We arrived two weeks ago on a jet that flew us from Dunedin, New Zealand -- visiting our daughter Simone and two granddaughters, Zoe and Jorja -- through Brisbane to Perth, where we landed just before midnight. Our son Liam -- the only one we knew who might be awake at that hour -- met us with a big hug and escorted us to a city hotel, where we gratefully collapsed for the night. We spent the next two weeks meeting up with various friends, a parade through our 21 year history together and the many friends and events we knew and created during those years. The highlight of course was the tail end of summer -- hot sunny days followed by warm balmy evenings; a perfect recipe for short sleeves, sandals and swims in the sea -- all of which we've missed since living in the frigid Pacific Northwest, where dress comes in three layers and the sea is for visual pleasure only.
Now we are just commencing another outback adventure, perhaps not as rough and rugged as our cross-Australia trip in 2010-11, but promising to be just as adventuresome as we explore a corner of Australia neither of us has been, the Northwest (Broome and the Kimberley) and the Top End (Darwin in the Northern Territory). Our vehicle for this run is a hightop Britz campervan, decked out with everything we need for a comfortable camping trip, but limiting us to paved roads. Given that we're on the final run of the wet season up north, traveling off road isn't recommended anyway -- but we will miss the opportunity to get wild in the outback.
last coffee before we hit the road
Still, Highway 1 from Broome to Darwin is pretty remote, replete with many natural wonders, including vertical waterfalls in splendid gorges, exotic colourful birds and reptiles the size of road trains (only a slight exaggeration). We have 18 days to travel some 5000 kms. We'll hightail it up to Broome (we've already seen most of what there is to see below Port Hedland), then take a leisurely pace east through the Kimberley and up north towards Darwin, where we dump the van and fly back to Perth on April 2.
First stop: New Norcia. It's never been our intention to start our outback trips here, but our two previous journeys also found us camped in the field overlooking the 160 year old monastery. To us it is a home away from home as we spent two years living, and several more visiting this quirky Benedictine settlement in the arid Aussie bush north of Perth. We take an afternoon stroll through the town, remembering old stories and people from the past (most of whom have moved on since we left six years ago), ending up at the Hotel for a welcomed slurp of Abby Ale. As ever, the high alcohol content leaves us giddy and we jokingly make plans for our retirement years, when we think we'll sell up and become 'grey nomads', on a relentless run around Australia in whatever vehicle will give us sufficient comfort in our waning years. There's something about the Aussie air that incites one to a reckless abandon.
Vespers with the monks in the Abbey church comes back readily as we share in their chanting prayers. A speedy dinner in the refectory consists of a sparse slice of pizza with choice of fruit for dessert. The Abbot and a few monks greet us as we exit the ref -- kisses all 'round from the older grizzly faced ones -- and Abbot John invites us to view the recently renovated chapel. The authentic gold gilding has indeed lifted the rather drab relic from the monastery's early years. We're invited to the Abbot's private quarters for an aperitif and a quick run down on what's been happening at the monastery over the past three years. Then it's off to an early compline where again the familiar chants are recalled effortlessly and with some nostalgia.
Walking back to our camper, the full moon slips through buffles of thin cloud and the gently waving arms of gum trees. The raucous chants of the cockatoos (thousands of them hovering over the monastery in a deafening cacophony just prior to dinner) have died down and the night smells of promises yet to come as we turn north into the deepening dark and the expansive wild.