Thursday, 30 June 2016

How was it for us?

Now we are back in the UK living in a house whose floor area is many many times that of the van and have also got used to the fact that we can still be together but in different rooms to each other, we have had a chance to reflect upon the trip.

We almost thoroughly enjoyed the trip, the bits we certainly did not enjoy were those involving flies, mosquitoes, frogs, the occasional long or short drop toilet and some noisy campers at El Questro from sunset through to around 4 a.m.

During our 45 days away we:

  • drove 7471 kms
  • purchased 831 litres of fuel at an average price of $1.34 per litre. The cheapest was $1.15 in Darwin and the most expensive was $2.09 on the Gibb.
  • achieved 8.86 kms per litre which was a great improvement on last time
  • spent about $6000 (£3000) on food, fuel and everything else
  • stayed at 30 different camps and 2 different hotels (all have been reviewed in TripAdvisor).
  • drank 90 cans of cola and 60 cans of beer (approximately!) and ate far too many crisps and Anzac Biscuits.

Living in the van this time was easier than the last time because we knew what to expect and also because we were able to implement from day 1, things which made life easier such as storage bags, having a clothes line inside the van and many more. All small seemingly insignificant things but they did contribute to an easier life.

The van has improved a bit in design since last time and having water inside the van (as well as outside) was a significant improvement and Cruise Control made driving very much easier.

One aspect of life in the bush which we will miss tremendously is being woken up most mornings to the noisy singing of birds at daybreak. Australian birds seem to be much more vocal than British birds and we love to hear them.

Something else will will miss is that on the road, almost everyone says hello to you with a wave as you drive or walk past in the camp site or on the trail. This does not happen in towns like Perth or Darwin (you would be saying hello constantly) and certainly not as much when in the UK.

We are seven years older than last time and certainly this made all that is involved in day to day life more tiring. The route we took this time was significantly more demanding with at least 1/3rd of the 7000+ kms being off road. Off-Road driving techniques demand far more concentration than tarmac, at least they do for me, and the constant jolting can be exhausting.

It was much hotter and steamier this time. We were in Australia about one month earlier than last time and hence it was closer to summer than autumn and the weather, particularly in the north was very hot and humid. Add to this the fact that Australians say they are having unseasonably hot weather …… we thought 35C to 40C was hot.

However even with all of the negatives, being on the road made us feel younger than we feel when we are having to be grown ups in the UK.

Having completed the Gibb, we bathed in glory whenever we answered the question “where have you been in Oz?” We were the only UK based couple we met during our time here and so we have come to the conclusion that it is not very common for people like us to do the Gibb - one of Australia’s Last Outback Challenges as we were repeatedly told.

Would we do another Australian road trip? Yes and we certainly hope to one day but not in such as small a van and not without a toilet and a shower. At our age, such luxuries are heading towards becoming essentials. We are not sure if there are any areas of Australia left which we want to go to but have not yet visited but if there are, then we will go there one day. We are great admirers of the Australian attitude to life and love the land and all that it offers.

However, our long distance priorities for the next few years are: Cuba, sailing up or down the Alaskan Peninsula, a Safari in Africa, the Olympic National Park in Washington State then Route 101 North to South and (an already booked) sailing around the complete coast of the United Kingdom. So Australia again will have to wait its turn.

Whenever we travel, we make a note of questions which we think of whilst on the journey which we will have to research when we get home. This trip’s questions are:

  1. which country do Emus come and why are they in Australia?
  2. what is the current price of gold and other metals?
  3. what can we find out about Mount Keith Mine 80kms south of Wiluna?
  4. what sort of soil do olives thrive in and where in Australia is this?
  5. what do the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn signify?
  6. what is the average number of kangaroos killed by a Road Train in a year?
  7. what does a termite look like and how fast does a termite mound grow?
  8. what geological process created the piles of rock in the Burrup?
  9. why does haywire mean what it does?
  10. what kind of wood comes from Boab Trees?
  11. why does Port Hedland exist?
  12. what are the industrial uses of salt?
  13. who was King Leopold of the King Leopold Range?
  14. why and how are road corrugations formed on 4WD tracks?
  15. which type of owl did we see in Windjana?
  16. when did Charles Darwin come to Australia (if at all)?
  17. why are houses in Darwin built on stilts?
If you want to know the answers to these questions you will have to research them yourself (as I will do) !

That is all for this set of blog entries, when and where will the next one be from I wonder? 


We did the Gibb 001


And finally, we only got as far as disc 12 of 22 with Woman in White so we shall have to finish it off during the dark evenings of winter, unless of course we go somewhere else before then.

Going Home Again

A journey back home from a great trip is always a bit of an anti-climax. Whilst the journey out is part of the adventure, when it is over you just want to get back asap - at least that is how we feel.

So we changed out of our sunny 35C+ clothes and sandals into clothes more suitable for an air conditioned plane and a UK climate (the weather forecast is offering us a high of 18C where we live) and then took a taxi to Darwin Airport. Because we had checked in online, we did not have to wait in the long queue to check-in and at bag drop our bags were taken, hopefully to reappear in London the next day.

Silk Air

It was a cramped 4 hour flight on Silk Air to Singapore during which I hope I made the passenger in front of me as uncomfortable as he made me when he immediately put his seat back and left it there for the whole flight even during our meal and also when he went off to the toilet.

Leaving Darwin

After take-off, we swung around over Darwin and headed out over the sea towards Borneo and Singapore.

Route to Singapore

We arrived early and therefore had 5 hours in transit at Changi. 

Shower at Changi

We had time for a shower and to change our clothes at the Terminal 2 Ambassador Transit Hotel

Shower at Changi 001

which for some unknown reason, was slightly cheaper (Sin$31.99 for two people) and came with a free bottle of water than at Terminal 3 on the way out (Sin$32.96 for two people and no water).

Orchid Garden  Orchid

We also visited the Orchid Garden in T2

Orchid 002

Orchid 001

made use of the children’s Picture Rubbing Area

Pat and Rubbing 001

Pat and Rubbing  Rubbing Block

which shows that some people are never too old to be young,

Sunflower Garden

visited the Sunflower Garden

Free Wifi

Free Wifi 001

and registered for use of the free WIFI system all before we had even started to walk to Terminal 3 from where our flight back to the UK departed. They provide buses between the terminals even though they are linked by walkways

Skytrain Gate

and also a shuttle train system but we thought the 40 minute walk would do us good.

Tired Pat

However after 20 minutes walking, we found that the flesh was weaker than the mind and we were grateful to be wisked to T3

Butterfly Garden

which was home to the Butterfly Garden. The only problem there was that the butterflies had gone to bed! Changi does try very hard to keep transit passengers entertained and also to keep the airport as the transit place of choice over the other regional offerings (Bangkok, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur).


Consolation came in the form of donuts

Mrs Sugar Mouth

enjoyed by Mrs Sugar Mouth.

We were on the same plane in the same cabin as the way out, the same row even, just on the other side of the plane and our fully laden A380 bound for London took off almost on time. 

Sunrise over Turkmenistan

We ate and we slept and we saw sunrise over Turkmenistan

Route to London

and flew straight in without circling over London, which we would not have seen in any case because of the thick cloud


and we arrived early at a rainy and cold Heathrow Airport.

Almost sleeping

This picture proves it is almost possible to sleep standing up at a railway station and so, some 27 hours after leaving Darwin, we unlocked our front door to face a more ordinary life

Post Pile

and an enormous pile of mail, a lawn and garden in desperate need of attention, a supermarket delivery in a few hours………………...

We would rather be on the road somewhere in the Kimberley please !

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Two Days in Darwin

Having arrived at our hotel in Darwin, we have until Wednesday afternoon to recover from our trip and to see something of Darwin. The last time we did a long road trip in Australia, we had a five hour layover in Darwin and made a quick dash into town to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. So whilst here we managed (or did not completely manage):

The Deckchair Cinema

Deckchair Cinema Brochure

The Deckchair Cinema is a community institution and shows films under the stars every night during the Winter (Dry) Season.

DCC Screen View

It is a walk in and not a drive in

DCC Dinner

and before the screening you can have a meal, 

DCC Local Beers 001

drink local craft beers,

DCC Snacks

buy snacks and get free mosquito repellant !

DCC about to start

By dark it is very full and we are sitting (deliberately) at the back and making use of the free cushions which are provided to lessen the impact of the chairs. The show starts on time, or at least at 1930 a documentary film starts playing about the management of foreign aid to Africa. We assumed that this was a short educational film being shown before the main attraction but after a considerable while, just when we had started to think that this film was rather interesting but was perhaps going on a bit long, the screen went dark and a voice said “Sorry folks, we have just realised we are showing the wrong film !” There was a round of loud humorous cheers and then the real film started. The problem was that by this time we were so tired we could not stay awake so we had to leave before the film finished and before we really fell asleep. 

Darwin Central Hotel at Night

So it was back to our hotel to go to bed.

Walking the Town and the Hop-on Hop-off Bus

When we are somewhere for a short time, we have got into the habit of taking a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour but forgoing the hopping bits in order to get a feel for the town.

Darwin Bus Route Page 2

Darwin has such a bus tour but the afternoon tour is 30 minutes longer than the morning tour (even though the price is the same) because it goes out along the East Point Promontory to the museum. So we are spending part of our first morning in Darwin wandering around those areas of the city within walking distance of our hotel.

Over Christmas 1974, Darwin was almost totally destroyed by Cyclone Tracey with over 70% of all buildings and 80% of housing being destroyed. Hence almost all of the Darwin one sees today dates from after 1974. The impact of the Cyclone and its aftermath cannot be overstated and has shaped the town we are briefly staying in. 

Darwin Cathederal

Christ Church Cathedral portrays in quite a moving way, the impact of Cyclone Tracey. Although it now is a modern cathedral,

Darwin Cathederal entrance

the entrance of the old cathedral which was destroyed by the cyclone has been incorporated into the new building.

Inside Darwin Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral is a stained glass window which portrays fishing nets and the upsurge of the waves during the cyclone.

View from Sky Bridge

Darwin Waterfront is nearby

Modern Darwin Flats

and all of the buildings there are bright, modern and look well designed. They also look expensive and we have already noticed far more wealth here than we have seen anywhere else this trip.

The Old Court House dates from 1884 and although it looks original,

Old Court House

it was partially destroyed in the cyclone and rebuilt.

Browns Mart

Brown’s Mart nearby has a similar history. It was built as a store in 1885, was damaged in two cyclones and eventually was restored for use as a theatre.

Site of Telegraph Pole

Also nearby is the site of the first telegraph pole in Palmerston (15th September 1870) which was the name here before it was renamed Darwin. The significance of this (and its interest to us) was that the Overland Telegraph (OT) line  went 2000 miles from here to Port Augusta in South Australia. It was also linked to Java in 1872 and then electronic communication existed between Australia and the rest of the world.

When we were here seven years ago, we came across many places off the Stuart Highway which were on the route of the OT and we were quite amazed at the strength and courage of the early explorers who worked out the route for the OT across Australia and the harshness of the climate and landscape through which the OT went.

It was also the case that when they were digging holes for poles in Pine Creek (some distance south and a rather interesting place where we have stayed), they discovered gold in the holes and this of course started another Gold Rush and shaped the town. We briefly revisited it as we drove north and its history and related buildings are well laid out and worth some time exploring.

Paspaley Pearls

Paspaly Pearls have a store in the small building at the bottom of the interesting skyscraper, I was never too sure if it was all new or if an old building had been incorporated into the new one. Whatever the answer, it is a striking design and does not look out of place in this modern city.


I am often (always?) critical of much of the poor architecture I see in towns but in downtown Darwin I could only find one major building which I really disliked and then only slightly.

When we went on the bus tour we saw many areas of wealth and development

Cullen Bay

including Cullen Bay which is a Marina and housing development - some lovely houses with an attached waterfront

Myilly Point

the nearby Myilly Point Heritage Precinct

Myilly Point 001

which contains the last four pre WWII Darwin houses in their original location, and

Government House

Government House built in 1871 which makes it the oldest European Building in the Northern Territory. Other than the few we have seen, there are not a lot of old buildings left because they were destroyed either in the cyclone or in the bombing of Darwin during WWII.  Darwin was heavily bombed by the Japanese and there are lots of WWII sites in the Darwin area and tours which incorporate visits to them.

The architecture of Darwin is interesting, it is obviously a wealthy city and not too crowded for us and around half of the residents of the Northern Territory live there (120,000).

Last Sunset

Having seen our last Australian sunset, although nothing like as beautiful as any of the others we have seen in the Outback,

Pearl Ears 1

we gave the Pearl Earrings an outing and went to a Vietnamese Restaurant for dinner. Darwin is a very multicultural city and also has one of the largest Aboriginal populations of any city (so we were told). It was obvious to us that the Aboriginal issue is just as unsolved here as it is everywhere else we have been to.

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory


Our bus ticket was valid for 24 hours so we were able to use it to revisit the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory on our last morning in Australia. The first time we were in the same type of camper van, we had a five hour layover in Darwin on the way back to the UK and we got a taxi from the airport to the museum and back so we could do something useful with our time. 

Inside it is not that large, there are a number of galleries, an area especially for children, a cafe and a shop. The Indigenous Art Gallery is the first to attract us and it is very different from the last time we were here.

W Namok Ceremony  Mawurndjul Rainbow Serpent

The painting on the left is entitled Ceremony by Wamud Namok. A group of women are dancing and singing a song about the ceremonial yarn in their hair. The dance was said to have been taught to them by Mimih Spirits.

That on the right is Rainbow Serpent by John Mawurndjul. The Rainbow Serpent is an extremely important figure in the mythology of the Aboriginal people and we have met the serpent on many occasions. I think over the years we have been coming to Australia, we have gone from a total bemusement with Aboriginal culture and myths to that of a slight understanding of and tremendous respect for it.  

Broun White Fellas

This is called "White Fellas they come to talk about the land” by Judy Broun and obviously tells a story more than the picture itself. The issues of land ownership, land usage and now royalties for mining are things which are behind many of the problems facing Aboriginal people. One change we noticed was that now (2016) individual aboriginal people are described as belonging to a particular language group rather than a particular tribe. 

Languages Map

There are many many language groups and their inter-relationships is one of the causes of the problems aboriginal people face.

That Aborigines have been on the Australian Continent even before it became an island is now not contested. the Petroglyphs we saw in the Burrup Peninsula a few weeks ago are said to be anything up to 60,000 years old. Tucked away in a corner of the gallery was


this which the gallery said was a copy of the worlds oldest rock art painting. This claim is made on the fact that depicted is a (now extinct) Palorchestes which is a horse sized marsupial whose bones have been found in Australia. The megafauna became extinct about 40,000 years ago and hence the artist is thought to have drawn it before then. The fact that there were people living here for so long before “discovery by Europeans” is often overlooked.

Entrance Plaque

We also noticed that now the phrase “Traditional Land Owners” is often used and in the museum’s entrance is a plaque which acknowledges who lived here first.

Rock Art

Actual Rock Art does not move very well and so the museum has had one recreated on a fibre glass wall. Rock Art Painting is said to be a dying art because in the years after the coming of Europeans, aborigines have been moved off their clan lands into settlements and away from the rocks upon which this painting used to take place. Market demand then arose for bark paintings and even watercolours and so the numbers of those with the skills required for rocks have declined.

We recognised many of the symbols and characters in this painting including Lightening Man whom we first came across in Kakadu. 

We have a tremendous liking for the painting of  Albert Namatjira and of the Hermannsburg School and the museum had a number of (badly hung and positioned) paintings from the school.

Raberaba Untitled

This is an untitled painting by Herbert Raberaba and probably depicts a landscape in the Hermannsburg Region. One of the reasons for our liking of the painting is that the artists manage to accurately capture the actual colours we have seen in the landscapes and the textures we saw. 

The museum also has a very good interactive exhibit on Cyclone Tracey which we experienced the last time we were here. The impact of the cyclone on the city should not be underestimated. 

Mango Smoothie

There is time for a final, and the best of this trip, Mango Smoothie then it is back to Darwin on the next bus, change our clothes and head to the airport.