieved after a long walk through the hot sun and a lot of climbing.

Been to an astronomy talk and learnt to identify the Southern Cross (and hence determine where south is), seen Jupiter and two of its moons through a telescope plus a number of stars of excitement to astronomers. For obvious reasons, there are no pictures of this.

On to Kings Canyon

About 300 kms away (a short hop now for us allowing: a lie in, a late start and arrival in time for a late lunch) is another of the great sites of the region. On the way here we see our only wild camel of the trip although

Wild Camel  

they say there are over 2 million of them in Central Australia. We also pass Mount Connor (an impressive table top mountain)

Mount Connor

and purely for our own remembrance, another of the thousands of signs we have passed indicating that we are driving over or through a creek, most often dry although sometimes wet.

Whirly Creek Sign

Kings Canyon is (not unsurprisingly) a Canyon of majestic proportions and from afar, its profile has the look of the Grand Canyon. We are allowed to choose our own camp site and therefore we manage to get one where the back window of the van overlooks the Canyon face. The pitch is also

The van and the view

Canyon Rim

close to the toilets which is of particular value at night because Dingoes are a problem here and the toilets come equipped with a Dingo Gate (to keep them out rather than let them in) and Dingoes start to patrol the camp

 Wild Dingo  

site from dusk onwards, completely ignoring any attempts to frighten then away. The general advice is never to feed a dingo (deliberately or accidently by leaving food out) and to keep well away from them.

Kings Canyon is known for an arduous walk around the rim of the canyon with fantastic views over the surrounding land and a couple of other easier walks, plus being a long way from anywhere else and a long way out into the bush. You are advised to start early and take significant quantities of water with you because much of the walk is very exposed to the sun.

The walk involves a steep climb up the canyon wall (635 steps) and then a

Climbing up the Canyon

Canyon Mountain Goat

walk around the top of the canyon which weaves through sandstone

Canyon Pinnacle

pinnacles very similar to those of the Bungles. The views over the canyon are quite spectacular both looking outwards

Canyon View 

Canyon View 3 

Canyon View 4

and looking inwards

Canyon view 2 Canyon view 1

from observation points very high and exposed

Canyon pinnacle viewpoint

Particularly challenging (and quite spectacular) are some of the walkways which have had to be built to enable walkers to get around the rim 

Canyon Walkway

Here you come through the canyon wall top left, proceed along a walkway and then across a bridge (bottom right) along another walkway and then up some steep stairs.

The ability of plant life to establish itself and then survive in such tough

Canyon plant root

conditions is quite astonishing. This plant is determined to survive and having started growing is sending out long roots in order to eventually

Canyon plateau trees

become a tree – to do so it has to send down roots a long way into the sandstone. Some water pools exist but they rapidly evaporate in the high

Canyon water pool

temperatures on the canyon top. Where there is shade and water, significant plant growth survives such as in the “Garden of Eden”.

Canyon Garden of Eden 

Nearby Kathleen Springs at the end of a short Gorge, is an example of

Kathleen Springs

how Aboriginals used to make use of the landscape to survive by trapping the animals (kangaroos, emus etc) which came into the gorge to drink and later how settlers used the same features to manage their stock.

Trapping Yard 1

All that is left of the settlers presence is part of their stockyard. Aboriginals also believe that the pool is the home of Inturrkunya (pronounced un-door-goon-you), the Carpet Snake who came to the gorge and rested during Tjukurrpa (aka Dreamtime, essentially Creation). Evidence of this comes


from marks preserved in stone in the gorge. We might imagine them to be ripples left by the waves which used to exist in this inland sea area millions of years ago now preserved in the sandstone – the Aboriginal view is different.

Both walks were fascinating in that although they are way out in the wilds of Australia, the Parks Service has taken great effort to provide educational

Educational signboard

sign boards for walkers and to make the area accessible.

One of the most amazing things about Australia is that you can be on the main highway running North-South (The Stuart Highway) and not see another vehicle for miles and miles. There are occasional examples of the results of bad driving along the highway.

Bad Driving

or one of the many Road Trains

Another Road Train

but in general, it is empty.

And so,managing to pass the above driving challenges, we get to Alice Springs for one night in a rather poor camp site followed by three days in a hotel, a chance to see the town, to hand back our van and to prepare to go home.

Arriving in Alice