Darwin to Jabiru

We’re back in the land down under, where beer does flow and men chunder. Specifically, we’re now on a road trip in the Northern Territory. We’ll see sights unique to Australia, enjoy experiences unique to The Territory and potentially learn words from about forty different local Aboriginal languages.

The first port of call as we left Darwin is a common place here in Aus but no longer seen in the UK. Woolworths provided some vittles for the next few days as well as a short, sharp kitchen knife, something missing from otherwise well-appointed Airbnbs.

I also bought Darwin’s only flynet, for Liesel, just in case. It took some tracking down and the bad news is, it’s attached to a baseball cap. But beggars can’t be fashionistas, as they say.

As I walked to the ATM, a man asked me where the post office is. I apologised for being only a visitor and then remembered that actually, we had some stuff to post too. Oh well, it’s all in the bowels of one of our bags, now. It can wait a few more days.

The one disappointing sight in Darwin was this.

Homeless folks not welcome here

A row of three former flower beds by the looks of it, but now devoid of plants, just some rocks embedded on the otherwise flat surface. I think this is to deter homeless people from kipping there. It’s sited at the back of the Uniting Church which had so much else on offer to the community. Very sad.

As we drove out of the smallest Aussie capital, we passed by numerous termite mounds of various sizes. There seems to be no pattern to their location, out in the open, right up against trees, some in shade.

We enjoyed watching the birds of prey hovering and swooping: there must be some tasty titbits around. We couldn’t identify the birds sharing a carcass on the road, but they were like very large overgrown crows.

Humpty Doo is a lovely placename but we had no reason to stop there, with such a long drive ahead of us.

We turned off the Stuart Highway onto Highway 36. At least one sign said ‘A36’. And it was exactly the same as the A36 at home apart from there was much less traffic, there were no potholes, the sky was blue and there were termite mounds at the side of the road.

Highway 36

We stopped for a quick coffee at Allora Garden Nursery. Did I say quick? Make yourself a coffee and sit back, it’s a long story.

Probably not a real stuffed dragonfly

We entered the nursery, passing by some very kitschy garden ornaments and sat down in Estelle’s Café. There was nobody behind the counter so I gently rang the bell for service.

A young man arrived, let’s called him Bruce. What do we want? Two coffees please. I’ll have to get someone to make the coffee.

A couple of minutes later, a young lady arrived. I’ll call her Sheila. Can I help? Yes, we’d like two lattés please. She went behind the counter and looked at the coffee machine.

We then heard an announcment over the PA asking Estelle to come to the café. She arrived and made us our coffees. Very nice. We looked around at the various garden ornaments, including tigers and giraffes. There were some actual plants to admire too.

When we’d finished our beverages, I went up to the counter to pay. Oh no, we don’t have a cash register here, you’ll have to pay at the front desk.

At the front desk, we ended up behind an Australian lady who had fallen in love with a concrete dog and she just had to buy it. Bruce was there, politely wrapping it in several layers of bubble-wrap. Oh, but she did love this dog, as soon as she saw it, she knew she had to have it.

Another lady, Doris, cooee’d me to the other cash register. I’d like to pay for my two lattés please. Two lattés? Yes. Bruce, how much does a latté cost? I have no idea, sorry.

Doris then walked all the way back to the café presumably to ask Estelle or Sheila how much a latté cost. I don’t know if there was a correct answer because on her return, Doris suggested, $5 each, is that alright? Yes, just let me out of this place, I said as I threw the money at her and pounded on the counter. No, not really.

A big, 8-foot tall termite mound

The car told us it was 35° outside and we could believe it although we were much cooler in the vehicle.

We made a slight detour to go for a hike, a tramp, despite the temperature. We’re here to see nature, and that’s easier to do outside the car.

We never did find out whether Bird Billabong was so named because of the ornithological delights here or because it was discovered by a Mr or Ms Bird, thousands of years after the Aborigines first found it.

It was so quiet. When the birds and insects briefly ceased their singing and buzzing and chirruping, there was no sound. Nothing. Not even the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. The faint thumping sound was blood pulsing through our ears.

The gentle path to Bird Billabong

The path was well-defined and we made good use of the sparse shade. We also stayed in the middle of the path because… snakes. We stomped to warn them of our presence but the side-effect of this was that we scared the insects away too. The sad thing is: we’ll never know how many snakes we’ve deterred because they’ve legged it after sensing our vibrations. Legged it? Hmm, yeah, that’ll do.

This was a great walk for entomologists, so many butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and other flies. If only there were a Shazam for insect identification. We heard but didn’t see grasshoppers.

A pretty and populous dragonfly

As I brushed something off my arm Liesel asked if we’d just walked through a spider’s web. It certainly felt like it, I agreed. We accelerated very slightly but neither of us turned round to see what gigantic, lethal spider we’d potentially upset.

There’s the billabong

One interesting thing we noticed was different kinds of scat. We told ourselves, kangaroo, wallaby, echidna, but definitely not crocodile, oh no, no, no, never.

Probably wallaby poo

The quiet, the sky, the solitude, all wonderful. Yet for some reason, while I was really pleased and excited to be here, it didn’t send the same shivers up the spine as my first visit to Uluru or Henbury did, all those decades ago. But there is something almost electric in the air, something very special, a connection with the first people here, perhaps, and with nature.

Odd splashes of colour emphasised just how green and lush the landscape was, after what was apparently a relatively dry Wet Season.

A butterfly enjoying some raspberry coulis

The flash of sky was too fast for my shutter finger. The bright blue dragonfly wasn’t going to be caught on camera that easily. But blue flowers certainly appealed to the orange butterflies.

Two butterflies sharing

It was terrific seeing so many butterflies here, and so many different kinds too. We lost something really special at home by using all those pesticides for so many years.

One more butterfly

The view over Bird Billabong from the lookout point was stunning. We sought out frogs sitting on lily leaves but suspect it was the wrong time of day for them. We stayed still and some birds did come a little closer but they know about the crocodiles that live here and were on full alert. I think we both hoped to see a pair of nostrils and a pair of eyes on the surface of the water, but sadly no such luck today.

Picture of lilies

Despite what the Lonely Planet Guide said, this was not a circular walk, so we retraced our steps back to the car park.

Ooh, just caught a glimpse of blue

We noticed other tracks. Certainly at least a couple of motor vehicles had driven along this trail. But there were also horse hoofprints. Unless of course the local crocs have taken to wearing horse shoes.

Out of the blue, a kangaroo hopped across the path in front of us, closely followed by a second. Well, that made the whole exercise worthwhile!

Then we saw a couple of small, beige birds up in the trees. Bugs are great, but birds and mammals, especially marsupials are greater. Sorry, bugs. The magpie geese were numerous, we saw them from a distance but they weren’t going to hang around for us. The rubbish, blurry black and white photos are now nothing but a memory.

Soon after rejoining the main highway, we saw an emu cross the road in front of us. Wow, a actual emu! And then another. We couldn’t believe our luck. This is when you need a dashboard camera on 24/7, to catch the things that I’m too slow for.

There was a kangaroo by the side of the road, eating grass, not necessarily waiting to cross.

Then another. Then another pair. And for the next couple of miles, we lost count of the roadside kangaroos. We knew that slowing down or stopping would be their cue to hop off into the bush, so we just kept moving.

They all looked up as we passed, but none of them waved at us. In fact, even the other drivers didn’t wave back at us. In the old days, driving in the Aussie outback, all drivers acknowledged each other with a wave. Not the Aussie wave of a fly being swatted away from in front of your face. It was more raising the forefinger of the right hand as you approached and passed by an oncoming vehicle.

Welcome to Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park is a name that resonates. It’s real outback Australia, old, old, Aboriginal history, rugged, Crocodile Dundee country. And here we are!

The speed limit in Northern Territory is 110 kph except where otherwise stated. We assumed this meant that any exceptions would be slower. No. We passed signs indicating a limit of 130 kph, that’s 81 mph in English money. No, we didn’t. The highway was dead straight, perfect surface, no potholes, no side roads but still, we’d seen animals cross the road. Yes, we let some other vehicles overtake us, but we were in no hurry. The road surface was quite loud, we realised. It has to withstand very high temperatures all year plus flooding for possibly months at a time. It’s probably a much more resilient and harder material than the cheap stuff British roads are made of.

There are many signs telling us we’re about to cross a Floodway with depth meters close by. This whole area must totally change at the height of the Wet Season, and would be interesting to see.

Most if not all of the creeks and rivers that we crossed warned us of the presence of crocodiles, and suggesting it’s best not to swim. But it’s so hot, I can see why people might be tempted to jump in the water.

We decided not to join a cruise to see jumping crocodiles. We know they jump naturally if they fancy chomping on a bird, but to encourage them to jump for visitors seems a bit risky. As Liesel said, one of the only advantages we have when running away from a croc is being able to climb a tree. You don’t want something like that jumping up after you!

Small bug close by or big bug a long way off?

Although we didn’t come across any flooded roads today, we did pass several areas of wetlands, just off the side of the road. I’m sure there are crocs lurking there too, so no, not really tempting.

Welcome to Jabiru

We were welcomed to Jabiru by a jabiru, a black-necked stork: in fact, Australia’s only stork, and we soon found our new place. We looked at the Bush Bungalow, the so-called ‘Love Shack’ that we’d booked online, the one without aircon, and we looked at another room, which did have aircon. Yes, we chose the latter. We needed some decent sleep.

We’re in one room in a block of six, and the receptionist, with her gorgeous east European Aussie accent, told us that we’d probably have the place to ourselves anyway. If not, we’d have to share the bathroom.

Our next-door neighbour was very friendly, and very nearly answered to the name Skippy.

What’s that, Skip?

We had a nice, simple salad and some nice crusty rolls to eat. And yes, we had a good night’s sleep, despite the AC unit being the loudest we’d so far encountered!

But we agreed that our decision not to rent a campervan on this trip was a good move. It’s fab country and the heat makes the place what it is, but neither of us sleep well if we’re too hot, and that just makes both of us cranky. Yes it does.

Darwin

Liesel managed to sleep on the flight to Darwin, but I just couldn’t get comfortable enough. It was a shorter flight than anticipated though: I’d forgotten about the 90 minute time difference between here and Singapore. Bonus! Ah, but arriving at 5am isn’t so good. We’d booked a hire care for 8am, that being the earliest available on the online booking form dropdown list, but a member of staff arrived soon after 6.30, so we weren’t hanging around for too long. Double bonus!! Passing time, walking around the airport, I did find a coffee shop and so I was able to caffeine myself up a bit. Triple bonus!!!

Mick’s earworm today is courtesy of one of his old Biology teachers. Martin Hyman was trying to explain the origin of species by natural selection. I’m sure it was interesting, but the only thing that stuck was his frequent recital of ‘♫ Charlie is my Darwin, my Darwin, my Darwin♪’.

We weren’t able to check in to our Airbnb until 2pm and we both just wanted to sleeeep. Instead, we drove to East Point, away from the city centre.

Crocodile danger

This is crocodile country and we were on full alert. As I told Liesel, if we encounter a croc in the wild, as with bears in Alaska, you don’t have to run faster than the predator, you just have to run faster than your companion!

Hello wallaby

The wallabies were cute but very wary of people, and quite right too. I tried to creep a little closer, but 100 feet seems to be the limit of their comfort zone.

I said hello to the horses as well, but they walked away in a huff as I had no food for them.

What a big bug
Probably a different big bug, to be honest

There were big bugs flying around, really big, and interesting but very reluctant to sit still while I studied them. We later decided they were dragonflies: big, fat, Aussie dragonflies.

The Darwin Military Museum is here too, we walked by some of the buildings. I had a quick look at the beach, but didn’t venture down on this occasion. The one fisherman seemed to be having a good time. But this is saltwater crocodile country. You wouldn’t catch me out there with only a thin, flexible stick as a weapon. By which, I mean, that even if I enjoyed fishing, that is one place I wouldn’t do it from.

Gone fishin’

It was good to see so many people using the off-road track too, walking, running or cycling. I exchanged a few ‘hello’s and ‘g’day’s. I spent too long making sure those apostrophes are in the right place.

Very pretty but like most Aussie things, probably out to get ya
A gorgeous, gnarly, old, white gum tree

What a lovely spot, such a contrast to the h&b of Singapore.

Possibly a termite mound, maybe a hoax

There were a few of these, too. In the publicity photos from Northern Territory Tourist Board, the termite mounds are all about eight feet tall. This might be a small one, but I didn’t want to poke it and have hundreds of angry termites gnashing at my be-sandalled feet.

The water pipeline here in Darwin is much more visually appealing than the oil pipeline in Alaska.

Big water pipe

A message came through: we could go to our Airbnb early if we coughed up some cash for the airconditioner being turned on. That’s a deal! And what a welcome!

Welcome, Liesel and Mick, with your antics

After a quick nap, we went shopping. Let me rephrase that. Liesel went shopping while I went for a walk around town. It was hot, yes, but nowhere near as humid as we’ve become accustomed to. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

The Bicentennial Park area was cordoned off as they are implementing a Smart Lighting Upgrade. But I did find the site of the ANZAC Day Dawn Service, by the War Memorial.

ANZAC Centenary Memorial Garden Polar Sundial 2015
Lest we forget
Ibis aka bin chicken

The sky is blue, really, gorgeous, cerulean, azure, aquamarine blue. It’s been painted by a child, you can tell by the fluffy white clouds.

Blue sky, wide sky

Darwin Memorial Uniting Church was decorated from the same palette of colours.

Darwin Memorial Uniting Church

For our first home-cooked meal in quite a while, Liesel provided veggie burgers. Very nice, very tasty, thank you! At the end of a long day, an early night in bed was called for and I was in the land of nod before reading a whole sentence in my book.

The Dawn Service would have been lovely, and moving, to attend, but we missed it. Sadly, we missed the Parade too but later on, we did see many sailors and other military personnel in town. I was saluted by a passer-by who mistook my sunhat and Hawaiian shirt for a naval uniform. Or, maybe she was just drunk.

Crocosaurus Cove seemed like a good place to visit: we’d be able to see real crocs and not have to run for our lives.

The middle section of a crocodile

We walked under a glass canopy and suddenly realised we were looking up at a crocodile. Well, a bit of a crocodile. It was huge. We knew they can be big but this one was ginormous, we couldn’t see either end, from below.

This hand belongs to a real, normal-size grown-up human. The croc’s claw is bigger than that.

A bit more croc and a human for scale

We still feel amphibious about animals being kept in captivity. All of the crocs here have a story, though. Some were injured, and some were just in the wrong place for too long and would probably have been killed for taking too many cattle or something. William, aka Houdini and Kate, aka Bess, have been a successfully mating couple for 20 years, which is unusual in reptilian circles, apparently. Since meeting Bess, Houdini has been happy here and has stopped trying to escape, the trait that gave him his first name. Yes, I mistakenly used the word ‘amphibious’ instead of ‘ambivalent’ just now, but I left it to see if anybody else notices.

A whole crocodile

A human has a bite force of 380 newtons, enough to bite through an apple, appropriately. Tyrannosaurus rex had a bite force of 18,200 newtons, probably enough to bite through an apple tree. A saltie, a saltwater crocodile has a bite force of 33,800 newtons. A demonstration of this force featured a large lump of ice being snapped by a mechanical crocodile jaw. Very loud and very violent.

Bite Force, big crunch
Lots of smaller crocs in this pool

For a fee, you can get in the water with a crocodile. Yes, you have to pay them, not the other way around. Too scary for Liesel and me, but we did enjoy watching one victim for a while. And, to be fair, she seemed to be enjoying the experience, being separated from the croc by a whole inch of toughened plastic.

Crocodile with girl in a plastic cylinder

On the other hand…

Beware Trespassers

During the day, there are several demonstrations by knowledgable staff. While one person feeds a crocodile from the other end of a long pole, a second person watches closely for signs of anger or antagonism from the animal. Growls, ear flaps opening, all are signs that it’s time to beat a hasty retreat.

Feeding a crocodile

The food seems to be mainly chickens with their feathers still attached. Loose feathers floating about: this is the real reason why Liesel and I didn’t want to get in the water.

There are other animals here too, fishes, stingrays, snakes, other lizards, some lifelike models. You can handle a blue-tongued lizard, although this one had a pink tongue. You can handle snakes too.

Black-headed python

Again, it was great to see these creatures here and while it would be exciting to see them out in the wild, we don’t really want to. Or do we? What a conundrum.

Fierce snake not being fierce

The fierce snake, inland or western taipan is the most venomous snake in the world. The advice? Don’t get bitten!

Keep an Aussie reptile as a pet
Send more tourists!

We drove to Mindil Beach: we can’t hide from the Sun all day. It was time for a brisk walk on the beach and then to enjoy the sunset. We were delighted to encounter the Thursday night market here too, so much food to choose from, lots of arts and crafts to admire. And while it’s good to see any market being popular, we found it hard to cope with so many people here on this occasion.

Road Kill – for the carnivores
Lucky Cow – for the vegetarians

The good news is, the big dragonflies were in abundance here too, and a bit more cooperative this time.

Elusive dragonfly

An hour and a half until sunset and of course we had to try for a selfie. The bright Sun would be good in the background. Or its reflection in the water.

Selfie of the day

We walked to one end of the beach and I walked all the way to the other end while Liesel went back to the market. The blurb says this beach is 500m long: I think it’s longer than that, it certainly took more than ten minutes to walk its length, and I wasn’t slacking. The Sun was bright and hot, but I toasted both sides of my body nicely so I’m not asymmetrical.

Looking north along Mindil Beach
Looking south along Mindil Beach

The countdown to sunset was on. With about half an hour to go, hundreds of people descended on to the beach.

Half an hour before sunset

Liesel sat down near the top of the beach while I went down nearly to the water’s edge, hoping for the best photo opportunity.

Where’s Liesel?

The sunset was gorgeous, as you’d expect, looking west, with no clouds on the horizon. There were a couple of small boats on the water: one of them would be a nice silhouette against the face of the Sun.

Yes, I adjusted the settings on the camera, and the pictures have been cropped but otherwise, there is no trickery here.

What a big audience
The boat’s so close…

Show’s over for another day

If you enjoyed seeing these pictures and spontaneously broke into a round of applause, you are not alone. The crowd on the beach clapped the Sun as it disappeared below the horizon and if I weren’t so British and restrained and refined, I may well have joined in.

Our final full day in Darwin wasn’t as active. We took advantage of a rest day, as we’ll be on the road for the next few weeks.

Another quick walk at East Point and in the city centre was very pleasant. Not so much wildlife this time, in either venue.

East Point beach, hot, deserty, deserted
Poster designed by René Magritte on a recent trip
Rainbow crosswalk in Darwin

For a brief few moments in the 1990s, Sarah and I were related to Charles Darwin. Sarah directly and me by marriage. Still, quite exciting news. Which was immediately followed up with “Oh no, not Charles Darwin, it was Charles somebody else”.

As I write, it’s the anniversary of my Mum’s departure from this beautiful Earth. One lazy Sunday afternoon in the mid to late 1960s, my sister Pauline, Mum and I were watching a grainy old black and white TV set. Dad was in bed having his regular Sunday afternoon nap. There was a programme on about pineapple growers in Darwin. Mum and Pauline decided that that’s what they were going to do: move to Darwin and grow pineapples. “Can I come, too?” I remember asking. Neither Pauline nor I can remember the response. I was reminded of this incident when we saw pineapples being sold at the sunset market yesterday.

Pineapples from Darwin, for Darwin

I’m just sorry Mum never had the chance to visit Darwin. Never mind the pineapples, she would have loved the cuddly dragonflies.

Cute dragonfly on the fridge

Taronga Zoo

Sitting in Manly Library, watching the workers and the students. I’d finished what I needed to do and while I was packing up, I received two text messages. The first was “Do you want a lift home from the library?” The second, timed ten minutes later was “Never mind, we’ve passed the library”. So I walked back to the flat, the long way, via the beach and the back streets of Manly.

If Mark Rothko painted beaches

There is a mural on a wall in Market Lane comprised of several headlines from the local newspaper, The Manly Daily. Some are obvious but some are intriguing. Someone must have read decades of old papers just to find the good ones!

First car across Spit Bridge
Queen Mother thrilled by Manly
Flying fish hits Manly Ferry trumpeter

I love the big tree in the middle of The Corso, the main street. It provides a lot of shade when you jaywalk across the road. Which I would never do.

A nice big tree

Adam got up while it was still dark and went for a run before going to work, as usual. I didn’t wake up in time to walk down to watch the sunrise on this occasion. Helen was singing the song “Daddy’s taking me to the zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow”, and so it came to pass. Helen drove us this time although we’d previously gone by ferry. Taronga Zoo in Sydney is one of our favourites, the inmates seem to be well looked after and the view across the harbour of the city is well worth the trip.

I told myself I wouldn’t take many pictures this time, we’ve all seen the animals before and everyone knows what they look like. Huh. I very nearly ran out of digital film.

We had planned to meet up with Jyoti at the zoo, with her family, but insomnia had conspired against her. So she missed out on seeing the Sumatran rhinoceros.

Sumatran rhinoceros (not a real one)

There was a sign telling me that because this is a model, I wasn’t allowed to climb on it. The implication being, if it were a real rhino, I could jump on board for the full rodeo experience.

Baby chimpanzee

The baby chimpanzee was adorable, as babies often are. We won’t ask what this little chap was drinking, but it was a hot day and it hasn’t rained properly for ages.

Cassowary

This cassowary wasn’t behind a fence, like the one at the koala place was a couple of weeks ago. With no obstruction, he looks even more prehistoric than usual, and proud of it.

Itchy platypus

We didn’t see a platypus out in the wild, we didn’t really expect to, so it was good to see this one in the dark, having a jolly good, satisfying scratch.

We saw some koalas too. Neville was on the move, walking along branches, heading for a lady koala. We even watched him walk backwards and then jump up to the next branch. The volunteer told us that Neville was missing a golden opportunity. He was ignoring the other female, the one that’s in season, ready to rock and roll. Don’t be like Neville. Choose the correct female for hanky-panky on pancake day.

Lady koala waiting for her man

Two of the meerkats were having a play fight, but they and the others were making the best of a very small patch of shadow in their enclosure. It was too hot even for meerkats.

Meerkats in the shade

When someone is being tenacious, not giving up with a problem, we used to say they’re like a dog with a bone. No longer. The expression now is, like a baby elephant with a bamboo stick.

Baby elephant v bamboo stick

It was a long stick, and he walked up and down with it several times, trying to bend it, breae it, pull it fully through the fence. Fabulous entertainment.

We took the opportunity of making a quick side trip to Sumatra to see some tigers.

Welcome to Way Kambas

It was a short flight, and I stood all the way. But it was worth it. Weather conditions remarkably similar to those in Sydney and yes, we saw some Sumatran tigers, of which there are only about 350-400 left in the wild.

Sumatran tiger (a real one)

There are three cubs, just a couple of months old, and they should be out and about at the end of March, ready for the public to see. Right now, they’re behind the scenes, seen only via CCTV.

Three baby tigers and proud Mum

We walked down via all the gift shops so that we could ride the gondola up to the top, where the car was parked.

Sydney Harbour

Looking across the harbour towards Sydney, just along the road from the ferry terminal. The drive home was good and we stopped off to buy our evening meal. Home-made pizza. A great idea of Helen’s to use pita bread as a thin base. Prawns and pineapple were two toppings that I avoided but we all had great, unique, customised pizzas. And a bottle of wine

This was our final evening with Helen and Adam in Manly. Our departure tomorrow has crept up on us like those Weeping Angels in Doctor Who. Australia’s been fantastic as it always is and I am really pleased that we’ll be coming back after a few weeks away elsewhere.

Anticipation of a big journey never leads to a good night’s sleep. Oh, never mind, we say, we’ll sleep on the plane. That rarely happens, either.

After packing and showering, Helen, Liesel and I walked down to Manly Beach for breakfast. Any plans we had for a quick last minute swim were thwarted. (We had no such plans.)

Shark sighted

The alarm must have only just been sounded as there were a lot of people on the beach and on the promenade, still dripping. If the shark sighting didn’t put you off, then maybe the signs warning of dangerous currents would. Our plan though was to visit The Pantry where the breakfast was brilliant and the view of the beach breathtaking. Helen showed me how to make an Instagram story, probably a vital skill in the 21st century, but what a palaver for something that self-destructs after 24 hours!

Statue of a bloke and a bike

Helen kindly dropped us off at the airport again and while driving there, we watched the clouds building up, wondering whether it would rain on the clothes currently out drying on the balcony.

Liesel and I rendezvoused with Jyoti who had spent the last few days with her family elsewhere in Sydney. We checked in (there’s a whole story there), got through security (there’s a whole story there, too), I ate my apple, we bought snacks and waited to board the plane.

It’s raining in Sydney, at least at the airport

I only wish we were in the Canaries again. Then, I could say, the rain on the plane falls mainly in Spain. But we’re not. We’re off to sunny Singapore instead. This venue wasn’t originally on our list, but Jyoti used to live there, so Liesel and I are going with her for three weeks and spending another couple of weeks in Malaysia on our own. Exciting but I’m a bit trepidatious, those being two countries I’d never seriously thought I’d ever go to. An unexpected adventure.

Farewell Aussie desert

Somewhere in the northern expanse of Australia, we caught our final glimpse of the desert for now.

Melbourne to Manly

A year ago in London, Liesel visited a physiotherapist by the name of Emma. Emma’s partner is also a trained PT, and he is Australian. Under some peculiar, twisted distortion and interpretation of Theresa May’s “hostile environment for illegal immigrants”, his work visa was revoked, and he was forced to move back to Australia. And naturally, Emma went back with him. So Britain has lost two fully trained physiotherapists for no good reason.

They are now living and working in Melbourne. Liesel tracked Emma down and made an appointment to visit her

Saturday sunrise

So, the three of us took a tram to South Melbourne. While Liesel was being poked and prodded, Jyoti and I had a quick walk, to get some steps in and, yes, of course, we had a coffee at one of Melbourne’s famed coffee shops.

Top End Barbering

I always like a good pun when it comes to a shop name and hairdressers and barbers are particularly good at it.

Every now and then, we come across a shop named after a David Bowie song or album. Well, here, we not only had the album, the neighbouring shop was named after one of the songs on that album, albeit abbreviated so as not to offend your nan. Queen Bitch. No, not your nan, that’s the name of the Bowie song.

Hunky Dory

We caught the tram back to the iconic Flinders Street Station. We didn’t go into the pub over the road that my Dad had told me about: he’d been there after the war, in the late 1940s!

Flinders Street Station

We crossed the road to Federation Square, to spend time indoors again.I had been here once before, when the geometrically and architecturally interesting buildings had first opened, in 2002.

Federation Square

I visited Australia in November 2002 specifically to see the Total Eclipse of the Sun. It was a trip that Sarah and I hoped to make together but she died eighteen months earlier. I was in two minds about whether or not to make the trip on my own, but now, I am immensely glad and grateful that so many people encouraged me to go for it. I had a good time, but it was emotional too. A Total Eclipse, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road and on through South Australia to Kings Canyon, Uluru, Alice Aprings, Ghan to Adelaide. A great trip, but the detailed blog remains to be written! And now, back to the present…

“The Clock” is a 24-hour long video comprised of thousands of clips from films and TV programmes. As it proceeds, the shots of clocks in the various clips accurately reflect the time now, in the real world. The joins were seamless, and although there was no single storyline to follow, it was a very interesting 90 minutes that we spent watching it (minus a short nap, each). Where else would you see Ricky Gervais and Joan Crawford together? Snippets from films not seen for years, decades even. Christian Marclay is responsible for this colossal labour of love, but surely he must have employed many researchers? Yes, we thought about returning later in the day to see a different segment, but that will have to wait until next time.

ACMI, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is based here too. Yesterday, Chris had suggested visiting this collection of film and TV related exhibits, and the zoetrope in particular.

Zoetrope

As it spins, a strobe light gives the illusion that the individual models are moving up and down.

One display celebrated Australian film and TV. The selection was OK but I was disappointed that The Paul Hogan Show was not represented. My flat mates and I used to watch that on late night TV with a tube of Fosters, and it was the funniest show evah!

I did enjoy watching an 18-year old Kylie Minogue with sister Dannii perfoming Sisters are Doing it for Themselves!

The whole place was very reminiscent of the old MOMI, Museum of the Moving Image, in London, but this was much more interactive.

The piano from the 1993 film, “The Piano” was here, but I wasn’t allowed to play it. I’m not sure Michael Nyman would have been allowed to touch it, to be fair.

The piano from The Piano

Replicas were made for the film. A light one, to carry up the hill. And a heavy steel one to film sinking in the sea.

There is an Aussie TV fantasy drama that I now want to watch: Cleverman. They employed Weta Studios to design the special effects, and the aboriginal mythology underlying the story looks fascinating.

Hairy man from Cleverman

And now for the next edition of a favourite irregular item: Toilet Talk.

Saving water

I saw this sign in the toilets and I thought, if I pee twice, I could save eight litres of water. Also, if I’m walking out in the woods and need to go behind a bush, when Liesel rolls her eyes I can just tell her that I am saving 4 litres of water! All this on the day that Network Rail have decided to abolish the six shilling charge for using the public toilets at Waterloo Station. Six shillings, 30p, Liesel will confirm I’ve been whingeing about this charge for years.

Bollards! It’s a shame that these large blocks of concrete are required to protect buildings in our cities, but I do like the fact that someone solved the Rubik’s Cube here.

Big cubes of concrete

We visited the Aboriginal Cultural Centre because it was time once again to shake our heads in disbelief and despair, weep for the past and feel absolute shame at what our British ancestors are responsible for. Australia is the only commonwealth country still without a treaty with its original people. Small pox, massacres, kidnappings, stealing their land, oh it’s a horrible story.

Diprotodon

This chap cheered us up. Diprotodon was the largest marsupial ever to live, about the size of a rhinoceros and is thought to have died out about 45,000 years ago. So chances are, it did live alongside humans for a period. Two metres tall, three metres long, but what a cute, cheeky face.

The other day we found a Chocolaterie and Ice Creamerie. Today we passed by a Fish and Chipperie. But our destination on Lygon Street was Milk the Cow Licenced Fromagerie. It was just along the road from Reading’s Bookerie, where I’d met Barry Humphries, as mentioned before.

Milk the Cow is a combined cheeserie and winerie and actually, my Cider Flight was fab, delicious even.

Four cheeses, four crackers, four ciders for Mick

Four slices of different cheese each accompanied by a specially selected cider. With crackers and bread. Very nicerie, very tasterie.

We passed many, many other restauranteries on the walk home, some with very long queues of people. Our ice creams were just the right size: one scoop was enough, a second would have melted far too quickly.

The worst thing about Melbourne? It’s a great city, it feels a bit like London in places, with its nooks and crannies and alleyways and arcades. But, we have walked through more clouds of cigarette smoke here in the last couple of days than we have during the previous several weeks. There are non-smoking areas, but there are probably more smokers per capita here than in any other city we’ve visited.

Now it’s time to say farewell to Victoria – the place to be. Goodbye to Victoria – the education state. And cheerio to Victoria – the only state named after a Kinks song. Two of those three slogans appear on car registration number plates, or regos.

In the morning, before the Sun came up, we were greeted by the Moon and Venus.

Sunday sunrise with Moon and Venus

Several shots were taken of which, this, the first, is probably the best. An easy distraction from the task of packing. The only extra item I had to squeeze into my pack was the apologetic bottle of wine from a couple of nights ago.

At about 11pm, we heard a very loud, humungous crash. We checked on Jyoti, she hadn’t fallen through or out of bed and everything else seemed to be OK in our little apartment.

When we left the building in the morning though, we had to limbo dance under the Police Crimescene tape around the entrance and the neighbouring passage. We could see no evidence of a car crash or any crime. We’ve found nothing in the news so can only be grateful we weren’t delayed for interrogation.

We took a tram, then a Skybus to the airport. The flight to Sydney was uneventful apart from the disappointment of not being offered any tea or a snack. Don’t sit in row 22!

It was a joy to be collected by Helen again and although it was warm here, it wasn’t as hot as Melbourne had been. And Manly looks magnificent as it always does when the Sun’s out.

Most of the afternoon was taken up with watching some fighting on TV. Adam’s a big fan of UFC. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, is better/worse/bloodier than boxing, takes place in an octagonal ring, usually over five 5-minute rounds of jabs, kicks, holds, bars, parries, jumps, punches, with elbows, knees, feet, fists all involved. I don’t think this will ever become my favourite sport.

Despite discouragement, I went for a walk in Manly, keeping to the shady side of the street. I watched people playing and/or sunbathing on the beaches.

Manly Beach

Helen walked down the road and we met at Fish Bowl where we collected bowls of rice plus veg plus sauce for our dinner. At the grand old age of 31, I still take twice as long to finish a rice-based meal as everyone else. Ridiculous.

We watched “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the new film, on TV, which we found very enjoyable. I was especially pleased to see Kenny Everett portrayed, back at “Capital Radio when it was good” which I am trying to get everyone to adopt as its official name. And of course now, we just want to hear all those old Queen albums in full again, especially A Night at the Opera.

Monday in Manly was mainly medical matters, refilling prescriptions (me), typhoid and hepatitis A jabs (both), dental check-up and clean (both). My plans for a massage made the cutting-room floor: no need to stir up typhoid and hep A juices unnecessarily.

So here I am once again, in Manly Library, typing away in the corner, this time sitting next to (inter alia) books by Keith Waterhouse, who I used to enjoy reading, gulp, decades ago.

Keith Waterhouse books

Meanwhile, Helen and Liesel have gone to a shopping mall to do some shopping. I missed out there. (Didn’t really.)

The results are in, they have been independently verified and certified and all the judges agree. Shine on You Crazy Diamond (pts 1-7) was the final track we heard in the car. Partway through the Ss, nowhere near the Zs. We’ll pick up this alphabetical trawl through our music on another occasion. Meanwhile, Liesel and I have decided we do need a much wider range of music, by a larger selection of artistes. We need to find a way to balance out the discrepancy in volume between loud and soft songs. And we need a random shuffle that is truly random, that doesn’t discriminate against certain people or certain tracks or even some whole albums.

Oops sorry, I usually warn uninterested viewers that this “Music News” is about to appear. But I didn’t this time. If only there were some way to go back in time and fix it.

Ballarat and Melbourne

The sky was clear enough overnight to see the southern stars and the Milky Way again. At least until the Moon rose over the sea.

The Moon is made of cheese

There are much better, clearer, higher definition photos of the Monn available, but this isn’t too bad with a phone camera.

And in the morning, Venus greeted us before the Sun came up. People were already swimming in the sea at dawn, and I envied them as I crawled back into bed. Or vice versa.

Venus and sunrise begins
Hello Sunny Jim
Hello early swimmers

The wind had died down so we were able to break our fast on the balcony.

Selfie of the day, in the bathroom

And after packing, we drove to the car park where we’d spent some time yesterday and enjoyed a long, long walk along the beach.

The temperature was perfect, the wind was mildly refreshing, the sand was soft, a cushioned insole under bare feet.

Jyoti and Liesel on the beach at Port Fairy

There were plenty of gulls, but we were surprised at the lack of oystercatchers. Maybe this beach has the wrong kind of shellfish. Jyoti watched a snail extract a clam from its shell, before a wave took them both away. There was one solitary, but dead, starfish too.

A pretty shell on a dainty hand

Then we stopped by a coffee and pie shop in Port Fairy for a coffee and a pie before our long, long drive to Ballarat. This would be our longest driving day in Victoria. And it was long. We saw signs warning us of the presence of koalas and kangaroos but we didn’t see any. We watched the temperature creep up from 25° to 34° as we progressed eastwards. The land was flat, the roads were straight, some tree-lined, we passed lots of fields with brown grass, hay bales, bulls, cows, horses, sheep. When we saw a small hillock in the distance, we called it a mountain. This wasn’t the most enjoyable drive for sightseeing. Liesel commented on the dearth of Highway Patrol Cops here in Australia. Well, within a minute, we saw one on the other side of the road having a word with somebody.

We stopped in Smythesdale, definitely equine country: we saw at least three shops selling horse feed. I had a big bottle of cold coffee, J&L enjoyed an ice cream. The town remembers its early settlers too, German and Chinese.

Nieder-Weisel community
Chinese immigrants

Of course, the drive was made more bearable by the music. The highlight was Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Burl Ives. Thankfully, Santa Claus is Coming to Town failed to appear: we had two versions of Santa Cruz by Erin McKeown instead.

Our b&b in Ballarat is on the second floor: we had to climb 36 stairs to get there. The view isn’t as good as the one in Port Fairy of course, but it’s a nice big place. It’s still warm and we are very grateful for the fans.

We went for a quick walk after supper, down to Lake Wendouree to enjoy the cooler end of the day and to see the sunset. Ballarat is known as a mining town and sure enough, as we were crossing one road, we saw a car driver having a go: finger right up the schnozz to the third knuckle.

The first surprise by the side of the lake was an oak tree. When Liesel sat down on the bench underneath, I warned her about the acorns falling, but she said she was more concerned about birds, before moving to another bench.

This lake was the venue for the rowing events in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

The 2km rowing race start

You can swim along this course in March, but we’ll be somewhere else. Otherwise… we might come and cheer on the participants.

We watched the Sun set behind trees and we watched a photographer with a proper camera taking pictures of the sunset too. In the end, she wasn’t happy with her results so she’s planning to return tomorrow, probably further round the lake.

Good night Sunny Jim
Sun eclipsed by a photographer

Ballarat was another one-night stand so there wasn’t a lot of time to see its history. But we did visit Lydiard St, famous for the Victorian architecture (Victorian as in from the era of Queen Victoria, not just because we’re in the state of Victoria; obviously everything here is Victorian in that sense, it goes without saying, so I won’t say it). This cinema complex exemplifies how forward-looking people from the era of Queen Victoria were, even to the point of coining the word ‘Multiplex’.

The Regent Multiplex
Building at its best

By chance, we found the Eureka Stockade, another place where honest working men had to fight for their rights. We didn’t visit the museum, but the Eureka Circle sculpture outside was very well designed and executed and a plaque told the story.

Eureka Circle
Eureka slaughter
Eureka oath

As well as this historic event being marked, we were quite lucky regarding wildlife too.

Spur-winged plover
Ibises
Wooden horse and a man cleaning up afterwards
Seahorse squirting water from its nose

Liesel was driving us to Melbourne today, not convinced we were going the quickest way. I checked and the option to avoid motorways was still turned on from a few days ago. Oops. Dropping the car off was easy and we caught the Skybus into the city centre.

Melbourne, seen through a dirty Skybus window

We bought Myki cards to make use of public transport easier and then caught a train to our new place. Above the railway station sits an alien blowing cold air into the concourse. It was 34° outside.

You – will – be – air – con – ditioned

Ballarat: 36 stairs. Melbourne: we’re on the 27th floor, our highest Airbnb ever! Thank goodness there’s a lift. A Schindler’s lift and yes, of course I made the usual gag. The building, we think, is Chinese owned. Certainly our host is Chinese and so are many of the other guests that we’ve seen. We later learned that the Chinese community is the largest in Melbourne right now. We knew that Melbourne was the largest Greek city apart from Athens, but the Chinese thing was a surprise.

The view from an apartment this high is brilliant. We can see the park in one direction, the sea in another and some hills over there.

A view of the Parliament Building from the 27th floor
Mr Poetry

This chap made me laugh on our walk to Vegie Bar for our evening meal. I’d googled Veggie Bar by mistake and the nearest one of those is in Tel Aviv. Of course, here, they spell it with only one G. But the food was good, just too much of it and none of us finished our meals.

We walked back through the park, past the Exhibition Hall and Melbourne Museum.

Galahs in the park

From our luxury suite, we couldn’t determine which way the Sun was setting. So, when it comes up again tomorrow morning, it could shine its light on any one of us. But almost certainly, we won’t even hear the loud birds from this height.

What we did hear quite late was a knock at the door. Earlier in the day, we noticed the rubbish bin hadn’t been emptied by the previous occupants. Liesel sent a message to Jess, our host, but in the end, we used the shute just along the corridor. Now, here was Jess, with an apology and a bottle of wine.

Jyoti witnessed the sunrise, Liesel and I slept through it. We had to pull the blinds down overnight. Many of the high-rise buildings have lights at the top, and one in particular stood out: shining its bright white light right onto my pillow. That said, a city at night has a beauty of its own, not better nor worse than what nature provides, but very different and inspiring in its own way.

Melbourne at night

We all went out for coffee with Chris, a friend of a friend of JyJyoti. He’s lived in Victoria for many years and was kind enough to act as a tour guide for a couple of hours. I hadn’t been to Melbourne since 2002 and as you’d expect, some of the sights were familar but a lot has changed here.

The Leviathan and Harry Potter

We couldn’t understand why the Harry Potter play was being advertised everywhere, when tickets are sold out already.

The tram system is fantastic: rides are free within a certain area. And there’s a nice mix of old ones, albeit covered in adverts, and new ones with those concertina-like joins between the cars. Like the bendy buses, they should but don’t play a tune when they turn a corner.

One of Melbourne’s famous trams

Last time I was here, I met Barry Humphries at a book signing. What a top bloke. He signed his own name and Dame Edna Everage’s. So what a joy it was to see that a (very) small part of Melbourne has now been named in her honour.

Dame Edna has a Place in all our hearts, darling

Chris took us through an old arcade that was very reminiscent of London’s Leadenhall Market, with its ornate ceiling and decorative floor.

Block Arcade
Lots of Mick’s feet spoiling the floor
Mick, Jyoti, Liesel, Chris

We walked by Flinders Street Station, Federation Square and over the River Yarra.

St Paul’s Cathedral

We’d enjoyed some relief from the soaring temperature in the arcade and we were delighted to visit the NGV. Even watching the water fall down the glass walls had a cooling effect, never mind the air conditioning inside the National Gallery of Victoria.

We had a laugh at the many pictures of Weimaranas dressed up or posing in ridiculous positions. ‘Being Human’ is a collection of mainly Polaroids by William Wegman taken over a period of several years. Actually, some of the photos made us (well, me) wince a bit. I’m sure no dogs were embarrassed in the production of this exhibition.

Eustace Tilley
Dogs being human

Chris had to leave us at this point for work, but we were quite happy to spend more time in the Gallery. Not just to avoid the heat, a scorchio 35°C, 95°F.

What’s got four legs and flies? Regular visitors will know the answer. I’m pretty sure this one was never alive, though.

This horse is a lampshade

After lunch, we bought timed tickets to see MC Hammer, no, not him, it was M C Escher, 160 of his works in a display designed by the Japanese company nendo. “Escher X nendo: Between Two Worlds” is utterly magnificent and fascinating. This is the sort of mathematics that should be shown to young children when they first start school, not times tables.

Parrot, or maybe cockatoo?

Halfway round, I realised that many of my doodles (when on the phone, for instance) are inferior versions of some of Escher’s drawings.

Some of Mick’s doodles (nearly)

He has always been one of my favourite artists, because of the mathematics behind the art and the incredibly clever way he makes tesselations work. We’re glad we didn’t come across any snakes in the Aussie bush, but these ones are very cute, the picture very complex and very clever.

Snakes, by M C Escher

The design of the show often used the simple motif of a house. There was even a large 3D reproduction of houses that you could walk through to see even more works.

Walking through a work of art, magical
Houses

M C Escher made woodcuts and the amount of chiselling, gouging, scraping, cutting to achieve that amount of detail is phenomenal. Especially when he tries to get to infinity and beyond.

Circle limit IV (Heaven and Hell)
Very fine detail at the edge

And when you zoom in to the edge, you can see a shadow effect too. On a woodcut. Amazing. Yes, I took far too many photos and yes, I would have loved to buy the 2-inch thick book that accompanies the exhibition but… we’re not buying more stuff!

“If only you knew how entrancing, how stirringly beautiful the images in my head are, the ones I am unable to express.” M C Escher.

The trams were all packed so we walked back to our place, making use of cooler arcades and shade where possible.

Jyoti went out for a meal with Chris while Liesel and I went out for a different meal, to Trunk, located at an old synagogue. We had to go as its name literally has my name in it.

A short-lived synagogue
Margarita and Margherita together at last

While we were inside, it rained! Only for five minutes, but a little precipitation cooled the city down by half a degree.

We’ve stayed in some nice, interesting places over the last few months, but this one is probably the most urban, modern and industrial-looking. And as far as we know, the only student accommodation we’ve inhabited!

Nirranda and Port Fairy

That’s two nights here, time to move on, to move on. First stop was Cape Otway Lightstation. We spent more time here than anticipated, it was so fascinating. Jyoti was delighted to find another warning sign depicting her favourite kind of animal. Not.

Beware of snakes
Rocks and rough seas at Cape Otway

The seas are quite rough here, it’s easy to see how so many ships came to grief along this coast. Cape Otway was often the first sight of land following the long voyage from Britain. It also marks the point where the Bass Strait meets the Southern Ocean, although the ‘join’ isn’t as obvious as that seen at Cape Reinga in NZ.

Selfie of the day

The path to the lighthouse itself was not in use but the ‘Caution’ tape confused some people: they thought there was no access to the lighthouse at all. And with an air ambulance, some police cars and other medical staff, it was easy to suppose there had been some kind of accident.

Alas no, the lighthouse was open and as always, I began to count the steps as I climbed, but was distracted by someone running down very, very fast. So I’ll just say, there are about 967 steps to the top of Cape Otway Lighthouse.

Although this is the wrong time of year to see whales in the ocean, we did actually see one outside it.

Whale sculpture

And against all odds, we saw a kangaroo too.

Steampunk kangaroo

One thing we weren’t prepared for was how much this area was involved in the second World War. Trouble not just from the Japanese, but the Germans were here too, laying sea mines between Cape Otway and Wilsons Promontory, attempting to prevent access to Port Phillip Bay and Melbourne.

Jyoti, Liesel, half a German sea mine

A large area is devoted to understanding the local aboriginal culture. In the Talking Hut, Dale told us about the local history. He’s of aboriginal descent, his great (x3?) grandmother is Bessie Flower, the first ‘educated’ aboriginal woman. Dale is white, he also has Dutch origins.

Outside on our short Bush Tucker tour, he showed us which plants were safe to eat, and we sampled the salt bush (salty), the local rosemary (sweet, then very bitter), the ‘lemonade’ berries (fizzy). The attractive red berries are not edible, but when he squeezed one, the juice was pure magenta dye. Will we eat these leaves out in the wild? I suspect not, we’ll be far too cautious.

Inside The Talking Hut

He told the story of his 5-year old son going out into the bush, catching a small bee, tying a filament from a particular plant around it, so that when it flew back to its nest, he could follow it. He then pulled a lump of honeycomb from under the stones. One root which resembles a turnip can be cut up and is used for relief of toothache.

When I was at school, we were told that Aborigines had been in Australia for between 20,000 and 40,000 years. It is now thought that it’s more likely to be 100,000 years, although the evidence is flimsy right now.

Cape Otway has the second purest water in the world: the actual purest is on Tasmania. It also boasts the oldest known farm in the world, at 6000 years of age. It really is a place of superlatives.

Jyoti, Liesel and the Cape Otway wreck

As we drove away from Cape Otway, we continued to look in the gum trees for a you-know-what. I was driving and when I saw something cross the road in front of me, I braked and we came to a halt. It took a moment to register, it was so unexpected, but there it was: a koala. We didn’t want to frighten him, but equally, we wanted photos, so we all leapt out of the car.

Grandad koala saying goodbye

The old-looking koala walked off into the woods surprisingly fast. On seeing the picture, one of my daughters compared his hairy ears to those of a grandad’s. I have no idea to whom she is referring.

At Castle Cove, we enjoyed the sunshine and the views and this was the venue for our long beach walk of the day. Keep on the path. Snakes. We walked down the steps, noting that the sea was rough, the tide was high but even so, there were quite a few surfers.

Castle Cove beach
Strata well defined

The rock wall at the top of the beach was beautifully stratified, very soft sandstone and it had a greenish tinge due to iron. There were a couple of small caves, too small to explore and in the middle of all the sand and rocks, this pretty, solitary plant,

The only plant on this beach

Gibson Steps gave us our first sighting of the Twelve Apostles, the iconic limestone stacks formerly known as Toots and the Maytals, no, formerly known as the Sow and Pigs.

Not strictly speaking a Twelve Apostle

What we saw was in fact Gog and Magog, east of Castle Rock. We walked 1.1 km along a further section of the Great Ocean Walk, through the visitors centre, to see the actual Twelve Apostles. It was late in the day, the Sun was low, so we saw the stacks in silhouette. Even so, what a remarkable sight. We walked as far as we could along the path to the Castle Rock lookout. And as if things weren’t scary enough already, this is one of the signs.

Warning: Venomous snakes
There’s a hole my stack, dear Liza
The Twelve Apostles sea stacks

As it was Jyoti’s birthday, we thought we’d buy a cake at the café at the visitors centre. But it was Sunday, it was late, it was closed. We began the 1.1 km walk back to the car, away from the Sun now, so a little more comfortable, especially with a slight breeze. L&J were ahead, and some Japanese people pointed to the ‘porcupine’ crossing the path and by the time I caught up, the echidna, for that is what it was, was in the bush.

Echidna

What an exciting day: a koala and an echidna! And then, as we were driving awa from Gibson’s Steps, in the rearview mirror, I saw a kangaroo crossing the road.

There are many other places to visit on the Great Ocean Road, but as it was late, we headed straight for our new b&b in Nirranda. A shopping trip in Peterborough was disappointing, the single, solitary supermarket mostly specialised in fishing bait.

The b&b is built from old shipping containers. I thought surely a metal wall would make it really hot inside. And so it proved. Thank goodness for the ceiling fans.

Shipping containers now containing us

We didn’t realise at the time, but we shared our room with a grasshopper. We’d seen ants and flies and heard a mosquito or two, but we didn’t know about this chap until the morning.

Grasshopper

I let him out into the garden. One moment he was sitting there, the next, gone. Probably the strongest jumping leg muscles in the world. Well, it is a superlative area. Witness the petrol price at Lavers Hill: $1.70 per litre, compared with $1.20 to $1.30 elsewhere.

Liesel and Jyoti went shopping, all the way to Warrnambool, which takes its name from the whales that thrive in the ocean here. Just not at this time of the year: we’ll have to come back to go whale-watching.

Later, when J&L and I had eaten lunch, I tore down the large curtain from the living room window to take with us. We’d decided to walk to the nearby beach, about a mile away. Well, it was hot and there was no shade but it really did take much longer than the advertised 20 minutes.

Turd bush

This bush looks weird, we thought, and we certainly weren’t going to taste its leaves. It can only be described as a turd bush, since its fruits (?) look like animal droppings.

The dusty, stony, gravelly path continued on and on, up and down, disappointment every time the sea failed to come into view over the brow of a hill.

But then, the end came in sight.

Hang gliding and paragliding

Holding tight with both hands, I started my run-up towards the cliff edge. Suddenly, I heard someone yell “Nooooooo!!!”

Apparently, you can’t go hang-gliding just holding on to a curtain, you have to use specialist equipment such as a hang glider with landing wheels, a harness and a helmet. Oh well, I tried.

The walk down to the beach was difficult too. A very narrow, steep and sandy path. We were all wearing sandals, not the best footwear for such terrain.

A beach beyond

We gave up, discretion is the better half of Valerie, or something. It looked like a nice beach to walk on too, what a pity.

We drove to The Arch, an unusual rock formation, but we couldn’t work out how it got its name.

The Arch

We drove to London Bridge, an unusual rock formation, but we couldn’t work out how it got its name. Especially since London Bridge has fallen down and it’s now just another stand-alone stack.

London Bridge

There’s a beach here too, another nice looking beach, ideal for a walk, but we’re asked to stay away because of the penguins. We didn’t see any penguins of course, but there were plenty of footprints in the sand. Penguins or other birds, we don’t know.

Footprints in the sand

On the path back to the car park, I spotted a small black lizard, probably a skink, but it might have been something more exotic: my hasty photo just shows a black blur in the grass.

We drove to The Grotto, another unusual formation. As we went down the steps to see what is really just a hole, a young girl ran up by us, and then she ran back down past us. She and her two friends were planning to swim in the still water but I did take this picture.

The Grotto

And finally today, we drove to the Bay of Martyrs, part of the Bay of Islands. I walked down to the beach, attempted a selfie with the Sun setting behind me, over the sea.

Won’t be trying an artistic shot like this again
Bay of Martyrs beach

For supper tonight, my contribution was to pick tomatoes from the plants in the garden. The courgettes weren’t quite ready yet and we didn’t fancy the rhubarb. We had cheese and crackers and chutneys with red, red wine, a belated birthday party for Jyoti. Almost. Still no cake.

Before going to bed, we all went outside to gaze at the stars and to listen to whatever animal was making a noise like fff-fff-fff-fff over and over. In fact, it was still doing this later on when I got up briefly. By this time, the Moon was up too, so only the brightest stars were visible.

Jyoti and I were sitting on the step outside the house, drinking our teas, shooting the breeze, watching the trees, when Liesel told us we had half an hour left. Uh? To pack and to move on. We were away with five minutes to spare. Bit of a shock to the system though: both Jyoti and I had totally forgotten that this was moving day.

Cactus, not a native Australian, we suspect

We had a pleasant drive to our next b&b, but I did have an agenda. We need a new electric plug adapter since the old one broke. I tried fixing it and it worked well for a while, but here’s a tip: sticking plaster, Band-Aid, Elastoplast, doesn’t reliably stick to plastic for very long. And another tip: if you need tin foil to help make an electrical connection, try to use pieces larger than the torn-off bits from the blister pack containing your drugs.

Lily the Pink aka naked ladies

As if lilies aren’t enough, we soon drove by a farm with a strange collection of animals: sheep, goats, llamas and camels.

Camels

Warrnambool didn’t provide us with an adapter. “Oh no”, said the man in the electrical shop, “we don’t sell that sort of thing. Try the Post Office.” I thanked him through gritted teeth for his help.

It’s hard to know exactly where the Great Ocean Road finishes. The GOR, B100, ends at Allansford, near Warrnambool. There, we joined the A1, Princes Highway. On the other hand, some of the literature for Port Fairy considers it part of the Great Ocean Road. Either way, when we arrived at Port Fairy, “The World’s Most Liveable Community”, we’d definitely reached the end of the world’s largest, and arguably the world’s most functional, war memorial, for this trip.

It’s a cute little town, enhanced by protective/advertising hoardings at the base of the lampposts.

Folk Festival coming up

After a coffee break, we went to sit by the beach for a while. Yes, sit by the beach. Not on the beach. In the car, in the car park, looking at the beach. Why? The wind was strong and cold.

Port Fairy beach towards the lighthouse

I still went for a walk, solo, and found two memorials, close to each other, both emotionally moving but for very different reasons.

In Memory of Thousands of Aboriginal People Massacred
In Memory of Service Personnel from Port Fairy lost in battle
Good idea

We checked in to our new, first floor, b&b and wow, we have a view over the beach. But the wind was still strong and we decided not to sit and be blown off the balcony.

I fancied another walk, and I thought the lighthouse at the far end of Griffiths Island would be an ideal goal to aim for.

Short-tail shearwaters or “Mutton birds” nest on the island, but again, we’re here at the wrong time of year.

Shearwater nesting holes

I did wonder whether these nesting holes might currently be occupied by snakes or other squatters. And then out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. A kangaroo was hopping across the field.

Kangaroo saying hello

This was the first one I’d seen in the wild, although J&L had been lucky a few nights ago.

I didn’t see the kangaroo that failed to clear this hurdle

I followed the track to the lighthouse, but the amorous couple sitting outside deterred me from walking right up to the door.

Griffiths Island lighthouse

The track followed the beach for part of the way, and I was surprised to see volcanic rocks sitting amongst the soft, white sand.

Volcanic basalt

It was warmer now, the wind had calmed down and I thought maybe J&L would go out for a walk later.

Pedestrians watch your… oops
Seagulls sculpture

While I was out, Liesel and Jyoti had been planning ahead, making plans for the next month or so. Bookings were made, despite issues with various websites and credit cards.

Unfortunately, up in our b&b, out on the balcony, the wind felt just as strong as ever, though not as cold.

We were talking about our various medical issues and the consensus is, we’ve been pretty lucky and injury-free. Liesel’s piriformis is still a PITA and it affects other muscles at different times. Other than that, a few insect bites, a couple of broken nails, cracked heels is as bad as it’s been.

Now is the time for those viewers not interested in the musical soundtrack to our travels to press the yellow button on your device and be transported to a totally different place.

We didn’t bother connecting my device to the car’s Bluetooth at Uluru because we were only there a couple of days. But with a new car in Melbourne, it felt right that we should play the whole Slim Dusty album for Jyoti’s enjoyment. We then returned to the alphabetical playlist. Picking up where we left off in New Zealand with Nomad Blood. At the time of writing, we are in the Rs. Q was interesting. The first one was a mistake: somebody at the CD factory had entered the song title as Que est le soleil? instead of Ou est le Soleil? And of the genuine Qs, 4 out of the 6 were 2 versions each of 2 David Bowie songs. What will we do when we’ve reached the end of the Zs? And will we even reach the end of the Zs by the time we return this car?

Apollo Bay

Two days in one place is the new norm, well, for now, as we proceed along the Great Ocean Road.

At the cabin, we enjoyed the interplay between the cockatoos and the king parrots. Cockatoos are twice the size so guess who wins most of the time?

The big surprise though was getting up to find that the heater turned on. Yes, it was cold enough for an actual heater. I wouldn’t have bothered, myself, of course, but you have to look after the ladies with their narrower comfort zone when it comes to temperature. (Mick ducks.)

We returned to the Deans Marsh Store for breakfast. Outside, in the bed with rhubarb and strawberries, I found a rock which I should have moved to a different location, but I didn’t. Vic rocks, along the lines of Chch rocks.

Vic rocks

Yesterday, we’d driven past a sign warning us of echidnas riding skateboards. For some reason, we didn’t stop to take a picture so today, we decided to retrace our steps for a photo. Wild goose chase. We never did find it, we all remember seeing it but we all began to doubt our collective memory and sanity. So we resorted to that fount of all knowledge, the internet, and found this picture, thanks to whoever it belongs to.

Echidna on a skateboard, near Forrest

We saw a few temporary signs in Chinese. Programming error? There is a lot of logging in the area, and we wondered whether they’re owned and run by Chinese companies.

Chinese road sign

Stevenson’s Falls was a very pleasant walk. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders whether this is a genuine warning?

Herbicide-tainted blackberries

Are they trying to preverse the berries for the local wildlife? Or, if they have used chemicals, won’t that be detrimental to local wildlife as well as to us humans?

The bird that laid these eggs is in great pain
Can’t see the wood for the trees
Stevenson’s Falls

There are lots of fallen trees here. In fact, they’re in most of the forests and woods we’ve visited, and it’s good that the old trunks are being left for nature to make use of. Sometimes, though, a tree might keel over in the wrong direction and (potentially) bonk someone on the head.

Rail presumably bent by a falling tree

This must have been an exciting few moments for any innocent bystanders.

We were advised that Kennett River was the place to go: guaranteed to see lots of koalas. Again, we doubted our powers of observation when, after quite a long walk along the trail, we’d seen hundreds of gum trees but no cuddly little chaps. Maybe it just takes a while for our eyes to tune in to the right frequency.

Koala having a good scratch

Eventually, we found this beauty, much lower down than we would have expected. And another one!

Another gorgeous koala

On the walk, we heard lots of birds and even saw some, including a kookaburra, coots, swamphens and, er, butterflies.

Back on the mainly westbound road, we stopped several times to admire the coastline and the Bass Straight. Jump up high enough and you’ll see Tasmania.

Fab clouds at Cape Patten

The view from Cape Patten revealed a rugged coastline but the clouds were fascinating too.

Apollo Bay welcomed us with phonelines along our road, all but fully laden with galahs, or pink and grey cockatoos.

Galahs taking off
Galahs preparing to take off

We enjoyed a relatively lazy day at Apollo Bay, in our b&b. I wrote. Liesel read. Jyoti went to use the wifi in the local library.

Later in the afternoon, I did go for a quick walk with Jyoti. It was a Saturday, and the town was very busy.

Fun on the beach
Apollo Bay beach with the harbour in the distance

The Great Ocean Walk starts here, and we did a short section of it, just round the corner to the harbour.

Jyoti dragged me into Tastes of the Region, the local beer shop. There, I was strongly encouraged to sample some of the local beers on offer. I selected 5 from a list of fifteen and tasted them in the recommended sequence, cleansing my palate with plain water between samples.

First liquid lunch in a while

My favourite was the Otway Stout, so I bought a bottle to take home for supper. We also bought coffee to take back for me and Liesel, who was enjoying a totally relaxing, pain-free day, for a change.

One of the streets in Apollo Bay won an award 25 years ago and rightly, they’re still very proud.

Best kept street

On the other hand, they should be genuinely proud of one of the most ornate drinking fountains I’ve ever seen.

Drinking fountain