I was I suppose 5 years old when my parents bought my brother and I a set of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedias
I adored them and thus was born my obsession with the geography of the world I would spend hours and hours reading them and inwardly digesting them There were articles on the construction of the Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal etc but what fascinated me most was the flora and fauna especially of Australia It never ever in my wildest dreams occurred to me that one day I would board the 21st century version of a Comet or Boeing 707 and fly down to Australia My excitement was uncontained as I boarded my aircraft to Perth via Dubai.
I had however realised that I needed a companion to do the literal and metaphorical “heavy lifting”. A kind of latter day Jeeves or Passepartout or valet, indeed a general factotum After many interviews I appointed the said General I have heard ugly rumours around that the interview was not completely fair but I will defend until my dying day that the fact he was my husband played absolutely no part in my decision making
I also learned that Australia is not Godalming with the heat turned up
I have in my time sent many dozens of people to Perth International Airport but I have confess that I never imagined it in the middle of a farm. I found it a little disconcerting to be landing with tractors on one side and cows on the other side of the runway However in true Aussie style I am willing to give anything a “go” Things change dramatically on entering the customs and immigration hall We were greeted by the snap of latex gloves being donned on digits dextrous ready for action. Fortunately I did not see them used. Phew!!
Off then into Perth to stay at the Fraser Suites for 3 nights. The majority of hotels in Oz tend to be suite hotel ie you get a bigger sitting area a little kitchen and occasionally a washer dryer I was a little puzzled by this There are very few hotels like that in the UK and then the penny dropped You cannot realistically go for a weekend to say Perth The nearest international airport is over 6 hours so ergo the stays are longer I’m a genius entirely to my own satisfaction
Kings Park was definitely the highlight of our few days in Perth. The tour bus will take you on a very informative trip of the park. The view from the lovely café over to the bay was something wonderful to behold and a brilliant way to start our trip
We picked up our hired car and headed down the Busselton Highway to Margaret River which was pretty much deserted It has a passing third lane every so often allowing the General a wonderful opportunity to explore his inner Lewis Hamilton. I do believe after extensive therapy I may recover. Busselton is just small town Australia it does however have the seconded longest pier in the world the longest being our very own Southend I couldn’t just make that one up At the end of the pier was an underwater viewing station Just wonderful being nose to nose with Nemo and Dory
We had a lovely apartment in Margaret River overlooking the town which is charming. I have a dear friend who coined a new category of shop. They are “twiddly bit” shops. No explanation is necessary!! Margaret River is the very personification of this genre
We explored the region extensively As we drove back savouring the warm sun lit evenings we called in at the many wineries to taste some of their offerings Believe me sitting on an Oz veranda supping some of the best wines every made watching kangaroos hopping around is as good as life can get. The highlight was Cape Leewin and its lighthouse where the warm gentle Pacific Ocean meets the colder more bad tempered Great Australian Bite. That day the weather was calm sunny and still but listening and reading life as a lighthouse keeper was definitely a challenge. Over 90% of the time it is a wild stormy place still a treacherous hazard for ocean going vessels Much of the surrounding land was covered in penny gorse in which a very healthy population of Tiger Snakes live We were very cheerfully informed that the last person to die from a Tiger snake bite was in 1976 I was supposed to feel cheered by that news but we have not signed a non-proliferation pact who’s to say that they are not contemplating a modest rampage Oh no, it was time to leave
As we drove back along the coast we happened upon a wedding on a beach I have to confess at this time that I am a church wedding type of “gal” so I was intrigued The idea that writing one’s own wedding vows is as beguiling as it is wrong I discovered Rather startlingly the bride confessed that she had fallen in love with the groom when aged 15 and had spent the intervening years pursuing him until he gave in I have a nasty feeling that that may well come back to bite her The General and I departed in quiet contemplation
We drove back to Perth and found a local tavern/pub where judging by our reception strangers were not the “norm”. We were greeted with a warmth and kindest which some pub owners in the UK could learn a great deal
The next day we flew to Launceston Tasmania
Virgin Australia seems to fly in the face of modern convention of starving passengers into submission. They believe that feeding them like foie gras geese will quell the unruly mob so by the time we reached Launceston we were satiated. We had decided that Launceston was the way to go rather than the more popular Hobart. The whole point of this trip was to explore less popular touristy areas, to find that there is a great deal more to this magical kingdom that Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef We had another lovely apartment overlooking Launceston We sat most evening with a glass (or two) of Tasmanian grog watching the city beneath light up like a Christmas tree- another special memory (do you sense a there is theme here?)
Here in East Anglia we do flat landscapes very flat suffice to say there is no East Anglian Mountain Rescue service so to be confronted by elevated landscapes was unreasonably exciting There are gorges with chair lifts, many hiking trails and of course excitingly Tasmanian Devils
There is on the west side of Tassie ( as the locals call it) is Freycinet National Park It is a 2 hour drive in theory The road is like a theme park switch back and at the end I was an interesting pale green shade but we stopped at Devils Corner to admire the amazing view. What stuns me about the roads up to the park was a total lack of any kind of advertising, no garish posters, no promise of a “twee” village selling everything except anything thing useful, no architect deigned holiday cottages, no vastly overrated self-important bistro,( why do we need to have the food explained to us??) just turn a corner and there it is. Pink granite mountains plunging into a navy blue sea and I will let you into a secret ladies and gentlemen it was stunning. Wine Glass Bay is the main viewing area but that is a 3 ½ hour “gentle hike”. Right, after you . Louis de Freycinet was a French explorer in the 18th century who mapped the areas of South Australia When he got back to France nobody else could be bothered to return to colonise this area for France thus saving all newcomers a life of escargot, garlic and shrugging. C’est la vie
On the Eastern side is Cradle Mountain which is named after a gold mine cradle not a baby cradle We stayed at Peppers Cradle Mountain which rather charmingly names a dart board as a sports activity. You just could not make it up!! Again it is approached with commendable lack of fuss It is big hiking country and us soft city slickers were confronted by muscle bound shorts wearing young people just off on a 5 day hike with back packs taller than I am. I was forced to take a nap at the thought We went out at night to see wombats, possums, bennet’s wallabies and pademelons which are little wallabies We would just be walking along and we would discover wallabies just near in the shrubs They have that same look narrowing of the eyes, superior glare that my cats give me when I have disturbed them midst nap So off to the zoo to find the Devils Oh I had a picture of them slavering beasts foaming at the mouth with blood fresh from the latest baby pulled out of its pram and devoured. I had their number, I had taken steps to protect myself a stun gun and a glock pistol No sir-ree no devil was going to get me. I ordered the General to taken my last will and testament I was therefore a little nonplussed to meet with a couple of sweet little cat sized creatures just munching on the grass Excuse me did I pay a lot of dollars to see little pussy cats no I did not Apparently they are called Devils because the early settlers only heard this dreadful howling scream and as devils are nocturnal no one knew where the noise came from They now are being decimated by a truly dreadful cancer virus to which there is no cure Various measures to keep the devils apart are being tried but there is as yet no definitive answer to this affliction It is very sad
So it is off to Sydney
We once again had an apartment. This one was in Kings Cross, very cosmopolitan. I just hate being in hotels in middle of a city. How can you get the “feel” of a city if you don’t participate in its essential life? Visiting a city is not just about visiting the important monuments unique buildings, sites of scientific interests. Of course those are important but you need to get the feel Go to the local bars cafes and listen to people talking discussing what is important to them, how they think of their local communities What, essentially keeps them anchored to that one place in the world You will be amazed at the answers That aside, Sydney is all the expectations met The Circular Quay , Darling Harbour ( with some horrible large cruise ship blocking the view) the bridge which was impressive but smaller than I had imagined and of course the Opera House
The best bit was taking a double decker train into the Blue Mountain It takes over 2 hours each way Do you know how much a return trip is?? go on guess It is about Aus$6 which is aprox £4 Do you know how much a bus ticket from Whittlesford to Cambridge £4.80. M’lord I rest my case
Anyway that is enough of my raving and shouting
The train drops you at Katoomba which is a bit of a tatty tourist town except for the Carrington Hotel which is straight out of an Agatha Christie novel I expected to see Jane Maple at any moment In fact the hotel has been shut for many years but in the 1970s 3 local families had bought it and restored it to its present Art Deco glory It was gorgeous in its rich jewelled colours The present owners had even restored a little balcony that had been installed for Queen Mary on her visit to Australia in 1901 so she could watch the festivities without having to mix with the hoi polloi We of course did the hop on hop off buses The mountains were beyond description towering peaks plunging into cavernous valleys with torrential waterfalls all bathed in this blue/grey mist The weather is a little unpredictable so we were so grateful for the sunny day We got off at a little “twiddly bits” town called Leura and wandered around then took the train (Aus$6) back to Sydney
On our last day I was determined to see all the animals that I had on my list. Sydney Zoo was the place to go so Koala bears tick, Eastern kangaroos tick, various snakes with an unreasonable amount of venom ( the very definition of over kill) tick box jelly fish which will dispatch you with a look tick but most of all the Duck Billed Platypus We had been told many times on our travels that they were “just” in a nearby river but alas and alack not so much as a glimpse I just looked over a bridge in the zoo and there he was just swimming around They are smaller than I imagined about a metre ( or a yard in pounds shillings and pence) but just the site of him brought tears to my eyes I felt that my journey was complete
All good things come to an end!!
I have of course left so many things out but I have tried to give you a taste of all the unusual places and sights. For example we went to Bondi Beach, a bit disappointing if truth be told It is quite small and full of much tourist tat, but still we have to do these things I hope more than anything that you have read this with a new understanding that Australia is a wonderful, exciting, interesting place with more to offer the not very adventurous traveller sights and sounds that will stay with them for a lifetime.