Australia - Snippets of Information

  • Australia is the smallest inhabited continent of the seven continents.
  • Australia can also be considered the largest island in the world, though sometimes it is deemed a continent rather than an island.
  • Australia is divided into six states (Southern Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania) and two self-governing territories: Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory (which is around Canberra, the capital city).
  • Australia is the oldest, flattest, and driest inhabited continent, with the least fertile soils. A staggering two thirds of the country consists of desert landscape - referred to as 'outback'. Though it also has tropical rainforests in the north-east, and mountain ranges in the south-east.
  • And the stunning Great Barrier Reef off Eastern Australia is the biggest coral reef in the world.

What is the History of Australia?

Indigenous Australians have inhabited the continent for approximately 65,000 years. European maritime exploration of Australia began in the early 17th century. Dutch explorers came first. In 1770, Australia's eastern half was mapped by Captain Cook , who landed at Botany Bay to claim the area for Great Britain. After the loss of its American colonies in 1783, the British Government needed a new penal colony. They sent the First Fleet, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, to establish one in Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, on 26 January 1788, (A date which later became Australia's National Day.)

The remainder of the continent was mapped by Matthew Flinders on HMS Reliance. He was assisted by George Bass after whom the straits north of Tasmania were named) an they famously made use of two small boats called Tom Thumb I and II. (Flinders was captured by the French at Mauritius on his way home and held prisoner for six years).

Other penal colonies, in other regions followed and explorers like Burkes and Wills began to explore Australia's inner realms. There was voluntary settlement running alongside this, much expanded during the gold rushes in the 1850s and beyond. An additional five self-governing crown colonies were established. On 1 January 1901, all six colonies federated, forming the Commonwealth of Australia. (Australia's official title).

Abel Tasman named the region New Holland, but the British changed this to Terra Australis, which means 'Southern Land' and the formal Latin was adapted by explorer Matthew Flinders. Australia is, of course also known widely as "Oz" or "Down Under, but its also been called, "the Great Southern Land", "the Lucky Country", "the Sunburnt Country", and "the Wide Brown Land".

What is There to See in Australia?

I'm not sure where to start. Australia is such a great country to visit. The people are friendly and every time I have visited I have made good friends. The scenery is stunning. Australia is justly world famous for its natural wonders and wide open spaces, its beaches, deserts, "the bush", and "the Outback". The beaches are amongst the best in the world, as is the snorkelling.

Australian cities are comfortable, at times chic, at other times fascinatingly historic and there's some amazing food.

I have visited:

Perth Revisited

Through Perth from East Timor, on my way to the Indian Ocean. This west coast city is the capital of Western Australia and the place where I ended my last trip to Australia. There's just time for a wander by the Swan River - the trees are full of exotic galahs and cockatoos.

Back in Perth, after my overly exciting trip to Christmas and Cocos Islands. It's raining but a damp hour is enough to see the main sights of Perth - churches, shopping malls, a small harbour area and scrapers, and eat a great breakfast. There's not a great deal else to say. It's a pleasant city, but I wouldn't go out of my way to visit.

Then, there's a grand reunion. Petra has come over from Sydney for the weekend and Jenny and Geoff from Tasmania are taking us out to Fremantle for the day. They do us proud.

Fremantle

Fremantle (or Freo) is more interesting. It's Perth's port, at the mouth of the Swan River in the metropolitan area of Perth, the state capital. Fremantle Harbour serves as the port of Perth. The city has come a long way. In the mid nineteenth century Fremantle was Australia's primary destination for convicts. (The convict-built Fremantle Prison operated long after transportation ended in 1868, and it is now a World Heritage Site and tourist site.) Later, Fremantle was important in the Western Australia gold rush, with plenty of Victorian (and then Edwardian) architecture. During the war, Fremantle played a key role, as the largest submarine base in the Southern Hemisphere.

Now, Fremantle is the epitome of sophistication, with industrial chic cafes, canopied colonial architecture and beaches. Breakfast, in an uber cool art gallery café.

Rottnest Island

Then we take the ferry to Rottnest Island in search of cute quokkas. The island was first documented by Willem de Vlamingh in 1696, who named it 't Eylandt 't Rottenest ("Rats' Nest Island"), as he likened the resident marsupials to giant rodents. The quokka is less romantically known as the short-tailed scrub wallaby and is found mainly on two islands off the coast of Australia. (the other is Albany).

The ferry captain warns that the ‘sea is quite rough’ and it is, but the sky is blue and there are multitudes of the diminutive mammals waiting to meet us. Despite the fact that they are said to be nocturnal they are dotted throughout the little settlement at the port and along the edges of the beaches posing photogenically and waiting to be fed by the tourists. Their joeys peep out of their pouches - they have about 17 in a lifetime. Some of the visitors tempt them with berries and other plants. Others ignore the warning signs and tempt them with human food. That's not going to end well for the herbivorous quokkas.

The beaches are gorgeous and golden and there’s a suitably atmospheric lighthouse. The elegant cafes serve excellent food and cocktails. It’s a perfect day,

Margaret River or Bust

Petra and I are quite keen to venture into the very south of Australia and have booked a coach tour to the Margaret River area, from Perth, though we have been warned it will be a very long day. Our tour has, however, been cancelled, so we’re biting the bullet and have hired a car.

It’s actually very easy driving – the roads are quiet and it's two-lane highway most of the way. The weather isn’t being as cooperative. We eat breakfast at Bunbury, buffeted by a howling gale. The café is much busier than the roads - it's Father’s Day here and the only tables available are outside. The wind starts to gust after we’ve ordered our food. The water for my tea has cooled rapidly, so I ask for a replacement. The waiter says he will charge if I require any more. Wait till I get on Trip Advisor.

The famous ‘longest jetty in the southern hemisphere’ at Busselton is scarcely visible and Margaret River itself is a dull little town masked by the rain. But then, in defiance of the weather forecast, the sun comes out. The many wineries, with their lakes and clusters of hostsas are velvety green and picturesque, even if the wine isn’t as good as we would have hoped. The beaches on the Dunsbrough Peninsula are gorgeous and the sun glints on the boulders and the lighthouse.

Busselton

We even get to see the Busselton Jetty on our return journey. Petra insists that we walk at least half way and the lights come on as we finish. It was all worth the drive.

Perth Breakfasts

Time for another great breakfast before I leave for Singapore.

Adelaide

Petra has flown in to join me in Adelaide where I've arrived from Tasmania. I have to get myself up to Darwin for my flight to East Timor and the Ghan seemed the obvious way to do it. The centre of Adelaide is very different to my first trip thirty years ago. It’s gone high rise and modern.

Why is the Ghan called the Ghan?

Ghan is short for Afghan. The original Adelaide to Darwin train was called the Afghan Express, because of the Asian cameleers who supported the engineering endeavour. They were collectively known as Afghans, even though many came from Pakistan, Persia and India. The first part of the railway, from Port Augusta, near Adelaide, was begun in 1878, but not extended to Alice Springs until 1926. The extension through to Darwin didn't begin until this century, facilitating trade links to Darwin and thus Asia and opening up tourism opportunities.

Today’s train is (I imagine) very different from the original. It runs weekly in each direction and we have extremely well fitted out single cabins, in what looks like an almost new carriage. The storage is cunningly contrived to make good use of every inch of very compact space. It’s certainly infinitely superior to the offerings on Amtrak. So is the food - and there’s unlimited access to soft drinks and alcohol. Which probably explains why the ticket is so expensive.

Our scheduled travelling time, including excursions, is 53 hours 15 minutes. And we are travelling 1,851 miles on what is now described as one of the world's great passenger trains.

The Ghan Across Southern Territory

The train rolls peacefully along, past wind farms, salt pans and the Flinders Ranges. As with Amtrak, however, there are plenty of halts in railway sidings.

It’s the outback sunrise experience this morning: bonfires, bacon and egg sliders and a view of the sun, a huge fiery ball bursting over the low bush.

From then on it's red dirt and low green terrain. The train manager attempts to make things more exciting. 'The Northern Territory sign is ahead, get your cameras ready'. It’s so unprepossessing I almost miss it. The iron man sculpture that is promoted as the next attraction is even more diminutive. But the outback scenery, the squat acacia and the quavery ghost gums more aesthetically pleasing than the man made art, is a relaxing backdrop. It’s a good chance to recharge batteries (mine this time) and chat to fellow passengers. These are nearly all retired Aussies, (think Norfolk Island) for the most part extremely sociable. Australia is definitely one of the friendliest countries in the world.

Alice Springs

I was in Alice Springs thirty years ago too. I’ve retained a soft spot for the name ever since reading Nevil Shute’s novel, when I was eleven. First stop is John Flynn's Grave Historical Reserve. He was a Presbyterian minister who founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The site is marked by a boulder stolen from an aboriginal sacred site.

This afternoon, I’m heading out to the McDonnell Ranges for a walk at Simpsons Gap. Long pants and covered shoes are obligatory. They don’t want the punters getting bitten by snakes. The sky is azure, the ridges fiery red, the dusky rock wallabies peer down at us from the heights and the bus driver plays a didgeridoo.

Nitmiluk Gorge (Katherine Gorge)

One of the very elderly passengers has gone AWOL this morning. The crew are walking through the winding corridors calling out ’Donald?’ and looking anxious. He can’t have got off. All the doors are locked.

The landscape is now golden rather than red. There are more trees, though they’re spindly and interspersed with minaret-like termite mounds. Today’s excursion takes us to Katherine Gorge, on the edge of Kakadu Park, where we embark on two cruises on a pair of the thirteen gorges, walking between the different boats. The scenery here is splendid, with wonderful reflections on the still waters of the Katherine River, especially the pools between the gorges. The escarpment towers above us and (relatively) friendly freshwater crocodiles bask on rocks. Any of the much less amenable salties that are discovered are transported to reserves. (They put out red plastic decoys and look for teeth marks.)

One of the attendants tells me that Donald was discovered in the platinum class area. The more affluent amongst us have a separate dining car, which we thought was locked off, (we couldn’t get in) but Donald managed to find his way through and was hogging a table and enjoying a superior breakfast.

The Ghan is undoubtedly a comfortable train, but it’s more of an excursion experience than a train ride. We seem to have slept through most of the terrain. Perhaps there isn’t anything else to see? We're decanted at Darwin and I prepare for my early flight to East Timor.

Tasmania

I've flown into Hobart, 150 miles across the Bass Strait and then across the main island of Tasmania from Melbourne. There are over 1,000 islands altogether in this most southerly of Australian states. Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who made the first reported European sighting of the island in1642 Tasman named the island Anthony van Diemen's Land after his sponsor Anthony van Diemen, the Governor of the Dutch East Indies. Under British rule the island was initially part of the Colony of New South Wales but became a separate colony under the name Van Diemen's Land. Approximately 80,000 convicts were sent to Van Diemen's Land before transportation, ceased in 1853 and the region was renamed after its original 'discoverer'. In 1901 it became a state of the federation of Australia.

The South West Wilderness

And now a small plane to the South Western Wilderness of Tasmania. I’m not learning my lessons, when it comes to making good choices. It’s a really bumpy flight. Pilot Gavin says there’s a lot of wind round here. I’ve been very lucky, as he’s allocated me the co-pilot’s seat, but I’m too terrified to take full advantage. I am congratulating myself that at least we have bright skies, but as we reach the southern capes of the main island, the sun disappears behind dark clouds. Anomalously, Hobart in the south-east of Tasmania, is one of the driest places in Australia, and south-western Tassie (as the Australians always call it) is the wettest part. So, I’m settling for brooding and atmospheric again, as we bounce over islands, rivers, gorgeous curved white beaches and soaring cliffs.

Plane is the only way to get to this rugged and inaccessible wilderness. This Southwest National Park, is part of a continuous chain of five National Parks, along with the Hartz Mountains National Park, the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, and the Walls of Jerusalem National Park. Together these five parks cover almost a quarter of Tasmania's land mass and, along with a few other smaller parks and areas, form the World Heritage Area.

Melaleuca

We land on a tiny mud airstrip and pick up a chilly flat bottomed boat. Gavin is a boat captain now, as well as pilot and tour guide. I hope they’re paying him well. We’re bobbing across the dark tannin waters of Bathurst Harbour; Gavin says this is the darkest water in the world and deep water fauna (milky pale fish) are fooled into inhabiting its twelve metre depths. Melaleuca is a tiny settlement on Bathurst Harbour, consisting of one currently inhabited house, an historic house formerly inhabited by Tasmanian naturalist Deny King, a crushed quartz rock airstrip, and some basic National Park facilities including a bird hide, information centre and signage, and toilets. Its current permanent population is just two rangers.

We eat a packed ‘gourmet’ lunch in Deny King's old cottage (the TV is still there and the fireplace works – thank God) and trek up rocky outcrops for views of the Celery Islands – aptly named clumps of frilly vegetation sitting atop quartz outcrops. We’re the only people in this inaccessible area of the country, except for the resident rangers. It’s bitingly cold, so my daggy boots are a comfort, though they haven’t stayed pristine very long. The paths are boggy and slimy.

It’s a mixed sort of day, but the upside is that it’s a really good group onboard. Jenny and husband Geoff, from Perth, are overwhelmingly positive about everything, food, plane and views, and Lee, from the Sunshine Coast confesses to being terrified also. She teaches me grounding techniques, and lends me valium for the return journey. One of them works. Now it's really atmospheric, as the remnants of the sun retreat through the clouds.

Hobart, Chic Capital of Tasmania

A drink in my hotel bar with Jenny and Geoff. My accommodation is the epitome of urban chic; the rooms are huge and equipped with lit display cases (pottery), hooded flannel dressing gowns and bottles of cocktails in the fridge. The restaurant and bar (and my room) face onto the harbour, flaming bowls lining the walkway. The bar has hundreds of gleaming stacked bottles arranged on white shelves, like a bottle library and more display cases, this time real fossils.

Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, is a very pleasant little city. It’s a melange of chic little hotels and cute wrought iron decorated cottages (up at Battery Point). Its skyline is dominated by the 1,271-metre /Mount Wellington. This is another city that was founded as a penal colony and there's some matching architecture tot ake in. I have a quick whizz round and shop for food at the bustling Saturday Salamanca Street Market. I’m really impressed with the food scene in Australia this visit. There’s a huge variety here in Hobart too: a diverse range of cakes and pastries in the bakeries again. And the range of tempting goodies on offer at breakfast in the hotel was extraordinary.

A quick coffee with Lee at a Hobart institution – The Machine is a café attached to a thriving laundrette. You can watch your washing revolve through glass panels, while you munch your cake.

The Tasmania Lakes Highway

Another hire car and I’m on my way to Cradle Mountain National Park. It’s a long ( five and half hours) and increasingly scenic drive. I follow the Lakes Highway through rolling hills (up to 1,000 metres) and stark wintry red and white forests. Past several lakes, of course. There’s a dusting of snow on the tops of the mountains and on the edges of the road. It’s the Lake District with eucalyptus trees and wallabies. I don’t see any live marsupials, (probably because I’m concentrating too hard on the narrow winding road), but there’s been wallaby carnage on the tarmac. There’s a tiny furry carcass every mile or so.

Beyond the small town of Deloraine (café stop) it’s the Western Tiers Road. Then, I’m hugging a very long and jagged snow spattered ridge, before descending into thicker spruce forests and climbing up again, finally to my park lodge amid flurries of snow.

Cradle Mountain National Park

I have a pencil pine cabin, with stacks of firewood outside. I’m not sure why, as there’s a gas ‘log fire’, though no-one has thought to turn it on and my room is a distinctly uncomfortable seven degrees when I arrive. The only thing to do is switch it on and go to the bar. This involves wandering on several unlit boardwalks. There’s a huge wombat lumbering in front of me. I decide to give him some space. I don’t think they’re as cuddly as they look.

I’ve left the fire burning all night and the temperature has crept up to twenty degrees indoors. I’m not risking the switch being turned off when I go out, so I’ve hung a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door. The Australian version is somewhat weirdly: ‘ I’m experiencing privacy’. I have to chisel the frost off the car and am one of the first hardy souls into the park, taking in lungfuls of freezing air and exhaling clouds as I go.

It’s a beautiful, if treacherous trek, on the boardwalks and gravel paths that circle Dove Lake and along the Dove River. Some uphill stretches are caked in ice. The vegetation is varied: scrub, ancient moss covered ‘ballroom forest’, cinnamon sassafras, myrtle, leatherwood and, surprisingly, pandanus. Towering above it all and demanding to be photographed from every angle, are the crags of Cradle Mountain itself. I’m assuming that its named after the crib like shaped formed by the two peaks.

Marsupial Hunting

For a while I take on the role of tracker, following rows of tiny pawprints in the snow. I’m proud of myself for working out that they’re very recent, but whatever I’m pursuing could be a Woozle for all I know. It isn’t going to permit an encounter. There are one or two false leads, when I think I’ve seen something in the gnarled branches. Later, there actually is a pademelon wallaby, balled up and feeding by the water. He is happy for me to stay close by and watch until two very loud Brazilians rush up with their cameras - I have words. The odd wombat is ambling in the foliage on the way back to the lodge, they’re still my favourite. They have cuboid shaped poo.

Back at the lodge I’m turned hunter again pursuing a baby wombat for a photograph. The bushes are alive with the wombats and wallabies (the minuscule rotund pademelons and the larger, more kangaroo like, Bennetts) at dusk. But I fall off the boardwalk and the wombat shoots under a nearby cabin in alarm. I’ve scraped my hand and twisted my ankle, but I decide to see if I can glimpse him on the other side and limp round the building, to find a naked couple in a hot tub, drinking champagne. I beat a quiet and hurried retreat.

Tasmanian Devils

It seems that Australian marsupials are the current focus. Next, it’s the ferocious Tasmanian devils. There’s a breeding and rehabilitation centre here, with some eastern spotted quolls and some spotted tail quolls thrown in for good measure. The devils' numbers are dwindling alarmingly in the wild, as there has been an outbreak of highly infectious facial cancer. It’s passed on by biting and they nip each other a lot, scrapping continuously and making the most appallingly raucous screeching noise. They have huge fangs (they are carnivorous of course), and definitely couldn’t be described as pretty. It’s easy to see how they got their name. I’m wondering why they want to save them anyway - but all God’s creatures I suppose.

The quolls are much smaller and initially appear more endearing, tiny quivering Bambis. Nevertheless, they run round their enclosures at full pelt and tear ferociously at the wallaby legs they are offered. Both species are quite capable of bringing down a padymelon.

The Rest of Tasmania in a Day

I’m awake very early. I’m anticipating a long day and my body is still on Niue time. The car is packed and I’m ready to leave at 5.30 a.m. but then I realise that reception doesn’t open until 7 and I have to pay my bill. It’s probably prudent to delay. It’s still pitch-dark and possibly icy.

Freycinet Park

I’ve read that Freycinet Bay lookout (over Wineglass Bay) and the Bay of Fires, both on the east coast, are viewing highlights of Tasmania. And they’re not on my itinerary. Or they weren’t. I’m supposed to be ambling to Launceston today – a leisurely two hours or so. Instead, I’m beetling down to Freycinet (four hours), back north up to The Gardens to get the best view of the Bay of Fires (two hours) and back to Launceston (two and a half hours).

The Wineglass Bay jaunt also involves a stiff 40 minute climb to the top of the hill, for the iconic view. Is it worth it? Ho-hum - what I saw from the plane trip into the wilderness was probably equally beautiful.

Bay of Fires

The Great Eastern Drive, hugging the coast of Tasmania up to Bay of Fires is more rewarding - I’m passing some stunning wild beaches. Bay of Fires itself isn’t totally amazing either, but its orange lichen covered rocks are unique. And I’m lucky enough to have the sun shine, so they contrast spectacularly with the shimmering blue of the sea. I’m glad I came. It’s not called Bay of Fires because of the colour of the boulders, as one would think. This was aboriginal land and when Cook first spotted it, the beaches were lit up with the glow of their hearths.

Launceston

Needless to say, I’m exhausted by the time I get back to Launceston and my hotel. It’s in a converted grain silo by the edge of the Tamar Gorge. Most towns in this region here are named after somewhere in Great Britain. Going by place names I’ve done a huge tour of the United Kingdom today, everywhere from Glenorchy to Epping Forest. Sheffield isn’t at all like its namesake - it’s a little country town that boasts of its murals - decorating the stores in the high street. Cornwall is, oddly, just up the road from Launceston, which is actually on the banks of the Tamar River here. Not too far off geographically I suppose. I can forgive that, but not the Australian pronunciation - Laun-ceston.

Launceston is Tasmania's second city. It's famed for the Cataract Gorge, with panoramic views, vineyards, walking trails, sculpted gardens and a chairlift. But it’s raining and blustery today, so there won’t be any wandering round those. Launceston is extraordinarily quiet and quaint, with colonial architecture (some of the oldest in Australia) and wrought iron curlicues. It’s a good place to get my hair done before I set off for the airport and Adelaide. That's where I pick up The Ghan for my next adventure.

Who Colonised Norfolk Island?

Norfolk Island was initially the western most settlement of the Polynesian peoples, who then left it uninhabited before it was ‘discovered’ by James Cook on the Resolution. He named the land after his patron, the Duchess of Norfolk. Unfortunately, she died before he was able to tell her. He also reported that the island was perfect for settlement as the local trees - the so called Norfolk Pines -were ideal for ship masts and the local flax would provide useful material for sails. He was wrong on both counts. The wood proved too brittle for anything larger than roofs and furniture and  no-one knew how to weave the flax. One commander kidnapped two Maori men from New Zealand so they could show them but they didn’t know how. ‘It’s women’s work', they explained.

The United Kingdom used the island as a support settlement for Sydney Cove before lack of natural resources and a decent harbour forced its closure. Ten years later they tried again, the government keen to establish another convict colony. In 1856 the island was handed over to the Pitcairn Islanders, who had outgrown their original home, which was lacking in water and sustenance. Some of them weren’t sure that Norfolk was any better, although the soil here is said to be good, and they returned home.

Is Norfolk Island Part of Australia?

Norfolk Island became the first external territory of the newly federated Australia in 1914. Together with the neighbouring Phillip Island and Nepean Island, the three islands collectively form the Territory of Norfolk Island. In 1979 it was granted self government, but there have been ongoing issues with raising revenue to maintain the infrastructure of the island. Until recently there was no money at all in the civic purse. There weren’t any public contributions. Now the Australians have fully taken over the island administration and taxes have been levied since 2016.

This hasn’t gone down well with the original colonists, who say their views were ignored. They are staging protests and sit-ins, flying the Union flag, alongside the green lonesome pine flag of the island. The Australian anthem has been booed and shoes have been thrown, so the latest administrator is wisely cutting down on the ceremony and celebrations of Australia Day introduced by his predecessor. There's a Hand off Our Democracy campaign in progress.

Before I’ve even arrived from Sydney I’m made aware that this island is fiercely proud of its independence. I’m exhorted to applaud the success of the Norfolk Island sports team, who are on my plane. They’ve been competing in the South Pacific games.

Snippets of Information

  • Today, the island population of just under 2000 is two thirds ‘blow-ins ’- immigrants, mainly from Australia and New Zealand and one third the descendants of the resettled Pitcairn islanders.
  • The main language spoken is English, but the Pitcairners also still speak ‘Norf’k’ – a mixture of old English, Creole and Tahitian.

Getting into Norfolk Island

Oddly you have to fly Air New Zealand to get to Norfolk Island. You can fly from New Zealand or Sydney. I've flown in from Sydney.

Only for the Nearly Dead or the Newly Wed?

What to do on Norfolk Island? i’m accosted by an excitable local who tells me I’m too young to be here. ‘Didn’t you see all the people on the plane?’ I’m sure he uses that line on everyone. He’s not wrong about the average age of the tourist here.  I’ve already heard that Norfolk Island is only for the ‘Nearly Dead or the Newly Wed’. My new friend goes on to tell me that he used to live in the cottage where I’m staying. He says it’s haunted. I’m certainly finding it a little chilly, despite the winter sunshine, but I think it’s just the lack of central heating.

The island is definitely stuck firmly in the twentieth (or earlier) century. But that's part of its charm. The scenery is to die for, the beaches stunning and there are plenty of water activities. When it's warm enough.

Getting Out of Norfolk Island

My next stop is Niue, which is a New Zealand territory, but I have to go via Sydney and Auckland.

Orientation on Norfolk Island

I've flown into Norfolk Island from Sydney on my Islands Around Australia Adventure .My landlady is a blow-in, a Kiwi who holidayed here and kept coming back.  She whisks me off to her B'n'B cottage and a hire car ready and waiting. They’ve told me to mark any scratches on the diagram on my paperwork and hand it in later. I figure I’ll wait till I’ve finished my driving before I do it…

Next, a tour, with my host, for orientation purposes. It takes about ten minutes to view the cluster of wooden buildings that is the only town, Burnt Pine, and the south western historic district around Kingston, which is a tiny but designated the capital of Norfolk Island. This is the administrative centre of the island.

And  I’ve already come from the airport in the southeast. The island is only five kilometres by eight kilometres in size. Then I’m off on my own exploring. It’s an exceptionally rewarding small island. The grass really is emerald  green; the pristine sandy bays are dotted with craggy islets and the waves are crashing in a deep ultramarine sea. Elegant and beautifully symmetrical Norfolk pines frame the backdrops, marching across the velvety hills. The solitary tree at the end of Emily Bay (known as Lone Pine of course) was mentioned in Cook’s dispatches. I'm going to be singing that Laurel and Hardy song the whole time I'm here.

The Bounty Comes to Norfolk Island

The feral chooks ensure that I wake up early. My very hospitable and efficient host has suggested I join the Tag Along Tour of the World Heritage historic area. I've driven down there in my hire car. Nowhere on Norfolk Island seems hugely far away.

My guide  greets us in Norf’k Speak: 'Wataweih yorlyi’ (Hello and how are you?) and announces, with a grin, that  she is a Pitcairn descendant (as are nearly half the inhabitants of the island). The settlement is the second-oldest in Australia, founded a little over a month after Sydney. The renovated Georgian buildings house, amongst other displays, a multitude of relics that the Pitcairners brought with  them when they journeyed across the Pacific – this includes a cannon from the Bounty. Their legacy is reflected all around the island, with names like Fletcher Christian Road. The shops even proudly display Bounty bars. They're most picturesque seen from the hill top above. It's a bit of a scramble, through a glade of Norfolk Pine trees. The Norfolk Pines, casting lacy patterns against the sapphire sky are ubiquitous. (See Norfolk Island in a Nutshell.)

Norfolk Island Maze

It’s gorgeous sun interspersed with heavy winter rain showers today, so I’m zipping around trying to take in all the views without getting drenched. There are several hills to climb for wonderful views across bays and one of the most southerly reefs in the world,  where HMS Sirius  was wrecked, bringing much needed provisions. Instead, they lost the supplies and doubled the population. The country lanes form a maze, rather than taking you round the edge of the island and navigation is interesting. The roads are more hole than surface. No-one has attempted any major repair since the Americans built them during the war; they just patch up the worst bumps

Mottle-faced cattle wander the potholes. It’s mandatory to give way to the animals. I’m also having to weave to avoid the feral chickens (brought in on the first convict wave). But it’s very quiet,, hardly any traffic and no parking meters. You can generally just pull up by the side of the road.

Landlady has instructed me to raise a hand  at anyone I pass. This is known as the Norfolk Wave, she says. Not everyone returns my greeting, although no response is better than some of the gestures I’ve seen offered to others. The Pitcairners delight in insulting each other. I think it's all done with a sense of camaraderie.

Crystal Pool

There’s a sign on the point at Crystal Pool, informing me that the road is impassable when it’s wet. I scramble up the steep tussocky  hillside to look down on basalt formations , creating boiling pools in the ocean. This path too has warning signs and is booby trapped, with holes once created by nesting petrels. The indentations must be old - the starving population ate all 170,000 or so of the petrels after the Sirius wreck. Tasty eating - I’ve read - the locals called them mutton birds. I can see dark clouds rolling in  from the west, so I hurry (carefully) down to make my escape, before the rain reaches the road.

Further Bounty

Another day, some glorious sunshine and a bus tour - it is free - to make sure I haven’t missed anything. This guide also proudly traces her ancestry back to Pitcairn; she is a seventh generation descendant. As one would expect, their versions of the mutiny story depend on their lineage. Lynne assures us that her ancestor, Quintal, (the name features on many of the businesses), was not a pyromaniac and alcoholic. Though that's what legend says. The older families know everyone else of course and most are known by nicknames. There’s a page in the local phone directory: 'Faasfain Salan Bai Dems Nikniem'. Favourites are: Dar Bizziebee, Geek, Gumboots, Honkey-Dorey, Lettuce Leaf and Pooh.

It's mostly bays, like Anson Bay, with great views and the ornate St Barnabas' Chapel. Its built of sandstone with stained glass. This was the mother church of the Church of England’s missionary work in Melanesia, between 1867 and 1920. During that time thousands of students from the Pacific Islands came to the Mission College to live and study. In 1920 the Mission headquarters were moved to the Solomon Islands.

As we are driving alongside the airport Lynne tells us that the island is subject to unpredictable cross winds. Some of the locals give the pilots marks out of ten for the quality of their landings.

Delicious creamy prawns in a café; the food here is unexpectedly tasty. The islanders  raise livestock and grow their own produce, but much has to be imported, via the ship that docks every six weeks - if they are lucky - and it’s calm enough for it to land. Landlady says she’s seen fights in the supermarkets.

North Norfolk Island

Even more stunning views in the north of the island. Gorgeous coves and bays beckon from precipitous lookouts, though at an air temperature of 18 degrees I’m not tempted into the water. I’m also hesitant about attempting the steep ascent of Mount Pitt in my car, (one metre less than Mount Bates, but you have to walk up that one). However, the car park at the bottom is occupied by snoozing cattle so that settles that. The reward is a wonderful 360 degree view of the whole island and the islets. Next Captain Cook Memorial and Captain Cook Lookout. On my return, I take in the botanic gardens, (actually a disappointingly  gloomy rainforest trail).

Landlady takes me down the Bowlo (Bowls Club), which is packed out and does surprisingly good food - prune stuffed chicken from a Vanuatuan chef.

The Cemetery

I’ve  decided to drive down every road on the island. There’s Cascades, which is  estate agent speak for a trickle of water over a cliff. Prince Philip Drive and Queen Elizabeth Avenue tie British heritage in with that of the Pitcairners. Then there’s a Country Road thrown in for good measure. What else to call it? The cemetery, up a dead end of course, is a fascinating wander. There’s the grave of Collen McCollough, the author, who lived here (so did Helen Reddy – one of her awards is on display in the tour office). Also, of course, all the Pitcairners and a row of epitaphs commemorating sailors’ executions - there seem to have been more than the average number of  mutinies around here.

All Roads Lead to Burnt Pine

There are numerous other cul-de-sacs, though one way or another most of the narrow, steep byways, eventually lead to Burnt Pine, the cluster of wooden buildings in the centre. It might act as the Rome of Norfolk Island, but it’s named after a pine stump that was used as the local noticeboard. This is a genteel neighbourhood, with cafes and shops rooted firmly in the last century - there’s an eclectic variety of wares on sale. One place is even called The Norfolk Emporium. And of course, it’s attendant service at the petrol station.

The islanders boast about the absence  of snakes and other predators. Instead, I’m noticing an abundance of large spiders (some have a vicious bite but aren’t life threatening is the semi-encouraging tag). Their webs form glistening canopies along the streets. There’s a lot of property for sale. Many islanders have no cash to pay the new taxes and so they’re leaving. Houses are generally sold complete with all contents - for obvious reasons.

Finally, a four man play (the posters show six people, so they’re economising here too) which runs me through the island history, just in case I’ve missed anything. The acting isn’t exactly Oscar standard, but it’s armchair seating - and a good place for a doze after all that fresh air.

Two Drips

I’m darting around trying to avoid the rain, which is back with a vengeance . I’m destined for a watery comeuppance whatever. The bottle of water I bought has leaked all over my bag. The brand is Two Drips. That’s about all I’ve got left. It seems as if I’m not going to be able to eat lunch either. Most establishments (and businesses) close in the early afternoon. At least that gives me an excuse to try the fish and chook shop this evening. The local fish is called trumpeter.

Tomorrow I fly to Niue via Sydney and Auckland.

Read more about Norfolk Island here

Petra and the Sydney Book Club

Sydney is across the international date line and nine hours ahead of BST, so I don’t know if I’m coming or going timewise after flying in from San Francisco. I’m staying with Petra, who I met on a boat in the Antarctic at Christmas. Her book group, of eight very welcoming ladies, is meeting in a very fine wood panelled café. It's part way along a headland in a park on the huge Sydney Harbour. It’s all exceptionally civilised. Not least, because the largest natural harbour in the world (almost, it's lost its title to Poole because of land reclamation) ) is looking its best, basking in the winter sunshine.

Sydney Harbour

After tea (in fancy pots) and chat, Petra and I leave the women to talk about their books. (They're Australian authors and I've never heard of them). We follow the dirt trail round the edge of the shore to the zoo. The water is clear blue and sparkling, criss-crossed with the foaming wakes of boats.

The ferries are full to the gunwales (the whole of Sydney is out to enjoy the best day for months) and the sailing dinghies pose gracefully in front of the Coat-Hanger Bridge and the Opera House. I’ve viewed these two iconic structures from every possible angle today: the shore, the road over the bridge itself (when Petra picked me up at the airport), the ferry from the zoo to the city, (scrapers and the Sydney Tower thrown in here too), a pub rooftop in the Rocks and finally from the ferry across to Manly, where there is hardly any room left to sit down on the famous beach. Darling Harbour with all its ferry terminals is packed. But, it’s an exceptionally pleasant way to spend a Sunday, revisiting old haunts.

Next stop Norfolk Island

The Aftermath of 9 -11

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 that's 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.

Byron Bay -The First Bus Out of Town

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 re-book 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 was named (by Captain Cook) after Lord Byron's grandfather, Vice Admiral 'Foul-Weather Jack' John Byron, a circumnavigator of the globe.

It's very pretty.  Fantastic surf covered beaches edged by lush rainforest covered mountains full of parrots, iguanas and other tropical exotica, houses on stilts, spiky bottlebrush trees, a ridiculous supply of good restaurants, surf shacks, New Age shops and massage parlours.  There's a great walk at Cape Byron State Conservation Park, on a headland (the most easterly on mainland Australia) with a lighthouse. 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.

Sydney Tour

I’ve joined the student gap year community. A twelve hour bus ride to Sydney, down the coast, The highlights are passing a giant prawn in Ballina and  watching videos. One day in Sydney to re-visit. I stay in a hostel - never again - sharing with three twenty somethings.  Clothes all over the floor, and I have to fight my way in to our cubicle.  Ugh!  Retracing my steps round the Victorian buildings of The Rocks, Darling Harbour, the monorail and aquarium, and the Botanical Gardens. Sydney feels the same but different. Odd. To finish my tour,  a fantastic sunset helicopter flight over the bay with great views  of the Coathanger Bridge and Opera House. Every type of cuisine seems to be available along Glebe Point Road, though it's difficult to navigate your way through all the sweating joggers.

Canberra, the Capital of Australia in Two Hours

Another twelve hour bus journey via Canberra. This time we pass a giant sheep, The Big Merino, at Goulburn. He's been dubbed Rambo, by the locals.

Canberra is the capital city of Australia, founded principally to avoid altercation between Sydney and Melbourne, as to which should be chosen. It sits in its own Capital Territory, taken from New South Wales. It had to be at least 100 miles from Sydney. The capital city was founded and formally named as Canberra in 1913, after the name of a local Ngunnawal clan. It it is an entirely planned city, home to the Government of Australia, the judiciary, the Australian War Memorial, the Australian National University, the Royal Australian Mint, the Australian Institute of Sport, the National Gallery, the National Museum and the National Library. and the Australian Defence Not to mention the foreign embassies, international organisations, not-for-profit groups, lobbying groups and professional associations.

Opinion is mixed on Canberra. I've been informed by fellow travellers that it is sedate and boring. 'After sunset it turns into a ghost town'. But this garden city has been ranked among the world's best cities to live and visit. My verdict is that a two hour stopover is just about right to see everything Canberra has to offer, unless you like museums. Other than a multitude of new-ish government buildings there's a flower festival on, so most of the two hours is spent admiring themed carpets of tulips at Floriade. This annual flower festival is in Canberra's Commonwealth Park on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin (he was one of the architects of the city).

Melbourne

 Eventually, Melbourne, the capital of Victoria State, once capital of Australia, named after British Prime Minister. William Lamb (Viscount Melbourne). It developed on the back of the Australian Gold Rush and has a host of Victorian buildings melding with modern development. it's still synonymous with much that is iconic about the country, the F1 Circuit, the cricket ground, street art, music and theatre.

I'm staying in Melbourne with Sue, who I met in Japan.  We tour the city, and  its surroundings. The Mornington Peninsula is  just like being back in Sussex: Brighton Beach, Shoreham, Hastings, St Leonards. Except that there are  mountains and the beaches are golden. There's a good view from Arthur's Seat (now we're in Scotland.) And then off to Italy, with gorgeous Sorrento Beach.

The city is neat and business like with pretty parks. It's tranquil down by the River Yarra, though the bustle of modern scrapers looms close by and good views across town to be had from those. The Botanic Gardens are lovely.  And there's a very Bohemian area, Brunswick Road,  that's good for eating. It's great food again,  I've not had a bad meal yet.  It was Greek last night.  And I manage to get my cancelled flight to New Zealand re-booked. (See New Zealand for this section)

Airlie Beach

As usual my travels have veered from one extreme to the other. Back in Australia, a night in Brisbane with Peter, also from the tour in from Japan. He tours me round the botanical gardens, the tower viewpoint. It's nice, but not very happening. Another bus, 18 1/2 hours ( effin Ansett) back  up to Airlie Beach. It's a tough journey. I wake at 6.30 a.m. to hear ' It's really difficult to stick my teeth back in on a bus,' wafting own the aisle. 

A bathroom is very welcome- about half an inch of dirt must come off. Then I wander out to sign up on a boat - my goal is the famed Whitsunday Islands and streams of boats offer short cruises there. How to choose from the many touts sitting in their little cabins? The  catamaran Avatar, leaving in two days time, seems a bargain. In-between I admire all the chocolate shops, swim in the pool, read the Celestine Prophecy (recommended by a girl in the swimming pool) and go out for dinner with Ray, Bert and Aidan, who I meet in the supermarket. They drink a lot and they're Irish, but you probably worked that out.

Cruising the Whitsundays - with Captain Erica

Then I get to find out why my cruise was so cheap. Twenty one young things  crammed on board a racing catamaran. Cosy isn't the word. I'm allocated  one bunk, in a hull with Kim, a tiny (fortunately) Korean girl. We sleep nose to tail. Fortunately, she doesn’t snore, though she ends up under me at one point in a mire of spilled shampoo, suntan cream and orange juice.

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 prefers being called Erica. He puts me in charge of music. My Capital Gold CDs go down well and it's better than hauling on sails. We skim along to the strains of Vienna, battling for sunbathing space on the webbing and squealing when the waves splash through.

The beaches in the Whitsundays are truly stunning - the best in the world? The snorkelling stops are hugely worthwhile, and at least we get some space  off the boat. At Whitehaven Beach, aptly nick-named Paradise, the softest silver sand stretches forever and when we do reach the cerulean sea, a school of rays are basking gracefully in the clearest of water.

A seventeen hour bus journey back to Brisbane and another overnight with Peter. Someone has left an aboriginal baby alone on a seat at the back of the bus.

The Top End, Australia

Then I find myself on a bus travelling across the top and down the side - Darwin (again and more fish feeding) to Perth - with a group of 23 old age pensioners, a Swiss couple and one 33 year old gay guy. Does nobody my age travel any more?  And we're camping!  What am I doing camping?  Putting up tents, with unwanted help and unwanted instruction  and getting covered in muddy grass.  Being woken much too early, with everyone packed up an hour before we are due to leave. There is red dust everywhere - yes everywhere - and salt water showers and taps that spit frogs at you when you turn them on. There are some pretty gruesome sights in the washblocks where my fellow travellers strip off with no hint of modesty.

South to Katherine Town (war cemetery and beautiful trees), Hot Springs (no time to try them) and the red escarpments and waterfalls of Gregory National Park.

The Kimberley

Into the Kimberley, the top most part of huge Western Australia. Despite the wilderness, steep-sided red mountain ranges (Kelly's Knob) and dramatic gorges this was one of the first areas in Australia to be settled. 

A cruise on Lake Argyle, a huge man made reservoir. More red mountains, and crocodile spotting. There are fish with crimson eyes brazenly swimming alongside them. A flight over the Bungle Bungles in Purnululu Park (incredible rock formations and tropical coastline and diamond mines), a walk in the Hidden Valley, the odd creek or two. Gum trees, galah cockatoos and a great deal of peeping scratchy  blue hued spinifex contrasting beautifully with the cinnamon desert, as we near the coast. Geike Gorge for yet another cruise with pied cormorants, dollar birds, stunning reflections and coolibah trees. (No prizes for guessing what I'm singing now.)

Broome

There isn't a moment that isn't organised.  It's like Butlin’s on wheels.  There are microphone introductions as we're going along (even when I'm sleeping) and quizzes and songs with actions. There is even a fancy dress competition.

A late night is 9 pm. I've decided that AAT stands for Ancient and Tragic. Fortunately, Paul is great fun and we wind all the pensioners up by flirting outrageously and sharing a cabin (a welcome respite from the tent) at Broome.

Broome (population 28,000) is the largest town for many miles. Cable Beach is spectacular and I'm tour photographer as the team take camel rides at sunset. Paul has to leave at Broome though, so I soldier on solo. 

Karijini National Park

The plus side has been more fabulous beaches (Eighty Mile, which is actually Thirty Mile), turquoise seas and more stunning gorge and waterfall scenery at Karijini National Park. You can just see my head in the waters of Fern Pool, near our camp site.

West Coast Australia

Then marine delights. Ningaloo. Sadly it seems that no-one is interested in facilitating snorkelling or a visit to the fringing reef, so I will have to come back to see the whale sharks. But the sand dunes here make great nests to sunbathe topless and escape the rest of the tour in the bay.

Shark Bay has a boardwalk leading to stromatolites at Hamelin Pool. They look like fossils, but these dome-shaped deposits are said to be the oldest life forms on earth -1,000 years). The area also has one of the largest seagrass beds in the world, home to 12% of the world's manatees (dugongs). There are turtles to watch too. as if that isn't enough there are tool wielding bottle nosed dolphins. They protect their noses with sponges. Further on, I feed  a cheeky little dolphin, at monkey Mia, supervised carefully by rangers..

Driving south iron mines (around Geraldton), - riveting - boom-boom!, banana plantations, endless flat red desert, wonderful sunsets and beautiful weather.  The last stop is the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. Thousands of weathered limestone pillars. I've been very lucky.

Now I’m in Perth, savouring civilisation and the city.

Home tomorrow. A shower, abed.

Arrival in Sydney, Australia

I was on a Round the World trip to Australia and New Zealand. It was my first really big trip and I was very naive. Flying in from Hong Kong I arrived first in Sydney. I had booked a cheap hotel in Kings Cross and found out why it was such a good deal when I got there. I knew nothing about Kings Cross (it’s the red light district area) and when I arrived a guy was standing in the doorway wearing a leather mini and a blonde wig. So, I got take-away and stuck a chair under the door handle.

I was crippled with jet lag and when I found myself down by the iconic Opera House and Botanic Gardens the next day it was dusk and I was very muzzy headed. I walked back across Victoria Park and only later discovered this was a big no-no for single females.

Sydney, Largest City in Australia, for the Moment

Sydney needs little introduction. It's one of the most visited cities in the world famous for its Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge (the Coathanger). Kingsford Smith Airport is one of the world's oldest continually operating airports. Sydney is also famous for hosting major international sporting events such as the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Sydney is the capital city of the state of New South Wales, and the most populous city in both Australia and Oceania.(though it vies with rival Melbourne for that title which has switched between the two cities.) The metropolis, (all 658 suburbs) ,includes Sydney Harbour and extends over 40 miles, towards the Blue Mountains to the west, Hawkesbury to the north, the Royal National Park to the south and Macarthur to the south-west. Sydney is known as 'The Emerald City' (Sydney is where people go expecting their dreams to be fulfilled only to end up with superficial substitutes and broken dreams) or the 'Harbour City'.(A little more obvious).

Up the Sydney Tower for views of what was purported to be the largest natural harbour in the world.( It may have lost its title recently due to some land reclamation) and a boat tour of the harbour stopping off at Bondi Beach, probably the most famous of many. The boats leave from Darling Harbour and just off to one side the heart of old Sydney and The Victorian Quarter - The Rocks. Other must sees are the aquarium and the mono rail that runs that way.

Sydney was founded as a British penal colony in 1788, the first European settlement in Australia. After World War II, Sydney experienced mass migration and by 2021 over 40 per cent of the population was born overseas.

Adelaide

Next stop, Adelaide to stay with friend Jenny. Her spare room had a water bed. Weird. She had only just commenced her one year teaching exchange job in Australia , so I pottered round the city while she was working. Adelaide is the capital of South Australia, name dafter Queen Adelaide. this was the only freely settled colony in Australia. This is a properly planned city - designed by the first Surveyor-General of South Australia, Colonel William Light. "Light's Vision" (also the name of a statue of him on Montefiore Hill), arranged Adelaide in a grid, with five squares in the Adelaide city centre and a ring of parks, known as the Adelaide Parklands, surrounding it. This is where I find the museums, art gallery, botanical gardens and the Mini Opera House. It was chic and easy, bo-ho shops. A place you could live I thought.

With Jenny to Cleland Wildlife Park to see the koalas, so soft... though I was rewarded by a pellet down my dress as part of my cuddle. We drive round the Barossa Valley, sample the wines and sail up the Murray River in a paddle steamer. I buy a koala toy with hat bobbing corks. It sings Waltzing Matilda. How could you not?.

Kangaroo Island

I also took a bus trip south to overnight on Kangaroo Island. There are plenty of nature reserves, a lot of seals and a few kangaroos. Penneshaw, right next to the ferry terminal is home to a colony of little penguins – also known as fairy or blue penguins. It's cold and dark and I can't easily work out how to get around the island. I can just make the little penguins out - I'm sure they are shivering in the bushes. One of the must sees is the Cape du Couedic Lighthouse above the boardwalk that leads to the Remarkable Rocks.

The Red Centre of Australia

Then, to Alice Springs for a bus trip to Ayers Rock. Alice Springs, with a population of around 25,000, is the third-largest town in the Northern Territory of Australia. It's just about in the centre of Australia, equidistant from Adelaide and Darwin. It's on a dry river bed surrounded by several deserts, so the region is dubbed The Red Centre. The town was called Stuart until 1933, when it was renamed after the wife of the telegraph pioneer Sir Charles Todd. It's usually known affectionately as Alice of course and a draw to me because of the Neville Shute's novel A Town like Alice. Though I remember the parts of the story set in war time Malaysia much more clearly.

There's little of note except for the gorges, the school, where it's all done by radio and the flying doctors.

Ayers Rock (Uluru)

The drive to Ayers Rock takes all day (it's 450 kilometres) and we stop for English scones, jam and cream once on each leg - the scones were enormous. Strange the things you remember.

Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is a massive sandstone monolith thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago. It’s part of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The Kata Tjuta are 36 red-rock domes known as “The Olgas”. Ayers Rock was stunning in its rich glowing redness, with never to be forgotten views of the rock and the neighbouring bulbous Olgas from a helicopter. My first flight in one.

In those days there was a steady procession of climbers scrambling up the almost vertical face of the rock. It was surprisingly windy at the top, threatening to topple those who had made the ascent. Nowadays, climbing is not allowed at all, in deference to the native peoples who venerate the site.

Darwin and The Top End of Australia

Next stop Darwin and Kakadu. Darwin is the capital of Northern Territory, centre of the so called Top End of Australia and home to most of the residents of the territory. It is thoroughly tropical, a link with Asia and the smallest, wettest, and most northerly of the Australian capital cities. The sailors of The Beagle named the area Port Darwin, after their former shipmate, when they called there. The city has been almost entirely rebuilt four times, after cyclones in 1897, 1937 and 1974 and Japanese air raids during World War II,

My best memory of Darwin - unexpectedly small - was making an impromptu visit to the feeding of the fishes in the harbour. Crowds gather at high tide to lob handfuls of bread into the sea, which is almost instantly churning with huge fish who fight for the scraps. The most common attendees: milkfish, mullet, catfish, bream, batfish and barramundi.

Kakadu National Park

Kakadu is a park and World Heritage site 100 miles south of Darwin. It's probably most famous as the setting for the film Crocodile Dundee. But it is wonderfully memorable. Beautiful lakes, (I dived in, forgetting I still had my sunglasses on and my Oakleys sank to the bottom). The Aboriginal rock art was incredible. Best of all, this definitely was atmospheric, a trip up the remarkable Yellow Water Billabong, in a flat bottomed boat to see the crocodiles, buffalo and jabirus.

Cairns and The Barrier Reef

Cairns for an extraordinarily memorable day out on the Great Barrier Reef in a catamaran. My first proper snorkelling experience. I was so excited I forgot to come in for lunch. And it was seafood. Cairns is very much a seaside Come and Kiss Me Quick type of place. But I managed to acquire a taste for Fosters while I was there. I’ve never been one for bitter beer.

Port Daintree and Kuranda

Side trips up to Port Daintree. Where the rainforest meets the ocean and there are huge salties in the river. And the Kuranda Scenic Railway from Cairns ascending the Great Dividing Range to Kuranda at the top, in the Atherton Tablelands. 15 tunnels and over 37 bridges.

New Zealand next.

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