Archive for the ‘Oz’ Category

Thanks for waiting, apologies it’s taken nearly three weeks to get the latest chapter out, finding the motivation to write what is possibly the final blog has been hard to come by. Actually, I’ve been trying to get Megan to do this one but she’s having none of it, apparently my standard is too high, well that’s what I’ve told myself. Much like all enjoyable holidays it’s finished far too quickly and looking back on the trip at the moment it’s nothing but a blur . This might have something to do with the fact that we are currently slightly hysterical after four separate flights, three different airlines, two bus journeys, a boat ride and 27 coffees in the space of thirty hours. We are on our way home.

So let’s fill you in on what’s been going on: We last left each other exiting Cape York if I recall, then we drove to Brisbane, shipped the car and flew to Malaysia. So until next time folks!

Even sleep deprived I’m still hilarious, no? Actually, quite a lot took place and did you know, now this is bit of a side track but bear with me, did you know that it’s such a small world that randomly on a little campsite, literally in the middle of nowhere I met up with Paul and his girlfriend Annie (I hope to god that’s her name, I’m sorry if it’s not, but I’m really bad with names, aren’t I Maggie? I mean Megan.) You know Paul though, no not that Paul, Exeter Paul! Well, for those of you who don’t know Paul (how could you not?) he used to live with my brother in Exeter. No not like that, not as a ‘life partner’, as a university house mate. Just recently I had accepted his friend request on ‘the Facebook’, and thank goodness I did as that might have been an embarrassing and awkward moment. Then out of the blue this hairy traveler looking chap starts shouting my name, as I said on a campsite in the middle of nowhere and suddenly I met up with Paul after a ten year hiatus! Small world. We had a great night chatting and catching up, listening to their travel plans. It made us quite jealous, as our trip was ending and theirs was just beginning.

 

From this chance meeting we drove onto Cairns and camped out there for a week, enjoying the sunshine and ice cream coffees. As we hadn’t up to that point bought much in the way of souvenirs we went a bit crazy and have now got quite a lot of art packed into the car. Some of the local stuff at the markets was actually very good and now all we need is a flat to put it up in. The daily budget will not reflect the purchases, as some of the stuff we got was a daily budget in itself, but then how can you put a price on art? Well actually nothing more than $50 if I’m honest.

It was a drag to leave Cairns but the count down clock was ticking and one morning we woke up and realized we would have to do some mammoth drives in order to get back to Brisbane by the date we had set ourselves, so it was somewhat of a surprise to wake up three days later only to have driven 50kms down the road. Damn the Aussie sunshine and great beaches! So now it had become a race to reach Brisbane in time, three days and just under 2000kms. Do-able in a normal car, but verging on impossible in a Land Rover… but as long as we didn’t break down we would be fine. We broke down. We had driven about 600kms when the rear axle’s diff started to leak, badly. Phoning around we found a garage to take it to and although they were fully booked out for a month they managed to fit us in. After a lot of sucking through teeth a diagnosis was given, “I think it’s cracked mate’. Only two more days to go and we would have been home free, but never mind. Not having the money to fix it properly we got them to cowboy it, to glue it up to stop the leak and put it on the long list of things to get fixed once we are home.

 

The weather had by this point started to get cold again so we sought comfort in a motel and after ten weeks of camping it was damn nice to get into a proper bed and have a toilet that did not require walking across a field to get to. Then all of a sudden it was our last day on the road, but we got the impression the Land Rover didn’t want to leave Australia… I can’t really put my finger on why we got this feeling but the fact that the exhaust blew off the side of the engine that morning might have something to do with it. Ok, that might be a tad of an exaggeration but after investigating a funny noise it was clear there was something wrong, as the entire engine was covered in soot, more soot than usual anyway.  Twice in two days, come on?!? Luckily we managed to track down a new gasket, randomly in someone’s house, and after two hours in a lay-by we were off and running again. However this time, with only 300kms to go we simply rolled the windows down so the deafening wind noise would drown out any more strange noises and we could well and truly bury our heads in the sand. It worked like a charm, and we finally arrived just outside Brisbane, after a slight detour into a woodland thanks to the GPS, at around 7pm.  And after 30,000 miles that’s where our journey ended, a couple of miles outside of Brisbane at the house of our friends Adam and Sharon, who kindly put us up for a couple of days so we could get our stuff together and pack the car up.

What could have been a rather depressing few days, our last in Australia, instead turned out to be some of the best. We were treated to amazing home cooked meals, free flowing booze, boat rides, and probably the best last day of a holiday ever. We took the ferry across to a large sand island called Stradbroke just off Brisbane, and even though it called for a 5am start we saw so much wildlife at close range: whales, turtles, dolphins and finally our first koala in the wild! Throw in lunch consisting of homemade burgers on the beach and a bit of off roading, and it was a top 10 day for sure.

 

Oh and that’s not even the best bit! I went fishing for the first time ever! I didn’t catch a thing, but that’s not the point, I now know how to fish, kind of.

 

We also met up with Ryan, a fellow Land Rover owner, who we met when we were first in Brisbane and he treated us to a fresh fish meal and two kilos of fresh prawns that we even went down to the trawler to pick up. Aussies are just so friendly!

We can’t thank Adam and Sharon and their family enough for putting us up, feeding us, letting us use their washing machine constantly for three days and taking us out. Like I said, what could have been a miserable couple of days were simply amazing.

All too soon it was time to drop the car off and catch a flight to Malaysia. Dropping the car off was a simple procedure; we just handed over the keys and carnet. No paper work, no bribes, no last minute changes, just a simple ‘here you go’ and a ‘thank you’. Ah the joys of organizing shipping in a developed country. Actually, I hope they were shippers and not just carpark attendants… thinking about it they did look kind of confused and I did think it strange that I had to explain what a carnet was to a shipping company…

‘Megan! I think I might have handed the car over to a couple of traffic wardens!’

If in fact they were shippers we should ‘hopefully’ get the car back in five weeks, so 35 days to decide what to do with it.  After a quick stop at the supermarket to get as many TimTams as we could stuff into our hold luggage we were dropped off at the airport. Our last few hours in Oz were spent using up all our spare change and buying magazines for the flight, and a few more TimTams. We loved Australia. It has so much to offer, so many different landscapes, so many opportunities to escape the crowd, so many places to visit and to camp. Plus, and this is something that surprised us, so much interesting history. I think it’s the fact that it’s recent history that makes it so interesting and something you can actually relate to. It’s somewhere we are coming back to, long term.

Currently I am sitting on a beach in the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia, trying to remember my port from starboard, my monkey first from my sheep shank in a bid to get ready for work. It’s going to be weird going back, but good to see family and friends. Plus we need to start planning our next trip and although I slag old blighty off, it’s still the only place in the world you can get a great Sunday roast while perusing the papers and drinking a proper pint of bitter. Perfect Sunday.  Since it’s a habit now I’ll do a blog about being home and the car’s return after her cruise. Megan is in the process of doing the final figures for the trip and once my heart has been restarted after she tells me how much we spent in total I’ll post them up for those interested in a similar trip.

So what can I say? It’s been great, thanks so much for showing an interest in my ramblings and our trip, I hope it’s inspired some you to go off on your own trips, but the biggest thanks goes to my travel buddy Megan. Thanks Megan for putting up with me, correcting my apalking speling and grammar’s and making a year on the road so much fun.

Laters.

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We made to the tip, the top of Australia and the furthest north you can go on this mighty continent. It was an achievement for us, the last couple of days before the tip were spent doing running repairs to the Land Rover and to finally reach our goal was a very proud moment for us. It was also tinged with disappointment as this also signaled the end of the trip and the next few weeks was all about getting ready to pack the car up and send it home. As we took those final footsteps to the sign marking our destination I willed it to be further away as any steps taken after that sign would be south and would have an air of ‘homeward bound’ about them. Cape York was never our original goal, our goal was to get to Australia overland, but that changed pretty early on when it was clear we couldn’t get through Pakistan and the car caught fire in Turkey….’Megan, Megan, do you remember when the car caught fire in Turkey and smoke started pouring out from between your legs?…ahhhhh…good times!’. So that plan changed to getting the car shipped to India which fell flat on its face when the costs involved became clear, and many a plan after that changed due to various changes in our mood, the level in the bank account and the amount of sunshine on offer. We didn’t so much trek to Oz as ship to Oz, but you can’t really plan what’s going to happen on trips like these, can you?

Look at me getting all nostalgic, and we still have just under a month to go and a short break in Malaysia on the way home. Well, after this trip we both felt like a holiday before returning to the world of work, ten mile queues on the M25 and Saturdays in Waitrows (it’s actually Aldi, but I’m trying to impress you all). In actual fact it’s worked out cheaper for us to fly via Kuala Lumpur, go on a diving holiday for a week and then fly home via Air Asia, than it would be to fly direct to London from Brisbane with a major Airline. Ah Air Asia, for enabling us lower middle class to travel the world uncomfortably but cheaply we thank you.

Anyway, I’m sure you are not interested in our travel plans and the six flights it’s going to take us to get home (our carbon foot print is going to be massive, I’ll plant a small coppice when I get back to the mother land). So yes, the top of Cape York, like much of the rest of it was deserted, quiet and simply stunning. It was rather windy when we reached the furthest north you can go in Australia which all added to the sense of occasion, and looking north out to sea past the islands I really wanted to keep going, but the road quite literally didn’t go any further!

 

The beaches were probably some of the best we’ve seen on this trip, but unfortunately we couldn’t swim in any of them due to the number of animals that would kill you if you put so much as a toe in the water. Never mind though, we still had an amazing time sitting on these deserted stretches of sand and wondering how one country can have so many different and stunning landscapes. This country really is pretty awesome, if only it had a quality, high brow Sunday tabloid that hacked celebs’ phones like we do back home, then we would stay for ever….oh wait…

Reach the top of Australia – Tick

Drove off road – Tick

Forded deep rivers – Tick

Camped on beaches – Tick

Swam in Creeks – Tick

Three days without a shower -Tick

As you can see from the above list we covered all the main aspects of outback bush living and ‘roughing it’, so we began the long trip south and back to a decent latté, Mcflurry, and paved roads. It’s just so difficult to get a half decent hot beverage when you’re in the middle of nowhere: I ordered an earl grey tea the other day and I was asked if I wanted milk in it! Savages. It was at that point that I told Megan we needed to get back to civilization, stat. The roads back down south seemed to have got worse since we drove north and the corrugations had definitely got bigger. Corrugations are ridges in the road that cause a car to shake and bounce all over the place. The best way I can describe them is it’s like driving over a really big cattle grid, but the grids are spaced far apart and they last for 20kms at a time. To try and make it as smooth as possible you have to drive fairly fast so you skim over the top of them, which is fine if you are driving in a straight line but the problem comes with the corners: as the wheels are not really fully in contact with the road surface turning the steering wheel has little effect! For the second time this trip I managed to power slide a 3.5 tonne Land Rover. Jeremy Clarkson would be proud. Megan, rightly so, wasn’t and my pleas to do it again and to video it fell on deaf ears. We slowed down for the corners after that. Boo.

The list of car issues grew daily. First the handbrake light came on for no reason and now it won’t go off, the rear roof rack snapped in half, the bonnet kept popping open, but worst of all a turbo hose came off. When this happened the noise it caused was horrendous and I thought my world had come to an end. Luckily with a bit of handiwork with a hose clip it was reattached and we continued south, both on edge and waiting for the next thing to go wrong. Thankfully noting else did and after three days of driving we made it back to the tarmac. Happy days.

We loved Cape York, we finally made good use of the car and its capabilities and really enjoyed the camaraderie of the fellow travelers. Plus I met loads of Land Rover owners!

 

Currently we are back in Cairns, having a bit of time to clean the car and fix some of the bigger problems. It’s nice to be back here again as we both like Cairns and think we will spend a week up here just being lazy and chilling (is that what the kids say?) before the long drive back to Brisbane and the cold weather that awaits us…

Oh I nearly forgot, I managed to get published in a great magazine in Dubai called Outdoor UAE.  Check the link out below, its on page 30. I’m feeling pretty chuffed about it to be honest, it’s the first step towards a book, the TV show and finally the film deal!

http://www.outdooruae.com/onlineMAG/2011_Jul.html

Megan’s penchant for swearing like a sailor is back, I don’t know why really, but the other day the list of profanities that came forth in the space of a two minute rant was simply shocking. Maybe it’s the heat, or perhaps the tuna pasta has finally got the better of her, or maybe it’s the fact that the other day we went through a very deep river crossing with the vent flaps open and we both ended up with a lapful of freezing cold water. Actually, now I come to think of it the swearing started just after this episode… so yes, yes it was the fact that we nearly drowned the car and ended up very wet and in a mild state of shock that brought about this latest vulgar and shocking decimation of the English language.

 

It’s been going well, apart from the potty mouth. Well, maybe ‘going well’ is a bit of an exaggeration… The road has started getting a little worse and the shaking and rattling is beginning to take its toll. So far:

We have a chip in the windscreen.

The dashboard has come loose.

The air-filter cover has been rubbing against the bonnet and has almost worn through.

The fuel filter bracket has cracked.

One of the bonnet mounting brackets has broken.

One of the ventilation control levers has fallen off.

The off side headlight is full of water.

Needless to say there has been a lot of gaffer tape, random bits of rubber and cable ties called into action to hold the car together. We’re not at the top yet, still another 40kms and then the long trip home. I’m hoping that all the problems and weak links have now been fixed, so fingers crossed the route south will be mechanically uneventful.

 

From Weipa we headed north towards a place called Elliot Falls. Elliot Falls was awesome. Despite being surprised by a deeper than average ford we had a great time there. It is one of the few places you can actually swim on the Cape; although the sea and creeks look inviting there is a real risk of crocs, jelly fish and stone fish so you can’t really take a dip. Here however there is a fresh water swimming hole just below the small and ever so pretty falls, which we took full advantage of.

 

We also met a couple of fellow Land Rover enthusiasts and swapped stories and lists of all our current problems and issues. I particularly liked the stickers on the back of this Discovery!

Most of the time on the drive to the tip we have stuck to the major development road, which although dusty and a tad bumpy has not been too bad. However, from Elliot Falls northwards we decided to tackle a bit of an off road route called the Old Telegraph Track, which is one of the things Cape York is famous for. This is proper off roading, proper river crossings that you have to get out and walk across first to make sure you don’t get washed away, proper muddy banks to climb and the need for diff locks and low range all the time. So, so many man points. We ended up following a friendly couple of Toyotas, which was lucky as we didn’t have a bloody clue what we were doing! It was damn cool, I loved it, loved every moment of it and judging by her smile Megan loved it even more than me! It took us an hour to cover just 15kms but there was a real sense of achievement once we broke clear of the bush and got back on the main road. I had two beers that night, manly.

 

Currently we are camping at a place called Seisia, gaffer taping everything up and plugging up all the holes to try and stop the dust from coming in. The more observant of you will have noticed the two towels sandwiched between the back doors. Not only does this add a bit of much needed colour to the rear of the car but is also quite effective in the battle against the dust.

Mined out! 27/6-1/7/11

Posted: July 1, 2011 in Oz

And we finally come to the highlight of our entire trip, the reason we packed our jobs in for a year, said goodbye to family, friends and hardest of all, fish and chips. Why we drove for a whole year in a Land Rover, crossed eleven or so countries, spent nearly 30 grand and lived in a tent for around seven months, all so we could visit a small town called Weipa and take a tour around the largest Bauxite mine in the world. Totally worth it, they had some pretty big trucks.

 

I jest of course but it was actually quite interesting and well worth an hour or two of anyone’s time. It nearly didn’t happen though, we were nearly stuck in Cooktown: the night before we were meant to leave, the power steering started making some very strange noises and turning the steering wheel required muscles the size of Rambo’s. It obviously wasn’t a problem for me but I felt bad for Megan, so a couple of searches on the internet, a few distractions found on Ebay, and a greasy thumb through the workshop manual later, it all indicated to a slipping belt. Luckily we had a spare and when it was fitted the noises stopped and the steering went back to the normal level of heaviness. I think it’s actually slightly heavier than it was… but as we are in the middle of nowhere and the spare situation is non-existent I’ve decided not to think about it too much!

So yes, anyway, we left Cooktown and took the route north heading up to Cape York. After about ten miles the tarmac stopped and the dusty, bumpy and river crossing track began. We’ve been on it ever since. I miss tarmac, I know as an off road loving, Land Rover owning, red blooded male I shouldn’t admit to that but the dust gets everywhere you see, and the car’s getting well dirty! There are also no road markings, however it’s not too difficult to avoid cars coming the other way as a dust storm on the horizon signals any approaching vehicle miles in advance. Upon that sign windows get rolled up, vents closed and breath held until the car/truck/lorry has passed and normal driving can resume.

In actual fact the road hasn’t been that bad, in some places it’s safe and possible to do 90kph but in others there are ridges/corrugations in the road that rattle and shake the car, which at any point feels like it might fall apart. We both just sit waiting for the bang and the engine to stop or a wheel to fall off. So far (says he as he touches copious amounts of wood) old Harriet is doing a grand and sterling job, going places many a Toyota would look twice at.

 

There have been a few river crossings but none have been too big or too deep and as yet no crocs sighted. Megan’s very disappointed. Still on her list from the eye spy book of Australian animals is a crocodile and a koala. Apparently road kill doesn’t count, otherwise we’d be there. It is amazing up here though, so much wildlife, history and amazing views with little or no civilization. You do really feel completely on your own, in the wild, back to nature and etc etc etc……

 

We have stayed at some of the road houses that are dotted around the Cape. They allow you to camp in their grounds and have toilets and supposedly hot showers, however I’ve yet to have one. I’m able to blog today as we are at the mining town of Weipa. It’s a town that has been built almost entirely to supply the mine with accommodation for the workers, but best of all it has a phone signal! You see, five days without a decent internet connection and I start getting withdrawal symptoms, how else am I supposed to find out who won Britain’s Got Talent?? It also has a small supermarket so we can restock before the ‘big push’ to the top. Hopefully in three more days we’ll reach the tip of Cape York, get our photo taken at the inevitable sign post pointing to New York, London etc, and then head back down. The car gets shipped on the 1st of August so only a month till our journey finishes. Boo.

 

Are we nearly there yet?

Posted: June 28, 2011 in Oz

Half way up Cape York (check our map).

Roads are bloody awful.

The car is shaking itself apart.

Dust everywhere. (Including ears, nose and… well…. err…. other openings)

Just thought you would all like to know as no doubt you are having sleepless nights worrying about us. I’ll give two rings when we get to the top.

 

 

 

Blooming marvellous! 20-26/06/11

Posted: June 26, 2011 in Oz

Why do people buy Land Rovers? They’re not cheap, they’re about as comfortable as a church pew after a two hour sermon, and about as reliable as a hot British summer. So why do people, me included, spend £1000s of our hard earned cash on these relics of the British motoring industry to drive around the world in a car that wouldn’t look out of place in the 1940s? Common sense surely dictates you would buy something cheaper, more reliable and more comfortable.  It’s a lesson I’ve yet to learn, and it was these very questions I was pondering in a car park in Port Douglas whilst underneath the car taking the rear prop shaft off. An hour earlier I had noticed an oil like substance was leaking from the hand brake casing, and normally new leaks wouldn’t bother me as I’ve given up worrying about them all, but this one drew the eye as there should be no oil in the handbrake. Strange… so we both thought it best to have a closer inspection, which entailed taking the prop shaft off and hence, pondering the above mentioned question. Luckily it seemed that the oil was actually grease, which due to the warmer weather was running off the underside of the car and dripping onto the handbrake casing. So no major issue, just another leak, just another little spot to add to the collection that we leave on any car park we stay in for more than 20 minutes, and another grey hair for me. Today we’ve noticed there’s a clunk coming from the front differential or half-shafts, but its only when we turn right so we’re not worried about that so much. When it starts happening when we turn left as well then we’ll worry. To be honest I’ve become a bit paranoid about the car; with only a month left I really don’t want to have to pay to get it recovered back to Brisbane. So why do we buy Land Rovers? Because they are still pretty cool and the ladies love ’em!

We managed to tear ourselves way from the sand, sea and pool at Ellis Beach, just outside of Cairns, and psyched ourselves up for the long drive to Port Douglas. Twenty seven minutes later we arrived. Port Douglas is a lovely little town that sits right on the shoreline and has amazing views out across the reef.

 

It’s a little touristy but not too bad and the little cafes and stores made for a number of hours of pleasant browsing. We are still trying to find something to bring back from Oz, we have both refused to get a didgeridoo, as it’s frankly far too common, so our search continues, maybe some artwork? Or a nice set of tea towels?

It was also time for my 4th hair cut of the trip. I hate having my hair cut, and quite frankly I would have waited until I got home, when I could have gone to my nice man at North London Bounds Green Tube Station, who doesn’t talk to me and certainly does not ask what I’m doing for my holidays this year. But I was told, and after I awoke one morning to find a pair of nesting sparrows in the ‘do’ I couldn’t really argue. (It’s obvious humor, but still funny.)

Ever northward after Port Douglas we drove up into the Daintree National Park and camped at Cape Tribulation. The cape was named by Captain Cook, as it was the start of his problems and trials as he ran his ship aground on the reef in this area. It was to be the most expensive campsite so far, $40 a night, but the setting was great, on the beach yet still within a rain forest. Pretty special.

 

After a couple of nights, and a day of doing walks within the rain forest and along some stunning beaches, we started on the road to Cooktown. There are two ways to go, the main surfaced road or via a harder route through the jungle known as the Bloomfield Track. I did what any self-respecting man would do and tried to convince Megan that we shouldn’t risk damaging the car (or getting it muddy) and take the safer main road. She would have none of it and we set out on Saturday morning for the Bloomfield track.

 

To be honest it wasn’t that bad, there were some bloody steep sections, which required low range hot smelly brakes and plenty of man guts, but other than a few small river crossings it was almost civilized.

 

Halfway along the track we stopped at Bloomfield Falls……impressive.

Around lunchtime, with the worst of the track conquered we stopped at a famous pub (well it is around these parts) for a bit of lunch and my first lunchtime beer of the trip. Having forded rivers, well streams anyway), and driven up 80 degree slopes I thought I owed it to myself. The fact that I was asleep by 3pm that afternoon probably means it will be my last. Man, I can’t handle my beer anymore.

 

So we are now in Cooktown, the last major Australian town before Papa New Guinea and tomorrow we head up to Cape York proper. Today we have been to the Cooktown museum and learnt all about Captain Cook, who landed here in….well a few years ago…. to repair his ship after hitting the reef. The museum is very good and actually has the anchor and a cannon from the original ship, The Endeavor. There is also a great look out on a hill over looking the town with a lighthouse on top of it.  I have a bit of a thing for lighthouses…

 

But the big news of the day was the massive ten foot long man eating python we saw! I say ten foot, it was actually a metre and luckily my little girl shriek scared it away, back into the bush. I’ve said it before, there’s just far too much wildlife in Australia!

Wet and Woeful 12-19/06/11

Posted: June 19, 2011 in Oz

Right off the bat let me make two little apologies: first off for daring to suggest we might go around the US in anything but a Land Rover (the reason for this is will be explained below), and secondly for the mild rant about the comment situation at the end of the last blog. It was meant to be a piece of hilarious prose but unfortunately it came across to some as me being a bit miserable. I am, but only when it’s raining, cold, the Land Rover is broken, on days that end in Y etc…In this case I didn’t mean to be, so apologies. I’m grateful to all the people who take time to read my ramblings and am truly astonished that we are approaching the 50,000 hit mark. As I only have 6.5 friends on the facebook (one of whom is a dog named Graham) this is amazing, and I thank you all for taking the time to read, who needs comments as well? Sorry peeps.

Good news bad news time. The good news is that Megan has a job in London when we get back to the UK, a fact that will be of little interest to the majority of you but this means that the Land Rover will have to go and hence we can’t use it in the States. Why, you ask? because I got a little note from the Mayor of London saying that my vehicle does not meet the emissions standards of a new zone set up around London and therefore as of 2012 I’ll either have to pay £100 a day to drive it in London, or sell it. I know I’ve always talked about selling but deep down I never really thought I would have to. I had a little cry. Megan thought it unreasonable that I said we would have to move out of the London area, away from her family and new job just so I could drive the Land Rover. She doesn’t know me at all. So it actually came down to a simple choice; Megan or the car. I flipped a coin…..no, not really, Megan makes the best tea in the world and Harriet the Land Rover’s efforts are best described as oily. No choice really.

 

So, anyone want a Land Rover? Or better still, anyone want to come to Australia and drive a Land Rover back to the UK? I’ll put in 30 bucks of diesel to get you started. Oh alright then, 45.

Trip wise things are going well, although if you look at the map it seems as if little progress has been made. We left Flying Fish Point and drove an hour up the road to Cairns, and we haven’t done much since because it’s sunny, beer is cheap, we found a couple of really nice campsites and quite frankly, we can’t be bothered. Lying in the sun, reading (even found a Land Rover magazine), taking a dip in the pool, and drinking coffee with ice cream in it in cool little cafes is pretty much what we came to Australia for.

 

We really like Cairns. It’s a small city with that outback, relaxed feel to it. We spent a lot of the time on the waterfront lying in the park, which has a swimming pool, although they call it a lagoon, but it’s a pool in my book, and walking up and down the esplanade. The Aussie’s have got it sussed; people seem to finish work early and by 6pm everyone is out taking a walk, chatting to friends or having a family BBQ. It makes the thought of going back to grey, damp London a little hard to take at the moment, but whilst we are here we’re joining in, lying back and chilling out. It’s pretty awesome.

No trip to Cairns would be complete without a trip to the Barrier Reef. So on Wednesday morning we got up super early and went to the dock to meet the catamaran that would take us out and allow us to swim with the fishes. It’s not a cheap thing to do but not doing it was never an option, if you come here you have to snorkel or dive on the Barrier Reef. I was excited as we boarded and I was still excited right up until the time when over the PA system they announced that it might be a bit bumpy and anyone worried should take seasickness pills. The 3rd time this was announced I was already feeling queasy and we had yet to leave the dock. You see, even though I work on ships, and have done for the past thirteen years there is something about catamarans that doesn’t agree with my stomach. I have never been so sick as I was on a crossing of the English Channel on a fateful day in the summer 2001. Damn you inner ear balance! Memories of this came flooding back and this was probably the catalyst for my decision to take two seasickness pills, which sent me to sleep within a matter of minutes. I was awoken by Megan telling me we had arrived on the Reef, to wipe the drool from my mouth and get my snorkel gear on. Judging by the smell of sick around the place I felt justified in my overdose.

 

The Reef was amazing. To be honest you feel guilty for swimming there as it’s like swimming in an aquarium and at any moment you might be caught and told off. We went to one of the outer reefs and the sheer number of fish on display was astonishing. We are stopping off at Malaysia on the way back to the UK to do some diving and after the day we spent on the Reef Malaysia has a lot to live up to.

 

One strange thing about the Reef that I was not prepared for is that at low tide a lot of it is exposed. This creates a weird vista, like hundreds of floating Bonsai trees!

 

I can’t tell you about the trip back as I took another couple of pills and snoozed my way back to the dock. If anyone plans to travel on Irish Ferries via Rosslare to Pembroke please don’t be alarmed, there are no seasickness pills in my system when I’m driving, and I am wide awake… well, as much as you can be at 3am. It’s just those damn catamarans that have me making friends with the nearest toilet bowl.

Cape York is beckoning, so this time next week we should have exciting stories about croc wrestling, eating snakes and the seven hours it took to dig the Land Rover out of the sand. Ah Harriet I’m going to miss you……damn it Simon, no tears. Tea me Megan!

 

 

 

A few grey’t days 4-12/6/11

Posted: June 12, 2011 in Oz

How to stretch a week sitting in a campsite into a blog… It’s going to be a push but I’m going to write in a really big font, use double spacing and put in lots of silly pointless pictures of the car, like this:

 

Since last leaving you in the Whitsundays we have in fact done very little. The weather clouded over again so we have had a week of pottering around a couple of campsites, a few drives, and ever-exciting trips to the supermarket. It’s been quite nice really. The weather has been pretty rubbish again but spirits are high, as it’s warm and we have had free internet, and so managed to download lots from itunes. Megan’s pretty much up to date with Top Gear, and if she doesn’t get her Top Gear fix once every couple of months she’s a nightmare to live with- the toys are thrown well and truly out the pram until she has a dose of the boys and their hilarious, albeit mostly staged, antics. I’ve managed to catch up with Grays and the last season of Sex and the City (oh Carrie, when will you learn?) so all is well in the world. I’ve also been back on damn eBay again looking at Land Rovers and Mercedes 4×4 Sprinter vans as a possible next overland vehicle for the States. Oh yeah, should have told you, we are planning to ‘do’ Alaska, Canada and North America in a couple of years, so if anyone fancies becoming part of the trip I will need a covering letter and a photo. Honestly though, if your photo features you looking good in a bikini I won’t read the covering letter so don’t bother sending one in. (No Nicholas, you will have to submit a letter). We have already been talking about the title of that blog, ‘Keep on Trekking’ is our best effort to date. I know, it’s weak so we would welcome any other titles.

It’s amazing how much there actually is to do when you’re doing nothing, and a day’s pottering passes very quickly. There are always things to do on the car; leak checks take most of the morning, finding a bit of wood to prop up the exhaust pipe, as the last one fell out driving over that speed bump in itself can take an afternoon, and then once you have investigated that new rattle that’s driving you mad it’s beer o’clock and time to start getting dinner on. It gets dark so early down here. Most states don’t have daylight saving so it gets dark around 5pm. The reasons given as to why they don’t embrace daylight saving like the rest of the world go from the silly’ ‘it confuses the cows’, to the ridiculous and my personal favorite, ‘it will fade the curtains’, great stuff.

We have moved on a little since I last wrote. We stopped in Townsville and are now currently in a campsite just south of Cairns. We both thought that this would be a busy stretch of road and since we have been driving on the main road north have been surprised at how quiet it is. I mean, where else in the world would the traffic on the main, and only road north in the whole country be stopped simply by a man standing in the middle of the road with a stop sign….?

 

Or by a toy train crossing the main highway/motorway……..(I said I was going to struggle to fill this blog.)

 

All this free/pottering time has also allowed Megan to produce the best meals ever to grace our trusty petrol stove, we even had pizza a few nights ago! Pizza made from scratch, cooked on just a double burner petrol stove, no oven or anything. It was soooo good, I’m talking ‘3am after a gutful of booze and a night bus home’ good. She has turned out to be quite the chef, and where is the proof in this statement you ask? Well, the proof is quite literally in the pudding. (I’ve been waiting a good two months to use that line.)

 

Unfortunately some dishes haven’t really been up to scratch presentation wise, and have been sent back to the kitchen. Judge all you want but it’s for her own good people, so don’t look at me like that.

 

So yes, it’s a bit grey at the moment, the temperature is all over the place and it’s reported in the newspapers that it’s the strangest and coldest weather in many years. It hasn’t really effected our enjoyment though, and we are off to snorkel on the barrier reef next week, to finally try and find a koala in the wild, and hopefully drive to the very tip of Australia via Cape York. There is no ‘proper’ road to the most northern point of this mighty continent, just a number of 4×4 tracks so it’s a bit of an effort to get through, fording rivers, dodging crocs and earning mega man points as we go. We have heard a number of stories about the state of the tracks, some good, some not so but we are going to have a look and get as far as we can. Speaking to our friend David he rather alarmingly stated that he once drove up to Cape York in a $50,000 car and came back with a $25,000 car. As mine is only worth about $10,00 does that mean I’ll come back with a negative value? The image of rolling back into Cairns with just a chassis, four wheels and us sitting there on bare metal in some sort of comedy film style fills my dreams constantly. But I can’t take the ridicule of not giving it a go.

947 words, not too shabby, and most of it not waffle. One final note though, the comments: we love the comments, it shows that people are actually reading this rubbish, but bar a few people ( Robin, Paul you are not included in this rant) the comments have dried up, even from one’s own family, who should really know better. It’s just, and it’s difficult for me to say this, lately I feel I’m the only one doing any work, putting any real effort into the blog/bloggies relationship, it’s like you don’t want it to work. In the beginning it was all so fresh, you were commenting daily, but how you’ve all changed… I know there was a honeymoon period and all relationships can take a slow down but let’s try and keep it spicy huh? Is it because you are looking at other blogs? Are they younger than mine? I can change! I mean it this time, I’ll write more exciting stuff, break down more, have another run in with customs and write about it all. So if you feel like commenting, on anything good or bad please, please do. Megan is going to be in charge of replying to comments so you might actually get a response!

1166 words. Magic.

TimTastic 29/5-3/6/11

Posted: June 3, 2011 in Oz

There are very few things in this world that actually excite and interest me; travel, Land Rovers, Megan (had to put it in), sailing, Sandra Bullock and now TimTams. I bloody love TimTams. For those of you who aren’t clued up on what a TimTam is, it’s like a Penguin biscuit, in fact it’s exactly the same as a Penguin biscuit but for some reason, the same reason that Vegemite tastes better than Marmite it tastes soooo much better. I’m addicted, totally addicted to the little chocolate covered biscuit. Maybe it’s because after nearly ten months on the road and the three and a half tonnes of tuna pasta we have each consumed (and I hate tuna but it’s cheap) my taste buds have dulled, and now only the mighty TimTam can make an impression on them. That’s not to pour criticism or scorn on Megan’s cooking; the things the woman can do with a courgette, yesterday’s road kill and half a pepper are truly amazing, but TimTams and me are a match made in heaven. Megan is even thinking she will have to put in an extra column in the expenses just to cover the inordinate number I am consuming.  The photo below was taken when I was left in charge in the weekly shop. She caught me before I made it to the checkouts but thirty seconds later and I’d have been through, through to a week long TimTam fest. But alas no, and now I’m barred from the supermarket, destined to spend the remaining weekly shops waiting in car parks watching the trolley boys at work (that doesn’t sound quite right…) and ridiculing other shoppers’ parking jobs.

What else…..ummm…well not a lot of exciting stuff has happened. The sun’s been shining, although the nights are still a wee bit nippy but it’s improving. We’ve stopped in quite a few little campsites over the last couple of nights and as it seems to be the low season the average campsite population is made up of us and the grey nomads. (Oh, and the excessive number of flying bugs, flies, moths, bats etc…). These are native Australians (the grey nomads, not the bugs) who have retired, locked up their homes or rented them out and are traveling around this amazing country of theirs for an unspecified time. What a great way to spend a retirement and what a friendly bunch they are! They are always welcoming, and offers of drinks, food and the use of their house if it’s on our way come flooding in. We were glad of this friendliness a couple of nights ago when we got ourselves a live crab but had no idea how to cook it…

 

Bob, as he became known, was a mud crab and cost us the princely sum of $10, not bad as in the shops they are around $40! I’m not going to go all Jamie Oliver on you here and tell you how to cook a crab, actually, I will as it’s pretty basic: pop it in the pot and boil it for 12 minutes, then man the hell up and rip it apart with your fingers, wash out the icky stuff and serve with buttered white bread. It was awesome, not TimTam awesome, let’s not get carried away, but in that ball park.

 

Finch Hatton will go down in history as our first free camp. Upon seeing a few camper vans parked just off the road we stopped and set up on what looked suspiciously like a cricket pitch. No one shouted or asked for money so we were quids in. The reason for stopping here was to see the platypus that live in the rivers around this area, and although we have no photographic proof we did see them, scouts honor! The next day we undertook what must be one the best walks of the trip through the rainforest to a massive waterfall. Stunning.

 

On our way out of Finch Hatton and back to the main north/south road the GPS decided to take us on the off road route and we ended up driving through fields, waving at bemused cows and their farmers. We couldn’t get too upset with her though as the scenery in this area is beautiful; fields of sugar cane, blue skies, mountain backdrops and a scattering of ramshackle buildings, ticked all my boxes.

 

So we are now at the Whitsundays trying to decide what to do, what tour to go on, or if we should just sit on the beach. Oh yes, it’s shorts weather baby! Well, it is between the hours of 11 to 14:45, but it’s getting there.

I forgot, sorry, the main reason for this blog was to tell you all that  the Spot satellite tracker (http://international.findmespot.com) has broken, I drove over too many times, (I’m not joking, I literally drove over the damn thing three times, on different occasions I hasten to add) so I am just updating Google maps as we go along.  It’s a shame, as it is a great piece of kit- it’s been letting my mother know where we are everyday, so I now have to skype or call to do that… but apparently that’s something I should have been doing all along anyway. I know, right? We’ve only been gone nine and a bit months and she’s already expecting a phone call!?! Unreasonable.

Let’s Off Road! 21-29/05/11

Posted: May 30, 2011 in Oz

Brisbane, famous for having the only fort in Australia with a moat, and XXXX beer. We did the tour of the brewery naturally, and had to partake in the free samples afterwards, as to turn down free beer is one of the most serious ways to offend an Australian, fact. We didn’t make it to the fort.

The tour was good, the Becks one in Brevenhaven is better if anyone was wondering out of the two which to visit, the Aussies just don’t have the German’s sense of humor.

 

Brisbane has quite a small town feel to it but is actually quite big. There were some lovely walks by the river, there used to be more but the recent floods claimed a lot of them. You can still do them though, but only with the aid of an oxygen tank and a scuba mask. We spent a couple of days window shopping and with Lonely Planet in hand doing the guided walk. It’s a nice city; the rain again took the edge off for us but other than the Adelaide hills, is a place we could live.

We met up with a guy called Ranga and his family, who had got in touch through the Australian Land Rovers club and had a great evening eating fresh prawns and chatting Land Rovers, travel, and our favorite topic of the moment, the cost of living on the road. We have no conversation currently other than the cost of food, (we saw bananas for £10 a kilo!) and fuel. Hope we didn’t bore him too much…?

I used to go to college with a guy called Adam and rumor had it that he now lived in Brisbane, any excuse for a free night’s accommodation so I thought I would look him up, and after a bit of Facebook stalking, emails to mutual friends and ringing a number of random ‘Adams’ in the phone book I managed to get hold of him. After seven years he hadn’t changed and was still as friendly as ever. One thing that had changed was, where as I had spent all my money on fast women, slow Land Rovers, the latest gadgets from Apple, and over priced beer in London he had married a lovely girl called Sharon, had two kids and lived in an awesome house with sheds and workshops everywhere, bastard.  He put us up, fed us only our third roast meal of the trip and let us leave crap we didn’t need in his garage. I swear, there is a trail of rubbish following us from London to Australia as we discard things we brought with us but don’t need. So thanks Adam and Sharon!

 

From Brisbane we went to Fraser Island, an off roading Mecca, home to many dingoes and the largest sand island in the world. There are no sealed roads on Fraser and once you have purchased your permit and taken the choppy ferry ride, (I should have taken my motion sickness pills) you are free to roam around on the beaches and forest tracks in your 4×4.

 

We were both a little nervous, as the last time we drove in sand was in Dubai and there, students of the blog will recall, we got stuck only 10 meters from the road, and this time we wouldn’t have our friend Mike to pull us out. However the car was a lot lighter and my driving skills had improved immeasurably… We dipped our tires into the sand it was clear that those factors made all the difference, as we flew across the sand leaving others in our dust.

 

Low ranges were selected, diff locks were engaged, run ups taken and rivers forded. The level of testosterone in the car was frighteningly high, an 11 in fact. It was great fun and for once it seemed as if we had indeed taken the right car on this trip.

 

The Island is simply amazing: we camped in forests and on beaches, and amongst the sand dunes and simply had a great time. We even managed to do a little sun bathing, something that had not been done since Perth, and judging from my pasty white chest something that was quite timely. On our last day on the island we enjoyed the sunbathing a little too much as the time slipped by far to quickly and we ended up trying to beat the tide and catch our ferry back. As the tide was getting higher we ended up having to drive higher up the beach and in the soft sand. I didn’t like it, Megan didn’t like it and judging by the temperature gauge the car didn’t like it. By the time we had made it down to the southern part of the island the sea was lapping the wheels and clouds of black smoking were pouring from the exhaust, and as we pushed the car to its very maximum it was reminiscent of something from a World War II naval battle (FYI ‘Cruel Sea’, greatest film ever).  We made it through though, and after changing t-shirts and reapplying a bit of deodorant we boarded the ferry and headed back to the joys of tarmac.

 

Currently we are heading up the coast in search of even more sunshine. We have just crossed the tropic of Capricorn and the weather has most definitely improved. I can’t decide if it’s the weather or the price of fuel that has most affected my mood- diesel up here is the cheapest we have found, so I think I might start a table, or possibly make a graph, charting my mood against hours of sunlight and diesel price. I’ll publish

It’s coming……

Posted: May 29, 2011 in Oz

Yes I know it’s been over a week, and lately the thrilling instalments are taking longer and longer to reach you, but basically I’ve used my all my good, hilarious material and am struggling to finish blogs worthy of the Maple name. Plus someone (no names but it wasn’t me), spilt an entire litre of water over my laptop, so we have been without Mr Apple Mac for a day or two.

However, 24 hrs folks and you’ll have your precious blog, and this one’s a good one.  There are at least three ‘smile to yourself’ moments, one obligatory Lonely Planet walk,  and two mildly amusing anecdotes… getting excited? ‘Course you bloody are!

Just a little taste picture wise…..

I have a bit of a confession to make: it’s something that happened in Perth and has been on my mind ever since, and the time has come to get it off my chest. Although it will make me look foolish my hope is that others will learn from my mistake and, in time history will judge this as the correct course of action.

On the way to get the car tested the rear left hand wheel fell off the car.  Well, when I say fell off I mean all the nuts fell off and it was seconds from detaching itself from the car and rolling off down the road all by itself. As you may remember in Bangkok I took all the wheels off to clean the wheel arches in preparation for the quarantine folks in Oz and it seems that when I put them back on again I didn’t do all the nuts up. Whilst on the way to the test centre on the freeway and at 100kph the car became very wobbly. Pulling over, thinking I had a flat I was confronted with a wheel with only a few bolts on it and only a few of the studs poking out from their correct holes. Whilst I was trying to think of who to blame a slow, sickening realization crept over me that in fact it was my fault and if the wheel had fallen off that would have been the end of the trip, no doubt a couple of months spent in hospital and worst of all, no more blog! So I hope this will be a warning to you all, never let me near the wheels of your car… Well it hasn’t helped, I feel more stupid than I did already but I’ve already typed it and can’t be bothered to think of another way to start this blog, so in it stays.

Anyway, we are still in the land down under, all the wheels are currently on the car and Megan is still talking to me, despite the fact we have now been in each other’s company every day for 24 hours a day for the last 8 months. Even though conversation officially ran out in Turkey somehow we are still going and with very few arguments. Saying that, we did have a disagreement a couple of days ago about which way up the cutlery should be stored in the cutlery jar, so things may take a turn for the worse any day now.

 

After leaving the Adelaide Hills and the comfort of David’s farm (thanks again David) we were a bit naughty and upon seeing a sign for Ikea popped in for meatballs and an hour of browsing in an effort to delay the inevitable night under canvas. In fact we stayed a bit too long and got a bit too comfortable because when I went to find Megan I found her curled up with a book, pretending to live in one of the sets.

 After failing to convince her it wasn’t real I gave up and had a snooze.

 

Camping is beginning to lose its charm. It’s not the camping itself, more the UK like weather we are experiencing in southern Australia. Overcast days followed by bloody cold nights and the lovely smell of damp on everything. We didn’t drive all this way so we could wrap up in puffer jackets, wooly hats and thermal underwear, sexy though it is.  We realized it would be cool in this part of Oz but we were not prepared for just how cold (7 degrees one night!). However the scenery we have been driving through does more than make up for the need of a hot water bottle at night.

 

So we have been pottering down the coast for the last week, stopping at the charming little towns and coastal villages along the way.

 

This stretch of the coast has been beautiful and totally different from the vast empty beaches of Western Australia. Also, as we get closer to Melbourne the number of people and fellow tourists is increasing, which is a bit of a shame as we are not used to sharing views or queuing for ice cream with others.

We should be in Melbourne in a few days time and then as we head north hopefully the weather will get a little warmer, but not too warm mind as we have no AC. Oh and whilst we are on the car you will be pleased to hear that this week nothing has gone wrong! I’m joking of course; the extra rear lights on the two spare wheels that allow fellow road users to see my signals have stopped working. We have to wait until Melbourne before we can get the spares we need so we had two choices: firstly my suggestion to simply never brake again, which has the up side of better fuel economy, but in Megan’s words was ‘just stupid’. So we had to follow her suggestion of taking the spare wheels off and putting them inside the car so that the original lights can be seen. Boring, I know.

 

Before finishing this exciting instalment and setting off to look for a second hotwater bottle I think it’s a timely moment to say thanks again for all the interest, comments and support we have had from all over the world. It’s been a massive surprise (mainly to Megan, I always knew I was a great writer) and the sheer level of interest is simply awesome.

Animal (not so) Magic 4-12/04/11

Posted: April 12, 2011 in Oz

Disaster has well and truly struck, and on so many different levels;

Disaster 1. The air conditioning has broken

Disaster 2. The fuel pump will cost $1000 to fix

Disaster 3. Still can’t fix the water leak

Disaster 4. We have a rodent hitchhiker!

The first couple of problems we are going to ignore and hope that the leaks get no worse, and to combat the fact that we have no AC traveling in the car on hot days will now be done only in underwear to prevent us dying from heat exhaustion.

The mouse problem is more serious, in fact I’ve decided there is far, far too much wildlife in Australia. This decision was reached after a few days in the Flinders Rangers facing spiders with heads the size of tennis balls and kangaroos helping themselves to our food. One particular roo actually rose up on its hind legs and went into the food cupboard! I had to wrestle it out, so yes, I have wrestled a kangaroo and managed to tick that off my all time top ten list of things to do. If only Megan could have taken a picture.

 

On the mouse front; we managed to get the little free loader out a few days ago but when we noticed the tell tale ‘presents’ and holes in pasta bags once again the poison went down I’m afraid to say. Such is the sate of our finances that when we find the body he or she will be served up on a bed of rice with a few courgettes and a nice little Sauvignon-Blanc.

The Flinders Ranges proved to be a very picturesque area and well worth the detour to go and see them. We stayed at a place called Wilpena Pound and if you google aerial photos of the place you will be able to see better than I can describe why it’s such an impressive spot.

Other than the close encounters of the roo kind we did a lot of walking in the area, as it was nice to do a bit of exercise after all that sitting in the car, and although my legs complained the entire time I’m sure they, and my waist line will thank me in the long run.

From the highlands to the…… ummmm…..Midlands I suppose. On our way to Adelaide we broke up the journey by stopping at a place called Burra. We chose Burra because it was described in the book as a mini Cornish village and being from such a place I wanted to see it. It wasn’t really Cornish but very pretty all the same and I did get to eat a pasty!

The ugly side of Burra came in the form of locusts, a squadron of locusts (which is slightly less than a plague) that came flying down the main street throughout the day. Due to all the wet and warm weather in this area of Australia the bugs have been breeding in record numbers. In fact, whilst driving towards Burra I thought someone was shooting at the car but it actually turned out to be locusts exploding on the windows and bonnet! We are pretty sure one of the buggers is responsible for the hole in my condenser, leading to the lack of air con and me driving in my pants.

When we arrived in Oz a month or so ago we got a message from David, inviting us to stay at his vineyard if we were passing through Adelaide. Never one to pass up a free night’s accommodation, the possibility of a free meal and the chance to download more episodes of Grand Designs, (man I love that program) we rocked up on Friday afternoon, not knowing quite what to expect. Pulling up we counted four Land Rovers in his drive, so clearly a good guy. Quite how good was made immediately apparent when he offered us a bed to sleep in for four nights, food, wine and help in fixing the many, many issues we have with our beloved car.

Later that afternoon we met his partner Becky, who was equally as friendly and, judging by the Sunday roast we had possibly the best cook in the world. Again and again we have been amazed by the trusting and friendly nature of the total strangers that have offered us a bed, sustenance and help. We can’t thank David and Becky enough for their generosity, hospitality and wine! We spent a really nice relaxing three days on their amazing farm in the Adelaide hills and I am writing this just before we leave to go camping again. This might become a very, very long blog as I try and drag out our stay out for another week……

Sir Leaksalot. 27/3-3/4/2011

Posted: April 3, 2011 in Oz

I’m in constant amazement at just how much stuff can leak on a Land Rover. The day before yesterday I mentioned to Megan that we had five separate leaks going on, the only thing that wasn’t leaking out, I stupidly said, was water. The next day the radiator top hose started leaking. It’s got to the stage that if I come out and there isn’t a mixture of engine oil, gear/transfer box oil, diesel and now, water under the car then something must be wrong. If it’s not leaking then it’s empty, is the attitude I’ve now taken. I paint a bleak picture; the truth is Harriet is doing rather well considering she has 260, 000 miles on the clock and we have just driven 2000kms in the last seven days.

It was a monster drive across the Nullarbor, a large unpopulated area of bush in south Australia. The only thing that broke up three days of constant driving was the occasional road kill and petrol stations charging prices that made me finally understand how BP makes millions in profit each year, even after polluting the entire east coast of North America. We filled everything up with fuel before we left civilization, including jerry cans, empty bottles of coke and a hot water bottle, as we had been warned about the fuel prices in the outback. We drove at pain staking 50mph in order to get the most from every last drop of diesel. We actually managed over 800 miles before having to fill up, a new record, although we might have cut it a little fine as we rolled into the petrol station running on fumes. There was a little bit of quiet time for ten miles or so before, as the tension in the car reached breaking point.

We also drove on Australia’s longest bit of straight road, putting a tick next to one of my life long ambitions (it’s on everyone’s list isn’t it?). To be fair though, you can’t physically drive a Land Rover in a straight line, as they tend to ‘wander’, and mine has a tendency to wander into on coming traffic as soon as it senses another car is coming, so it wasn’t as boring as it might have been in a newer car.

The road-trains are worth a mention too, as they are @$%& huge; 36 meters tends to be the average length. As they overtake you, (oh yes, they overtake!) at about 70mph, it has the same effect of the car being punched in the side by a wrecking ball, great fun.

We made it across the Nullarbor, camping in the truck stops and finally crossed into South Australia about four days ago. There is a border crossing as well, (we thought we had finished with them) but to be fair it’s only to check you aren’t carrying any fruit or veg across the state lines. This is meant to stop the spread of the fruit fly in Oz, they weren’t too bothered about the four kilos of Columbia’s finest in the back. (Have I made that joke before? so many blogs…)

We are now making our way down and around the Eyre Peninsular, stopping at lovely little campsites on the coast and watching with envy as the locals fish for fresh fish for their tea. Apparently I’m not a real man because I can’t fish, but I pointed out to my accuser that she wasn’t a real woman because she can’t crochet, a weak argument I know, but as it hasn’t been brought up again I must have touched a nerve. When the budget comes down a bit after all the fuel costs accrued over the last week we shall treat ourselves to some fresh fish.

We are  heading up to Flinders Ranges and then off to Adelaide. Anyone wishing to meet up with us should just follow the trail of oil, water and diesel left on the road behind us….

I knew the GPS had it in for me. Ever since I told it to ‘shut the *@%$ up’ when it ‘helpfully’ suggested I make a u-turn in the middle of a motorway at 100kph, the damn thing has been plotting against me. I had sensed a slight undertone in its voice over the last few days, Megan thought I was being paranoid but I knew better, I knew it was only a matter of time before it would get its revenge, before it would strike and make me rue the day I called it a ‘jumped up road atlas’. It’s my fault really, I let my guard slip, we were driving south from Perth to Margaret River when, with half an hour to go until our campsite, it made us turn off the main road and on to a smaller side road. Strange, I thought, but it was no major issue and perhaps this was the direct route I naively told myself, plus it was nice to get off the freeway. The side road turned into a narrow lane which turned into a logging road, which turned into a badly corrugated track. By this time we were too far along to turn around, but to start with it wasn’t really that bad. However it got a lot worse and the last 15kms took us around 45mins. Man it was slow going, the whole car would start shaking itself apart at speeds any higher than 10kph, so we crawled along at a walking pace. Even the satisfaction of a rare ‘I told you so’ to Megan did little to lift my mood. So me and the GPS are now even, and when today it told me to turn right onto a road that did not exist I simply thanked it for the suggestion but said I would try another route. So we have now reached a détente, and hopefully it will last.

Anyway, I suppose I’d better tell you about how we are getting on. The day we were meant to start off from Perth did not start well. The keys went missing. Right from the start I’d like to say that I am not going to play the blame game, and as it was my fault I think that’s a wise move. We could go in to the hows and whys but I think it’s best to say that the main house keys to the car are probably somewhere on the outskirts of Perth along the Graham Farmer Freeway, just after junction 5, and leave it at that. So with the doors double locked and no way to get into the sides or back of the car, where I had cleverly and thoughtfully left the spare set, drastic measures were called for. Having just a baby hack saw, a screwdriver and a hammer I managed to break into the back of Harriet (sounds a bit rude), with worrying ease to be honest. The most worrying part though was the fact that this was done in the middle of a car park, in the middle of the day with quite a few people around, and not one person asked me if the car was mine!

With the spare set safely in Megan’s hands I’m now not allowed to hold them anymore, but we were finally off, and only four hours late. Our first stop was Margaret River, an area of Australia famous for its wine making. It was about four hours south of Perth, so a good little test for the car, a test it failed you will all be shocked to hear. After three months trouble free motoring around Asia the gremlins are back. I noticed when we stopped at our first campsite a lovely little pool of oil under the front of the car. Looking up it seemed that there was a leak from the oil pressure switch and the fuel injection pump, which is very annoying as it was new before we left. Bloody car, after feeling excited and upbeat about starting our trip around Oz the Land Rover let’s us down before we were even out of the starting gate, again. It’s mildly frustrating.

All was not lost though, we went to a garage the next morning and were told that they could get an oil switch from Perth in 24 hours and would cost us around $70. We will have to monitor the small leak from the fuel pump, as we can’t really spare the money to get it fixed at the moment as I imagine it will cost a lot. We had a day waiting for the part so we met up with our friend Tom (www.look4tom.com) in his rented camper and toured the beaches and ate fish and chips, our fourth portion since arriving in Oz and probably three portions too many.

Thursday saw the oil leak fixed, us $75 poorer, and we continued further south. The landscape in this part of Australia is a lot like New England in America in parts, and quite amazing. The forests are huge and the trees ridiculously tall. Now in convoy with Austrian Tom we stopped at a couple of national parks and climbed a few trees! It was also time for our first wild camp in a national park and we were both struck by how quiet it was and, apart from the screaming birds at 5am, one of the most peaceful and relaxing places I have been to.

The beaches are also something to marvel at. Miles and miles of empty sand stretching as far as the eye can see with no one on them. It’s quite incredible, the feeling of space and isolation is hard to describe and it makes we wish I’d studied harder at school so that I had the vocabulary to do so. “It’s pretty awesome”, is the best I can manage I’m afraid.

The next day we said our tearful goodbyes to Austrian Tom (Megan was more tearful than I, a slight concern that you can be sure I’ll take up with her later) just outside Albany, as he headed back towards Perth to continue his journey in South America. We headed further east and found a campsite in our guidebook that looked to be situated right on the beach. There was a 15km dirt road to the campsite which cut through the bush. It was dusk as we started on this road, right at the time when they tell you not to drive due to the danger of kangaroos exploding on the front of cars. Very wary of this we started to drive slowly down the track, but after about a minute of this I got bored and sped up. This is something that I won’t do again, as about half way down the track Megan nearly had a kangaroo in her lap. It jumped out on to the road just a split second after the bonnet passed him, and all we saw was a flash of grey in the passenger window. After the obligatory ‘@^&% me!’ we looked back to see him happily hopping down the road. Half a second earlier and we would still be scraping roo from the front of Harriet! Never a dull a moment.

The campsite was well worth the near miss and raised heart rates: our pitch was right on the beach and overlooked the bay. That night as we lay in bed we could hear the white horses charging up the beach, which was nice but did mean I had to go to the toilet about five times that evening. In the morning we had company for breakfast, as the roo we nearly ran over brought his family to see us to ensure there were no hard feelings.

So you are now up to date. We are traveling across the Nullarbor in the next couple of weeks so internet might not be the best. However, the spot is now working again so we will update our position daily for those of you interested, which I imagine is all of you, yes?

Almost on the road again 14-20/03/11

Posted: March 20, 2011 in Oz

As you may remember in the last blog I stated that my feet were itching. This turned out not to be an urge to start traveling again but instead a mild fungal infection that had flared up, just thought I should clear that up before we go any further.

We have the car back!! But the biggest surprise was that it passed the quarantine inspection first time and we didn’t have to pay any extra costs. All the cleaning in Bangkok at Expat Motors seems to have paid off. The inspector said that the underside of the car, (the bit I did), looked like new and couldn’t possibly be the chassis of a thirteen year old Land Rover. The inside, (the bit Megan did) was alright, but nothing special. Actually, that may not have happened. To be totally honest, we sat on the beach while the inspection was carried out. It did feel a little like waiting for your exam results but worse really because if we had failed it could have cost us hundreds of dollars.

So the next day we went down to pick the car up and were greeted with the sight you see below.

We knew the guys who packed the car in to the container in Bangkok had to let the tires down to get it in, but we were a little surprised to see them totally flat! Never fear though, the winch/air compressor was called in to action for the first time and we quickly had air in the tyres. And after a month without being started Harriet burst into life on the first turn of the key, unbelievable, but true. Anyway, in order for us to legally drive in the land down under we had to get the car tested by the Western Australian Government. The test is carried out at a couple of testing centres around the Perth area and it’s done on a first come, first served basis, so I arrived at 0645 and finally got away at half ten! It took a while but the car passed, just. They check to see if there are any oil leaks and luckily I had one from the gear-box, so it was alright. I felt sorry for the guys in new Toyotas, I doubt they had any leaks and therefore wouldn’t have passed the test. Poor guys, I really felt for them.

With the pass paper in my hand I went to the office and registered the car in Australia, woohoo! A service was next on the to do list, and luckily for me a very nice man called Ian answered my cry for help on the Australian Land Rover website and offered me his workshop as somewhere I could carry out my service. What I didn’t realise was that he would also fix the bolt that many a Malaysian mechanic could not, and rope his son, Ben into doing all the dirty jobs for me. What a guy. He also has the most amazing collection of Land Rovers and clearly knows his stuff: I asked him which was the gear box and which was the transfer box so that I knew what oil to put where, purely as a test you see, and he knew!

Not only that but he also invited us round to his house to meet his better half, Shelley, who gave us food and beer. We both had a really good night and can’t thank Ian enough for all his help, and Shelley for the best meal we have had in Oz.

Today we went to the Perth Outdoor Show and saw some amazing 4x4s and camping trailers. Luckily Megan had the wallet otherwise we would have come away with a couple of trailers, a new tent, a Nissan Patrol, and a rather nice blue canoe. Best day ever.

That’s it then, after two and a half weeks of waiting and doing Perth four times over we are off tomorrow, if we can find the keys, to meet up with our friend Austrian Tom and set off across this massive country….

How much?!? 3-14/03/11

Posted: March 15, 2011 in Oz

£7 for a box of Rice Crispies, I couldn’t believe it! I showed Megan; she passed out right there on the supermarket floor and got run over buy 2 trolleys and a pram. Such was my state of shock that I didn’t even notice. We had been told that Australia was expensive but nothing could have prepared us for the 7 quid cereal aisle.

So yes, we are in Australia! Hurray I hear you all cry, but before you let off the party poppers we are still waiting of for the Land Rover. She actually arrived over a week ago but due to strikes, back logs at the port and an over exuberant customs force wanting to x-ray the container before it gets opened Harriet is still sitting on the quayside in Fremantle. Hopefully we will have her back before the end of this week, as long as there aren’t too many issues with the quarantine guys, which is a distinct possibility. In Malaysia it only took 36 hours from off loading the container to us driving up to Kuala Lumpur, Oz might take fourteen days! Bummer.

Anyway, as you might have gathered it’s expensive for us pommies over here at the moment, about 1.6 dollars to the pound. I can still remember when it was around 2.6 to the pound, aah the good old days when we could afford rice based cereal, beer and meals out. On the plus side petrol is still slightly cheaper than back in Blighty, just.

We arrived in Perth and checked into the only place we could afford, a hostel. As you might have gathered over the last few months I’m not the biggest fan of hostels and the backpackers that dwell within, but we didn’t have a choice. Even hostels are charging around $80 a night for a private room, which is pretty much our entire daily budget, so we had to come up with a cheaper place to stay, and fast. We racked our brains and finally searched the interweb. We posted an advert on a local Perth website, asking if anyone had a room to rent for a couple of weeks. Within a matter of hours we were swamped with not one but two offers! So that’s how we moved out of the hell-hole, sorry hostel, and in with a nice girl called Mindy from Singapore. It’s a tad random but we are back to paying £22 a night instead of £50, cashback!

We’ve managed to keep ourselves entertained by doing the mandatory Lonely Planet guided walk, a staple of any city visit now, and hiring a cheap car and driving up and down the coast, checking out the beaches and watching the kite surfers. We wanted a have a go ourselves but unfortunately the lesson costs too much so we have had to sit on the shore and stare jealously out to sea.

Perth is a lovely city, small, clean and in an amazing location. It’s got the most brilliant outdoor shops- great for me, not so great for Megan, and it’s been a super start to a life down under. I have also been amazed at the friendliness of the Aussies: we put a post up on the Australian Land Rover Club website and since then have had loads of messages ranging from good luck, to offers of places to stay and the use of garages. Not sure if this would happen in the UK.

And that’s it really, we sit here waiting for the car, watching the terrible pictures coming out of Japan. Hopefully by the next blog we will be back on the road heading southeast on our way to Sydney, the old feet have started to itch!