Y Viva España, an Andalusian roadtrip

Here’s a thing. Y Viva España, a song so irritatingly catchy that once inside your head it’s hard to get it to leave again, was actually the creation of a Belgian musical duo who wrote the original song in Dutch. The English version, which plagued my childhood, was recorded by a Swedish singer-songwriter, and went on to sell over one million copies worldwide. It was recorded in a dozen languages, including Spanish.

The point about the song, with its resounding finale of “España por favor, España por favor”, is that it’s an infectiously upbeat homage to the joy felt by northern Europeans en route to the warmer, sunnier climes of southern Spain. The song may brim over with 1970s cliché of Spain, a place of dusky flamenco dancers and hunky matadors, where you can “meet señoritas by the score”, but it’s done with affection.

The Alhambra, Granada, Andalusia, Spain

The Alhambra, Granada, Andalusia, Spain

Bull on a bar, Seville, Andalusia, Spain

Bull on a bar, Seville, Andalusia, Spain

Olvera, Andalusia, Spain

Olvera, Andalusia, Spain

It’s the same feeling I have every time I return to Spain, and I’ve been often enough to know that it’s a country I never grow tired of visiting. Whether its depth of history and culture, easy-going lifestyle, good food and wine, or dramatic landscapes, Spain is a country that I feel almost compelled to visit time and time again.

This time, we were escaping the miserable northern European winter in search of some warmth in Andalusia. We transited through Malaga and headed straight to the fabled Moorish city of Granada, where it rained on my first ever trip to the Alhambra. There was even snow on the hills of the Sierra Nevada behind the city – hills that we later visited to explore the famed pueblo blancos, before driving cross-country to glorious Seville.

Religious procession, Jerez de la Frontera, Andalusia, Spain

Religious procession, Jerez de la Frontera, Andalusia, Spain

Sherry bar, Jerez de la Frontera, Andalusia, Spain

Sherry bar, Jerez de la Frontera, Andalusia, Spain

Metropol Parasol, Seville, Andalusia, Spain

Metropol Parasol, Seville, Andalusia, Spain

Seville, Andalusia, Spain

Seville, Andalusia, Spain

Olvera, Andalusia, Spain

Olvera, Andalusia, Spain

Seville is a city I’ve visited before, but I can’t ever imagine feeling tired of this truly magnificent town. It’s large enough to have a big city vibe, but small enough to explore on foot. While we were there, roaming bands of musicians took over the town and were playing in bars and in the streets around the centre. It was a lot of fun, involving quite a lot of wine.

We headed east, into the corner of Spain bordering Portugal. This region of wooded hills covered with Spanish oak, is home to some of the finest black Iberian pigs known to humanity. Pigs that eventually become jamón ibérico, which is best washed down with a glass of dry fino sherry. We made it to La Rábida, on the Rio Tinto, a remarkably tourist free spot where Christopher Columbus departed on his voyage of discovery to the Americas.

A band in Seville, Andalusia, Spain

A band in Seville, Andalusia, Spain

Pueblos Blancos, Sierra Nevada, Andalusia, Spain

Pueblos Blancos, Sierra Nevada, Andalusia, Spain

Cadiz, Andalusia, Spain

Cadiz, Andalusia, Spain

Almonaster la Real, Andalusia, Spain

Almonaster la Real, Andalusia, Spain

El Rocio, Andalusia, Spain

El Rocio, Andalusia, Spain

Turning south, the Costa de la Luz beckoned. We stopped in at the wonderful sherry town of Jerez de la Frontera and buzzing Cádiz. Both are fascinating and friendly, and often overlooked by tourists coming to Andalusia. Both are worth a  few days of anyone’s time. Finally, we ground to a halt at some of the rugged and beautiful beaches that run down Spain’s Atlantic Coast towards Gibraltar.

We ended the trip with a mad dash back along the coast, hoping to reach Malaga in time for our flight home. If this trip proved anything, other than that driving in Spanish cities is terrifying, but not as terrifying as trying to find a parking space, it is that Spain is a country of immense variety. And this was only Andalusia. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we return again.

Costa de la Luz, Andalusia, Spain

Costa de la Luz, Andalusia, Spain

Costa de la Luz, Andalusia, Spain

Costa de la Luz, Andalusia, Spain

Costa de la Luz, Andalusia, Spain

Costa de la Luz, Andalusia, Spain

Costa de la Luz, Andalusia, Spain

Costa de la Luz, Andalusia, Spain

History and craft beer in Fremantle

Fremantle, the first European settlement in Western Australia, was my final port of call on this trip to Australia. Time was short, and I only had a half day to explore the town. At least some of that time was going to be dedicated to visiting Fremantle-based brewing company, Little Creatures, a pioneering microbrewery. I’d seen, and sampled, several of their beers on my trip, it seemed right to visit the place where it all started.

Fremantle, Western Australia

Fremantle, Western Australia

Little Creatures sits in a former warehouse (and crocodile farm) on a wharf looking over Fremantle harbour. A visit would complete a ‘holy trinity’ of Australian alcohol-related adventures: there was wine from Queensland’s beautiful Granite Belt region; rum from the Bundaberg distillery; and, now, beer from one of the leading lights of Australia’s beer revolution. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.

I found my way there after strolling through Fremantle’s historic centre, which is filled with buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. This was, and still is, Western Australia’s great commercial port, the trade that passed through generating the wealth to build Fremantle’s beautiful old buildings. It’s probably one of the finest collections of historic buildings in Australia, many with intricate iron balconies.

Historic buildings, Fremantle, Western Australia

Historic buildings, Fremantle, Western Australia

Historic buildings, Fremantle, Western Australia

Historic buildings, Fremantle, Western Australia

Historic buildings, Fremantle, Western Australia

Historic buildings, Fremantle, Western Australia

Historic buildings, Fremantle, Western Australia

Historic buildings, Fremantle, Western Australia

The Roundhouse, Fremantle, Western Australia

The Roundhouse, Fremantle, Western Australia

The Roundhouse, Fremantle, Western Australia

The Roundhouse, Fremantle, Western Australia

At the end of one street I spied the Roundhouse. Built only eighteen months after the first settlers arrived in 1829, it’s the oldest public building in Western Australia. Originally, it was a prison, not for criminals transported from Britain, but for anyone convicted of a crime in the new colony. I’d spent too much time walking the attractive streets, they were just closing as I arrived. I was lucky to be allowed to sneak a peek inside.

From here there are magnificent views over the Indian Ocean, the town’s beach and the harbour. Fremantle was formerly a major whaling port, and on the beach below the Roundhouse was a jetty where the whaling ships would dock to unload. A tunnel was built beneath the Roundhouse to give the whalers access to the town.

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle, Western Australia

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle, Western Australia

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle, Western Australia

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle, Western Australia

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle, Western Australia

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle, Western Australia

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle, Western Australia

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle, Western Australia

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle, Western Australia

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle, Western Australia

I walked through the tunnel and took a stroll along the beach to the harbour. The Little Creatures brewery is split into several parts, with a big bar, outside dinning area and a shop. In the shop it’s possible to do a taste test of several beers. The company’s first beer was a tasty pale ale, for which they are rightly famous in Australia, but they’ve added a few more beers to their menu since then. The tasting took a while.

Afterwards, I didn’t have a plan, so I went whichever way the wind blew me. I found myself wandering through the old town again, where I came across the infamous Fremantle Prison. It gained notoriety in the mid-19th century as the place where the British sent Irish republican supporters to rot. It was considered one of the worst prisons in a system not known for progressive ideas on crime and punishment.

Beach, Fremantle, Western Australia

Beach, Fremantle, Western Australia

Beach, Fremantle, Western Australia

Beach, Fremantle, Western Australia

Harbour, Fremantle, Western Australia

Harbour, Fremantle, Western Australia

Harbour, Fremantle, Western Australia

Harbour, Fremantle, Western Australia

Harbour, Fremantle, Western Australia

Harbour, Fremantle, Western Australia

The brutality of the system saw people thrown into solitary confinement for two or three years at a time. Floggings and beatings were common, and forty four people were executed here. It kept its notoriety until the very end: it was forced to close in 1991 when serious human rights violations were exposed. Sadly, I couldn’t visit, as it too had closed for the day.

There was much more of Fremantle I’d have liked to explore, but the sun was setting and the curtain was coming down on my time in Australia. I hopped on the train and headed back into Perth to meet a friend for one final night of fun. In the morning it would be 18 hours on a plane back to the Netherlands. Australia had been fascinating, and this trip has whetted my appetite for a return journey.

Street art, Fremantle, Western Australia

Street art, Fremantle, Western Australia

Statue, Fremantle, Western Australia

Statue, Fremantle, Western Australia

Fremantle, Western Australia

Fremantle, Western Australia

Perth, a cityscape transformed

P.J. O’Rourke, the right wing political satirist, once made the observation that if you don’t like your city cluttered with advertising billboards, try looking at what they hide. This thought occurred to him when he was a foreign correspondent in the concrete brutalism of communist-era Warsaw. A time when, not only were there no billboards to hide the ugliness of the architecture, but there was nothing actually worth advertising.

You could take a similar view of street art. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but would you prefer your city with only bare brick and concrete? When I lived in London, I daily walked past Banksy’s Girl with a Red Balloon on a building near my flat in Hoxton. It was a sight to uplift the weary traveller. That was, until the building’s idiot owners painted over it. For several years it remained faintly visible underneath the whitewash.

Australian rapper MC Hunter by E.L.K, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Australian rapper MC Hunter by E.L.K, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Street art, Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Street art, Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Street Art in China Town, Perth, Western Australia

Street Art in China Town, Perth, Western Australia

Street art, Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Street art, Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Seeing a huge piece of urban art can be breathtaking. It’s rare to see art on such a grand scale anywhere else, and Perth has done much to encourage artists to use the blank spaces of the city as a giant canvas. In the Northbridge area of the city there are a number of large pieces of artwork adorning buildings. The result is often spectacular, rarely less than exciting.

Without getting too philosophical, street art on the scale that Perth has promoted it changes the way people interact with the city. It goes way beyond adding a splash of colour to an otherwise dreary urban landscape; it can become a focal point for communities and bring a new vibrancy to neighbourhoods. For residents and visitors alike, it becomes an interactive experience that makes exploring the city more fun.

I won’t quickly forget the moment when I turned around and saw the massive painting of rapper MC Hunter by Australian artist, E.L.K. I almost missed this enormous work. I had my back to it and, had I carried on in the same direction, it would have passed me by entirely. The area around here has museums, theatres and art galleries, a cultural hub with lots of street art.

Nearby is Perth’s Chinatown, which is also home to numerous artworks dotted around car parks, alleyways and on warehouses. I spent a couple of hours wandering this area, stopping in at a couple of the areas many good cafes and bars. Finally, I flopped down in the shade of a tree in Russell Square, just one of the many green spaces scattered around Perth.

Italian artist, Pixel Pancho, Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Italian artist, Pixel Pancho, Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Galloping Horses in a sea of Words, Northbridge Perth, Western Australia

Galloping Horses in a sea of Words, Northbridge Perth, Western Australia

Galloping Horses in a sea of Words, Northbridge Perth, Western Australia

Galloping Horses in a sea of Words, Northbridge Perth, Western Australia

Galloping Horses in a Sea of Words, Northbridge Perth, Western Australia

Galloping Horses in a Sea of Words, Northbridge Perth, Western Australia

Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Not every city could achieve what Perth has done. For one thing, Perth has the advantage of an excellent climate. I’m not sure a venture like this would work so well in colder, wetter climes. It had been a good day of art hunting, and had given me a new perspective on how transformational urban art can be when thoughtfully curated. Time to sample a little of Northbridge’s famed nightlife.

Perth, a city embracing street art

Street art has become a marker of how sophisticated and cutting edge a city is in the 21st century. The quality of a city’s street art acts like a barometer of its ‘hipness’. City councils have stopped power-washing ‘graffiti’, and turned to promoting it as part of the cultural matrix. There’s never been a time when it’s been more fashionable, or the lines between street art and commercial interests have been so blurred.

Street artists can expect commissions that see them travel the world to create their distinctive pieces on walls thousands of miles from home. Businesses commission artworks for the interior and exterior of their buildings, helping to define their brands in the process. Festivals of street art are held to entice leading artists and, on the back of their work, street art tourism.

ROA, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

ROA, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Omega by Beastman & Vans, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Omega by Beastman & Vans, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Fashion industry, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Fashion industry, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Pixel Pancho's Mine Train Future, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Pixel Pancho’s Mine Train Future, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

We’ve come a long way from Rudy Giuliani’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy in 1990s New York, when graffiti was seen only as a precursor to an ever escalating series of more serious crimes. Giuliani would have conniptions if he was to visit modern-day Perth.

Perth, long considered a street art laggard in Australia, has spent the last few years trying to make up ground on the more illustrious street art scenes of Sydney and Melbourne. Since the ground-breaking Form Festival in 2014, Perth has been trying to set the pace in Australian street art. It’s thanks to the Form Festival that I came across a very familiar ‘face’, the work of Belgian artist ROA.

The giant snake that took up the side of a large building was as instantly recognisable as it was impressive. A true statement piece. Later on, as I wandered around the centre of Perth, I came across another ROA trademark animal, a big rat on the side of another building in the Central Business District. This area is a hotspot of urban art, and there are several streets filled with works by different artists.

There are a couple of other areas of the city where street art has proliferated with the official blessing of the city authorities. They all have a wide variety of national and international works. Starting with the Form Festival in 2014, this was a deliberate strategy to raise the city’s profile, and to make Perth a rival for cities more famous for urban art.

Mahi Mahi or Dolphin Fish by Amok Island, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Mahi Mahi or Dolphin Fish by Amok Island, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Pigs by Jae Criddle, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

UK artist Phlegm's Creation Myth, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

UK artist Phlegm’s Creation Myth, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Hyuro, Art, Perth, Western Australia

Hyuro, Art, Perth, Western Australia

This public flourishing of street art has left Perth with a newly transformed cityscape. At times it feels a bit like you’re walking through a curated city, like an open air gallery, at other times it’s a bit like being on an art treasure hunt. A walk around the city will unearth a wealth of artworks; alleyways are turned into canvases, and nondescript buildings become the site of art pilgrimage.

At its best, this is what makes street art so exciting and, in Perth, it’s done well. It may lack a little of the anti-establishment meaning that made urban art ‘cool’, but these striking images make a stroll through the city more of an adventure.

 

Perth, the world’s most isolated city?

As the plane descended towards Perth, the brown landscape of Australia’s vast interior finally gave way to the brilliant blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Even from the air, I could see the white sand of Perth’s renowned beaches reflecting the sunlight. The journey from Cairns involved a plane change in Alice Springs, and gave me a far better understanding of the massive scale of the Australian landmass.

Despite being the country’s fourth largest city, I’d heard many people talk about Perth as a backwater compared to the nation’s other big cities. Its isolation from the rest of metropolitan Australia, only too obvious when you fly across the country to reach it, doesn’t help. It’s as quick for Sandgropers (as Western Australian’s are known) to fly to Singapore as it is to reach Sydney.

Perth, Western Australia

Perth, Western Australia

Kangaroo statue, Perth, Western Australia

Kangaroo statue, Perth, Western Australia

Street art, Perth, Western Australia

Street art, Perth, Western Australia

On the ground, Perth was something of a revelation. It felt more cosmopolitan than its reputation led me to believe. It also felt very liveable. The broad Swan River flows through its centre and has pleasant riverside parks, walking paths, cafes and bars; there are lots of green spaces; and nearby is a coastline with golden beaches. Despite the tall glass towers of the business district, it felt like a relaxed, easy-going place.

It truth, the city has been growing quickly thanks to a commodities boom driven by China’s insatiable desire for raw materials. The immense size of Western Australia once hid large gold deposits, which sparked a gold rush in the 1890s; more recently vast deposits of iron ore, along with nickel, diamonds and coal, have fed its growth. No surprise that Perth is the regional headquarters of the big global mining companies.

I’d come to Perth to visit an old friend, who migrated here several years ago. It was interesting to see the city through ‘local’ eyes, although, as with any reunion, that did involve visiting a disproportionate number of local ‘watering holes’. Despite rising costs and a general sense of isolation, Perth clearly offers a high quality of life.

I spent a sunny morning wandering the city centre and strolling along the attractive landscaped riverfront at Elizabeth Quay. I walked through the grounds of Government House, before visiting St. Mary’s Cathedral, probably the most English church you’re ever likely to see outside of England. One of the church volunteers gave me a potted history of the city and the cathedral.

Street art, Perth, Western Australia

Street art, Perth, Western Australia

Perth, Western Australia

Perth, Western Australia

Perth, Western Australia

Perth, Western Australia

Later, I went up to King’s Park, which sits on an escarpment offering fantastic views over the town and river. The day ended with a visit to the city’s most trendy nightlife area, Northbridge. It’s an area full of boutiques, small, atmospheric bars, coffee houses and good restaurants. The vibrant atmosphere is helped along by a large student population and money from the mining boom. Perth certainly offers a warm welcome.

The Dutch were the first Europeans to discover and explore this coastline between the 1650s and 1690s. Their ships were travelling to Batavia, modern-day Jakarta, and shipping spices back to Europe that would make the Netherlands rich enough to spark the Dutch Golden Age. These early explorers had a low opinion of the value of the land near Perth, not to mention the dangers of reefs, which sank one of their ships.

The Dutch recommended against colonisation, and with it European interest in the area waned. It would take well over 150 years before the British founded the Swan River Colony, as it was then known, which was established in nearby Fremantle in May 1829. The first European immigrants in Western Australia had arrived.

Perth was founded in August of the same year, when the wife of a British naval captain ceremonially chopped down a tree. Initially, it was set up as a ‘free’ colony rather than a penal colony, and colonists were encouraged to migrate from the UK. Unfortunately, the Dutch reports of the quality of agricultural land proved to be true, and the colony struggled for survival.

Car art, Perth, Western Australia

Car art, Perth, Western Australia

Perth, Western Australia

Perth, Western Australia

Perth, Western Australia

Perth, Western Australia

In the 1850s fewer than 6,000 people lived here, which may be why this was when the first penal ships arrived with their human cargo. Transportation of convicts ended in 1868, but by then many Irish independence fighters and political activists had been shipped here by the British authorities. This led to the Catalpa Rescue of 1876, the legendary escape of six Fenian prisoners in a ship flying the flag of the United States.

Shortly after this the gold rush began, and Perth became the transit hub to the gold fields of the interior. This was to prove only the first of several mining booms that wouldn’t just secure the city’s future, but would propel it to become a today’s city of over two million people.

Charters Towers, Gold Rush history and Topless Raffles

What is a Topless Raffle, I hear you ask? Let me (try to) explain. It was still early as I walked along the main street of Charters Towers. The town was quiet, but I could hear music coming from the pub across the road from my hotel. I decided to investigate and have a nightcap. There were only a handful of people at the bar, and I didn’t really pay attention to them as I ordered a beer. I found a table and sat down.

It was then that I noticed something extraordinary: two women standing at the bar were topless. Even in Australia, this seemed unusual. A barman walked past, so I asked what was going on. He looked a bit surprised, but not half as surprised as I did when he said, “Topless raffle, mate”. I gave him a confused look. He was friendy and tried to clarify by saying, “Meat train, alcohol dollars, yeah?”

Topless Raffles, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Topless Raffles, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

He looked again to see if I understood. I didn’t. He went back to collecting glasses. Back at the hotel, a little research unearthed the fact that topless raffles are common in Australia. Naked women raffle trays of meat (I think I misheard when the barman said “meat train”) to raise funds for local sports teams, or similar ‘good causes’. It was a fascinating, if bizarre and vaguely degrading, snapshot of small town life.

I arrived in the former gold rush town of Charters Towers late in the afternoon and found my way to the historic Royal Private Hotel. Built in 1888 and restored to its former grandeur, the Royal Private is one of the oldest buildings in town. It started life just after gold was discovered in the area, and has seen the town’s fortunes rise and fall along with the ore dug out of the ground.

Jupiter Mosman, an Aboriginal child and indentured servant to some gold prospectors, discovered the first gold in 1871. Gold meant only one thing: gold rush fever. Within months Charters Towers was booming, thousands of prospectors arrived in the hope of striking it rich. The town grew rapidly to around 30,000 people, making it the second largest in Queensland during the gold rush years.

It became a rich place, know to locals as ‘The World’, the legend being that you could get anything available anywhere in the world in Charters Towers. Money was lavished on buildings, and many heritage sites from that period still exist, including one of the first regional stock exchanges. These buildings take pride of place on a walking tour of the town. I walked the trail and spotted a museum.

Royal Private Hotel, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Royal Private Hotel, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Australia specialises in good folk museums. The Zara Clark Museum is no exception. Run by volunteers it tells the history of the town and has an interesting collection of items from the local community. Machinery and memorabilia about warfare, medicine, domestic life and agriculture are housed in two buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I had a fun time poking around, and had a thorough run down on the history of the town from one of the volunteers. It’s hard to imagine walking the quiet streets today, but the town hosted 15,000 soldiers during World War II, double the town’s current population. I can’t imagine what they did for entertainment, but I suspect topless raffles would have been popular had they existed in the 1940s.

View over Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

View over Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Mining equipment, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Mining equipment, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Mining equipment, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Mining equipment, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Mining equipment, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Mining equipment, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

I drove over to the Venus Gold Battery, where gold ore was crushed and processed. It opened in 1872 and closed in 1972, long after the gold rush had ended. I asked the ticket seller if I could walk around. “Tour only”, he said. I didn’t have much time, so I asked how long the tour was. “One and a half hours”, he replied. I had time, so asked when the next tour was. “Tomorrow”.

Hoping he’d take pity on me, I explained that I’d be in Cairns then getting my onward flight. “Well, have a nice day”, he said, and turned away. It was only 11am and there was only one other car in the car park. Surely, an extra paying visitor might be welcome? Apparently not. Yet another insight into small town life. With that, I departed Charters Towers to see if I could drive the 500km to Cairns in time to catch my flight to Perth.

Leaving Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Leaving Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, the night is dark and full of terrors

I once spent several nights in an old army surplus tent in the Masai Mara. As part of the induction to the campsite, I was told that a few weeks earlier a pack of lionesses had hunted down and killed a zebra not ten feet from my tent. They then spent several hours eating and sleeping off their feast. No one was harmed, but no one could escape their tent until the lionesses departed. Against the odds, I slept like a baby.

I figured a night under canvas on the magical Whitehaven Beach wouldn’t prove to be any different. How wrong I was. There may not be any lions but, as the character, Melisandre, says in Game of Thrones, “the night is dark and full of terrors”. The gusting wind rattled the trees above my tent, leaves tumbled loudly to the ground, birds screeched all night long, on the ground lizards and other creatures scurried around.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Nature is really noisy. In the pitch dark night, all the noises were amplified to become terrifying creatures creeping up on me as I ‘slept’. I know I eventually got some sleep, because I definitely woke up as it started to get light in the morning. It was a relief to discover I was still alive. To celebrate, I went down to the beach and splashed into the water to wake myself up.

The few boats that had moored here overnight were gently bobbing in the turquoise waters. The beach was completely empty and the only sound was of waves rolling onto the sand. It was a beautiful scene to gaze upon, the picture of an idyllic tropical paradise. I wandered back to the tent and made myself some breakfast, the forest seemed empty of any of the previous night’s terrors.

Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Near the campsite is the start of a trail that runs over the top of Whitsunday Island to Chance Bay, a sheltered cove on the other side. After breakfast I set off to explore the hinterland. It was humid inside the forest, but I eventually emerged into an open area on top of a hill. The views over the island were fabulous. I plunged back down the track and back into the claustrophobic confines of the trees.

The track brought me to a beautiful small beach in a perfect cove. There was a single boat moored up, which must have spent the night in the bay. After the sticky interior of the forest, I cooled off with a swim in the water, and then just sat down on the beach for a while. It was very peaceful. The people on the boat emerged and were preparing for a day’s sailing. I waved ‘hello’ and set off back to my side of the island.

Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

In my absence, Whitehaven Beach had been transformed. It was 10.30am and the first day trippers had arrived, a large boat was disgorging 50 or 60 people, who immediately fanned out to find their own spot of white sand. I made myself a coffee and watched as a few more boats arrived and deposited their passengers. A sea plane landed and came to a halt just in front of me. The tranquility shattered.

My own boat wouldn’t arrive for another three hours, so I took the opportunity to walk the length of the beach again. After all, it may be some time before I get to spend time on a beach as glorious as Whitehaven.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Boat to shore, Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Boat to shore, Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, scenes from a tropical island

Arrival at Whitehaven Beach is a little surreal. The luminous white sand, blinding sunshine and brilliant blue water all combine to disorient. Sailing boats and sea planes are moored in the sheltered water of the bay, their passengers picnicking on the beach. The most striking thing though, was the sand between my toes. It’s like nothing I’ve experienced before, like walking on satin. It’s so fine it squeaks as you walk.

The pristine white sand is 98 percent silica, the purest silica sand in the world. It’s not just exquisite, it’s unique. Not even elsewhere in the Whitsunday Islands are there beaches of this quality. This is something of a mystery. Nobody can say for certain how the sand got here but, most likely, it drifted here millions of years ago and became trapped on the island.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Campsite, Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Campsite, Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Wildlife, Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Wildlife, Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

I found the island campsite, set up my tent in the shade of the forest at the edge of the sand, unpacked my gear and got acquainted with some of the local wildlife. The lizards were doing a passable impersonation of Komodo Dragons, at around a twentieth of the size. There was one other tent, home to a Canadian couple, other than that the island was mine. Or it would be once the day trippers went back to the mainland.

I found my hat and headed to the beach. The campsite is at the most southerly point of Whitehaven Beach, it’s the busiest area, probably because there is an ecological toilet block hidden away in the woods. There weren’t many people, but I felt like solitude and set off on the 7km walk to the far end of the beach. I was soon alone with just the breeze and ocean for company.

I came across a couple who’d flown to the beach in a red helicopter, now ostentatiously parked on the sand. I’ve never seen a helicopter on a beach before, but I imagine it’s quite an exciting thing to do. I stopped for a chat, they didn’t offer me a glass of the fizzy wine that’s part of the heli-picnic package, so I carried on my way towards Hill Inlet at the northern end of the beach.

Here, I found myself utterly alone. I swam in the warm clear water, sat down on the beach and just looked out to sea for what seemed like an eternity. The blues, greens and turquoise of the water merged with the blue of the sky, white sails occasionally crossed the horizon in from of me. Time seemed to stand still. I finally got up and wandered around the headland to reveal the beautiful Hill Inlet.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Helicopter, Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Helicopter, Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Walking back, I could see boats coming and going, sea planes taking off. It looked like a hive of activity, but by the time I reached the campsite most of the day trippers had left. As the sun began to sink the beach became deserted, I opened the bottle of Granite Belt red wine that I’d brought with me, and I watched the sun set with a couple from one of the boats that were moored off the beach.

Later, I sat on the beach and watched as billions upon billions of stars rolled out across the dark sky. There’s no light pollution on Whitsunday Island, dense galaxies of stars appeared in all their glory, and the cosmos seemed to be laid bare above me. It was heartbreakingly beautiful. I sat and pondered the mysteries of the universe, the main one being the slice of fortune that had deposited me in this place.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, where superlatives fail

In Costa Rica, I once passed a bizarrely incongruous road sign pointing towards Liverpool, an English city with a famous football team in which I once lived. Thanks to European colonialism this happens quite a lot, but nowhere quite like in Australia. Look at a map and many of the names on it also exist 10,000 miles away in the northern hemisphere. It’s a strangely familiar, yet disconcerting place to travel if you’re British.

For this reason, I visited the Cumberland Islands. In 1770, when Captain Cook passed through here he did what all explorer-cum-empire builders do, he named things. He sailed through the area on what he thought was Whit Sunday. Many of the crew on the HMS Endeavour apparently came from the English port town of Whitehaven, situated in the county of Cumberland. The Duke of Cumberland just happened to be brother to King George III.

Scamper at Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Scamper at Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

It was this improbable set of circumstances that, in a place so remote from the original, seventy-four islands sitting alluringly in azure waters off the coast of eastern Australia became known as the Cumberland Islands. It’s also why the biggest island was named Whitsunday Island, and the 7 km beach of near pure silica that graces it became known as Whitehaven Beach.

At the time of Cook’s voyage, Whitehaven was a major British port, heavily involved in trade with the colonies of North America, including the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Whitehaven’s ships exported coal, but also transported slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean and North America. They returned with sugar, tobacco and rum. Today, global trade has passed Whitehaven by, and it’s a forgotten backwater.

Shute Harbour, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Shute Harbour, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Shute Harbour, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Shute Harbour, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Shute Harbour, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Shute Harbour, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Shute Harbour, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Shute Harbour, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

It could be worse, the county of Cumberland no longer exists. It merged with its neighbour, Westmoreland, to become Cumbria in 1974. It’s an attractive place with the Lake District National Park at its heart. It even has some pleasant beaches, albeit much colder and with far less appealing water. It’s also where I was born, which is why I felt drawn to these familiar names on the wrong side of the globe.

Amongst the Cumberland Islands you can find the isles of Carlisle, Brampton, St. Bees, Scawfell, Penrith, Derwent, Keswick, Calder, Cockermouth, Workington and Wigton. It’s like a roll call of places from my childhood, familiar yet utterly alien in the waters of the Coral Sea. To be fair, Cook didn’t name all of them. This was left to Captain King when surveying the area in 1820.

Sailing through the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Sailing through the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Sailing through the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Sailing through the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Sailing through the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Sailing through the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Sailing through the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Sailing through the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Sailing through the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Sailing through the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

I don’t wish to be unkind to the place where I grew up, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing, even remotely similar about Cook’s Cumberland Islands and the places after which they are named. In fact, there has rarely been a more blatant misrepresentation. If you’ve visited Whitehaven Beach, a visit to Whitehaven the town is going to be a big surprise … and not only because you’ll need about seven additional layers of clothing.

I arrived late to Airlie Beach, the buzzing resort town that is a tourist hub for the Whitsunday Islands, as they are now known. In the morning I’d be heading over to Shute Harbour, from where SCAMPER Island Camping would take me to Whitsunday Island. I’d booked a camping spot at the National Park campsite on Whitehaven Beach and would have two days as a castaway on the island.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Scamper at Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Scamper at Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

I’m not sure words alone can do Whitehaven Beach justice. It’s an extraordinary and beautiful place that has to be seen to be believed. As we came around a headland the beach revealed itself: a strip of almost luminous white sand wedged between the exquisite blue and turquoise water, and the lush green of the tropical forest. I’d expected it to be beautiful, but this was way beyond expectations.

Cape Hillsborough’s elusive kangaroos

Cape Hillsborough is a small but atmospheric national park. Two beautiful crescent-shaped beaches are fringed by tropical forest; dramatic rocky headlands, with giant volcanic boulders that seem to have tumbled down the hills that form the backdrop to the beaches; trails take you around the peninsular to ancient Aboriginal sites. The thing most people come to see though, are the kangaroos.

If you’re lucky, at sunrise or sunset, there’s a chance that Cape Hillsborough’s famous beach-loving kangaroos will show up. These kangaroos (and wallabies) must be some of the most photographed animals on the planet. Queensland’s tourist literature features them at almost every opportunity, making it seem like there are a constant parade of kangaroos wilfully wandering in front of tourist cameras.

Kangaroo, Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Kangaroo, Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

I arrived at Cape Hillsborough on a 500km drive from the Capricorn Coast to Airlie Beach. It wasn’t exactly the most direct route, but I thought it would be fun to see kangaroos on the beach. Leaving the main highway, I found myself on small roads passing through fields of sugar cane. It seemed to get more and more remote the further I went, until I found myself driving on a gravel road.

There was sugar cane as far as the eye could see, and occasional farmhouses with horses in paddock. Just when I thought I’d somehow been transported back to Cuba, I came to an intersection with a paved road and made my way the last few kilometres into the national park. The moment I stepped out of the car I saw two kangaroos. They weren’t on the beach but it seemed like a good omen.

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

I’d arrived in the afternoon and only had a couple of hours before sunset. I walked to the beach, strolled from one end to the other, then around some jagged rocks to a second beach, that at high tide is only accessible by a trail over the hill. As the sun set, I found myself standing alone on the beach in a natural amphitheatre of wooded hills. The ocean was like my own personal orchestra. It was magnificent.

I drank in this unique atmosphere and wandered back to the main beach. I hoped by now that the most famous kangaroos on the planet would be gathered for their ritual perambulation. I wasn’t alone, seven other people had appeared from somewhere, but where were the kangaroos? I waited, hoping beyond hope that I’d not made the journey for nothing, but not a single marsupial showed up.

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Sunset, Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Sunset, Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Sunset, Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Sunset, Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Sunset, Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Sunset, Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

It was getting dark and I still had an hour or two to drive before I could rest for the night. As I walked through the car park, something moved in the growing gloom of evening. There, not six feet from my car, was a wallaby. I managed to take a quick photo then it hopped off into the trees, and I drove off through the cane fields into the night.

Wallaby, Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia

Wallaby, Cape Hillsborough, Queensland, Australia