Post 14 Just one day in Sydney and two days in Perth!

Our stay in Sydney was reduced to just one day due to a flight change. Arrived in the evening to our Air BnB in Glebe. Tom, our host, recommended a Thai restaurant for supper. It was brilliant… a great meal for £9 pp!

Sadly we couldn’t meet up with Jacquie Broome but we did have a lovely lunchtime with Tania Watson.. super to see you after too long a gap! Oh… and we also squeezed in the lovely 6km coastal walk from Coogee beach to Bondi beach, with a large pod of dolphins swimming offshore for part of the walk!

A walk to visit the beautiful Botanic gardens was rewarded with their new plant wall exhibition, and vast, colourful wildflower meadows full of colour.

Then a tour of the Opera House, with it’s beautiful wooden auditorium.

Plus Valentine’s day dinner at Fish on the rocks!

Temperature hit 37 degrees in the afternoon! . I ❤ Sydney

Next onto Perth.. where we encountered these new Dyson taps.. all automatic. Hands under middle for water, then move out to each side and the drier turns on! Little things !!

We are here to meet up with Elaine and John. John and Chris (and Paul and Pam) were sailing friends back in 1967! We stayed for 2 nights in their lovely home, and met their family.

A gorgeous walk along the coast here enabled us to view the Indian Ocean from a very different compass point to when we were in Sri lanka!

It reminded us how much we loved this part of Australia when we were last here, in 2012. Supper with their lovely family. I want to live in a climate where you can eat all your meals outdoors!

Next day a nice walk in Yanchep National park, where my wish to see more ‘parrots’ was granted in abundance. We also saw Koalas and added some new birds to our list.

Then a paddle in the Indian Ocean with Elaine.

A lovely supper with John and Elaine before an early bedtime… we have a taxi booked for 4.00 am!!

Post 13.. Tasmania part 2!

Pretty early start to beat the heat and catch the wildlife at Narawntapu National Park. Travel tip.. A multi pass for all the parks in Tasmania is $60 for a vehicle and all passengers for 8 weeks! A huge saving on individual tickets. The parks we visited are really well signposted with top quality board walks even in hostile conditions, so we were happy to pay our way. This park used to have a large wombat population, but they have been almost eradicated here due to a type of mange. The good news is that researchers think they have found a solution, so hopefully the wombats will return. We did a long walk and were rewarded with a dozen new birds for our list, Pademelons, wallabies, and close ups with huge Forresters Kangaroos hopping right by! They are huge!

Then we had our first hiccough of the holiday! The engine warning light came on in the hire car and we spent the afternoon being towed to Launceston to be given a replacement car! Every cloud has a silver lining. We got a bigger better car, and had the loveliest tow truck driver ever, who took us on the ‘scenic ‘ route so we didnt miss anything, and gave us loads of great information about local culture and lifestyles!

In the evening we went to Devonport and had a super meal in restaurant Camille!

(We really are in Australia.. you could be forgiven for thinking we are still in SW England with all these place names. The district we are in is Dorset, and we are near Weymouth and Bridport!)

Next day we decided to head west along the North coast to Stanley, a town settled very early on by a land company, and which has a calm, friendly air of yesteryear. Gorgeous early colonial buildings.

We loved it. The highlight is a huge volcanic lump called the Nut.

A very wavy chairlift went to the top… No Thank you! So we walked up the steepest footpaths we have ever seen! A lovely bush walk circuit at the top gave great views and lots of wildlife.

Back in the town we followed the interesting heritage trail, and visited the home of Australia’s first, and much loved Australian prime Minister, Joe Lyons. His wife Enid was a real character, and became an MP herself in 1943. She was an ardent supporter of women’s rights and equality generally, and a lot of her ideas would resonate today.

They also sell the best icecream EVER!

From here, we drove back westwards, stopping at Rocky Cape National Park, with aboriginal caves and great views.

Lastly, an evening riverside walk in Fernglade reserve, where there was an outside chance we might see the elusive platypus. Not today.

Our Air bnb was awesome. A little cabin in the dunes with a path to the beach.

The stars were incredible from here – we could see the Milky Way so clearly in the absence of light pollution. Our host had left bacon and eggs from her ‘chooks’, so we had a great breakfast!

Our final full day. We needed to drive 250 miles, plus we had 2 stops to make. Firstly at the Bonorong Wildlife sanctuary which takes in injured and orphaned native species for medical care and rehabilitation, with the ultimate aim to return them to the wild. To raise money you can book a 10 minute experience with certain creatures. We chose a wombat and a Tawny Frogmouth. It was just the two of us! The tawny frogmouth is a fascinating bird which is nocturnal, and during the day mimics a gum tree branch while it sleeps. We were able to hand feed 2 visually impaired birds who had been in car accidents!

Then, the highlight of the trip for me! 10 minutes with Maria.. a wombat who was orphaned. You cannot pick her up but if she comes to you that’s fine. We were able to feed her. Suddenly she was climbing on my lap. A beautiful glimpse of a lovely animal. Even Chris was smitten!

Did I say lovely? They can run at 40 kilometres per hour. At the base of their spine they have a hard cartilaginous plate. If a predator is chasing them, they run into their burrow and stop, bottom face out. The predator lunges into the burrow and the wombat sharply lifts up her bum and crushes the predators head on the roof of the burrow! How is that for evolution!!

A key role of the sanctuary is helping to save the Tasmanian Devil population, and we got to see some orphans being fed. Ferocious!

Roland the echidna was cute.. he had a foot amputated after a car accident, so lives here now.

A great way to see the native species in an ethical and informative way.

Then back to Hobart for one of life’s coincidences!

When Chris was at Uni in the 1970’s he met Shona, a flatmate of Carols. Shona married Gary and they came to live in Brisbane. They have kept in touch (we stayed with them last time we were in Oz!)

Shona saw my facebook posts and messaged me. She and Gary are on holiday in Tasmania! We managed to make our paths cross for a few ours in Hobart.. and headed for the pub! Great to catch up… so far from both of our homes!

We then headed south to the Huon River valley, south of Hobart for our final night. Oh my… so beautiful. So glad we came to see it.

Our last Air bnb was a room in Amanda’s beautiful house with a 180 degree deck and stunning views across the bay. We want to stay longer!!

Our final morning was spent walking from the house, along the beach, with rockpools and great rock formations.

Then, off to the airport, stopping on route at a community run wooden boat building school, which was fascinating, and apparently thriving.

Very sad to leave Tassie. Exceptionally friendly and beautiful place.

Now off to Sydney!

Post 12 Tasmania – a land of contrasts!

After a short flight from Melbourne across the notoriously choppy Bass Straight, hire car is collected and we’re off! Tasmania is 226 miles long and 198 wide – about half the area of England, but with a population of just 520,000, so even the capital Hobart is small and uncrowded.

There is stunning coastal scenery, beautiful rugged mountain scenery, huge forests, bushland, farming areas and tiny villages and towns. Much of it reminded us more of driving through rural England than being in Australia… until this hops by!!!

Our first day was spent on the lovely Tasman Peninsula, exploring beautiful coves and fascinating geology.. the tesselated pavement at Eaglehawk neck was my favourite. Millions of years ago, the siltstone rock cracked along natural joints, creating the shapes we see today. Subsequently, the action of sand, water and salt has eroded them… but differently. Those furthest from the sea are left for hours with salt water drying on the surface, so the flat part has eroded more than the edges, creating pans. Nearer the sea they are underwater longer, so the joints have eroded more, leaving domed ‘loaves’!

Short walks along the cliffs took us to an array of natural features – the blow hole, Tasman arch, Devils Kitchen – a collapsed arch, and the Remarkable cave.

The Tasman peninsula is beautiful and sad in equal measure, as it was the location of the infamous Port Arthur penal colony, the first to be established.

The peninsula is linked to the mainland at Eagle Hawk neck, a narrow, 30 metre strip, so this was the site of the feared dog line. No convict would escape by land.

On a warm sunny day, the honeyed sandstone ruins of the penal colony made it harder to imagine the awful conditions and punishments here.

It started well, aiming to give prisoners trades for their future lives, but eventually sank into a harsh, punitive regime, using solitary isolation as a misguided method of reform. The worlds first boys colony was here too, on a separate island.

Onto our great air bnb in the riverside Hobart suburb of Bellerive. Day 2 dawned bright so er drove to the top of Mount Wellington. Astounding views and a nice walk to view the dolerite columns that make up much of the top.

After a great lunch at fish restaurant Blue fin… (delicious oysters!)

, we explored Hobart, including the quay, Mawson’s Hut – a replica Antarctic explorer hut, and the lovely botanic gardens. It’s summer here!!

Then back to BnB, carefully selected as just 3 minutes walk from the Hobart Cricket ground.. and we had tickets for England vs Australia T20 game. I had no idea where seats were.. turned out they were right next to Australian players tunnel! Luckily, they were a fairly kind crowd, so we survived! Sadly, after a great start, England weren’t quite good enough, and we ended up cheering with the Aussies when Maxwell won the match for them, getting his century with a 6 on the final shot of the match. Lucky really, because our BnB host might have locked us out if England had won!

The next 6 days are spent touring the island. We stayed in 5 Air BnBs ranging from a modern luxury annexe to a mobile home cabin by the beach! All were great, and about 60% of the price of a hotel, with far more amenities.

Here is a summary of our tour!

Up the east coast visiting Buckland church with 14th century stained glass windows from Battle Abbey, brought over by ship in the mid 1800’s. Then magnificent Freycinet National park whete we hiked up a very big hill for a view of beautiful wineglass bay.

Favourite walk was to Sleepy Bay. Great pink granite rocks, and paddling in the chilly southern Ocean.

On to Bichenu. Great blowhole, and cute nightime fairy penguin watching.

This meant a night time drive up a twisty pass to our accommodation – dodging wallabies and possums on the road.

Next day, off to Cradle mountain National park. Lovely long hike around Dove Lake at the foot of Cradle Mountain. Saw echidna and snakes!

Staying at pretty Port Sorrell on N coast, we stumbled upon Moroccan night at George and Dave’s cafe. Walking back at dusk with Wallabys on the pavement, and a possum jumped down from a tree making us really jump! Slept with door open as it was so hot. The sounds of the wildlife were amazing, including possums raiding dustbins!

Part 2 to follow!

Post 11 The land Down Under… Melbourne area.

We made it to Australia… yippee! Anne’s second favourite place in the world… after Tresco! (At the airport in Singapore there were hundreds of people of all ages wearing these scarves. They looked like unlikely football fans! I asked them.. and they said they were all muslims on pilgrimage to Medina and Mecca!

Having never spent time in the Melbourne area, we wanted to put that right… and allocated 3 days! We hit the ground running, collecting our hire car and heading east to visit the Dandenong range and Yarra Valley. Beautiful scenery… wooded hills, vineyards and farms. Our first stop was the wonderful William Ricketts Sanctuary. He was a sculptor who had great affiliation and respect for both the indigenous population of Australia, and nature. He wove the two together with incredible wood carvings, which are set in the natural landscape around his home. A real place of contemplation.

We then drove to a town called Warburton.. my maiden name! A laid back, lovely place with it’s origins in the gold rush times, it has a pretty river and some amazing mosaic steps, created by the townspeople themselves, and containing the beautiful hidden message:

‘ Flow through life with gratitude, ease and grace, allowing beauty to nurture, inspire and embrace your soul.’ Your thought for the day!

A drive high into the hills above the town took us to a walk high in the natural tree canopy to admire huge ancient Eucalyptus trees, tree ferns and waterfalls. Gorgeous.

Then a 2 hour drive to Philip island to our beach cottage Air BnB.

Fabulous spot by Woolami peninsula so at sunset we were on the beach watching one of nature’s great spectacles.. although one that is hard to photograph as it is dark! This is home to the world’s largest colony of short tailed shearwater..or mutton birds. Over 1 million migrate here from Alaska(!) to breed each summer. After sunset, out to sea, the sky is filled in every direction with whirling, diving birds.. all waiting. As darkness begins to fall they start their dash for the beach .. zooming in to find their burrows in the dunes. Too dark to see, you are just aware of their presence as they whizz overhead guided by the call of their single chick. Fantastic.

Next day we explored Philip Island. We visited 5 different locations on a birding map I had found. Each one very different habitat. Estuary, mangrove swamp, coast, Freshwater Lake and Bushwalk! We did a walk at each one. Saw virtually no-one but did see an amazing variety of birds and wildlife within a few metres. The echidna was a great spot!

This is what travelling is all about for me.. experiencing things that are different!

Philip Island is famous for it’s Penguin Parade which is undoubtedly a spectacle but has been turned into a huge commercial operation that caters for 2000 visitors a night! We avoided that and walked the boardwalks at the Noddies… and saw….

A great day on a beautiful island.

An early morning dash to return the hire car, then a day in Melbourne city – a young and vibrant place with a big arts scene. The Old gaol was a fascinating insight into the history, and punishment systems of Old Melbourne.

Ned Kelly, their most famous outlaw turned cult hero, was hung here in 1880. His alleged last words ‘Such is Life’ have become a much used phrase here in Australia.

I, sadly, will now be forced to continue this trip alone.

We then took a great walking tour which introduced us to the historical sights in the city as well as the street art and ‘lanes’ culture. Some gorgeous shopping arcades dating from Boom time in the gold rush. Then a great view of the city from across the Yarra River.

A super dinner in a modern chinese fusion restaurant ended our stay here.

Tomorrow Tasmania!!

Post 10 The Maldives

Chris and I love islands. This trip was originally designed to visit as many islands as possible. When we realised that the Maldives are just a 80 minute flight from Cochin, we thought we ought to go and see this unique and remarkable set of islands. Facts and figures. Over 1100 islands make up the Maldives. 800 are uninhabited, 200 are ‘Local’ islands, and 110 are resorts. The islands are either coral atolls which formed on sinking ancient volcanoes, or reclaimed land. The Maldives is a strict muslim country, with some alleged dodgy human rights practices, but an excellent education system with 98% literacy. Alcohol is banned except on private resort islands. Women should cover knees and shoulders – except on resort islands, or on designated beaches on local islands! When we looked at costs, resort islands cost between £350 and £3,500 PER NIGHT!, so we chose to stay on an island inhabited by local people, in a guest house. Local people have only recently been permitted to offer accommodation, and it is a great budget option. However… do research your island. Some are noisier/ dirtier / less tolerant than others. Distance from the airport is crucial too…some are a 7 hour boat ride away.

We chose Thulusdhoo. A great choice. 30 minutes by speedboat from the airport at the capital, Male. The local people were very friendly and tolerant. It was clean and quiet! Of course there was no alcohol, but Chris held up well!

Our guest house – Canopus retreat, was right on a beautiful beach, and was of a high standard. We ate out on the sand every day. There were some very cute cats. The key things you want on the Maldives (so I’m told) are a house reef with lagoon for snorkelling, an underwater cliff for diving and a surf break. Thulusdhoo has all 3! The blue colours in the water are stunning… nearly as good as Tresco in the Scilly isles, our favourite place ever! Now those of you that know me will be aware that there are a few things I don’t get on with. Watersports is one of them! Sitting still is another. I survived the 4 nights. I read 3 books, walked round the island a few times and loved meeting local people and seeing their culture. We played Rummikub, and had a super aromatherapy massage. Excellent pizza at Contagious pizza. Lovely American owners who are ‘living the dream’. We did a boat trip, saw lots of beautiful fish and had dolphins swimming past the hotel. Now lets get busy again please! (But how is this for a title?!) The bad points… well, I know it is a cliche, but towels on sunbeds were an issue! There were only 6 really comfortable sunbeds. One couple literally tied their towels around 2 sunbeds and left them there, night and day, even when they were away from the hotel! There were many suggestions as to how to move the towels. Take them in to Hotel lost property was the best (and politest!) But no-one did!ĺ The Maldives are truly a very beautiful place, but with a mean height above sea level of 1.5 metres, global warming means their future is seriously under threat. We are very glad to have experienced this remarkable area, especially meeting local people rather than in a resort. We are now back in lovely Sri Lanka for 1 night before our flight to Australia! This time we are alone…no Tissa to hold our hand! I booked an air bnb near the airport – Villa Domenikuu. £24 for the night, and they arranged a cheap taxi to and from airport. It is amazing! Such a very friendly family…. and, completely by chance, he is a friend of Tissa Tissa had delivered the suitcase we left with him, AND the hat Chris had left in a hotel. Tissa had collected it! What service! Then went to the excellent Lords restaurant in Negombo beach by TukTuk! Zooming around these crazy streets in an open sided 3 wheeler is certainly an experience! It was great fun. Our last Sri lankan meal was superb. As was our last breakfast, with delicious Sri Lankan pastries. We are very sad to be leaving. PS. We also love Sri Lanka airways. Lovely staff, nice food and even in economy you get a foot rest, movies, games and a pillow! The female stewards wear gorgeous outfits – turquoise, printed with peacock feathers… there are wild peacocks everywhere here, they are the national bird of Sri Lanka. However the little logo for air India wins my favourite boarding pass award. He makes me smile every time I look at him. X

Post 2 Off we go! First stop Dubai.

Jan 8th. Farewell to House sitters. Train to Peter and Tracy’s house. Taxi to airport. Catch first plane. What could be simpler? Anything apparently, as we missed the first train! It shut the doors 1 minute and 15 seconds before departure and would NOT open them! Luckily there was a lot of leeway built in, and despite a rail strike AND a big rail accident, we made it in plenty of time.
Our trip is huge, and is constructed around a 7 leg multi destination ticket, plus lots of short hops on local budget airlines. (Some of which may make Ryan air look luxurious!). I wanted to use airmiles to upgrade the longest flights to business class to try to avoid leg cramps. This was not permitted, but the lovely people at Round the World Travel found us a ticket with Emirates and Qantas for just a few hundred pounds extra, that gave us Business class on all 7 main flights, and included all our internal Australia flights AND free taxis to and from Heathrow and Dubai Airports. 😊🙃

So.. at Heathrow we headed for the Emirates Lounge. Wow… comfortable, peaceful and an endless supply of yummy food and drink. Veuve Cliquot Champagne Sir, or perhas a Chablis premier cru. The water was nice too😕.

Then to our business class seats…ooh..more champagne! Then hey presto…we have a lay flat bed. I never want to travel any other way!

6.5 hours later we land in Dubai. After recent news stories about people being arrested for having too many pills, I was understandably anxious about the small pharmacy I carry with me. Luckily our bags were checked through to Sri Lanka from London, thus avoiding customs, and immigration was a speedy formality.

We had a 17 hour layover thanks to a flight change, and had arranged to meet Mike, a german expat who hosts the air bnb we will return to in April.

He took us for a 1 day tour of Dubai. Old town, museum, souk, waterfront were fascinating, and we had a delicious inexpensive lunch at the Arabian Tea House. This is a traditional musical instrument…a skirt wrap covered in goat’s hooves!!!

Then on to the restaurant in the architecturally and decoratively stunning Burj al Arab – just for the amazing views. (See pic of tower below. Had I realised how ridiculously unsupported the platform is, I might have thought twice against going up!) We didnt eat there…this hotel is seriously expensive. We came downstairs and did splash out on drinks on the outdoor terrace -Wow!

Then onto the Palm, a massive area of reclaimed land full of hotels and apartments in the shape of a giant palm. By saying you are going for a drink in Barazura, you will get into the gorgeous Atlantis hotel. The interiors are stunning, as is the enormous aquarium.

Finally to Dubai mall, where, alongside carpeted shopping avenues, you could let your child drive his own car around, wonder at another huge aquarium, marvel at a 155 million year old diplodocus skeleton or gaze at the wall waterfalls.

Then outside to round off a ridiculously busy day watching the incredible fountain display, plus light show on the Burj Kalifa.

This is a city that invites you to suspend belief. Anything is possible. It is opulent, materialistic and frivolous… but fun and interesting! Seeing it through the eyes of a resident was especially helpful. This was just desert 40 years ago. We enjoyed Dubai much more than we expected to.

Back to the airport and free dinner in the business lounge again as we wait for our 02.45am flight to Sri Lanka!

These backpacking holidays, roughing it, are great!!! Ahem😉

South in 15 days, North in 2!

We left Seville Tuesday morning and headed north, using the excellent, and toll free, route 66 through eastern Spain. We had a stop at the fascinating city of Merida, which was once a hugely important Roman city. This is evident from the extensive buildings which remain interspersed with more modern buildings. We could only visit the amphitheatre, classic theatre, temple of Diana and casa del Mitrio, however  you can buy an inclusive ticket to all the monuments. and the museum.

In addition, the 9th century moorish castle contains a fascinating well. It is housed in a building and reached by a divided descending stairway so that donkeys could be brought down to collect water and go up the other side.

After Merida we pressed on Northwards to a city I have always wanted to visit, Salamanca.

We arrived at 8pm and found the free parking under the bridge. We walked into town because we had heard it was wonderful at night.  We were immediately bowled over by the network of historic syreets and beautiful sandstone buildings, all illuminated. The Plaza Major is a jewel. We ate delicious tapas at the Vegetarian Cafe Atelier and wandered back to Boris.

Salamanca is full of history, and home to one of the oldest universities in the world. The next morning we explored the city again, climbing the Bell Tower and visiting the Old and New Cathedrals, which are woven into one. They contained some of the best mediaeval wall painting and altar paintings that we have ever seen.

Our time was limited so we did not visit inside the Old University buildings or the architectually lovely Art Deco museum ..  we are saving that for next time!

We did find a super restaurant, En La Parra, for a final special lunch… a delicious and creative tasting menu for 37 euros. A great end to the Iberian part of our holiday. Luckily we have done lots of walking so we havent put any weight on! The food has been marvellous everywhere.

LThen a long drive north almost to the Spanish border with France. Another free night opposite Orio before some Spanish supermarket shopping to buy ‘essentials’ like my favourite Salmorejo soup!Crossing into France we stopped at a bird reserve and with the help of a Grey wagtail, a Greylag goose and a humble blue tit took our bird list total over 100 for the trip. 

Finally our drive north continued to Pons for 2 days with friends before sailing home from Cherbourg on Saturday. What a great trip!

We will have driven nearly 3000 miles.. this map shows our route.