A Travellerspoint blog

Australia

Jabirou - Escarpment flight - Bowali - boat trip - Darwin

This is an old journal, from our trip around the world in 2002, taken from the diary I wrote at the time. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, they are scans of prints taken with a compact camera and images from the scrap book I made afterwards.

semi-overcast 41 °C
View Around the World for our Silver Wedding 2002 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I must have needed the sleep, I dozed for 12 hours! I do feel better for it this morning, so that makes it all worthwhile. Breakfast is not included today, but we end up eating in the hotel as there is nothing else in the vicinity. The food is very average and overpriced. Typical Holiday Inn.

large_RTW______404.jpg

Our first activity today is an optional flight over the escarpment. Barry initially assumes that no-one wants to participate, there is only us and another couple (Helen and Bob) left on his trip, but we soon put him right. We always want to take any pleasure flight available. We like flying. This flight is moderately spectacular, with varied scenery of wetlands, escarpment, a rock bridge, and an ugly Uranium mine.

large_RTW______401.jpg

large_RTW______402.jpg

large_RTW______405.jpg

large_RTW______406.jpg

large_RTW______407.jpg

large_RTW______408.jpg

large_RTW______409.jpg

large_RTW______410.jpg

large_RTW______411.jpg

The pilot suggests leaving the windows open in the plane to keep the temperature down, but it makes it exceedingly windy in the back seat where I am. The pen on a string around my neck flies off as does the note book out of my pocket. My face tingles for a very long time afterwards, a most peculiar sensation.

large_RTW______403.jpg

large_RTW______412.jpg

Our stop at the Bowali Cultural Centre is somewhat forgettable. The discomfort of the heat, the aggravation of the flies, the pain in my chest and the inconvenience of my tummy upset all add to increase my disinterest. There are stuffed animals and stories of aboriginal culture but it all goes in one ear and out the other.

Of greater interest is Ubirr Rock where we climb the escarpment to see many ancient rock paintings. The setting is dramatic and we are impressed by the knowledge of the local aborigine ranger.

large_RTW______413.jpg

large_RTW______414.jpg

large_RTW______415.jpg

large_RTW______416.jpg

large_RTW______417.jpg

large_RTW______418.jpg

The attitude of the Australian aborigines fluctuates from one extreme to the other. Some, like the ones we encounter here, are very proud of their heritage and spend their time showing it off to travellers, whereas others squander their lives and valuable legacy by spending their days in a drunken stupor. There is something in their bodily make-up that means they cannot tolerate large amounts of alcohol, hence the number of drunken aborigines seen around the area and the growing problem of alcoholism amongst these people. It’s such a shame.

Lunch is a traditional Australian Barbecue. There is a choice of buffalo burgers, chicken satay or barramundi. David and I are the only ones who choose the chicken, and I must say it does not taste right. The texture is all wrong and it feels very greasy. The salad is nice though. With another dose of diarrhoea, I try out the long drop ‘dunny’ across the road. Not a pleasant experience!

Today’s cruise is more cultural than a wildlife experience, with two aboriginal guides explaining about the local traditions including fishing and hunting.

large_RTW______421.jpg

large_RTW______424.jpg

large_RTW______419.jpg

large_RTW______420.jpg

The only exiting wildlife spotting is a few crocodiles and a white cockatoo. While we go ashore a very large croc is spotted in the water nearby, and when we notice its previous track on land between us and the boat, a general unease develops. Helen rushes back to the boat and the rest of us are not far behind. Bob left his glasses on the jetty and lost his head net on the boat. He would get on my nerves after a while – just as well we are only with them for two days.

large_RTW______422.jpg

large_RTW______423.jpg

large_RTW______425.jpg

large_RTW______426.jpg

In Jabirou we pick up eight more people who have been out on a day trip and head back to Darwin along the straight and boring highway. A great opportunity to sleep. I wake up for the giant termite mounds; they are very imposing at 20 ft high.

large_RTW______427.jpg

The last stop is for a view of the sunset at Window on the Wetlands Visitors Centre. The building is very modern with a well laid out display and a pleasant veranda for drinks and nibbles. What a civilised way to end the day, although the sunset is rather an anticlimax.

large_RTW______428.jpg

large_RTW______429.jpg

It transpires that other people on the coach were going to Bali too and had to rearrange their travel schedules following the terrorist bomb there the week before we left the UK.

Back in Darwin, we check into the Mirambeena Resort again before venturing out on town for dinner.

large_RTW______431.jpg

large_RTW______432.jpg

large_RTW______430.jpg

Walking a couple of blocks we recognise a couple from the coach in a restaurant window, but we carry on to a particular road David had read contains many good restaurants. He is right. We choose a bar / restaurant called Rorke’s Drift where there are available seats outside on the pavement. To David’s delight they serve cider on tap and we enjoy a couple of pints while perusing the menu. We order another cider and some food - steak for David and a Caesar Salad for me. David thoroughly enjoys watching the young girls walking past on their way to a night out, dressed to the nines in next to nothing. Young men are cruising the streets in their high performance cars looking for the aforementioned babes. Unfortunately an inebriated aboriginal woman becomes very raucous and is shouting and swearing while swaying to the music outside the restaurant. Sitting outside is lovely, it’s hot but there is a slight breeze making it bearable. That is until the rain appears. We swiftly move to a table under the awning while we enjoy another couple of pints of cider. The shower intensifies, it’s absolutely torrential for a while, but luckily it has ceased by the time we walk back to the hotel.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:54 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Darwin - Kakadu - Yellow Waters - Nourlangie - Jabirou

This is an old journal, from our trip around the world in 2002, taken from the diary I wrote at the time. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, they are scans of prints taken with a compact camera and images from the scrap book I made afterwards.

sunny 43 °C
View Around the World for our Silver Wedding 2002 on Grete Howard's travel map.

large_RTW______382.jpg

Today it’s another early start with a 06:05 pick-up. Whilst the rest of this mammoth trip has been tailor made, here in Darwin we are joining a group tour. In the last few days, David and I have both expressed apprehension about the size of the group, and when a 50-seater coach turns up, our worst fears are confirmed. However, it actually turns out that there are only eight people on the trip today, half of which are returning to Darwin tonight on another coach, so tomorrow there will only be four of us. What a pleasant surprise, and being able to spread out in the bus does have its advantages.

.
The road out of Darwin is straight, with boring countryside alongside it; mainly palms and tree plantations. Although I love learning about trivia concerning the places we pass, I find Barry’s voice so droning and comforting that I give up the struggle to keep awake. I am beginning to feel travel weary, and thinking that perhaps we should have included a couple of rest days in between all these travel days. We haven’t had any relaxation since Easter Islands, which is nearly two weeks ago. The chest infection is making me feel very low and run down, and I have severe diarrhoea. It doesn’t help that this is the hottest season here in Darwin with relentless discomfort from the exceptionally high humidity. At present the temperature is well into the 40 °C’s with 86% humidity. Everything feels too much trouble today; I would sooner curl up and sleep than see the sights.

Today's lack of photographs is a direct result of me feeling so rubbish. Anything and everything is too much trouble! Including taking photos.

At the breakfast stop I drag myself out of the bus but feel enlivened by a delicious muffin. The restaurant is rustic in the extreme, with bench seats of logs and hides and lots of timber and tree trunks and other outback paraphernalia. I return to the coach to continue my slumber until we arrive at the Warridjan Cultural Centre. We find many similarities with the PNG culture in the Aborigine customs, such as pidgin style English, ancestral worship and the ‘pay back’ traditions. If a member of one clan has injured or killed a person from another clan, the wronged person’s family will insist on retribution in the form of money, gifts and sometimes violent reprisals.

At the centre we overhear two English girls discussing their forthcoming swim in the nearby Sandy Billabong. Barry is horrified and tells us about a German tourist on an Overland style truck who also went swimming in the billabong recently after being reassured by her guide that it was perfectly safe: ‘the aborigines have been swimming here for years’. Unfortunately she was grabbed by a crocodile and despite efforts to save her, she died from her injuries. This area is known for its killer crocs – I don’t think I would go swimming anywhere around here! I even heard a story about a crocodile that somehow found its way to the public pool in Jabirou, the only sizable town around here.

Barry has talked a lot about bush tucker, he even showed a video in the bus about it, and now is our chance to try some. The trees around the centre are crawling with ants, and these are particularly delicious ones. We pick up an ant, hold him by his little head and bite his bum off. Tasty. I never thought I’d be eating live ants on this trip! They taste of lime and the flavour lingers for a long time afterwards. Apparently the locals drop them in their gin and tonic for added zest.

For the Yellow Waters Wetlands Cruise there are only the eight of us so we can spread out on the boat.

large_RTW______392.jpg

large_RTW______387.jpg

With the moving vessel the flies are not quite as troublesome, although every time we slow down they are back with a vengeance. I’m glad I brought my head net along, but even that gets in the way when I want to take photographs or a sip of water.

large_RTW______379.jpg

There are hundreds of birds along the side of the river, mainly magpie geese. They are congregating awaiting migration north, hence the great numbers.

large_RTW______383.jpg

large_RTW______388.jpg

We also see eagles, ibis, darters, pelicans, storks as well as jacanas walking on the water lilies.

large_RTW______384.jpg

large_RTW______385.jpg

large_RTW______386.jpg

large_RTW______390.jpg

large_RTW______391.jpg

.

Crocodiles abound in this area and we do see several, mostly just with their eyes emerging above the water. I decide I want to photograph Miles with the ubiquitous croc in the background and perch him on the railing of the boat. He has had dozens of great photo opportunities on this trip, I’m sure the Bebbingtons will be pleased with his collection when we return. They wanted pictures to display in their shop and they’ve got plenty to choose from now. As I compose the picture, a gust of wind grabs Miles and tosses him overboard. I watch helplessly as he floats off down the river towards the crocodile. Reaching down and retrieving him is totally out of the question, the crocodile would have my arm before I had a chance to realise what was happening. I am totally devastated; Miles has been such a great travelling companion and a terrific ice-breaker in groups. How am I going to tell the Bebbingtons? The incident plays on my mind all the rest of the boat trip and I find I am not enjoying myself as much as I would otherwise have done. I feel so guilty for not looking after him properly. Was I careless? Would I have paid more attention if I had been feeling OK? I will never forgive myself for this lapse of concentration and its dire consequences. I have put a final ending to the whole concept of Miles’ world travels.

large_RTW______389.jpg

.

We lunch in Cooinda at another rustic visitors centre complete with a camp site. It’s very Australian. The salad buffet is first-rate, but my stomach certainly isn’t. I take a large mouthful of what I assume is hummous, but to my horror it turns out to be mustard. Yuk. I’m sure that does not help my tummy trouble one little bit. At least I can have a siesta in the coach after lunch, while the video shows a film about the making and playing of a didgeridoo. That’s enough to send anyone to sleep.

The temperature appears hotter than ever by the time we reach Nourlangie. It’s hot, damn hot! The flies also seem to be more aggressive and numerous, the head net is an absolute must here. Nourlangie is a sacred Aborigine site full of ancient rock paintings, and there is a pleasant little decked path along the side of the rock.

.

large_RTW______395.jpg

David and a couple of others decide to hike to the top of the rock for the view, but I decline the offer and amble back to the bus along the flat and easy trail. The paintings are under a cliff overhang and so protected from the elements. That partly describes how they have retained their colour and form for 46,000 years, the other explanation is that the stratum emits a chemical when it rains which acts as a varnish over the paint. The rock itself is very colourful with stripes of orange, white and black and it looms mysteriously from the surrounding plain.

large_RTW______394.jpg

large_RTW______393.jpg

The paintings depict skeletal human figures such as Namarrgon, the lightning man, as well as kangaroos and other animals. Under the board walk a wallaby with a joey are sheltering from the blazing sun. I don’t blame them; it really is unbelievably uncomfortably hot.

large_RTW______396.jpg

It’s a short drive to Jabirou and our hotel for the night, the Gagudju Crocodile Hotel. Reported to be the world’s only crocodile-shaped hotel, it looks better from the air in the post cards than it does from the ground.

large_RTW______399.jpg

large_RTW______398.jpg
David with a friend in the hotel lobby

It’s part of the Holiday Inn chain and although comfortable enough, is rather boring. Our room is by the croc’s rear right leg and from the room we have a good view of the hotel’s swimming pool which is situated in the ‘belly’ of the animal.

large_RTW______397.jpg

I feel so dreadfully unwell with terrible tummy cramps as well as the ongoing chest infection that I am unable to benefit from the hotel’s facilities. As soon as we have settled into the room, I just collapse in bed leaving David to watch Australian TV channels. I stay in bed, snoozing listlessly until the next morning.

large_RTW______400.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 13:05 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Cairns (hot air ballooning) - Gove - Darwin

This is an old journal, from our trip around the world in 2002, taken from the diary I wrote at the time. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, they are scans of prints taken with a compact camera and images from the scrap book I made afterwards.


View Around the World for our Silver Wedding 2002 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I never sleep very well when I know I have to get up early; it’s the worry of oversleeping. We have a pick-up time of 04:25 this morning, but we do begin to think there has been some mix-up when nobody turns up by 04:45. We are just about to crawl back into bed when he finally arrives, apparently another couple didn’t wake up on time and he had to wait for them. Eventually he gave up, decided to call for us and then go back for the other couple. I’m afraid I would have just left them behind if they didn’t show up within half an hour of being called. It’s just as well I don’t run this outfit!

large_Ballooning.jpg

The journey to the launch site takes over an hour, and the balloons (there are five of them) are already inflated by the time we arrive. They are just waiting for us, and as soon as we climb on board the basket, they’re off.

large_RTW______362.jpg

large_RTW______360.jpg

large_RTW______361.jpg

The basket is the largest I’ve ever seen, and already looks completely full, but we do find some space and clamber in. There are 16 people in the basket including Sven, the pilot, a grumpy Yankee, a nice English couple and a chatty Japanese young lad.

large_RTW______367.jpg

large_RTW______370.jpg
Pilot Sven with Miles

large_RTW______366.jpg

large_RTW______365.jpg
Grumpy American to the left of me

From the balloon we spot a kangaroo running across the bush and many birds just waking up and taking off. We fly mainly across farmland, at heights of up to 1400 ft, and there isn’t a great deal to see below.

large_RTW______368.jpg

large_RTW______364.jpg

large_RTW______363.jpg

David is absolutely delighted to find that his video is in full working order again this morning.

.

It’s a nice sunny day, and all too soon we come in to land at a local airstrip. The basket drags for some distance before coming to a halt in the long dry grass. We all join in to deflate the balloon and pack it into its bag before continuing to the rest rooms for cleaning up. It’s surprising how dirty you get rolling up a balloon.

large_RTW______371.jpg

The breakfast is astounding, by far the best breakfast we’ve ever had following a balloon flight. With so many people to feed, it’s served in the Tjapukai Visitors’ Centre, and it’s a buffet: egg, crispy bacon, tomatoes, sausages, the best fried potatoes ever, every tropical fruit imaginable, bread, a selection of Japanese dishes, fruit juices and of course champagne. After the presentation of certificates, we head back into town.

large_RTW______372.jpg

large_RTW______373.jpg

One of the reasons we booked this particular apartment here in Cairns was to be able to wash all our clothes. Along the way, things have been rinsed out or sent to the laundry in the hotels, but now we have a chance to make sure everything is washed properly. We put a load in last night when we went to bed and again this morning before going out, and we still have more dirties to go in while we go shopping.

The receptionist gives us a lift to a huge shopping mall, not unlike Cribbs Causeway. She urges me to seek medical assistance for my cough, as she feels convinced I have bronchitis. The mall has a well-stocked chemist where I can get some cough mixture; I will try that first and reassess the situation when I get to Darwin. We are also able to stock up on Immodium, something that we both need at the moment. In the Post Office we find post cards, stamps and a cute little toy kangaroo in a sleeping bag. My mum collects soft toys so she’ll love the kangaroo; and the sleeping bag would fit Miles perfectly! None of the electronic shops in the mall have a cleaning tape for David’s video, so he’ll just have to carry on praying that it continues to work properly.

With such a magnificent apartment, we don’t feel we want to go out to eat lunch, so we buy a few ingredients in the supermarket for a light meal of pastrami rolls. After devouring the rolls, washing and ironing, we check out the Hotmail Account at a nearby Internet café, before catching up on much-needed sleep. The flight is late afternoon and we have paid extra to keep the apartment until departure time, so there is no need to rush and we enjoy the facilities of the complex.

large_RTW______375.jpg

large_RTW______377.jpg

large_RTW______378.jpg

At check in we sail straight through, we seem to have been lucky at all the airports so far. The flight to Darwin stops off at a small mining town called Gove. With a population of a mere 3000, it does appear to be the back of beyond – a real Australian Outback town. I am fading fast with the heat, my chest infection and the tummy upset and can’t wait to get to an air-conditioned hotel. We have to de-plane at Gove and the unpretentious airport ‘lounge’ doesn’t offer much comfort. I feel a trifle better after a sugary drink, and sleep for the remainder of the journey to Darwin, where a limousine whisks us the 15 minutes to the hotel. What a difference to last night’s arrival welcome in Cairns. The Mirambeena Resort has a 24-hour reception, a bar that’s open and people milling about. I like Darwin already!

Posted by Grete Howard 05:45 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Mount Hagen - Port Moresby - Cairns

This is an old journal, from our trip around the world in 2002, taken from the diary I wrote at the time. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, they are scans of prints taken with a compact camera and images from the scrap book I made afterwards.


View Around the World for our Silver Wedding 2002 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Despite the clamour of the jungle wildlife in the night, I slept like a log for over nine hours. I must have needed it. My cough is still bad this morning, and the view from our balcony is veiled in mist today.

After a fine breakfast of egg and bacon, Keith takes us back to town in his Toyota Landcruiser, where we meet the Trans Niugini reps in the Highlander Hotel. The hotel looks boring, modern and sterile compared to the delightful lodge where we were accommodated at last night. The Americans have stayed at the Highlander last night, and somehow their guide Sharon manages to get in front of us in the queue for check-in at the airport. The Americans are shielded from real life in another private room, away from the hustle and bustle of the departure lounge full of locals, while Sharon checks the whole group in. It takes forever.

Watching the airport activities is enormously mesmerizing. A helicopter carries cargo in a net hanging below, obviously dropping it off somewhere fairly close before returning for another two journeys. An outsized helicopter – Vladivostoc Air – arrives full of military personnel. Is there trouble brewing in the area? On three separate occasions since arriving in Mount Hagen, we have been asked about the security situation in Tari, being told we are brave for going there as the residents wouldn’t travel to that region at this time. Was it really that bad? Was it imprudent to visit Tari? Did we just not realise what was going on? Could we really be so callow not to detect unrest going on all around us? We’ll never know, but all is well that ends well, and the experience was amazing.

One of the passengers on this plane is a white missionary, being seen off by all his cronies. As soon as we start boarding, they all crowd around him to say their goodbyes, blocking the exit for all other passengers. Eventually we have to ask them to move; otherwise we might still be there! The flight is not full but there is an overwhelming smell of body odour on board. The whole cabin is stifling with such a repulsive stink it makes the entire flight quite unbearable. I try not to breathe through my nose but still feel rather nauseous by the time we get to Port Moresby.

Steven and Howard are waiting for us, with some very sad news. While we were away in Tari, Steven’s son was eaten by a crocodile whilst swimming. He died on Wednesday but his body was not found until Friday and they buried him on Saturday. The saddest thing was that Steven was not allowed to travel to his home town to attend the funeral of his only son as the agency is too busy with tourists. We feel especially upset by the news as we both talked to his son on the telephone while trying to contact Steven.

After a lunch at the Gateway Motel consisting of a rather good pizza, we are taken on a sightseeing tour of Port Moresby. First stop is the commercial break: PNG Arts, an enormous craft ‘supermarket’ full of mostly wood carvings.

large_RTW______353.jpg

large_RTW______354.jpg

large_RTW______355.jpg

I had especially requested that we call in this place as the only souvenir I want from this trip is a carved mask from Papua New Guinea. I have already purchased one fairly crude mask in Mount Hagen, but on closer inspection I found several bore holes, indicating an infestation. This means that the customs officials in Australia will undoubtedly confiscate it!

large_Tari_Mask.jpg

Therefore, I chose a mask in PNG Arts which I can have shipped home at a reasonable cost, bypassing the Australian customs completely.

large_Port_Moresby_Mask.jpg

large_Mask_Collection.jpg
Our mask collection

David’s video is playing up, it seems to have developed a ‘damp’ problem after all the rain in the last few days. It chews up the tape and we go back to the hotel to collect another. The new tape does not appear to improve or solve the problem, so now David’s camera is not working at all. Although it is not a total disaster at this late stage – all the main highlights have already taken place; it would be very disappointing indeed to miss out on filming the last couple of weeks of the trip. There is not much we can do at this stage though.

Most of the sightseeing here in Port Moresby is the ‘drive by’ variety as we are somewhat short of time. First we drive by the Parliament building which is really spectacular with unusually modern architecture.

We make time for a short walking tour of the National Museum. I read an article on the Internet before leaving home that the museum does not have enough cash to remain open for much longer unless it can get enough donations to pay for the electricity and rent. It would be such a shame as it is very well laid out, not too big and pretty interesting. All the local tribes are represented with their culture, dress and a short photographic history.

large_RTW______349.jpg

In the centre courtyard is a collection of birds and animals, including hornbills, a tree kangaroo and a cassowary.

large_RTW______351.jpg
Tree kangaroo

large_RTW______350.jpg
Blyth's Hornhill

We also rush through the Botanical Gardens, mainly to see the animals in cages there. Pythons, rabbits, tree kangaroos, birds of paradise and cassowaries are all there. The orchids are regrettably not in bloom.

large_RTW______356.jpg
Cassowary

We continue our ‘drive by’ with a journey past the dump (is this where we have the first date?) and some grimy and dusty slum areas to reach the water’s edge. Many people live in rickety wooden shacks on stilts over the water, reached by wooden walkways from the shore. This whole area was burned down during the Second World War and has since been rebuilt to the same dilapidated standard. Offshore is the wrecked hull of a ship.

large_RTW______352.jpg

Port Moresby city centre is full of modern high rise buildings and you really could be anywhere in the world, apart from the fact that we saw no other white faces at all. It’s not a big city, and it can all be seen from a look-out point on a hill. On one side of the promontory is Port Moresby and on the other a beautiful and deserted beach. On the rocks we find a WWII bunker and former arsenal store.

We follow the shoreline down to the beach and back to the airport for check in. Howard leaves us in the departure hall, the check in is open, but nothing else – I can’t even buy a bottle of water. Eventually they open up the Duty Free shop, which is where you purchase your Departure Tax from, but they don’t sell water or any other soft drinks. So many people enquire about water that in the end they send a man over to the kiosk to open up.

As suspected, there is a long queue for quarantine on arrival in Cairns. Most people have something to declare and when it is my turn I show them the mask. The official asks us how long we are staying in Australia and when we tell him five days, he comments on the bore holes but lets us, and the mask, through. He suggests we place the mask in the freezer for two weeks when we get home to kill any insects present. I am very surprised, but also pleased of course, that he lets the mask into the country. I will now have two masks – providing the carving we had shipped actually arrives in the UK.

The transfer driver is waiting outside arrivals, by now he is getting concerned that we are not on the plane.

The Regency Palms Apartments look awfully unwelcoming, albeit that we are arriving nearer midnight. There is no reception as such as we have to telephone the night porter to get her to open up for us. The apartment itself makes up for any bad feeling on arrival – it’s absolutely fabulous! The kitchen is every bit as well equipped as mine at home: washing machine, tumble drier, iron, ironing board, dish washer, oven, hob, fridge, freezer, microwave and lots of pots, pans and crockery.

large_RTW______359.jpg

The lounge / diner / kitchen are all open plan in an L-shape with a lovely little balcony overlooking the swimming pool. Two bedrooms and a bathroom complete the layout of the apartment – I’m sure there are flats in London half this size.

large_RTW______357.jpg

large_RTW______358.jpg

It’s a great shame we are not staying longer! We feel we have to make the most of such fine facilities, so we walk to the garage shop to stock up on snacks and mixers, and have a drink before going to bed.

Posted by Grete Howard 04:12 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Auckland - Sydney: Bridge Climb and dinner with friends

This is an old journal, from our trip around the world in 2002, taken from the diary I wrote at the time. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, they are scans of prints taken with a compact camera and images from the scrap book I made afterwards.


View Around the World for our Silver Wedding 2002 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Somewhere, in the middle of the South Pacific, we lost a day. Never to be seen. RIP Tuesday 5th November 2002.

large_International_Date_Line_1.gif

We eventually arrive in Auckland, where we can stretch our legs in the airport. I spend the entire two hour connection walking about the terminal. We buy and write a couple of post cards to my mother and John, our travel agent. We always prepare pre-printed labels with the addresses of the post card recipients, but this trip has proved rather difficult. For John and my parents we have planned one card from each place, a total of 16 each. Some people who are as keen on travelling as us, will receive one from each country; while most are only getting one. I am one of those sad individuals who actually enjoy writing post cards. If I am having a good time, I love to share that with my friends and family. I know for a fact that a lot of our friends love getting post cards from our travels. Marie for instance, displays them around the mirror in her hall and basks in telling her visitors where her friend Grete has been. We also find an internet café in the terminal but it accepts only New Zealand coins.

After the 13 hour flight to get this here from Santiago, the three hour journey to Sydney seems just like a skip and a hop. I am astonished (but absolutely delighted) when our luggage appears on the conveyor belt. As we are carrying some food items, we are obliged to proceed through the Red Channel to declare our stuff to Quarantine. It’s all OK and we are allowed to carry on out to the waiting buses. We are to pick up our driver by McDonalds and I am tempted to have something to eat while we wait for other passengers. I am not attracted to McDonalds, but the smoothie / yoghurt stand next door. I keep thinking that the others would turn up the moment I get to the front of the queue, so I pass on the opportunity this time. There are seven of us in the minibus, all the others are Americans. One girl is here to run a half-marathon, must be the Gay Games that are on here in Sydney at the moment. I have never seen so much luggage as one of the other couples have with them, four enormous suitcases and they are only here for three weeks!

The moment we arrive in the room of the All Seasons Menzies Hotel, we ring Housekeeping. The laundry list states that same-day-service is available for garments collected before 10:00, after 11:00 a premium is charged if you would like your clothes returned the same day. What happens between 10:00 and 11:00? The time is now 10:20 and I negotiate a deal with the housekeeper. She arrives as we are still stripping off and has to wait outside for a couple of minutes. This is one of the few times that I would have liked a slightly slower service.

large_RTW______238.jpg

We take a full English breakfast in a gourmet sandwich place down a side street, the first egg and bacon we’ve had since leaving Canada. It’s good. Our visit here in Australia is just a very brief one this time, we’re off to Papua New Guinea tomorrow morning. Trans Niugini, our agents for that part of the journey, advised us to ensure we have changed our money to Kina prior to arrival in PNG as there isn’t much time to do so in Port Moresby on arrival. They claim that Kina is readily available at all departure points, such as Sydney. We experience the total opposite. After visiting six banks / exchange bureaux, we finally find a bank who offers some assistance. The cashier feels sure that one of the other branches may have some and phones through to arrange for us to pick up the New Guinean currency from them. Fortunately they are just around the corner – in fact as we passed the office on the way to the restaurant for breakfast - I suggested calling in there, but at the time we decided that our stomachs’ needs were greater.

We have a Bridge Climb booked for 14:30 this afternoon, but feel that it would be more convenient to do it this morning, so we walk along there. We are unable to change the time, so are now at a little bit of a loss as to what to do for the rest of the morning. We call in a pub for a drink – it goes against the grain to have just two Diet Cokes – we know we will be breathalysed prior to being allowed to commence the Bridge Climb. The view of the Opera House from the pub roof is fantastic, but there is a cool wind so we don’t linger.

large_RTW______239.jpg

One coke is enough. From the nearby park we can watch the climbers through the binoculars. It looks awfully steep and I have a long and drawn out deliberation with David as to whether I want to take part or not. My feeling is that I am not fit enough to climb all those steps and I don’t want to hold everybody else up. I am also concerned that the Bridge Suit you have to wear will not be large enough for me. How embarrassing if it isn’t. I constantly change my mind before deciding that I really can’t face the humiliation of finding out – too late – that I am too unfit to take part. David persuades me to have a go, and I am getting increasingly nervous as time goes on. Having all this spare time doesn’t help.

large_RTW______240.jpg

We kill a bit more time by having a drink in the café at the office. The whole business is very well organised and appears to run very smoothly. There are photos of previous clients taking part, mostly people who are famous for one reason or another. One lady climbed as part of her 100th birthday present. I feel a coward for wanting to cry off. We chat to another English couple in the café who have already been up. She is also on the large side and assures me that it isn’t as difficult that it looks, there are plenty of stops along the way and that if she can do it anybody can as she considers herself extremely unfit. I feel better but still apprehensive.

large_RTW______245.jpg

We are called in to watch the safety video before being kitted out in the Bridge Suit. They are very discreet and I feel quite comfortable. The suit is more than big enough; indeed the sleeves are at least four inches too long and have to be rolled up; so are the legs which lie heaped around my ankles. All items of jewellery have to come off: watches, earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Sunglasses are attached to a hook at the back of the suit with a cord as is the supplied cap. We are given hankies on an elastic band to be worn around the wrist and tucked into your sleeve. Everything has been thought of. We are attached to a wire which runs the length of the walk by a cord fastened to a pulley system (nicknamed a puppy) fixed to your body by a belt with hoops. It’s all very technical and safety is their main priority. The guide is called Robert and the 12 people in our group are a mixed bunch: two gays from America, two sisters from the UK with their two sons and an American mum and dad visiting a grown-up daughter who lives here in Sydney. The last one is a lone rocker from London covered in tattoos and metal rings through every available facial feature. I’m surprised he wasn’t asked to remove them all. We can all communicate through a radio with an earpiece and microphone system, although David’s radio goes a little haywire for a while.

large_RTW______242.jpg

large_RTW______243.jpg

To begin with we walk along the road to the initial pylon. So far so good. Just a few steps to reach the first level but I don’t like the long walk to the main pylon over narrow planks with the road visible below us through the metalwork. The ladders to reach the next step is said to be the worst part of the entire climb, and there are other staff there to help you up. They’re not that bad, and if it doesn’t get any worse I can cope well. The next bit is a little messy, climbing over and under girders which obviously couldn’t be moved to make access for the walkways.

large_RTW______247.jpg

The rest of it looks like it’s been tailor made for the Bridge Climb, although Robert tells us that the organisers spent eight years preparing for this from conception to opening. What a fantastic idea in the first place! We finally join the actual arch where the steps are low and the walkways wide. It is an easy and almost comfortable climb, stopping as we go to look at various points of interest. I am told there are 1165 steps in total, but it really doesn’t appear to be that many. All the while Robert is giving us a running commentary and at times stopping to take photographs of us in a group and individually. I would have loved to have taken the camera and the video with me; this is such an incredible experience. Of course, nothing loose is allowed up on the bridge and that includes cameras and videos.

large_RTW______250.jpg

large_RTW______249.jpg

Sydney Harbour Bridge is the largest steel arch in the world at 134m high, and we are here right at the very top. The view is amazing. We get a 360° panorama of Sydney spread out below at the beautiful mouth of the harbour complete with square riggers, police boats and pleasure craft. Behind the main city is the modern banking district in glass and steel high rise and of course, right in the heart, the ever-present Opera House. We look straight down on the road across the bridge which is very impressive with its eight lanes and I can feel the vibrations from the traffic. I am so glad I did it; I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It is much easier to do the climbing than I imagined and I am not experiencing vertigo up here on the actual arch.

large_RTW______246.jpg

large_RTW______248.jpg

Going down is hard on the knees, but swift and undemanding. I am not happy with the ladders on the way down, especially the stepping off one and on to the other. Scary! Once we reach the control centre, we undress and watch the photos Robert took on a TV screen. Digital cameras have revolutionised this aspect of commercial photography. It’s instant, easy and so satisfying to see yourself on screen as soon as you get back. As part of the package price, we get one photo free each but we choose to purchase another four for the album back home.

large_RTW______251.jpg

large_RTW______244.jpg

There is a mad rush to get back to the hotel and ready to go out tonight. We have agreed to meet up with our old friends Jenny and David at 18:30, and we get back to the room at 18:10. Not much time for us both to have a shower and get changed. The laundry is not back yet, and I am told it is not due until 18:30. Too late for our night out – I was going to wear something clean tonight, but I’ll have to think of something else to put on. It actually does arrive in plenty of time, so I can go to the ball in fresh clothes.

large_RTW______241.jpg

We meet Jenny and David in the hotel lobby. They live outside Sydney and are also staying in the Menzies tonight in order to meet up with us. We haven’t seen them for ten years, but it seems like only yesterday. As they are fellow travellers, we never run out of anything to talk about. I must admit I was rather concerned that the conversation would dry up and embarrassing silences ensue. It doesn’t happen, we chat non-stop. After a couple of Tooeys in the local pub, we walk down to the ‘Rocks’ harbour front area where Jenny has booked a table at a posh Italian Restaurant.

large_RTW______252.jpg

It has a view of the Opera House in one direction and the Harbour Bridge in the other. I can’t believe that only a couple of hours ago we were up there. Jenny has made the climb, but David suffered a stroke a few years ago and has experienced dizziness ever since and thence wouldn’t be allowed to do it. The restaurant has a seating area outside, sunken below the pedestrianised zone, and although it is mild, we are glad of the patio heaters. Large rectangular plates look good, but the food is minimalist and fairly unexciting. The two Davids and Jenny all have steak, and I order seafood gnocci. It is unreal to be sitting here with Jenny and David after ten years (we didn’t see them all the years they lived in London) with this unbelievable view. We can see the climbers with their torches on the Bridge, and hundreds of birds circle above, all eerily lit by the light beams. We are even blessed with a fireworks display over the harbour. This really has to be the most remarkable occasion. By coincidence, last time we came to Sydney, we saw fireworks over the harbour too.

large_Sydney_Ope..se_by_Night.jpg

We haven’t had any sleep for over 45 hours now, and it is beginning to tell. My ankles feel very sore and I discover to my horror that I have a terrible allergic reaction. There is a very angry red ‘stripe’ around my ankle which is stinging terribly. This area became sunburnt in Easter Island, but it had recovered, however it must have reacted to the washing powder left in the socks or something.

large_RTW______254.jpg

I have also developed a sore throat, and with the lack of sleep I am beginning to wane a little. Jenny and David are very understanding as they have both experienced the extreme tiredness following a long flight and the change of time zones. After a quick drink in the hotel bar we feel so drained it’s bed by 11pm for us.

Posted by Grete Howard 02:49 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 5) Page [1]