Weeks 11, 12, and 13 (21st April–11th May) – Sydney

On our first day, we checked out the Westfield at Bondi Junction (Peb went to see Avengers on his own), then went down to Bondi beach, where the car park and road was completely under sand from the recent storm, and diggers were moving it all back on to the beach. It still wasn’t that warm after the storm, but we enjoyed an ice cream anyway.

The second day was lovely and sunny so we got the 389 bus into the city. The 389 goes through the beautiful suburbs of Paddington and Woollahra, where there are around 2,500 beautiful Victorian terraces with “iron lace” balconies, all of them painted in different colours. Unsurprisingly, they’re some of the most desirable properties in Sydney and are around $850,000. Me and my mom decided we want one.

Sydney is an incredible city, roads full of old architecture, back-dropped by massive skyscrapers and the Sydney eye tower. We walked through the pretty botanical gardens and got our first glimpse of the Opera House. Photos really don’t do it justice—up close you can see the thousands of tiles shimmering cream and gold in the sun. We had tea in the “Opera Kitchen”, a lovely open air restaurant bar that is tucked just under the side of the opera house and has great views of both the Opera House and the impressive Harbour Bridge. We walked around The Rocks, the oldest area in Sydney, and went into the oldest pub, The Fortune of War (a mere 1828 compared to our local The Old Crown, 1368). On the bus home, a woman got on with her cat, an adorable fluffy grey Persian called Indy, who is apparently quite famous here!

The third day, we checked out the Darling Harbour area, which is currently being redeveloped as it used to be the slums of Sydney. There are lots of bars and restaurants around the harbour there; we had lunch just as a large grey cloud covered the city, cue lots of rain and a lightning storm reflected in the glass skyscrapers, so we did some shopping to wait it out. Then we had dinner in the Hard Rock cafe, looking out over the harbour, which looks much prettier at night when it’s lit up. Every Saturday night, there is a firework display set off in the harbour, and lucky for us it was Saturday!

It hammered down with rain again the following day, so we spent the day shopping and having cups of tea at Bondi Junction. Thankfully the rain cleared up the next day for our trip to Taronga Zoo, which is accessed by ferry and has great views over the city as it’s built on a hill and has a cable car. Most of the animals at Taronga are endangered or part of breeding programs, and we got to see lots of animals we’d never seen before, including sun bears (who had been rescued from poachers), tasmanian devils (who they are imminently trying to save from extinction due to a genetic mutation), my mom’s favourite the dollar bird, the crazy-looking spoonbill, the world’s most venomous snake the Inland Taipan, and the elusive and absolutely adorable platypus.

The following day, we checked out the Queen Victoria Building, apparently one of the world’s most beautiful shopping centres—not wrong. Then, with a mixture of fear and excitement, we went to the base of the Harbour Bridge, where we were breathalysed and dressed up in jumpsuits that look like they belong to Luigi, then hooked on to the bridge. If you’re ever in Sydney, the bridge climb is totally worth it! They tell you all about how the bridge was built back in 1923-1932. The views are incredible and the walk is really fun, even the “catwalk” over the water, which is a little scary. It’s an awesome experience.

We also checked out the Harbour Bridge pylon lookout (which you get free entry to with the bridge climb). The view from up there is great, and there’s lots of info on how the bridge was built and what the pylons have been used for over the years (including, bizarrely, a cat sanctuary). However, someone’s really missing a trick in not having a café up there as it’s a long walk up the stairs to find no refreshments at the top!

We hired a car for a few days and despite the grey, drizzly weather, we drove down to Botany Bay where Captain James Cook first landed in Australia. By a strange coincidence, we went there on 29th April – the same day he landed. Peb got bitten by a kookaburra, of course. On another drizzly day, we drove north of Sydney up to Manly and the beautiful Whale beach and Palm Beach, which were really lovely spots despite the weather! The elements were even more against us the day we headed out to the Blue Mountains, but we had a wonderful lunch in Blue Mist in Wentworth Falls, a lovely café/book shop, and saw the picturesque Leura village. We tried to see the Three Sisters but the fog was so thick that we couldn’t even see the end of our car!

We also had the pleasure of celebrating mom’s birthday with her, so we breakfasted in style in la Maison de l’Eclair, a concept éclair café in Bondi that does the most amazing French cinnamon toast with berries. A taste of heaven. Then we shopped in Paddington market, where everything sold is from local producers, and had a tasty Turkish gozleme (a crepe full of spinach and cheese). We got caught in a downpour sat at Five Ways in Woollahra (much nicer than the Five Ways in Birmingham!), but it didn’t ruin the evening as we went to see Last Night of the Proms at the Sydney Opera House, which was absolutely incredible! We finished the evening with a cup of tea under the shelter of the Opera House Kitchen. A wonderful day indeed!

As the weather had finally picked up, we did the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk on a hot day, past impressive rock formations and with lovely views of the sea. We stopped in at Icebergs in Bondi for lunch, had chips in Bronte by the sea, then finished with a piadina (like a chapatti pizza) for tea.

We spent a few days in the city checking out the Sydney eye tower, which has amazing 360 views of the city and a café at the top. Peb did the outdoor skywalk while me and mom had a relaxing cup of tea! We had lunch at the Lindt café, who had reopened after a terrorist attack back in December—good on them. Peb enjoyed the best ice cream and hot chocolate ever.

We also took a harbour cruise from Circular Quay, which took us out to sea round to Bondi. The swells were huge and confirmed I’m really not a fan of boats, but I was very glad that mom got to see some dolphins swimming and playing alongside the boat. Plus, we got amazing views of the harbour bridge and opera house at sunset on the way back. After dinner, we sadly headed home to pack our bags.

For mom’s final day, we had breakfast in la Maison (please, please open a franchise in Birmingham!) and a last walk around Bondi, and were then very miserable to drop her off at the airport, which was just as glum as when she dropped us off at Heathrow. To top it off, there are no public buses from the airport into the city, so we got on the 400 (which does to Bondi) then quickly realised we’d got on it on the wrong direction, so we ended up getting a double-decker train from god knows where. To cheer ourselves up, we went to see Pitch Perfect 2, which was hilarious, and checked into the Y Hotel off Hyde Park, which was pretty decent despite its meagre price.

The following day was our first wedding anniversary, and my mom had bought some cards over for us from our families, which was a nice surprise! We had lunch at the Lindt café, then walked across the harbour bridge to Luna Park, a retro funfair that opened in 1935 just under the bridge. Like a pair of kids on an old school date, we went on the ferris wheel, the wild mouse, and some “coney island” slides and rides. For a “romantic” meal, Peb had a “BBQ your own” steak at Phillipe’s foot in the Rocks, then walked back and fed oranges to the possums in Hyde Park. A perfect anniversary!

Then came our final day in Australia, which were incredibly glum about since we’d come to love the place. We spent the morning re-planning our route as we’d discovered that the US class Canada (and Mexico, and any surrounding islands) as theirs for the purpose of visas, so our 90-day tourist visa would expire midway through Canada and whether we could re-enter the US would depend on the discretion of the customs officer.

With the east coast, including three sets of Panthers tickets, and Christmas and New Year in New York relying on the good mood of a custom’s officer, we decided to cancel the west coast instead. We had a final bundy by the war memorial in Hyde Park, then had dinner in Darling Harbour and watched the Saturday night fireworks, or as we like to think, Australia’s farewell to us.


Week 10 (14th–20th Apr) – New South Wales

We spent a few days catching up with some familiar faces – Peb’s friend Luke and his girlfriend Caz, and met her sister Lindsey and her boyfriend Chris, oh and their dog Chocolate. Chris showed us a few local spots, the Currumbin rock pools where the boys all jumped off a waterfall (major accidents avoided), Natural Arch – a pretty spot where a waterfall goes through a hole into a cave, and fish’n’chips by the Tweed River.

Thanks to a suggestion from our buddy Muller, we all got up at 2.30am to walk Mount Warning, reportedly the first place that sunrise hits Australia. Thankfully, I hadn’t seen the mountain before we started walking, as I probably would have stayed in the BFG. It’s 3793 feet high, made up of 1.5km of horrendous steps, 1.5 of pleasant rocky slope, then 1km in cloud, and a final 400m vertical rock scramble, most of it in the pitch black. I complained quite a lot on the way up, and at some point demanded to be left behind, but somehow we made it in time to see…well, nothing, because it was too cloudy to see the sunrise. Ah well, at least I saw my first snake on the way down – a little marsh snake.

Then we all headed down to Byron Bay, a town with no brand names like Maccies but lots of hippies. We went to a farmer’s market, jumped waves in the sea (turns out I’m too small to jump some waves), then checked out the Byron lighthouse where a sand goanna hissed at us. We said goodbye to everyone as we headed south and them north.

We stopped at Lake Ainsworth, where I drank tea while stood in the tea tree lake. I had an obligatory photo with possibly the most impressive Big Thing yet, the Big Prawn at Ballina, which Bunnings thankfully saved by buying the land it was on when the council had put a demolition order on it – good on you Bunnings. Peb sliced his arm open in the lazy river at Moonee estuary, probably one of the prettiest beaches I’ve seen, and pretty empty. Had a photo with the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour, and walked across Muttonbird Island, which was incredibly windy, and saw a group of locals bring some baby muttonbirds back for another chance at migration as they’d flown the wrong way.

From there on, the weather got progressively worse. We saw a grey sea at Nambucca Heads, an even greyer sea and rain at South West Rocks, then grey and cold by the time we reached Old Bar, where a kookaburra was attacking some guy’s Mazda. We had a free tour of the Koala Hospital at Port Macquarie, a wonderful place where volunteers look after injured and poorly koalas. We stopped in Forster, where it was getting really cold, had a photo with the Big Turtle and followed some dolphins down the estuary. Had a photo with the Big Boomerang, then the weather got even worse.

By the time we reached the aptly-named Newcastle (home of one of my favourite teenage bands, Silverchair), the rain was relentless, befitting the industrial Gotham City look of the place. When we parked up for the night, the campervan was being rocked back and forth by the gale force winds, and the driving rain had begun to leak in. When we woke up, two trees around us had fallen over (thankfully, in the opposite direction to us), someone’s tent was inside out, and the place was trashed. We drove down to see a choppy Lake Macquarie, observing the devastation en route – road signs were bent over, traffic lights out, power lines down, fields flooded, trees upturned in gardens, and roads closed.

Between the sheets of rain and bitter cold, we couldn’t do much. Peb found it highly entertaining; I just found it annoying. We tried to watch the daily pelican feeding at The Entrance in Tuggerah, but even the pelicans didn’t want to come ashore, almost everywhere was shut, and the radio reliably informed us that we were in the worst storm of the century, cyclone-standard, and that we should go home and avoid being outside or on the roads. Excellent news when you’re stuck in a campervan and need to drive 100km to drop it off the next day. So we did what any sensible people would do went to the cinema, then camped in the Westfield’s carpark.

We stopped at Moonee Moonee estuary and gave breakfast to a soggy possum who was hiding from the rain in the toilets, then dropped the BFG off in Sydney, where we got stuck in more torrential rain getting to the airport. But, it was for the exciting reason that we were going to meet my mom! It was lovely to see her after a few months of being away, and we all headed back to our apartment in Bondi for two wonderful weeks in Sydney.

Weeks 8 and 9 (31st Mar–13th Apr) – Brisbane

While in Brisbane, we’re doing our first housesit through trustedhousesitters.com. We meet the lovely kitty Ruski who we’ll be looking after while the lady of the house Kim and her husband are away. After seven weeks of travelling, it’s quite nice to spend a week doing nothing, and the weather seems to agree as it hammers down with rain for five solid days! We spend the time fussing Ruski, who is adorable, and watching movies.

We head out to the local cinema to watch Get Hard, which is hilarious, and Fast and the Furious 7 (which I fell asleep in, oops) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Primal Fear, Point Break, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, A Few Good Men, Inglourious Basterds, Con Air, Snake Eyes, and The Departed on DVD. We also popped out to the local shopping centre to replenish food stocks a few times and played an epic game of Monopoly in which I thrashed Peb, obviously.

On a day where the torrential rain finally let off, we headed into Brisbane CBD (Central Business District, or city centre as we know it). It’s a grey day but the city is pretty impressive – far more skyscrapers than I’d imagined. The South Bank looks distinctly like London’s South Bank from the bridge, complete with London Eye, or should I say, the Wheel of Brisbane, and muddy brown river. We checked out the Botanic Gardens, which are full of bearded dragons and water dragons.

Peb is happy to find our first Starbucks in Australia – it’s strange that they’ve not really made it over here. Then we watch our first AFL (Aussie Football League) game in the apparently traditional English pub the Pig’n’Whistle (they serve lobster there – they really need to check out English pubs if they think that’s traditional). Since we’re in Brissie and their home team is called the Lions (and incidentally wear similar colours to the Birmingham Lions), we choose to support them. Sadly they get annihilated, but AFL is pretty fun to watch anyway even if the refs do look silly when they throw the ball backwards.

By the end of the week, the weather was looking up and we got a few hot days. We headed into Brisbane again and what a difference the sun makes, glistening off all the skyscrapers. We saw more of the city via the free city council ferries (take note Birmingham city council, some councils offer services for free), then had lunch in the prettiest Coffee Club on Eagle Street Pier (and incidentally, the first ever Coffee Club) beside the river, with views of Storey Bridge. Take note Coffee Club, I’m hoping you open some franchises in England soon!

We met a friend of Peb’s mom, Caroline, who took us to Redcliffe to see the coast, where we checked out the Gayundah shipwreck. She also took us on a mystery day tour of the beautiful Glasshouse Mountains (so called because they look like shards of glass), Mary Cairncross park with an amazing picnic and cute Pademelons in the beautiful rainforest, then an absolutely picturesque town called Montville up in the mountains. She also taught me to play pokies (slot machines based purely on luck) and I managed to win $20.

We had one final day in Brissie, which we’ve grown to love, and had a look at the Lions home ground, the Gabba (they’ve continued to lose every game since we started supporting them, of course). We walked in via Kangaroo point where there are great views of the city from the clifftop, relaxed in deck chairs in one of the squares (again free thanks to the city council), and then got the ferry back while admiring the bright lights of the city at night.

Finally, we picked up our free prize camper (nicknamed the BFG as it’s huge) thanks to STA Travel and headed off on our next road trip. Our first stop was Brissie’s neighbour city Ipswich, which is nothing like the Ipswich it was named after, and a visit to their free nature centre (donations welcome) where got to see some adorable wombats and the endangered quoll. We checked out the colonial architecture in Ipswich’s Top of Town and Peb was incredibly excited to buy his first comic in Daily Planet comics.

We took a drive around the pretty Tamborine Mountain, then headed south towards the Queensland/New South Wales border. We stopped in Gold Coast briefly–very briefly in fact, as it was full of traffic and drunk teenagers, and looked like Australia’s Benidorm. We went to two interesting free seminars at the Gold Coast Film Festival, “Meet the Filmmakers” with director Robert Connolly and producer (awesomely-named) Veronica Fury. We watched a bodyboarding comp in Coolangatta, then I got bit rather painfully on the foot. Australia, full of vicious snakes and spiders and what do I get bitten by? An ant. A giant, mean ant, of course.

Week 7 (24th–30th Mar) – Queensland

Continuing the drive down through Queensland, we stopped at Bowen (the main street was used in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia). I had a photo with the Big Mango – my first of Australia’s “Big Things”. We splashed around in the beachside water play area – great fun even if you’re a grown up! From there, we drove to Airlie Beach to head out to the Whitsunday Islands. The Whitsunday Cruise boat leaves Port of Airlie at 6.30am but it’s completely worth getting up early for.

We were incredibly lucky as despite the recent cyclone, the sea was as flat as a pancake (the crew told us that there are sometimes 3 meter waves!), the weather was glorious, and hundreds of Ulysses butterflies – who are only here for a few weeks of the year – flew alongside us. The first stop was the incomparable Whitehaven beach, one of the Top Ten beaches in the world. As it was still early, the beach was deserted aside from the passengers on our boat and a pretty sand goanna. The sea is crystal clear and the 95% silica sand literally glistens white (it can be used to exfoliate your skin and clean your jewellery). Thanks to a little girl shrieking “daddy, a big fish!”, we shared the ocean with a shovel headed stingray. We were pretty sad to reboard the boat, but luckily our afternoon stop was equally idyllic.

Daydream is a beautiful island, small enough to walk around in a few hours, and is home to a charmingly old fashioned resort. When we arrived, staff members adorned in tropical fish shirts are stood on the jetty to greet us, one playing the guitar, and a resident wallaroo is munching the lawn. We begin walking when one of the staff offers us a lift to the other side of the island on a golf buggy – he gets to live on the island and drive customers around paradise on a golf buggy all day, lucky guy! We get free lunch and Bundaberg ginger beers (my favourite), get to stroke brown stingrays (unbelievably silky!) and bamboo sharks in the living reef, and go for a swim in the beautiful tree-shaded beachside pool. We departed, sadly, on the last boat of the day, and Peb could only be marginally cheered up by the Mack trucks at the BP truck stop we camped at.

We continued our east coast journey through Black’s beach where hundreds of baby turtles hatch each year and make their way to the sea – we didn’t see any but saw their little flipper prints in the sand – Mackay, which is full of pretty art nouveau buildings, and Rockhampton, where we had a coffee with Peb’s friend and his wife. We spent a day in Bundaberg at the ginger beer barrel and the Bundy rum distillery (photo with the Big Bundy Rum) and had delicious fish’n’chips by the river. We stopped at Hervey Bay to walk the 1km pier and Noosaville where we watched sunset by the river, had a photo with the Big Pelican (and saw three huge pelicans asleep on top of a lamppost), and watched hundreds of fruit bats fly around. Our final stop was Noosa Heads – Hastings Street was full of overdressed posers, but the national park and Tea Tree Bay were beautiful.

We dropped Celine off in Brisbane, where we got charged $300 for a large chip in the windscreen courtesy of a stone hurled by a big truck. Thankfully we’d bought insurance beforehand!

Week 6 (17th–23rd Mar) – Cairns

We were relieved to say the least to drop the car off and catch our flight to Cairns, though we were distinctly unimpressed when we arrived at Cairns airport and couldn’t get any food because the baggage collection is after the arrivals lounge and you can’t go back through without going through security, which you can’t do if you have a knife or toiletries in your bag – a big thanks to whichever genius designed that airport.

We headed into Edge Hill, a suburb of Cairns, for our first Couchsitting experience, where a semi-pro AFL player and his team/house mates kindly put us up for free in their massive house. They have two huge dogs, the bigger of whom almost bowled me over in excitement, and there are random geckos on the walls that apparently just wander in.

Edge Hill is lush and beautiful, sat at the foot of the Atherton Tablelands, and is still hot and humid but more tolerable than Darwin. It’s home to the Botanical gardens, so we spent a day there checking out exotic plants (the cannonball tree was a particular favourite), having a wonderful strawberry and chocolate waffle in their café, and then walking around the Centenary lakes full of turtles, pelicans, and mud crabs.

After a few days, we picked up our “Hippie Camper”, named Celine, smaller albeit much cheaper than our previous campers, and difficult to sleep in as the bed is above the engine, which as you can imagine is pretty hot after a day of driving. Despite the impending cyclone, we drove north to the tranquil Mossman Gorge and the oldest rainforest in the world, Daintree, which were eerily (or should I say, thankfully) devoid of tourists. The drive up from Cairns to Daintree is so stunning it even rivals the Great Ocean Road, rainforest-covered mountains meet the rolling sea, separated only by the coast road that winds around them.

If you’re in this part of the world, it would be a mistake not to see one of the great wonders of the world – the Great Barrier Reef. We stopped in the chic town of Port Douglas and booked a tour to Agincourt Reef with Quicksilver. A large, more than comfortable catamaran took us to their outer reef platform with underwater viewing areas, semi-submersibles, and a large snorkelling area. After a trip on the semi-sub, we grabbed our snorkels and spent a few hours marvelling at the coral reef and rainbow of fish – some of them huge! – in this indescribable underwater world. Our day couldn’t have got any better when we found a big green sea turtle (like Crush from Finding Nemo) and swam along with her for a while, even getting to stroke her shell (the marine biologist said they like this). It was incredible.

We spent a day in Cairns city – it reminded me of a very nice Spanish holiday resort – and cooled down in their seafront lagoon. The drive down from Cairns is equally impressive – huge mountains and endless fields of sugar cane line the road. Northern Queensland is probably the most beautiful area of Australia we’ve seen so far. The only problem we encountered was the number of mosquitos around so we bought a mozzie net and hooked it up inside Celine – indispensable in these parts along with a can of Bushman. Oh and the tiny matter of the grill they provided us with Celine setting itself on fire. At least Peb got to refresh his firefighting skills.

We spent a day in the city of Townsville (I wonder if the creators of the PowerPuff Girls knew this place existed?), a lovely little city with a huge pink granite rock called Castle Hill that provides great views over the city and the lagoon. We had lunch on “The Strand” in our favourite, the Coffee Club, and tried their brand-new-that-day banana, marshmallow, and Nutella pizza. There are no words for that level of delicious. Peb bought a ukulele – I look forward to being serenaded on our journey. We camped in Home Hill, an RV-so-friendly-town that they’d even provided a camp kitchen and showers. A pretty impressive bridge links Home Hill and Ayr – the Burdekin “silver link” Bridge, which is the longest bridge in Australia built on no solid foundations. I’m also willing to bet that it’s home to more giant spiders than any other bridge in Australia. They’ve set up whole cities on there.

Week 5 (10th–16th Mar) – Darwin

We arrived in Darwin late afternoon and were greeted by heat and humidity like we’d never experienced before. We didn’t check beforehand and found that we’d arrived towards the end of the wet season.

The wet season has its pros and cons. The cons we discovered quickly are that it’s pretty much unbearable going out in the day time as the temperature is about 35 degrees C, but with a humidity of 85%, you have to add 9-10 degrees onto the temperature to get an idea of what it feels like. Added to that, it only cools down to about 29 degrees and 70% humidity at night. So if you don’t have air con and a swimming pool, you’re going to be pretty miserable…more on that later.

The pros are that at about 5pm every day, there’s a tropical rain storm. I’m talking warm pelting rain that comes out of nowhere, goes on for about an hour, soaks everything, and makes it a few degrees cooler. Then the rain stops, everything dries quickly, and there’s a spectacular lighting storm and an indescribably spectacular sunset, probably some of the best you’ll ever see due to the range of cloud types and colours. As the sun sets, giant bats called Flying Foxes (because of their cute faces) start flying around. It’s all pretty surreal.

For the first 3 days, we stayed in a nice little hostel called Dingo Moon Lodge with a private air conditioned room, which was a delight after the Cottesloe dorm. Most days, Peb got some work out time in and I did some editing, then we cooled down in the pool, and then went for an evening walk to watch the sunset from the jetty. One of the days, we took a walk down to Cullen Bay, Darwin’s marina full of swish yachts and catamarans. We arrived just in time for the rain shower and had a coffee on the boardwalk under a big parasol, then watched the sun set from Mindil Beach. We also discovered CineBuzz rewards cards and Cheap Tuesdays, so we spent the first evening in the nicely air conditioned cinema – Focus, pretty good.

Now for the least successful part of our journey so far … We really wanted to see the local National Parks, Kakadu and Litchfield, but there were no campervans available so we thought we were pretty clever hiring an SUV for the next 4 days to camp in. We’ve “car-camped” plenty of times in England and had no problems. What we didn’t factor in was that England is cold and Darwin is crazy hot, so trying to sleep in a car is effectively like trying to sleep in an oven – not so clever. We tried to run the air con to cool the car down, but that used loads of fuel. Plus it’s pretty uncomfortable without camping mats to lie on so we had bad backs. Not to mention, trying to cook everything on a hexi-burner is pretty slow work so we ended up having to find places for dinner most days.

In the first few days, we managed to see Howard Springs, where there are turtles and huge barramundi fish in the main spring, Berry Springs, where we couldn’t swim because of the wet season but looked like it would be an awesome natural swimming hole in the dry season, and Litchfield NP, where we spent the day cooling down in the impressive Florence Falls plunge pool and Buley Rockhole, a series of smaller cascades with rock pools below them – idyllic. We also spotted some water buffalo, a green tree frog, some toads, and some geckos in Litchfield.

However, as the car-camping was working out badly, and we had a Km limit on the car rental, we gave up on trying to go to Kakadu and instead spent a day looking for crocs in spots where they’d been reported recently – the nearest we got was a sign at Manton Dam that a 3 meter saltwater croc had been removed a few days before. We also spent a day in Darwin’s beachfront lagoon where lots of nice little fishies swam around us. You can’t swim in the sea there because of box jellyfish, but the lagoon is separated so jellyfish can’t get in (or “most likely” can’t, as the sign assured us).

We also discovered the Coffee Club, a chain of cafes that do delicious burgers and salted caramel lattes, and bookended our Darwin trip with another cinema night – Unfinished Business, hilarious.

Week 4 (3rd–9th Mar) – Southern Australia and Adelaide

For our final day on the Great Ocean Road, we went to Loch Ard Gorge and spent the afternoon at a lovely fishing town called Port Campbell, then watched sunset at the 12 Apostles, which was beautiful but we were possibly more interested in watching an echidna waddle and mooch around. Echidnas are awesome – if you don’t know what one is, google it!

Back in Southern Australia, we spent the day at Mount Gambier, a dormant volcano with a city built on it. One of the craters has a bright blue lake in it, aptly named “Blue Lake” – unnaturally blue, especially in comparison to its sister Valley Lake just next to it. There’s also an awesome place called the Umpherston Sinkhole, a collapsed cave with beautiful Victorian gardens in it. At night, possums come out of the cave walls where they live and the locals come down and hand-feed them apples. One nice local gave us some apples to feed them with. Totally worth visiting.

To finish off our Adelaide campervan journey, we visited Mannum and relaxed by the Murray River among a chorus of noisy corellas. As we had breakfast by the river, Nick got pecked on the bum by a cheeky black swan and I got pecked by an overzealous pelican. Nice.

Back in Adelaide, we headed to Glenelg to stay with an old work friend Martine and her boyfriend Tim, who very kindly put us up for a few days, took us to their friend’s 30th party at a swish apartment, took us for a “walk” up (what felt like vertical) Mount Lofty with spectacular views over Adelaide, and then to the Adelaide fringe where they booked an “alternative” comedy show. The show was a comedian called Wilfredo, a faux Spanish singer who was described by the Independent (methinks) as “strangely endearing” – after the first 5 minutes of thinking “what the hell is this?!”, we spent the rest of the show in stitches. There was only about 20 people in the audience so I even had a verse of a slightly questionable song dedicated to me. We spent the evening at the fringe in the Garden of Unearthly Delights and Gluttony, which was beautiful – trees strung with lights, little comedy stages, and everyone relaxing on sofas.

The next day, we packed our rucksacks and said goodbye to Adelaide, boarding another 3 day train – The Ghan – to Darwin. After our experience on the Indian Pacific, we had the good sense to spend most of our days chatting to people in the dining cart and only going to our seats to sleep. En route, we stopped at Alice Springs (in the words of King Julian, “It’s a bit of a dump!”) and Katherine (where we didn’t make it out of the station waiting room, as the tours are pretty expensive). The scenery is pretty impressive, with sections of track that curve so you can see the front of the almost 1km train, wild emus, and the progression into the rainforest-y Northern Territory.