Tasmanian Devils and other Tales

A trip to Tasmania was overdue. Despite visiting Australia half a dozen times – including two years living in Melbourne – we’d never made it across the Bass Straight to Van Diemen’s Land. We soon discovered it’s reputation as an outstanding natural environment with unique wildlife and dramatic history was well deserved. It was a fascinating place.

In Hobart, we found a comfortable apartment on Airbnb, and so we used this as a base to explore Mount Field National Park, Bruny Island and the Tasman Peninsula, as well as the city itself.

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Mt Field NP, the first of many spectacular parks in Tassie
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Gum trees after a Bush fire

 Bruny Island

The weather cleared on our trip to Bruny island after a grey, foreboding early start.

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Two Tree Bay …

Hobart

Hobart is a small hilly town, with a pleasant bay and plenty of historical buildings.

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The sandstone blocs carry the unique mark of a convict’s chisel
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Curried Scallop Pies – a Tasmanian specialty

A walking tour of Hobart brought home how the combination of abundant natural resources and almost unlimited free convict labour was the basis for building the settlement, which thrived first on the massive whaling industry of the 1820s, providing whale oil for the Empire, and then on the tin mining boom off the 1870s.

Of course the settlement’s development ‘required’ the forced removal of the indigenous population in a violent, decades long, progrom as traditional kangaroo hunting land was seized and women were abducted by the predominately male settlers and convicts.

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A Proclamation Board, placed around the island depicting that settlers and Palawa would be treated equally. No settler was ever prosecuted for killing an aborigine

At one stage in the ‘Black War’ a bounty was placed on the heads of Palawa Aborigines – £5 for an adult, £2 for a child (equivalent to between £1,400 and £400 today).

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The Tasmanian Tiger was also hunted to extinction, with a £1 bounty on their skin

Mount Wellington

The view from the summit is spectacular on a clear day, with clouds scurrying by, and the city beneath you.

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Tasmania has the reprehensible reputation as the ‘Roadkill Capital of Australia’ and it’s easy to see why. On many occasions driving around the island we came across roadkill every 50 – 100 metres. Pademelons, wombats, possums, Tasmanian Devils wallabies, kangaroos and other marsupials, all dead on the road. In many areas, particularly near National Parks, there are signs to enforce a 40 -65kmph speed limit at dawn and dusk, but the carnage continues.

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Bullet-holed Tassie Devil roadsign – part of the demonisation of this endangered species

From Hobart we also headed down to Port Arthur on the Tasman peninsula. Famous for its penal colony (and more recently the 1996 massacre that resulted in changed Australia gun laws), we also took the opportunity to take a boat tour around its spectacular coast.

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and of course home to both Australian and New Zealand fur seals

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Port Arthur

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The penal colony at Port Arthur saw itself as a progressive institution, inspired by social reformer and philosopher Jeremy Bentham, that aimed to ready convicts for release through a system of rewards and brutal flogging.

In time they saw the ineffectiveness of flogging and moved instead to a horrific programme of punishment through sensory deprivation that rivals  modern institutions such as Guantanamo Bay.

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In this unit for the most rebellious convicts a regime of total silence prevailed, with the guards walking in stockinged feet on mats. There was a further punishment of incarceration in a cell, behind four doors of absolute silence and darkness.

Maria Island

Moving on from Hobart we headed down to Maria Island (another convict settlement and prison to Young Irelander William Smith O’Brien). It was also the focus of a number of failed settlements over the years and is now a national park and home to many native Tasmanian species.

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Walking around the island was blissful and we encountered Cape Barren Geese, pademelons and to our immense excitement wombats!

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a shy pademelon

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We soon realised that, without predators on the Island, wombats are everywhere and simply ignore humans!

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Conditions were bleak for those who tried to settle here, scratching a subsistence living with no electricity and stream water. The last family to live there, the Howells, came in 1910 and lasted till the 1970s. The three daughters were named Faith, Hope and Charity, though Charity was known to everyone as Bob. Their cottage, lined by kerosene boxes, with newspaper for wallpaper remains, it is a bleak reminder of how hard it would be to survive in this environment.

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Maria Island is also famous for the ‘painted cliffs’, visible at low tide, where the sandstone has been penetrated by mineral rich groundwater and then eroded to make fascinating patterns.

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Freycinet

From the Maria island ferry we headed down to a hostel in Coles Bay and the next day went hiking through Freycinet NP, with views of Wineglass Bay and a beautiful, secluded walk around the headland with empty beaches and eucalyptus forests.

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Wineglass Bay lookout, and the long walk down to the beach below!

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local beach bum
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Spectacular sunset in Coles Bay to finish the day

Natureworld Wildlife Park Bicheno

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Tasmanian Emu
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This beautiful Wedge-Tailed eagle was injured on a power line and is unable to fly

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Our journey around Tasmania continued with a walk around Cape Torville lighthouse and Friendly beaches, more spectacular scenery; and then on to Natureworld – a wildlife park that is part of the national programme to save the endangered Tasmanian Devil from extinction.

We had learned about the history and current situation of the Tasmanian Devil in a museum exhibition in Hobart. Early European settlers dubbed this carnivorous marsupial a ‘Devil’, due to its red ears, bared teeth and noisy eating displays at night. 90% of the species was wiped out through hunting, following the extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger. In this genetically weakened state the species has now developed the transmissible ‘Devil Facial Tumour Disease’ which is devastating the remaining population. While Natureworld cares for devils injured on the road, it is also part of the breeding programme that is trying to introduce tumour resistant animals back in to the wild.

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Feeding Time
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Young Devil
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Devil or Angel? Of the 20 devils reintroduced into the wild on this programme, four were victims of roadkill within a fortnight

Launceston

We enjoyed our stay here in the Dragonfly Inn, a beautiful heritage building in the process of restoration –  great value and a relaxing place to stay.

While there were some lovely historical buildings in Launceston, my favourite spot was an authentic Milk Bar. So many of these places have been turned into coffee shops – I had a meat pie there to celebrate a fantastic Aussie institution!

 

Cradle Mountain

One of the most beautiful, and popular National Parks in Tasmania, we ended up staying overnight in a cabin on the edge of the park and saw the changing weather and light flowing over this wonderful place. As always walking just a short distance took you away from the crowds, its a spectacular, wild place to walk, and the park is brilliantly maintained.

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This Tasmanian Black Currawong landed on our verandah in the evening. I was also bitten on the foot by a home invasion possum, but that’s another story …
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The sky cleared the next morning, but the wind sent waves across the lake

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Montezuma Falls

After a long drive on our way to Queensland, we hadn’t expected a three hour walk to view the falls, but we were glad we did it. Like many trails through the wilderness in Tasmania, this was based on an old mining tram track that carted minerals down through the rainforest. It must have been backbreaking work to carve cuttings and lay tracks through this wilderness.

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Anne, giving a sense of perspective.

Strahan

Now near the end of our roadtrip through Tasmania, we stopped overnight in Strahan, and mostly by chance, ended up walking to Regatta Point and taking a trip on the West Coast Wilderness railway. After all our walking over the previous few weeks, it was great to observe the rainforest, rivers and wilderness through the carriage windows. And a steamtrain is always fun!

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Turning the loco at Dubil Barril

Our final day on the West Coast of Tasmania started beautifully with a bright clear day as we walked down the King River estuary beach at Macquarie Heads and on to Ocean Beach. From there we drove along the Lyle highway via Queenstown and the Franklin Gordon National Park via various walks and lookouts until reaching Hamilton. From majestic beach, rivers trickling through rainforests, mountain top views and wilderness walks the day encapsulated everything special about Tasmania. We finished the day in Hamilton, staying in a weatherboard house at sundown.

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Early morning, Macquarie Heads, lighthouses, clear water and solitude

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Queenstown felt a bit quirky. The surrounding hillsides have been denuded by sulphur from the mining process

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Franklin Gordon River NP with Frenchman’s Cap mountain on the horizon

There are many tales from Tasmania not told in this blog. The astonishing state election, where the result was bought by the gambling lobby in an election that was corrupt by any democratic standards. The intriguing story of the MONA museum and its owner. Random encounters with wildlife. The Greg Duncan Huon Pine carving. And, of course, conversations in hostels and bars along the way.

As with the two most recent blog posts, we are certainly travelling in a different way, through a different landscape than our previous year in SE Asia. We have sent our long suffering dive bag home and our next adventure in New Zealand awaits – travelling light and enjoying the journey.

More ‘Stralia Stories

Our trip to the Blue Mountains – Katoomba, Mudgee, Armidale and beyond – gave us a glimpse of the stunning wilderness that is the Great Dividing Range. Flowing down the east coast of Australia, it separates the populated coastal areas from the interior and stretches from the tropics of Queensland down through New South Wales and then west to the Grampians in Victoria. It is vast, often remote, and astonishingly beautiful.

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And of course, as with the rest of Australia,the European ‘rules’ for flora and fauna, wildlife and climate do not apply. Once again we have witnessed the unique and glorious way that nature works in Australia – it still amazes.

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The people at the top of the waterfall give some sense of scale

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In our brief time here, we’ve come across rosellas, gallahs, kookaburas, sulphur crested, black, and salmon cockatoo and some majestic wedge-tailed eagles. We’ve seen water dragons, blue tounged lizards, huntsman spiders and an emu. Koalas, brush-tailed rock wallabies, eastern grey kangaroos, dolphins, cormorants and pelicans. Goanna, lyrebirds, red-beak oystercatchers and fruitbats.

We’ve also seen wombats and possums – but only as roadkill 😕. It’s a very different world…

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We found these brush-tailed rock wallabies on the road to the Jenolan caves
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A Goanna, hiding in the rainforest canopy
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A fledgling muttonbird emerging from its nest on Muttonbird island
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Dolphins in the bay at Evans Head
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Koalas preserve energy by sleeping for extended periods, and stay cool by hugging gum trees

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Urban Fright. This Huntsman on a box of beer in Melbourne …
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A water dragon after our lunch, and a blue-tounged lizard after some cat food

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Kangaroos in the upper pasture. Eastern Greys, early one morning, Evans Head
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Pelicans with diving cormorant beneath

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Eucalyptus

Then there are the gumtrees. Massive, varied, superbly adaptable – from the high Snowy Mountains of NSW, to the dry, hot red centre. They define the environment, and drive the process of renewal that distinguishes this continent from any other.

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Of course, we now see them everywhere, Africa, Europe, the Americas, the SE Asian rainforest, devastated by Agent Orange, and garden centres in North London.

Yet until the 1770’s they were unique to this place, with over 700 varieties perfectly adapted to tropical rainstorm, drought, flood, bushfires and extremes of temperature. They are the tallest flowering tree (only the coniferous American redwoods are taller), and some, still standing, predate the European invasion by a hundred years or more.

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The Journey

Our trip from Sydney to just over the Queensland border took a couple of weeks. Driving a hired car, staying in motels, country pubs, Airbnb and Youth Hostels – it’s a different sort of traveling than we’re used to in SE Asia. Though accommodation is expensive, cooking our own food in hostels helps the daily budget.

T20180216_095255-881x1568he cooler climate also means we’ve been able to a lot more walking, and the National Parks are fantastic places to explore Australia’s natural world.

After a few days in the fabulous art-deco Blue Mountains YHA  in Katoomba we went via the Jenolan caves to Mudgee where we stopped for a night in a grotty, but cheap bar and then on to Armidale. High in the Northern Tabelands at an altitude of 1000m we felt cold for the first time in a long while.

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The Jenolan caves must have been an unbelievable discovery for the early explorers. We spent two hours in just one cave system

P2015378-864x1152From there we had a spectacular journey with forest walks and waterfalls, down towards the coast and Coffs Harbour.

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The journey to the coast is dotted with country pubs and small town Victorian wrought iron/weatherboard frontages.

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Bellingen

The Coast – Coffs Harbour, Evans Head and Byron Bay

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The Southern Pacific. Coffs Harbour – Park Beach
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We walked along the coast from Park Beach to Muttonbird Island

We really enjoyed our stay at Evans Head. Catching up with Roseanne and Bill, exploring the local area (this is where we saw the Koalas, Pelicans, Dolphins and Kangaroos above) and relaxing into the way of life.

We also came across some old photo albums from our dear friend Grum, who we first met him in a losmen on Java in 1983. Our paths crossed regularly as we did our first backpacking journey through SE Asia, and he became a great friend. Happy memories, and sadly missed.

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With Anne, Grum and others in Borobodour. I’m reading from ‘SE Asia on a Shoestring (2nd edition)’.
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The river in Bangkok City – on our way to the Post Restante, for news from home
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Idyllic Koh Samui. Things have changed in 35 years.

The Southern Pacific

Lenox Head and the Cape Byron Lighthouse offer spectacular views of the coastline, wide sandy beaches, waves crashing onto rocks and endless surf.

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Our journey up the east coast ended in Mudgeerabar, Southern Queensland. Our diving buddy Lindsay, who we’d met in Komodo last August, was working there, and it was also the childhood home of Rachael, a good Aussie friend from London. We had great fun catching up with Lindsay and swapping yet more travel tales, and it was fantastic to meet Rachael’s folks and make the connection.

Heading back towards Sydney we stopped for a few days at Port MacQuarie (Ozzie Pozzie YHA) and explored the area. The Tacking Point lighthouse again gave spectacular views of the coastline.

We also walked through the rainforest canopy boardwalk at Sea Acres National Park. Made more wonder full, because we had the place to ourselves.

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Strangling Fig

We then visited Roto House, a beautiful example of an old colonial house, built from Australian redwood, with wide, bull nosed verandas and cool interiors.

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It’s also the site of a Koala hospital (rescued from bushfires etc) , which gives me the opportunity to finish by posting a couple more pictures of sleepy Koalas.

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Displaying the unique ‘two thumbs on the front paw’

So, after a brief stop with old friends in Sydney, a quick flight to Melbourne, our next port of call is Tasmania. Despite living in Melbourne for two years, it’s a place we’ve yet to explore…

 

 

 

Stories from ‘Stralia

Heading back to Australia, especially Melbourne, is like meeting up with an old friend. You immediately feel comfortable, you’re besieged with fond memories, and swear you both haven’t changed a bit. You re-live old experiences and then, slowly, realise things are, in fact, different. Consequently you become engaged in new ‘conversations’ with a familiar place, you feel ‘glad to be back’, though neither us nor ‘Stralia were ever here before.

Quite a change from our last year then, backpacking in South East Asia. Just so lovely to see familiar faces – good friends for over 35 years ….  though of course we haven’t changed a bit.😁. But this public post won’t be about those lovely times with wonderful people, their kindness, the shared craic, laughter, smiles, trials and tribulations that are so close to our hearts.

This will be about our idiosyncratic reconnection with a country, the old and the new, where we’ve lived and visited over the decades. It won’t be a coherent journey through Australia, it won’t be a standard Oz Blog. Here’s the first of our random stories  from ‘Stralia ….

Hello again Australia.

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Melbourne

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There’s always going to be a big place in our hearts for Melbourne, the city and the burbs, the quaint Victoriana and the hip, our first big travel adventure as tramies in the 80’s and the friends we still hold dear. Sorry Sydney, #1 city in ‘Stralia.

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Under the Clocks at Flinders

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Spoilt for choice in Melbourne bars
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Weatherboard houses from the’20s

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La Trobe Reading Room, with wonderful space and light. Beautifully illustrated Victorian books, and Ned Kelly’s body armour!
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Side streets and street art

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And, just to prove our hipster status, we also looked in on the old Collingwood Technical College experimental ‘Intermission’ exhibition. Not the Melbourne we knew!

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The place was full of serious art folk … 😃

Think we need some old ‘Stralia again, before heading on to Sydney …

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Sydney

With good friends in Bondi Junction, it didn’t take us long to reacquaint ourselves with Sydney, and again we came across the old and the new. Sydney always seems like a serious, ‘proper’ city, and then you wander down to the harbour, the beaches and the bay, and you realise Sydneysiders are just pretending to be city folk ….

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It’s a busy bay
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Traditional pubs in the heart of the city, thanks to the TU and residents campaign in the 70’s
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Big cruise ships in the harbour

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Climbing the bridge

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Yup, still Sydney

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And then there’s Manly

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Can you see the City?

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Swimming poolside, with battleships to starboard …

Of course, beyond the bay and the bars there’s the museum’s and galleries which still reflect the duality of Australian history.

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But you can always come across a cockie on your way home …

More stories to come.

So, we’ll upload some more random thoughts and pictures of our journey through New South Wales in the next few days. We’re off to Unexplored Territory next – Tasmania. Click ‘follow’ to keep in touch.

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West Papuan Paradise

Unsurprisingly, given our plans and dreams in London 2016, it seemed fitting that we would spend the end of 2017 diving what is probably the richest coral reef ecosystem in the world.

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In truth, it was simply good fortune and a last minute cancellation with Papua Explorers, that meant we ended up in the heart of Raja Ampat as 2017 moved in to a new year. It took some substantial reorganisation and planning for us to get to this remote location in West Papua, just after Christmas. But as a consequence of this rethink, we were able to spend a fantastic five weeks in Cambodia a country that had not been in our plans before – that’s the joy of traveling without a fixed agenda.

That change also meant we spent Christmas day in a hotel in Sulawesi that ran out of food, beer and cocktails on the day itself, but such is life on the road – and at least we were able to swim in the pool, relax and talk with family and friends around the world.

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Christmas Day proved to be a struggle in Sulawesi …

Raja Ampat

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The beauty and wonder of this dive destination was well worth the effort of getting there though, and we had some spectacular dives in seas that were bursting with life. Even the journey from Sorong to our destination on the island of Gam, West Papua promised something special – a pod of over a 100 dolphins turned up to play in the speedboat’s wake.

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Can anyone identify these dolphins? Thought they were Spinners, but didn’t see them spinning!

The exceptional diversity of marine life in Raja Ampat is down to both it’s remoteness from large scale human habitation and its position between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, where strong currents ensure coral and fish larvae are shared between the two oceans. Even by the standards of the Coral Triangle, this is an abundant habitat and we saw fish, sharks and coral that we had never encountered before. Wobbegong sharks, Oceanic Mantas (one ‘dive bombed’ me!) and Walking Sharks stand out, but there was life everywhere, alongside the most beautiful coral I have seen.

We also stayed in a truly idyllic environment, with a spacious pondok (cabin) on stilts over the sea, where we fell asleep every night to the sound of schools of fish moving in the shallows below.

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Our Pondok, where we were woken every day with a tropical dawn chorus
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Local carvings were everywhere
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sunrise

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We had peace, calm, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, with exotic birdsong from the jungle behind us. Plus we had some great company from divers who had travelled from around the world to greet 2018 in this special place.

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Diving locally almost every day ensured we could be conservative in managing our surface interval time and avoid any recurrence of Anne’s DCS. And staying in the centre of the marine park meant we were able to observe how the local villagers interact with tourism and benefit directly in preserving this marine eco-system, probably the most important guarantee for its continuing survival.

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Full credit to Papua Explorers for their efforts to educate and learn from the locals as well as explaining to tourists both the complexity and necessity of action to ensure this paradise survives.

And what a paradise…

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An ocean-going yacht on the horizon at sunset

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Farewell to Asia

Leaving West Papua marked a new year and a farewell to South East and East Asia, through which we’ve been travelling for over a year.

We are now in Melbourne Australia, reuniting with friends from what seems a lifetime ago when we were tram drivers here in the

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Waiting for the Cool Change

early 1980s. And of course, summer in Melbourne is currently in a hot spell – lowest temperature last night, 28°C; it’s now a hot 42°C, as I write this.

Like all Melbournians we’re hanging on for the ‘cool change’, that will see a 20° drop in temperature in half an hour – it’s due about 8.00pm tonight.

As with other times in this adventure when we’ve caught up with family and friends, there are likely to be fewer blog updates and photos as we concentrate on friendship and shared moments. We do intend to travel this vast and beautiful country over the next few months though, and will share the wonder as we go.

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Classic early morning, Swanston Street …

Click ‘follow’ to see where our adventure takes us …