A Travellerspoint blog

Coober Pedy

Opal & "Weirdos"

sunny 25 °C

Once Flinders Ranges was behind and before entering the real Outback, we made a stop for one night at Port Augusta. It's the ugliest place in Australia we've seen so far, effortlessly dodgy and creepy. It was the first time we saw aboriginal people, as until then we only met the "white" Australians, and from their appearance, they can look scary. However, we shouldn't forget they have been treated really badly until not so long ago, and despite the intention of merging both sides of the population, they still live in their ghettos, a bit isolated from the world. If we had known Port Augusta was so ugly we would have slept somewhere else, but it was the perfect hub to drive up to Coober Pedy.

We drove approximately 500 km to reach the famous city of Coober Pedy, where Europeans moved with the hopes of finding gold and spend the rest of their days in a fancy bungalow in the Caribbean drinking mojitos all day long...but the only thing they found was Opal. Again, the landscape had changed...we were in the Australian desert. Sand, sand and more sand...one lane highways, hardly any traffic, so the drive was pretty easy, except when it was time to overtake one of the famous road trains, lorries with up to 4 wagons so heavy that everytime we saw one coming from the opposite direction we would drive as much as we could on the left side to avoid feeling the pull towards it. The speed limit was 110 km/h and these puppies were driving at the limit...so they were no joke. We also drove through the famous "Prohibited Area", where Americans buried radioactive missiles and stretched our legs in Woomera, land of uranium waste! Woohoo! But, if you ever go to Australia and are planning to visit Uluru, a mandatory stop should be Coober Pedy, there's nothing more peculiar. Often used as a set in movies (especially for scenes in space and on the moon), 70% of the homes are underground to escape the heat (it is said only the Greek and Aboriginal communities live above ground) that can overpass 50 °C during the Summer months. The city looks like an immense excavation, a place under construction with its special mining machinery and hundreds of pipes popping out from the ground, surrounded by hills of sand and never-ending desert. So...who the hell would actually live forever in Coober Pedy? It couldn´t be more out of the way, in the middle of nowhere! Well, we met some strange fellas here...

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We first checked in our caravan park, named Stuart after one of the most admired Australian explorers in history. That night we were up for a little treat and went to have dinner at the finest hotel of the city, ready to eat some true Australian dishes. We ordered their special meat combo; veal, camel, emu and kangaroo. The emu was definitely the worst, (what a strange piece of meat), but the camel and kangaroo were quite delicious and we left with satisfied bellies. The following morning we woke up to explore the unique sites of the city; we started by visiting one of the underground homes. In fact we saw the first underground home, that was excavated by hand by three women throughout 10 years during the 60s. It was bigger than what we expected, a full-on house with dining room, kitchen, living room, various bedrooms and an area above ground with indoor swimming pool! After Faye's we went to an underground Serbian Church we had heard about and to an Opal Mine to learn how everything works. The mine was run by a Scottish man and his helper, a German woman, everything but a lady and properly referred by us as Gestapo (without meaning to offend, but she looked stronger and scarier than many men). She left Germany in the early 80s to come mining in Australia and has lived ever since in Coober Pedy. Her sister lives somewhere around the east coast and Gestapo still can't understand why she prefers the sea when you can live in the desert (excuse me?), plus one of her hobbies is shooting cans when she's bored (that's what we call real fun!). The Scottish man gave us a tour around his mine, taught us some of the mysteries of opal mining, from finding it to making bombs (now we're the threat), and was extremely funny. Of course by the end of the tour they tried to sell us some opal which unfortunately we couldn't afford, it is said it also brings a lot of luck. We also visited the lookout and a couple shops where Ugo finally bought some opal. After our mining experience we were so confident about opal we even discussed the different types you can buy. Evidently the shop owner tried to cover his back by stating that what the Scottish man had taught us was bullshit (he used that word several times) and he also owns a mine and therefore knows better...whatever, there are always two versions to the same story right?

After two days and two nights in Coober Pedy we had to move on, but still this city has remained in our conversations throughout the whole trip.

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Posted by sonianick 05:34 Archived in Australia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Barossa Valley & Flinders Ranges

Shiraz & More

sunny 15 °C

Australia is well known for its wonderful landscapes, the great coral reef, the Kangaroos, the cute Koalas and many other things; one of them includes without a doubt its wine and that is why we picked Barossa Valley as our next destination. Since the weather in the south was still chilly, we thought that some good wine would definitely help us out to fight the cold and indulge our palate. After a few hours driving, we finally reached the small town of Tanunda. Before going to our camping site, we decided to take a look at one of the view points we saw on the road. We drove up a few hills and were stunned to see the picturesque valley full of vines & vineyards and fields of yellow flowers. Unfortunately it was too late to have some wine tasting so we decided to postpone that for the morning and parked our camper at Tanunda Caravan & Tourist Park.

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Being tired of the same food over and over again, we thought we would deserve a proper dinner and of course a nice bottle of wine to have our first sips and prepare ourselves for the wine cellars and tastings. 1918 Bistro & Grill was our pick as many people told us it was one of the best in town. In fact, the dinner was amazing and we enjoyed so much the tender meat and the exquisite bottle of Shiraz Eden Springs.

After a good night sleep, we were finally ready to go around Tanunda and learn more about the Australian wine. Our first stop was Bethany Wines. This place offers a stunning hillside view of the vinyards and the valley and really worth the visit. We entered the cellar and we were immediately attended by a very nice girl who started the ritual of wine tasting... oh my gosh!!! We tried different types of red wines and useless to say that after about an hour we were very happy and tipsy; we bought a couple of bottles for our night dinners in the camper and continued the good vibe by visiting a very small shop in the town center that was offering wine tasting. Again we were given a selection of red and we had a good fun talking with the shop attendant. She was so nice that she even advised us a good place to spot some wild kangaroos since until now we only saw them on the road and definitely not alive. We went to this park and we actually spot some Skippies (that's how we like to call the Kangaroos - from the old TV series "Skippy the bush kangaroo") It was great to see these funny animals hopping around and above all ALIVE...one of them even had a baby!

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Tired of this long happy day, we went to another camping site in the neat town of Nuriootpa to sleep before heading to our following area: Flinders Ranges. We had been told Flinders Ranges was "the place to go" in South Australia so we were pretty excited about it. It took us pretty much all day to get there by car as it's a bit out of the way but still we were thinking "wow this must be so worth it". We immediately noticed that we were heading towards the Outback by the temperature rise...and we were excited by the idea of not suffering the cold at night! Our chosen place to stay was the caravan park just outside the national park, in Wilpena Pound. As soon as we arrived we decided to do some bushwalking around the park and visited a couple of sights. Throughout the trek we spotted some kangaroos, emus, rabbits...but the landscape itself wasn't as breathtaking as we expected...neither were the walks and scenic drives we did the following day, to a point that after going to some lookouts, we decided to make our way to Port Augusta a bit earlier than planned. Sorry Flinders...

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Posted by sonianick 05:24 Archived in Australia Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Great Ocean Road

Mother Nature

sunny 10 °C

Leaving Melbourne wasn't as easy as we thought, as the highways get pretty confusing with the driving on the left hand side concept..but we managed and just some hours later we made our first stop at the beginning of the Great Ocean Road, Torquay. It's the surf capital of Victoria and we thought it was worth to give it a look, plus we were looking forward to see Australia's famous beaches! In Torquay there isn't that much to see or do, other than surf, but it was very cold and that's why we found the beach was completely empty...we couldn't believe our eyes when we saw it as in Southern Europe it's practically impossible to have 2 squared metres of sand to yourself! Here it was the opposite; kilometres of sand, water, flowers and the only sound was the crashing of the waves, it was the ideal place to feel lonely! We fooled around a little, took our first shots and then carried on driving down to Apollo Bay, where we stopped as the daylight was fading away. In Australia you can't drive at night because all the animals just come out and you might risk running over them, so we wanted to prevent us an unpleasant surprise and the repair bill...that evening we started our Australian wine tasting to keep our bodies warm and prepare ourselves for Barossa Valley. This was our first night ever in a campervan, none of us had ever camped before neither slept in a van and it was very exciting..we soon discovered we actually liked "campervanning" in Australia, as it gives us total freedom to move around without any time limits, plus it feels like your little house follows you as we had everything we needed inside, except toilets and showers which were provided in the camping sites; we were more than happy being our own tour guides.

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The next morning we woke up ready to visit the best sights of the Great Ocean Road. We started by driving to the Ottway National Park as there was a famous lighthouse in Cape Ottway we wanted to take a look at. It turned out the price to just go and stare at it was 15 AUD, so we thought it was too much for a lighthouse. On our way back we had to drive through a forest where we eventually spotted wild koalas! They're hard to see as they spent most of the day sleeping on the branches and they transform into a furry grey ball...still they're sweet little animals and everyone was stopping to take pictures. We continued our way towards the Twelve Apostles, the most famous rocky stacks in the Great Ocean Road. There are no longer 12 as they have slowly fallen throughout the years due to the waves and the erosion, but the sight is still spectacular and one of the best we have ever seen. No wonder that this part of the coast is known as the "Shipwreck coast" as it's so dangerous, rocky and the sea is so agressive one would think twice before actually taking a dip here! We also visited other stunning sights such as the Gibson Steps, the Loch Ard gorge, London Bridge, Bay of Islands, The Grotto...all incredibly beautiful and worth seeing at least once. We slept in a town called Warrnambool, and in the morning before leaving we met an Australian couple who recommended us visiting a village called Robe, stating it's one of the jewels of the coast...so we didn't doubt that it would be our stop for the first night in South Australia. During the ride we visited the Blue Lake in Mt. Gambier, which wasn't anything out of this world, even if its colour is supposed to be so special. When we reached Robe, there were hardly any people around but we could imagine this small place being packed during the good weather season as there were some stunning homes and the beaches were just delightful...we saw an amazing sunset by the marina. The village is so small it just has a few shops in the main street which we never saw open, but we still managed to check-in at a camping site and get some rest. We found out during our first days campervanning that Australians are extremely helpful, nice people who are always up for a good chat. We guess it's because there are not a lot of people around, so residents of places such as Robe or Apollo Bay are excited to talk to someone new, especially from another continent.

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We never thought the Great Ocean Road to be as impressive as it was, especially as it shows you a completely different nature from what we expected to see in Australia, but we reckon that being the world's biggest island, landscapes do change quite drastically. We definitely think it's one of the world's must-drives to do, it just makes you feel so insignificant compared to the wild sea and the massive rock formations. However, we were looking forward to getting warmer and drove to our next stop; Barossa Valley.

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Posted by sonianick 01:07 Archived in Australia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Melbourne

No worries, mate!

overcast 13 °C
View Round The World on sonianick's travel map.

The first Lonely Planet magazine that was published a couple years ago in Spain was about Australia. We bought a copy and since then it had been lying around our living room, accumulating dust and we would flick through it from time to time, dreaming about all its beauty and the possibility of one day taking a 24 hour flight to one of its cities. Taking almost 1 year off was the perfect excuse to visit Aussie and dedicate some time...good 2 months, to discover the world's biggest island. In other words, Australia is the icing of the cake in our trip.

Instead of 24, our flight from Singapore lasted barely 7 hours. We landed in Melbourne at 4:00 o'clock in the morning and instead of going directly to our hostel, we decided to hang out at the airport until about 9:00 to save money. We got into a shuttle bus that took us directly to Habitat HQ where we were meeting with Nick's old friend Ugo, who was joining us for one month of our travel around the country. Since the start we got the feeling that things were well organized and arranged especially compared to the caos of most of the previous countries we visited in Asia. We didn't expect the weather to be that chilly, and we barely had a couple sweat shirts to shield from the 10 °C outside...but we didn't care, we were in Aussie!

Ugo showed up just after our check-in so before we noticed we were outside ready to explore the city. Despite the vast population, Melbourne has the scent of a chilled seaside city, we didnt' have the feeling of being in a huge metropolis. We took a tram into the city centre and got familiar with the main sights; Federation Square, Swanston Street, Elizabeth and Bourke Streets (shopping area), Chinatown etc. It didn't take us long to do the walking tour so early in the afternoon we went back to the hostel to take a nap...we hardly had any sleep during our flight and we were knackered. The Habitat HQ is located in an area outside the city called St. Kilda which is very popular to go out for dinner and drinks, so we decided to try one of its restaurants, Claypots, and filled our bellies with a fantastic fish&seafood platter that evening..yummy!

One of our concerns was finding a cheap campervan for a couple weeks to drive through the Outback up to Alice Springs before hitting the East coast, and we had to arrange everything during our stay in Melbourne. We knew it wasn't going to be the cheapest option as there are bus companies that sell you traveller passes, but we wanted the freedom of stopping anywhere, anytime. So after a couple chats with the hostel and a little investigation online we decided the easiest deal was to be found at an agency, and that's how we decided to show up at one. On our way, instead of taking the tram again, we headed towards the seaside of St. Kilda, and it was beautiful. There was a nice marina with a long pier, a beach full of kite surfers and behind the esplanade houses that looked more like beach holiday homes than permanent addresses. We kept having the feeling Melbourne was really laid back. It was a long walk until we reached the travel agency, Peter Pan's, to enquire about the car hire. We immediately realised that things in Australia are everything but cheap, even considering its weak currency, but we had no choice. It was time to lighten our wallets...we had booked a campervan for the following two weeks.

Relieved that we had the campervan story behind us, we celebrated with a dinner in a restaurant called Bebida, around Fitzroy. It was weird to go to a tapas restaurant outside Spain, but we did have something similar to a tortilla and chorizo al vino tinto which took away the home sickness...The next morning we went to another agency, Tribal Travel, as we had to find out the best way to go from Alice Springs (Outback) to Cairns (Queensland). The flights were around 400 AUD, the buses costed minimum 200 AUD and you spend three days on the road, the car hire was even worse due to the high costs of fuel and there are no trains!...so our thought was, how do Australians get around this huge country? Apparently they just don't! Our only hope was to find a campervan relocation, so we put that part of the trip on hold until it would be time to decide. In the meantime we kept enjoying our Sunday and cruised through St. Kilda and a couple markets that were near the beach. We also got to see the Italian quarter, Carlton, which was full of bars where you could have the "aperitivo" or just eat a good pizza. Despite the horrible weather we enjoyed Melbourne; it's actually a sort of hybrid between USA and England; good pubs, lots of rugby and beer, nice spacious homes and roads...these guys know how to live well!

On Monday 5th we picked up our campervan; it was not too big but still was fully equipped; kitchenette, microwave, electricity plugs, water, gas, 2 beds, sleeping bags, chairs, tables and still space for 3 people to fit in! After giving out more money for the insurance and all sorts of stuff, we were ready to drive on the left and leave Melbourne. Our next destination? somewhere around the Great Ocean Road!

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Posted by sonianick 00:08 Archived in Australia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Singapore & Tioman

Utopia

sunny 33 °C

Singapore's the perfect stop before flying out somewhere else. It's big enough to entertain you and small enough to make you wanna leave after just a couple days. We flew in from Hong Kong with a jumbo, which was kinda awesome as it was just a 3 hour flight.

Once arrived, we took the underground to the city centre and stepped off at Little India, where our hostel Footprints was located. Spotless; not one paper on the floor, immaculate streets and everything placed in an orderly manner. This was the sort of India you would never find in the country itself, and later on we would see with our own eyes that the whole city is so clean and shiny that you feel you could walk barefoot. We had 6 days before flying to Melbourne, but we didn't feel like spending the whole week in Singapore, so we thought of going to Tioman, a Malaysian island just a few hours away from the city. It was good to enjoy the night and walk around the big malls that are all over Singapore. The city is so incredibly full of shopping malls that you have the feel to become some sort of shopaholic. We found out in our hostel that there was the Formula One pre-race laps going on that same night so we walked towards the place that actually turned out to be close to our accomodation. It was amazing to see how well Singaporians get everything arranged for the big race. We eventually stopped by an Irish Pub where you could actually see the cars passing by and hear the noisy roar of their engines.

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The next morning we took a bus to head to Tioman. We had to do a few stops at the border to pass the custom and enter to Malaysia but everything was pretty smooth and with one more stamp on our passport we arrived to Larkin where we had to take our second bus to reach Mersing. After 2 hours we finally reached the second city and jumped on the first speed boat to finally be in "Paradise": the beautiful island of Tioman. Our accomodation was a bungalow from the low-key resort Mokhtar's Place. We didn't have more than a bed and a shower, but that was more than enough. We just wanted to relax below a palm tree and vegetate for a couple nights...and it was the ideal place to do so. There were no roads in the area, so there was absolute silence. Only a few tourists were enjoying the beach with us, so most of the time we felt we were by ourselves. Plus, there wasn't much that could be seen or be done; snorkelling, swimming and walking around. The only bar-restaurant in the area fed us breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days in a row. The owners went fishing every day, and our dinner menu would be defined by what would be taken from the sea. It was fantastic. We wondered how simple and serene the lives of the residents of Tioman must be; just the sea, beautiful coral, scuba diving lessons, a couple TV's and the nearest port to civilisation 2 hours away by ferry...it's definitely a place worth visiting before it might get "intoxicated" by mass tourism...unfortunately, these places are slowly disappearing.

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After three nights in Tioman we felt fully re-energised and ready to head back to Singapore and take on the shopping malls. We decided to stay again around Little India, but somewhere different, the Empire Hostel. It was weird because we were sharing a room with other three people but we had to sleep in a double bed...anyway we were back and it was time to know Singapore. We strolled through the city and visited some of the areas such as China Town and Little India. The most fascinating aspect of the city is the melting pot of cultures you can find and how well people live together without being in conflict with one another. You walk around and hear people talking in Malay, Indian, English and Chinese...plus all religions living in a perfect harmony. Immaculate city, four languages, and everyone living happily; it just feels like being in an utopic flawless world. In China Town we wondered around the neat stalls and fell in love with a statue of the Buddha that we eventually bought for Sonia's mom... shopping here we come!!! You cannot leave Singapore without buying anything electronic. We found out there was a mall selling only and exclusively electronics and there we went. If you are some sort of electronic freak... BEWARE!!! ...you might end up with at least 2-3 suitcases full of devices you can never imagine they even existed. Unfortunately we do not have so much space in our backpacks so we opted for a cell phone and a nice camera. And that's what you do in Singapore, shopping-mall-tours! They're everywhere, right next to each other, in front of you, around you, on top, even underground, you can't fight it! So don't forget your Visa...

It has been 3 months of journey around Asia and we loved every country we visited, each one with its own characteristics and uniqueness. Its temples, the noodle breakfasts, the cheap beer, the beaches, the traffic, the jungles and its people...you do feel moved by their sympathy and how they treat you, we will never forget everything we have seen and done in that continent, from Delhi to Singapore, we are Asia-friendly!

We are now ready to face our exciting trip around Australasia.... Melbourne here we come...Sonia and Nick on the road again!

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Posted by sonianick 21:20 Archived in Singapore Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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