33 Days in the Wilderness Day 23


We have booked an airport bus to pick us up after breakfast.  The small minibus arrives and we hurtle around Sydney picking up luggage and other passengers and when we are full to bursting point head out to the airport.  There are different terminals and the bus driver drops us at the wrong one.

I go into the terminal, show my ticket, and the girl directs me upstairs.  I check with the girl at the desk upstairs and she, very rudely, tells me I am in the wrong terminal. We have to get a trolley and push it through the car parks to the next terminal.

The plane for Ayer Rock is the scruffiest plane we have seen.  The seats are tatty and none too clean.  The air hostesses have lots of make-up but their clothes are messy and untidy.

We fly over Botany Bay and then turn north. The first settlers found a lack of fresh water at Botany Bay and they set to see again and discovered Sydney Harbour which had plenty of fresh water.

It is a three hour flight to Ayers Rock and we lose half an hour in the time difference.

There is nothing to see after we fly over Sydney and the Blue Mountains.  Australia is just mile after mile of red oxide earth.  Most of the population live within a few miles of the coast as the interior is so inhospitable.

We are collected in the searing heat at airport by coach and driven the short distance to the main accommodation areas which are about fifteen minutes’ drive from the Rock itself.  All accommodation is low level, and we only have a short time to dump our bags, grab a sandwich and then wait with others at reception.  Our next coach collects us at 3 pm and we set off for Ayers Rock.

First of all we go to the Mumbles and there is a walk through to a ravine.  It it is snowing flies and even though we have out netted hats on, it is miserable. I start to climb the hill to the ravine but give it up as it is too hot and I am wasting so much energy waving flies away.

We wait, with others unable to make the trek, under some shade until the rest of our group returns from their walk.  Whilst we are waiting, Dave the driver, lifts a dragon lizard in the palm of his hand.  The creature is so perfectly formed, with a series of mottled triangular spikes rising from his spine and reaching down to his tail.  He scuttles into the bush as soon as he is set free.   We are take to different photographic stops.  It’s a very flat reddish landscape with two rock formations on the horizon which look like two septic boils..  There is more greenery than we had expected.  It had rained last week, the first time since October.  The dust is as bad as we expected.

Dave, our driver, is very pleasant and gives us lots of information whilst we are in his care.

He warns us to stay rigidly to the desert code.  Do not go walkabout without informing someone where you are going and when you will return.  Take one litre of water for every hour you walk and two litres for every hour you walk in the middle of the day.

He tells us that the Australian government returned the lands at Ayers Rock to the Aborigines several years ago and then leased them straight back.  Everyone entering what the government call the “National Park” has to pay 15 dollars toll to the government on top of whatever the tour company has already charged.

Dave also tells us he had climbed Ayers Rock seven times when he was young and ignorant, but will never climb it again.   The Aborigines consider Ayers Rock a holy place and all tour guides are now honour bound to tell the tourists that the Aborigines have requested that the Rock is treated as a sacred place and ask that tourists stop climbing it.  The Aborigines are also fearful as the Rock is eroding.  We can clearly see in the distance the lighter coloured red soil that highlights the path taken to the top of the Rock.  Added to this is the fact that thirty-seven people have had heart attacks whilst climbing the Rock since the start of the year. (It is only March).

For Maureen and I this decision is not a problem.  We are not fit to climb the Rock but in view of what we have just heard, even if we were fit enough, we would not climb it in respect of the Aborigines’ wishes.  For us it will mean a long lie tomorrow. The rest of our party who are climbing tomorrow morning leave at 5 am to view the sunrise and then start their climb.

We are promised a “good sunset” and Dave pulls the coach into the coach car park.  He hands out folding chairs and sets out glasses, wine and nibbles.  We sit to wait out the half hour or so until sunset.   Many other coaches arrive and I count at least twenty.  Maureen and I are sitting quite comfortably when a coach deposits its load of American tourists who proceed to set up camp directly in front of us and spoil our view.  The driver is quite embarrassed by their behaviour and spends the rest of the viewing time talking to us.  We drink white wine whilst the Americans drink champagne.

The Rock changes colour rapidly as dusk descends. The waves of crimson and purple fan over the crevices in the Rock, but for me the most startling event is what is happening to the west of the Rock.  I can see flurries of ever deepening shadows which looks like fine black dust thrown up from the heels of a thousand horses racing.  I ask the Americans’ coach driver, “What’s that over there?”

”You’re seeing the earth spinning into darkness,” he replies.

As I watch this I am aware of seeing the earth’s movement for the first time, that the earth is round and that it is travelling through space.  It’s a mind-numbing sensation and I feel as if something magical has touch my soul and start to shiver as night blankets the Rock and the drivers collect the drained glasses.

We eat in the restaurant at our hotel.  It is self-service and we pay a flat rate of 35 dollars each for our meal.  This is the most expensive meal we have had yet in Australia.

It is very disappointing as there is no bread, little meat and no tomatoes left in the salad.  We do not complain until an Australian does. He loses his temper and is shouting at the staff saying they are cheating the tourists.  We are refunded most of our money but we complain at the main reception desk so they know what is happening in their restaurant. They ask us to book for breakfast but we decline.


33 Days in the Wilderness Day 22

We re-pack our bags yet again, have breakfast in the hotel and walk down through the park to Rushcutter’S Bay.

Kay and Trudi pick us up and take us to the GAP.  These are huge rocks that stand each side of the narrow entrance to Sydney Harbour which widens to resemble an opened fan.  There is a lighthouse on the southern side of the GAP and many tourists stop and walk over the rocky path to look at the dark blue choppy water.  The girls drive us to Manley and the wide sandy beach set within the Bay is busy with families enjoying the bright afternoon sunshine.  Craft stalls are set up on the road leading away from the seafront and many shops are open.  A brass band plays in the pedestrian walkway and we sit for a spell and watch the other visitors.

We drive to Trudi’s house.   I have seen this house from photographs over the past thirty years so I feel at home as we walk up the path.  The garden is beautiful and the decor in the house very much like what used to be Trudi’s mother’s home in Edinburgh.  The large back garden is beautiful with banana trees and sub-tropical plants.   However Trudi sweeps away giant cobwebs with a broom before we can walk up the back garden, and she says, “It’s been a bad year for spiders.”

There are cats everywhere.  I don’t know how she remembers the names of them all and Maureen and I secretly count at least twenty.  Trudi was denied the chance to have children and the cats are her family.

The girls drop us off at the station. There are double-decker trains directly into the centre of Sydney.   We again walk up to Hyde Park and get back to Bayside Hotel early evening.  We have to reorganise our bags as we are leaving luggage in store in the Bayside because we are off to Ayers Rock tomorrow.  We only need to pack enough clothes for four days.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 21

Trudi and Kay have to vote today so we have arranged to meet them tonight.  It’s a fineable offence not to vote in Australia.  Isn’t it convenient that they make voting days a Saturday?

Our task today is to change our tickets at Singapore Airlines so we can have another stopover in Singapore on our way home.  We have breakfast in the hotel and catch the first bus outside to take us to Bridge Street where the Singapore Airlines office is.

It is meltingly hot and we walk up the winding streets.  We are not far from Central Quay but we are a world away from the holidaymakers and tourists.  This is the business and banking area and the buildings are large stone sombre towers.  The streets are quite narrow as they wind down to the harbour area and we eventually find the Singapore Airline office but it is closed.  We must change our flights here as it is the only way we can get a deal on accommodation on our return leg.

We wander on further into the city and go into the foyer of the hotel in Bond Street.  The hotel is large and luxurious and closer to what we have been  used to.  A charming young lad at reception asks if he can help us.  We don’t explain that we are not resident in the hotel and he takes a great deal of trouble and a long time to change our flights for us.  Our change of return date hits the Easter holidays and we have difficulty getting a flight from Singapore to Heathrow.

To our embarrassment he asks for our room number and we have to admit that we are not resident in his hotel but we do tip him heavily for his trouble.  He points us in the direction of a Thomas Cook office so we can book accommodation.

The girl in the Thomas Cook office does a deal for us.  The Orchard is full but we get booked into the Grand Plaza Park Royal.  Four nights cost about £100.  Our change of tickets and vouchers will not be ready until Tuesday or Wednesday.  As we explain we will be in the Outback until Thursday she arranges that the tickets are delivered to the Bayside Hotel.  Next Friday is Good Friday and everything will be closed. We will now arrive in Heathrow late on 8th April and I will arrive in Forenaught in the early hours of 9th April.

We walk through the main shopping streets in Sydney and some of our party from the coach-trip bump into us whilst we are having a cold drink at a pavement cafe.

We find Paddy’s Market in Chinatown and then head on to Darling Harbour and Sydney Aquarium.  The whole area has just ben refurbished and there is an anniversary celebration of the RAAF taking place so there are lots of displays and military people about.  Everyone is very friendly but it is so hot we keep having to stop for cold drinks.

We have a hard time finding our way back to Hyde Park where we catch the bus for Rushcutter’s Bay.  We are again laden with shopping bags.

Our suitcase situation is now getting ridiculous because we have filled those we have taken to bursting zips point and filled the two large flat folding bags Maureen brought and the two red overnight bags supplied by APT.  We have so much stuff crammed in and it is all in such a mess that we have to do something drastic.

Kay and Trudi are having a garage sale in aid of all the stray cats that they adopt and feed so we ruthlessly discard all the clothes we brought, “just in case” and others that we feel we won’t use.

I phone Trudi and they arrange to pick us up at 8 pm at the hotel.  We donate several plastic bags filled with clothes for the good of the stray cats. As long as we only buy small things from now on we should be all right.

The four of us end up going to another sports club, this time the RSL Club.  Were have a meal, not as good as last night’s, play the machines, lose a dollar each and the girls drop us home around midnight.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 20

We set off a 7,30 am.  Our first stop is Port Macquairie, to the Koala Hospital.  Port Maquairie is set above an idyllic bay.  Again beautiful sandy beaches, flowers and trees.  The streets are wide and tree-lined and most of the housing is one level.  The Koala Hospital project was set up by an Englishman 26 years ago and is run totally by volunteers.  They receive no government funding and all monies donated go to the care and well being of the koalas.  Several of our party adopt Koalas and we all give cash donations as well as buying photographs and cards.  We are supplied with tea and biscuits which they have no permission to charge for so we drop money in a tin. We meet a party of schoolchildren visiting the Hospital as part of a school outing.

The hospital’s biggest need is antibiotics as Koalas suffer rampantly from VD.  The staff treat the Koalas and get them free from disease then they could have a visitor come in overnight and the Koalas will be infected again.  We saw many Koalas up in the trees although they were mostly sleep.

The coach takes us through Port Maquairie but we are told it is mainly a retirement area and there is not much work.

We travel on to Raymond Terrace which is the main shopping town for the area.  We have lunch with Breeda in the mall.  It is now very hot and we have photographs taken with Breeda before we board the coach.

Breeda is dropped off outside a restaurant to await the arrival of her aunt.

We travel through high mountains that have been cut through to get road access.  The valleys are very green and lush,

We drop Milene and her husband, the only Canadians on the trip, off at North Sydney to await the arrival of their family.

The traffic is becoming denser and as we swing around one corner we see a group of children playing cricket in the school playground.

Most of the rest of our party are dropped in Central Sydney adjacent to Hyde Park.

Maureen and I are dropped off with Colette and Bernie at the Bayside Hotel.  We are disappointed with the hotel after the standard we have been used to but the view of Rushcutters’ Bay is superb.

I phone Trudi and she arranges, with her friend Kay,  for us to be collected around 8pm.  The Bayside is at completely the other end of Sydney from where they both live.

Trudi and Kay pick us up and take us to dinner in the Rugby Football Club.  The food is great and reasonably priced,  The Club has three floors and a band is play 60s rock and roll music on the level we are on.  There are gaming machines on all floors and roulette tables and other horse racing games tables.  We each lose a dollar on the one arm bandits.  We watch members use the ATM machines set on each floor and return to the gaming machine to lose more money.

We set off out into the night and find Sydney is much like London at night as it is still as alive as during the day.  The girls give us a whirlwind tour around the city which is well spread out, lush and green with many one way streets.

My great disappointment is the stick insect thinness of Trudi.  Her large eyes are almost luminous.  Her cheek bones and nose are prominent and there seems to be no flesh on her at all.  She is sick.  I feel like Desperate Dan beside her.

348 miles

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 19

I don’t feel well.  I have a cough (like Geoffrey’s) and pains when I breathe deeply.  I meet Sandy after breakfast and she rushes me around to a doctor’s surgery just outside the hotel.  I haven’t kept well for a couple of days and want to keep it quiet in view of Geoffrey’s illness.  Every time I have coughed the Yanks have looked at me as if I were something to beware of. They might think it is a virus going around the air conditioning on the bus.

The Doctor gives me a prescription for antibiotics and a cough medicine.  She gives me a repeat prescription as she doesn’t think the first lot is going to clear what I have got.

We stop at Byron Bay Resort mid-morning.  It is beautiful with golden sands, the  sounds of waves and surf breaking under clear blue skies.  This is what I thought Australia would be like.  Byron Bay is a hippie resort..  On Sundays all the New Age Travellers head to Byron Bay sporting their tattoos and body piercing.

We now cross from Queensland to New South Wales.

It rains as we journey further south.  We stop at a cafe on a riverbank.  The food is good. I have Chicken Satay and we sit at a table overlooking the riverbank.  The cafe owner comes out and throws scraps of food on the grassy bank and from nowhere a dozen or more lizards race towards the food.  Their natural camouflage is so perfect we can only see them as they move.

There are beautiful handicrafts for sale in the shop adjacent to the cafe.

We arrive at Opal Cove Hotel in Coffs Harbour.  The hotel is spacious and well laid out. Crickets and birds fly freely in and out of the hotel.   Again we are warned not to put as much as a toe in the water.  We go for a walk on the beach before dinner.  The hotel gardens lead down to the golden beach set in a bay between rocky outcrops.  The waves pound on the shore with a dramatic force but we wander along in the breeze.  We start to pick up stones and pebbles with surfaces so shiny they look as if they have been professionally polished.

This area is banana growing country and the crop was first grown by immigrant Indians. Some of the banana trees are enshrouded in black plastic, others in tinfoil.  This is to delay or stimulate the ripening of the fruit to satisfy market demands.

We walk down between waterfalls to meet in the glass fronted hotel bar and have drinks with Danny and Sandy as our party will break up tomorrow.  We are a lively and merry crowd and there is a lot of teasing and a lot of laughter

We change for dinner and meet the girls in the bar for a drink afterwards.  Anne tells us she will meet her brother who left England thirty-six years ago when we reach Sydney.  She has never met his wife, and Valerie, who is black, is going o dramatically shout, “Daddy! Daddy!” When they all meet up with his wife present.  The girls have been the life and soul of this coach trip which would have been very dull without them.

Maureen again does some washing to that we are now traveling with everything clean.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 18

We are called at 5.45 am.  We are to be on the 7.30 am bus for the ferry off the island.  At breakfast we hear that Brenda had been taken off Fraser Island as Geoffrey’s condition had worsened last night.  There is talk that he is on a life support machine and other talk that he is now breathing on his own.  Sandy went with Brenda and as yet they have not returned to the island so we are all trying to be as helpful to Danny as we can.

There is an air of dejection and sadness as everyone has become fond of Brenda and Geoffrey.

Our first stop at Hervey Bay is the hospital to pick up Brenda and Sandy and then take Brenda to lodgings close by the hospital that Sandy had arranged.

Brenda bravely wishes us all a good holiday and we leave her in the capable hands of the widow who runs the motel.

The rain stops as we make our way south and we see kangaroos in a field, the first time we have seen them in the wild.

We stop at Noosa Heads for about one and a half hours.  This is the first time we have had a stop of this length during the day.  It’s a holiday place and the shops are mainly touristy.  I buy a 200 dollar hat for 40 dollars for the wedding.  Maureen and Breeda think I am crazy as I can’t get a box big enough to take the hat.

Anne did a collection around the coach for Sandy and Danny.  She got a nice card for each of them and another one for Brenda and Geoffrey which everyone signed.

Danny said we had been on the Bruce Highway for 2,000 kms.

We pass the Glass Hills which have an aboriginal history of a father being disobeyed by his son so the son was turned to glass.

Captain Cook named them the glass mountains. When the rain falls the wet rock is shiny and glassy.

We track southwards and stop in Brisbane to drop some of our party off.  Michael and Chris leave to meet up with Micheal’s two daughters who have been backpacking in Australia for a year.

Brisbane is the first place where we see men in dark business suits and the women dressed for office work.  Brisbane seems old fashioned and has a high rise concrete air to it that we are happy to leave behind.

We drive straight through to Surfers Paradise.  We are at the ANA Hotel which is superb.  First of all we go shopping with Breeda.  It should be called shoppers paradise.  There is a gaudy commercialism.  Traders come out of their shops to pull you in off the pavement.  There are fun fair rides and it seems a bit like Blackpool.  We are warned not to buy anything in the shops as they cater mainly for the Asian market.

We go back to the hotel to shower and change for dinner and there is drama when Maureen opens her case.  Most of her clothes are wet.  They have been soaked on the ferry crossing.  We call up room service but the staff have gone home.  A housemaid comes to our room to collect the wet clothes and promises its return by 8 am as we are on the road before 9am.

Our waiter at dinner tells us he is relaxed to a member of the Irish Rugby team.  Anne, Valerie and Chris are taking advantage of the “pay 14 dollars and drink as much as you like” offer in the bar.

We go with Jimmy and Rhoda to O’Malley’s, an Irish pub adjacent to the beach road.  It’s late as we walk home but the air is very warm and there is a pleasant breeze off the sea.  The pavements are crowded with young tanned people enjoying themselves.

When we get back to the hotel the three girls are setting out to join us at O’Malley’s, but they start dancing in the foyer.  Rhoda joins in but the girls have drunk so much for their 14 dollars they can hardly stand.  We have a coffee in the bar and read the newspapers.

Maureen sleeps well as she had a glass of Guinness.


257 miles

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 17

We are up early again for our drive around the island.  At breakfast we find out that the kitchen bins are adjacent to the laundry facilities and Maureen had not one, but two dingoes for company.

We queue for the four wheel drive coach which cost 250,000 Australian dollars.  Another stringy dingo saunters along the road as we wait.  He totally ignores the humans.

We are taken on a woodland walk around a stream.  There are water snakes swimming in the stream and huge spiders and webs in the vegetation.  We get back on the coach and it stops so we can view the Maheno which is wrecked on the beach.  It’s huge rusting bulk is unsafe but there are always those who will jump aboard to pose for a photograph.

Kevin is our tour guide and driver but he keeps forgetting what he is saying, mid-sentence and mid-word.

We hear Geoffrey had been taken off the island by helicopter last night and is in hospital very ill.

We travel inland to Lake McKenzie.  The lake is of silica sand and the water stays in the lake because of the fallen vegetation which provides a catchment layer for the rainwater.  I wish I had brought a plastic container as the silica is the same sand that jewellers use to clean jewellery.  Most of the ladies are to be seen down on their knees cleaning their rings and bracelets for free.

Kevin has told us not to put on sun tan lotion if we want to swim as they don’t want the lake polluted.  The setting is picture post card but the reality is that the lake shelves rapidly within ten feet of the edge.

I can’t believe that today we are actually shown a rusty wreck that the Australians are proud of.  It must be polluting the sea and the sand.  Kevin has also walked us deep into the forest and shown us a King Fern which he gloomily reports is no longer reproducing because of global warming.  I want to let him know that these ferns are growing just fine in West Cork but don’t want to spoil his enjoyment of being miserable. Who am I to spoil his fun.

We are taken on another walk to view the seven different coloured shifting sands but are not allowed near as we might pollute the area!

It starts to rain heavily again as we return to the coach.  Kevin morosely tells us on the return journey that all of the beautiful sandy beaches that we can see are unsafe. One side of Fraser Island is notorious for rip tides and the other side is full of sharks.

We buy hot Ross buns in the shop and I get some butter from the restaurant.

We next meet up with Brenda for our evening meal.  It is self-service in the restaurant and as our fellow guests are mainly Far Eastern, there is very little European food.  I ask one of the chefs if are there any potatoes amongst all the dishes. He says, “No Madam, but would Madam like some French fries.?”

Madam would and he delivers a huge platter to our table.  Some of the Americans at the next table acknowledge our existence but their eyes are fixed on the fries and we make a grandiose gesture of sharing our spoils with them.

There are two large chest freezer compartments on one side of the self-service section.  Brenda is a chocoholic and finds four different types of chocolate ice cream.  She returns for seconds then thirds.

As we turn in for the night we get the news that Geoffrey has viral pneumonia.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 16

We washed and dried our clothes until midnight last night.  The clothes had got soaked through being taken on the boat to Hamilton Island.  We are up at 5.45 am to finish drying the clothes.

Maureen phones Julie and the great news is that her mother is moving into sheltered housing near them both.

We think we have lost some of our clothes but we have been living out of the suitcases for so long everything is in chaos and mixed up.

I put laced-up leather shoes on today in an attempt to lessen the swelling of my feet.  I reason if I get the shoes on first thing in the morning when my feet are at my best the shoes won’t allow any further swelling.

We stop at Miriamvale which is quite a small town for morning break.

We stop at Childers post office and buy lots of prepaid wildlife postcards.  We find a great discount store, but have little time as we were last to get served in the cafe for lunch and then the girl forgot our order.

Geoffrey is very bad,  I am worried as his breathing is deteriorating rapidly.  They should have given him antibiotics at his last visit to the doctor, as well as the steroids.  He finds it difficult to walk from the bus to the ferry and Brenda is more or less helping him step by step.  I take one of her bags from her.  The Americans look at us as if we are crazy.  I want to explain to them that he is sick.  Can’t they open their eyes and see.

I ask about fishing trips as we walk to the ferry for Fraser Island, but all trips are arranged from Harvey Bay.  Three fishermen hear me talking and ask if I want to join them but they are going out for three days and they all look as if they need a wash, so I politely decline their offer.

The crossing out to Fraser Island is a bit rough although the weather looks great.

A coach picks us up and as we travel to Kingfisher Bay resort, we are warned about the dangers on Fraser Island.

We mustn’t bathe in the sea.  It is full of sharks.  We must use the swimming pools only.  We must not feed the dingoes.  They are to be treated as the wild animals they are.  The coach driver tells us the story of the young girl who camped on 75 mile beach and fed a dingo with the scraps from her campfire meal.  When she bent to wash her plate in the sea the dingo attacked her.  She had 127 stitches in her bottom and her derrière made front page news and headlines on television.

Kingfisher Bay resort is mainly glass and wood with timber walkways between the tiers of bedrooms.

On arrival at the resort we are taken into a large room and again warned about the dangers of the wild animals.  Humans are visitors on the island. It belongs to the wildlife and we are asked to respect the wildlife.

I change my shoes and my feet, although swollen, they are better than they have been since the start of the trip.

There are three swimming pools and a Jacuzzi.  Brenda, Maureen and I eat together and whilst Maureen goes off to do more washing, Brenda and I go for a swim.  It is now about 10pm and we swim by the lights of the restaurant overlooking the pool.  The water and air temperature are very pleasant and we happily swim around the leaf-shaped pool until we notice a dingo sniffing around the adjacent Jacuzzi.  We cast sideways glances at him as we have been warned he could attack if we stare directly at him.   He does not look like any dingo we have seen in picture books or in zoos.  He is larger than we supposed.  Not as big as an Alsatian but bigger than a Labrador. He has a reddish coloured coat but he is thin and gangly like a sprouting teenage lad and we can see every rib on his cage.  He walks confidently around the umbrellas and tables set on the boardwalk in front of the restaurant and then disappears into the shrubs and darkness.

Some Cockney kids join us in the pool and we make a quick exit as they dive bomb us from the ledge of the Jacuzzi.

Maureen blusters into our room shortly after I return.

”I couldn’t stay in that laundry room any longer,” she says.  “There were a lot of strange noises coming from outside and I was scared in case it was a dingo.”

258 miles

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 15

We awake to a beautiful day with people swimming in the water in front of the hotel and joggers out doing their stuff whilst it is still cool.

We have breakfast in the Cascade Rooms restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel. We are given large plastic covers for our food.  The restaurant is open on one side and beautifully coloured birds, with purple heads, bright green backs and orange chests fly in and out.  The staff get quite cross with the birds and with some of the guests who are enticing the birds to their tables with food.  The birds do not need much encouragement.  A large magpie gets stuck behind the serving dishes but he eventually gets out.

The large plastic covers are for the cups, glasses or plates that you do not have in your hand.  The birds swoop and call throughout the meal and it becomes a competition as to who is going to eat the food – you or the bird.

We hand the buggy keys in at reception at 9 am when our minibus arrives to take us back to the pier.  We have a great crossing to the mainland.  We do both trips by water taxi and we are now heading towards Rockhampton our stop for tonight.

Geoffrey took sick with his chest yesterday and he had to get drugs yesterday and today.  They got a Chinese meal with their meal vouchers delivered to their room last night.  They are both in good spirits but Geoffrey’s breathing is very bad.

The cattle are amazing on our journey down.  Nothing like John O’Mahony’s, black and white glossy-coated beasts.  He would really enjoy this.   I will send him a postcard of these weird animals.  At any one time there are three million cattle resting in the lands around Rockhampton.  Their meat is more tender if they rest for two or three days after the stress of their journey before slaughter.

We have a few stops on the way to Rockhampton where we stay at the Comfort Inn. The food is good.  We go for a walk with Jimmy, Rhonda and Tizania but Rockhampton was shut.  There are lots of Irish names on the business premises.  No-one is walking on the streets and the drivers of huge Mercedes-like cars slowdown when they see us walking and stare at us as if we are from another planet.  Apparently no-one walks in this boring town.

I feel quite ill but we have been doing a lot of mileage.

307 miles

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 14

Our alarm is set for 6.15a.m.   We pack our bags, leave them on the path outside our room and rush to breakfast.  Everything is rush.  We have another hard day ahead of us if we are to make Hamilton Island tonight.  We should have arrived there yesterday.

Again we have limited stops.  Everyone is tired and aware of the pressure and stress Danny is under.

We stop at Ayr for a tea break, about three hundred miles north of McKay.

I see a Storm flying.  This is sugar cane country.  Danny says they can’t grow rice because white and black magpies arrive in flocks and decimate the crop.  We don’t know if this is true or it is another of Danny’s jokes.

We see Magnetic Island which was discovered by Captain Cook. He couldn’t get his compass to work properly but the story goes that it was a misladen ship.  (A Danny joke?). We pass through Ayr-Bowen cyclone country.  The mountain ranges are too far west to protect the land.  All the iron roofs on the buildings are secured with large nuts and bolts to hold them down in severe weather.

When we stop at Airlie beach for lunch I buy a T-shirt and two pairs of shorts. We see a Sausage Tree when we stop for afternoon tea.  This is the only one existing outside a botanical garden.

The ten minute drive to the Chute Harbour ferry crossing is pretty bumpy and there is obviously more rain on the horizon.  We have no guide on the ferry to explain about the Whitsunday Islands, or the names of the islands we are passing.

When we arrive at Hamilton Island, we are upgraded to a better hotel because of the delays.  The hotel is beautiful with glass lifts on the outside of the building.  Lots of marble in the hotel.

Our room overlooks the most beautiful bay and we make tea and set ourselves down on the balcony to savor the view.  We last only minutes as all the balconies are home to masses of yellow crested cockatoos.  We have looked forward to these birds as advertised in the brochure, but they are much larger than we believed and quite aggressive as they dive bomb us for a share of our food.

We close the sliding mesh screen from the invaders.  We have been warned to keep the doors locked as the cockatoos trash bedrooms.

The bathroom is great, almost as large as the bedroom. We have a full shower, full bath, cupboards and coat hangers, iron and ironing board.

We meet Tizania at 5 o’clock.  We should go on a boat trip around the island tonight, but we are boated and tripped out.  We arrange to hire a golf buggy, and choose a de-luxe model, courtesy of Maureen’s credit card.  We insure it but are still responsible for the first 200 dollars’ worth of damage.

We walk outside and are shown how to switch on the motor.  Tizania says she can’t drive, Maureen won’t so I am chauffeur.   We head first of all to the nearest bay.  We watch as a beautiful bride and her groom have photographs taken.  The backdrop is the sand, sea and a large yacht moored at the pier.

The sky darkens and the heavens open.  We head to a cafe and sip coffee until the rainfall lessens.  We cross the road hopping under shop canopies and look around the gift shops.  We can’t go back to the hotel until the rain stops as there is no shelter for Tizania who has to sit on the back of the golf cart.  Someone who is catching the bus back to the hotel gives us an umbrella for Tizania.

I fumble switching the engine on and then in the gathering dusk try to find the switch for the light.  We are off but I am unsure where I should be going.  I know our hotel is uphill, across a four-way junction and then down a steep slope.  There are no windscreen wipers on the buggy.  It is left hand drive so I drive with my head out the side peering into the darkness for the edge of the pavement through the streaming rain.  I am relieved when I recognize the left hand turning and we make a steep clime up until we come to the cross roads.  I remember that we go straight across the other side of the hill.

I feel confident and the buggy races freely downwards.  Suddenly there are frantic screams from both Maureen and Tizania.  I brake gently as the road is slippery and turn to see Tizania hanging on for dear life.  The large umbrella has been blown inside out because of the speed I have driven down the hill and Tizania resembles Mary Poppins.  Thankfully she starts to laugh as soon as the speed drops.  Maureen and I are in hysterics but poor Tizania is soaking wet.  We return to our hotel still laughing but when we meet up later to travel back to the bay for dinner, Tizania decides to take the bus.

We select the piece of meat we want cooked in the restaurant and join Tizania, Anne, Chris and Valerie outside after our meal.  The girls have had a too much to drink and Tizania has told them of our earlier escapade.  They decide to join us on the buggy for the journey back to the hotel.  There are now six of us on a buggy made for four.  Tizania stands beside Maureen in the front and under the canopy.  The three girls are squeezed on the back seat.

We take off with a great deal of shouting and screaming.  I know I have the lights on but they seem to have dimmed. People are waving and gesticulating as we noisily pass them and we wave back.  We don’t know until the next day that there is so much weight on the buggy that the lights have dropped down too low for others to see us and that’s why people are waving.

We make slow progress along the front and then start the climb up the hill.  Our speed declines as the road rises and eventually there is a grinding noise and clouds of black smoke.  The three girls sit on determinedly but eventually as the buggy threatens to reverse down the hill they get off to walk.  Without their weight the buggy starts to move slowly forwards up the hill but the grinding noise is as bad.  Danny has directed us to a viewpoint on the island and although we follow the correct road, we can’t find it.  We turn around and try to find our way back to the hotel.  We see wombats feeding on a grassy bank near the hotel and as we turn into the circular driveway, Tizania says she wants to drive.

Maureen jumps out as soon as we near reception and I become the passenger as Tizania takes the wheel.  She has never driven anything before and it is quite hair raising as we speed around the bends in the darkness.  Our lights are sill no use.  We meet the girls still walking on their way back to the hotel and they shriek and cheer us on.  When Tizania tires we decide what we must do with the buggy.

We are off the island at 9 am tomorrow and should hand the keys into the office by 8.30 am.  We are now certain we have caused major damage to the buggy as the black carbon smoke that billows behind it wasn’t there when we started out.  We slot  the buggy in the car park behind the hotel amongst the other buggies and walk back.

We all have a late night drink with the girls in their room and a lot of laughs.  Maureen is worried that the buggy hire people will trace her through her credit card.  We all promise to share the cost of the damage we have done but none of us can stop laughing.

255 miles.