Bicycle tour UPDATE – early Oct 2019


Further details have now come in from the tour company. The tour cost has been reduced to A$5,800 per person. Start date is 14 June 2020 at Tromsø; a second group would start on 20 June.

Click this link to see the full tour details:  NNorway day by day.pdf

There are still vacancies at this time. So far we have 10 bookings; if we end up with less than 20 then the second group will be cancelled. The tour bookings will be finalised by 7th November, whereupon a $300 deposit will be requested; the remainder of the cost in April 2020.

Somebody who has just done this ride in 2019 has written a most excellent blog, which you can visit by CLICKING HERE. She had 13 days of sunshine before it rained!

Norway is an expensive country but this tour is excellent value and must be by far the cheapest way to visit it! There will be 24-hour daylight with views of the Midnight Sun, weather permitting – but due to that, you will not see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) – that is for winter only.

Extension tours before/after the ride come to mind include: boat or train to Trondheim, cute train to Molde, boat to Bergen then train Bergen to Oslo with cute extension to Flaam, boat to Narvik then train to Kiruna (in the far north of Sweden) … Your flight will go via one of Oslo, Helsinki, London or Frankfurt. You can easily fly to Spitsbergen, Iceland, the Faroes or Shetland, etc. The Nobel-prized author Knut Hamsun set his stories in a totally cute fishing village just north of Bødø, which you can ride to.

The riding is easy/medium (40-60 km per day) with no big hills – 200m at worst, although the bridges over the sea have a mighty hilly shape. The ride is self-guided – there is no leader and we will not meet anyone from the tour company (and there is no sag wagon). There are 12 road tunnels on the ride, all excellent condition and fully lit; you trigger a warning sign to motorists that a bike is in the tunnel. The route is mainly coastal, with little traffic; it goes over low passes among the wild mountains of Arctic Norway, so hard riders can ride up and down those if they wish, or ride over the hills instead of using the tunnels.

The overall cost of $5,800 will include:

* Maps, tour descriptions
* Hotel 1 night in Tromsø
* Bike hire with pannier (e-bike extra $500)
* Luggage transfer every day
* 13 twin-room accommodations and breakfasts
* 12 packed lunches and thermos of coffee
* 12 evening dinners
* Bicycle ferries between the islands
* Packed lunch, hotel and farewell dinner in Bødø
* A refundable contingency allowance of about $300.

If you don’t want any of the above, the cost of the item will be refunded. Please call me 0414 991231 or email steve(at) to express interest in this tour.



BICYCLE TOUR 2020 – Arctic Norway


Barbro and Steve Roberts (0414 991 231) have arranged a two-week bicycle tour in Norway, all above the Arctic Circle, under the Midnight Sun, in June 2020. The tour is for Whitehorse Cyclists members only.

The riding will be easy/medium – 40-60 km per day (but you can ride all day and night) – e-bikes are available but the highest elevation we will reach is like 200 metres o.s.l. – the ride mostly follows the coast and goes through passes between the tall mountains. Weather is changeable, from sunny to seriously overcast, and can be rainy – the land sticks out into the North Atlantic Ocean – temperatures hover around +12ºC but do not go below zero at night. There will be 24-hour daylight, with views of the Midnight Sun when the clouds happen to clear.

The tour is self-guided – they provide the bike and the maps, they book the hotels for us, and they bring our suitcases to the hotels. The tour starts in Tromsø and ends in Bodø; see previous posts on this blog for our own visit to these places in 2010. You can fly to these cities via Helsinki or Oslo, or get the train, or the Hurtigruten coastal ferry. There are many options for extension tours before & after the bike tour, including to Bergen, Oslo, Iceland, or remote Svalbard (Spitsbergen).

This tour is a private copy of two commercial tours – click on the company’s pages: Arctic Coast and Lofotens. There are also good independent videos of the actual tours, cycled and described by the widely travelled Darren Alff: click HERE and HERE.

There will be two groups of riders; the respective tour dates are 14-27 June, and 21 June – 3 July 2020. The itinerary will be:

  • Starts: Tromsø – Quality Hotel Saga
  • Sommarøy – Arctic Hotel
  • Mefjord – Brygge
  • Hamn i Senja
  • Marmelkroken
  • Sortland Hotel
  • (we can’t stay in Svolvaer – already booked out)
  • Nyvågar – Rorbu cabins
  • Gimsøysand – Lofoten Links Lodges
  • Kremmervika – Rorbu cabins
  • Reine – Rorbu cabins
  • Bodø – a hotel – tour ends

The hire bikes are left at Bodø. The Rorbu cabins sleep 4 in comfort and we generally stay 2 nights in each cabin.

Ballpark figure for the cost is AUD $7,000 plus $2,000 for return air fare. This includes bike hire, ALL THE FOOD!, ferries, and luggage transport every day. Extras that are not included: single room supplement, alcohol, insurance, e-bike.

Expressions of Interest are now sought (click to email me) and must be in by 31 October; the two tour groups will then be formed from those chosen and announced on 7 November.



We caught the jet boat from Svolvaer and arrived in Bodo at 9am; our train would leave here at midnight. Now, what to do for 15 hours in Bodo? The main street looked cute:

And there was a kids’ paddling pool with a walrus in it:

Of course, the pool would freeze over in the winter. Two churches, damaged by the Nazis and rebuilt during the post-war austerity of the 1950s (when Norway was a poor, backward country – very hard to believe now):

The font in one church has that natty Font Cover, and apparently there is a light globe under the font, not for illuminating the Nether Regions, but because the water in the font freezes over in winter and they were having to crack through the ice to baptize anyone. Actually, those incandescent heat-emitting light globes are very non-PC now, so there should be some other way of heating the font by now – and carbon neutral, I hope. By burning wood, maybe – which, surprisingly, is carbon neutral as the trees absorb CO2 as they grow – the priest could stoke it up and preach a sermon on the Fires of Hell. (A town called Hell being just down the road, near Trondheim.) And cook up some soup, or make a fondue.

Inside, the church has an austere Lutheran decor, and the two dates when the church was consecrated on this site are in Roman numerals over the side chapel entrance. The two dates: 1030 and 1955.

But what else to do? I bought a Bag of Prawns for lunch, and ate them all.

I recalled our honeymoon in Trondheim, just south of here, in 1977 – yes that is me, a much younger and more abstemious man, eating (or, strictly, savouring and about to eat) a single prawn, from the bag which was the only food we could afford to buy in the 2-week trip. We had brought cans of beans over from England, and we lived off those.

But back to Bodo … having seen the church and the paddling pool with a walrus in it, and having scoffed all the prawns in a prodigal orgy of 21st-century gluttony, what else do to? We went into the tourist office. “Not much to do here” they said. “Have you seen the church and the paddling pool with the walrus in it? Oh. Well, the only other thing is to go and watch the tide coming in.”

So, we got a local bus to the bridge of Saltstraumen, 30 km away, beneath which the strongest tidal current in the world flows twice a day, and we gazed upon the Maelstrom. Not a maelstrom – The Maelstrom. Great eddies and whirlpools of water all over the fjord – an unforgettable sight.

There was that man in his little row-boat – but when he saw the whirlpools he fled like a bat out of hell –

Every day of this trip, there was a little miracle. Yesterday, Dopey executed by Hitler; today, this. Tomorrow, Andalsnes, then Molde and Bergen .. but we now interrupt this blog to describe my Arctic Norway Bicycle Tour of 2020, which is just now being finalised.

Svolvaer, in the Lofoten Islands


The Lofoten Islands stick out sharply into the Atlantic Ocean, and Svolvaer is their biggest town. You can ride a bike to Reine and Å – yes a village called Å, which they speak of with ‘awe’ … but we had no transport so were stuck in Svolvaer; we arrived by boat and left by jet-foil two days later. It was a cute town, with a market square in which a sort of small fun-fair and market was operating.

All around the town, covering the countryside, were huge wooden fish drying racks. But our visit was not during the fish season, because they were all empty. Or maybe nobody dries fish like that any more. It is probably illegal.

There were many wooden fishermen’s buildings and wooden walkways between them, even on poles over the water (saving on land tax?) from the old fishing days when the town must have been a frantic, bustling hive of activity.

Oddly, there was a very good World War 2 Museum here. Norway of course was occupied by Germany on 7 April 1940 but continued to run sort of normally, with Germans being given the “cold shoulder” by the locals (this is where that expression comes from). More of that anon, but the museum had a lot of WW2 stuff, with many personal things pertaining to the way of life during the occupation. Here’s the tea kettle from a sunk British battleship, and a shell casing from the guns of the Scharnhorst.

And Christmas tree baubles with swastika and SS symbol … how very festive … Baubles with Christmassy pictures of Stalingrad would not have sold very well. But look what you can find at art auctions –

– this Alpine view for example, signed in 1940 by A.Hitler, a minor artist. When the picture was taken out of its frame, watercolour sketches of Pinocchio, Dopey, Bashful and Doc were found hidden behind it.

Hitler was very fond of Snow White – everybody was – and owned his own copy of the film from 1938 (well, from 1938 until 1945). He apparently wished that the Germans would make films like that. I would strongly agree … Pinocchio, Dopey, Bashful and Doc were executed by Hitler in 1938, as indeed were a number of other people.

If only the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts had been kinder in awarding their scholarships in 1907 and 1908 … these sketches were gifted to Eva Braun and eventually were stored in the tunnels under the Obersalzberg. I don’t know what these sketches were doing in the very good Lofoten War Memorial Museum, in Svolvaer, but there they were. Being a sort of Hitler aficionado, imagine how I felt when I came upon them at random.

Tromsø to Svolvaer


Tromsø is on its own little island, and the airport is only about 5km from the town (look at the scale at bottom right). Even then, when we flew back in from Svalbard, I thought I’d be stingy and get the public bus instead of the expensive taxi. So we piled onto the #45 bus at the airport, it trundled off into the suburbs and then the driver stopped, in the middle of nowhere, as one of the two bus doors would not open. He then decreed the bus to be undriveable and threw all the passengers out, into the tundra. (And drove off.) So we got our taxi after all. On top of the bus fare.

This is one of the many Hurtigruten ferries, and it is unique in being the only one to be on land instead of the usual “in the water” mode of travel. We travelled by Hurtigruten ferry – (not this one – another one) … and by taxi, as you will see, from Tromso to Svolvaer.

I must say that these names are difficult to type correctly: T,r,o,m,s,o falls off the keyboard in the wrong order, and has an ‘ø’ in it (Norwegian for ‘island’), and Svolvaer is not only impossible to spell or type but has the letter ‘æ’ in it. “vær” in Old Norse means “fishing village” and “svalr” means “chilly, cold” – be warned.

The Norwegian alphabet has 29 letters, 3 extra, like Swedish. These are æ, ø, å, and of course they have to be written differently from the Swedish å, ä, ö – and in the wrong order. On top of that, there are two Norwegian languages – Bokmål (“”book tongue”) and Nynorsk (“new Norwegian”) and people have to be educated in both. This map shows where the two forms are spoken –

– and the grey areas are where something else is spoken. Norway is a long, thin country and the black areas, being outside Norway, do not matter, being either underwater or part of Sweden.

So. We boarded our Hurtigruten ferry at midnight and steamed off southwards. We had a cabin with two bunk beds, but in the morning Barbro fell out of the upper one (which was quite difficult, as the cabin was only a few inches wider than the bunk beds in it) and broke a finger. “Hmmm” said the Purser, who must have coped with this crisis before “You can get off the boat at Risoyhamn, get it looked at by the local doctor, then get a taxi to Stormarknes and pick up this boat again from there, 3 hours later.” The map below shows the Hurtigruten ferry route. I have marked where Oslo and Stockholm are, but Hurtigruten haven’t.

This Cunning Plan went well, except we had to wait to be seen at the bush clinic at Risoyhamn, so we were in a panic in the taxi. But we made it by a few minutes. And, the taxi fare was … er … $400.

The ferry steamed its way between the islands. The view and weather changed by the hour; here are some views, covering a time span of 3 hours; the first one is kind of abstract.

Here’s one of several bridges between the islands. This is relevant to cyclists because climbing up such bridges will be among the steeper slopes on the 2020 bike ride; we won’t get much higher than that! There is hardly any traffic, or none, and the view from the top of the bridge will be very good and then you can voom down the other side, preferably without falling off as I did in Sardinia.

The ferry diverted to go up a narrow fjord –

– with that father saying “Look over this way son, it is safer”. And we finally arrived in Svolvaer, at tea time. The main things to see here, apart from the spectacular scenery, are the historical WW2 museum and the fish drying racks. Yes, the fish drying racks. More of these things anon.

Tromsø, and giants


Norway is a land of giants – a southern part of the country is actually called Jotunheimen. There is a strong folk belief in trolls, as scary, large, and dangerous beings; photographic accidents like this one do not help.

Some Norwegians are giants of stature rather than height. Fritjof Nansen pioneered the exploration of the North and South Poles, and was awarded the Nobel Prize, but that was for doing something else. Roald Amundsen beat Capt Scott to the South Pole, and came back not only alive but slightly heavier and fatter than when he set out, having ridden all the way by dog sledge and never having pulled a sledge himself. Thor Heyerdahl wanted to sail a raft across the Pacific Ocean, and was forbidden and told that it couldn’t possibly succeed, but he went ahead and did it anyway.

More of these three men later – their ships are displayed in Oslo – but for now I note that every Norwegian city has its memorials to them. The Nansen memorial here is in a little city park with an eerie silver octopus nearby, so you can give him a funny hat.

Harken now to the story of local lad Eidis Hansen. He was a sickly baby and unwell boy – his parents often came to the church to pray that he would survive and grow up, and they conferred a chandelier to the church in gratitude when their prayers were heard; Eidis grew up and became a fisherman. After one multi-day fishing trip he landed here in town, exhausted and with a sailor’s thirst, but was refused a drink at the pub. Angry, he went down to the shoreline, picked up this red granite rock and dumped it in the doorway of the pub.

The rock weighs 371 kg. And, (after getting his drink) Eidis lived to be 93 years old.

We spent a couple of nights in quite a good Tromsø hotel, on the main street and then we flew to Longyearbyen for a two-week cruise around Svalbard (Spitsbergen), of which more another time. Flew back to Tromsø and got the Hurtigruten ferry overnight to Svolvaer, in the Lofoten Islands – which is where my 2020 bike tour will go too. Here comes our ferry, at midnight. What sights and adventures are to come – and will await my riders in 2020?

Tromsø city


The photo at the top of all my blog pages is Tromsø Cathedral, built in 1965; here’s the inside:

A massive church organ was installed in 2005, and after attending a concert at midnight one night we walked back into the city, over the bridge that you see in the photo. The sky was cloudy but there was a clear strip along the horizon, so when the sun came down low, its golden dusky sunlight suddenly streamed over the bridge and cathedral. But here’s some more pictures; this is Tromsø’s main drag:

Notice the traffic – there isn’t any. There is a major university (thus, there is a very active social and night life in the city) and an extensive Botanical Gardens, with polar flowers.

The polar regions do have an abundant plant and animal life, but the trees and flowers are quite small. (The trees can be just a few centimetres high; standing on apparently bare ground, you suddenly realise that you are standing in a forest.)

Tromsø has a very good Polar Museum, with relics of Engineer Andree’s disastrous Balloon Expedition to the North Pole (1897), and an art gallery:

Yes, it is supposed to look like that … I built a chook shed once that looked a bit like that, but I got no Architectural Design Prize for it; they all laughed instead.

Arctic Norway – Tromsø


Tromsø (pop 75,000) is the third largest city anywhere north of the Arctic Circle, after Murmansk (rapidly shrinking) and Noril’sk (you don’t want to go there). You fly via Oslo or Helsinki to get to it, or you can get a (slow) train all the way up the coast, or use the Hurtigruten ferries which ply up and down the whole coast of Norway, every day. The city is prosperous, and the population is increasing rapidly. It has a major university that specialises in Arctic, atmospheric, and global studies.

Norway is a wonderfully well-organised, rich and stable country, split off from being a part of Sweden until 1905. From North Sea oil they have paid off all their national debts, and are channelling their oil money into a public fund that can be used only for public projects; every Norwegian man, woman and child is thereby a millionaire. Nothing needs to be subsidised and some things are taxed, so certain things are expensive in Norway – a cup of coffee is about $8 and a civilised steak dinner $50, plus beer at $15 a glass. Cheap house wine is $80 a bottle. If you have to ask what proper wine costs, you probably can’t afford it.

Barbro and myself, having travelled to Sweden many times (I think I’ve been there 22 times – in 1991 I passed a job interview in Swedish and was offered the job) decided we would make a proper tour of Norway, some years ago. So we flew to Oslo and Tromsø, made our way along the coast all the way down to Bergen and then by train back across to Oslo. We also did a two-week cruise around Svalbard (Spitsbergen), which is a separate story. Now I am going to organise a Bicycle Tour, starting out of Tromsø in June 2020, and this is why I am writing this trip up now.

Tromsø is well above the Arctic Circle, so there is 24-hour daylight in the summer. Its local climate is warmer than you might think, due to the Gulf Stream. Here’s the city and harbour at midnight, and the iconic statue of a fisherman, with smaller depictions of his boat & family:

The city can have a bizarre atmosphere – it has all the shops and cafes of a major city, plus an intense night life partly fuelled by the university students but when you walk around the streets and visit the harbour in daylight at 2 am, there is nobody about.

And, the manhole covers have a reindeer on them.

Existentialist Algebra


Problem: A flock of sheep stands in a field. One-third of them jump over the fence, 1/5 of the remainder are eaten by wolves, the neighbouring farmer steals half of those left, and then one sheep is abducted by a UFO, leaving 3 sheep. How many sheep were originally in the field?

The Master begins: Let X be the number of sheep in the field.

Acolyte: Master, a question already vexes me.

Master: Ask me your question.

Acolyte: What if X is not the number of sheep in the field?



But this blog page is just a marker to re-start the blog … I have also delayed the forthcoming posts, already written “Manhole Covers of South Africa” and “Things to See in Abu Dhabi” and “Tasmania Motorbike Trip” and “Foghorns of the Bass Strait” – because I am suddenly planning an overseas ride for my Bicycle Club, starting in Tromsø, and I want to write now about a trip to those places, that we have actually done. So hang in here for a series of posts about northern Norway!

And if you want a picture, look at the top of this post! That is Tromsø Cathedral, photographed at 1 o’clock in the morning. I’ve been using that picture for years, so I’ll be taking a fresh photo of it, at 1 a.m. on 14 June 2020.

My Electric Planer


First, let me recall the joke about the Norwegian who brought his new chainsaw back to the shop “You said this would cut 50 trees in a day, but I can only do 3 or 4.” “Let’s have a look at it, then” said the shopkeeper, pulling hard on the cord and starting up the motor. “What’s that noise?” said the Norwegian.

Now, here is my electric wood plane. I bought it from my friend Brian, a Scottish Jew, so he drove a hard price … but I loved this electric plane. It didn’t half go, reducing the thickness of wood mightily and showering wood shavings all over the room. You could choose whether to shower them to the left or to the right, but shower them you must.

It planed very well for months, but then one day – one day in February, and it’s now August – there was a loud bang, and then it did not plane so well. I turned the blades down lower, I pushed down harder, I turned the blades down lower still and pushed down harder, but still it was doing a very poor job. I cursed and swore … not behaving much like our Saviour, who was a carpenter in his early life. Although, when he hit his thumb with the hammer he would shout “Ow! Me!”

A brief internal examination of my electric plane showed that the drive belt had snapped, so that the cylinder that holds the blades was not rotating at all. No wonder it was doing such a bad job. Never mind, thought I, tra la la, I will buy a new drive belt. With gladness in my heart I looked on eBay for a spare 96.11-51.6074 toothed drive belt – no hope. Nobody had one.

OK, let’s measure it. 60 teeth, 150mm, 15mm wide. After much searching on eBay I found a vendor of a similar belt. Paid my money, waited two weeks, the belt arrived and with bated breath I fitted it to the planer, or rather, I didn’t because it would not fit, despite having the right number of teeth, separation and width. I re-checked the broken belt and counted the teeth twice more – actually it had now 61 teeth because it was broken, but a judicious reassembly made the end two teeth converge.

So I mulled this over for a month or two, went to Africa, came back, did another web search. Now I found a supplier, a single supplier worldwide who was in Poland, and they had, not the 96.11-51.6074, but a belt just like it that was named as the proper substitute. And for only 90 zloty! I put two belts in the shopping cart, but their web pages were entirely in Polish and I could not find the button that said “pay”; soon, I gave up. Perhaps I should use the Google Chrome browser, which translates web pages automatically. Google Translate failed to render the shopping cart page and I couldn’t be bothered to type out all the Polish text.

But now, in a flash of brilliance I realised that I could search on Google for, not the 96.11-51.6074, but the look-alike Polish belt. And I found a supplier of that belt, guess where, at 149 Heidelberg Road, about 2 km from my house.

I rushed over there, bringing the broken belt plus the belt that did not fit, and was served at the counter by an experienced engineer in a brown workshop coat. He looked at my 96.11-51.6074, scratched his head and said “Never seen anything like it in me life”. And he clearly knew all the code numbers for toothed drive belts, many types of which were displayed at the counter.

So he went away to fetch several books about drive belts, thumbed through these and found a look-alike; went off again and brought a whole foot-long tube of Optibelt ZR-120XL, from which belts of any width could be cut, and sliced off two 15-mm ones for me. After six months, I thought that was $23 well spent.

When we tried putting one of these new belts inside the one that would not fit, and vice versa, we saw that the fit was different. Oh, that’s easy, said the engineer, some belts have teeth separated by exactly 5 mm and some are nominally 5 mm but are actually 5.08 mm (which is exactly 1/5 of an inch) so a 60-tooth belt will be a little bit longer. And these German-made planes are using the 1/5 inch belts! Ha! Ha! When Britain leaves the EU what will they use then, eh?

Rushed home, and the new belt fitted. And the electric plane didn’t half go again. Imagine my joy, as I once again covered the room in vast orgasmic spurts of wood shavings – which was further enhanced by noting that there are still engineering companies out there, with men in brown coats doing actual mechanical work. One day they might be “Naismith Engineering – a branch of Guangdong Chungho Toyohita Ltd” and when you call them up you’d get the computerised voice dispatcher and the run-around, finally speaking to someone in India. Later on there might be no building at all, only a web site. But for now, Naismith Industrial Power Transmission, 149 Heidelberg Road, thank you.

Oklahoma City Manhole Cover


A brief interlude: Someone sent me this photo of the eponymous manhole cover. A caption around the edge of this item, relates the proud recent history of Oklahoma City, including a visit by the Rolling Stones.

The design on the surface of the cover shows a map of the very city in which it is placed. Furthermore, the white dot shows exactly where it is placed – it’s right outside the Cox Convention Centre on West Sheridan Avenue. I can see it on Google Maps Street View.

If ever I find myself in Oklahoma City, I will easily navigate my way by scrutinising the manhole covers.

If I ever get to the USA, of course. Our kitchen calendar: “Today I have decided to not be afraid of the world!” And the world that he does not fear is a world with Europe, Africa, Russia and Australia – but no USA.

Victoria Falls


The Africa part of our recent rip ended at Victoria Falls, just over the border into Zimbabwe. We would not have entered the country except to see the falls – it costs US$30 to enter the country, $30 to get into the Falls Reserve, plus another $50 to visit the Zambia side of the falls, plus overnight accommodation and dinner, so Victoria Falls generates quite a revenue.

Nevertheless Zimbabwe, which as Southern Rhodesia was famed for its fabulous wealth from gold, is now an extremely poor and primitive country. At the border post, for example –

– there is chaos, a long queue, the officers sit in a temporary building and they write everything out by hand, there being no computers. What was very apparent, here and at the Vic Falls town, however, was a procession of trucks thundering through, carrying heavy mining equipment into Zambia, and trucks going the other way carrying out metallic copper.

A well-organised National Park surrounds the waterfall itself, and a lot of sutff is named after Dr Livingstone, he of the presumption. Here he is, being shot by tourists.

The waterfalls themselves were very impressive, but apparently at other times of the year they are really, really impressive, with 1,000 tons of water going over per second.

The spray is intense, over to the right in that picture and you would get totally soaked. We had to put on our sou’westers, which were made in NZ South Island and are totally waterproof. About 100 metres away from the ravine, the spray stops quite abruptly. You can see the path is wet where I’m standing but dry, two metres ahead.

The sun shines in a cloudless sky, so the waterfall generates a rainbow at certain angles.

There is even a second rainbow, with reversed colours. It is more visible in that second photo, which I have revved up in Photoshop.

The river at the bottom of the falls runs along a ravine with sheer 150-metre cliffs. People sit on the very edge and take selfies.

Note the safety rail – there isn’t one. But the bodies of those who fall over the edge are soon washed away, into Mozambique.

Six of us took a dinner cruise on the upper waters above the Falls, which look very calm and inviting in daylight. Luckily the boat engine did not fail! We got our dinner, with splendid sunset views (ho hum). A hippo on the bank looked disappointed not to get invited to dinner, but the food was nouvelle-cuisine, after all.

This dinner concluded the Africa part of our recent trip. We spent 6 hours at Johannesburg airport and then spent a 3-day stopover in Abu Dhabi, UAE. There are exactly two things to see in Abu Dhabi, but both are amazing; watch for the next two blog posts. And then my poor overworked blog will sag back into its normal state.

Chobe National Park


Just south of the point where four countries meet (Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia), there’s another national park, this one along the Chobe River which meanders over a flat plain at the bottom of a range of hills. Islands are thereby cut off; Botswana/Namibia disputed the ownership of one of them, which was resolved by Dutchmen from the international court in The Hague.

Our hotel had a huge, lofty roof – look at the sheer length of the cross-beams in this structure; they must be 20 metres. I’ve marked a couple of them.

Professional-looking photographers went out onto the river in a special boat with fixed camera mounts, and some serious photo gear.

The park had the usual bird and animal life, here’s two birds, the first one fluorescent blue (and standing on a scattered elephant turd) –

We did several trips, turning out early (before dawn) for the first one. A pride of 7 or 8 lions wandered by, passing about a metre behind our 4WD car.

Our 4WD’s front bullbar included a handy tray that hinged up, so we could place cups of tea on it.

Later we did a boat trip to visit a dead hippopotamus in the water, with many crocodiles hanging around to feast on it. More crocs were on the river bank … I’ve shown crocs already, so I will just show the dentition of this one.

That tired old croc had its eyes shut, but it opened them and gazed upon me with a weary, baleful stare. I stayed on the boat. Rare two-tone elephants from Botswana crossed the river, thereby becoming Namibian elephants –

– and proceeded to cavort in a mud hole that they visit every day. Elephants have very long eyelashes to protect their eyes, as you can see in this close-up of one that was about 5 metres away.

The park, having water from the Chobe river, has comparatively lush vegetation and trees, which showed some magnificent hues at sunset. I swear that I have not photoshopped these pictures.

Botswana village


We came out of the Okavango delta, a hard day starting an hour before dawn with a merciless two-hour boat “ride” at 35 kph and very cold. Then all day on the bus at full speed, to go into Botswana. It’s a neat country, entirely within the Kalahari Desert and its laid-back, secure way of life is cutely described in the “No.1 Ladies Detective Agency” books. The roads are pretty awful, and there are tiny villages all along.

Here and there, people sell souvenirs by the roadside – little models of the mokoro canoes, and stuff. You can get letters of the alphabet and spell your name out in canoes, especially if your name is Bezadmp.

After a long, long day we approached the border town of Katima Mulilo, signposted here and also from 800 km away.

One of the great ironies of life is that I downloaded this comical photo in 2002, 17 years ago –

and at that time, and ever since, I have thought that I would never actually get to Katima Mulilo, wherever that might be. But now, I was stomping around the actual town!

We arrived at our camp in the dark and the next day set off to visit a nearby village. This is the hut we slept in –

– and in the night, elephants were roaming all around it (their turds were deposited everywhere) and one of the other huts had a hippopotamus actually underneath it! The hotel reception area had large wooden carvings standing around – a 200kg hippo for example – including this counter-hopping game, often called Mankala. It dates from thousands of years ago and covers all of Africa – boards were found in the Pyramids of Egypt. Around here, the game has 4 rows of 8 pots but I know it as Owari from a trip I did to Liberia in 1981, and there it had two rows of 6 pots. I wasted years of my spare time – 1988 and 1989 mainly – programming my home PC to play this game.

In the morning we visited a village, I did not take too many photos but here’s a typical village hut for a family. They have no money at all, but I would not say that they are poor – the village and surrounding environment provides everything.

And that is a typical garden, with small trees that have to be watered. The left-hand tree is there, not for its fruit, but only because the people like its leaves and flowers. So their life is not as harsh as we would judge it to be. Here’s the centre of the village –

– with animal footprints, but you will see that they keep it tidy and have raked the earth. Here’s Barbro and the guide looking at an elephant footprint –

They are wondering why there is only one footprint! Perhaps the elephant was hopping. Or hang-gliding. The village has a swing for the kids –

It’s broken at the moment, they need another length of blue stuff to make two, but note that it would swing out over the village’s garbage heap. The kids must hang on very tightly.

Okavango – canoe and helicopter rides


At the camp, deep in the Okavango delta, we did a morning walk, mokoro (canoe) excursion and Barbro took a ride in a helicopter. Here we go into the bush – we keep in single file to minimise ground damage – passing by the base of an 800-year-old baobab tree.

An elephant footprint:

– and that’s elephant poo, from a male animal. How can we tell? Because he’s done a wee as well, and the wee trail is displaced, to the left. Here’s an elephant turd, halfway up a bush (for clarity: the elephant turd is on the right).

I’m glad I wasn’t anywhere near there when that was done … now, what left these marks?

Those are the marks of the rare helicopter, in which Barbro took a jaunt; her photo of hippos:

Landscapes of the delta:

That last one looks like you are falling into the Mandelbrot Set … some deer running in the very shallow water, and a line of mokoro canoes being poled along.

We rode in the mokoros; here’s two of the punters:

– and that’s them, after they have found out there will be a hefty tip! Poling along, we came to an open lake:

And those 9 or 10 things in the lake are hippopotamuses. You should have heard the bull hippo roaring – loud and aggressive enough to scare away another bull hippo. They are looking cautiously at our canoes, and are mildly displeased. You not swim in this lake, no no no.

Back on land, many of the trees have a parasitic fig growing up beside them –

When the wind blows, the two trees bend and rub together, and fires can start. Now what have we here…

Not the hat, not the hat – the hole! There is an aardvark living down there! I tried to freak out, but this was as near as I ever got to viewing my most fetishised animal. There will be an aardvark blog post later (no … don’t run away!)

Botswana – the Okavango Delta


Welcome to Botswana, with its free condoms! We are at the top left corner (where the map has grubby fingermarks) and now we go into the Okavango Delta. The river flows into the delta, and all of its water evaporates, so the land is marshy and the water level fluctuates. The delta is huge – you can see it quite clearly if you fill your screen with the southern half of Africa – and it has a terrific swampland ecology with birds, hippo’s and crocodiles.

We arrived at the river bank, probably HERE (when you look at the map, in Satellite View, you’ll realise how handy what3words can be out here), got into a boat and motored down the river for 84 km – yes, 84 km – viewing crocodiles and hippos on the way. Here’s two fish eagles perched atop a riverbank tree.

Birds in flight:

Two more birds.

The riverbank is lined with papyrus, that’s it growing there. You can peel off the skin in strips and make paper out of it (laboriously), but having done that (or not, as the case may be), you can eat the pith and it tastes like coconut.

We went past a group – a pod, herd, dale or bloat – of hippos, who promptly all queued up and plunged into the river … right beside our boat.

In Egypt, the First Dynasty pharaoh Menes (circa 3100 BCE) got carried away. Well, when you’re the Pharaoh I suppose you can get carried away as much as you like, but poor Menes was carried away by a hippopotamus. He had reigned for 62 years, having disposed of all his enemies, but I bet he never thought he’d go like that. Hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa – they can run fast, believe it or not, and they are bloody powerful. Two alpha-male hippos will fight to the death if they meet.

The crocodiles must be nearly as bad; we often got this close.

Crikey, look at that dentition, but you will see worse yet. After getting tired of looking at the animals, we tore along at 35 kph for a couple of hours (the boat had a 115 hp Yamaha engine) and eventually turned up an obscure, narrow tributary.

Then, after crossing two small lakes we arrived at our camp. It had wi-fi!! so I could see where we were; and, Lord help me, we were in a tent HERE

– marked by the X in the red ring on that map. The sun set over the lake, and the cook laid out some basic but excellent food.

The colours of the lake at sunset were like nothing I had ever seen. I’ve left this picture in high quality for you all, please click on it and use it for your screen wallpaper, as I have.

Across NW Namibia


Another full day in the bus – we have to cover 5,600 km in this 22-day trip – the picture below shows our group at a roadside rest stop. The blue and white fences are made from worn-out blades of road graders.

Here in NW Namibia, the locals build circular huts with a layered or smooth thatched roof. The roof is built and thatched on the ground, and then lifted into place.

We arrived late in the day at our hotel, beside the Okavango river. The rooms were in separate huts, some (not ours) with a river view … and with mosquitoes. The decking around the main building was plastic and had been oiled, with amusing results for those not falling over.

Sunset on the Okavango, and our group:

My dear wife, either
(a) lit by the setting sun, or
(b) angry, or
(c) embarrassed, or
(d) All of the above.

Etosha NP – Giraffe & Lion


Still on that day in the Etosha NP – here are some of the hundreds of giraffes.

The giraffe has the highest blood pressure of all the animals, with a specially evolved powerful heart that can get the blood up to the head. When it lowers its head to feed or for whatever purpose, it would go dizzy and faint but for an also-evolved valve that shuts off the blood flow to some extent. The giraffe sleeps lying on the ground but with the head and neck sticking up, and still looking. Lions, you know. When it swallows, it tilts its head back, and more special valves come into play to help with peristalsis.

The skin has that famous blotchy pattern – different on every individual – and the blotches are different and smaller on the legs.

As we drove past a herd of giraffes – sorry, a tower of giraffes, to use the correct collective noun (there’s also a corps, and a totter of giraffes) – anyway, there was a giraffe and another one and some more of them. And, [Jacob!] they took fright, and ran, towards the bus, which was a bit daft, really, but the driver braked, and they ran across the road, in front of us, commas flying in all directions. They ran quite fast, but the camera shows some comical poses.

Now the lions. You can tell there’s a lion (or cheetah or leopard) about, because no other animals are about. They rest for much of the time, and hunt both day and night.

That picture was above the bed in our hotel room – very appropriate, I thought, but Barbro said a two-toed sloth or a dead walrus would be more apt; and that my performance reminded her of Napoleon … but Napoleon’s dead, I replied. Yes, she said. Anyway, to get that picture you’d have to find a lion and then get it angry – angry at somebody else. Photographer’s assistant wanted, good pay and benefits, including widow’s pension.

Here’s two lions, lion down –

A maned lion, walking off into the bush –

Now here’s a great shot of a female lion, or it would be if the camera had not insisted on focussing on a twig in the line of sight.

But with manual focussing I got the above photo. You’re not allowed to get out of the vehicle in these parks, and if you did, you’d want to get back in pretty quick. More and better-depicted lions, in a few days.

Etosha NP – Rhino & Zebra


We were really hoping to see a rhinoceros. And, [there’s that comma again – sorry, Jacob] we saw four different ones; here they are:

– that last one being behind tree branches until it skulked away, whereupon we got a clear view of its bum. Didn’t they charge you? – not as much as the women posing for photographs in native dress.

Now, here come the zebras.

We got a bit zebra’d out, but they make good pictures.

And finally, some zebra bums to resemble that retreating rhinoceros.

You can see by looking at the bums that the zebra is a white horse with black stripes, not vice versa. In fact we saw two quite different types of zebra – plains zebras here, and on another day high up in the mountains there were mountain zebras, astonishingly agile on the rocky slopes.

Factoid: zoo keepers will tell you that the most dangerous animals in the zoo – after the humans, of course, who are much worse than any other species – are the zebras. They bite hard and don’t let go.

Etosha NP – Birds & elephants


The park has a thriving bird life, especially around the edges of the salt pan. I forget what that curved-beak one is called, but here’s our friend the bustard again.

And a falcon in mid-flight. If you are wondering how I got the falcon to pose like that, well, I wasted a lot of film, as they used to say. Look at the incandescent colours on this shrike and kingfisher. They are unpleasant to eat, so they advertise themselves to predators.

Two vultures sitting on a tree.

But the heads are on backwards …

Ah, that’s better; the proper vulture pose. Now on to the elephants. These are easily distinguished because they are much bigger and can’t fly. They leave destructive tracks all over the bush, usually with a sprinkling of giant turds.

You can find them easily at waterholes, or just standing around … we got pretty well all elephanted out.

The hotel had its own watering hole, lit by a dim red light; about 50 people were there in the dark and their silence was really amazing – the click of my camera shutter sounded like a pistol shot. Here’s elephants at the waterhole, in almost pitch darkness.

After a few minutes one of the mothers (the big one nearest to the light) decided to walk away, very slowly, and the others all followed. At that point Barbro and me, being tired and a bit fed up, left but of course other animals were waiting in the bushes for the elephants to go away, and they came out to the waterhole by species; next were leopards, which we missed and never saw anywhere else, and then rhinoceros. The procession went on all night.

Elephants of course are very intelligent; this one evidently knows something.

How do you distinguish an elephant from a strawberry? – It’s very easy, elephants are grey and strawberries are red.

What did Hannibal say when he saw the elephants crossing the Alps? – Here come the elephants.

What did Hamilcar, Hannibal’s father, say when he saw the elephants crossing the Alps? – Here come the strawberries. (He was colour blind.)

I was told that joke in 1963 and have not repeated it since. I’m glad to get it out of my system now, after these 56 years; I hope that some of my readers can tell it in the year 2075. There are more animals to come … but what a day this was, in the Etosha National Park!


Etosha National Park


This is our trip … now we are on the straight line crossing the blue patch in the top left corner. That “blue patch” is the Etosha National Park, which contains a dried-up river and a huge salt pan, which floods every few years.

There’s even a small island in that salt pan picture, but, the rest of the Etosha Pan is flat, useless, crumbly, salty, sandy soil.

Nothing grows or can grow on the salt pan. Nevertheless, it is the homeland of the Haiǁom people (the name has a click sound in it), and here’s a herd of wildebeest that has gone out onto it.

And, just visible in that photo is a lone male ostrich. Thesse animals are not renowned for their intellectual ability, unlike many other members of the African fauna. A bustard contemplates the arid landscape.

The buffet and a-la-carte meals in the hotels usually include several local animals, notably kudu and oryx, which must be easy to catch and cook. I have not seen loin of lion yet … but the bustard would make a natty dessert – yes! Bustard and custard.

I have no idea what that fox-like animal is. The next ones are a kudu and a caracal. This post now shows a collection of various fauna of the park, before I write separate posts of: birds and elephants; rhinoceros and zebra; giraffe and lion. All of which we saw in quantity, in the Etosha NP.

Now a warthog, and a muntjac.

Africa is a paradise for Scrabble players, with its muntjac, oryx, kudu, zebra, and of course aardvark, of which more anon. Here’s some impalas, with beautiful curved horns.

And yes! Here’s a mongoose … and another one.

Deep in the middle of the park, which is about 100 x 150 km in size, is a small heavily fenced area, the only place where homo sapiens is permitted to get out of its vehicles, urinate, smoke, talk noisily, and leave litter. These specimens were brought in for the animals to look at.



We said farewell to Swakopmund, with its German-style church and buildings … that last one is the prison, sorry about the quality of the photo but I could not really hang around for a better shot. We passed over 100km or so of the vast Namibian desert – here’s a quarry, note the mirage –

– or perhaps they are trying to quarry the mirage, I mean, it would be valuable to possess one, bottled up – and we came back to the coast, where a 1980s shipwreck is sitting.

Note the ghastly, cold, windy weather … they call this place the Skeleton Coast, and you can have literally miles of beach all to yourself. Then we moved inland, rising back up to the flat plain 900-1100m above sea level which covers nearly all of southern Africa. The weather became hot and dry again.

Amazingly, a man was walking around in the desert in that photo – he’s in the exact centre of the picture. We passed some isolated mountains which are national treasures, notably this one, Mt Brandberg, a huge 20-km sized circular volcanic plug, best seen on the map.

Stopped for lunch in a town called Uis, nearby; there were tin mines here but the ore ran out. The town is stuck with a huge hill of slag and mining waste:

Everyone lost their job when the mines closed, but someone discovered how to make quite good house bricks from the mining slag, and now business is roaring again. This town, Uis, has a story: along the edge of town there are 18 graves (photo taken from the moving bus) –

– from a camp where 18 men made a campfire using the above plant, Euphorbia virosa, which contains an incredible poison – “Bushman poison” used for tipping poison arrows – and the campfire smoke killed them all as they slept. I looked up (with difficulty) the chemical structure of the 12 or so varieties of this poison, and, it was really bizarre [I can put a comma after ‘and’ if I like] but now I can’t find it again.

We skirted the homeland of the Herero people – look at the similar names of the many small villages – in a few places by the roadside some women were trying to sell souvenirs and charge for a photo. Dig the wide-front Herero headgear, still worn by all the women.

In 1904 the colonial German powers tried to exterminate the Herero, poisoning the waterholes and shooting at anyone they met, but this venture failed, with German casualties and later assertion of the strong Herero identity. Finally for this day, we are about to enter Etosha National Park, with its amazing animals, so here’s a dry valley with an elephant track at bottom left.

Swakopmund Museum


Swakopund had two piers, one wooden and one steel. Both of them decayed into ruin, but the steel one has been restored with wooden decking, and new restaurants installed at each end of it.

We visited at sunset, and knowing that we’d be around here the next night, we booked the best table (which was available, albeit only at 5pm). It’s behind that far-right window. Bloody marvellous meal and excellent world-class service, 3 courses with G&T and the finest wine, $100 for two.

Nearby is the lighthouse, and the town’s museum. This precinct is where the street stalls sell souvenirs.

It takes the stall holder three hours to lay that lot out, every day. But, no aardvark – its ears stick up a lot, so they would break off if you tried to make a model of one.

Translation: “we’ve always tried to keep and show interesting things”. Here’s a German typewriter –

– and not just any old machine; this one has been extended with 5 or 6 calculating engines on top. A mighty beast. But nothing on this –

That is a linotype machine for setting newsprint in metal type. If you type an E, for example, then one metal E is released from a stock of E’s hanging along a wire and proceeds to slide by gravity down the wire and join the already-typed letters along another wire, eventually forming a whole line, which is then welded together. You would not want to make any typing errors.

Believe me, I sat at a desk exactly like that in the 1950’s. (But the school did not have the thumbscrews like the one at bottom right). Even before that, this map of Africa, with unknown areas and coloured-in colonies, dates from 1864.

Namibia has resources of uranium ores, which as that geological chart shows are of numerous types. Roughly, the world’s uranium comes equally from four countries – Canada, Kazhakstan, Australia and Namibia. President Trump tried to decree that the USA must source 25% of its uranium requirements from its own ore deposits, which has proved to be difficult as they don’t have any. This discovery – this anti-discovery – has been the cause of celebrations in Namibia, but they have just sold their uranium mines to China. So, the world’s uranium comes from Canada, Kazhakstan, Australia and China (from its mines in Namibia).

Swakopmund Township


We did a tour of two of the townships (poor areas; shanty towns) behind Swakopmund. Here’s a market stall on the street – one of the better ones – and women selling cooked meat.

You can buy enough meat for a meal for about 50c. We visited a kindergarten with many happy kids:

This is what the streets look like:

The community water pump (not free; you put a coin in)

A go-ahead enterprise by the local women who have built a house and shop entirely using plastic bottles.

Five men were sitting in the road nearby; I thought they were just hanging around uselessly, but these are the men who fill the plastic bottles with earth and cement. All the bottles come from hotels and pubs.

As you see, the bottle tops make handy pegs for hanging things from. They have plenty more bottles waiting to be filled and form part of some other enterprise.

And here’s Steve’s shop:

I noted that, despite the poverty in these areas, the people seemed to be happier than the folk with any money in the city. They looked happier, and better off for resources and the relative quality of life, than the people with little money in our own culture.

Drive to Swakopmund


We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn (which also crosses near Alice Springs) and came to a remote town called Solitaire. The bakery here was run by a character who died in 2014 and is sadly missed. There’s a memorial in the public space in the middle of town.

The same space also has a bizarre set of concrete slabs laid by fans of – wait for it – kcymaerxthaere. Yes, kcymaerxthaere. Try to read the plaque – one of 83 placed all over the world – and then go to – good luck. It is a parallel world, by the look of it embedded entirely in the mind of one individual, but maybe it is harmless. “xthaere” is a shape with infinity-29 dimensions (despite the annoying fact that infinity-29 = infinity). Good luck with this. Maybe I could get into it, when I have time. What if 29 were not a prime number?

The road went down through a valley to a flat plain and the trees petered out, leaving, well, nothing.

One tree was left, and then there were no trees. The World Land Speed Record was attempted here. (not where the tree was – I meant further along where there were no trees)

But we came to Walvis Bay! All towns in southern Africa are surrounded by a 5-kilometre annulus of litter, mostly plastic and broken glass, so we knew a town was near. And then we came to this, arrghhh:

And a “traffic light”, whatever that is:

Walvis Bay is noted for a small population of flamingoes along its coast. Here they are:

– and that last one shows a novel ability to scratch the normally unreachable parts of the body. Baboons are everywhere, these are a real nuisance as they take things away and attack anyone carrying any food, or even takeaway coffee. Well, everywhere except Johannesburg, where the ingress of one such animal makes the national news.

One should be glad that there is no worse news to report. Here’s government housing in a dull development area. If you die, you can get yourself planted (illegally) by the roadside.

From Walvis Bay we drove 40km up the coast to Swakopmund. This cute colonial city is noted for its wild turkeys and guinea fowl, which roam the parks. Here’s a warning sign, with turkey.

We stayed two nights in Swakopmund, a lovely German Colonial city. The Germans lost it to the British as part of the WW1 reparations, but the culture here remains German. It has a nice railway station, but the tracks stop a kilometre or so short of it. A bit bizarre, really.

For some days now (and yet to come when we leave here) we have been up at 1000-1200m above sea level. When we checked into our room down here on the coast, we saw that our water bottle had collapsed in the denser air.

Everyone has a 5-litre bottle like this; they sell for $2 in the shops. It’s hot and windy; 5 litres will be guzzled in one day by the two of us.



The sand dunes of western Namibia are the country’s major tourist attraction. It was dawn when we drove into the park; here’s those two hot-air balloons again. A road goes 70 km into the dunes for people to visit the dunes, and with permission to climb some of them. The road goes past this whopper, among others; the tree at bottom right gives the scale.

And some maniacs are climbing another huge dune. Climbing on sand is VERY hard work, so we climbed only two smaller ones. The wind shapes the sand but it does not move this type of dune; our guide has been coming here for 10 years and he said the dunes have moved by a matter of inches. These dunes are therefore millions of years old. Crescent-shaped dunes are another story, however; there are none here, but in a steady wind they move and nothing can stop them. Here’s some wavy patterns in the sand, some with animal tracks:

These dunes have two types of sand: a small amount of a coarse sand, and a very finely grained sand with spherical granules.

Some of our group on top of a dune we have just climbed (from the left); we are about to run down the right-hand side. Sand gets into your shoes; mine are washable and I agitated them in full sinks of water seven times, and sand was still coming out.

A Nara bush, strictly a !Nara bush; very inhospitable. They make cosmetics from it, I hope they take out the spikes first.

Now here’s a famous tree, 900 years old and standing in the salt pan where all the tourists go.

Geoff and myself were very tired after all the dune climbing so we sat on this very inviting tree to take our boots off. Up comes the park ranger and fines us $120 for sitting on the tree. Here’s part of his offences list, and the neatly written summons; you see a typical fine is N$50 for locals – that’s about A$5 – but N$1200 = A$120 for foreigners. We paid at the police post on the way out of the park.

A rain-excavated chasm on the way out of the park.

Long drive into Namibia


From the Fish Creek Canyon we drove a long, long way into Namibia. The bus goes well on tarmac roads, sustaining the 100 kph speed limit, but on bumpy roads it is noisy inside, and sometimes we get violently thrown about (so we always use the seat belts). Although the bus is basically kitted out, it has everything we need; a fridge, dustbin, water, USB sockets, pockets on the seat in front, and the windows open easily. I got this multi-level photo of an oncoming car in the dust.

Relocated animals, of course, are disoriented so they are asked to drive slowly.

Our driver, however, knows every inch of the road; here he is at work, seen through the hatch in the front of the passenger module.

The landscape becomes f-l-a-t, the road is slightly elevated here and there, and the bus, heading northwards, casts its shadow in the early morning.

We stopped at places that were cute, here for example, where Barbro can stand in the road to gawk at her iPhone.

The rocks up here are a sort of brown mica, crumbling easily and rich in minerals. This chunk of rock bore the wavy marks of the sea bed, but we are 1400m up.

And we entered Namibia. As in many of the countries in southern Africa (now), life is totally organised and stable, with a functioning infrastructure and bureaucracy. Ethnic tribes are recognised, cared for and protected; South Africa itself has eleven official national languages. Namibia has four major tribes; a national election is coming soon and these posters are everywhere:

The people shown are in tribal dress; the third one is the Herero tribe, and later on we are going to drive through that area, and through the area of the fourth tribe. Tribal people actually do dress like that.

Look at the languages in the purple poster. The languages around here have click sounds which are represented in text as # // / ! (among others) and we did have a demonstration of these, but we could not really pick them up as they are so alien to us. You can hear them spoken in the 1980s film “The Gods Must be Crazy”. English as spoken actually has two click sounds of its own: one is tut-tut-tut where someone has done something slightly unacceptable, and the other is “tchick” which you say to a horse to get it to move off. (Therefore, horse language has at least one click sound too).

Fish River Canyon


This deep canyon is surpassed only by the Grand Canyon in Utah. Most of southern Africa is a flat plateau 1100m above sea level; over the millennia, the Fish River has carved out a canyon maybe 500m deep into it.

After days of driving over flat land (with higher bits of plateaux; these lands used to be valley floors, the geological history here is amazing) you suddenly come across this place. Keep the foot poised over the brake pedal when you drive near here.

It’s a long way down to the valley floor but there is a hiking trail, taking more than one day to complete. The sign is sort of ironic, as there is almost a sheer drop behind.

There is more than 180* of views, I can’t get it all in, even with the 10mm lens (used for most of these pictures). Looking the other way we see this:

When you walk on a few metres and look back to where you stood, you wish you hadn’t done that; the land is crumbly and slippery. I suppose I could always get a new wife, but I like this one.

After walking around the canyon rim between its two car parks, you realise that the Fish River takes a mighty U-bend here. And there is also a second U-bend over to the right.

A Quiver Tree.

Posters of the valley floor, and an eagle catching a fish. A Mozambiquan fish, of course, nyah nyah.

Checked in to our hotel which had separate buildings for each room, and a sunset view to die for. These are views from our room; the main hotel is over to the right.

Going camping 2 nights – no electricity – hang in there!

African Sunrise & sunsets


Once you get away from Cape Town and its SW corner of the continent, with its occasional torrential rain and daily fogs, the weather becomes extremely dry. Like, in the main part of Namibia it did not rain at all last year. Every day has a perfect blue sky and the sunrises and sunsets are therefore spectacular.

And we had a partial eclipse of the Moon the other day. This is about as far as it got. Not very exotic, because we are in the Southern Hemisphere so the Moon is the same way up as seen from Australia. Usually we make trips into the Northern Hemisphere where the Moon appears the other way up. The night sky here also resembles the Australian sky (but there is some haze or dust so the stars are less sharp).

Anyway, concerning sunrises. Ten minutes before dawn the camera makes the sky look like the above – it is actually quite dark but the camera increases the exposure to get some light into the picture (1/80 sec at f/4). If you set it properly and zoom in, the sky becomes an incandescent red colour (1/400 at f/7):

– and the red glow starts to gather into a clump, 5 minutes before dawn. The moment of dawn looks like this (1/1000 at f/11), kerpoww!

And then there won’t be any more photos of the Sun … well, half an hour after dawn, I got this one (1/2000 at f/28) –

– with two balloons. Like my hands, when I was a child, I had a fever – hey, could be a song.

I had the chance to snap the sun setting over the sea, in a hot, dusty atmosphere which cut out a lot of the light. Due to refraction the Sun’s disk still appears above the horizon for a couple of minutes after it has actually set – and the image does not set, it hovers and sort of breaks up and fades away, as the different layers of Earth’s filthy atmosphere refract it. Here we go:

You see it develops evil-looking ears. Also the disc is getting squashed out of a circular shape.

Bits fly off at the top. This is what it actually looked like without zooming in:

And that is the very last gasp, long after the actual disk has sunk below the horizon. Note the red glow gathered into a clump, as with the dawn.

I might be out of touch for a day or two – I have taken hundreds of amazing animal photos, more than I have time to process while on the trip, and you hardly ever get Internet in these bush hotels. Please hang in there.

Kalahari Morning


Out here in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Reserve it is a dog-eat-dog life. It is easier however to scoff a tortoise:

There’s a headless one at bottom right of the picture. It has been dragged there by the jackal that killed it – probably the jackal in the back of my photo. Here’s another jackal with a bone:

I have no idea what animal can have a thigh bone as big as that. This question does not bother the herd of springboks:

Some wildbeest running. Running seems to be all they ever do.

A beaky bird – I don’t know what species – seen near a Sociable Weaver (q.v.) nest. Exceptionally, I have helped this photo along a bit with Photoshop. Here’s a squirrel:

Now. Do you know what squirrels call humans? Answer(*) at bottom of this post. At last, here is a meerkat.

And that picture is very emotional. The animals, some species at least, are known to mourn their dead. This springbok is having a quiet moment at the place of death of another. I felt that I was intruding so I did not take another picture. Back to the accommodation; here’s the donkey cart that is used to fetch the suitcases.

The accommodation was a series of small houses, one per couple. Each house is very nice, but the toilet has a very hefty door with heavy lock on the inside, and an air horn. So that if robbers invade your house you can rush in there, bolt the door and honk the horn.

(*) and the squirrel word for a human is … taraa … SQUIRREL. Talking amongst themselves they would surely wonder: What are those large bipeds that appear now and then and make a lot of noises, and the noise we hear most often is “squirrel”, “squirrel”?

Kalahari Dawn


Into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Reserve as the gate opens at 07:30, drive in for about 50 km and then we start to see animals; first, a little scarlet-breasted bird and a falcon.

Plenty of emus, including male and female adults, and the brown-coloured young emus, who walk just as funnily as the adults:

Notice how the emu points his toe before placing the foot. Meanwhile, at yesterday’s watering hole there are (or were) two birds:

A jackal, and a caracal.

Now why are there no animals in this valley? Let’s zoom in:

(look on the ridge above the vertical red line)

A cheetah! From his position on the ridge he surveys two valleys – but I could shoot him from both sides, so here’s the sunlit side:

Two young adult springboks fighting.

You are not allowed to get out of your vehicle in the Kalahari, and Namibian park wardens (and police) will zealously enforce even the tiniest regulation and impose a fine. Our driver gets around this by crawling through the hole in the cab where the back window used to be, into the body of the bus which is really a separate metal box. An exception is made at the official toilet stop – otherwise people would wee through their windows – here you can step out of your vehicle, at your own risk of getting eaten, after reading this disclaimer:

(and imagining the two words “agent” and “indemnifies” missing from the third line from bottom)
More in next post.

Into the Kalahari


Up early for another long drive. Across the road from our hotel, these men were getting down from the truck to do a day’s work in the vineyards.

That’s the photo, but what I cannot show you is that they were SINGING. About to embark on a day’s back-breaking toil under the merciless sun picking grapes for a pittance of about $5, and they were bloody well singing. I suppose life could be worse.

Now here’s something bizarre we saw on the journey, just west of a town called Upington:

It was so bright that the camera has stopped down to make the picture dark, but the sky was in bright sunlight – and that is what this thing is collecting. Mirrors on the ground reflect the sunlight into the top of the tower, where somehow about 60 MW of electricity is generated. Oddly, being thus lit from all directions, it looks identical from any direction.

Along the road are kilometre markers on the fence, and here these are duplicated by a concrete label stuck into a short concrete-filled tube. I managed to snap this one while our bus sped past at full speed. Isn’t that interesting?

No it is not me, it is a Kalahari Bushman who has found it easier to pose for photos than to eke out a bare existence on what is left of the desert. We gave him some money for posing for this photo. Don’t ask where he puts it.

And so to the entrance to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Reserve – the whites spell it Kalahari – it straddles the border of South Africa and Botswana, with Namibia right alongside. In our 100 km drive in the reserve we entered Botswana about 20 times and South Africa 20 times – the countries have a cordial relationship and manage the reserve jointly. This building is also the frontier post. You write your passport number in a book – no need to have the actual passport, just need to know the number and I have learned mine – and set off. If only all borders were like this. First however a quick look in the visitor’s comments book:

Yes there are ardvak in the park! But I did not see one. They only come out at night, like my teeth.

The map gives no indication of scale. We entered at Two Rivers (bottom of the map) and to drive to Nossob, in the middle, would take an entire hard day. Nossob to the Mabuasehube campsite is about 300 kilometres. So we only got part of the way in, this afternoon, but we will be back again at dawn tomorrow. Meanwhile, on my safari I shot (with a camera):

Ostrich. The adult is black, which is a real nuisance because if you point the camera straight at him, the camera’s central spot meter thinks that it is dark, and cranks up the exposure to wash out the whole picture. Luckily, they are nice to eat.

Oryx – an animal beloved of Scrabble players. We saw lots of these.

Springbok – these come in herds of 20-50 animals. When chased by a cheetah or lion, they run away and can keep running until the cheetah or lion gets tired, which is quite soon – 100 yards, maybe. While running, they stott – they jump in the air. They do this because they can. It is to show to the lion that: I can not only run away from you, but I can gaily jump while I am it, nyah nyah.

A wild cat – a close relative of the domestic cat, native to Africa.

A scraggy old bird, and a herd of wildebeest thundering away. More tomorrow.

Augrabies Falls


The second day of the trip was another long drive – we’ll get used to these as we have to cover 5,600 km in 21 days – Africa, even just the southern part of Africa, is BIG. Up on the Karoo, the landscape is flat and stony, a gibber plain. I saw some curious striations in the layout of the stones (bare strips just behind the fence), possibly caused by strong winds over a period of decades.

All the big roads have telegraph poles running beside – some even carry multiple wires for telephones. Some poles – two are shown – carried a nest of the sociable weaver bird.

A nest can weigh hundreds of kg, enough to break the pole or tree which holds it. The birds are small (10 cm) and a nest holds 100-200 birds, each with his own room which he has built off one of the vertical corridors.

Here’s a surreal landscape, reminiscent of Upwey Landscape (1964) by Fred Williams, a painting that I cannot stand:

I could have painted that (“But you didn’t!” cries the artist). Here’s our group waiting for a meerkat to come out of its hole.

And that is the meerkat hole, in the middle foreground in the orange earth. This was beside a long, dull stretch of road; our driver spotted the meerkat standing there, and promptly stopped the bus. The meerkat promptly dived into its hole and would not come out.

I could tell there’s something to see near this place, dozens of miles from anywhere becacuse just here, there is litter on the ground – Coke bottles, plastic, cigarette packet etc. So what must happen is, the humans gather in this place (like our group above), and then the meerkat comes out to look at them. Or not. He’s seen humans before and they are noisy and messy, and not very interesting.

There are scorpions in the desert, and you can get different sorts. The place where we had lunch had this helpful guide. If you want to die in agony, pick the scorpion on the left. There were birds here – this beautiful little yellow one – and a terrific view over lunch.

Nearby was the huge Augrabies Falls, the 6th highest waterfall in the world. It’s hard to access (you walk over the rocks) and photograph, and not much water is running at this time. In the rainy season, the whole area is awash with foaming torrents, so you can’t go over to see the waterfall then either.

That coloured lizard was among the rocks. Also we saw hyraxes, also called dassies,. These are native mammals, related to the elephant, but they are easily distinguished because the elephant is much bigger, and grey, and has a trunk. Here are the hyraxes:

Perhaps the plural should be hyraces.

Recall the story of the man who wanted to buy two animals of a particular sort – wrote a letter to the suppliers “Dear Sir, I’m starting a zoo, please send me two mongooses.” That looked wrong, so he tore it up and wrote “I’m starting a zoo, please send two mongeese.” That looked even worse … tore that up too, and wrote “I’m starting a zoo, please send one mongoose. And while you’re at it, send me another one.”

First real day – to Calvinia


The first real day of travelling across southern Africa. Here’s our group of 8 (minus me and David) having just bought the necessary 5-litre bottles of water.

It’s fairly warm weather (despite it being winter) so you can chomp through 5 litres in 2 days easily, and we are not even cycling, just sitting in a bus. Here they are again, having breakfast.

I like that sign. Four is the “ideal number”, so if there is a 5th cyclist or walker you should delete him/her. Here’s the only nuclear power station in Africa:

And some trees stewing in the fog which is characteristic of this SW corner of Africa. Here’s the tour bus:

It is a HINO heavy truck chassis with the seating module perched on top. It has 22 seats, with pockets in front, they don’t tip and the back of the seat in front of you blocks your vision but you can see well out of the side windows, and rapidly slide them open to take photos. The front two pairs of seats have a front view through a slot-shaped window, but there is also nothing in front of you to stop you when the bus suddenly lurches or brakes hard.

We all wear the seat belts and I have been very glad of mine, several times. They tried having air-conditioning on these buses but the units got smashed to pieces as the bus hurtled along the unmade, corrugated roads which will constitute much of our journey. If you want air conditioning, you open the window. Yes, we are tough … Oooogh. Grunt. Our driver is actually very good, sustaining 100 kph safely on the dirt roads while spotting (and stopping for) every bird and animal that we drive past.

South Africa has all the usual junk foods, McDonalds, KFC etc but they also have WIMPY which is like McDonalds, but with British food. Imagine that. (Divide the prices shown by 10 for AUD).

This is what the Wimpy chips looked like – and they were soggy. There’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England …

We came to this amazing big slope where the land rises onto a plateau, which later in the journey will be the almost featureless Karoo. Most of NW South Africa and Namibia is part of this plateau, 900m above sea level.

And so to the simple town of Calvinia. The big thing here is a huge postbox, and a nice public garden laid with cactus and other shrubs, very few of which were flowering in this winter season.

That is the main street and the only place you can get a coffee is the Caramba Cafe –

A more appropriate name would be “Ay Caramba” but we did get a watery coffee, typical of South Africa. Better than the “famous Wimpy coffee” which seems to be filter coffee with milk instead of water being poured through the filter. Euuchhh. Melbourne this ain’t.

Calvinia has a (probably famous) Street of Art:

In looking for this we arrived at the same sign at the other end of the street, confirming that there is no art whatsoever in the Street of Art. Maybe that is the work of art – it is that there is no art, just reality. Grim reality. These outback towns have a lot of poor, unemployed people.

First day of tour – Cape Peninsula


Our organised tour began with an all-day tour of the Cape Peninsula. The entry building to the national park has a curiously shaped roof that would tip rain water directly onto the building beneath –

Onwards to the very southernmost point, actaully that is miles away and this is the south-westernmost point, but here is where the currents of the Indian Ocean (warm) and South Atlantic/Antarctic Oceans (freezing) meet. Half the sky is therefore cloudy.

Tourists come here and take photos.

The cape goes out along a ridge, and I zoomed in to get a photo of the stone hut perilously perched thereupon.

They built a lighthouse high up on the ridge, but it was often covered by low cloud and not visible, so they built another one lower down –

– but that one was often obscured by sea mists. Shipwrecks therefore abound in these waters. Baboons also abound on the land, and are a severe nuisance, stealing people’s food and takeaway coffees (yes). They no longer hunt properly, but hang around the cafes here.

Further along the Cape is a colony of African Penguins –

– and Simon’s Town naval base, built by the British and later gifted to the Republic of South Africa. As the street map shows, it is really quite small. The British retained the right to visit and use its facilities at any time, and it would have been really, really handy during the Falklands War but every other African nation would have been infuriated if the British had visited the ostracised, apartheid South Africa, so they had to invade the Falklands directly from Britain.

Along the eastern side of the Cape are shallow beaches with extensive wave systems, ideal for surfing.

There are sharks in these waters so a Shark Watcher is posted high up on the hill, to raise the alarm if he sees a shark. It’s windy up here so he wears an anorak with a hood – making him look quite like a shark himself.

Cape Town Food


Here’s an Ostrich, roaming the Cape Peninsula … for now … you can eat them –

– and on my first night I dined out on ostrich and chips, a terrific, lean 250-g red steak. I do like food, so maybe I should have had Qunu’s Famous Ulusu, with tripe in sauce, tripe in sauce again, and a vegetable.

Heaven knows what Mampinga’s Umleqwa consists of … sounds like a medical condition. Doc Martin peers closely at PC Penrose’s left eyeball and says “Hmm, you have Mampinga’s Umleqwa – come to the surgery immediately.”

In the middle of Cape Town is a market square entirely aimed at the tourists – very few of whom are here at this time of year. This is a typical stall layout:

The stallholder spends two hours every day setting them all up and then another two hours putting them all away again … for sales of, today, zero. I would have bought an aardvark if he’d had one, but no, nobody does the aardvark because it’s ugly. Even if it is my favourite animal, as both my children can attest, having been traumatised by aardvark stories since an early age.

I asked that one stall holder for an aardvark, in vain … but a few minutes later every single stall holder was shouting “aardvark! aardvark!” at me. Nobody had one, but it would have been possible to knock the tusks off a wooden wild boar and pass it off, to someone not obsessed with aardvarks at least. As we left the square, we passed a man selling lottery tickets – they have animal pictures on them – he said “Aardvark! Lucky aardvark!” It’d be all over Cape Town within half an hour. I can’t go anywhere,

On our last evening we had dinner in Marco’s, which despite the name is a very long-standing and famous ethnic African restaurant. From the specials board –

– I asked about the second one, and was told it was “Worms.” (“Smiley” is half a sheep’s head.) Being an adventurous eater I ordered it; it was caterpillar grubs, roasted and served with a dressing (probably of minced aardvark).

They were very chewy, but edible … well, edible by me. Witjuti grubs are better – here’s me eating one in 1993, west of Alice Springs.

There was live music with the meal.

The resident band were Zulus – three marimbas, a Western drum kit and three singers. The music and songs, mostly Zulu in nature, were incredibly complex and energetic. I was exhausted just from watching them. This Africa trip is going to be terrific. Here’s where we will go –

Cape Town miscellaneous


We did the hop-on-hop-off bus tour for 3 days to see around Cape Town and its environs, including Table Mountain (q.v.). One day it rained heavily, the upper deck of the bus is half-unroofed, we sat in the nicely roofed forward part but every time the bus braked or went downhill, a tidal wave of rainwater sloshed up around us. In the pauses between segments of the voice commentary, they played “Africa” by Toto – it was a very good idea to make a song with a useful title. “Eagle Rock” was a huge hit in the Australian town of Eaglehawk, for example. And Toto’s next record, “Lower Templestowe”, did not sell many copies.

The tour starts near the dry docks … crikey, how many ships does Mr Hung Yu have? (This was known as the German Tank Problem – the Allies captured a new-model Nazi Tank which, with Teutonic thoroughness, had been given a 1-up serial number. If that had been #212 then how many of them have they made? Answer, after much thought: most probably twice that figure.)

The old part of the town has the usual ornate buildings of the 19th century, but I would say that many Australian towns have better.

The old grain silo, which used to be the tallest building in all of Africa except for the Pyramids, now has a modern glass top and houses an art gallery. The building below is the Gateway to Robben Island –

– which, like our hotel, has been considerably improved since its original days when the island was a prison for Nelson Mandela and other political detainees. You have to pay to go there now, but they used to take people for free … one way, anyway. Here’s a relief model of Table Mountain –

Cape Town city is in the tiny area towards us from the mountain, but also of interest – well not really – are the poor slums of Cape Flats, the four large areas along the farther coast. There were 55 murders here last weekend, nearly all by guns. People are saying that 55 is rather too many and the army should be sent in, which would surely be a total hoot. The population of Khayelitsha – the second large area from the left – is 387,000 blacks and 87 whites. You get the idea.

Our hotel


We are staying in the very nice Breakwater Lodge Hotel, in the wharf area of Cape Town. This hotel is much nicer now than it used to be … it used to be the town prison. Service has improved no end. You can get an idea of the prison from how the windows are set out, and what the internal corridors look like.

The cells are very large and well spaced out – because, this was the prison for WHITES. Blacks had a different prison, presumably not as nice as this one. (And bigger.) Whites who had committed particularly heinous crimes should have been incarcerated in the blacks’ prison, now there’s a novel idea. (The author Milorad Pavic points out that in the afterlife, the hell for Christians is run by Jews, the hell for Jews is run by Muslims, etc.)

The prison used to be three square buildings, the western one is now the hotel and the other two now house the University of Cape Town Business School. The barbaric prison treadmill is still standing …

and it is the first thing you come to when you enter the gates of the Business School. I think that is appropriate.

Today they have been testing the fire alarms all day. The lifts don’t always work. A note was left in our room “Please do not be alarmed if the alarm goes off”. So what kind of alarm is that?

South Africa, of course, has historically been an isolated nation, for geographical as well as political reasons. The 240v sockets here were said to be of the British type, which we’d understand now to be those plugs with three square pins that are like nobody else’s. Australia long departed from that and invented its own plugs, with flat but sloping pins, again like nobody else’s.

And now we find that the South African plugs are indeed _a_ British type, but the 16-amp type BEFORE the UK went over to 13-amp square-pin plugs in about 1970. So down here, the plugs all have three round pins, well spaced apart with a bigger earth pin, and no other country in the world has these plugs. So we had to go out and buy adaptors – you can’t get the right adaptors anywhere except here – and guess what, the adaptors plug into the wall sockets OK but they do not accept Australian plugs. We had to use 5 different adaptors in one room to get the local 240v into our devices.

To conclude for now – the hotel has nice gardens outside –

– very pleasing to the eye, and they would have been an even more pleasing sight to the original occupants of these buildings. The wharf area of Cape Town has been successfully (Melbourne please note – successfully) revitalised and there is a terrific evening ambience, with all the shops open and live music playing. In the daytime it looks like this, with the Ferris wheel actually moving

At the edge of the wharf at one point is a low wooden platform where seals can jump up from the ocean and you can greet them close up.

I like that one, so this blog post has my Seal of Approval. Here’s a five-legged cat and a seven-legged dog, photographed with a camera in panorama mode. I found these on the Web, and now you can enjoy them too. Miaow. Woof. (It’s been a long day and I am actually in the Kalahari Desert as I write this.)

Table Mountain


The mighty Table Mountain looms over Cape Town, its presence ever felt. However, on most days including when I had the camera, it is covered in cloud at the top. The above picture, taken from a brochure, shows what it looks like on a good day. We did see the Lion’s Head clearly, a lesser peak of the mountain range.

And from the harbour we should have seen it … We got the cablecar to the top of Table Mountain, and luckily the cloud cleared for a few minutes when we were up there.

The cable car is very safe, the brakes are maintained every year and this was due to happen the very next day. Yes really! The single gondola holds 65 people and its floor rotates, so there is no need to shove your way to the front for the view, everybody will get a shot at it. (It would be fun if it rotated more rapidly; what a science lesson that would be, with Coriolis forces, centrifugal forces, inertia and momentum … even if it was the last science lesson the passengers would ever get).

Views from the top. Pretty soon the cloud rolled in again.

In all the city views, there was a silver ribbon of parked cars along the road up here. Naturally, there were hordes of people and those that brought a car had to drive it more or less back into the city to park it. We got a clear view of Robben Island.

The top of Table Mountain is quite flat, and a deep chasm comes up the side where you (you, not me) can climb from the ground to the top.

Where that bloke is sitting, in the middle picture above, there is a sheer drop of 1000 feet, so it’s hard to take pictures from there, and that third picture is our best attempt.

There is an entire ecology on the two-square-kilometer flat top, with more varieties of plants (2,000) than are found in the whole of the United Kingdom (1,300). Here’s a cute little bird, taking a picture of another one.

Why is the top of Table Mountain flat? Well, it used to be a valley floor. It’s amazing to hang around Cape Town and realise that the proper ground level was level with the top of the mountain, and where you are standing now is the result of 1000 metres of rock being worn away. In fact, the ground was even higher than the top of the mountain:

On the side of Table Mountain are 17 or 18 huge rock buttresses; these are called the Twelve Apostles (by people who cannot count). Mind you, the number of Jesus’ Apostles named in the New Testament is not 12 either. Here’s five of these rock ones, seen from down at the coast:

And the mountain range runs down to the sea. The story goes, as folks do say, there was a ship in serious trouble in a storm on a very rough sea, the crew were all praying for salvation (having already tried, one presumes, all of the more conventional means of achieving that) when the fog cleared a bit, the cloud rose a bit and these Twelve Apostles appeared above them. And just then, of course, a rescue boat turned up, and all were saved. Thus showing the great power of God. (while disregarding who made the storm and got them into trouble in the first place).

In a recent survey by the tourist industry, Table Mountain was designated the best tourist attraction in all of Africabetter even than the Pyramids.

More Bot Gdns, and a Winery


A very useful (today, at least) Rain Dial. Actually, a real one could be made for places like Sri Lanka, where the rain comes at predictable times; by reacting to whether it is raining or not, it would be possible for such a device to show what time of day it is. (Some of my ideas are more useful than that one; but it is my holiday).

A Garden of Weeds; a weed, after all, is just a flower that is growing in the wrong place:

These are plants that are considered to be flowers in some countries but weeds in others. Most of the plants shown are OK in South Africa but are terrible endemic weeds in Australia; or vice versa. The two countries thus have an unhealthy exchange of vegetation. (They also have a bizarre status and relationship involving 240v mains plugs, of which more later).

Now here’s the Welwitschia. It is native to the deserts of northern Namibia and southern Angola, but it can be grown down here and elsewhere. It lives on fog. The plant produces two leaves, that continue to grow outwards along the ground, giving a very untidy appearance. Plants can reach 1,000 years old and maybe even older. Conservation can thus be a problem, as the plants grow so slowly; those in Angola are better protected, due to the presence of land mines. Here’s some of the mess it can make:

On to a winery, where we sampled quite large glasses of 5 different wines and then staggered along on a tour of the winery and its associated stately home. Despite being very well-oiled by then, we were most careful not to fall into the machinery.

That last thing – the upright thing in the middle – is for ironing clothes. Every home should have one! You put the clothes under the wooden lid, and screw the lid down using those two little handles. Or rather, you don’t, your servant does, being careful not to include fingers (or any other body part) under the lid. It seems to have a cupboard for Putting Things In. One wonders what things. Also in the stately home was a painting of a lion.

And that’s Barbro photographing the sign before entering the “digital device-free area”.

Cape Town Botanical Gardens


The day that we arrived had a perfect blue sky and brilliant sunshine, but this was exceptional. We should have realised this, because the queue for the cable car to go up Table Mountain was 2 hours long and increasing. The next day it rained nearly all day, but we cheated the Rain Gods by doing the hop-on hop-off bus tour and visiting the wineries and the Botanical Gardens, where the rain was only drizzly or moderate and we were able to get some photos.

The gardens are vast (600 ha) but only about 10% is laid out in the usual manner. Forests, useless sloping mountainsides, extensive bike paths and Table Mountain itself occupy the other 90%. The planet is divided into 7 Floral Kingdoms, and the Cape region of South Africa has a kingdom all to itself. (Another one covers the whole Northern Hemisphere).

In the drizzle, a group of elderly Japanese tourists make their weary way in the distance, shuffling slowly along in a hunched-over stance; a colony of moles lives in the foreground but I have marked, in the distance, a separated lone mole hill. One non-conformist mole must have blindly made his way down there and started his own burrow system, far from the madding crowd. My heart goes out to that mole. Be like that mole … Anyway, off we go: here’s a fern with triple seed structures in the middle, and a bulbous sort of tree:

Now that is a “bird of paradise” plant outside my office in Melbourne. The genus Strelitzia covers 5 species and they are all native to South Africa. (The name comes from the German duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, birthplace of Queen Charlotte of England; we are getting very international here). However, the locals here have cross-bred plants to make a golden coloured Strelitzia, which has been named after Nelson Mandela; here it is:

Now, we move along to van Riebeeck’s Hedge:

This is no ordinary hedge. It once had strategic value. It was planted by Jan van Riebeeck in 1659, so it is now quite well established with many different species of trees and plants. What old van R had in mind, however, was not so much an ornamental garden or the edge of his field, no, it was to keep the indigenous peoples out of the coastal area so that livestock and crops could be kept safe by the Dutch for the use of passing ships. And look where that idea ended up.

You call yours a tree? THAT is a tree. It is all one tree, probably designed by a committee. Here’s a tree with sort of feet.

Its label said “ex hort” so that’s what we did, shouting encouragement at the tree, which continued to exist along with its feet much as before. We came to a tree-top walkway, wheel chair accessible, made of crossed steel rods:

Why I liked this is that back home I am restoring the lattice tube of the Great Melbourne Telescope, which is made similarly from crossed-over steel strips.

But I digress. Hey! it’s time for coffee, tea and lunch. I’ll have all three!

There was a display of Useful Plants, including some that help with HIV/AIDS.

I can hear a voice now: “If only I’d spent more time taking an interest in plants, instead of doing … with …, then I wouldn’t have AIDS.”

Cape Town first day


The Cape Town Harbour – built on land reclaimed from the shallow sea around the edge of the historical town – has a wonderful market, day and night, with stalls, eateries, live music, this Ferris Wheel –

I had ostrich and chips for my first evening meal. The next day we did a tour on the hop-on hop-off bus, here’s some old buildings in Long Street, the historical main drag –

And the “Nellie”, a respected old hotel that does an excellent High Tea, but we were too zonked out with food to even think of that. Too much ostrich (it was a steak of 250g of pure high-quality red meat, done rare – very, very rare – no fat). Behind Table Mountain – which we will climb soon – are many stands of trees like this.

A bizarre new bimetallic coin, 5 Rand, which is about $0.50. Griqua Town was historically one of the first places to issue money, in about 1820 or near enough 200 years ago.

A shanty town, gleaming in the afternoon sun, spreading up the hillside behind the homes of Fat Cats lower down. Although apartheid is well and truly over, there are still rich and poor people, I suppose as in every city.

Very strong winds blow often over Cape Town, so the real-estate agents are anxious to claim that a house, or a suburb, is “wind-free”. Such a claim is made of the suburb shown below, where it is actually so windy that the trees in the car park grow horizontally, and cover over the cars.

A difficult view of Robben Island, the home (if that is the word for a tiny cell) of Nelson Mandela for 19 years. From the left in the above picture: horizontal tree, big tree with shadow, spectacles, pole, Robben Island low on the horizon. A better view will come.

It is very emotional to see how wonderfully everybody is getting on and how positive the developments are here, due to the vision, genius and tolerance of the late Mr.Mandela.

More soon, I hope. Readers will appreciate that I can’t always update the blog, even though I got over jet lag very quickly I am getting very tired in the evenings. Especially after a bottle of the local vino.

Flying to Cape Town


So, we packed our bags, got an Uber, waited while the driver found our house, and we were taken to the airport. Flew to Singapore, and then a brief landing at Johannesburg, where we stayed on the plane. This is Louis Vuitton’s shop at Sgp airport.

The amazing thing (to a nerd, anyway) is the display screen all around the shop entrance – it is a single screen with no joints. I don’t know what technology it is – you can see the pixels when close up. Back on the plane, here come the coffee’s –

Milk (or something) made from cow’s milk. Why not just use cow’s milk? And then we got this –

Tastes like fresh milk … they don’t say what it is, though. Just bung it in your coffee … it will taste like milk, so don’t argue. We eventually arrived at Cape Town – this is one of the first things we saw:

Bit scary, eh. Let’s have a cup of tea. After a confusing flight all over half the planet, we seem to have arrived in South Africa.

And here I am, squinting into the African sun and clutching a generous glass of the finest Pinotage wine – that’s the local grape.

Another trip begins


Guess where!

Another adventure!


Slight pause in the blog while we fly off for a four-week trip in Southern Africa. I will try to keep the blog running with photos etc. Someone is in the house and will keep it running.

Meanwhile, here’s another totally irrelevant filler, this one from the legend of King Arthur. Dinner at the Round Table with King Arthur and his knights was not always a quiet and sober process. Sir Thomas Malory, in his book Morte d’Arthur, relates:

Right so as they satte, there com running in a white Hart into the Hall, and a white Hound next him, and thirty couple of black running Hounds came after with a grete Cry, and the Hart ranne about the Round Table. The Hound bit him by the buttock and pulled out a piece, wherethrough the Hart leapt a grete Leap and overthrew a Knyght that sat at the Table side. And therewith the Knight arose and took up the Hound, and so went forth out of the hall, and took his Horse and rode away with the Hound.

Ryght so com in a Lady, on a whyght Palfery, and cryed alowde unto kynge Arthur and sayde, “Sir, suffir me not to have thys despite, for the Hound ys myne that the knyght hath ladde away.”

“I wille not do that” seyde the kynge.

And at this there com in a Knyght, ryding all armed on a grete Horse, and toke the Lady away by Forse with hym. And ever she cried, and made a grete Dole. And when she was gone the Kynge was gladde, for she had made such a grete Noyse.

King Zog of Albania


I’d look worried if I were him, too. Note the odd salute given by the female soldiers in the background. Here they are again:

Gosh, that one looks amazing … dig the hat! These soldiers were the personal bodyguard of King Zog of Albania. Hey, it’s good to be King. Here’s Zoggy himself:

He was said to be the world’s biggest smoker – 150 to 200 fags a day – and he is still uniquely the only Head of State who, upon being shot at by would-be assassins, pulled out a pistol and shot back. This was outside the Vienna Opera House in 1931; they missed, and he missed, but honestly, can’t a king even go to the opera in peace? The two assassins were caught and thrown in prison, and were then repatriated to Albania, where they were both assassinated.

Ahmet Muhtar Zogu was a man of unbridled ambition. He declared himself King of Albania, even though Albania did not have a monarch or a royal line. Proceeded to design and wear lavishly ornate uniforms, award himself a few medals, and issue some natty stamps; this page charts Albanian history through stamps. (I collected stamps, but then I was told that philately will get you nowhere). He was involved in about 600 blood feuds and survived 55 assassination attempts, including several during sessions of the Parliament, this probably being normal for the region at the time.

I once read a book “High Albania” by Edith Durham, a doughty British female who travelled in the Balkans in 1908. The title refers to the mountains rather than what they smoked. Reprinted by Virago Press among several similar books by neglected female authors, despite being highly PC this book was rather badly written, but the stories of travelling and fighting in very dangerous localities around what is now Albania were interesting. The locals favoured the Martini rifle, because you could make your own bullets. Every family had its own mould for pouring molten lead and making bullets on the cheap. The author described how, during a skirmish, one of the band of brigands with whom she was travelling was injured by gunfire “so we left him sitting under a tree, with a Martini.”

How very civilised. Did it have a paper umbrella in it?

One of the most popular biggest heroes in present-day Albania is Norman Wisdom. And when the Soviets held a popularity poll in 1944 the second most popular person (after Stalin at #1) was George Formby. It was probably too dangerous to vote for anyone closer to home, who might fall out of favour the next day. And they had all seen that film where George Formby parachutes down into a Nazi Rally and bops Hitler on the nose. Anyway, back to King Zog. During WW2 he was driving around France when some German aeroplanes attacked the area. His car was spared becuse Hitler had the same model of car, and the gunners were not absolutely sure that shooting at this one might be a good idea.

Poor old Zoggy gave up trying to be a king when things heated up in 1939 and proceeded to flee all over Europe, finally ending up at the Ritz Hotel in London in 1940. As one would, of course. The flunkeys carrying his 28 suitcases said “Gor blimey, these aren’t ‘alf ‘eavy – wot’s in them?”. “Gold” replied Zog. Mussolini’s army invaded Albania and was welcomed by cheering peasants, according to one contemporary (probably Italian) account.

The Albanian royal line was defunct after King Zog (and before him, too). He introduced an Albanian Constitution which forbade the monarch from marrying into other royal families. Sounds like a monarchy-limiting move … Before becoming king, Zog was engaged to the daughter of a very wealthy and powerful Albanian. He broke off the engagement when he became King, but this made mortal enemies out of the girl and her father, who then had the right to kill him. Join the queue, as they say.

King Zog had a son, Prince Leka. There was a referendum in Albania in 1997 about restoring the royal family; the proposal was defeated. Leka married an Australian lady, Susan Cullen-Ward (who grew up on a sheep station in NSW), and although they died uncrowned, their son, Prince Leka II now lives in Albania and is hopeful of ascending a restored throne. Albania may yet have a half-Australian King. (Sources: Wikipedia, my trivia quiz of 2008, and the highly readable Smith Journal).

The Palace of Signs


A paperback so titled, printed circa 1970, has come free of charge to me, from my Book Hutch – of which, more later. It describes the trials and tribulations of an apprentice Sign Writer in the 1930s. The dozen or so men in the sign-writing workshop frequently larked around; they had a time-honoured daily ceremony involving Mr A.C.Mence, the 82-year-old man who owned the business. Here it is.

Tomorrow’s blog: King Zog of Albania. I am getting back into the habit of posting blogs because we are going to South Africa in a week, and I will try to post daily from there.



Bought a little book published in 1883. Mensuration is the part of geometry that is concerned with the measurement and calculation of lengths, areas and volumes.

Be careful how you spell it. Now when I were a lad, seven years old, I got a very nice Children’s Encyclopedia for Xmas. Being a smart-arse even at that age, I already understood nearly all the words, but I was baffled by the presence of a long entry for “mensuration” which I had never heard of (but was then evidently traumatised by, as I can recall what the page looked like). I wondered why the authors had bothered to write 4 pages about it, when a much shorter entry would have done. Smart-arse I may have been, but some things remained unknown to me … ten years later, I met some girls who had been imported for the Year 12 dance class at my all-male school, and I had no idea what they were.

A parallel story concerns the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, a mighty publication planned in 1924 and executed [neat choice of word] at enormous expense. Its first edition stretched to 65 volumes, but there were later revisions over the years; the editors had terrible problems after 1989 “We want to tell the truth, but we don’t know where it lies anymore” said one of them. The editions after 1953 contained a very long entry about the Bering Strait – 20 pages I think, exhaustively listing everything that anyone would ever want to know about it. There was much less text, none actually, about Lavrenty Beria, who had just been shot. (As my history book said: “Beria was shot, found guilty, and tried”)

Back to my little 1883 mensural book. All the content is very British, all the units are Imperial and even the “chain” and “furlong” are seriously used. My school exercise books in 1957 had all the scales of units on the back cover, I remember the “Rod, Pole, or Perch” which was 5½ yards, surely a most useful unit, even if they could not agree on its name; four rods (or, indeed, three rods and a pole) made a chain, and 10 of those made a furlong, useful in horse racing; 8 furlongs added up to 1 mile, which of course was 5,280 feet or 63,360 inches, and maps were printed to a scale of 1:63360. Most of my schooling in Year 3 was occupied with learning arithmetic in Imperial units and currency; I could work out 3¾% of £4 17s. 6d., for example. My year 9 maths was also a wasted year – wholly occupied with learning how to use logarithms.

And as for history – we started in 1750 and got as far as 1914. British history, of course. Wars like the 1812 war against the USA were not even in my history books. (Because we lost it, that’s why). The 1776 War of Independence was covered, but was described as some sort of magnanimous gesture demonstrating British wisdom and kindness. Well, there was a TV advert to get Americans to tour in Britain, where the large actor Robert Morley said “you (Americans) could not have had your 1776 war without us”).

Digressed again. Here’s one of the “numerous examples” problems from my new little book:

Several things strike me about this problem 155. How did they measure an area of 937½ sq miles? (OK /nerd alert/ it is half of 25 x 75 miles – now, why half?) If the coal is 70 feet thick, how will the roof of the coal-mine be supported if they take all of it? What about other coal fields, South Wales for example, where my father grew up? Why not put commas in numbers like 70000000? And note the use of “England” as being identical with “Great Britain” – perhaps they don’t use coal in Wales, Scotland or Ireland. They probably cannot afford to buy it.

The annual UK use of coal was 70M tons in 1870, it rose to 287M tons by 1913 and has declined sharply since 1960, now it’s only 14M tons and they have to import most of it; not used for energy much now. Here’s how the Poms get their 240 volts; it has changed a lot lately.

The answer to problem 155, as stated in the book for 1883, is 968 years, from just the Yorkshire coalfield. Ninety years later, we were told in 1973 that the supply (from all the UK coalfields) would last 300 years.

Ardeer bike ride


Went for a bike ride with the club. This ride took us unusually far to the west, as far as Ardeer, outside the M80 ring road. It’s good to see the western suburbs now and then. I’ll give you the low-down on what we did.

If you “read between the lines” on this map, you can deduce that I did not start my riding (green symbol) at the proper designated start point in Mont Albert, I waited outside my house until they rode past, thus saving riding 14km to Mont Albert and then riding 14km back again. I sat in my warm house, played the radio and enjoyed a nice coffee and slice of toast while they were all pedalling away.

When they came past my house, I joined the ride and we proceeded to ride westwards past the Zoo. May I digress here: (what, already? say the readers) When my son Lars tidied up our gardens the other day, he brought a trailer-load of “Zoo Do” which is manure from the zoo. Our front garden stank for a week, our Fitzroy streetscape redolent of elephant, lion, wildebeest, aardvark, camel, nematode worm, wombat, etc – whatever was doing #2’s at the zoo the day before. Mostly elephant, I think. Now our new plants are growing very well, but I fear there might have been some exotic foreign seeds in the mix – so let’s see what actually grows.

Anyway, after passing behind the Zoo, to my great disappointment we rode right past the excellent row of cafes in Kensington where the rides always stop for coffee. We had our coffee further along. Then a very good straight, flat bike trail westwards, the piles of illegally tipped rubbish gleaming in the sunlight. Through some good parks – the poorer the suburbs, the nicer the parks and bike paths – one had statues such as this Kangaroo Man –

We rode past the Brooklyn Landfill tip – shown as a quarry on Google Earth, but now they have filled it up, so it stands very high and is still growing – we stopped for coffee at Ardeer, a very poor suburb. It has a massive pub, standing in its own huge car park, an enormous McDonalds where trucks come off the freeway and even B-doubles can stop for the drivers to score some junk food, and not much else but there is a rather sad shopping “centre” with a Chinese takeaway (no food here – only ice cream) and a bakery, not very inviting but all the bakery goods were half price compared to the eastern suburbs – loaves of bread were $2.50.

Onwards to the M80 ring road where we saw a sign “M80 path”. We headed for this – it sounded like fun – matey path – and further along was this sign:

We wanted to go this way, but note the disclaimer on the sign. Why would they put that? What is that last 20 metres really like? A bottomless pit? Crocodiles? Onwards and forwards, the path began to narrow, the concrete became dirt, the dirt became grotty dirt with things in it, the track (no longer a path) crossed a stream and everywhere was very muddy, and then we finally glimpsed the unattainable Geelong Road across those fabled last 20 metres:

So we had to turn back and try another way. But I got a great lunch in Sunshine, a really good Arabic effort, big chunks of lamb, soup, rice, nuts, bread and those brightly coloured bits of vegetable that they do.

Ah well, on to North Altona and finally we came to Yarraville Station. The other riders rode on to Southern Cross, but the station does provide a train service, which I earnestly patronised, all the way home. 44km all up, and a nice day out.

Stonehenge all to yourself, now


Hat tip to my friends who visited it in 1973 – at 3:30 in the morning, click HERE

Now English Heritage have had this terrific idea. They’ve mounted a camera nearby, with live pictures of the Wiltshire sky and weather. And in their computers they have edited a quality 360º photo of Stonehenge, a composite of photos taken at a time when (miraculously) there were no people in the background. So you can click on THIS LINK and look around 360º and see Stonehenge all by yourself – as it would appear if you were there right now, and if there was nobody else on the site.

As I write this now, it is midnight in England so the simulation is showing the night sky (Without the weather). In this screen dump from my PC I can see the Plough rising above the stones (click on my picture to see it):

And you can click on the buttons at top of the “live-camera” screen and see the last sunrise and sunset. Yesterday I watched the Sun rise over the Heel Stone, as it has done for thousands of years, and I didn’t have to go to Wiltshire or join the Druids and push to the front of a crowd to see it.

I remember the school tour I took in 1965 when we visited Stonehenge – you could go up to the stones and touch them. I put my grubby, sticky British schoolboy paws on the actual stones. There were very few people there and no infrastructure, you did not need to pay to get in, there were just these mighty 30-ton stones standing in a field, and that was it.

The computer experience was devised by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a space scientist and educator, working in collaboration with English Heritage. I think this was a wonderful idea. Gaze upon this photograph of Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock.

A brief visit to Tasmania


Spent the weekend in Tasmania. Saw this letter in the local paper. I was piqued – the letter contains no actual political advice or information.

Yes indeed, Mr Albanese – make a 360* turn. With a single rotation, you can view and survey all the possible directions in which you might head, but you will end up going in the direction that you were going in originally.



(Nerd alert)
As every schoolboy knows, water freezes at 0°C and boils at 100°C. Well, under standard atmospheric pressure at sea level. But the scientific, engineering and technological world has become much more precise since I was a schoolboy (and the dinosaurs became extinct too).

Poor old Fahrenheit in 1724 took 0°F as the coldest he could get – using ice, salt and ammonium chloride; also, this temperature was as cold as the winter ever got in Danzig – and for the hot end, he had no idea what to do, so he took his own temperature, non-decimally called it 96°F and then noted that ice melted at 32°F, which was sort of neat. Since then, of course, it has been more accurately measured and defined with water freezing at 32°F and boiling at 212°F. This made the normal human body temperature 98.4°F but that was redefined as 98.6°F because that is exactly 37°C. Yes! Due to metrication, they altered the official human body temperature.

Kelvins – if you heat or cool a sealed body of gas, it changes in volume and if you plot a graph of its volume vs. the temperature it is clear that as it gets colder and colder, its volume will keep reducing and eventually will become zero. This would happen at about -273.15°C and this temp is called “absolute zero” because nothing can ever be any colder. Atoms stop moving and all sorts of bizarre things start to happen. Very low temperatures are measure in Kelvin, absolute zero being 0K (no degree sign), water freezing at 273.15K and boiling at 373.15K. Helium becomes a liquid at 4K and temperatures of below 0.00001K can be achieved. Outer space is not at absolute zero – it’s at about 2.73K, due to echoes and residues of the Big Bang.

When they measure the temp at which water freezes, it is easier to measure the triple point of water which is when water, ice, and water vapour are sitting all together in equilibrium. This happens at 0.01°C or 273.16K. And the Celsius temperature scale then got defined with the triple point being exactly 0.01°C and 273.16K. Ice melts at 0°C which is a bit below that, at 273.15K, and water is more easily measured as boiling at not exactly 100°C, but at a temperature defined by being exactly (373.15/273.15) times hotter than the triple point.

So, water no longer freezes at exactly 0°C or boils at exactly 100°C. I always thought that temperatures could not be measured to more than 2 or 3 place of decimals, but now I see that the triple point is actually not 0.01°C away from the freezing point, but 0.009911°C – and as the triple point is defined as +0.01°C, water therefore now freezes at +0.000089°C. And it boils at 99.9839°C.

Pressure matters enormously – If you lift up your kettle a bit, its water will boil at 0.001°C lower than before, due to the lower atmospheric pressure 1 foot above the bench. So accurate pressure is required to define accurate temperatures.

Now water is H²O but hydrogen has a heavier isotope, deuterium, and deuterium oxide, D²O, heavy water, handy for controlling nuclear power reactors, melts at 3.82°C and common H²O in reality contains a little bit of D²O (actually most of it as HDO, which also melts at 3.81°C, and hardly any D²O as such). Furthermore, oxygen is not all atomic weight 16 but has isotopes of weight 17 and 18 which occur in nature, and H²O with those isotopes has different properties also. Distilling the water would not change the isotope mix (actually it would, but we can’t measure that accurately yet; a future generation can worry about it). So for precise temperature measurement, there is a need to define what “water” really is and what proportions of the isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen it ought to contain.

For a while they used “average ocean water”, but it turned out to give different results for different oceans. They also tried using melted snow (hopefully they did not take the dirty salty stuff off the streets). A committee was formed in 1968, and after much anguish they decided to take water samples from all the oceans, distil them X number of times and mix them together. This was done in Vienna – ironically, a city noted for its great distance from any ocean – and a volume of 300 litres of the very purest, agreed upon, definitive, water was built. Standards for melting and boiling were then defined by measurements using this water. (This must have been difficult, because boiling it would cause the different isotopes to boil off at different rates, and thus change the composition of the water as time went along. Please, don’t tell them this! It is probably a pretty safe observation as nobody will ever read this post down to this far.)

And you can actually buy this “Vienna Standard Mixed Ocean Water”! An ampoule of 20mL of V.S.M.O.W. can be yours for 180 euro, plus postage. Click here, add to cart. Here’s a picture of 900 euro’s worth, enough water to make a small cup of coffee.

Menu: Coffee, 3 euro. Mocha coffee, 4 euro. Vienna Standard Mixed Coffee, 900 euro. I don’t know what those Viennese scientists will do when it’s all sold and they have run out. Making another batch would not only take years, but would give water with slightly different properties.

Indeed, this must have happened, because I see there is something called VSMOW2; 300 litres of it were prepared between 1999 and 2006, using water taken from three lakes, in Italy, Israel and Egypt. So it should be called VSMLW. It has an expiry date! (year 2026).

End of Nerd Alert; please resume normal life.

From the Pelikan Rally


In the cold grey light of dawn my campsite at Barmera was revealed as having sort of decayed from a much more extensive business that had been active some decades ago. There was a barbecue that you would not even go near, let alone put food on, and a curious outdoor table made of steel and concrete and weighing about 350 kg – nobody is going to walk off with that, eh. It was barely possible for two men to lift it at the edge.

Dead gum trees stick up in the shallows of Lake Bonney, and more trees littered the shore – the lake is a natural anabranch of the River Murray, but it has been artificially decreased and increased in size at various times in the last few decades. At one time, crops were grown in what had been the lake bed. But today, at mid-morning, small flocks of birds flew along the shore, all going the same way, and a few pelicans hung around in the dead trees.

Barmera township proved to be a good resource, with supermarket, three cafes (and I’ve done them all), a visitor and tourism centre, a good public library with internet, and two op shops where I could not resist buying a book or two. OK, a few books … er, might have been 7 or 8. Signs on one cafe’s tables pointed out the “New Non-Smoking Laws … Tobacco Act 1997“.

Further along the lake shore stands the ruin of the historic Barmera Hotel. On the other side of the lake, the town of Cobdogla has the interesting Cobdogla steam museum which would be even more interesting if it had been open, but it will be, for one day, on 14 July.

It has the world’s only working Humphrey Pump, except that it is not working at the moment “following an OH&S incident”. Thereby must hang a tale, surely. I wondered what a Humphrey Pump might look like, or why anyone would want to pump Humphreys; perhaps it would have flailing beams with sharp edges, which give rise to “OH&S incidents”. Indeed, I now see that Wikipedia has this picture of one, which looks like it justifies my fears.

The motorbike rally was a good meeting point, although no rides or events were scheduled apart from the Saturday night dinner (quite a good chicken stew), and an egg/bacon sanger for Sunday breakfast. A lot of riders hung around all day drinking tea and coffee. It was good to meet old mates from SA, as well as some familiar faces from my own club.

I came back home in a single day – 750 km, ending in the dark, but all on good roads. As I rode southwards together with a few other bikes, the weather grew cloudier and colder again, with the threat of rain. On the way into Pinnaroo, on the border of SA and Victoria, tumbleweeds were blowing across the road. Here’s one, with my mate Ian McKenna (that’s him, on the right).

We also came up behind a Fearsome Agricultural Thing which blocked the whole road, so it could go as slow as the driver liked. But when the road widened we safely passed it, and blew into Pinnaroo. This historical Mallee township seemed to be unchanged since I last visited it in 1993. My photograph below depicts these features of Pinnaroo: from the left, the Pinnaroo Institute, the Memorial Clock, the Post Office, a Stobie Pole, the public telephone, and a tree.

The Mallee Tourist and Heritage Centre is in Pinnaroo, but we did not have time to visit it. A pity, since I now see that it has extensive displays of machinery, which would have been interesting to see, and it is host to the D.A.Wurfel Grain Collection which is a display of 1,000 varieties of wheat – the lifetime’s work of local lad Don Wurfel. This must be the very pride of the town.

When I stayed overnight in 1993, with my wife and my other, (sorry, that should be “my mother“), I mentioned this (as one does) and our host proudly admitted that he was Don Wurfel’s son. But now, I got safely home via Bordertown and Horsham, a 1500 km ride over 4 days.

Ride to the Pelikan Rally


I recently attended a motorbike rally in Barmera, South Australia; there were about 60 bikes, mostly from the Adelaide and Melbourne BMW clubs. It’s a long way so I rode up over two days, with five other BMW bikes. The host motorcyclists call it the “Pelikan Rally” because there are pelicans at the location, and they are from Adelaide (the motorcyclists – I don’t know where the pelicans come from) whose culture historically has a German element. Or perhaps the pelicans really are from Germany … storks migrate from Germany to Africa, after all.

We set off from the servo at Calder Park, north of Melbourne and rode along the curvey Burke & Wills Track, stopping at the aeroplane memorial.

This commemorates the first flight by an Australian designed and built aeroplane – which John Duigan flew, in July 1910, for 23 feet before it crashed – so if his plane had been smaller, he could have flown it inside a bus. But, flight it was, and despite initial skepticism aeroplanes have gone on to become larger and more successful.

We rode on, sticking to the ground. It was cold (7*C) but after a rather dismal coffee in Kerang, we came to a somewhat warmer Swan Hill, a long way north of Melbourne. Here we visited a distinguished BMW Club member who has restored several old 1950’s BMWs to perfect condition. We started the engines of four of his bikes; they fired up first kick (yes, kick) and they throbbed, like old bikes do, as they ticked over at about 150 rpm. Brought back memories of my old BSA and Triumph 175, 350, 500 and 650 motorbikes from 1971-4.

I loved the restorer’s workshop, with its two rows of hammers, stacked 3 deep, about 120 in all. If you have to hit something, you really should use the right hammer.