Claus & Sharon's Travel Blog

Claus & Sharon's Travel Blog

About the Travel Blog / Om Rejsebloggen

We will update the Travel Blog with text and photos as often as possible while we are travelling. Family and friends are invited to comment on our Guestbook.

Vi vil opdatere Rejsebloggen med tekst og fotos så ofte som muligt, når vi er ude at rejse. Familie og venner må meget gerne lægge kommentarer på vores Gæstebog.
Sharon & Claus

The last trains

EnglishPosted by Claus Ellef Mon, January 19, 2015 05:38:04

Monday 22nd December
Our last day of the tour. The Overland (from Adelaide to Melbourne - 828km) departs at 7.40am, and according to our ticket, final check-in at Parklands Terminal is by 6.40am. So we are up at 5am, giving us time to eat breakfast and the final packing before catching the bus from just outside the hotel. We aren't the only passengers on the way to the train station - two other passengers have suitcases and alight at the same stop. Inside the terminal we join the small queue and get rid of our bags – both get a ”heavy” label attached. Ten minutes later the queue has doubled in length and is out of the door. We have a bit of a wait before we can get on the train, time for Claus to get some photos and to check out our fellow passengers: the majority are pensionists, the rest are of all ages and there are a few German and French speaking tourists. This is the last train to Melbourne before Christmas, and many are heading to Melbourne for Christmas with family, judging by the many bags of wrapped gifts. One passenger has her Santa hat on with flashing ”Merry Xmas” lights. The carriage attendant gives us an explanation of the train, in particular how the toilet locks. One must push a button to close the door and then push another button to lock it. During the journey there are many passengers who forget to lock the door whilst inside, so luckily there is an elderly couple in the first row who are good to warn the next toilet customer that it is occupied.

We depart on time and are soon heading up into the Adelaide Hills, with short glimpses of the coastline to our right before reaching the highest point on the journey: Mt. Lofty. Many of the houses are built of large sandstone coloured building blocks with wide verandahs to combat the heat. We stop at Murray Bridge and Bordertown before crossing the border to Victoria, and we have to set our watches forward by a half hour. The countryside is flat, this area is known as the "wheat belt" of Victoria.

At Horsham I catch up (very briefly) with my old friends Bev and Greg, and they get to meet Claus for the first time. Officially we aren't allowed off the train if we are travelling further, but I manage a short chat with them thru the open door before the train pulls out. Now it's time to check out the dining options and we choose to share a serve of fish and chips and a meatball baguette.

After Horsham we stop at Stawell and Ararat before the train heads more to the south and stops in Geelong North, then heads north to Melbourne. Just after leaving Geelong we are informed that we might arrive twenty minutes early, but no, there are a few delays and we arrive into Southern Cross station at the scheduled time of 6.50pm. There is a queue to get luggage: all the luggage is laid out on the platform and then a small number of passengers are allowed in to collect their bags; when these passengers have departed they let another group in and so on. A sensible way considering the number of elderly passengers with walking sticks or rollators. Once we get out our bags we head over to the main concourse of the station to the suburban metro trains. My brother has sent our myki travel cards to Darwin, so we scan on and wait for the next Berwick train. 7.40pm and we board our last train and head out through the suburbs of Melbourne. It takes just under an hour to reach Berwick, where my brother Keith and his wife Lyma are waiting with cameras to catch us getting off our last train. A fantastic tour has ended.



A weekend in Adelaide

EnglishPosted by Claus Ellef Mon, January 19, 2015 05:27:07

Saturday 20th December
As we have both read several books on Antartic explorers, we head for the South Australian Museum, which has a large display centered on the Antartic explorer Douglas Mawson, who lived here. The section is full of artefacts (eg his sleeping bag made from camel hair), photos, documents and videos of Douglas Mawson's three explorative journeys just over a hundred years ago. There is also a replica of the hut where the whole party lived, and a special place for Mawson's knife and half sled. During a mapping expedition out from base camp his two companions died, and Mawson then used the knife to saw the sled in half before walking back to base camp – a solo journey of 160km. Other exhibitions featured Aboriginal culture, Egyptian artefacts, megafauna, fossils, meteorites, minerals and opals. In the gift shop it is possible to buy the same style of balaclava that Mawson wore – or even the pattern so you can knit your own. A picnic lunch outside the well designed war memorial – one can walk inside and find all the names of people who died in WWI inscribed on plaques on the walls.


Sunday 21st December
Just a short metro train ride to Port Adelaide brings us to the National Railway Museum, which despite the name contains mostly South Australian railway history. They are definitely not short of rolling stock with two buildings each with four to five tracks, each with at least four engines or carriages standing. It is possible to walk through some of the carriages and see how sleeping compartments were designed almost one hundred years ago. Three wagons come from ”The Tea and Sugar” train, which began in 1917 with the sole purpose to bring daily necessities out to the workers laying the railway between Adelaide and Perth. As the track didn't pass close to existing towns there was no other way to bring in supplies. After the railway line was finished small towns sprang up along the railway line, but these also needed supplies, so the Tea and Sugar kept running. One carriage included a bank, another housed the shop and another the butcher. As there was no coldroom in the train there were a few animals in small pens on the train, and the butcher slaughtered an animal as there was the need. The train also had a cinema and from the 1970's a doctor's clinic. Each December there was an extra carraige for Santa – bringing Christmas joy to the children along the track. The train finally stopped running in 1996.

Back to the hotel for some PC work and when I head out to buy some groceries at Woolworths in the nearby Rundle Street Mall at 5.30pm it is closed – as are most of the shops. So we then head down to the Coles supermarket near Chinatown and that is also closed. All the shops in the centre of Adelaide close at 5pm, even though it is the last Sunday before Christmas! So there goes our picnic lunch for the train tomorrow – hope the dining car isn't too overpriced.



Crossing the continent on The Ghan

EnglishPosted by Sharon Payne Sun, January 11, 2015 04:46:55

Wednesday 17th December
Today we start our longest train trip in Australia: The Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide, a journey of 2979 km taking about 50 hours. Check in must be completed by 9am, with departure scheduled for 10am. We arrive in good time to take photos outside the train and say goodbye to Robynann – it has been great to catch up with her again after many years. Our large bags are checked in and we just have our small bags with us - our Gold class cabin has a bunk berth with its own bathroom – including shower. The train has three classes: Red class seating carriages, with a cafe; Gold class carriages (one carriage with single berths only) with a lounge and dining carriage; and the top grade is Platinum Class, where some compartments have double beds and they have their own lounge and dining carriage. There are two locomotives (one with The Ghan symbol, the other just has Pacific National painted on the side) to pull the train, three carriages with cars, one generator carriage and a carriage for personale. There aren't many people in the waiting lounge when we arrive, but many of the passengers arrive after 9am by bus or personal limousine (included in the Platinum class) with their luggage having been sent ahead. At 9.40am we can board the train, so we make our way to Carriage L. Our compartment has a 3 seater sofa to the right, on the left is the bathroom and wardrobe, complete with a safe for valuables. We leave on time and head slowly out of town, passing through the industrial area and shunting yards before we pick up speed. The carriage attendant comes around to explain the compartment's features.

We have been allotted the 11am time slot for lunch, a bit early but all passengers have to eat before we get to Katherine. As we head down to the dining carriage we pass through the single compartment carriage, which usilises all the space by having a curved passageway with compartments on both sides. Next to the dining car is the lounge, where one can enjoy a pre meal drink. We share a table with an English couple, and are presented with the menu – we can choose from four different entrees and mains. Next is the wine menu with a choice of four to five white and red wines and two different champagnes.

Katherine is just 307km south of Darwin, and we arrive at 1.40pm. Excursions are included in our tour, and we have chosen the Nitmiluk Gorge cruise. Nitmiluk is the Aboriginal name for Katherine Gorge, and is about 40 minutes by bus from the train station. We have had around 32 degrees in Darwin each day with constant humidity and we are told it is 37 degrees in Katherine, but not so humid. We cruise up the first gorge, then have a short walk past Aboriginal rock paintings to the second gorge where another vessel awaits us. Magnificent scenery all the way. A short heavy rain shower brings some relief from the heat, but as we walk between the two gorges the rocks are quickly dry and you can feel the heat radiating out from them. More thunder clouds are looming as we finish our cruise, but we arrive back at the train without getting wet.

We depart Katherine at 6.20pm, the landscape becomes more red as we head south. We can relax and enjoy the lovely sunset before we make our way to the lounge to sip a glass of champagne before dinner at 8pm. There are three courses, with the same wine menu as at lunchtime. This evening we are dining with John, a well travelled professor from London. We have choosen the latest dining session so that we can take our time without being hurried out to make room for waiting passengers. Whilst dining, our compartment has been converted into beds, with a chocolate on the doona. One could get very used to this style of travel!

Thursday 18th December
Our train stopped in Tennant Creek at 3.30am, probably to allow a freight train to pass. We receive a pre breakfast coffee served in our cabin, then get dressed and head down for our two course breakfast, where we share with a German couple who are on their 10th visit to Australia. Alice Springs is the next stop, we arrive at 9.10am. As we have both been here before we don't want to do the tourist sites around town, so have chosen the tour to the Alice Springs Desert Park. As we are driven the short distance to the park, the chauffeur tells us that it was 46 degrees yesterday, but after rain during the night it is now a comfortable 22 degrees. The Park is a National Park, but differs in that many plants have been planted around walkways and all the animals are housed in cages. At the dingo enclosure we are informed that the pair of young dingos are brother and sister, but are now being kept apart after a fight which lead to the male requiring a vet to put a few stitches in his head. Next stop on our guided tour is the Freeflying Bird Show, where we get to see a magpie, kite, hawk and barn owl fly freely around the ampitheater. They are trained to show off their natural behaviour – unlike the bird show in Kuala Lumpa where they were trained to uncharactisist acts). Onto the Nocturnal Hall, where the marsupials, insects, lizards and snakes are housed in natural environments with ”moonlight” lighting. Our visit ends in the cafeteria where a bird handler presents a young six month old Wedgetailed Eagle, who they are in the process of training. At six months it is full size and weighs around 3kg, but also likes to be patted by the trainer. She and her brother were rescued by the rangers, who had noticed that the parents had spent so much time defending the nest from predators that they didn't have time to feed the young pair, who were close to starvation when they were rescued.

We depart Alice at 12.45pm. At the southern edge of town the road and railway pass through a small opening (locally known as The Gap) in the MacDonell Ranges. After lunch we spend the afternoon enjoying the scenery out of the window and writing. There are small bushes and some grass, enough to feed the small herds of cattle. Just before 4pm we pass the Iron Man monument – a man with a sleeper on his shoulder. It was built to commerate the laying of the millionth sleeper during the rebuilding of the railway between Tarcoola (in SA) and Alice Springs in 1980. Shortly after that we head into a siding and wait for half an hour to allow a freight train to pass. At 5.30pm we cross the border between the Northern Territory and South Australia. To the west there is a huge thunderstorm developing, which generates some amazing cloud formations just before sunset.

We have again chosen to dine at 8pm, tonight we are dining with a couple from the north of England on their first trip to Australia to visit family. As we linger over a glass of wine the train manager informs us that our clocks need to be turned forward an hour – there go our hopes of an early night!

Friday 19th December
It has been a clear night – at one stage I can see stars and the lights of road trains on a distant road.

At around 6am we pass through Port Augusta. Soon after the Flinders Ranges is visible on the left, on the right is Spencer Gulf. The landscape is now more fertile, and there are wheat fields on both sides of the train. We are due into Adelaide at 11.30am, so breakfast and lunch are combined into brunch from 9 to 10.30am. Choices range from full English breakfast to steak to salmon fillet. We both think it is a bit early for a steak so opt for a full breakfast.

Adelaide is not our final destination but the train to Melbourne only runs once a week and it does not connect with either the train from Darwin or the one from Perth. So we have three nights here.

We arrive on time, and spend some time checking out the gift shop before collecting our baggage. Unfortunately by this time the hotel shuttle has only one seat and there are no taxis, so we have a 20 minute walk to our hotel. Adelaide's central business district is totally surrounded by gardens, so we cross one of these before finding Currie Street. We see a sign for the Grand Chancellor hotel on a building, but then can't find the entrance on street level, so Claus sits with the baggage whilst I head off to investigate. The building we have seen is the same hotel chain – just in the next street, but at least I am given a map – we are only about 50 metres from our hotel. After checking in we head out and drop in at the Tourist Info, then the Metro info then wander down Rundel Mall, where everyone is busy with their Christmas shopping. There are street musicians on every corner, and one gentleman is giving out brochures saying ”Jesus is the answer”. It is up to us to find the question?



WWII in Darwin

EnglishPosted by Sharon Payne Sun, January 11, 2015 04:08:22

Tuesday 16th December
Another museum we want to see is the Military Museum, which showcases the first attack by the Japanese on Australian territory during World War II. Darwin was first bombed on the 19th Febuary 1942, with many civilian and navy ships sunk, buildings bombed and of courses lives lost. Many other towns in the northern part of Australia were also bombed during the rest of the war. It is an excellent display of photos, artefacts and personal recollections (including histories of some of the Japanese involved). Outside is the cannon bunker and various military vehicles – both Australian and American, and one building has a small exhibition on the Korea, Vietnam and the First Gulf war. We end our last day in Darwin at a good restaurant, where we enjoy their mixed grill of barramundi, kangaroo and crocodile.



40 years since Tracy swept in

EnglishPosted by Sharon Payne Sun, January 11, 2015 03:59:57

Monday 15th December
We catch the bus into town and have a quick stroll down the mall before catching another bus out to the Museum / Art Gallery of Northern Territory, which houses a mixture of natural history, history, culture, art and local animals (including birds, possums, kangaroos) – the largest is Sweatheart, a 4.5 metre long crocodile. The main exhibition we want to see is the Cyclone Tracy display. It is now 40 years since Tracy destroyed 70% of Darwin on Christmas morning, killing 66 people.. There are lots of pictures showing the damage to housing and shipping, a booth with sound recordings and a twisted metal pole – and the rebuilding effort. We have a look around some sections of the museum before heading back to town and a wander down the mall again, stopping to buy a book for the train journey, then onto the harbourfront, where we enjoy an icecream. We have time to see the site of the first telegraph pole, the Old Town Hall and the Anglican Church (both damaged by Tracy) before getting a bus back to Nightcliff.



Darwin

EnglishPosted by Sharon Payne Wed, January 07, 2015 06:17:41

Sunday 14th December
After two nights in Singapore where we did not sleep well and a night flight we manage to sleep until 11am. After lunch we drive around Darwin, visiting Charles Darwin National Park, where there are ammunition storage bunkers from WW2. These depots were in use until the 1980's, and one is now a musuem with information on the repeated bombings of Darwin. Next we decide to find the train station, from where The Ghan will depart on Wednesday. It is about about 15km from the centre of Darwin and Robynann has never been there before. It is mainly a freight station, with only one or two weekly departures of The Ghan. We then continue into the centre of Darwin, past Parliament House, the viewpoint over the wharf, and out to East Point. We take a walk on the Mangrove Boardwalk out to the coast, we can see several different types of crabs in the mud flats. The tide is out and the mangroves' roots stand at least a metre high, along with another type of tree that thrives in the salt water. The tidal difference is around nine metres.



Back in Oz

EnglishPosted by Sharon Payne Wed, January 07, 2015 06:06:35

Saturday 13th December
Touch down in Darwin at 5.20am, and even though it is early it is more humid than we have experienced in Asia. I've declared all the food we are bringing in (Danish Christmas chocolate & biscuits from Natasha but as they are unopened we have no problems and are soon finished with immigration and customs.

We are on our way to my friend Robynann's unit in Nightcliff, but the taxi driver tells us there is no such street. Only when he see the street name written down does he find it on his GPS – he didn't know how to spell Grevillea. Everything is quiet when we arrive at the address, the only sign of life is a large cat, who quickly disappears as we knock on the door. Robynann and I met when we both lived in The Marquis of Wellington in London, and then travelled through Europe, before finding work in Verbier Switzerland together. After a few minutes Robynann opens the door and the ”master” of the household, Koko the cat makes an appearance again. After a cup of tea we all grab some extra sleep and awake around 11am. A lazy day - in the afternoon we do some food shopping and wander down to the Nightcliff pier.



Singapore by bus

EnglishPosted by Sharon Payne Wed, January 07, 2015 05:50:00

Friday 12th December
After depositing our luggage in the foyer we get a ticket on the ”Hop on / hop off” bus. There are two different routes so we complete both and have seen most of Singapore. There are a few of the old original one or two story buildings, lots of new skycrapers and shopping centres – the recorded voice on the bus tells us that Orchard Road has 22. We take the first route again and alight at the Merlion statue, then we continue onto The Gardens at the Bay, an area with many ”supertrees” of steel, which are now, slowly, being covered by vines and other climbing plants.

In the late afternoon we head to Raffles Hotel, where we sit and enjoy a Singapore Sling and eat raw peanuts, dropping the peanut shells on the floor – as is the tradition. The only place in Singapore where one doesn't get fined for littering. Dinner near our hotel before we collect our bags and get the metro to the airport. We find a quiet corner to repack and chance upon a set of scales, and grab the opportunity to weigh our bags. Some readjusting is needed so each bag is under the weight limit and then we check in. Our Jetstar flight takes off on time at 11.30pm and the plane is only half full – we can each stretch out over 3 seats and try to get some sleep as we leave Asia.



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