6 months in. The story so far…

G’day!

We wanted to write an update for our blog today, to mark the six month anniversary since we left the UK on 22nd November. Hasn’t time flown by? It really doesn’t feel like we have been away for six months!

This is going to be a fairly lengthy update, with one or two, perhaps surprising, revelations, so stick the kettle on and make yourself comfortable…

Firstly, we have now arrived in Perth, which is the state capital of Western Australia (WA). Said to be the most isolated capital city in the world, Perth is also one of the fastest growing – certainly in Australia – with approximately 800 migrants moving here every day!

Perth is a relatively new city and is at the centre of the mining boom in WA, which is driving up the cost of living here. In fact, the cost of living is incredibly high, almost to the point that you cannot afford to live here unless you are involved with the mining industry, where remuneration is higher. To give you an idea of how expensive things can be, it is not unusual to get no change from $10 (£7.50) when buying a pint of beer. Ouch!

The Mediterranean-type climate here is pretty good, with an average, annual temperature of about 20-25 degrees, although, with winter approaching, it is getting quite cold here in the evenings once the sun goes down. We hear that the summers are exceptionally hot and dry, with temperatures of 40 degrees being far from unusual. Here in Perth, people are very laid back and, they say, that WA actually stands for ‘wait awhile’, not just ‘Western Australia’. As an example, Sarah had an appointment at 11 am the other day, but was not seen until nearly 12 o’clock. No worries…

Anyway, our situation has changed since we last spoke and we have, in fact, delayed our plans of seeing the rest of Australia for the time being. We have decided to settle here in Perth, so that we can see what living and working in Australia is all about. We had planned to return to, and settle in, Sydney, however, once we started applying for jobs we soon realised that the job market is far more buoyant over on the west coast.

We have both been applying for jobs – Sarah in IT and Business Analysis, and Simon in Recruitment. Prior to leaving the UK, Simon had made a decision that he would explore an alternative career when we arrived in Australia. However, having realised the demand for good recruiters in Perth (and that they pay significantly higher wages than they do back in the UK), he has decided to stick with what he does best, and actually starts working for Rio Tinto, who are the largest MINING company in the world, tomorrow. Sarah is now a lady of leisure, for the time being anyway. She has submitted a number of job applications and we are hopeful of hearing something positive next week.

The next step for us is to find somewhere to live. Our van has served us really well – even if there were a few shaky moments in the early days – but now we need something more practical, and more homely! Imagine trying to put on a suit in the back of a van where there isn’t even sufficient headroom to sit up, let alone stand up! Plus, we need to find somewhere with air conditioning before the summertime and the impressive 30-40 degree heat. From experience, we know that our van is not a nice place to be when it gets hot outside…

We now need to decide whether we will rent a small apartment close to the centre of Perth, or if we will rent a house further out of town (where property is MUCH cheaper) and nearer to the coast. For example, you can rent a 4-bedroom house, with two bathrooms and a swimming pool for less than a 2-bedroom apartment in the centre of town, because it is 30km (20 miles) north or south of the city. Decisions, decisions…

So, getting back to our six month update, we wanted to do a ‘what have we learnt about Australia?’ blog. We have been asked many times why we chose, specifically, to come to Australia. Ultimately we wanted to explore and experience life elsewhere in the world, and to see whether the grass is greener on the other side. We were aware that Australia was the number one location chosen by UK migrants, and the influential UK media painted a wonderful picture of this mysterious land, especially with TV programme’s like ‘Wanted Down Under’, Phil Spencer’s ‘Relocation: Down Under’ and, more recently ‘Poms in Paradise’, so Australia was the obvious choice.

First and foremost, life down under is pretty special. Outdoor living is what it is all about here, and we still cannot get over the number of people that use the parks – having picnics, going for a jog, playing on the swings, throwing a ball around or playing a game of cricket. It seems as though everybody is into camping and fishing, and they love their sports, with netball and football tournaments dominating the parks at the weekends.

The wildlife is beautiful, and I do not think that we could ever tire of seeing a kangaroo in the bush, or the beautiful birds in the trees – the types of parrots that you will only ever see in cages back home. Then there’s the dolphins that you can just happen to see at the beach and, we have been told that, if you are lucky enough, they can even swim and play with you in the waves! Oh, and contrary to popular belief, there are not spiders and snakes everywhere – in fact, we have only seen one snake and one large spider in the whole time that we have been here!

If “living the dream” is living within a 10 minute drive of the most perfect, deserted beach, with an esky full of cold beer and snags to throw on the free barbies in the park, while basking in the hot sun, then yes, life here is pretty good. And do not get us wrong – these opportunities exist for everybody. But, our pre-trip research showed us that moving to Australia is not for everyone, for a number of reasons. Aside from the obvious things like missing family and friends, we have observed the following factors that we reckon would contribute towards a feeling of “same shit, different country”:

  • For starters, the sun does not shine every day, and it does get cold. Hello prospective migrants – you need to be aware of this! Do not be fooled by what you see on the TV… 🙂
  • And it rains here, too, even outside the rainy season!
  • Crime rates are surprisingly high, with graffiti everywhere. And then there are the bad people that live here – murderers and all sorts. Fancy that! As with newspapers in the UK, it is not unusual for Australian newspapers to be full of “bad news” either…
  • Since the day that we arrived, we have found Australia to be a very expensive place. We have been told that this is, especially, the case when spending £s, but that things do become more affordable once you are earning and spending $s.
  • Unemployment is high, yet, like in the UK, there seems to be an abundance of jobs. So what’s the problem?
  • The Aussie’s love a drink! And who doesn’t, let’s face it?! But we reckon that their drink problem is as bad, if not worse, than the “binge drinking Brits”. Especially when it comes to drink driving!
  • The 40-hr working week is longer than in the UK, where we only had to work a measly 37 hours. This goes against what we were led to believe, so we will reserve our judgement on the work/life balance until we have experienced it for ourselves…
  • Politics, and the much maligned Australian government, take a regular battering, and there are even people that complain about taxes being too high. What a revelation… Sounding familiar?
  • Sadly, the integration of the Aboriginal people into the “White Australian” community does not appear to have worked as well as you would hope and, often heard screaming and shouting, or singing, at each other or anyone else, there are vagrants everywhere. This is a particular problem in the major cities, where you will find them going through bins and lining up outside the bottle shops at 9 am, waiting for their first drink of the day.
  • Then there’s the very dodgy suburbs – we’ve seen more than our fair share of those. Bordering on poverty, these are the kind of places where we certainly wouldn’t go out at night.
  • We’ve covered nearly 20,000 km in the last six months, and the drivers here are some of the worst that we have ever seen. Then there’s the “Boy Racers”, or “Hoons”, who can often be heard squealing their tyres in the distance at night.
  • And yes, the recession did hit Australia, no matter what anybody tells you. Granted, Australia was not as badly affected as other parts of the world, but we have read about it in the newspapers here, and have listened to people talking about how it has affected them.

Disclaimer: We are keen to stress that these are purely our observations and, in no way, supposed to be a gross generalisation of the entire population of Australia.

We have met so many lovely people. Generally, the Australians that we have met could not have been more down to earth and friendly. Nothing is too much bother for them, and they have all been very interested (or nosy!) to hear about our travels, offering their advice on where we should go and what we should see.

As you can see, and as we quickly realised for ourselves, we were very naive in our anticipation of what we would find when we got to Australia. To say that we were expecting some kind of idyllic paradise would be wide of the mark, but maybe we were expecting more than we have found so far… If it sounds as though we are painting a gloomy picture of life in Australia, we aren’t, we are just being realistic.

We do love it here, and we are now looking forward to settling down into new jobs, and a new home, so that we can see what “real-life Australia” is all about. To back that up, every Pom that we have met (and there’s loads of them here!) has been singing and dancing about their new life down under.

So far, we have enjoyed our holiday of a lifetime, and now we are ready for some normality. We never thought that we would say this, but I think that we are now ready to go back to work!

The story continues…

We survived the Nullarbor!

And the Great White Sharks, too! To celebrate our survival, we have just released the next installment from Pickle Productions and it should be live on YouTube in the next couple of hours very, very shortly – it took all night to upload the video, and YouTube are processing it now. Click here to take a peek.

So, hello everybody. We have been out of touch for the last week or so due to limited mobile phone signal and internet access.

We mentioned in our last blog that we had a date with the Great White Sharks in Port Lincoln. It was, quite simply, the most amazing experience! Up until now, both the Penguin Parade at Phillip Island, and the F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne, ranked as our top experiences during our time here in Australia. Not anymore…

Having forked out nearly £1000 for the two of us, we were concerned that the tour company was unable to offer any guarantee that we would actually see any sharks. A pretty reasonable concern to have, I would say. Fortunately, we need not have had any concerns at all, as we saw four different sharks, including one 5 metre long female – she is the one attacking the boat in our video!

Everybody was able to spend 45 minutes underwater, in a cage, with the sharks that, surprisingly, hung around all day. During this time the crew aboard the boat were enticing the sharks with tuna fish and fish guts to encourage them to stick around the boat.

Absolutely buzzing from this experience, we were keen to make the journey across the Nullarbor. Initially we had plans to take our time making the journey, however, once on the road we decided to knock it out in just two days.

The journey itself was not as bad as we had envisaged, although we have decided that outback life is not really for us. The sheer distance between places, the dry and dusty landscape, and the masses of bush flies, were factors that contributed to this revelation. As expected, the price of fuel was astronomical and, in places, cost in excess of 30% more than anywhere else that we have filled up!

We spent a couple of days at Ceduna stocking up with food and water, and getting the van ready for the journey. We had previously purchased an iron jerry can holder, that looks like a small cage, which needed to be fitted to the roof rack, so this was a job for the self-appointed DIYer in the team.

Before hitting the road, we were keen to visit a wombat rescue centre that we had read about on someone else’s travel blog. We had not seen any wombats so far, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity, and it did not disappoint. Val, the lady who runs the rescue, is an amazing woman, and she spent the morning talking to us about wombats, showing us around her home, and introducing us to the injured/abandoned animals that she cares for. It was a memorable experience, and we would highly recommend that all other travellers pay Val a visit.

Leaving Ceduna on Easter Saturday, we headed to a roadhouse at a place called Mundrabilla, based on some positive reviews that we had previously stumbled across. Mundrabilla, a small town that is roughly half way between Ceduna and Norseman, with a population of 9 people (yes, nine!), consists of a petrol station, motel and “caravan park”. Oh, and the 8th hole (or the 11th, depending which way you are travelling) of the Nullarbor Links, which is the longest golf course in the world, spanning 1300 km between Ceduna and Kalgoorlie (north of Norseman).

On the way we stopped at Nullarbor Roadhouse, where we filled up with fuel ($2/litre, UK prices in other words!), and headed towards the shade under a manmade shelter so that we could have our lunch. There was an enormous crash, and we wondered what we had hit. Then we remembered the 20 litre jerry can, which stands about 1.5 feet tall on the roof rack. We had crashed the jerry can into the roof of the shelter. Oops! Upon inspection, we realised that we had bent the roof rack out of shape, and one of the legs that holds the rack to the roof has been pulled out of position slightly. Nothing too serious, thankfully, but we do need to get it checked over to make sure that everything is safe, and water tight!

We were both so annoyed that we hadn’t given a thought to the height restriction on the shelter, but figured that if this was to be our biggest problem, it really wasn’t so bad.

Crossing the border into Western Australia (WA), we came across our first RBT (Random Breath Testing unit), and I had to provide a specimen to show that I was not driving under the influence of alcohol. The guy also took the opportunity to quiz us on whether we were carrying ‘anything that we shouldn’t be’ and was, apparently, satisfied that we weren’t.

At Mundrabilla, we met an English backpacker who was working at the roadhouse as the petrol attendant, barman, chef and cleaner, and we spent the evening chatting to him as we enjoyed a couple of cold drinks at the bar. Later, as the sun was setting, the sky became illuminated – in one direction the sky was a variety of red hues, and in the other it was blue, purple and pink. Stunning. Once the sun had sunk down beyond the horizon, we were treated to the most amazing, and abundant, display of stars, unlike anything that we have ever seen – we reckon that we could see the Milky Way! After 6 hours driving, an early night was in order. Oh, and we would thoroughly recommend Mundrabilla as a great place to stop for the night.

We were back on the road by about 8 o’clock the following morning, destination: Norseman, which was a 7 hour drive. Relentlessly, the wind was howling, the sun was streaming in through the driver’s side window all day, and the temperature outdoors was in the high 30’s, which made driving very comfortable. With the windows wide open, to avoid using the air con, it was like sitting under the hair dryer. The van was struggling too, and it’s temperature guage would shoot up as soon as the speedo went anywhere near 100 kph. We could have stayed at any one of a number of road side rest areas for the night, but with the thought of a “luxurious” caravan park just a few hours away, we soldiered on, albeit at a more leisurely (and frustrating) pace of about 55 mph!

By this point we had given up on listening to music, counting the road kill, and even talking to each other. Not even an energy drink had the power to muster up any sign of life from either of us! We staggered through the gate of the caravan park at Norseman, which is probably the worst that we have ever stayed at, and gave into another early night. After all, we wanted to be up early in the morning, and away from this hole of a caravan park as soon as possible…

As already mentioned, our trek across the Nullarbor has confirmed that we are city slickers, and not country folk. However, we did have an amazing time – in the kind of place that we have never seen before (nor likely to again), but we are certainly not in any hurry to head back in the opposite direction.

We were both surprised at how green the whole area was – even though the Nullarbor Plain is illustrated as being green on the map, we really were not expecting that. We were also shocked by how many people were making the same journey as us, in either the same or opposite direction. The majority of people using the road are truck (or road train) drivers, followed by caravaners, although a larger than expected number of people appear to use this as any other commuter route.

Besides the people, we saw a variety of wildlife too – one echidna, two shingleback lizards, a flock of emus, about a dozen wedge tailed eagles, and a whole host of massive black crows. Despite the signs along the road, we saw no sheep, cows, camels, wombats or kangaroos, and we were pleasantly surprised at the lack of road kill. Having said that, there was a stretch of road just across the SA/WA border where we lost count of the number of dead kangaroos, and a similar stretch around Yalata, in SA, where we saw nothing but dead wombats.

Surprisingly, we probably saw as many empty beer bottles on the side of the road as coke cans or dead kangaroos. This is not the first time that we have realised the drinking problem in Australia, where it is not unusual for people to drive their car while working their way through a carton of beer!

We are now in Esperance, which is almost at the SW-most tip of Australia. The beaches here are amazing, and continually voted as the best in the country – Lucky Bay is the pick of the bunch, and is famous for it’s crystal clear water, white sand and the kangaroos that sunbathe there. We have driven nearly 1500 km to get here, and we are still 1000 km from Perth. The next stage of our journey will be much more leisurely than the last one, and we have every intention of kicking back on the beach, exploring the local areas, and maybe ‘chucking a line in the water’ somewhere between here and our next destination. With the prospect of getting jobs in Perth, we are certainly in no particular rush to get there…

We hope that everyone had a happy Easter and that you enjoyed the long weekend. We celebrated Easter with a hot cross bun, as we didn’t think the chocolate would survive the outback. We understand that it is the royal wedding this week, and that you have another long weekend. And the sun is still shining?! How lucky. Enjoy…

Happy birthday to my Mum for later in the week – I hope to catch up with you soon.

Lots of love from us both, xx

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Adelaide, South Australia

Hello to all of our subscribers.

We are sorry for having not been in touch for the last two or three weeks; we have been busy exploring Adelaide and the surrounding areas, and spending money on our car!

Adelaide, dubbed ‘The City of Churches’, is the state capital of South Australia (SA), and is situated almost midway between Sydney and Perth on the south coast of Australia. Despite it’s consistently high ranking in the ‘Worlds Most Liveable Cities’ index, and the fact that house prices have tripled in the past decade, Adelaide seems to hold a bad reputation as a place which doesn’t really have that much going for it. Bizarre…

Our first impression of Adelaide was good. We spent two days passing through the city so that Simon could replace his defunct camera, before we headed out to the Barossa Valley and the Flinders Ranges. The weather was good, and we appreciated our time in this relatively small city.

The Barossa Valley, a famous wine region, was beautiful and, in our opinion, more spectacular than the Hunter Valley in NSW. Making the most of the sunshine and our quiet campsite, we kicked back for a few days. Before travelling north to the Flinders, we sampled the local produce and purchased a couple of bottles of Riesling from Yalumba, the oldest family-owned winery in the Barossa, to take with us. We believe that Yalumba export to the UK, so this may be a name that you are familiar with.

The journey north to the Flinders was long, and gave us our first glimpse of the arid “Red Centre”, so called because of the bright red clay soils and sparse greenery amongst it’s landscape. The campsite that we stayed at was our first without any grass, as water is too valuable in these parts to be used for watering the lawn. Having said that, during our stay here the weather was poor, and was generally overcast and wet. Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheatre of mountains, is one of the most popular sites in the Flinders Ranges. Unfortunately, following our 20 minute hike (yes, Mum, we hiked!) to an excellent lookout, our view of the Pound was obscured by cloud, so we have had to borrow someone else’s photograph to show you what it looks like!

Courtesy of phototoursaustralia.com

We have now returned to Adelaide, and have used the time to get some minor repair work done on the van. This, of course, comes at a price, and we are disappointed to hear that the clutch will need replacing shortly as well.

The good news is that the van is now fully kitted up for running our electrical gadgets from our solar panel. However, the installation of this brought to light the terrible, and dangerous, work done by the Auto Electrician when we purchased the van from Kings Cross in Sydney! *Note to any travellers that are considering purchasing a vehicle from these guys – be sure to obtain an independent mechanical AND electrical check (from the NRMA) BEFORE you leave Sydney. We didn’t, and now wish that we had done… How can people like this sleep at night, knowing that they have effectively placed a ticking time-bomb in the back of an ignorant, and unsuspecting, backpacker’s car?! Anyway, all is good now…

Tomorrow morning, we continue our road trip, first heading north and then south around the Spencer Gulf. We have an overnight stop at Port Augusta en route to Port Lincoln, where we will be cage diving with Great White Sharks on Wednesday. Assuming that we make it out alive, we will continue to follow the south coast, heading north west towards Perth.

Between Ceduna and Perth we will sample our first proper taste of the “real” Australia: enormous treeless plains, endless driving, bush camping, and extortionately priced Outback fuel. This is a 1200km journey (nearly 1000 miles) across the Nullarbor Plain, from one point of civilisation to another, with relatively little in-between. Before we leave Ceduna we will stock up on water and imperishable food items, and make the most of our final shower before we arrive in Norseman, Western Australia (WA).

From Norseman we are heading south to Esperance and Cape Le Grand National Park, where the white sandy beaches are reputedly some of the best in the world. We are fast approaching winter in Australia, so we hope to be able to experience this part of the world in all of it’s glory before the snow comes!

So by early-mid May, we will be arriving in Perth, WA, where we will spend at least six months topping up our rapidly depleting funds. Our aim is to continue north, although we must plan our trip around the wet season, which makes the northern part of Australia virtually inaccessible during the summer months of November – April.

We have uploaded some more photographs to our Flickr account, which you can accessing by clicking here, or by clicking the ‘Our Flickr’ button on the homepage.

So, we may be out of reach for the next couple of weeks, but as soon as we’re able to get back online, we’ll be in touch.

Lots of love from us both, xx

Japanese earthquake and tsunami

Good morning to you all.

It would seem that Mother Nature is still very angry about something, as she continues to unleash further natural disasters around the world!

We woke up to news this morning that Japan had been devastated by one of the strongest earthquakes in recent times, and that tsunami warnings had been issued for large parts of the Pacific basin. At some point yesterday, a tsunami alert was raised for Australia, although we are relieved to say that this alert has now been withdrawn.

We have had a good couple of days in the sunshine, and have attended the Caravan & Camping Show (my, how times change!), and had the oil and oil filter changed in the van, which is a regular requirement in order for us to maintain the validity of the warranty. At the caravan show we purchased a solar panel so that we can power our electrical items (fridge, laptop, etc) for free whilst we are on our travels. We are having it fitted by a nice English guy when we arrive in Adelaide in mid-April.

Today we are off to explore the Mornington Peninsula, and to look into the possibility of doing some fishing lessons and a PADI scuba diving course over the next few days. We are also planning a trip up to Arthur’s Seat this evening, to enjoy the views and watch the sunset.

We have had a technical issue with the photo library on our computer, and this has caused a delay in us uploading more photos to Flickr and producing the next release from Pickle Productions. We hope to have this fixed shortly.

Lots of love to everyone back home, and our thoughts go out to everyone that have been affected by the dreadful earthquake. At times like these you realise just how lucky you are to be alive and well…

xx

NSW to Vic.

Hello to everybody!

Sorry for not having blogged for some time now. We have so much to tell you, so brace yourself for a lengthy update…

When we last updated you on our travels, we had just returned to New South Wales (NSW), to Batemans Bay, from a *very* uneventful trip to Canberra in the Australia Capital Territory (ACT). Since we left Sydney three weeks ago, the weather has been poor. Very poor. The further south that we have travelled, the wetter and colder it has become. When I say cold, it’s still 15-18 degrees, so we shouldn’t complain, but this just isn’t what we signed up for.

We were heading for Melbourne, the state capital of Victoria (Vic), which on the map doesn’t look that far away. However, in reality, this is not the case – Melbourne is approximately 750km, and a 10 hour drive (!), away from Batemans Bay. To put this into perspective, it is the same distance as if driving from London to Dundee (466 miles), but there is no M6 to get you there, just a mix of A and B type roads.

Our first stop, en route to the Vic border, was at a place called Pambula Beach. The campsite here was recommended to us by a lady at the Tourist Information Centre in Canberra. Funnily enough, this lady was more enthusiastic about our onward journey (to Vic) than she was about the time that we would be spending in her city. Anyway, moving on… As we arrived at the campsite, we spotted a family of kangaroos roaming around in the grounds. We stopped our van and got very excited! Little did we know, however, that this was just the tip of the iceberg and that we would spend the next few days with kangaroos nibbling the grass around our van. We had such a great time, and this was a new experience for both of us – we had never been this close to wild kangaroos before. On top of this, we were parked up less than 50 metres from the sea for the duration of our stay. What an amazing place! We actually did very little during our stay here, just chilling out and taking it easy.

Crossing into Vic, our route took us through beautiful national park country and onto our quiet little retreat, Lakes Bushland Caravan Park, in the Nicholson hills. The campsite here was very quiet and the personalised service that we received from the family-owners was exceptional. Earlier in the day we had made an off-road diversion to a historic railway bridge where it seems we managed to get a stone (the size and shape of a small spear head) lodged in one of our tyres. Not long after we had arrived at the campsite, the tyre was flat! This was obviously very disappointing, however, we were relieved that this had happened here, and not in the pouring rain, or the middle of nowhere. Anyway, this is where one of the pieces of kit that we had equipped ourselves with in Sydney, called a Plugga II, came into it’s own. Along with my machismo, of course… Long story short, I repaired the tyre (beer in one hand, jack in other, flip flops on) and had it checked out the following day – fortunately all is well and no further work is required. Money very well spent, and next time it happens – probably in the dusty Outback – we’ll be able to fix it again. Soon after repairing the tyre, the heavens opened. Very heavily!

This was not the first bit of “work” that I had done on the car – I have clearly fooled you all for so long with my apparent lack of mechanical know-how! The horn has developed a condition whereby it randomly toots itself, which can be a little embarrassing depending on when and where it does it’s business. Sometimes it would toot continuously, other times it would put out a short sharp burst. Very bizarre… Anyway, I fixed it. Well, it doesn’t toot anymore. At all! With the lid from a bottle of water. Ha! And then there was the soldering I did on our CB radio. I’m not quite sure when the newly acquired soldering iron will come in use again, but hey, you never know…

Anyway, the rain kept pouring, and the wind started howling (and continued to do so for the next few days!). Our journey from Nicholson to Wilsons Promontory National Park was the most difficult and exhausting stretch of driving that I have ever done! The roads that we were driving on were dreadful – lots of bumps and potholes, the wind was literally blowing us from left to right, and the rain was hammering down! Wilsons Prom is the southernmost point of mainland Australia and is one of the most intriguing places that we have ever been to. Simply stunning, with beautiful rainforests, unspoiled beaches and abundant wildlife; the remnants of a controlled bushfire in 2005, however, provide an eery appearance. We spent the night camping at a place called Tidal River where the dreadful weather continued. The wind was so bad that people were losing their tents, and our van was rocking, but not for the reasons you might imagine…

One night was enough for us, so we hit the road early the following morning, heading for Melbourne. As a birthday surprise, Sarah had booked us into a beautiful hotel in the city centre for the weekend, which was absolutely fantastic! Now you know how much we love our luxuries, well now you can imagine how much more we appreciated this after the previous few nights spent in our van. Sarah was very excited by the prospect of using a hairdryer.

The following day, my birthday, we went on the Neighbours tour, which we really enjoyed (even though we haven’t watched the TV show for many years – honest!), and the following evening Sarah took me for dinner on one of Melbourne’s historical trams as it took us on a tour of the city. I had a great birthday – thank you all very much for your birthday greetings, cards and gifts.

Last weekend I attended a photography class in Melbourne city centre, which I paid for with my birthday money. I had a great time and learnt a little about the composition of photographs. The class was not as technical as I had hoped, but I really enjoyed it. I intend to put the remainder of the money towards a surf board, which I hope to purchase before we leave Melbourne.

This week we are returning to school. Coffee School on Thursday, where we will become accredited Baristas, and RSA School on Saturday. The Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certificate is required if you wish to work in a bar or serve alcohol anywhere in Australia, so these certificates will certainly help us to find work on our travels.

When we arrived in Melbourne, we instantly fell in love with the place. It has so much character; lots of beautiful architecture (old and new), interesting little laneways; the people are very fashionable, and, perhaps most importantly, Melbourne is the foodie capital of Australia. By our second day in the city, Sarah had declared that she loved it more than Sydney! However, the weather here sucks! Melbourne summertime is no better than London summertime, and for that reason, we will not be looking to spend any extended period of time here.

You may remember that we were planning a trip to Tasmania (not Tanzania, Jacq!). Anyway, we have put those plans on Ahold for the time being. We had planned on taking our van on the ferry so that we could continue our travels when we got across the water. However, when we found out that a return trip on the ferry would cost approximately $800 (£600!), we changed our minds. The ferry ride is 11 hours and crosses some very rough water, so we made the decision to travel at night and pay for a cabin – hence the inflated cost, I suppose. We then explored the option of flying, which was about a third of the price, but the cost of hiring a van, for a couple of weeks when we arrived there, was about the same as the ferry ride! Tassie is somewhere that we do want to visit, but we will save it for later…

We have tickets to attend the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Melbourne at the end of March; between now and then we are planning to hit the road and see a bit more of the state of Victoria. Highlights will include visiting Bells Beach, the Australian home of surfing, and the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island, where we will watch the daily march of the penguins as they make their way back up the beach to their sand dune burrows at sunset.

The week after the Grand Prix we are heading north west to Adelaide, which is nearly 1000kms / 650miles from Melbourne, and will include a drive along Great Ocean Road, where we will see the Twelve Apostles. To say we are excited about that (and the prospect of more sunshine) is an under statement! A couple of weeks later we will head west to Perth – a journey of more than 2500kms / 1500miles (!), which includes a trip across the Nullabor Plain and along the infamous “90 mile straight”, which is a stretch of road that does as it says on the tin – 90 miles of completely straight road…

We have added some more photos to our Flickr account, and we will continue to do so, so keep checking back there for more updates.

Fortunately we were not caught up in the terrible earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. However, two of our friends were. I think that we mentioned in a previous blog that we met with an old school friend of mine (and his girlfriend) for drinks in Sydney harbour. Chris and Gemma were visiting New Zealand before returning to the UK in March and, by all accounts, were very lucky to escape unscathed. I have attached a video clip from ITN news where they are actually talking about their experience. You may have already seen this on the news…

Lots of love, as ever xx

PS – we are in the process of revamping our travel blog. This should be a smooth transition and you will soon notice a change to the blog layout. Any problems, let us know.

Just a very quick one.

Hi,

We just wanted to confirm that we have not been involved in the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, where over 60 people have already been confirmed dead! Our thoughts are with those people that have been caught up in this terrible disaster.

We are in Melbourne, where we expect to be until the beginning of April, although we may make a trip to Tasmania over the next couple of weeks.

Love to you all xx

PS – thanks for all of your birthday wishes. I had a great birthday, and was spoilt rotten by Sarah x

Canberra… *yawn*

One day, long, long ago, there was a huge debate as to whether Sydney or Melbourne would be chosen as the capital city of Australia. Some bright spark decided that, due to the rivalry between these two cities, a new city, Canberra, would be born.

It would be fair to say that our expectations of Canberra were fairly low, as everything that we had previously heard was negative. For instance, we had been told that the city had no character, there was not much to do there, and that restaurants and bars closed early most days. Great! Despite finding it difficult to suppress these preconceptions, we made our way into the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) with our minds wide open.

Our first experience of this wonderful city was trying to find somewhere to stay. Bizarrely, for a capital city, we could only really find one place, in an outer suburb, that seemed to be (a) half decent and (b) located on a bus route into the city. The campsite that we found was nice enough – our site even had an en suite bathroom – and there was a bus stop right outside the campsite. Unfortunately, the bus only ran until 8.30am every day! Given our semi-retirement these days, we now only know of one 8.30 in a day, so we had to explore different options. This resulted in a 2km walk into the village, finding the bus interchange, and waiting for the *hourly* bus into the capital city of Australia – HELLO?!

Once we were on the bus – which cost about $20 each (you can almost get a 10-trip-ticket for that price in Sydney!) – we explained to the driver which attractions we were looking to see. As promised, he informed us when we were at the nearest bus stop to the first tourist attraction. It was about a 10-minute walk from the bus stop to the place that “runs Australia”, New Parliament House – HELLO?!

We eventually found New Parliament House, more by luck than judgement. There were no tourist signs or maps anywhere! This place is the Australian equivalent of the Houses of Parliament and, it is a very modern looking building. It was free for us to gain entry, we joined a free guided tour of the building, and even observed a press conference with the Leader of the Opposition in a public reception area. How cool is that?! Also, had we timed our visit better, we could have sat in on Question Time in one of the two chambers. Unfortunately Parliament were not sitting on the day that we were there – as it was Friday we assumed that the High Powers must have been “working from home”… We went for a walk on the grass lawn on the roof of the building, took some photos, and then headed off in search of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).

Rightly or wrongly, we were continually comparing Canberra with London, in more ways that one. Public transport in Canberra was poor in comparison, buses were expensive and did not run as regularly as we expected them to – we actually decided to use our car when we returned the next day to see some other sights of interest. In another comparison we felt that the locations of the tourist sights were really spread out from one another, and there weren’t many other tourists around either. In fact, there wasn’t much of a buzz at all!

En route to the NPG we passed a couple of tourist maps (!!), so we were able to navigate our way there. It was a 15-minute walk or so, in the pouring rain, but we enjoyed viewing the exhibitions when we arrived. From the NPG we walked next door (10-minute walk) to the National Library of Australia, which, again, was absolutely no comparison for the British Library in London. In fact, we have been in small English libraries (think Camberley and Aldershot!) that have more character than this place! In fairness, they are planning a refurb, but what took them so long?!

By this point we were feeling totally underwhelmed, so headed into the city centre to get some dinner. Here we found a shopping mall that was on a par with Festival Place in Basingstoke, and whilst walking around the outdoor streets we felt like we were shopping in Woking. Saying that, there was a multi-cultural festival happening here, which we stumbled across purely by chance, where we got to sample some foreign food and drink. However, when we headed into the shopping mall later, to kill some time before the next bus home, we found many multi cultural people eating their dinner in the food court, which we felt spoke volumes… Incidentally, we were killing time for over an hour before the next bus back to the bus interchange – and last for the night (!) – at 9.15pm?!

We did return to the city the next day, in our car as planned, and we visited the Australian War Memorial and Australian Mint. Unfortunately, the road works along Anzac Parade restricted our view of the war memorial and, as it was Saturday, there was nobody producing any coins at the money factory – other than Sarah, who paid $3 to a vending machine so that she could produce her own $1 coin… So, we were finished by lunchtime and we decided to hit the road and head back to the beach at Batemans Bay, feeling totally confused by the whole experience. Even now we are still asking ourselves, ‘where did we go wrong; what did we miss?’

In general, we were left feeling very disappointed by Canberra, the capital city of this great place down under. We really wanted to like it as much as Sydney, but we didn’t. We couldn’t. On a positive note, the city was modern, and clean, and the attractions that we visited charged no entry fee. However, the overall lack of user friendliness perhaps indicates that the city was designed with architecture in mind, as opposed to the people that would visit.

Perhaps the legalisation of fireworks and hardcore pornography (yes, they are generally illegal in Australia), and the decriminalisation of cannabis screams in desperation, ‘please come and live here!’ However, taking all that, and more, into account, we wont be going back there. Not in a hurry anyway.

When we checked out of the campsite on Saturday morning, the receptionist told us that he was unable to refund the money that we had paid for the other two nights (which we had half expected might be the case anyway). However, when we asked why, he stuttered and spluttered, and gave us a full refund. Brilliant!

We had planned to be in Canberra for four nights, but we left early after only two. Upon arrival at our next destination, Batemans Bay, the first thing that we did was go to the circus. Now what does that say?!

xx