Norfolk Island May 2017 Just had a week at the Endeavour Lodge on Norfolk Island which is truly a paradise and was on our bucket list. What a place…. fishing, walking, golf, snorkelling, canoeing, tours, historical ruins, live shows, fresh produce, sustainability, swimming, shooting, delicious food and quiet ... only 1600 people. Norfolk pine trees that Captain Cook sketched are still there (they live a 1000 years) at Emily Bay and the walks around Captain Cook lookout and the Botanical Gardens are inspiring. There is evidence of a Polynesian village also at Kingston which dates pre Cook. Ask for Duncan and Gaewyn Evans (Duncan is a descendant of the Bounty crew) if you book at the Endeavour Lodge (very modern with all your needs catered for in your unit) they also have a house for rent on 3 levels called Rainbows End which has a bedroom and ensuite on all levels so couples can stay and it has one of the best views of Phillip Island and the coast of Norfolk you will see each day (from your bedrooms). Australia should be proud of this beautiful, inspiring and fascinating island which is now part of our heritage.
The Ghan ( Darwin to Adelaide Feb 2017) Flew to Darwin from Brisbane and spent the night at the impressive Palms City Resort near Government House. Picked up there by the Ghan bus (big production item is the Ghan trip) and driven to the Darwin Rail Station to see the 1 km long Ghan train waiting for us. Five carriages for staff, 2 locomotives, three power carriages and one last carriage for guests cars on back is a sight to see in itself. On boarding the train (some guests had to go by shuttle bus to reach their carriage) our stewardess showed us our room and a procession of staff followed to fill in a database of information about what trips would be taken at our stops at Katherine (we chose the boat cruise up the Gorge but there were museum visits and helicopter rides over the Gorge also available) and in Alice Springs (camel rides, museum trips, scenic walks and helicopter rides) where we chose to do the museum trip to Royal Flying Doctors, Pioneer women at the old goal and the reptile display. Our rooms functionality and our hours for dining were explained to us and all questions answered before the train lurched forward and moved slowly out of town. The trains manager keeps you updated on events and sites as you travel and we ate lunch in an impressive and magnificent dining room carriage that is adjacent to a lounge area where you can drink away the day on the free drinks or just relax and chat to other guests from all around the world. The social aspect is one of the highlights of the trip as you are seated with others for each meal unless you specifically ask for one table or another couple to sit with you. We met an 84 year old ex restaurant owner who was taking time out from caring for his disabled wife, a young Scottish doctor who was heading back to USA where he has citizenship after a stint in Darwin and some interesting couples from all around Australia during dining hours and others from around the world during the excursions and corridor chats. The Katherine Gorge excursion changed after arrival when we discovered it was flooded to great heights so the slow boat became a jet power boat that had us all wet but adrenaline high after the rocket trip over rocks and trees that were submerged under a large volume of water. Even the 84 year old bloke loved every minute. Stories of a 3.7 metre crocodile being trapped in the Gorge the previous week worried no one and there was some excited chatter after that ride. We were then driven back to the train on the Ghan buses to be reunited with the other groups and boarded the Ghan once more. After dinner (the food is world class and reflective of the outback with crocodile, duck, bullock and kangaroo among the menu offered but elite dining and three course), we bedded down and nestled to the rock of the train in our bunks that were made up for us (with chocolates left on the pillows) as we ate dinner. The next few days flew by but Alice Springs was a wonderful stop with the landscape reflecting a variety of Australian natural colours that were also reflected in the endless outback views from your carriage windows during the journey and were reminders of how privileged we were to see the interior of our great country. None more for instance than crossing the Finke River which is the oldest river in the world at 300 million years. The night before we disembarked in Adelaide the train slowly stopped at midnight in the Simpson desert and we all gathered out beside a large bonfire and drank Baileys and port as we gazed at the great Southern Cross above us.
What is it about Western Australia? Why is it such an enjoyable and unique place to visit? We have just completed a 4000 km road trip in a small comfortable self-contained campervan from Perth to Adelaide so another one off the bucket list. It was simply magnificent. We flew from Brisbane to Perth in five uneventful hours and shacked up in a hotel for three days while we visited Rottnest Island, Fremantle and the delights of Perth. It was the wildflower festival in their beautiful Kings Park and the flora was exceptional mainly due to the variety of local wildflowers unique to that climate. I have never seen such a display of varied colours and plants like it and we have visited botanical gardens around the world. You must see it. Rottnest Island, the former military training camp, intern war camp and holiday destination for many West Australian is a treasure. You can circumnavigate this beautiful island by bus, bike or walk and you will never be bored. The scenery is wonderful with a variety of bays, beaches and outlooks with the unique flora and fauna to treat your senses, swim or snorkel in the crystal clear turquoise coloured water or just sit and ponder life surrounded by the sounds of silence. The Rottnest Flyer boat leaves the port city of Freemantle a couple of times a day and is only a half-hour journey. On return we walked the city up to the infamous convict prison, past the coffee strip, through the food markets and took the free bus around a city that offers a variety of healthy food options in and around the markets. We left Perth on day four and drove to the Anzac area of Bunbury, Busselton (where we walked a km out on the same jetty the Anzacs were loaded onto ships) and Albany where they trained before heading for Gallipoli and the Western Front. The quaint and alternate town of Dunsborough was our first night stop and we found a good spot to park in the volunteer rescue car park on Geographe Bay. The next morning we walked to Meelup beach along a very well kept path with outstanding views of the coast line as a great introduction to the Naturaliste-Leeuwin National Park which is a biodiversity smorgasbord. What and eye-opener for lovers of nature from the lighthouses on Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin which are joined by a 100 km coastal walk that will satisfy your every need for beauty and adventure. We camped at Prevelly/Gnarabup where we watched the sun set and stopped at the jaw-droppingly beautiful Yallingup on the way down. Woke up above the car park above beach café where we enjoyed a morning coffee and enjoyed the wildflowers that are everywhere and the blue ocean that keeps rolling into the bleached white sands and rocky headlands. The scenery is breathtaking. After passing through the wine district of Margaret River where we counted at least 50 wineries and experienced the spiritual solitude of vast grey gum forests, we drove to Pemberton for lunch and on to Walpole, before visiting the Valley of the Giant trees and finally stopping at Denmark surf club carpark for the night. From Denmark it was a short drive to MT Barker the next morning where we climbed the mountain for an hour before reaching the awesome sky walkway that sits like and eagles nest high above the surrounding country-side. It truly was a feeling of elation as we reached the sky walk which is built with stainless steel and bolted to the many massive granite boulders. It really offers a feeling of accomplishment as well in reaching it but with an added bonus of incredible far-reaching views. Nearby Albany was our next stop with two nights at the Big 4 Caravan Park nestled on beautiful Middleton beach. After a peaceful night’s sleep we ventured past the nearby coffee shops and on to the walkway leading to Port Albany and the ANZAC Centre. More wildflowers, some old lighthouse relics and an amazing view of the entrance to the harbour are an integral part of that journey. A short drive the next day to the spectacular wind farms and more WA Parks stainless steel walkways overlooking their natural bridge and gap where the waves pounded the rocks directly below where we stood. Before we hit the road again we spent the morning at the boatshed markets in Port Albany where we met our first live ATM named Albert who sits with a bag of money next to the ATM sign. He swipes your credit card then adds his fee and you are given the cash a process which we found quite unique but effective. The trip just kept on dazzling us with stays in Hopetoun, Esperance right on the beach again and a crossing of the Nullarbor Plains which justify the meaning of Nullarbor which is treeless but inspiring especially as you camp out in clear starry skies. On crossing the border South Australia surprised us with numerous whales at the Bunda Cliffs Head of the Bight, tranquil settings on the Flinders Highway at Streaky Bay and Elliston and BHP's Whyalla but nothing to match the magic of WA. Go in the spring and enjoy the experience of a lifetime in an area that is by no means over-crowded like other parts of OZ but just delightfully fascinating.