Day 1 of 55 - Arrival Sydney

December 7th never happened in my lifetime. Losing a day is a strange phenomenon that occurs when a traveler flies east to west and crosses the International Date Line.
This trip began in December 1999 when Jeff and I, two Americans, flew to Australia to celebrate the turn of the millennium in a very big way. A decade later, it seems not much has changed, especially off-the-beaten-path. Follow the blog as it takes you on a journey by train, plane, and automobile - a journey across a continent similar in size to the continental United States.
An American in Oz is my story.
Day 1 of 55:
Arriving in Sydney that warm summer day, the first item on our agenda was to find a place to stay the night. Jeff and I flew into the country with only one reservation in place, to take a train from Sydney to Perth the following morning (distances and locations explained in the next blog). We were traveling on a "No Plan" plan and fortunate to have found the Great Southern Hotel in Sydney. It was close to the train station and offered ideal accommodations.
(The photo above is one of Qantas' aircrafts set against an aerial view of the famous Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge. If you'd like a closer look, click on the photo to enlarge.)

Day 2 of 55 - "All Aboard!!!" The Train to Perth December 9, 1999

To the left is a picture of the Sydney railway station.

After a good long sleep, Jeff and I packed up our stuff and headed for the train station. We were to depart at 2:55 pm sharp, but an accident on the tracks caused a delay. We weren't in a hurry, and the conductor promised we would make up the time along the 3-day journey coast-to-coast. The Indian Pacific Railway would take us from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, the same distance as traveling from Savannah, GA to Los Angeles, CA.


Day 3 of 55: My First Kangaroo Dec 10, 1999

I saw my first kangaroo the 3rd day into the trip. I borrowed this picture from the Indian Pacific Railway archives. I was too excited to remember to take a picture, but this is what it looked like, not much out there except sand, shrubbery, kangaroos and emus. It was great.

Sydney, Australia is 14 hours ahead of the eastern United States, so it takes awhile to adjust to that kind of time change. Heading west via the Indian Pacific Railway means we're getting closer to our own time at home by a whole hour. Not a big difference in the grand scheme of things. It may have been December, but was summertime in Oz, because the seasons are opposite to ours at home. Below is a picture of me at the start of the trip, a bit jetlagged. There will be photos throughout, and you'll be able to see the progression of happiness on my face.

Day 4 of 55 The Town of Cook Dec 11, 1999

We're moving along out of the state of South Australia (SA) and into Western Australia (WA). Not much can survive in the southern outback, so my kangaroo count is dwindling.

Here is a map of the train route. To enlarge, click on the picture. When it goes to a new screen, click on the picture again and you'll be able to find Cook and all the other train stops.

On this 4th day, we stopped in the small town called Cook (pop. 3 or 4) on the western edge of SA. Below is a sign that greets the tourists. It's in typical outback condition: rough around the edges, rusting, and filled with Aussie humor. The second photo is of our train. I didn't see a road into Cook, so I'll assume the train is the only connection to civilization the town has. I'm just beginning to get a sense of how desolate it is in the outback. This was a short layover, just long enough to stretch our legs and take a look around. All aboard!!! It's time to head deeper into the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia.


Day 5 of 55 - Arrival Perth Dec 12th

Perth, Western Australia

At 9:30 am, the train rolled into Perth, the capital city of Western Australia (WA), aka: "The Dallas of Australia." Perth is one of 8 capital cities in Australia, WA being the largest state in the country....and the world. WA covers a good third of the continent. In the USA, it's the equivalent of the space between the Rocky Mountains and California, maybe more. SW Australia is filled with forests, vineyards, and in these December summer months, the temp is a perfect 78 degrees.

While in Sydney, Jeff and I made reservations for a place to stay in Perth. We wanted to ease into our "No Plan" plan with a bit more grace. A van was waiting for us at the Perth train station to take us to Britannia YHA (youth hostel) on William Street.

As much as I enjoyed the 3-day train ride, it felt great to be able to walk around, take in the fresh air, and see the sights. Perth is a gorgeous city, and what I now call, the gateway to the world. We had a lot to see and discover, but first on our agenda was fresh food. We ate, we napped, and woke up at 2:30 am. The day was gone. I thought we had adjusted to the time change, but it would take another day to get in sync. Here's a photo of the hostel where we stayed. Great location. We could walk to everything.

Day 6 of 55 - Perth and friends Dec 13

Perth, the capital city of Western Australia, sits along the banks of the Swan River. The Swan River flows west into the Indian Ocean.

The first item on our agenda was to figure out how to get up to the town of Exmouth, gateway to the Ningaloo Reef, our first of three planned destinations on our journey through Oz. When I look at the continent, I see a dog's head. Perth sits on the "dog's mouth" and Exmouth sits on the "dog's nose."
Uluru (Ayers Rock), in the center of the country, and the Great Barrier Reef , along the northeast coastline, were the other two major points of interest. In a country the size of the continental United States. We had 4000 miles to cover. On a budget and in a foreign land, we also had a lot to figure out in our "no plan" plan.

Jeff and I took another walk through town to check into renting a car. But before taking care of business, we made arrangements to meet with our new friends, Jaime and Laura, at our hostel. (Jaime and Laura were on the train ride with us.) We explored Perth and ended up back at their hotel on the Swan River to make some phone calls. Being Australians, they helped us ask the right questions about car rentals.
It turned out, renting a car in Australia is very expensive, and the drive we were planning to make was a long and lonely one across the western outback, 9 hours to be exact. It was going to be like driving from Los Angeles to Eureka, CA, almost to Oregon. So Jeff and I decided to fly north to Exmouth. Once we were there, we would have to figure out how to get to Uluru and then to the Great Barrier Reef. But no sense worrying about the cursed how's in a "no-plan" plan.....yet. We were still enjoying the beautiful city of Perth.


Day 7 of 55 - Rottnest Island, Western Australia

Jeff and I began the day with our sights set on a flight north to Exmouth, WA. By the end of breakfast, we had changed our minds. Perth was beautiful and Rottnest Island was calling. If we were going to fly out of Exmouth to the center of Australia, destination #2, then this would be our last day in southwest Australia. We had heard about Rottnest from a few Aussies we met on the train ride from Sydney, and the locals in Perth highly recommended we check out this vacation destination.

Knowing we might stay overnight on the island, we packed accordingly and stored the bulk of our belongings at the Britannia YHA for safe keeping. It was an easy walk down the hill to the Barrack Street Jetty where we boarded Oceanic Cruises for the 25 minute ride out from the mainland. Dolphins led the way.

When we reached Rottnest Island, I made a connection that made my knees go weak. I realized that I knew about this spot months before we left the 'States. I had seen a movie titled Under the Lighthouse Dancing co-starring Naomi Watts, a true love story, and the scenery was breathtaking. I made a note to one day, someday see it. Once I realized where we were, I knew we would spend at least two nights. A second pleasant discovery was the absence of cars. Rottnest is a tourist destination, and the rules allow for only service vehicles with the rare exception for a private one. Several buses run continuously to get us where we needed to go. Jeff and I snorkeled, walked the beaches, saw quokkas, and enjoyed the day. Quokkas are "rat-like" kangaroo-like marsupials, carrying their young in a pouch. The name Rottnest comes from an early explorer mistaking the area as a "rat's nest," but quokkas are definitely not rats.

This is the famous island quokka. They're cute, friendly, and DO NOT FEED THEM! as the signs post.

The photo below shows quokka tracks on the beach.

Another beach picture....

Seen in Under the Lighthouse Dancing is the historic church (below), and the photo below that is of one of several lighthouses giving the movie its name.

Aussies love this island for day-tripping or week long stays. The nights are quiet, the air is cool, and its history parallels one of our own unique islands in the USA, the island of Alcatraz. More about that in the next blog...

Day 8 of 55 - More about Rottnest Island, Western Australia

Above is a detailed map of the island.

Rottnest Island sits in the Indian Ocean along the SW coastline of Australia, right about where Catalina Island sits off the coast of San Diego, CA. Both locations enjoy the same weather, except the water is colder in this part of Australia.

Australia has an interesting, but brutal beginning known as a "convict past," a continent built on convict labor. Hundreds of years ago, Great Britain sent the baddest of the bad to this remote location on the other side of the world from which there was no escape, and Rottnest Island has preserved a part of this past.

Much like the island of Alcatraz off the coast of northern California, Rottnest is within sight of the mainland. It can see Perth, and Alcatraz can see San Francisco, but escape was nearly impossible from each due to strong currents, cold waters, and a long way to swim.

"The Quod," a set of prison houses on Rottnest that remain to this day, is a reminder of the unfair and brutal treatment of men, Aborigines included. Many of the crimes on record were misdemeanors and didn't warrant the punishment that followed prosecution. Conditions were horrific, and it wasn't until 1902 that the jail was officially closed. A book titled The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes is one of the best known writings about Australia's dark history.

The Rottnest Island we know today reflects a peaceful and friendly atmosphere. Jeff and I chose the busiest times of the year, summer, to visit, and we were lucky to find a room at the Rottnest Lodge. Staying two nights gave us one full day to explore. To be able to snorkel the reefs even in summer, I needed a wet suit, because the waters from Antarctica were cold. It was like swimming off the coast of Maine. brrrrr... Hard to believe reefs survive this close to the South Pole.

In addition to the coral reefs, there are shipwrecks that grace the shores. The island is loaded with natural beauty and history, some sad and some inspiring. The photos below reflect a variety of fish that can be seen swimming in these waters.


Day 9 of 55 - Back to Perth

Our time on Rottnest Island came to a close at 10:45 am when Oceanic Cruises took us back to the mainland, back to Perth. Wanting to enjoy as much of the island as I could with the little time I had left, I got up extra early to explore the island at sunrise. I took a walk down to The Basin, a popular swimming hole. Below are pictures of its crystal clear waters.

It was a 48 hour chapter in my life I will always remember. I hope to return to Rottnest despite the flies. Yes, flies are an issue on this island paradise. Interesting how the Rottnest brochures mention nothing about this major annoyance, the constant bzzzz around our heads from sunrise to sunset, but the island is just so beautiful, we overlooked it. Some tourists resorted to face nets, but Jeff and I toughed it out because that's what the locals do and we wanted to fit in.

Back in Florida, the Mosquito Control squad uses heavy artillery to spray the mosquitoes out of existence. Below is a picture of one of the planes used in Florida. It's a retro-fitted DC-3/C-47. When these guys would fly low and slow dumping poison bombs over the house, I would close the windows and run for cover. Sometimes I didn't close the windows fast enough and the house would fill up with grey fog. Not good. Maybe swatting flies is a better way to live.

Back in the bug-free skies of Perth and exhausted from all the snorkeling, hiking, and swatting, Jeff and I called a cab to take us up the hill from the Barrack Street Jetty. It was time to go to the hostel to collect our belongings. Wanting a change in scenery, we checked into the Metro Inn where we rested, ate, and began planning for our departure to Exmouth the following day. We still had travel logistics to figure out, but that could wait. Why do today what we can put off until tomorrow? Sometimes procrastination is a good thing.

Day 10 of 55 - Exmouth Can Wait

Procrastination. Sometimes it's a good thing.

Jeff and I decided to postpone our flight north to Exmouth...again...this time to see the beautiful city of Fremantle, or "Freo" as the locals call it. It was time to do more sightseeing in the area around Perth, so we extended our stay at Metro Inn. Below are some of the landmarks we visited while wandering through this historic city and international port.

Fremantle Prison was one of the highs and lows of the day. Highs, because it's no longer a prison and a very interesting place to visit. Lows, because it used to be a prison and the noose in the gallows still swings in the rafters where hangings took place not too long ago. The convict past of Australia is told in Freo, and it's filled with brutal stories.

Below is a picture of the prison. The wing on the right is where the Chapel sits. Inside, the words "Thou shalt not commit murder" are in full view, rather than "Thou shalt not kill." Using the word "murder" gave prison officials a clear conscience when they killed murderers in the gallows.

Below is a row of cell blocks. Cells were cramped and cold in the winter and cramped and hot in the summer. Some of the inmates drew beautiful pictures on the walls. Those pictures have since been preserved under plastic.

Below is the noose as it hangs today.

On a lighter note, the day was beautiful, and we continued on to wander around this beautiful seaside town. There was plenty of food and shopping, and the sunsets are worth waiting for.

A memorable Fremantle sunset.


Day 11 of 55 - Still in Fremantle!

So much for plans. Everytime we thought we were headed for Exmouth to begin our snorkeling adventure on the Ningaloo Reef, something in the southwest corner of Oz kept us there. This time it was a submarine tour. Jeff and I had seen advertisements for the grand opening, so we decided to stay one more day and extend our reservation at the Metro Inn, It was a good excuse to visit Fremantle one more time (yay!) and enjoy the good weather. I have a feeling I was avoiding the heat of the north more than anything else. We knew it was going to be scorcher.
Here is a picture I took of one of the many submarines in the area. It might have been the one we were on, but I'm not positive. They all look the same to me. The USA has an active submarine base in Fremantle, and it was interesting to learn about the strong ties the US military has with Australia. It was a common thread throughout our journey.

While touring the submarine, I sat down to play "Submarine Operator" at the control station. The volunteer guide yelled, "DON'T TOUCH THE KEYBOARD! THE SHIP IS LIVE!" He then informed me that had I touched just the right keys in just the right order, I could've launched a torpedo right there on the dock. I felt like a two-year old who had to touch everything. Later, I realized it was probably Aussie humor more than the truth, and they must have had a good laugh over seeing my face flush beet red. Geez. I wasn't really going to press any of the keys. How embarrassing.

We enjoyed another Freo sunset over the Indian Ocean much like the photo in the Day 10 post below. This was our last day in and around Perth. We checked out of the Metro Inn the following morning and got the trip moving. Finally.

I have many beautiful reef pictures I've been saving for the Ningaloo entries, so check back often!

Day 12 of 55 - Flying North on SkyWest Airlines

The driving distance between where we were, Perth, and where we wanted to be, Exmouth, was 9 hours. Most of the distance is through the coastal outback, a barren stretch of land with temps well above 100 degrees. Jeff and I decided to go the easy route and fly SkyWest Airlines to our destination.

After 11 days filled with activity, we asked for a late check-out at the Metro Inn, slept in and enjoyed a day off from our vacation. R&R is just as necessary on vacation as it is at home. We lucked out with the weather too. The day was rainy, our first rain since we arrived, which made relaxing even more relaxing.

It was bittersweet saying good-bye to Perth and Fremantle, not knowing if I would ever see this part of Australia again, but a brand new adventure was about to begin at the Ningaloo Reef. We had coral, fish, turtles, and manta rays to find! Below is a preview of coming attractions.

When we finally settled in at the Potshot Resort, we left plenty of drama in our wake. Without a reservation in our "No Plan" Plan, things worked against us this time out. It brought on a ton of stress, but in the end, we figured things out, and found food and shelter. That's all that mattered.


Day 13 of 55 - Cape Range National Park and the Ningaloo Reef

One night at the Potshot was all that was required to figure out how to get to the Ningaloo Reef. We found a rental jeep in town and headed into the outback. As beautiful as the Ningaloo Reef is and the amount it has to offer, it's remote and difficult to get to. Well, that keeps the crowds down! Since we had camping gear (photo above shows all of our stuff plus the mega jug of water), we headed for Cape Range National Park, a park that borders the reef. We set up camp at Yardie Creek & Gorge. Below are photos of the creek, gorge and our camp. Since it was summertime and unbelievably hot, the park was virtually empty.

Below is our campsite at Ned's Camp.

We were back in kangaroo country and found dozens of 'roos hopping on the beach and hanging out under the eaves of the visitor center. We were definitely out of the city and into the outback!

Day 14 of 55 - Ningaloo Reef and Sea Turtle Nesting

We're at the two-week mark of our journey. This entry will be dedicated to pictures. The day was filled with wildlife and beautiful scenery, and words will only get in the way.

First there was the pretty fish and coral in the Ningaloo Reef.

Then there was the Australian bustard or bush turkey
standing 3 feet tall.

It can fly, and what a sight! Yes, I took this picture. :)

At sunset, we found a high vantage point at
The Vlaming Head Lighthouse in Cape Range National Park, Western Australia.
(I took the lighthouse pictures too.)

The lighthouse at sunset.

After sunset, we found the sea turtles and the sand was flying!

Photo courtesy of
Check out their site for more.
If you'd like to help out during nesting season,
go to and find out how.


Day 15 of 55 - More turtles, fish, and the Ningaloo Reef

After our second night of camping, this time at Ned's Camp, we started the day early with a goal to find Turquoise Bay and continue snorkeling the Ningaloo Reef along the shores of Cape Range National Park. Turquoise Bay is the most beautiful beach I have ever seen, and I declared this day, "The best day ever!" Why? Because I swam with my first wild sea turtle! Click here to watch a video from an Australian TV station that describes my swim.

Below is a picture of me in my oversized shirt to protect me from the sun's rays. This part of Australia is known as "Melanoma Country," so we were covering up and slathering on the sunscreen.

Below is a picture I took just beneath the surface of the water.
There's a lot going on down there!

And this next photo is a picture I took of my first sea turtle. He/she was 3 feet long, small, as turtles go, so it must've been a young one. I used an underwater disposable camera.

Jeff and I had been in Cape Range National Park for 3 days, and we were getting a bit "ripe" due to the lack of fresh running water, so we headed out to Coral Bay, a small town recommended by the locals. At the end of the road, we found the Ningaloo Reef Resort. An oasis in the middle of nowhere. Our room was an efficiency, so we had all the conveniences of home - a shower, small kitchen, and air conditioning! I was ready for a cool spell after 105 degree temps.

Day 16 of 55 - The Ningaloo Reef Resort

Below is a picture of The Ningaloo Reef Resort in Coral Bay, Western Australia.

Christmas was only two days away, and this was our 2nd day at the resort. All we did was eat, snorkel and sleep. Now that's my idea of a vacation!
The Ningaloo Reef is one Australia's two fringing reefs. It runs for miles throughout the Indian Ocean along the shores of Western Australia, positioned where Northern California sits on the shores in the USA. The reef can be accessed from dozens of places in Western Australia. Few people know about the Ningaloo because the Great Barrier Reef gets most of the attention, but it was our #1 planned destination on our Australian Odyssey. The reef comes so close to shore at Coral Bay, no boat is needed to reach it. Just walk out the front door and into the water, and it's there.
Below is a picture I took of a camper bus parked in a nearby caravan park or campground. The name "Priscilla, Queen of the Bitumen" is a spoof on a popular Australian movie titled, "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." It wasn't until my friend, David, the star of PART SIX in the book, visited me in 2009 that I learned the story behind the name of this bus. Bitumen (pronounced bitch-u-men) is what we call blacktop or highway pavement. Mr. Bitumen is the guy who invented the gooey-tarry substance that paves the roadways. And Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a drag queen movie filmed in the outback, the town of Coober Pedy to be exact. I'll be mentioning more about Coober Pedy in the days ahead. For now, you can check out the movie here. I bought it, and it's a hoot! The movie has since been turned into a broadway play, and last I heard, it was playing in London, England. It may still be there.
All photos in this post are genuine trip pictures.


Day 17 of 55 - A Real Outback Adventure

Day 17 was Christmas Eve, and Jeff and I decided to go on a real outback adventure. There is a sheep station 90 minutes from the Ningaloo Reef Resort. We were told we could snorkel the reef from along its shores, so we decided to check it out. We found Warroora Sheep Station, paid $5.00 each, and found the reef. The surf was up, the water was murky, we didn't get a good view of the reef, but we found turtles, lots and lots of sea turtles. It was quite an adventure. A lot happened on this day of the trip, so if you'd like to read more, check out the book version. Every one of these blogs has more detail than will fit in a blog. Readers love the entire story, and here is what some had to say.

Here I am, minutes before we went into the white choppy surf. It was very windy that day. The only people who knew Jeff and I were at this spot were the owners of the sheep station.

Below is a picture of a grave site nearby. The stone reads, "In Memory of Vern Storry Died 24 6 79" (June 6, 1979 or maybe 1879?) Maybe he went swimming and didn't live to tell about it.

Below is a picture of the sheep station from a distance. It's in the outback, on a piece of land the size of a small country (almost), and the owners live off-the-grid. Mail was delivered once a week along with their groceries. It's as remote as it gets. I go into great detail here about the land, the people, their way of life, sheep shearing, and what it was like to drive our rental jeep through the desert and then swim in the rough waters.

At the end of the day, we celebrated being alive (we had our moments) and the beauty of Christmas Eve by dining on the patio of Fin's Cafe (below). The food was fabulous.
Fin's is also where we were able to check emails. I had a lot to tell my friends and family back home.

All photos in this blog are genuine trip photos.