Monday, 25 February 2008


Just got a bit of time in a cafe in Lambuan. Overnight in a "longhouse" in Sarawak, with the chief's family. Really lovely, gentle people. Shared a slug of rice wine with Tomasamai and his friend overlooking the Mendalem River, with him anxious to learn a few words of English. We'd just finished the Headhunters Trail (11.3k) which took us 5 hours! Walking through waterflooded tracks(yes I know we're on an alluvial plain, Andy!), picking leeches off legs, wrists etc. Horrible things! They crawl up your socks, boots, trousers, shirt-sleeves and attach themselves! I got one the first day out and it bled for hours! They inject an anticoagulant to maintain the blood-flow. God how horrible! Andy the guide walked in just his shorts so that he could see the leeches more easily and deal with them, and I thought it was so I could marvel at his tribal family tattoos! He is from the Iban native tribe, and ex-military, so we have "briefings" and "operational requirements"!
After 5 long, rain-sodden, boot-soaked hours we were collected by a friendly, smiley chief who took us to the longhouse in his boat, where 15 families lived 100 people. Women weaving baskets, children playing with old prams, and others laying basket-ball. After 2 nights fitfull "sleeping" in the walking camp, we slept like babies. We even had pillows- fancy that.
Anyway back to Lambuan. Arrived here after 2 hours on a ferry from Limbang-very much busy. its hard to believe we set off from the jungle in such isolation at 6am, again in the chief's boat and now we're here. From here 3hr journey to Kota Kinabalu, where we set off to climb Mt Kinabalu. I'm feeling quietly confident, having climbed, and I mean CLIMBED the Pinnacles. Have to be one of the natural wonders of the world. Truly amazing. Pics to follow, we have plenty! Hardest physical challenge I have ever done! Had to come back down on all fours, (was thinking of you Florence) wet limestone rock, ladders, ropes, roots , and anything you could lay your hands on. It was very hard. I'm told Mt K is much easier underfoot!
Also seen 4 fantastic caves, one of which is considered to be the largest in the world! Marvellous!
Makes it all worth while. But have been living out of a daysack for 5 days (crap advice from Walks Worldwide) so we smell and all our clothes are wet or damp!
Hoping to get dry before Mt K. Sun is shining again like a furnace.
Lovely to hear from you Keith and Mum(yes, receiving you loud and clear!) xxxxx

Monday, 18 February 2008

Cameron Highlands

After a long, four hour taxi ride (350 Ringits/58pounds!), we arrived at the Strawberry Park "Resort". to say that it had seen better days would be an understatement, a bit like staying in an old youth hostel, with a strange smell! Much cooler up here at 5500ft and stunning scenery. Winding roads zigzaging all the way up, with taxi-driver complaining all the way, a Pakistani Malay with a great sense of humour. Among his pet-hates-- driving into the Cameron Highlands, vegetable lorries coming back down the hills at speed, Arabs and protesters against the government. Yesterday, the police had to suppress a protest that became violent. Elections are about to be held.

On the way up we saw little wooden shacks inhabited by the indigenous people, called the orang asli. Beats me how they live so far away from civilisation. Taxi-driver explained, a little bitterly I thought, that they are supported by the government, in every way possible, but they do not want to leave their hillsides. They were just sitting in the shade trying to sell their vegetables to anyone who would risk life and limb on these twisty roads and pull up.

Apparently, during the war, the British built "stations" or outposts up here, where their soldires could come if they were ill with T.B. or suffering from the heat. Then a Scot, William Cameron, and an Englishman developed the tea plantations. The tea camellia is a shrub, and is pruned in such a way as to create a table for picking. Like the grapes in Australia, the vintage or special tea is hand-picked, and the cheaper variety is machine-trimmed, using something similar to a large strimmer. Went on a trip to the plantations, which look like a lush green rug has been pulled over the hill-side. Makes a lovely change from the mile after mile of palm trees, that are grown for their oil!

Also part of trip, for some wierd reason it is very popular over here (probably more so with our Chinese brethren!), we were held captive and taken to- the rose gardens(OK ), the butterfly farm(OK but please let them out of these little cages!), Chinese Buddhist temple(beautiful, smelling of incense) and last and definitely for Ian enough, the Insect tour(YUK,I'm right behind you, Ian). I gazed in amazement, whilst Ian had scorpion, snake, and rhino-horned beetle placed on him by a very enthusiastic guide. The most wierd thing was a mantis which looked like a large leaf, they can disguise themselves as orchid flowers, dry dead leaves, green leaves. In the end, persuaded by the rest of our group (Norwegian, Danish, Dutch), I allowed two creepy things to be placed on me. Ian adds that they were n't on long but long enough for this photo!

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Hamilton Island

Arrived in torrential rain, very hot and sticky! Managed to find a few patches of blue during the following few days. Sulphur-crested cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets in abundance. Lush palms and tropical shrubs only seen in Kew Gardens.
13.2.08 Sorry Day in Australia, when an official apology was made to the "stolen generation" of Aboriginal children, now in their 50s, who had been taken from their parents and placed with white foster parents, in the name of social engineering.
14.2,08 ,yesterday, we had a great day on the Reef, by-passed the crowds on the Fantasea trip, and opted for the much smaller boat trip, with about 30 others, which went to a much smaller, much-less-visited reef. After a 2 hour trip, landed on the reef and began snorkelling, also a group of guys went scuba=diving. Dark, leaden sky and brief thunderstorm gave way to a beautiful day, blue sky and sun. Donned anti-stinger suits and began snorkelling, but didn't see many fish, mainly stunning coral. Back to the boat for a light lunch and then we moved to a much better site. Just as well, as there were mutinous whispers from the disappointed diving team!!
This time we saw lots of fish-blue tangs, yellow butterfly fish, large groupers, blue-green-purple parrot fish, striped angel fish and shoals of smaller fish swimming against the current. Saw a large turtle gliding by. Loads of coral, hard and soft, brain coral, giant clam, and some coral had beautiful green
and blue buds on the end, like a marine garden.
Wanted to stay in the water for ages, but I could see Ian waving at me to return to boat. Not wanting to waste a moment, I continued snorkelling back to boat, and was so pleased that I did, because at that moment I saw a big ray "flying" past below me. About 3-4 foot span, with same legth spiky tail.
Set off back past some of the islands which we visited when we were here 13 years ago- Andrew 13, Laura 12, and Kate 6. Aaaarh!!!!
That evening there was an almighty torrential storm! Similar forecast and received the following day. Radio announced power and phone lines down, and declared a disaster zone. McKay, just down the road had a third of its annual rainfall in one hour(600ml)!
Great to get back to Sydney Travellodge if only for one night, a morning spent watching dragon-boat racing in the Harbour, 20 in each boat. A bit like Varsity boat racing but with prettier boats. Part of the celebrations for the Chinese New Year. Then went on to walk around the Chinese Friendship Gardens, which the Chinese community bequeathed to Sydney. Stunning gardens with lakes full of huge Koi.
Now waiting for 8 hour flight back to KL and the fantastic Mandarin Oriental Hotel, slap bang up against the Petronas Towers, remember them! Only one night but we're going to hang around a bit in the morning, before the 3 hour bus/taxi journey up to the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands where we stay for 3 nights.

For Mrs Miggins and her short attention span/busy work-life--
. went snorkelling
.rained a lot and then it didnt
.back to Sydney and saw boat race
.walked around some gardens
.fly out to KL
Can't do bullet points at speed, but at least I can spell!!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Khancoban to Mittagong 300k

Saturday-- Stopped at Jindabyne, at the eastern end of the Snowies. Situated down by lake, internet access, great restaurant nearby, and , would-you-believe-it, never-before-seen-on-a-campsite, just-when-I-was-bginning-to-long-for-one, A BATH WITH TONS OF HOT WATER!!!

Clean and refreshed, we headed out of the cold, wet Snowies(9deg could see your breath), to the cool-not-qite-so-wet Southern Highlands! Great drive across to Cooma, Goulburn, by-pass capital city of Canberra, and ending at Mittagong.A A quiet little town on a busy road. Busy because of a camcelled Joe Cocker concert at nearby Berrima. Cancelled because of the bad weather. We'd escaped it but it had been raining here for the past two weeks. They needed it because they'd been suffering from a drought.

To the mournful tunes of "Delta Lady" and "With a little help from my friends" we parked our van. All around us Joe Cocker fans were drowning their sorrows and having their own concert!!

We called in at Tourist Info and picked up maps for nearby bush walks, and I found a patchwork material shop,picking up pieces of material with Koalas, booerangs and the Sturt Pea (South Aust floral emblem) on them to incorporate in a quilt back home! Swore I spotted a dead-ringer of Joe Cocker- does he have a young Oriental wife, and drive a beat-up 4x4 wagon?!

During our travels we've come across several of what Ray and Kerryn told us are called "Grey Nomads". These guys sell up their homes, buy a hefty touring van plus trailer and tour their country, sometimes going around the whole of Aus in sections or even all at once, and we thought we were mad!

Sunday--Walk into the Bush-lots of it! Woke at 6am to a beautiful sunny morning, sun rising about 5.30 and setting about8.30 in their Summer. By 8.30 we were off on our Naatai River gorge walk. It was described as being hard but they must be tough out her. In the UK this walk would have carried medical advice and insurance provisos! Started off lovely, easy walk along an old narrow-guage railway track, and then descended steeply into the gorge. We had to use a steel wire which ran down the incline for support. After that 3k through thick bush and crossing the swollen river, water up to your knees, three times and then a steep climb back up and a long trek back--5 hrs later arrived back ot the van for a shower and 2hour drive on to Ramsgate, south of Sydney! Absolutely knac.....Supposed to be teeming with wildlife, echidna, wombat, roos, parrots, snakes and lizards. never saw a thing- all busy cleaning all the floodwater out of their homes!

Typing this in airport now, having dropped our home for the last 12 days off nearby. Spent last night at Ramsgate in Botany Bay! I'm quite sorry to leave it. Its been a great way of touring the wild open spaces of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. Off to Hamilton Island, Queensland now for four days. no need for soggy walking boots, just snorkels and sandals!

Friday, 8 February 2008

The Snowies- Thredbo via Glenrowan, Wodonga, Khancoban......

Visited McLaren Vale and Hardys vineyards with Ray and Kerryn- great to spot so many "old friends" on the signs approaching- Chapel Hill, Rosemount etc!!
Travelled an amazing 500k that day, only overtaken twice and passed by about 100 vehicles! Incredibly straight roads and no traffic, so easy to cover huge distances quickly. Drove on Mallee Highway then Murray Valley highway to overnight camp at Swan Hills Pioneer City caravan site. sat and watched an amazing lightning show all around but no rain as yet and still in the upper 30s.
Following day Murray Valley highway through Kerang, Echuca, Glenrowan,Wodonga and overnight on a little site at Khancoban- another 538k
Glenrowan was where Ned Kelly made his last stand against the Victoria Police in 1880. Wearing his home-made "suit of armour", he came out shooting and was hit by 28 bullets, before being over-powered. In spite of public sympathy, he was hanged at Melboourne jail. A local told me that he was a young Irishman, living in hard times, and unfairly dealt with by the English law-enforcers, a bit of a "local hero".
Really friendly people (as usual) at the Khancoban campsite plus friendly Kookaburras who fly down to eat mince beef from the hand of the park owner, Tony Ellis.
80k journey to Thredbo, Ngarigo campsite, in the Snowy mountains. Pay a park fee and you can stay overnight in several designated camping areas- only a loo but really quiet and unspoilt. Ngarigo was a tribe of Aborigines who annually migrated here from the plains in the Summer months to get away from the heat-I know how they felt! they used to follow the bogong moths into the mountains and eat them like a delicacy. We passed on the moths, and ate Tasmanian salmon, and Moroccan lamb!
Climbed the top of Australia today, Mt Kosciuszko, at 2200m. 4deg on top! The lengths you've got to go to to cool off in this place!!!!!

Monday, 4 February 2008

Wilpena Pound

880km round trip to the Flinders Ranges and Wilpena Pound, the home of some unpronouncable and writtable Aborigonal tribe. A huge range of mountains that forms a circle around a "pound" where the early inhabitants used to hunt. Saw Emus and plenty of roos, but no sign of anything or anyone else. Mad dogs and Englishmen as the saying goes. Very true. Set off with overcast but hot weather up the Outside Trail (7.7k) and then took the scenic very hot route back through the pound(20k). By this time the sun was up and it was very hot. Fortunately took plenty of water with us, but had bitten off more than we could chew-6 hours of dry, parched land, eucalyptus trees and flies! Had the presence of mind to buy some very fetching nets to go over our hats- would have been impossible without them!
Back to the red-hot van and downed pint after pint of water, followed by iced coffees, followed by beers, and then sat with up to our necks in cool water in the pool.
Van experience is working well- great loo, shower, fridge, air-con, cooker, wardrobe. Mind you it's amazing to travel on dead straight roads with no-one on them!
Back to civilistaion now, mobile phone transmissin and internet access!
Met up with other rellies(Ray and Kerryn pictured) who live just outside Adelaide, in a lovely area in the Eden Hills, called Happy Valley! going around McClaren Vale and Hardys vineyards tomorrow, cos we're running low on stock!

Saturday, 2 February 2008


Picked up van in Adelaide and spent 2days with rellies! Van is like a small artic!! Travelled 440km up to the Flinders Ranges, Wilpena Pound and in the middle of nowhere- no mobile signal for most of journey. Oldest landscape on the planet. Cost of internet access is prohibitive out here, so you'll have to talk between yourselves for a couple of days until we're back with t'other rellies for a day, and can contact again. Back to campervan cos we've got 16mins! Air-con really important in 38deg, loo and shower and fridge, Mercedes diesel engine just for you Col! Rellies all looking older and well, after 3 years and they send you their luvxxxx