Camper-vaning, Port Douglas, Hartley’s Crocodile Farm and Ellis Beach, Queensland, Australia (3)

We were escorted from the Daintree Rainforest predictably by the heaviest enslaught of rain. This eased in time for a Cassowary to be crossing the road ahead of us. A tall robust colourful bird different but similar to an emu. We stopped and watched it move across the road before hiding in the vegetation and disappearing. A rarity, apparently to see in the wild and a wildlife tick in the box for me.


On both our entrance to the rainforest and departure we crossed the Daintree River by ferry, not a ferry as we would experience  in the U.K but more of a platform on water. A $26 fee for the ten minute journey with signs warning of crocodiles inhabiting the area. 

Todays travels take us from the remote, uninhabited, natural landscape of the rainforest to Port Douglas. A contrast indeed with concrete, materialism and swarms of people. The area is nice with boutiques, bars and a mix of people from different backgrounds but something in me would prefer to return to the rainforest or nature. Any attempts today to visit the beach were thwarted, as soon as my toes touched the sand, there was a deluge of rain being dumped on me, requiring a dash back to Martha and yet more wet clothing needing to be dried out in our small space. 

The following morning we drove to the lookout at Port Douglas. An incredibly steep climb up for Martha but a wonderful view from Flagstaff Hill looking out to the sea and surrounding area. Thankfully the sun was shinning which always makes sightseeing more pleasant and engaging. From here I could see the beach that I attempted to venture on to the day before and I have my first glance of a swimming net. This is an area patrolled by lifeguards and protects swimmers from stingers (jellyfish), crocodiles and sharks (depending on where you are on the coast, depends on what’s out there). This was the moment when I realised that swimming in the ocean would not be an option for the time being.


Our next over night stay would be at Ellis Beach however a stop at Hartley’s Crocodile Farm was to come first. Hartleys is a great place to visit. On arrival we were greeted by Gonzo a parrot and we were directed to join the tours and talks on offer ( not by Gonzo I may add but by the lady on reception). The trip is well organised with the opportunity to watch crocodile and snake shows, go on a boat ride on the crocodile lake whilst they were fed and to hear their powerful snapping jaws as well as going into the enclosures with Wallabies, Kangaroos and kookaburras. I left Hartley’s feeling that I’d seen and learnt a lot about the wildlife of Australia including what to do when you encounter a crocodile (run in a straight line away from it and every man for himself) and a snake.


From Hartley’s the drive allows so many beautiful places to stop along the coastline. This is made easy with lookouts that you can park up at and admire the awesome views. This helps with the fatigue of being in a van and travelling too. A revival of the mind ready for the next part of the journey. Ours is to Ellis Beach, an isolated area on the main road with only a restaurant that closes early today. We set up on the camping pitch and cook dinner. It’s no longer raining, in fact it is really warm, too warm to close Martha’s doors to sleep. Tonight we are going to learn that this is in fact not a good idea…….


(Martha is the name given to our very old, leaky and cosy camper-van)

Camper-vaning, Cape Tribulation, Daintree National Park, Australia (2)

I awaken to the orchestra of noise on day two of camper-van life. It has rained non stop all night and at the moment the storms seem to have depleted. I recall waking in the night and realising that the rain had uninvitingly entered the Martha. This morning Martha had a damp smell about her and felt too warm to be in. Unfortunately my lack of knowledge of camper-vaning had made me forget to bring my now sodden shoes inside during the night. This added to the collection of soggy clothes being hung to dry in the very confined space including two adults, making it feel very cosy.

In my naivety I had forgotten that the rainforest meant there would be rain and not just a shower but full on constant wetness. It is 30 degrees and I realise that even if it stopped raining I would be wet from the humidity. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, there are crocs here. Crocs who have the speed and ability to snag themselves a human dinner and despite being reassured by a one armed man that taking a dip in the ocean is safe, I for one am not willing to try.

Myall Beach is where the noise of the rainforest meets the sound of the crashing ocean. A short walk along the beach leads us to the wooden path winds of Dubuji Boardwalk.  Mangrove trees with their roots above the ground supporting the trunk in the bogs containing the vocal frogs, red and black crabs and peppermint stick insects (which fire a peppermint spray towards predators). Here too are jungle fowl roaming freely, spiders building the most delicate but perhaps fearsome webs and mosquitoes hoovering, ready to bite.

Our stay at PK’s has been memorable. The site has a great pool to cool off in and a large bar, eating area to stay dry in. There are a mix of ages of people who stay in camper-vans and lodges. Oh and did I mention the snakes and the Cassowary birds? Thankfully I haven’t encountered either…..yet…..I think?!?!

Camper-van, Daintree National Park, Australia

Our travel plans have led us to deciding to travel down the east coast of Australia. It seems appropriate to do so in the same style as most by camper-van. Having flown from Oahu, Hawaii to Melbourne the next stage of my travels requires a flight to Cairns on the north east side of Australia. It surprised me to learn the flight was three hours long (in Britain distances are much shorter) and included a change in time zone.
On arrival in Cairns we took a taxi to Travellers Autobarn and collected Martha. Martha had obviously seen better days but she was going to be home for the next month. We handed Martha our suitcases and jumped in the cab for our first stage of travels to the Daintree Rainforest. Our journey was slowed by repairing the sidelight which we discovered banging on the side of the van and we were entertained by the rattle of the cups, plates and cutlery in the drawers, however did Martha travel well. 
Our two and a half hour journey via the supermarket to collect supplies took us from the developed suburban town of Cairns to the humid, lush, green, untouched, undeveloped and remote area of Daintree National Park. We drove to PK’s campground in Cape Tribulation, hooked up the van and engaged in the excitement of organising the inside of Martha. With little storage space I placed my clothes in the cupboard under the seat and the food in the tiny kitchen area. Our next challenge was to work out how to set up the beds, using the collection of different shaped cushions we began our game of Tetris. 

Tetris led us to night time, the light had faded and outside the noise was intense. The rainforest by day and night is incredibly loud. The air is filled with the sounds of crickets, birds, bugs and frogs. The noise is both intense and relentless, it never stops and this evening a thunderstorm has joined in with the orchestra of noise. Storms at night scare me but tonight I feel they comfort me and cool me down, and besides my greatest fear at the moment is for the snakes which I know are out there…..somewhere.

Oahu, Hawaii

Oahu, Hawaii

Oahu is a small island consisting of many different areas to explore. Waikiki is the commercial hub of Oahu and on the south west of the island. Obscenely tall hotels in clusters accommodation thousands of tourists. Here you can find shops from Gucci, Prada and Tiffany to more local stores like ABC which sells food and clothing. The main road is well laid out, lined with trees and contains no shortage of restaurants however with so many people here, some do have queues outside. Where the ocean meets land there are pockets of grass to sit and relax at. The ocean is accessible for swimmers here and the water is calm in comparison to other parts of the island. There are bus companies which allow you to explore the area without the need to walk. I didn’t use these preferring to walk and stop where I like.
Not far from Waikiki is Pearl Harbour infamous for its part in World War 2 in which it was bombed. Today it has a visitors centre with a museum, submarine, ship and memorials to explore. 


The North Shore of Oahu is different to Waikiki. The ocean and current are much stronger and ideal for surfers who can be seen paddling out to some amazing waves. Some beaches don’t provide access to the water as they have coral or rocks which would be unpassable or painful to cross into the water. Surfing and paddle boarding competitions are held at Sunset and Banzai beaches and attract spectators. The beaches have the golden sand seen in most of the island providing a great place to relax. There are shacks alongside the road to buy food (mostly shrimp) and drinks. Further north is the Turtle Bay area which has a golf club and a hotel overlooking the beach. The golf club is surrounded by condos which have access to swimming pools and appears to be an area of wealth for second home owners and investors. Visitors can access the Turtle Bay Hotel bars which make a delicious Monkeys Lunch cocktail consisting of banana, Baileys and crushed ice. 

Not far by car from Turtle Bay is Waimea Bay and Valley. Waimea Valley is lush with green plants and flowers. There are free range roaming jungle-fowl and peacocks here and Polynesian buildings with information about the past lives of native people. A 45 minute walk takes me to a waterfall. The lifeguards provide advice and free life jackets so that I can swim in the 30 feet deep water to the waterfall. The Valley is opposite Waimea Bay the first surfing bay on Oahu.
To the east side of Oahu is Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck in Haleiwa, a truck selling the most amazing shrimp packed with garlic and served with rice. $15 buys a good serving but the queues can be long as is the wait time. There are other trucks/shacks here too providing food for locals and tourists. Tables to sit at are readily available and you will have the company of the hens and chicks who roam freely. Here you will find a small supermarket with a limited selection of groceries.
Unlike the north of Oahu, the east has parades of shops including the American food chains and some clothing stores. There are plenty of beaches on the east which have areas for parking with ease at no cost. I stopped at Kaneohe Bay which has a view out to the Chinaman’s Hat, a small island which can be kayaked to and then walked up. 


Also in Kaneohe and worthy of a $3 visit is the Byodo-in Temple. A replica temple build to celebrate 100 years of Japanese immigrants welcomed to Oahu. The temple provides an escape to a quiet place with ponds containing Koi Cars, plants and animals including frogs and turtles. The grounds contain a three ton peace bell which can be rung by visitors and provides entertainment for children (reducing the peacefulness somewhat). Inside the non denominational temple is an 18 foot tall Lotus Buddha and behind the temple are views of the Ko’olau mountains.


For the last five of the twelve days of my visit to Oahu I stay in Haleiwa. This is on the north west of the island. I am in a residential area and a two minute walk to what is often a deserted beach with only crabs and the odd dog walker passing by. There is a small village near that has an old sugar mill now used as a soap factory. The roads in some directions become dust tracks. Next to the road I observe a man sitting on a chair with a sign offering his knife sharpening services. 
From Haleiwa I drive to Dillingham Airport and then hike to Ka’ena Point State Park. The day I choose to hike is wet. The hike to the point is 2 and a half miles over rugged terrain and alongside the ocean containing an enormous swell. I am aware that the ocean may at some point reach up and cover the ground I am walking on. The ground is saturated and when I get to the point I am covered in mud. I have reached the bird sanctuary in which are protected Laylan Albatross containing 99% of the worlds population. At the point is a look out tower and a stroll to the beach on which today is a huge sleepy Hawaiian Monk Seal scratching his tummy. The sun joins me here and provides a completed rainbow overhead. The 5 mile round trip takes around four hours. 

A shorter hike I complete a few days later is from the opposite side of the point. This walk starts after an hours drive around the nature reserves and past Makaha Beach. The three mile round hike today is completely different and I start early as it is a hot sunny day. There is a path to follow which at times is covered in mud pools that need to be scooted around (this is not easy). Along the way some of the path has be washed away into the ocean requiring a climb up and along a few precarious pieces of path. On the hike I am joined by lots of walkers (I was one of only four brave enough to venture on the previous hike) and school children who congregate in the bird sanctuary at Ka’ena Point to watch the Albatross and observe the three Hawaiian Monk Seals basking in the sun. The visitors and heat (29 degrees) have made me appreciate the previous hike in the rain and mud with fonder memories. I can however today cool off in the ocean at Makaha Beach.
The area of Makaha is more deprived than other areas of Oahu. Here I observe homeless people camping out on the beaches (and what a great place to camp) and large family groups eating together. The people here are friendly and helpful. When I bought something from a store a lady rung a bell, welcomed me and gave me a small gift of chocolates for being a new customer. 

Being new to Oahu I hadn’t expected the weather which happens on a small island. Driving from one area to another can change the weather you experience. One side of the island can be dry and sunny with the other side wet and grey. The advantage of this is that you can choose the weather you want to experience. Oahu has Vog, a volcanic smog which travels from the Big Island and is seen as a low level cloud. It can (and did) cause eye and breathing irritations similar to hay fever.

Accommodation on Oahu is expensive. HomeAway have an app which I used to find less expensive accommodation however be aware of the cleaning and services charges which are added on. Hotels can be found on Booking.com although costs may not be transparent with resort fees and taxes not shared. A more cost efficient way maybe to camp here as there are plots available on the beaches.

Oahu offers great beaches, weather, nature, surfing, people and shrimp. It is expensive and at times commercial. My expectation to see girls in grass skirts and flower garlands was not forthcoming instead I observed the influence America has had on Oahu. McDonald’s, big trucks and commercialism are prevalent here. I have been told that the other islands including Maui are less commercial although I confess that Oahu is a beautiful island to visit and I will definitely return.

Waikiki, Hawaii

A delayed six hour flight with Hawaiian Airlines flies me from San Francisco to Honolulu airport. Leaving San Francisco also leaves behind the heavy blustery rain that seems to be following me on my trip. The planes lands and the door opens to the warm, dry air and the smell of heat. I note how dry it must be as I walk to collect my luggage. The walk ways have roofs but most are open to the side and the elements.
A taxi ride from the airport takes me to my hotel in Waikiki. Accommodation costs are a consideration and therefore sometimes I am unsure of exactly which room I may be in. The lady checking me in explains that I am on the 37th floor and is accessible by an elevator. After a discussion she says to return if it is too high. It takes a while for the lift to collect me and deliver me but the view outside is amazing. I feel a sense of achievement at: getting in the elevator, leaving the elevator and walking to the balcony to see the view to Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head.

After using the elevator to descend to street level I walk along the beach front to find something to eat. The busy sandy beaches lead to the green and blue ocean. In the distance I can see waves with surfers riding them. It feels chilled here, a real relaxing holiday feel and even the people working seems to be at ease. I eat at a beachfront hotel. Prices here are on par with California something I had been expecting however I do note that although there are a lot of people here, it is quieter than San Francisco. The food provides me with enough fuel to walk along the beach and to see a stunning sunset. 

The next day I am invited to walk 5 miles around Diamond Head, a volcanic crater which I see from my hotel room. It’s warm around 24 degrees Celsius so sun cream and water is necessary. The walk is uphill from Waikiki Beach so any excuse to stop is welcomed. There is so much to see here including different trees, plants, flowers, birds and small bays with surfers paddling out to the waves. On the way round I take a detour at Fort Ruger Pathway which then changes my plans for the day. I follow a path which leads to another and then a tunnel. Walking out from the tunnel I see Diamond Head State Monument, 760 feet above me and along a one and a half mile track. There obviously is a fee but at $1 (80p) this isn’t enough to deter me. 

The path at first seems easy, grassy, paved and a gentle slop. Then it becomes windy but it feels safe as there are verges and no fear of shear drops. The windy paths go on for some time, become steeper and the path turns into a rubble track. At the end of the windy path there is a tunnel. Long and pitch black with some people trying to light it with the torches on their phones. I can’t I am feeling scared of the height and need to hold on to the single rail. At the end of the 225 foot tunnel is a choice, the right turn takes you up about 99 steps or the left turn leads along another path. I choose the steps, easier to get to the top and in my head they are enclosed in the crater so there’s no fear of falling.

I’ve learnt during my trip to focus on the step in front, not to look up, not to look down. At the half way point I need air and my fear of heights kicks in. I count 1,1,2,3,1,1,2,3 to get me to the top and into another shorter but dark tunnel. I thought I’d reached the summit. How wrong I was. In the tunnel I look right. I turn my torch on and the light shows a spiral staircase. It is pitch black! At this point I froze. My next choice was to go up or back down the stairs. There was no contest. I couldn’t do the stairs I had to go up. Shaking I made it up the first set, then the second and realised I still wasn’t at the top. Another climb up the inside of a military bunker took me to fresh air. The view was amazing. I took a few photographs and have no idea how they were not blurred, my hand would not stop shaking.  (The photographs below are curtesy of https://hawaiistateparks.org/parks/oahu/diamond-head-state-monument/?park_id=15.)

Again as I turned I was the pathway leading back to the tunnel but I also saw the path way leading to the Diamond Point summit. It took me a while to control my fear and climb the remaining 54 steps and then another set of 5 to the top. Well not quite the top, the last four steps eluded me. From here there is a 360 degree view of the Pacific Ocean and views across Honolulu and beyond. I hear a guide telling other tourists that they have to help 2-3 people down a week from here and I stop, just for a while to refocus control my breathing and reduce my shaking. I start the descent, easier than the climb up but still tough with the rocky pathways until I reach the open green ground below and reflect upon my high achievement.

Walking back takes me to Makalei Beach Park (a pretty quiet surfing area) for a cooling dip in the ocean before a eating a delicious plate of salmon and rice at Barefoot Beach Cafe. A great end to a 13 mile walk today.

Would I do the hike up Diamond Head again? On the way down I saw a sign the walk. If I’d had seen it on the way up, I would have sat down and enjoyed the view. Somethings are best the first and only time.

Hoover Dam and Las Vegas, Nevada

Leaving the Grand Canyon and the snow I take the long journey to the Hoover Dam. The sun is high in the sky as I approach  Hoover Dam and it feels great to be back in the warmth. Without realising it the Dam is accessed via the bridge (in the picture) then a winding road leads down to the entrance. I’m a surprised not by the height of the Dam although it is an amazing piece of engineering but by the attention to detail of the building both inside and out. I thought it would be very industrial, I was wrong. It took 6 years to build opening in 1936 and was originally called Boulder Dam. Boulder Dam it was designed during the Great Depression and therefore a time perhaps when jobs were scarce and labour was plentiful but the Dam reflects elegantly the Art Deco era. If money was an issue for such a project it certainly doesn’t show. There are brass Hoover Dam handrails, doors and finials. The floors are covered with the original marble which would have been an extortionate cost and decorated with cut inlays. 


I pay to join the Hoover Dam guided tour alongside the museum and film entrance fee. The tour which takes me down in an elevator to floors within the Dam. Here I see the organised decorative machine rooms and tunnels which we walk along and look out of the shutters in the Dam wall. The guide points out markings on the wall, where and how the concrete was cast and is very knowledgable. I spent an hour on the Dam tour. I also watch the film and visit the museum which explain the colossal build that was undertaken and the thousands of people who worked in shifts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I learn that the concrete still has not completely set and that many people lost their lives working on the Dam.

Outside in the sunshine I walk along the top of the Dam. The Hoover Dam was renamed in honour of President Hoover. At the half way point on there are markings that show where the states of Nevada and Arizona begin and end highlighting that the Dam is in two time zones. There are toilets on the Dam road too which would not normally be worth a mention except for their ornate Arc Deco interiors. The Dam its self is only a small part of the construction I observe here. The overflow system which has only ever been used twice is humongous and can be accessed outside for free. 
I leave the Hoover Dam for the half an hour drive to Las Vegas. I am staying here for one night at the New York New York Hotel. Whenever I have talked to people in the past about Las Vegas most of the comments have been you have to visit it, well you do. It is wonderfully fake. I enter the hotel and find myself in a mini town. I’d never have to leave the hotel, ever. I’m surrounded by casinos, shops and bars. The air is filled with smoke and noise. I take one of the multiple elevators to my room and note that only certain elevators will take me there. My room is on the twelfth floor and as I approach the window I hear the familiar sound of click, click, click as a rollercoaster passes by window before the riders screams on their descent. I leave the hotel and see the rollercoaster from the outside that circles the building as well as the Statue of Liberty. This is the start of a seven mile evening walk around Las Vegas in which you have to plan ahead how to cross the roads. My walk takes me along the Strip to The Excelsior (a Disney castle style hotel) and the Paris Hotel where I see the Eiffel Tower, towering over me alongside a faux hot air balloon.

Further on I see The Venetian, a hotel with gondolas at the front on a mock canal. I’m surprised when I enter the hotel to see daylight. There are high ceilings painted as blue skies with fluffy clouds which are illuminated. The stone floor reflects the light and I feel my brain is confused by the brightness as I know that outside the dark evening has settled in. I walk on through the alley ways and see that the canal is now inside too. As I mentioned earlier there is no need to leave a hotel. The Venetian is the same with not only casinos, shops, bars but a canal too. In fact the places are so big it’s hard to find the exit and I think this was part of their planning.

Leaving the Venetian I cross over to the strip to Caesars Palace with its headless statues and horses outside and continue on to The Belligio Hotel for the lights and water fountain display in time to music (a must see) and then the walk back to my hotel for the evening.

The next morning I long for some quiet after a busy evening and I am guided back to the Paris Hotel for breakfast. I observe that as soon as I leave the hotel there is no quiet space here. Music is played outside each hotel or building, the street is noisy and I smell the cigarette smoke that has been pumped out of the buildings. I talk to a lady who tells me she never sleeps when she visits Las Vegas as she’s convinced the casinos pump oxygen in the air to keep people playing.


My visit to Las Vegas was worthy of the time. I do think that everyone needs to visit to see how amazingly plastic (including some plants outside) it is. For me the best part of the trip was to the Hoover Dam. I recommend the tour and learning all about the history of this fantastic construction.

 
 

Grand Canyon and Desert View Watchtower, Arizona

A seven hour drive from Palm Springs via Lake Havasu takes me from a dry arid landscape to snow covered gritted roads. I arrive at Grand Canyon village in time for sunset. As I leave the car I notice the cold hit my face. I’m not sure how cold it is as there is no mobile phone signal here but within ten minutes my hands hurt from the pain. If I’m cold I’m not sure how cold a dancer is, who is being filmed in front of me. She’s wearing a pair of short shorts and a minimalist top. Once they finish filming she disappears, hopefully I think in my head for a hot chocolate to warm her up.
The dancer had been on a plinth which overlooked the Grand Canyon and the thought of her being there made me feel queazy. The snow is high which makes the railings at the edge of the Canyon lower. Thoughts of slipping have to be put to the back of my mind as I look over the edge. The colours are amazing. Shades of red, brown and pink cover the rocky faces. I find it frustrating that I can’t capture the true colours with the camera that I see with my eyes. The scale of the Canyon is hard to describe: vast, deep, never-ending and astounding. 
I leave the Canyon after fifteen minutes. It sun is setting and it is far too cold to be here any longer. Temperatures dip to minus 23 degrees Celsius during the night and I return the next day in more appropriate clothing. 

The coldness has halted any plans to hike into the Canyon. It’s too icy and the paths precarious. Instead I drive towards Desert View Watchtower which is a twenty two mile drive from the entrance of the Canyon. I stop along the way at various viewing points with the first being Duck Rock (in the photograph below). There are lots of tourists here, many Chinese and this despite it being freezing. I feel ill at the thought of people standing high up on rocks and lack the ability to understand why you would encourage a child to stand there and pose for a photo with a drop in the Canyon next to them. Never the less I focus on the view and notice that where I thought the Canyon ended the day before in fact it continues as far as the eye can see. I’m aware of how small and insignificant I am in this space. I can’t judge the scale of the Canyon but I know it’s big.


After a few more stops I arrive at Desert View Watchtower. It has a beckoning appeal and at this point I know that despite my fears I will climb the tower. The tower was build in 1932, 70 foot high and balances in the edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Inside there are three staircases that hug the side of the building. Each floor provides a view of the floors below with a circle in the centre. The concrete staircases are difficult to climb due to my vertigo which is escalated when I reach the top and look out of the windows. The Canyon is awesome with layers of coloured rock in various clusters, with some curved, others sliced but all knitted together. The depth and width of which can not be comprehended in my mind. The tower and the Canyon are a spectacle to behold and are worthy of a place on anyone’s bucket list.