Kalbarri

 

 

Rock-monkeying in Kalbarri National Park David Whitley ruins his trousers in one of Western Australia’s most rugged landscapes

There are many things that are designed to be done in brand, spanking new white trousers. Dancing to Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees is a prime example, as is rollerskating whilst on your period in tampon adverts. However, such clothing is not ideal in all circumstances, as I now know to my cost. For example, sitting around a campfire in a muddy field, getting progressively more tipsy. 

Believe it or not, the next day your lovely gleaming trousers turn a dirty shade of charcoal, and they absolutely stink. Seeing as they were completely buggered up from the previous night, I thought I may as well keep them on while we’re strolling around the Kalbarri National Park. Now I don’t know what everyone else thinks of when they hear the phrase “National Park", but I tend to think of a few relaxing walks, with maybe the odd hill. I was wrong, and if there was any chance of my proud new purchase washing clean after the campfire, then there wasn’t after a morning in the Kalbarri. 

This place is astonishing, as much for the history as the scenery. Millions of years ago, this was the bottom of the ocean. Now, we know more about the surface of the moon than the ocean floor. To put in perspective, the only time man has gone to the deepest depths of the planet was in 1960, when two men and a submersible went right into the Mariana Trench in the Pacific. They had tiny windows, nothing that enabled them to see in the dark and saw sweet FA. We’ve never been back since. That’s as mad as snakes, and thus walking through the Kalbarri is pretty special. You’re going back in time, and visiting a place that is a complete mystery to mankind at the same time. When I say walking, it’s a bit of a misnomer, unfortunately. Most of the time, we’re clambering up and down rocks, messing our clothes up big style. 

It’s all great fun and high adventure, but I really wish I’d put some kind of novelty Steve Irwin costume on beforehand. As we snake our way down through the dust, we encounter people who clearly believe in doing things these easy way – they’re abseiling. At the bottom, we arrive at the Murchison River, and after all that exercise, I’m having a swim. Everyone looks at me as if my brain has gone on holiday, and the river is, of course, freezing, but it’s remarkably refreshing after scrambling over rocks for the best part of two hours. From there, it’s a case of climbing all the way back up. It’s hard work with the sun beating out of a clear blue sky, but it’s worth it – the view is astonishing. The river carves its way through the surrounding landscape, and you’re perched on a ledge way above this ancient world. Let’s face it, I can always buy a new pair of trousers.

 

Moreton Island

 



David Whitley gets bitten by fish and a face full of sand on Moreton Island

The scene on the west coast of Moreton Island is one of devastation and tragedy. Close to the beach, the rusting remains of numerous ships form an orange-brown jagged rim. But while these wrecks may have been bad news for those who sailed on them, they’re wonderful for the fish that have decided to call them home.

Over the years, coral and barnacles have grown around the remains of the stricken ships, providing a bountiful feeding ground. Thus, the moment I dunk my head in the water, I discover that I’m in what may as well be a battery cage filled with sergeant majors and bream. It’s like swimming through a moving, fishy wall.

You don’t really expect great snorkelling just off the coast of Brisbane. The Great Barrier Reef, after all, starts a fair bit further north. But the wrecks of Moreton Island have created an aquatic hotspot.

Our guide hands us some bread, and a feeding frenzy begins. I hold some out under the water, and the fish swarm around my hand. The big breams, it seems, have a mighty pair of chompers on them.

It’s about an hour on the ferry from the Port of Brisbane to Moreton Island, and it’s the sort of place where you’ll get sand in everything. The main road is the beach, and the cross-island tracks are bumpy, compressed sand affairs that need a certain degree of skill to conquer. It’s a world of four wheel drive vehicles and back-to-basics camping.

It’s an island made of sand, and in some places this sand collects more than others. A fine example is �?The Desert’, a large bowl situated over the ridge from the coast. It acts as a sand trap, with prevailing winds continually blowing sand in, and the ridge walls catching it. The scene is almost Saharan, with huge dunes sweeping across the bowl. Some vegetation is managing to grow through, but it’s mainly a dazzling horizon of fearsome golden white.

Our Landcruiser pulls over at the fence, and our guide brings out some fairly basic strips of masonite. These, it turns out, are to be our transport for getting from the top of the dune to the bottom. Walking along the top, it quickly becomes clear that the largest dune is much steeper up close than it is from a distance.

He lines up one of the boards on the cusp after giving it a good wax. My task is to grab the end of it, stick my arms out like a chicken and keep my legs up. I’m pushed over the edge, and start hurtling down head first. It’s a tremendous rush – apparently speeds get up to 50km/h – and I fly towards the bottom, before heading up the next, smaller hill. I forget to keep the edge of the board lifted up and end up with a face full of sand.

The trudge back up the hill is much less fun. I’d struggle to think of anything more murderous on the thighs than trekking up a sand dune.

On the way back, we take the 4WD for a spin up the beach. We slow down suddenly and look out to sea. “Look,” our guide says, pointing at a grey object in the water. “A dolphin.”

We watch the dolphin flit around in the water and duck back to catch a fish. Meanwhile, a wildlife-watching cruise – which has set off specifically to see this sort of thing – passes by in the distance obliviously. One-nil to the sandlubbers.

 
Disclosure: David Whitley travelled on Moreton Island Adventures’ “Xtreme” Tour as a guest of Tourism Australia. In Brisbane he stayed as a guest of Brisbane City YHA , Mantra Southbank and Novotel Brisbane 

Dolphin kayaking

 

 
 
David Whitley takes to the ocean at Byron Bay, and finds himself with some rather cute company… 

We ride high on the swell. Another wave is lurching towards us, and it won’t be the last.

There’s something special about being low to the water while the ocean does its thing. Rolling with the rhythms, being transported from mountain to valley, it’s hypnotic.

But while I’m sat paddle across my knees in the kayak, others are taking on a precarious balancing act. They’re stood on their kayaks, acting as lookouts, as the swells roll in.

There’s no need to stand to see most of the scene, however. Behind us and to the left is the stretched out sand of Byron Bay’s Main Beach. The clouds are gathering ominously above it, but we appear to have hogged the one circle of clear blue sky to ourselves. To our right, surfers gather to take on The Pass – apparently one of the top surfing spots in Australia.

In front of us – thousands of miles in front of us, in fact, is Chile. It’s a fair approximation of the world’s end.

But we’re not looking for South America – we’re looking for wildlife. We’re told that turtles are regularly found here. The green turtles are more shy than their loggerhead counterparts. Not surprising, really – the loggerheads are the size of coffee tables.

There are also plenty of sea birds, diving down towards a tasty snack in the water. They’re a good sign; if sea birds are feeding, then our prey might be too. We’re after dolphins; they’re often found playing in the bay, but they’re being curiously elusive this morning.

Just as I’m beginning to get disheartened, however, the shout goes up. A pod has been spotted. This should be our signal to paddle hard and go out to join them, but it looks as if they’re coming towards us.

I try to work out how many there are. It looks like two separate battalions in the same pod. Further out are a couple of fins, rising and falling beneath the wave with synchronicity, but nearer to us, they seem to pop up at random. There’s two – no, three – no, five. Blimey, there might be ten or twelve of them.

Then the magic happens. One lifts itself almost entirely out of the water right in front of my kayak. Its sleek silver curves arc upwards, along and then seamlessly back in. I’m sure it flashes a smile on the way.

But these waves don’t just conceal dolphins. They’re also packed with treachery, as we discover on the way back to shore. There’s a certain craft to paddling a kayak through the breaking waves. You have to ride them straight on, keep paddling through them rather than being tempted into an easy ride. And, if your kayak starts to spin round (as it’s highly likely to), you need to lean hard into the wave, or you’re going to capsize.

Before we make an attempt on the shore, there’s a shuffling of personnel. I swap places with the frankly lazy daughter of a woman in her late fifties. The girl is knackered, and it’s decided that some proper arm power is needed at the back of the older woman’s boat. I become her engine, and her steersman. If it goes wrong, it’s probably my fault.

We thunder in, in line with the wave. We keep going over the top of the wave, but the kayak starts to turn. I lean over, but the lady in front has forgotten. She’s not leaning, damn it. And then she falls in. Failure. I try to stay on board, but the vessel is almost on its side. I tumble over, straight on top of the spluttering woman below. It’s the exact opposite of the grace displayed by the dolphins.


 

Spirits of the West: A Whisky Tour of Perth

 

 

I get the feeling the World of Whisky tour is popular with blokes. There are twelve of us on the tour tonight, standing in the broad plaza outside Perth’s former General Post Office. Presumably women enjoy whisky too, but they’re somewhere else on this Wednesday evening.

No matter, we’re men with a mission – to learn more about the many and varied varieties of whisky. This doubles up as a bar tour, courtesy of the thriving small bar scene in the Western Australian capital. Over the next three hours we’ll be visiting three bars on foot, each with its own speciality spirits.

The first bar our red-shirted guide Rusty leads us to is Varnish, within one of the attractive old buildings on King Street. It’s sporting a classic interior with wood panelling and dim lighting.

This is no pub crawl, we realise, as we’re handed over to barman Yan for an educational session on the history of alcoholic beverages. Leading us from the first fermented mead to the development of distillation, Yan reaches the era of moonshine and bourbon. As he says, it’s a simple calculation: “Moonshine + barrel + time = whisky.”

And American-style whisky is what we’re here for, as we sample three in turn: a bourbon, a Tennessee whisky and a rye. As we sip, Yan shares the intricacies of each type – including the curious fact that rye whiskies always include a green stripe on their labels.

The good thing about the structure of this visit is that we’re not knocking back the spirits, but taking the time to understand and enjoy them. There’s something appealing about tapping into the expertise of professionals as we go, adding a dash of science to our beverage preferences.

Leaving Varnish, we walk through Perth’s Central Business District (CBD for short), ending up on St George’s Terrace. This high-rise office zone used to be dead after dark, but in recent years new bars and restaurants have been added, lending it a livelier vibe.

Rusty shows off some of the new nightlife as we go, taking us through the Brookfield Place development with its numerous places to eat and drink. Then we head down an alleyway off Howard Street, to reach our second stop: Helvetica.

 



Upstairs in a candlelit lounge, we settle into sofas and learn that the bar is indeed named after the ubiquitous typeface. Helvetica specialises in single malts, and has 300 whiskies in stock from around the world.

As we sip four samples, a barman with a fine Irish accent explains the single malt distillation process. Here we’re tasting Australian whiskies produced in Western Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania, each of which have distinctive flavours.

Our final stop of the evening is Canton, an upstairs bar which used to be a Chinese restaurant of the same name. It’s kept the décor of those days, with red lanterns and Chinese-themed artwork.

Given the Asian vibe, it seems apt that we’re going to taste Japanese whisky. As a preliminary, barman Steve takes us through the history of Japanese beverages, including sake. He then explains how the secrets of whisky-making were carried east a century ago by a Japanese man who learned the craft in Scotland.

Then we sample three interesting Japanese whiskies, between bites of prawn crackers and other snacks on the tables.

We’re in a cheerful mood, and tasting these relatively exotic spirits adds a mellow note to the end of the tour. It’s been a good night out… and an education.

 

 

The World of Whisky Tour is offered monthly by tour company Two Feet and a Heartbeat. Fee A$100. For bookings, visit twofeet.com.au

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail.

You can get Perth included as a stopover on a Navigator round the world or on our Discoverer round the world

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nimbin

 

 

David Whitley heads out to the alternative lifestyle hotspots in northern New South Wales in search of the elusive hippy.

“I-I like to call it Amazonian Fizz Guava,” comes the toned-down New York accent from behind. It looks so placid and juicy, but as soon as it hits the tongue, its sourness makes you recoil. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but it attacks with surprising bitterness. “I-I told you, didn’t I!” says Paul, with almost childlike glee, as he turns around and meanders back through his threadbare wooden shack.

Paul Recher is a hippy. In fact, he’s almost a dictionary definition of the word. He initially came out to the forested Northern Rivers region of New South Wales to dodge the draft for the Vietnam war, and ended up staying to grow his own jungle. Whilst he does make the occasional valid, lucid point – why should the Government protect us from our own bad eating and drinking habits by putting a poison (fluoride) in the water? – he is quite clearly out of his mind.

Carefully constructed arguments are interjected with rambles about Communists and terrorists, and it’s almost unequivocally a result of taking far, far too many drugs. It’s difficult to know what to call the place he lives in, a short drive from Lismore in the far north of the state. It’s most certainly not a farm, nor is it a ranch, a station or a plantation. We may have to settle on ‘patch of land’.

Pulling up along the dirt driveway, the entrance is marked by what can loosely be described as an artwork. It’s a hotch-potch collection of rusting road signs, bathtubs, gas canisters and household implements, and it illustrates Paul’s mindset quite nicely. On a guided tour of his luxury resort, he explains that he has three residences “so they can’t find me.” They all have different purposes, apparently, although the only discernable difference is that one is by a big pond which he can jump into every morning in lieu of a shower.

Around the palace grounds are all manner of leech-infested trees. They’re tangled up in each other and interspersed with random little plastic toys – the sort you’d get in a McDonalds Happy Meal. It’s decided that it’s best not to ask. “Wow!” he exclaims as he turns round, bringing everyone to a crashing halt. “My own jungle. Incredible, huh?” The reason we’re here is because Jim wanted us to see a real hippy. Jim has run tours from Byron Bay to Nimbin for the last twelve years, and finds that most people just don’t get it.

“People go to Nimbin, thinking they’re going to find hippies,” he says in relaxed-yet-measured tones. “But the hippies aren’t there – they’re all up in the hills. It’s like trying to find a town full of lighthouse keepers.” They may not be genuine hippies, but the townsfolk of Nimbin are undoubtedly different. The town itself is a byword for counterculture in Australia, although that comes more from the reputation as being the easiest place in the country to buy marijuana, rather than any particular achievements. Still, it is surrounded by both luscious countryside and the wannabe writers, artists, environmentalists and organic farmers who choose to live there.

Nimbin itself cannot be described as beautiful, though. It’s somewhere between quaintly ramshackle and pure and simple run down. The inhabitants seem on another planet, shambling down the street like extras in a zombie movie. Fashion sense is clearly not a priority here, with terry-towelling tracksuits appearing to be all the rage, whilst you’d be hard-pressed to find this much facial hair anywhere outside of a ZZ Top concert.

As you’d expect in a place notorious for it, more than a few people are trying to sell special tobacco to the tourists, but a few are a little more enterprising. Take the little old woman who has clearly learned how to fleece the visitors for every penny they can get. She’s selling small cookies out of a bag for $10 a pop, marketing them as genuine souvenirs of the whole Nimbin experience. Now call me frugal, call me tight, but that borders on extortion – you could get a cookie that size in Coles for less than two dollars. Still, it seems as though my fellow travellers aren’t quite so savvy, and snap them up, picking away at their meagre feed all day long. Each to their own, but I shall be spending my $10 more wisely on a big schnitzel in the local pub. Unsurprisingly, they all have to stop off at a service station later on to buy huge bags of crisps, and oversized chocolate bars, the fools.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what the actual tourist attractions are in Nimbin. It’s more a place you go to for the experience rather than for any particular activity, but if there is one, it’s probably the museum. It is a triumph of half-hearted curation, with the old VW Kombi out the front being possibly the most structured thing about the whole place. Inside is like a teenage boy’s bedroom; an unmitigated mess, with what can only be identified as ‘stuff’, thrown everywhere and the floor used as storage space. The walls are splashed with old newspaper articles and rampant sloganeering. Peace symbols, cannabis leaf ensigns and rainbows are emblazoned everywhere, and you fear entering the next room just in case you trip on a corpse that someone’s forgotten to clear up.

The rest of the street is similar. Rainbows adorn every shack-like building, and all sell everyday necessities such as aromatherapy oils, plant seeds and, er, nice things made out of wood. But the tour isn’t really about Nimbin itself, it’s about the whole vibe. Jim himself is all part of the fun. He’s possibly the most laid back person on earth, and throughout the trip, winding through the Nightcap National Park, he’s telling stories. We hear of one paranoid type on his bus who became convinced that his cake was evil. So evil in fact, that he couldn’t give it away or put it in the bin – the tour had to stop until he’d buried it in the woods.

He’s also big on his music, and it seems as though the whole journey is carefully choreographed. As soon as one Creedence Clearwater Revival tune finishes, it’s straight on with something off the Easy Rider or Big Lebowski soundtrack. Over the top, we get more stories, each interlinked whatever music playing as the bus heads up and down the slopes.

And you can begin to see why this area does attract those who aren’t after the suburban rat race. It’s incredibly green, and the tree-covered hills seem remarkably unAustralian. That everyone round here seems to speak like Jim is an indication that many have found their place to be, to relax, create and grow Amazonian Fizz Guavas if they so wish. It may not be the life for all of us, but you can at least get an inkling of why it works for some.