Monday, 24th September

With all the birthday excitements over, it was time for us to depart for the next stage of our holiday. We were off to see friends in a Narrawallee.

We took advantage of Justine taking the girls into the office (they are on holiday from school) to cadge a lift down the hill to the fast bus to the City with our bags. We were off to Narrawallee (please consult your maps!), somewhat south of the Sydney, to see our friends Aileen and Mick Darragh, who we met on the big train journey last year.

Our route to them was quite circuitous. It was a slow train both literally and metaphorically. Initially our route took us through the suburbs of Sydney, then we passed through a lot of small settlements, stopping at most. Some names, like Otford, were familiar. The landscape eventually became wooded and then we were running parallel with the sea. Our route took us through the hewn rock of cuttings and I was once again reminded of these pioneers who literally carved their way through the country.


We got the train to Kiama and where our chums picked us up. To get further than this was even more complicated……. In the event we had lunch there. The fears that we all later admitted to in terms of meeting up were immediately dispelled – we had only met for a few days on the train, would we still get on? We need not have worried. We started chatting immediately and did not stop in waking hours until we left them on the following Friday.

After lunch it took another two and a half hours until we reached the Narrawallee environs. The local government area is called Shoalhaven and covers a small area on the south coast of New South Wales. It is a wonderful beach location with the added bonus of Rick Stein meeting a lady of the area (I think they are married now and he has a house there) and opening a restaurant in a local hotel. Bannisters in Mollymook has apparently brought a number of people to the area.

After a bit of touring to orientate us we arrived at Durragh towers, a delightful bungalow not far from the beach. It was by now late afternoon.

Mick is a real music buff. Keith’s subject. Aileen and I talk like Buddhist prayer wheels, spinning from one subject to the next, hardly drawing breath between topics. We talked through pre dinner drinks, dinner and post dinner. What fun,

Sunday, 23rd September

The girls could be heard chatting before 7.00. We did not get up for the breakfast waffles or the run around to work off the sugar rush, but joined the family for breakfast when everyone had gone. Justine, perfection as always, had organised, successfully devised and implemented an exemplary birthday party and had not turned a hair. I am in constant awe!

We had a fairly lazy day which included a blowy visit to the secret beach, further along the northern beaches. This was a lovely cove of pristine sand that can only be reached on foot.

An interesting occurrence on our way back was the sound and eventually the sighting of three young bagpipers playing while standing on the edge of the cliff! Who would have thought it!

Keith cooked more fish for supper – his version of fish fingers – and the time came for the final birthday activities. We went to the cinema. Not any old cinema but the Gold Class cinema experience. This, much to our amazement, comprised the opportunity to buy cocktails to be delivered at a time of your choosing to your plush reclining double seat while watching the film! It was hilarious, not least because we were watching ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’. What a hoot!!

Saturday, 22nd September

We were up with the lark to go off down the hill. Tony, Justine and Mickey were off to a boxing session, while Keith and I perambulated around the headland, Long Reef. It was a lovely walk in the morning light, with cricket and golf already well advanced – it was 8.00 am.! Birds, views an views….

We had a busy morning ahead, but first there was the visit to Devitts, the popular barbecue butcher to buy sausages for brunch. These were consumed with eggs on the balcony while we planned the modus operandi for the day.

Suitably fed and watered, it was time to get on.

The boys were charged with cake getting – an ice cream affair from Ben and Jerry’s. The female operatives, Justine, Mickey, Coco and me (later joined by a friend of Mickey’s who had been commissioned to join the entertainment team), put sparkles in balloons, prepared pizza dough and toppings, baked cupcakes (for later decoration by party participants), laid the table. It all took time, debate and consideration. By 4.30 all was ready and Justine and I had poured our first glass of fizz against the rigours of the day, when tight on time our young ladies arrived.

What struck me most was what a collection of sizes they were! There is obviously not a uniform height for age 12! It was a hectic few hours! The chaps (K and T), left as soon as their role as pizza bakers on the balcony oven had finished, to down a few beers. We, on the other hand, experienced the noise levels rise as the various stages of the activities progressed. The highlight for the ‘tweens’ was the manicure provided by a lovely lady from the local beauty salon. I was so glad she turned up – I am not sure my manicure skills would have been up to the task, had they been required!

Eventually it was time to cut the wonderful cake, which had caused Justine and me not a little angst in terms of when to take it from the freezer. Luckily the instructions were found before there was a total disaster.

By 7.30, all but 4 (the sleep overs) had gone. There had been no tears and only four telephone ‘amnesties’, when the mobile ‘phone activity had reached fever pitch and Justine could tolerate it no longer. The boys returned. We sat down to supper, while present opening took place and the chosen four were entertained royally by their young hostess.

There was still considerable noise taking place from Coco’s dormitory room when I went to bed and it apparently took stern words from Tony before it abated. I was long since asleep

Thursday/Friday 20/21st September


We decided on a quiet day to enable me to catch up with my memoirs. As it was a grey wet day this proved to be a good decision and, apart from a stroll around the block, we were pretty inactive.


We had decided to pop into the City again and Keith was cooking a fish curry for supper, so supplies had to be purchased. The fish was the result of a family fishing expedition to Darwin some weeks before and the freezer was full. Upon enquiry it transpired that the fish had been frozen and packed up in a case before they left Darwin. The bag then formed part of their luggage to Sydney 😳. I found myself wondering how Ryanair might have reacted had they been fishing in Europe and it was required to be flown home….

Anyway to get back to our day, we did a little more retail therapy and then went to the Rocks where we knew there was great street food on Fridays.

A successful forage found us with a Turkish gozleme and juice, listening to a very tuneful singer. On the return journey we dropped off at the Mall to make our supper purchases and it was not long before joined at home by Justine and the girls.

A very good Thai fish curry later and it was time for bed, it was another celebration day on the morrow. Coco had 11 chums coming for a birthday tea. I had a feeling it was going to be important to be ‘fresh’.

Wednesday, 19th September

We got up at 7.00 to take part in the requested birthday breakfast of hot croissants. There was no thought of waiting for supper time to open her gifts. She was on them like a rash!

Despite the excitement, everyone had gone by 8.00 and Keith and I tidied and arranged the gifts in a suitable display. There was then a bit of a pause before taking off to meet our chums Wendy and Sarah at the Boathouse in Manly for lunch. We got the bus to Manly and then had to walk along the beach path before reaching the Boathouse.

It was a bit blowy but sunny and we had a lovely walk along the shore before arriving at the restaurant – a real beach paradise in a beautiful location. The food was good too.

After a very enjoyable lunch catching up with each other’s news, they very kindly carried us off to see how a house ‘stylist’ had ‘improved’ their house which is up for sale. The house was absolutely stunning before. It has now had a stylist makeover to enhance it. This ‘makeover’ has more or less left the Girls with a bed and a couple of bar stools in the kitchen in which to live until the house is sold!

Wendy and Sarah very kindly took us home and the day took off again at about 4.00 when the girls and Justine (very unusually) arrived home and preparation commenced for the evening’s outing. Once again at the Birthday Girl’s request we were off out for Pizzas. This was to be no ordinary Pizza though – we were going to have a metre of Pizza followed by a Nutella Pizza. Definitely a new experience for us!

Coco, as in all things’ was well versed in the process as, looking very glamorous, she chose the toppings for our outsized affair. Which, when it arrived exceeded our table size by several inches!! It was great fun.

Unfortunately there was something of a holdup on the pudding Pizza. After several reminders and nothing happening the Manager came out with a 3 kg tub of Nutella for Coco to apologise!

She thought she had died and gone to heaven!!! And then the Nutella pizza arrived…….!

Tuesday, 18th September


The household was quiet by the time we got up. Life starts early at Collaroy Plateau. By 8-00 am there is the last slam of the front door and we are alone in the house, save (of course) for the cats.

It is Tony’s birthday. The reason we headed for Sydney so quickly. We had decided to head for the City to get a couple of clothing items as some of our clothes have had to be abandoned, having succumbed to the red dust blight. After a bit of a problem with keys, we eventually headed in on the local bus which takes about an hour to meander through the suburbs before crossing the bridge to arrive at the Wynyard central city bus stop..

We were limited on time because we were in charge of turning on the birthday feast, but were delighted to literally run into Kathi, one of our fellow travellers on the trip. We could not believe the serendipity of it all. A minute earlier or later and we would have missed her. After a warm reunion we adjourned to shop together, Lulu Lemon called!

After a fun shop we had a very brief coffee and headed off back to the Northern Beaches, Keith taking the smart new bus all the way (the fast bus stops at the bottom of the steep hill up to the Plateau), while I hopped off at the shopping mall along the way to purchase fizz as our contribution to the evening’s entertainment and get a few bits.

It was a good gathering for the birthday supper. An excellent meal, good company and present opening cannot fail. Nine of us sat around the table. The boys drank beer and a real treat was that Justine opened a bottle of Veuve Clicqout (my favourite champagne) to mark our arrival. It felt very special, but was really the trailer for the big birthday of the week. Coco was to be 12 the next day. Her excitement was palpable……..!

Monday, 17th September

We did not get up quite so early. It does not take us long to lapse! Another sunny day.

The lovely Helen dropped off our washing to enable us to pack (we were flying to Sydney later in the day) and then came back for us at about 11.00.

She then carried us off to her sister’s house where her brother in law had cooked us an amazing ‘brunch of Peking duck, pancakes plum sauce and all!! It was delicious. We hopefully earned our keep a bit by adding to their knowledge of the via Francigena – the Canterbury to Rome walk – which they are coming to Europe to do, in reverse (!) next year. It was good fun for us to revisit the memory of the walk which was a true landmark in our relationship..

Their apartment HD’s a wonderful and in fact looked over the Mendl Beach where we had been the night before!

Eventually it was time to get the the airport and we reluctantly said our goodbyes, with many thanks and promises to join them at the end of their walk next year. Wonderful people.

Helen took us to the airport (she will join us in Sydney for my party there in October) and it was a very slick move to the departure lounge. Before long Darwin was disappearing below us and we were en route to Sydney which was to be our base for nearly a month

As promised and as efficient as ever, Justine was there to meet us (lovely to see her again!). She of course took in her stride the vision of two still rather dusty travellers carrying what definitely looks like a coffin in Keith’s new bag, between us. This was easily swallowed up in the car and we were off to Wightman Towers at Collaroy Plateau.

It was dark and busy. The most traffic we have seen since we left the M.25.

We arrived at the Wightman’s to a lovely welcome. The girls have grown, the cats are still looking robustly healthy and Tony as delightfully ‘hang dog’ as ever. It felt like coming home! It was so good to be with them again.

Sunday, 16th September

We woke up encased in white bed linen and looking out at the bright sunlight of Darwin. Trail habits die hard and it was still early. Awake, ready to go and friend Helen not arriving until later, we decided to go out and forage for a light breakfast as we knew we were going to the Asian market for food later.

The sun shone on the sea as we stepped out into the sunshine. There was a light breeze, but already the sun had a lot of heat in it. We made our way back through to the main ‘strip road’ of Monsoon and its associated pub joints only to find there was to be a race later and the road was being cordoned off. Upon enquiry, we found that the race was not due to start until 12 noon. Why would you want to run in the midday heat of Darwin. !!?! Passing through the barricade, there were few people about and we had breakfast at a corner coffee shop.

It was then time to saunter back to the hotel and gather up our washing that the lovely Helen had volunteered to wash for us. All that red dust and she was volunteering her daughter’s washing machine to do battle with it. We could not believe our good fortune.

Absolutely on cue Helen arrived and we were whisked off to Redbridge Asian Market in one of the suburbs of Darwin. The smell of oriental spices wafted across the air as we got out of the car. The humidity covered us like a blanket. All sorts of Asian ingredients were on offer in a sort of corridor lined with stalls.

All nationalities were represented in the customers. Tucked against one back wall, massage was taking place on a mattress on the floor, next door to neat rice parcels. It was the real market mix you find in such places all over the Asia Pacific area.

Out in the open again stall holders sold cooked, mainly Thai dishes. Helen made her selection and we waited for ours to be freshly cooked. We then bought our juice of choice (mine Sexy Green without the pear😳) and we were back into the relief of the air conditioned car to be carried off to Helen’s daughter’s house where she is currently living. This was a three story house in a wonderful tropical garden. Banana and papaya could be seen growing from the first floor level balcony where we sat to eat our food. It was good to meet Helen’s family and hear about their proposed move out of Darwin to set up life nearer Brisbane.

An excellent meal consumed, we went back to the hotel for a rest. By 5.00 we were ready to explore again and set off for the Mendl night market that we had heard about. It was about a 30 minute walk, but the day was cooling down and the stroll was very pleasant. We found the market to be a very busy spot selling a medley of different foods, Australian art, clothing and whips (yes whips!). There were musicians playing various types of music and lots of people milled between the stalls. The market runs parallel to the beach. The sun was beginning to set when we purchased some food from the ‘Road Kill’ stall and joined others on the beach to watch the sun go down. Keith had crocodile and I had pork – neither of which I think had ever been near a road, let alone having been killed there…..

As darkness fell it was turn to retrace our steps. Those white sheets were calling!!

Saturday, 15th September

Our last red dawn of the Overland trail. Did the camp seem unusually quiet? I think so. Everyone was going their different ways. There may be an opportunity to meet some in Sydney before we leave.

We left our upmarket campsite, with their ants and our bites, early as our days are getting even hotter.

We were camped about 30 Km’s outside of Katherine. The Katherine Gorge runs through the Nitmiluk National Park. Katherine was originally a telegraph station. It is home to the school of the air, started in 1958, which now covers a 1.3 million kilometre area with schooling, much aided these days by on line facilities.

It was also the place where the Flying Doctor Service started. This was initiated by a Rev John Flynn following an accident in the Bungle Bungles circa 1920. The local postmaster radioed a doctor in Perth for help and the doctor told him to operate under his instructions. The postmaster proceeded to carry out the operation with his pen knife. The doctor himself headed out from Perth – he travelled by sea, then car up the Gibb River Road, 50 Km’s outside Hawks Creek his car died and he rode the rest of the way on horseback arriving to find that the patent had died 5 hours before. !😳! The Rev Flynn was working with the Government on medical care around Alice Springs. He built up telephone connections to doctors and subsequently a Cessna aircraft was donated to them. The Royal Flying Doctor Service was born. Every big cattle station has an air strip to allow a doctor to land if necessary. It is not Government funded, but relies on public donations.

We drove to the park and walked up to a lookout point, giving an amazing view down to the river below.

Keith and I had, in fact, been on a boat trip along the Katherine Gorge on our first trip to Australia as an outing from the Ghan train when we travelled from Darwin to Alice Springs. We were to see the single track railway line frequently as we travelled north towards Darwin during the day

Our next stop was Edith Falls, still within the National Park. Keith and I decided not to take the big walk, but to take just the short walk to the small pools near a small cafe. It was a delight, skirted by lush grasses and trees. It was still early but very hot and we sauntered back to the cafe and bought a cool drink and sipped it in the shade. We might have been on holiday!!

There was some interesting art work on some of the outbuildings……..

We lunched early nearby, all fighting for shade. We were up to 40 degrees again.

It was then time to take to the road to Darwin. The last leg of our trip. Passing the Ghan line again. We followed the Stewart Highway (which more or less follows the same route as the Ghan, north to south). Gone is the red earth and dust. Back are the sand colours. Broad swathes of grassland scattered with trees. Sand coloured ant hills standing up like stalagmites. Everywhere there are rocky outcrops. Now and again telegraph poles appeared, marching across the landscape. And then they are gone. The debris of dead trees clutter the ground – a constant round of death and renewal.

As we covered the miles, how we appreciated the metalled roads after the untamed roads of the Kimberley.

The last road house was a much more commercial enterprise with a stuffed bull in the corner. Apparently an old favourite that apparently was somehow involved in the Crocodile Dundee film which they could not part with…….

Eventually we crossed the Adelaide River (what is that doing up here?) and gradually there was more and more signs of urbanisation. Houses appeared amongst the trees. The low spread buildings indicative of a country land rich

Arriving at the centre we were dropped off at our hotel (we had opted for a bit of luxury) the others were scattered around the hostels of Darwin. It felt a bit wimpish but we felt it was well deserved! We were to meet up later for our celebratory meal at Monsoon, a pub on the main cruising road in Darwin.

We arrived in our room at the hotel to find white sheets. Luckily we have shaken off most of our red dust, but I was still terrified that we were going to make it dirty. We certainly could not out our ruck sacks down on anywhere but the dark floor……..

Our shoulders seemed to drop as we walked in the door. We had survived the Overland trick and what’s more – enjoyed it! The view from the room was out over the ocean. We were back to civilisation.

After a brief rest and thorough cleanse it was time to hit the Main Street and Monsoon. It was of course dark by the time we left the hotel, but it was not far before we had found the night life of Darwin. Apparently Monsoon is the go to pub. Certainly everybody who was anybody was there. The whole group had turned up and had brushed up well in their finery!! Jodie was almost unrecognisable. We had a good evening, including a good hour or so with Jo Wightman (Tony Wightman’s oldest daughter) and her partner Josh who we had not met before. We thoroughly enjoyed their company and Josh was given the seal of approval, Keith describing him as a ‘keeper’!

After they left we went back to our crowd. There things had gathered momentum. Large goldfish bowls full of cocktails were being consumed. I tried one or two of them but could not be persuaded to have a goldfish bowl in my own right…….

This is my ‘sorry I’m simple’ pose of the holiday!

It was getting late and long past my bedtime, so we left them to it. Big hugs all round – they were a great crowd and it had been a great time. I would love to know what life has in store for them…….but for us it is on to the next stage of our holiday in this extraordinary country.

Friday 14th September

We had spent the night in a very commercial campsite. There were lots of motor caravans and large tents and caravans. There was a very up market toilet and shower block – it was a far cry from some of our experiences. It was also our last night in our swags.

We had a lie in. Breakfast was not until 6.15! I woke up to a dramatic sky the sun rising in front of me – a beautiful sunrise looming without getting out of bed! There were lots of squeaking and tweetings going on around us. A black parakeet could be seen in the improving light sitting on a tree nearby and squawked to his mate across the way. Something was cropping grass just beyond us – I later learned it was a kangaroo. I had to get up before the sun tipped over the horizon……

It was not with just a little sadness that I took a photograph of my swag before I rolled it up for good, but not before a passing dog had cocked its leg inches from my head!

After breakfast we struck camp and left the site at 7.00. We had to drop by and pay for the previous night’s boat trip (no time yesterday!) and took the opportunity to buy a small piece of the local zebra rock to remind us of a very special place. Just after 8.00 we crossed the border from Western Australia into the Northern Territories and clocks went on by over an hour. I think this is a very odd trait of Australia. It is like adjusting the time when you move from Kent into Sussex – why would you?!? There are also strict rules on taking food from one territory to another…… very interesting. In any event, we thought it polite to join in the celebration of the achievement.

We had a good few Km’s to go before we were to reach Katherine for our last night on the road. It sounded to be a very upmarket place with permanent tents. (As it turned out, although the accommodation was good, we got bitten to death there. That was later.)

The scenery stayed similar to that which we have seen for some time. A tree speckled savannah with hills in the far distance. We are back on metalled roads now and can move much more quickly.

Later in the morning we visited the Gregory National Park. The largest National Park in the country and it just happens to bear our name! Keith and I had come across this chap Gregory before. A very active explorer, he was to venture into all sorts of places. On this occasion, we spent some time in his National Park and stopped to look at a large Boab tree where, of course, he had recorded his passing through

He had been sailing up the Victoria river (as you do on the opposite side of the world from home in 1856) when his schooner’s keel snapped. He set up camp here in order to effect repairs to the ship and create a base from which he could penetrate deeper and survey the surrounding area. He was pretty well equipped – he brought 50 horses with him to cart supplies and ride. (He had set out with 200 sheep as well but many of them died on the way. It must have been a pretty big ‘schooner’!) Apparently there were 19 in the party.

They built homes from Bush materials using paperbark from the local trees for walls and made thatch out of leafy branches and grass. They cut down another, smaller, Boab near to Gregory’s tree (how dare they?) to make a table and used its stump as a water trough for the horses. It all sounds pretty cosy and permanent. There is an indication that they also created a garden where they grew radishes and mustard and cress (my favourite!).

Further along we found the twin Boabs where the explorers set up a forge. This exploring business does not cease to astound me.

On the road shortly afterwards, we were stopped at a traffic light!! A bit of a first! It felt like the middle of nowhere. We paused for what seemed ages when the light changed to green. No traffic had appeared the other way. A few minutes later a second red light appeared…. by this time the Victoria River was clearly visible to our left.

It was soon time to move off again. We had lunch at a lovely spot, an old crossing point of the river.

It was over 40 degrees and we were quite relieved when the planned walk was abandoned. I think if it hadn’t been there might have been a mutiny!

So on to Katherine. It immediately looked very clean and orderly. Before doing anything, there was a final dip in a warm pool, for those who wanted it and then it was off to the posh camp. It comprised of very smart, small, green huts with two double bunks in each…. we had one to ourselves!

It also had an amazing kitchen, where pizzas were concocted with wraps used as a base. They were surprisingly good. A last camp fire was made.

I was very touched when a cake was produced for me. I felt a bit damp around the eyes….. they are lovely people!

Keith joined the last game of Cards Against Humanity, while I adjourned to bed.

Darwin tomorrow.