I arrived in Brisbane airport, one I am so very familiar with now, about 2 weeks ago. I was tired, and a bit hungover. I wasn’t sure what to expect – only that I was going to be suitcasing it up and down the east coast to tick boxes and fit everyone in as best I could before departing. Some I am certain I will see again, others I’m not so sure. Age plays a bit part in the uncertainty of repeat visits – but true to my word I made it back to connect with my Maltese family here in Brisbane.
Not being one to reveal myself, nor the identity and privacy of my friends, family or those I meet on my travels – It’s a little hard to express this visit in a blog.
What I wish to say though, was that leaving this part of my family after just three and a half days in their company – having met a number of people who I never knew existed – sharing stories, photographs and filling in the gaps of a bit of family history, was harder than I imagined.
I was treated like a long lost (which I suppose on one level is true) much loved member of the family. Stories were shared of my Maltese grandmother – the Aunt of the relative I was staying with – and her time here in Australia 60 years ago with my father and his father.
The three of them arrived in 1950, when my dad was just 8 months old. They arrived on a boat, as many did, as “ten pound poms”, as many did and left two years later, as some did. Their time was short, but the memories have held fast for many years. They left, but other members of my Nana’s family stayed, having permanently relocated here from Egypt. And so the Maltese side of my family set up their lives in Darra, Queensland.
I was so fortunate to be invited into this world, and welcomed so openly. I ate fabulous Maltese and Italian food (They are a Maltese-Italian family), drank homemade wine, fresh coffee, listened to Italian conversation and found a piece of myself in these people. I met a number of second cousins (My dad’s cousins), their spouses and their children and was told I had barely scratched the surface.
There are two sides of my family here in Australia. On my mother’s side there are my Grandmother’s brothers and their children. Many of these I had met from various visits over the years, and who I have happily reconnected with, as well as cousins I had heard of but not met until now.
But back in January last year, shortly after arriving from the UK after my Christmas break I’d had lunch with a cousin of my mum’s and was walking back to another cousin’s house where I was staying when it occurred to me that these weren’t the only people in my family who lived in Australia. I had no idea where my dad’s family were living, or even if they were still alive. I just felt I needed to do something – I thought it would be nice to locate the house my dad lived in as a toddler and take a photo of it, so I called him and asked if he could find the address. What do you know – the next day I had jumped on a train and was spontaneously knocking on the door of a total stranger to me, who I’d been told was my second cousin. After an understandable amount of confusion I was welcomed in for a cup of tea, and then sent to another house a few doors away to repeat the same speech to another cousin I hadn’t met before. It was a mad decision to jump on the train that day – with no notice and just arrive at someone’s door – but perhaps one of the best decisions I have made so far, as I unearthed a whole group of interesting, loving, caring souls who welcomed me as though we’d known each other for years.
It’s worth mentioning that I never came to Australia to specifically meet any of these people – I came on a mission of my own to find my own way, answer some questions and to see what I could do for myself here in Australia. Everyone that has come to me, or become part of my life here has been such a wonderful bonus that they deserve a place in my blog.
Brisbane from Mt Coot-tha where I was taken for a visit.
Transperth – or public transport in WA to be more general is NOT brilliant. In Slovakia – a country you wouldn’t expect to have a well organised or easy to use transport far trumps what Perth has to offer. In Slovakia I went on a number of adventures – weekends and day trips, and although sometimes complicated ( there are a number of posts offering examples of this in Slovakia Stories ) they were never impossible. My point being that I have found it incredibly hard – in fact impossible to have adventures that don’t require a set of wheels. Places of interest are simply not served by public transport – or at least they are but require a number of changes, lengthy transits or not enough time to meet connections or return trips. In Slovakia I travelled far and wide on a network of trains, trams and buses and never found anywhere I couldn’t get to.
So on Friday night, after pulling my hair out trying to find somewhere I could get to and spend a reasonable amount of time in – I texted a friend on the off chance they wanted to accompany me on a day out… and drive their car there and back. Fortunately the response was positive, making me very happy to set my alarm early for Saturday morning.
I needn’t have bothered as I was awoken at some antisocial hour by an incredibly loud thunderstorm, that seemed to be directly above my head, shaking my little cabin.
Two hours later, when the thunder, lightning and torrential rain had ceased chariot arrived and we set off for Serpentine Falls.
First stop was Serpentine Dam. A vast expanse of water on the Serpentine river whose catchment is one of the major supplies of drinking water for Perth. Do not quote or correct me on this please – I don’t make notes when I go exploring – I remember and recount information and openly admit to getting it wrong sometimes!
This dam was not on my do list – didn’t even know it was there. We stumbled upon it first of all, missing a turning and completely bypassing the falls. A wrong turn worth taking I believe…
Next came the falls. Entering the national park from the opposite side we pulled up into the central picnic area – a smell of sausages on the barbecues greeting us as we assessed the trail maps. There was a damp, yet pleasant smell in the air – of fresh, green plants – ready to spring into bloom. It reminded me so much of Železná studničk – Bratislava Forest Park – and a wonderful day I had spent hiking there at the beginning of Spring some time ago.
We took an alternative path to get a higher view of the Falls, only to realise that the easier, simpler route led you to a far better viewing platform – purposely built with steps into the upper pool for warmer days when the water invites you for a swim. It wasn’t particularly cold – so with a little more planning ( bikini and a towel ) I could have been persuaded to have a dip. I have had a waterfall swim already which was up near Cairns (QLD) last year, so that box had already been ticked. Thankfully.
After an ample amount of time taking in the scene and sitting on a rock that plenty of other people wanted to sit on, we headed off on another trail. A 6km, grade 4 hike up to Baldwin’s Bluff. This very much reminded me of my hiking weekend, again in Slovakia – in Terchova where the weather, climate and hiking grades were similar. Yes – it has been 2 years since I have enjoyed a good hike!
Our trail was a steep, stony path up the side of a gorge to a lookout over the waterfalls and Kitty’s Gorge. It was flanked either side with nature’s display of Spring bursting into bloom. The smell was worthy of being bottled – a fragrant reminder that Spring has sprung and Summer will be arriving fairly soon. The humidity and threat of rain enhanced the aroma and as the climb evened out, the flowers grew brighter and smelt fresher.
I could have joined the masses who stopped to photograph every flower, but I would have bored my companion to tears and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the exhilarating high I got as I sprang onwards – pain in my back or legs totally eradicated as my heightened senses absorbed everything available. I don’t get what they call Runner’s High – but what I feel when I walk or hike in a place of natural beauty is something I imagine can be equated to that feeling.
The walk down had a few slips and slides, but no injuries were obtained other than a large bite I, of course, (wouldn’t be anyone else) received right on the kneecap of my still sore ice skating knee!
I snapped away at a few views and flowers, as an excuse to catch my unfit breath but was disinterested in hiking behind my camera lens so hope the atmosphere has been sufficiently captured from my relatively spontaneous, yet wonderfully rewarding day in the park!
One of the wonderful things about not planning things is the adventure you can have with unexpected new friends.
I was sharing a room in Kalbarri with a girl from Belgium, and having mentioned that I hadn’t planned my trip back to Perth, she suggested I join her, driving back as she was going back the same time. Perfect.
Myself, the Belgium girl and another guy from the hostel, loaded into her little hire car on Friday morning. Me with a sore head from a spontaneous drinking game the night before and also with a heavy heart – not quite ready to return to Perth and say goodbye to the residents of Kalbarri Backpackers.
We ambled our way down the highway towards Perth, stopping in various places of interest along the way, to maximise the opportunity of having the freedom of a car.
The first stop was Cervantes. A town with a Spanish name, and Spanish named streets. There is not much going on in Cervantes to be honest and for that reason we had the hostel to ourselves, bar the two resident cleaners from Taiwan. The hostel was spotless with plenty of homely touches – books, magazines, herbs and spices, toilettries.
What Cervantes is known for is its proximity to the Pinnacles Desert. This is an eerie place, which we visited at sunset, and if I were a more talented photographer, perhaps I could have captured better its science fiction-like atmosphere. Strange stones rise out of the desert making you feel as if you have walked onto a Star Wars set and you should be carrying a light saber!
Driving through yet another national park as we made our way down the coast, we stopped at Hangover Bay – wonderfully named place with a beautiful beach. I would LOVE to cure a hangover there!
Next stop was Lancelin – because my big brother told me to go there, so we dropped in for a photo op and a toilet stop.
Nearer to Perth, and the departure of our other passenger was Yanchep National Park – where koalas were sitting in trees, wallabies were nibbling the grass and Kookaburras were singing up above.
I arrived in Kalbarri without my usual precision planning – aiming to just see what was going on, enjoy the sunshine and some time away from Perth.
The only hostel in town was run by a very friendly couple – Joe, originally from the UK, and his Australia wife Carol. http://www.kalbarribackpackers.com
On checking in, I asked out of concern, if they had any idea what the weather was likely to do, and what ways I might enjoy my time in Kalbarri. The response regarding the weather was not what I wanted to hear – that it had been lovely last week, beautiful today, but was set to change tomorrow. Being from a country of bad weather, I try not to let a bad forecast put me off, but as it was a much needed and looked forward to holiday, I found myself feeling I’d got a bad deal.
Kalbarri National Park is where most visitors go: for walks, amazing views and of course their iconic photograph sitting in Nature’s Window. What a lovely idea – how can I get there? Well, as is my luck, the park was closed to the public due to the re-laying of the road. The only way to enjoy it during the week was to go on a tour. How convenient. So, I paid for 2 tours – one to go kayaking in the gorge and one to see the sights.
Tour one was fabulous. I was picked up in a very old, large 4 wheel drive bus, and driven out to the park. Due to the roadworks, we were escorted through the park, and then drove off road down a private track, where we then scrambled down into the gorge, walked along the river bed to the boats. I got paired up with a Singaporean guy, who behind me in the boat chatted to me about life in Singapore, living in Perth as a student, food, cooking and travelling in Asia. As soon as we got into our boat, it started to rain, of course, but once it cleared up: the sunshine, the tranquility and nature’s great landscape was awe inspiring. After about an hour’s paddling, we arrived on the shore for homemade cake and then climbed back out of the gorge, stopping to admire breathtaking views as the sun graced kissed the cliff tops.
The tour I did later, was met with rain. Lots of it. Not having even a jacket, let alone a rain coat made it a very uncomfortable afternoon indeed, but was assured that I was having a very unique experience as nobody gets to see Nature’s Window in the rain! The Z bend was also on our itinerary, and despite feeling very cold, I was very happy to experience the national park in unusual conditions…
Other things I did, as I often do, was long walks. One was along the cliffs to Nature’s bridge with my hostel roommate, in the hope of seeing migrating whales, but none wanted to show themselves.
I also took a very long walk along the beach, without intending to – sometimes I just start walking, and like Forrest Gump: I forget to stop! So I ended up walking about 5 kms out of town to Red Bluff, stopping to paddle, stopping to think, stopping to pick up seashells, stopping to photograph huge crabs and stopping to breathe and absorb the wonderful Indian Ocean views.
4 days in Kalbarri was enough to clear my mind, refresh my photographs, restore my faith in hostels ( thanks to an awesome bunch of people staying there) and as if I needed to – remind me of what a wonderful land Australia is.
I should have blogged this ages ago! I am so far behind!
Waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in June I was getting itchy feet, so a friend and I decided to hire a car and take it to Margaret River. It’s a small town about 3.5 hours south of Perth synonymous with good food, wonderful wine and great surf breaks. Travelling on a budget doesn’t always get you those things – but I never travel anywhere without making great memories, laughing hard, breathing deeply and taking it all in. So this is how I did it:
I hired a car from Europcar which was a bus ride, a train ride and another bus ride away from us. I managed to get the only manual car in the depot, as for some reason Australians tend to favour autos. Driving without using a gear stick is not driving in my opinion.
Then I got a friend to jump on board.
Then I found two backpackers who also wanted to go to Margies (how the locals call it) on Gumtree. Pick up the car, pick up the backpackers and all pile into the TINY car whose suspension and tiny engine are now being tested.
We hit the road and as we get closer to Margaret River the clouds get heavier and heavier and it starts to rain. Not before I spot Gracetown – which just HAS to be visited and photographed.
Then we try and check into your hostel but reception is closed for a few hours… Check in done, rain sets in and we race to the coast in hope of catching a sunset in a rain break. We get totally drenched, but we’re on holiday so it doesn’t matter right?
Going out involves THE only pub in town where I spend more than I want to on beer and the following day’s hangover inhibits me greatly.
Sunday afternoon arrives and it’s time to make my way back to Perth even though it feels like I have been here 5 minutes. So I take one of the backpackers who wants to go back, and we amble our way back up the coast stopping here and there to admire the view, do a cartwheel on the beach, shelter from the rain and drink a crap coffee to keep me awake on the drive back top Perth.
On arrival back in Perth I drop my backpacker off at his new hostel, then my friend and arrive home waking the dog as I park “my” car outside the house and go inside. Exhausted, happy and nostalgic from another weekend well spent in Australia.
Then nearly two months later I get round to blogging about it, having forgotten the details that make people laugh but hoping my photos make up for it!
Back in March, when I was working for a different family, I was “invited” to go on holiday with them. Delighted at the opportunity to go somewhere new in WA and be part of the family I jumped at it. I sooner realised that I was not really on holiday – I was just doing my job in a different location. My hosts has no intention of showing me the place they had raved about, nor were they really willing to share it with me. So on my day off, and my free moments I did what I could to explore the area and see what it had to offer.
Dunsborough is quite a sleepy town on a very calm piece of water. It appeared to me to be one of those places that people leave in the winter and flood in the summer.
Here’s a selection of my images.
Not too far away I had the opportunity to visit Busselton too. “Grace, D is driving to Bussleton this afternoon – he can drop you off there, and you can get a bus back if you want”. Never one to turn down a little adventure I went for it. And took a walk along the famous Bussleton Jetty, which is the longest in the southern hemisphere at just shy of 2km. You have to pay for the privilege of doing so, or you can pay even more to take a rickety old train up and down it. But not interested in spending money, I wanted to use my legs, so took a stroll! Here’s what I saw:
Tired of calm water, I was keen to get to Yallingup and see some surf. I paid a ridiculous $15 for a return bus journey to take me just 8km each way, giving me just less than 3 hours to get some (expensive) lunch and enjoy the scene. It was worth it though, and when I got to the beach, I was so taken with it I had to get in the sea. Not planned to do so, so for the first time since I was about 9 years old – I went in in my undies! This is what you do when you are me, and you are on your own and you want to make the most of every situation. Just do it!
My first day in HongKong was spent elbowing my way through the throngs of market goers, wandering through the busy streets of Hong Kong with a dead camera battery and my mouth agape at the colours, lights, noise, smells and everything that was being offered to me.
Day two, I took a more tranquil trip to the Island of Lantau to pay the Buddha a visit.
The 34 metre Buddha, on the top of the mountain took 12 years to construct and towers 34 meters high, facing north to offer Hong Kong and China his blessing. Out of the hustle and bustle of the busy city, Buddha sits calmly on the mountain top, unbothered by the tourists rushing to have their photograph taken in front of him and creating a sense of calm and serenity as soon as you catch a glimpse of him.
But with all things religious of course, it’s not just a pilgrimage for Buddhists to visit: It’s also, rather unfortunately, a money creator. A “village” has been built to cater for the hordes of tourists, with restaurants to feed you, shops to tempt you and a well marketed cable car to get you there.
A sucker for heights and seeing things from a different point of view, I opted for the cable car to get there. Little did I know the rest of the world would be doing the same thing. It was a Sunday after all, and I guess everyone had the same idea. Queuing politely, we waited over an hour just to buy the tickets. In countries such as Hong Kong people queue politely – It’s wonderful! After buying the ticket, you then stand tantalizingly close to the cable cars, but realise that the line snakes back and forth and you have at least 30 minutes more to wait. There are two options: the standard car or the “crystal car”, which of course is much more advertised and twice the price of the standard car. It’s got a glass bottom. I do not what want to be swinging over a mountain with no solid floor thank you.
When it was time to get into the car, I clambered in with 9 other people who were a family together. Once in, then broke out the cakes: eating and talking with their mouths full, crumbs spraying everywhere as we swung up the cable, over the waterways, past the airport and up over the mountains.
On arrival, you are accosted by people wanting to sell you a photo they took of you as you got into the cable car. There it is, ready printed and in a frame, or wait for it, in a snow globe! You are told how beautiful you look and what a great Christmas present it would be. Really?? Do my family want a snow globe with a picture of me sitting in a cable car that is still in the station?? Doubt it, but thanks anyway. Next there is a stream of restaurants and gift shops with Buddha paraphernalia offered to you before you have even him.
Breezing past all of that, I made my way to the monastery. At the foot of the steps to Buddha, as I passed glass window, I was asked if I wanted to have lunch. I had been recommended to do so, so I complied and bought my lunch ticket. Instead of visiting Buddha, I was redirected to the Monastery Restaurant. Now, I had imagined a quiet, zen-like place to eat a beautifully cooked vegetarian mean surrounded by monks. Instead it was a clangy canteen restaurant, where I was quickly parked at a table for one, my chopsticks and crockery plonked on the table in front of me, all the time being barked instructions in Cantonese. Not very Zen. A friendly couple caught my eye from a few tables away and invited me to join them, so I gingerly moved tables, upsetting the staff furthermore. Oops sorry.
There are 254 steps to get to Buddha. He’s worth it, but it’s not an easy hike to get there. Once there, you are rewarded with what I can only describe as a majestic presence and despite the tourists getting in each other’s way for photos, a sense of calm descends upon you. In front of Buddha you can see the lush green mountains and behind him, the outlying islands sitting in the haze. There are bronze statues of other gods presenting their offerings to Buddha, with signs in English and Cantonese asking you not to throw coins. Everyone was throwing coins to be caught in the hands of the gods. You could see areas where the statues are starting to be worn, after 20 years of having coins tossed at them.
In the area also, there are options for hiking the island, which if I had had company and better shoes I would have loved to have done. The Path of Wisdom is on at the start of one of these hiking trails.
There are a number of stray dogs wandering around the monastery. I guess they are safe here, as the Monks are vegetarian.
To get back to the metro, I decided to take the bus, rather than pay another $94HKD for the cable car back down the mountain. The bus ride is an attraction in itself, as you wind around the island up and down steep mountain roads and hairpin bends, in a crowded bus. I tried to put my seatbelt on, of course, but it was stuck. So I clung onto the seat in front of me for dear life.
Here’s a selection of photos that show a totally different view of Hong Kong.
I wasn’t even sure where it was when I booked my flight home for Christmas, via four days in Hong Kong.
But here I am in the city that calls itself “Asia’s World City” and here are my observations so far…
It’s not cold. I expected the Northern Hemisphere to shock me with its temperature difference… I guess England will do that for me next week.
The level and use of English here is remarkable.
You can buy genuine fakes of anything here.
People here burp. They don;t cover their mouths, apologise or get embarassed. Two people have burped next to me on the train.
There are a lot of people wandering around wearing surgical masks. No there is not an unusual number of surgeons or dentists and hopefully not a new epidemic of some killer flu either…
It’s normal to hoik up and spit.
People here like to smell things. That is that carry little tubes of something, that look like a lipbalm, or a small perfume and regularly put it in once nostril, close the other and sniff, Regularly, and lots of them.
Lots of people who appear to be Indian or nearby, dressed in suits, keep asking me “nice lady” if I would like a “good copy watch-handbag or handbag-watch miss”
LOADS of people smoke. But there are many outdoor public spaces where it’s prohibited and the fines are LARGE.
It’s wonderfully cheap to travel around. Melbourne and London, you suck!
The markets are a world in themselves. Everything has a “special price”, just for you!
Food is interesting, sometimes alarming. Today I found “Vegetarian Chicken”. Yester Fried Chicken’s feet.
So many things to talk about, but here are a few pics to paint the picture!
Having enjoyed my jaunt over to South Australia through the Grampians in a house on wheels I very much wanted to repeat the experience going in the opposite direction. Visa granted, I was heading back to the bush for a few weeks to fill the visa-shaped hole in my bank account and because I can: enjoy getting there!
The beauty of Australia for us foreigners is perhaps its size. The sheer vastness of it means you can drive for hours then look on the map and realise you have made no progress. The frustration of this, to me at least, adds to its awe. The European concept of distance and time couldn’t be more different to that of the Australians. London is a “long way” from my house in the UK. A three hour drive! I would never just jump in the car on a whim and go there, but out in the bush you travel that far just to get to a decent supermarket!
So this time, I decided to take a campervan from Melbourne and drive to Sydney, swinging through Canberra on the way, and dropping down to the coast of southern New South Wales. This was achieved… but only just: thanks to a number of hiccups that I am not responsible for.
We arrived at the campervan place in Footscray, Melbourne. A really charming part of the city. Not. Slightly out of breath from the copious amount of luggage needed and excited to start another adventure my heart dropped out of my chest and splashed into my stomach when the manager informed me that I had cancelled my reservation. It seems too long ago now to bother with the details of the what-fors and the whys, but rest assured it was NOT my fault. Several phone calls were made and my Firm-But-Fair-I-Deserve-What-I-Paid-For voice was employed to speak to several people, some more helpful than others to resolve the situation. One of the “excuses” I was presented with was that I had called to cancel my reservation due to marital problems and the cancellation of my trip! Don’t get me started on how I responded to that one!
At 4:45pm, 7 hours after arriving, when we eventually let the handbrake off and steered out of the car park into the rush hour traffic in the 6-Berth Mercedes Sprinter, we were ridiculously happy, yet considerably weary and about at least 500km off target.
I drove until the articulated lorries overtaking me at 110kmph pissed me off more than I could muster and we started to search for a truck stop for night one. Nowhere near where we wanted to be, we pulled off the road in search of a campsite we could not find and settled for a side road just off the highway. There’s a first time for everything, and this was the first time I had “camped” on the side of a highway.
An early start the next morning to head to Canberra. Lucky I asked the nice lady in the petrol station for directions and good idea to get a second opinion in a café, and also to buy a road map. This was a sans technology route, since lack of campsite the night before had meant no electricity to charge all electrical devises we had between us. Fine by me: I grew up reading maps and asking directions and learnt to drive reading signposts.
Canberra’s arrival was much later than hoped, but then Australia is MUCH larger than most of us realise. With a shortage of time we screeched into the tourist information and told the smiling man we were just passing and probably had 30 mins to have a quick look around. The look on his face was priceless. He was visibly pained that someone would spend such little time in the capital of Australia and I felt obliged to give him a run-down of why we our schedule was so off kilter. We whizzed up to Parliament House, parked the van, ran around taking silly photos and then spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get OUT of Canberra. (They clearly don’t want you to insult them by spending such little time there, so make it impossible to get off that darn roundabout). I embarrassed myself painfully at the petrol station, twice, which I blamed on my “marital problems” – running joke of the trip.
At 8:30pm… only 4.5 hours after leaving Canberra (!) we arrived at a campsite, whose destination was changed at least 4 times en route. Our descent on the Robertson pass into Kiama was coupled with the smell of brakes as I manoeuvred our HUGE automatic, rather unhappy van down its very steep hairpin bends, complete with traffic backed up behind me.
Kiama looked pleasant enough, but exhausted and a bit pissed off, we pulled into our quite-expensive-but-we-no-longer-care campsite and raced over the barbecue area to crack open the box wine and cook a semi decent meal. Easts Beach was beautiful in the morning. The hour or so we had on the beach was well worth it before hitting the highway to Sydney.
We swooped into Wollongong, struggled to find a parking spot, but my newly developed “white-van driving” skills would make my father proud as we edged into a space. Just enough time to jump out, for a picture and some sand between the toes before again hitting Highway 1 north-bound. A few more cars with surfboards strapped on the top this time passing us, we were in full holiday mode.
Sydney greeted us with not too much traffic and a not too difficult to find drop off point with much more time to spare than my last delivery. We rolled out of the van into the Sydney heat to begin the next leg of the journey…
Our first stop was Hall’s Gap where we stayed the night. The first challenge was getting into the campsite, as we were too tall to fit under the gate, then we had to find a space big enough and easy enough for me to get in and out of as I couldn’t see to reverse, then we had to get some help actually switching everything on and getting it all to function (by watching our dvd several times, and getting a nice man to help)!
Once installed we settled into our house on wheels and enjoyed our first night in the Grampians. The next morning thanks to the tourist information people we found a route suitable for our van and made our way through the park stopping at The Pinnacles, Balcony looks outs and MacKenzie falls before driving through Horsham to spend the night in Edenhope.
Words are beyond me to describe these views, but this is the Australia I came here for for… the great outdoors. I love driving, I love climbing, walking, seeing, doing: travelling. This weekend was all of those rolled into one. I hope my photos do it justice…