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'So where are these Opals then?'
Australia - MAY 2002
'Look at me - biker babe'
Wednesday 1st May 2002 Airlie Beach

Sarena seems a bit happier with me today. But she wasn't keen to go anywhere near the Dingy again. After a fried breaky most of the others got a lift to the Beach on Border Island. Clare, Beau and I however wanted to go snorkelling again as we waned to get a few photos of George. The water seemed a little clearer and even more fish seemed to be around today. On the way from swimming from the boat to the reef Beau soon spotted a Turtle so we swam with it for a while and got some could shots. It took about 20 minutes of snorkelling before George showed himself, but when he did he didn't want to leave us alone. After 10 minutes though he was getting really brave and swimming straight for us and through our legs. Fantatstic.

The guys from the beach arrived back on the boat not long after us and after a change of clothes we set sail back to Airlie Beach. It was a good sail, strong winds and not too choppy sea. We made it back to Airlie by 4 pm and arranged to all meet up for a meal that evening. I went to get my photos of George developed and then sneaked back into the campsite that we stayed in last.

Everyone bar Paul, Kathy and Laurie turned up at the restaurant by 7 and what turned into a civilised meal turned into a bit of a session as we where given free jugs of beer. After the meal we went to Paddy's Shenanigans Irish bar to watch a band and drop a few more beers and spirits. By about midnight Clare declared a truce and went home...

I left everyone else to a fried b'fast whilst I sat and read my book before being asked if I wanted to go for another snorkel........ mmmm not today thanks

The others got dressed in the stinger suits before heading off again, most of them to the beach for a play around whilst Toby, Clare and Beau went for a snorkel again in the area that George lived in hoping to get a look. They came back 30mins later all excited as they had swam with the great fish and swam with a turtle which was wonderful.

After everyone was back on board we set off again back to Airlie beach on the most horrific water I have ever bloody seen. The boat was constantly on it's side under the water so it was a case of hanging on to the rails and ropes for dear life, the sky turned black and the waves got up to 15ft high. I shit myself for the whole journey back and swore I wouldn't do anything like this again!

I nearly kissed the ground when we parked up and couldn't get off the boat quick enough!!!! we then went and dropped the camera film in and went and had a coffee and relax before heading back to the campsite. We met up with everyone later for prearranged dinner and drinks, so at 7ish we headed down to the bar for some nosh and jugs of beer. Matt came down but Laurie never made it unfortunately, but we still had a blood good time! We eventually ended up in an Irish bar which had a really good live band playing, Clare went home quite early leaving the rest of us to get immensely drunk. Beau, Toby, Matt and myself ended up drinking tequila shots and getting slaughtered. Toby did some fantastic dancing which even attracted a small crowd to circle around him as he did the funniest moves I have ever seen. Beau and I were just jumping up and down for Britain for ages and we all had a really great time.

Thursday 2nd May 2002 Townsville

... By 2am Sarena and I also declared a truce and headed back to the tent waving goodbye to Beau who was funking it up on the dance floor.

Beau returned by 4 am. Not that I heard him, I was out for the count. We got up pretty early so we could pack up and leave the campsite before we got rumbled for not paying. We did a pretty good job considering the hangovers and were out by 9. We headed straight for a supermarket for some much needed liquid and then popped into an Auto Electricians as I need to get them to verify Betty's immobiliser for the road tax.

We then began our drive to Cairns but only made it about 250 km to Townsville where we camped up and Clare cooked everyone a Chilli. I Tried to phone Mark and Thorn (the dog) in Perth but had to leave a message. Also left a message for Damien and Declan.

Toby and myself decided to leave at about 2ish and tried to drag Beau with us but he wasn't having any of it!

Beau came back at about 4ish to a not so happy Clare Bear who gave him a bit of a hard time about it. Toby and I crawled out of bed relatively early considering whereas Beau stayed exactly where he was due to feeling very very ill! Clare was very quiet for the rest of the day as she felt bad about giving her husband a hard time so she offered to drive first. We stopped off to do a few things before heading on our way to Townsville which was about 250km away and little Clare Bear drove the whole way whilst Beau laid on the bed the whole time moaning at how ill he felt whilst we just stayed quiet in the front.

Clare cooked a wonderful chilli for dinner that Beau managed to crawl off of his bed to eat, before Toby tried to ring Mark and Thorn who weren't in.

Friday 3rd May 2002 Cairns

Another day of driving, but it is only 340km to Cairns so we didn't rush in the morning. The weathers pretty bad still so we don't have to worry about getting too hot driving.

We got to Cairns by about 4 pm and Sarena rustled up her marinated chicken salad in the dark.

Long day of driving but the good news was, Beau was feeling better today and was able to join in with the days goings on.

We booked into a huge 'Big 4' caravan park called the Coconut Resort which is 5star..... very swanky. I then went shopping for the evening meal and rustled up a wonderful concoction for us all to dine on.

Saturday 4th May 2002 Cairns

Its Raining! The wet season was to of supposed to have finished by March. Never mind this is the rainforest anyway. Beau, Clare and I went into Cairns city centre while Sarena stayed back at the campsite. This was very handy as I am on the search for her Birthday present.

On the way to town we stopped off at a Campervan rental place as Beau and Clare plan to leave us on Monday and spend a month travelling on their own before they fly back to the UK. The Campervans were great, very luxurious compared to betty, but they couldn't get one until Tuesday as Monday is a bank holiday. The Aussies seem to have bank holidays nearly every week.

In town I managed to find a motorbike hire shop, Great! We had both wanted to get motorbikes since we left England and this would be ideal for Sarena's Birthday. I enquired about getting some trail bikes but they where all hired out to an off-roading tour company. So went away with some brochures so I could think about what would be best to do for Sarena. I also wanted to buy a new camera for Sarena after her original one was lost in Goa, India. I found the perfect replacement and then found Beau and Clare and headed back to the campsite.

I stayed at the campsite for most of the day whilst the other lot went into Cairns to do some bits and pieces ( I suspect b'day pressy shopping) I had a good wonder around the site which is a fantastic place if not a little plastic for me, but has everything you could need.

When the others got back I took the van into one of the shopping malls so that I could have a look around - bla bla

Didn't do much in the evening but have a BBQ and some wine and just spent some quality time with Clare Bear, it's not long before we go our separate ways........

Sunday 5th May 2002 Cairns

Still raining. But we all went for a swim in the local 50m pool. Beau is teaching Sarena how to do crawl and she is starting to get really good at it. Better than me anyway. I do about 20 meters and then start to take in water!

Did some more thinking about hiring the bikes for Sarena's Birthday and now think that it would be best if we just got a couple of road bikes for a few days.

We found a wonderful swimming pool that I practised my new founded swimming ability thanks to Beau - still not very good at front crawl but great at breast stroke.

Later on in the day I went back to the shopping Mall to buy some supplies for the food box and to also see the puppies in the pet shop. They have the pet shops that have the glass cages up against the windows so that you can see all the babies, needless to say I wanted them all!!

Weather is still crap and hasn't stopped raining

We all went to the video room in the evening and watched 'The Others' we were armed with popcorn and pick a mix and felt extremely sick afterwards. Clare was very impressed with the fact I worked out the plot not long into the film..........

Monday 6th May 2002 Cairns

Still Raining! If it was sunny and calm then we go try some diving on the great barrier reef, but in this weather its pretty pointless. Instead we went for a swim in the campsite swimming pool. Then I decided to clean out my day pack as it had got a bit smelly from leaving some wet shorts in it. On turning my bag inside out a small furry case fell out by my feet. I instantly recognised it as being Sarena's camera that got lost and thought stolen in India. Bugger its been in my bag all the time, she's going to kill me. I got very nervous waiting for Sarena to come back from the shower but Beau and Clare thought it was hilarious and Clare decided to video the moment. When she returned I asked her to guess what I had for her. Obviously she didn't have a clue, so I gave her one. But as I bent down on one knee to take a photo of her a look of panic spread across her face. This was my cunning plan as I am sure that the shock of finding her old camera would not be as bad as a proposal of marriage. It seemed to work, but only for a few seconds as she began to realise that I had been carrying her camera around in my bag unnoticed for 5 months. It wasn't along before the surprise looked turned to anger and I was chased around the tent.

The best thing about finding the camera was that we now have the film of our trek to Everest base camp back. The worst thing is that I now have to take the new camera that I have bought her for her birthday back to the shop and I don't have a clue what else to get her. So we all headed into town on the off chance that the Camera Shop is open on a bank holiday. It was, and they processed films as well. Bonus. Whilst our Everest film was being processed and Sarena and Clare checked their emails, I went back to the Bike Shop to discuss hiring bikes for tomorrow If the weather was decent enough. We parked Betty opposite a curry house which we all decided would be ideal to return to in the evening for our goodbye meal as Beau and Clare are going their separate ways tomorrow.

Picked up the Everest photos. They are amazing and reminded me of how lucky we are to experience such things. We headed back to the campsite and went for a swim in the pool which ended up with all of us resorting to kids again and playing on the water slide and having piggy back fights. After the swim we dressed ourselves up and headed back into the town to the Indian. It was a great meal. I have been given the impression that Australian curry houses are not anything like the UK ones. But the last few I have been in have been great and this one was by far the best. It was BYO so we took a bottle of sparkly which Damien had given us when we left Brisbane and a box of wine which we soon polished off. I didn't want to drink too much as in case we had the motorbikes tomorrow and was trying not to let Sarena drink too much either. Fortunately the town was dead and after the meal and some present swapping we popped into the pub opposite as it had a young guy playing guitar in there to just 2 customers. We bought a couple of drinks and then went back to the campsite for bed.

Oh my goodness it is still raining!

I went and had a shower and when I got back to our van they were all sat there waiting for me with grins on there little faces and camera's in hand....... Toby then got down on one knee and I just panicked!! he then produced my so called lost camera and took a picture of me looking very shocked.

The little bugger had had the camera in his day pack for about 5 months and didn't bloody realise, he said he had looked all through his bags whilst we were in Goa and I had supposedly lost it or it had been nicked. I new I hadn't put the thing down anywhere as I'm quite anal about anything like that!! I chased him around the tent for a while before shouting at him for a little longer. I was then desperate for the film to be developed to have a look at the pictures of Everest that were still in the camera. The funny thing though was that Toby had bought me a new camera for my looming b'day and had to take the thing back - plonker

We all then went down to the campsite swimming pool even though it was raining and not as good as the other one we had found, but this one had a kids slide!! Toby Clare and I had a fantastic time going down the slide in lots of different positions - backwards being the scariest. We then all ended up having rolly polly competions and shoulder fights, then racing from one end of the pool to the other with someone sat on our shoulders, all of which were hilarious.

The 4 of us trundled into Cairns a little later so that Clare and I could use the Internet and Toby could get the photo's developed. The pictures were bloody fab and even better since I thought I would never see them again.

Later that evening we went out to a curry house for dinner to celebrate our time together and to say our goodbyes. We all got dressed up as best we could in our travelling gear that headed out for the best curry I have had in a bloody long time. We opened the Champaign given to us from Damo and lots of white wine ( well the girls did) before I handed over a card and pressy as a goodbye thingy. We then went over to a very empty pub and listened to a really good singer before heading back.

Tuesday 7th May 2002 Cape Tribulation

It was goodbye day to day, well as far as Sarena knew anyway, and we got up early to pack up and give Beau and Clare a lift to the Campervan Hire place in Cairns. Very luckily for the first time in over a week it wasn't raining. So I phoned ahead and reserved a nice shiny blue Triumph 600 TT and a sleak yellow Ducati 750 sport for an early surprise for Sarena's birthday. We then all piled into Betty for the last time and headed into town. Sarena thought we where going straight to the campervan hire shop but the rest of us knew we where heading for the motorbike hire shop. We managed to park right outside and Sarena still hadn't twigged. It wasn't until I walked her into the shop and asked her if she would like the Triumph for a few days did her face change. It was a mixture of excitement and terror as we had both been aching for a ride on some bikes since we left England, but as we haven't actually ridden any since we passed our test it seemed like quite a scary prospect to take these two smart bikes for a two day spin through the rainforest. But Sarena was game and while we sorted out the rental agreement Beau and Clare went and sorted out their van.

Once we had sorted out the bikes we went for a small ride around town to find some suitable gloves. Coooooo-elll. I rode the Ducati and its fantastic, after just a few minutes of riding it I was hooked and didn't want to stop. When we got to Beau and Clare they had only just got there van and still needed to transfer all there stuff from Betty. I was getting very frustrated as we waited as the shiny golden Ducati was parked at the side of the road begging for me to ride it.

The plan is that we now all go up to Cape Tribulation, Beau and Clare in their new van and us on the Bikes. That way we stay together a little longer and they can keep an eye on us as we get used to riding. We dropped Betty off at the campsite and it wasn't until midday that we started our journey north and into the rainforest. The best of luck was that it was going to remain dry and sunny all day. Perfect! The more I got used to the bike the more I enjoyed it. Sarena and I kept passing huge grins to each other when we stopped at traffic lights. Once we were out of town and passed a few roundabouts the road followed the cost and twisted and turned through the rainforest and although we weren't riding fast it was a great sensation to lean around the corners and catch another glimpse of beautiful coastline.

We stopped at Port Douglass for lunch by 1:30 and both Sarena and I were already knackered My bum was numb but I soon recovered and as we set off again managed to relax a bit more on the bike so the rest of the journey was a lot more comfortable. We crossed the Daintree river on a small chain ferry and by 4:30 arrived at Cape Tribulation. It was starting to get dark so we had a quick look on the beach and then found somewhere to stay. Sarena and I only had our day packs so we found a rather posh resort to stay in while Beau and Clare camped up in their van.

The Coconut Resort was very smart, all log cabins hidden away in the rain forest. I was pretty tired but all I wanted to do was ride the bike. So I went for a swim and after an expensive meal in the posh restaurant walked back to our cabin but by now the rain had started again...

Well it was goodbye today and very sad I was feeling.....

We packed Betty up and headed into town to drop Clare and Beau off and collect there new hire van. It seemed to take ages but we soon stopped not far from a bike hire place which I did remark on, only to be dragged out of the van and into the bike place by a happy Toby wishing me a happy B'day !!!!! fanbloodytastic

Toby had arranged for us to hire out a couple of road bikes for 2 days, he then pointed to the bikes and asked me which one I would like - well the nicest one I could see that wasn't too big was a Triumph 600 TT in a beautiful blue colour, I couldn't stop shaking as was really excited but shitting a brick at the same time due to not having ridden a bike since leaving England and not since passing my test!! I sat on the bike and it seemed huge for me but this was the one I wanted.

Beau and Clare stood there grinning all the while and then said we were all going to Cape Tribulation together and weren't splitting up just yet - blinkin tinkers. We left them to sort out the van situation whilst we sorted out the bike stuff before getting on our lovely speed machines. I started off a bit wobbly and Toby was a bit over exuberant ! but we made it to a bike place and bought some BMX gloves each and headed off to meet Beau and Clare. We sorted out all the van bits and pieces and they loaded up all of their gear into there shiny new power steering, air conditioned van WITH FRIDGE as Beau kept telling us..... we then dropped Betty off at the caravan park and started on our journey to Cape Trib with them in the van and us on our bikes.

The weather was perfect for a change and the ride was just amazing !! We soon got the confidence to ride a little faster and were whizzing past the other two at every opportunity. We stopped of in Port Douglass an hour and a half later for some lunch at a little cafe near the beach and had a chance to show off our bikes to outside eaters - felt good being a girl on a big fast bike. Only problem was we both couldn't walk and collapsed as soon as we tried to walk - not very impressive then.......

Off we went again - had to catch a little ferry across a crocodile infested river which was a bit scary for me trying to get the bike across the steep ramps, but being the pro I am, I succeeded very well. I would have to say that the bike is far too heavy for me and I could not walk the thing anywhere or catch it if it were to fall, I could only just about get the thing off of it's stand!! so that was a bit nerve racking for me knowing if I dropped it, it would cost allot of money....

Anyway with that in mind we were soon weaving down some very bendy and exciting roads before finding a lovely place to stay. Clare and Beau slept in the van whilst Toby booked us into a wonderful cabin in the rain forest. The place is extremely beautiful and reminded me of Nepal with all the lush vegetation, even had the HUGE spiders like Nepal which poor old Clare nearly had a fit at.

It was wonderful to have a proper bed and even a toilet in the same vicinity instead of having to find the toilet block half a mile away in the night like usual. We went down to the restaurant which again was built into the forest in the trees and near the beach, had an extremely expensive meal before hitting our wonderful proper beds.

Wednesday 8th May 2002 Cairns

Sounded like it rained all night but the water fountain outside our room probably didn't help much. I didn't get as good a nights sleep as I hoped but the thought of riding the bikes again woke me from any tiredness I felt. It was showery still in the morning and after our continental breakfast at the hotel restaurant we jumped on the bikes and went to find Beau and Clare who had camped up for the night in a nearby car park. Sarena had a quick coffee made by Clare on their indoor Van stove with fresh milk from their indoor van fridge. Bastards! and then we rode up to the Cape Tribulation Lookout where apparently you can see the Great Barrier Reef from. Not in this weather though, but we did see a rainbow form across the rainforest. How lovely!!!

After our little walk through the rainforest we all decided that it was time to head back to Cairns as Beau and Clare want to get to Ayres Rock and Darwin before they fly back home and we had to get the bikes back by the end of the day. So we rode with Beau and Clare through the rain and back to the Daintree River Ferry. Where we finally said our goodbyes. for real. Sarena found it all too emotional as they drove off into the rain. I told her that Biker Chicks don't cry and then we got back on the bikes for a quick tour along the river to Daintree town for a coffee. One thing I have noticed about the towns in Australia is that they all try something to attract the tourists. Most just build a Giant Banana or Mango or Koala outside their service station. But Daintree has awarded one Paul Hogan lookalike the tittle of Gecko Dundee as it is claimed that he has swam across the Croc infested Daintree River. That should bring the Japs in!!!

The weather was clear from the south side of Daintree river and we had a very enjoyable ride back to cairns along the coast. What a great present I got Sarena for her birthday, I'm so thoughtful!

We got back to town by about 3 so had a few hours to kill on the bikes before we had to give them back. So we decided to cruise around the campsite on them, then around the shopping mall and then around town before we returned them to the hire garage. I don't really know much about bikes, but I know I loved the Ducati and want one want one want one. I'm hooked!

Got up early and had a continental B'fast which was amazing then went and found the other two. We had a cuppa with them and I moaned about the weather which was raining again!! hate riding in the rain as the helmet gets wet and my glasses steam up. The roads were really quite slippery so we both rode with caution back on the very windy roads, hopped back on the ferry and then stopped on the other side to say our farewells to Beau and Clare who had been following, couldn't believe this was it and got really upset. I gave them both really big hugs and told them to go before I cried. They scooted off and I stood and cried in front of all the people waiting to get on the ferry! After a little while we got back on the bikes and made our way back to Cairns, and the Big 4 caravan park. We then spent a few hours washing the bed sheets and drooling over the bikes both feeling very sad at having to give them back. At 4ish we donned our helmets and mounted our machine much to the delight of our caravan and tent neighbours who had been eyeing up our babies all afternoon! we were very naughty and just drove around in just T-shirts ( obviously with bottoms as well) but it felt very good riding through the traffic and feeling the wind on your skin, very liberating.

We handed the bikes back very unhappily and got a lift back to our Betty and had a very good nights sleep.

What a fantastic B'day pressie - thanks Toby xxx

Thursday 9th May 2002 Cairns

Spent the day sorting, tidying and organising Betty and writing some of my diary. We watched a bit of a girlie movie that evening which was quite amusing, not that I would ever admit it to Sarena.

Spent the whole day cleaning out the van and sorting out all our stuff then headed down to the video room and watched a really good film ( well I thought it was)

Friday 10th May 2002 Undara

We left pretty early. Well by 9am but that's only because I had to buy a new tape player for Betty as the old one is stuck in fast forward. Managed to find one for about 10 pounds. So we set off towards Alice Springs via a back road that took us past the worlds largest lava tubes. I tried to wire in the Stereo whilst Sarena was driving. Bad move. It was very hilly with lots of twists and turns and I felt very sick by the time I had stuck all the wires together with insulation tape.

The hills made it slow going and we didn't arrive at Undara, the volcano that caused the lava tubes, by 3:30pm luckily the last tour of the tubes was just leaving so we managed to join all the holidaying Aussies on the tour which was made very interesting by the lady that was running it, albeit a bit expensive. The Undara resort also had a bush campsite so we stayed for the night and sat around a campfire while local Bush Boy, Levi, played some songs on his acoustic guitar. Unfortunately there where a lot of oldies there who kept asking for the same songs to be played over again so that they could croon along.

Got up quite early and packed up Betty for our fist day on our own for a while, we were headed for the lava caves in Undara, 400km away which took 6 hours to get to. We just about made it in time as the last tour was at 3.30 so we hopped on the bus with the rest of them and made our way to these fascinating tunnels in the middle of nowhere. She dropped us off in the middle of these vast plains where in the middle grew a lush green oasis which we were told was the tops of trees? When we got closer we could see that there was a vast hollow in the ground that we all climbed down and was full of tree's we then walked a little further and found these massive lava tunnels.We had a fantastic guide who knew everything about everything and was very funny.

We decided to stay the night, as the place also had a campsite so after a dinner of stag chilli and rice we headed down to the campfire for a listen to a local lad playing his guitar and singing. All very nice especially with a large cold pint in one's hand.......

Saturday 11th May 2002 Charters Towers

We have got a few long days of driving ahead of us to get to Alice Springs so we left pretty early from Undara campsite and headed south towards the main highway. There where not many petrol stations on the back route so I had to stop at one stage and and fill Betty up with the fuel from our Jerry Cans that we keep on the roof (luckily). This gave us just enough fuel to get to a remote garage where we filled her up just enough again to get us to Charters Towers, Where the price would be a bit cheaper.

By the time we got to Charters Towers it was 3pm so we decided to stay there. The place was quit big, but like a ghost town so we decided to amuse ourselves by phoning a few people back home. Most seemed to be out, or probably still in bed, which I thought was damn right inconsiderate. But we got through to our old neighbours from London, Tracy and Darren and Sarena's old work friend Hannah.

Got up quite early and drove to Charters Towers which was about 7hrs worth of driving - not very easy in this heat. Very strange ole place...... we found a dodgy campsite with some power so we could charge up the computer then had some dinner and headed into town to find a phone and say hello to a few people. The place was deserted on a Sat night! not like at home where people all go out at weekends, they don't seem to come out of there houses after dark in the suburbs.

Sunday 12th May 2002 Julia Creek

Didn't want to hang around Charters Towers too long, so will filled Betty up, and her Jerry Cans too. Then headed back on the road.

It was long and straight and very hot. After all the rain along the coast there is not even a smear of cloud inland. We ended up getting low on fuel at a place called Julia Creek and when we found that they had no Leaded Petrol for sale we decided to camp up for the night.

We met a mad lady who ran the camp site. She stunk of beer and seemed obsessed by the TV that she has set up in a toilet tent in the campground as she spent all time telling everyone about it and lecturing them not to change the channel. I felt pretty obliged to watch it as no one else was too interested. But as I sat down to an episode of Harry's Practice (bit like Rolfs Animal hospital) a British couple came over for a chat, Andy and Louise have been travelling OZ the same time as us but have being going the other way around it. They are also scheduled to catch the same flight as us to New Zealand on the 1st of July. Spooky. Anyway Lousie and I sat down to watch Undercover Angels which is a bit like Jim'll fix it but with three sexy but very dumb models fixing everyone's dreams. It was fantastic. Except the guy who controlled the three Angels (like Charlie) is as wet as a drowned fish and made me want to punch the screen. Maybe I should present it. ;-)

Drove to Julia Creek which took about 8hrs, we stopped off on the way in a little town to have some lunch out of the back of the van - the place was deserted again, the only thing open was the bottle shop. When we were sat on the bench eating our tuna rolls an old man and his dog came over and told us of when a man and his wife who were travelling through got shot by a couple of bikers....... they shoved the bodies onto the side of the road and then drove off. He then just said have a nice day and walked off!! We decided to treat ourselves to a couple of very cold beers and then head on our way. We arrived in Julia Creek only to find they didn't have any Super Petrol - OOPS

We didn't panic but just decided to camp up for the night in a very run down old campsite run by a very mad old lady who thought she was in charge of a 5 star luxury site and insisted on showing us round. We also had the pleasure of a bath - that's if you didn't mind having it outside in front of all the other sad campers and sharing it with half the insect population that had made home in it. After we had got ourselves sorted our and had some dinner ( whatever was in the box) the lovely lady came over again and said we could watch TV which was also outside under a little tent set up next to the bath! all very strange..

Well I had a case of very bad diorreah which completely wasted me for the evening so I left Toby watching TV with a couple of other travellers who had turned up. Tip of the day - don' t eat rice that is more that a day old and sat in the back of a very hot van. Mum did tell me when I was back in the UK that rice is the worst thing for carrying bacteria - I can now prove that is true.

Monday 13th May 2002 Barkly Homestead

Got a really early start. Just to beat the heat. And we did it gets very cold now at night and we managed to get away by 6am although we had intended 5am. And it was great to drive across the desert with the sun coming up behind us. It made the shadow of betty look like something out of Wacky Races.

I was a bit concerned this morning as we did not manage to get any fuel at the last stop so I emptied the Jerry Cans back into Betty and we just managed to roll into a town called Cloncurry on the fumes of the tank. In the excitement of filling her up again I forgot to replace her tank cap. It wasn't until we where half way from Cloncurry and to the next town, Mount Isa, that I remembered it. We decided to carry on as Mount Isa is a big town and bound to sell spare tank caps.

After Betty got her nice shiny new tank cap and we got some groceries we carried on and crossed the Border to the Northern Territory. Great I have now been to every state on OZ. we kept driving until about 5 where we pulled up at a place called Barkly Homestead. Where we stopped for the night. Betty had done 707 km today which is the longest she has done in a day. Well done Betty.

Got up at 5.00am as the weather is very cool (almost cold) at this time of the day then left for another gruelling drive of about 500miles this time. We did stop a couple of times on the way, one of them being when after leaving a petrol station an hour previous, I happened to mention the strong smell of petrol. He then gasped and asked me to stop the van, he got out and told me he had forgotten to put the petrol cap back on.............. now this hadn't been the first time in the last few days but he had remembered just as we were driving off before, but not this time.

We decided to carry on as it was another hour to the next place where we stopped again to find a new petrol cap.

Fantastic we went over the border and are now in Northern Territory

We didn't arrive at the road house until 5ish that evening and I was absolutely knackered - I thought Barkley Homestead was a town but it was just a roadhouse with petrol pumps - the only thing around in miles. We had a cold beer which tasted bloody fantastic and then fought the bastard fly for our dinner before I gave up and sat in a very hot van so the fly's didn't give me a nervous break down........ still wasn't feeling very well and I think it could be just heat exhaustion - very very hot. The scenery on the way can only be described as non-eventful or piss boring really, flat bleached white grass fields that stretch as far as the eye can see on either side of you and just one long poker straight road going through the middle. If you were really lucky you would see a tree in the distance but because of the heat you weren't to sure if it was a mirage. The good thing though was the amount of eagles everywhere eating all the road kills, massive amounts of Wedge Tails but we also saw some others which were blinkin ginormous, wing span of the van easy. Tried to get a couple of photo's but they were cunning buggers that new Devina Baily was ready with her camera - oh and missed again.

Tuesday 14th May 2002 Alice Springs

Another Early start although we got a kind lie in as The Northern Territory is 30 minutes behind Queensland. As the sun rose behind us the dark in front of us didn't entirely disappear, I thought that it must be an effect from the flat desert landscape but after a while I noticed that we where actually getting closer to the black horizon. It wasn't until we where practically right underneath it that I worked out it was a Bush fire. Amazing, it had blackened the whole horizon, fourtunatley though we could see a red glow to the south but the actual fire was nowhere near us.

Once we had turned south we headed towards a tourist spot called, 'a bunch of boulders'. No. Sorry. That's not right, it was called, Devils Marbles. As these boulders where by the roadside we didn't stop for a closer look. We passed quite a few fires today, but most where just controlled ones to keep the bush at bay along the sides of the roads. Sarena Joked that we where following the trail of Beau's rollies, and then out of the blue we passed them coming the other way. We both stopped in a lay-by and had a quick chat, then went through our finally goodbyes again as they now heading to Darwin and then back to Brisbane so there is very little chance that we would meet again.

3 or so hours after we had bumped into Beau and Clare we arrived in Alice Springs. Betty was driving a bit rough and is in need of a service so we will now stay in Alice until Sarena's birthday on Friday.

Got up early again feeling a little better today and not like I was pooing Liquid Nitrogen - always a bonus....

Set off at 6.30am in the dark again which is not a good idea really cause the kangaroos etc tend to just stand in the middle of the road first thing in the morning and late at night - purely as a fun thing for them, due to the lack of anything else remotely interesting to do the rest of the day - problem is the road trains that travel these roads, imagine an artic lorry with 4 other artic lorries attached to the back travelling at a godforsaken speed. When this thing hits a 6ft Kangaroo - it's goodnight skippy, but a wonderful distraction for yourself figuring out what part of what blood soaked piece of body goes where on another tedious day of travelling - defiantly recommend it myself apart from the smell of a decomposing animal whilst eating lunch. We travelled through a couple of bush fires which was exciting and some of the flames were licking the side of the road as we were spreading through, we were that close!

Anyway........... after a neon of hours looking at jack shite I decided for a lay down in the back of the van whilst Toby was on shift. I must have dosed off for a bit, Toby stopped the van and said something had fallen off. When I got outside though Beau and Clare were parked behind us - little tinkers! we had been passing eac on the road which was bloody lucky so we had some cuddles and catch up's. Mostly Clare and I yapping at 10 to the dozen trying to find out what the other had been up to. I think Beau told us half a dozen times that they had a fridge and we didn't and that it was bloody wonderful - it makes him happy. We said our goodbyes after 20 mins and had some more hugs before setting off again waving all the way down the road.

A few hours later we arrived in Alice Springs and found the Info place to guide us in the right direction of a good campsite. We found the site and found a little spot for Betty then settled down for a few hours of reading then went to the local pub for a couple.

Wednesday 15th May 2002 Alice Springs

Booked Betty into a garage and went into town to get a few bits for Sarena's Birthday. Sarena bought me a new book. One by Clive Cussler who writes adventure stories, their very cheesy but I like reading them so had my head stuck in it for the rest of the day. Needless to say Sarena regretted buying it for me.

We went down to a local garage to book Betty in for a service as she had been running a little rough for the last couple of days, we then headed into town. We found a shop that had a great hat in the sale which Toby bought for my birthday which was lovely then I left Toby to get my birthday card whilst I walked around the town having a look at the shops etc when I came across a book shop selling some 'Clive Cussler' novels that Toby likes to read, so I purchased one of them then headed back to the van to meet my man before heading back to base. We spent the afternoon just chilling out and reading, whilst doing this I noticed a strange man in his underpants and T-shirt dancing to some of his music. In the evening we bought some beers and loads of ice for the Eski before hitting the sack.

Thursday 16th May 2002 Alice Springs

Sarena was also stuck in a book so she spent all day reading hers whilst I got a new exhaust and Muffler fitted to Betty and sorted out a few more things for her Birthday in town. Then we met up with some other campers, John and Van, and spent the evening sat round with them and chatting.

Noticed today that the man whom had been dancing in his underpants was now massaging a half naked woman on his fold up table, I walked past and noticed a sign hanging from is car advertising himself as a professional masseur and healer. Quite fancied that myself! must treat myself for my birthday

Spent the rest of the day reading and talking to a lovely man who had pitched his tent up next to ours called, Ian. In the evening we invited a few people from around the campsite to join us and have a beer, we made friends with a man called John and of course our next door neighbour, Ian. a lady called Susan and her Daughter then the masseur man came over and he was called, Van. He turned out to be a really very great bloke who chatted easily all evening, I booked up a massage with him for the following day then we hit the sack again.

Friday 17th May 2002 Alice Springs

Sarena's Birthday. About bloody time. It seems to of been ages coming, but she is 30 now so there has been a bit of a build up to it. Betty was booked in for a service at 8 so we got up early dropped her off and walked into town for a massive fry up breakfast where Sarena opened her cards and presents, mainly ones from Beau and Clare. I then took her to see the new Star Wars film which was dire and then we went to check our emails. By the this time Betty was ready and ran like a dream. She has no excuse now not to last us the last month and a half before we leave for New Zealand.

After we picked Betty up we returned to the campsite where Sarena got a lengthy massage from our rather camp spiritual body worker neighbour, Van.

Did I say rather camp! Van is a self confessed raging Queen (and looks remarkably like Elton John), and he loves it darlings! After a massively posh dinner at a local steakhouse, I had Beef, Emu, Roo, Croc and Camel, we met up with Van at a local holiday resort where he was 'connecting' with a group of gay germans. He found out that they all had boyfriends so was quite happy to join Sarena and I for a drink. It wasn't long before another neighbour from our campsite turned up on his motorbike, John strolled into the bar in his leather bikers jacket much to the interest of the Germans. We soon moved on from the holiday resort to 'The' place in Alice Springs, Bojangles. This was the main weekend wateringhole from all the young lads from the nearby cattle stations. I was a bit apprehensive about hanging around the testosterone filled bar with Van wiggling his hips to the band. But everyone was simply having a good time and Sarena kept Van happy on the dance floor.

 

Can you believe it, I finally turned 30 after all that fuss is didn't feel too bad!!

Toby sang happy birthday to me then we headed over to the phones and called mum, she sang happy birthday to me as well Mum is going into hospital on Wednesday the 22nd to have her really big arm operation and once again I am on the other side of the world and can't help her. She now has no one at home to look after her so is relying on friends to help out as much as possible. I worry about her I really do.

Anyway we had a good chat and then I headed over for a shower before heading into town to drop Betty off at the garage. We walked into town and sat down for a wonderful cooked b'fast and then opened up my pressies and cards from people. Clare and Beau had got lots of funny things one of them being a seatbelt cover in the form of, Tigger!! it was to prevent the belt chaffing on the neck and it had a sqeaky tummy just to annoy Toby. I had lots of lovely things, Toby got me a bird book so I could spot and name all the wonderful birds over here, I had a lovely scarf from my cousin and some money from my family.

Thanks to everyone!! and also thanks to all the birthday emails I received from lots of people it meant an awful lots to me.

Toby then took me to the cinema he had bought tickets for the day previously to see Star Wars, have to say - pants. Just too many special effects and no soul. We then went to the Internet place and sent loads of emails before heading back to the garage and pick up Betty, all is well with our van thankgoodness and she should now drive like a dream. The only thing is the rust in the back is extremely bad and he warned us about not going on any rough roads and not laying in the back as we travel along cause the exhaust fumes will come up through the rust holes and probably kill us, oops we had have travelling like that for months with Beau and Clare!!!!! We also have a resident mouse who he found wondering around which wasn't that good, might not have a backpack left after a couple of weeks.

We went back to the campsite and I got changed for my massage session with Van, didn't worry when he said just to wear knickers - full stop! Oh well I know he wasn't interested in the female form so I didn't feel worried about anything. I put my sarong on and walked over to his site and settled down on his proper massage bed for the most wonderful hour and a half session I have ever had. I did feel a bit inhibited about it at first as I was just led naked (with pants) in the middle of the campsite whilst people just wander past either on foot or in a vehicle. It was nothing like the massage I had in China when they nearly tried to kill me!! Anyway after that we became firm friends and decided to go out for a drink in the evening. We had also invited John out for a drink but he wasn't feeling very well so declined saying if he felt better he would join us .

I put on my new white (very impractical ) skirt that I had bought a while back and my lovely brown lacy top, stuck my hair up and stuck a bit of lippy on ready for my birthday night out. Feels nice to make the effort and feel a little bit feminine sometimes so I felt very nice for a change! Toby and I went out to a lovely restaurant that was really expensive and had a special called 'The Blow-out' which consisted of eating 4 courses, one of them was a platter of meat - crocodile, Emu, Kangaroo, Camel. mmmmmmm lovely. I had a lovely dinner which only consisted of 2 courses thank god as it was extremely filling, Poor old Toby felt very ill by the time his apple pie arrived and was trying to force feed me half of it, but I declined. We also had a bottle of champagne which was beautiful and went down very nicely - thanks to my birthday money.

We met up with Van later on in the evening and John also turned up feeling a little better, we all went to Bo Jangles which turned out to be heaving and had a live band and real cowboys!! seems the boys come off the homesteads every few months of working hard then go out and enjoy themselves, even danced like cowboys with thumbs firmly jammed into their jeans and hats on. Van and I wouldn't get off the dance floor jumping around madly with him eyeing up all the local young men - very funny. What a fantastic birthday with some fantastic people - cheers

Saturday 18th May 2002 Alice Springs

We were meant to leave early and drive to Ayers Rock (Uluru) but decided to hang around for another day and leave tomorrow when our heads are a bit clearer. Sarena went into town and bought some supplies whilst I did some laundry and carried on reading my cheesy book. When Sarena returned, The two of us with John went to visit and Aborigines house. Tommy Crow is an artist and we wanted to buy a painting to send back home. We found a really good one which was actually done by his 17 year old son, so we bought it and said we would pick it up on Sunday when we return to Alice Springs

It was a good job that we stayed as we spent the evening with Van who gave us an extensive list of contacts in New Zealand, as well as a place for us to stay in Coober Pedy and Perth. Excellent!

Woke up feeling a little hungover ....... and decided to stay around the campsite for the day instead of going to Ayres Rock etc as the drive would have been far too hard. I popped into town and bought food to last a week and then spent the evening with Van sitting under the stars and drunk 3 bottles of red wine. He gave us loads of contact numbers, his parents and friends in New Zealand whom we have to stay with or he would be offended, and a friend in Perth who he phoned there and them and asked if we could stay with him - of course was the answer! he also gave us the number of a friend who lived underground in Coober Pedy. People live in all the old mine shafts where they mine Opals, it is also the place where they filmed Mad Max. I have seen a few pictures of the area and it looks a very strange place so actually staying in someone's house was a fantastic opportunity. Huge thanks to Van and his generosity and kind friends.

Sunday 19th May 2002 Ayers Rock

Headed off to Ayres rock in good time. It is only 490 km from Alice Springs. Nothing for us nowadays! Betty was driving absolutely perfectly since her service.

We got to 'The Rock' by about 2 and after visiting the resort town there we went down and parked up in front of her to take in the sunset and watch her change colour as the light faded. The Viewing car park was empty when we got there but soon after we arrived a tour company turned up and set out tables with bottles of Champagne on. Then a huge campervan turned of with the Australian version of the Royale family in and a load of Japanese turned up to consume the Champagne. Even with all these people it didn't spoil the magic of the rock. At one point we weren't going to visit this part of Australia but after seeing Ayres Rock. I'm so glad we did.

Now that there is only 2 of us travelling in Betty we can't do our sneak two people into the campsite trick. So instead we just blazingly drive in and park up without paying a cent. ooooh how bad are we!

Got up early and set on our way to Ayres Rock which was a 6hr drive, another mind numbing day of driving. We had a look around the campsite and park which they have a few miles away from the rock where everyone has to stay at - had hotels and shops, restaurants etc so we grabbed some potato wedges (a favourite of mine) then headed down to have a closer look at the Red Rock - very impressive and beautiful. We set ourselves up at the sunset car park and settled down to wait for the sun to fall and watch the changing colours of this fascinatingformation. We thought we would have the car park to ourselves as the place was empty when we arrived but no such luck! we had a van load of adults and kids with deck chairs and beers who set up next to us on one side, then a VIP van drew up on the other side with tables and champagne set up for another VIP van which turned up and contained a gaggle of Japanese - oh joy oh joy.....

Anyway after that we went down to the campsite (the only one) everyone has to camp in this site. We just parked up inside and didn't pay, the 24 dollars fee which we felt very smug about and settled down for another freezing cold night.

Monday 20th May 2002 Ayers Rock

Got up early and drove back to Ayers Rock to watch the sunrise. Well I got up early, Lazy ass Sarena just stayed in bed whilst I drove down the the car park

Sunrise was not as spectacular as sunset. Infact most people seemed to be more interested in the Japanese taking photos of each other waving to the camera with little white gloves on (Its pretty cold in the desert at night). I don't think they actually once took a photo of Ayers Rock or even stopped to look at it.

After a cup of Coffee, We walked the 9.4km around the rock and pass the point where people climb it. The Aborigine people who own the rock, don't want people to climb it as it is sacred for them. So they have put signs up everywhere requesting that you don't climb it. We decided to honour their request, even though the walkway to the top was jam packed with tourists.

After stopping for some lunch we drove west to another Tor called 'The Olgas'. This is a similar formation to Ayers Rock although it is a more eclectic collection of rocks. Sarena was feeling a little off colour so I did the 3 hour walk through the valley of the wind. There was no wind, but it wasn't needed as I did the walk in an hour and a half then Sarena drove us back to the campsite for a much needed shower.

We got up early again and headed down to Ayres Rock again so we could watch the dawn, only problem is we were parked next to the VIP van with all the Japanese again and were totally engrossed in watching the antics and strange ways of these people - even a German couple who were parked up near us were more interested in watching the VIPs rather than seeing the rock turn into the most brilliant red.

We then parked up and did the 2hr walk around the base which was really interesting but quite hot in some parts. I was a bit pissed off about the about of people who were clim ing it though. The Aborigines politely asked you not to climb it as this is a holy place for them and people should respect this - instead they just trapes on up and disregard the peoples wishes. We then drove onto another big site seeing stop - the Olgas Which is basically another big rock or a collection of rocks this time which you could walk between. I left Toby to get on with the 3hr trek around the base whilst I nursed my monthly bad stomach and read a fab book that Clare had given me. Toby made it back in 1hr and 30mins so he must have run around the whole thing! then we went back to the campsite for a shower and a good nights sleep.

Tuesday 21st May 2002 Kings Canyon

Time to leave the Ayers Rock area, so we headed to a place called Kings Canyon which took us about 4 hours. We got there by 1 and set off for a walk around the Canyon.

It was some of the best scenery I have seen in Australia. All desert, but with pockets of oasis everywhere, the mixture of different reds in the rocks and greens in the plants made up the perfect picture of Oz.

The walk around Kings Canyon took about 3 hours but as we returned to the car park Sarena bumped into her uncle and his wife. Very weird but these things always happen. We sat and chatted with them for a while and then we headed off to find a lay-by for us to camp up in for the night.

We found one just in time. As it was getting dark and looked as though a storm was just about to blow in. by the time we had eaten it was 8pm and dark. Another early night for us.

Headed off to Kings Canyon, this took about 4 hours to get there, parked up and prepared ourselves for a 3-4hr walk around the top rim of the canyon. Sun screened up and donning our hats we set off for a wonderful walk which started off quite hard (for me ) as I have now become very unfit again. The climb was steep and the sun was hot but after we had got to the top it soon plateaued out into a a fantastic walk, it was extremely high and had great views so I was quite disappointed when we arrived back down the bottom 2hrs later. As I was sat down waiting for Toby to refill the water bottle who should walk towards me but my Uncle Brian and his wife Julie!! I just said hello and fancy seeing you here, they didn't recognise me at first and were shocked to see me just sat there. We stood around and chatted for half and hour, they told me what they had been doing etc and then made arrangements to meet up back at Alice Springs if possible. How bloody weird is that.....

We then went and found a roadside stop and had some dinner and slept there for the night.

Wednesday 22nd May 2002 Coober Pedy

We are going to Coober Pedy today which is a bit of a drive. So I slid into the drivers at about 5:30 seat while it was still dark and started our drive. This is the worst part of the day to drive as all the wildlife seem to hang out on the roads. luckily I only had a near miss with a bird and some mice, but did pass a trail of Camel poo for a while so was a bit cautious.

We stopped at a roadhouse for breakfast, which was enough to get lazy ass Sarena out of bed. Sarena phoned her mum who is just about to go into hospital for an operation and then we carried on to Coober Pedy.

We arrived in Coober Pedy by about 2pm, A lot earlier than I had expected as I had miscalculated the distance. Bugger, I didn't need to get up so early after all. When we arrived we phoned our contact that Van from Alice Springs had given us and within half an hour, Eddy had met us in town and taken us back to his Dugout house on his 7 acres of Opal mining claim that he has just outside of town.

It was an amazing house. We are in one of the hottest and driest parts of the world now so most of the inhabitants live underground where it is cooler during the day and warmer during the cold desert nights. Eddies dugout is very spacious he has a large dinning area with a huge mural painted on the sandstone wall along side a pool table. I guess space isn't much of a problem in a dugout as when they need another room the just get the jack hammer and shovel out.

That evening I gave Eddy a hand levelling out a dirt drive to cover the dirt already there! While Sarena cooked us dinner and then spent the evening drinking red wine and playing pool.

Right - another long drive today to Coober Pedy !! we first drove for 2hrs to the nearest phone box to speak to mum and tell her we were thinking of her - she was going into Hospital on the Wednesday for her op. She sounded very low and was worried about going in and having the Anaesthetic ( she is allergic) she also felt very much on her own, I could only tell her I loved her. We grabbed a coffee then headed off for another few hours of straight roads and boredom -7 hrs with one hr lunch stop later we arrived in Coober Pedy. What a fascinating place, you drive through the country that is just loads and loads of white mole hills and digging machines - nothing else, no trees or anything green and pretty. We drove into the centre of town and this is what you call a working town! - nothing but Opal shops and dust with plenty of worn and rugged men walking around all looking knackered. We found a phone box and called Eddie (Vans friend) who seemed pleased to hear from us and said he would be in town in 10mins. I had a little look in the Opal shops to see what all the fuss was about and had a look at necklaces and earings etc - Opals just don't do it for me I'm afraid, pretty but I just don't like them that much. Anyway Eddie turned up and said hello, came across like he hadn't seen a female in a while at the remarks and eyeing up and down I got .....mmmm I slipped off and bought some red wine and bits for dinner noting that all the men here seemed to openly gawp at a female. We followed Eddie back to his house where he then showed us around and settled us in for the evening. After a few glasses of red we all seemed to relax and realised what a nice bloke he is - Eddie is 59 but doesn't look it due to being very fit and looking after himself, I was surprised when he told me he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, I didn't tell him anything about my stepfather having just died with the same thing obviously.

The house is just bloody amazing! all built into a big cliff and has lots of tunnels and empty rooms that he hasn't used as yet all over the place. The part of the house that he does use is like a big cave with a great atmosphere, not claustrophobic at all although quite dark, I could live in it. I cooked dinner for all of us then we settled down to a couple bottles of red and a few games of pool whilst he told us stories, he originally comes from Lymington and still has a strong Hampshire accent.

We drank quite allot and before long it was time to go to bed, our room was pitch black without the light on which felt a little weird but thanks to the wine I was soon in the land of the nod. Rocky his dog kept guard outside our door for the whole night - lovely dog but don't mess with him!

Thursday 23rd May 2002 Coober Pedy

Eddy took me mining around his property for Opals. Took awhile to find anything much but by the end of the day we managed to get a few spots of nicely coloured Opal out of a tunnel just above is house.

Spent the evening drinking red wine and playing pool.

Didn't get up untill 9.00am, really late for us and wondered around for a bit before having some b'fast and wait for Eddie to come back as he had left earlier that morning to go and sort a few things. He came back at about 11.30am with a couple of mates, we had a chat and then they left whilst I finished off my diary. Toby and Eddie then spent the afternoon mining some Opals in the surrounding tunnels around his house. I went into town and bought some food for a veggie curry I was doing for dinner.

Friday 24th May 2002 Coober Pedy

Decided to stay an extra day as Eddie was pretty sure that if we went down some more mines that we would strike it rich. He's been saying that for 17 years!

Anyway things didn't go quite as planned and instead of mining we made some money by collecting all the bottles and cans we could find and taking them down to the recycling depot. On the way back we popped into a friends of Eddies, Willow and Skirv. Willow showed me her rabbit warren of a dugout whilst Skriv stayed outside and beefed up is stock car for tomorrow's bush speedway race. Just like Mad Max!

Spent the evening drinking red wine and Guinness and playing pool.

Staying today as well - thankgod........ another late night of red wine.

Toby spent most of the day with Eddie wandering around doing his own thing whilst I went and had a look around the town and read my boo.

Spent the evening with a bottle of Vino again

Saturday 25th May 2002 Lay-By

Time to leave Coober Pedy, but not before we took in some of the tourist attractions! That took us all of 45 minutes as we explored the Old Timers Mine and took a look at 'The Big Winch'. Eddy wasn't to keen on letting us leave and kept avoiding saying goodbye to us. In the end we ended up phoning him whilst he was at a funeral service to say thanks and goodbye. Very bad way to do it but we could see ourselves getting trapped in Coober Pedy for ever otherwise.

We decided to take a leisurely drive back to Alice Springs and spread it over 2 days. So at about half way ( 350 km) and just passed a 'Road Train' crash, we pulled up in a lay-by for the night.

Had a look around the 'Old Timers' museum in the morning which turned out to be a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. It took us down into one of the first mines in Coober Pedy and also one of the first underground houses - all took about an hour. Toby wanted to go and see the 'Big Wynch'......... I'm not going to sat anything about that - weirdo

After giving Eddie a quick phone call to say goodbye we finally left CP and headed back to Alice Springs stopping off in a little car park for the night.

Sunday 26th May 2002 Alice Springs

How bloody cold was last night. Freeeeezing. Didn't manage to crawl from my sleeping bag and duvet until the sun had warmed the van for at least an hour. After quick bowl of cereal Sarena drove the rest of the 350 km to Alice Springs whilst I just sat and read. We got there by 1 pm and pulled up at the campsite to find Van and John still sitting in their usual positions.

Sarena met up with an Aborigine Artist, Tommy Crow. Whom we had bought a picture off and arranged to go and see him play his didgerido at a local pub. Quit luckily the pub also did an all you can eat roast dinner for about 6 pounds. So Sarena, John and I went over for a slap up meal and watched Tommy blow his didge!

We returned back to the campsite and it was freezing. Van had built a little fire so we huddled around it for a few hours before curling up in bed.

Shite I had some bad dreams last night - dreamt 2 blokes were trying to get into Betty in the night and there was myself and Toby and my brother, Nicky asleep inside. I was trying to tell Toby that I had heard something but he told me I was dreaming... the van started shaking then and the blokes started banging on the sides. I tried to call out to the other caravans parked in the car park but I didn't have any voice left, and anyway when I looked they had all been burnt out and demolished by the blokes. I couldn't find the van keys etc, and was scared for my brother knowing he wouldn' t be able to defend himself if they got in and as I got into the drivers seat and was telling Toby to get Nicky on the floor when I looked out of the window and saw one of the blokes swinging at the drivers window with a crow bar and a terrible look on his face and I knew we were doomed - that's when I awoke covered in sweat and shaking all over. I then got up and locked all the doors looked outside and it took me a good few hours before I got back to sleep.

I drove for 4 hrs back into Alice Springs and went straight into the campsite where we found Van and John sat in the same old spot. I parked up and gave them a big hug and we caught up with all the goss etc. I collected our painting we had bought earlier in the week and arranged to go out for a few beers with John over the local pub where they were holding an evening of digiridoo playing and all you could eat roast dinner - very very good.

We stayed there for a couple of hours then went back to the campsite and sat with Van before saying our goodbye's to John, he was off to see his new lady friend then go into a very cold bed.

Monday 27th May 2002 Barrow Creek

Woke up freezing again but after a hot shower and a strong coffee courtesy of Van I was all set to leave for Darwin. We had a few bits to do in town first and Van came with us and joined us in a hearty fried breakfast.

I spent the morning updating the website which took several hours thanks to the crappy Internet services in Alice. Sarena went and bought some provisions for our 3 day journey to Darwin and we managed to leave Alice by about 2.

Got a good drive in and managed to find a suitable lay-by to stop for the night just before dawn. Thank goodness for Stagg Chilli, a quick and easy wholesome meal!

We both felt a bit vulnerable at the lay-by, I think it had something to do with Sarena's dream last night and the fact that we are near Barrow Creek, the place where the English couple got attacked, and the fact that within 5 minutes of stopping someone pulled up and tried to sell drugs to us. Consequently we bought 2,000 dollars worth of E's and then moved on to the next roadhouse and a proper campsite. Once we got there I gave Damien and Declan in Brisbane a quick ring, Damien wasn't in but their neighbour Robyn was. Then I gave Mark and Thorn a ring in Perth to arrange to meet them when we get there.

The campsite was a bit strange. To boost the tourist rate up the have decided that this roadhouse is situated at a popular UFO landing site. And to add conviction to their case they have placed models of alien type beings all around the campsite. We parked right next to the Incredible Hulk. Maybe the lay-by was safer!

Didn't sleep well because of the cold - I had a sleeping bag liner, sleeping bag and quilt but was still cold because of my little head and face sticking out of the top. I consequently suffocated about 7 times in the night by burrowing myself into my sleeping bag to try and get warm.........

We had a coffee with Van in the morning then made arrangements to meet up in town at 10.30am for some b'fast at 'Red Rock Cafe' - a big cooked one.

Off into Alice Springs, where we posted our picture back to the UK then to the cafe and a wonderful b'fast with Van. We then went down to the Internet place where we said goodbye to Van and made tentative arrangements to meet in NZ for Christmas.

I went off and did some shopping for our trip to Darwin then waited in the van for Toby who took ages to find an Internet place to update the website.

Toby drove for the afternoon stopping at the roadside early evening to make some dinner, which I like to get cooked and put away before dark. I didn't feel very comfortable at the side of the road, and felt very vulnerable. Toby could see I was uneasy especially after a young man stopped in his van asking if we wanted to buy some drugs........ this was the first time this had happened but because of my blinkin dream I had had I wanted to move on ASAP.

After another dinner of stag chilli we packed up and moved on to the nearest campsite but after10mins of being on the road Toby told me that the area we had stopped in was the area the 2 English people had been kidnapped. I don't know if people remember the incident when the UK guy was never found and the girlfriend was suspected........ well maybe I just had the bad vibes?

Anyway we found a 'Big 4' place that was next to a Roadhouse covered in pictures of Aliens and UFO's. Seems there had been a sighting here a while ago and was now using this as a gimmick. We camped up next to a 6ft Incredible Hulk plastic model and were surrounded by green model Aliens....... anything to make a buck!

Tuesday 28th May 2002 Mataranka

Slept pretty well despite being surrounded by aliens. We didn't leave as early as we had planned as we have just under 700 km's to cover today. The journey was pretty standard, lots of Wedge Tailed Eagles and Black Kites picking the bones of the nights roadkill, and a couple of roadside bush fires, deliberately lit to keep the growth down along side the road. Presumably to help motorists spot potentially suicidal Roos.

We arrived at our destination, Mataranka by 3:30 thanks to Sarena driving. Betty was getting very hot by the time we pulled up at the campsite. We had chosen Mataranka as they have some thermal springs that you can swim in that remain at about 31 degrees (Celsius) plus it means that Darwin is only 4 hours drive tomorrow so we can relax a little.

As soon as we got a camping spot we headed straight through the tropical walkway to the thermal pool. Fantastic, perfect temperature and as clear as day. There are apparently fresh water Crocs in the area, but nobody seems bothered about them. Its the saltwater variety that you have to watch out for.

Grabbed some potato wedges and a cheese sandwich on the way back from the thermal pool and went to watch a band that played at the campsite... for all of 10 minutes as they where the bog standard holiday park entertainment duo.

Didn't sleep so well again....

Started driving at about 7.00am and then stopped for some b'fast at about 10.00 before heading off again on another long and arduous journey which took us past some good bush fires and huge eagles.

We arrived in Mataranka at 3.30pm so it was a long days driving again - 500miles!! we parked up in a lovely spot and investigated our camp, it was where they have some natural thermal springs. So on with the cossy and off we jolly well went through a forest of Palm Trees which opened onto a open glade with the most beautiful pool I have ever seen. We cautiously stepped into the water only to find the temperature to be about 31degrees as just like walking into a bath.......... mmmmmm lovely. It was completely translucent and I was amazed this was a natural pool because of the clarity and warmth, the only draw back was the amount of spiders and webs surrounding us in the tree's.

After a quick swim and a walk to the river which seemed to be the same temperature ( no Crocs to be seen) we went and had some of our favourites - potato wedges then went and had a shower and then went down to the bar area and watched a live band and have a beer. I phoned mum and my sister to wish her a belated happy birthday.

Wednesday 29th May 2002 Darwin

A relaxing drive to Darwin today so we didn't rush in the morning. I had a go on Sarena's new toasting device that she bought in Alice Springs. hmmmmm not too bad with Marmite. We had a couple of false starts trying to leave the campsite though. First of all as we drove away Sarena's bikini blew passed the window, she had left it on the roof. Then just as I had picked up speed in Betty a huge spider, which I think is a Huntsman, crawled up from the side of the door and across the dashboard. I think I handled the situation fairly well as I pulled calmly over to the side of the road whilst manovering the indicator stalk around one of his fat hairy legs. I then managed to get the spider into the perfect 'flicking the hairy bugger out of the door' position. But Sarena would not move out of the way of my projected flight path (she wanted to take a photo). By the time Sarena moved the spider had crawled through a gap and up behind the dashboard not to be seen again for the rest of the day. Good job Clare isn't still with us, she hates spiders. Sarena decided to call our new travelling companion, Romeo. I do hope he is a male as we could do without a swarm of baby Huntsmen crawling around the van.

The rest of the drive to Darwin was pretty non-eventful, even tiresome, the climate is getting much warmer again, or at lest more humid and I was starting to question our motives for driving 400 km out of our way just to visit another Australian city. The only thing driving me (or even us) on is the fact that we can say we did it.

Got to Darwin by about 3 and had a quick walk round the town to find the information centre Darwin looks like a really nice place, worth spending a day here I reckon. Sarena got details of the nearest camp site as we were very hot and sticky and in need of a shower. So we headed up the road and made plans for the next few days as we are starting to run out of time and may need to skip over some touristy places.

Spent the evening in the ambience of our gas light reading and writing when another friend came and joined us. A Green Tree Frog decided to enjoy the light and sat down next to us. Hope Romeo doesn't get jealous!

Toby woke quite early which meant me having to wake up early as well, he likes to fidget and talk when he wakes up bless him......

We had some b'fast using the toasting devise I had bought a couple of days previous, Toby was most impressed with his marmite on toast. After b'fast I fed some of the local wildlife with the few crumbs then took some photo's of the thermal pool before heading on the road to Darwin. Within 5mins we had to stop again though as my bikini flew off the roof where I shouldn't have left it! then within 5mins again after setting off Toby very calmly said ' Oooo look at the size of that bugger' and then promptly parked up. The spider was extremely big even for a big spider, very very thick bodied thing and very hairy - sort of tarantula type of look. Clare would remember the one we saw on the Bibbulmen trek we went on in the outside toilet - well it was bigger than that!

Well I couldn't miss this photo opportunity and ran around to the drivers side to take a piccie. Toby was trying very hard to get the thing off with a bit of paper but I was in the way as usual and the spider ran up underneath the dash board........oh dear Toby not a happy boy. Oh well now we have another pet. a mouse and a spider whom I have named, Romeo and he looked like a full blooded male!! Christ I hope he is otherwise we might become adoptive parents for lots of little Romeo's.

Toby drove for the first few hours until lunchtime where we stopped off at a little place for our daily tuna roll and apple then it was my turn for the rest of the afternoon. I actually think I fall asleep with my eyes open as I have the most bizarre day dreams and scenarios running in my head whilst driving. The other day I rescued Beau and Clare from a deep jungle somewhere using the money we had to bye a helicopter and 4wheel drive. The government wouldn't help us so Toby and I bought some guns and stuff then killed all the guards and cut Beau and Clare loose and then dragged them through the jungle onto the 4wheel drive then onto the helicopter and back to Whitchurch in the UK. They even held a press release with all of us on it and a hero's welcome in the local Pub!!!!!!!

Now all of this is the kind of stuff I think of whilst driving for hours on end down straight roads ( if your lucky you might come across a slight bend to make it a bit more interesting) I have shared this with Toby and he thinks I am actually asleep which is a little worrying.......

We made it into Darwin at about 3.30ish and had a look around quickly before getting some info about local campsites etc. I wanted to stay for a bit longer than a day as I thought it looked really very nice and they also had the Sunset Market on Thursday evenings, Clare's email said it was really good. We then went and found ourselves the closest campsite to town and just collapsed, the weather is very hot and humid now completely different from Alice Springs. Saw a fantastic green tree frog later on in the evening as we were reading - very pretty

Thursday 30th May 2002 Darwin

Lazy days, Darwin seems like a very relaxed place and seems to of already taken its effect on us. Everything seemed so chilled today we got up when we wanted, had a very relaxed breakfast, washed some clothes and took a drive into a nature reserve overlooking Darwin. We where broken out of our trance like state for a brief moment, Sarena was driving down the highway when Romeo decided to go for a stroll across the inside of the windscreen. Sarena shrieked but managed to keep betty going in a straight line until we came to a lay-by where we said are found farewells to Romeo and hoicked him out of the door. Bye-bye Romeo. As soon as he had gone we slipped straight back into our trance mode. Nothing was really discussed, we just seemed to be on autopilot. We even managed to write some postcards, the first ones since we have been in Oz, and then found a local pool for a swim.

By lunch time we where back in the town centre. I checked my emails and Sarena went looking for some Birthday cards to send back home. Then we went to Mindil Beach to take-in the world famous (supposedly) Sunset Market. There where loads of people bustling through the small market, 90% of which were food stalls, but it still seemed very relaxed and peaceful, Sarena decided to try food from a couple of different stalls. I was quite happy with a Beef Vindaloo and the rest of Sarena's then a fruit smoothie. By 6:30 we went down on the crowded beach and watched the sun set then headed back to the campsite.

Darwin is a great place and I am now glad that we drove the extra distance if only to experience a small snapshot of it.

What a lovely day!

Toby once again woke up first then decided to annoy me until I woke up..... we then had some b'fast did some washing and headed into town. On our way in Romeo ran up the windscreen infront of me - the van went black due to the shear size of the thing blocking out the sun!! Anyway I yelled to Toby to get the thing away from me whilst I negotiate the van so he goaded it over to his side whilst I headed for a lay-by. We said our farewells and I videod Toby and Romeo for a while as he ejected him from Betty, then were soon on our way into town. Toby wanted to see the East Coast Reserve which is basically a Peninsular, for a look around. Really very beautiful, aqua marine water and palm tree's - all very picture postcard. We walked around and took some photo's then went and sat down to write 10 postcards before heading down to the local 50metre pool for my 20laps - Beau and Clare will be proud of me!

Enjoyed that! and felt extremely relaxed so after a tuna roll we headed into the centre for a look around. Toby went on the Internet whilst I went and bought some b'day cards (I'm prepared this time) I have to be the worst person in the world for remembering b'day's......

We headed down to the Sunset Market which was really busy and full of different food stalls - Oh dilemma which one to have, I will just try a few of them!! Couldn't move for a while but after Toby finished off my Vindaloo for me we headed down onto the beach to watch the sunset. Bloody hundreds of people sitting on the beach all drinking and eating, basically chilling and having a good time. People of all ages just come down with tables and chairs, beer and wine etc then just settle down to listen to live music and catch up with friends and family - such a lovely way of life. We watched the sun fall into the millpondsea amongst the most beautiful oranges and purples before heading back to our Betty and back to the campsite. Really really like Darwin and could easily stay for a lot longer.

When we got back to the site we put all our clean bedding back on then sat down and read for a while whilst 'Rolo' the green tree frog came and joined us again sitting on the electricity box.

Friday 31st May 2002 Katherine

We have decided to miss out on visiting Kakadu National Park. Purely because you really need several days there to experience it and as we are running out of time and have already visited many national parks we decided to spend half a day at Lichfield National Park which is a lot smaller, a lot closer and free.

I got up at 5:40 and drove all the way to Lichfield while Sarena stayed in bed. Not a good idea Betty gets a bit fumey in the back and Sarena looked a bit pale by the time we arrived at Wangi waterfalls for some breakfast. The falls where outstanding, especially the crystal clear pool at the bottom with the bats surrounding hanging from the trees around it.

We visited another waterfall, Tolmer, and a stream and some huge Magnetic termite mounds and then ended up at a butterfly farm at around lunch time. Sarena had wanted to go to a Butterfly farm for ages so that she can see all the huge tropical varieties, unfortunately this farm only had about 3 butterflies left (all that I could see anyway) but we did get a nice cup of tea from the mad owner that kept reciting Monty Python sketches to us.

Betty is starting to drive a bit rough again, she keeps stuttering so we decided to get to a small town called Katherine in the hope that there will be a mechanic available. Not likely, everyone shuts down dead on 5 for the weekend. Never mind we will bash on to Broome in WA over the next few days.

We were both feeling drained so booked into a caravan park. I went for a swim in the local hot spring then had a shower and retired for the night.

Toby woke up early and drove to Lichfield National Park whilst I still slept in the back of the van - Toby's idea, I think he is still trying to kill me off as the garage man did tell us not to that as the fumes would be bad if laying in the back............

We had decided against Kakadu Park even though it's the most popular due to lack of time but had heard from Declan that Lichfield although smaller is just as beautiful. So 2hrs later we arrived in a carpark at the far end of the National Park it was only 8.00am so we had some b'fast and sat down to watch the wondrous birds all around us whilst I tried to find them in my birdbook - unsuccessfully.

After we packed up Betty we walked down to Wangi falls - bloody fantastic!! a huge pool of crystal clear water with a tumbling waterfall, surrounded by rain forest which had loads of huge bats hanging in the tree's. We did the 50min walk which took us up and over the waterfall then down the other side, all through palms and huge plants. We then headed off to another waterfall, this time seeing it from the top of a huge cliff, the view was spectacular and then off to some termite mounds Toby wanted to see - I stayed in the van for that one! After that we went to see some rockpools then went to a butterfly and bird sanctuary, something I was really looking forward to. It turned out to be a really big sort of chilled out Restaurant surrounded by beautiful gardens, we walked in and were greeted by a large man with a Yorkshire accent!! seems he had lived over there for 8yrs and had picked up the accent, didn't sound Ozzy at all. He showed us around his place which had accommodation and massive Avery's containing birds and butterfly's which we had a good look at before going back to the large veranda and having a free cup of tea. Chris the owner had worked on the oil rigs all over the world and had once in his life been a rich man but he decided to give up the high living and fast women for a life of paradise running a wonderful place and keeping butterfly's and birds which he loves.

I then drove for the next couple of hours to Katherine which was a bit of a troubled journey because Betty is playing up again. We had her fixed in Alice Springs but has since gone back to playing up again, so the journey was a bit fraught. We made it into Katherine at about 4.40ish and tried to find a garage to see if we could get her fixed the following day which unfortunately turns out to be a Saturday and means nothing will be open. So we found a campsite and Toby had a swim in the hot springs whilst I did some dinner then we had and early night both feeling really tired and drained - I think we have had enough being on the road now, travelling the equivalent of driving to Scotland and further on most days is becoming tiring especially if Betty's not well.

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