Sunday, 27 September 2009

My (current) favourite things

  1. Fleece No. 1
  2. Fleece No. 2
  3. Home-brand cold cures
  4. Morrisons' woolly travel pillow
  5. Ikea sleep suit
  6. Hostel libraries
  7. The Original Pancake Kitchen, Adelaide
  8. Palace Eastend Cinema, Adelaide
  9. Mum's walking boots
  10. The fact that an echidna's young is called a puggle.

Last night in Adelaide, then it's 10 days in the outback, sleeping in a swag and cooking on a campfire (itinerary below). More when I hit Alice!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Tie me kangaroo down, sport

Back from Kangaroo Island, off the coast of Adelaide: it rained for two days out of three, I had a streaming cold throughout, and I loved it. Brilliant, brilliant trip.

We started at 6.30am on Monday, heading out to Victor Harbour where we saw the last of the Australian Right Whales (called "right" because they float to the surface when harpooned, hence they were the "right" ones to hunt) before they head out to sea for the summer. There were some mums there, being very stately, and some babies playing - flicking their tails flirtatiously, breaching the water and so on - as they got their test drive before the big migration. Fantastic - and just the start of the wildlife.

Once we hit the island, Simon (our guide, a right-on Australian dude) took us to one of his koala spots, where we saw (and this is pretty rare) a couple in the wild. One was even awake, which is something of a miracle - since this isn't mating season, they mostly sleep, and then eat, and then sleep again. Basically, they're stoned on eucalyptus... If there's such a thing as reincarnation I'm coming back as a koala - they eat, sleep, get high and have sex and that's it. Sounds pretty idyllic to me.

After that, we hit the caves to escape the rain (I should say that it started raining when we disembarked from the ferry and didn't stop) - cool stalactites and other formations - and then tried to go for a hike along the cliffs, but only got five minutes in before we were wet through - and I'm not talking a bit damp, but wringing water from our clothes and hair! After that we gave up and went to the camp for the night, which was really comfortable. Got the wood fire going, got the clothes drying and played Jenga amid the steam. We were seven at this point - me, an English guy called Mike, three cool Chilean dudes, an absolutely silent boy from Hong Kong (I never knew his name) and Eva from Holland, perhaps the world's coolest 18-year-old.

Next day it was still raining (!) and I still didn't care - though possibly it was something to do with the fact that I was high on cold cures throughout - and we did another hike to a beautiful waterfall (I concentrated on not having a seizure when we went up a horrible hill - even the youngsters were struggling with this one), then met some birds of prey at the sanctuary: a frog-mouthed tawny, peregrine falcon, barn owl, kestrel and wedge-tailed eagle, some of whom we could pass from arm to arm. Very cool indeed.

After which, we joined up with the two-day crew and went sand-boarding (basically like sledging except on sand dunes at Little Sahara), and in the evening went out looking for fairy penguins. In between we saw echidna (shy creatures who weren't best pleased to be surrounded by tourists taking photos, bless them), kangaroos and their joeys, wallabies, brush-tailed possum (including a cheeky one who was stealing from our bin late at night), Australian sea-lions, New Zealand fur seals, more koalas and a whole heap of scenery. Sadly there aren't many photos - and none of the third day when the sun came out - because my camera ran out of juice and I'd stupidly left the charger behind - so I'll just have to remember the Remarkable Rocks (actually remarkable - like a Salvador Dali sculpture) and the Admiralty Arch, with the fur seals basking underneath, or the little schoolhouse that was in use until 1945 (one room, and an outside dunny)...

Altogether a great tour; only a few days before I head out into the desert and I'm hoping I can shake this blessed cold before then. To which end, I'm spending the day with an Ian Rankin novel and some biscuits. If that doesn't do the trick, nothing will...

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Noodling around

The sun's come out and yesterday I headed up to Hahndorf in the Adelaide hills to celebrate. This town was at the heart of the German influx in the mid-19th century, and still has a German character today. It's very touristy - every other building offers you wiener schnitzel and apple strudel - but also pretty, and artsy (Hans Heysen used to live up there, and his studio is still open to the public, as well as the old Lutheran schoolhouse, which is now an exhibition space for local artists). Perhaps I was unduly influenced by the sunshine and the big glass of locally brewed pale ale, but I liked it a lot! And the sauerkraut/wurst hot dog. And the endless shops offering carved wooden toys etc. And the alpaca strutting across the hillsides.

Next up, now I've learnt to negotiate the bus system, is Cleland National Park, where you can indulge in a spot of koala cuddling, and Glenelg, the local beach hotspot. And tonight I'm off to the cabaret at the Adelaide Festival Arts Centre - the city is apparently the arts centre of Australia, so I thought I'd better get stuck in. I don't know anything about Cookie Baker (tonight's chanteuse) but I'll let you know. In the meantime, I feel a spot of noodling around is called for...

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

I feel like the rainmaker

It's pissing it down in Adelaide too! I should hire myself out to those farmers who have been hit by drought. Still, it's not conclusive until I reach the desert - if it rains then, I really will be like that lorry-driver from Douglas Adams' "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish", whom the rain clouds love and want to be near.

It led to today's bizarre highlight, though: I was escaping from a shower into St Francis Xavier Cathedral (Catholic hub of Adelaide, with a mad statue outside of Mary Mackillop, a nun who was beatified in 1995) just as a service was starting, so I thought I might as well stay. Communion went on its merry way according to the liturgy - until the votary candles caught fire and the Eucharistic Prayer was punctuated by the verger deploying his fire extinguisher. Considering they emptied a whole 2kg one into the Lady Chapel, everyone kept very calm - we were pushed through Communion at some speed, though, and it ended with a very perfunctory blessing: "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord... and under the circumstances I'm sure you'll all clear the cathedral quickly." But then I always knew priests were unflappable.

Bedtime for me, goodnight all...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Perhaps the coolest thing I've ever done...

Just got off the Indian-Pacific train from Perth to Adelaide, and it was sensational. I splashed the cash and booked a Gold Service sleeper, which made for two incredibly comfortable days. (See for the pictures.) There was a diner that looked like something out of Agatha Christie - all it needed was Hercule Poirot telling us whodunit - and a lounge for when the comfort of your own cabin all got too much. And the food! Oh, the food! And all while the scenery of the Nullabor Desert flashed by the windows - surreal and very beautiful.

There was even some touristy stuff along the way - on Sunday night we went on a coach tour of Kalgoorlie, site of the biggest gold find in the world and still very much operational as a mining concern. The driver gave waggish commentary throughout (particularly on the "skimpies" phenomenon: some years back an enterprising businessman sought to boost trade by having his barmaids serve topless, until the health and safety put a stop to it; he then got them to wrap up in Clingfilm, and then someone stopped that too; nowadays they get their jugs out (to receive the tips for getting their jugs out) for only a few hours each week, so the tradition is watered down a bit, but they're all very proud of it, and of their brothels, which do daytime tours apparently!). We also visited the Superpit itself, with the giant trucks looking like Tinker toys in this vast, vast hole in the ground - like some James Bond villain's plan to take over the Earth's core.

There was also a stop at Cook, a ghost town in the Nullabor that used to have a hospital, school and the works, till the railway closed it as a stopping post and now only five people live there, amid gradually rusting, deserted trucks and buildings, to keep the place open as a watering hole for long-distance trains. Most poigant, for some reason, was the basketball court - such an odd thing to have in the desert, with no one to play on it anymore.

And now I'm in Adelaide: Kangaroo Island, wine valleys, koalas, beaches and botanical gardens to come...

Friday, 11 September 2009

My kind of sightseeing

Freemantle today, known for its cafe culture and bijoux markets. But today it was known for the wet - even locals had never seen anything like it. I stuck it out for a bit, but in the end went to the cinema to dry out instead - and saw District 9, which is absolutely superb! See the trailer here:
An alien-human buddy movie that's action-packed, poignant and surprising - go see...

Thursday, 10 September 2009

It's raining, it's pouring...

Yes indeedy, I have come all the way to Perth, Australia, and it's colder than when I left England. Apparently there are weather warnings out for tomorrow - gale force winds! That trip down the river might have to be postponed...

Everything else is a plus, however. Being a neurotic insomniac is coming into its own, as I haven't felt the jet lag too much - I'm used to being knackered so switching to night shift is going OK. As for the plane ride - it's been much too long since I flew anywhere; I was so excited by the personal entertainment system! I watched six films back to back (good ones, too), whereas the last time I got on a plane they were still pulling down the overhead projector which didn't quite sync with the voices. It might have been economy but to me it was luxury.

And Perth has some really cool things too - there are iridescent green parrots roosting in the trees as you walk down the street (so much better than pigeons); Kings Park is 400 hectares of loveliness; and in the Art Gallery of Western Australia, amid some fantastic Aboriginal art, I stumbled over a series of nine Stanley Spencer paintings (Christ in the Wilderness). My favourite artist, on the other side of the world - I was absolutely stoked.

Tomorrow, weather warnings and all, I'm going to have a go at Freemantle. I'll let you know how that goes - I remind myself slightly of those people who go to National Trust gardens in the pouring rain, telling each other brightly how nice the roses are as they're being lashed with water. It's the kind of pig-headed Blitz spirit I really admire, so I hope I can do the same!

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Curses, I did it!

G'ah, I've joined the Facebook revolution, and it's like social networking crack cocaine. Actually, I see why it's so good, but I'm going to keep faith with what now looks like my totally lo-fi blog! And pop in to see what's going on in Facebook. And email. And update Flickr... Good God, I'll be a better correspondent from the other side of the world than I was in the UK. Sorry, guys.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

To Facebook, or not to Facebook?

That does seem to be the question. Bella has bet me A$20 that I'll be signed up within the month, once I start trying to hook up with people on the road. But I'm still commitment-phobic, and can't bear to enter the Facebook universe! In the meantime, and before I cave (just as I did with my mobile phone, alas), I have a new link:
It's got a few things on already, such as my attempts at drawing (not bad, considering), but will soon, I'm hoping, have sweeping Australian vistas and cuddly koalas...