Number of Countries Visited: 27
16. China (incl. Tibet, Macau & Hong Kong)
21. Myanmar / Japan (Rich to Myanmar, Dwyer to Japan)
22. Malaysia (incl. Sarawak & Sabah)
27. Hutt River Principality
Number of Miles Driven: Approximately 30,000
Time Taken: 345 days
Number of Tyre Punctures: 2
Number of Breakdowns: None (it’s actually too depressing to give the real number)
Number of Breakins: 1
Number of sicknesses:
Turkey - food poisoning, 10 days.
Tibet - altitude sickness, 36 hours.
Borneo - strange monkey-contracted disease, 4 days.
Turkey - food poisoning, 10 days.
Tibet - altitude sickness, 36 hours.
China - food poisoning, 5 days.
Number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites Visited: 40
Great Barrier Reef
Kakadu National Park
Purnululu National Park
Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens Melbourne
Sydney Opera House
Historic Centre of Vienna
La Grand-Place, Brussels
Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa
Old Town of Lijiang
Historic Centre of Macao
Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries
Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi
The Red Fort complex
Borobudur Temple Compounds
Komodo National Park
Meidan Emam, Esfahan
Bam and its Cultural Landscape
Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)
Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)
Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Town of Luang Prabang
City of Luxembourg: its Old Quarters and Fortifications
Gunung Mulu National Park
Royal Chitwan National Park
Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore
Historic Centre of Sighişoara
Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia
Historic Areas of Istanbul
Archaeological Site of Troy
Complex of Hué Monuments
Ha Long Bay
Hoi An Ancient Town
During our trip we visited ActionAid projects in the following countries: Pakistan, Nepal, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The projects ranged from education and skills development to disaster relief and HIV/AIDS. What did the people affected by the projects have in common across the different countries? Why are these people suffering such poverty that they require outside aid? What do we mean by poverty anyway?
The world bank compares poverty globally by examining the income of people in those countries in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms (where PPPs measure the relative purchasing power of currencies across countries) but also recognises that the social and psychological effects of poverty are terrible qualities experienced by the worlds poor. It is not possible to quantify or compare these effects among countries and people however so the economic variable is a more useful comparison tool.
Absolute or Extreme Poverty is then defined as having a daily income of less than 1 USD. Moderate Poverty is defined as having a daily income of between 1 and 2 USD. Most estimates from international organisations indicate the number of people living in extreme poverty as approximately 1 billion and the number of people living in relative poverty as 2.5 billion. The current world population is approximately 6.5 billion. Why does nearly 1/6th of the worlds population live under conditions of extreme poverty and why should we care?
A question like this is never going to have a single answer and the reasons for poverty are unique to each area. However, by examining the factors which affect each region it is easy to identify contributing factors which are closely inter-related and work in combination to trap people in the misery of extreme poverty. The often-cited “Poverty Trap” is not just a theory. It is a real and terrible economic phenomenon which has been studied by top economists such as Jeffery Sachs (special economic advisor to Kofi Anan) [Ref. 1]. His conclusion is that extreme poverty is a vicious circle that cannot be broken by the people afflicted by themselves - a certain amount of outside aid is necessary. Moderate poverty is not a vicious circle in that economic growth can and has occurred without outside aid. The aim of the UN millennium project on ending extreme poverty is therefore to help countries trapped in extreme poverty to progress to at least moderate poverty from where they can continue to grow economically.
Why does 1/6th of the world’s population live in extreme poverty?
Factors which combine to cause poverty:
Geographical Remoteness - people living in geographically remote areas suffer from economic and social service isolation due to poor or non-existent transport routes and from the lack of arable land. The projects we visited in Laos, China and Vietnam were located in 3 separate countries but were all located in remote mountain villages within 100 miles of each other. The routes to these locations were extremely rough and could only be navigated by 4×4 in dry seasons (not at all in wet) and for one we had to travel the last 6Km on motorbikes as the trails were much too narrow to allow access by car. Also, mountainous regions yield far fewer crops than flat terrain and so limit agricultural output. Subsistence farming is the norm in these locations. [Ref. 2]
Environmental Degradation - people living in areas that have suffered environmental degradation (e.g. soil erosion, pollution, salination, flooding) suffer from lack of clean water, lack of arable land and increased risk of disease in the case of flooding.
Natural Disaster - Disasters such as earthquakes, flooding, drought, typhoons etc. can cause massive initial casualties which focus world attention for a week or two. However, the survivors are left without shelter, access to clean water and with devastated farmland. When the initial disaster relief gets withdrawn these long term issues are often left unaddressed. In the area of northern Pakistan affected by the earthquake in October 2005, people are still living in tents on the hillsides in July 2007.
Over-population - studies have shown that poverty tends to result in over-population which of course exacerbates poverty in a vicious cycle. Over-population puts additional strain on food, water and social resources which contributes to poverty. It is well recognised that in affluent societies the birth-rate tends to decline to such an extent that the population will actually decrease unless inflated by immigration.
Lack of Education - the lack of adequate provision of education is a major factor in the poverty trap. Children born into this situation are deprived of any opportunity to better their situation.
Politically Closed Systems - people living in politically closed systems have little or no opportunity to trade internationally, can suffer repression for their political views or ethnicity. It’s no co-incidence that most of the people we met on our visits to projects sites were from ethnic/tribal minorities within their countries.
Other factors - include violent conflict and pervasive diseases e.g. malaria, HIV/AIDS.
Why Should We Care?
Purely Selfish Reasons:
1. Environmental Destruction.
Poverty is closely related to over-population and environmental degradation. The loss of bio-diversity, loss of carbon sinks in the form of woodland and peatbogs, erosion of soil and pollution of water resource has major effects on the global environment including weather patterns and directly affects us all. The increase in natural disasters such as flooding in the UK and USA in recent years is as a result of global warming caused by increased Co2 emissions combined with decreasing carbon sinks. Water and air quality are not restricted to one country as demonstrated by acid rain and the dust cloud over Asia. The large number of species facing extinction is due to the lack of funds available to poor governments for conservation and due to poaching as a means of income by poor people with few alternatives.
2. Economic Benefit.
Global capitalism works more efficiently when countries can trade on an equal footing and reduces waste in the form of inefficient protected markets and the unnecessary transport of goods. Helping developing countries out of poverty will also contribute to economic growth in affluent countries in the form of increased trade and market efficiency.
3. Armed Conflict.
Extreme poverty regularly results in violent conflict as increasing numbers of people compete for a decreasing resource base. Modern armed warfare results in huge numbers of casualties, can quickly spread to other countries not initially involved and causes mass forced emigration i.e. refugees/asylum seekers. May people in affluent countries are worried by the prospect of large numbers of refugees arriving at their borders and the possible effects on society and the economy. By reducing poverty, one of the major causes of armed conflict and therefore forced emigration is reduced.
4. Illegal Drug use in Affluent Countries.
Crops such as poppies and coca are grown in poor countries by farmers unable to make a living selling food crops. By giving these farmers a viable alternative to drug crops, the availability of illegal drugs and the associated crime and social problems can be vastly reduced. It is clear that police and court attempts to curtail drug use in affluent countries within the last 30 years have failed miserably. This failure is a glaring example of how ignoring poverty in other countries directly affects us.
Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and Tuberculosis are more prevalent in poor countries lacking money for prevention measures e.g. education, mosquito nets, contraceptives, and treatment medicine. The increase in disease increases the chance of mutation resulting in more virulent disease which cannot be combated by the modern medicines we possess in affluent countries.
Why Should We Care?
1. The Ethical Argument.
Modern utilitarian ethical ideology has as its central premise that the outcome of any decision or action is justified ethically if it results in more conscious creatures being better off than if an alternative was chosen. In short, it’s better to make more people happy than fewer. All the major religions have similar premises. It should be fairly obvious that people living in poverty would be happier if they were better off and that affluent people would be happier knowing that they were better off.
2. Human Rights.
People living in poverty suffer human rights abuses such as lack of adequate food, shelter, access to education, lack of political and religious freedom.
3. Loss of Culture, Art, History and Diversity.
Lack of resource to maintain diversity in the form of art, historical monuments, unique music and language results in the degradation and loss of these priceless cultural traditions.
It should be obvious from looking at the factors contributing to poverty that one quick solution is never forthcoming when attempting to combat poverty. Donation of emergency relief aid packages in the the form of food or medicines can help mitigate sudden disasters that otherwise would cause alot more death and suffering but fail to address the root causes. International aid and development organisations recognise this and so work on a number of fronts in each area to eliminate the main causes of poverty to allow people to break the poverty trap and reach a point whereby they can continue to progress. For this reason ActionAid works in the following areas: Food security, HIV/AIDS, Education, Capacity Building, Gender, Micro-credit schemes, Governance, Water Resources, Trade Justice, Disaster Relief and Land Rights.
It should be equally obvious from looking at the reasons to combat poverty that it is in everyone’s best interest to work towards achieving the end of poverty regardless of ethnicity, political or religious persuasion.
What Can You Do As An Individual Living In A Society Of Comparable Affluence?
The ethical argument for action is clear and has been presented by moralists and ethicists for many years. [Ref 3]. There are several things you can do increasing in effort required but also effectiveness:
1. Individual Monetary Donation
As a bare minimum donate an affordable proportion of your wage to international aid and development organisations.
2. Active Fund-Raising
Actively fund raise by organising events e.g. concerts, fun runs etc.
3. Exercise your political clout
Help put political pressure on your government to fulfill their continual, self-congratulatory and rarely fulfilled promises to developing nations to increase aid and cancel historical debt. This can take the form of simple email petitions to government ministers which take less than 5 minutes or more active protest or political involvement.
The importance of this step cannot be underestimated. With single stroke of a pen, the UK government could cancel all historical debt from developing countries thereby immediately improving the lives of many millions of people. It would take a huge number of individuals doing activities 1 and 2 to achieve a similar result.
Undertake voluntary work. This can take many forms, from working in a high street shop e.g. Oxfam a few hours a week to performing volunteer work abroad as part of a vacation or sabbatical.
Ref 1. The End of Poverty - Jeff Sachs
Ref 2. Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond
Ref 3. Practical Ethics - Peter Singer
Since we’ve now travelled through over 20 countries on this trip, this seems like a good time for a High Fidelity style Top 5 listing of various country aspects. I’ve ruled Australia and New Zealand out of this because they are English speaking countries and so our experience in them will not be comparable to the others (and cos we haven’t been there yet).
Top 5 Friendliest Countries:
Top 5 Unfriendliest Countries:
Top 5 Countries for Beautiful Women:
Top 5 Sweatiest Countries:
Top 5 Worst Passports to Own:
Top 5 Amusing Currencies:
1. Dong (Vietnam) [Its almost too good to be true]
2. Kip (Laos)
3. Ringgit (Malaysia)
4. Baht (Thailand)
5. Rial (Iran) - [not for the name but for its relative value]
Others that could be in here but we didn’t travel to on this trip are:
1. Ngultrum - Bhutan
2. Colon - Costa Rica & El Salvador
3. Balboa - Panama
4. Togrog - Mongolia
Well, its the end and what have we learned? Hopefully some things about the world, hopefully some things about ourselves but definitely some things about how to do an overland trip. If you’re reading this site it’s likely you’re thinking about undertaking a similar trip, maybe to Africa or South America instead. We can’t really comment on those routes but I’d be very surprised if conditions there made any significant difference to the do’s and don’ts below. It should be noted though that these snippets of advice reflect our own experiences and personalities. Other people will tell you different things. Sorting through all the advice is one of the many time consuming tasks that awaits you. My advice? - just to follow the list below. Ignore everyone else.
1. DO use a diesel engine.
Why? They are more reliable, more efficient and more resilient to water ingress and more tolerant of fuel quality. Also, diesel is available everywhere and is almost always cheaper than petrol.
2. DO use a rugged dashboard compass.
Why? This device is all you need to get to where you want to go. even if there are no road names or signs you can head in the general direction and be fairly sure you’ll get there eventually. Without one you’ll head in one of the many wrong directions. It needs to be rugged though because ours eventually disintegrated. The compass and even the most basic map (we only used guide book maps) will see you right. A GPS is not necessary and is a target for theft.
3. DO use a mosquito net and repellant.
Why? Without one you will almost certainly die of one of the following maladies: a) malaria - unpleasant, b) dengue fever - more unpleasant, c) incessant scratching and rage induced by being covered in hundreds of itchy bites - its hard to describe the capacity for misery induced by these little feckers. The prevalance and seriousness of these diseases should not be underestimated. Prevention is far more desirable than treatment.
4. DO sleep inside your vehicle if possible.
Why? You can park practically anywhere including towns and cities and sleep with a reasonable chance of not being disturbed. A roof tent attracts curious passersby who will decide that their desire for a chat is of the utmost importance regardless of the time of day or night. A roof tent will mean you will have to look for secluded areas to park every night. This is not easy in heavily populated countries. Not sleeping in your car means you have to look for accommodation and secure parking every night which is arduous at best, impossible at worst.
5. DO get a fridge and a very large second battery to run it.
Why? The vast majority of countries in the world are very hot and sometimes humid places. For people like us from colder climes, the temperature is nearly unbearable for large portions of the day. A cold drink goes a long way to making life more enjoyable. You’ll need a very large battery though because fridges require alot of power and have to work hard in these temperatures. A 32 litre Engel fridge will drain a standard car battery in less than 24 hours (despite what the manufacturer data may tell you).
6. DO have darkened windows/sun tints.
Why? Heat as in 6 above and they prevent people peering in to see if you have anything worth nicking.
7. DO get a Carnet de Passage free from a European country (don’t pay the RAC).
Why? You need a Carnet de Passage for your vehicle to cross borders or else pay large amounts of import tax. You can get a Carnet for free from some European countries (e.g. Holland). You don’t have to be resident in these countries. The RAC is the only organisation in the Uk which does carnets and will charge you a large amount for one and only return half the amount when you bring the car back.
8. DO use a vehicle with good ground clearance.
4 wheel drive is desirable but not essential. What is essential is ground clearance. Many 4×4s don’t have adequate ground clearance. Use one that does and you shouldn’t have any trouble. The roads of the world are not as bad as people make out.
9. DO extensively test drive your vehicle (at least 20,000 miles) before leaving the country.
Why? It will break somewhere else otherwise and it’s much harder to find a decent mechanic to fix it (it’s hard enough in the Uk).
10. DO have at least 3 cash/credit cards and accounts you can access through the internet.
Why? In case of loss and to cover you in places where certain types are not as widely accepted. So don’t have them all Visa cards. Have internet access accounts so you can transfer money from higher interest savings accounts to current accounts when you need it.
11. DO have a bank account that doesn’t charge you for foreign ATM withdrawal.
Why? You will make many, many ATM withdrawals and any charge will quickly add up causing you to withdraw larger amounts to avoid the charge which means you’ll have to carry more cash around than is advisable to do.
12. DO choose your travelling companion wisely.
Why? You’ll have to spend an inordinate amount of time with this person and trust in their driving and organisational skills. Are they likely to flake out when the going gets tough? Are they reliable financially? Have you travelled with them before? Will their insistance on continually repeating lines from 10 year old comedy sketch shows make you want to strangle them? Alternatively, are you the sort of person that needs space and privacy? Maybe you’d prefer to travel alone? These are just questions off the top of my head. This issue really is the most important one though. The others pale into insignificance in comparison.
1. DO NOT bring sandtracks, a winch or other heavy/expensive recovery gear.
Why? They are heavy and expensive and you don’t need it unless you are really going to be going properly off road. Good ground clearance will get you through most situations.
2. DO NOT bring a water tank bigger than 40L.
Why? It will add alot of weight and restict space in your vehicle. And you won’t use it.
3. DO NOT use a rooftent if you can avoid it.
Why? See do’s number 4.
4. DO NOT bring more than 2 jerrycans for fuel.
Why? Same as for 2 above.
5. DO NOT bring a vehicle into China until the regulations change.
Why? It’s very expensive and a great deal of hassle and in my view not worth it unless it is an essential part of your route. If the regulations change then yes, driving in China is quite easy.
6. DO NOT waste your time with Travellers cheques.
Why? They are a pain to change in most places in the world. Nearly everywhere has ATMs now which you can withdraw from. Countries that don’t are unlikely to accept traveller’s cheques. Just change a bunch of cash at the border.
7. DO NOT underestimate the cost of your trip.
Unless you are very lucky you are unlikely to be getting much income during your trip. The lost earnings for the year are the biggest cost but unforeseen events can add considerable bills - e.g. a catastrophic mechanical breakdown or crisis at home requiring your return. Make sure you have adequate finances available before setting off.
Finances are only one issue though. From another prospective - you are going to spend a considerable amount away from family, friends and familiar surroundings, often in places with language and cultural barriers to surmount. You will have the freedom to see new things but not the freedom to continue with past activities you may have been interested in (e.g. sport, music, cinema, theatre) If you are the sort of person who needs bacon, eggs and toast every morning to be happy then you are not going to make it. Be honest about what sort of traveller you are. Do you prefer to stay in nice hotels? Are you a beach resort or adventure sport type? This sort of trip is probably not what you want to do. If you are interested in learning about different cultures, social, financial and political methodologies, ethnicity and language and are prepared to forsake almost all home comforts and spend long hours driving through hot and uncomfortable terrain to attain this knowledge then this is undoubtedly the best thing you will ever do.
The Strange Feeling of The End
All of a sudden it was over. I got on a flight out of Sydney on Tuesday which brought me into London on Wednesday after 24 solid hours of flying with only 2 hours stop in Hong kong. It’s a strange feeling being back in the UK and no doubt will continue to be so for a while Richard stayed on and brought the landy down to the docks on Thursday. The carnet was signed off for the last time and it was ready to be shipped. It should arrive back in the Uk in mid August and then it’ll be my job to tart it up and sell it. A good percentage of the proceeds will be going to ActionAid.
So that is that. The long journey is officially over after almost 50 weeks, 30,000 miles driven and 27 countries visited. It’s been too long an experience to summarize in a few paragraphs so there’ll be a few conclusion posts to wrap everything up.
It’s our pleasure to thank all our sponsors, Land Rover Monthly magazine and everyone who helped us out with the vehicle before we left - especially Dave Wood.
Also, thanks to all our friends who made the effort to keep in touch throughout the trip - it makes a big difference when you’re in remote parts of the world.
An especial thankyou goes to all the staff at the ActionAid projects we visited for their kind hospitality - it was a real privledge to get to meet and talk with the project communties as it would have been impossible for us otherwise and it makes a big difference in our impression and understanding of the issues which affect people living in those areas.
Finally, thanks to everyone who read this blog and shared their comments.
On Monday we took the 3 hour coach ride to Australia’s capital city - Canberra - and met up with my mate Dave who’d moved here a few months ago. Canberra is a designed city, with massive wide streets and huge monuments and as such completely soulless. We did the obligatory tour of the war museum, the parliament and the national museum. The first was very good except for the strange quasi-religious central dome where stained glass windows depicted soliders wielding weapons and gas masks with saintly halos. This idea that nationhood stems from war (hence the common opinion that Australia wasn’t a proper nation until its participation in WWI) is disturbing. Certainly, wars should be remembered but the primary reason is to examine the causes to prevent their re-occurence not to glorify slaughter. We’ve been to alot of war museums in various countries and the causes of each war are invariably glossed over and the displays centre mainly on the glorification of native troops and demonisation of the enemy.
The parliament proved to be an exceptionally un-impressive building from the outside, built as it is into the hillside. Inside, however, it’s nicely designed and there is a copy of the Magna Carta on display (one of only 4 existing).
The national museum was sited in a controversial, ultra-modern building which I actually liked but the displays were fairly poor. And that my friends is Canberra. There’s precious little nightlife or atmosphere in general.
On Wednesday we flew to Melbourne where we met up with Rich’s mate Shane. Wandering the streets was a vast improvement on Canberra. The city is very European in style and architecture with plenty of historic buildings lurking between the modern skyscrapers. The next 2 days were spent exploring the streets, cafes and pubs of which there are many fine examples.
On Saturday I flew back to Sydney and began exploring this famous city. It’s bigger than Melbourne and there’s more cash floating about but the city centre is still very nice and the harbour areas beautifully designed. I met up with Dave and we headed out to explore the nightlife. unfortunately we started at 6pm whereas no Sydneyites come out until 11pm so we were written off before the night got started. We did sample the Rocks, Kings cross (nowhere near as seedy as it’s made out to be) and Oxford Street before stumbling home though.
A tour of the opera house on Sunday was surprising. From a distance the building looks like you’d expect from the photos, with the sail-like roofs gleaming in the sun. From close-up, the first thought I had was “it’s not even finished yet”. The concrete infrastructure of the building is left undressed apparently to show off the engineering and as an example of neo-brutalist architecture but undressed concrete is not a pretty material visually and the huge brownish slabs which make up the base give a very 60’s towerblock feel. Once, you get over the shock though and get inside, it’s a great building and thankfully the interior areas cover the sight of most of the concrete. A walk around the botanical gardens gives a great view of the city and the cheery entrance signs telling you to walk on the grass, hug a tree and sniff the flowers is a welcome change from the usual, no dogs, no football, no breathing signs.
From Monday to Thursday we bummed around Brisbane seeing the sights and trying to sort out our shipping. Brisbane isn’t the prettiest city but it does have some good architecture and a large student population so it has a bit of life to it. A boat ride through the city turned out to be the best way to see it. And we were getting fed and boarded by the good family Tucker so we couldn’t complain.
On Friday we headed out to the famous Gold Coast, home of the rich and famous. Our first stop was at Surfers Paradise which wasn’t as tacky as we’d heard. We booked ourselves on a whale watching tour which took us through the rivers past innumerable trophy homes (some with personal helicopter) and out to sea. The whale watching was quality. We followed a pair for a bit and one breached fairly near the boat. Then we chased a huge group of dolphins and caught a glimpse of a massive turtle. After a while we came upon a sleeping humpback and when it woke up it breached 3 times in succession 30m from the boat to get a look at us. Excellent. Afterwards we drove down to Byron Bay and got up at 5.30am to see the sunrise from the lighthouse. This was a nice view and we could see several pods of whales making their way up the coast but there’s not much to do in the town so we slung hook for the long drive to Newcastle stopping only for a crocodile pie on the way.
Newcastle doesn’t usually have much interest for tourists but the recent storm had driven a massive coal bulker right onto the beach in front of the town and people were coming for miles around to see it. It was an impressive sight but a potential environmental disaster as the rough seas lashing it could potentially break it up spilling its huge oil store.
On Sunday we toured around the Hunter Valley winery area sampling the local brews before driving into Sydney. We passed right through the city into one of the southern suburbs where we stayed at one of Rich’s friends - Kynan’s. We hardly saw any of Sydney on the way through as most of the time we were in tunnels under the city but this was almost the last bit of driving we are to do. We cleaned the landy out and made it ready for shipping. Over the next few days we were planning to head down to Canberra and Melbourne before returning to Sydney to have a look at the place and ship the car out.
A 10am departure saw us anchored at a large pontoon at Moore Reef on Monday morning. This is one of the reefs further from the main land so is still in excellent condition. From the pontoon we did snorkelling, diving, a glass-bottomed boat tour and a semi-submersible tour. It was all great aside from the semi-sub tour from which you could see very little and actually hit the reef at one point. No marks for that. Still, a good day was had by all and we shook off our hangovers the next day for some quad bike racing that our friend Nick insisted we go on. This was great craic and I showed off my skills by crashing into a tree in the first 3 minutes - the beers we drank beforehand weren’t such a good idea in retrospect. I wasn’t the only one though so it was alright.
On Wednesday we bade goodbye to Mr. Clayton and to Cairns and made our way down the coast. We reached Airlie Beach on Thursday and booked a boat tour of the Whitsunday islands for Friday. Airlie beach is a picturesque tour totally committed to tourism and full of young Americans and Brits. The Whitsundays were beautiful and Whitehaven beach probably is the best beach we’ve seen on this trip. Don’t tell any Aussies that though, its more fun telling them Indonesian beaches are far superior.
Saturday was a full day of driving south heading past Mackay towards Brisbane. Sunday saw us in the location that couldn’t be missed (or so we thought) - Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. We couldn’t miss an opportunity to give our respects to the greatest Australian after Big Rolf so we enthused our way in. Up until the entrance that is where the exhorbitant 49 dollar entrance fee caught us off guard and we grumbled our way around. As much respect we have for the big man, the zoo just isn’t that great and is aimed primarily at kids. American kids. With lots of terribly enthusiastic “come on folks, cheer for Barney the crocodile” type shows.
Afterwards, we made haste down to Brisbane where we met up with my old friend Luke. An actual bed to sleep in for the first time since leaving Perth. Luxury.
After 9 hours solid driving on Monday we reached Tennant’s Creek in time for dinner. The only thing we’d passed on the way was the famous Daly Waters Pub which is the oldest in the territory. Unfortunately it was a total tourist trap and very lacking in real atmosphere. We went to a local social club in Tennant’s Creek where we got fed up and talking to some locals. Kiwi Greg was kind enough to invite us back to his gaff where we had a good nights sleep without our mosquito nets for once. Nice one.
Tuesday was another 9 hour marathon drive across the Border into Queensland. It’s hard to describe just how little there is to see when driving these roads. Huge long straight roads for vast distances broken only by the odd one horse town. The longest we managed was 35 miles without having to turn the wheel even the slightest degree and this wasn’t a rare occurance.
Wednesday was more of the same until we finally hit the east coast on Thursday when we arrived in Townsville (good name eh?). We went to the aquarium here which was pretty cool - containing a living reef and lots of turtles and sharks and then had some local brews from the brewery. We cleverly booked a days whitewater rafting for the next day aswell so we had to drive up to Tully that night.
The Whitewater rafting was pretty cool. We ended up flipping the dingy plenty of times and at one point I floated away down the river for about half a mile before getting resuced by a boat full of Japanese tourists. They were well impressed when I told them I’d been to Japan and more so when I told them I’d had Fugu. They weren’t so impressed when I told them it was minging though. Still a good day was had by all and it was a good introduction to the east coast. The 2 Richs signed up for skydiving the next day at Mission Beach and looked suitably queasy when they returned to land. Fools.
Saturday and Sunday saw us in Cairns which is a quality town with lots of great venues and eateries. We met up with some locals we’d met on the rafting and got stuck into the nightlife. Cairns is a cool town and we’ll probably spend a next few days here but time is running short for me and Mr Reed. The Landy has to be out by the end of the month when the carnet runs out. Mr. Clayton is going to hang around Cairns and try to get some work while we make haste down the coast to Sydney. Not before we see the Reef though which we are booked on for Monday.
50Km down the dirt road was Tunnel Creek which is a picturesque cave with a river running through it. As it was fairly dry we could wade through the river complete with bats, fish, freshwater crustaceans and lizards. In the evening we made it back to a tarmac road and headed towards the famous Bungle Bungles (Purnululu). This was were we had our first major near miss with animals on the road. A cow this time rather than a roo. We’ve seen lots of roos hanging around by the roadside but they haven’t jumped in front of us yet. This cow was clearly fed up with life and it took a severe swerve and floored brake to avoid him. Australia - too lazy to build fences. On Tuesday we reached the 50Km dirt road that leads to the Bungles. There was a warning sign that said we’d have to do some river crossings but they should only be 50cm deep at most. What a lie this was! The first one we sank into so deep that the water filled up the head lights. Amazingly the engine handled it ok and got us through with a bit of sputtering on the other side until it dried out. Changing to a points distributor clearly paid off there. Another 50Km of corrugations, steep hills with creeks at the bottom and blind corners and we were in an offroad heaven as the huge buildup of mud on the Landy testified. Eventually we made it in to the national park and headed down to do the Cathedral Gorge walk. I’m not going to bother with a wordy description of the Bungles. The photos will do that better than I can but suffice to say they are worth the trip and are easily the best thing in Western Australia. We camped in the park and the next morning signed up for a helicopter ride over some areas of the park that are restricted to walkers. I wasn’t so keen when I saw that the chopper was tiny and had no doors but once we were up it was pure quality. Afterwards we did the Echinda Chasm walk which was good but not on a par with the Cathedral Gorge. Then it was back on the dirt road out and heading north until we crossed the border into the Northern Territory. On the way up to Darwin we started to see our first cane toads but nowhere near as many as we expected to see. We passed through the small town of Adelaide River which has the water buffalo from Crocodile Dundee stuffed in a bar but more interesting is the massive croc they have stuffed outside. We reached Darwin late in the night and parked down by the shore after a quick scout of the town. Of course we got woken by the council the next morning saying we couldn’t camp there but the obvious fact that we already had was clearly lost on them. Darwin was a nice city but an unwelcome return to the tropical climate for us. It has a lot more life than Perth though and good bars with cheerful punters so we spent Friday exploring it. On Saturday we drove into Kakadu national park and signed up for a tour of the Ranger Uranium Mine. It was a much smaller-scale operation than I expected but informative although they did gloss over what they were going to do with the tailings after they’d mined all the uranium. Afterwards we went to look at some Aboriginal rock art. It was pretty rum to look at but is interesting for the sheer age of some of it (20,000 years). Luckily the park rangers are too lazy to work weekends and we got to camp for free. It was here that our erstwhile companion Mr Clayton discovered the joy of tropical areas - mosquitos. Waking up with over 100 bites all over his body and with the best impression of a baboons bottom that I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness provided me and Richard (who take elaborate precautions with mossies) with great amusement and the victim with a lesson he won’t forget anytime soon. On Sunday we took a boat cruise down the Yellow river and spotted alot of birds - darters, Jacana (Jesus bird), herons and the massive Jabiru. We headed out a dirt track to see a scenic water spot in the evening but the corrugations were so bad that they shook a wire loose from the keyswitch and left us motionless beside a bush fire that the rangers had just started. After a hour sweating behind the dashboard (Landrover keyswitch is in a really awkward position to reach) I had it fixed but was in no mood to drive any more corrugated roads so we slung hook and started the long, long drive through the Northern Territory.