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Australia 2013

After a great trip in Malaysia this year, around Christmas and after the Eastern holiday, our winter sport holiday in the Alps, we lose not a day after the beginning of Mariska’s planned summer break, we leave for 5 weeks Australia. The plan is to fly to Cairo with Egypt Air, then fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia via Bangkok in Thailand and fly from Kuala Lumpur with AirAsiaX to Melbourne, Australia. Here we will visit a few days son Peter and his family in Geelong. Then we fly with Virgin Australia to Darwin on the northern coast, rent a campervan there, and trave l in 30 days back Melbourne. After a few days there, we will return to Budapest.

It is a challenging tour, departing Wednesday in Budapest and arriving Friday morning in Melbourne. To make it easier we decide to arrange a taxi from home in Magyargencs to Budapest Airport. That saves us hassle and the parking fees at the airport. The 3 hour taxi trip was pleasant and uneventful and we had lots of time to check in at Budapest Airport. The Embraer 170, build in Brazil, is a small 76 seat modern, comfortable and quiet jet aircraft, with 4 seats in the row. Egypt Air has a reputation to fly on time and that’s very important as we switch in Malaysia to with AirAsiaX, an other company. If you do not show up in time there, you don’t fly and can book and pay all subsequent flights once more.

We arrived in time in Cairo and had some time between the flights. The next flight was to Bangkok with a new Boeing 777-300, with the best inflight entertainment system we have seen. The cabin crew was very efficient, the meals were good and the pitch between the seats was generous. Many people have discovered that, as this aircraft was almost full. The flight to Bangkok was uneventful, nice to spend some time in Thailand again. The next leg was to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where we arrived at the scheduled time.

Now we have to proceed to the terminal of AirAsia. In January we flew with AirAsia from Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur KLIA, so we knew what to expect. The terminal is called LCCT and though it is on the same airfield, you have to collect your baggage, pass through customs and immigration, and go by bus or taxi in a 20 minutes trip to the other terminal, where you can do all in reverse sequence. We planned on that, so we had plenty time. Many passengers miss their connecting flight as they do not know that LCCT is quite different from KLIA, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and at a far distance. The transit took us more than 2 hours, before we could check in on the next flight. Nobody tells you this, but in our case it was no problem.

AirAsiaX Airbus 330-300 took off in time for Melbourne. It is a no frill airline; you get nothing and have to buy everything, what we already did on internet. The Airbus is slightly smaller than the comparable Boeing 777, but they managed to squeeze in as many passengers. Not exactly comfortable, if you are longer than the standard Asian. The inflight entertainment system consists of a tablet computer you can pre-order. Not bad, the quality of the Samsung tablet was excellent. The meals you can pre-order on internet and they were very good. The flight lasted almost 8 hours and we arrived slightly earlier than planned. During the descent the dawn showed up brilliant. A surprise was the winterly appearance of the land. The fields were white of frost. It was cold in the Australian winter. The temperature at Melbourne airport was slightly better: 4 degrees C.

We were met by son Peter and went to Geelong, about 69 kms south west of Melbourne, where they had a nice villa at the waterfront. We were now more that 2 days en route, hardly with any sleep so it’s better to go out in full sunshine to cope with the jet lag. Little Zoë is a nice child, that loved to play with Mariska.

Next day was a good opportunity to try SUP, Stand Up Paddle. It’s a kind of surfing, using a paddle to gain speed to catch a wave. If you do something wrong, you fall from the board in the winter cold sea. So it does not exactly look as a sport for the winter. Only with a wetsuit you can survive. Much to my surprise I could catch a nice wave on the first try. Then I tried the stand up trick, which was less successful, many times I could see the waves from the underside.

After this cold adventure it was time for a nice dinner, in a warm child friendly restaurant.

Next day was a trip to a wildlife sanctuary. Many birds and mammals could be seen here. Especially the koala’s were lovely. They sleep 20 hours a day and the balance, they eat eucalyptus leaves.

We did some shopping and noticed that the priced have gone up considerably since our previous trip to Australia. Not only inflation but the Australian Dollar had gained quite a lot in value. The prices in Euro’s were double compared to the prices when we were there some 5 years ago. The economy was booming, and Australia as a major producer of commodities as iron ore and coal for the fast growing Chinese industry. Personnel are scarce and they are very well paid. Over and above, many people manage to live from handouts of the social security. The effects are similar to that other social paradise, Europe: high wages, high prices, high taxes and high debts.

Next leg was a four hour flight to Darwin, in the very north. It is the tropical part of Australia and nice warm, averaging 30 degrees.

The flight with Virgin Australia from Melbourne to Darwin was a night flight, taking off at 2 o’clock in the early morning. We took the bus for the hour long trip from Geelong to Melbourne. We left the big baggage case in Geelong and travelled with a soft bag. We knew there was no room in the campervan for a voluminous hard shell case. Only one disadvantage: the soft bag has no wheels and weighs still 20 kilos. The Boeing 737-800 was brand new, however as a Virgin Australia is a no-frills airline, you can expect how the service was. This aircraft again was almost full.

After landing in the dark we collected the bag, and checked out the mobile internet where the camper rental office was. It appeared on the Google Maps close to the arrival hall, so we decided to walk. We had plenty of time before the agency was open. But to say that it’s easy and fun to walk with 40 kg of baggage without wheels in pitch dark, is not exactly correct. Especially when we discovered that the indication of the GPS location on the smart phone was totally wrong. There we stood, at a green field, in the night with approaching sunrise, without anything that even remote looked like a building or a campervan. So we dragged our stuff back to the nearest hotel, asked for a taxi and were 20 minutes later at the rental car company. First we enjoyed the bureaucracy of filling the many forms of the rental company. Luckily the lady does not notice that one drivers license is expired. The new one is of course being made and probably ready, but not here. Who cares! We must be very carefully en route, as we never take the damage waiver for the insurance. That should cost up to 1900 AUD for this period. But in the many months in the past travelling in Australia, South Africa Costa Rica or New Zealand, and rejecting that insurance, we saved so much money that, in case of accident now, even after paying the damage of 5000 AUD, we still have a positive balance.

We found a nice camping near Darwin and enjoy the nice weather. It is sunny and around 30 degrees. We plan to stay here for 3 nights, make a study of the planned route and then we make a plan what to do further.

We took only one bag baggage with us, as for the 5 weeks we stay in Australia you have to buy everything. So our first action is a shopping spree. We see again that everything is rather expensive. We buy not only food, but kitchen equipment as well. And of course chairs. Renting them from the campervan rental company was 17 Australian dollar each, you can buy them at the K-Mart for 6,50 AUD. So we did buy a camping table as well, of course, with the intention to give them away after the holiday. Australians are dedicated meat eaters and a big variety of juicy steaks is available. In due course we try them all. As always during the holiday, we lunch once at the KFC finger’s licking chicken shack. It is delicious junk food indeed.

We stay few days at a camping close to Darwin. It is close to Darwin airport. It is on one side a civil airport and on the other side a military one. F-18’s operate from there and we are close to the extended runway and camping guests can enjoy all day the thundering sound of F-18’s taking off with afterburners. But that sounds like music in my ears.

We visited the Australian Aviation Heritage centre, more or less an Air Force museum, in a corner of the Airbase. It had an impressive collection of planes, including a massive Boeing B-52 bomber. This is the only one on exhibition in the southern hemisphere. Further there were extensive displays about the battle of Darwin in the Second World War. After attacking Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, Australia was the next target of the Navy, however the Army had reservations as it would take 10 divisions . The Japanese were well prepared for the invasion. They had even printed Shillings with the English text “Japanese Government”. They were on display. Darwin was attacked 97 times by the Japanese. The Australian troops were badly prepared, trained and equipped. The Japanese attacked almost without impunity. On the first raid, on February 19, 1942, 242 navy and land based Japanese aircraft participated and only 4 were shot down. Quickly the Americans reinforced the Australian forces and Darwin became the stronghold of the Allied forces.

But after the initial success the Japanese got a few severe blows. In the battle of Coral Sea and finally during the battle of Midway, the encounters with the American resulted in the loss of the 4 big Japanese aircraft carriers and this was seen as the turning point in the Second World war. The Japanese gave up the idea of an invasion of Australia. The exhibition was very interesting as the Battle of Midway was the subject of my study at the military academy, long ago.

Further there were lots of fighters were on display: Mirage, Sabre, F-111 and lots of recovered crashed planes, including a Japanese Zero and parts of a Betty bomber. Further many items with a relation to aviation, including engines, and even ultra light aircraft, including a gyrocopter. It was indeed a well spend afternoon.

Though it was winter, it was hot, very hot. In the afternoon, when the heat subsided the mosquito’s attacked. In the evening it was nice cool outside (probably) as we did not notice it as we stayed inside.

Next on the program was Litchfield National Park. It is a 650 square km area, 130 kilometer south west of Darwin. It consists of a large flat high plain of sandstone with deep crevasses. First we visit the termite hills. There are 2 kinds: the cathedral termites, who build massive towers, up to 6 m high and the magnet termite mounds. They are flat like an airfoil or a board and the sharp edges are exactly lined up to the magnetic north. So the thin edge is pointing to the north, where the hot sun is in Australia. The temperature inside is easily controlled by this alignment. If the earth magnetic field is artificially distorted, that was done in experiments, and indeed, the termites changed the direction of the mound. Magnetic termites are only found here, no other place in the world they are known.

The main part of the Litchfield National Park is the Table Top Range. Four waterfalls fall from this plateau. In the wet season the sandstone acts as a sponge and the water is released slowly all over the year. Therefore the waterfalls have all year water supply. It’s now dry season and the first waterfall is the Florence Falls. A few waterfalls cascade and the last part falls more than 30 m in a crystal clear pond. It is lovely to swim in. Of course we took the opportunity to swim there. It is a 1.2 km walk or a shorter one with 143 step stair. We see lots of big fox-bats hanging in the tree and loudly quibbling. Next stop is the Buley Rockhole, a series of cascading small falls, with holes where you can swim in the crystal clear water, upstream the Florence falls. It was very enjoyable indeed. It was as well a good opportunity to try the Gopro wide angle high definition mini videocamera, just bought in Darwin. It is very suitable for action video and pictures under water, as the housing is certified for 60 meters deep.

We pass along a bush fire. No one or no fire brigade was visible. Though all trees are scarred by fire, it’s no problem. It is even part of maintaining the landscape. The management tries to burn 50% of the area and it’s surprisingly how green the burned area is after the wet season. It offers then lots of food for the animals and indigenous people. Burning is even called land management. It is really an art as different techniques are used all over the year and depending on vegetation and amount of combustible material. We sleep at an improvised camping at the Wangi Falls, again a high waterfall, which creates a nice clear pool. No lights so the stars and Milky Way are brightly glittering like diamonds. Next morning we leave again. We visit the Tollmer Falls. Unfortunately you cannot swim there, as it is closed due to an endangered species of big bats living in the caves next to the pool. The falls are nice visible from the viewing platform. You can see the Natural Bridge, through which waterfall flows. As always we see a few nice butterflies.

After that we proceed to the must-see Kakadu National Park. It is famous for the nature and the aboriginal culture, notably rock art, many thousand years old. Aboriginal tribes lived here for 50.000 years, when the now extinct Neanderthal people were still occupying Europe. After the arrival of European settlers their culture was endangered. This is of course relative as it was a rather cruel and violent culture, where not adhering to taboos was a reason to kill someone. For instance, if a girls ate a common fish, the barramundi, in the not-appropriate phase of her life, she was killed. Basic human rights were not a substantial element of Aboriginal culture. But let’s face it: they exist here 50.000 years with the same culture. Is that despite or thanks to their culture?

On the way to Kakadu we sleep at the Aurora camping along the road and that caravan park was surprisingly comfortable. Next morning we get up early and travel to the Mamakula bird watching centre. You are warned for crocodiles. They are protected and all dangerous. From 6000, their numbers increased to 300.000 and once in a while they have a tourist as snack. Everywhere you see warning signs, you never can swim except if it’s explicitly indicated. And then it’s no guarantee either that there are no crocs, but only a program to catch them if they show up and release them elsewhere. The most dangerous are the estuarine crocodiles (Crocodylus parasus), the infamous salt water crocs , “salties”. They can grow to monsters of more than 7m long. The “salty” can be found in fresh water and salt water. The other species is the fresh water croc (Crocodylus johnston). They grow till 3 m. They do not have humans on the menu, but will attack if disturbed.

The area varies throughout the year from a wet swamp, a lake, till a dried soil, hard as concrete. It’s now just after the wet season, so the marsh is still wet, a lake. However there are few birds. We see in the distance an interesting red water lily.

A substantial part of the Northern Territories (NT) is owned by Aboriginals and closed for visitors. Arnhemland is such a gigantic area, half of the NT area.

Kakadu has a surface of 20.000 square kilometers, roughly half the surface of the Netherlands. We arrive at Jabiru, the “capital” of Kakadu and find a very nice camping with a great swimming pool and ample facilities. We book for two days. After claiming a nice shady place, we leave directly again and go to the information centre of the Kakadu National Park, where we buy tickets and enjoy a wealth of information, displayed here. It gives a good impression what to see and what we must do. Ubirr is labeled as a must-see.

First thing we do next morning is a trip to Ubirr, a trip of 40 kms to the north. Here are the oldest and most interesting rock paintings. The history here goes back for tens of thousands years. And most interesting is that the descents of people who made the paintings, still are here. They understand and care for the rock art. There are thousands of paintings. For instance the Tasman Tiger, extinct here for 4000 years shows how old the rock art is. There are many “x-ray” pictures, showing the inside of fish, animals and people. We climb the rocks and have a wonderful view on the surroundings. A refreshing wind blows, cooling nicely. We enjoy every minute of it and this was definitely a high light of this holiday. The weather is still brilliant and a good moment to check out the swimming pool of the camping.

In the evening we see lots of big bats, flying foxes, flying low over the camping. They fly silently and effectively, like big birds.

It’s time to continue our journey, leave our comfortable caravan park and continue to the south. The weather is still very pleasant. The first stop is again in the Bowali visitor centre. A wealth of information is available on the area’s geology, nature and indigenous culture. It takes hours to absorb that all. Then we go en route on the good maintained and empty roads of the Kakadu Highway.

Our first stop after this is Nourlangie. It is located beneath a towering escarpment with jagged peaks and surrounded by ancient rain forests. The original clan has disappeared and the area is now guarded by neighboring clans. In all the publications the Aboriginals are mentioned as “Original Owners”. There are many caves and other natural fissures. And of course lots of rock art . Many of them are sacred or fulfill a function in aboriginal life. We make a long walk and see most of the rock art. On the horizon we see the outcrops of Arnhem land, a giant area closed for visitors. Visible are the Tree Pillars, a sacred place for aboriginals. Disturbing it gives trouble.

Australian people are very nice. They always greet with “How are you, mate” or “G’dday” This time of the year in The Northern Territories, there are many pensioners here for a longer time. They are called “the grey nomads”. It seems to be a tradition to make after retirement a Grand Tour all over Australia. The next event was the Sandy or Djarradjin Billabong. Mariska is walking careful in between us, to protect her from crocodiles. They live here and many warning signs point out the risks. Many birds could be observed, including one who did spread its wing for drying like cormorants do. A nice butterfly showed off, near many paper bark trees. The bark looks like thick layers of soft paper. Aboriginals use it for various purposes like packing food, uses as a torch or at funerals. In an almost dry river we found a beautiful blue flower.

After the billabong we headed for Cooinda, a tourist trap at the Yellow River, where you can get a 2 hour boat tour of AU$ 268 for the three of us. Not a private tour, but squeezed in with loads of other tourists. Here we are at the most expensive camping till now. We discover that if anything is labeled “Indigenous owned”, it carries a heavy price tag. But as long as tourists are willing to pay that, it’s their problem. What about fishing for 3 hours for 150 AUD? Per person of course. Children get a special price: 150 AUD as well. Luckily we won’t harm that nice creatures, so we hate fishing. Today is the first of July, Northern Territory Day, a day that is celebrated with fireworks.

We left Hungary 13 days ago and have still another 23 days ahead of us before we are back in Hungary.

We are in the Yellow Water area, famous wetlands. We explore it by foot and see lots of interesting birds like the white heron and a black pelican. The crocs are hiding here, but we see none. The landscape is beautiful and peaceful. We meet a Kakadu ranger and ask him about the Aboriginal culture and how it fits in the modern laws of society. He does not know, but he thinks traditional aboriginal laws are more or less respected by the Australian legal system. And about “indigenously owned” he said that it means usually financial participation by Aboriginal groups. The operation here is run by Hilton Hotel group. That explains the Hilton price level for the caravan park…….

Next is the Waradjan Cultural Centre. It depicts many aspects of Aboriginal life. Strange habits like complex rules about who is allowed to marry who, that goes in cycles of 4 generations. And strange taboos about using ones name after his dead. It was not allowed to take pictures but very interesting were their weapons like spears and spear throwers. For many purposes there were different weapons. The centre is absolutely worth spending a few hours there, absorbing all the information. The Aboriginal culture is intriguing as it is here 50.000 – 60.000 years. If they try adopt a western style of life, it usually derails in violence, unemployment, drug or alcohol abuse, family violence or even worse. That is unfortunately observed as well in the USA, Canada or South America. We saw an advertisement of the Australian Government about the actions against petrol sniffing. In some area’s it’s even prohibited to carry unleaded petrol, you should have low aromatic fuel, designed to reduce petrol sniffing. It’s expensive fuel, but subsidized by the Australian government and known under names as BP Opal. Research show it has reduced the petrol sniffing with 94%. One can ask himself if the Aboriginals hang on to their own culture, they might be better off.

The route goes further in a very interesting landscape. But if you have seen that for so many days it’s not exciting anymore. But at a lookout we see a surprise: a feral donkey. He looks in a good shape and rolls in the dust. We walk to the lookout and enjoy the scenery. A tree is burned down. Probably the fire was too hot and the tree did not survive. This is a nice demonstration that taking care for the landscape by burning is a delicate operation.

Interesting were the stones. Sometimes small rounded boulders were embedded in what looked like ancient lava. The geology of this area is very interesting. It is 2000 million years old and very interesting to see is that these old stones were effectively recycled erosion products from an even older generation. When we came back there were four donkeys, all in a good shape.

The weather is still fine and we travel till just outside the Kakadu National Park and book a place at a caravan park at the Mary River Road house. The flies here are very happy to keep us company. Mariska is delighted to see hundreds of rose Rosella cockatoos and tried to find the nice colored feathers. It is quiet at the caravan park. Few mosquito’s are here, but that is compensated by many of the Australian, little but very aggressive flies.

In the morning we leave for the next trip, to the South, destination is Katherine. We look at the map and while we already have traveled 1000 km we covered an area just like a stamp on the map. Unfortunately we have to skip points of interest en route. If we visit all, it would take another year to complete our trip to the South. The first victim is Pine Creek, a gold delver’s town with many interesting exhibitions. We pass it and with much regret we see all the interesting possibilities. Here we leave the Kakadu Highway and enter the Stuart Highway again. This highway will bring us to Alice Springs. We continue to Katherine, but before that we leave the road and visit the Nitmiluk National Park. The attraction is a waterfall with a huge plunge pool with clear water. Of course we dip in it to cool off. Mariska cannot get enough of it.

In Katherine we book 2 days at the Big4 caravan park indeed the prices keep going up. But this time you get value for money. We visit the town and have can do some shopping. In Katherine, you can do lots of things. First we go to take a look at the hot springs, and indeed it is very nice there. Crystal clear water of 32 degrees looks very tempting. However, we have other plans. We go again to the Nitmiluk National Park, on an other location as the day before. This time we go to the Katharine Gorge. An area with many gorges, waterfalls and a lake. First we go to the visitor’s centre, to understand the geology, flora and fauna, as well as the Aboriginal parts of the area. Of course we try the lake. Look for crocs and jump in the water. It’s nice to cool off, but we do not stay too long as it is indeed cool. After that we climb to the lookout point. That is a rather challenging climb in the heat of the day. The average June temperature is 40 degrees and you are supposed to walk only with one liter water per person per hour. When we arrive at the top, e few exited people were boasting they just saw 3 crocodiles. We looked with the binoculars and could not see anything. That was logical, of course, as we just were swimming in that same water. A friendly couple, elderly people is so friendly to take a picture of the three of us. After that the couple leaves for the further climb to the escarpment tour. That looks a good idea, if that overweight couple can manage, it’s no problem.. In stead of walking back we decide to take a long tour on top of the escarpment. It is very hot and challenging and soon we overtake the friendly elderly couple that shows all signs of fatigue. And this was only the beginning. Soon Mariska was complaining it was too heavy and she would not make it. What can you do else than take Mariska on your shoulder? However, now all 35 kilos of Mariska are counting. But Mariska enjoys it. After a too long walk we arrived again in the valley, tired, worrying a bit about the elder couple. We arrived at the car park to return to Katherine.

We did some shopping and the number of Aboriginals hanging around the shopping centre was surprising. And it was not petty as it is definitely a safety and security issue. The mall had a prominent police station that might have its reason, there. It’s time to return again to the caravan park and continue our quest in trying out all Australian steaks. This time a Porterhouse steak, that was delicious.

It’s time to continue the Stuart High way to Mataranka. But before we leave Katharine we first make a dip in the 32 degrees Hot Springs. The water is clear, comfortable warm and many people enjoyed. The Gopro made some nice video. Mariska loved it and could only be lured out of the hot springs by promising she could later this day enjoy the Bitter Springs of Mataranka. En route we made a detour to visit a Second World War construction site with a steam mill.

We booked at the camping close to the Bitter Springs and were surprised about the crystal clear, warm water. The spring releases 300 liter clear warm water per second and that delivers a considerable creek. You entered the water upstream and could float to a leaving point, a few hundred meters further. And do that over and over again. The water comes from an enormous distance, from an aquifer, a porous sandstone layer, and heated deep under the surface. It was a lovely experience.

Next morning we go to the next natural hot springs, in the same area. It is on the territory of a famous homestead. A novel was written about the harsh life at a remote homestead in the first years of 20th century and that book, Never Never, was later subject of a famous movie. There are many hot springs in the area. We went to a plunge pool, fed by the Rainbow Springs, which all year produced 30 million liter per day crystal clear, 34 degrees water. As always Mariska could not get enough of it. The pools were surrounded by tall Livingstonia palms, only found here.

Now it is really time to make long distances, if we like to be near Melbourne in 2 weeks. The long stay at the hot springs makes that we will not finish the 560 km trip to Tennant Creek in day time, so we have to look for a roadhouse to stay. End of the afternoon we reached Elliott, but the main water line was broken, so no water. We hit the road again for the next Road house, Renner Springs, 90 kms further, where we arrived at sunset and only could get a not-powered site. So we went to bed right the way after dinner, for an early departure to Tennant Creek, to the gold fields and the fossicking fields. That is the Australian word for digging for precious stones.

So we got up early and the first destination was Tennant Creek, what is a relatively big city, for the Northern Territory anyhow, and famous for the gold mines. When the telegraph lines were made, a century ago, works noticed the gold in the area and in the 1930’s a gold rush started. The gold is contained in iron ore bodies, quite unusual as normal it is contained in quartz veins. The gold quantity is extreme high, 24 grams per ton, while 3 grams per ton is elsewhere considered high. If an ore body is mined mining is over for that area. However, 2 more projects are waiting to be started again after new geological survey revealed more ore bodies. The companies waits for a stable government policy on mining before starting the project..

It is Sunday, so no tours to the mine or gold panning (what we did before) and we decided to go for another 560 km to the Harts range, where many gems can be found. The devils marbles were en route. Very interesting gigantic boulders, formed by nature and looked like they were thrown all over the place. However, it is a natural process; the decaying of granite, that forms the boulders, natural forces even can split the stones. Eventually the hard granite will all will revert to a kind of coarse sand. One giant boulder was about to collapse and Mariska was so friendly to hold it in place for a while.

The landscape was varying from place to place and the tropical forest changed to the more dry savanna. We slowly approached the Red Centre of the continent.

The long trip lasted until the evening and we could enjoy a wonderful sunset. After that we arrived in the evening at the Gem Tree Caravan Park. Next day was reserved for looking for gems. The gem park is in the middle of nowhere and the power is generated by diesel generators. In the evening at sharp 22:30, the generators were shut off, while I was under the shower. It was pitch dark and no torch available. So it took some time to collect in the dark all my belongings, to find the way out and try to find our campervan, of which we unfortunately earlier had switched off the light.

Yesterday we travelled 600 kms to the south and it is more than clear that we entered another climate zone. Was yesterday an air-conditioning a necessity, today we need our winter clothes. We went to an area where gems could be found, especially zircon. We found a lot stones and most important were a few garnets, with their crystal form. There were so many, we took only a few. The experts at the gem centre however told that these were quite rare. What we thought was a good catch of zircon was according to the expert quarts and has no value. We found a nice piece of apatite, a kind of green stone. Further we picked up a mineral with strange parallel sides. The expert did not recognize it, so it must be rare.

Mariska, with her sharp eyes, did find the most. Everywhere there were footsteps and droppings of camels, but we saw none. On the way back we collected wood for a fire, to grill the rump steak for dinner at the fireplace on the camping. Back at the caravan park, we lit the fire to grill the steak. The wood we collected was very dry, heavy and burned smokeless with hot and bright flames. Mariska enjoyed playing with the fire, of course under supervision.

The night is cold and, while we are still in the tropics, the day temperature is low, almost like winter in Holland.

The plan for tomorrow is to travel about 160 kms to Alice Springs, do some shopping and proceed further direction Ayers Rock, or Uluru as it is called nowadays. The giant red monolith is the sacred heart of the Red Centre and is without any doubt the most celebrated landmark of Australia.

In the night it is cold, almost approaching zero. Then it starts raining and after we leave for Alice Springs, heavy rain is pouring out of the skies. It is the last thing you expect in the driest area of Australia in the driest time of the year. However it is no problem, as it is our travel day. The rain intensifies if we leave the car for shopping in Alice. Just before Alice Springs we leave the tropics for the sub-tropics as we pass the Capricorn. Alice Springs is a major, nice and well organized town, in the middle of nowhere. Lots of shopping centers are there . We buy an extra cover for Mariska, as she had it so cold the last nights. In front of a mall an Aboriginal woman was sitting, apparently selling smartphones to eager Aboriginal customers. Aboriginals form a substantial part of the population of Alice Springs. Unfortunately, safety is an issue and all publications warn not to loiter in the night in Alice Springs. Aboriginals are famous for their art. Everywhere sublime pieces of art can be bought.

As soon the shopping is done, we continue further in the rain, for another 200 kms along the Stuart Highway, to Erldunda the junction to Uluru, where we spend the night in a roadhouse.

On our way to the south we notice that the traffic to the north is tenfold of the traffic to the south. And 90% of that is recreational. It looks that the Northern Territories get a massive invasion of people fleeing the Southern Winter. The vast majority are the “grey nomads”, the pensioners who spent the winter in the comfortable Northern Territories, the Top End.

From Erldunda we travel right away to the Uluru area, better known as Ayers Rock. It is THE landmark of Australia. First we try to get a campsite, but all is booked and we have to use the overflow area, without any facilities. That is not a problem, as we have our own extra battery for light and the water pump and gas for cooking. We leave after reserving a shady spot on the camping, directly to the Uluru National park and pass Uluru on our way to Kata Tjuta, known as weel as the Olga’s. That is a monolith as well, however consisting of a series of rounded monoliths, and much higher than Uluru. We make two walks, one on the western side and one on the eastern side. Most impressive indeed. The light is bright for pictures

At the end of the afternoon we proceed to the Uluru, to see the sunset. We were not the only one, as hundreds of people came for the same. It was OK but not that special, not the famous red color you usually see on pictures. We arrived at the camping in the dark and left again in the morning in the dark to see sunrise at Uluru. We were again in the company of hundreds of other people. We saw something special, we did not came for: Uluru in the clouds. So no sunrise and hardly anything of Uluru was visible. Soon the spectators were leaving, disappointed. Then we visited the cultural centre that gave much information about the original owners, the Aboriginals. After that we saw the clouds disappearing and that gave some very unusual pictures of Uluru, with the head in the clouds. We left the National Park and visited the Uluru resort, Yulara, the luxurious center for visitors of the National park. It is well organized and in a good shape, and clearly aiming at the upper side of the market. It is an oasis in the often shabby outfits in the Red Centre, but the price of that top notch accommodation is extremely high.

Around noon we left for Kings Canyon, a trip of five hours. We could see a mesa, the Mount Connors Mountain. In the Kings Creek Camping we got a remote site, that allowed us to make a nice campfire. Mariska loved it.

Today’s weather was fine again, ending warm and with blue skies

Next day is Friday, still 12 days to go in Australia. So from now on we careful have to manage in time, so that we do not miss our flight back home. Today’s trip is to the Kings Canyon, only a 35 km drive from the Kings Creek campervan park. It is a kind of canyon carved out in the red sandstone. It is a refuge of rare plants and animals, confined to this lush little paradise. A little stream is flowing through ponds, giving essential water to all forms of life here. The rocks are stunning, and in the valley house size blocks show there is a possibility that a giant rock falls down. Incredible how such a tiny brook can cut out a 100m deep gorge. We saw an interesting hooded pigeon, different from others. The view during the walk in the canyon was stunning. Sometimes you see stones with the typical pattern caused by water current over sand. These were preserved like fossils.

Mariska was exited she could play with the water in the ponds. Sometimes you see a tragedy: a giant caterpillar, or something similar, was attacked by ants and was losing against these little predators. Very special plans and flowers, many unique in the world, were everywhere visible, dsurviving in their isolated little world. On the way back we passed along a red sandy area. It was burned and the red soil was exposed. The wind made the surface of the sand corrugated.

The visit to Kings Canyon was another highlight of the trip. We went back to the camping and collected on the road side some wood, for the campfire. That is the normal procedure here. And it gave some nice pictures. Mariska loved to play with the fire and generated lots of sparks.

The Kings Canyon was the last scheduled highlight of nature in our trip. Next is Coober Pedy, 750 kms further, where we will search for opals. The distance from here to Geelong along the fastest route is 2356 kms, but of course we will make some extra kilometers. We have still 7 days to complete the trip. We hope to see interesting things on the route from Adelaide to Melbourne.

Early morning we left again for the long drive direction Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world. Australia mines 90% of the world opals and 90% of that comes from Coober Pedy. We do not make it in one day and stop at Marla Roadhouse, where we enjoy a spectacular sunset.

We take off early again and travel along the Stuart Highway, which becomes more and more a red desert. However, after the recent rains many plants emerge and take the opportunity to bloom. Close to Coober Pedy we see an enormous amount of bright heaps, almost from horizon to horizon. That means that under the ground there must be quite a lot of mines. Around noon we arrive at Coober Pedy and quickly go to a working mine. We get an interesting tour there. Opals form in sandstone, here the sandstone was white, with red-brown streaks. Many people live here under the ground in old mines or even churches or restaurants specially excavated for that. Indeed, the atmosphere is very comfortable, under the ground, specially during the hot summer. They explain that the opals form around faults in the earth and the can be found with a dowsing od, “wichelroede”. We may try it and all three of us have that gift. Some people who tried it, had no result at all. There is a specific way of mining. Concessions for a year are only granted to individuals. They us a digger machine, explosives and the debris are sucked away through 25 cm pipes to the surface, by a strange machine, locally build and with a powerful diesel engine. That forms the peculiar heaps everywhere visible. And that technology sucks out the dust and leaves the air in the mine completely clean. All the machinery is made locally and is not used elsewhere. Of course it cost an enormous amount of diesel fuel. Sometimes they do not find anything during months, sometimes they have a big strike and as quality opals yield 10 times as much as gold, at a good stike they can be rich instantly. It is a tough job, however. We talk to a miner, who came just from the mine. Tired, dirty and has not found anything. He worked at the claim from his father and still could just make a living from it. There were 7000 miners in Coober Pedy 20 years ago, now there are 10 left, he was one of them. Many more try their luck in the area’s outside the town. Opal business is still big and the town is visibly in a good shape. Of course we buy some. And we do some “noodling” too. That is searching through heaps of discarded mine debris. Of course only after consent fom the owner. If you are lucky you still can find them. We are lucky and find quite a lot of opals. You have to inspect an enormous quantity of stones to find the opals. Not exactly jewelers quality, but still nice.

Back the nice BIG4 Campsite Mariska wanted to continue looking for opals at the site. Of course we smiled friendly and wished her success. We could not believe our eyes when she found indeed opals at the campsite with her sharp vision. Even so, after thousands of people must have walked here in due course. Probably the caravan site was leveled using waste from opal mines.

The following day we further explored the free noodling site in the centre of the village and we further extended our catch of opals. After that we visited a Chinese miner at the towns lookout.

We set course to Woomera. An interesting town as it was the British research centre in the fifties and sixties, for weapons and rockets. It was fully closed until 20 years ago, but now a favorite destination for people who know quite a lot of weapons, like me. The trip to Woomera was about 350 kilometer over an area usually described a s desert, but it was more green due to the recent rains. We passed along the big Hart Lake and further we saw at last emu’s, 9 in total. From here a few interesting destinations can be visited. The giant Olympic Dam mine of BHP, the biggest copper-uranium mine in the world, with substantial gold and silver content as well. Unfortunately only on Mondays and Fridays are tours on the mine. The extension of the mine, a 20 billion $ project was recently cancelled. The reason was the depressed market, but everybody knows that the Government suddenly levied a mining tax, and without any doubt that was a factor as well. Now the government “hold the bag” while the precious ore stays in the ground for better times. That means, a more predictable government. Even worse, they recently laid off again personnel. Close to the mine is an opal field as well. We have to make careful calculations if we can spare the time to visit that area.

We visit next morning Woomera, the centre of British weapon testing, including nuclear bombs, during the cold war. Many weapon systems and research vehicles were on display. All were very interesting. We spend more time there than we planned, so we skipped the plan to visit the opal mines and the Olympic Dam mine. We went further south under a bright sun, with unlimited visibility. The landscape changed many times, including big lakes. Only some lakes do not carry salt water. Upon approaching Port Augustus we saw the Arid Botanical Gardens, we of course visited. A great experience indeed. You better visit it before the trip to the Outback, you can have then a better idea of the fauna.

We ended the day in a camping at Port Germein, famous for the longest wooden jetty of Australia. At the end of the jetty were fishermen, catching cuttlefish. We enjoyed the walk. Mariska could find seashells and we saw a stunning sunset, again. We are now 250 kms north of Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, where 80% of the population of the State lives. The shortest way to Geelong from here is 1250 kms, but we take a longer route, along the coast. But our first destination is Adelaide. Until now we made almost 5000 kms.

An early start guided us along a completely different landscape than the Outback. Approaching Adelaide there were green, fertile fields, but salt lakes as well. The algae living there produce a pink color that increases in intensity during the dry summer. Adelaide was a surprise: a pleasant town, widely spaced and well organized. The old centre part was surrounded by green parks. It must be a pleasure living there.

After passing Adelaide we entered the hills and further passed the Murray River. Here the river was wide. We were years ago in the Snowy Mountains, 2700 km away where the Murray starts as a little brook. Further we followed it once for 1000 kms upstream, where it was a clear, small and fast flowing river, in a hot desert.

We ended the day in Meningie, along the big Lake Albert. This is not a salt water lake and an excellent holiday destination. The camping had a great children’s play field, much to the delight of Mariska. Of course we saw again an impressive sunset, which predicted rain in the next future.

And indeed, in the night the rain came with a thunderstorm. The centre of the storm passed us, luckily. Next day we had an early start and travelled along the Coorong National Park. It is an amazing area of dunes, with lakes behind it. The dunes are there for more than 25 million years. We stopped at a lake and Mariska searched for shells, as usual. A wind of gale force blew us nicely in the back to our destination, Portland, yielding a very low fuel consumption .The landscape was amazing, a typical coastal atmosphere. We visited “The Granites”, big granite boulders in the sea, covered with many sea birds. We found there even a paua shell, similar to those from New Zealand. Later the landscape changed in a more agricultural one, followed by commercial forest. The trees planted were endless row of fir tree. At the end of the stretch we saw something amazing. A fire had swept through the forests and all fir trees were dead. However, on the adjacent area, where the fire had raged as well, the eucalyptus trees had formed all over the trees green leaves. This is a convincing example that the indigenous trees can stand fire without a problem. We crossed the border of Victoria, and had to re-adjust our watches for half an hour, the time zone. The camping in Portland was next to the sea, so as usual, Mariska wanted to look for shells. She found a nice one, she thinks is the best she ever found. And for a good reason! < BR>
We ended the day, the last night in the campervan. Tomorrow we will arrive again in Geelong, only 350 kms from here.

The trip was planned along the famous Great Ocean Road, a magnificent road along the coast featuring high soft lime stone rocks. The most famous rocks are the Twelve Apostles, standing like pillars I n the ocean, but the bridges are impressive as well. It was cold and rainy weather, but that gave impressive cloud pictures. The road went further through impressive Australian rain forests with giant gum trees. Mariska took the opportunity to look for shells again and had a nice catch. Everywhere there are miracles of nature and here we saw some strange slabs in the sea that might figure in movies like Aliens.

In the evening we arrived at Geelong, practically finishing our journey, covering more than 6000 kms in wonderful Australia. It was a long standing wish to travel in the middle, from north to south and as always it was quite different from what we thought it would be.

The last days we spend at Peter and Sally’s home in Geelong, cleaning the campervan, re-packing our luggage and checking in for the flights back. Mariska enjoyed so much playing with 2 years old Ziggy. The last full day in Australia we delivered the campervan back to the Apollo company in Melbourne. That was completed in minutes as the campervan was cleaned inside out and shining. They are not used to that. We have driven more than 6000 kms in left hand Australian traffic and without a scratch or dangerous moment.

We ordered a taxi, went to the Quality Hotel Melbourne Airport and could enjoy our last meal in OZ. Next morning early we will leave for the Airport to fly back home.

The fight was uneventful. We arrived in time in Kuala Lumpur, Egypt Air was on time . We had a stop in Bangkok and Cairo and landed on time in Budapest. We met the taxi drive r within one minute of the agreed time and 3 hour later we were at home, after a 43 hours trip, by plane and car. With lots of fond memories of the wonderful trip.

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