Going To A Land Down Under*

Mon / Tue 22nd & 23rd April

Janet getting to grips with tough choices about food & drink

And so, we’re off again. This trip has been six years in the planning (or at least the contemplation) – ever since Myf filled our imagination with all the sights and activities along the west coast of Australia. Our plan – and unusually for us, it is fully planned with every night of accommodation booked – is to try to see all the parts of Aus that are outstanding on our ‘must see’ list. So, whilst we are starting in Adelaide and we will get to Uluru, the real meat of the trip is driving from Perth first on a loop south and then picking up a 4×4 and driving all the way up to Darwin. (I came across this picture of Australia overlaid on a map of North America and, essentially, we will be driving the equivalent of a trip from San Diego in Southern California all the way to the wilds of Northern Canada). Some of the National Parks we are visiting are very remote and only have one place to stay and it is this that has driven us to get all our accommodation booked. We will be making use of the tent on the roof of our 4×4 for a handful of nights and we’ll just have to see how we get on!

Its a big country and we have a lot of driving to doThat, however, is all in the future, and (discounting the glamorous Premier Inn) we start in a much more civilised manner – in the Qatar Airways lounge in Heathrow Airport. We’ve been in the BA lounges in the past and whilst we are glad to use them, they are big, crowded, impersonal places. The Qatar lounge is so different, all is quiet (it is 6am, mind you) and we have our choice of table for breakfast and a waiter to take our order. Unsurprisingly, there are some concessions to the Muslim traditions – bacon in my Eggs Benedict replaced by turkey rashers (I’ve had worse bacon) but there was no problem with my Bucks Fizz. If the lounge was a step up from the BA equivalent, the (new) QSuites on the plane were in a completely different league. At check-in, the assistant suggested that we move to middle seats, and whilst Janet lost her view out of the window, we gained a large double space that we could personalise and have some privacy. Combined with the touches of luxury (proper glasses of champagne before departure), the quality of the facilities and the attentiveness of the service we were completely blown away. We have (once, and using air-miles rather than money) flown First Class on BA and I was somewhat disappointed. This (Business Class) on Qatar was so much better – what a great start to our trip.

Pretentious? Moi! The Qatar Airways lounge at Doha airportWhilst, direct flights to Australia (from the UK) are just getting started it is only one airline and even then only as far as Perth – so it was inevitable that there’d be a change of planes whichever airline we chose. Given we’re on Qatar our stopover is in Doha and the flights are split 7hrs to Doha and then 13hrs on to Adelaide with around 3hrs in the enormous Hamad International Airport. After the excellence of both lounge and on-plane facilities for the first leg, it was inevitable that the equivalents for the second leg would be a step down – still comfortable enough (and still better than BA) just not quite hitting the same heights. The lounge in Doha was cavernous and ostentatious but impersonal and badly laid out – the giant pond a little ridiculous. (The giant figures dotted around the airport weren’t much better). At least I was able to get a shower to freshen up in the lounge and on the plane the seats would recline fully flat so I was able to get some sleep.

And what exactly is the meaining behind this??Adelaide is 9½ hours ahead of the UK (we must find out why the ½ hour is important as we are going to criss-cross this time zone during our stay in Aus). Our first impressions are all positive. The airport is relatively small; there is no queue at passport control; our bags appear quickly; and the border / customs officials are smiley. All in all, we are out within 30mins of plane landing. Then our priorities were to get some cash & buy a local SIM for phone & Internet access. Buying a SIM was easy & relatively cheap (AUD10 for 35GB of data). Getting it activated was less so! Firstly, I needed to be on the internet in order to go through the activation process (so that I can get on the internet). Then, the registration form required an Aussie address and worse a phone number – putting “this is why I’m buying a SIM” in the field didn’t work!

The not so majestic roof garden at the Majestic Roof Garden HotelAfter much muttering, and using the free WiFi in the terminal building, we’re done and its off to find the bus to get into town. At least its still daylight and sunny – always uplifting and the added benefit of helping to get our body clock in sync. Our hotel is called the Majestic Roof Garden – although there is a roof garden, it’s not very majestic and it turns out the hotel is just part of the Majestic chain! The bus drops us a short distance away and we are reminded of the downside of being less frugal in our packing than for our round the world trip. Both of our backpacks weigh a couple of kilos more and we have our camera bags too. Tsk tsk! Its as well we have our own car for most of this trip.

Having got to the hotel, the sun is setting and our bodies are utterly confused – not sleepy but definitely tired. A shower helps and we know that we need to keep going for a while yet in order to have the best chance of a good sleep tonight. On first impression, we are close to the city centre and there is plenty of choice of bars and restaurants. Walking round the block to find a restaurant confirms this impression and also gives hints of the colonial-era architecture for some of the buildings. Happy that we’re going to be able to fill our time in Adelaide, we wrap ourselves round a burger and a beer before crashing out with fingers crossed for a good night’s sleep.

*…Where women glow and men plunder. At least according to the 1981 hit from Men At Work.

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