Erwan National Park – day 342

The river was much calmer than it had been the last two days. The flotsam trapped at the next floating guesthouse was all cleared and there was a hint of rain. We enjoyed our bowl of cereal on the deck, with Katherine being very loud and clumsy all the while – or maybe I was shattered and everything sounded like thunder and a brass band. Maybe it was a combination of the both, but we were up at the corner of the war memorial waiting for the passing bus to take us on our way. 
A local gentleman stopped and tried very hard to convince us to take his car. Nowhere was it clear if he was a taxi driver of just someone with good English. He collared in the Briton standing next to us and all he could hear was noise, he didn’t understand our Thai friend. We thought he was gone, only to find he had parked around the corner and was now trying to explain the cost benefits of his system, in English and French. Clearly we looked French. If only there was a bakery nearby I would gladly have a croissant in hand and take the stereotype. 
An enjoyable short hour and a half bus journey and we were at Erawan National Park. The rangers came on to the bus to sell our entrance tickets and we cruised down the steep hill to the car park. Changing in the shower cubicles we then had a trek ahead of us to the 7 levels of waterfalls:

1 – Hlai Khuen Run

 2 – Wang Macha

3 – Pha Namtok

4 – Oke Nang Peesau 

5 – Buea Mai Long

6 – Dong Prucksa

7 – Phu Pha Erawan

At falls number 7, I had a pedicure from the fish and the kissed gently on the arms by the little bees. Katherine went on an adventure and climbed up higher to see more of the area. She was missing most of the drama with the local man getting sick. He was violently ill from exertion, heat or something far worse and the family were nonchalant about the whole affair. The security card had to give out to them for not making any effort to clear up the mess. After all, there was plenty of water to wash up the stuff on the rocks and the episodes in the pool had all been eaten by the fish. Back at fall 5, perhaps could have been my favourite if it wasn’t so busy, we watched a stick thin girl scream her head off when the fish started nibbling her. Like, what on earth did she expect. With no sympathy, we watched the various antics unfold from a rock and enjoyed how the ware cascaded in the area and the fish were swimming about the larger pools. 

A few hundred meters below waterfall 5, not far from the track and yet peaceful and empty, we found a slice of the national park for ourselves. Feeling a bit self conscious at the moment and especially with so many judging eyes I togged off and got in to the clear waters. The fish swam round me like sharks or piranhas before a kill and once the initial few tiny ones braved the assault, they all joined in. It took quite some time to get used to the rasping feeling on the skin and poor Katherine was unable to stand still at all, the prickly little bites weren’t to her amusement. Trekking back downwards, the swimsuit wedgie I had managed to alleviate was now back and not at all discomfortable for being a bit wet now as well. Retrieving our food back from security (one of the only few that obeyed the rules) and our deposits for water bottles returned (clever system of enforced) Katherine ventured in to waterfall 2 for a prospect swim. With loads of people around the edge now satisfying to hunger fish, she was able to escape to the cascades and float about for a bit. I sat it out, helped a lady whom had slipped badly and generally just chilled. I got a few close shots of a monitor lizard before it slinger down the embankment and swam downstream. While Katherine was having a quick shower and changing I could hear the screams – the lizard had obviously continued down the waterway to fall number 1. Hahahaha!We sat on the most comfortable seat on the bus for the journey home, although it meant being next to the open back door. We different views of the amazing landscapes it felt much quicker than going to the park. We jumped off at the train station and used the same trick as yesterday to access 20mins free wifi. I managed to upload a blog and check some emails. 

Kat chilled on the river deck while I had a shower. The passing karaoke barge sounded dreadful and I could easily have done with a few flaming arrows and put everyone onboard and ashore out of their misery. To the night market again, our evening choices consisted of brand new choices again – sausage wontons for starter, fish dumplings as an amuse bouche, crispy spicy pork and bamboo chicken for main and sticky rice and mango for dessert. The hardest choice for the rest of the evening is what to watch before going to sleep. 

Tuesday 13th September 2016

Litchfield – day 311/1

We had previously discussed with our room mates the night before what their plans were for the morning. They didn’t seem to mind/care if we were up early and getting ready for the day. Yet, we felt that with tension still in the room from our comments about being married, we thought it was best to prepare. So, in the tight little bathroom showering and changing, there was little point in saying we were clean, but a bit fresher – the bathroom was disgusting and nothing to do with being a girls only dorm room. But, we finished packing in the tv room with Olympics on in the background and I headed to Coles to get brekkie. The walk to the shop was fine, the walk back was ridiculous, with the sun literally peeking over the top of the buildings in the 30mins I was in there and the heat was intense. The big slab of watermelon was perfect and the warnings still didn’t prepare Katherine for the temperature outside on the way to Thrifty. 
Tracey was like an eager puppy waiting for us, looking out the window of Thrifty as we approached the office. There might even have been some wagging, who’s to know. With hugs all round and excitement bubbling, we were a little deflated when told the car was delayed as they were fixing a puncture in the wheel. The car was getting a thorough inspection due to the long distance journey we were taking and we could all have had another hour in bed. I guarded the bags while the ninja twins went across the road to Coles for snacks, lunch and plenty of water. We spoke to the lady behind the desk for a bit and she kept pronouncing the town of Katherine as ‘Kat-er-eye-n’. We were interrupted and sat down to listen to the very stuck up and pretentious French couple who wanted to return and swap their car for one that didn’t have Thrifty written on the side of the vehicle. We did really well not to burst out laughing and before long we were packing our stuff into our rental and hitting the road. 
Leaving Australia’s only tropical capital city, we were on a ROAD TRIP!!!
Zooming down the road with the speed demon at the wheel (Old Ninja was sticking to the speed limits – they just seem extreme for us from ‘Up Top’ opposed to those ‘Down Under’) we soon reached Litchfield National Park. It may not be as well know as Kakadu, but many locals rate it higher, with a saying ‘Litchfield-do, Kaka-don’t’. The 1,500 sq km national park encloses much of the spectacular Tabletop Range, a wide sandstone plateau mostly surrounded by cliffs. The many waterfalls of the area are a highlight of the park, feeding crystal clear cascades and croc free plunge pools. But before we reached any of these infamous waterways we stopped at the iconic termite mounds. Now, in all the years I’ve watched the magnificent Sir David Attenborough and other nature programs, not once have I read or heard the info that was in the Lonely Planet. The tip of these mounds are the places where they bury the dead. The height of the the mound correlates to the age of the structure but that extra bit of info was cool. Speaking of cool, the structures are perfectly aligned to regulate temperature, catching the morning sun, then allowing the residents to dodge the midday heat, built in a north-south orientation. I’m sure the way they create folds in the mound also helps to cool the structure. While we were all suitable impressed by the size of the Cathedral Termites (aptly named), the GAdventures tour looked like they were fed up and bored, imagine the faces of people sucking on a few lemons. But, more impressive was the boardwalk that brought us out to a field of magnetic termite mounds. It was like a cemetery of tombstones, varying in size and design and a wicked feat of natural engineering. So, we arrive at Buley Rockholes, an area where the water cascades through a series of rock pools that provide the perfect site to simply cool off and relax. But Katherine seemed far from relaxed, tense in a stare off with this guy at a picnic bench. Tracey was ready to say something, while naturally I was too focused on looking for wildlife. Plus, I’m getting better at ignoring stares and pig ignorant people. But, suddenly there was a realisation between the two of them that they did in fact know each other – they worked together in London. It’s a freakishly small world! So after meeting Ben and his girlfriend and all five of us chatting away for a bit, we settled on a sandstone outcrop under some shade and had our lunch. An occasional bit of bread in the quiet pool to attract the fish and we enjoyed the tranquility of the area while still hearing the kids bomb in to the pools.  I didn’t need to navigate to our next destination. Florence Falls is within walking distance but we drove around the corner to maximise our time in the park. A spectacular double waterfall set amidst monsoon rainforest we didn’t descend the 135 steps to the bottom, but admired it from a viewing platform. The echoes of shouting and laughter coming up from the plunge pool faded as we walked back to the car, passing a few trees with low hanging ant nests. Off to Tolmer Falls, it should have been one of the most readily accessible waterfalls of the park. However, they were renovating the walkway during the dry season and we went for a little walk through the bush walk to get to the views. Being sensible and bringing plenty of water for the 2.4km round trip, we thought we might have to part with some of it for the people underestimating the heat and terrain. We did try and warn a few on our return but it fell on deaf ears. But, we were rewarded by our efforts and scout attitude with incredible, beautiful views of the valley. The falls were only small being dry season, but it was still really nice. It would have been cool if we glimpsed any of the elusive bats of the area, but they were probably hiding from the scorching sun. We missed the turn off for Greenant Creek. It wasn’t signposted in the direction we we’re travelling and it was a bit of a concealed entrance. But, it was meant to be. We carried on to Wangi Falls (pronounced ‘Wong-guy’) and decided before even seeing the pool that we were going swimming to cool down. Changing in the first dirty toilets we’ve experienced at a public facility, we were togged off, ignoring the warnings for crocs and splashing about in the crystal waters with water cascading down the rock face in two places. We found a nice spot between the two downpours, sat on the rock, chatted, ignored the whiny ginger kid, convinced Tracey it wasn’t acceptable to steal a noodle to float around and did a few bombs. With beautiful rainforests around the pool and dramatic backdrops we may have spent a considerable amount of time in the shallows reenacting the end scene from a Dirty Dancing and laughing hysterically at our attempts. Not using the free wifi at the site, (why the hell would you want/need wifi in an area like this) we returned towards Batchelor and checked in to Pandanus. Slight panic moment when they didn’t seem to have our booking, the lovely Debbie showed us our cabin and the kitchen facilities. A quick nip in to town before it got dark, we returned with stuff for dinner (severely overpriced) and cooked up a satisfying meal using the hamster dryer (otherwise known as a George Foreman grill) and enjoyed watching Night at the Museum 2. Well, we all started to watch it, only one managed to see it through and turned off tv and lights… yours truly. 

Saturday 13th August 2016

Byron Bay & travelling – day 296

Woke up early in our dorm, delighted to find it was still just the two of us (or someone had come and left in the middle of the night without us knowing!!). Got dressed and checked out, putting our bags into a storage locker and having breakfast before heading out for the day. Byron Bay has a reputation of being a famous beach town and it was lovely, but not entirely sure what the fuss is about. I could have happily lived there as a local but, for us, a day as a tourist was plenty! The beaches are great but we’ve already seen spectacular beaches along this coast (and are due to see even better ones shortly!!). The vibe in the town is very surf culture meets hippie, resulting in lots of barefooted people padding around the streets and supermarkets. That being said, it was lovely – possibly because it wasn’t as crowded as it could be – and we had a great time wandering through the back streets on our way to the Cape Byron State Conservation Park. We started on the Cape Byron walking track and, before too long, we were treated to views of dolphins swimming adjacent to the morning kayak group (lucky bastards!). You can see how close they got…IMG_1956IMG_1967We continued along the path, encountering brush turkeys along the way and stopping off at various view points to admire the spectacular views and watch the migrating whales pass by… That’s right – we have now seen humpback whales for five days in a row. Jayne is beside herself and I think, now more than ever, I have a real chance of convincing her to move here!! The walking path hugs the headland as it dips and soars towards the lighthouse. We managed to spot some more whales passing at the most easterly point of Australia.IMG_1983IMG_2545We stayed for ages at the lighthouse, admiring the view and being wowed by the passing marine life. So much so that any plans of renting a surf board before our coach this afternoon went out the window as the time flew by as we sat and enjoyed. IMG_2547IMG_2550IMG_2000IMG_2012IMG_2016Walking back down towards the town, the path went through beautiful forests and it felt like we were the only people there for miles. Descended upon the beach and decided that, even though we couldn’t go surfing, didn’t mean we couldn’t have fun in the water so we jumped in!! Swimming in the ocean in the middle of winter in Australia is a lot more agreeable than doing the same thing back in the UK or Ireland!! Back at the hostel for a shower and a late lunch before catching our coach to Brisbane. Three hours later, we were walking through the streets to the YHA. I sorted out laundry whilst Jayne went to Dominos to get us something for dinner. Sat on the roof top terrace, enjoying the eye-popping views of the city before going to bed.

Friday 29th July 2016