Post 20 Vietnam Hue

Hue was the old capital of Vietnam from 1802 – 1945 . It is a delightful city. Our guide met us at the airport, and whisked us off to view the Minh Manh tombs and a really informative tour of the market.. with tastings!

Then lunch of Hue speciality, Royal pancakes, at a very local restaurant, with a simple , but effective bottle opener!

Then on to the incredibly vast citadel, or imperial palace. First built in 1804 , it was caught in fierce fighting during the 1968 Tet offensive in the Vietnam war, but enough remains to be very impressive.

Lastly, the oldest pagoda in Hue, and a boat ride back down the river to the Scarlett hotel. The pagoda had a statue with a hair beard! At the boat we met this lovely group of “Ladies who lunch”. Our super guide from Bee Bee travel explained that Vietnamese traditional dress has the freedom of trousers under the tunic, as decreed by a Ngyuen emporer in the 19th century.

Unbelievably, we were peckish, and found a lovely riverside cafe in the vibrant, neon lit city.

Post 18 Beautiful, bountiful Borneo!

When I was 7 years old, my father bought me a huge book about countries and peoples of the world. It fascinated me, and I am sure fuelled my wanderlust, as I wanted to visit everywhere in the book! Borneo was presented as one of the most remote and mysterious destinations. A land of Orangutang, strange proboscis monkeys and head hunters. Now I would finally visit! Flying into Kuching in Sarawak you could see this was real tropical jungle! Close to the equator geographically, Borneo is an island which partly belongs to Indonesia, partly to Malaysia and also the kingdom of Brunei. The Malaysia bit is further divided into Sabah, and Sarawak where we stayed!

Kuching is a small but growing city on the riverside, with a lovely relaxed atmosphere. The area is a happily cohabiting mix of extremely friendly local tribespeople, Malays, old time chinese and some expats. We walked into town everyday to explore the rainbow interiors of the fabric shops.

This is the home of Batik printing. Prices were ridiculously low, so some fabric may have sneaked into my case!

There are historic temples, bedecked with lanterns and offerings for the chinese New Year.

The old court house and fort from British colonial days, a beautiful mosque,

an Orchid garden,

a magnificent new government building

and a brand new wiggly bridge.

The promenade is lined with pop up food stalls, and at night the whole area is illuminated.

The big action happens outside town. Through tripadvisor I found lovely Jihey, a local driver guide, and he took us on our outings! We visited the Semenngoh National Park, one of the few areas Orangutang remain in the wild. Their natural habitat is being decimated for Palm oil plantations. We were so lucky and privileged that several animals came down near the watching area.

Then on to two incredible cave systems. A rather strenuous and precarious climb up to the fairy cave was rewarded by suddenly arriving in a vast cavern, full of ferns and great limestone formations.

The wind cave was a 1 kilometre network of boardwalks through an unlit cave system where it seemed everywhere you looked were thousands of bats. 12 different species apparently. If you shone a torch on them, they swooped around you. Luckily we like bats!

There were also tiny cup nests made by the cave dwelling swiftlets. Some with eggs or chicks.

The cups are held together with saliva, and this is the sought after ingredient for birds nest soup. It was a truly remarkable place.

Ooh… did I mention the spider?

The next day we visited the Sarawak cultural village. Houses, typical of each tribal area, have been reconstructed here.

Many tribespeople still live in communal longhouses, and we were astonished to learn that one tribe continue to live a nomadic existence and hunt with blowpipes. We were able to try a blowpipe.

It was surprisingly accurate, even with me blowing it! The longhouses would contain a headroom… containing the heads of any enemies they had killed. Thankfully not a current practice.

We watched a beautiful cultural show. Not usually my thing, but the costumes and dance moves were so expressive.

Our last day was spent doing some hot and steamy jungle hiking in Bako National park, on an offshore island.

Featherworm patterns in the sand!

This is one of the only places in the world to see the proboscis monkey. Just as we were giving up hope, we encountered 3.

Another privilege. I also got to paddle in the South China sea!

Our final afternoon was spent at Bumbu’s cooking school…actually the covered yard behind a rather dusty antique shop. Any health and safety jobsworths would have had a fit, but basic hygiene was promoted at all times. We were introduced to local tribal cuisine and taken to the jungle market where everything was picked or collected locally. Every unusual vegetable or fruit was explained to us, and we selected our ingredients, including Mirin, a forest fern!

Back at base we chopped, and crushed and pounded ingredients and made marinades and sauces for our dinner. We wove pandan leaves into baskets and made coconut custard to put in them.

Great fun and educational too, and a super dinner to enjoy at the end.

Our other dinners in Borneo were eaten on the roof of a multi storey carpark!! We were dubious at first, but on reaching floor 6 we entered the bustling, garishly neon lit wonderland of Top Spot. All around the edge were stalls filled with fresh fish, shellfish and vegetables.

The centre was crammed with plastic tables and chairs that were filling up at an alarming rate. Stall 25 had been recommended. How to choose? Eventually we had squid in their special batter, huge freshwater prawns grilled with garlic, mixed oriental vegetables and sweet and sour chicken. All delicious.

With a large beer for Chris and fresh juice for me, the bill was under £9 per person!

Now we ❤Borneo too! We even found a great sunhat for Chris.. although not very practical on the plane!

We were expecting a taxi at 4.15 am for a very early flight to KualaLumpur and a 2 hour wait for our connection to Hanoi in Vietnam. Just before bedtime I got a message. Our flight is cancelled. We are on the 7.00 instead, giving us just 45 minutes to change planes. Aaagh.. see what happened in our next blog!

Post 17 Cocos and travel day (also known as ‘Anne’s swimsuit finally gets worn!’)

Not sure what happened here.. this should have been attached to post 16!

Our last day on Cocos was spent doing the wonderful Canoe safari with Kylie and Ash. We had motorised canoes and 10 of us set off to explore the uninhabited southern islands of the atoll.

The first beach stop saw us literally surrounded by hundreds of advancing hermit crabs as our champagne breakfast was unpacked!! We hadn’t seen that in the advert so it was a nice surprise! An impromptu hermit crab derby was set up, in which my crab scored a notable second place!

Then on to the next island, seeing turtles swimming in the clear water as we went. A walk on this island to a former military lookout, where the birds were within a few metres of us, and there was no land between us and Antarctica. Beachcombing turned up some stunning shells.

More exploring and into a crystal clear beach where sharks about 1 metre in length were swimming in the shallows. This coffee stop… well, wine and beer stop, included lessons in speedy coconut husking! Finally the highlight..even for me! Snorkelling between 2 islands. Finally, after 7 weeks, my swimsuit was required! Ash stayed with me and, despite my fear of deep water helped me experience snorkelling through a drift between the islands, letting the current carry me along. So many pretty fish of a myriad of colours shapes and sizes, an underwater cave full of large yellow fish and lots of sharks and different species of sea cucumber. An awesome experience.

Next morning we waited both sadly and anxiously for our flight. Today we had 3 flights to catch. The first to Christmas island where hopefully Steve would have our passports. However this flight frequently fails, because if the cloud comes down, the pilot cannot land, and heads straight to Perth!! Aaaagh. Our confidence wasn’t helped by a massive tropical storm which broke just as we taxied to the runway , and delayed our departure by 20 minutes! The second flight was to Jakarta Indonesia which was notoriously tricky for immigration and customs, which could delay us for our flight to Singapore!

Phew.. sunny on Christmas island, passports waiting. Hurray! Thank0 you so much Elaine and John.😀Jakarta flight on time. Brand new deluxe terminal in Jakarta, and we sailed through (if you can sail in an airport). They did have some rather strange products on sale… this is supposed to be one of the most revolting tasting fruits in the world!

Flight to Singapore bumpy due to thunderstorms, but that was the least of our worries. We made it. We stayed near the airport at Changi cove. Lovely spot, so did an enjoyable early morning coastal boardwalk.

This was in stark contrast to its former life as the site of the British army barracks which then became a Prisoner of War camp when the japanese invaded. It was where Carol’s father was stationed when he was captured and subsequently sent to work on the notorious Burma railway.

Finally, off to Changi airport for our flight. This huge airport is amazing. Fully carpeted, playing soothing jazz music, it is full of beautiful sculptures and areas to explore. Even the car parks are bedecked with flowers!Highlights are the butterfly gardens, orchid garden and sunflower terrace!

So much decoration everywhere for Chinese year of the dog!

Now onto tropical Borneo!

Post 16 A tiny dot in the Indian Ocean. The Cocos and Keeling Islands!

1800 miles from Perth, these islands are just over halfway between Sri Lanka and Perth. They are 2 coral atolls formed on top of long extinct volcanoes, and their height is just 10 feet above sea level!

They were a British colony, and their location meant they were ideal for an RAF base in WW2. Chris’ dad was sent here in April 1945 to maintain the radar system on uninhabited Horsburgh island. He wrote over 200 letters home to his wife, which Chris has in 2 shoeboxes!

He described the islands as paradise, and Chris has always wanted to visit. So here we are!

The islands are low lying, with many palm trees and jungle shrubs.

Only 2 islands are inhabited. West island by 150 people, mainly of Australian descent, and Home island where about 500 Cocos Malay people live. This is a muslim island. Everyone lives very harmoniously together. Just 2 flights per week, if weather permits, must carry every essential they could need. Coral and sand are not a good medium for growing food!

On our first morning, the owner of our cottage, The Birds Nest took us 5 miles across the lagoon by boat to Horsburgh. A real Robinson Crusoe island and very special for Chris.

The buildings are all gone, and the jungle has reclaimed most of the land. A few rusty gun parts remain!

We hiked to the ‘lagoon’. Birds were quite unafraid of us. This is a beautiful white swift.

All around the lagoon were magnificent weathered stumps and branches of ironwood trees.

There were hermit crabs everywhere. Each time I picked up a nice shell….there was a crab inside!

Chris picked a coconut, and drank from it, just as his dad did 72 years ago.

He cut it open with a vicious looking knife provided by Geof!

In the evening we took the ferry to Home Island, where the Malays live, and had a super supper. Coming back across the lagoon in the darkness was magical. Such beautiful stars.

Day 2 was a lazy day. We wanted to snorkel at Trannies Beach, but had no transport. Our caretaker just said ‘ take my car’! No-one locks their house doors here, and you leave your keys in the ignition whenever you park! We saw a variety of fish, and a black tipped reef shark. We were the only people there!

The pace of life here is S-L-O-WWWWWWW! I couldn’t stand it for long! Opening hours are strange… the shop shuts at 3pm. There are several cafes, but each one opens just a few times a week. Our dinner was at Maxis by the sea! Gorgeous sunset and a great pumpkin curry!

Post 15 A tale of drama, angels, and a nature lover’s paradise – Christmas Island.

Our trip out to the remote islands was slightly traumatic! Firstly a 3.30am alarm; secondly the announcement that we had an extra stop in Learmonth to take on fuel because there was a cyclone forecast and the plane may need to divert, but mainly because we were in mid air flying out to the middle of the Indian Ocean when I realised we had no passports! We think they had slid off the seat in the departure lounge at Perth! Credit to Virgin Australia staff. The pilot called Perth and an anxious hour went by (when the staff brought us extra refreshments to cheer us up!). Then we got the news the passports were at Perth airport! Next we had to persuade Christmas Island immigration to let us in with a photo of the passports and our driving licences! Finally, we hoped that Virgin would fly the passports up on their Tuesday flight, but because passports are legal documents, someone had to collect them in person. We decided I would have to fly back to Perth on Tuesday and return on the next flight Saturday! Then 2 angels came to our rescue. Elaine and John went to the airport with an authorisation letter from us and were able to collect the passports. They then posted them express delivery to hopefully catch the mail plane on Thursday!

Christmas Island itself is an awesome old volcanic mountain, now covered in limestone derived from ancient corals, sticking up 1200 feet out of the Ocean and covered in equatorial rainforest! It descends nearly 5000m to the ocean floor, and is located 1,600 miles NW of Perth and 250 miles south of Indonesia.

It is lush and verdant with an array of birds and crustaceans, many of which are found nowhere else on earth. A 4wd vehicle is essential to explore, and we bounced merrily up and down steep, and overgrown tracks to find tiny beaches,

amazing rock formations,

blowholes

and nature galore. Nothing like a bit of grass down the middle of the road!

The crabs are the stars. The red crabs are famous for their massive migration in November, when 45 million crabs (yes, you did read that right!), leave their forest burrows and head for the ocean. Roads are closed, and tunnels and bridges provided!

We missed that, but still saw lots of red crabs. You had to avoid stepping on them or driving over them. Signs tell you to stop or swerve, so if you are weaving from one side of the road to the other, just say you are avoiding the crabs! They ranged in size from 1 inch to 9 inches wide, each with its own unique artwork on its shell.

The other crab superstar is the robber crab, often the size of a football, and beautifully coloured and patterned.

The blue crab is saucer size and such a pretty colour!

The birds are stars too. With huge wingspans, Boobies and Frigate birds float soothingly above us, while beautiful Tropic birds twist and turn and display to each other, using their striking long tail plumes.

There aren’t many places in the world where it is appropriate to call out ‘wow, look at those Boobies’ as you are walking down the street!

Sunsets have been awesome,

but the star of the show for colour goes to a popular local drink – Jack fruit and pineapple juice with ice!

We also did walks to pretty waterfalls,

a grotto with a beautiful pool in the bottom and various viewpoints.

We paddled in the Indian Ocean, our feet close to fish, corals and, you guessed it, crabs! These are stunning corals.

All done in 30 degree heat and high humidity… phew, and we scarcely saw another person!

Paradise does come at a price! There are HUGE spiders

The inevitable cockroaches appear occasionally. We are quite adept at dealing with them, but tonight Chris discovered one had decided to hitch a lift in his suitcase! We had to unpack everything, shake it all out and then evict the little blighter out on the balcony!

Our final day was spent on a tour with Lisa who showed us Chinese temples, and took us on a hike to an amazing viewpoint where we watched the birds soaring below us. A Christmas island pigeon – once endangered, came and posed right next to us!! Look at that blue!

This magnificent island is however, fighting a battle between the phosphate miners who want to keep looking for more sources, and those who would like nature tourism to become the key source of employment and income for the island. It is an amazing destination, with great diving as well. Access is tricky due to remoteness and weather, but it is unlike anywhere else we have been. We loved it. Now we fly to the Cocos islands! We won’t know until Saturday whether a) our flight out will be able to land on Christmas Island for our connection to Jakarta, and more importantly, to let us pick up our passports, which hopefully will have arrived!! 😲 Watch this space!!

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