Dubbo Zoo

‘Twas a cold night in Orange. That’s the second time I’ve been able to say that. It occurs about every one third of a century.

In 1986, Sarah, Jenny and I slept in a campervan in a campsite in Orange. It was cold. So cold, there was ice on the windows in the morning. It was our coldest night camping ever.

Today, we woke up to a temperature of 45°F (7°C). A few months ago, we were enjoying 45°C (113°F). One extreme to the other. There was dew on the grass, maybe even frost, that’s how cold it was.

Cold, crunchy grass

During the nearly two hour drive, we passed a few wallabies and kangaroos wondering why their early morning grass was so crunchy. But it warmed up nicely, the sky was clear and blue, so a good day was definitely in store.

I’d last visited Dubbo Zoo in 1986: a return visit was well overdue.

Rainbow in the fountain

We arrived just in time to Prowl the Pridelands, to look at the lions. The bus accommodates over 20 guests, but there were just the three of us on this tour.

Four young brothers live and play together, and take advantage of the shadow cast by the bus.

In the shadow
In the light

Their parents are in a large, separate area, and they all looked very content. So would we if we could sleep for 16-20 hours a day.

It would be cruel and heartless to pull a lock of hair from a lion’s mane, but that’s exactly what someone has done.

Lion’s mane hair

It’s surprisingly coarse and it would have been difficult to untangle the dreadlock into which it had been wrought.

Taronga Western Plains, aka Dubbo, Zoo is very spacious, 300 hectares, so the animals have plenty of room to roam. The disadvantage for us visitors is that sometimes, they’re way over there on the other side of the field.

We hired a buggy to drive around the 6 km circuit. It didn’t necessarily mean less walking altogether, but we were able to visit pretty much all the inmates.

Parking the buggy

The meerkats were very active: well, some of them.

You have a rest while I do all the digging
Black rhino taking it easy

The zebras and other big animals are behind a moat and a fence that are well concealed until you’re up close, giving the impression of wide open spaces.

Zebra laughing at our shadows
Giraffes over there by the trees

In 1986, when we visited Dubbo Zoo, we hired bikes to cycle around. Sarah had 2-year old Jenny on the back of her bike. After a short while, I realised there were no brakes so I rode back to complain, and was told that you have to back-pedal to brake. Obvious. Well, later on, as we rode towards the hippopotamus pond, down a slope, Sarah momentarily forgot how to brake and she and Jenny nearly ended up joining the hippos in the water.

Today, we arrived at the hippopotamus enclosure in style, on four wheels. We listened to the Hippo Talk, haha, no, we listened to a zookeeper talk about the hippos. There is one way apart from the obvious to tell the difference between males and females. A nice, neat pile of poo is probably deposited by a female. Males tend to poo and pee at the same time and get their tail spinning round like a propellor to spread it far and wide. A better metaphor for Brexit I have never seen.

Hungry hippo
White rhinoceros way over there

We watched a baby elephant having a nice mudbath followed by a dry dirt shower.

Elephant eating apples

I started singing “There’s a starman waiting in the sky” as we approached the black apes. The sideways text on the sign soon became clearer: siamang.

Siamang hanging about

Two of them were playing on the rope bridge over the water. Later on, one ate a carrot while the other ran off with a lettuce or something. Both kept their backs to us, they obviously know humans would be after their food, given half a chance.

Liesel and I hadn’t seen camels in the wild in the Northern Territory, so we were delighted to see some here. Liesel asked the question so I told her about the two different kinds. Bactrian camels have two humps, like the letter B. Dromedaries have one hump, like the letter D. I was hoping to find a sign confirming this.

Camels

The sign just described all the residents here as Arabian Camels. No Asian Bactrians, it seems.

We heard a booming noise. I thought it was the siamang using the echo chamber built into his throat. Liesel thought it was the lion. We never did find out the origin of the slightly spooky noise.

A quartet of locals: emu, koala, echidna and quokka

The quokka was cute but we couldn’t approach any closer than from the viewing platform, several metres above.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we were sitting outside the giftshop. I was eating my apple and this did not go unnoticed. The ring-tailed lemur over the water was watching me like a hawk. It wanted my apple but I don’t feel guilty about eating the whole thing all by myself, thank you very much.

Salivating ring-tailed lemur

If we’d wanted to visit Africa, this signpost would have been very helpful.

Kalahari: this way or that way?

It was a fun day at the zoo, probably one of the best zoo days we’ve ever had. Not once did we think the animals looked a bit unhappy or stressed and that makes a lot of difference. The weather was perfect, there weren’t too many other people, the buggy was fun to drive and none of us fell out.

The drive back over the hills to Orange was pretty, especially as the Sun began to set.

Sunset near Orange
Mick resting his eyes

This photo is being used as evidence that I fell asleep in the back of the car. Well, yes, I did rest my eyes for a minute or two.

As we were in Helen’s car, we mostly listened to her music. So lots of Snow Patrol and Killers. At Liesel’s request, we listened to the soundtrack from the film The Big Chill.

We kept the house slightly warmer tonight, but the floor was still cold, made from some material designed to suck all the warmth out of your feet.

Castlerock Farm Eco Stay

Before leaving Dolphin’s Head Resort, I went for a quick walk as we were in for a long drive later. The part of the beach close to us was rocks but way over there in the distance is a nice sandy beach.

The rocky beach

But it is out of reach to us mortals. All the ‘beachfront’ accommodation is private property. I could buy a house here and get my share of the beach, but I’ll leave it for the crocs and jellyfish to make friends with the occupants instead.

One of the exclusive beachfront properties

We refuelled the car, bought some vittles and set off. We decided to miss out on seeing Mackay due to time constraints.

It was Mother’s Day here last weekend and I always miss my Mum on that day. This year, I would have bought her the best present ever.

Happy Mother’s Day

It was another grey day but not raining. The road was long, we drove for the best part of five hours. We passed more sugar cane, more cattle, more trees, lots of grass, caravans, campervans, a crocodile… yes, that was a surprise.

Crocodile on a shop front

Some of the roadsigns were quite funny.

How long to go, Dad?
Still 2 hours to Rockhampton, kids!

We saw signs warning us of stock on the road for the next 10 or 20 km, but we only saw cattle in fields.

There were signs telling us about the presence of koalas for the next 20 km, but we didn’t see any at all. In fact, as far as we could tell, there weren’t many eucalyptus trees for us to look in as we drove by.

The authorities have our welfare at heart. So many signs telling us to have a rest, where the next rest area is. “Rest or RIP”.

I thought this one was a Batman logo from a distance.

Driver fatigue crash zone

“Don’t sleep and drive”.

Today’s soundtrack was provided by Pink Floyd. I tapped my foot and drummed my fingers on the door handle. Liesel accused me of tapping completely out of time with the music. I pointed out that Pink Floyd sometimes have very unusual time signatures and crazy rhythm patterns and… but I couldn’t keep a straight face.

Tropical Cyclone Ann is likely to make landfall in northern Queensland in the next few days, the first May cyclone to hit since 1989. I heard a couple of guys talking the other day about a place that had been evacuated.

After hours and hours of taking it in turns to drive, we turned off the A1 (Highway 1) towards Byfield National Park. I keep saying Byfleet of course, because my larynx has muscle memory of familiar placenames from home.

A hillock in Baga National Park

In an otherwise flat or gently undulating area, this rock could not be more out of place.

Susie met us at Castlerock Farm Eco Stay, where we are staying in a caravan for a couple of nights.

Our home: caravan plus tarp cover

A caravan with an awning. It’s gonna be a tight squeeze. The waterless composting toilet is quite a trek so we’ll leave a couple of lights on. The cooking area is ok but not 100% mosquito-proof. We’ve been warned that small bats sometimes come in and leave their mark on the floor.

We really are in the middle of nowhere, no 4G, the only wifi is just outside Susie’s house and it feels a bit rude to loiter there too long, although she said we were welcome to.

We’ve heard several birds, especially around the time of sunset.

A bit of a sunset

Susie told us about the snakes and the huntsman spiders, putting a little more adventure into our planned bush walks!

It rained all night and when it wasn’t raining, water continued to drip (pour) onto the tarpaulin ‘roof’ just six inches above our dozing noses. Despite that and a few nocturnal bladder-related excursions, I felt refreshed in the morning. Liesel not so much.

Hello there, Sunshine

I brought cups of tea and bananas back to the caravan. Liesel later brought back jam and peanut butter rolls. Then we got out of bed and went for a walk around the farm hoping to see spiders at least, but no such luck. No snakes either which I have mixed feelings about. A few birds and butterflies full of the joys of what passes for Autumn here

I lost count of the number of mosquito bites I acquired: the Germolene will be working overtime later.

Very pretty red and yellow flower

We enjoyed walking by a variety of fruit trees: lemon, lime, mandarin, persimmon, mango, banana and although we didn’t come across any, there are avocado trees here too.

Fruit bowl

It was the perfect temperature, just a little damp. We’ve gone from hot and humid to comfortable but damp in just a few days.

Small pond

We both returned to our kitchen/living quarters with sweat pouring off, something we’d not anticipated.

The rest of the day was a day of rest. Reading, writing, arithmetic. Well, two out of three, anyway. We listened to the wind in the trees, the odd few birds, we chatted with Susie before she drove into Yeppoon.

The outdoor shower water is heated by a donkey. Not that sort of donkey, but a wood fire burner water heater that Susie lights each day at 4pm. We can have showers at other times, but we’d have to fight, I mean light, the donkey ourselves. It was a very pleasant shower: I think we both would have stayed longer if the water was on tap rather than from a tank. Maybe a bit strange having a shower outside while wood fire smoke billows around, but it was a mosquito-free zone.

The Moon rose and the Sun set marking the end of another fantastic day.

Moon behind the palm trees

The buzzing sound in the kitchen was made by what we thought was a plain old housefly, but it was much more interesting, we noticed, when it landed on the window.

Pretty fly

Again, it rained for much of the night but being inside, under cover, warm, cosy and dry is a wonderful feeling.

To Airlie Beach

We said goodbye to Trudi, and drove up to see the view from Castle Hill. That’s a high outcrop in Townsville, not to be confused with the school of the same name in Chessington.

Castle Hill

We drove, but many people were walking, cycling or even running up the hill. Not a pleasant walk, we thought, with all the traffic. After parking, we walked around, climbed to the highest points, and looked down on Townsville and the surrounding area. The views were stunning, helped by it being such a clear day, contrary to the earlier forecast.

Townsville with mountain
The Strand

The Summit Loop track at 260m was one of the shortest walks on offer and the only one we completed. Radio transmitters are on top, and they are today’s hazard – no crocodiles, snakes, parachutists, asbestos here, just radio signals out to boil your brain.

Castle Hill conveniences

We had another long drive today and I think we enjoyed watching the changes of scenery, but less time in the car would be nice.

We drove by Billabong Sanctuary but decided not to stop for koala cuddles.

Billabong Sanctuary entrance

This was another place Sarah, Jenny and I visited in 1986. The highlight was being chased by an emu known as Gonzo. At the time, I thought it was because he thought I had some tasty emu treats in my camera bag. When the photos came back from the film processor, I realised what was going on. In profile, me and my bulky bag were a very similar shape to an emu. I think Gonzo just fancied me.

Billabong crocodile

Brandon is a nice up-and-coming little place: they even sell videos, now, in one shop.

We stopped in Ayr for breakfast and I was disappointed not to find the Ayrdresser. I thought the speed cameras might be labelled Ayr Traffic Control but the closest we got to that was the sign showing the end of the Ayr Traffic Zone.

Bowen was bypassed so if there were any archery shops selling Bowen arrows, we’ll never know.

As suggested by Alison whom we would meet later, we made a detour to Cape Gloucester. We walked on Hideaway Bay beach which had a much steeper camber than any of the beaches we’ve seen for ages.

Hideaway Bay

The sand was coarser too and there were rocks and coral and many seashells. An interesting beach, yes, but not proper seaside.

Selfie of the day

I have no idea how that Egyptian pyramid got into the picture. Liesel reckons it’s a small island to the south of Gloucester Island, and she’s usually right.

Shark, brown bread
Coral, tree

Airlie Beach greeted us and we looked at the lagoon, visited the booking office and ate at the Hog’s Breath Café, or Hog’s, Australia’s Steakhouse.

The Lagoon, Airlie Beach

Our new Airbnb is up the hill and boasts views of the town, the sea and the mountains, depending on which window you look through. We met Alison and Trevor but their dining companions vamoosed as soon as we showed up: no offence taken.

Here’s the next (and possibly final) episode in the ongoing in-car entertainment saga. It’s not for everyone, so if you want to stop reading the post at this point, no offence taken.

The car we hired in Cairns doesn’t like to play music from my phone, so we’ve been playing the songs through our little portable speaker. Normally we think its acoustics are ok, but with all the background noise in a car, it’s really hard to tell.

The main problem is still that different CDs and other music sources provide music at vastly differing sound volumes. I hope we can find a way to fix this at some point.

Imagine you were having a dinner party and you could only invite people from songs on my phone with titles beginning with the definite article. Who might turn up? A strange collection of folk, that’s for sure. Hundreds of ’em!

  • The Artisan
  • The Charmer
  • The Colliers
  • The Courier
  • The Hurlers
  • The Ranger
  • The Saddest Crowd
  • The Sender
  • The Wanderer
  • The Emperor’s Wife
  • The Impossible Girl
  • The Speeder
  • The Fool on the Hill
  • The Lovely Linda
  • The Lovers that Never Were
  • The Man
  • The Other Me
  • The Real Me
  • The Bewlay Brothers
  • The Laughing Gnome
  • The Supermen
  • The Man Who Sold the World
  • The Man With the Child in his Eyes
  • The Maid of Culmore
  • The Bloke who Serves the Beer
  • The Boxer
  • The Only Living Boy in New York
  • The Little Cowboy
  • The Player
  • The Rascal
  • The Poor Stranger

Them Heavy People just miss out an an invitation because the song is the first after the ‘The’s.

The excitement in the car was palpable as we finally reached the end of the Ts and we were eager to plough through the Us, Vs, Ws. Whoa, lots of Ws, many asking questions, Where, When, Who?

A couple of good segues came up by accident. Tomorrow Never Comes was followed by Tomorrow Today.

The raunchy Wake up and Make Love With Me was followed by the innocent Walking in the Air, which made us chuckle.

No Xs, lots of Yous and other Ys

Today was a landmark day, though. We’ve played all the music tracks from my phone, from A to Z. Actually, there were a few before the As even started: punctuation and numerals are sorted before the alphabet.

The first Z was Ziggy Stardust (performed by Seu Jorge rather than David) and we knew there wouldn’t be many Zs.

The final Z song came to an end. Zui-Zui-Zukkorobashi by Hiro Fujikake and James Galway.

But wait, there’s more!

What comes after Z? ÞAð Sést Ekki Sætari Mey, an early Icelandic song by Björk, that’s what! It was playing as we drove past the Billabong Sanctuary, a moment to be cherished throughout the ages. People will probably write songs about the occasion.

Meanwhile, what do we do now for in-car musical entertainment? We’ll revert to ‘random shuffle’ knowing that some songs will never play, but the plan is to download some new music when we get a good enough wifi connection. The request list (from both of us) is quite long.

To Port Douglas… and beyond

Goodbye to all the lovely ladies in The Territory: Katherine Gorge, Mary and Adelaide River, Edith Falls and Fannie Bay, Apologies to Alice Springs, we’ll catch up with you next time.

I felt sad to leave NT, almost homesick, which surprised me. Plus, Liesel wasn’t feeling 100% either. We returned to The Fannie Bay Coolspot for one final NT breakfast before jetting off to Cairns. The most entertaining part of the drive to the airport was listening to the Google Maps lady telling us to turn right into Dick Ward Drive. We went round the block several times just to hear her strange pronunciation.

Inside Cairns Airport, there’s a bicycle with a bamboo frame.

Bike with bamboo frame

This bike is much more interesting than our new rental car. New? It’s so old, it’s been driven around the world 5¼ times and it has no Bluetooth connection, just a USB port.

So, hello, Queensland, just a little cooler, we thought, for the drive north to our first port of call, Port Douglas. We didn’t stop, we just wanted to get there, eat and rest, but I did take a few pictures on the way and maybe we’ll get better ones on the return journey.

Just north of Cairns, looking west
Somewhere near Kuranda, looking north-ish

Nicola met us at her house and after she left, we went into town for dinner. We had a bit of a walk before settling down at a bistro near the marina. Queensland teased us with a sunset of weird, spooky and eerie colours.

Sunset over the Marina

I couldn’t see the lorikeets in Batchelor well enough to take a picture, but these Port Douglas residents made up for it. Probably thousands altogether, trees full of them and their chattering.

Rainbow lorikeets in a tree

Ooh, here’s a bonus sunset pic.

Sunset and a yacht

After a good night’s sleep, we rose early to drive even further north. Early, he said, hahaha.

Driving by all the sugar cane fields plus seeing old wooden houses in Cairns plus some of the place names on signs, all conspired to remind me of my very first trip to Australia, in 1986.

Sugar cane field and mountains

There’s an awful lot of sugar in Queensland. We passed a sign to a Tea Plantation and all we needed now was a source of milk. Would you believe it, we actually passed a few cows too. The group of three having a chat about the mechanical digger in their field would make a good photo/cartoon.

The sign told us (as if we didn’t already know and as if this wasn’t one of the main reasons for being here) that this was cassowary country.

Cassowary country

The road was winding so we had to drive slowly anyway, but the frequent road humps, with embedded rocks and a speed limit of 20 kph, forced us to crawl.

We half expected to see cane toads too, either live or squashed, but we didn’t. We did see a couple of birds of prey, one hovering above a field.

When we saw a man crossing the road in front of us, we thought he could have at least worn a cassowary outfit, then us visitors could leave thinking we’d actually seen one.

Looking upstream from the Daintree ferry

So, ferry ‘cross the Daintree ’cause this land’s the place I love. The road became narrower if that’s possible, we really were in the place where the rain forest meets the road.

Daintree Road, take me home

The road took us right next to the coastline occasionally, but there were very few opportunities to pull over for a proper look. Oh and here’s a surprise: a cassowary wearing Father Brown’s hat.

Caution: Cassowary wearing a hat

Daintree National Park is a rain forest, and it does extend right down to the beach. In fact, our first proper stop for a walk was at Cape Tribulation Beach. Lt James Cook had grounding issues with his ship in the area, hence the name.

There were some turkeys: not as exciting as a cassowary would have been! And butterflies, loads of them, all full of energy and determined not to trouble my camera at all. And just when you think it’s safe to walk on the beach…

Warning: crocodiles

…and…

Warning: box jellyfish

But what a lovely beach. Hard, compacted sand, very few people, the water looked inviting, apart from the possibility of box jellyfish, the rain forest behind absolutely stunning too.

Cape Tribulation Beach
Where’s Liesel?

“The only place in the world where two World Heritage listed areas, Daintree Rainforest and The Grest Barrier Reef, exist side by side.”

Selfie of the day

Very few people but surprisingly only one bird. He was very patiently fishing, caught a couple while we were watching.

Cormorant or darter or something else but not a chicken

A bit further along the road, we went for a walk along Dubuji Boardwalk, through the forest but one path also took us down to the next beach, Myall. This was a fantastic walk: fascinating in its own right, but also because we were much cooler than we’ve been for a while and it was mostly in the shade.

We heard noises from birds and animals, but other than butterflies, some shrub fowl and a few fish in the mangroves, we saw nothing but trees, bushes, climbers.

Thick-leaved raphidophora vine wraps around tree trunks
Fig tree climbing up another tree

Myall Beach was as fabulous as Cape Trib Beach (we’re friends now) but a little smaller.

Myall Beach where the rain forest meets the reef
Looking up through the umbrellas

The contrast between the brightness on the beach and the darkness in the rain forest was amazing. And hard to believe crocodiles live here.

Bright sea, dark jungle

On the drive back south, we stopped at Thornton Beach for a quick snack. Blimey, their portions were huge: I think this is the first time I’ve been unable to finish a bowl of salad and chips. We were pestered by a swarm of very small flies.

Pretty fly

No, they weren’t pretty flies, that was the next song played on the radio in the car. Oh yeah, I forgot to say: it won’t even play music from my phone with the USB cable connected. So, Triple M it was. With its fascinating and innovative new programme format. Get a couple of blokes who are funny, or who think they’re funny, and get a girl in to laugh at their every word. It’s a surefire winner. Between that and the election adverts, I think it’s fair to say, we’ll be glad to get back to the music on my phone!

One thing we did learn from Triple M was that the current batch of $50 notes have a misspelling in the micro text: ‘responsilty’ three times. That’s an absolute outrage so I will be returning all ours to the bank and demanding my money back.

Someone should take responsibilty for this

Thornton Beach is another where we could have stayed and walked for much longer, but we weren’t 100% sure when the last ferry would carry us back over the Daintree River.

Little island off Thornton Beach
Thornton Beach

Back on the road again, I was watching the sea on my side and watching the road still looking out for… [expletive deleted] said Liesel as she braked and she was right: there was a cassowary crossing the road right in front of us. Fumble fingers messed up the photo but ooh, how exciting, we actually saw a real, live cassowary out in the wild and we could not have been more excited!

There were a couple of waterfalls too but, well, they’re a lot easier to come by than actual cassowaries.

We stopped at Walu Wugirriga, or Mount Alexandra Lookout, from where we could look over the Daintree Valley towards Port Douglas.

Looking south over the Daintree estuary

Luckily, I got my pictures just in time, before a bus full of tourists turned up. We also set off before them, we didn’t want to be following a bus all the way to the ferry. I know, we’re such snobs.

Looking downstream from the Daintree ferry

Back in Port Douglas, Liesel went indoors while I went into town for a few bits at Coles. On entering, I was delighted to hear the strains of Tasmin’s Sleeping Satellite over the PA and I thought, what a wonderful shop. Then they played something modern and I thought, maybe not. I know, I’m such a music snob!

I’m glad I went into town, because I felt bad about not taking a picture of the cows chatting earlier so I made up for it by snapping a cow on roller skates. No, I was not hallucinating.

Cow on wheels

Tonight’s, early sunset wasn’t as colourful nor as interesting as last night’s but what a fabulous first day in Queensland. A cassowary!

Overnight, we heard some strange animal noises from outside while in the comfort of our room: birds, possoms, squirrels, bats, monkeys, teenagers, I don’t know if we’ll ever know.

To Katherine

The next day was spent mainly in the Lodge area, or Resort. We didn’t make it to either of the open air pools, despite assurances that there are no crocodiles lurking there.

A late afternoon walk saw me heading towards the river.

Road to the river

As I walked further along the road, I realised that if I kept going, I’d be able to walk right into trouble. This was the boat launch road. I scrambled up the rocks to reach the path supposed to be used by pedestrians such as myself. I couldn’t walk onto the jetty at the end as the gate was locked.

No boats

Interestingly, this sign tells us we can’t use boats in this protected part of the South Alligator River. So instead, I just took some photos of all the interesting wildlife I could find. Which amounted to some green ants.

Ants

Nothing else was stirring apart from a few remote birds. And the crew unloading some scaffolding from a lorry.

Another day on the road and some of the dead straight highway was a bit monotonous. Yes, we were looking out for wildlife all the time, but it was the trees that attracted most of our attention.

We did see some galahs on the road, but they didn’t want to come and say hello. Galahs? Well, we think so, but darker pink and darker grey than we usually see.

Bobo, galah in flight

A dingo also disappeared as soon as we slowed down and showed interest in it. This one wasn’t as well fed as the one we saw a couple of days ago.

Bobo, dingo in retreat

There were plenty of sea eagles and kites flying by too.

Kite

The landscape is fascinating: we both regret not pursuing geology more assiduously in the past. Liesel took a unit as her science at school, and I didn’t follow up on the Open University course all those years ago. Btw, this fabulous institution has just celebrated its 50th anniversary, so, happy birthday to you, OU.

Looking up, behind the trees and the birds, the clouds are a constantly changing, ever entertaining white-on-blue Rorschach test.

Strange clouds

Down below, blackened leaf and plant litter hinted at recent fires. There were miles of ashes, some still smouldering. In places, very small, presumably new, termite mounds were under construction.

Smouldering and blackened

We assume that if the authorities aren’t concerned about us driving by such hot spots, then we shouldn’t be, either. Some trees were singed, but most seemed to be totally unharmed.

There were piles of boulders here and there too, and the road seemed to wind between them. Maybe they are part of the Aboriginal story: they certainly do use rocks to mark the passing of a loved one.

We witnessed a kite playing chicken.

Why did the kite cross the road?

We won: it flew off into the safety of the canopy, well above the smoke and soot.

More fire damage

We missed out on a couple of diversions because the roads were closed. The termite mounds still astound us and they seem to be a darker colour here, south of Cooinda, approaching Pine Creek.

More termite mounds

The marsh grass is unusually high: normally, during the ‘knock ’em down’ monsoon season, it’s flattened. The tree density varied a lot too. Sometimes, the trees were very densely packed on one side of the road while on the other, they each had a lot more space. We couldn’t work out why that should be, there was no evidence of logging in this area. We were still, just, inside Kakadu National Park.

Thud! A stone thrown up by a passing campervan made us jump but, thank goodness, it didn’t crack the windscreen.

Termites aren’t the only makers of mounds. We saw other mounds on the road itself. Big, big mounds. We decided it could only be buffalo scat. And so much of it.

Rental car eclipsed by a buffalo turd

And so we drove out of the National Park. Bobo, Kakadu: this strange word means ‘see ya later’ in the local Jawoyn language. And yes, we do hope to come back.

A quick pit-stop at Mary River Roadhouse for coffee and bickies. I was headed for the dunny outside when the man cleaning the windows said I should use the nice one inside, this one’s for bus parties.

Shut the door!

Yes, I made sure the door was closed when I’d finished. I was tempted to buy some new protective footwear but they didn’t have my size.

Territory safety boots

Soon after this roadhouse, we saw signs for a golf course. In the middle of nowhere. I would have played a round but the irons were too hot to handle and the woods had been nibbled by termites.

We followed the mile markers most of the way to Pine Creek. PC 90. PC 80 etc. I was hoping to see the one with 31 km to go, because then I could take a photo and sing “PC 31 said ‘we’ve caught a dirty one'”, but they only counted down in tens. And now of course I can’t get Maxwell’s Silver Hammer out of my head, do-doo do-doo do.

I tried to help this butterfly off the hot road surface, but it really didn’t want to leave.

Why did the butterfly keep returning to the road?

We drove parallel to the Ghan railway line for a long time and we talked about it, one of the great train journeys of the world. We’d not booked tickets on the grounds of cost, but again we wondered if that was the right decision?

I’d ridden on The Ghan from Alice Springs to Adelaide over 16 years ago and it was OK, but I’d gone cheap, no sleeper compartment for me. So I slept in my seat and I still remember the disappointment at sunrise when the landscape looked exactly the same as it had before sunset the night before.That, plus they didn’t have any proper food on offer. I believe the service is much better now, but you pay a lot for it too.

We pulled off the road into a ‘picnic area’. We watched galahs and a couple of other, magpie-like birds but mainly, we had just parked on a ginormous anthill.

I walked around for a while and saw evidence of large animals having walked through the long grass. When I realised I was just a few feet away from the creek, I made a hasty retreat.

Flattened, bent grass
The perfect spot for crocodiles to lie in wait for a buffalo

And still no kangaroos or wallabies! But at least the trees aren’t going anywhere and some of them really are archetypal Northern Territory and beautiful.

NT tree not an ent

Today, we did see our first road-train. And the second close behind. By the end of our trip today, we’d seen several. Three trailers is impressive enough, but the drivers with three tankers in tow are amazing.

Just before Katherine, The Ghan train passed us by on the left and then crossed under our road.

The Ghan overtaking us

There was no way we could catch it up, but I thought we could go to the railway station and look at it there.

It’s a weekly service from Darwin to Adelaide, the journey takes 54 hours with a long break in Alice Springs. Weekly. So how lucky were we to see this train? It almost made up for the fact that we’d seen no marsupials on the road!

The Ghan at the station

We caught up with it at the station just as it was departing, so we had no opportunity for a proper close-up look.

Katherine Information Centre provided us with some information. Woolworths provided us with some food. We drove to our new Airbnb, settled in and Liesel did some laundry while I caught up with online stuff because, yippee, we have 4G and wifi as well. Well, partly yippee, but partly, what a pity!

We call it Highway 1 but some signs name it A1.

A1 sign

And it’s just like the A1 at home except… it’s totally different,

We have a microwave so we had a delicious warm meal, thanks, Liesel.

Our host, Toni, is a photographer and a writer. I’ve downloaded her first book, A Sunburnt Childhood, onto my Kindle. She was raised on Killarney Station, which is bigger than Luxembourg. Almost a year ago, we were in Ireland, visiting the original Killarney. That seems a long time ago now!

It’s been a while since the last music update, in which we share the music we’ve been listening to on the road. If you’re not interested in the soundtrack to our travels, then you’ll miss nothing if you stop reading… now.

Connecting my phone to the Bluetooth in the hire car from Darwin was so much more straightforward than in a couple of other vehicles we’ve had. To recap, we’re playing all the tracks on my phone, in alphabetical order by song title. This is beacuse the so-called random shuffle isn’t random: it has its favourites and it refuses to ever play some songs or indeed any songs by some artistes.

We picked up from where we left off: Shine On You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd, the full 18 minute version.

It took a week to reach the end of songs beginning with S, but there were some wonderful juxtapositions on the way.

There are a couple of albums where many of the tracks were yet to appear, even this late in the alphabet. 5 out of the 6 tracks on “Station to Station” by David Bowie for instance. 5 out of the 11 tracks on “Great Expectations” by Tasmin Archer are still further along the alphabet. (Hello, Tasmin!)

We heard three versions of Sound and Vision by David Bowie, all different. There are two versions of Space Oddity, neither by David Bowie, in this, the song’s 50th anniversary year. Space Oddity is the same age as the Open University: wow!

We heard seven songs with ‘Song’ as the first word of the title.

Sleeping in Paris by Rosanne Cash was followed by Tasmin’s Sleeping Satellite.

Something Awesome, Something Good and Something Good to Show You were a fascinating trilogy.

In general, we noticed just how many of David Bowie’s songs start with an S. I think we had four in a row at one point, not necessarily all performed by him.

Neil Diamond and Ian Dury are an unlikely pairing, but where else would you hear Sweet Caroline followed by Sweet Gene Vincent, except on my phone?

And if that’s not enough sweetness, how about Sweet Memories by Rosanne then Sweet Sweet Memories by Paul McCartney?

A big cheer was cheered as the Ts, finally, began, a whole week after we’d picked up the car. Take me Home, Country Roads and Take my Hand, Precious Lord are totally different songs even if the titles have the same rhythm. That’s Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and Ladysmith Black Mambazo respectively.

The Bloke Who Serves the Beer followed The Bewlay Brothers: Slim Dusty followed David Bowie.

And there are many more songs whose title begins with the definite article. I hope you’ve been taking notes because I may ask questions later. That’s all for now, folks!

Kota Bharu (Part 2)

Admin is a fact of life, even in exotic locations. We took a couple of days out, messing about with the phone, booking flights and accommodation for later on, processing a pile of paperwork and discarding most of it. This post completes our stay in Kota Bharu but the next one may be delayed: we have limited wifi, restricted 4G, dodgy electric supply and who knows what other resources may be lacking? But that’s in the future, here is the recent past.

The State Museum’s new exhibit is now open. It’s a time tunnel comparing Kota Bharu old and new, then and now. Unusually for a museum exhibit, this one had more photographs than actual items to look at.

Billion Shopping Mall, then and now

One thing I did like was the old, well-used typewriter, with a very wide carriage.

Very old typewriter

This painting adorned one wall but there was no descriptive label.

An old Malay karaoke, I’m guessing

A couple of men were walking around the museum with a handful of labels but they’d either forgotten the sticky tape, or they really didn’t know which label belonged to which item. I could have told them, obviously, but not while keeping a straight face.

The ploughing equipment was all made from wood. The plough itself, also wood, is pulled by a buffalo.

Ploughing implements

Believe it or not, this small cave is a mock-up of the real Gua Cha, the site of a 10,000 year old settlement. We didn’t know if we were allowed in, but as I approached, the lights came on, and we were totally awed by the 10,000 year old technology.

Gua Cha

We’d missed out on seeing a local, wayang, shadow puppet show, so it was interesting to see examples of the puppets here.

Wayang shadow puppets

Very simple design, you don’t need much detail if you’re just projecting shadows onto the screen.

We walked to a local market and stopped for a coffee in Muhiba Restoran and Kafe. The temperature was 34° but it felt like 41° according to the weather app. I think we’d have guessed a higher number, just comparing it to what we experienced at Uluru.

The market was huge. We liked the fabrics that were on display, all very colourful.

Beautiful designs

We weren’t so keen on the food stalls. The fruit and veg was a bit smelly, the fish stalls a bit stinky. We turned a corner and walked into a wall of stench. We saw the meat being hacked and cut up and I’ve never seen so much blood. We reversed PDQ trying not to let our abject disgust show on our now even more pasty white faces. We didn’t need to walk in and witness an abattoir. Definitely a lowlight of our travels.

But the hanging cloth was pretty, hiding a grubby little alleyway.

Hanging cloths

We walked back to the hotel, still expressing disbelief at each other: how can people even eat meat? How can people bear to work in that sort of place? And a hundred and one other variations on “yuck, that was horrible”.

Very grateful that we didn’t have nightmares.

I woke up early but feeling lethargic and yet itchy for exercise. We had breakfast just in time, before they closed up shop at 10.30. The Kelentan River isn’t that far away and I decided to go for a quick walk in that direction. The temperature was lower than yesterday, and it was overcast, so, slightly less uncomfortable.

Crossing the roads is a fine art. You learn to select the narrower ones, with only two lanes instead of four. One-way streets should be easy, but motorcyclists use the footpaths willy-nilly, so they’re not bothered about going the wrong way up a one-way street either. You still have to look in both directions before crossing your fingers, closing your eyes and running across.

The trouble is, when you open your eyes again, you see this sort of rubbish. Literally.

Rubbish

Plastic drinks bottles are all over the place. It’s very sad to see but as Stephen said the other day, the Malays and the Chinese just don’t care about nature or the environment.

Sorry to say, Kota Bharu isn’t as interesting a town to wander around as some others, at least, not the area close to our hotel. The other day when we drove across the bridge, the river looked like melted milk chocolate. Today, it was more the colour of Caramac, and I can say now that it tasted of neither.

Kelantan River

I looked around and spotted a BBC. No, I am not referring to the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation. There was a big black cloud over there so I took the hint, and began traipsing back to the hotel.

Royal Pier Clock Tower

Some of the street art is fabulous. Here is a depiction of the local martial art, silat, some top spinners and a dragon being trained.

Street art

There’s not a lot of greenery here in Kota Bharu. The small patch of grass I did find to walk on was, let’s say, scratchy. It was like walking on upturned wire brushes. Thank goodness at least I had my sandals on. But I did smile at the attempt to replicate the Batman logo on this decorative arch.

Not really Batman
Clock Tower on Clock Tower Roundabout
Our hotel from beyond the football field

On my return to the hotel, I went to the gym. No, that’s not a typo. I used the hotel’s gym, aiming to complete my 10,000 steps on the treadmill. 2 km, 23 minutes later, mission accomplished. My heart rate increased of course, but never to the point of discomfort: that sense of breathlessness that sometimes occurs at the slightest hint of exercise. I felt I could have carried on all day, but walking on a treadmill is a bit boring, to be honest.

From the treadmill, I could see what we think are the only other two white people in residence right now. He was wearing a one-piece swinsuit, she was wearing a very teeny bikini. Even I know it’s not appropriate in this particular place to flash that much flesh.

The shower was very welcome and I feel much better now, thanks. It’s still warm, even with the AC on in the room, but hopefully the sense of lethargy and weariness has been hit on the head, for now.

We’ve realised that another thing that makes it hard to wander round this town is seeing the poverty. The Grab cab fares are ridiculously low by our standards, and restaurant prices are too. I’ve been tipping, but I’m not sure that’s common here in Malaysia. I hope I’m not giving off vibes, flaunting my wealth: but the alternative is to not tip when I’m expected to, then I’m a stingy westerner.

In the afternoon, we went to the Community Centre for some local entertainment. Our friend Roselan was the MC. In the audience was a young German couple and that’s about it. But the entertainment was very good.

The drumming was fun and they even let Liesel have a go. She’s got rhythm, that girl.

Big drums, big sound

When I first heard the oboe, I thought the player must have a bag of wind, similar to bagpipes, but it seems he was circular breathing, like didgeridoo players do. There was never a pause in the flow of music.

Oboeplayerneverpauses

The local, Kelantanese martial art, silat, is similar to tai chi. During the display, the two players move slowly and with purpose, but as time went on and the music became faster and more insistent, they engaged in combat. It made us jump back when they moved in our direction.

Silat display

A long, long time ago, Sarah and I acquired a board game and I’d forgotten its name. The wooden board had several holes in it, a large one at each end and a series of six or seven smaller ones along each of the long sides. We had small sea-shells as playing pieces. Unfortunately, the instructions weren’t explicit enough, and we could never make up a good game. So how exciting to, finally, be able to play the game called congkak here in Malaysia. I think our (long gone) game was called Sungka, from the Philippines.

A couple of young muslim women showed us how to play, then invited the German girl to take over and later on, I started playing. We used marbles rather than sea-shells but at last, I think I know what I’m doing!

Congkak game

Top spinning is something I thought I’d find easy. Not these tops. They’re wooden, the rope is wound tight, looped round your wrist and you fling the top, it spins for a long time. Hah.

Someone good at spinning tops

Once a top is spinning in the correct area, a second player tries to knock it over with his own top. Hence the name, Striking Tops. I had several attempts but never succeeded in spinning a top, but it was good fun trying.

Someone no good at spinning tops

More fun than the other activity I was invited to join. Dancing. I can’t dance. I can pick up a rhythm, tap my foot, drum on a table, but I can not dance. The video is embarrassing. Everyone else is totally out of step with me.

Mick can’t dance, either

It was a fun afternoon. We looked at the artists painting lovely flowers, but we resisted the temptation to buy.

We managed to see and speak to Martha on this, her third birthday. The theme this year is Unicorns. She is fascinated by them and we can’t wait to see her in real life, dressed up as a unicorn, cuddling a toy unicorn, having riding lessons on a real unicorn.

We made one more trip to the Aeon shopping mall, to buy some supplies for next week. I would have picked eight discs, but we don’t have a record player and the island we’re going to isn’t a desert island. We dined in Vivo. Next, we’ll eat out of petri dishes, in Vitro.

Breakfast at the hotel has been good. I’ve avoided some items because I don’t know what they are. There’s a rice dish, nasi kerabu, which is a gorgeous colour blue. But I didn’t know if it was blueberries (OK) or squid ink (not OK) giving it that colour. So we looked it up.

Nasi kerabu is a Malay rice dish, a type of nasi ulam, in which blue-coloured rice is eaten with dried fish or fried chicken, crackers, pickles and other salads. The blue color of the rice comes from the petals of …. whaaaattt? Who knew such a plant existed. And how lucky that it was found in the first place.

Singapore (Part 1)

We landed at Changi Airport and, for the first time ever, we were going to venture out into the wider city/state. Not the first time for Jyoti though: she’d lived here for a while as a youngster.

Sunset over Singapore, seen from the plane

The taxi took us to our new Airbnb and for such a small island, it seemed to take a really long time. Singapore is just a small red dot of an island off the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. Surely is should only take five minutes to reach anywhere on the island? But, it’s nearly twice the size of the Isle of Wight and that can takes a while to traverse too. I think we (I) were (was) tired from the flight with no sleep, desperate to be horizontal, push up some zzzz.

We finally arrived at our new luxuriously spacious studio apartment. Shirley, our host, met us at the door, and showed us round.

At last, all ready for bed, teeth cleaned, lights out, and what’s this?

Too many lights

It’s like Houston Mission Control over there, all the lights and LEDs from the TV, the wifi router and all the other electronic gallimaufry.

Jyoti makes no bones about the fact that she is here primarily for the food. Liesel goes bananas at the mention of food too. Finding somewhere to eat is as easy as pie. Our first breakfast was Indian: dosa masala. Huge. And a mango lassi. For breakfast.

Jyoti needed to visit the Apple Store in Orchard Road (there’s a long story here).

Jyoti back at Orchard Road

This is one area that she knows well from many years ago. The journey by train was easy enough and a good way to do some quick sight-seeing.

Singapore World Water Day Month
Coffee design: hope it’s not something offensive in Chinese

Following the purchase of probably the most expensive phone in this sector of the galaxy, we went for a walk, shops, lunch, and on to the National Museum of Singapore.

Lunch? For me, the most disappointing meal ever. The picture and description made it look good. Kaya toast is a local favourite. The toast and coconut jam was ok. The boiled eggs were yucky, runny whites, and the tea was too sweet, probably made with condensed milk. The picture on the menu still looks like two halves of a hard-boiled egg to me. The official description is ‘half-boiled’. Just serve up raw eggs and be open about it!

I consoled myself with a pineapple and sour plum smoothie. And later, an apple.

Information Office: leading edge technology here

The Museum was fascinating (and cool), the whole history of Singapura through British colonisation to full independence in 1965 and remarkable economic and cultural success since then.

One of the first maps depicting Cincapura
Rickshaw and old colonial house

In the evening, we went for a walk in the Botanic Gardens. We’re just one degree north of the equator here and I’m not sure the seasons match what we’re used to. The gardens were lovely, but there were very few flowers, not what you would call a colourful place.

Gymnastic acrobat in the bushes

The path was well-made and the only one that had cobbles and bumpy stones was named the “Reflexology Path” and I thought, what a clever bit of marketing.

We entered the area comprising the Singapore Botanic Gardens UNESCO World Heritage Site. I don’t know what’s wrong with the rest of the gardens: it’s not like they’re all weeds or something.

The Evolutuion area was interesting: ammonites embedded in the path, petrified trees and a small homage to Stonehenge.

Fossils on the footpath
Small Stonehenge and tall tree

There’s an area dedicated to plants used for medicinal purposes, another with aromatic plants, and a whole lot more that we didn’t have time, nor legs, to visit.

As we turned one corner, we saw a bird run across the path into the bushes. It wasn’t going to be a kiwi this time, obviously, but we thought it might be something exotic and interesting. As I watched, in the shadow under the bush, I realised the bird was feeding three chicks, clearing back the leaf litter, letting the little ones peck at their own food. Only when she emerged from the shadows did we realise how exciting our find wasn’t.

Chicken (a real one)

I know Jyoti’s only little, but look at the size of these leaves. we know where to go should we need an umbrella.

Small Jyoti, big leaves

I was sad to learn only recently that Dean Ford, the lead singer with Marmalade had died at the end of last year. I think their best song was Reflections of my Life. The lyrics include the following:

The world is a bad place

A bad place, a terrible place to live

Oh, but I don’t wanna die.

Yes, the world can be a pretty scary place. On our travels, we’ve seen signs warning us of earthquakes, tsunamis, snakes, sharks and now, today, this:

Beware of lightning and falling branches

We should have donned our hard hats for this garden, not our flimsy sun hats.

A very bright leaf

Back in the city centre (actually, the whole country seems to be city centre), we visited one of Jyoti’s favourite restaurants from 1947, Komala Vilas.

Komala Vilas

It was very popular, very busy and we had to wait a short while for a table. Dosa for breakfast, and now, dosa for supper. Huge things.

Dosas too big for the table and for the photo

We shared the three but, needless to say, none of us could finish. Trying to eat one-handed is a challenge: you’re not supposed to use your left hand while eating. Unless you’re using a fork, which is a handy get-out clause. I would have liked a knife too, I am British, don’tcha know, but a second implement, if available at all, always seems to be a spoon. The lady at the table next to ours was entertained by us, but in the end, we made eye contact and she smiled. Her husband, though, adept at one-handed eating as he was, was a messy pig. No, not pig, that’s inappropriate. He was a very messy eater.

We were in an area named Little India so it was no surprise to pass by a Chinese Theatre performance on the way back to the station.

Live action Chinese theatre

We returned to our luxuriously spacious studio apartment where we cooled down in the shower and retired to bed. You think my description of the place is exaggerated? Nope.

Luxuriously Spacious Studio Apartment – Official

We’d walked over ten miles today, far too much for Liesel, so we agreed to take it easy the next day.