Country number: 39
Territory number: 43
When? September/October 2001 with a side-trip to New Zealand
How? Bus, local plane, catamaran
Who? Part solo, boat tour, bus tour
‘The only time an Australian ever walks is when his car runs out of petrol.’
September 2001 and I’m in Japan. I’m watching a video on the TV that shows a plane crashing in to some sky scrapers. We think it is a cinematic thriller until we realise that it is a live feed. Naturally everyone is very sombre-all the planes have been cancelled for the last two days and my next stop is Australia. At the airport I’m told that the planes are back on schedule, but thats’ not the only problem. ‘You can’t get on the plane ma’am. Your visa’s no good. (Trailfinders got it – it’s only one of those electronic ones). ‘Why?’ ‘We don’t know! ‘ I have to wait an hour feeling very tearful until the tannoy pages for Suzan Wogers. Everything is now okay, but no explanation is proffered. I sleep across three seats (very nice) on the way to Brisbane. A lot of people have cancelled international travel. I anticipate problems on arrival in Oz but no-one says a word and I’m allowed in. Except that whilst I’ve been in the air Ansett Airlines have gone bust and I have eight flights booked with them round Australia and, next, down to Tasmania.
Trailfinders say try to book more flights, we will refund you at some point. Wow. Both Air New Zealand and Quantas are also very unhelpful. Their business is booming now. I manage to rebook two of my eight flights, the longer ones, and then resort to buses. I’ve always fancied emulating the movies so I get on the first bus out of town and end up in a place called Byron Bay, the hippy capital of Australia. It’s very pretty. Fantastic beaches edged by rainforest covered mountains full of parrots, iguanas and other tropical exotica, houses on stilts, a ridiculous supply of good restaurants, surf shacks and massage parlours. I decide I want to live here. Then I look again at the average Australian male.: shorts, long socks, ruddy cheeks and a beer gut from consuming too much Victoria bitter. Maybe not. it ‘s also,serendipitously, the home town of Damian (see Indonesia). So at least I have somewhere to stay.
We doss on the beach. Everyone here is on dope, so I smoke my first joint (Is that sad or not?). I cough a lot and nothing else happens.
I’ve joined the student gap year community. A twelve hour bus ride to Sydney and one day there to revisit. I stay in a hostel – never again- sharing with three twenty somethings. Clothes all over the floor, and have to fight my way in to our cubicle. Ugh! But a fantastic helicopter flight over the bay with great views of the Coathanger Bridge and opera house.
Another 12 hour bus journey via Canberra. A two hour stopover is just about right to see everything it has to offer- there’s a flower festival on, so most of the two hours is spent at Floriade. to Melbourne. I’m staying here with Sue who I met in Japan. We tour the city, Brighton Beach (!) and the mountains. It’s great food again, I’ve not had a bad meal yet. It was Greek last night. And I mange to get my flight to New Zealand re-booked. (See New Zealand for this section)
As usual my travels have veered from one extreme to the other. Back in Australia , another bus up to Airlie Beach to pick up the catamaran Avatar. I’m crammed in one of the hulls with a tiny Korean girl. Fortunately she doesn’t snore. There are hordes of us, most of them around 20. (No wonder it was cheap.) The captain is a stocky 23 year old rugby player called Eric, who specialises in painting toe nails. He has a box full of the necessary accoutrements and he’s pretty good at it. It turns out he quite likes being called Erica.
The beaches in the Whitsundays are truly stunning- the best in the world? At aptly named Paradise the silver sand stretches forever and when you do reach the cerulean sea a school of rays are basking gracefully in the clearest of water.
Then I find myself on a bus travelling across the top and down the side – Darwin to Perth -with a group of 25 old age pensioners and one 33 year old gay guy. And we’re camping! What am I doing camping? Putting up tents and getting covered in muddy grass. There is red dust everywhere – yes everywhere -a nd salt water showers and taps that spit frogs at you when you turn them on.
There isn’t a moment that isn’t organised. It’s like Butlin’s on wheels. There is dressing up. We even have quizzes and songs with actions on the bus. Fortunately, Paul is great fun and we wind all the pensioners up by flirting outrageously and sharing a cabin at Broome.
He has to leave at Broome though, so I soldier on solo. The plus side has been more fabulous beaches (Broome, Ninety Mile), turquoise seas, beautiful gorge scenery, dugongs, (manatees), Ningaloo, dolphins (I feed a cheeky little one at Monkey Mia), sand dunes (make great nests to sunbathe topless and escape the rest of the tour in the bay), turtles, diamond mines (Geraldton), banana plantations, stromatolites (the oldest form of life known on earth), limestone pinnacles, endless red desert, wonderful sunsets and beautiful weather. I’ve been very lucky.
Now I’m in Perth, savouring civilisation and the city, possibly the nicest in Australia?
A shower, abed.