Sunday, 25 March 2012

Question: What do you get if you cross Dominus, Lamby and a sandy roadside ditch?

Answer: Dominus and Lamby in the sandy ditch needing urgent attention with Arancha looking on in distress!

We can get back to that later.

Ok, I am massively behind with the blog so I am going to try and smash the rest of Australia in this one sitting. By the way, this one sitting comes to you from a very plush train seat as I travel from Beijing to Tai’an in northern China. I am afraid you will have to wait a while for the China post as Facebook is banned here so I cant post anything but all I will say for now is that so far China has been a revelation and a very cool country to visit.

We awoke under the willow tree in a town called Bunbury, nothing more to say about Bunbury than that.
After stocking up at the supermarket we headed off to Pemberton and the Margaret River region in the south-west corner of the continent. Margaret River is revered as one of the food and drink capitals of the country and from our experience we would have to agree.
Australia amazes me. We were still in the same state but we had now passed through the tropics down into barren dry wasteland and were now basking in fertile rich farmland and beautiful countryside.

The Pemberton information centre were very helpful but they had 2 warnings for us:
1) There are harmless jellyfish in the sea but they can still give you a bee type sting so be careful
2) Do not free camp, the rangers here are very strict and you will be fined. If you are going to do it ensure that you are well hidden

It was yet another scorcher so we drove straight to the beach and heeding the warnings swam in the netted area to supposedly protect us from jellyfish. Within 10 minutes I felt something on the back of my knee and then a sharp stinging pain! I couldn’t believe that I had been stung so quickly and for the rest of the evening I had a hot, swollen and stingy lump.
Funnily enough I didn’t fancy swimming any longer after that so we dried ourselves off and took a walk along Pemberton’s famous jetty that stretches for 1.8 kms into the ocean.
An additional reason for walking along the jetty was because the coastguards were out on force due to a tiger shark having been spotted in the area. Unfortunately we saw nothing and there was to be no fat kid in his rubber ring dying on this day.
Apart from the dramatic storm clouds that were forming over the horizon providing us with ample photo opportunities there wasn’t a lot more for us to do in the town so we settled down by the beach and cooked some beautiful fish over the BBQ.
Part heeding warning number 2 we hid our selves away behind the bushes of the IGA supermarket car park and went to sleep.

Why is it that on the night that we probably had our best night’s sleep in Dominus that I was awoken at 6am by a knock on the van door?

Maybe we should’ve taken warning number 2 more seriously! The ranger was having none of my excuses and was very quick to brandish me with a $100 free camping fine. In fact he was so quick and our night’s sleep had been so good that Arancha just about crapped herself when she rolled over and saw me standing outside with the ranger looking in to the van.
I can’t say that I was overly fussed about receiving my $100 fine from the Shire of Pemberton that should be paid within 28 days. Well I can’t be that fussed can I if I haven’t paid it, I am in China and Dominus is now owned by some foolish Yank!!! I wonder what will happen with regards to those road tolls I also owe?

As we had been rudely awoken at a ridiculous hour by the Mighty Pemberton Power Ranger we had a full day ahead of us to fill.
First stop was Yallingup – one of those towns that is full of rich and beautiful people and amazing surfers. Arancha fitted in well enough (brownie points) but I wasn’t feeling it and it was too busy and too hot and sticky to hang around.

Stop 2 was the Ngilgi Caves and these caves were some of the best that I have seen with huge stalactites and stalagmites everywhere that you looked. If we had planned it better we could’ve joined a half-day adventure tour that ventured deep into the caves and involved some climbing and scrambling but it was not to be on this occasion. The part of the caves that we did enter did have a kid’s tunnel that you could squeeze through so at least we got to do that!

By the time we entered the Margaret River region proper it was still only midday!
As previously stated, this part of Australia very easy on the eye. We found ourselves driving on smooth roads surrounded by lush green trees, colourful plants and flowers and lots of live cattle.
It didn’t take long for us to find our first vineyard and it resembled some sort of country manor. I have no idea what the patrons must’ve thought as the high revving Dominus chugged around the lake which sported a fabulous water spouting statue in the middle and ambled passed the perfectly manicured lawns and general sitting area.
I couldn’t make my mind up if the van backfiring at that precise moment would be funny or just too embarrassing.

There was no doubt that this day would blow our daily budget so we forget all about it and ordered a 6 glass wine taster tray and a cheese platter. There we sat, probably 2 of the most spoilt ‘backpackers’ in Australia sampling the wine and cheese and discussing them as if we knew what we were talking about.

Margaret River isn’t just about the vineyards it is also home to a variety of independent producers of gourmet food products. We are both partial to a bit of cheese so we visited one of these establishments to stock up on a small selection for our late afternoon high tea (I told you we are very spoilt backpackers) and also enjoyed the free chocolate on offer at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory.
We visited another couple of vineyards during the afternoon and ended our day with a couple of bottles of red and a bottle of port to join the cheese selection in the back of the van.
That night we camped in a little campsite by the coast, which cost us $6 each to stay in. I am sure that I do not need to tell you that the cheese and port went down a treat, so much so that the port was gone by 10pm.
The campsite itself was nice enough but even I was surprised when one of Arancha’s former students came up to say hello at the camp BBQ. Come on - we were in a little campsite on a cliff edge in the south-west corner of Australia! Arancha and her student are almost from the opposite side of the continent!!

The next morning was a blustery and angry type of wind day. Driving to Cape Leeuwin was a drive of dodging already fallen and falling tree branches, which you do not want to be doing in a less than nimble van.
Cape Leeuwin is located at the south-western tip of Australia, is home to the tallest lighthouse in Oz and is the point where the warm and calm Indian Ocean meets with the cold and fierce Southern Ocean.
By this time I was fed up with the Aussie’s trying to cash in on every tourist site so there was no way that I was going to pay to walk to the SW tip of the continent. Seriously, it is a piece of earth so as a member of planet Earth I should be free to walk on any place that I choose!
The tourist centre at Cape Leeuwin had a fatal flaw in that they only manned one entrance to the area, so because we had eaten at the on-site café and had been served less than satisfactory soup we decided that this was entrance fee enough.

With the winds that were strong enough to blow you off course and stormy skies the point at which the 2 oceans met gave a sort of end of the world feeling. The waves and currents were so brutal as each ocean smashed into the other.

We hung around long enough to take a few photos at the Indian Ocean meets Southern Ocean sign and the lighthouse and then we were back on the never-ending road. We left the area at just the right moment as well because another bush fire had begun and the air reeked with the smell of smoke and devastation.
Cape Leeuwin also marked the end of our west coast adventures and now saw us heading east along the south coast meaning that we were officially heading home to Melbourne, although we still had a few thousand kilometres to cover so it wasn’t all bad.

Heading east we had now entered tall timber country, a very fertile part of Australia that is home to giant Tingle trees, so large in fact that up until 1990 there was a tree that you could drive your car through. Unfortunately levels of conservation during that time were not what they are today so nobody realised that these Tingle trees have roots that exist very close to the surface meaning that the constant motorcar activity over the years resulted in the tree dying and toppling over and ruining it for future generations.
We arrived in a sleepy little town called Pemberton and stayed on a very nice caravan site along with an English couple who we would see every day for the next 5!
We were in Pemberton to attempt the climb both the Gloucester and Dave Evans Bicentennial trees. These trees are famous for being fire lookout trees, the first being 60 metres tall and the latter 70 metres and the only way to get to the top of them is to climb a series of metals poles that are hammered into the trunk and slowly circle the tree as they make their way up to the summit platform.
Written in front of you it all sounds ok but when you are standing at the bottom looking up and we are talking about climbing a tree by a series of thin metal poles with no safety precautions whatsoever it is a seriously daunting prospect.
Needless to say that I made it up to about 8 metres off the ground before I looked down and bottled it and Arancha made it to about 10 metres.
I spoke to one guy who climbed to the top of the Bicentennial tree and he said that although the view was unbelievable the way the tree swayed in the wind was very unnerving. For once I wasn’t too upset to fail at the task in front of me.

Moving on from Pemberton we took the road to Walpole, the home of the Valley of the Giants treetop walkway.
On the way we read about a hidden beach so decided to stop off to explore the area. Mandalay Beach remains to this day probably the best beach that I have been to. We left the car park and walked up a path and over a hill to be confronted with an uninhabited pristine squeaky white beach and a dramatic cobalt blue ocean backed up with emerald green cliff slopes. The next hour was spent running amuck, just running and jumping around until we were breathless in this very special place that was just ours and will forever be a place that I will daydream off when I am in a suffocating office environment once back in London.

After finally tearing ourselves away from Mandalay we got to Walpole just in time to get a tip from the visitor centre of an excellent place to free camp. Just shy of the free camping site I pulled over to take a picture of a sign that declared that we were in tall timber country and this place should have acted as a warning about this area of Western Australia. The roadsides here are not hard like hard shoulders elsewhere, they are sandy! Trying to pull off was not pretty and we found ourselves wheel spinning trying to get Dominus back on to the road. After wetting the sand and wedging a few stones under the wheels we were back in business, so why did I not learn the lesson?

It is now Tuesday 31st January but this day will be forever etched in my mind as ‘Ditch Day’.
The Valley of the Giants was still closed when we arrived at the gates so we pulled over and waited for the place to open. For one reason or another we decided and then immediately decided against checking out a local sight down the road meaning that I tried unsuccessfully to reverse in to our previously parked position. By the time that I had thought about the sandy roadsides and the fact that this roadside dropped away into a ditch I had reversed too far and was now stuck on an angle in a van that had as much grip and bite as a Teflon saucepan.
As if sent for by Lassie herself a ranger arrived on the scene at that precise moment to open the gates to the Valley.
I walked over and explained that I was a useless Pomme and had gotten us stuck and he very kindly agreed to give us a tow back on to the road. To us it seemed natural to tow us from the front but Tony (the ranger) decided that pulling us from the back would be best. He was the ranger with the 4x4 and the tow gear so I thought he knew what he was doing. The result of Tony’s handy work saw Dominus with my self and Arancha inside even further down the ditch on and even steeper angle resting against a tree! We were now well and truly f*cked!
“Don’t worry” says Tony, I will ring Alf and he will be able to get you out no problem.

45 minutes later and avoiding the many gawping tourists slowly driving past us stranded at the roadside Alf and his missus arrive with their tow truck.
Their first action was to assess the situation whilst both smoking a roll-up and making ‘hmmm” and “aaahhhhhh” sounds.
Eventually Alf decides on the best course of action and tells us that we may lose a wing mirror, which we were more than willing to accept.
His missus stood by me and assured me that he was the best and we would be out in no time. Famous last words!
Once attached to the winch, slowly but surely Dominus made his sorry way out of the ditch whilst I watched on with fingers crossed and Arancha filmed the whole debacle. I still haven’t watched the footage as it is still a touchy subject but I know that at the point the creaking begins Arancha turns the camera from the action and walks away.
The creaking was Dominus scraping against a fairly sturdy tree and this awful sound ended quite abruptly when the wing-mirror quickly followed by the entire front grill of the van was ripped off and fell down into the ditch.
I think we could’ve accepted that as collateral damage but once out of the ditch and on closer inspection the damage was much worse. During Dominus’ close encounter with the Mike Tyson of the tree world the passenger door had also been dented in to a point where for the rest of the trip it wouldn’t open and whoever wasn’t driving had a choice of either getting in and out via the driver side or clambering over from the back!

Once out Alf and his missus once again stood back to assess the situation whilst smoking another roll-up and once again made “hmmm” sounds and now accompanied them with “ooohhh”.
On the plus side Alf was proud to tell us that the indicator on the totally f*cked up side of the van was still in working order so that was good wasn’t it?
We were then at the business end of this fiasco and Alf was gracious enough to declare that he was entitled to do at least one good turn every year so he wouldn’t charge us!
What one good turn was that then Alf? Depreciating the van of value by more than we could ever hope to over our entire 10,000km journey?
Yes it was my fault that I got us stuck in the ditch but Tony compounded it with Alf then showing the level of professionalism of a toddler constructing a ship in a bottle model of the Mary Rose.
Funnily enough our stroll around the tree top walkways of the Valley of the Giants was a very quiet affair after the early morning’s events.

Fortunately our day got a damn site better as we left the tainted Tall Timber country behind and arrived in the beautiful town of Denmark.
Denmark is in the enviable position of having the ocean on one side and the countryside on the other, the home of the Scottsdale Tourist Drive, a 20km loop of wineries and food centres.
On the loop we bought some more cheese and also visited a honey winery where we could observe the bees in transparent hives whilst eating honey ice cream because this was not the day to be worrying about diets!

The afternoon got even better once we visited Greens Pool and the Elephant Rocks. Greens Pool was one of those immaculate places of super crystal clear ocean waters that once passed how cold the Southern Ocean is was a great place to cool off and swim around the strange formations of the Elephant Rocks.

That night we camped a lovely little camp ground next to the beach that was run by a couple of spritely 80+ year olds that still scoot around the site on quad bikes whilst looking like they did not have the strength to turn the wheels.

We remained in Denmark the following day so that we could complete a 9.6km return climb to the summit of Mount Lindsay. It was not a challenging climb and the views were not really worth the effort but at least it burnt off some of the honey ice cream consumed the day before!
Before leaving the area we tried to body surf in the poor waves of Ocean Drive beach and utilised the nearby showers to freshen up.

The town of Albany was next and over a couple of pints we planned out the remaining 3 weeks of our Aussie road trip. That night we free camped and I only mention it because a huge rat ran into Arancha’s foot as we cooked our dinner.

I have mentioned dinner on various occasions but never really gone into detail about our meal times. Well Gordon Ramsey eat your Scottish heart out:
Breakfast – generally an omelette or fried egg on toast followed by yoghurt – yum yum
Lunch – freshly made sandwich by my or Arancha’s fair hand – scrumptious
Dinner – either fresh fish/seafood or lean mean kangaroo meat accompanied with a variety of fresh veg and salad such as fried sweet potato chips, roasted aubergine, courgette, carrot, onions and corn on the cob and all of this was always with a large dash of peri-peri or lemongrass and chilli seasoning – f*ck yeah!
Check that out! We were real health freaks on this trip, it was all about the saturated fat content for us!!

Anyway, it was raining the next morning, the first real rainfall that we had experienced in 4 weeks on the road and this was the result of a cyclone that had broken up over the Indian Ocean and would send crappy weather our way for the next few days.
That morning we ventured to the Torndirrup National Park to visit The Gap, a 24 foot vertical drop in to the ocean, and Natural Bridge, a large rock bridge that spans the open ocean and can be deadly if a king wave happens to strike you when you dare to cross it. Even though the weather was poo the ocean was calm-ish so we both took turns to walk across to the other side and back again.
This national park was also the site of sections of dark continental rock that used to connect Australia to Antarctica in the very distant past.
We breakfasted in the national park by the ocean before travelling on to the fabulous Little Beach that has perfect tube waves rolling in to the coast.

The next day was a seriously long driving day. The plan has been to climb Bluff Knoll, at 1,095 metres the highest peak in the Stirling Ranges but when we arrived the weather was so bad that we couldn’t even see the mountain from 1km away.
There was no option but continue driving on to Hyden to visit Wave Rock, a natural rock formation that is shaped like a 110 metre long and 15 foot high wave.
There is no doubt that it is worth seeing and made more fascinating by the fact that a new ‘wave’ is in the process of being created right under your feet but Hyden is in the middle of nowhere, the flies are unrelenting and by the time we stopped for the night on our drive back down towards the coast we had driven 1,000 kilometres in one day.
We had a good ‘free camp’ though – it was raining so we made some room so that we could cook our kangaroo snags (sausages) in the back of the van whilst getting drunk on port.

Driving in to Esperance we had now reached our final destination in the state of Western Australia. Esperance, being the home of 16 immaculate beaches should’ve been a more than fitting way to end this leg of journey but with the still temperamental weather affecting us Twilight Beach et al just didn’t have that same allure.
It didn’t matter, it was Saturday so we got very drunk in one of only 2 pubs in the town – reason enough to not rate this town as a place to visit!

On the Sunday we drove on to the neighbouring Cape Le Grand National Park, surely the real reason to visit Esperance. Cape Le Grand is home to a number of climbable peaks and great beaches including the recently voted whitest beach in Australia, which you share with a number of very lazy kangaroos.
On the road between Esperance and Cape Le Grand you can also visit the recently completed Stonehenge replica!! I can’t believe that the owners actually wanted to charge us $10 each to visit it, it was sh*t, so I climbed up a bank outside of the grounds to take a picture much to the owner’s disgust.
In the park we took the tourist route around the beaches and also scaled the summit of Frenchman’s Peak – an excellent rock scramble directly up the very steep east face.
We camped by the whitest of white Lucky Beach and although Arancha dropped some of our evening meal it was ok because a kangaroo hoovered it up and left us some poo as thanks!

The next 2 days was all about the Nullarbor Plain – a 1,400 kilometre drive across a stretch of desert with absolutely nothing around you. If you break down here you are in trouble!
To be honest the drive wasn’t that bad as the landscape did change in places from scrub, the flat desert resembling the African Savannah to small trees and eventually a drive along a deserted rugged coastline.
There is also the Nullarbor Links Golf Course to keep travellers amused – the longest golf course in the world with a hole at each roadhouse to complete along the way!

Just before we got to the Nullarbor proper we passed through a town called Salmon Gums! I can just imagine the conversation:
Stranger: “Hi, where are you from?”
Me: “Salmon Gums”
Stranger: “I’m sorry? I asked where are you from?”
Me: “Salmon Gums”
Stranger: “Freak” and walks off

Our first day on the Nullarbor passed without any mishaps and I really enjoyed the drive. We drove along 90 mile road, a 90 mile stretch of dead straight road and is the longest straight road in Oz. If Dominus was in a fit state and could be trusted to drive in a straight line I could’ve driven for 1 hour with no hands, we just went on and on without ever encountering a bend.
Along the way we also saw the biggest eagle perched atop the dead body of a kangaroo feasting upon its entrails – a very cool sight.

We had driven 800 kilometres that day but we were still 100 kilometres shy of the South Australian border, so we spent the night camped in a 24 hour stopping bay the size of a small campsite and we loved it. It was pitch black except for the moon and stars and we shared our camp area with the cutest little field mice, which were about 1.5 inches in length.
As we lay down to sleep Arancha swore that something had just brushed by her arm but I told her it was her imagination and to just go to sleep.
The next morning I opened up the boot to prepare breakfast and it seems that Arancha had not imagined a thing because there was mouse poo everywhere!

For some pathetic reason you are not allowed to carry uncooked fruit and veg over the border between Western and Southern Oz so later that day we stopped short of the border to cook our evening meal in advance so that we didn’t have to throw out our very expensive food!
I have no idea what the punishment would be for transporting stowaway field mice over the border!!!
The first part of our morning was a task in completely emptying the van to search for Stuart Little but it was to no avail, we couldn’t find it anywhere although there was poo dotted all over the interior of the van.
I am not kidding but later that day I did hear a high pitch squeal coming from the engine so maybe Stuart was sleeping there but Arancha still refuses to acknowledge that she heard it – ha ha.

A little over an hour after getting back on to the Nullarbor we reached the border with South Australia. I was very sad to be leaving the state of Western Australia, which has been my favourite of all the states that I have visited but IIWII – it is what it is!
The border is a weird in-between worlds sort of place with its own time zone from both Western and Southern Oz – I suppose it is to be expected when you are in the middle of nothing with no civilisation within 700 kilometres of you in either direction. Apart from another golf hole the border also had a signpost declaring that London was 15,700 kilometres away!

Just beyond the border we hit the top of the Great Australian Bight, that part of Oz at the bottom that arches up like a planet-sized giant has taken a big chomp out of the country.
Here we were able to park up and take in the majestic views of wild country and coast stretching out forever in either direction.

By late afternoon we had finally achieved an Australian must and successfully crossed the Nullarbor Plain – woo-hoo!
The reward for this achievement was a very nervous glance between ourselves as a cop car switched on his lights and pulled us over. Road laws in WA are very slack and we feared that the battered and bruised Dominus would be punished now that we were we in the stricter SA.
We needn’t have feared because it was just a random breath test and an attractive Aussie Arancha was driving making it all a lot easier. She passed the test and after checking our papers he sent us on our way giving the van a once over look and telling us to burn it and claim on the insurance!!!
We nervously laughed and neglected to tell him that it wasn’t insured – we are skint backpackers!
Our first night in SA was nice enough by the calm waters of Streaky Bay and a neighbour at the caravan park gave us some freshly caught crabs to cook up which were divine.

The Streaky Bay visitor info centre was very helpful in giving us a list of the local attractions but I found it very amusing when I walked in alone and the receptionist looked me up and down with my long hair, vest and shorts and asked me if I had an appointment for the attaching dole centre!
In my best English accent I explained that I was just here for directions.

We had a very busy sightseeing day:
1) Point Labatt – a drive along a dirt road to visit a sea lion colony. A really good place to visit and look down on the numerous sea lions either lazing on the rocks or frolicking in the rock pools knowing that out in the dark ocean beyond we were back in great white shark territory.
2) Murphy’s Haystacks – a collection of odd rock formations – nice enough
3) Talia Caves - different cave formations, one called The Tub which you climbed down into via a log with foot holds carved into it and Woolshed Cave, which I wish I hadn’t ventured in to barefoot as I found myself standing in piles of bat poo!
4) Finally, we drove along the ocean coastal loop of great scenery and numerous sculptures decorating the cliff edges

That evening we camped in Port Lincoln next to the shark cage diving boat – yep, we were going to try our luck again!
I am not sure how but we boarded the boat at 6:30am the next morning with everybody else on board waiting for us – we had slept next to the boat!

I assume everybody reading this has been following my travelling progress so hopefully you will have read about my previous shark cage diving experience back at the beginning of November because I can’t be bothered to explain how it works all over again.
All you need to know is that this time it was bloody worth it! Within 2 minutes of arriving the first shark appeared and we had 3 very active sharks around the boat for the entire day – the largest being 15 feet in length!

We jumped into the cage as part of the first group and it is hard to put into words what the next 45 minutes was like. You are stood in the cage and before you know it there is a shark coming up from behind, it circles the cage and looks you straight in the eye and you are under no illusion that it is waiting for you to give it an opening. It then may try and grab the tuna bait giving you a view of those razor sharp teeth or it may glide back in to the darkness of the ocean as though it was never there.
It was such a magical experience and a real privilege to share the same space with the perfectly designed predator and watching it swim so graciously through the water did not seem real, it was like we were watching the tv.
The best part by far was the moment when the middle sized shark (about 12 feet long) decided to turn on a sixpence and smash a hole into the metal cage!!! The power and force that it hit with was indescribable but from such a small turn I can’t even fathom what it would feel like if a great white smashed into you at full speed – I think instant death would be the result without a bite being made.
All 6 of us backed up against the cage and I am not lying when my self and Arancha looked at each other and we were so excited by what was happening. Amongst the bubbles rising from our respirators we could both clearly make out the other saying “whhoooaaa!” and laughing at what was happening.

Before we knew it our time was up but it didn’t matter, we had had 45 minutes of full on shark action and for the rest of the day we stood on the boat and watched the sharks continue to batter the cage and its inhabitants.

It was a flipping great day and well worth the detour down and on our way north that evening heading towards Adelaide Dominus had a good day too by celebrating reaching the 400,000 kilometre milestone on his mileometre (or is it a kilometre here??) – well done Dominus you trooper!

It was now Friday 10th Feb and we arrived in the capital of South Australian capital city of Adelaide. I can’t tell you much about Australia’s 3rd largest city because we drove through it and up into the hills beyond to stay at the farm of Looker and Shahn (one of the girls that I met in Nepal with Arancha).
I am not sure how long we had planned to stay here but we stayed for 5 days and it was brilliant. Looker and Shahn have a 10 acre property that comes with sheep (one which died whilst we were there), an alpaca which protects the sheep from foxes and a family of Magpies which come into the huge house, that has 9 different entrances, to feed.
Because it is set in its own land you feel away from civilisation and you can do as you please. Looker likes a beer, cider or 10 so I spent the next 5 days in a very drunk state.
Looker also has a man-shed where the blokes can go and work on man things like cars and sh*t whilst drinking because there are 2 fridges full of booze on site.
Apart from lunch in the superb German village of Handoff and a trip around the south of South Australia’s coastline we stayed on the farm and partied.

Saturday was probably the best day for me. My first beer was at 11am with Looker and his mate Dave Dingo in the man shed. Yeah his name was Dingo and he had the number plate on his Ute to prove it. I really enjoyed hanging with these true Aussie blokes and you learn more about a country and its culture in an hour drinking with these people than you ever will in 5 months in Melbourne.
I like the fact that I could go for a wee right outside the man shed in the bushes and I didn’t even mind when Dingo announced that he was off inside to “pinch a crap out!”
Whilst Arancha and Shahn went shopping, my self and Looker drank and set about fixing up Dominus. The result of Looker’s bush mechanics was a new front right-hand side indictor that used to be the indicator on a caravan – it looked hilarious but it worked and that was good enough for me.

Once the girls were back we set about having one of the best house parties I have ever been to and there was only 4 of us. The night consisted of beer, wine, cider, port, making something a world away from music as we ‘played’ the piano along with a didgeridoo and bird whistle whilst wearing hats eg. A top hat, a yellow wig and a Nazi helmet. Looker then gave us a solo dance on his dance floor with 2 sparklers as accessories and then finally the cowboy whips came out.
When done properly the crack of the whip echoed like a gunshot around the farm hills in the black of night, but I will remember it for feeling like Demi Moore in Ghost as Looker got behind me like Swayze and showed me how to use the whip in the correct manner!!

All in all it was a top quality weekend and on the last day Looker shared a couple of stories with me that he gave me permission to share with you all.
1) When fitting solar roof panels on a very hot day he ended up in hospital because he wasn’t wearing underwear and the panels burnt his balls so badly that he was spewing up blood!
2) After badly breaking his arms as a youth because he fell out of his own car hooning (joy riding) he sat at home lighting bangers and throwing them. He lit a particularly large one and tried to throw it with the broken arm, which resulted in it dropping down the side of the chair he was sitting in. Looker was back in hospital that night with a chunk blown out of his leg!
Great bloke and I hope he comes to visit us in the UK as you lot will love him. He comes from the type of world where you are self-sufficient and whatever job you do for a mate you do it for beer because that’s all you need when relaxing at your amazing farm! Nice life.

We finally made ourselves leave the farm but had the advantage of making a detour to Looker’s other property based on the banks of the Murray River in a place called Walker Flats.
The place was up on a hill overlooking the river and you needed to catch a ferry to get over to the ‘shack’.
The next day we took the kayaks out of the shed and spent the day on the river thoroughly tiring our selves out.

The aim was to now head back into the state of Victoria and explore the Grampians National Park but as we left Walker Flats Dominus began to sound very poorly indeed.
We had no choice but to join the roadside assistance on the spot and get somebody out to take a look over the van.
2 hours later the less than impressive help arrived and he spent a total of 15 minutes with us, took the wheel off and declared that our front wheel bearings were ruined.
His advice, although not official, was to drive to the nearest town and get it to the mechanics.
The 30km drive was very painful and we had to stop every 10kms to let the bearings cool down so that it didn’t sound like the whole thing was about to fall to pieces.
We limped in to the town of Mannum at 2pm on the Friday afternoon and we were too late to be seen and would need to wait until Monday morning!
We were stuck in this crap little town until Monday morning with nothing to do. At least we were still on the banks of the Murray River and the Saturday was so busy with local South Australians using the river for various water sports.

I can’t say that we did an awful lot with our weekend and we were so happy when come 4pm on Monday afternoon we were back on the road, even if we were a few hundred dollars out of pocket and we now had tape holding the hazard light button in place so that the indicators would work because this had shorted as we were driving to the mechanics in distress on the Friday!

We free camped for the last time just over the border and were now in the ‘home’ state of Victoria – boo-hoo.
We had 2 days of the road-trip left and we were not going to waste them. We got to the Grampians National Park very early and set about fitting as much in as possible. The original plan had been to spend 3 or 4 days here and I am gutted that we couldn’t do this as it was such an impressive national park – maybe the best I have visited in Australia.
We did the standard touristy things on day 1 – climb to the top of the Pinnacles look out, check out The Balconies rock formations and walk to the bottom of the McKenzie waterfalls.
Our last night ‘on the road’ was at a small campsite in the park – it was us, a bottle of port and a seriously cheeky kangaroo. The roo had obviously been fed by numerous other campers so it showed no fear and would stand right next to us scrounging for food.
We rose early he next day as we had our last mountain to climb. As soon as I put breakfast on the roo was back and this time he was taking real liberties ie. jumping on to the table, licking the frying pan and in the process knocking some eggs off the table. Shouting did us no favours and I was too wary of getting a good kick to push it away.
Finally it moved off and we were able to get ready for the climb.

With so many peaks to climb in the park I am happy that we chose to mount Briggs Bluff. It was a thousand metre plus peak and one side of it was a vertical drop down to the bottom – quite unnerving when you are stood on the edge.
The climb was really good fun and involved a lot of rock scrambling up the side of a waterfall. All in all the climb took us about 3 hours and we really savoured the views from the summit as we sat down to have our final lunch before returning back to Melbourne.
As we returned to the van we ran in to a couple that we had saw on Ditch Day – made more random by the fact that nobody else was around and since that day they had flown to Melbourne from Perth, bought their own van and had now driven here. It’s a small, small world.
Just before we left the park and drove south through the most unbelievable landscape we stopped at a campground and treated ourselves to a bucket shower ie. You put your own water in to the bucket and it pours out over you with the sun shining on your back. That is what my life is about!

That evening we were back in Melbourne and we hated it. We thought that going to the Queen Victoria Food and Drink Markets would be a nice cultural way to get back in to city life but it was so busy, everyone was rude and we were used to having our own space for as far as we could to see all to ourselves!!!

So that was that, the road trip was over! After driving to Sydney, off to Tasmania, back to Sydney for NYE, over to the red centre of Aus and then over to Broome we were back in Melbourne.
In Dominus we covered a total of 10,009 kilometres, travelled through 3 States and saw a number of sights that you cannot see anywhere else in the world and I was lucky enough to do it with an amazing person and one of my best mates!

Even though we were back we were fortunate enough that we would only need to spend 10 days in Melbourne before the next part of the world travels began.

Over that 10 day period I was seriously busy sorting out our visas for China and Nepal, putting up ‘For Sale’ posters all over the city’s hostels for Dominus, as well as sorting through final paperwork in order to leave Australia.
During this time I also had to go and say my goodbyes to some very good mates and on top of that celebrate Arancha and Nadia’s very special birthday party.
I think I celebrated a little too hard because I went on a 20 hour drinking bender and made a right tool of myself at the post-birthday meal on the Sunday afternoon. Good job I am leaving the country!!!
I made up for my bad behaviour by making Arancha a gourmet breakfast on her actual b’day and got her tickets to the V Festival as a present! Yeah baby, Stone Roses and The Killers amongst others for us this summer!

During my last week I managed to get down to the south coast for a night alone but had to be back early the next morning because after a couple of unsuccessful viewings the day before I had another potential buyer for Dominus.
Greg was the new Yank in town and you could smell the desperation on him – he wanted a van and he wanted it now!
Like a lot of Yanks he was arrogant without even realising it and assumed I could pick him up so that he could view the van the cheeky git. I told him that wouldn’t be possible and he would have to meet me where we had arranged – only about 15 minutes from his bleeding hostel!
Anyway, he didn’t seem to mind climbing in over the driver seat or via the back of the van so I was pleased about that and after a short drive he was very keen indeed. I nearly had a heart attack when he drove it and declared that he had never driven on this side of the road before as he nearly shaved the cars on the passenger side and I was very relieved when he handed the controls back over to me. I was even more pleased that the indicators were still working as they had been seriously playing up in recent days!!!

In conclusion we wanted $1,600 for a piece of sh*t van and we somehow got $1,350 out of Greg the Yank. To be fair it is a mechanically sound vehicle but I won’t lie to you – it looks awful and bits are falling off!

To continue in his arrogant manner Greg declared that I should drop the van off to him the next day (I thought the buyer should pick up the vehicle?) but I didn’t mind because if I did that then he would never know where I lived and once I was gone I was gone!

So that is that people, after 7 days short of 1 whole year in Australia my time here is at an end. I can’t believe that it has passed so quickly and that 16.5 months of travel has now passed me by in the blink of an eye.
My year here has been phenomenal – I have travelled around the perimeter of this mighty continent from Cairns in the north-east, right around to Broome in the north-west; only the north of Australia over the top from Cairns to Broome remains to be explored and one day it will be.
I have travelled to the most easterly and westerly points as well as the highest point of the country and every day has been such fun.
I have met some great people, played with a great football team, rented a flat and held down a 6 month corporate contract in Melbourne, completed the Melbourne Marathon, been skiing twice, tried my hand at surfing, undertook two east-coast road trips, one where I had a fantastic time being the only English person amongst many Europeans and one with 2 of my best mates from home as well as a west & south coast road trip with my best mate here.
I have explored geological environments seen nowhere else on this planet and I have sat with nesting green turtles on a beach, seen wild kangaroos, huge eagles and koalas aplenty and been face to mouth with Great White Sharks.

A special thanks goes out to Nadia, Slim, Josie, Cossie, Shahn, Burt, Sam and Greenall for providing me a bed when I needed it most.
Cheers guys, it was much appreciated.

In conclusion is has been a monumental year in my life on the back of the 5 months of extraordinary travel that preceded it and now I leave to explore China before going back to Nepal to conquer the Everest region with an Australian girlfriend that I met in those very mountains in Dec 2010. I can tell you that that was not on the cards!

Ain’t life grand!!!!!

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