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We wanted to celebrate our 10 year anniversary with a holiday we'd never forget - we reckon 6 months of travelling the world (from trekking on the Inca Trail and through the Amazon to riding an elephant in Thailand) should just about cover it!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Christmas in Sydney

As we drove into Sydney we both felt the frisson of excitement that tends to accompany a trip to a big city - the sense that anything can happen...and probably will.
The only thorn in our side was the flower-power campervan, which was, quite literally, cramping our style.
We also hadn't taken into account the fact that the nearest campsite was about 13km's from the city - I don't know what we'd expected..a trailer park nestled conveniently alongside the Opera House perhaps?
It took us a while to ascertain that the campsite was in fact INSIDE the Lane Cove National Park, which was a huge forest full of wildlife. A novelty for ooh, about 10 minutes, until you start getting eaten alive by mozzies and the cockatoos and parrots start squawking at the top of their little lungs. Strange and exotic birds were dive-bombing the van and a couple of turkeys gobbled around the wheels.
To be honest we were fed up with staying on a campsite after 2 weeks in the midi-van, it was all a bit Britney by this point and we were in desperate need of some luxury. I was beginning to resemble Courtney Love after a bender - all smudged lipstick and matted hair. We checked online and managed to find a gorgeous 4 star hotel in Darling Harbour for only 80 bucks (40 quid) a night from 24th-28th December so booked it up and decided to ditch the van a few days early.What a relief! This saved our backs, as well as our marriage. A 3ft square box is no place to spend your holidays, let me tell you.I've seen coffins bigger than that campervan.We still had a week until we could check into the hotel though...
The thought of the luxury hotel to come cheered us up considerably so we didn't complain too much about the planes, trains and automobiles we had to take to get into the city later that night to meet up with Tariq, who we hadn't seen since Patagonia in Argentina.
Meeting in King's Cross several hours of grooming and preening later, we decided to check out The Ivy, one of the coolest bars in town. A converted hotel, it's now a 3-floor chic bar, complete with rooftop pool for VIP's. Tariq managed to blag his way up there and came back raving about how it was like something out of "MTV Cribs man", all perma-tanned waifs and their stockbroker boyfriends.
We drank mojito's, champagne and vodka redbulls as we people-watched and danced to the ever-so-slightly-off-key pop music.
It was like being back in London(only hotter and the crowd may have been a teensy bit better-dressed here) ..it felt like coming home.
We slipped into life in Sydney like a duck to water - this is the first place in Oz I can actually imagine myself living. Melbourne may have also been a close contender, had it not been for the never-ending torrential rain.
At 4am we decided to call it a day and Liam and I traipsed back to the trailer park on the other side of town.
When we awoke the next morning the campervan smelt like a brewery, as all the toxins from the previous night escaped from our pores but could not escape the confines of the tiny van.
Fumigating the place, we attempted to focus,gave up, had a shower and decided that that was quite enough activity for one day. We then spent the rest of the day by the pool (this is the only pool that I've been to where there's more ducks than people in it) and allowed our bodies to recover sufficiently from the previous night's antics so that we could do it all again the following night...
On Saturday morning we got ourselves spruced up for a big night, having decided that it was far too much hassle to go all the way into the city to shop and then come all the way back later to get ready to go out. "I'll just put another layer of make-up on and take a spare top", I shrugged. Anyone who knows us well knows that Saturday nights often last until Sunday anyway, so I'm no stranger to stamina.
Having been knocked back from a swanky bar called The Establishment the previous evening as Liam was wearing trainers, our first stop was to the Queen Victoria Building for the shops to buy Liam some shoes. In London only the most pretentious bars make you wear shoes but over here there's a door-whore everywhere you go, checking that your face fits. "Face police" holding clipboards eye you up and down before flicking you in as if they were swatting a fly.
Luckily, our faces were ok, it was just the footwear that was the problem. And not just for Liam...to my horror and amazement we were told that girls cannot wear sandals or high-heeled open-toed shoes into the clubs. My patent leather platforms! What a ridiculous rule. No-one can believe it when the girls are all turned away, put on their boyfriends trainers and then swan in. I kid you not!! Girls everywhere turn up dressed up to the nines, only to be told their Gucci heels won't cut it. The smarmy smile is soon wiped from their faces as they hurry home to put closed-in shoes on, or the most resourceful/desperate ones wait for their boyfriends to walk in, then get them to "borrow" a pair of shoes from friends inside and sneak them out for their girlfriend to put on and get past the fag-hag on the door. Then said girlfriend will slyly change back into her shoes once safely in the darkness of the club.We even saw girls putting their boyfriend's black socks on over their sandals to try and conceal their toes. Ludicrous.
There are soo many English and Irish here and a real sense of camaraderie, so when we were chatting about our plight to the English shopworker selling the shoes to Liam he gave us a hefty discount and sent us happily on our way.
Later, we took a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly to meet up with yet another of Liam's ex-workmates. Again, that British friendliness came into play and we met a Scottish girl called Briony on the ferry who overheard our phonecall and offered to take us to the Harbard Hotel where we were due to meet Anthony and Virginia (or Pants and Vag as I drunkenly called them later, the first time I'd ever met them..hmm). Briony was so sweet that she even took our number and later texted us all the ferry times back into the city. Would that REALLY happen in London? Maybe..
After an afternoon and evening on the sauce with Anthony and Virginia and their mates we headed back into town to meet Tariq and hit the clubs.
That's when the serious partying began..The Ivy, The Columbian, so many bars and so little time..the onto a club called Arq. Ok, so it was a gay club with a few too many lasers but the music was rocking and so were we so it seemed like the obvious thing to do.
8am came and went..another bar..we met so many cool people. One of the guys we met was an English ex-boyband star called Scott Bradley, a good-looking dude from Hertford who emigrated 6 years ago once he'd finished his contract touring around Europe.
He lived with his flatmate Steve and they invited some of us back to their apartment, a lovely flat in Double Bay, overlooking the harbour.
He was such a lovely guy and said we could stay at their place for the rest of our time in Sydney. "Don't go back to that horrible caravan park," he said with disdain as he tucked me into his bed, which had gorgeous linen, naturally. (Well, he's gay so I'd expect nothing less).
His neighbours were using the communal barbie area for a christmas barbeque.."I've got a demon guacamole in the fridge", he trilled. What a gay. What a guy.
As it happened, we took Scott up on his offer and ended up staying at his place until Tuesday afternoon. We didn'ty even go back to the van to get changed, he was the perfect host, providing us with board shorts and t-shirts and cooking us breakfast on the barbie.
Having given up on all that boyband stuff (he also sang backing vocals for Take That), he is now a writer and editor for Men's Health magazine. If you're bored google Scott Bradley on YouTube and you can catch his version of "Zoom". Camp but cool, we love him.
We could have stayed all week, but by Tuesday I felt we'd milked it a little and should go back to the dreaded van.
By Wednesday morning we'd had enough of it again but by now it was time to check and hit our 4-star badboy anyway.
We'd been craving the luxury of a private shower for weeks now..on the campsite there are at least 10 other people taking a shower at the same time and I was sick of gagging whilst listening to other women hawking up greenies on the other side of a flimsy division.
Checking into the Great Southern Hotel in Darling Harbour was bliss - an air-conditioned, bright room with a sleek bathroom and huge plasma screen. Yippeee!! We bounced on the bed with delight before looking out at the breathtaking views of the city.
That day (Christmas Eve), we wandered around the city before checking out Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife World. The koalas were my absolute favourites, I could have watched them for hours as they munched their eucalyptus leaves, which take them so much effort to digest that they are drowsy and sleep for 20 hours per day.Such cute little darlings!
That evening Scott and Steve had invited us to a dinner party at their place, and we all ate a delicious meal of roast lamb with all the trimmings and drank copious amounts of wine whilst we watched the lights from the yachts glittering in the reflection of the water. Such a fantastic location, so relaxing with the sound of the water lapping in the harbour. A perfect evening. BUT..you know us, we couldn't leave it there, and Scott, Liam and I met up with Tariq and we hit the clubs again, after a few drinks at The Argyll in the Rocks.
Christmas morning and we've acquired some more friends and are in yet another club, this one called Taxi. We should have been the ones calling a taxi, but hey, it's Christmas, we said as we ordered another round of drinks.
So far we'd seen a lot of Sydney..well, a lot of clubs anyway. Our tans had faded a bit from the lack of sunlight and we were in serious need of some vitamin D..can't you get rickets from lack of daylight??
So we headed to a barbie at one of Scott's friend's house and actually saw the sun for the first time in days. After sucking up our quota of sunshine we continued onto Bondi..along with a few million other Brits...
All that sunshine was going to our heads so we decided we needed another nightclub. Bondi didn't disappoint and soon we were dancing away again in a little club called Sahnia along the promenade of Bondi beach. This place was absolutely going off, with a lively DJ and a pumping house beat.
Dragging ourselves home at the end of the night we concluded that it hadn't felt like Chrsitmas at all. What it HAD felt like was a fantastic party, however, so we certainly couldn't complain. We'd been partying for days on end and it wasn't over yet...
Well, there's no rest for the wicked and we were up bright and early on Boxing Day to meet Tariq and some of the guys from his hostel to go to the races. International Racing Day is an annual event where everyone gets dressed up and goes to the horse racing and anyone with an international passport gets in for free. Being travellers, we sniffed out this bargain and were there like a shot, dressed in our Sunday best and ready to win a buck or two. And that's what we did. We won 4 out of 6 races, which kept us in champers and food all day so wasn't half bad. The sun shone and it was a really great day. We had a nightcap at a bar in the Rocks afterwards and went to bed, ready for another party the next day.
Unfortunately the barbie was rained off the next day but perhaps that was a good thing as our livers really needed a break. Instead, we dosed up on milk thistle to regenerate our liver cells and went to the cinema to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which Brad Pitt plays a baby born aged 80 who then goes backwards, ending life as a child.
It's a poignant film about the speed with which time passes, how we cannot escape the inevitable ageing process. "Nothing lasts", peruses Pitt. How true. Even more reason to enjoy every minute. We left the cinema knowing that this trip is the best possible thing we could be doing.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


Back in Melbourne after our great ocean road debacle, we decided to cheer ourselves up with a night out. It was still raining (naturally) so we got a taxi into town. After a few wines in a nice little bar we decided to go for a nice Ruby Murray, seeing as there was an Indian just down the road and it was still tipping it down. The various e-numbers in the brightly-coloured madras sauces perked us up and we were back on form again in no time, ready to tackle what evil weather conditions Mother Nature could throw at us.
Melbourne is a fantastic city and we'd had a great time, it was just a shame the weather was so appalling whilst we were there.
Back in the van the next morning, we took out our maps and planned our route to Sydney.The original plan had been to drive along the Pacific highway around the coastline, but seeing at it wasn't exactly beach weather we decided to go inland instead.
After a nighttime stopover in Lake's Entrance we decided to continue on to Canberra and see what was going down. One good thing about having the campervan is that you get to really see the country and all the wildlife in it's natural habitat. So far we've seen loads of kangaroos springing about, as well as a huge wombat (ok so it was dead by the roadside but I still got to take a look at it) and even a weird-looking porcupine thing with a long snout. I chucked it a carrot but it wasn't up for it. Funny that, seeing as there's carrots all over the place in the outback.Duh.
And the birds...they are beautiful. (The feathered variety - I haven't changed orientation, yet). Cockatiels, parrots, galahs, to name but a few of the magnificent creatures we've seen on our travels in Oz.
Arriving in Canberra, the sun was shining brightly...hallelujah! We decided to stay a few days for that reason alone. There's also plenty to see here, and we whiled away half a day at the Darwin Exhibition,finding out about the theory of evolution. Growing up in Bexley, I'd already figured we were all descended from apes anyway, but it was good to finally get clarification.
We've also visited the NASA Deep Space Station and various other interesting sites. At the moment I'm sitting in the National Library, having had a tip-off that you can use the internet for free here. We'd been paying a skanking 10 bucks an hour in some places so we're lapping up the free access. It's amazing what little things give you pleasure when you're a traveller!
This afternoon we'll set off for the bit I've been looking forward to for ages now...SYDNEY...Yay!!!

Monday, 15 December 2008

The Cramper-van

Arriving at Hippie Camper's HQ, we were shocked to discover that all their campervans were built for Lilliputions.They were tiny matchboxes on wheels painted with lairy graphics all over the exterior. Ours had huge daisies painted onto a multi-coloured background with peace signs on it.
"Are they having a laugh", we asked each other nervously as we inspected the cramped interior. After parting with 800 pounds for the privilege of driving around in a bright orange sardine tin, we set off on the next part of our journey. We had 3 weeks left in Australia so had planned to drive from Melbourne around the coast via The Great Ocean Road, before heading back to Melbourne in time for the weekend. Then we would drive from Melbourne to Sydney and possibly up to Queensland, time-permitting.
Our van is a tiny Mitsubishi, comprising a bed which is supposed to come apart and become a table and seating area. One problem - you can't actually sit up in it. That's how small it is. We tried, and found we had to tilt our heads at right angles to be able to get our bums on the seat.Not the best position for eating your dinner, seeing as you can't actually swallow with your head bent at that angle. Unless you're a snake or something.To cook, you have to open the tailgate and there is a little cool-box style fridge and a single-ring portable gas stove.This is all good if the weather is fine as you have to cook outside. We hadn't banked on the mother of all rainstorms wreaking her vengeance on us for the next 3 days and nights...

Obviously, the first thing I insisted on doing once we had transport was to drive down to Ramsay Street, of Neighbours fame, to check out Harold Bishop's house,seeing as it is filmed just down the road in a Melbourne suburb. The street is actually called Pin Oak Rd, and to my dismay it was blocked off as they were filming.Liam was appalled that I wanted to stake out the Neighbours set so waited at a safe distance in the campervan, although seeing as it's bright orange with flowers all over it he was hardly incognito.There were another couple of English girls hovering around nearby also hoping for a glimpse of Dr Karl so I had a chat with them and we managed to take a few pics of "the street" using our zoom lenses. Saddos!
The first evening with the crampervan we found a campsite near to Melbourne city centre and managed to cobble together a meal of sorts, which was some fresh pasta and a jar of Dolmio.
The next day we went into the city and wandered around the funky, boho region of Brunswick. This area had loads of cool little boutiques selling unusual items and I had a field day rummaging around all the vintage shops. I thought I showed great restraint in not buying every darling pair of brightly-coloured stillies (buying impractical shoes is a dirty little habit of mine), and after ferreting around in the bargain bins hoping for a reduced pair of designer trotters I appeased my appetite with a cute little pair of earrings with swarovski crystals instead.Ahh, there's nothing like a bit of retail therapy.
We walked around the city, taking in the sights and stopping for the odd beer, before visiting an art gallery and a few museums.
A nice day, but that evening all our problems began when it started to rain. No, that's an understatement (and we all know I don't like THOSE)..it absolutely poured down. We hid in the van, horizontally of course, seeing as we couldn't actually fit in upright and waited for it to ease off so we could cook our dinner. And waited. And waited. The rain continued to hammer down all through the night and into the next day. Did I mention that I've also got the haircut from hell? After having it cut short in New Zealand I found it hard to get it to stay like the hairdresser had done and got impatient with it one day for sticking up. I know it's hard to imagine me being impatient ;-) , but I literally went berserk with a pair of nail scissors and chopped the offending chunk of hair clean off. Some of you may remember a similar incident several years ago when I got angry with my hair and cut myself a ridiculous fringe, approximately 2cm long. I'd had a few drinks and wondered what a fringe would look like, but then cut it wonky so had to tidy it up.It got shorter and shorter...
So my hair is now a "choppy" bob to say the least.To add insult to injury I then got Liam (!) to cut the back of it and it's just gone downhill from there really.
Anyway, I digress.So torrential rain, coupled with the frizzy haircut from hell, meant that I was not the happiest of bunnies, and Liam wasn't too impressed being cooped up in a confined space whilst the heavens opened outside either.
When we awoke the rain hadn't relented one little bit, but we'd planned to drive along the Great Ocean Rd, which was built by returning soldiers after WW2 in memory of their fallen comrades. This road is carved out of the rock and runs alongside some achingly beautiful beaches, which we'd been told we mustn't miss.
Determined, we set off, hoping that the weather would improve by the time we got there. It didn't. Liam could hardly see out of the windscreen to drive, the visibility was that bad. The next few days were spent driving along this great stretch of coastal road looking at the lovely beaches through our steamed-up van windows in the pouring rain. I kid ye not, this rainstorm was of biblical proportions. Even Noah would have been bricking it over what to do on this one. We needed a friggin' reinforced ark, not a tiny campervan. Have I mentioned how small it was??
Needless to say, those few days were not good.We got soaked even trying to run to the shower block at the campsite, pack-a-mac on and flip-flops sinking into the mud. Not a good look. My hair stuck up at right angles and we were wearing our fleeces 24/7 cos it was cold too. I'm actually mentally scarred from the experience, and doubt I'll be camping too often after this trip. In total, we'd have lived out of a caravan for almost 6 weeks, and we're beginning to feel the strain. I honestly don't know how pikeys cope.


After leaving tranquil Alice Springs, quite possibly one of the hottest places on Earth - well definitely the hottest place I've ever been to in my life, we were eager for a bit of cool club action, so were chomping at the bit to get to Melbourne. Alice had been lovely and relaxing for a few days, but as everyone tends to use it as a base for their outback tours there is a constant stream of tourists passing through and we didn't really have a chance to meet anyone after the end of our tour so were keen to meet some new faces and have a bit of a party.
Our hostel was right in the centre of the city and our first impressions were all good - buzzing atmosphere, swanky bars and clubs - a clean,cool nerve centre of activity.
We hurridly changed into our best togs (it was only 5pm but like I said, we were up for a big one) and went down to the hostel bar for a warm-up drink. After sinking a couple of cheap vinos we headed to Chapel Street, where we'd been reliably informed it was "all going to go off." Our spirits were dampened down slightly by the astronomical price of a couple of Mojitos (40 bucks,the equivalent of twenty quid), and we were sharply reminded that although we wanted to party like we would in London, we were a couple of travellers who are essentially unemployed until next March. Downer. Pushing that thought aside, we ploughed into the bevvies and found ourselves at The Social, a cool pre-club bar down the road. Chatting to a camp Scottish expat called Jason and his Aussie female friend, we soon got the party started and before we knew it we were winding and grinding on the dancefloor, limbs akimbo. The girl (can't remember her name) soon excused herself, realising it was about to get messy, yet Jason couldn't get enough of it. It's funny how when you're a bit worse for wear you just seem to be transported from bar to bar to club, without having actually physically moved anywhere, but that's exactly what happened and we were mysteriously teleported to a club called Revolver. Madness ensued. An English DJ called Greg Wilson (no I'd never heard of him either but the Aussies worshipped the ground he stomped on) was mixing up the tunes to a raucous crowd and before we knew it it was 8am.The party was showing no sign of stopping but I was feeling a little jaded by this point and in need of a powernap, so a lovely English guy called Adam suggested a few of us go back to his pad down the road. I'm not sure if the offer extended until Sunday night, but that's how long we stayed for anyway, sinking beers and talking nonsense.
Suddenly, at about 5.30pm. Liam and I remembered that we'd booked tickets to a show and dinner combo thingy at the Dracula comedy theatre in the city.A night of scary, spooky fun, it had promised. Hmmm, well we did resemble a couple of zombies after our 24hr bender, so we should fit right in, we reasoned as we hurridly jumped into a taxi, holding our breath so the taxi driver wouldn't be over the legal driving limit from the alcohol fumes. Smelling like we'd been drinking meths, we rocked up at the theatre doors, to be greeted by a guy dressed up as Dracula. I think he thought we were taking the piss, seeing as the dark circles under our eyes made it look like we'd dressed up just like him for the occasion.
Once inside we were taken on a ghost train ride (just what you need, being jolted about and covered in fake cobwebs after a full night's session on the vodka) and then shown to our seats. Unfortunately for them, a young Aussie couple had chosen the exact same night and table for a romantic night out, the first since the birth of their young son.God knows what they thought when they were greeted by a couple of partied-out Brits,still wearing the clothes from the previous night.Seriously though, I don't think they cottoned on and probably just thought we were a couple of narcoleptics. The "comedy" show was pretty lame, all black lipstick and unfunny vampire jokes - we took it in turns to have little microsleeps between sketches. I dozed off against the wall a few times between courses, almost falling akip into my steak at one point. Well, it was dark in there and I don't think anyone noticed, except perhaps the Aussie girl I was mid-conversation with at the time.
Back at the ranch we slept like babies after our mammoth night-day-night session, but had to be up bright and early to pick up the campervan the next morning. That's when our problems REALLY began...

Alice, Alice, who the *%!? is Alice?

It seems there is a lot of rivalry between the various states in Australia - the people of western Australia were most derogatory about the Northern Territory:
" Alice Springs - why on Earth would ya wanna go there?" they asked. "It's all just red dirt." We have encountered similar hostilities from the people of the Northern Territory towards those of say Sydney, who said things like, "Sydney, it's awful. Just like London - overpopulated and overrated. Now, where are you two from...?" Hmmm, London actually. Awkward silences all round...
To be honest, they weren't far wrong. Alice Springs IS surrounded by red dirt. Wolf Creek is just down the road. Proper outback. It's also home to the Macdonnell Ranges (mountains), is the springboard for tours to Uluru and King's Canyon and is home to a large population of Aboriginal people.Oh, and it's pretty dangerous, with a high crime rate, especially at night, when you are advised to take a taxi everywhere. It was a tad unnerving to see uniformed police taking crime reports at our hostel most evenings.
Our hostel wasn't luxurious, but it was functional, with 2 swimming pools and air-con in the room which was an absolute neccessity in the 40-plus degree heat. It turned out there had been a mistake with our booking,so the receptionist gave us a toothy grin and said she'd upgrade us to the Deluxe Suite. There we were, thinking Lady Luck was on our side, until she gave us the key and we let ourselves into the "suite", which turned out to be a normal room but with a set of bunkbeds in the corner, presumably for when the honeymooners visiting Alice Springs want to bring their 2 kids along??
We spent a few days lying by the pool, our retinas burning as we attempted to read our books in the dazzling sunshine and having to cool off in the pool every 20 minutes or so. Even the breeze was boiling - it felt like someone was blasting you with the hottest setting on a hairdryer about an inch away from your body. However our 30+ sunscreen was a force to be reckoned with and we managed to escape with only minor burns. By the time we get home we're gonna look like the old bird in "There's something about Mary". You know the one, skin like an old handbag and a puckered mouth like a cat's arse.
After a few days chillaxing we started to get antsy, so did what anyone would do when it's 45 degrees outside...we visited the Desert National Park. After only an hour or two of exploring we were literally crawling through the desert towards the cafe, hoping it wasn't just a mirage.It was an interesting day, talking to Aboriginal guides about their traditions and ancestors, but the heat meant we had the attention span of a goldfish and were itching to get back by the pool.
There wasn't much else going on in Alice, apart from being accosted by Aborigines hanging off the security gates of the hostel trying to cadge cigarettes and alcohol (I swear they could hear a ring pull on a can of beer from a few kilometres away..must be all that hunting and stuff..) so by the time it was the day of our flight to Melbourne we were going stir-crazy, desperate for a big night out...

Monday, 1 December 2008

The Outback, King's Canyon and Ayers Rock

The flight to Alice Springs passed without event (which for Qantus seems to be a major achievement and blog-worthy if not newspaper-worthy), with us arriving at our hostel late afternoon. Having had only the briefest of catnaps the previous night due to a great clubscene in Perth we crashed out immediately, ready for our 4am alarm the next morning, when we would be collected by Adventure Tours for our 2-day camping trip to the Outback.
Annoyingly we were sharing a bathroom with 2 hyperactive German birds who ensured that we only got 20 winks (as opposed to our usual 40) each all night, before we then woke them up through the wafer thin walls with the shrill ringing of our alarm.
We were collected at 4.45am by our tour guide Ben and driven for 5 hours deep into the outback to King's Canyon. There were 15 in our group, comprising several Northeners, a few Swiss girls, an American guy, a Thai guy and a few Japanese. We hadn't been expecting to have to make our own food (the tour wasn't cheap at 400 bucks each), but it quickly became clear that "interactive" meant "cook your own bloody meals" and we were left to reheat some manky chicken burgers and make a salad at a campsite en-route. This task was made harder for the fact that there were a million flies on us (think Ethiopian TV appeals) plus several hundred long-legged beetles all vying for our attention. This, coupled with the fact that most of the boys had never even opened a tin before, let alone cooked a meal (those northern mums have got a lot to answer for, pampering their boys like that)meant that this wasn't as much fun as it sounds.
After an early lunch our tour guide did what any sane tour guide would have done at midday...he took us on a 3.5hr hike up to King's Canyon. Well, it was only 38 degrees. No problem, eh? The walk was pretty strenuous and we were all panting like bull mastifs after about 2 minutes. The only reason I was hot-footing it (literally) uphill was that the Japanese guy behind me was wretching violently, threatening to projectile vomit his greasy chicken burger at the back of my head.
He soon had to turn back, and it wasn't long before we were all dropping like flies. Unfortunately the flies were the only things NOT dropping, and we were all going crazy with the effort of swatting them away from our faces.
The King's Canyon was well worthe all the effort and the views were amazing...red earth for as far as the eye can see, contrasted with the bluest sky imaginable. I tried to burn the image of that sky onto my memory, to be conjured up on a grey, drizzly day back in London when we get home.
We cooled off at a watering hole - amazingly there are quite a few of these, even though there is hardly any rain in the Northern Territory. The porous rock sucks up the water from underground and stores it in veins inside the rock, hence there are never any water restrictions in this dry, arid part of the world, yet in Melbourne for example hosepipe bans are commonplace. Weirdly the rivers here are all underground yet in Alice Springs they have an annual boatrace. It's the only boatrace in the world conducted on a dry river bed - entrants have to run along the river bed carrying their boat, with the winner being the one who runs fastest to the finish line!
That evening we arrived hot and exhausted at camp, covered in the red dust from the earth which had mingled with our factor 30.
But there was no rest for the wicked as we had to prepare our dinner whilst the guide conveniently slipped off to get fuel for the bus. This became a common practise of his at mealtimes. Liam and Tom ended up taking control of the food, and we emptied various boxes of unidentified meats onto the barbie which later turned out to be kangeroo and very tasty at that.
After dinner and a few Tooheys we all settled down into our "swags" (canvas sleeping bags) and slept under the stars. Well, that was the plan but there was not much sleeping going on for quite some time as we all struggled to get used to the sound of the dingoes howling and various rustling noises coming from nearby bushes. We were warned that there may be snakes and given instructions on what to do if we saw any, and after the many species of insects that we'd seen that day we were all to aware that a whole range of critters were only inches away from our heads that rested on the red ground. One guy called Richard didn't have a torch, so resorted to taking pictures in the darkness using the flash as a light source, swivelling from side to side as he attempted to capture a shot of whatever it was that was buzzing nearby, taking more snaps than your average Jap. The poor guy was absolutely terrified but I had to laugh as he kept jumping and the flash kept going off on his camera. Steve came back from the toilets absolutely freaking out that he'd just watched a huge spider munching a massive beatle as he went for a wee...and so the hysteria continued.
After about 4 hours sleep we were woken up to a breakfast of soggy cornflakes at 3.45am, before setting off to watch the sun rise over Ayers Rock.
As we approached Uluru (aboriginal name for Ayers Rock) we were all amazed by the sight...no not the luminosity of the sun rising over this massive sandstone monolith, but the hundreds of other sightseers who had beaten us to it.Damn those Japanese tourists!
It was really good to watch the sun come up and change the rock through various shades of orange and red. The rock has been given back to the indigenous people as part of the reassimilation programme by the government to build bridges between the whites and aborigines, so the rightful owners now get 25% of all revenue from the rock. The rock is sacred and the Anangu people ask that tourists do not climb the rock, since it is only permitted for elders and initiated men of a certain status. Most tourists ignore this though and there are ropes for climbing, although it is often forbidden to climb anyway due to safety reasons (if it is above 36 degrees or too windy). This day was one of the rare days that it was open for climbing, so 6 of us from the group set off to attempt the climb. I am sorry to say that I got about 15foot up the vertical face of Uluru before sliding around in my gripless Adidas and going back down. Liam and a few others did manage it however, before the entrance was closed due to the temperature reaching 36 degrees at only 8am!!
Having lost the rest of the group I walked around part of the base of the rock before meeting the others after their 350 metre climb to the top.
At this point we were all flagging despite it only being around 11am, so we visited Kata Tjuta in a daze, all attempting to focus on the tour guide but struggling due to the 40 degree heat and multitude of flies.By this point I had been flapping my Space fan so furiously for the past 2 days that it actually broke!!
It had been an amazing few days, but by now the heat was taking it's toll so Ben took us to a nearby swimming pool where we plunged our sizzling bodies into the water to cool down, before climbing back into the bus for the gruelling 5hr journey back to Alice Springs, made worse by Ben's terrible taste in music. When the birdie song came on Liam finally snapped and went up the front of the bus to have a serious word. He then got dragged into compiling a quiz for the happy campers, and ended up on the mic as the new quizmaster general.
The quiz passed the time nicely as the barren land of the outback whizzed past, and we all had a quick shower back at our hostels before agreeing to meet up at the infamous Bojangles in the centre of town for a kangaroo burger to celebrate getting another great experience under our belts. After dinner and a few drinks we were done-in, plus the DJ at the bar/club didn't have much better taste in music than our dear old tour guide (old being the operative word, hence the lack of electro on his playlist) so we headed back to Toddy's for a much-needed sleep, this time in a bed rather than on the ground in the Outback....


Arriving in Perth after a record 3 flights and 30 hours just from Christchurch, we were more than a little jaded. We headed to our hostel and immediately discovered just how costly Oz was going to be...it was 60 dollars (30 quid) in a taxi, and not that far...yikes. This place is as expensive as London, if not more so in some areas.Apparently Western Australia is even more expensive than Sydney, but we shall see. Not good for a couple of cheapskate backpackers on a budget. The hostel was pretty grotty - ironically it wasn't a patch on the ones in Bolivia and at 100 dollars a night for a double room with paint peeling off the walls and filthy communal showers it was around 5 times more expensive.
After unpacking (by this I mean emptying the contents of our backpacks onto the bed and sifting through until we found a few garments that passed the sniff test) we decided to check out Scarborough Beach, which was just a stone's throw away. well, a stone's throw if you happen to be Fatima Whitbread, that is.
Luckily Scarborough in Perth is nothing like Scarborough in the UK, with rolling waves and lovely soft yellow sand. After walking up and down the beach a few times, all the while bemoaning our lack of funds due to the pants exchange rate and the rip-off bank charges that are rapidly accruing, we spotted an English pub on the beachfront and decided to drown our sorrows with a quick pint (Liam) and wine (me). As is usually the case they slipped down just a little too easily and before we knew it we were downing shots with 3 Aussie miners who were on their week off, as they worked in 2-week shift patterns.
As the afternoon wore on and the Tooheys flowed as freely as the conversation we were joined by a couple of German girls and before we knew it a full-blown party was in full swing. We were feeling a little peckish so the boys invited us all to a barbie at their mates house.
We all bundled into the back of their Ute (a "yoot" as it's pronounced, is a little truck - remember the references to these in Neighbours?!). It was set up as a bed in the back complete with duvet and pillows, but we didn't ask too many questions and all piled in and sped off (overlooking the fact that the driver had had a skinfull) to the offie (or "liquor store" as it's known here) to pick up a few "tinnies".
The host of the house party seemed a little surprised to see their mates rocking up with the whole pub's worth of tourists in tow but with typical Aussie hospitality just said "nah, you're right", when I timidly (ok so it may not have been that timid seeing as I'd just sunk my weight in vino) asked if they minded us crashing their party.
After a few steaks and yet more wine all our money worries dissipated and we had a great night, before being dropped off back at our hostel by the same driver, this time barely able to walk, which only bothered me when I thought about it the next day.As it was a Monday night there was noone on the roads so luckily we made it back unscathed.
The next morning we awoke fuzzy-headed and I reached for my rucksack for the Nurofen. But where was my rucksack? Oh, never mind, it only contains beach stuff I thought as I began looking for it and realising I may have left it somewhere the previous night. Then, in a moment of horror, it dawned on me that I had actually been carrying our passports, phones, driving license, camera etc as I hadn't emptied the daysack since we got off the plane that morning. Cue several hours of panic until we managed to get hold of the Aussie guys (thank God we exchanged numbers to arrange another night out) who kindly reunited us with the bag, which I'd left in the back of the ute as we all scrambled out of it the night before. Phew! Note to self..don't take out all your worldy goods when about to drink aforementioned self into a stupor with a bunch of complete strangers.Duh! Anyone would think I was a real blonde or something...
We spent some time sunbathing in Scarborough before checking out and moving to another hostel, this time in the centre of Perth. We decided to take in some culture, so walked around the city and checked out a few museums and exhibitions.
The Museum of Western Australia was so interesting that we ended up spending most of the day there, reading about the history and culture of WA, from the wildlife (lots more stuffed animal pics to come folks) to the Aboriginal people.
Having seen lots of Aborigines wandering around the city barefoot and dishevelled, drinking bottles of whisky and begging, we had taken all that we heard about them as gospel. Only when we visited the museum and read about the true story of their history and the appalling way that they had been treated by the white Australians and the government did we begin to comprehend the real history.
From the arrival of the first white man in Australia, when they used the Aborigines to help them find water etc before taking over their land, to the present day, the Aborigines have been badly mistreated. One of the most shocking aspects is from 1910 onwards, the government would routinely and systematically remove the Aboriginal children from their families and place them in missions or homes, in order to try to remove all traces of their culture and to westernize them. As they were seen as an inferior race, the idea was to educate them and bring them up as white Australians, often by having them adopted by white aussies. The parents were not given any say in the matter and the government even went so far as to say that as they felt that as Aborigines were less civilised people, " the mothers will quickly forget the child." Obviously this was not the case, yet they were never allowed to return to their families and were segregated and mistreated in care. This "cleansing" of the race was tantamount to genocide, and amazingly this practise continued for at least 60 years, well into the 1970's. These children became known as the "Stolen Generation", and we have met lots of indigenous people in the last week or so who told us that they were children of this time and the same happened to them, and that by the time they found out the true identities of their real parents they were long since dead, particularly as Aboriginals have a life expectancy of only 60 years, even today.
Upon finding out all this information it seemed hardly surprising to us that there is an alcohol and unemployment problem amongst these people, and that they often find it hard to integrate into society. However, many local aussies that we have spoken to say that the goevernment has now apologised to the Aboriginals and set up an official public holiday called a Sorry Day, and that they are giving compensation to those affected. We have come across animosity from white australians towards the indigenous people, who say that they get handouts, are lazy, and that the racism works the other way, in that Aboriginals are now given better opportunites and are selected for jobs, uni's etc over the whites as the government is scared to be seen as descriminating as they attempt to rebuild the relationship between them. It's hard to know exactly what the truth is, but has been a real eye-opener so far.

In the evening we went out to The Flying Scotsman with a girl called Sam who lives in Perth who had worked at Addison Lee with Liam. A crazy gay guy called Simon took a liking to me and proceded to entertain us for the rest of the night with his camp manner and funny stories. We later found out that he was high on speed, which is probably why he was firing off jokes like a rattle-gun and babbling incessantly. Amusing anyway.I did wonder as to why he was foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog but turned a blind eye to his "clubber's crust" as he was pure comedy gold.
As we were due to fly out erly on Saturday morning we decided not to go crazy on Friday night, so that day we took a riverboat cruise down the Swan river to Fremantle and wandered around the markets and had a relaxed pub lunch.We visited Fremantle Prison, our second prison visit on this trip (bit weird we know), although unlike San Pedro in Bolivia this one was no longer in use. It is, however, supposed to be haunted, as lots of prisoners (mostly British convicts) were executed there. I must admit it did feel a little creepy as we went into the room where they were hung,and it was very cold in there for a boiling summer's day.
As the evening rolled around we felt like going out after all(quelle surprise), so donned our gladrags and partied the night away at Geisha Club, rolling in at 5am for a quick catnap before our flight to Alice Springs...