Since I was in the nearly in neighborhood of Perth, Australia (a relatively quick and cheap flight from Bali), I got in touch with friends Vin and Kylee there to see if they were up for a visitor. It got better than that – they were heading to NZ for a few weeks over Christmas and were looking for a house-sitter. I just struck gold! Not only did I get to base myself somewhere for a month, but it was going to be like living in a luxury 5-star resort – only without the staff to wait on me. :-/
Perth and Western Australia
I would have a few days with the family on my arrival in Perth before heading down to the South West corner of Australia (locally known as WA, for Western Australia) for a week of sight-seeing. I would return in time for Christmas with their family, and they would leave the house in my care from Dec 26 onward for 2 ½ weeks.
Vin very kindly gave me the keys to their car, a map and some advice on where to go.
First stop – Albany. First stop, eventually, that is. That was one LOOOONG drive. Not just in the 5 hours or so that it took to get there, but it was just a long drive on some incredibly straight highways with not much in between. The rural scenery was so beautiful. I stopped a few times to take some photos on the side of the road, but hadn’t yet gotten past the paranoia of all the Australia creepy crawlies coming out of the long grass and doing their worst. Needless to say, they were quick photo stops.
Oh yeah, and it was hot. I forgot to mention the 40+ degree heatwave that hit Western Australia as soon as I landed. Stepping out of the car was like stepping into a furnace. Not steamy and muggy that I had been used to in Asia. Just a dry, searing heat.
The coastline in Albany was simply gorgeous and I was keen to go for long coastal walks.
Until the fly frenzy hit me. Oh. My. God. I have never seen so many flies. They were relentless and they were sticky – as in they’d stick to you when you tried to brush them off. They were up my nose, in my mouth, in my ears. I quickly learned the infamous Aussie Wave – because that’s what you do. You constantly wave your arms in front of your face to keep the buggers away.
I later learned that this was the migratory pattern of flies. Every fly on the Western Coast of Australia migrates to Albany at this time of year. And here their path ends. I’m not sure what truth there was in that explanation, but I went with it due to a lack of anything else to believe.
After spending a few days in Albany trying, but failing, to avoid flies, I carried on to Margaret River and Gracetown, only to find that they had bloody flies too. Whilst it was a bit cooler down south than back in Perth, it was still incredibly dry, and there were constant fire alerts and warnings everywhere – on road signs, on the radio and in local papers. I could see from the smoke filled sky that there must be a fire somewhere ahead of me, and as the drive was already taking much longer than I expected, I didn’t relish a 1-2 hour detour to avoid it. Luckily the fire didn’t end up being on my path, but it gave me a small appreciation of what it must be like for locals who constantly have to be on guard for the fires.
On the way to Margaret, I stopped at the Valley of the Giants treetop walk. Whilst the treetop walk was kind of fun, it was another forest walk they offered which was much more interesting. The forest in this area is full of Tingle trees – big old gnarly, knobby trees, some with massive holes bored out of the base (due to mites, fungus and/or fires).
And wouldn’t you know it, as I was walking around the far end of the walk, the skies opened up and it poured with rain. I had to do a mad dash to the car, trying to avoid getting the camera wet. Not so good for me, but good for the fires, I guess.
I discovered an absolute stunning beach at Gracetown – and as I stood at a roadside viewing point, I thought it would be to return here the next day for a picnic and swim. That was, until I heard the people next to me talking about the guy that had been killed by a shark at this beach just a few weeks prior. Sharks – they were another major news topic in Western Australia. Geesh – flies, fires and sharks… what else did I have to worry about?
Lucky for me, I didn’t see any. I’ve never seen a country with so many animal crossing signs. I didn’t get a picture of the Kangaroo crossing sign, although I did see a few ‘roos that had been bowled over along the highways. That was one of the reasons I didn’t want to be caught out driving at night – there is a real danger you might hit a kangaroo, and aside from the obvious gut-wrench of doing so, it can do a lot of damage to a car.
An Aussie Christmas
I was going to be missing Christmas day with my own family, but my Perth friends kindly included me in the festivities with their friends and family. And if there is one thing I can say that I love about an Aussie Christmas, it’s the seafood. Oh my goodness – it was a seafood extravaganza. Lobster, giant prawns (plain, with chilli and with garlic), oysters Kilpatrick and oysters au naturel.
The crowds at the seafood shops were incredible, and they hired special parking wardens to deal with the traffic on Christmas Eve. We had to source an alternative for the oysters at last minute, as the place where we ordered them from apparently lost an entire truckload when it broke down somewhere on the way to Perth. Can you imagine a truckload of oysters, with no refrigeration, sitting in the hot Aussie 40 degree heat? Yech! What a loss for them on their busiest day of year – I can only imagine THAT insurance claim.
On boxing day my friends headed to NZ, and I was left with the car, the dog and a gorgeous house with a swimming pool. All I had to do was to remember to feed the dog, and to check the pool each day. How hard can that be?
Pretty easy, actually!
Just to make sure that I wouldn’t get too lonesome, my friend Trudy flew over from NZ for a few days and kept me company. Together, we played tourist and explored a little bit of Perth and Freemantle and just had a pretty chilled time, jumping into the pool when necessary to keep cool.
Before I knew it, my time was up and my friends were returning home. I tried everything I could to encourage them to stay in NZ a bit longer, but they had a business to run.
They came home, and we swapped places – I headed for NZ.
New Zealand – a little holiday from my travels
So often when travelling, I’d have the following conversation with people that I met along the way:
Traveller: “Where do you come from?”
Me: ”New Zealand”
Traveller: “Wow, I love NZ. It’s so beautiful there and it’s my favourite country ever”. Or “Wow, I’ve always wanted to go to NZ. It’s on my bucket list.”
After a while, I thought to myself, that yep, I do live in one of the best countries in the world. Why not have a little summer holiday with friends and family? Since I had enough frequent flyer miles to head home from Perth for free, that’s what I did.
My time in NZ wasn’t about experiencing new things; it was just about reconnecting with friends and family and enjoying a bit of ‘normal life’ for awhile. Doing things like:
and hanging out with my parents and their alpacas.
And just generally catching up on the goss.
- Big thanks to friends in both Perth and Auckland (NZ) who entrusted their homes, car, and family dog into my care.
- Thank you Trudy for keeping me company in Perth.
- Thanks to my camping buddies that didn’t forget me for the Anniversary Weekend camping trip came up.
- Thanks to friends and family who treated me to lunch/dinners, or cooked special birthday dinners in my honour. It was the birthday that kept on giving.
- And special thanks to my family for letting me crash (self-invited!) at their place for a few weeks.
- And finally, thanks to my parentsand Alan for doing the long-distance airport runs at insane early hours of the morning!
- Photo credits: some photos were taken by various friends. Hope no one minds me using them. Thanks…
So what’s next?
Strangely, when I first left NZ in August last year, I had no idea that I would have ended up in Australia or back in NZ. That’s what I love about what I’m doing – I just make my up my plans as I go.
I guess I am now starting Phase 2 of my travels. And this time, I’m heading in the direction of Turkey and Eastern Europe. Of course, in February, it is still winter in that area and I really don’t want to have to deal with ridiculously cold temperatures. So I’m going to kill a month back in Indonesia and hopefully give Europe some time to warm up by a few degrees before I get there at the end of March.
The plan is very roughly:
- Indonesia (Lombok and Sumbawa ) – one month
- Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) – 4 days
- Turkey – 4-8 weeks
- Greece, Bulgaria and/or Romania?
- Hungary – arriving in time to briefly meet my parents in Budapest at the end of their European river cruise, and to see new friends Peter and Andrea who Alan and I met in the Banda Islands (Indonesia) last year.
After that – the plans are much more fluid. I’m heading into the high season in Europe where prices go from expensive to very expensive, and everywhere is overrun with tourists. I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve on what I’d like to do, but I’ll just see how things go.
And so that, believe it or not, finally brings up to date, up to about 2 weeks ago! I’ll wait until I have a bit more to add to my current Indonesian visit.
Once I’m in Europe, I know my blogging frequency will improve as it will all be so new and exciting to me, and I will want to share the excitement. I can’t wait!