Archive for the ‘Australasia’ Category

Kalbarri, Western Australia.

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Just under 600km north of Perth is Kalbarri. This tiny coastal town is found at the mouth of the Murchison River which snakes its way into the Indian Ocean, just as the locals tell in their Dreamtime navigational stories. The name comes from a local Aboriginal man. The history is similar to many of the towns on this coast: thousands of years of Aboriginals, some marooned Dutch mariners, then people selling some land and settling. Today, Kalbarri is a pleasant fishing and tourist centre. Outside of town there is a National Park of the same name. I stopped here without knowing too much, but as with the rest of the west coast, you stop because you can.

The end of Civiliztion

The end of Civiliztion

The beauty of travelling up Western Australia is the lack of choice. The population is so sparse that every place you come to seems exciting. It reminds me of those trips from school where everyone piles out of the coach to the vast excitement of a rest area. When you cover such large distances, getting off the coach to stretch your limbs and buy some snack treats is paradise. In Oz I think it’s called ‘beyond the black stump’. I have also heard it called the sticks. In Ireland there is beyond the pale. All expressions, despite local differences in meaning, have the same general idea – beyond civilization. Although there wasn’t much to see after the northern suburbs of Perth, there were still some agricultural areas and gas stations with shops. The journey up to Kalbarri felt like \I was finally beyond the black stump.



I suffer from what I call ‘coachgaze’. This is a condition which goes beyond boredom an into a kind of zen like traveller’s trance. It involves your eyes following the endless landscape and occasionally homing back in on the constantly blurred asphalt of the sun-baked roads. I think coachgaze is brought on by having a limited amount of technology to entertain yourself with, and by having vast distances to cover. The distances usually involve almost nothing of interest to look at. Coachgaze changes your perception of time and space until everything just stretches into one semisomnant blur. Sleeping on coaches is never real sleep, it’s more like being half awake, interrupted by a forgotten dream. I have only experienced coachgaze in Patagonia and Australia. I’m pretty sure you would get it if you travelled through the Midwest of the US or through many parts of Russia.

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My coachgaze ended as we pulled into another roadhouse and caught a smaller bus off the main highway, it felt nice just to be travelling west instead of north. After a nice sleep in a real bed I headed out to the Kalbarri National Park on a minibus organized by the hostel. In places with few historical and cultural assets it’s really easy to book a tour and head off on a bus. The guide was called Mike and he seemed like a typical Aussie, with a mix of crass humour and aggressive small talk. He did however; really know his subject. Snaking through the bends and canyons of the ancient looking Murchison river, he informed us of every tree, shrub, rock, and insect along the way. The strangest discovery of the day was a ‘legless lizard’. Everybody thought it was a snake, but the lack of legs isn’t the only thing separating these two creatures, their anatomy is completely different. It was a paraplegic lizard.

Legless lizard

Legless lizard

Despite the sun beating down, the rock formations kept much of the track in the shade. When we finally got the opportunity to take a dip the water was colder than anything I have ever experienced. Actually, only two of us were stupid enough to swim, just myself and a Swedish lad. The whole day was relaxed and I really got the true sense of being in a different continent.  A dry, red, almost Martian landscape. All my references were vindicated with the strange red rock formations and the unusual flora and fauna. From all the parks I visited in Australia this was my favourite for scenery.

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Wanaka, New Zealand. Sometimes I hate typing the comma after a place-name, especially ‘Wanaka’ As far as I know there is only one Wanaka, but I insert the comma for clarity. I also use the comma, and insert New Zealand because I didn’t really know about Wanaka until I was there. If I didn’t know then I presume many others won’t know either.

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It’s at the southern end of Lake Wanaka and serves as the base camp for the Mount Aspiring National Park. Wanaka has the tangible excitement of most resort towns, but it is still quaint and laid back. The town is part of the Queenstown-LakesDistrict and is often overlooked due to the proximity of the hugely famous Queenstown. If some people overlook Wanaka then I underlooked Queenstown. To underlook, is not a word as far as I know, but let me explain further.

One of my main reservations about New Zealand was the number of ‘adventure tourists’. I imagined really loud people with crass manners and a wardrobe similar to that of the old ‘Pepsi Max’ adverts. A common sight is white people with dreadlocks – which I’ve never been sure of. They spend so much time and energy seeking out carefully controlled fun, that they often forget there is an unfranchised world of excitement beyond the buses and bungee cords. I’ve never trusted manufactured fun. I believe fun is a spontaneous feeling which is driven by s state of mind and can exist in the most mundane places. If you have to travel from the UK or the Midwest to find fun then I think you need to have a long hard look at your life. A famous and venerated Zen Monk once said to me (whist tutting despairingly)

‘The only fun you find at a fun fair is that which you bring within yourself.’

Adrenaline junkies are genuinely hooked on their drug of choice. I would like to say ‘literally’ hooked but I don’t have enough science to back that up.

“Have you done a bungee jump? Really? I did two at the same time, in the dark, into a pit of cobras.”

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Adrenaline tourism is great for the economy of New Zealand. However, after working two jobs and having to cope with adrenaline numpties for too long I decided that Queenstown was not for me. I read about Wanaka being a smaller and quieter version of Queenstown, so I stayed there instead. I was happy, not just with the town and surrounding scenery; I was also happy with the demographic who chose to stay there. I met a few people who had underlooked Queenstown to get somewhere more relaxing. I only passed through Queenstown briefly so I cannot really comment upon the place. What I can say, is that Wanaka was one of the unexpected gems of New Zealand’s South Island.

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My pleasant hostel opened out to a lawn which ambled down to the Lake. I decided in Wanaka that promenades and waterfronts are nice but Lakeside proms are much nicer. The breeze is gentle and you don’t get salt and sand trapped between your toes all the time. The town has all the tourist infrastructure you would need for both seasons, you can ski here too! I was mainly interested in doing some hiking but I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the bus and I didn’t have enough time to do a multiday hike. In the end, I opted to go to Roy’s Peak to get a good view of the Lake and some of the bigger mountains. I walked along the road to Roy’s Peak which was interesting in the sense of seeing how people live outside the tourist centre. However, I strongly recommend not walking unless you plan on going round the lake; I was pretty tired upon reaching the start of the trail.

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This part of New Zealand was exactly what I had imagined. There were straw coloured grasses and turquoise lakes. The mountains unfolded as if they had just been laid by the god of terraforming. I had my back to the view while walking, so when I eventually reached the peak I felt very happy with the last vista. My only regret was not being organized enough to re plan and stay longer in this mountain paradise. Despite my creeping envy of everyone who passed me to continue hiking, I had one of my most memorable days here. I needed the rest, not just from working, but from others. Depending on your personality type, hiking can be a great escape from all of life’s distractions. Looking back I think I was always fond of hiking and walking but my experience in Wanaka started me on a gentle quest to always walk to the top of any nearby peak. This has reached a point where if I don’t walk a serious length each week I feel genuinely down. Mountains, lakes and forests always restore my humours, none more so than Wanaka.

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In some parts of Australia there are only two seasons: the wet and the dry. People tell you this with that manly swagger common to fishermen and most Australians, at least those outside of the big cities. The subtext is that seasons are for puffs and sissies. Luckily for me I went in the dry because I don’t like rain. The dry is also when you can visit Mindil Markets.

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What was clear after only one day in Darwin is that they really need to visit other tropical places and work out when to do things. Even non puffs and non sissies would agree that the heat of the afternoon in Darwin prohibits most activity. I walked from the downtown to the park near Mindil, I nearly died. Unfortunately, Darwin was settled by Anglo-Saxons instead of people from the Romance countries of Southern Europe. As most people in Italy and Spain will tell you, in hot places the afternoon is for sleeping; the evening is for promenading and eating. My biggest disappointment in Darwin was that when the weather cooled in the evening there was nothing much to do because all the shops and many eateries were on the British and Irish style workday – opening at 9.00 and closing between 17.00 and 18.00. I suspect most colonial types feared these extreme climes, they probably wore their well ironed khakis around midday as a way with coping with homesickness or overcompensation for being sissies. After having spent time in both Spain and Italy I recommend their working day as being a Godsend in such a climate. I would rather wander around the shops in the evening and if you feel sorry for people who have to work late they can enjoy a three-hour lunch break. Maybe the giant and somewhat sinister bats who terrorize the streets after dusk are the reason everything closes.

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Overall, I was pleased with Darwin. Even a small city like Darwin seems like a cosmopolitan metropolis when compared the places you travel through to get there, if you are dumb enough to travel overland like myself. Tourism is a big factor here as Darwin is the gateway to some of Australia’s most interesting National Parks and its most authentic Aboriginal settlements. You may see Aboriginal people in some of the cities but it isn’t until you head up to the Northern Territories that you get the real experience. Nothing seems more natural in this part of the world than the strange vibrations of one of the world’s most ancient musical instruments – the didgeridoo. I was an avid fan of the ‘Bushtucker Man’ when I was a kid so I enjoyed every minute of my stay in the Northern Territories. The biggest highlight, hence the title of this post, was Mindil Beach Sunset Markets.

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Firstly, there is a real beach and there is a real sunset, everything else is a bonus. I was a bit worried that it was one of those tie dye hippy kind of places where they deal tarot cards and talk about auras. I was happy that there was a real mix of people there and many forms of entertainment. One of the best experiences in Australia was watching the awesome eMDee didgeridoo band. I was tipped off about these guys by some Germans near Perth had forgotten to check them out. It was more by luck than design that I got to see them performing live. There were several pipes lined up and the speed went to what could almost be described as techno. I don’t know the exact beats per minute but it was fast and furious. There were some ‘genuine’ didgeridoo players squatting nearby but I think they were moved on by the police.

The other highlight of the markets was the Roadkill Cafe. I generally eat everything but I found my limit here. I felt my conscience looking at me coldly when I saw camel meat on the menu. This is simply because camels are my favourite animal. My dream since childhood has been to go through a desert on a camel. I was a little upset seeing camel meat next to croc, snake, and kangaroo. Actually, the roo is delicious! I guess I now understand why people don’t eat horses and dogs. I didn’t buy much at the market but I had a great feed and I watched the sunset over my sand laden flip-flops. I loved Mindil Beach Sunset Markets and felt like it was one of the most authentic and rewarding experiences in Australia.

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Akaroa is a township and little harbour on the Banks Peninsula. When you look at a map of New Zealand’s South Island it’s a little nib jutting out into an otherwise straight-edged coast. The name Akaroa means ‘Long Harbour’. The peninsula, first thought to be an island by Captain Cook, is named after the famous botanist Joseph Banks who sailed with Cook on the Endeavour.

Banks Peninsula

Banks Peninsula

The village is an easy day trip from Christchurch, just over an hour if my memory serves. I went on an organised tour from Christchurch and had a pleasant and relaxing day The coach journey was through the winding roads but the scenery was so good I barely noticed. We visited a famous beachcomber who has collected the flotsam of the entire southern hemisphere by the looks of it, there was also a stop at a famous cheese manufacturer. The most impressive thing the tour guide told us was about the Manuka Honey, this truly is a wonder food of unbelievable power. You can find Manuka Honey in various strengths in most health food shops; it’s expensive for a reason! I befriended a Japanese girl at the coffee stop. After photographing nearly everything I jokingly said that she forgot to take a picture of her cappuccino. She couldn’t believe her error. After a quick snap she showed me all the photos of coffees throughout New Zealand. I have since learnt that this is by no means eccentric behaviour in the Far East. I feel that with the Japanese and Koreans I met, memories aren’t real unless they have been documented by camera. I wish I could take more pictures sometimes, but not as many as some people.

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As we descended down into the protected harbour I was taken back by how pleasant the place was. It seems like a film set devised to lure people from the British Isles to emigrate. I think this is the place people have in their minds when they think of the new life on the other side of the World. The air is crisp and clear in that antipodean way, the only thing to interrupt the serenity is an occasional icy breeze from the Antarctic. Once you have seen the blues of the sky and ocean and the greens of the fields, it’s as if the rest of the world is seen through a veil. Nearly all the buildings of Akaroa are of the colonial wooden panelled variety. This type of architecture can sometimes look a bit tacky and temporary. However, the wooden clap-board houses of Akaroa are impossibly quaint and full of wholesome charm. Like an entire neighbourhood of the Walton family relocated to the South Pacific.

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There is something distinct about Akaroa, it’s not immediately clear but it adds a slightly different hue to the surroundings and makes the place unique. The distinction is one of those fascinating ‘what if?’ stories. Akaroa has been influenced by the French and was very nearly the first step into a possible French colonization of New Zealand. Captain Jean François L’Anglois made a provisional purchase of land in this area. After returning to France he advertised for settlers and ceded his interest in the land to the Nanto-Bordelaise Company. On 9 March 1840, 63 emigrants left from Rochefort, the maritime town in the South West of France. Unfortunately, the Banks Peninsula had already been claimed by the British. Despite this, the French did arrive here, and there is a distinct French influence. The French settlement was known as Port Louis-Philippe, named after the French King. Whether it’s just my mind filling in the gaps I don’t know, but Akaroa has an undertone of a pleasant fishing village in Normandy or on the Atlantic seaboard. This slightly unusual claim to fame makes Akaroa very popular for tourists and I imagine many residents of the Canterbury area have second homes here for summer months.

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After a brief tour from Wellington up to Tongariro crossing I had the eventual intention of finding work in Hastings and Napier. These two places are joined together on the East Coast of North Island. Although Napier is a bit smaller it gets much more attention because of its fully intact Art Deco centre. I had read about this place when I studied History of Art, I never really dreamed of making it there.

Napier had the extreme misfortune of being wiped out by an earthquake in 1931. It also had the extreme fortune of being rebuilt in an interesting period, architecturally speaking. The whole centre was built (or rebuilt) in the Art Deco style which was peaking in the 30’s. This style of architecture, although not my favourite, is interesting as being truly international. There are examples of Art Deco worldwide. What makes Napier so special is the fact that as the buildings were built simultaneously we have been given a unique snapshot of Art Deco. Outside of theme parks or Movie Sets it’s hard to find examples of towns which are so uniformly built. I believe Napier was lucky to have been constructed at a time when there was such attention to aesthetics. This was urban planning before the Liberal Utopians of the 50’s and 60’s tried to force us all to live in concrete tower blocks and multi story car parks. To look at places rebuilt after the bombings of World War II is a great compare and contrast exercise for anyone interested in architecture or urban design. You only have to look at Coventry or Warsaw to know that Napier was saved.

As I mentioned, Art Deco is by no means my favourite type of architecture. It makes for interesting underground transport murals and theatre posters. However, when it comes to buildings I often find it borrows from so many things that it seems a bit pastiche. I can often see Pseudo Egyptian elements in the motifs and decorations. Unlike the blatant stealing of Classical designs for some of the larger Victorian buildings, Art Deco seems to just fold elements into the design so they are lost. My only exception would be the Chrysler building which stands out as a silver cathedral in New York’s skyline. The main problem, at least for some parts of the world, is light. The pastel shades of Art Deco look best in the warm light of Mediterranean and Caribbean locations, especially those by the seaside. This is why Miami always looks so glamorous and glitzy. Some of the buildings in Northern Europe just look dated and naff.

With all these thoughts in mind I headed out on an extremely sunny day to photograph all the best examples of Napier’s Art Deco structures. The ones I have captured are by no means the only ones there. It was a period just before I started working at an orchard to make money for a trip to Chile. I see this period as a calm before the storm, a last chance to relax before working crappy jobs. Unlike many tourist resorts in New Zealand you are left to wander round freely with no real goal or destination. The only disappointment I met was beneath the canopies of the buildings. This is provincial New Zealand so there were not quite the street cafes and breezy bars of Miami or St. Tropez. Beneath the facades were many junk shops and cheap clothing stores, they were kept safe from sunlight by ugly plastic verandas. I tried not to photograph these which meant I got serious neck ache by the time I was finished. I enjoyed Napier as an unexpected and unhyped pleasure. I recommend that if anyone is in New Zealand they should take a little detour from Auckland or Wellington to visit.