Noosa Beach

by Mark Stokes 5. November 2007 07:14

My original plan was to travel down to Surfers Paradise with Nicole for a spot of surfing before heading to Sydney to change my ticket and fly home.

Nicole was booked onto the 05:55 bus out of Hervey Bay and that just seemed way too early for me so I decided to take a later bus and see her there.

In the morning I got talking to Maud, Alex and Diarmuid and they offered me a lift down to Noosa in Maud's camper Van. This would be cheaper than the bus, more comfortable and quicker. I would also get to have a short experience of an Aussie road trip. They could also take me on to Brisbane after a couple of days which would be perfect for getting to Sydney.

The guys were booked onto a 3 day Kayaking trip in Noosa which left the day after we arrived. They suggested I book on with them, or try to sneak onto the kayak for free! I thought about it but declined the offer as I spotted an opportunity to have a couple of days/nights to myself to detox and rest before going home. I have been quite tired lately.

I think it is to do with being ready to come home, and I also really wanted to try surfing... That was one of my big things for Australia; learn to surf.

We left the next day and it was only a 3 or 4 hour drive, so we went straight to Sunshine Beach when we arrived at lunch and caught a few rays.

The guys were planning on sleeping in the van that night, but I fancied a dorm room, especially since I was staying for a couple of nights.

After a quick shower I went out to book my surf lesson for the following day then we met up for a beer, a Chinese dinner and then went to see a movie; Death At A Funeral. This was funny, but weird!

The Rays (Raymond and Rayanna, a Dutch couple with us) also wanted to stay in the hostel, but since it was late they were wondering if I could sneak them in. I didn't have a problem with it so they sneaked into one of the spare beds, of which there were 3.

After they got in 3 others turned up and we were a bed short. As it turned out the 3 Italian guys were also sneaking back into the room for a free night! So it turned out there were 3 of us paid in the room and 5 people scoring a free night! And they bloody snored, the Italians, that is!!

I was up for my surf lesson at 9:30 and we headed straight down the beach. There was just a French Canadian girl from Quebec and myself on the lesson, so lots of time with the instructor. The Canadian girl had had a couple of lessons already so he just sent her straight out to catch a few waves while he went over the basics with me. First of all was lying on the board with my toes just over the end and hands by my arm pits chicken wing style. I went out and just got used to catching a couple of waves whilst lying on the board, not trying to stand up yet. This was pretty easy and I got it straight away so he pulled me back out the water to show me how to stand.

The main way of standing is to paddle a couple of times till you catch the wave, then jump up into the right stance then let go of the rails with your hands and stand up. I did this fine on the beach, so instead of showing me the slightly easier way to get up (which is the same, but in slow motion) I went out to try that method.

I managed to get up on my first attempt which I was very happy with. I was on a 9' board which felt like a boat. I felt so stable that I felt safe to move around a bit on it. Turning was very slow though. I caught a few more waves, only missing a couple, and then we swapped me down to an 8'6" board.

With even this small drop in size I could feel it was a little less stable, but quite a bit more manoeuvrable. In fact, I felt that it was easier on the shorter board because I had more control.

After this I just spent the rest of the lesson catching waves and practicing.

I had so much fun, it lived up to my expectations. The only thing I did notice was that I didn't spend long riding a wave in. There was quite a bit of waiting for the right wave getting up and only a few seconds riding before being at the shore. I am hoping this is just a beginner thing and as I get better it will feel like I have a "little" more time on the wave. Of course I don't expect it to be like snowboarding or wakeboarding with 30 or so minutes riding, just a bit more time to think about what I am doing.

I enjoyed it so much I hired a board and went back out for the afternoon. This was quite a bit harder as the conditions had changed quite dramatically. The wind had picked up and the sea was a lot choppier, the waves were also a lot closer together and many of the best waves were doubled up behind smaller ones. I still managed to get up a bunch of times, but it was much more work and I fell off or missed a lot more waves. I also tried going a bit further out to try getting some of the larger greens. I took a battering and kept falling off the board, so I went back in to the smaller waves!

When I got back to my room in the afternoon I had some new roomies, a couple of Swedish guys and a couple of Norwegian girls. The Swedish guys recognised me from the live-aboard boat I was diving off in Cairns. I am embarrassed to say I totally didn't recognise them! I guess I never spoke to them on the boat. They were both very quiet though!

The Norwegian girls were very nice, and friendly and I got on with them straight away, even though it did take me a while to remember their names; Inger and Ida. They asked if I was heading to the Beach Party at the hostel that night. I wasn't planning to as per my detox/chill out plans, but when two hot, blonde, Scandinavians are talking you into going out, well, it just isn't British to say no!

We all hung around the room for a bit drinking (I stole the Norwegian’s wine... It wasn't even Goon!) and then made our way up to the bar. There was a few of us; Me, the girls, the Swedish guys and Eduardo. Now, Eduardo (I am sure I spelt his name wrong) was a simple classic. A short Italian with the charm of a gnat... But that didn't stop him trying and his camp laugh had me in stitches every time. What a legend!

After a few jugs of Carlton Draught and Sex on the Beach, a limbo contest, Ryan the South African hanger on, a load of photos and god knows what else it was midnight and time to move on to a club. I think this is the first actual nightclub I have been to since Whistler, or America. Since then it has been all bars or beach bars! Very weird to be in this kind of club and it made me realise how little character these cheesy clubs have.

You could be anywhere in the world in here. Everyone else seemed to have left us so it was just Inger, Ida and me left. Although I did also bump into Team Canada who I met on Fraser Island and who I expect to come see me in Whistler next season if you're reading TC!

We had a bit of a dance and decided to walk back. Thank god for a nice Australian guy who told us we were walking in the wrong direction!
The next morning I woke up with quite a hangover, so the morning wasn’t vey productive!

In fact, I don’t think I really did anything all day. I can’t actually remember now!! Oh yeah, I am pretty sure it was raining, so I just stayed in and did all my internet stuff, updating my journal, uploading photos, that kind of thing. I also bought my plane ticket for Sunshine Coast airport to Sydney. I decided not to carry on to Brisbane but to get to Sydney ASAP so that I could get home a few days earlier. I am dying to get home to see everyone now, especially my niece, family friends and other great people I have met whilst travelling... one in particular!!

That night we all went to the cinema again. The Swedish guys saw 30 days of Night, a special advanced preview for Halloween, Inger and Ida watched Death at a Funeral and I saw A Mighty Heart, with the lovely Angelina Jolie. It was quite bizarre as there was just myself and one other guy in the cinema! When I left, Noosa town was like a ghost town.

The next morning I headed down to the beach with Inger and Ida and just chilled. It was very hot, but the sea was gorgeous. At last a beach in Australia that wasn’t riddled with Sharks or Stingers! I even managed to get a little bit burnt!

We left the beach shortly after lunch and I got a call from Maud and the guys. They were on their way back, so I me them around the shops and got a lift back to the hostel with them.

They had a quick shower whilst I burnt them a DVD of the Fraser Island pictures, then they headed off down the coast to Brisbane and I went back to my room.

Another chilled night in the room with my roomies and that was about it.

The next morning I said my goodbyes to Inger and Ida, got my shuttle bus to the airport and flew to Sydney for my last few days in Australia, and indeed, of my whole trip.... Scary thought.

Tags:

Travelling

Hervey Bay and Fraser Island Hervey Bay

by Mark Stokes 28. October 2007 18:50

Hervey Bay was just a stopover for the night before going to Fraser Island. We had a meeting the afternoon before we started the tour. The tour we had signed up for was a self-drive tour. Virtually all tour groups on Fraser Island are self-drive for a rather interesting reason. Since Fraser Island is a World Heritage Site the Australian Government wanted to limit the amount of traffic on the Island. One of the major attractions of Fraser is the 4x4 driving it offers. It is the largest Sand Bank Island in the world and that leads to a lot of sandy roads perfect for 4x4 driving. The Government decided that the best way to limit the number of vehicles on the island would be to take away the permits for tour guides and let the backpackers run wild on their own!

Interesting idea, but everyone knows that some backpackers can be a little bit silly at times. Mix groups of backpackers, ego’s, and a lack of experience driving in these conditions and you have a potential recipe for disaster, and it does happen. The Safety briefing was partly to introduce us to our group while also running through the suggested itinerary, talk about 4x4 driving and safety, etc. Another factor to be introduced was Dingos. There is a large population of Dingos in Australia and on Fraser Island. Dingos are Wild Animals and scavengers and they can get aggressive and attack humans if they think they have food, or they are protecting a food source, so we were told to keep our campsites clean, clear away food scraps, beer cans / bottles and anything else that could attract them. Also, if confronted by a Dingo, you should stand your ground, cross your arms to look as big as possible and maintain eye contact with the animal to stare it out and scare it away. Under no circumstances do you turn your back on it or run away, that will just lead it to attack. And if it does attack you should “Protect yourself, aggressively”!

No ***... if a wild dog attacks me, I will kick the living crap out of it to make sure it doesn’t bloody get back up again, which is exactly what our guide told us to do!!

That evening 4 people from our group of 17 went to the shops to buy all the food we would need for the next 3 days. We also arranged to meet up at a local bar for the evening to get to know each other before setting off. I was really tired from diving in Ayr and then bussing down to Hervey Bay the day before, that I just grabbed a bite to eat with Nicole, Owen and Emma then we all went to bed and let the others party. We would have enough time to get to know them over the next few days!!

Fraser Island
The next morning we met nice and early and went over the safety issues again and then set off to the Ferry. We had 2 vehicles; 6 in mine and 11 in the other. Our car was a fairly new Toyota Land Cruiser and VERY Comfortable! Nice leather seats, great strong 4x4 car, good stereo. The other vehicle was a larger 4x4 with more ground clearance, probably a bigger engine, but just bench seats in the back for everyone and they also had the majority of the camping kit on the roof, making them a lot more top heavy than us.

We were VERY happy with our Land Cruiser and glad not to be in the other truck!! My comrades were; Nicole (South African), Maud (Dutch), Owen and Emma (Irish) and Donna (English) so a nice international group. Some of the people in the other car were Diarmuid (Irish), Alex (English), Berit (German), the German girls (Anna, Anna and Esther), the English girls (Helen and Steph), the Dutch couple (Raymond and Rayana), Jennifer the French girl and I am the 17th.

I drove us first to the ferry port and was tasked with reversing on to the ferry in front of everyone. No-one else wanted this early responsibility, so I happily took it on. No worries.

I took the first stint driving on Fraser Island and had an absolute blast. Our first stop was Lake McKenzie, one of the most famous spots in Australia and definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I have seen pictures of Lake McKenzie and I know that places never quite live up to their pictures, but oh my word... this place totally does.

Stunning white sand beach, fresh water that is so clean and clear that you can actually drink it as you swim! Seriously! We only had about an hour or two here, which was a real shame as we all could have spent at least a day there on it’s own!

After Lake McKenzie someone else took over on the driving. We had 4 keen drivers in our car so everyone had to have a go... much to my annoyance! I think it was Nicole who drive next and we headed out to Eurong which is on the beach and then drove up the beach for a few Kilometres until we got to the shipwreck on the island. The beach is actually a registered Highway in Australia so all normal road rules apply. Also, when you approach an oncoming vehicle you are supposed to put your indicators on to signal with side you are going to pass them on, so I would signal left and they would also signal left means we would pass with the other car on the right. Quite a lot of people don’t bother, which can be dangerous and I found the worst offenders were the bus drivers who drive on the island daily. You would have thought they would be quite hot on promoting safe driving. I guess I was wrong.

On the way to the shipwreck the other car managed to get themselves a small flat tyre. We had stopped off at a shop, and when we caught them up they were waiting for us, as

they couldn’t find their jack. Diarmuid and Alex stepped up and changed the tyre, a pretty good effort on both parts.

The shipwreck was quite beautiful and pretty damned big. It made a great model for a spot of photography and I just wish I had more time there on my own for a decent photo shoot and there weren’t as many people there. Still, I think I got some decent shots.

After the shipwreck we were already running rather late from our itinerary, which was put together based on the tides. You are not allowed to drive on the beach for 4 hours around the High Tide (2 hours before and 2 hours after) because the sand is so soft and water logged it is very dangerous. Due to this we skipped our last stop, which was the pinnacles and went straight to our camp site.

Camping the first night was hilarious. I get the impression a few people have not been camping for a while. The toilet facilities were a simple drop toilet. This is where you have a normal looking toilet, but it just drops down into a big room. No valves, covers, flush mechanisms or anything, just a toilet and a whole at the bottom. This makes a lot of manure which is very good for the land, and since nothing really touches the toilet, it actually quite hygienic. The only problem is that because there is nothing between the mess below and the up above bit it is very very VERY smelly. To the point where after a minute it starts to burn your nose, if you can still bear to be in there! I thought the showers were fine, others didn’t. At the end of the day, it is a campsite... what do you expect!

On Fraser Island you are NOT allowed to build any fires. It is a World Heritage site and fires are too dangerous according to the government, even on the beach. And you cannot collect firewood from the forest as everything is protected, even the dead branches and leaves on the ground. This is not as dumb as it sounds, as rotting growth does put nutrients back into the earth and if it all got burnt then it would affect the ecosystem, but I don’t think a few camp fires would be enough to really make a difference at all. We were lucky, we had been booked into a camp site run by aborigines, and since it is THEIR land, they can do anything they want on it and if they say we can have a camp fire and collect wood, then we damned well can. And we did! There were a couple of rules we had been told to respect before we arrived in Fraser Island, and these were reiterated when we got to the camp site. The first was no spitting in the fire. It is believed that the fire is a spirit, or controlled by the spirits (I can’t remember exactly), but to spit in the fire is to spit in the face of the spirits and highly offensive to the aborigines. The second rule was no whistler after dark. This is believed to attract bad spirits and not good. We were happy to respect their beliefs for the courtesy of them letting us use their land.

Where we stayed had 2 rotundas. One was for preparing food and the other was for us to sleep in if we didn’t want to camp. I was the only person in the whole group who decided to sleep in a tent! Bloody wimps. We are here to camp, so I was damned well going to sleep in my tent!

There were a couple of other groups sharing the facilities and we made friends with them as well. I got on well with Team Cananda and Team Switzerland (3 girls, 2 from Toronto and one from Switzerland), a Dutch guy and a few others we chatted to in passing. I also spent time chatting to the German girls, especially Berit.

When I was in bed I could hear the dingoes scavenging around our campsite and it suddenly felt a bit lonely!! Then I fell asleep and didn’t worry about it any more.

The next morning we were up with the light, had some breakfast and hit the road. More 4x4 driving and beach driving and we got to a look out point at Indian Head which is a famous spot for seeing Turtles, Sharks, Whales, etc all swimming past. Oh yeah, there is NO swimming in the sea around Fraser Island at all. There are tiger sharks and stingers in the water. Apparently there can even be Great Whites there. So.. I think we were happy to stick to the inland lakes! We saw a Whale and it’s kid swim past and also a couple of Dolphins. On a good day the water can be black because there is so many animals, we just saw a few before we set off to walk for half an hour up the beach to the Champagne Pools.

When we got there I was a little unsure why it was called the Champagne Pools. It was actually quite gross, there were 2 pools and the water was full of brown coloured Algae and it stank! I had a quick dip, sat on the beach for a bit, then we decided to move on to our last stop of the day at Eli Creek. Here you can walk up the creek and then float back down the crystal clear stream back to the sea. As we were walking up we saw lots of people floating back down and they do look rather silly because the water is pretty shallow. We also saw an eel swimming down stream, which was accompanied with lots of shouts of “SNAKE... SNAKE”. We got to the top and then proceeded to float back down and look just as silly as the people we laughed at on the way up. At least the people laughing at us would be just the same in a couple of minutes!!

After a good old sand fight, more swimming and more messing around we headed back to the camp site. This time everyone camped out! More Goon, drinking games and campfires and a bunch of us went down to the beach for a bit.

When we woke up the next day, we decided to can the itinerary and head back to Lake McKenzie on the way back to the ferry and have half an hour there as it was so beautiful.

We kind of got the tides a little wrong and ended up driving along the beach just after high tide, so the sand was an absolute nightmare to drive on. Nicole and Maud did an excellent job in our Land Cruiser and the drivers in the other 4x4 did a great job as well, although there were a couple of points where I was convinced they were going to roll it over! And we could smell their gear box the whole way around Fraser Island! We definitely had the better drivers ;-)

We got back to Lake McKenzie, and unfortunately only had about 20 minutes there before we had to be back at the Barge Landing at 1:15pm for the last boat home. Still, it was a great place to finish off our Fraser Island Experience.

I had such a good time on Fraser Island. We had an amazing group who got on fantastic, and most people really stepped up and helped out with cooking, washing up, etc. A few people did manage to slip off every time something needed doing, but the majority did chip in. My BBQ on the second night was pretty damned good, even if I do say so myself!

I actually think that these three days will go down as one of the best experiences I have had while travelling. The Island is simply gorgeous and the people were fantastic, and that is the recipe for an amazing time. Well worth checking out, even on a tight budget.

Hervey Bay
After getting back to Hervey Bay we had a bit of a sleep, some dinner and then we headed out for a few drinks. The first few hours were spent swapping photos. I took a copy of everyone’s and then burnt a whole bunch of DVDs for everyone. Personally, I don’t like having hordes of other people’s photos, but everyone wanted to.

I was going to get the same bus as Nicole down to Surfers Paradise the next morning, but that left at 6am and I wanted a lay in. Also, Maud, Alex, Diermuit, Raymond and Rayanna were driving down to Noosa Beach, just North of Brisbane and said I could travel along with them. It was quicker and more comfortable than a greyhound and about a tenth of the price, just paying a quarter share of the gas. Nicole was planning on staying with family in Surfers, so I wouldn’t be hanging out with her, but just trying a bit of surfing on my own, so I figured I may as well do Noosa beach instead. The guys I was travelling with were booked onto a 3 day kayaking trip up the river as soon as we got there and I could have tried to book on, but I didn’t want to spend the money and to be honest, I am over the activities. I just want to chill on the beach, on my own, try a bit of surfing then head on to Sydney to see my friends before flying back home. 

Tags:

Travelling

SS Yongala, Ayr

by Mark Stokes 28. October 2007 18:48

This is the dive I have been looking forward to doing since my Pro-Dive trip to the Great Barrier Reed in Cairns. As I mentioned before, I was rather disappointed with the diving on the Great Barrier Reef, sure I had some good dives, but I think my expectations were too high. I was expecting 30+ meters visibility with the most vibrant corals and a massive variety of marine life, and it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

The SS Yongala on the other hand came with very high recommendation from people who have dived it. It is also regarded as one of the top with the most vibrant corals and a massive variety of marine life, and it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

The SS Yongala on the other hand came with very high recommendation from people who have dived it. It is also regarded as one of the top 5 wrecks in the world, so again my expectations were high... even though I did try to keep them down!

I was picked up on time, at 5:45am and my driver and I travelled a couple of hours back up North to Ayr. When I arrived I went through the standard PADI disclaimer forms (if I die, I can’t sue them), got my kit ready and sat down for the briefing. The kit could have been a bit newer, the BCDs did look a little worn, but they were solid working and any concerns were purely superficial. I guess I still like my things to look brand new!!

I was happy with the guys at the dive centre. It was a good briefing, with a high consideration to safety.

We jumped into the Jeep and made our way to the beach to catch our boat out. Once onboard it was a 30 minute ride to the dive site. The conditions were still pretty choppy, but apparently not as bad as the day before.

We arrived at the dive site and kitted up for our first dive of the day, we were to make 2 dives. For the first dive we followed a guide around the hull and back over the top. As soon as we descended down to the buoy line to 26meters we saw a Bull Shark. This was the biggest shark that I have seen so far and it looked pretty impressive, maybe 2.5 meters long and it had a fatter body than the reef sharks I have seen so far. I didn’t realise till after the dive that most reports of shark attacks are actually by Bull Sharks!

Ok... that is one to remember next time!!! Fortunately he had no interest in us and swam off almost as soon as we got there.

Once down at the wreck I was instantly impressed. Visibility was still only about 10- 15meters, but on a wreck I like this, it makes the whole thing feel more eerie.

We were told that the wreck was an old English passenger and cargo liner, built by the same company that built the Titanic! I can’t remember the date it went down, but it had 122 people on board making a routine journey down the East Coast of Australia when it ran into a Force 5 Cyclone (a bad one). No-one really knows what happened, but they think that it all happened very fast. They think that one of the doors of the cargo hold was blown off and waves up to 8 meters high started to fill the cargo hold up. No life boats were launched, which is why they think it sank very quickly. There were 70ish people found in the cargo hold, where it is believed they were sent to bail out water, to no avail.

Every person on the ship, all 122 of them died. There was even a champion race horse on board that was later found dead, washed up on shore. Since there are still bodies in the wreck it is considered a grave site, and thus divers are not allowed to penetrate the wreck, that means, we are not allowed inside, only to look through the holes at the inside.

Another reason is that the air that divers breath out creates air pockets and the oxygen in those air pockets speed up the rusting of the ship, which is not a good thing. The reason the marine life is so good here, is that it is the only reef (an artificial one) for miles, so all the fish stay around this confined space.

So, back on the dive, we swam along the hull of the ship, where you can see into the cargo holds and look at some of the interior rooms, a couple of toilets, a bath and a whole bunch of fish. We saw some pretty cool marine life down there from a beautiful Turtle to a whole load of Mauri Wrasse (big fellas), big Mooray Eels, Moorish Idols, Giant Travelly, Cod, Puffer Fish, Giant Barracuda’s and a whole lot more.

The corals were beautiful as well. More like I was expecting on the Great Barrier Reef. I was pleasantly surprised.

After about 35 minutes some of the group were low on air and had to go you for their 2 safety stops. This dive centre wanted us to perform a 2 minute safety stop at 10 meters and then a 3 minute stop at 5 meters (the standard). No worries, the safer the better.
I carried on for another 15 minutes with my buddies as we had enough air left until they were low on air, then we went up for our safety stops and final ascent.

On the boat everyone seemed impressed with the first dive. Not everyone got to see the Bull Shark, I guess that was my prize for being first down and seeing it before it got scared off by all these weird divers in his back yard!

We had some water, cake, crackers and fruit and sat around for our 1 hour surface interval before getting back in the water for our second dive. I found the people in the group to be a bit boring, but I was happy to sit back and relax.

The second dive was much the same as the first, still very impressive, with the added benefit of a Bull Ray. First a Bull Shark, now a Bull Ray! This was a big guy, maybe 4 meters across and a bit uglier than the Eagle Ray I saw in Malaysia, but still a beautiful creature. I was only able to dive for about 35 minutes this time as my Dive Computer was telling me that I was approaching my No Decompression Limits (basically, time to go up before you get too much Nitrogen in your body). I was gutted a I still had over half my air left, but safety comes first. Funnily enough other people were going up at the same time because they were getting low on air!!

The boat took us back to shore and we were prepared a rather good Aussie BBQ for lunch. I arranged for the driver to take me back to Airlie a bit earlier than normal so that I could get on the same Premier bus as Nicole down to Hervey Bay. It was a 12 hour bus journey, and not very pleasant. I just made it back with minutes to spare (in fact, I and the bus were both a bit late!) and managed to pay the driver and get on.

I sat next to Nicole for the first few hours, watching a couple of movies, Finding Nemo was very apt for the day! We tried to sleep, but 2 people to a seat is very uncomfortable, so when another seat became available half way down I jumped on it and slept as much as possible for the rest of the Journey. 

Tags:

Travelling

Airlie Beach

by Mark Stokes 28. October 2007 18:45

When we arrived in Airlie, Sam and I booked into Kuala Backpackers. She had free nights as part of a package tour she had bought and it looked fine to me. In fact, it turned out to be a really nice backpackers. It used to be a motel, so the dorm rooms are pretty sweet, with a decent amount of room, a nice kitchen area (without any kitchen/cooking facilities apart from a sink and a fridge) and a really nice bathroom. The backpackers resort was also very nice, there was a lot of space and greenery in between the dorm rooms, a decent swimming pool and the normal mod cons that you get in a backpackers hostel.

There were a few weird things though, you had to pay a deposit for your linen! This was a new one on me. They also didn’t supply any cooking equipment in the kitchen, so no knives, forks, chopping boards, pots, pans, etc. Nothing. Well, there was a kettle! You had to rent them, and even then they do not give you any sharp knives!! Apparently they are too dangerous and backpackers can’t be trusted with sharp knives. So we are3 all there, trying to chop our cheese and veggies with blunt knives you use to eat with. I think this is probably one of the most stupid rules I have ever heard of. Still, I got over it!

The first night in Airlie was nice and chilled out. I had no interest in going out partying. For some reason, I still can’t be bothered with really busy backpacker bars. I am over all

that. I think that is one of the reason I am ready to come home. I need a break from all that revelry for a while. Also, it turned out I was, again, in a room of all girls!! Seriously, I must have done something right in a previous life, the amount of times I have ended up in dorm rooms of just me and 5 or 6 girls is amazing! Also in the room was Lucy and Ruth, a couple of English girls. We all decided to have a quiet night in with a couple of boxes of goon and a game of Ring of Fire! We were also joined by our neighbours Noel and Helen. After a fair amount of goon later we were quite merry and our room party was well and truly booming!

The next day Sam, Lucy and Ruth left to go on their 3 day trip Whitsundays, so emptying out my room. I got 3 English guys and 2 Dutch girls in the room replacing the girls.

A friend of mine, Nicole, from my diving trip was also due to be in town today, so I gave her a buzz. Tonight is the night of the Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa and Nicole is South African! We arranged to meet up at Magnums to watch the game. Laws in Australia say that if you have to be inside a bar by 3am if you want to stay there, any later and you won’t get admission. Since the game started at 5am, we had to meet rather early! I went out for dinner with Noel, my Irish neighbour and then went to bed at about 11pm to have a couple of hours kip before getting back up at 2am, to meet Nicole at 2:30 to have a couple of drinks before the game.

There was a pretty good vibe in Magnums for the game, unfortunately there was only 2 South Africans in the bar, so Nicole had to stand at the front and sing the SA National Anthem on her own! There was a bunch of Aussies and Irish in the bar as well, who, naturally, were supporting SA.

It was a very even game with neither sides really being able to break the others line. England had one try disallowed that I am still certain was a try, and SA got about a

centimetre from the line, so both teams were even and all the points came from penalties. SA just managed to get a couple more kicks than us so unfortunately we lost. After the

game we hit McDonalds for a spot of breakfast, then back to bed for a bit.

That afternoon was spent lying around the lagoon until it started to rain, so we went and sat on a patch of the grass by the beach. Unfortunately you are not able to swim in the sea here either as there are a shed load of stingers (Jellyfish).

I tried to hook up with my friend John, who lives on a boat moored just off the beach in Airlie, and who also runs the website www.channelwhitsundays.tv which I recommend you check out if you are heading this way.

We somehow managed to keep missing each other through the day, but at one point we did get to wave at each other from one end of the beach to the other!

That night I really didn’t want to head out as I was still really tired from the previous night, so I was planning on sitting in the room all on my own reading my book and getting an early night. After dinner with Noel, I got back to my room and they were all getting ready to go out. I made idle chit chat with them for a bit, then sat outside with the Dutch girls while they had a couple of drinks before heading out. The guys left and we kept chatting away. In the end, they couldn’t be bothered to go out, so we just sat outside our room chilling out and chatting away. It was a really nice relaxed night actually. Then off to bed for a well deserved good nights sleep! Unfortunately the English boys were a bit noisy when they got in, then one of them was snoring! Oh well.

The next day I spent around the pool with Nicole and Becky, her English friend that she met in New Zealand. The other girls, Lucy, Ruth and Sam came back from their trip today as well, so there was a nice group of us.

I managed to get in touch with my friend John and myself, Nicole and Becky went to meet him on his boat for a couple of drinks in the evening. Since I was travelling out of Airlie the next morning, I couldn’t spend too long there, which was a shame. I needed to be back for 8pm to check out. I had a 5:45am transfer back up to Ayr for my SS Yongala dive. I had arranged a transfer from Airlie to Ayr and back in the same day, which should get me back in time to get a Greyhound or Premier bus down to Hervey Bay for my Fraser Island 4x4 tour.

The Fraser Island tour was a bit of a bargin. Nicole had a flyer with a special deal on the tour for AUS$100. This included 2 nights accommodation (one before and one after the trip) in Next Backpackers, 2 nights camping on Fraser, the jeep and most other things. Of course, this being Australia, there are always extras, and with Insurance, Petrol and food, the actual cost was closer to AUS$200, which was still a bargin, seeing as how I would be paying $20-$27 a night anyway for 4 nights. 

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Travelling

Ayr

by Mark Stokes 28. October 2007 18:18

Since I have run out of money and decided to cut my trip short, I have to be really selective over any activities I now choose to do. I basically am just making my way down to Sydney for my flight home and can’t afford to do many activities on the way. One activity that I am certain about doing it diving the SS Yongala. This is a wreck dive out of a town called Ayr, which is just south of Townsville. It is meant to be one of the top 5 wrecks in the world and I hear it puts the natural reefs to shame, in terms of corals and marine life. So, there is no way I will miss this.. Even if I have to sell myself to get there!!

I booked the dive for Saturday 20th October, which also includes 2 nights accommodation, the night before and the night after, then I can carry on down to Airlie Beach.

I got the greyhound bus down to Ayr, but when I got off, one of the guys from the dive shop was there to meet me and unfortunately the dive had been cancelled for the next day due to strong winds. His advice was to “Get back on the bus straight away as there is bugger all to do around here!” So I got back on the bus! He did also tell me that the winds were due to die down and they were expecting to get back out to the wreck on Monday/Tuesday so I could rebook for then.

Back on the bus I got chatting to a girl called Sam who was also travelling down to Airlie, so we decided to find a hostel and hang out. 

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Travelling

Mission Beach and Skydiving

by Mark Stokes 20. October 2007 12:17

I passed through Mission Beach on my way south. I just wanted to do my skydive here and move on, so I planned on 2 nights and 2 day. I pre-booked my dive with my Hostel and got a minibus down to Mission Beach, as part of the cost of the skydive. The bus was full of Japanese. I was the only Western person on board and the only English speaking person. No worries, I just slept on the way down.

When I arrived in Mission Beach I texted one of the guys that was on my diving trip who was also on his way down that day. He was on the Oz Experience bus and said that him and all the girls that were on his b us were staying in Scotty’s Hostel. Easy decision, I went and checked in.

I went back to the beach to watch the first group of sky divers come in to land. The excitement was starting to build up at this point. Doing a skydive has been an ambition of mine for almost 15 years. Seriously, it is the one thing that I have always wanted to do, I have just never been in a situation to do it. And finally here it is. As I watched the first group come in one by one I could see huge smiles all round. There was one scary moment where we saw one of the chutes fail. As the main chute was deployed it tore and the skydiver had to cut it away and deploy the reserve. Yep, this is potentially a dangerous sport, which just adds to the adrenaline factor.

When they came in, it was my turn to get on the bus, get kitted up and go! I got teamed up with a skydiver called Barry, who was a silver-haired older man who looked a little like Peter Stringfellow, just with shorter hair. He was a really nice guy and a lot of fun. We went through the practice on land where they tell you how to exit the plane with your arms crossed over your chest and your head back. As soon as you exit the plane they shout “Banana” and you throw your arms and legs back and keep your head back. They also tell you for the landing to keep your legs well up and hold under your knees and only stand up when they tell you. Otherwise you can break your legs and the skydiver will land on top of you and it probably will hurt. A lot. No worries.

We head off to the plane and all the while you are being filmed There was a choice of a handy cam, where the skydiver you are teamed up with has a camera strapped to his wrist for the filming, or you can pay a bit more for a separate cameraman to jump out with you. I decided to go for the cheaper option to save money and also because you don’t get any footage of you when the chute is deployed or coming into land. So I figured it would probably be better to go for the handy cam one.

We walked over to the plane and got in. We were first in the plane, which mean we were to be last to jump out. The plane was quite a large plane compared to the one they normally use and purpose built for skydiving. It could take about 20 tandem skydivers up at once.

We were on our way to 14,000 feet and it certainly did look high. When we got to our required height it was a very quick move to the door. As we were last out I watched everyone else go first and it really was quick into the doorway and out.... Quick into the doorway and out. As it all happens so fast there isn’t time to get scared. I get a small bit of vertigo and thought that might be an issue, there was no chance that I was going to bail, but I though the adrenaline would be pumping. Because you are so high up, I don’t think it really kicks in. You look out the door and can’t really believe that you are so high up... and then we were out. Banana!

From 14,000ft I got around 60 seconds freefall. It takes a few seconds to register what is going on and then you get the sensation of falling, but it doesn’t feel fast. There is a rush of air against your face, and you feel it through your nose and mouth and your cheeks are flapping around a bit. I was surprise that I could hear Barry talking to me. I thought it would be a lot louder. With great ease he turned us around to look over the beach, the Islands just off shore and out to see. It really was the most amazing sight, and well worth waiting all those years to do it in a place as beautiful as Mission Beach.

After 60 seconds, which felt much shorter than 60 seconds the chute was deployed. There is a slight jolt to start with as the chute comes out, then a slightly larger one when

it unfolds and slows you down. It really wasn’t that strong though. When you see it on TV it looks like a real jolt, but to be honest, if I had seen him do it, I could have missed it. I thought it would be much more of a jerk.

At this point we floated down a lot slower and I had a go at controlling the chute. Leave both arms straight up and you go straight, pull the right one and you go right, pull the left one and you go left. Easy. Pull the right one hard and you start spinning, almost horizontal with the chute. That was fun! I was surprised just how much movement you have in the ropes. You never go out of control when you pull them all the way down and to stop you spinning you just put your arms straight again.

After a few more minutes Barry took over again and brought us in for the landing. As you get closer to the ground you get much more sensation of speed and when you are skimming in over the beach you feel like you are going really fast, then he pulls hard on both ropes and you kind of stall in the air, he puts his feet tells me to stand up and I put my legs down. A perfect landing!

It was the most amazing feeling. Compared to Snowboarding, Motorbikes, Wakeboarding, this was the best adrenaline rush. It almost feels a bit of a hazy memory now as it is a lot to take in and over so quickly. I would love to do another one now that I know what to expect.
A fantastic experience and definitely one recommended for all!

When I came into pay for the skydive I had a bit of an issue. My credit card was rejected. ***. I went to the cash point and I was not allowed to get cash out. ***. I phoned the

bank and it appeared that I have managed to max out my credit card and hit the limit on my overdraft. Oops. I knew I was nearing my limits, but didn’t realise I was that close. I was stuck and there was no way for me to pay the guys. Speaking to the bank, they couldn’t extend my overdraft and I would have to wait about 5 hours for the telephone banking to open in the UK. Why the hell is telephone banking not 24 hours?! Rubbish.

I really started to panic at this point, and ended up having to phone home and embarrassingly ask for a small loan to get me through the next couple of weeks. I have already asked my mortgage company to take out extended borrowing on my flat in Reading which will secure me a few extra thousand pounds, but that won’t be available for 4-6 weeks and I don’t really want to get myself into more debt.

After getting the loan sent through (Thanks so much for that...) I went back to the cash machine, withdrew the money and pay the guys for the skydive.

I spent the rest of the afternoon evaluating my situation. When I started my travels, after Whistler I knew that I didn’t have anywhere near as much money as I was initially hoping.

I even posted in my blogs that I thought I would have to cancel my trip altogether due to a lack of funds, but I chose to persevere and keep going until they ran out. That time was now.

It also came at an interesting point. Since I have been in Australia I have felt a little over travelling. I spent a month on the beach in Malaysia to have a break from it all and thought that would be enough. Even though everyday out here I am having the most amazing time, I am just feeling that I need a break from travelling. I have been out since January 1st which is almost 9 months. I think it has been long enough.

My options are these;

  • -  to see out the rest of the trip and deal with the money when I get home,

  • -  to cancel the rest of my trip, go home early and work for a but then come back out to do Australia and New Zealand when I have earned some more money and have the right mental will to travel.

At the moment I have decided to go for the latter, And the more I think about it, the more I think that is the best option. I have been terribly missing a friend back home who I have been in touch with since meeting her in Saigon and the thought of meeting her again soon is very exciting, I have also been missing my niece so much. Over the last few months I have been hearing about how much she is growing, crawling, walking, talking and I am missing the whole bloody thing. I also have been thinking about my family more and also wanting to meet up with the friends I have met on the road. So the more I think about it, the more I am accepting that I am officially over the travelling for now. Like I said, I am still having the most amazing time everyday and meeting so many more cool people that if I did stick it out I know I would still have the best time.... But overall, I need a holiday from travelling.

I have also been thinking about how I can manage to get some time in snowboarding this winter, as I owe my mother quite a bit of money for the car crash I had in America, and would not be able to justify getting home, going snowboarding for a month and not paying her back first. This way, I might be able to pay her back and still get a couple of weeks or a month in snowboarding after Christmas. It all just seems to make sense to finish now..... for the time being.

I think I will quickly make my way down to Sidney and get a flight home. I will try not to do any major activities on the way and will probably miss a bunch of the main sights, but that doesn’t really matter as I will be back here in a year’s time, probably with a working holiday visa as well.

I had one night in Mission Beach. I met up with Iain in the hostel later that day and we went to the hostel bar for a few drinks. My bus in the morning was at 10:30 to Ayr, so a few drinks wouldn’t hurt. Then the Jaegerbombs flowed, then the slippery nipples, then the vodkas... oooohhhhhh dear! It ended up a rather messy night, and I ended up sleeping in the TV room. So much for paying for a room!!

After only a couple of hours sleep I was on my bus to Ayr. Before my money ran out I had booked a diving trip to the SS Yongala, one of the top 5 wrecks in the world, and an activity that I figured I would still like to do and probably my last main activity on the trip.

I got off the bus in Ayr and was met by a guy from the Dive Centre who was meant to take me to the hostel associated with the dive centre. He gave me the bad, but expected news that the dive was cancelled due to strong winds. I had been expecting this as I checked the weather before and saw it at around 25-30 knots. He said he thought it would likely be back on on Tuesday and there were a few spots left, but for now I would be better off staying on the bus to Airlie Beach and getting a day trip from there on Tuesday. That is what I did, and that is where I am now. 

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Travelling

Cairns and Diving the Great Barrier Reef

by Mark Stokes 20. October 2007 12:13

The flight to Cairns was fine and uneventful. I got to the airport in the morning and got a shuttle bus to the main road, the Esplanade, where I started to walk up and check out a couple of places. I got to a hostel and saw a couple of girls who were walking the other way, so I just asked them what they had seen up the road. Not an awful lot, so the 3 of us checked into the Esplanade Hostel where we were.

By the time I had checked in and got to the room, then had dropped off their bags and headed straight out. I dumped my kit and decided to go and check out the town and look into some diving trips. I didn’t want to waste too much time here and wanted to get diving as soon as possible. I was looking for a live-aboard boat where you go out for 3 days and 2 nights and just dive all day.

I spoke to a couple of shops and finally decided on Pro Dive. They had a nice shop, new looking equipment, nice people. They seemed to focus on safety and I had a good feeling, so I signed up. The next trip was leaving in a couple of days, so I had a bit of time to chill out and check out Cairns.

I walked around the town and checked out the Lagoon. The beach at Cairns is horrible, well, it actually isn’t really a beach, just a big mud flat. So you can’t go on it or swim in the water. It is all mud and there are stingers (Jelly fish) in the water, so they have created a large open air salt water swimming pool right by the sea. The water was very clean and apparently all the water in the lagoon is filtered every 3 hours!

I met up with the Candian girls later that day and got chatting with them It turned out they have had some rather dodgy roommates before, so they were happy to latch on to me and I got dubbed “Best Room mate”. They really must have had some dodgy people!!

They were from Toronto and called Sally and Danielle (or Dee). They turned out to be a hell of a lot of fun and the partying really started here! Over the next couple of days I got introduced to Goon. Goon is an Australian Backpacker classic. Really cheap wine that comes in 4 litre boxes and tastes disgusting. Because Australia is fairly expensive backpackers tend to get loaded up on Goon before the go out and then spend less in the bars. We were mixing the Goon with a bit of Sunkist fizzy pop (like fanta) to try to hide the taste a bit!!

We had a really fun night out and met Vicky... who was a legend. Dee fell in love with Vicky and they became pretty good friends. We had a bit of a crazy night out and I became quite keen on Sally. She was so much fun and had a lot of energy. A very good night... I just won’t go into detail about the minor incident in the stairwell!!!

The next day was spent around the lagoon, just swimming and sunbathing. That night we had a Candian night. We made Poutine! I miss Poutine from my Whistler days.

Poutine is Chips, Cheese and gravy. We even found ourselves a bottle of Kokanee to share!!

We may have had a bit more goon and another night out. Not great, since I had to meet at 6:20am

Diving on the Great Barrier Reef
I met my dive crew nice and early, unfortunately I was rather hung over, so tried not to talk to much! We got a mini van down to the Marina where we boarded our home for the next 3 days. It was a nice boat, purpose built for Pro Dive, and the oldest in it’s fleet of 3 dive boats.

After an initial introduction from Warren, our South African Divemaster we were allocated quarters. I was sharing with a French Canadian guy. We arrived at our first reef at about 10:30am and got ready for our first dive. We were at Millen Reef in the Outer Great Barrier Reef and our first dive was at the Petaj dive site. This was a pretty nice dive site and I got to see some Napolean Wrass, which I haven’t seen since diving in Vietnam.

They are huge fish (maybe 1-1.5m long) with a big bump on their forehead, rather ugly fish, but beautiful for it.

Up until now, all my dives have been made following a divemaster around the dive site. Australia is generally very different. I had been told this before, but on the boats the

school gives you a briefing about the dive site and then sends you off to explore it for yourself (with a buddy of course). Initially I didn’t like this idea because when you go with someone who knows the dive sites you get to see the best parts of it. They can also point marine life and corals out to you and tell you what they are. As the weekend went on, I felt much more comfortable with the idea of diving without a divemaster. Even though I am a confident diver my navigation skills suck. Since I only have to follow someone around a site, I rarely take the time to get my bearings and navigate a site. After a few dives, I certainly did get better at this and I think my diving has improved because of it. It also gave me chance to be more in control of the dive, such as depth, air, speed, etc.

Having to think about my own safety, dive profile and also that of my buddies really makes you more aware. So, all in all, I think it was a good experience not having a divemaster present.

Initially 4 of us teamed up to dive. I buddied up with Charlene, a gorgeous French girl. We were probably the most experienced divers in the group, so it made sense. We also

buddied up with Dirk, a South African guy and Gemma, an English girl who left our group after a couple of dives as she was doing her PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course, so had to dive with them. After this, we just went down in a threesome. Charlene and I used about the same amount of air through the dive, which worked out great as we both finished about the same time, but Dirk used his air a bit quicker, so he would often leave us, ascend to the surface and we could carry on for another 15 or so minutes.

The water in the Great Barrier Reef is quite a bit colder than I have been used to in SE Asia. In Asia it was a consistent 30 degrees. Here is it a consistent 26 degrees, and I really felt the difference, even though I was in a thicker, full length wet suit.

I am actually a little disappointed with the Great Barrier Reef. For one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, I was expecting a lot more. Visibility was 15-20m and I was expecting crystal clear waters with 30 or more meters vis! Also, there was a lot of dead coral around and the colours and marine life were no where near as vibrant as I had been expecting. They were some great dive sites, but I really was expecting something a bit more spectacular.

The general Schedule on the boat was dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, sleep, night dive, eat, drink, sleep. We did this for the first 2 days and then the third day was a very early start with 3 dives completed before lunch, to give us time to sail home at a reasonable hour.

We saw plenty of cool marine life on the dives, lots of White Tip Reef Sharks, Turtles, Mauri Wrass, Giant Barracuda, Trumpet Fish, Anemone Fish (Nemo fish from the movie Finding Nemo), Trigger Fish, Giant Clams, Blue Spotted Lagoon Rays, Bat Fish, Nudi Branches, Flatworms, Lion Fish, Banner Fish, Giant Trevally, etc.

On one of the night dives, I had a bit of a scare and got to put my Rescue Divers skills to the test. Nothing serious. We went down in a group of 6 people. I had teamed up with some of the new Open Water Divers who were not that experienced. I was the most experienced diver in the group, so I took the lead. When we had descended to the bottom of the Buoy Line I counted all six of us, so off we went on our first bearing to the first spot of the dive site. When we arrived there, we realised there was only 5 of us. One of our buddies had gone missing on the 2 minute swim over. I told 3 of the group to stay put while me and my buddy, Dirk, went for a 1 minute search to find the missing person. I hadn’t been able to figure out at this point who it was that was missing as it was dark and difficult to identify people. While we were off searching, 3 more people joined the 3 I had left behind and they though it was us, so they carried on with the dive. I chased after them for a bit to try and get them to stop so I could figure out who was missing (as we hadn’t found the missing diver) but realised I would waste too much time, so me and Dirk ascended and fortunately he knew who was missing. We swam back to the boat and I raised the alarm. Fortunately the missing diver was back on the boat. During the descent she had problems equalising and was not able to get any of our attentions, so she had to go back up. To force her way down to us would have probably exploded her ear drums, so she did the right thing. I think when I counted 6 people before we started, someone from another group was sitting with us so added to the confusion. Once I knew the missing diver was safe, Dirk and I descended again and carried on our night dive, but stayed close to the boat as we had already used half of our 30 minute dive time. In the end we had a great dive and saw a few White Tip Reef Sharks and a beautiful Blue Spotted Ray. When we finished the dive I spoke to the main instructor on board to check I dealt with the situation properly and he said I did everything perfectly. It was a very simple situation, and no-one was hurt, but it was good practice of my training. I was proud of myself that I stayed calm, assessed the situation, took clear control, let other people know what was going on (telling them to stay put while we went for a look around) and then decided to terminate my own dive to go back to the boat. It is so important to stay calm, and a night dive situation is so much more confusing than it would have been in the light.

All in all, I had a fantastic time on the boat. There was a great group of people on board and we all had fun.

Back in Cairns and I met up with the Sally and Dee again and we spent the next couple of days together before I moved on to mission Beach. This was more of the same, partying at night and chilling around the Lagoon in the day.

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Travelling

Darwin and Kakadu National Park

by Mark Stokes 20. October 2007 12:02

I flew into Darwin from Singapore to start my Australia experience. I checked into a hostel recommended to me by the guy who drove the shuttle bus from the airport; Melaleuca On Mitchell. Since I arrived at about 4am I wasn't too bothered where I slept for the first night, I could always move in the morning. Also it had a bar and a swimming pool, so it sounded fine!

I got into my room and the first thing I noticed was that it was freezing cold! The aircon was on full blast and the fan was blowing the cold air around and bloody noisy! And the guy in the bunk below me snored rather loudly as well!

When I woke up, around 10/10:30am I took a walk around the hostel, then around the street I was staying on, Mitchell Street.

I didn't want to spend long in Darwin, but get out to the National Parks and see some of the Aussie outback.

I spoke to a couple of tour operators and finally decided on a 3 day, 2 night Unleashed tour to Kakadu National Park, the main one in the Northern Territory of Australia. There were only 4 people booked onto the trip, so it had just gone on special deal; Aus$395 instead of $445. I was assured that would bring the number up closer to the maximum of 16. I wanted to go with a larger group to start meeting potential travel buddies for my tour of Australias West Coast.

The tour left in a couple of days so I had a bit of time to kill, which gave me time to chill in the pool and meet the other travellers.

It turned out to be a strange crowd. It seemed really cliquey and the people didn't feel as approachable as I was used to in SE Asia. There were a few groups that I tried talking to, but they seemed to have spent quite a bit of time together and not make a huge effort to bring new people in. I think it was because a lot of them were working in Darwin or trying to find jobs, so even though they were backpackers, they were a little more settled.

I ended up having a few beers with an Aussie guy, a German girl and another guy I can't remember. We played some cards and made small talk, which was a bit boring, but it killed the night.

The next morning I got up and chilled round the pool, reading my book on the history of the French Foreign Legion and making small talk with the other residents.

I met a Canadian guy who was cool and also felt the same about the place.

I was going to head to the night market for some food with a couple of the guys I met during the day, but by the time we all got sorted it was too late. The market closed in 15 minutes and it was a 20 minute walk!

We ended up getting a takeaway (Roast Dinner in a roll.. Yummy) and having a couple of beers. I had an early rise for camping trip so was more than happy.

Kakadu National Park

I met my tour group at 6am for an early start into the Aussie Bush. As expected, no more people had booked onto the trip! So it was just me and the 4 other people there. There was a Danish couple, and American kid, Japanese kid and an Australian Sheila who was friends with the tour guide. They seemed like a really nice bunch, so I was sure we would have a ball. The 4x4 (a big thing) turned up and out jumped one of the biggest balls of energy I have seen! Especially at 6am with a hangover and no coffee. Our tour guide was an Aussie girl called Leah, who at first was rather full on... very energetic, but I was happy as this would mean she would keep the pace and energy up throughout the tour, which I am sure will tire us all out, so having someone like that leading us was probably a good thing.

We loaded up and moved out and I fell straight to sleep and didn’t talk to anyone for a good couple of hours! When we arrived at the first service station we had all started to wake up a bit and started to get to know each other.

Just before we entered Kakadu National Park we pulled off the highway to a small road that leads into the bush and to a large marshland. We got our first sights of some wildlife there and a glimpse of how bloody hot the next few days were going to be! It was, maybe, 9am and already well into the 30’s. We carried on driving to our first stop and saw a wallaby running along side the road, which was cool. My first Kangaroo (ok, I know a Wallaby isn’t a kangaroo, but close enough!).

Our first stop was a boat ride on a river. As we loaded up the boat driver started to tell us quite a bit about the local area, animal and bird life. In the wet season, which was due to start in a few weeks the water level rises quite a lot.... Around 8 meters, so all the land we could see would be underwater. All along the trip we kept seeing bit of dried grass high up in the trees above out heads, which marked how high the water goes. Obviously most of the park closes down during the wet season.

As the boat moved along the river our guide told us about a bunch of the trees, the birds we could see, pointed out the crocs and gave a really good intro to the Outback. The crocks were pretty awesome looking. There are two types of Crocodile in Australia, Freshwater and Saltwater crocs. Saltwater is a bit of a misleading term, there are no “saltwater” crocs, these ones can just live in fresh or saltwater, and the freshies can only live in fresh water. The salt water crocs are also larger than the freshies and can be a little more aggressive. The freshwater crocs don’t eat anything larger than your hand, so they will only really attack humans if they get scared. The Saltwater crocs will happily grab you off the banks of the river, drag you into the water, have a bit of a thrashing roll around with you, then eat you! I think they are the ones to look out for!!

After a couple of hours on the boat we got back to our 4x4, the “Green Machine” as it was known by the tour guides, and lunch was ready. After a bit of tucker we got back on the bus and carried on driving to our next site. When we got there we went for a hike around our first location (the names of these will escape me for now, but I will update this blog in a couple of weeks when the guide emails me with a list of what we did) I enjoyed this hike as we got a lot of information on the Indigenous people of Australia, the Aborigines, and learnt a lot about their way of life before and after white man came to the island.

There was a big thing about the way tribes operate and how children grow and learn. It was also pointed out that what we were being told was for the people around the Northern Territory, and it would be different for tribes all around Australia. There are a lot of similarities, but also quite a few differences.

I won’t go into too much detail about what we were told, as there was so much, but key bits that interested me were the fact they have no concept of age. They don’t count years but work on a childs development, the amount of respect they get from others and how responsible they are. When they reach a certain level, more information is passed on to them in the form of stories. So as a man or woman gets old, more and more information is passed to them and they have more seniority. If they are not ready for that information, they don’t get it. The same is for the white man, the stories we get are normally not complete. It is a summary of the story and meaning, but the rest is not for us to know.

They are generous enough to give us that much information to help us understand their ways. One Aborigine in particular was a little concerned about this as information was getting lost. As white man interfered more and tribal people were moving out into the cities, people were not getting to the levels to receive all the information, so it was dying out with the older generation. This man decided to break tradition and started to write down a lot of the information. This isn’t made generally available, but has spawned the tourist trade we were saying. Everything we were being told was because this man let us have it. I haven’t mentioned his name here, which is another important sign of respect.

In their culture you do not talk of the dead. It is considered back to look at pictures of or say/read then name of dead people. This is normally for a mourning period which may be a couple of years. This was very evident around the parks. Where there were signs with quotes and information, very often the name of the person who said it was covered up. 

Other information that I found fascinating was their concept of kinship (family). Over thousands of years they have developed a very intricate measure of each others relationship to everyone else in the tribe. This came about as they must have discovered the problems with inbreeding, to the point where a brother and sister are NOT allowed to be in close proximity to each other or talk. If the brother enters a room, the sister has to leave. They have developed a system where you can work out whether you are one of two names (I forget them at the moment) and then you work out your relationship to your mother, daughters, and other people in the tribe. This then tells you who you can marry.

It is really involved and I haven’t even scratched the surface on how it works, quite simply, because I have no bloody idea! It’s quite involved and complex, but simply, it is phenomenal that they developed this level of understand so long ago, certainly before our western scientist knew about genetic diversity and inbreeding.

We saw a lot of cave drawings in this park as well. Cave drawings serve multiple purposes. Sometimes they are to tell a story and other times they are for luck. It is considered very bad to touch up someone else’s drawing, but you can paint over it with your own. If they were going fishing, then they would paint a picture of the fish they want and that would bring them luck in their fishing. Because there are so many layers of these drawings, it is almost impossible to date them. There are certain things that can be used to give a general date, such as animal life that only arrived in the last 2000 years means that those pictures must be newer than that, etc. Some of the cave drawings have been dated back (through fossil records) to 20 or even 50 thousand years.

We carried on our hike up a bit of a hill and arrived at a beautiful lookout point which gave us great views of the landscape. There will be some photos up here soon.

After walking and learning about the land and the animals and the aborigines we headed back to the green machine for the final drive to our campsite. We were a little behind schedule so it was dark when we arrived. Our camping gear was brought out, swags. We were going to be sleeping Australian style. A Swag is a mattress (a thin one) with a mosquito net over the top that you tie to a couple of trees and sleep out right under the stars. We were not sure if it was going to rain or not, so we set up some tents just in case!!

Whilst camp was being set up, I was charged with making the fire for cooking and light. Not a problem, we had collected some firewood on the way into the site and I made a pretty damned fine fire, if I do say so myself. All those reckless years as a youth playing with matches and Cub Scout training finally paid off. Man makes fire...

Dinner was great and we sat around the camp fire with a couple of beers and carried on chatting about the outback, the aborigines and a whole bunch of other topics that invariably come up around a campfire after a couple of beers!

Since it was so dark, we had the most amazing star field I have ever seen. Once again I was sitting there looking up at the Milky Way... that faint, cloud like haze running right across the sky. And a whole load of shooting stars.

Sleeping in the swag was a fantastic experience. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to be back a few thousand years ago and have no understanding of the physics of the world. Looking at the stars, wondering what they hell they were and what was out there, listening and feeling the wind through the trees. That was a big one for me. Lying there in the quiet and dark you get a sudden, gentle rush of wind. But you hear it coming up on you through the trees.. there is a definite start of it as it comes up and then a definite end as you hear it move away. It really did feel like some sort of spirit or invisible being floating through the sky keeping watch over us. I wondered if that was where the concept of spirits and god, etc came from. It did feel like it could have been a living thing moving around, and with no understanding of the world I can see how people would have come up with an explanation like that. So after my hippy moments watching the stars and imagining I was a caveman with wind spirits flying around my head keeping watch of me, I fell asleep.

Next morning we rose with sunrise, got some brekkie in us, cleared up the camp site and jumped back in the van. We headed off for our first hike. We walked for a couple of hours into a great big waterfall area. This was stunning, and huge. It felt like a massive rock tube with a plunge pool at the bottom. Since we are still in the dry season there is no water coming over the fall. In the wet season the sheer volume of water that flows over is massive, hence all the flooding I spoke about before. Time for a spot of swimming.

Beautiful fresh water, maybe 29 degrees, fairly clear water. Nice. After the heat, it was really nice and refreshing. On the way in we had seen signs warning of possible crocs in the area, and we did even see some freshies in the river on the walk in. It seemed pretty clear when we got there!

We stuck around for a while, then dried off and hiked back out again. We drove on to another area (I think these ones might have been Jim Jim falls) had a bit of a hike and then another swim. These pools were beautiful. You can go to the top side or the bottom and we decided to hike a bit more to the top. There were a few pools for us to move around, a little rock swim lane for us to explore and all that jazz. It was nice, refreshing and chilled. As we were walking back to the green machine dusk was descending and Leah was getting a bit nervous trying to speed everyone up. Apparently this is when the snakes come

When we were done we headed back to the green machine and on to our next camp site. It was dusk when we arrived, so set up again in the dark. Our group was fantastic.

When were were setting up or clearing down the camp site or cooking everyone chipped in and did there bit, which was really great.

That night was more of the same, a couple of cans of beer and a bit of chat around the camp fire then off to the swags for some more hippie spirit watching and then off to sleep.

In the morning it turned out everyone had a pretty rubbish night. It was a bit warmer and for some reason everyone in the group kept waking up, or not being able to get off to sleep. I had a fantastic nights sleep! Everyone hated me!!

The final day we moved to one last spot for a hike and a swim. Then we had a long journey back up to Darwin for the end of the trip. As part of the cost there was a free meal in one of the bars in town. I headed back to the room for a well earned shower (the first in 2 days) and then back out for my free dinner. Everyone apart from out Japanese friend made it out and I ended up partying with Leah, the guide for the rest of the evening. It was a fun night and a great end to the outback tour.

Darwin

After the tour I had a couple more days in Darwin before my flight to Cairns. I just spent this time chilling out around the pool sunbathing. I went back into a different room and met up with a couple of English guys and a couple of Dutch guys. We hung out for a couple of days and went to the cinema one evening. 

Tags:

Travelling

Singapore

by Mark Stokes 2. October 2007 19:30

When I got to Singapore I had already decided I was over the cities and wanted to get back to the beaches. So roll on Australia.

Still, had a couple of days to kill so I may as well see something of the city.

I arrived in the evning and tried a coulpe of hostels on North Bridge road, but they were all full up, so I took a walk to the YMCA on Orchard road and they had rooms. I decided to splurge a little bit and go for my own room, rather than a dorm room. I was looking forward to a bit of chilling and me-time to get on the net and update a bunch of things.

Since I bought my Dive Computer off my instructor, Dee, I have wanted to change the battering in it as it was on one bar, and also to buy the docking station, which allows you to upload your dive profiles to a computer and look at them.

I spent most of the first day just walking along Orchard Road in Singapore trying to get everything sorted out (again, City=chores). I also wanted to buy some new Poi, since I had given mine away and found a girl called Dipa who made / sold them. I took a walk out to her place to pick them up and we had a nice chat and swapped a couple of Poi moves. This was cool as I hadn't practiced in quite a while.

When I got back to the YMCA I was really looking forward to a swim in the pool. Unfortunately that never happend and I just chilled in my room, watching tele and

messing around on the net, talking to a load of friends back home.

I think Singapore feels quite a lot like London... I think it is mainly the large, affluent city thing. It is also super super clean. I love that! For someone with slight cleaning OCD it was amazing. Although I only saw the shopping mecca of Orchard Road (very similar to Oxford Road) I had built up quite a warm feeling to Singapore. I like this place... a lot.

The next day I woke up nice and early (about 11am) and went for breakfast. I figure, if I am in the city I should see a bit of it. I took a taxi to Merlion Park. The Merlion is a contentious statue that is half lion half fish. Built for the tourists and something to give singapore something unique. It certainly is that!

I had heard about a tour around part of the city called Ducktours, and figured what the hell. At least I get to see some of the city. I arrived, paid for my ticket and wen to walk around another shopping mall for the hour before my tour left. In this time I thought I may as well get a hair cut. It has not been cut since Saigon, which must be 2.5 or 3 months ago. It was getting fluffy and curly, in the way it always does! I think this hair cut was the second worst hair cut I have ever had! (Yes, I remember the worst!) The guy who cut it seemed to really not have a clue what he was doing. I am sure he has only just left the worst hairdressing school in Singapore (or maybe somewhere less developed) From the moment he first touched my head I had concerns.

I asked him to make a couple of changes and tidy a few bits up when he had finished, and i left with it look "alright" It it generally fine, it just feels like the length isn't very consistent! Still, it will grow even in a few days.. it really doesn't look bad, no-one would notice... but it wasn't a good hair cut!

Back on my Duckie. I sat next to a nice Chinese girl called Crystal, who worked for HSBC. Upon mentioning my mum also works for the back, she gave me her business card and asked for my email ;)

The duck tour was hilarious. We had the craziest tour guide, but he was so funny. The Duck tour is an amphibious vehicle.. it used to be a vietnamese war machine, now used for tourism.

You start on the road, drop into the Sea around Singapore for a ride along the coast, round to the Merlion and then back and onto land again for a drive around that part of the city.

All very good fun, new friend (unfortunately she was in town visiting her boyfriend!) and I saw a bit of the city.

When we finished the tour, Crystal asked what I was dong for the rest of the afternoon. Nothing, of course! Although I did have to be back at the hotel for 6pm to shower and

leave for the airport! We took another open top tour bus from the same company that went around more of the city, so I got to take in Little India, the Arab area and Chinatown.

We got off in Little India at 4pm at a temple where the local indians were in prayer. We walked around, took some photos and listened to them play music, sing and pray. It was quite an experience. The temple was beautifull, the smell of the incesnse was fantastic (I normally don't like incense, but this smelt like food) and the music was really good fun.

At one point, I am sure the woman on the microphone was rapping in Hindi.

We got back on the bus and rode it round to Chinatown. We jumped off here for half an hour and walked around, before getting back on and riding the bus back to the start point. It was very funny as I was trying to get into the sun to get my skin darker and Crystal was trying to get out of the sun to stay pale! It is amazing how different things are considered beautiful and ugly in different cultures.

Still, I got to see Singapore, which was good and ended up with a very good feeling about the place. Cities, in general, I am still undecided upon, but if I was to travel round a few with work, Singapore would definately be one of them.

I got back to my hotel, showered, got my bags and went to the airport.

I am definately ready for Australia. Bring back the partying!

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Travelling

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

by Mark Stokes 2. October 2007 18:53

I left the Germans (and French) in Taman Negara and made my way to the boat stop to catch my boat/bus to Kuala Lumpur. While waiting for the boat I met a Dutch girl that I had met a bunch of times over the last couple of days. It turns out she was on her way to KL as well, so we travelled together.

After a 45 minute boat journey down the river we arrived back at the entrance to Taman Negara National Park, where we waited for our mini-bus.

The bus journey down to KL was fine. Nothing really much to talk about. I did get talking to a Chinese Malaysian who has been working for the UN for a few years, and is now retired. He gave me a lot of background information on the cultures and issues of Malaysia, particularly around the different ways of living for Malays, Chinese and Indians.

This is quite a contentious issue in Malaysia and not many people talk about it, so it is interesting to get a locals point of view.

When Miranda and I arrived in KL we were dropped off in Chinatown and took a walk to the guest house we had heard about. It was about a 10 minute walk out of Chinatown towards the Golden Triangle and actually quite a cute little guesthouse. We shared a dorm room with 3 other girls (It really is a tough life I live!). There was a Russian girl called Olesia, who had the deepest, sexiest Russian accent! There was also a Swiss girl and a Canadian girl.

The first night we arrived I took a walk out with Miranda and Sarah (I think that was her name), the Candian girl. We took a walk to China town to find some tasty street food for dinner. I ended up with Roasted Duck and rice. Very nice!

Miranda and I were pretty tired, so I said I was just going to head to the shopping mall to get some blank DVDs, to back up my photos, and also to look at compact cameras, to replace the one I lost on the Perhentian Islands. They decided to come with me anyway, so we took a walk to the mall. I got the DVDs, but needed to do a bit more research on the cameras. As I was tired I decided to head back, and the others did the same. I spent the rest of the evening talking to my room mates and backing up my photos to the DVDs.

I have been meaning to post my pictures home for about 2 months now, probably more.

If I lost my bags, I would be gutted.... even though most of them are up on this site, they are of reduced quality, so I really would be upset. Tomorrow.. Post office!

The next morning, I had some chores to do before heading out sightseeing. The very first thing I had to do was get to the Petronas Towers to pick up a ticket for later in the day.

They only issue a certain amount, and once they are gone for the day, that is it. So Olesia and I took a walk down to the towers and managed to get tickets for 4:30pm.

Olesia wanted to go to some caves just out of the city and I wanted to do my chores, so we arranged to meet up later in the afternoon.

For me, first port of call was the post office. Back on the Metro line. Now, the metro line in KL is not the most well organised of transport links! Each time you ride on a different line you have to buy a new ticket... and more often than not (in every case I remember) you have to exit the station, walk a block or so and then get onto the new line through a new station!

I got to the Post Office, packaged up my PADI Rescue Diver Manual and Photo DVDs and finally got them off in the post. At last.. my pictures are almost safe! (They will be safe when they get to my dads!)

I spent the next couple of hours just walking around the city centre, getting lost and figuring out where I was, which enjoy doing.

Being in the city is an odd feeling. And one that I don't think I particularly like. You feel like you are so much less there. Instantly you stop smiling, start rushing around, avoiding cars and motorbikes, eating in fast food restaurants and generally just feeling like you have a mission you have to achieve. After spending so much time on the Islands, over 2 months taking the Thai and Malaysian Islands into account, relaxing, doing nothing and being really happy with it... I actually felt lost. Feeling like I had to rush to something... but I had nothing to rush to. And when I tried to just stroll or sit down, I felt like I was in KL, I should be doing something or seeing something. Doing nothing was wasting time.... but was it really? I don't know. I guess not. If there is nothing I want to see, then why should I go see anything?! Weird. I am seeing cities in a whole new light and a lot of things about my life living in Reading (bored out of my mind) and London, when you ahve nothing to do, you actually start to feel depressed and that you should be doing something. That just doesn't exist on the Islands.. or in the Mountains to be fair!!

I am not sure if that all makes sense, just a bit of a brain dump on my part... but it certainly is solidifying just how much happier I am on a beach or in the mountains, compared to city living. Not a good sign, when I need to start working in London again in a couple of months!!

After walking around for a bit, I headed back to the IT Mall to look for this camera. I knew the one I wanted, but they didn't have it, so I looked at some alternatives. I finally decided on the Panasonic Lumix FX100. It seems like a very capable compact camera and it has taken some pretty decent shots so far.

I met back up with Olesia and we headed up the Petronas Tower. They make you wath a 10 minute infomercial before you go up to the 42nd floor walkway, connecting the two towers. I guess it is fair enough to watch their advertising, since the ticket hs not cover fee.

The towers were pretty cool, and the views of were nice, but I can't help feeling I have seen similar views in almost every city I go to with a tall building (most of them!).

I had had a call from an old friend of mine. A certain Mr Chris Burdett was in town at the same time as me. He arrived that day with his new wife (they were on their honeymoon... Congraulations guys!) and we arranged to meet for a beer that evening.

I went home, showered, cleaned myself up a bit and walked out to mee Chris. We were good friends back in the days of Sainsbury's (16-18 years old) and we figured it was almost exactly 10 years since we last spoke. But we still got on great, and it was awesome to catch up on what we have both been up to over teh last few years, and also to remember a few of our other old friends that we haven't seen in a while. It also brought with it, some of the most expensive drinks I have bought in SE Asia! At last, I am becoming a tight ass with my money!! Maybe from now on I can start to save some!

I was due to leave KL on the 8:30 train in the morning, and after a couple of half's the night before I ended up being 10 minutes late for my train! So, I missed it! Of course, this is me... and I am late for everything.. again, maybe only when in the city... or maybe it is just mornings) It wouldn't have mattered if I was on time though, it was fully booked, so was the next one at 2:45pm. The next available train was 10pm that night which would get me into Singapore about a day later than I planned. Bugger.. I didn't really have time for that as I was due to fly in a couple of days.

I took the Metro to the bus station and found a bus that was due to go at 3pm. I booked a ticket and then went back to my hostel to chill, watch some TV and do some internet stuff for a few hours.

When I got back to the bus station, it turned out to be the nicest bus I have ever been on (funny as it was called "Nice Bus") It had a TV screen for entertainment, they broght food and drinks and the seats even had a little foot rest, a bit like a Lazy Man Chair on a bus!

It was great. I got talking to a local Malay guy who was a jockey (the ones that race horses) and he told me about an accident he had a couple of years back, breaking a whole load of bones and causing him to loose his memory for about 2 months. Sounded terrible. Anywya, he was all good now, and a nice lad.

So.. here I am in Singapore! 

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Travelling

About the author

Mark Stokes

My name is Mark Stokes and I am a SharePoint Server MVP and the founding Director of Red Plane Red Plane, a Microsoft Silver Partner in the North West of the UK.

I am interested in Travel, Extreme Sports, Photography, Technology, Gadgets, Raspberry Pi and, of course, SharePoint!

Note: This is my personal blog and entries may not represent the views of my employer.

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