Australia 2013

We are back in Perth after eight weeks in the bush and after driving 13,409 km! That’s 8,332 miles! And that is more than we did in our car in all of last year.

Here is a map of our travels and where we camped. And some places where we wimped out and stayed in hotels or motels.

Looking at the map I realise how much of  Western Australia we have missed out.

Overall map

We have seen so much that it is difficult to pick out highlights but the Bungle Bungles and Karajini stand out. And wild camping under the stars.

But I will be detailing all our travels in the next few weeks once I have my photos uploaded. In the meantime we will soon be setting off for Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore and home.

The box below contains files covering all our travels in Western Australia. Find the file for the area you are interested in, download it and open it in Google Earth. You will find our route and the pictures we took along the way. I would love for you to see this without leaving my blog but so far that is impossible.

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We are on our own!

Monday, 19 August 2013

We are in Karajini National Park which is in the Pilbara way up north in Western Australia. It’s a bit west of Newman and a bit east of Tom Price. And we are having a wonderful time.

We arrived in Perth on Saturday 3rd August and spent the next seven days recovering from jet lag and gathering the things we needed for our trip up north. We were staying with John and Ann Bunting who looked after us very hospitably. We also met up with Julie Ferguson who would be coming with us, along with John. John and Julie’s task was to introduce us to the ways of bush camping and this they certainly did!

Our most essential acquisition was four wheel drive vehicle and Thrifty Car Hire certainly gave us something which looks the part, complete with roo bar, CB radio, two spare tyres and a flashing light on the roof. It is a Toyota Prado which is one step down from the Land Cruiser.

We set off from Perth, in two vehicles, on the morning of Saturday 10th and headed north. I will be giving a more detailed account when I have uploaded my photos, sufficient to say we wild camped for six nights as we visited various places along our route. We discovered wild camping to be great fun and surprisingly comfortable. We have good swags, each with two mattresses, a sleeping bag with liner and pillows. John proved to be an inspired bush cook and our food great. It felt good to be sleeping under the stars and seeing the Milky Way, learning how to find south using the Southern Cross and the Pointers.

On Friday John and Julie left us just outside Karajini Park to head back to Perth. It’s almost 1100 km in a straight line and they expected to take two days to do it. We were sorry to see them go but we were looking forward to putting what they had showed us into practice. We went into the park and decided to camp at the Eco Retreat campsite – no wild camping inside a National Park!

We have been exploring the gorges in the park and they are fantastic. We have spider walked through slot canyons, swum in the cool waters of pools hidden at the bottom of narrow gorges and had a great time.

We are headed for Millstream and Chichester Range National Park, via Tom Price, tomorrow.

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Dubai is a very odd place. Someone told me it was the Las Vegas of the Middle East. But it is Las Vegas without the sex, without the gambling, without the booze, without the theatre, without the FUN. You do get shopping, luxury and the feeling that being rich has no downsides. You also get lots of visually interesting buildings – many an architect must have made a fortune if not a reputation out of the place – but it does look like ToyTown built from pocket money counted in billions.

Spatially the town is odd. It does not have a centre surrounded by its ever expanding periphery. The old centre seems to have been abandoned and several other centres have been built, all separate from each other and miles from the old centre and from each other. Each new centre has its contingent of multi-story hotels, offices and, most importantly, its shopping mall, built along a wide dual carriageway, often with a little railway running alongside. Between the centres there is not very much, just desert awaiting development and wide roads.

Our hotel, which was very satisfactory, was called the Radisson Blu Downtown. The last part of its name was aspirational rather than descriptive. It was a twenty minute drive from what I would call “downtown” – the old city, and surrounded by building sites which may have been in abeyance.

The iconic building of the new Dubai is the Shopping Mall. These are bigger and better bigger than any you may have seen. They are full of shops, many of them luxury, many of them world famous brands. But they are for more than shopping. They have ATTRACTIONS. The one we saw has a huge aquarium with the largest acrylic panel in the world (30m long, 8 m high, 10 inches thick, weighing almost 250 tons). It is full of fish many of them very big. Other malls have ski slopes. Public spaces are part of the shopping experience.

And they are pre-eminently places to see and be seen. Italy has its piazzas, Dubai has its shopping malls. In its air-conditioned comfort, groups of young ladies, not all of them chaperoned, walk; observed by group of young men, dressed in their best robes. But this activity is not confined to the young. People of all ages frequent the hallowed halls.

Most of the people in Dubai are not citizens of the United Arab Emirates – perhaps only 20%. The rest are from all over the world but primarily from the region. All the taxi drivers we spoke to were from Pakistan on renewable 2 year visas. One guy had a 2 year old whom he had never seen.

We were in Dubai in Ramadan and our second day was Friday – the Moslem Holy Day. As a result the place was very quiet during the day and shops were often shut. We went to the Gold Souk in the Old City and found it open but all the shops shut. We wandered round the local area and noticed lots of men walking in one direction with a purposeful air. We followed and found they were all going to the local Mosque.

But Ramadan has its advantages. We were able to check in at 9 AM rather than the advertised 2 PM and out at 6 PM, 8 hours later than we should have – I suspect the hotel was not busy.

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Altamira etc.

Caves, Beaches and Tourist Traps

Saturday 19 May 2013

On our first full day in Cantabria – the bit of Spain we were in – we decided to visit the Caves of Altamira. These are world famous for their Paleolithic cave paintings. From there we went to the charming beach resort of Comillas, where we had lunch, then to the carefully preserved town of Santillana del Mar. Our final stop on our return to Lierganes was the Cuevas del Castillo where you can actually go into a cave with “real” paintings.


The caves of Altamira were (re)discovered in 1879 and excavated. The paintings were proved to be Lower Magdalenean (between c. 16,500 and 14,000 years) in age. This age was treated with great scepticism when first proposed but is now accepted. But more recent work suggests that some paintings are much older. Dates of  35,600BP have been suggested using uranium-thorium dating. Because carbon dioxide from the breaths of visitors was causing the paintings to deteriorate, the caves were closed to most and a facsimile of the caves opened. It was this that we visited.


The reconstructed Altamira cave


I suspect the fake cave is easier to negotiate than the original. The characteristic painting is the bison. But other creatures such as antelope are also present. The paintings use  charcoal and ochre or haematite to make the images and also use the shape of the rocks to increase the life-like nature of the paintings.

 Cave Paintings

A reproduction of an Altamiran bison

The paintings must have been done by torch light as they are far from any natural light. And looking at them must have required the use of similar sources of light. So the painting was difficult, the viewing also. For the people involved it must have been important that the paintings were done. We can only speculate what the reasons were.

Cave Paintings

A reproduced antelope at Altamira 

There is a very good museum at the site which has exhaustive coverage of life in the Paleolithic.



After Altamira we continued on to Comillas, noting Santillana as we passed it and resolving to go back to see it.

Comillas had the feel, if not the looks of an English seaside resort of the 1950’s. It certainly had the cold sea and icy winds when we were there. The clear blue skies in my photos are deceptive!


A bracing walk on Comillas beach!

To make the place more exciting for geologists the flanking cliffs show some interesting folding and faulting.


 The cliff at the eastern edge of  Comillas beach.

But the main reason we had come to Comillas was to get some lunch. And a cafe on the front served admirably. Prawns, chips and white wine went down very well!


Our lunch stop, Comillas. Wrap up warm!

With warmer weather I think Comillas would be a lovely place to stay for a beach holiday. And it is in easy reach of Santander.


Chris admiring the sights of Comillas


Santillana del Mar

We had noticed Santillana as we drove past so returned to see more than we had glimpsed from the road. We found it to be a perfectly preserved village which looks as if it had been designed by the National Trust. Everything is perfect.

Santillana del Mar-6


Santillana del Mar

There are authentic artist retail opportunities, in suitably authentic, ramshackle premises.

Santillana del Mar-5

Chris attempting to revive the economy of Spain 

There is even a spring on the main street. The original village wash house is next to the spring but I don’t have a photo of it.

Santillana del Mar-7

  The spring in the main street of Santillana del Mar. Church in the background.

The “Big House” of the village, complete with its fake cannon, is still impressive.

Santillana del Mar-10

The largest house of the village

And it is still a very charming place to wander through.

 Santillana del Mar-11

 Chris in one of the piazzas of Santillana

The place is so perfect that one has an irrational dislike. It is cleaner than it ever was when people lived in it. Every second building is a hotel or has rooms for rent. And the other buildings are shops – many of them very expensive ones. So Santillana del Mar is a perfect mediaeval village sanitized for the 21st. century.


Cuevas del Castillo

Having got a taste for Paleolithic art we looked at our guide book and headed for Cuevas del Castillo. This cave is perched high above the village of Puente Viesgo in the limestone hills which dominate the area.

Cuevas del Castillo-3

 View of Puente Viesgo from the Cuevas del Castillo

The hills are riddled with natural caves – indeed the road from the car park to the show cave intersects a cave.


Cuevas del Castillo-6

 A cave intersected by the road to Cuevas del Castillo

Unlike Altamira one can actually enter the real cave and see the paintings.  The paintings and other markings span from the Lower Paleolithic to the Bronze Age. Unfortunately the paintings are less spectacular than Altamira and much more spread out. Perhaps the best introduction is THIS video – if you can stand the music. A red dot in this cave has been dated to 38,800 BC – the oldest cave decoration known in the world! Things can only get better!!!

Unfortunately one cannot take photos in the cave but I did manage to sneak a couple at the entrance. There has been a lot of excavation in this cave and much of what you see was once full of stuff dating from about 50,000 years ago to almost the present.

Cuevas del Castillo-1

Inside the entrance to the caves   

Cuevas del Castillo-2
Inside the caves. The paintings are through the green door.

After the very satisfying visit to Cuevas del Castillo we headed back to Lierganes.

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We had booked, through Brittany Ferries, to stay at a small hotel in Lierganes, a village about twenty miles from Santander. This was the Casona El Arral which proved to be a very comfortable and welcoming place to stay.

Hotel Casona El Arral

Our hotel in Lierganes – the Casona El Arral

The building on the left of the hotel is a small chapel. The whole complex was once a religious school. Lierganes is a very pretty village, a popular destination with Spanish people. The owners of the hotel were unusual in speaking English – most of the locals don’t. It is in very pretty countryside which, for Spain, is very green. This is not very surprising as there was a lot of rain while we were there and the temperatures were unseasonably cool.


The modern part of Lierganes and the distinctive hill overlooking the town

The older part of town, where our hotel was, has many old, stone built houses. Almost every one has a family crest, to let you know that it is not just anyone living there! Strangely enough Lierganes main claim to fame is that it has a very old cannon factory which covered much of the village. The owners of the hotel have foubd cannon balls in their garden.


The cannon factory, Lierganes. Note the cannons at the corners.

Many of the buildings look as if they are second homes, used at weekends and for holidays. And, given the state of the Spanish economy, many are for sale. But it does look very well cared for.


In the older part of Lierganes

Lierganes is on the River Miera and has an old and beautiful bridge which is well looked after.


The bridge over the Miera


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Our trip to Paris – February 2013

Now that I am (almost) fully recovered from my discitis Chris and I decided that it was time to start what we had dreamed about doing in our retirement – lots of trips to places we had always wanted to go to and had somehow missed.

We had been to Paris before – on our honeymoon almost 30 years ago! But, although we have passed through the place several times, we have not stayed there for any period longer than a night. Unlike our honeymoon, this time we decided to go by train – not possible in those dim and distant days. The journey and our hotel were arranged by Railbookers with whom we have had many dealings. As ever, there arrangements worked perfectly and included a free glass of champagne at St Pancras.

Chris enjoys her free champagne at St. Pancras

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Other Current Stuff

I’m Graeme Churchard, a retired geologist, drilling engineer and house husband. We (that’s me and my wife Christine, a retired doctor) live in Bristol in the south west of England.

I will be updating this blog as the fancy takes me and when I have something interesting to report. For my past ventures on the internet look at “Some of my other stuff” in the tab at the top right of this page.

2 thoughts on “Other Current Stuff”

  1. Hey great to have some one interested in promoting the geology of Bristol
    I have been really disappointed by how non existent the input of Bristol University has been in this area in recent years What comes of calling it a department of earth sciences I guess !!!

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