Monday, 28 March 2011

On the road...part 2

(I wrote this blog on Saturday so please excuse any confusion over days!)
So after an exciting but demanding week of looking after kangaroos, we decided to give ourselves two weeks off to recover.  We left Denmark (which was a beautiful place) last Wednesday and went to Walpole, where we walked in the valley of the giants. They have a really well-done treetop walk there, which takes you 60m high into the forest. It also swings in the wind to mimic life in the trees. We were impressed and took many a photograph! That night we drove to Albany but it was a nasty town with nothing going on, so we free-camped on a beach to the East of the city. Early on Thursday morning, we drove 5 hours to Esperance, and the rain began...
From last Thursday morning until yesterday (Friday), it has been pouring! I think we are always told to believe that Australia is a constantly beautiful place where the sun always shines. That is a lie! It rains a LOT when it wants to, and there are hundreds of miles of awfully boring landscape between the ‘wow factor’ spots. Needless to say, we found them.
The drive to Esperance was wet and uneventful, but when we arrived there were many things that we wanted to see. We had been told to go to the Pink Lake, which is a huge lake that is Pink in colour. We drove there as part of the tourist drive, but unfortunately, we couldn’t see a thing through the fog and rain, so we spent the rest of that day doing chores such as laundry and the ‘weekly big shop’. This is starting to sound like home...rain and chores! Luckily the rain stopped for a while the next day, so we were able to walk on the beach and meet Sammy, the resident sea lion. We spotted him in the water whilst walking down the long pier, and he was very photogenic. There are some wonderful national parks around Esperance, but due to the rain we weren’t able to get our van over the dirt track that leads to them. Twas a great shame. 
On Saturday we started our long drive east. If you have a map nearby, find Esperance in Western Australia, and then look at Adelaide in South Australia. The distance was huge! We did that stretch over 4 long days, mainly through the Nullarbor desert. ‘Nullarbor’ means ‘no trees’ in Latin, so that gives you some idea of what to imagine. There was one straight road that we followed for thousands of kilometres...and it went on...and on....and on. There were maybe two small towns on that stretch that each had a population of around 8 people. I’m not going to write much about the few days we spent driving because it will bore you as much as it bored us when we were doing it. However, I will just say that Phil drove extremely well and we made it in one piece.
On Tuesday we arrived in Adelaide. It was a bit of a culture shock to be back in civilisation but we both welcomed the change. Adelaide is a stunningly beautiful city, and I don’t know why it isn’t as visited as the other big Australian cities. It has lush botanical gardens, green parks everywhere, some great museums and art galleries, a beautiful oval (and I don’t even like cricket!) a posh university, an aboriginal centre, heaps of shops and restaurants and a great wine centre. We have been staying in a campsite in the North of the city, overlooking the river. We can walk into the CBD which has been a wonderful rest from driving.  So for the past few days we have been loving city life and all the perks it brings.
On Wednesday, something very strange happened. Phil and I were looking at the menu outside a noodle bar, when a couple (roughly the same age as us) walked in and told us to eat there as the food was good and cheap. We took their advice and had a lovely meal. The other couple sat a few tables away from us, ate quickly and left the restaurant whilst we were still halfway through our food. When we asked to pay the bill, the waiter told us that we only had to pay for our drinks because the other couple had bought our dinner for us. WHAT?! We couldn’t believe it! We had only exchanged a few words with them so we couldn’t fathom the fact that they had paid for all our food and what’s more, hadn’t wanted any thanks for doing so. Maybe I am a cynic, but that sort of thing never happens. When we told a guy back at the campsite about our experience, he just said, ‘welcome to Australia!’ Maybe it isn’t so bad after all...
So, the past 2 weeks have included long drives, hard rain, boring scenery and dull evenings. However, we have also had a wonderful time in Adelaide, received free meals from generous strangers, and (for the past 2 days) some glorious sunshine. Overall, a pretty good time.
We were supposed to drop our campervan off in Adelaide yesterday, but we decided that we couldn’t bear to part with it, so we have hired it for the rest of our time in Australia. We are so glad that we still have the freedom of the van, but as Oz is so expensive, we have decided to change our flights and leave a few weeks earlier than planned. We are having an awesome time here, but it is too expensive to stay. We will still be able to do everything that we want to, but at a slightly faster pace!
Tomorrow we are embarking on our third WWOOFing experience. We are staying at a farm in the Adelaide hills belonging to Sven and Judith and their 3 children. We have no idea what the area will be like, or what we will be expected to do on a daily basis, so watch this space..! We are really hoping that this host will be as varied and rewarding as the last two.
I hope everyone is well? Dad informed me of a spring heat wave that you are enjoying so I hope it lasts.  Please write to us and tell us your news.
With lots of love,
Hana and Phil xx

P.S – You are probably noticing a distinct lack of photographs from our time in Australia. We are really here (I promise), we just haven’t found an internet connection fast enough or strong enough to upload any pics yet. We will keep searching and put them up as soon as we can.

P.P.S – It is now Monday and we are in Robe in South Australia. Unfortunately we had to run away from the WWOOF host yesterday as the accommodation was dirty, the people unfriendly and the work involving spiders. We felt bad about it but there wasn’t much point staying there if we weren’t going to enjoy it. So we are now near the Victoria border and taking it slow. We are free camping to save money and enjoying being able to relax more and drive less! 

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Uralla - WWOOF no.2

Last Tuesday we left Herriot Wines and ventured down the Muirs Highway towards Mt.Barker. We were very nervous about the second WWOOF arrangement because we had enjoyed ourselves so much in Manjimup. Our worries were heightened when, 42kms before Mt Barker, we turned off the highway on to a dirt gravel road and drove up it for 20 kms into nothing but bushland. I like the countryside but this felt very isolated and I was terrified! Deciding that we should at least see the place before we turned round and ran back to civilisation, we bravely continued, following signs to Uralla Wildlife Sanctuary. When we pulled into the long drive, there were kangaroos everywhere! We couldn’t believe our eyes. This must be a place worth sticking around for...we hoped.
We parked our van outside two white cabins and walked through a metal gate. Once inside the house yard, we saw at least 25 baby joeys hopping around and a few being bottle fed by a French couple, Estelle and Damien. They introduced themselves as fellow WWOOFers and showed us around. The living quarters were made up of two basic wooden cabins; one for Mandy and John (the hosts) and one for WWOOFers. The toilet was outside the gate and in a temporary shed...and it was a drop toilet!! The baby roos lived amongst the house and house yard, and then there was a further 5 acres of a ‘pre-release’ area, where around 10 older kangaroos lived. Past the gate (with the toilet) there were heaps and heaps of ‘wild’ kangaroos that had been released back into the bush, but had stuck around for more food and bread. We were overwhelmed by it all and were quickly shocked into a new way of life.
Mandy and John English are a couple in their 50’s living on 150 acres of Australian bushland, surrounded by Government protected parks. Mandy is a nurse and works night shifts so that she can spend the day with her kangaroos, and John works during the day at a vineyard nearby. They have been caring for wildlife for 11 years, and specialise in Kangaroos, wallabies, euro’s, dingoes, emu’s, chickens and rejected ducklings. They have to rely on help from WWOOFers as the kangaroos are fed regularly and need to be toilet trained when they are very young. We had a timetable of feeding sessions, which we soon had memorised; everyone was fed at 7am, the pre-lease at 8am, the babies at 10am, everyone but the babies at 11am, the babies at 2pm, the pre-lease at 3pm, everyone but the babies at 4pm, the babies at 5pm, the babies and toddlers at 6.30pm, bedtime and bread at 7pm....and so it goes on. Needless to say that we were shattered at the end of everyday!
We soon settled into a routine of feeding, changing beds (baskets with two joeys in each one) washing the bottles and re-filling them with milk, cuddling the joeys and raking their poo. For most of the week we worked with Estelle and Damien, and a German girl called Caroline. There was another French guy (Olivier) staying there who we got on with very well. We improved his English and he attempted to teach us French. We were also joined by two further WWOOFers on Monday; a girl from Belguim (Melissa) and an Italian guy (Antonio). Mandy was a great help when she was at home and we learnt so much about kangaroos from her. All the kangaroos had a name and it was vital that we learnt their names quickly so that they had the right bottle at feeding time (different kangaroos had different milk) and could be observed for any problems/illnesses. As you can probably tell, the first few days were a hectic whirlwind!
My favourite kangaroos were the two very little babies (9 months old), Barbara and Shammy. They needed lots of cuddles and attention and even liked to sleep in our beds. There was also a joey with a spinal injury, called Charlie, who I adored because he could only hop a few yards before falling over and rolling around. Mandy and I took him to the chiropractor, who improved the injury a lot. Mandy thinks that his Mum was hit by a car and whilst Charlie survived, he sustained injuries all over his little body. It was very bizarre holding a kangaroo on my lap in the car for an hour! Mandy has promised to send us news of the babies so that we can learn about their progress and daily activities. Phil also became attached to a duckling that he rescued and named Smithy. His mother had rejected him so we took him into our care and Phil fed him and regularly cuddled him. He was even starting to swim when we left yesterday!
There is so much to write about Uralla (which means ‘our home’ in the aboriginal language) that I can’t possibly tell you about it all. We have come away with lots of kangaroo knowledge, stories and interesting tales to tell...and a new appreciation of flushing toilets! We experienced a very 'back to basics lifestyle', lighting a fire to have hot water for our showers and only using water when absolutely necessary. It was a refreshing experience. So we left the sanctuary at 10am yesterday after a fascinating and hugely enjoyable week. Mandy is an absolute diamond and I hope that people continue to donate money to keep the volunteer run sanctuary alive.
We are now in Denmark, which is on the South coast on WA. Yesterday afternoon we hired some surf boards and had a great time playing in the waves. It was Phil’s first time surfing and he was a natural. He was standing up on every wave that he caught and loved it! We are both exhausted today (and battered and bruised) after two very full weeks of WWOOFing and surfing yesterday. Today we are heading to Walpole to walk through the valley of the giants. There is a walkway in the treetops that swings in the wind, so wish us luck! This afternoon we will drive to Albany, which will be the start of our long drive East.
I hope all is well in the UK and that everybody is fine. For any Japanese readers, I hope you are OK and managing. We are thinking of you all the time.

Lots of love to everyone. We will try to write again soon.

Heaps of love and kisses,
Hana and Phil xxx

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Green fingers..

Hello from a rainy Manjimup!

I hope everyone is well. We have had a great first week of WWOOFing at the vineyard. We have learnt a lot, met some fab people, and become very dirty! Our main jobs have been to look after the animals and manage the upkeep of the grounds, so we spent Monday and Tuesday working in the vines (weeding and re-stringing). We learnt how to take the laterals off the stem of the Riesling vine and how to tie certain knots. We also placed large nets over the Shiraz grapes to stop the birds getting in and eating it all. Rick, the farmhand, has been wonderful at keeping us entertained with his stories, although I’m fairly sure that he likes to scare us with wild tales of spiders and snakes.
On Wednesday and Thursday we sorted out the Kikuyu weed that has been growing all over the vineyard. It was really hot and hard work, and it showed us the major disadvantages of working outside in Australia. Anyone who thinks that they want to work on the land, or own a farm or even a few veggie patches, should try WWOOFing first. It’s not that it has put me off ever wanting a patch of land, but it is seriously hard work that is forever ongoing and tiring. Nevertheless, the experience has been worthwhile and has taught us a lot about ourselves and the way of life that we might want in the future. Moreover, we now know a lot more about wine and gardening and we have seriously green fingers. Watch out Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie Dimmock!
Friday and Saturday saw us painting the cellar door and storage barns. The vineyard is on a hill and gets a lot of weather coming over from the coast, so the rammed earth buildings need a coat of sealant every once in a while to protect them from the wind and rain. We also continued to weed in the flower beds around the house and sweep the cobwebs from the ceilings, which was a gross job! We are given larger jobs to keep us out of trouble in the mornings, but we constantly keep an eye on the animals, making sure that they have been fed and the chicken’s eggs have been collected, and also alternating the sprinklers so all the veggies have a chance at survival! It has been extremely hot this week.
During the afternoon we have a few hours of free time, so we have been into town a few times, but there isn’t much going on in Manjimup. The town has a yokel feel, and is 14 kms (‘clicks’, as Rick calls them) from the farm, so we haven’t spent much time there. However, on Friday we realised that we had a flat tyre on the van so we had to drive slowly to a garage to get it sorted. The mechanic was not impressed as the tread on 2 tyres were completely bare and wouldn’t pass a police test (whatever that means). There was also a nail in the back tyre so they had to replace the front 2 tyres and fix the back one. Whoops! Luckily, the rental company paid for it all and apologised for the state of the van. Hopefully we now have a chance of crossing the Nullarbor desert with no problems in a few weeks time.
The Herriot family have been very kind to us. Lexie (6) has Down syndrome, so we have learnt a lot about children with special needs and their requirements. Yvonne’s eldest child, Aimee, also has 3 of her own children and we saw a lot of them at the beginning of the week. Tahlia (4) and the twins, Oliver and Dominique (4 months) are a real handful, so our experiences this week have put us off kids for life! Yvonne is busy with the house, kids and animals so we haven’t seen much of her whilst we have been out working, but we have had some delicious organic meals with her. It is fantastic being able to pick your own veggies before dinner, and collect fresh eggs before breakfast. The family have gone to Perth this weekend so they have trusted us to house sit for them for a few nights. We have been left with loads of jobs but it has been nice being able to slob out a bit! They don’t have a TV but they do have a few DVD’s so we relaxed and watched one last night which was a real treat.
 On Friday evening we drove to Nannup to the music and hippie festival. We had a fun time and there were some brilliant live bands playing, but the drive over was horrible! We had been warned about driving too much at night, but seeing as Nannup was close, we weren’t too concerned about heading over at 6.30pm. Mistake!! There were kangaroos everywhere and it was so nerve wracking for poor Phil trying to dodge them on the road. We were fine and made it there and back with no problems, but we are NOT driving again at night.
Before I sign off, I have to mention the other scare that Phil had this week. He is not a fan of spiders as it is, so when he was bitten by a REDBACK (!!) on Tuesday, it was nasty!! We were working in the vines when one managed to crawl up his sleeve and bite him in the armpit. Ouch! They are mildly poisonous but he is fine now and it will make for an impressive story in the pub.
Well, as it has now stopped raining, I better get back outside and take the quad bike out for a spin. It’s a hard life.
We are off to Mt.Barker on Tuesday to WWOOF at a Kangaroo Sanctuary. I’m, not sure if they have internet so farewell for now!

With lots of love,
Alan and Charlie xxx

P.S - Phil has selected some photos to upload but the internet is slow here, so we will try to get them up soon. Watch this space!

P.P.S - Please please comment or get in touch. It is so nice to hear from home. You can comment on here by selecting 'comment' and writing a message under the name 'Anonymous'. Just sign your name at the end. Thanks! 

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

On the road...part 1

Well...what a week! We have done so much over the past few days that it is hard to remember everything for the purposes of the blog.  Here goes...
We successfully picked the camper van up on Monday morning, and it is great. It has everything we need, although it is a little basic (it’s essentially a Toyota people carrier with the back four seats removed to make a bed) and it’s a tin can at night. However, it gets us around and it is by far the cheapest way to see the country. 
So, after we left Perth on Monday afternoon, we headed to Bunbury, which is 2 hours south of Perth. Bunbury is a small town on the sea and is very pretty. We had our first night in the van there and made some friends from Belgium. On Tuesday morning we were up early (due to the sunlight blaring through the windows) and we took ourselves to the Dolphin Discovery Centre on the beach. We reluctantly paid $45 each to go on an ‘eco boat ride’ around the harbour. I say reluctantly because we were promised some dolphin viewing, but we didn’t really believe them. Luckily, we were proved wrong! Within minutes of being out on the boat, we saw lots of dolphins swimming nearby. They weren’t scared of the noise of the engine and were rather curious as to what we were doing. Dolphins live in shallow, warm waters so the conditions of the estuary in Bunbury were perfect. We saw a baby calf and larger dolphins jumping around and showing off. They even swam next to the boat when we eventually returned to shore. It was a really wonderful experience.
On Tuesday afternoon we went to Margaret River, which is further down the coast. On the way we stopped at Busselton to see the largest timber jetty in the Southern is huge! We found a lovely campsite in Margaret River which was near the river and had good facilities. We parked next to a couple we had seen in Bunbury the night before, and ‘John’ and ‘Joan’ soon became our ‘friends’. They even joined us on our wine tasting tour on Wednesday (much to Phil’s delight!)
The wine tasting tour was loads of fun. Our tour guide, ‘call me Tony’, was very knowledgeable about the wine making process and the different wines produced in the area. MR has over 80 vineyards and they are now competing on a world stage, with some of the vineyards there winning international awards. We went to 3 different vineyards; one family-run, one larger corporate one, and one crazy one! We tasted around 3 reds, 3 whites, 2 rose and 2 ports at each so we were a little tipsy by lunch! We had our lunch at a Lavender farm which was great and really pretty. In the afternoon we went to a cheese factory (heaven), a chocolate factory (heaven) and a venison farm (hell). Needless to say, I kept myself busy outside whilst Phil enjoyed a tasty bit of meat! The day ended at a local brewery, where we tried 5 different ales. I have to say, I prefer wine.
On Thursday we did a bit of driving around the area. We had heard good reports about the local caves so we went to check them out, but they cost a lot of money to enter, so we ended up driving past! However, we did drive through some of the local Karri forest which was fun, and we went to Augusta where they have the tallest lighthouse in Australia. We also saw where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean.
Margaret River is a renowned world famous surfing spot. We were very excited about getting some surfing in at one of the many surf spots around the region. However, the week that we chose to visit MR....the surf chose to disappear. For some reason, there was no surf at all during the few days that we were there, which meant that we spent Friday on a gorgeous white sandy beach. What a shame! We did manage to do some ‘body surfing’ which basically meant hurling ourselves at the smallest waves that came in our direction. It was fun!
On Saturday we left MR and went to Pemberton, which is inland. It is surrounded by three national parks and beautiful Karri and Marri forests. We went to Big Brook Damm on Saturday afternoon, which is a lovely manmade lake through the trees. We had a walk around it and managed to find some shade. Afterwards we treated ourselves to a famous ‘Pembie Pancake’ at the berry and lavender farm. It was gorgeous and the view of alpacas by the stream in front of us could not have been beaten! On Sunday we had a full day in the national parks and did some more forest dirt track driving. There were three climbing trees which were huge. They had a ‘ladder’ spiralling up them towards a lookout tower at the top of the tree. Hopefully we can get some pictures up to give you an idea of size, but for now you will have to trust that they were enormous!
Yesterday we arrived at our first WWOOFing host. We are currently staying with Yvonne and John Herriott, who own and live at ‘Herriott Wines’. It is a boutique vineyard in Manjimup, half an hour away from Pemberton. John works on an oil rig so it is just Yvonne here at the moment with her daughter, Lexie (6) and the farmhand, Rick. We are sleeping in their caravan next to the house, which is much bigger and nicer than our little van. When we first arrived we were shown around the vineyard and winery (153 acres) and introduced to the cows, pigs, chickens (chooks), geese, dogs and cats. Our main jobs are to feed the animals, collect the eggs, weed in the veggie gardens, string the vines and general pruning and mulching. Time for me to start getting practical! Everything seems great so far...we will try to update you soon!!
Wow...I have written a newsletter here! Sorry. I hope everyone is well and that the rain has stopped. We actually had some rain and a thunderstorm the other was bliss. We’ll try to get on the internet again soon, but there is no wifi here and the connection works on a pay-as-you-go basis, so it might be a few days. There is also no running water here as the Herriott’s use water from a tank, so I am under strict instructions to have short showers. Anyone who has ever lived with me will know how hard that is! Wish me luck!
Lots of love to you all,
H xx