Thursday, 29 November 2012


Monday 12th November 2012

Poor Karen had to get back to work, and she kindly offered us a 7 am lift into Melbourne. This, being a holiday we politely turned down and instead walked to her local train station and took a considerably later train into town instead.

The old Melbourne Gaol was our first stop. We cunningly blagging a 50% discount on entry for being National Trust members (without even being asked to provide corroborative evidence) and sallied forth into the main exhibit.

Cell after small cell, there was a unfortunate life story to embrace, that each ended on the prison gallows for their crimes. Gruesomely, each cell also had a eerie plaster cast "death mask" for each unfortunate courtesy of the then emerging science of Phrenology - the science of studying facial and skull shapes  in an effort to identify the characteristic features of the criminal mind.

The Old Melbourne Gaol is also famous/infamous for its part in the tale of Australis favourite anti-hero, Ned Kelly, who spent his final days here before being executed. We couldn't help imitating ...

his crimes...

and his punishment (on this very gallows).

A more interactive side attraction to the gaol was a recently decommissioned (1994) holding station for more weekend drunkards and other arrestees. Here we Caroline found her natural home in a padded cell, and soon after the actor playing our arresting Sargent released us, but not before having our mugshots taken.

Tuesday 13th November 2012

The next day we once again took the option of the later train in to Melbourne. Just outside the train station we discovered that a sunscreen company was offering free UV photos, just like you see on those terrible Channel4 "embarrassing bodies" type TV shows.

These allow you to determine the level of sun damage you'd done to your skin and the Aussies seemed well taken by this, which isn't surprising really, as the ozone hole means that the sun is fiercely strong "down under" and many Aussies sported leather hide like skin.

Not wanting to turn down anything that was free, we immediately got a place in the queue and starting debating which of us was more likely to have had high sun exposure in the past. Look at the photos below. Who do you think has the more damaged skin?

Slightly shocked by our results (slightly better and slightly worse than the average Aussie) we took  our free sunscreen samples and plastered our faces against the ravages of further UV exposure. This lead to all photos taken that day having an odd appearance as in my haste to protect my skin, I'd failed to realise that i was smearing my face in a not so invisible, "SPF30+ invisible foundation". Oops, not my manliest moment by a long shot!

Later that morning we visited the Immigration museum and tried to work out whether Australia would give us permanent visa's. I scored 90% on the citizenship test with no revision (75% pass threshold) and so would be allowed to enter if i had a company sponsor or desirable career profile.

We also sat through an interactive video quiz and correctly accepted the 1930s couple into Australia (a pair of teachers/aspiring farmers with growing family) and rejected another (actor and travel agent in 2012) according to policy of the day.

At the end of the day we popped into the Victorian Parliament and were enchanted by the gold plated chambers, decorated at the height of Gold Rush optimism. These were modeled on the British parliament system (green chairs for the lower chamber, red for the upper), but unlike the entertaining political barracking that occurs once a week in PMQs, here in Oz the politicians seemed strangely tongue tied for a nation not known for their quiet ways. (Think gentile village church committee AGM instead of jeering and foot stamping).

Just inside the entrance to the Parliament of Victoria - we weren't allowed to take photos in the actual chambers
We finished off the day with a trip down the Yarra, with some great bridges and view of the Rod Laver arena (of Australian Open fame).

Friday, 16 November 2012

Mt. Arapiles

After an early start to get the hirecar and get underway from Melbourne, i was finally making my way to Arapiles. The loan of Karen's satnav made the journey up to Horsham relatively easy, boosted along by a Cadbury's Dairy Milk and cola induced sugar high. From the outskirts of Natimuk, the satnav seemed to want to take in off down a side road so i reverted to my back-up plan.

The back-up plan was a fuzzy photo of the guidebook "getting there" pages I'd snapped in Outside, Hathersage whilst discreetly reading the book with zero intention of purchase (40 pounds on a guidebook for 2 days use didn't seem like good value!)

Arriving at the pines campsite i was hopeful of getting some tips of where was the best bit of the crag to find a partner. Precisely the first group i walk up to pick the brain of and i find not only the desired info, but a partner who's keen to get going there and then. Awesome! Julian was on "domestic leave" between jobs and had a whole month to climb in Oz. Unfortunately he'd not gotten to climb outside for a while, but gave the impression he'd be a capable partner.

First off we hit the Organ pipes and climbed a classic 2pitch grade 16 (VS?) before then walking over to Fang buttress to tackle what was previous Arapiles test piece. Julian took over the lead and battled valiantly with the roof crack. A quick slump on the rope was taken, but the impression given was of a tradesman at work; up and over with the minimum fuss - no need to get too pumped on your first day trad climbing in months.

After seconding this roof crack (soft E1 5c?) I took a shine to a line of bolts to the right. Now, this didn't turn out to be sports climbing by any definition; 1st bolt at 25ft and only 2 more in the remaining 45ft of the route. I racked up with a light rack of nuts and a couple of cams. The 1st bolt was a sod to clip up right of a sloping hold, so i was glad of the cam I'd slipped in below. I then engaged sport mode and cranked through a steep boulder problem before stopping again to place more gear. Another bolt and another boulder problem followed above before the route traversed out right. Here i was faced with a dilemma: Go high and clip the next bolt from slopey holds, or stay low and hope i could stretch back and clip it from the better holds a good distance out right? I took the pansies option and stood up, only to realise i couldn't get a hand off to clip. Faff ensued trying to reverse the tenuous, slopey moves I'd made before eventually pumping out and taking the ride. 25ft later (a good 12ft farther then i expected) my stretchy new skinny sngle rope came tight and i swung gently in the air.

Ergonomic (Grade 26, 7b+, E6 6b?) turned out to be a simple redpoint with the gear in place and after finding a hidden foothold on the low traverse option, but it taught me a good lesson about what Arapiles was all about - slopey holds that respond more to technique than thuggery, and bolts only where you need them. Elsewhere it was obvious where trad gear went with the placements frequently being bomber nuts or cams.

The next day we indulged in ticking as many 3* classics as we could:
Scorpion Direct
Quo Vadis (best route of the trip, E2 5c ish and absolute class)
Missing link
Dramp (not 3*, but convenient to the campsite)

Bizarrely, as i returned to the campsite, i bumped into a friend I'd not seen since uni. At this point i twigged that the suspiciously familiar faces in of the Brits next door were exactly that; familiar because they'd all lived in Bristol at the same time as me (1999 - 2005) and shared many mutual friends without knowing each other directly. Blimey, it's a small world sometime!

The Organ Pipes - home of my first route at Arapiles
Morning view of Mt. Arapiles from the Pines campsite
Bluff buttress - home to the classic Quo Vadis (in the sun on the left) & Missing Link (hidden around to the right in the shade) 
Summit of the Bluff with new found friend - Julian

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Guest blog - Caroline's girlie adventure

Girlie adventure consisted of:

Fri 9th November
Healesville Animal Sanctary with Karen's lovely family: Mum, Dad, sister Linda and star of attractions 2 year old Hudson and taking second fiddle for the moment (asleep) very sweet new born Reegan. Saw no end of Ozzie animals including: kangaroos, wombats, snakes, goannas, echidnas, emus, lizards, platapi, dingoes etc. Back to Karen's family house to feed her horse, visit her active Granma (feeding the 5 thousand) and be cooked yummy roast by her Dad, with sister's family.

Cute Wombat and Terrapin at Healesville
Sat 10th November
Late start (Caroline unusually read too late the night before) and off on bike ride on old railway line (apparently Beeching wasn't the only one at it). Then to Karen's sister's ranch to check up on Hudson and eat some delicious home grown cow cooked on all Ozzie BBQ and looking at outstanding view. Then to visit Karen's mum and walk to historic village and Karen's Gran in a home and back to see Ally home safely at midnight having met up with half his uni entourage.

Shorts on display in the 1908 vintage shop - who said fashions didn't come around again!
Sun 11th November
Leisurely start, what with Ally's midnight arrival and previous night in car and off to Phillip Island to see the Little Penguins via Inverloch to swim in blue, but chilly water, closed maze (moo) and amazing interactive chocolate factory.

Hmmm - chocolate...
Honey we shrunk the kids...
Waiting for the penguins on the beach. Shortly afterwards we were reminded that no photography was allowed...

Great Ocean Road - Road trip Aussie style

Bit of a quicker post to try and get content uploaded before loosing access to Karen's laptop when we fly up to Cairns tomorrowe morning:

Wed 7th November
Early start to miss the traffic at start of road trip down to Great Ocean Road.
At 8am we stopped Pancake breakfast – the first time Caroline had been awake on the drive – not missed much scenery up to this point.
We drove on down the very scenic highway which alternates between cliff-top and beach front driving. We stopped to dip our toes and write our names in the beach just short of Apollo Bay.

Skipping lunch we drove on to the highly photographic Twelve Apostles. Here, below one of the 12 sea stacks I scattered the ashes of Emily Goodman, my late partner who i was with for 9 years at and after we met whilst studying at Bristol Uni.

Fiddling with my camera whilst taking a photo of where i scattered Emily's ashes

Next we drove to a treetop walk, where we hoped to finally get some lunch. However, it now being 4pm this plan was scuppered and we completed the walk (along with kiddies dinosaur trail) with grumbling bellies. Caroline had warned me that she gets a bit snappy without food, but none of this character trait was present, and neither was the shades of green that had been displayed in Hong Kong.

Me verses T. Rex - No Match!
Karen high up amongst the trees whilst on our tree-top walk on the Otway Peninsula
After this, we finally found food in the form of delicious fish and chips and settled into an adorable little maisonette facing the sea in Apollo Bay for the night.
Thu 8th November

Drunk/stoned koala - they get high on Ecalyptus leaves!

The Otway Lighthouse
The next day we visited the Otway Lighthouse and enjoyed tales of drunken lighthouse keepers and their huge families (nothing much else to do in the wilderness apart from having "indoor adventures" as Karen put it!). We also found wild koala bears at the road side, who looked almost as drunk as the fabled lighthouse keepers... 
We then walked to Triplet Falls, which was impressive once found the right spot.
Then we drove back to Melbourne, arriving late and formulating our plans for the next few days.

Fri 9th November
Caroline and I went our separate ways. I sorted a hire car to drive up to Mt Arapiles for a couple of days climbing, and Caroline went off on a girlie adventure with Karen.


Monday, 12 November 2012

Antipodean Adventures

Sorry for the delay in a follow up post after the quick fire posts about Hong Kong and Macau. All that means is that we've been super busy in Melbourne and not had time to sit down and write anything about our adventures.

So, here's a quick summary of our 10 days in Melbourne staying with Caroline's old house mate Karen, who has been an amazing host, driving us around all the attractions and letting us stay in her spare room.

Sun 4th November
Our last day in Hong Kong saw us walking down to the harbour side to witness the noon day gun being fired. This very gun was immortalized in Noel Coward’s song, whose lyrics are:

“Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun”
“In Hong Kong, they strike a gong and fire off a noon day gun, to reprimand each in- mate, who’s in late.”
The "Noon-day Gun"
We then spent a while walking through the suburb of Kowloon, looking for 123 Boundary Street, where Caroline's father had spent some of his formative years. This was a pleasant distraction from the more manic centre and Kong Hong districts. We weren't certain we found the exact address as the street numbering wasn't consistent, but found a public school that looked like it might have previously been the British Army accommodation we were looking for?
This jaunt was followed by a visit to the very good Hong Kong cultural museum. We left it far to late leaving here to get back to the hotel, collect our bags and get back to the airport. As sod's law states, this was the point at which we then had a further delayed as Caroline was struck down by sun/heat stroke while on the crowded tube. My to my delight, dispite going a funny shade of green as the blood drained from her face she stayed on her feet and after recuperating on the platform of the next station we resumed our race to the airport and checked in with a measerly 45min to spare, thus adding Quantas to the growing list of flights I've nearly, but not quite missed.

Mon 5th November
Me, Caroline and Karen at the top of the 1000 steps trail
We arrived at Tullamarine airport at 8 am to find Karen and her father, Steve, had kindly crossed the city at the crack of dawn to collect us. Never a better sight after having been stuck with the least desirable seat in pleb class; that of the reduced legroom, heater under the seat in front near the back of the aircraft. We crashed out in Karen's new "unit" - Aussie for a compact bungalow - for a couple of hours before then going out to the Dandenong hills where we completed a maze at the lookout and then walked up 1000 steps path which is dedicated to the Australian troops who fought on the Kokoda trail in Papua New Guinea during WWII. 
Tue 6th November
The next day was a national holiday in Australia - Cup Day. We went to a local pub to eat lunch and watch the race. In the headline race, The Melbourne Cup, the horse Karen had placed bets on came in 2nd and she had another placed horse in the next race; drinks on Karen! Neither me nor Caroline won anything :-(

Thursday, 8 November 2012

A day trip to Macau

We'd spotted a leaflet advertising the old Portuguese colony of Macau as a day trip destination. The leaflet showed photos of quaint colonial properties and a large temple complex, and further reading in the Hong Kong Lonely Planet guide revealed that the old centre of Macau is a world heritage site.

We decided to take the plunge and use one of our remaining days in Hong Kong to make a daytrip to Macau, but instead of taking the 11 hr organised tour we thought we'd make our own way there and set our own agenda.

After a jet lag induced fuzzy start to the day we made it down to the harbour pier to catch the fast ferry to Macau. $260 secured us two return tickets (or so we thought - more later) and we quickly cleared Hong Kong customs before boarding the madly swaying "TurboJet" ferry. Thankfully, once we were up to speed the catamaran/hydrofoil glid over the choppy seas and made for a smooth 1 hr crossing to our destination.

On arrival, we realised that our Lonely Planet guide might have been a little out of date when it said that Macau was becoming a popular gambling destination as before us lay the SE Asia equivalent of the Las Vegas strip. Garish neon lit hotel/casino complexes were multiple, and in true Las Vegas style there was even a "greatest wonders of the world" theme park complete with Roman coliseum and fully functioning volcano (erupts twice a day like clockwork; why can't the real ones be so predictable?)

We exited the ferry pier (via Macau customs and a new stamp in the passport) and ignoring the casino touts set out on foot. We cam across the entrance to the bizarrely empty theme park, and with no entry fees walked in an wandered around the exhibits.

With mad dog and Englishman enthusiasm we set out on foot from here under a blazing sun hoping to reach the A-Ma Temple using the tiny street map in the rear of the Lonely Planet guide. With sweaty brows we stopped in on the plush looking Cultural Museum and picked up a better tourist map and cooled off in their air-con.

We walked on to lunch in the Macau Tower - home to the highest bungy jump in the world (764ft!) which i was partially tempted by before quested off again on foot to the temple. This was probably 1.5miles of walking in total, and we would have got a cab if it wasn't for the strange state of affairs Macau seems to have found itself in. There seems to be a huge amount that has been spent on infrastructure, but very few occupants so we were able to walk along plush dual carriageways with hardly any traffic disturbing us.

Eventually we arrived at the temple, where Caroline was harassed by a green Chinese dragon and both our clothes absorbed large quantities of strong smelling incense smoke. The temple itself was a strange mix of Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu deities and carvings, but all based around a folk story of a storm lashed fishing vessel finding safe harbour in the bay below the rocks and the ships survivors raising a temple to show thanks to the spirits that has sparred their lives. 

Coils of incense at the A-Ma temple.
The neighbouring maritime museum was an interesting, and cheap way to spend an hour (entrance fee $10 = 80p/each) before continuing the walk along to a large Mandarin house that had been recently renovated. This thankfully turned out to be the start of a honey-pot of different World Heritage sites and a hugely pleasant change to the hideous mock glitz of casino world.

Throughout the afternoon and evening we wandered freely through the old town before coming across the piece de la resistance the remains of St. Paul's church, of which only the front wall is left standing.
The remainbs of St. Paul's in central Macau - busy!

Walking back out of town we sampled numerous slices of sweet cured pork/beef jerky which was advertised as "the number one souvenir from Macau" before our legs couldn't take anymore and we hopped on a bus back to the ferry terminal. The bus route took us back via many other casino's we'd not seen earlier in the day, confirming that Macau is now the centre of gambling for all of  SE Asia before we got back to the ferry pier.

Here, it turned out our return tickets were in fact singles and we were forced to fork out another $260 to get back to Hong Kong, before we eventually arrived back at our hotel a short while before midnight.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Hong Kong

A night-time view of Hong Kong from our plush hotel
After a typically last minute pack and re-pack we were finally under way with a quick taxi to Manchester airport and flight down to Heathrow. Caroline tried in vain to get us an upgrade for the long flight to Hong Kong, but even the "my daddy was a captain with British Airways" card didn't work, so we were stuck with the rest of the plebs in economy class for 12hrs.

Hong Kong was a very mild introduction to the 24-7 lifestyle that seems normal for other large Asian cities, but with none of the conmen, beggars, flithy taxi's or all pervasive smell of sewage that Bangkok offered. All in all, this made it not such a bad intro to the backpacker way of travelling for Caroline, whose previous travel experience was limited to business class jollies funded by our co-employer or as a travel perk when her father used to work for BA.

Caroline seemed to take to the backpacker style with ease; here seen modelling three bags whilst transitting from the airport to Hong Kong central.
Our first evening was spent wandering around town close to our hotel (4* Park Lane Hotel - booked through work at discount corporate travel rates) where we found a "wet" market with numerous fresh wriggling crabs and fish being chopped up seconds after being pulled from their watery homes.

Caroline not looking comfortable with the thought of some very fresh fish...

The next day - our first full day in Hong Kong - we wanted to take the tram up to The Peak to view the city from above but with crowds massing we decided to walk through the aviary gardens first. This made a very worthwhile distraction and photographic opportunity before finally taking the plunge and standing in-line for 60minutes waiting to get on the tram. Thankfully the view was worth the wait, but with the crowds again queuing to back down on the tram we decided to walk back, which took us through the mid-levels and on to Sheung Wan.

Colourful resident of the HongKong aviary
In Sheung Wan we came across lots of stalls selling a variety of Chinese medicines and alternative food products including Ginseng root and Swallows nests. Most shocking of all was peeking over a white washed glass fronted shop and seeing dozens of sacks, each filled with hundreds of sharks fins. Seeing all these in one place was a pretty stomach churning sight; thinking that for each 5 or 6 fins a shark had been thrown back in without the ability to swim and an inevitable death from drowning.

Some of the hundreds of sharks fins seen behind a white washed window
Thankfully, dinner wasn't such a sombre affair and a fair amount of hilarity ensued whilst trying to decipher the tick box menu with the couple sitting next to us speaking as little English as we spoke Cantonese...