Dec 05, 2001 in Australia 2001
I had one more day in Sydney. It rained heavily for most of it so I didn’t do very much. I got the ferry to Manly, and walked on the beach for a while. On the way back, the waters of the harbour were choppy, and me and another guy who were standing on the bow got completely soaked when we hit a large wave and spray crashed down over the decks. Back at Circular Quay, I walked along the shores of the harbour to Macquarie Point. It was getting dark, and the views of the bridge and the opera house were looking good. It was my last night in Australia, and I wondered when I would be back. Opportunities to visit the other side of the world don’t come around too often, and after two visits in three years, I feared it might be a while before I could return.
Dec 04, 2001 in Australia 2001
I got an overnight bus from Melbourne to Sydney. It was almost entirely full but there was one single spare seat on the bus. It was the seat next to me, and I was very happy about that. It meant I got a less bad night’s sleep than I would have done, and I wasn’t quite incoherent with tiredness when we arrived in Sydney at 6.30am. I got straight on a train to Katoomba. It was a beautiful day in the Blue Mountains. Katoomba is one of the most popular spots in the region, but it was not too busy as I walked down to Echo Point. I walked from the point along the edge of the Jamison Valley for a few hours, to Katoomba Falls and beyond. The hazy blue valley looked vast and impenetrable. I only had a few days left in Australia before I had to head back to London, work and winter, but it was so peaceful here that such thoughts were very far from my mind. After the bus journey I was tired. I headed back to Katoomba, and had a power nap at the hostel I was staying at. It had been a beautiful [...]
Dec 02, 2001 in Australia 2001
On the final morning, we all felt like the best was behind us. We made a couple of stops, but they were nothing like as spectacular as yesterday’s, and the weather wasn’t so good either. We were all glad we’d done the trip starting in Adelaide – starting in Melbourne you’d have the best scenery on the first day and then two anticlimactic days to follow. I felt sad the tour was over, but most of us stayed in the same hostel in Melbourne so it was not goodbye just yet. I liked Melbourne a lot more than I thought I would, even though the weather here was similar to what you’d expect in London in November. There were lots of things happening – we saw a great photography exhibition at the Arts Centre, and took shelter from the rain at a cafe where there was live music. It seemed that you didn’t have to look to hard to find interesting things to do here. We went to the Rialto Towers one evening. In the daytime, under grey skies and in constant drizzle, Melbourne was no beauty, but at night from above, it looked pretty impressive.
Nov 30, 2001 in Australia 2001
The second day of the trip was fairly unremarkable. We stopped at some interesting places, but I felt that it was all just a prelude to the road we would travel on the next day. Probably the best things about the second day was that it finished in Port Fairy, where we had a great night out in a pub in the town, and where in the morning I went for a dawn run along the beach and around the marina, where colourful boats bobbed about in the quiet morning sunshine. The third day was what we were all looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. As the day went on, the scenery just got more and more spectacular. We made stops at the Bay of Islands, the Bay of Martyrs, London Bridge, the Grotto, Loch Ard Gorge and the Razorbacks, and visiting even a single one of them would have been impressive. I burned up film, and was amazed that places like this existed. The turquoise sea crashing against the wild yellow rocks looked otherworldly. In the evening we stopped at Apollo Bay. It was our last night, and it turned into a very late night. At the start [...]
Nov 28, 2001 in Australia 2001
From Adelaide I headed towards Melbourne. I wanted to travel along the Great Ocean Road, and it seemed like this was only feasible with an organised tour. There was little public transport, and I didn’t fancy hitch-hiking, so I booked a trip with the Wayward Bus Company. I wasn’t too much looking forward to it, as I’d never really been on any kind of tour before. Three days with a bunch of people I’d never met before was an uncertain prospect. Things started OK. The trip would last four days, and we’d only get to the Great Ocean Road proper on the third day. We drove through the suburbs of Adelaide, passing through the German town of Hahdorf, and crossing the Murray River on a pontoon that reminded me of criss-crossing the Zambezi on my journey from Mongu to Livingstone four months earlier. Eventually we reached the Coorong, a long thin peninsula separating the Murray River from the Southern Ocean. In the imaginative style typical of the early settlers, the ocean-side beach which stretched away out of sight in both directions was called Ninety Mile Beach. We stopped here to walk along the shore, and to jump off giant sand [...]
Nov 27, 2001 in Australia 2001
I got to Adelaide not longer after the World Solar Challenge competitors got there. They had raced across the deserts from Darwin to here in solar-powered vehicles, and in the hostel I met a guy called Sven, who had been a competitor. He’d finished last, but didn’t seem too unhappy about it. I went to look around Adelaide. My dad’s cousins live in Adelaide, and I got a train to Marino to visit them. Three years ago in their house I had a terrifying encounter with a huntsman spider, but this time there were none in sight. I was constantly keeping half an eye out though. Back in the city centre I explored the planned city. Unlike Canberra where things like street signs and soul are lacking, Adelaide has got all the essentials. The central grid is surrounded by a ring of parks, with the Torrens River winding through. As night fell I walked along the river and watched the lights of the city come on. I walked up to Light’s Vision, a statue of the city founder overlooking his creation. I thought he must have been pretty pleased with it.
Nov 26, 2001 in Australia 2001
I walked to Central Station in a good mood. I was looking forward to a good journey, and it would take 24 hours to cover the thousand-odd miles to Adelaide. As I settled into the blissfully cool air conditioned carriage, I looked at the spare seat next to me and thought it would be great if a cute girl happened to be booked onto that seat. As I thought this, a cute girl appeared at the end of the carriage, walked down and took the seat next to me. As we rumbled out of Central station, we started talking. The train clacked along slowly, the engines struggling to haul the great body of the train up out of Sydney and into the Blue Mountains. After a few hours we’d crossed the Great Dividing Range, and we accelerated down into the endless plains of New South Wales. By nightfall me and the girl were still talking, although we were both English so we hadn’t found out each other’s names yet. When we woke up in the morning we were in the red deserts of New South Wales, not far from Broken Hill. I looked out the window and saw two kangaroos [...]
Nov 25, 2001 in Australia 2001
I was relieved to get back to Sydney. I booked into a hostel near Hyde Park. The sun was shining, and I thought I would spend a relaxed couple of days here before moving on. I wanted to go to Adelaide next, so I went to the train station to book a ticket for the Indian Pacific. Three years ago I’d travelled from Perth to Adelaide by train, and now I wanted to do the other side. But the next Indian Pacific was sold out, and for a moment I was extremely disappointed. But don’t worry, said the ticket seller, there’s a Ghan leaving this afternoon, you can get a ticket on that. I thought the Ghan started in Adelaide, but I wasn’t going to question him. I bought a ticket, and went back to the hostel to pack. I had a few hours to spare, and as I was doing a lot of training at the time, I decided to fit in a run. I’d done a couple in Canberra, and not seen anyone else out, but here I could barely move for runners. I went through Hyde Park towards the Botanical Gardens and it seemed that half of [...]
Nov 21, 2001 in Australia 2001
My Australian friends proved to be right. A week in Canberra was not a vast amount of fun. The day I arrived it was cold and windy, and the town was deserted. I was wandering around looking for somewhere to get a coffee, but nothing seemed to be open. Eventually I came across a lonely figure at a bus stop, and asked him if there was a cafe nearby. “You might find one in that direction”, he said, gesturing vaguely down the road. Eventually I found somewhere, open but deserted, and had a coffee. OK, so that was a Sunday. Maybe it would liven up during the week. I spent most of the week in conference sessions at the ANU’s Science Dome, but we had Wednesday afternoon free so I set out to explore. I went for a long walk along the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, which was nice enough, but still the town felt more or less deserted. Each night I’d been out to restaurants and bars in town, and they had always been pretty quiet. But on the last day of the conference, finally the town came alive. It was a Friday evening, and the transformation was [...]
Nov 17, 2001 in Australia 2001
Three years after my first trip to Australia, I had an opportunity to return, for a conference in Canberra. It was a few months after the September 11 attacks, and my flights were quiet. I travelled via Japan, spending six hours in Osaka airport’s vast terminal building before getting on an almost empty flight to Sydney. It was good to be back in this amazing city. I’d left London on a cold November day, but here it was 30°C. In a jetlagged haze I wandered around the harbour, and ambled into the Royal Botanical Gardens. I sat down in the sunshine and before I knew what was happening I was waking up and a couple of hours had passed. I got up and blearily wandered back down Pitt Street to where I was staying. The next day it was raining heavily. I ran through the downpour to Central Station and got a bus to Canberra. All my Australian friends in London had told me that a week in Canberra was a week in hell. Soon I would find out if they were telling the truth or not.
Aug 12, 1998 in Australia 1998
On our last night in Australia, it was cold and miserable, and drizzle drifted on the breeze. We walked down to the harbour for a last view of the bridge and the opera house. The crazy shells of the opera house were spectacular to see, and it seemed impossible to imagine that it hadn’t always been there. It was also impossible to imagine that in its early years the opera house had been beset with difficulties, running vastly over budget and schedule, and with its architect Jørn Utzon hounded out of Australia by political interference. He never saw his completed masterpiece. By the morning, a ferocious downpour was battering Sydney. Our bus to the airport almost crashed, and our take-off was delayed by a couple of hours. On the way to Australia, the journey had gone quickly. On the way home it dragged on and on. To stave off boredom, I accepted every offer of alcohol the cabin crew made, and soon discovered how much more effective drinking is at high altitude. By the time we landed in the sticky heat of Bangkok at midnight, I was already getting the hangover. It had passed by the time we got back [...]
Aug 10, 1998 in Australia 1998
One of the iconic parts of Sydney is the Harbour Bridge. On an overcast day, we went to the museum in its south west tower. The museum was quite interesting, but possibly better were the views over the city from the top of the tower.
Aug 08, 1998 in Australia 1998
One evening we went up the Sydney Tower. I thought it would be impressive, but it turned out to be spectacular. We went up late in the afternoon, and not long after we got to the top night began to fall, and the lights of the city came on. The sight was truly amazing.
Aug 07, 1998 in Australia 1998
We flew from Alice Springs to Sydney. After we’d got into the city and found a place to stay, we walked toward the harbour, through the forest of skyscrapers around the central business district. Sydney Harbour is so famous that it almost seems unbelievable that it’s real, and I’ll never forget my first sight of Circular Quay, with the Bridge to the left and the Opera House to the right.
Aug 04, 1998 in Australia 1998
Alice Springs is a curious little town in the middle of absolutely nowhere. On a map of Australia it looks as if it’s right next to Ayer’s Rock, but in fact it’s about 300 miles away. If you drew a circle 600 miles across centred on Alice Springs, about 10,000 people would live within it. If you did the same thing in London, you’d encompass about 60 million people. We spent a couple of days in this outpost, and I enjoyed the frontier feeling. We wandered up Anzac Hill and looked over the town to the Heavitree Gap. Beyond the Gap you could travel through empty desert all the way to Ceduna on the South Australian coast. At the other end of town from Anzac Hill was Billy Goat Hill. This was off-limits to all except aborigines, being a sacred place to them. The sad state of urban aborigines was clear to see near Billy Goat Hill, as there were always a number of miserable-looking people there clutching bottles. It rained while we were in Alice Springs. This only happens once or twice a month, and after the shower had passed, the concrete paths near our hotel became covered in [...]
Aug 03, 1998 in Australia 1998
Kata Tjuta is a collection of giant red rocks about 20 miles from Uluru. The tallest rocks are taller than Uluru but Kata Tjuta is far less well know. I hadn’t heard of it before we arrived in Yulara. We headed out there to have a look around, and did an excellent walk through the rocks. We passed through the Valley of the Winds, and the six of us were the only people in sight in the vastness of the landscape. I felt like we were walking on the surface of Mars. Although it was winter, and bitterly cold at night, temperatures were high enough in the day for us to feel pretty exhausted by the end of our circuit. We’d only taken two small bottles of water, and signs at the start of the trail made it clear that in summer, that would have been a lethal error.
Aug 01, 1998 in Australia 1998
The darkness of the skies over Uluru was incredible. Even from the cities, the Milky Way was impressively bright, but out here in the desert it looked like it was painted on the sky. I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing – from the northern hemisphere we can only ever see the outer parts of our galaxy, but from the south, you can look right towards the centre, and our views completely pale in comparison. I walked a little way out into the desert outside Yulara to try to photograph the river of stars. I didn’t spend too long out there in the end – it was getting very cold very quickly, and I was still traumatised by my close encounter with a huntsman spider in Adelaide. I could hear a lot of noises of things moving about in the spinifex. When I thought I heard something running across the ground near my feet, I hurriedly packed up and headed back to Yulara.
Jul 31, 1998 in Australia 1998
We went out to a viewing point near the rock one evening at sunset. It was extremely touristy, and there were people nearby drinking champagne, which I thought was a bit over the top. But the sunset was more impressive than I thought it would be, with the rock turning some remarkable colours as the shadow of the Earth crept up on it.
Jul 30, 1998 in Australia 1998
We didn’t even know helicopter flights were an option here before we arrived, but when we found out we could do them, we didn’t hesitate. It was a spectacular fifteen minutes – we flew high over the rock, and it was the best possible way to appreciate what an astonishing place we were in. Everything was flat, red and barren, and the only things in the whole landscape that stood out were Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
Jul 29, 1998 in Australia 1998
We spent a few days in Adelaide staying with relatives. I had a terrifyingly close encounter with a huntsman spider while we were there, which left me on edge for days afterwards. A day out touring South Australian vineyards helped me to relax again, as did wandering along the shores of the Southern Ocean at Hallett Cove, watching porpoises swimming just off shore. After that, we set off on another epic journey, this time by bus to Yulara, a couple of miles from Uluru. “Don’t worry if you feel a sudden huge thump in the middle of the night”, said the driver as we pulled out of Glendambo at nightfall. “That’ll just be us hitting a kangaroo”. We passed through the Woomera Prohibited Area during the night, and at 6am we found ourselves in Yulara. It was freezing cold, and frost glittered in the morning sun. Later that day, we walked out to a viewpoint near the town. All around was flat, the horizon never-ending, except for the solitary form of the famous bright red rock. It’s such a famous object that it’s almost hard to believe it’s actually real, but there it was.
Jul 27, 1998 in Australia 1998
To get from Perth to Adelaide we took the train. Not just any old train, though – this is one of the great train journeys, taking nearly two days to cross the fearsomely empty expanse of the Nullarbor Plain. We rumbled out of East Perth station in the early afternoon, and until nightfall we wound our way through some fairly green countryside. At 11pm we arrived in Kalgoorlie, and in the morning we were deep into the desert. The line was a single track, and so the train would occasionally stop in the middle of nowhere to let something else pass. An announcement was made that getting off the train at any point like this would be a seriously bad idea. “If you get left behind”, said the announcer, “you will die.” It was strange to think that I was able to traverse such lethal terrain in a comfortable train. On the second day we travelled along the longest straight stretch of track in the world, three hundred miles without a single bend. It was monotonous enough for me; I wondered how the drivers did it without going insane. I thought we might be able to get up some serious [...]
Jul 25, 1998 in Australia 1998
While we were in Perth we visited the Pinnacles Desert. It doesn’t look far on the map but it takes a good few hours to get there. Our trip started with confusion when we turned up for the bus and said there were six of us booked in with the name Wesson. “Six?” said the driver. “I’ve only got two Wessons on the list”. It turned out he had two Wessons, and another six as well – we were not the only Wessons on the bus. It’s not such a common surname, we got talking to the other Wessons, and they stayed in touch with my mum and dad afterwards. We stopped at a town called Cervantes just before we reached the Pinnacles. On a white sandy beach by the Indian Ocean, we could see a storm approaching, and soon the rain was battering down. It passed quickly and we went on to the Pinnacles. They were an impressive sight. A fossilised forest rises from the yellow sand, covering acres and acres of the desert. Some of the pinnacles are small, some huge, and they all looked amazing under the dark stormy skies.
Jul 23, 1998 in Australia 1998
My dad used to work for BOAC, as it was then, and when he’d left had been given some free standby flights. It was a bit risky trying to go to Australia with them because there was a very good chance we’d be waiting several days before we could get on a flight, and when we went to Heathrow we weren’t sure whether we’d be going to Australia, just as far as Singapore, or back home again that evening. Just 20 minutes before the flight was due to go, someone came up and said “You’re booked on all the way to Perth – go go go!”. We sprinted through the terminal and boarded the plane pretty much at the last possible moment, unable to believe our luck. London to Singapore is a huge long flight but it went very very quickly for me. Thunderstorms lit up the skies over eastern Europe, and as we flew over central Asia we saw Tashkent glowing far below. We got to Singapore at 6am, and it was already 26°C. Soon we were off again, and into the southern hemisphere. Our first stop was beautiful, sunny, laid back Perth. For the first day or so [...]