Sydney: Our favourite city so far

View of The RocksView of The RocksWe had a fantastic time in Sydney, catching up with friends (Karen, Jill, Lou & Jake) all of whom took it in turns to be our tour guides & hosts. Jill took us for breakfast and then on a walk from Darling Harbour, round to Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Rocks (where we stopped in a museum with the best air-con we found all day), Circular Quay and then the Opera house which are all really impressive. We decided en-route that Sydney is our favourite city so far. Karen & Matt took us on a walk round the North Heads and also a costal walk from Coogee to Bondi and cooked us our first Aussie Barbie which was lovely. We also went up to see the view of the city from Karen’s office  on the 37th floor which has got to be better than we’d have seen from the Skytower as the buildings closer to the harbour. And poor Lou and Jake had to put up with us for the five nights, cook for us, chauffer us around and take us out for dinner ;). We also made it down to Manly where we spent an afternoon on the beach.  It turns out though that spending time with friends and enjoying Sydney made leaving for Auckland harder than we imagined…but that’s another post.

View of The RocksView of The RocksView of The Rocks

The East Coast of Oz: Part 3 – Diving with the big stuff

Bonus stop: Forster- The best and worst diving so far!

After  a brief farewell stop to drop Jules and Tom in Newcastle, Alex and I headed back up the ‘freeway’ to Forster  where we checked into a cheap hotel, slightly reminiscent of a retirement home, and then headed to the beach for a couple of hours.

A Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus). Fish Rock Cave, South West Rocks, NSW (Photo courtesy of Richard Ling)
Grey Nurse Shark

Diving the following day, was the best and worst dives of our trip so far. Whilst diving in Asia, we’d naively expected to be surrounded by dolphins, huge manta rays, sharks and even whale sharks  at every turn, (yep we know- stupid but nevertheless true!). We’d almost started to doubt that there really where loads of big things in the ocean for us to see. Fortunately, this dive resolved any disillusionment we had! On the first dive, which was also our deepest so far at 33m, we spotted about three 3m long Grey Nurse sharks as well as lots of jack fish… On the second dive, we saw 25-30 sharks, an eagle ray and a logger-head turtle and it was AMAZING!! We had to swim through the kelp, creep through a crack and hide ourselves behind a ridge half way up and looking into a bowl shaped hole. There we were metres away from around 15 1 ½ -3 ½ m long Grey Nurse sharks that were circling the bowl. It was one of the most awesome experiences of our trip. Possibly one of the most frightening experiences for Alex was when he narrowly avoided grabbing the tail of a Wobegong shark that he’d not seen resting on the bottom! The dive instructor later told us that the ‘shark attack’ in Sydney the previous week had been by a Wobegong- although apparently it’s one of the first ever reports of this type of shark being aggressive. Oh and the Grey Nurse sharks are also very docile and aren’t man-eaters for anyone questioning our sanity at this point! We’ve no photos as we don’t have an underwater camera that works below 10m BUT we’ve found some photos online to show what the sharks we saw looked like.

A Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus). Fish Rock Cave, South West Rocks, NSW (Photo courtesy of Richard Ling)
Wobbegong Shark

The reason the dive was also the worst so far was mainly because of the company we dived with who where quite unfriendly telling me not to tell anyone I’d ‘fed the fish’ when I was vomiting over the side due to sea sickness and they were also snobby about us having predominantly dived in Asia, which apparently isn’t ‘real’ diving. Fortunately, the highs definitely outweighed the lows- by about 25 sharks 🙂

(Photos courtesy of Richard Ling – they’re not ours! Licensed under Creative Commons)

Fraser Island: Sand, sharks, snakes, spiders, sea and sun!

Fraser is home to seven of the most deadly spiders and snakes in the world, its waters are patrolled by sharks* and jelly fish and the land by dingos. The only way to get around is by 4WD and the nearest emergency help is air ambulance 1 ½ hours away. If that didn’t make us feel a bit nervous, the risk of losing our vehicle excess if we got stuck anywhere certainly did!

Spooky trees Spooky trees

So off we set, Tom, Jules, Lizzy and Alex on a mini 4WD adventure around this beautiful but apparently deadly island. I was quite happy to leave the driving to Alex and Tom who both loved navigating the sandy, rutted tracks- I was content to drive only on the easier beach section where we invented the game ‘Jellysquish’ . Fortunately, despite this leading to a very messy under carriage, we weren’t fined anything on returning the car. We managed to blag** a campsite spot which normally should have set us back $40 for the two nights so we enjoyed the luxuries of flushing toilet and running water and didn’t have to use our shovel once 🙂

Spooky trees Spooky trees

The sights on the island where very pretty and we enjoyed swimming in lakes and in the ‘Champagne rock pools’ (the only bit of sea safe to swim in as sharks can’t get in), climbing the dunes, walking through the rainforests, wandering round the Maheno shipwreck and of course all the 4WD. We also enjoyed swatting and then feeding giant March flies to the catfish in Lake Wabby which gave us a great deal of satisfaction as they had bitten us to shreds by then- Ouch!

Spooky trees Spooky treesSpooky trees Spooky trees

Bugs aside, a fantastic trip 🙂

Spooky trees

More photos @ Picasa

*nope- despite looking, I didn’t see any 🙁

** read trespass- although admittedly we didn’t actually know it cost anything to start with- we only found this out as we were leaving


From Perth we flew to Alice Springs where we hoped to book onto a 3 day trip taking in Uluru (aka Ayers Rock), The Olgas (aka Kata Tjuta) and Kings Canyon (aka Watarrka).  Still very much in the Asian mindset of doing everything last minute, we got a few eye rolls and sighs from our hostel ‘tour agent’ when we asked to book on a 3-day trip leaving the next morning, but she eventually managed to find us a place on one and off we set early the next day.

One of our first glimpses of Uluru One of our first glimpses of Uluru

Five hours later, we arrived in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta. National Park. As the temperature was predicted to be 48 degrees C, we spent a few extra hours in the cultural centre, waiting for the temperature to fall to a mere 40 degrees before setting off on a very short walk to the Olga’s.

One of our first glimpses of UluruSunset at Uluru, where we drove afterwards, was spectacular for very different reasons- Our guide told us that a cyclone with 140mph winds was predicted to be coming our way (hence our free upgrade from sleeping in swags to tents….although what good a tent would do in 140mph winds I don’t know)! As we approached Uluru, we could see the dark clouds massing to our west and saw the beginnings of some very cool twisters behind lots of lightning. All the tourists who’d braved the winds and the extremely annoying millions of flies that constantly try to fly up your nose, eyes, mouth and ears (Thank God for fly nets and the top tip we’d had to get one- thanks Tom and Jules!!) stood with their backs to Uluru, snapping shots of the storm instead.  Fortunately for us, the storm by-passed our campsite and all the tents where still standing in the morning. We heard a campsite several miles away had been utterly destroyed by the storm so we were pretty fortunate 🙂 !

At 3:45am the next day we got up to see Uluru at sunrise and then do the 3 hour walk around its base before the heat was too unbearable. How the Aborigines survived for so many thousands of years in a land this harsh is beyond comprehension! It was very interesting learning more about how they survived and why Uluru is such a sacred space for them.
One of our first glimpses of Uluru One of our first glimpses of Uluru
The rest of the day we spent driving through several different eco-systems en-route to our campsite near Kings Canyon. After dinner, stories and games around the campfire, we got into our swags for the night, trying not to think too much about dingos (wild dogs which sometimes get aggressive) and creepy crawlies that might try and eat us as we slept under the full moon. I think Alex was a bit freaked out when he awoke at 00:00 and turned to see a Dingo a few metres away from us. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!) it didn’t stay around long enough for me to grab the camera!
One of our first glimpses of Uluru One of our first glimpses of Uluru
The next morning we were all psyched up for a 3-hour walk around Kings Canyon. Fortunately, the ‘difficult’ section we had been warned about, would have been what guides in Asia called ‘very easy’ so the time we spent psyching ourselves up for a horrendous climb where completely wasted! This was our favourite walk of the trip though- much more interesting and varied landscape than we’d already seen.
One of our first glimpses of UluruAll in all, a fabulous trip!

More photos @ Picasa

Bukit Lawang, Sumatra: The Orange Apes

And you thought gymnasts were flexible!

Thankfully, with Alex dosed up on several different medications courtesy of Julie and a Sumatran Dr, we were able to leave Medan (which was just another big Asian city really) and head out to the wilds of the jungle to spot some orang-utans (the only ape found in South East Asia). Several bumpy hours later we arrived in Bukit Lawang- a small riverside village on the edge of the jungle. Within minutes of arriving we’d spotted a family of monkeys/gibbons swinging through the trees ahead and instantly knew we were going to like it here. Apparently, Bukit Lawang used to be on the tourist trail, but due to floodings, earthquakes and various other natural disasters, it was pretty much forgotten. While it was horrific for the community, for us it meant we had all the facilities a tourist could want (including treehouse cafes which are wicked!) but without the hoards.

96.4% identical... can you tell? :) Mena, the

The jungle trek we did the following day was definitely another highlight and it felt adventurous scrambling up steep slopes and down gullies all the time trying to listen for the sound of orang-utans in the trees. It wasn’t too long before we spotted trees moving overhead and spotted the orange fur. They were captivating to watch- they look so clumsy as they flop around in the trees but somehow they manage to move gracefully and without any obvious effort. The 8 orang-utans we ended up seeing during the course of the day were all semi-wild and had been released from the rehabilitation centre so they were fairly used to humans and came really close to us. They looked like giant teddy bears- cute and cuddley but I don’t think they liked me saying that as one of the ones almost directly above us decided to take a pee, hitting the couple stood next to us and narrowly avoiding us!  Then the ‘King of the Jungle’, an orang-utan called ‘Mena’ started following us which worried the guides a bit as apparently she can get aggressive so we ended up having to throw bananas in the opposite direction to us and she ended up causing us no problems at all.

Lizzy takes a break

Having seen some orang-utans, we trekked a bit further down to the river where we swam and then rafted back to where we’d started.

More photos @ Picasa

Yogyakarta & Borobodur

Having arrived by bus after our trip to Ketep pass, we were really pleased to find a clean hotel with a hot water shower,  western toilet, free wi-fi, breakfast AND a swimming pool still well within budget 🙂 . We spent a day visiting the Kraton & Water Palace (pretty forgettable and not well maintained or particularly impressive) and then went to a Batik gallery where we were shown how batik is made and then bought a couple of mementos so that we can have a piece of my Indonesian heritage in our house 🙂

Stupas on the punultimate level of Borobodur Stupas on the punultimate level of Borobodur Stupas on the punultimate level of Borobodur Stupas on the punultimate level of Borobodur

The next day we got up at 4:30am to go and see Borobodur, a huge Buddhist temple, at sunrise. It was pretty impressive as the mists hadn’t completely risen from the ground so the temple was almost floating in a sea of mist. Apart from that, being there so early didn’t seem to have much advantage other than we were maybe there at a quieter time.  There were however, still plenty of ‘local’ tourists who all wanted their photos taken with us.  It still seems bizarre how much effect skin colour can have- I guess the UK is pretty multi-cultural so we’re used to different skin colours whereas here maybe people have only seen ‘white’ faces on the TV. Fortunately, no-one tried to pinch my cheeks (jupet me) as was common when I was a chunky white baby out here, and we were quite happy to provide them with some entertainment.

So verdict on Yogyakarta- an arty place with lots of places to chill out and watch the world go by. Tomorrow we leave for Sumatra, which is four times bigger than Java and far less populated. We’ve been led to believe the travel is much harder over there and it’s even less touristy so we’re ready for a hopefully very rewarding challenge.

More photos @ Picasa

A VIP trip down memory lane…

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting about returning to Salatiga, I guess I hoped I’d find my childhood home and maybe recognise and recall some more places and stories. I certainly wasn’t expecting what we got!

Arriving at the University where Brian taught

Having been told at the University where Dad lectured that the old lecturers’ compound we had lived on was now a car wash, I was fairly disappointed. Fortunately, we decided to see for ourselves and discovered it hadn’t been demolished at all :). While we pored over photos to try and establish which house we’d lived in, a lady, (Mrs Titaley – wife of the Rector as it turned out) came out of one of them (probably suspicious we were planning a robbery!) and asked if she could help us.

Brian outside the house in the 1980s! The Hills
Then – the 1980s Now

She remembered the name ‘Brian Hills’ and we soon had a small gathering of people around us recounting stories of ‘Brian Hills’ (and his family) – the English lecturer who wore a seatbelt (obviously at the time a very strange thing to have done!) and meticulously planned and lectured the Sciences in Indonesian. One of the guys, Ferry, was Dad’s old student (now the Dean of the Faculty of Health) and he actually recounted specific things he’d remembered Dad saying in lectures and recalled watching me and my friends playing with frogs  in the pond outside his University dorm (my fascination and love of animals obviously started young)!

The group we met on the street who remembered the family The pond in which Lizzy & Suzanne used to play with the frogs - to the amusement of the students in the dorms around

They insisted we come back the next day and Ferry showed us the lecture books Dad had written which he still had and gave us a tour of the Faculty of Health. He also interrupted the lecturers’ planning meeting to introduce us to everyone and practically offered me a job in front of them – I went as pink as my bright pink t-shirt! (They’re struggling to find Nurses to lecture as you need a Masters but I don’t think he realises I don’t have my Dad’s intellect or drive!) Next, he dropped us off with Mrs Titaley who showed us around her house (identical design to the one we lived in next door which is unfortunately pretty derelict and only lived in by visiting lecturers) and then she spent the morning showing us around the University, pointing out the kindergarten I went to and the church we attended!!! Being the wife of the Rector (the Head of the University), this was all done in the very sleek university car driven by the university driver (who’s been here since 1979 and also recalled Dad and his Daihatsu minivan)!!!!!!! She also took us to meet her husband in his office and then we were driven to see the Rector who was in charge when I lived here in the 80s!! Very very surreal-their generosity was almost embarrassing and we’ve been treated like VIPs all the way!

More photos @ Picasa

East Java, Indonesia: Volcanoes & angry Walkers

First impressions of Java after 22 years being away-

  1. They crowd buses more than anywhere else we’ve been- 25 people in a 15seater bus, not including those hanging onto the sides. I had to sit on Alex’s lap for some of the way and my head was touching the roof which wasn’t too comfy when we went over bumps!
  2. The people are the friendliest we’ve met so far and don’t seem to have an agenda like they do elsewhere.
  3. They’re not as used to white Westerner’s here. We felt like we’d been pap’d as we walked up Bromo- lots of people pointing excitedly, wanting us to pose in their photos and trying to speak with us.
  4. Once you’re on a bus there’s no getting off till you reach your destination- even if it’s a 7 hour journey

The highlight of our first full day in Java was walking up a Volcano (Gunung Bromo). We did this before breakfast, getting up at 3:30am to reach the viewpoint for sunrise. We then walked to the crater edge and peered over into the smoke. Fortunately, they don’t sacrifice live goats or Buffalos into the crater as they do in Bali, or I might have felt the need to try and help them escape! Another highlight, for me at least, was having my Indonesian heritage recognised when they waived the National Park fee for me once I showed them my UK passport with Bandung written as my place of birth. Alex had to pay full price- ha ha!

More sulphur

Gunung Bromo and the surrounding crater

Cemoro Lawang in the early morning mist

The lowlight of the day was the bus back from Bromo which nearly ended with me punching a bus driver. The bus only leaves when it’s full (15 people) so we were prepared for a bit of a wait. However, 2 hours later, there were still only two other people waiting with us, and we were starting to despair that the bus wouldn’t leave for hours or possibly till the next day. We thought we’d make use of our new found popularity and see if we could hitch a lift. Despite our bedraggled and sweaty appearance, a car stopped fairly soon and said they’d give us a lift down. Unfortunately, our bags were already on the top of the bus and it was a two person job to get them down. As suspected, whilst we did that, the bus driver walked over to the car and clearly told them not to give us a lift and they hesitantly drove off before I could drop the bag (Alex was on the bus roof) and run over to get rid of the bus driver. I was FUMING! Newspaper headlines flashed before my eyes ‘tourist faces death penalty for assaulting bus driver’ and I merely resorted to asking him several times what he thought he was doing,  giving him lots of angry stares and glares and plotting cowardly safer ways to seek revenge (which I didn’t use) Grrr! Angry Lizzy

And so started our 11 hours of bus rides! We eventually arrived in Suryakarta (a.k.a. Solo or Sala) at 10pm sweaty, tired, hungry (no meal since breakfast as there was no time between buses) and both desperately wanting to get to a clean room with a hot, freshwater shower and somewhere to wash our clothes. We settled for the ‘somewhere to wash our clothes’ – the cleanest room we found still had cigarette butts on the floor, a cockroach and peeling mouldy walls. BUT it does have a/c so we still had a very good night’s sleep 🙂

More photos @ Picasa (not Flickr – we’ve switched)