Over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods National Monument

San Francisco is a city that invites you to look up. In a city known for its impossibly steep streets, an iconic bridge, and photogenic cable cars, the opportunities for skywards gazing are endless.

Only a few miles away from this metropolitan melting pot, casting your eyes aloft puts you in a wholly different and majestic natural world — one of towering trees that have remained unchanged for centuries.

Welcome to the redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument.

Redwood trees at Muir Woods - Hipmunk

Look up! Photo by William Jones via Trover.com

Situated only 11 miles north of the city across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and beyond the neighbourhood of Sausalito, Muir Woods forms part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The Trees of Muir Woods

Muir Woods National Monument Hipmunk

Trails-a-plenty. Photo by Mary Hill via Trover.com

Muir Woods is home to Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) trees, some of which are nearly an eye-popping 80 metres tall.

The Monument is named after John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist who is often known as the “Father of the National Parks.”

The redwoods are unique to the Pacific coast of the USA, so bring your camera and join in with the popular pastime of looking up at their majestic beauty.

Gaze in wonder at the canopy, and imagine the things these trees have seen over their centuries-long lifetime. Most of the redwoods here are at least 500 years old, and the oldest dates back more than 1200 years.

Under the shadow of the redwoods you’ll also see other tree species, including the California Bay Laurel, the Bigleaf Maple and the Tanoak, all of which have evolved to survive a life of semi-shade underneath their towering more famous neighbours.

Hiking in Muir Woods

The six miles of trails in Muir Woods can be combined into a number of loops to make for fun and photo-tastic half day hikes. Choose from enticing names like the Bootjack Trail, the Sun Trail and the less-than-optimistic-sounding Lost Trail.

Muir Woods National Monument Hipmunk

Photo by Angela Travels via Trover.com

The main boardwalk trail is wheelchair-accessible.

For cycling, tracks run adjacent to the woods, through the wider Golden Gate National Recreation area.

Costs for Muir Woods

Muir Woods is run by the US National Park Service. Entrance fees for a day pass are $7 per person, which are waived on a handful of commemorate days throughout the year. A full list of these can be found on their website.

How to get to Muir Woods

The best way to reach Muir Woods is via private car, or you can also sign up on a tour.

The latter is particularly handy if you’ve opted to go sans car in public transport friendly San Francisco.

Hotels in San Francisco

With Muir Woods located only a few miles from San Francisco, it makes sense to base yourself in a San Francisco hotel.

And whilst you’re enjoying your stay in the beautiful ocean-side city and its’ surroundings… don’t forget to look up!

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#312783″]This post was brought to you in conjunction with the #‎HipmunkCityLove project. All views are my own, and are based on my personal experience of visiting San Francisco and Muir Woods.[/typography]

Six things I remembered about road trip travel in the USA, and why some of them really bug me

Landing in Miami, the realisation hit me. It was nearly seven years since I’d last set foot on US soil. After many happy holidays in the western States, it was time to head East. I was curious, would a Florida road trip be the same as my previous US experiences?

Remembering to drive on the right, whilst trying not to left-foot break or change the imaginary manual gears with the door handle, I nervously crawled out of Miami airport in my newly collected hire car in search of Le Jeune Road. I found it quite successfully and promptly joined the stream of traffic … in the wrong direction

It was dark as I peered into the haze of car and street lights seeking a suitable place to turn round, tired after a long flight from the UK.

I eased up to the next red light.

Then I remembered.

Road trip travel reminder no 1: It’s ok to turn right at a red light if there’s no oncoming traffic

Really? Do I have to turn? But I’ve got the State Trooper behind me! This anomaly of road rules has always freaked me out, and over the coming days I breathed an audible sigh of relief whenever I came across a junction with a “no right turn on red” sign. Phew.

road trip travel in Florida, USA

Red lights. Scary beyond the extreme when wanting to turn right

Forty-five minutes later, and red light/right turn trauma safely negotiated, I was safely ensconced in my AirBnB place in Coconut Grove, Miami. I picked this area on recommendation, as I’d been told it was a walkable neighbourhood with a choice of restaurants all within a couple of blocks.

Sure enough, the following morning and decidedly jet-lagged, I wandered two blocks to a “nice but not too fancy” café place serving full-on American breakfasts. Yum.

No sooner had I ordered the kind of breakfast that would feed King Kong, when a table of suits made themselves at home at the table behind me.

Apparently the leader of the suits was a Senator. A Senator! At breakfast! In the same kind of breakfast place I was at! This kinda stuff just doesn’t happen in the UK …

Reminder no 2: The lack of “class system” when compared to the UK

OK, so the mystery Senator hadn’t ditched his suit and tie for this “down with the people” venture; but still …

There’s absolutely zero chance of David Cameron ever eating at the same kind of “nice but not too fancy” place as me in the UK unless it was a PR stunt. Though to be fair he probably doesn’t have drunken chicken cravings at 2am.

Even though we in the UK pretend we don’t really have a class system; it’s there.

road trip travel in Florida, USA

You’re unlikely to see David Cameron tucking into a Yummy Chicken in York, England, at 2am

After a couple of days exploring the artsy side of Miami, it was time to head south.

As I pushed my wobbly trolley round the isles of a Winn Dixie supermarket in my quest for supplies for a couple of breakfasts and picnics, I realised something I hadn’t before …

Reminder (and kick in the backside) no 3: US supermarkets don’t cater for those on their own

Sure, diner portions remained crazily large, but I gave myself a little virtual slap for having been so oblivious to the realities of solo supermarket shopping on my previous (non-solo) road trips Stateside.

The bagels … pack of 6. The cream cheese … the smallest tub was twice the size of the regular sized tub in the UK.

Seriously. Wasteful.

Two days into my bagel/cream cheese diet, and the smallest car I’d been able to rent was blinking at me from the dashboard. Repeatedly.

“Petrol”, it said, “feed me petrol.” It had managed a mere 300 miles before this impatient request.

Road trip travel reminder no 4: The cost of petrol (gas)

At $2.30-$2.70 a gallon, a full tank of petrol (gas) was a quarter of the cost of filling my smaller car in the UK. Although my car back home would’ve managed 150 more miles before it needed refuelling.

Cheap fuel sounds great on the surface, but … is it contributing to my fifth reminder?

Reminder no 5: Urban sprawl

How to visit The Everglades on a flashpacker budget

Cycling around the Shark Valley Loop Trail

From Miami all the way south 35 miles / 56 kilometres to Homestead, urban sprawl lined the highway the whole route. An evening stroll in anywhere other than an urban area was pretty much out of the question, as a lack of pavements (sidewalks) scuppered a desire to ditch the car for a spot of gentle exercise.

Fortunately in Key West, cycling or walking were the de-rigeur ways to get around town.

Cycling and walking are also far more fashionable in the US National Parks – yay!

Which leads me to the fifth and find thing I’d forgotten about road trip travel in the USA …

Reminder no 6: I love the National Parks

Arriving in The Everglades, knowledgeable rangers imparted expert advice on the best trails to take, the birds I’d see, plus useful facts, such as: “how far to stay away from an alligator” (15 feet, apparently).

road trip travel in Florida, USA

Stay 15 feet (about 5 metres) away from this guy

My $10 entrance fee included a very handy map and information sheet, plus free car parking and more ranger advice than I could shake a stick at – all valid for seven days throughout the park. Whether I wanted to be ten minutes or ten hours from my car; there was someone I could ask.

This system’s in place throughout the US National Parks (although fees may vary), and it really helped me get the best out of The Everglades.

The good, the bad and the see-it-both-sides of Florida road trip travel

I found the US road trip experience to be much the same as my West coast experience seven years ago. This time though, the negatives bothered me more.

For me, urban sprawl (as opposed to urban development) is ugly as well as inconvenient. The fact my own home is only minutes walk from local amenities including shops and restaurants really brought this home.

My travel in the intervening seven years in countries where families struggle to put food on the table means the potential for such massive food waste (whether from the supermarkets only stocking multipacks or the diners serving portions no human could ever possibly eat) is – to me – completely inexcusable. The US certainly isn’t the only country guilty of this, but it was certainly the country where – as a casual visitor– it was incredibly obvious.

Don’t get me wrong though, the US has got a lot going for it as a tourist destination.

The spirited feel of the country means the belief that anyone can make it to Senator (or at least have breakfast with one) is alive, kicking and very much in action. And incredible outdoor adventures await you from East to West; once you’ve got past the urban sprawl.

As a road trip destination, the US is a pretty straightforward one. Just don’t mess up at the red light 🙂

Have you visited the US recently? Have you noticed changes for better / for worse in other US states? Share your views below.

How to visit The Everglades on a flashpacker budget

Grassy expanses on a horizon to clear blue nothing, amphibious reptiles lying languidly in the heat of the mid-day sun, birds gliding lazily on a tree-to-tree mission, mangrove forests lapped by the shores of a turquoise blue ocean.

All this and more can be found in The Everglades, Florida. This isn’t a cheap part of the world to travel in, but it’s possible to enjoy the state’s best natural attractions, washed down with a sweet mojito and a slice of Key Lime pie, without breaking the bank. Here’s your guide to seeing The Everglades on a flashpacker budget.

Introducing The Everglades

It’s hard to believe The Everglades (entrance fee $10, valid for seven consecutive days) were once considered a swampy nuisance. Fortunately, an appreciation for this mammoth haven and home for numerous bird species and the other wildlife has prevailed; although the pressures of a Miami-and-surrounds population that’s growing by 800 people every day makes the balancing act of environment vs development ever tougher.

The Everglades span almost the whole area to the west and south-west of Miami. The urban sprawl of the city is in evidence as you drive to the Glades either west on the Tamiami Trail, or south on US 1. Mile upon mile of malls, car dealerships, Starbucks and more pave the way for an hour or more, until …

How to visit The Everglades on a flashpacker budget

The Everglades’ grasslands to a seemingly endless horizon

Peace. Grasslands and waterways finally take over from concrete and supermarkets.

Activities in The Everglades on a flashpacker budget

How to visit The Everglades on a flashpacker budget

Cycling around the Shark Valley Loop Trail

Feel the wind in your hair as you hire a bike ($9 p/hr) to take you around all – or part – of the 15-mile Shark Valley Loop Rd, accessed via US 41 (Tamiami Trail), west of Miami.

Marvel at the alligators, basking at the side of the trail, mere footsteps from your pedals.

Gaze in awe at the majesty of the birds that perch on seemingly every other tree branch; and laugh at those that cheekily turn away from you as you seek to capture their image for digital posterity.

In the south-west part of the park (accessed from near Homestead) drive the road to Flamingo, and stop to take the numerous short trails en-route. Spot wildlife, go under the “hammock” woodland areas, witness nature in action – this is a place where snake-eating birds could appear on a tree at any moment.

Get out your camera, your inner ornithologist, or both.

If you fancy a little more adventure (and to part with more money), whizz though the waters on an Air Boat tour (outside the park boundaries), paddle through the backwaters on a kayak, or get your swamp thing on with an organised trek IN the glades.

Getting around The Everglades

OK so there’s no getting around this. You’re going to need to rent a car (around $150 p/w for a compact). Fortunately petrol (gas) is super-super cheap at around $2.30-$2.70 per gallon.

Where to stay in The Everglades on a flashpacker budget

A useful stop-off near the south-west entrance of the park is Homestead, which has some AirBnB properties.

Homestead is also home to the Coral Castle Museum (entrance including tour $16), a bizarre collection of honed coral rock that was a labour of love for creator Ed Leedskalnin over a period of 20 years.

Top tips for The Everglades on a flashpacker budget

  1. Hire only a small (compact) car. A compact won’t cost much less than the next size/s up, but the fuel economy will be a lot better.
  2. Stay in accommodation in less fashionable towns (Homestead rather than Miami), with access to at least a fridge, such as AirBnB.
  3. Stock up on breakfast and picnic supplies for lunch at any of the supermarkets on the highway.
  4. Make the most of the knowledgeable rangers and the information housed in the Visitor Centers. They can help you get the best value for your almost-free National Park experience.

Have you been to The Everglades? What wildlife did you see there?

Beyond the vintage cars: what to expect in Cuba

Whether you’re a US citizen chomping at the bit for the potential chance to visit this “forbidden” country, or merely interested in what makes this Caribbean island so different; here’s the lowdown on what to expect in Cuba.

what to expect in Cuba

“El Che” is depicted on murals throughout the country

[quote]You only get one chance at life. Whatever you choose to do, don’t be afraid,”[/quote]

the former Cuban revolutionary said to me, as we chatted over a cup of coffee.

From revolution to evolution with the recent thawing of relations with the US, Cuba is a land where reminders of that revolution, its heroes and its ethos are everywhere.

What to expect in Cuba: be prepared for paradoxes

Where pro-revolution street art enhances the colours on the streets of Havana, and anti-US murals and rhetoric adorn the displays in the state-run Museum of the Revolution.

Where the healthcare system and quality of education for its healthcare professionals is world class. But the shelves of pharmacies are devoid of medicines.

Where deserted three lane highways – very few can afford a car here – are used more by horse-drawn carts and the local cycling club than they are by motorised vehicles.

what to expect in Cuba: horse and cart

Horse and cart: a standard mode of transport for Cubans

Where band members are as eclectic as their music. A four-piece ranging in age from 18-80 isn’t untypical. Whether it’s ballet, salsa or jazz, Cuba’s vibrant music scene is top class.

Where crumbling facades can hide beautiful homes, depending on how far government funding for renovations has reached. I stayed on this street in downtown Havana … it was light, bright and full of beautiful tiles inside.

what to expect in Cuba: Havana street

check out the trainers!

Where the reality of the ration system the local people live under is partially offset by a government policy that encourages grow-your-own. Result: fresh and organic (seasonal) fruits and vegetables. Energy consumption and pollution levels are also very low.

Where Cuba’s previous economic ties to the former USSR and Eastern Bloc countries have left their mark. German is a second language amongst many of the older generation, who worked in the former East Germany in the 1970s.

The queue in Cuba is king

The Cuban’s know how to queue. Sadly this efficiency is down to the ration system and slowness of services we take for-granted, but they’re still good at it. Be warned though, there may not appear to be a queue at all, but trust me, there is!

When arriving at a throng of people, shout out “quién es el último?” (who’s last?), clock the face of that person, wait until the next person arrives and clocks your face. Then go and do something more productive whilst the queue goes down. A beer is a good option.

Casas particulares

AirBnB as a solo traveller

casa particular in Cienfuegos, Cuba

I’d highly recommend staying in casas particulares (Cuba’s equivalent to AirBnB). Stay in one casa, and they’ll have a friend with one in the next town, so there’s no need to book everything in advance. They’ll call ahead for you, and if other tourists have turned up in the meantime to fill the room (hard currency is king here, it’s a case of first come, first served), another friend with a room or two to let will be sent instead to meet you from your bus. You won’t be left stranded.

As a result, don’t be perturbed to be picked up at the bus station by someone you weren’t expecting who has a sign with your name on. Go with the flow. Incidentally, this is how I met my Cuban revolutionary quoted at the start of this article.

What to expect in Cuban from the cuisine

what to expect in Cuba - machete

I hope this guy was using his machete on the sugar cane …

You don’t go to Cuba for the food. In my opinion, the most flavoursome food is to be found in the casas particulares, who offer in-house dining of the set-menu variety – you may be asked at breakfast whether you want meat A or meat B for dinner, otherwise you get what you’re given. They’re great value and you won’t go hungry. Cuban bean soup is a staple of the casas, and dear God it’s good!

Other options are state-run restaurants, or dining in a parador – the equivalent of someone’s front room. The former was – in my view – ok, but a lot more expensive and a bit bland. Some foods are restricted by the Government and should in theory only be available in the state-run restaurants. You could however be offered these foods elsewhere – in a whisper 😉 I can say from experience that the $10 unofficial lobster is goooooooood.

You can convert a little of your hard currency to local currency at the Cuban banks if you want a taste of Cuban street food. Gear yourself up for ice-cream, cups of tea, and “peso pizza” from the hole-in-the-wall vendors – you can have any flavour you want so long as it’s ham and (pungent) cheese.

Cuban transport

Buy inter-city bus tickets a day in advance. You’ll find your money deposited in a cash register that makes the one in 70 & 80s British sitcom “Open All Hours” look modern. For a bus/taxi alternative, pay a man with a car (your casa will know someone) – if there’s more than two of you this is a pretty cost-effective option.

what to expect in Cuba: vintage car

it wouldn’t be an article on Cuba without a picture of a car

If the car you’re in breaks down / stops for dodgy fuel at a mate’s house – don’t panic; this is all completely normal (here!).

For a touristy trip, the steam train from Trinidad to the Valle de los Ingenios is good fun.

what to expect in Cuba: steam train

take a day trip from Trinidad on this steam train. The stop is the sugar plantation

Horse and cart or pedal-power are the norm in Cienfuegos 🙂

Rum

Rum measures here are a myth. After a few mojitos – or honey-induced canchanchara in Trinidad – you’ll think you’re the world’s best salsa dancer (ok, maybe that was just me). Be prepared for the world’s worst hangover.

Know that blending in is futile

You will stand out as a tourist, even if you’re in regular jeans, speak perfect Spanish and have no visible rucksack or camera with you. Your clothes will betray you. Clothes in Cuba are rationed and you will see rails of second-hand clothes everywhere with fervently-browsing locals. Fashion capital it is most definitely not.

Even if you are the least-fashion conscious person in your home country, you’re going to stand out in Cuba. This isn’t a scary kinda stand out though. Although people will come and talk to you – and maybe ask for some hard currency – this isn’t a threatening place.

And least but definitely not least: Don’t be afraid

what to expect in Cuba

A crumbling church. An ancient car. Cuba in stereotype.

Cuba is like nowhere else I’ve ever been.

As the Cuban revolutionary said: “You only get one chance at life. Whatever you choose to do, don’t be afraid.”

There’s something we can all take from this quote, no matter what you think of Cuban politics and the men behind it.

Don’t be afraid to experience and make your own mind up about this Caribbean island.

Have you been to Cuba? What did you expect, and did it match up to those expectations? Share your experiences below.

Where to spend a month in the Australian Outback

This suggested itinerary for a month in the Australian Outback takes in all the major sites, starting from Alice Springs in the “Red Centre”, up to Darwin at the top of the Northern Territory, and ending in Broome in Western Australia.

If you love the great outdoors, are partial to a road trip and a spot of warm weather, then the Outback’s a top place to spend a month or so.

“Load some TEDs in your esky, sling ‘em in the back of your yute, and head on up the Track.*”

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”10″ size_format=”px”]*Buy some Toohey Extra Dry beers, put them in an ice-cooler in the back of your truck, and drive up the Stuart Highway.[/typography]

The Australian Outback itinerary

Alice SpringsUluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)Kings CanyonThe MacDonnell RangesKatherine (Nitmiluk National Park)Kakadu National ParkDarwinKununurraPurnululu National Park (The Bungle Bungles)BroomeTop Tips for the Outback

Day 1 – Alice Springs

Alice Springs is served by an airport and places to rent a car / camper van for your month-long itinerary in the Outback. In itself it’s a good base for a couple of days. Sites includes the Old Telegraph Station and the Alice Springs Desert Park – home to a colourful array of birdlife and some interesting looking desert critters.

It can be used as a base for exploring some of the MacDonnell ranges, which run East and West out of town – more on those later.

Day 3 – Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (Ayers Rock and the Olgas)

It’s about a 5-hour drive from Alice to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park; where you can base yourself at Yulara resort in everything from fancy hotels, upmarket glamping tents, or the regular campsite.

The mighty monolith of Uluru and the domes of Kata Tjuta are both sacred to the local Aboriginal people. The Cultural Centre – just before you arrive at “The Rock” of Uluru – provides a simplistic but worthwhile overview of the myths and culture of the sites’ traditional owners.

Local Aboriginal groups consider “The Rock” sacred and prefer the footsteps of visitors not to ascend the steep slope to the top. It’s not forbidden to climb it, but I preferred instead to walk round the rock.

A well-marked path takes you the 6 miles (9 km) around the base of the rock. The walk itself isn’t arduous; but it does afford you the opportunity to get up close and personal with the nuances and colours as the light catches it at different times of day.

Kata Tjuta is less than an hours’ drive from Uluru. Made up of 36 domes, Kata Tjuta has a more varied landscape than Uluru. It may not have the former’s iconic status but – for me – its Valley of the Winds Walk was more memorable.

Kata Tjuta The Olgas - a month in the Australian Outback

Day 6 – Kings Canyon

Stunning, stunning, stunning. That’s the only word I can use to describe the Rim Walk at Kings Canyon, which lies another 4-5 hours drive from Uluru-Kata Tjuta. Good walking boots are needed, as is plenty of water. Just don’t get too close to the edge.

Kings Canyon rim walk - a month in the Australian Outback

Kings Canyon

Day 8 – The West MacDonnell Ranges

Standley Chasm MacDonnells - month in the Australian Outback

Standley Chasm

Moving into week 2 of this Outback itinerary, it’s time to go backtracking to Alice (unless you have a 4WD and can cut across on the desert roads), for a couple of days exploring the Western MacDonnell Ranges. They’re well worth the effort. Allow an overnight at Glen Helen to allow time to fully explore. Standley ChasmSerpentine Gorge and Ormiston Gorge are some of the rocky sites en-route.

Day 10 – The East MacDonnell Ranges

Back to Alice, and you can visit most of the East MacDonnells in a day. Trephina Gorge Nature Park for walking, and the remnants of Arltunga Historical Reserve, a former goldrush town and now ghost town, which you can poke around for an hour or two.

The abandoned gold mining town of Arltunga - a month in the Australian Outback

The abandoned gold mining town of Arltunga

Days 11 & 12 – A long drive up “The Track” (aka the Stuart Highway)

bush wave - a month in the Australian outback

Right little finger at the ready, now!

The Stuart Highway runs from Adelaide in South Australia all the way up to Darwin at the top of the Northern Territory. It’s a bloody long way. Like a full day-and-a-half drive kinda long way.

For entertainment, practice your bush-wave en-route to the rarity that is a fellow motorist.

For a brief driving respite, stop en-route at the Devils Marbles (‘cos you may as well!), and overnight at the alien-themed campsite of Wycliffe Well Holiday Park. This place makes the most of local UFO sightings, and also has little green frogs jumping around the toilets, which make for entertainment of an entirely different kind!

Day 13  Katherine

Katherine, around 200 miles (320 km) before you reach Darwin, is a good stop-off point for the hot but spectacular Nitmiluk National Park and Katherine Gorge. You can do walks here, but probably only short ones – I don’t think I’ve ever drunk so much water in my life; it was THAT hot.

Katherine Gorge - a month in the Australian outback

Katherine Gorge

Day 15 – Kakadu

From Katherine, it’s a relatively short hop (by Australian standards) to Kakadu National Park, and your half-time point of your month in the Australian Outback. Home of wetlands, some fine examples of Aboriginal art, and crocodiles. There are lodge and campsite accommodation options within the park; and plenty to explore over a couple of days, or longer with a 4WD.

Day 17 – Darwin

Darwin lives in a permanent heat-haze of 31 degrees Celsius, wet or dry depending on the time of year. Residents worship the god of air conditioning.

My highlights included Fannie Bay Gaol, the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT featuring some fine example of Aboriginal art; and the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre, south out of town. The latter features war stories told from both an Australian and Japanese perspective, which – having been taught only about Hitler at school in the UK – gave me a new insight as to the extend of Japan’s influence in the war years.

What Darwin also does particularly well is sunsets. Sit on Mindil beach with a curry from the night market and watch the sun set. Heaven on earth.

Darwin sunset from Mindil beach - a month in the Australian Outback

Darwin sunset from Mindil beach

Day 20 – Territory Wildlife Park and Litchfield National Park

Termite mounds in the former. Croc-free swimming holes in the latter. Surreal and blissful in one sweet day.

Day 21 – Keep River National Park

Heading back south towards Katherine and then West on the Victoria Highway, you reach Keep River National Park just before the border with Western Australia. Being the kind of girl who has an inherent dislike for being cooped up in a vehicle, it makes a fine spot for a top hike, amidst rocky outcrops overlooking desert landscapes.

Top tip: Before you cross over into Western Australia (WA), eat your fruit and veg. Your vehicle will undergo some kind of third-degree inspection here, to prevent any unknown pests being carried into WA. Start your carrot-eating frenzy in advance! WA is also 1.5 hours behind Northern Territory time.

Day 22 – Kununurra (WA)

Kununurra is a tiny town with the basic amenities you’ll need for a few days.

From here you can take day-trips to the Hoochery Distillery, Lake Argyle and the Argyle Homestead, and the Zebra Rock factory. Zebra rock is unique to these parts – it’s attractive stripe@y rock that can be bought finished as jewellery, ornaments, keyrings and all the usual gifts.

OR, you can buy a bag of (much cheaper) uncut rocks to do your own thing with. It’s quite soft, which means that sawing it and sanding it isn’t too tricky; and if you want a shiny finish then clear nail polish will do the trick. Sadly the softness of the rock does make it a bit prone to damage if you try and drill it – as I discovered the hard way when making a pendant.

Day 25 – Bungle Bungle National Park (the Bungle Bungles) – fly-in fly-out safari tour

@For me this was the highlight of my month in the Australian Outback – Purnululu (aka The Bungle Bungles) National Park. With a name like that, what’s not to love?

I only knew this place existed due to the power of television. Aussie soap Neighbours’ scriptwriters must’ve been well-in with the WA Tourist board in the late 80s/early 90s, ‘cos main character Helen raved about her “Bungles” holiday over the course of several episodes. Teenage me lapped it up.

You can do the Bungles under your own steam if you have a full-on 4WD and the ability to change tyres regularly.

OR, you can do a fly-in, fly-out safari.

Flying-in is in a small plane (up to 16-seater), and is followed up with private led walks through the Bungles’ beehive domes. The experience comes complete with glamping for one night and more walks the next day, then it’s back on the small plane to Kununurra.

Flights back tend to be on (even) smaller planes, as many people take a flight over the Bungles without landing, so demand for afternoon return flights is much lower. This means you could end up with your own private plane flight!!

Unfortunately the Bungles come with private flight prices (sigh). The fly-in, fly-out two-day walking/one-night glamping experience currently starts at an eye-watering £660 ($1070 USD) per person.

Days 27-31 Broome

The morning after you’ve consoled the state of your bank account with a fine glass of Aussie red, it’s time to head West towards Broome.

For the sturdy of heart, or those with a 4WD, you can take the Gibb River Road (add on extra days for attractions on the way).

Otherwise, it’s a long, loooooooooong drive on the highway.

But it’s worth it.

Broome is beautiful.

Cable Beach – an expanse of sandy shallow beach with warm (yes, WARM water). Though I grew up by the North Sea, so anything south of Arctic is positively tropical.

Outdoor cinema with deckchairs. Broome Crocodile Park. Broome Bird Observatory. Mango wine. Camel rides at sunset. Bliss, pure bliss.

Chill out and relax at the end of your outback adventure. You deserve it.

Top tips for a month in the Australian Outback

Slip, slop, slap

That’s the advice of the Australian Government – to slip on a shirt, slop on the high-factor sunscreen and slap on a hat. The ozone layer is thin in these parts, so don’t skip your slip-slop-slap!

Water, water, water

Even for a short walk you will need a stack of it. More than you think. I’ve never drunk so much water as when walking in Australia. Carry plenty in your vehicle too. You can buy supplies easily in all the supermarkets.

When to go

The “Top End” (north) of the country has a rainy season (November-March).

August and September were ideal for visiting the Outback. The flies weren’t out in full force, and the temperature around Alice Springs was still around 28-30 degrees C. In the Bungle Bungles at the end of September the mercury hit 44 degrees C. The locals described this as “just warming up.”

The wildlife

Yes, there are snakes and spiders. I saw both. But my main worry was crocodiles. There are two types – saltwater (salties) and freshwater (freshies). Salties don’t only live in salt water though! They are the bigger ones and more likely to kill you. Freshies can still do damage. Either way, heed any warning signs about crocs. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of one.

Driving

Try and avoid driving in the dark. Those pesky kangaroos will be cute the first time you see one, but less cute when they “boing” out in front of your van.

Self-cater

Self-catering can save costs (Australia is expensive) and is easily do-able in a camper van. Supermarket food is pricey, but far less pricey than eating out. You can also buy local meats, such as kangaroo – to cook yourself. For me, kangaroo tasted a bit like lamb, but not as tasty.

Unlike in other wine-producing countries such as France, Spain and Italy; local wine is also expensive. You buy it from a “bottle shop” (off-licence / liquor store) rather than from the supermarket.

To find out more about Australia and the Outback

For more detailed information on Australia, or on travelling the country with family, check out www.ytravelblog.com