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Click to enlarge The Race and The Rock
Hello once again blog readers!!!

We've been scooting about again and currently reside in the Sydney Central YHA, a huge building with great facilities (and the worst shower in Australasia). This is home for the next 4 nights - quite a long time in our world of frantic city hopping! Since we last spoke we have been to the Daintree river, Melbourne, watched the Grand Prix, had a couple of days out in Uluru and met up with a few friends from past trips. Its been a busy (and very hot) few days...

Day 68 GPS Lunchtime BBQ S16.2017 E145.4112 Alt 44m
Cape Tribulation beach S16.0770 E145.4702

Guess what - yes its still raining up in Cairns! But we have grown used to it, and pack brollies / rainjackets everytime we head out. Took a tour with Billy Tea Safaris which drove us North up the coast from Cairns. We took a cruise along the Daintree River famous for its freshwater crocs, and actually spotted one, well a tiny bit of one, just the eyes and a small tip of snout visible (thank goodness our Guide knew what he was looking for or we'd have missed it entirely). Driving in to Daintree National park we stopped off at a couple of lookout sites, but the views were mostly pants - obscured by cloud and rain. We took a walk in the forest and were introduced to a wide variety of plants and trees and their various uses, which we've promptly forgotten. Lunch was a fantastic BBQ, and while it was cooking we got to hand-feed some rescued kangaroos and wallabies. After lunch we drove along part of the Bloomfield Track - famous for being a rough road that continues through the forest to the North, and one which lots of people try in their Chelsea tractors - and stopped at Emmagen Creek, everyone declined the swim (probably due to the croc warning signs 10metres downstream), and settled for a paddle seeing as it was pretty chilly and no sun to dry us off. Whilst we were trying our platter of unusual tropical fruits and drinking our billy tea, the heavens opened and we got soaked - AGAIN! Next stop was a lovely beach at Cape Tribulation, or it would have been in anything other than torrential rain. Most people stayed on the bus, but we'd paid the damn money and were so wet already that a bit more wouldn't hurt (so we had the entire beach to ourselves!). On the way home we stopped at an ice cream shop where we got to try interesting flavours such as Wattleseed and Black Sapote (very weird). Well worth the long trip out of Cairns into the rainforest.

Day 69 Nomads Hostel S37.8100 E144.9573 Alt 39

Travelling again, this time down south to Melbourne. The bus journey to the airport was very amusing as an older French couple were aboard and hadn't left enough time to get their flight, and the bus stopped at many pickups around the city - each time it was greeted with many Gallic exclamations and hand gestures! We never found out if they made their flight, but arrived at the airport only 15mins before it's scheduled departure! Melbourne was a 3:30 flight away, and we arrived to sunny skies and 37 degrees - quite a change from Cairns. Our "Flashpackers" hostel is our best so far, and we even have a telly in our room, whatever that is? They also have a fantastic bar downstairs, and as it was Happy Hour we availed ourselves of some cheap beverages and slices of Pizza for just $1 (50p). There we remained until we couldn't take anymore!! Note to selves - avoid jagarbombs in future! (shot glass of Jagermeister sunk in a glass of Redbull, usually sold far too cheaply to turn down).

Day 70 Melbourne GP our seats S37.8721 E144.9721 Alt 12

Forecast temps up to 40 degrees today - ooof - so armed with lots of sunscreen, hats etc., we headed off to Albert Park. Melbourne has a great set up for the GP with the trams out to the circuit being free for ticket holders, which made our life very easy. Our seats in the Clark Stand at turn 9 are pretty good, and we can see a straight and a couple of corners before the cars disappear out of sight (about 8secs at full bananas). We also have a big screen in front of us, so we can see the action on the rest of the track, and hear the commentary through our MP3 player radios! A couple of F18 fighters did a fly past in between races, and we also got to see the V8 cars racing. The F1 practice was uneventful but very noisy, luckily we had brought our ear plugs! We headed back to the hostel, now very hot and sweaty, for a well earned shower (this was to be a pattern for all three tortuously hot days!) In the evening we met up with Andrew who was on our Mexico trip (way back in January), and went out for a lovely Italian meal with him and a couple of his mates, and then he introduced us to a few of Melbourne's pubs before we called it a night.

Day 71 Chris and Emma's (near Ramsay Street) S37.8102 E145.1801 Alt 118m

Qualifying today for the F1 cars. Loads of flypasts today including displays by the Roulettes, F18's and the navy Squirrel helicopters, all very impressive, and as the wind was down on yesterday there was also a parachute display. The F1 cars had one last practice session in the morning, before their Qually in the afternoon. Inbetween which about 25 'celebrities' (of which we recognised about 2), took to the track in Fiat 500's for a 5 lap race, chaos ensued as they quickly forgot all they had been taught about avoiding trouble, and the red mist and competitive spirit prevailed! In the F1 qualifying session itself, we were happy with Lewis Hamilton taking pole position, and it was nice to see some of the usually lower placed teams putting in good performances to get themselves up there. Tonight we got the train out to the suburbs to meet Chris and Emma who travelled with Nicky around Peru back in 2002. It was great to see them again, and to meet their ten month old son Theo - thanks for dinner guys! BBQ - but of course - we are in Oz!

Day 72

Race day in Melbourne, the start of the F1 2008 season! Due to Bernie's TV attempts to make the start time palettable in Europe, the race was a later start than usual, and so we had a bit of a lie in before getting to the circuit around noon, again a scorcher of a day with temps in the very high 30's - (that's over 100 in the old money) - Phew! Loads more air displays again today to keep us entertained, and then the F1 drivers came by each in a small morgan-type car, being driven around the circuit. The crowd went nuts for them, as they were waving away happily to their fans. Just before the race start a Qantas B747 flew very low and slow over the circuit before climbing away back out, very impressive. The race itself was carnage from start to finish, around 5 cars crashed out on lap1 and just 6 out of 22 made it to the finish line after multiple safety-cars. Kept us all on the edge of our seats right until the end! An ominously great drive and win for Lewis, and a miserable day for the many Ferrari fans in our stand! There's an amazing amount of support for Lewis here (after Webber of course!) After the race ended, Kiss were playing a concert in the grounds of Albert Park, they are now in their 35th year of touring and it showed - old men wearing Tippex, trying to remain rock stars, quite sad really and we left after a few naff songs!

Day 73 Ayres Rock resort S25.2412 E130.9835 Alt 505m
Imalung Lookout S25.2406 E130.9872 Alt 518m
Pioneer Lookout S25.2443 E130.9909 Alt 517m

Off again, this time to Ayres Rock - the Red Centre, slap bang in the middle of Australia. We got exit-row seats on the flight after the lovely Indian lady at check-in saw that we were travelling on to India next, so we had a chat about where and when we were headed. She was also complianing bitterly about Melbourne's heat - which we were slightly tickled about! A 3 hour flight saw us arriving in the middle of nowhere, after great views of the Rock as we appraoched. There is only one resort to stay in out there, and it has 5 different hotels and campgrounds on offer. We chose the middle of the road Lost Camel Hotel to stop in, and you can use the facilities of the entire resort. The receptionist said it was 40 degrees during the day, but would get cold at night: 24 degrees - Hmmm, don't think so! The resort is pretty expensive as everything has to be flown in and it's a monopoly, but we are only here for 2 nights. Took a lovely refreshing dip in the pool after it became shaded, and then had a walk out to one of the many raised sand dune lookout points to view and photograph Uluru, just about dying of dehydration despite carrying a litre of water and the walk being 15 easy minutes! Early to bed tonight as up at 0430 for our sunrise tour in the morning...

Day 74 Sunrise viewing area Ayres Rock S25.3390 E131.0578 Alt 517m
Mutitjulu Water hole S25.3495 E131.0340 Alt 526m
break down Kuniya carpark S25.3550 E131.0335 Alt 523m
Sounds of Silence Dinner S25.2486 E130.9622 Alt 516m

Ouch, its too early! (and very dark still). Ned, our guide arriving for the 5am start to "Desert Awakenings" has an interesting parentage, being half Aborigional and half Irish! We think he was still recovering from a good St. Patricks day party the night before, green beer was on offer in one of the resort bars! Off we headed in to the Outback, just 7 of us, which was a great group size - better than we had anticipated. After driving around half an hour we abandoned the truck and set off on foot a short way to our breakfast stop. There we watched the dawn whilst enjoying pastries, tea / coffee and freshly cooked bacon and egg muffins, fantastic. From our vantage point we could see both Uluru and Kata Tjuka (The Olgas) as the sun rose. After the day began proper we were driven in to the National Park, and all the way around the base of Ayres Rock, which is about 11km. Along the way Ned told us many stories about its history and the Aborigional beliefs and the significance of the markings on the rock to their story of how it was created. A short stop at the Aborigional Cultural Centre was next, and then we drove on to visit the Waterhole at the base of the Rock. We were only there a short time, but when we returned to the truck we discovered a totally flat battery! So we were stranded in the desert, in rapidly heating up conditions. No worries! We'll just use the emergency radio to contact base - oops thats out of order, so Ned thumbed a lift back to the Cultural Centre leaving us in a luckily placed shaded spot with water, fruit and the rest of the mornings uneaten muffins to pass the time! Our abondonment was short, Ned was back in 20mins and within 45mins of this another truck appeared to take us back to the resort. We spent much of the rest of the day catching up on missed morning sleep, but were up well in time for our "Sounds of Silence Dinner". We were coached out from the resort and to a champagne and canape reception, amongst the sand dunes (they also had beer - phew!). After watching the sunset we were led down to our dining area in the sand. Candle-lit tables of 10 were set up, and we had a good crowd sitting with us for the evening. Dinner was a fine buffet of local food, meats and fish, including Kangaroo steak and all sorts of poncy sauces, and was very good. As we ate we were entertained by a digeridooist (?) playing amongst us, and of course our setting. After the main course we were given a talk on the night-sky above us, this was fantastic as constellations were pointed out, including the ones just visible in the planet's South, and we were taught how to work out South from an obscure combination of imaginary lines from the Southern Cross (it's much easier in the Northern Hemisphere where we can just point at Polaris for North!). We also got the opportunity to use very high powered telescopes, and we saw Saturn with its rings very clearly as well as some of the Magellan nebula. Dessert followed our star gazing, and we again had many to sample and savour before our coaches eventually arriving to take us back to the lodge. What an amazing evening in the Desert!

Day 75

Flying off again, this time to Sydney. About a 3 hour flight, just time to fit in a quick movie and a sandwich! As we approached to land we came in right over the harbour and got stunning views of the Bridge and Opera House. The YHA is right next door to central station which means less hauling of the bags which is a good thing!! Ate out in China Town tonight, being careful to avoid lots of strange stuff on the menu, they have a great liking for Salmon heads in everything here!!!.

So that's it for another update, hope you're still enjoying reading about our travels, which will be over before we know it! We have less than a month left now, but we've still got a lot to pack in. Hope everyone is well, and thanks for the texts and emails, its great to know whats going on back home.

Take care
Nicky and Cameron xx