The best thing to me about visiting Australia is the people and their incredible hospitality. Of course, I am crazy about the Australian wildlife, and once again I went chasing any animal that jumps, climbs on trees, swims in the ocean or flies from tree to tree. But despite all my passion for those sweet hairy, cuddly (or sometimes less cuddly) and beautiful animals I am having the BEST time because I am surrounded and welcomed by wonderful people. I was lucky enough to get to know some Aussies over the past few years (mostly through my travels) and this time I focused my Australia- trip on meeting those great people.
On Friday, May 11 I was welcomed on Adelaide airport by my friend Mark whom I had gotten to know in Burma 1.5 years ago. Mark lives just a stone-throw away from beautiful Henley Beach and right on the first night I was spoilt with a wonderful dinner with Mark, his girlfriend Heather and some of their friends. It was also my first night in a real bad after 5 weeks of sleeping in a van or in mountain huts in NZ so I felt like a queen, having a huge king-size bed all to myself (once again one of those things we usually take for granted and which you really learn to appreciate on such a backpacker trip). The next morning we drove to Port Lincoln, about 700 km west of Adelaide. The drive was a good example of how big this country, this continent is. For about 6.5 hours we drove along almost endless seeming roads and sometimes the landscape didn’t change for a couple of hours. Flat, brown or sometimes red dry earth and a few trees and bushes popping up every now and then, only a couple of cars heading towards you (if you drive in Austria for 6.5 hours you have reached the other end of the country and have gone through hundreds of little towns). We stopped at Port Augusta which was the only fairly large town between Adelaide and Port Lincoln and since it was Saturday and past 12.30 pm ALL the shops except the bakery and supermarket were closed and the town reminded me a bit of those western towns that you see in movies where no one walks on the streets:).
Port Lincoln is THE seafood capital of Australia, particularly famous for its blue-fin tuna (and oyster and many other yummie treasures of the sea!). We stayed with Heather’s parents and the next 3 days were spent with a loooot of wonderful home-cooked meals (my first King Whiting fish as well, a fish typically for this region, very yummie!), visiting to some of the National Parks in the area and driving in Marks 4 WD over sand dunes and along white beaches . It was really strange for me in the beginning NOT to be on such a tight travel itinerary. For the first time in my 5.5 months of travelling I stayed for more than 3 days in ONE spot and I didn’t have to do any planning, no organizing, no long bus rides or climbing mountains. But after the first day I got into the “laid back”-mode and really enjoyed it. Christine and Toby, Heather’s parents were lovely hosts and I had a wonderful time with Mark, Heather and her parents there. After Mark and Heather flew back to Adelaide I stayed in Port Lincoln with Marks nice 4 WD (thanks again Mark!!) and visited Coffin Bay National Park. There I found my favorite beach – many many many miles long, seagulls sailing above my head, white sand, turquoise water and golden sand dunes of various heights all along the beach. I had it all to myself, the sun was shining and I thought “this is REAL luxury. Walking on this stunningly beautiful stretch of coast all by myself”. In the afternoon I visited Steve, Heather’s sister Paula’s partner who runs a tuna-processing and shipping company. Of course I was very keen to see the factory and Steve showed me how those massively big tunas were handled before they get shipped to various countries in the world. Many of the tunas weigh between 30 and 60 kilos and I got to see a few really big ones (one of them was 10 kg heavier than me!!!). I was happy to learn about the sustainable fishing methods which are applied in this region since I really like eating tuna and was able to do this there with good conscience. I even got a nice piece of tuna sashimi which I savored over the next 2 days – definitely the very best tuna I had ever had in my life! Later that day I went to Mikkara, a region with a a forest where you can watch Koalas in their natural habitat – so NO zoo or animal park but a large area of Australian bush which is the home to approx. 200 koalas. The reason they live only in this area and not in the National Parks around is that only there grows the Manna gum tree, one of the 4 species of Eucalyptus trees that the picky Koala eats. I wandered around (once again the only person in the whole forest) for 2 hours, counting at least 12 Koalas (one was sitting on a very small gum tree so I sat down on the ground and watched the little guy for about 15 minutes only 1 meter away!!) and hundreds of Galahs (white and pink birds that look like Cockatoos) and bright green parrots.
In the evening I was already looking forward to the next morning as I was about to (hopefully) see one of the 2 fish that were still remaining on my “want-to-see-in-this-life-soooo-badly”-list: the Great White Shark. I had booked a “swim with the Great White Shark” trip – only that if course you do not SWIM with them but you are standing in a cage that is attached to the back of the boat in about 1 meter of depth. The trip was about to take 3 hours to get to the 2 little islands which are home to Fur Seal and Sea Lion colonies (and which are therefore very popular among the Great Whites for food) –so 6 hours of riding on the boat, plus the time in the cage and a little snack. Of course there is no guarantee that you will see a shark but the sightings on the last few trips had been good (winter has started and therefore the water is colder which is generally better, and the seal and sea lion pups are also big enough to start swimming in the water so this is easy prey for the sharks). Only this morning the sharks were either still digesting their dinner from the night before, they might have been out on a field trip or gone on an exchange program with their Asian counterparts, but they were NOT swimming around the cage little freezing Brita and 2 other guys were standing in. The water was about 16 degrees Celcius and although you wear a dive suit it is fxxxx cold when you don’t move and stare out into the blue, waiting for something that isn’t coming. After 30 minutes of listening to AC/DC under water we were freezing so much that we couldn’t hold the regulator in our mouths anymore and went back on board….quite frustrated and disappointed. Oh, I forgot to mention: Since I have always been (and still am) strictly against cage diving where they use chum and blood to attract the White Sharks I chose an operator which uses a rather unusual method: playing music under water and attracting the animals though the impulses the music creates. And since AC/DC has a lot of bass this kind of music seems to have worked the best so far to get the shark’s attention (too bad that AC/DC is one of the bands I really dislike. After that day I have had my share of AC/DC for the next 100 years!). The 2nd group went in the water but they too were not lucky. In the afternoon the other boat which uses bait was anchored about 100 meters away from us and suddenly we saw the people on the boat gather on the back of the boat. 4 fins showed above the surface, chasing the tuna head that was thrown out on a line to them. The captain told us to quickly get into the cage again since the distance was not that big and while we were getting ready we saw a big shadow at the back of our boat too. Supposedly that wasn’t a Great White Shark but some other species I had not known, but nevertheless it was time to get in the water-quick. I was the first one in the cage and peered out between the cage bars and into the blue. And there, finally, I saw it. My very first Great White Shark, slowly and elegantly drifting past the cage. I often wondered what the very first impulse and feeling would be when I would get to see this animal for the first time. But it surely was different from what I thought it would be like. Not the slightest nervousness, not the slightest scary feeling. Just respect and amazement about the beauty of this big animal. After about 5 minutes the shark seemed to have lost interest in us and turned away and out into the blue and as I followed him with my eyes another bigger one came our way. The females get bigger and generally rounder than the males so we were quite sure that this animal which was about 3.5 meters long was a female. I was so happy to see those wonderful creatures for a few minutes, I felt tears welling up in my eyes – out of happiness that after having dived for 22 years in my life I finally got to see a Great White shark. After another 5 minutes this Whity must have also decided it was too boring to watch a bunch of idiots standing in a cage and staring out of the cage at them so she too left. We got out of the cage with a loud “yippie” and while trying to regain our normal body temperature on the long ride back we all fell silent and rested (and “played back” our experience we had just had). That evening I fell dead tired into bed after I toasted my body in front of Christine’s and Toby’s open fireplace.
The next morning I drove to Remarkables National Park and visited Alligator Gorge (no worries, no Alligators there!). I took a beautiful 2 hour stroll along the Gorge with its bright red, brick-like rocks and set up a tent to do my first night of bush-camping. Bush camping means that you camp out in the bush, normally in more remote areas (at least not accessible with a car). At night I heard the typical sounds you hear when you camp in this country: possums on trees and Kangaroos in the bush, making the leaves and branches crack. At night I had a wonderful star-light sky and in the morning when I woke up I had the worst stiff back in a long time (not used to sleeping on the ground anymore). I left the National Park around 8 a.m. and since I had been once again) the only person who had stayed in this section of the National Park I was the one who scared away the many Kangaroos that were on the road (good thing you are only allowed 40 km/h so you see them early enough to avoid a collision).
My next and last stop before heading back to Adelaide was Port Broughton. There I visited Paul and Pauline who live on a farm that focuses on sheep and wheat. Pauline is the sister of my friend Viv whom I will see next week and since I had always wanted to experience what life on an Australian farm is like I was more than happy when Viv suggested that I could stay with her sister’s family. Upon my arrival on the farm I was welcomed by Pauline, her husband Paul, their son Joh, their daughter Nicki and their 2 dogs Ned and Roo. I had a lovely lunch with Pauline in a nearby beach town after which we strolled along the beach and enjoyed the afternoon sun. When we returned to the farm Paul took me around the farm and patiently answered my million questions about sheep, sheep shearing and other farm topics. It was highly interesting to me to learn all those things, I loved the atmosphere in the barns, the sheep shearing stalls (never knew that the wool of Merino sheep looks really curly from close up, as if the sheep had had a perm!) and riding on a quad bike on the fields, chasing the sheep was a lot of fun! In the evening we had an amazing Barbie (Australian for BBQ) with lamp chops – from their own farm. It was sooo delicious! I had told Paul that I hadn’t seen a possum on this trip yet and I was really longing to see one (they are nocturnal so you have to go out in the dark to see them) so after dinner he had even found a possum who is a regular visitor in one of the barns and I was able to get a good look at the possum and even a few good photos). Right after we left the barn Paul and I saw a HUGE shooting star. It was the biggest and brightest shooting star I had ever seen! It was almost like in a movie. First: go see the possum that you have wanted to see for the last week. Second: look up to the bright stars in the sky (milky way was amazing!) and see a big, fat shooting star. Lucky me. After a great night in a super-comfy bed (which my stiff back was incredibly grateful for) I had to say goodbye to wonderful people and continued by journey to the Barossa Valley where I was about to meet up with Mark again. I had another hour before I would meet him at Charles Melton Winery so I had my first wine tasting at “Artisans” which features the wines of 7 smaller winemakers, all of them having exquisite wines. The wine tasting took 1.5 hours with a lot of chit-chat with the sommelier and 14 wines later (I had never tried so many wines at one place and at once) I met Mark. We had another glass and wine tasting of excellent wines and as a red wine drinker I have to say this is THE place to be and to enjoy great reds. It is not only the wines themselves, the wineries are lovely too, beautiful settings amidst the vineyards, nice cellar doors, a rally great atmosphere. Back in Adelaide we spent the last day with going to the local Farmer’s Market and climbing Mount Lofty, with 700 meters the highest “mountain” of Adelaide. The walk was quite steep and beautiful and the view from the top very nice. Even on this very frequented walk there were a couple of Kangaroos happily chewing away on some greens, not minding us at all.
The next morning I flew to Sydney where Phil picked me up from the airport. I had met Phil who is also a friend of Mark’s on my trip to Burma and since this was a visit with very short notice I was happy that Phil had time that afternoon and I was able to stay with him to see bit of Sydney. Phil showed my Wollongong which is South of Sydney and has lovely beach views and after a great dinner at a Japanese restaurant (where I had my first fried soft-shell crab ..yes, you eat the WHOLE crab WITH its shell, very tasty and lecker!) Phil showed me 3 top-spots with views of the Sydney Opera and Harbor Bridge. It was very pretty to see those iconic landmarks at night as I had only seen them during the day on my last trip. Naturally we had a lot of topics to catch up from the last 1.5 years so the time flew by and suddenly 13 hours had passed since Phil had picked me up from the airport. Too much to talk about, too little time. Because the next morning I already had to leave and Phil brought me to the rental car company where I picked up my campervan for the next 11 days.
So if you are still with me (this is probably the longest posting!), dear reader, then you can maybe sense how lucky I was in the last 10 days to be surrounded and enjoy the warmth and hospitality of so many wonderful people. THAT is what makes travelling a REAL treasure to me.
P.S. this posting is dedicated from the bottom of my heart to you guys: Mark, Heather, Christine, Toby, Steve, Pauline, Paul, Nicki, Joh and Phil. Thank you all so very much for everything. It is you who made my trip very special.