This is not a holiday, it’s an adventure (Okavango Delta, road trips)

IMG_0175

We really felt like we had arrived in Africa, when our big truck had to roll onto what looked like a hand-crafted and way to small ferry, that then brought us to the other side of a river. But the boat made it and our journey into the Okavango Delta continued, now pretty much off-road – they called that an African massage- to our camp at Jambo Junction. That was a like a resort campground with permanent tents. We finally had the sausage rolls for lunch and afterwards were scheduled for our first mokoro ride. A mokoro is a boat made out of a tree trunk and its engine is a person with a long stick to push away from the ground like in Venice. We were pretty unsure whether it was safe to bring the camera as these things were incredibly wobbly but after two minutes, we felt completely at ease with our skilled pole man and could enjoy the BEAUTIFUL ride. It’s such a peaceful way of transport, as you glide over the surface of the water almost noiselessly and sit on the same level as the water. I could have done that all day! How lovely! But we got off on an island and took a short walk with a guy named Nature, reading elephant tracks and other signs the animals left behind.

IMG_0108

The ride back in the mokoro was even better, as we could observe some hippos that were really close by. Plus, the sun was just setting and I witnessed one of my most special sunsets. By then, we were starving again and could hardly await our dinner (potato salad, coleslaw and braaied chicken).

IMG_0164

The next morning started with another wonderful mokoro ride until we reached another island, where we went for a longer walk. We learned more about animals and their behavior but unfortunately only saw a few birds, shit loads of elephant poo and cows. But no elephants 😦

IMG_0189

Our pole men drove us back, where a nice brunch awaited us. Then, we had some time to relax, read, play darts (the group of my exchange student friend was there as well) until at 2.30pm it was our turn to try steering a mokoro. We were pretty sure that we would fall in but I actually found it easier than SUP to balance. Steering was a different story and there was a lot of laughter when boats would disappear in the high grass again. But I guess we had a talented group because afterwards, they let us pole ourselves to a swimming area in the delta, although that wasn’t really planned into the schedule. Our whole group came swimming, even our 70 year old grandmother, which proofed again, what an awesome group we have! By the way, that 70 year old lady did everything we did too with just as much energy as us. I can only hope that I will still be as fit and as adventurous as her, when I reach that age.

IMG_0203

After the refreshing bath in the clear water, it was time for another sunset mokoro ride with our poler. It doesn’t get boring. To watch the sunset, we sat down on an island and then, just as we were putting the correct killer to jail, a whole group of elephants (including super cute babies) came to the water to drink. Wow, what a nice surprise! I almost missed the sunset because I was so mesmerized by them.

IMG_0265

Unfortunately, we then had to go back before it became completely dark and when we reached the camp, our mokoro riding days were over.

For dinner we had bean soup, lamb meat, sausages and vegetables with potatoes and afterwards we played a game next to the fire under the full moon. The chance of seeing lots of stars had gone astray but at least we could find the path to our tents without a problem.

On Friday morning, it was time to pack up again and then board an army truck, that transported us to a different boat landing place. From there we took a boat through the delta for 2,5 hours. It was beautiful but freezing! So, we were glad when we finally spotted Nina and Gerhard waiting for us. We quickly made some tuna sandwiches for the road and then drove towards Maun, where the people who wanted could catch a scenic flight over the delta. The pictures showed that it was an experience worth doing but since I don’t like flying that much, I preferred walking into town to buy some supplies for the long road trips ahead and then get an iced coffee with the others who remained on the ground. They even had wifi there and I got a quick chance to talk to my family.

IMG_0358

That night we arrived at the camp in the dark and would leave it again by 5am, so it would be a rather short night. Since a girl wanted to also have the camping experience for one night, we switched and went into her room. Unfortunately, we took the night were they had the most basic accommodation of all and I thought it was even colder than in the tent. Good that I brought my lovely warm sleeping bag this time 🙂

Dinner that night was rice with some kind of chicken stew. Very tasty once again.

IMG_0194

I was surprised that I was able to eat breakfast at 4.30am but maybe it’s being outdoors so much. We packed some sandwiches for lunch that we could eat on the bus when we wanted because what followed was 11 hours on the road with a few toilet stops.

At least, we arrived at Stevensford reserve when the sun was still up. It was a nice place to camp and the lodges looked really good as well. We quickly set up our tents and then boarded a game drive jeep. We saw a family of warthogs (Pumba) running around and some impalas jumping. And that was it then. All the other animals seemed to have disappeared 😦 But we knew they had to be somewhere, since we saw zebras, when we were coming with the truck. We finally did see some cute dwarf mongooses and then a single giraffe we first thought was a statue because he didn’t move for at least 2min. On our way back, it was dark night and therefore, we used a spotlight to find more animals. We saw a few rabbits and also an antbear crossing the road, which apparently is quite lucky.

IMG_0418

By the time we arrived back at the camp, I was starving and therefore glad that a hot dinner was ready. Cardi had cooked a typical South African Bobodie (yellow rice with a meat and cheese sauce, a little bit like a good nachos dip and a dessert made out of custard cream and oreos). We enjoyed that around the warming campfire and grew slightly melancholic, as this would be our last night as a group. They then even sang happy birthday for Switzerland as it was 1. August, which was quite a special thing to do 🙂

The night was quite cold but the cool thing was, that we were right next to a river again and the shower was hidden behind a tree and wood and the only toilet was also just behind a wooden fence that was open towards the river, that you could enjoy the view.

IMG_0232

We packed up our things for the last time and soon after that, crossed back into South Africa. We had rice salad and some leftovers at a gas station rest stop for lunch and then started the last hundred kilometers back to Johannesburg. What a fantastic week we’ve had on our Victoria Falls to Johannesburg overland safari. The memories I can keep are amazing. I can fully recommend this overland tour with Nomads. All the other groups we’ve met along the way seemed in high spirits as well. Maybe it’s just the same kind of people who decides to go on a safari in Africa. Or maybe, we were just really lucky, to have been thrown together with 18 really like minded people, who have made even the long hours on the truck really agreeable.

IMG_0052

Advertisements

This is not a holiday, it’s an adventure (Vic Falls & Chobe NLP)

IMG_9419

Johannesburg didn’t make a good impression on first sight. It looked like one big ghetto and right next to the streets there was always red mud and dirt. I didn’t feel too comfortable at Park Station either and therefore I took the Gautrain (R160!! Swiss price) directly to the airport. There were security guards patrolling all night and therefore I felt quite safe and there were enough soft benches to sleep on.
The next morning I was waiting for Michèle at the gate. She cut it really close since her plane from Zurich had been delayed but at last we sat on the plane together. What was more, we were seated right next to each other, although there were other empty rows left.
The visa to enter Zimbabwe cost us 30$ and it took us an eternity to receive it because they worked really slow. When the 15min taxi ride to our hostel also cost us 30$, we realized that this would be a tourist rip off place. Food/drink prices were almost Swiss everywhere.

waterfall1

The hostel was cool with people who played music, a pool and art chairs made out of bottle tops but again the employees were working on their own speed. In the evening a loud party was going on until the early morning hours but I was so exhausted, that I had no trouble sleeping.

The next day we met our 18 people travel group. Our first impression was that everybody was very relaxed and open and it stayed that way until the end. This was the perfect group 🙂 Our guides Gerhard and Cardi were awesome, too and contrary to my fears after some reviews I had read, we always received delicious and plenty of food that Cardi prepared for us.
For a short moment at the orientation I was reminded again how small the world is, because suddenly, there was this girl from Switzerland, who did an exchange in the US at the same time as me. We never met by chance in Switzerland but there we run into each other in Vic Falls. It turned out that she wasn’t on the same safari though.

IMG_9417

Entry into Vic Falls National Park would cost another 30$ but at least that was included into our tour price. We walked along paved paths, heard the thunder of the falls and looked in awe at the masses of water that fell down. It was cool to see the falls from so many different angles from the viewing spots. We were lucky that there was hardly any wind and therefore, we hardly got sprayed by water and could make fun of all the yellow rain poncho groups.
On our way back, we were accompanied by many monkeys.

IMG_9444

By lunch time it was really hot and therefore we jumped into the Rainbow Hotel pool. Yes, our first night on the safari we spend in a nice hotel.
Later, we took a taxi with some others to Safari Lodge to watch a beautiful sunset over a waterhole.
Then we had Chicken Curry for dinner with the group at Shearwater Café.
Early the next morning, we loaded our luggage into our truck Nina, and drove to Botswana. Along the road we already saw some elephants and giraffes which provoked excited screams from our side. To enter into Botswana, we had to step into some poisonous liquid to free us from possible germs of foot and mouth disease.
Then, we reached our camp for the first night and received a short demonstration of how to set up our spacious tent.
When we all had our little home, we jumped onto a safari vehicle with open sides, to start our first game drive in Chobe National Park. Our driver said that in a game you can win or lose, so it’s not guaranteed to see animals. The boarders of the park are open and the animals roam freely but we weren’t disappointed. We saw hordes of impalas, elephants, giraffes, hippos (only in the mud), buffalos and much more.
After lunch, we hopped onto a boat to go on a sunset cruise. We saw soooo many elephants and especially the babies were extremely cute. Furthermore, there were crocs, more deer like creatures and colorful birds. The things and places we had seen that day were spectacular!
When we returned to the camp, “lecka” dinner was already waiting for us (butternut apple soup/ pork steak with mashed potatoes, cabbage and carrots.) It was delicious! I’d call that a successful first day.
Everybody then retired early as the alarm clock would ring at 5am.

waterfall2IMG_9736

The next day was filled with a long stretch of driving and we were told that in order to keep the duration a minimum, we wouldn’t stop for anything general like “an elephant or a giraffe” (that would be like slowing down in the US to observe a deer). But still we saw rare wild dogs, a hyena, elephants, giraffes and different kinds of antelopes along the road.
The border-crossing into Namibia worked without any problems and after another few hours of driving, we stopped for lunch at a rest area along a 200km road without the slightest bend. Our truck Nina fully showed its functionality then, as it turned into a food truck and we cod enjoy a delicious pasta salad on our camping chairs in the shade.

IMG_9527 IMG_9569

Our camp was right next to a river. Since we arrived at 4pm, we still had two hours to shower with the warmth of the sun and then enjoy the view with a Savanna and good company. Dinner was a tasty spaghetti bolognaise and while we were eating, we could listen to some hippo noises.
Before going to bed, I saw the first spider in Africa that’s worth mentioning. It was a big black one and looked similar to the fake Halloween ones in Switzerland.

IMG_9593 IMG_9855

That night we got to sleep in until 7. After breakfast we hit a dirt road to make our way to the entrance to the Okawango Delta on Botswana’s side. We saw some animals again and then crossed the border again. There, we either had to leave our raw meat behind or cook it there on the spot, in order not to carry any germs to Botswana. So we cooked our sausages that the meat didn’t get wasted.
That was a good opportunity for the killer in our group to get rid of a few people. We are playing this game during our trip where everybody had to draw a card and there is one killer among all other civilians. In the evening we have to guess who the killer is and send someone to jail. It’s quite fun but apparently, I was an easy victim, as I was the first one who got murdered. Luckily, it’s only a game, otherwise, I feel very safe on this trip.

IMG_9643 IMG_9733

Visiting the US isn’t complete without a nice road trip

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

At about 4pm, we finally left Las Vegas on I-15 North towards Grand Canyon. After about a two hour drive was our first stop in St. George to buy some food and water supplies at Walmart and then we had dinner at a Thai restaurant across the street. This time, my Pad Thai was delicious.

We drove on and finally found a camp site in Jacob’s Lake for 20$ (without showers). JB’s tent was more for 1 person than for two and so to really fit we had to sleep with each other’s feet in the face J But I really like this way of being able to just put the tent anywhere (well in the US on campsites because we didn’t really see rest area stops like in Australia) in a beautiful nature spot and sleep among trees and grass, being woken up by birds and sunrays.

The next day, we started the entrance road to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon NP. At the entrance, we bought the annual pass for 80$ and then proceeded towards the visitor center. It is located next to a beautiful lodge at the picturesque Bright Angel Point.

IMG_6990

I hadn’t remembered which part of the Grand Canyon I had been to in 2009 but obviously, it was the South Rim, because everything here seemed new to me. And very impressive. After having seen so many canyons and gorges in Australia, the wideness of Grand Canyon still didn’t cease to amaze me.

We drove to Cape Royal from where we walked to Angel’s Window and then had lunch in the shade of the trees close to an outdoor chapel on the brim of the canyon.

On the third attempt, we finally spotted the starting point of the Cliff Springs walk. That was really cool with orange overhanging cliffs and the path was often shaded by trees.

In the end, we drove to Cape Imperial. From there, Grand Canyon looks never-ending, spreading along the whole horizon.

IMG_7053

Although, we had achieved a lot in the first half of the day, we still had enough time to drive to Page. And that with about a 100mile detour do to a landslide over the normal road. We had dinner in a delicious pizza place and then found a campsite on the Wahweap Campground at Lake Powell.

Unfortunately, the shower building was so far away from our campsite, that we drove back down by car. In a machine, I exchanged 2$ to get 8 quarters, with which we paid for a 17min shower (if you don’t have to pay for a shower on campsites in the US, the campsite is a lot more expensive).

The night was a bit restless because there was a group of drunk adolescents close by. They were French, like 80% of the visitors in the US seem to be at the moment. In Australia, almost every person I met was German and now here, everywhere you turn to, people speak French.

We enjoyed our daily breakfast donut with a beautiful view on Lake Powell. Then we drove to Horseshoe Bend, which luckily, was accessible, although it was along the road with the landslide. It was still early morning when we got there but the heat was already picking up. We walked across the sandy path to get to the edge of the cliff and have a nice view on the beautiful bend the Colorado River had carved into the rocks here. The different colors look so intense next to each other, you shouldn’t miss this stop if you go to Page, Arizona.

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend

Then, we drove back to Lake Powell, to take a cooling bath before heading on to Monument Valley. We stopped at the Welcome Center to enquire about horseback riding. Someone then told us to go to the Visitor Center to get a better deal. Normally, you’d have to pay an extra 20$ just to get to the visitor center, from where you then drive down to the monuments (you need a 4×4, which we didn’t have). Since, we weren’t sure whether we’d really do the horseback riding, we asked whether we just could quickly drive up there to ask about the price. To our surprise, they let us in for free.

The best horseback ride option would have been a sunset trip but for that we’d have had to wait around for at least two hours and there wasn’t really anything else to do there. However, from the visitor center, we had an amazing view on the monuments, which you don’t have from the road. We saw everything! I didn’t really feel the need to go down there and see them from up close. Plus, we thought we could go horseback riding in Arches or Bryce Canyon. So, we hit the road again to drive towards Moab, the closest town to Arches. And wow, what a beautiful drive! That road was amazing. We weren’t the only ones who felt this way, because there were cars stopping everywhere along the road to take pictures of the straight long roads and monuments.

We camped at the cute Up the Creek Campground for 32$ and walked to the Mexican restaurant for dinner. I miss Pokéz in San Diego.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

The next morning, we drove into Arches NP. It turned out that all the horseback riding here was outside the park and therefore we postponed that idea to Bryce. It was very hot in the park and therefore hiking wasn’t so agreeable. We still made it to the big Landscape Arch and saw the famous Delicate Arch from further away. I liked the Windows section the best.

In the afternoon, we drove on towards Bryce. Black storm clouds started to appear on the horizon and unfortunately, we were heading directly towards them. It started raining and it got colder by the mile. A night in such a tiny tent would have been very unpleasant and therefore we opted for a motel.

The next morning was still raining cats and dogs and so we profited from the wifi at the motel and tried to find an accommodation in San Francisco, which wasn’t so easy either. There is a big music festival coming up and I think all the people from the festival decided to come to San Francisco before that.

Arches

Arches

Before noon, we finally made it into the park. It was still raining and the clouds were hanging deeply in the rock towers of the canyon but to just do the drive to the viewpoint and take a picture-tourist thing it was ok. Luckily, the sun then came out and the clouds disappeared. I have been in Bryce in 2009 and I loved it. It’s like a wonderland built out of orange and white sand that somebody had let dribble to the ground and build castle towers with.

We had saved Bryce Point for our last stop and in my opinion that actually was the nicest spot of all. We then even tempted a 5 mile hike. It could have started raining again but luckily it was dry all the way. The paths were a bit muddy but it was awesome to walk in between these rock formations. It was a bit like a labyrinth with one way. We weren’t the only people who decided to go down there despite the weather and guess what, they were all speaking French! Sometimes, I forgot that I was in the US.

We made it back to our car before sunset and then took Highway 12 towards Boulder. The guy at the motel had told us that that was the second most scenic route in the US. I forgot to ask about the first one but it’s probably Highway 1 along the West Coast.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

We stopped in Escalante because it looked like a cute place to spend the night and it was very cheap compared to the other places too. We had a very delicious burger and then decided to take a cabin for 50$ instead of camping (for 16$, the cheapest we have seen), since it was still freezing compared to the other nights.

In the morning, we continued on to Boulder. From here, the route really started to be beautiful, with a wide landscape and canyons. When we then continued on to Zion, it started raining again. We were hoping that it would be better weather once we arrived in Zion.

We finally reached it at 4pm. The canyon was dry and it was a nice drive through the mountains. In the visitor center, we looked at what hikes we could do. I would have liked to do Angel’s Landing but on the website they had written that it was closed a few days every week to recover the park and we were one day early for it to be reopened. However, in the visitor center, it then was written that the East Rim and not the West Rim trail was closed. So, I asked whether the hike was possible and the guy confirmed that it was. Great, now we only had 4,5 hours until the last shuttle bus and the hike should take about 4 hours. Either, we’d make it or we’d have to walk an extra 2 miles back to the car park. We would have hurried a bit more to get to Zion if we had known that this trail was open.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Anyways, we then took the free shuttle to The Grotto station (no public vehicles are allowed in the park, which probably is a good idea ecological wise.

The hike had an easy beginning on a concrete path. We saw a male deer drinking from the river. Then there was a steep zick-zack path but we were very surprised when we already arrived at the top. We had planned for a very strenuous hike, like the description said but there was no way we’d need four hours for this. Well, we weren’t at the top yet. Now the fun part with climbing along the mountain crest began. There was a metal chain to hold on to. You wouldn’t want to be up here during a storm. It went 400m straight down to both sides of us. But the views down into the valley were absolutely stunning. It looked like a place where dinosaurs could still be alive and poke their heads up in between the trees.

Once at the top, there were still other people up there having a picnic and enjoying the view. And there was even a pair of cute chipmunks playing around. I want one as a pet.

View from Angel's Landing

View from Angel’s Landing

On the way back down, luckily safely back on the big path, a tarantula (!!!) crossed our way. One of these big hairy things. Ugh, couldn’t it have crawled across the path a few minutes later? I had to leave Australia and come to the US to see one of them. A few more meters down, we then saw a foe and her baby, that made me like nature better again.

In the end, we had only needed 3 hours (with breaks) for the hike and therefore made the shuttles without any problem.

We drove out of the park to have dinner in the charming Springdale and then already covered some miles towards Las Vegas. We found another expensive campsite for 31$ a little outside Hurricane.

Our last day with the rental car we spent driving back to Las Vegas. We dropped the bags off at JB’s couchsurfer’s house. They were so nice to just let me spend a night there too. Since we still had a lot of time before returning the car, we drove to Primm to have a look at the fashion outlets there. But they weren’t the same as they used to be anymore either. Plus, it rained again and the roads were flooded with rivers of water. Still, we made it back to Las Vegas before our assigned time and dropped the car off quickly. Leaving “Paige” behind was a bit sad, since we had such a good time with her this week.

Two deers in Zion

Two deers in Zion

Since JB hadn’t really seen anything of the strip yet, we went to have dinner there and spent 3 more hours in the casino jungle before taking the bus back to the couchsurfer’s house.

It was good to have a relaxing night since the next day and night, we had a 16h bus trip from Las Vegas to San Francisco ahead of us. We still didn’t have any accommodation because all the couchsurfers were full and no cheap hostels left. If worse comes to worse, we’d just have to take a motel. Like with this road trip, something would work out in the end. And this rather spontaneous week in these canyons and national parks had been amazing.

It has been an amazing trip!

It has been an amazing trip!

On the road again (Darwin to Alice Springs)

10492549_10154296752560094_7724183379502817742_n
After a night separated from the group in different hostel dorms, we met up at 6.30am again to be picked up from Jan, our next tour guide. We picked up some other people because a few from our top end tour had left us. Now we were 17 girls and a Danish guy, an Italian couple in their sixties (we adopted them as our grandparents) plus Jan. There even is a Swiss girl from Solothurn 🙂
Jan is very energetic and so he spread a good mood among the group right away. We had a pen with which we could draw on the bus windows on the long drives but first, we all had to enter the Weet Bix-challenge. Weet-Bix are compressed cereal shaped into small bars. You take about three of them and soak them in milk to have a bowl of cereal. It’s an Aussie thing. However, the challenge now was to eat it as quick as possible. Without any liquids. That was torture! After a while it was like swallowing oversized pills. But we all survived and the winner only took 1’11”.
After 1,5 hours, we stopped at a gas station we had already fueled up yesterday on the way back. It should have been just a short toilet break but then Jan got a call that he forgot to pick up one girl from Hong Kong and so we all waited the 1.5 hours while somebody was driving her down. Jan brought out some oranges (they taste different here) and a didgeridoo, where we could have ago. I was as successful as I had been in Switzerland with the Alphorn, which means I only produced a weird elephant noise. Luckily, that happened to most people.
Then we went on a short walk to have a look at some flora and the WWII war cemetery.

Jan entertaining us in the evening

Jan entertaining us in the evening

Finally, our group of 20 people was complete and on we went.
We had lunch on a grass patch in Kathrine and then drove for another half an hour to Kathrine Gorge.
There is a nice exhibition about the area in the visitor center (and air-conditioning). It was another really hot day. Therefore, some chose to do the 80$ boat tour, while we others went on a walk with our guide. We hiked to the top of the gorge. The views were stunning but we had to earn them in this heat. Luckily, there was a water tap with cold (!) water at the top. The water was pumped up from underground that’s why it was colder.

IMG_5524
Then, we walked back down to the visitor center, passing different kinds of trees and flowers. Afterwards, it was time to jump in the river and I was really looking forward to it after the walk. However, because the water wasn’t clear here and there were saltwater crocodiles in the area, everybody was very hesitant with jumping in the water. Even after Jan had jumped in. And the employees in the restaurant said it was safe too. In the end, it was only me and the other Swiss girl who went for a swim. We didn’t see a crocodile.

Back in the bus, we drove to the shopping center in Kathrine, where we had half an hour to buy more things we might need and there was wifi too!
Then, we lucked out that there was no other group at the campsite. We’d have had to sleep in swags with only a small kitchen tent but instead we could have the big kitchen and cabin tents with beds and electricity inside! And a bedside table too!!
For dinner we had pasta with chicken and vegetables and afterwards we were sitting around a campfire for a short time but soon, everybody was overwhelmed by tiredness and retired into the cabins.

Natural hot springs <3

Natural hot springs ❤

The next morning, it was freezing! I had to keep wearing long clothes until our first stop in Mataranka. We didn’t swim in the Mataranka hot springs because that’s a manmade place. Instead we went to the Bitter Springs 3km out of town.
Now, we were glad that it wasn’t so hot yet because the water was 34º bathtub temperature. And that in a beautiful blue creek in a palm tree forest. It was wonderful! We stayed in the water for at least an hour. Swimming along the creek was cool too. Except for the many big spiders that towered in their nets right over the water. I just pretended to be a crocodile and kept my head half in the water.
At 10.30am we were on the bus again heading towards our lunch stop; the Daly Waters Pub. It’s the oldest pub in the Northern Territory and has a very cool set up. It’s filled with things that people leave behind and funny signs. Also, the food and drinks were cheaper than in Darwin.

Sunset from the roof of the bus

Sunset from the roof of the bus

During that break, our driver tried to fix the air-conditioning of the car. The belt broke and so the bus had been making weird sounds for the last 40min of the drive. When we set off again, it worked for five minutes but then weird noises were back and from now on, our air-con were the windows. It’s ok but after walking in this heat I would have preferred to really cool down.
From there it was pretty much just driving and having toilet and fuel stops until Jan parked the bus along the road in the middle of nowhere. The country side was flat and wide in all directions. That’s where we watched the sunset. From the roof of the bus. Standing on the roof of a car in a wide open space was a point on my life list. Really makes you feel free 🙂 Now I can check that off.
We even had a sunset platter with olives, feta, crackers and a dip. Momentary upgrade to a 5 star tour 🙂
When the sun was gone, we drove to our campsite on a cattle station. Banka Banka was an actual caravan park with a nice kitchen building and good showers and toilets. We had a delicious bbq dinner and afterwards sat around the campfire, where Jan played the guitar and didgeridoo.
Then, it was finally the night where I’d get to experience sleeping in a swag. I was expecting the nice looking ones from the people I had met along the way. However, ours just were bags on the ground with two thin mattresses inside. The grass with all these bags on the ground looked a bit like a disaster had happened…

IMG_5642

There was no mosquito window for the face, so either, you zipped yourself up all the way and had bad air, or you left your face in the open. I just wore my woolen hat, a jacket and cuddled in my sleeping bag. Like this, I was actually warmer than the previous nights in the tent! Plus, it was quite comfortable and we even had a real pillow! I felt bad for our Italian grandparents who are doing this trip in their sixties and weren’t expecting to sleep on the ground. But they seemed fine too this morning and now they will have great stories to tell 🙂

When my alarm rang in morning, I was surprised that I didn’t wake up when the Singapore group that was sleeping next to me left their swags. I really must have slept well!

Devil's Marbles

Devil’s Marbles

On the road again, Jan was asking us quiz questions over the microphone. We stopped at a few roadhouses for toilets (we are drinking so much water in this heat) and at the Tenant Creek Telegraph station. Then, we reached a fantastic place called Devils Marbles. The marbles are granite rocks that were shaped into round and oval boulders over the years. They looked really cool and so we went on an explorer walk and had some fun with taking pictures.

Devil's Marbles

Devil’s Marbles

Lunch we had at Wycliffe Well. One of the funniest places I’ve ever been to. They call it the UFO capital of Australia and everything is in an alien theme.
From there, we pretty much drove straight to Alice Springs with just a few stops at gas stations and to take a few road kill pictures of ourselves on a long straight stretch of road. At the Tropic of Capricorn line, the whole group held hands and on three, we jumped from the tropic into the desert. That was fun and we entertained the whole parking lot. Welcome to the red center!
Once we arrived in Alice Springs, I couldn’t believe I actually made it here. To the center of Australia. Was a long but exciting and amazing journey from Perth along the South and East Coast and then from the top end down to here (and I’d do it again).

IMG_5824

Billabongs or “do you wanna lick an ant”?

IMG_5052

Buley Rockhole

Thanks to Andrew who drove me to my pick up point at 6am, I was readily waiting when my tour bus from Wayoutback Tours came to pick me up. We drove around town some more to pick up other people until we were a group of 19 girls, two French guys and our guide Kel.
He drove us for about 1,5 hours into Lichtfield NP. The roads started to look more like dirt again than concrete. Then, I realized that I had actually missed these outback roads that build an orange red contrast to the sky and that cover the cars and everything in red dust. It’s just an experience you could never have in Switzerland.
We quickly stopped off at a café, where we’d leave the trailer for the day. Then, Kel brought us to Buley Rockhole. It was a clear stream, floating over rocks, building several swimming pools and waterfalls. It looked incredibly beautiful, plus the water was the perfect refreshing temperature. It was a lot of fun to fight against the currents of the waterfalls and then float back to the edge of the pool, where the next waterfall would drop into a lower pool.

IMG_5060

Florence Falls

Too soon, we had to head back into the bus and then drove to Florence Falls. There was a viewing platform from where the two broad waterfalls looked amazing! The hike down to the pool was an easy walk and probably took less than 5 minutes. It’s definitely worth to go and jump in the water again which shone green against the rock but was crystal clear too. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people there but once you swam out to one of the waterfalls, you were pretty much alone. The view from when you are floating on the back, looking up at the falling water is indescribable. It was possible to swim under the waterfall and have a nice shower. On the sides, the water pressure wasn’t that hard.
Again, too quick we had to hike back up. That was a bit harder in this heat.
We then drove to the Wangi Falls, where we set up for lunch. A chicken burger with lettuce, tomatos and cucumbers. After lunch, we walked the two minutes to the falls. Again, I couldn’t take my eyes off them, they were so stunning!! Amazing colors and this big amount of water! In this national park there probably are some of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve seen.

Wangi Falls

Wangi Falls

I realize that here in Australia I say a lot that this is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen. So, I asked myself, whether I just forget how beautiful the other places were, whether they are just differently beautiful or whether they really are prettier…

I also jumped into the Wangi Falls pool and again, it was cool to look up to them and the water was green and clear.

IMG_5103

Our next stop was a place with many termite mounts and a termite ‘grave yard’. The rocks that the termites are building look like tombstones. When we stopped to observe the plain, Kelly caught a yellow ant with a green tail from a tree and asked us whether we wanted to lick it. It would taste like lime. One girl was brave and so…licked the ant. She confirmed that it tasted sour and so Kel caught a few more ants and we all had a go. It really was quite sour!

Then we had a 2,5 hour drive ahead of us. We picked up our trailer and made the way towards Point Stuart Campground. After the sunset, the bushfires were very well visible and since they all were controlled and purposely laid, we could drive right past them. It looked quite pretty, like thousands on lanterns in the forest.

IMG_5137

The campsite really looked like a group camp with cabin tents arranged around a big kitchen hut. So it was actually quite luxurious to share a little house with someone else.
We checked well for spiders and frogs (snake food) and were happy not to find any. Only the mosquitos really were a pain!
For dinner, we had a big and delicious bbq with sausages&steaks, a Greek salad and coleslaw. We were all full after that and ready to go to bed.
During the night, I heard new animal sounds again and wondered which animals they were.

Ubirr

Ubirr

The night was short. At 5.30am, still in the dark, breakfast was served. Surprisingly, everybody got up to eat. Travelling just makes you hungry!
We packed up while the sun was rising and then drove to Murray River, where our boat cruise would start at 7.30am.
We boarded a small boat with about 24 seats and a driver brought us up and down the river in the early morning sun (I was glad brought my sweater; mornings are quite chilly compared to the day).
We saw a few big saltwater crocodiles, a few freshwater crocodiles and even a baby. Plus, there were a lot of birds and water lilies. The two hours on the water passed really quickly and soon, we were back on land, where a fruit platter awaited us.
Then, we drove on to the Mamukala Wetlands, a beautiful wetland bird watch place. There also was an interesting painting about how the aborigines tell the seasons.
Then, we jumped back on our ‘school bus’ and drove on to Jabaru, where we made sandwiches for lunch in a nice park. There were some little aboriginal children playing on the swings. Sadly, these were the first happy aborigines I have seen in Australia.

At the top of Gunlom Fall

At the top of Gunlom Fall

After lunch, we entered the beautiful Kakadu Nationalpark and drove to a sacred site called Ubirr. It’s a small mountain from which you have an amazing view! On the way to the top, it was like an outdoor museum with ancient wall paintings. We stopped at every spot and Kel would tell us a story about it.
We took our time, so that the walk wasn’t too exhausting, despite the heat.
Back at the start, it was already time to drive to the campsite. We arrived at Cooinda shortly before sunset and had time to swim in the nice pool with a small waterfall and hot tub.

IMG_5491IMG_5462
The camping huts were similar, except that here, we had actual beds with mattresses. The one the night before almost felt like sleeping on bare wood.
For dinner, we had stir fry chicken with rice. Such a simple but delicious dish! I have to remember that for home.
Here, the bathrooms were a bit further away and it was quite hard to find the way in the dark. Plus, there were so many frogs and (poisonous) cane toads that you heard a scream by a girl from our group once in a while:)

See that saltie?

See that saltie?

The next morning, breakfast was at 5.30 again. At 6.45 (unbelievable how much time packing up with a group needs) we were ready to roll. Our destination was Gunlom. To get there, we drove along another 4wd track, which was quite fun with the bus. I even saw wild donkeys, a wallaby and a pig somewhere in the trees. In the golden morning light, everything looked even prettier than during the day.
At Gunlom, we hiked for 20min up a steep path over slippery and uneven rocks. On the top, there was an amazing view over the plain and a little further back, there were pools from a waterfall glistering in the sunlight. Once I walked there, I realized that we were actually standing at the top of a waterfall that fell over the cliff we just had walked up. It was beautiful to swim in the pools. They looked like infinity pools because behind them, a huge wall would drop down.
We spent about 1,5 hours up there but I could have stayed all day!
Nevertheless, we hiked back down and this time, had wraps for lunch. There even was grated cheddar cheese! Not just the slices in plastic foil.
Then, we walked the two minutes to the bigger bottom pool and just relaxed until it was time to drive back to Darwin. After all, it should take us 5 hours to get back. It took us a bit more and so shortly past seven, we were finally dropped off at our hostel.

IMG_5316
Quickly, we hurried to Coles to buy some more road trip snacks for the rest of the tour. On the way there, I ran in to two guys I met at Peterpans the other night. That’s the good thing about only having one main street, you run into people you meet again and again. Since it was a Monday, we made plans to go get 5$ Domino’s Pizza afterwards. However, since it was a public holiday for the queen’s birthday, there was a 10% surcharge this time. The evening passed too quickly. I had planned on going to bed at 9.30 because I was so tired and I had to get up at 5.30 again but in the end it was midnight after all. Fault of the good public wifi in Darwin 🙂 But I’ve learned from experience in Australia, that you have to enjoy the wifi while you can and I assume that I won’t see much of that on the way to Alice Springs.

IMG_5380

Anyways, exploring the top end was amazing! I could have spent weeks in these national parks. There would be so much more to see but I was really happy with the places we visited. Every stop was a highlight!

I think I found the golden ticket to the chocolate factory (Perth and a lonely beach near Lancelin)

It was windy

It was windy

I’ve left Amy’s house for now. After I met Miriam and we decided that we will travel together (I seem to have luck with travel partners with that name…) I had to look for a place to stay for that night. I knew I was going camping the next day and since I hoped to start driving up north as soon as possible, I will look for places from day to day now. I wanted to walk to Planet Inn Backpackers because I saw online that they were the cheapest and offered breakfast and wanted to ask whether they still had a bed for me for one night. However, once I got to Newcastle St, I realized that I’d have to walk over a mile to finally reach the high house number. Therefore, I decided to just walk into the first backpackers I’d find and ask there. And so I walked into Underground’s Backpackers. As soon as I stepped in, I thought that I must have been mistaken.

It wasn't actually that far away, it just looks that way

It wasn’t actually that far away, it just looks that way

There was a reception but it all seemed a bit abandoned and chaotic. I already wanted to turn around, when an Asian guy asked me, whether I was looking for something. So, I asked my question, although I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t stay here. He asked me, how many I was because he could only take up to four people. When I told him I was alone, he said, that sure, he’d have a room for me. I asked how much it would be and he asked me, how much I’d pay for a room in another hostel. I said between 22 and 30$ and then he said, ok, you can stay here for 20$ 😉 This still seemed odd, but luckily, then two other people walked past us and he introduced them to me. Also two backpackers, who actually stayed here and they told me that it’s a good place. Then, the nice Malaysian guy showed me the room and explained to me that the hostel was being renovated and that he wasn’t really taking any people in at the moment.

IMG_0149

I was really lucky the door was open when I arrived, because every later time I got back to the hostel, the door was closed and I only could open it with a key card. I had a room with four beds to myself. Everything is air-conditioned, there is a pool and I had the nicest shower I’ve had so far in Australia. Again, I ended up giving the lovely daughters of the hostel owner a swimming lesson and later, they therefore let me eat dinner with them in the hostel kitchen 🙂 Everyone is really nice here but I think all the other backpackers help with the renovations and stay for free or less money. Cool atmosphere 🙂

IMG_0124

Now, to all the pictures I’ve posted above. After the night at the hostel, Jess picked me up with his big 4wd car and I got to see part of the road I’d soon take again. He made a short detour into Yanchep NLP, where we walked over a wooden path (similar like in the Everglades in Florida) except that we were looking for Koala bears instead of alligators. Of course, they were all sleeping but at least I got to see my first Koala bears in nature. Afterwards, we walked down to a swamp that used to be a lake, where we saw a group of kangaroos resting in the shade. When we left the park, the only animals I saw after that were sadly pressed flat to the road…

Can you see the koala?

Can you see the koala?

IMG_0143

We had lunch in a rest area on a small green patch in Lancelin and then drove off towards the white sand dunes. My second time sand dune driving, except that this sand was white and mostly not as soft as in Dubai. Except at a few places which better were avoided but unfortunately, two guys from Scotland got stuck. I don’t know how long they’ve been walking around to look for help already, but their heads were pretty red. I hope if I stay on normal roads, this won’t happen to me…

IMG_0202 IMG_0223

Jess drove towards their car and shortly got stuck himself but we managed to shovel Betsy (his car) free again. Then he used a rope to pull the other car free and eventually, we were all back on the path we wanted to take. Jess drove us more into the dune land and suddenly, we were driving along a beach. We drove the car up a dune to park behind it, so that our tents would get flushed away during the night. So, the ocean was really just 30m from where I slept but I could only hear it because it was hidden behind sand and grass 🙂

IMG_0235 IMG_0231

Under Jesse’s instruction, I managed to pitch my tent and after a refreshing swim in the choppy ocean (quite cool but also somewhat scary when really nobody else is around), Jess made us burgers on the bbq. With kangaroo and emu meat…Didn’t think I’d get to eat that so soon. The burgers were good but I can’t really describe a difference to other minced meat 🙂 But just sitting there in the middle of sand, water, nothing and sunshine, eating hamburgers and drinking red wine, really can be put on the list of most special dinners I’ve ever had.

IMG_0248

When the night fell, we could watch the stars (I now can find the southern cross) and once the wind died down, we had a fire at the beach (we made sure there was no danger of starting a forest fire or something). At some point, it was time to crawl into our tents. We only put up the tent, without the rain and wind cover, so that we could see the stars. It was wonderful to be so close to nature but even with my silk and normal sleeping bag, it was quite cold. Just have to cover my head from the beginning next time. Or wear a jacket, or put the second tent layer up.

After the sunrise, soon I was sweating again. A little more balanced weather would be nice but I won’t complain about all this wonderful sunshine.

The way back over the dunes was no problem, since we didn’t have to rescue anyone this time. We drove back to Perth, where we tried to catch some fish. I was proud that I managed to handle the rod but we ended up just feeding the little fish rather than catching a big one. Maybe next time.

 

The Scottish guys' car is hidden behind this dune..

The Scottish guys’ car is hidden behind this dune..