The Mountain way (Aussie mates in the outback Book 11)

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We are but two road warriors on a road less travelled. As Bongo predicted, The Underground Motel was closed for renovations, but we were treated to a tour of the highly impressive underground White House Bed and Breakfast, where we were met by proud owners Lindsay White and Cree Marshall. They make an ideal team with Lindsay, a former sheep classer, digger and prospector, and Cree, a talented artist and interior designer. Lindsay has been digging at this site for over 50 years. The dugout features lots of light, cool fresh air, stunning artwork and beautiful furnishings made of recycled materials… clearly a labour of love.

There were moments when I simply stared into that vast, dry, inhospitable place and wondered what draws people to do battle out here at the edge of the world. So many warriors. So many stories. Morning sunshine greeted us as we approached the front gate. Paul led two interpretive walks within a restricted access site to reveal 8,year-old Aboriginal rock engravings and cave paintings of red and yellow ochre hand stencils, dingo paws and tally marks.

A place of wonder and excitement. An ancient land that captures the spirit of this sunburnt country. Broken Hill was another tale. This is one of the few places in the Outback easily accessed by tourists on The Great Southern Railway. In fact, I would recommend Broken Hill for any visitor to Sydney looking for a shorter first-time Australian Outback destination. Street signs bear names like Silver, Mercury and Carbon, each a showcase of stunning architectural styles. Filmmakers and artists are attracted to nearby Silverton to capture its unique setting. This frontier town predates Broken Hill.

Originally the site of the Daydream Mine, it now seems little more than an abandoned movie set. Naturally we dropped by the famous Silverton Hotel and checked out crazy Mad Max memorabilia. Sheep insisted on crossing the road in single file from one side to another, emus gallop across in twos and threes, feral goats prance in a manic scurry, wombats freeze, and cattle simply stand and stare, most often in the middle of the road. But Cameron Corner was reason enough to risk this road trip — the ultimate Outback destination — the pinnacle for the two of us.

So here we were in Queensland, at a site bearing a New South Wales postal address and a South Australian phone number.

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On most days the river is as still as meditation, throwing perfect reflections of the paperbarks, casuarinas and native hibiscus that line the banks. A paddling trip begins in shallow Lake Cootharaba; an hour later you're at Fig Tree Lake, its entrance carpeted in water lilies. The river's great joys lie beyond Fig Tree Lake as you enter the Narrows, where the paperbark everglades suddenly close in over the water - at times you can almost reach out and touch both banks. The river squirms north through sandy country, and the biggest decision is how far to paddle.

Along the banks are 10 campsites that offer utter privacy; from Boreen Point on Lake Cootharaba, it's about 40 kilometres to the final camping ground, which should take most paddlers two days. For a leg stretch, pull up at Camp 3 and wander to the Cooloola Sandpatch, a large sand blow parting the forest atop the high dunes. Margaret River is famous for its wines and whales but it might equally be known for this walk. Stretching kilometres between the lighthouses at Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin, it spans the length of the Margaret River coast, dipping to beaches, climbing above cliffs and briefly detouring into an isolated stand of karri forest, where the trunks are tall and as straight as barcodes.

Outback Tours Australia

Though the vineyards aren't in view of the track, peer out to sea from the cliffs between June and December and you're likely to see the whales. Getting there: Cape Naturaliste is kilometres south of Perth. Cape to Cape Explorer Tours specialises in this walk www.

Australia's largest island national park is the tropical postcard brought to life: coconut palms, white-sand and black-sand beaches, the pummel of a waterfall on your shoulders. It barely even sounds like a bushwalk, which is probably the reason most people stretch this kilometre walk across four days.

Days 1-2: Arrive into Darwin

Don't miss the side trail to Nina Peak for views along a particularly enticing sliver of coast. Only 40 walkers at a time are permitted on the trail, which flanks Hinchinbrook's east coast, so book permits well in advance. Book permits at www. This six-day wilderness hike through the tropical Top End in the footsteps of the Jawoyn people is one of Australia's best, and least-known, walks.

The outback Australian roadhouse - respite in the middle of nowhere - Landline

It's hot, but every day ends with a dip in a croc-free swimming hole or waterfall, beside which you'll be camping. Not that you need a tent in the dry season - just a sleeping bag and a mosquito net suspended from the branch of a salmon gum, so you can fall asleep gazing at galaxies. It's remotest Australia at its simplest. Trekkers carry up to 15 kilograms; pre-trip training is recommended.

South Australia Tours

When it comes to keeping pint-sized thrillseekers happy, not much beats the Gold Coast's flashy theme and water parks. Movie World and Wet'n'Wild. For simpler pleasures, head to Southport's brilliant three-kilometre-long Broadwater Parklands. Here children can find free thrills zooming along on the flying fox, taking the monorail pedal bikes for a spin or exploring the fantastical saltwater rock pools and sculptural creek beds. Broadwater Parklands is at Marine Parade, Southport www.

Kids hate fishing because invariably nothing happens. Unofficial wisdom says the old curved jetty off Venus Bay offers the best fishing in the country, and it's true - if your bait is fresh a bit of pilchard on No. My eight-year-old boys were reeling in tommy ruffs every few minutes, including the fabled ''double-header'', which is two fish taking both hooks on a single line.

The jolly Venus Bay Caravan Park www. Children can milk a cow daily 10am and 4pm , waddle with ducks, feed chooks and meet Mickie the donkey and little Maybelle and Myrtle in the pigsty. BYO gumboots. It's hard to decide whether the best thing about Australia's premier rail trail, which threads through the Ovens Valley from Wangaratta to Bright, is the cycling or the food and wine.

Take the side trail to Beechworth for quality restaurants and accommodation, or veer a few kilometres off the trail to the gastronomic pickings of the Milawa gourmet region. Or simply stay on the kilometre main trail to indulge at Gapsted Wines, Bright Berry Farms and the Bright Brewery, among other places.

Two-Week Northern Territory Itinerary

The most difficult bit might be getting back on the bike. Getting there: For maps, tour operators and food and wine details, see www.

With its roads open only to buses and bicycles, few places are as bike friendly as Perth's island playground. Beginning at the ferry terminal at Thomson Bay, it's a kilometre loop around Rotto and its plus beaches.

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Park at the bike racks and enjoy the reefs at Stark Bay, or snorkel the underwater trail at Little Salmon Bay. For a shorter ride, the section of road around Parker Point and Salmon Bay is the most spectacular.

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  • Getting there: Ferries run regularly between Perth and Rottnest Island 30min and will carry bicycles, or you can hire one of bikes on the island www. Some sections are remote and long but towns pop up frequently along other stretches, making it feasible to cycle short routes. You'll never forget your first underwater vision of a whale shark.

    When the bubbles clear, there's a harmless giant steaming out of the deep blue straight at us, its huge mouth agape, hoovering plankton. We watch in awe as the largest fish in the sea eases past us, a constellation of spots running the length of its metre body, glinting in the morning sun. What's the size of a small car, weighs kilograms and feasts on squid?

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    An Australian sea lion bull, several of which we pass on a ranger-led tour of Seal Bay. But it's not these dozing behemoths that capture our attention - it's their doe-eyed offspring, flopping about on the beach, bleating for their mothers. When one mother arrives home after a fishing trip, her famished pup hurries towards her. The pair nuzzle each other, a sight to melt any heart. Once hunted to the brink of extinction, Australian sea lions are still endangered so an afternoon in their company is something to cherish.

    Standing almost nose-to-conical nose with a 4. This creature was so perfect 70 million years ago it had no need to evolve further. As it flashes past, I have never felt smaller in my life, nor more grateful to be inside a strengthened aluminium cage. Getting there: Calypso Star Charters www. No scuba experience necessary air is fed into the cage, beside a boat, via a hose. The Northern Lights on the other side of the world get all the attention.

    Australia’s Outback: Red Roads and Stickybeaks

    Yet the Southern Lights, or aurora australis, are spectacular and can be seen from the southern coast of Tasmania. The chances of seeing the Southern Lights in Tasmania are slim, but the absence of artificial light and the southern outlook can only help. From here, it's a two-hour walk to South Cape Bay, where there's a campsite.