My Australian Journal - 2000-2001

Wednesday 6th December 2000

Started the day in chaos, had to finish buying, wrapping and posting Christmas presents before we could leave. Went to Milton Keynes hospital to see one of my best girl friends Claire who had just delivered a baby daugter.

Left Hemel Hempstead at 11 for Heathrow. Caught the 13.30 flight from Heathrow to Chicago O'Hare. Caught the 18.30 from Chicago to LA. Then the 21.30 from LA to Sydney. The plane was delayed for 2.5 hours "yuk" so we sat on the runway until midnight followed by a 16 hour flight to Sydney.

Thursday 7th December 2000

Lost this day flying over the international date line.

Friday 8th December 2000

Landed at Sydney at 9.40. Got a taxi to the hotel in Kings Cross - which turned out to be the red light district. Hotel a bit basic, but we are only staying for 3 nights, and we only need it for somewhere to sleep at night. We were full of good intentions, but fell asleep - we were a bit more tired than we expected after 32 hours in the air. Managed to go to supermarket and get some water and my essential - coke, before we collapsed. In the evening we went for a walk along the main street in the red light district, had a meal - chicken breasts and rice for me and a steak sandwich for Shawn, sitting in an open air restaurant next to a fountain in the shape of a globe commemorating the battle of El Alamein. Bought a bag for me to haul camera's around. Started to read my Christmas present from Mum and Dad - "Down Under" by Bill Bryson - a travelogue about 4 journeys he made around OZ. Very good book.

Saturday 9th December 2000

Today we explored Sydney. Of course we did it the hard way - on foot. We walked from the hotel to St.Mary's cathedral, and then down to the opera house passing the old barracks and the governor's house.

The opera house is an impressive building, both inside and out. I enjoyed the tour of the only part not in use - the Concert hall - which is the largest of the halls. For lunch we went to a pub in Cumberland street and had half a pizza each - mine was a normal one that I enjoyed - Shawn decided to be adventurous and chose pumpkin - she regretted it - not a good combination.

We then went and faced one of my fears - height! We climbed to the very top of the harbour bridge. 1337 steps, and 435 feet above the water. The climb turned out to be not very arduous, nor very scary. The safety was a bit over done. So many things are made just a bit too safe to be fun these days. After the 3 hours prep, climb and return we decided to go to china town and eat - a big disappointment for me - food very poor quality, me not in a very good mood - seem to be on a low right now don't know why - I have been looking forward to this trip for months. Maybe things are not living up to expectation, but then I don't know what my expectations were.

Got back to hotel at about 9.30 after walking across town. Went to bed and continued reading "Down Under". Finished it before falling asleep.

Sunday 10th December 2000

Woke at 3 am, jet lag playing havoc with sleep patterns. Read and chatted with Shawn until about 6 am, then drifted back to sleep. We woke again at about 11 am, upset the cleaners because they couldn't get in our room to clean.

Managed to shave and shower and leave at about 12. Went to Paddy's market, and indoor shopping experience - lots of tat for sale, much as you expect to find in these places world-wide. Great fruit and vegetable market at the back, with loads of exotic fruits at such low prices - pineapples at just 50p and fresh lychees at just over £1 a kilo.

After Shawn found a couple of tops, and I found some socks that fit inside my shoes to wear with shorts we walked across the road to the pub for a couple of schooners of beer and listened to some pretty awful karaoke.

We then wandered up to the main shops to get me some aqua socks for when we manage to go diving, found some at just $50aus, excellent value as the ones I got Shawn were £70 in the UK. Next we went up the AMP tower, the tallest structure in Australia, and one of the tallest in the world. Looked down on the places we have been visiting the last few days, and took lots of pictures plus a few minutes of video. Had a look at a display of the torches used to carry the Olympic flames to the games over the last 100 years.

On the walk back to the hotel we stopped at The Hard Rock café and had a couple of drinks each, bought a glass each and a couple of tee shirts for Shawn. Wandered the last few yards back to the hotel and decided to take a rest before we went out for the evening. We fell asleep again! We woke at midnight, a bit too late to go eat, so I started reading while Shawn drifted in and out of sleep. I read the whole of "Second Wind" by Dick Francis. We then chatted again before drifting back to sleep at about 6am.

Monday 11th December 2000

I woke and started charging around getting packed and ready at just after 7am, thinking it was just after 8. So was all ready to leave the hotel an hour earlier than we needed to.

We caught 2 trains to the van hire place where we collected our home for the next 5 weeks - a Toyota Hi-Top camper van.

We drove back into Sydney and were back at the hotel by 10.30 - so soon the guy who ran the hotel was startled - he was expecting to have to keep the reception open longer than usual while he waited for our return. We loaded up, then went to log on and collect our emails - the first time in 5 days - I was suffering severe withdrawal symptoms. I had hundreds of mails - all but about 5 of them being junk.

We left Sydney and headed north on the highway 1 - Pacific Highway, and ended the day at a place called Cessanoch in the Hunter valley winemaking area.

Shawn the navigator found us a campsite the night, then we drove into town and had some food - me chicken and chips, Shawn chicken kebabs from a fast food joint. We hit our beds quite early, me not 100% yet, cold still bugging me. Snoring quite a bit too, seems I keep waking Shawn. Didn't read tonight, slept right through until 3am, got cold, so got some more bedding out and slept until the morning.

Drove 257 km's

Tuesday 12th December 2000

We left the campsite at just before 10 am, and headed for the vineyards. Visited Constable & Hershon first and wandered around their gardens before we bought some wine - I spooked myself in the rose garden by walking into a huge spiders web - Bill Bryson had spoken so much about the nasty spiders out here that I was worried! Survived though then went to the shop and bought 2 bottles of wine.

Next we went to McGuigans vineyards and did a tour around the factory, wandered around their cheese shop and tasted a few wines in the wine shop. Ended up with another 4 bottles of wine here.

Drove a few more miles and visited another vineyard sold by McGuigans to Pernod of France - the Wyndham estate. Just bought another 4 wines here, didn't stay long at all.

Next we drove to Newcastle and got a better map. The ones we had were very poor, and were difficult to follow. While in town we also got me a dive book listing places we should dive along the barrier reef, and a book about squashed fairies for Shawn. We then grabbed a sandwich and got back in the camper. We drove North again for another 130 km's to a town called Boomerang Beach where we found a campsite for the night called Moby Dick's retreat.

We explored the local town, and managed a gourmet's delight! a pizza for tea! We are surprised at just how few places there are to eat apart from pub's and chip shops. Very much like England in the 1960's from that viewpoint. We spent the evening sitting in van writing and reading, before we had another early night.

Drove 265 km's

Wednesday 13th December 2000

Woken very early by Shawn getting out of the van to go to the beach. I was feeling under the weather so didn't do much more than open my eye's. I am still feeling out of sorts, but Shawn seems to be enjoying herself, she wants to extend the trip!

We moved 20kms along the coast and we have stopped for 24 hours. We have booked a trip to swim with the dolphins, I have long wanted to see dolphins in the wild, but I cannot swim with them, if only my daughter Sophie was here, she would love it.

I seem to be a bit depressed today, goodness knows why, here I am doing what I wanted to for so long.

I went to sleep for 3 hours, then Shawn persuaded me to go for a walk in the sun, we went to nine mile beach, just 500 yards from where the van was parked, but I managed to drive nearly 20 kms to find it!. Walking along the beach we found many jellyfish, some tiny Portuguese men of wars and a couple of very hard round ones as large as dinner plates. The strange thing is, they are all blue! We also found loads of beetles crawling along just above the waters edge, and hundreds more drowned along the edge as well. The gulls were having a feast day.

We drove into town to get some drinking glasses and a hat for me - need to try and preserve Fred my one remaining brain cell. On the way back we turned off to go to a restaurant for dinner, and I stopped at 90 degrees to a police car, who promptly pulled me for driving with no seat belt on. Got myself my first non UK ticket $115! Have 6 weeks to pay (whoops, forgot to pay that - will have to send a cheque!)

We had a pretty good meal in the restaurant - best food so far since landing here 5 days ago. A nice meal of veal in a cream sauce, Shawn had a seafood pasta dish which she seemed to enjoy as well. Now parked up again in camping park beside the sea. The mystery for the day is how do I fill the screen wash on the van? Just cannot find a tank at the front at all.

Drove 57 km's

Thursday 14th December 2000

Got up at 7am! We woke an hour before the alarm went off because Shawn was very excited about swimming with the Dolphins. We then spent so long looking for the screen wash filler and then getting ready and breaking camp that we were 15 minutes late getting to the dock.

We got there just before the boat was due to depart at 9, happily we were allowed to board. We found the Dolphins within about 10 minutes, and it was great to watch them swim around and under the boat. 4 people got to go into the water with them. Shawn was fifth, but by then they had got tired with the attention and swam away. Shawn and 3 other people got taken very bad with sea sickness on the boat, and fed the fish with their recently eaten breakfasts. We did a big trip around the bay in the boat, and saw lots of jellyfish, sea birds and a couple of small black tip and hammerhead sharks.

We returned to terra firma at 11am, and after letting Shawn take 30 minutes to find her land legs again we set off Northwards on the Pacific Highway once again. Spent until 6pm driving, covering a respectable 540kms.

We got to see three separate lots of kangaroos, the most easterly point in Australia at Point Byron, and lots of rain.

We camped up in a town called Brunswick Heads, where we managed to get a plot with great views overlooking the river.

The price of fruit is amazing, today we have seen banana's for just 40c (16p) a kilo and avocados at 4 for $2! (80p)

The funniest things about today for me is wandering around the campsite in shorts and T-shirts, with a warm sea breeze blowing, with the crickets chirruping all around, and people barbecuing their dinners, and then hearing Christmas carols playing in some of the vans - very unreal!

Found a nice little Italian Restaurant a few yards from the campsite gate where we had a good meal - Shawn had Mozzarella and Olive bread followed by a steak cooked in mushrooms and red wine, I had minestrone soup followed by a steak cooked in green peppercorns, if only all the food was this good

The camp is idyllic, looking out over the river, listening to the sea breaking on the coast a few yards away. Birds looking like Oyster Catchers wading in the shallows around the roots of the mangroves, and the occasional Heron stabbing at the water as well.

Now its time for bed - its only 9.30, but we have done so much today that we are ready to collapse. My mood has lifted, now feeling much better, maybe I was just all screwed up by the jet-lag.

Drove 540 km's

Critters seen - Dolphins, Sharks, Kangaroo's, Jellyfish, Pelicans and various other sea birds.

Friday 15th December 2000

Another early start, both up and about at about 7.30, showered, dressed and fed and on the road by 9.30.

Headed North towards Brisbane on the Pacific Highway. Passed through a town called Mooball where they had painted all the telegraph poles like Friesian cows, then the next town called Burringball they had pained the poles like palm trees! These people sure are underemployed!

We decided not to go into Brisbane, as nothing in guide books appealed, and we can see cities in Europe and the states, there are many other places we are more interested in seeing on this trip.

Just outside if Brisbane is a Koala sanctuary which has been running since 1929. Shawn got to hold a Koala and have her picture (several actually) taken with it. She wanted to see this particular sanctuary as one of her favourite authors had visited there in the 1950's, and she wanted to follow in his footsteps.

We learnt a lot about the lives of Koala's and Kangaroo's during the visit, and had lots of great photo opportunities - I just hope the pictures all come out now.

We spent an hour getting lost trying to find our way back onto the main route North, but we got there in the end, and started putting some distance behind us as we charge up to the reef and some diving. We drove through surfers paradise - its now so over commercialised that its like any of the sunshine strips in the states with huge hotel complexes, shopping malls and the usual junk food shops. On the way up here Shawn wanted me to give her my life history - a matter of 12 minutes I think she said it took me. Made me think a lot about my friends in England.

We ended up in one of the original towns where free settlers were allowed to land in Australia - Marysborough. Lots of Victorian buildings and history. We saw none of this tonight though, just a big shopping complex, 2 pub/slot machine halls and lots of fast food outlets.

We went looking for food - the first location (recommended by the proprietor of the campsite) was a large self service place with Bingo and pokies (slot machines) all around so we decided it was not for us and headed for recommendation 2, fared no better, very similar scene but I was barred as I was wearing a collar-less shirt. Location 3 looked good, but was fully booked, location 4 turned out to be a Chinese takeaway with plastic chairs and a banquet that had been standing for 3 hours, location 5 a take away pizza parlour so we ended up in one of the junk food take-away's - Pizza Hut eating a $10 banquet.

There is a huge variation in the price of fuel around the country, with it being sold at 91c a litre in Sydney, up to 102c a litre around Newcastle and today around Brisbane we saw it as low as 77.9c. We managed to find it at 87.9c when we needed to fill, so not to bad.

Did a bit more research into distances - I estimated 7500 kms when I looked at maps in UK. Using maps bought here it looks like 8500. So far we have done 1500. Looks like I will be spending about 17 more days sitting behind the wheel, and about 14 lazing around in the sunshine.

Drove 474 kms

Critters seen - Kangaroos, bush turkeys, Koala's, Wallaby's, Emu, Tasmanian Devil, Crested Lizard, Other lizards, dingo's, owls and various macaws/parrots

Saturday 16th December 2000

Started the day early again at 7, but its now 11 and we are still at the site - we are having a nice lazy start to the day for a change - it's a gorgeous day, the temperature in the van was 82 at 9am, its now just over 90. Shawn has been great, This morning she got up early and did the washing! A woman who knows her place!! Lol

The guy who runs the campsite here has been very chatty and giving us lots of ideas on places to go, and things to see as we head across the desert. There was us thinking it would be a mad dash through nothing, and he has told us about places we can dig for garnets, diamonds, zirconium, sapphires, emeralds, gold, Maltese crosses and various other minerals. Museums where we can see the history of the opening of the outback, Caves where we can see aboriginal art, crocodile farms where we can see crocodiles from egg through luggage, hot springs, bat caves, the worlds biggest sand dunes, the worlds biggest sand island, bush camps, diving, etc. etc.

We will probably rework some of our itinerary as a result, though much of what he told us about fits in with the original planned route and stops across the desert. He also gave us a piece of garnet each, which we will need to polish. They are both about an inch long by ¾ inch across he had literally hundreds of them which he had fossicked for in the desert.

I don't know why, but today feels like the start of the holiday! Guess its because the sun is shining, my mood has lightened, and what I think may have been jet lag has gone. Whatever it was I now feel 100% better.

We left the camp at 11.30, and headed to town to try and get a walkman to play our talking books, queued for a while for a parking slot, then just as one came free we found out that the store fire alarm had been tripped and that the store was evacuated. So we gave up, drove around town to see if we could see another shop which may be able to supply one, but gave up at noon and headed back for the freeway.

We stopped at Childers to try and see the Pharmaceutical museum, sadly the placed closed about 45 minutes before we got there, it does the Aussie thing of closing for half day on a Saturday. This was a bummer, as it would have been nice to let Shawn see something that interests her. Childers is the town that suffered a very bad fire earlier this year at the backpackers hostel, there was no sign of it now, though we didn't go looking for it.

The other thing Childers is famous for is the sugar cane, it grew for miles and miles along beside the road, they have a narrow gauge railway to transport it around.

Whilst driving we talked about things we have not done yet which we would like to do. Neither of us could think of very much, me wanting to go into a desert proper, as I don't count the drive from LA to Las Vegas as a visit to a desert. Shawn wants to do some paragliding, which I am sure we can fit in this trip. Neither of us mentioned getting our dive licences, probably because we know we will be doing that in a few days.

Things between us are lots better, my mood over the last week was so destructive.

We saw 3 huge coal trains today, both being pulled by 2 locomotives. After seeing no trains since we left Sydney it was quite a surprise seeing all this action! We drove down a gravel road to find the Crocodile farm, it was closed by the time we got there, but it will be open tomorrow. If we get there for 12 we can watch them being fed, then the tour starts at 1. Shawn also seems quite keen to try eating some!

The journey along the Pacific Highway is quite interesting. This is the country's main route from the North to the South along its most populated region. The road for most of its length is a two lane carriageway, with occasional 3rd overtaking lanes. Most of the time you are driving through tropical forest. The road signs are breeding like rabbits. I have never seen so many per mile, they tell you to do just about everything except when to scratch yourself.

Shawn found us a nice site right beside the beach, in a town called Emu Point, we asked the petrol attendant where to eat, he suggested the pub - which turned out pretty good steaks, and Stella, so nice after the virgin water the Australians call beer!.

After dinner we returned to the van and played rummy for points until about 11pm, while listening to an entertainer singing for the kids in the social centre.

Drove 463kms

Critters seen - none, though we did see lots of wasp nests in the trees, some of them as big as 2 feet high.

We have also spotted a few of the curious landmarks the Aussies seem to enjoy - large constructions over malls, bars etc. Now seen big crab, big prawn, big rock, big banana, big pineapple and a large statue of Ned Kelly.

Sunday 17th December 2000

Shawn I and I started the day lying in bed listening to carols coming from the church across the bay.

While we were eating breakfast we were entertained by a male Kookaburra attacking his reflection in the vans windscreen while he protected his territory. Out the back window we watched as a scrub Turkey foraged around collecting mountains of leaves for his nest.

Shawn finished the soft (and very smelly cheese) that she bought from the shop at McGuigans vineyards. This will hopefully mean that the van smells a lot more pleasant from here on.

One of the landmarks in Emu Park is a sculpture called the singing sails. This is a large metal structure that looks like the sail and rigging on a yacht. When the wind blows through the structure it makes a moaning sound.

We found a car boot sale going on in the village green so we went and had a wander around and Shawn bought a fan for the van to cool it down a bit more. There were camels being used to give rides rather like donkey's on an English beach. It is a very strange fact that Australia is now the only country in the world to have wild camels. They were brought here to help transport goods across the desert before the railways were built. Some of them escaped into the desert, and have formed wild herds.

Our first stop after leaving the site was a Crocodile farm, before we went and looked at them we decided to see what they tasted like so we ate crocodile meat for lunch, it was OK, but not anything special taste-wise. The walk around was very interesting, with lots of tales about where the star creatures were caught. Its amazing how big they grow to, and how long they live. The biggest one they have is over 800 kgs and the oldest was in his 70's.

The farm collects all the eggs and incubates them and has over 3000 crocodiles on the farm. They breed them for their meat and their skins, as both fetch a very high price.

Between the crocodile farm and the caves we came across some signs beside the road for a funny farm. This appears to be someone with too much time on their hands who have amused themselves making a whole series of signs making funny statements and putting them around the entrance to their home

After a short drive - only about 100 kms we got to Olsons caves. These were discovered by a Norwegian emigrant in the late 1800's. When he found them they were inhabited by thousands of bats, they still roost there sometimes but not in the numbers they used to. In places the Guano is up to 30 metres deep. The bats that roost there are so small that there are as many as 6000 per square metre.

After the bat caves we headed inland again, this time going some 200 kms westward up into the highlands and the coal country. We are headed for the towns of Sapphire and Emerald where we are going to try fossiking for some stones.

We saw our first aboriginal people on this trip, its hard not to feel sorry for these people who have had such a beautiful country taken from them with very little being given back to them in return.

We got as far as a town called Blackwater which is little more than a dormitory town for the coal mines and a railway shunting yard. We got to the camp at 7.30, and were told that if we wanted to eat there was only the chip shop, and that closed at 8. We didn't even park the van up, just grabbed a few bottles of booze and went and ordered some fish and chips. The fish out here is not cod, haddock, skate etc that we eat in the UK, some of the fish are quite tasty, some are appalling, happily tonight's was not too bad.

When I went to the bathroom I was amazed to find 13 little green tree frogs, they seem to have adopted a new habitat, the hollow centres of the concrete breeze blocks that the toilet block is built from. Having never seen a tree frog except in photographs I was enchanted and thought Shawn would be too, but no, she has seen them many times before, and had one jump on her shoulder and scare her in the past.

Drove 323 km's

Monday 18th December 2000

Woke early to the sounds of birds having a big dispute, when I looked out to see what they were I was amazed to find dozens of very brightly coloured Crimson Rosella Parrots. I spent half an hour watching and taking pictures of them. We also saw a bundle of very young kittens behind one of the blocks of cabins, they were having great fun playing in the morning sunshine. Shawn wanted to take one home. I can imagine if she bought a house out here it would very soon be a zoo, with Koala's, Kangaroo's, Cats, and any other cute and cuddly creatures she could find.

We drove on to Emerald to start our days planned agenda - fossicking for sapphires and emeralds. The information bureau told us to drive on to the town of Sapphire where we would be able to do this.

We explored an underground mine called "Heritage mine" and saw sapphires still embedded in the rock, and learnt how to identify the type of rock they are found in. We decided that we would rather just buy dirt that they had dug up and put in buckets than go down again and dig the dirt for ourselves.

We spent an hour standing in the sun sieving and washing the dirt and we both came away with some pretty if small stones. We found blue sapphires, green sapphires, zircon, pink quartz, and a piece of polished amethyst someone had dropped. On the way back to the coast we had to pass through Emerald again, so we spent an hour in the mall doing some shopping.

We went to a book shop called "books abound" and found they had less books to sell than I have at home. I had heard that books were hard to get in Australia, but this was a huge surprise - needless to say they didn't have any talking books. I also tried to get books on the flora and fauna of Australia but no joy. Tried a second hand book shop too, lots of books this time, but mainly very old ones and men's adventure or porn magazines.

We drove on through lots of alternating bush, small towns and stations. As a welcome relief to the flatness we saw a conical shaped hill called Wolfgang, a pair of peaks called Gemini and a very strange shaped one we couldn't find the name of.

Shawn had a go at driving today, this is the first time she has driven on the proper side of the road, and the first time she has driven a shift stick. With a few gear crunches and a kangaroo start she managed very well. By the end of 40 km's she decided she had had enough!

Despite drinking lots of water, Shawn has got dehydrated. It was probably due to the length of time we stood out in the sun looking for the stones.

We stopped for the night in a town called Moraneah in the coal country, ate a Chinese meal - not very good, fatty chicken and lots of monosodium glutamate, and this was recommended to us as the better of the 2 Chinese restaurants in town!

Drove 433 km's Shawn drove 40 km's

Critters: frogs, kittens and birds

Tuesday 19th December 2000

Left Moraneah at 10.30 and headed for the coast again. Listened to talking book for 2 hours - Goodnight & Loving by Leslie Thomas, The camper only has a radio, which means that as soon as you leave town there is nothing to listen too. Shawn and I have talked and talked, and now need some other stimulation. We managed to buy a small walkman to play our tapes, and a pair of small speaker to plug it and out cd player into. We had a few problems with speakers at first, but we found a way of fixing one to each headrest with bluetac which worked quite well.

Stopped in MacKay and went shopping again, visited Woolworths, which unlike the UK is a food supermarket, Target which like the states is a large general store selling a bit of everything. Then found a bookshop in the mall where we managed to get a quiz book and a Billy Connelly tape.

We got to our final destination for the next week - Airlie Beach at about 3.30. We got our diving medical which we both scraped through, and then booked a 5 day course where we spend 2 days in a pool and classroom, then 3 days living on a boat. We had our pictures taken for the passes and the dive records, and I bought a holder for my dive pages.

We then found some holiday units where they have phones so that we could log onto the internet and download our mails, booked in for 2 nights, moved in to room, and then found out that the phone system is not working. ARRRRGGGGGHHHHHH

We settled down to munch some cheese and crackers and study the dive books ready for tomorrow. We have three chapters to read and answer questionnaires about.

Drove 358 km's

Critters seen: blue and yellow parrots, black and white birds, cows and ants.

Wednesday 20th December 2000

Went to school!!. We got our homework done on time. Lessons went very well and the self assessment tests were OK. Even managed to get through the swim test and the float test. .Got a load more homework for the evening. The tables were the most fun.

Shawn found the day exhausting - the up and downs in the pool were very stressful for her. I was scared of the swim and the snorkel, but once that was out of the way the rest of it was just great fun. We stopped at the dive shop on the way back and bought new masks and snorkels in the hope that they will let in less water and maybe stop me drowning.

There are 16 people in our class, which has been split into 2 groups. In the group with Shawn and I there are a couple from the UK called Erika & James, a couple from South Africa called Sam & Anton, a guy from Canada called Elton and an English guy called John. They all seem a nice bunch.

Got back to the motel in the evening, the phones were working so I downloaded my emails - 139 of them! Because of the slow speeds of the connections out here it took over an hour! I bet the phone bill will be a bit painful tomorrow. I don't have time to answer them, though non of them seem to require answering at the moment anyway. Seems people back home have been paying attention to the messages I left that I am on holiday.

Shawn too tired to do anything tonight, in fact she was asleep by 7.30. I went to the local supermarket to buy some food and bought some chicken and rice, though Shawn said she wasn't hungry I bought enough for her as well, just as well I did, because she woke and decided she was a bit hungry after all. She went back to sleep almost immediately afterwards though.

Drove 12 km's

Thursday 21st December 2000

School again, we started the day in the pool doing the exercises, went very well, all of us still alive. After lunch back to the classroom for the final self assessment exams, followed by the final multiple choice exam. All went well, managed to get myself 98%, the best I have ever done in an exam in my life. Now well on my way to certification.

The new masks and snorkels were fantastic. Went for a wander around the shops, bought a load of postcards, a couple of pairs of shorts and a couple of Tee shirts. We then went for a few drinks and a meal at one of the bars, my steak was over a pound in weight! but it tasted so good I managed to finish it.

We got on the boat, the Prodiver at 7.30 pm, and left Airlie beach at 11.45 on the tide. The rain was coming down, the waves were riding high and the wind blowing at about 25 knots. Shawn hit her bunk not long after we boarded, she is not a good sailor, and is not looking forward to the trip very much. If it wasn't for the dives I think she would much preferred to stay ashore.

Things got noisy as the night went on, but apart from being too hot I slept through virtually all of it. Before hitting my bunk I spent a couple of hours talking to some of the other divers. A couple from Belgium who are taking a year and a half off to go around the world, a girl from South Africa and a guy from Eire who are also taking a long world trip and a couple from Slough doing the same. Rolled into bed at just after midnight,

Drove 13 km's

Friday 22nd December 2000

Woke at just after 7 to find the boat dropping anchor in a place called Line Reef, about 80 kms from land, and about 94 kms from Airlie Beach. This is one of several thousand reefs forming the great barrier reef.

The day started with an overcast morning, and a choppy sea. Shawn had bought me a present to celebrate Hanukkah. She bought me a divers torch. I feel a bit bad because I had not bought her anything. I was not expecting anything from her, I am after all running away from England and the gift giving season.

First dive at 8 am! A 12m dive with a strong current. Dive went pretty well, except I lost Shawn in a strong current at about 10m. She did the right thing and surfaced, she was about 50m from us, so the boat went and collected her first. Second dive went lots better, with Shawn and I rarely more than about 2m apart. We both got through all the exercises OK. That's it for the day.

Lunch was a great spread, a curried potato salad, cold meats, cheese, pasta and green salads. Afternoon was free time, I spent mine lying in sun, Shawn decided to go snorkelling at a nearby reef. I am still not confident enough to go snorkelling without something to keep me afloat. I scared myself so much in the Maldives that I have not been able to do it since. I managed fine in Greece in the past, so maybe before the end of the holiday I will be happy to do it again.

Tonight I am doing some extra studying so that I can work towards my advanced divers licence. I will be doing some extra dives to 30m, a night dive and one other.

Tomorrow looks like being a busy day with first dive at 6.30 down to 18m, then the second dive at 10.30 to about 16m. These 2 will give us our open water divers certificate. So fingers crossed, legs and eyes crossed too.

Distance travelled 94 kms horizontally, 12m, and 10m vertically.

Creatures seen: lots of corals, sweetlips and various other fishes.

Saturday 23rd December 2000

Kelvin (course instructor and dive co-ordinator) woke us all at about 5.30 am to go diving.

A quick shave, clean teeth and off we went to the water. The rain was hammering down, it was grey and overcast but we were all in the water by 6.30!

Dived to 14.5m for 30 minutes, did our exercises and brought ourselves to within 1 dive of certification. Back on top and into the saloon for breakfast, all eaten and cleaned away buy 8.20 am. Weather and visibility poor at first site so boat got under way at just after 8 and moved us to a new location at Hook Reef.

Did second dive of the day down to 11.6m for 26 minutes and by 10.45 was a certified open water diver!! So far 7 out of our group have passed, with John having some ear problems and aiming to complete his either later today or tomorrow.

2 more dives to do today, 1 is fun dive, where we see if we can do any of what we have been taught, and that we are now licensed to do. Then tonight I am doing a night dive with Elton the Canadian and Tony the divemaster. This is the first dive towards the next level of certification as an adventure diver.

The fun dive went well, toured around a coral bommie, saw lots of fish, cucumbers, and different kinds of corals. Got back to the surface and found I was a lot lower on air than anyone else, when got back on boat found out that my spg ( submersible pressure gauge) had sprung a leak and was free flowing my air.

Had lunch and then sat with Elton and Tony and reviewed last nights homework - we managed to get 100% on the three modules we did. Boat now on the move to the next location near the islands for our next dive which will be the night dive at about 7 pm.

We moored in Maureen's bay on reef island for our final dive of the day. As soon as we moored we were surrounded by a group of bat fish which came to the surface begging for food. We were also visited by a pair of dolphins off our starboard side which people quickly dressed up in stinger suits to go and visit. Sadly they moved away before anyone could join them.

The night dive went well with all the required tasks completed, so got a tick in the box of the first of my adventure divers log.

We all went to bed quite early, some as early as 9 pm. almost everyone by 10 pm, as we have another 5.30 start tomorrow.

Distance travelled 32 nautical miles.

Creatures seen today too many to mention!

Sunday 24th December 2000

Woken again at 5.30 for the scariest dive so far. The boat was under way moving us to a new location for the dive in Manta Ray bay. For the first dive of the day I am going down to 30m - This is a long way down, something like the height of a 10 storey building.

Lots of preparations and briefing to make sure we were happy and secure with what we were doing.

The dive went very well. I enjoyed much more than the night dive. I managed to be fastest at performing the underwater tasks, avoiding the effects of nitrogen narcosis I guess the years of alcohol abuse proved useful for something. I managed to do the tasks underwater in 9 seconds, and then again on dry land in 7 seconds. It took some people as long as 12 seconds underwater.

The boat moved again for our last dive to a bay called luncheon bay, here I did my under water naturalist dive, my buddies for this dive are Shawn and Elton. The underwater naturalist dive requires you to be able to identify fish, corals, sea stars and alga. We were supposed to be down for 40 minutes, but we only managed 34 minutes because I ran out of air looking for Elton a lot of the time. Elton is more fish than human and we kept losing him. I had to exert myself a lot fighting against the currents trying to find him. Shawn and I have decided that we will prefer to dive with just the 2 of us in future as it is too difficult trying to keep track of other people.

We spent the rest of the morning lounging around on the boat, and then having a small ceremony where we were presented with our licences.

We landed back at the marina at 2.30 and slowly made our way back to the camper van via the shops. We had an invitation to join the rest of the crew and divers for an evening meal and a night partying, but Shawn is wrecked and so we are not going to go. The last 3 days have taken their toll on her, The sea sickness plus the dives sapped a lot of her energy, but she is a fighter and tries to pretend it is not effecting her.

We have found a campsite for the next 2 nights, where we can unwind before we head off north again. We had not been camped long when we met up with one of the other couples who had been diving, we call them Scottish couple as we did not catch their names on the boat. They are not going out tonight either, they are feeling a bit land sick. They have just spent the last 6 days at sea!

I went and got myself a pizza and some beer, got a free ham with the beers as it is some special offer, and it appears that Aussies eat Ham to celebrate Christmas rather than turkey.

Came back and listened to the kids playing around the site, 2 little ones had new torches and were having loads of fun shining them into the trees annoying the possums. Shawn was in bed sleeping by 8 pm. I was bored and tried to read some emails that I downloaded, but it was to difficult so I gave up and was asleep by 9 pm myself

Distance travelled - about 40 nautical miles

Drove 5km's

Critters seen - loads of sea life

Monday 25th December 2000

Woke to a beautiful morning, birds singing in the trees, sun shining through the top windows of the van. We got up at about 8, what a lazy night! Showered and dressed by 9, breakfasted by 9.30 and our journals brought up to date.

Got Christmas greetings from Jenny, Jo and Connie & Mark. Shawn gave me a present this morning as well, a new belt - she was tired of my old one because it is very long, and goes around me one and a half times. I am getting her a stinger suit for Christmas, but she was too tired to stay at the shop last night so we didn't get it, we are getting it for her tomorrow.

We met Miriam, half of another of the couples on the boat. She and her partner have got sore throats. Probably because they didn't drink enough water when diving, you are supposed to drink water before and after every dive because the air you breath is very dry. Seems they didn't go to the do last night either. That's a quarter of the group didn't go, I hope the others had a good time.

Plans for today - head to town and the beach and slob around. Maybe top off the tans a bit more. We are also going to go to an internet café and check our emails again.

While in town we met up with Erika and James in the internet café who invited us to join up with them and a few others at 2 pm and go for a few drinks in a bar call Reefo's. So we went and lay on a beach for an hour and then went looking for some food. We managed to get some Sushi for Shawn, but I decided I would rather wait until later than eat raw fish again. - I find it very strange how the foods of peasants in so many countries are now regarded as gourmet foods!

We met up with the rest of the guys at just after 2, and in a rather disjointed fashion we all made our way to Reefo's bar. The place was buzzing, not really surprising as it was one of only 2 places in town open this afternoon. We stayed there and had a few drinks and chilled around the pool with about 100 other people. Shawn got hit on by Roy who had been on the boat with us, she was doing her bit where she finds out what is wrong with people, Roy got the wrong idea and asked her back to his room for a few drinks!

Shawn was on the strawberry Daiquiris, so was getting very merry very fast. The DJ started a dancing competition in the pool, which quickly turned into a "get yer tits out" session, and very soon there were 5 or 6 girls topless. A few of the guys sitting around the pool started mooning much to the amusement of the girls who were then calling for them to take their shorts right off. Only one guy did it, to screams of amusement, and rapid camera shutter clicks from the girls.

Due to the licensing laws the fun all came to a close at about 4, and we were all asked to leave. As the last bus had gone I gave all the guys a lift back to town. We waited around for the next bar to open at 5, when we all had to eat in order to buy more drinks. Food was not too bad, but not up to the standard of the food on the boat. Erika and James, Sam and Anton, Shawn and I stayed in the bar until about 7.30. I took a back seat through a large part of the conversation as it was all about politics, an area I prefer to opt out. Especially as Shawn and I have very differing views on quite a few topics.

Shawn and I came home at 7.30, and settled down for the night, Shawn with her book, me uploading photo's from the camera and then writing this journal. I now need to go call the UK and wish the family happy Christmas. It will then be back to the van and hunt the after sun as I appear to have got a little hot today.

Outside the van I can hear the possums arguing. No children running around tonight, I guess they all got up so early this morning that they have collapsed asleep now, and the whole site is quite but for the possums.

We went to bed at about 8.30, as we were both tired and I couldn't get any reception to call the UK.

Drove 10 km's

Creatures seen: none except the humans

Tuesday 26th December 2000

Woke this morning to the sounds of the laughing Kookaburra - a bird with a very distinct and loud call. I was looking out of the caravan window to locate them when I saw my first possum in the wild. I grabbed my shorts and camera and was out taking photographs within a minute. I was very surprised to find that the camp was already very busy, with people everywhere - it was after all only 6.30 am.

While sitting here writing this and working out distances for the rest of the journey we saw lots of musk lorikeets flying around.

We headed off for town at 8.30 and looked for a hair dresser to get my hair cut - there are about 8 in Airlie Beach but they were all closed.

Went to the dive shop and bought Shawn her stinger suit, me a wet suit, and tee shirt and got the torch Shawn bought for me replaced because it leaked on its only journey under water.

We hit the road just after 9.30 and headed for Townsville, the furthest point north we have planned for this trip. On the way we stopped at the Billabong sanctuary where we met up with a lot more of the local wildlife, much of it walking, flying and waddling around unfettered. Shawn got to hold 2 more Koala's, a wombat, a carpet snake, a crocodile and a cockatiel. I held all of them as well except the Koala's. I was also attacked by the cockatiel, who tried to pull out my hair and bite my tongue out. I was helpless for laughter and it took me ages to pass it on to some other unsuspecting member of the public and run!

We got to Townsville about 5, found a site and then dashed out to refuel Shawn who was hitting grumpy time due to low blood sugar levels. Went to a seafood place recommended by the information bureau, it was a place you pay $25 per head then eat all you can. The food was a mixture of Chinese and British cooking, so there was no problem finding stuff to eat. The quality was pretty good as well, though we didn't eat our money's worth, I think we are both a bit tired and worn out by the heat.

Today has been very hot, its now 8 pm, and with the fan blowing full blast the temperature is still in the 80's. Rang dad, he seems to be having lots of problems contacting me, everyone else seems to be doing ok, but he says he has sent me emails and phone messages, and tried to call me, but he can never get through. I think he is still having problems with his new internet phone.

We ended the evening doing the laundry! Exciting stuff, but because we have lots of wet towels from the swimming we have to keep washing them to stop them getting smelly in the heat.

Drove 308 kms

Creatures seen - possums, parrots, flying squirrels, flying foxes, bats, crocodiles, turtles, ducks, laughing kookaburra's, geese, Ibis, Emu, Wallaby, kangaroos, cassowary's, koala, wombats, snakes, owls, horses, cows, and eagles.

Wednesday 27th December 2000

Started the day by finishing the laundry. At least we are now in a position of having lots of clean clothes again. We then went into town to get my haircut and do a bit of food shopping. Next we headed out to find the sand dunes, the information bureau had told Shawn that we could sun bathe nude in them. We ended up in a National Park and went onto their beach. It was very quiet so I stripped for a short while, but then it started to rain.

On our way out of the park a Rock Wallaby hopped across the road in front of us.

This is Townsville, the town that gets 320 days of sunshine a year, I get here and it rains! We gave up and went back in to town and browsed around the shops for a while. We bought some more talking books, a book of Australian Yarns, a pair of fins for me, a little (tiny) black dress for Shawn, and we got another 3 rolls of film developed.

We also went to an Internet café to check our mails,

At 4.45 we went to the ferry dock to catch the boat across to Magnetic Island. The island is supposed to have just about everything a tourist could want with walks, horse riding, diving, snorkelling, swimming, and some entertainment as well.

We booked into a campsite - the only one on the island - called Geoff's place. As we drove the van onto the site we were greeted by a peacock standing on a railing just inside the gates. We have booked in here for 4 nights, we have a 5th night free if we want it. We may stay or we may not, as New Year's eve is in 4 days, and unless we can find somewhere on the island where Shawn can dress up for the night we will need to head back to the mainland.

While we were having a pre-dinner drink the bar maid started feeding a Kookaburra from her hand, then as we ate dinner a possum came down into the bar area. As I walked around the site I saw another 2 possum's in the trees. There are some birds walking around that look like Heron's,

Shawn came back from the toilet block to tell me that there was a 9 inch stick insect in there!

Droves 42 km's, 9 km's by ferry boat

Creatures seen, rock wallaby, white cockatiels, possum's and grasshoppers.

Thursday 28th December 2000

Woke this morning to the sound of Shawn heading off to the bathroom, very soon followed by the cacophony of the bird life.

The rainforest is never quiet, at night there are the possums and the crickets making a racket, by day the birds kick up so much noise they drown out everything. The Kookaburra makes a loud screeching laugh type noise that Shawn thought was a monkey the first time she heard it.

Its 8.30 am now, we have been up for almost 2 hours, Shawn now wants to sleep again. We had a big problem getting to sleep last night, she was too hot, I was too cold when she put the fan on. I got a sheet and covered up and was fine again, but I think she spent a very restless night. I made up the van whilst she was in the bathroom, which was the wrong thing to do, as today she wanted to lie in. She is now lying sleeping on one of the benches while I type.

So far today I have seen white cockatiels, Crimson Rosella's, the heron like bird and loads of grass hoppers.

Its now 9.30, I have spent the last hour standing just behind the van with my camera at the ready, I have seen a tiny little yellow bird, about 1.5" long, a big black bird with a red head, lots of crimson rosella's, a dragonfly that came within a foot of me and landed on a long grass stalk in front of me, a laughing kookaburra that came and sat on a branch about 12 feet in front of me and lots of other birds were flitting so fast I could not identify them.

Although the temperatures are not so hot here - only in the 90's, the humidity is of course very high, this means that we sweat a lot, and need to drink a lot. This is my first time in these conditions and I keep forgetting to drink. We have both found that we feel very tired and grumpy when we do forget.

We headed out just after 10 and went to see about booking some dives. The first dive shop could arrange fun dives from the beach for us, for tomorrow, but could not help me do my last 2 modules for my advanced licence. We went to the second dive shop and for $480 we have arranged 4 dives each for us, 2 of which will be on the Yongala wreck, and we will both get our advanced licence from it as well.

We started the course work there and then, watching the video while we were in the shop, borrowed the book and started on the revision sitting outside a bar a few yards along from the dive shop. Shawn is pleased, our instructor is what she has been looking for, a bronzed, blonde, Australian with long hair.

Shawn also asked about nude beaches, and got the details of one called rocky bay, the trouble is, it rains most of the time here - trouble with being in a rain forest in the rainy season!.

We also booked to ride horses through the bush and on the beach and in the ocean. Our week is getting pretty busy all of a sudden! Friday at least 2 dives, maybe 3. Saturday afternoon at 2.30 we ride the horses, and Sunday we take the boat out to the Yongala and do another 2 dives.

I saw a second-hand Nikinos underwater camera for sale in the second dive shop and I am now having an internal debate about whether or not I should buy it. I cannot really justify it, but I so covet it.

We came back to the camp site at about 4 and while we were here we saw a brilliant blue butterfly, and then the site owner started feeding the birds and hundreds of the green parrots came down from the trees and were eating from peoples hands.

We took a walk to the local bay and Shawn bought herself a tee shirt and an anklet.

We went to an Italian Restaurant for dinner, and sat looking out over one of the bays in the dark eating some quite good food, sadly the service was so very slow and Shawn had lost most of her appetite by the time the main course arrived - just over an hour after we ordered it. She also sank just over half a bottle of wine which meant that on returning to the van she fell straight asleep. Whilst eating we saw a possum come scavenging.

I sat down and did 2 sections of the dive homework, only one more to do. If they let me do all these I will have some credits towards my advanced + course, if not, I will still have my advanced.

We managed to identify the heron like birds, they are an endangered species called bush stone curlews.

Drove 32 km's

Seen kookaburras, parrots, curlews, Koel, possum, chickens and a cockerel.

Friday 29th December 2000

What a stormy night, lots and lots of rain, quite a lot of wind, and very muggy. Temperature didn't drop below 80 even with the fan going all night.

Woke at 6 listening to the birds, then went for shower at 6.30. Came back to the van and finished last dive module, woke Shawn and made her some breakfast. Its now 8.30 and I am writing up my journal while Shawn does her homework modules. We leave here in about 15 minutes to start our day of diving.

Today turned out to be not a good one. I am not sure why, but I found myself getting very annoyed with Shawn. The dive planning was a total mess changing from second to second. In the end I just told her to sort it out and I would do what I was told. On our first dive Shawn's weight belt came off, on the second dive she ran out of air, luckily we were in only 3m of water so she did an emergency CESA. The dive instructor seems to make up his own rules about safety, and ignores everything we have been taught about surfacing with 50 bar. He had told us to surface on 20 as we were just exploring waters at 4 metres, and we had not gone below 5.1 meters, but her gauge had an fault in it and was empty at 30 bar. Think she is no longer quite so keen on the pretty instructor.

I managed to resist buying the camera, though it was a hard decision, there are still 2 and a half weeks to go, and I am not sure how much money I have left, so its probably better I don't buy it.

The diving went good on the first dive, but dive 2 was a shambles from my point of view, I guess I was trying to hard because it's a dive with tasks that I have to complete to get my advanced dive certificate, as usual I get too wound up and stressed out on my tests.

The instructor Ritchie will be checking the homework overnight, so I don't know yet if I am successful in getting my advanced pass or not. We have another dive tomorrow, and two on Saturday, all of which will be fun dives for me, but Shawn needs tomorrow as her underwater photography day and Saturday to get her deep dive and wreck dives, then she will be an advanced diver too.

The rain has not stopped for more than a few minutes, so no chance to work on tan, guess we should have planned a bit better after all and called ahead for a weather forecast. As almost all the activities on the island involve walking, driving or riding around the island we gave up and returned to the site and read and drank.

We went to the site canteen for dinner and had a mediocre chilli which tasted OK, but had none of the bite a chilli should have. I was in bed and asleep by 8pm.

Drove 37 kms

Dived 7.6 and 5.1 metres

Saw lots of fish, rays, corals, sea grasses

Saturday 30th December 2000

Woke at 6.30 to find it still raining. Read my book of Australian Yarns until 8 am then went for shower. Back in van typing now until we head for diving at about 9.15. I just hope that things are a little more organised today.

I feel a lot better today than I did yesterday, maybe I just needed to get blasted and have some sleep, must admit that it was a good solid nights sleep - 11 hours without waking once.

While we were eating our dinner last night we got chatting to a young couple who come from Mount Isa. They were saying that it has been raining there and Alice Springs! We will have to get some floats for the van, and lots of air tanks for us and we will be able to go diving in the desert!

We went and did our dive of Geoffrey Bay, we dived to an old German Passenger Freighter which ran aground in the early 1900's. It was patched up and re-floated but immediately ran aground again and suffered more damage. They decided to load her with explosives and tow her out to deep water and sink her, but the explosives went off early and she sank in just over 8 metres of water and only about 300 metres out from the beach. During the war the RAAF used the remaining wreckage as target practice and destroyed most of the remains, but you can still trace the outlines of it.

We launched ourselves from the car ferry dock and swam the last 100 metres to the marker post and descended there. The instructor stayed on the shore and watched as we did our first solo dive. Amazingly we survived, despite heading out to sea after we had explored the wreck! Shawn had the compass and the camera, so all I could do was follow we must have turned 180 degrees when we were taking pictures because we ended up overshooting our start point when we thought we were returning along the wreck.

We saw lots of fish, most of them were larger versions of the ones we saw on the reef previously, instead of 4-6 inches most of them were 12-20 inches. There were some incredible corals growing both inside and around the wreckage.

In the afternoon we went horse riding, ouch! I now remember why I don't ride horses. They are much less responsive than a car, far less comfortable than a car, much smellier than a car, and they carry bugs that make me itch like fury. Happily Shawn enjoyed herself, she used to love horses when she was younger, and although she got tired riding she loved it. She liked the bit where they removed the saddles and got into stinger suits and took the horses for a swim, me, I sat on the sand and watched, my knees were hurting, my skin was itching and I knew there was another 45 minutes to go, so anytime I could escape from the horse was a huge relief.

We are now sitting in van planning where to go to eat. Its 6.45, and we have to have an early night as we are setting sail for our last 2 dives before the desert at 7 am. We are going on another wreck dive, this time to the Yongala, one of the top 4 wreck dives in the world. While we are there Shawn will do her last 2 dives for her advanced ticket - the deep and the wreck, I am just going down for fun. Time to go shower.

Drove 29 km's

Saw horses, fishes, corals

Sunday 31st December 2000

Well what a day. We set out at 6.45 to go to the dive shop for the Yongala dive. We arrived a couple of minutes after 7 and sorted out our gear for the day. We then went to the end of the pier to join our boat, and this is where things started looking a little bit dodgy.

The boat was OK, just a bit small for 15 adults and all the gear for diving. There was not enough room for everyone to sit down at the same time. The space below decks was crammed with cylinders, and the heads were open for everyone on deck to see.

The sea's when we left were small, so things went quite well for the first 30 minutes. Then we hit the waves! We were told that if the sea was running at more than 1.2 metres we would not be going to sea, but they were at least 1.5 metres long before we reached the wreck site. Shawn was violently ill, and in order to try an relieve her agonies the skipper slowed the boat down, this meant that what was sold as a 2.5 hour trip, became a 3 hour trip when we left the harbour, but became a 3.75 hour trip to get to the site.

By the time we reached the wreck the sea was nasty, so nasty they wanted us to do back rolls over the side - no problem, except they have a rail all around the side, and my kit got tangled and broken. This left me in the water with no tank or BCD, but with 8 kg's of weights around my waist - somehow I managed to stay afloat and alive in very heavy seas until they managed to find another regulator and replace mine. I was then given my kit to resume the dive, but with just 175 bar. I was quite out of breath and fairly stressed after the experience, and as the rest of the divers were waiting on a line for the descent I had no time to recover my composure, and had to dive straight away.

The dive was a deep one at 28 metres, and I was still breathing heavily. As a result I only got 20 minutes on the wreck and a total dive of 30 minutes. When I returned to the surface the skipper, who was also the lookout, asked me to hold onto a rope off of the back of the boat and remove my flippers as the boat was rising and falling several feet above me I just did as I was told, expecting to be told to climb the rear steps next, instead he told me to hand him my BCD! For the second time today I was now trying to float with no flippers and 8 kg's of weights, it was a nightmare trying to re-board the boat.

Happily they decided that the sea's were too rough to attempt another dive and as soon as all the divers were recovered we headed for home. Shawn had hoped to get 2 dives in today and to complete her course, but due to her sickness she was in no state to dive at all when we arrived, and by the time she was on her feet the second dive had been cancelled.

The journey home was quite dramatic with sea's now at 3 metres with occasional giants even bigger. The skipper and his mate were both good seamen though and kept the boat from dropping into any of the holes, sometimes by turning sharply through 90 degrees! All was going well until one of the passengers got talking to the skipper and distracted him, he didn't see one of the waves coming and it hit us hard broadside tipping us a long way over. This caused air to get into the fuel feed line and the engine stalled from fuel starvation.

As we were well out in the bay there was no emergency, as we were in no danger of beaching or hitting rocks, we had passed the last shallow point a few minutes before. We were drifting for about 30 minutes while the skipper and mate used air from one of the spare dive tanks to blow air into the fuel tanks and force the fuel along the feed lines.

We reached port at about 5.30, more than 2 hours late, with only 1 dive achieved, and everything and everybody soaking wet. This was probably one of the low days of the holiday.

On reaching port I picked up my advanced diving licence, and the referral papers for Shawn to try again later in the holiday.

We went back to camp cleaned up and dried off and went to dinner at a local restaurant about a 10 minute walk from the camp site.

Even though it was new years eve we did not celebrate, and we were in bed before 9pm. This is the first time since I was about 7 that I have not been up at midnight to celebrate. It was a big let down after the fun and games of last year in America.

Drove about 26 km's, Sailed over 120 km's, Dived 28 metres

Wildlife seen: loads of huge fish, huge shoals of bat fish, angel fish, gropers, wrasse, cod and many I cannot identify.


Monday 1st January 2001

A new day, a new year, and a new millennium. It is also Australia's 100th birthday, at 2.30 today celebrations in the major cites were marking the foundation of the Commonwealth of Australia.

We were up and about not long after 7, at the ferry dock just after 8, but decided to collect some photographs before leaving the island. While waiting for the ferry we met 2 little rock wallabies who came and ate tomatoes and lettuce from Shawn's hand.

We eventually caught the 11 am ferry to Townsville. After landing back at the mainland we headed straight off to the West. The first town we came to was Charters Towers, a famous old gold rush town, sadly everything was closed for new years day. We continued on to the West stopping only to take a few pictures at beauty spots or when I saw some interesting looking birds.

When we stopped for fuel at a town called Hughenden the petrol attendant told me that the main route we were following to Mount Isa was closed at Richmond due to flooding, and that we would have to take an alternate route via a town called Winton. We set off to follow the new route which will add about 100 kms to the journey, but had to quickly turn back as that road is closed as well!

We went to the police station to check on conditions and were told that the Richmond route will be closed for 2-3 days while they wait for the water to fall, but that the Winton route may be open tomorrow as long as it does not rain tonight. If it stays dry they will, get a grader on the road tomorrow morning and make the dirt section (6 kms) passable again.

We camped up at 4pm in the only campsite in town and then got down to doing the laundry. I chased birds around the district as there are lots of new ones I have not seen before.

Tonight we went and had fish and chips in the only café in town, considering the location they were surprisingly good, much better than we had earlier in the trip.

Its now 8.30 pm, Shawn has just returned happy from the showers as they are nice and clean here, and remarking on how we are roughing it, with me sitting drinking cold beers and typing on my computer.

Drove 419 km's, 9 kms by sea

Wildlife seen: A group of wild Emu's beside the road, pink pigeons, magpies, finches, lots of white cockatoo's and lots of birds we cannot identify yet. We also saw some large blue fish with spots and yellow tails, but they are not on our fish identification cards.

Tuesday 2nd January 2001

Set off at just before 8 am, and drove 709 kms to Mount Isa by 2.30 pm. When we got there we found that the way forward was blocked for at least the next three days, other routes out of town are blocked for anything up to 4 months! This place is listed as Australia's most isolated city, and tonight I can see why.

It was very strange knowing that large areas of the outback are covered by flood waters, to see lots of bush fires, and areas recently scarred by fires.

I decided to get a motel room for the night, we have a long time to cool our heels before either we head onwards, or turn around and head back to the coast. We have been able to go on line and download our emails, and for me to update the front page of my site with some information about where I am and when I will be doing some updates.

On the journey I picked up a few new years greetings on my mobile. Even though Vodafone boast on their ads here that they have 100% Australian coverage there are huge areas that we have been travelling through that there is no mobile coverage at all. Got an email from dad, so he must have got his new internet phone working at last, sent him a happy new year message, I should have sent him a birthday greeting as well.

We have decided that if we cannot go onwards, we will head for the coast again tomorrow, Hopefully making contact with the ocean somewhere in the region of Rockhampton on Thursday, we will then make out way down the coast stopping at places where the diving seems good.

We went and investigated the underground tour of the silver/lead mines here, but they wanted $50 and they took 4.5-5 hours, this is a bit much time to spend on something we neither of us have that much interest in, so we will probably visit the flying doctor museum and then head out in the morning.

Shawn located a good Ethiopian restaurant in the local yellow pages, so we had a good meal there, my first Ethiopian meal, but hopefully not my last.

Its now 1 am, and Shawn is sleeping like a baby, but I cannot sleep because I am too cold, so I have decided to update my journal, and to answer so emails.

Drove 709 km's

Animals seen, wild Emu, large lizards sunning on the road, beautiful parrots, and more pink pigeons.

Wednesday 3rd January 2001

Well its all change for the plans again, if we couldn't head west ( and we cannot, the flooding has risen again, and the bridge is now damaged) we were hoping to go to Longreach today, and then across to the coast at Rockhampton. No chance, the road to Longreach is now out as well, the only route out of town is back exactly the way we came, to Winton, Hughenden, to Charters Towers and Townsville - scream!!!!!

We decided we would go to the flying doctors museum, made sense after driving all this way we should see something of the place. I am glad we did, it was an interesting hour we spent there, finding out how the service is run, how it started and what they do.

We went and did a bit of food shopping, got some cash from the bank, went to the police station for a road condition update, and then we hit the road at about 12.30.

We made very good progress, hitting Winton at 4.30, we stopped to check road conditions again, and on getting confirmation that the road to Longreach was definitely closed we headed back to Hughenden. We had made a pact when we left Emu Park that we would both watch the fuel gauge, and if it fell below half we would refuel at the next petrol station. We failed. I checked the gauge in Wilton, it showed just over half full, I thought the next stage of the journey was just over 100 kms, and knew that the van does about 160 kms on the second half of the tank - no problem I thought and gave it no more thought.

Whilst we were headed up the next section of highway Shawn reminds me it is 215 kms from Wilton to Hughenden - whoops! This is a lot more than the 160 kms I knew we could travel. We both held our breath, I slowed from my mad dash at 120 kph to 85 kph to conserve fuel, and we prayed that one of the 2 communities along the way had a petrol station. No such luck, the first one had a pub, the second a road house and that was it. The empty light came on at 55 kms from our destination, and to conserve fuel I decided to run without lights, even though the sun had set. I had enough night vision to see where I was going, but Shawn's eyes don't have much night vision at all, so she sat in her seat, gripping the hand hold with her left hand, and the seat with her right, as I ran along unlit, unmade, rutted roads at 80 kph, with no idea if we would get to Hughenden before the tank ran dry.

We made it, but with nothing to spare. We got into Hughenden at 7.50, taking 2 hours 20 to do the trip. Not bad at all, and probably the most fun I have had driving for quite some time. We refuelled as soon as we hit town, and then we went back to the campsite we stayed at on Monday night.

We are now planning to be somewhere in the Mackay area tomorrow night, we will see what the morrow brings. Its now 9.45 pm, Shawn is flat out asleep across the van from me, I am on my third beer and raring to go. I need to get some more company soon, or I am going to get cage crazy. Its not healthy being stuck in close company with one other person for so long, we both need some outside stimulation.

Drove 719 km's

Creatures seen - lizards, sheep, cattle, and a camel.

Thursday 4th January 2001

Continued the journey at 8am, and reached Charters Towers by just after 11 am. We sat in McDonalds for an hour while Shawn rang a whole load of dive shops along the coast from Townsville to McKay.

The best deals were some day dives in McKay at $99 for 2 dives, or another 3 day trip from Airlie Beach with 10 dives for $390. Shawn decided she would like to do the 3 day trip and get her advanced licence.

We got back into the van and hit the road. We did the 450 kms in about 4.5 hours, and got to the shop at 4.30. We then had 2 hours before boarding the boat to do a bit of shopping, arrange transfer of our diving medical's from one shop to another, and grab a bite to eat. We hit our usual problem with the eating, nowhere was open for dinner until 6.30 earliest. It seems very usual to me, but Shawn is used to eating very early, a strange habit Americans have.

We met up with the others who are going on the trip, this bunch seem very easy going and friendly. There are 12 of us, 3 couples, 2 single guys, a father and son, and 2 girls. There are also 3 guys and 1 girl in the crew.

All was loaded onto the boat, the safety talk and introductions done, and the boat under way very quickly. The boat is a mono hull, ex ocean going tug. It is very stable and rides the waves very well. The trip out to the first island had a little bit of chop and many of the passengers ended up feeling very ill. Shawn very quickly took to her bunk, as despite taking two sea sick tablets she felt very ill. One of the girls - Metalia came and sat beside me and talked, I think it was mainly to take her mind off of the boat movement, as she obviously felt very unwell. She gave up fighting and went to bed at about 9.30. The other girl who had been chatting to one of the single guys then came across and talked, we chatted until the boat moored for the night in Hervey Bay. Whilst we were motoring out to the island we had some dolphins ride the bow waves for a while.

Shawn and I have a double cabin to ourselves, the bed is a large double for a change, and is raised about 3 feet off the floor.

The Crew are

  • David, the skipper - Australian
  • Mark, the Dive Instructor - English
  • John, the Divemaster - Irish
  • Katie, the hostie - New Zealander

The divers are

  • Shawn and me - Yank and a Brit
  • Jane & Simon - Australians
  • Ossie & Jason - German (Father & Son)
  • Metalia & Netta - Israeli girls
  • Adam - Canadian
  • James - Brit
  • Silja & Bard - Norwegians

Drove 719 km's Boat 25 km's

Creatures seen, pink pigeons, lizards, dolphins

Friday 5th January 2001

At 3.30 am the skipper pulled the anchor and we set sail for bait reef. The noise of the engines starting up woke everyone who had managed to get to sleep, and it would appear that the subsequent bumpy ride out to the reef made almost everyone feel a bit the worse for wear.

At 6.30 we were all on the dive deck getting kitted out, and by about 8 we were making our first dive of the day around one of the series of Bommie's called the stepping stones which make up this part of Bait Reef.

I managed to lose one of the clips from my new fins as I was tightening them prior to stepping off of the boat. John the divemaster lent me his for the first dive, and I will have to use ordinary hire ones for the remainder of the trip.

On my third dive of the day we came across a 5 foot black tip reef shark lying on the sand being cleaned by a Wrasse. I managed to lie down on the sand about 6 feet away and take a picture of it.

I did 4 dives in all, the last being a night dive. Shawn and I seem to bicker a bit, no matter what at the moment. I think its caused by a whole series of things, partly because we have been in close proximity for almost 24 hours a day for the last 7 weeks, and I know she is very unhappy about going home.

I spent quite a bit of time chatting to the girls as well, both very friendly. I think the mix of company is very good, and the chance for me to mix with other people is helping my sanity.

Moved about 50 kms in the boat

Creatures seen - sharks, turtles, eels, and thousands of fish, corals.

Saturday 6th January 2001

Did our first dive of the day very early at 6.30, this was a deep dive. The instructor got lost, so it was a rush job.

We went down to just over 30 metres, but only had a minute there as by this time we were running out of air. I got to the surface with 15 bar, one guy got back with 0 bar.

The skipper then moved the boat to a different reef called North Net Reef, this is an uncharted area of the reef, so the dives are all pretty much unique, with no-one knowing what to expect.

The first dive here I buddied up with James, and we had a great dive. We saw loads of fish, and had some very close encounters with them.

The third dive of the day was a bit of a disappointment, we were dropped on a Bommie, and were supposed to dive down over the side and swim along the wall. We had a problem from almost as soon as we got into the water with a very strong current pushing us across the top of the Bommie in the wrong direction. The deepest we managed to get on this dive was just over 7 metres, most of the time we were between 1.5 and 5 metres. In the end we had to give up and call the recovery boat out, as we were being swept across ever shallower coral. Shawn and Netta both suffered cuts and scratches to their legs from the corals - the dive lasted 7 minutes.

The food on this boat is not as good as on the last, but there the cook did have a full galley, and plenty of room to serve up. Here the hostie has a small galley, no table big enough to serve up and eat at, the stove does not work, so she has to use a convection microwave or barbecue to cook everything. Considering her equipment she does do a pretty good job.

The final dive of the day was a night dive, during this dive I found 2 angel fish asleep in a coral cup, I managed to get a picture - the only one I took on this dive. I hope it comes out OK

Sunday 7th January 2001

The boat was moved during the night and early morning to a new mooring in Luncheon Bay on Hook Island - the same place as we did our final dives with Pro dive 2 weeks ago.

Whilst we were pulling into the bay we saw a turtle swimming on the surface, which caused quite a stir as most of the people had never seen one before.

We did two very enjoyable dives, probably the best yet, I have now got my buoyancy dead right, and even have enough control to swim without using my hands, and to change altitude under water without using my BCD at all. The only time I now use the BCD bladder is when I am floating on the surface.

During the first dive Shawn had some major problems with buoyancy and did her cork impression, bobbing to the surface from 7 metres. I went up to join her and took a weight from my belt and put in her pocket. She managed to descend again, I had to make a swimming descent, but once back down to 7 metres I had no problem maintaining my position again.

Just like our last visit to this bay, we were visited by dozens of bat fish who came scavenging for anything they could eat. We took lots of pictures both under the water and on the boat on the way back to shore. Shawn got her advanced licence.

In the evening we camped up and then I got onto the telephone and managed to book us another 2 dives for Wednesday in Noosa - a town down near Brisbane. We then went into town and collected the photographs - another 5 rolls of film, we have lots of good underwater shots, the lady in the photo shop told us that we had done well - a nice complement, as she gets to see all the pictures in town.

We met up with almost everyone for a meal and lots of drinks, then staggered back to the taxi rank at midnight and slept like logs through the night.

Travelled about 60 km's by boat, and drove about 8kms

Monday 8th January 2001

Got up at about 9 am, after a slow start we left the camp site and headed back into town.

We took some negatives to the photo shop to get some reprints done, had some breakfast, got a replacement clip for my fins, and got a tee shirt for Shawn.

At 11.45 we started the drive south, and drove until just after 6 pm, we found a camper site in the town of Tannum Sands, which is a very clean and tidy little town facing onto the ocean. The guide book says there is good snorkelling here, but our first look at the beach suggests otherwise. It looks very nice for families to spend the day relaxing, but there is far too much surf to snorkel.

Before we left we met Adam, James, Katie and Janie all wandering around town recovering from the excesses of last night.

Shawn and I a lot happier with each other again now. I think the company of other people for a few days has helped us both. She had lots of girlie chats with the girls, and I had fun flirting with the girls and drinking with the guys.

Drove 438 kms

Creatures seen, just a few birds and scrub Turkey's.

Tuesday 9th January 2001

Drove south to Noosa heads ready for the diving tomorrow. Long haul trip with a short break at Childers to look at the Pharmaceutical museum which was closed on our drive north. Driving along the Pacific highway is a lot slower than across the bush. Here you have lots of small towns every 20 km's, whereas in the bush you may see a town every 100.

Got myself a speeding ticket for doing 121 kph in a 100 kph zone, guess I should think myself lucky, as if I was in UK, or if I was a Australian resident I would also get 3 points on top of the $135 fine.

We got to Noosa at about 3 pm, and got some spares for my fins and mask.

Found ourselves a site for the night and then went to the national park beaches for a lie in the sun. While in the park Shawn saw a couple of Koala's, but I just couldn't see them, guess I must be going blind in my old age.

We went to a Italian/Greek restaurant called Zorba's for dinner, mine was fine, but Shawn's was full of grease. While we were eating the trees around us were filled with Lorikeets.

We had an early night as we were both quite weary. Found out at 7 pm that tomorrow's diving is off because of the high winds. :((

Drove 443 km's

Saw lorikeets and cockatiels

Wednesday 10th January 2001

Set off at about 8 am, and headed south through the coastal towns. We decided that although they were quite pretty we liked the more remote towns much better.

We stopped at the town of Brunswick Heads where we stopped on the way up and went to the information Bureau. Shawn was back out within a few seconds with 2 leaflets with dive info in a town just down the coast at Byron Bay.

I rang them both up and had 2, maybe 3 dives booked for tomorrow. We continued the drive to Byron, reaching there just after 3 pm.

Got ourselves booked into a site at $45 for the night, the most expensive so far, more than double the previous most expensive at $22.

We then went to went to the dive shop and borrowed some fins for Shawn, and ordered her a pair of pink ones to buy tomorrow.

Drove out to the local nudist beach and spent an hour being sand blasted while we sun bathed.

Came back to the site, did the laundry, caught up with our journals before we headed out on the town for the evening.

Picked up a leaflet in the dive shop which advertises some more dives further south, rang the company and booked myself another dive for Friday morning!

Drove 357 kms

Thursday 11th January 2001

Wow, what a day. I did 4 dives today, with a mad rush between each one. Each trip was a beach launch in a rib.

Shawn managed the first 2 OK, but started feeling sea sick on the second return journey.

This meant that I had 2 dives booked and paid for with the other company, so I took mine and Shawn's one after the other.

The dives were all to a rocky outcrop called Julian's Rocks.

  • Dive one at 29 metres in an area called spot X,

  • Dive two in The Pins at 15 metres,

  • Dive three at the Cod Hole, also at 15 metres

  • Dive four at 14 metres in The Nursery.

We started getting ready for the first dive at 8 am, and finished the last dive at 6 pm. I then drove for 5 hours to get to the next dive site at South West Rocks.

Arrived at the town at 11 pm, it then took us 45 minutes to find a site that had space. No chance of food at this time, so went to bed pretty hungry. All I have eaten today is a sandwich that Shawn was thoughtful enough to get for me between dives, and some crisps and biscuits on the journey.

I think today was probably a net energy outflow day!

Stats Dived 4 times,

Drove 365 km's, Did 16 km's at sea, Dove a total depth of 75 metres.

Saw too many fish to count

Saw Kangaroos standing beside the road waiting to cross as we drove south, Shawn thought the looked like little old men waiting to cross, and that all they were missing were umbrella's

Friday 12th January 2001

Shawn was too tired to dive today, so I went alone.

The alarm went off at 6.15, and I was in the dive shop; at 7. Found out that the trip is 2 dives on the one boat ride. The location is about 9 kms from the town. The transport was a fast, beat up, 8 metre cat. The trip each way lasted about 30 minutes including the drive from the shop, the launch and the trip.

The first dive was to 25 metres, and involved swimming to the mouth of a cave on the rocky island called fish Rock Caves. The location is famous for a cave swim-through, with resident nurse sharks swimming just inches away from you.

The second dive hit 29 metres as we did the complete traverse of the cave. It was a great trip, with loads of shoals of fish, Lion fish, Nurse Sharks and Wobbegong Sharks. There are also some very friendly Groupers who like people to scratch, stroke and pet them! One diver even takes down a toothbrush and cleans his teeth for him!

Got quite a lot of good pictures from the dives, its going to take me ages to sort out the best I have taken something like 10 rolls of underwater pictures on this trip. It will take me a long time to sort out the best of them.

Got back to Shawn and the van at about 12.30, we went and collected some films, dropped more off for processing and then went to lunch. We also went and spent an hour lying on the beach.

Decided to head south again towards our final Australian destination - Sydney. On the way we were talking about all the creatures we had seen, and we regretting that we had not managed to see one of the most famous, the duck billed plattypus. Shawn was looking through the guide book at the same time and found details of a reserve on the route we were taking which has some in residence. We decided to break our journey there in the morning and see them.

We stopped in a town called Swansea for the night, and found a small café in the town for dinner sitting on the pavement. Food not bad. We watched the world go by, and the local fuzz manning a road block doing random breath tests.

Drove 354 km's Rode 18 km's at sea Dived twice. Total depth 54 metres

Creatures seen - loads of fish and sharks, kangaroos grazing in a field.

Saturday 13th January 2001

Managed top find the nature reserve, and saw the platypus plus many other native creatures. They also has a whole lot of American alligators for some strange reason!

We called some hotels in Sydney before we left and managed to get ourselves a hotel over looking Hyde Park for just $165 - £65. We were expecting a standard tourist type room that I have stayed in all over Europe and America. We were very pleased to find we had a suite!. We had a bedroom, a lounge, a kitchen and a bathroom with a tub and shower.

We dragged all our bags in and started repacking our belongings into our own cases. As expected we need to buy another one for Shawn, I have already bought another. We are both going home with 2 large bags instead of the one each we came out with.

We tried to return the camper, but the office was closed by 4pm, so we downloaded our emails and then went to dinner in the hotel restaurant. We returned to the room to lounge about in all this unaccustomed space and luxury.

Drove 148 km's

Sunday 14th January 2001

Our last day in Australia :(

We started the day at 7 by going for breakfast, then we went for a walk to Paddy's market where we started the holiday. We bought a bag for Shawn to pack her bits in, plus a few odds and ends as memento's of the trip.

We took the camper back to the hire shop and started our long journey home, from the hire shop to hotel, to airport, to the States and the UK.

Things started going wrong now!

There were track works on the railway line so we had to start with a bus ride, then we switched back to the trains. We had a taxi booked to take us from the hotel to the airport at 13.00, and we were running late. We had to do a very fast hike from the station to the hotel, when we got there the taxi was late.

They got us to the airport in time, we had to be there by 13.50 for a flight at 14.50. The queue was huge, and moved at snails pace. We soon found out why. The plane we were supposed to be flying on had been damaged at L.A. airport the night before, and the replacement was going to be 5 1/2 hours late getting in. We spent the final afternoon of our holiday sitting in the airport and wandering around the shops and cafe's.

Flying home we crossed the international date line, so we spent 2 days on the 14th January. It was Shawn's birthday on the 15th, so she said it was the longest day before her birthday she has ever had, even when she was a little girl.

I left Shawn in L.A. on the afternoon of the 14th, and continued my journey home to the UK, arriving at lunchtime on the 15th. Very confusing to the body clock, as I had been travelling for some 50 hours but reached home less than 24 hours after I left Sydney.


Looking back through this as I edited it for the web, it looks as though Shawn and I had a rough time with each other. We actually got on very well, I think the frustrations were caused by the two of us being less than 6 feet apart for almost the whole of the 6 weeks. This puts a strain on any relationship, we came through the trip still friends.