I’m sat in the lounge car of The Ghan, a couple of hours into a 47 hour epic journey to Adelaide.
The train departed Darwin and runs the length of Australia. If you were to take a map and draw a line from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock, you’d have pretty much drawn the route of the Ghan.
If you don’t follow me on Twitter you may be wondering when the hell did I get halfway across the country, and what else have I been up to.
I arrived in Perth on the 29th December. I spent that night on a riverboat on a dinner cruise between Perth and Freemantle and back.
The next morning, woke with a hangover and walked down to the jetty to take a day trip out to the Pinnacles. A series of limestone fingers poking out of the Australian bush.
It bears repeating. Australia is big. Very big. Bloody huge in fact. My little visit was going to be a 500km round trip. I started to have flashbacks to Asia as I climbed aboard the coach. There we’d take 8 hours to do half that distance. Here in Oz, we were going much further, but also stopping at various places along the way.
Our first stop was the Caversham Wildlife Park, located in the national park just outside of Perth. This was to be a very brief stop, just 45 minutes, and we were to be led around by Emma, one of the parks keepers.
Within a couple of minutes I had turned into a complete child.
We were led into an enclosure and there in front of us were a bunch of Koalas. Knock yourselves out we were told. Feel free to stroke them, just make sure you do it with the back of the hand and do not touch the face.
The group I was with were pretty much all Japanese tourist, and they just piled in, grabbing left, right and centre. Emma waded in to maintain order and stop the poor animals from getting mugged. I slipped off to the side and up to a Koala that was mainly hidden in the branches. Somehow the mob had missed this one, and so I had him to myself. I gave him a stroke, took a couple of pictures and then found myself engulfed as the others realised that there was a koala that they hadn’t yet assaulted.
We moved on and Emma led us to a large group of Kangaroos. Grab some food, give ’em a stroke, don’t touch the head we were told. I grabbed a handful and went off in search of a roo. I saw one that looked more like a Gremlin gone wrong. His ears were all dried out, and a little scabby. His fur was patchy and he just generally looked a bit miserable.
I knelt down and held my hand out with the food. He came over and munched hungrily and looked at me for more. I felt sorry for the little dude. I couldn’t see any parent getting their progeny to pose with this guy, favouring the more photogenic ‘roo’s which were currently being swapped. I gave him some more food and went for a nose around.
I learnt two things.
1. Kangaroo balls are hilarious.
2. Carrying a joey looks bloody uncomfortable.
The time we were told to gather at the exit was approaching, so I made my way there. As usual I was the only one to turn up on time. I got chatting to Emma, and she asked where I’d been. I said I’d been in Asia and joked that I’d been looking forward to being on a bus where I’d understand the language, but had still ended up on one where I couldn’t understand a thing.
Oh, they understand when they want to understand. See, now they’re late, they’ll say they don’t understand. But watch what happens when I say that they can have their photo taken with a wombat in a minute.
Sure enough, once photographs were mentioned she had their attention. Then when she asked us to form a queue, they no longer understood. I’d see this throughout the day. When told they could do something, they understood immediately. When told what time to meet, or where to queue they’d pay no attention.
I did have my photograph taken with the wombat. After all, I am a big kid.
We drove along the Indian Ocean highway for a couple of hours before reaching the Pinnacles.
I was surprised by them. I was surprised there were so many, and I was surprised that they were so tall. But I think I was most surprised that they allowed cars to drive right up between them!
On the horizon smoke started to billow up. This was the telltale sign of a bush fire. Thankfully it was not close to us, but throughout the rest of the day we would be able to see the clouds of grey smoke rising, and growing larger and larger.
I bought a magnet (as always) and overheard two park rangers talking about one of their colleagues and the bush fire. They were laughing because he’d had the day off and was spending it with his wife and kids. He’d been called and told that they didn’t need him for the fire, so just keep relaxing. He’d replied that the kids were being a “bloody nightmare” and so had begged to be allowed to go and fight the fire.
Choosing a raging inferno over an afternoon with the kids? Just how bad are they?
Next stop was lunch at a place called Rock Lobster. I didn’t have lobster as that cost money. Instead I had the packed lunch which the tour company had provided. A really large chicken salad, a muffin and a bar of Kinder chocolate. A surprisingly good and tasty meal for a packed lunch.
After lunch we headed for the sand dunes and split into a couple of groups as we were going to be sandboarding and taking some 4×4 trucks out onto the dunes.
I went out in the 4×4 trucks first. This was a good laugh, the truck bouncing around and leaning over at angles better equated with motorbikes. We stopped at the top of a dune for a couple of photos, before driving straight over the top of it. Half the truck screamed. I didn’t, but then I’ve just come from Hanoi, so any vehicle feels massively safe in comparison.
After the ride, I took a couple of photos of the truck. The driver jumped down and said to me to climb up to the cab and he’d take a couple of shots. Figuring that this time if my camera got dropped it would be landing on the soft sand and not a hard kitchen floor, I handed it over.
So the big kid got to play with a big truck.
Finally it was the sandboarding. Although sand sledging would be more accurate as you have to sit down to do it. Its a bit of a laugh, and the kids loved it. Walking up a sand dune doesn’t half give the quads a work out though.
Finally we made our way back to Perth, where we arrived quite late. So I ended up grabbing a KFC and heading straight to bed.
The next morning, I made the walk to the Perth Arena. From the sounds of it, its pretty much their Wembley – years late, and massively over budget; but now its built everyone likes it.
I was there to watch the Hopman Cup clash between Serbia and Italy.
This comprised of two singles matches, and a mixed doubles. The singles were Ana Ivanovic V Francesca Schiavone and Novak Djokovic V Andreas Seppi.
The two serbs both won in straight sets. Although both performances weren’t quite as dominant at the scores would suggest. A lot of the games went to duce, and with the advantage swapping around a few times. But in both cases the right player won.
There was a scary moment just after the Djokovic match. After he gave an on court interview, he stopped to give some autographs to waiting fans. As he did this the crowd surged forwards and the barrier collapsed. Djokovic limped away, but returned later for the mixed doubles. But I’m surprised that no-one in the crowd was hurt. I just happened to be taking photos of Djokovic signing the autographs and so caught the collapse as it happened. The kid right at the front was bloody lucky to walk away unhurt.
After the tennis I went and bought a couple of pairs of socks and some new insoles for my shoes. My shoes now feel a heck of a lot more comfortable, and I’ve ditched a pair of my well worn socks for the new ones.
HSBC however decided that buying socks was suspicious and so then put a block on my card. I was not pleased at having to spend over 20 minutes on the phone with them sorting out. I really wasn’t pleased at 13 of those minutes being put on hold, even though I told them I was calling from Australia.
That just left a couple of hours left in 2012, and I spent them in my hotel room watching Top Gear, packing my bag and taking a shower. I stayed up until the stroke of midnight, and climbed into bed.