I saw the New Year in with my brother and friends watching the impressive fireworks over Sydney Harbor. After the display we walked across the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge and then headed down to the nearby celebrations in the Rocks area. It was really kicking down in the Rocks area with all of the New Year madness one would expect. It was a great feeling as the New Year rang in and I realized that the next year was mine to travel and have fun - not to work. As I wondered what the New Year would bring I had a feeling that this trip was going to be a long one! I thought I would probably spend 6 months in Oz and then head over to Indonesia - after that I had no idea!
For the first quarter of the year Sydney was my base and I hung out with my brother and friends. The summer months were fun in Sydney with plenty of outdoor festivals and events, plus the great weather. I had already explored the east coast of Australia quite thoroughly in 1986, but nonetheless I decided to do a 6 week trip up the coast to catch some of the places that I had previously missed. I visited several nice spots including Byron Bay and Noosa Heads, which both had a substantial traveler population so the social life was pretty good. The abundance of travelers and very cheap 4 litres boxes of reasonable wine led to many a boozy night! It really seemed to me that many of the young travelers were well on their way to becoming alcoholics.
The real highlight of my trip up the east coast was Fraser Island - apparently the world's largest sand island. I got a group of eight travelers together and we hired a 4x4 Toyota Landcruiser to explore the island. Fraser Island has no real population or roads - just tracks and the beaches that you can drive on. It was great fun driving along the island's ocean beaches and stopping off at some of the beautiful inland lakes. We were camping so every night we sat around a camp fire and hit the emergency wine reserves. There were only two of us old enough to drive, and as the other guy terrified the others I got to do most of the driving! Some of the driving was pretty challenging as we had to negotiate some large sand dunes and steep overgrown tracks while being fully loaded with nine people and all of the camping gear.
I returned to Sydney in late February just in time to catch the huge Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The event was huge and the procession was quite a spectacle. Some of the costumes were extremely flamboyant and looked as if they were straight out of 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert'. After a few more weeks in Sydney I flew over to Perth in Western Australia and spent a few weeks catching up with my relatives who lived there.
This visit to Australia I decided I really wanted to explore the more wild west coast. Apart from the city of Perth the west coast had virtually no population and still had a pioneer feel about it. Tourism, which had totally swamped the east coast, was still relatively light and so it was possible to experience a bit of the 'Old Australia' feeling. At the end of March I set off from Perth and began my journey north. I had a rough plan of spending a couple months traveling by bus and hitch-hiking right up to Darwin in the Northern Territory. My first stop was the Kalbarri Gorge. I met up with another couple of backpackers and we hired a small jeep to explore the national park for a day. A sand track took us out to the edge of the huge gorge and we spent the day taking in the breathtaking views and enjoying some hiking along the ridge. The scenery was undeniably impressive, but the flies were so persistent that we were all quite relieved to get back to the hostel in the evening.
After Kalbarri I traveled up to Shark Bay and the famous resort of Monkey Mia. In Monkey Mia I went to the beach where the dolphins come right up to you in the water. I spent an hour or so watching the various dolphins swimming just feet from me - they seemed to be as curious about us as we were about them. It was quite an experience to get so close to these intelligent animals. I stayed in the local town of Denham and spent several days going out on day trips enjoying some of the local sights, including some magnificent beaches. While hitchhiking around the Shark Bay area I met a local property developer who was keen to show me the sights. I spent almost three days with him and his girlfriend - my only obligation seemed to be that I had to be his drinking buddy! He ended up driving me all the way to Exmouth - some 400 miles further north.
Next I traveled up to Dampier where I visited one of my cousins who was living up there. The North West Shelf is a major gas producing area so it was all quite industrial, but there were some interesting old towns that we visited. Broome was my next stop and I fell in love with the place - at least for a couple of weeks. The old pearl fishing town was really charismatic, had a fantastic beach nearby and enjoyed a balmy climate. I found a great little hostel and met a nice crowd to hang out with. From Broome I organized a 5 day camping trip into the Kimberlys. The trip took us right into the Kimberly region and we explored the rivers, canyons and abundant wildlife. We even went swimming with the fresh water crocodiles - apparently they are not too dangerous! The whole region is still very much wilderness and is regarded by many to be the quintessential Australian outback!
After the Kimberlys trip I left Broome and traveled away from the coast, heading across to Katherine in the Northern Territory. On the way I took a light aircraft flight over the huge Wolfe Creek Crater and a helicopter tour over the spectacular Bungle Bungle National Park. I stopped for one night in the rough little town of Halls Creek and visited the infamous 'Cage' bar. I visited the bar in the day time while it was closed as it would have been too dangerous at night! In the bar there was no furniture and everything was caged over to prevent it being smashed up by the 'rowdy' clientele!
In Katherine I met up with a group of five girls who were staying at the same hostel and we all hung out for a few days. We hired kayaks and explored the spectacular Katherine Gorge. The gorge had some great waterfalls, pools for swimming and bird life. After Katherine I headed up to Darwin. Darwin had a frontier town feel about it and seemed to be full of travelers so I quickly got back into the socializing scene for a few weeks. I was staying at a very comfortable hostel with a pool so the time just slipped by. While in Darwin I booked my flight over to Kupang in Timor, Indonesia and got ready to travel in the third world.
From Darwin I went on a 5 day camping trip out to the world famous Kakadu National Park - a UNESCO World Heritage Area. The Kakadu National Park covered an immense area and included wetlands that were teaming with wildlife. Over the five days we explored the park and spotted a good deal of animals and birds. One of the highlights was going out at night on a small motor boat and spotting the crocodiles - their red eyes seemed to peer at us from every angle as we cruised along the pitch black waterways!
I had chosen to go to Kakadu with a guide who was one of the most knowledgeable about the Aboriginal culture. A substantial portion of our tour was devoted to explaining the Aboriginal culture and their beliefs. We visited some of their holy places and the guide took time to tell us about some of their 'Dreamtime' stories. Our guide also took us to see some of the cave paintings and explained their significance. It was a very interesting 5 day tour with the blend of the spectacular scenery, the wildlife and the emphasis on learning a little about the people indigenous to the continent. After the tour we returned to Darwin where I spent a few more days preparing to fly to Timor, Indonesia - getting vaccinations and medical supplies, arranging money, buying gear and sending mail etc.
On 7th June, after exactly six months in Australia, I flew to Kupang in western Timor. My Merpati flight was a little delayed due to a RAAF FA18 fighter making a crash landing on the main runway, but we finally got away at about 17.00 hrs!
Return to Home Page