The Journey to Australia’s Biggest Banana

Australia's biggest banana, the home of the gnomes, some frothy coffee, Cundletown (which incidentally wants to be autocorrected to cuddle town πŸ™‚ ), pimply squash, timber towns, Santa hat wearing kangaroos, islands made of muttonbirds and acquiring a road trip mascot called five are just some of the things we've been up to in the last week… It has actually been most interesting to explore a new state… New South Wales genuinely has the widest variety of animal signs I have encountered yet… Kangaroos of course but wombats, koalas, horses, deer and quoll signs have all made an appearance… What has surprised the most though is how green the state is. The greenest state I've seen I think… Western Australia had many colourful flowers to blend with its green surround, Tassie a lot of blue and brown, Victoria a tinge of red and Northern Territory the dusty red of the outback. The further we drive north, we find an ever changing landscape. Through forests and plains, lakeways and coast, it is definitely a good way to appreciate Australia's divergence and contrast.

Thirteen days spent exploring together, Ben and I are getting on well. With a seemingly similar exploring philosophy, both liking brown sign scenic detours, he also either likes my propensity to make pictures of random banter or is very tolerant of this. He's learning very quickly that my mood is directly proportionate to mealtimes and that if I am starting to get cranky it is probably time to fashion a meal… I am learning that I can't get too easily distracted so I am on hand to provide navigational or directional assistance… For he seems to have a habit of going the wrong way… ;-). We'll blame the GPS… πŸ˜‰ Definitely with his uses though, he has been giving me Flemish lessons. Very patient with me, I have high hopes of learning it properly :-). My favourites so far are 'alstublieft', which means please and 'pannekoek' for pancake. I have also learnt useful phrases 'een pintje alstublieft' and 'en een fritje met mayonaise' (a beer please and also some chips with mayonaise) for if I ever make it to Belgium… In other news, I have developed a fondness for happily balanced warm showers, acquired some lovely new insect bites, managed to get sunburnt on a cloudy day (I really should know better having been here so long) and developed an unhealthy liking for lime and black pepper red rock deli chips. They are actually amazing. Seeing some very beautiful places, interesting towns, nice beaches to walk, we have done too much to share all of it with you. Some particular favourites on the journey between Cessnock and Coffs Harbour though…

  1. We bay hopped round Port Stephens. Stopping at Nelson Bay, Shoal Bay and Fingal Bay, we watched kids jump in the water and enjoyed the crashing of the waves on the beach.
  2. Seal Rocks. An unplanned stop, arriving late afternoon, we walked the rocks at the water's edge. We sat and watched the world go by. This included a man taking a picture of an orange telephone… It reminded we still needed a road trip mascot…!
  3. We stayed the night in Banksia Campground in Myall Lakes national park. It rained all night. I got up in the morning and clambered over the sand dunes to the beach. It was a beautiful morning. Not quite brave enough to be immersed in the water, I made it leg high then relaxed on the beach enjoying the peaceful moment. Topped off with pancakes for breakfast, it is one of my favourite road trip mornings πŸ™‚
  4. Booti Booti National Park. We walked on water at Smiths Lake and climbed up to Cape Hawke lookout. The highest point in the south east between Newcastle and Laurieton, named by Captain Cook in 1770, we learnt that booti booti means lots of honey and that the repitition of a word in a place name means 'lots of'. It was also a reminder to always carry insect repellent with some fierce mosquitoes joining us on the climb up the stairs.
  5. A funky bridge, colourful water and quirky shops made Forster one of my favourite towns. Walking its paths, both Ben and I agreed it had a really good feel about it. Always loving the quirky, random places, Coco's closet shop told us quite a few things in the window including 'choose happiness', 'be daring', 'smile' and had a very nice welcoming message on the floor. The fact I found out of date Santa's and Christmas cards in Forster only added to its character. A definite worthy stop on a trip north from Sydney.
  6. On the recommendation of a fellow camper, we spent the night in Hat Head national park. One of the quieter sites we have chosen, with only five other people we rolled in and made taco's just as the sun was setting. With company of just kangaroos for most of the night, grazing away, one of which let their joey out to hop around, with the stars overhead it was an awesome end to the day. Waking again to wildlife in the morning, we took the car for a spin on the beach. Save four others, we had the entire beach to ourself. Four wheel driving, after Ben 'engaged the hubs', listening to husky rescue (I quite liked this choice on Ben's part), I enjoyed the water and the waves. Me capturing my feet and Ben writing 'relax, nothing is under control' on the beach, after attempt number four to get back up the dunes we headed on our way, looking back on the beach from Kemp's corner lookout.
  7. I wasn't feeling Port MacQuarie when we drove in… Lunch and a wander after seeing what the visitor centre had to offer led us to the water. Guided on our path by painted rocks, there were rocks telling of love, of sadness, of family unity and many interesting pictures. I found one informing all that Braveheart was a good movie and that someone had walked 500 miles… I also found two Scottish flags :-). Undoubtedly one of my favourite things on the road trip, these rocks are awesome. Well worth walking the coastline for.
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  9. Just further than Hat Head, I decided South West Rocks was a diversion worthy of a visit. It didn't let us down. The road leading there itself is pretty spectacular. Mountains, rivers and lots of green provide for an impressive driveway. Impressive coastline and a pretty beach, we enjoyed a late afternoon walk along its waters.
  10. Chilling out in Coffs Harbour. It was most nice to spend more than one night somewhere. My favourite moment there is Bruxton lookout. The drive up was awesome. We passed steep hills covered in banana trees, could see the sea and were met with an impressive view over the harbour.
  11. All the randomness we have encountered. Telling Ben we were in Pembroke he said back 'your pen broke…?' Nooooo. We have found not one, but two Bald Knob roads… The first one we saw, directing Ben's attention to it, he responded that it was better than it being hairy or cheesy… A point well made, he made me laugh. A bit random, we keep encountering squash centres in the towns we drive through… This led me to question whether Australia was good at squash in the Olympics…. Which resulted in Ben telling me its not an Olympic sport… Which then needed the help of google which corroborated the story but informed it very much does want to be an Olympic sport. Good luck to it. The highlight though was treating ourselves to dinner in Port MacQuarie and being left astounded when the latte that I had ordered appeared as a flat white (White coffee) and the long black (black coffee) that Ben had ordered arrived in a latte glass with a straw… A straw?! Who drinks coffee with a straw?! Actual madness…!!

Road tripping on… πŸ˜‰



A Dangerous Place for a Sleep Walker!!

The Stuart Highway

The Stuart Highway runs north to south connecting Darwin and Alice Springs. It is a very straight road. I am currently perched not far from it! In fact, I think we could call it our driveway ;-). I can easily stand on this road and there be no vehicles in sight. I also see very long trucks hurtling past at 100km/hr! My time after work used to sit outside under the stars, chatting to my late shift working companion and catch up on all things internet, I genuinely see a few Lightning McQueen's! In my bed at night, I hear them pass. It is most definitely a dangerous place for someone who walks in their sleep!

Standing on the Stuart Highway by day

Before I left Katherine, I stood in a clothes shop and considered a cosy looking woollen cardigan. I don't need that just now I said to myself. What am I thinking could possibly be useful right now…?! Yup, that would be right! Katherine may have been cool at night, here it is much colder. Glorious warm sunshine by day, at night I sleep in long sleeves, trousers and my socks! A blanket for warmth, a girl that I met in my last hostel who told me that I'd be cold is not wrong. Fixing my door banging from the nightly wind with one of my socks (placed in between door and frame at the handle, otherwise the resulting noise is most counter productive for sleep), there is quite a contrast between day and night climes!

My week in snapshots:

Working in a bar with all kinds of different nationalities and types of people stopping by, as you can guess there have been some interesting moments!

  • Every day I get asked how long I've been here. This then requires clarification as to whether they mean here as in my current location or here in Australia. I end up giving both answers. I get asked what brought me here. The girls here asked this many a time, they tell me they sometimes make up a story to make this more interesting! Lets see what I can think of ;-). Sometimes I get asked why Australia? The better weather is usually my first response! I then get asked where I've been and what I've seen. I get told where to see! Don't get me wrong, it's lovely that people show an interest but sometimes it does feel a little like Groundhog Day!
  • Walking a zucchini field, whilst not the best for your back, wasn't overly taxing physically. Here after day two, my legs and back were in agony. I forgot how much exercise you get working in a bar! Miles walked during my nine hour shifts let's see if I can negate any +calorie balances πŸ˜‰
  • My phrases of choice uttered here, a French girl working here said “The what? That's your thing right?” Yup, there are quite a few people in Australia who have heard me say whaaat?! πŸ˜‰ She is now calling me 'Scotland!' I quite like it :-). I am calling her ‘France’ in return :-).
  • Know some Japanese? Tick. Know some Korean? Tick. Know some French? Tick. Know some German? Tick. Who rolls up to the bar needing help translating the menu… Yup that would be Italians…! Parlez-vous franΓ§ais I say? 'Un peu' was what I got in return. Cue a 5 minute explanation of the meat on the menu and a drawing of a sausage ;-). I think I was able to help πŸ™‚
  • I was asked 'what's happening in Ireland?' Not up to date with the news I had a moment of panic. Thankfully all good, it was just someone thinking I'm Irish again! Really?! The accent is not that similar…! The frequency with which this happens is most confusing..! The Irish people I meet tell me that this situation is not applicable in reverse…!
  • There are 41 bottles of alcohol here that I have not tried… Never mind some new spirits to taste… This situation has given rise to a self made mini challenge… (One has got to have goals in life πŸ˜‰ ). Surely also best practice to know what the things you are selling taste like :-D. Debating whether I should work logically through the fridges or not, I decided to just see what tickles my taste buds each night ;-). Avoiding derivatives of the same brand together in the fridge, on day 2 this plan did not help my challenge as a bourbon and coke was what I wanted… Already tried, many a bourbon has been drunk since I reached Katherine where it became a new favourite ;-). Three days down, so far managing a sparkling ale (okay but not very sparkly) and an arvo lager (most tasty – I quite liked πŸ™‚ ) there are only 39 to go…!
  • The amount of times I use 'no worries' and 'how you going' during my working hours is genuinely ridiculous but I am starting to quite like it! In a tiny little way it kind of makes you feel like you belong πŸ™‚
  • As well as Irish, I have also been mistaken for English and American and told that me and a German boy that works here sound similar… Crazy! We'll go for him sounding Scottish then ;-). Though I think it's perhaps just because we both use 'whaaaat' and I talk a little German to him πŸ™‚
  • Having a smashing time, I managed to break not one but two wine glasses last night… My new French friend said to me 'ah that means marriage…' On breaking the second she said 'my gosh, within a year!' Well guys, you heard it here first πŸ˜‰

Many a crazy story to follow I'm sure ;-).

A message to our customers which I thought I would share :-)

A Last Field of Zucchini Has Been Walked…

Many a pancake has been made. Many a word has been explained. Many a new word has been learnt. Many a song has been heard. Many a fly has flown by. Some amazing stars and sunsets have been seen. Interesting moon shapes and colours have been enjoyed. Waterfall pools have been swum. Baby Joey's have been introduced. Collective hair has been plaited. A lot of whaaaat's and hokay's have been said. Territory Day fireworks have lit up the sky. An unhealthy obsession with garlic has been witnessed! The last playlist has been heard. A last field of zucchini has been walked… An 'arigatou' and an 'ii tabi shitene' to my wwoof host and fellow wwoofers has been said.

Whilst in Katherine my friends have shown me just how amazing they are. Sympathetic ears have been lent, words of advice have been offered, laughter has been released. Many a conversation held under the blanket of the stars; many an interesting story has been heard. Being yourself or versions of yourself discussions by firelight, laughter over being in the middle of nowhere and being eaten in western australia and stories of averting kangaroos, police cars and looking for the stars are just some of the memories I am taking with me. “Life is all about finding people who are your kind of crazy.” This is very true. I think I have found some.

Some unintended achievements and lessons learnt, inspiration was found. Momentarily lost for now, I know I will find it again. Some amazing girls also found; cultures have been exchanged. An introduction to a vegetable I have never even heard of before; it was very tasty. Learning that it is harder than you think to speak English; loving sharing and helping, it is also harder than you think to explain the meaning of words and to not only speak your language every day. I have been reassured that my accent is still firmly Scottish. Perhaps an unexpected learning having put weight on, I realised that I have not looked in a full length mirror in nearly three months. Some thin girls thinking they are 'fat', I now love my curves a little bit more. Unashamed to show my body with five girls in a room getting changed five times a day, it was not a place to be coy. Having left with a one piece, I am off to buy a bikini :-).

Heading south to the land where perhaps I won't receive phone signal, don't think of me as rude if I don't respond. Assured I have access to Internet (and henceforth blogging) I will keep you updated but can also be reached by regular mail, all things Internet and landlines I'm sure :-).

Jelly Beans, Maps and On The Road to Alice Springs

A red full moon spied in Batchelor, Katherine's equivalent is orange! Spending a lot of time this week looking at the sky, some through a telescope, I have gained a new respect for the moon. Waiting later every night to marvel at this phenomenon, I learnt that the moon appears approximately fifty minutes later every night!

The unplayed list down to 1383 songs, sometimes just wanting to hear something familiar, this week has been the choice of the shuffle. There is something quite nice about 'Lovely day' being played randomly on a lovely day and something quite surreal about a Christmas song playing when walking a zucchini field in glorious sunshine! Mads Langer and 'Better Place' and the enemy's 'You're not alone' have become new favourites and Passenger's 'Feather on the Clyde' one of my favourite songs ever. This song evokes happy Glasgow memories.

This week alongside regular picking duties, the girls and I participated in a plant spraying round robin! Ferrying water to the fields using the ute, a hose and a box with a hundred litre capacity, switching every couple of hours, this was the true definition of teamwork! Removing powdery mildew from zucchini plants, I am pretty sure me and the other girls here will be a group of only a few who can say they did that whilst backpacking round Australia!

Taught the way Japanese words are made up this week (ten derivatives of A, E I, O and U), it has been very helpful to know in explaining sounds of english words and for writing my own Japanese dictionary :-). New French wwoofers arriving, the girls keen to know some words before they arrived, I was also able to add french teacher to my list of roles this week! Quite a different sounding language to Japanese, a teaching of 'je m'appele' reminded me of a certain friends episode (and of my dad laughing at it!) where Joey tries to speak French…! Ji ma pell ;-).

Perhaps backpacker instinct kicking in, I have had itchy feet all week. My brain, unable to decide between what it 'should' do and what it 'wanted' to do, I toyed between the west (the lure of a state not travelled), the east (perhaps easiest to find work) and the south (seemed most sensible from Darwin with a stop off at Uluru). Helped along the way by my friend Ally, some jelly beans and my map, this decision was made for me when I was offered a job on Tuesday! On the road in the direction of Alice Springs, earning some actual dollars, being a yes woman open to seeing what my future holds, in a couple of days, it is south that I go!

Dumplings, Tweedle Dee and Shared Linguistics

Troubled, I woke up to a particularly unhappy mood. Persisting until late afternoon, the girls, knowing me well after only week, they could tell I had lost my happy ‘jelly beans’. With an ‘are you ok’ there were some tears and a particularly good offered German hug. Jane’s cure for such situations: a tuna sandwich, a loud listen of a holiday playlist, a picture of an open fridge door sent with a smile, the rows of a zucchini field walked alone with the flutter of a disturbed crimson wing. Send a cocophany of text messages to friends with words of wisdom and sympathetic ears received in return. Smile at ‘without the rain there is no rainbow’ and ‘you will find your path’ replies :-). This is very true. Cement resulting good mood with full moon gazing by telescope and dumpling making and eating with said amazing girls :-).

Spending a lot of time with the girls, my week has been filled with learning their languages and sharing my own. Practising my French, speaking German, adding to my Japanese dictionary, I now know some Cantonese! In exchange, amongst many, I have been asked to explain the difference between on, at and in and this, that, those and these! “You can be on the road?” Yes I answered, implying driving it or crossing it. “At the road?” Yes, implying about to cross. “Can you be in the road?” No I responded, unless you’re stuck in it!! Which I suppose technically could be theoretically possible with some wet tarmac ;-). Crazy times. The differentiation asked between may, could, should and must, my chosen example of pregnancy for ‘could’ was met with understanding and a ‘good example’ compliment. My we have a complicated language!

My shout out of the week, it goes to Katherine’s very own Tweedle Dee for the use of his portable WiFi hotspot :-). His real name unknown, I’m sure karma will reward :-). Managing to finally finish my book (it has only taken me 108 days to finish 289 pages…!) I am back to actual printed pages on loan from new German friends. The zucchinni scales telling me it is +6kg since I left, called happy weight for now, my running shoes took Northern Territory by storm on Thursday in an effort to try and swing this the other way! Forty five minutes of effort (not quite all jogging!) later my legs hurt but I felt great. I love that feeling :-). With a resulting clear head, I will need to schedule another one πŸ™‚

Whaaaat’s, Pythons, Custard Apples and Japanese Lessons

Arriving into Darwin I was met with an unfamiliar sight… A woman in shorts and t-shirt! A haze hanging over the fields as we drove along whilst the sun rose, it was a pretty impressive welcome to northern territory. Red roads lined with green trees, many bush fire worn, this was reflected in the sun's colouring. A couple of days were given to me to reacclimatise, during which I was taken to Litchfield National Park for a swim. Some beautiful waterfalls, I can see why it is a popular spot. Asking what rock outcrops I could see, I was told that they were termite mounds!! At least 4/5 foot high, I was informed that flying, yes I said flying, ants will be released out of these when they are good and ready!! Waking up in the morning to the sound of birds in the trees, watching the sunrise as I have breakfast, I have the fortune to fall asleep each night having seen the beautiful red sunset, stargazing from the comfort of my bed.

Working on a farm surrounded by guinea fowl, chickens, a guinea pig, birds and some very friendly beautiful dogs, I have been put to work on a variety of different tasks. Soil mixing and potting plants and seeds serving as a reminder of similar tasks on kangaroo island, me and fellow wwoofer Go have also been constructing a chicken coop. Having a lot of fun and banter the old familiar 'whaaaat' which my Tasmanian buddies know all too well, has been uttered many a time! So many in fact, Go and my host family have started saying it themselves :-).

Weekly learnings

Learning a lot already in the short time I have been here, just some of the things I now know include:

-> That the nuts from pandanus trees are poisonous unless you cook them

-> That lavender is a good deterrent for mosquitoes

-> How to peel a coconut

-> How to tie a trucker's hitch and a half hitch knot

-> How to make good soil mixture (peat, perlite, lime, gypsum, phosphorus, sand and dirt)

-> That courgettes and zucchini’s are in fact different. It's all in the timing of when they are picked.

-> That Northern Territory does not have water restrictions. Somewhat novel to me from all the previous states I have visited, and in contrast to what I thought, with good storage for the abundance of rain from the wet season, there is plenty to go around!

Craziness List

A week of some 'first's', it has been somewhat of an interesting but very enjoyable introduction! Not an exhaustive list, here are just some of the crazy moments I have experienced this week:

-> I have tried custard apples. They were actually amazing. We are keeping the seeds and are going to replant them πŸ™‚

-> I ate my first kangaroo steak. Not to be overcooked they should be done rare-medium. Served with potato and pumpkin mash, it was delicious

-> I have driven my first 'ute'. After my two automatics, this is my first clutch driven car in Australia. I quite liked it! I am most determined to aim for a tractor next…!

-> With Go heralding from Japan, he has been teaching me Japanese. Learning how to count to 100 (it's very easy after 10!) and to use 'ka' if asking a question, we say itadakimasu at every meal πŸ™‚

-> Chat about birthday's resulted in the revelation that me and Go share the same birthday! As if that isn't weird enough, the entire house are virgo's too!

-> Every day I gain a tan! After work I then shower it off!

-> I have seen my first snake in Australia!!! A beautiful python, held by our host, me and Go were able to touch it. It was softer than I thought it would be

-> I found out that Japan allegedly has 200 different kinds of kitkat! Who's up for the challenge?!

-> On Friday, I saw the solar eclipse. The sun low in the sky at 8.04am, I was able to see a very funky crescent sun as we stole the moon from the other hemisphere! I wonder if this was seen far and wide?