A fairly nondescript train ride to Darwin, I treated myself to a ham and cheese croissant - that was a highlight, I suppose.
We got into Darwin in the early evening, and just before we pulled into the station they informed us we could get a shuttle for the stinking price of $15 because the train station they arrive into is 10km away from town. Great. Sometimes I hate Great Southern Rail, they are quite spectacular money grabbing bastards.
The heat hit me in quite an overwhelming fashion as we alighted from the train. Welcome to the humidity. I caught the shuttle and was sat next to a Japanese girl, called Shinobu. We swapped numbers as she is living in Byron Bay, so we agreed to meet up when I finally got there.
Once in town I started the trek to my hostel. I had booked on the basis of just the Lonely Planet, as I was struggling to find internet to check reviews. So there I am, 80% humidity, about 35c, with all of my bags, walking 20 minutes down the road, wondering if I am ever going to find the hostel.
Finally I come across it upon a corner and I am met with the sight of a group of rough looking men drinking cheap beer outside. Set the tone nicely. I found the key they had left out for me (reception is only open from 9AM to 12PM!) and let myself into the room. It was pretty special - absolutely no space anywhere, full of peoples belongings strewn everywhere and quite simply; filthy. I was about ready to turn back around and leave in the door I had just come in on but I knew if I did that I would loose the $28 I had paid for the pleasure of the place.
Instead I decided to dump my bags and head out to find some much needed food, as life is so much easier when you have a full belly. En route into town I decided to drop by the YHA, in a hope of booking in for the following night. Just as I got to the YHA reception I bumped into Shinobu again who was also going to check into the YHA - she had been to see another hostel that turned out to be an absolute hole.
I started talking to the guy at reception (a jolly chap called Phil), he asked me if I wasn’t planning on booking in to the YHA tonight then where was I kipping for the night. I explained I was begrudgingly staying at Gecko Lodge down the road. A look of horror crossed his face, as whispered four deadly words… “They have bed bugs”.
Oh no. When I cast my mind back to my fellow roommates; I had noticed bites on one of the long term stayers legs. When I’d noticed them upon check-in I just thought they were rather aggressive mosquito bites, but once Phil whispered the almighty two words, I realised that they were too red and sore to just be a mere mosquito and they must in fact be the dreaded bed bugs.
Needless to say after dinner I trekked back to Gecko Lodge, replaced my key exactly where I had found it and departed from my room without saying a word. Though the YHA isn’t exactly the Ritz of hostels, it did feel like it after the grotesque Gecko Lodge. OK I would have to pay $31.00 a night for the privilege of staying at YHA, so it’s by no means cheap, but Darwin accommodation all over seems excessively priced and generally not very good quality.
The next morning I called Environmental Health to report the bed bug problem and called my bank to clarify that should the hostel charge me for the nights stay I could lodge a complaint to dispute the charge. I then spoke to the guy (Yan) at the hostel, who didn’t speak very good English at all. The only saving grace in this whole disgrace was the fact that he seemed quite apologetic and agreed not to charge the money, which saved me a lot of hassle.
After 10 minutes on the phone of explaining to Yan, he still didn’t seem to grasp that it wasn’t acceptable to have bed bugs, as he kept repeatedly telling me I should have spoken to him about the matter first. As I tried to explain what he says is irrelevant because either way it is a serious health risk to have bed bugs. I’ve met enough travellers who’ve been bitten in round the world to know that.
The rest of the day was spent exploring the small city. I walked down to Lameroo beach though I shouldn’t have bothered, as it was lame just like the title suggests. It seemed the quality of beaches and accommodation weren’t Darwin’s strong points. Though the manmade lagoon was a little more desirable.
The next day was Thursday which meant market day! A very exciting event in the weekly Darwin calendar. The aforementioned Shinobu was in the same dorm as me so we agreed to take a bus to the museum together in the afternoon and then hit up the markets. It was so, so hot out, I thought I was going to melt.
Never the less we made it out to the museum, where we spent a few hours wandering round. It was entertaining enough, their native Australian sea life animals were probably the best, as well as the exhibit on the big crocodile they managed to drown called Sweetheart and a room where you could go in and experience cyclone Tracy which was rather terrifying.
After we’d exhausted the museum, we trundled over to the markets which were just starting up, as we were a tad early. It was an important time to wander around and peruse which food we might like to eat without the busy crowds everywhere.
I saw at least 5 different places I’d like to try and so we decided the best thing to do would be to share stuff.
First of all we tried a vegetarian samosa (not bad), a vietnamese spring roll (very good and slightly different to the other asian counterparts) and we convinced the Sri Lankan stall to give us a small portion of their deep fried sweet potato, which were bloody amazing and I could have easily eaten a sackful.
It was roughly here that I found my dream stall; The Roadkill Cafe, serving a variety of strange and unusual meats. Awesome.
Here I tried wallaby (very tender and similar to kangaroo, unsurprisingly), possum sausage (bit too gamey for my liking, it taste as a possum stinks, I reckon) and crocodile just straight on the barbie. The croc was actually a lot more tasteless than I thought, but it has an awesome texture. It’s a white meat but has the consistency similar to a bastardisation of a fish textured red meat. That’s the best way I can describe anyway. I reckon cooked in a delicious sauce it would be pretty damn good.
Somehow or another I then managed to eat a whole tub of food from the Hong Kong stall as well as everything above. The guy serving gave me a very generous portion that I struggled to finish, which included: spicy pork, vegetable noodles, mongolian beef and chicken with cashews. Yum.
Shinobu and I took a wander around all of the stalls, managing to resist buying anything, though there were some nice aboriginal art to buy it was (unsurprisingly) expensive and nothing really caught my eye. We took a few minutes to watch the awesome sunset that you get on the beach, at Mindil Markets, and decided to stick around to watch eMDee - a drum and bass didgeridoo act. They were really awesome and well worth a watch, drawing a large crowd.
Shinobu and I then trundled home. We’d heard there was a free shuttle back to town but after some investigation by asking various taxi drivers, it turned out not to be free, so we decided to walk back to the city instead. Perfect weather for it, finally not too hot, just lovely and balmy.
On Friday I said goodbye to Shinobu who was off on her travels - intending to drive from Darwin to Perth by herself, which is no mean feat. I, on the other hand, decided to try and find the pearl exhibit down by the wharf. Unfortunately I failed spectacularly and after 30 minutes of wandering around in blazing sunshine, I gave up. Clearly it wasn’t meant to be. Instead I went into town, read the local paper and watched a girl busking on a Space Drum for a while, which was superb.
The following morning (if you can call it that) I had to be up to catch my flight. My head had barely touched the pillow and I had to be awake again; 3:30am. Dear me. I rolled out of bed, grabbed my bags and hauled myself into the shuttle.
I found Phil and one of the other hostel chaps saying goodbye to another girl. I realised part way through that they were saying goodbye so affectionately to me because they had been up drinking all evening. A common theme for the shuttle bus as there were more sober passengers than drunk ones. The Darwin to Cairns flight seems a popular booze cruise.
Got to the airport, it was all very usual, although I had an outstanding breakfast from Red Rooster, where the girl who was serving behind the counter actually cared to take the time to ask me how I like my cup of tea. I was super impressed, she made my day.
I had to go through another set of security where I threw a tantrum at airport staff, because the liquid limit has meant to have been lifted for domestic flights in Australia, except they counted my flight as International because it goes on to Singapore after Cairns. Basically the dumbest thing ever. I hate pointless airport security. I caused a massive fuss anyway and the best thing was that when I got to Cairns I realised I had a can of soup in my bag the whole time - not only liquid but sharp metal things. Take that dumb security! You didn’t even notice!
After such an early start my day in Cairns was a right off, though I organised myself by figuring out what tours and things I wanted to do during my time there. I stayed at Tropic Days, which is the best rated hostel in Cairns, so I had high expectations. The staff were absolutely phenomenal, and the owner was around all of the time, running a tight ship.
The only downside was the other stupid guests. Unfortunately they seemed to have attracted a lot of the rogue Germans who like to stay up late drinking beer and talking in German very loudly which isn’t very good when most of the rooms back on to the communal area.
Next morning I was straight on a tour around Atherton Tablelands. Gabe, the owner at Tropic Days, had sorted me out with a free extra night included in the tour and arranged a transfer to the Tolga Bat Hospital my extra day, which is something I really wanted to check out.
There were only about 6 of us on the tour, 4 Germans, 1 from Israel and me.
We headed up, over and through the mountains on a fantastically windy round that is notorious for motorbike riders doing laps on because it has over 200 corners in the stretch. It was very cool, though lame to be travelling on a bus and not a motorbike.
First stop was the Cathedral Fig Tree, a big tree that has been taken over by the fig and made a cathedral sort of effect.
We also took an amble around the rainforest and I met my first ever leech. Except it was one of the tiny ones, not a big fat grubby looking one. It was rather cute actually and I decided I am quite fond of leeches, and wouldn’t mind if one did decide to attach its self to me because they can live up to one year on only one feed of blood. Now that’s what I call economical, and sounds like a far worthier cause than donating blood for hospitals or whatever. It’ll keep the little leech going longer than a human anyway. As I said; very economical.
Next stop Millaa Millaa falls. Famous for being used in the Herbal Essence advert with the almighty hair flick with the waterfall in the background. Very pretty it was too. We had the option to swim at two waterfalls that day and even though it was basically freezing outside (only about 23c) and freezing in the water, we all decided to be brave and hop in for a swim.
Shit, it was cold. It was that sort of “Omg I can’t feel my limbs I think I have hypothermia” kind of cold. But I had a little swim around and regain feeling in my extremities. It was very awesome to be able to go behind the waterfall as well, though I had a fun time trying to see any because I was trying to wear my glasses throughout and then of course they got very wet but then I couldn’t see anything anyway because I didn’t have my glasses on. Either way, it was cool.
We hopped out, got dried off and headed over to Dinner Falls where we had a spot of lunch. Sandwiches, of course, which included iceberg. Slowly the bane of my tour existence. I think I have ceased to even like iceberg. It’s just such a grim salad thing when there are so many nice salad things to eat out there.
Time for yet another rainforest walk. Just before we set off we had all been reading the warning sign on Cassowaries and taking the piss about them being dangerous, citing the various things you should do should you encounter one; make sure you put a solid object between you and the cassowary, do not run away, do not try to scare it, etc.
Lo and behold, we wander in to the forest and I hear a cry behind me. One of the girls has grabbed one of the boys and appears to be shoving him in front of her, because.. oh there’s a cassowary stalking out of the bushes! Half the group had casually walked by and not noticed it lurking in the bushes, until it started making its way out of the clearing, which gave our fellow tour goer the shock of her life.
It was a real treat to see a cassowary so close up anyway, our guide (Bart) assured us that if we didn’t run away or act like idiots then the cassowary wouldn’t do anything because they can be quite harmless if you’re nice to them. He seemed to be right as we got to be quite close without having our innards ripped out with a single claw (what cassowaries are most famous for).
After we’d stopped ogling at the cassowary, we carried on to another pretty waterfall, saw more cool plants in the rainforest, got rained on, looked at the gigantic volcanic crater and I nearly broke my camera again with all the rainwater roaming around.
Our final stop for the day was in Yungaburra (where I was to spend the night), to do some platypus spotting. There are a couple that frequent the river in the town, swimming up and down, feeding on the banks and in the mud. We were very quiet and walked along the river bank for about 15 minutes, back and forth, trying to wait and see if we could see anything. We really thought our luck was out and then, at the final moment, a platypus appeared! Feeding happily right in front of us. I was under the distinct impression that platypuses were really rare and that the likelihood of seeing them was remote, but there goes that idea! In Yungaburra they are a common sight. Almost.
That night only one of the other people from the tour was staying at the Yunaburra hostel, one of the German guys whose name I can’t even remember how to say, let alone spell. Something German involving a lot of spit anyway. We got treated to a delicious BBQ dinner with homemade coleslaw (amazing) and mashed potatoes. Very yummy. Over dinner we also met two Canadian guys and we all decided to pay $30 to do the night canoe, where you float about on the water with a torch trying to spot animals on the shore, in the trees, etc.
It sounded a bit mad to me but like it might be fun, so I decided to go along. It was still raining a bit, not so much fun, but I got togged up and got to sit in the middle of the boat so I didn’t have to do any paddling which was nice and leisurely.
The big sight on the night canoe is the tree kangaroo, and we were lucky enough to see about 5 of them wandering around in the trees. We also saw a pademelon wallaby, brush tail possum, northern brown bandicoots, a toad, a water rat, some grey kangaroos, micro bats, flying foxes and a rabbit. Not bad for one evening!
Got in, took a lovely hot shower after the few hours being sat in a damp boat being rained on, and went to bed. The hostel was pretty glorious actually. Everything was really clean and homely, they had a fire lit and the facilities were really good. It was also just so quiet and peaceful. Bliss.
The next morning we had a leisurely start at 9am, where we drove to Lake Eacham for mountain biking. Oh dear god. Now I had enjoyed a less than positive experience of cycling in Albany, so far on my trip, and numerous uncomfortable cycling experiences from the past where my legs REALLY hurt because I never cycle and only walk (if that, lets face it).
I don’t know how many kilometres we did but anything more than a whizz around the car park would have been too many for my liking. The best bit, in my opinion, was when we got off the bikes and roamed into the forest. Here we got to see another platypus, which was only a couple of feet away - feeding, unaware we were stood there quietly watching it have its breakfast! Amazing.
Then we had to do a bit of rogue rock climbing - scrambling up a steep bank by clutching onto rocks and wading (read; paddling) our way through a stream. Lots of fun. Unfortunately we got back on the bikes and had to do more cycling. The very last hill was actually so steep I couldn’t cycle all the way up it, to make it over the final crest. My muscles were actually not capable of it. Weakling.
Happy days, cycling was over, time to eat a gigantic burger for lunch at a very reasonably priced roadhouse, with onion rings, yum yum.
Once I’d eaten my own body weight in grease, we went back to the lake again where some other people from another tour joined us and we got to canoe about again. This time I actually did some paddling, though I was with the guide and he was so strong I felt like I might as well not bothered. Though he did prove a point at one stage by not paddling and letting me do all the work, and we still managed to propel ourselves forward, so I suppose I was contributing after all.
Our day time trip around the lake graced us with more grey kangaroos, a very hidden tree kangaroo that you could be mistaken for a branch, lots of water dragons, and my personal favourite; a river snake! The latter which gave me quite a fright, as I turned around and it was sauntering off towards the bank after being insanely near our boat. River snakes are infamous for being violent bastards, so just as well I didn’t actually whack it with my paddle when I wasn’t looking.
As it was daytime we got to take a wander out of the boat and onto the river banks, which was fun. The guide made me take my shoes off because I had to get out into a muddy bit, so there i was wandering about with no shoes on, sinking my feet into mud that was nearly up to my knees (seriously!). I decided not to take my camera on the trip as it had already been waterlogged enough, let alone actually me accidentally dropping it in the river or something, so I went for the mental pictures instead, so you too will have to just imagine. Especially imagine my face at the thought there could be some foreign mud creature that eats females, lurking in the mud, that I haven’t heard of.
We headed back to the hostel and I was downright knackered after all my paddling and mountain biking. So I ate noodles, wrote my journal and relaxed. Though the guide did let me hold his baby pet python, which was about as thick as my index finger and only about 10 inches long. I am still half convinced that he was only pretending it was a python - it was so tiny! Cute though. I really like snakes. If they were more interactive I could almost desire one for a pet, but cool as they are, they only really slither around and don’t exactly slither over to you when you call their name or anything.