I was very excited when I stepped onto the whale watching boat at Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

I was going to get a real idea of what the largest living animal on this planet looked like. Better still, perhaps I could give one of the massive mammals a pat or two on their tail (or “fluke” as Wikipedia says it’s called), like in American movies when they tap the roof twice to let the driver know it’s okay to go. I wanted to do that. Except the whale wouldn’t motor off, it would stay and be my friend. Not much to ask for, is it?

Taking a seat on the rooftop next to some Canadian and German tourists, I noticed they were wearing warm, all-weather type clothes. I looked at my skirt and flimsy cardigan and cursed. I was going to get cold.

Snap Happy

The boat took off and soon we were offered some good views of the Harbour Bridge and The Opera House.
“Click, click”, went the cameras. “Wow”, said the tourists. We were off to a good start.

We passed a submarine with five hunky men in dashing white navy uniforms standing on a row on its roof. They saluted us.
“Click, click.”
We turned right, out of the harbour mouth, passed the eastern suburbs, Bondi Beach and Watsons Bay’s white lighthouse.

The boat passed huge cliff formations that had been shaped from years and years of erosion. We watched as the waves violently crashed against the walls.

And then, it was all water. Blue, wavy, clear, cold, water. The boat powered along, accompanied by albatross and seagulls. It was all rather blissful.

An hour went by. And another. I looked around at the water, trying to spot some type of surface action. The sun had disappeared, replaced by cold sea-winds which made my fingers stiff.

I felt cold. But a member from the boat crew came up to the roof and handed out some warm jackets. It was like having Jesus approaching me. From that moment he was my very best friend in the world and the jacket gave me new strength.

The captain spoke in a microphone, explaining that soon we would be watching whales, we just had to wait a little bit longer…

I waited, remembering these were wild animals, not circus-trained tricksters schooled in performing on demand. No one said anything. The boat engine did all the talking.

We waited and looked, searched and…

Blow Holes

“Over there!”, someone screamed.

The boat almost slammed to a halt on the water. All eyes turned to where the voice was coming from, and then out to sea, where the finger was pointing.

Out there on the ocean, two humpback whales were playing. Spraying water out of their blowholes, like mini volcanoes and slapping their flukes on the water.

“Click, click, click…” The cameras went off like crazy – so did the people. Although the whales were quite far away, they existed, and we were watching them!

I tried to be a part of the action with the cameras, but found it impossible to capture anything other than water, so I gave up shooting and just gawped.

The boat followed the whales and sometimes the whales followed the boat, coming so close we could almost touch them.

It was a life-affirming experience to watch them in the wild. These mammals, who I had only seen as a child on TV shows, who had been around for over 50 million years were now metres away from me.

What a fluke

Never mind a pat on the fluke, I secretly wondered what would happen if I decided to jump on top of one and ride off into the horizon like in Whale Rider. What would the whales do; could anyone sue me? Would I be put into a mental hospital?

The captain explained that these humpbacks were about three years old and the older they get the more shy they will become. We were lucky to get so close to these little ones.

Although, at three meters, they were not that little. These humpbacks will grow till they reach 16 metres.

We watched the whales as they showed off for us with their splashing and spraying. All of a sudden, one of the Germans shouted, “penguin, penguin!”.

I could see something in the water next to the whales, but it wasn’t a penguin… it was a seal.

The seal was following the whales, imitating their every move. It was like being inside an animal documentary.

After that high, it was time to head back. The setting sun burst out from the clouds, granting us a glorious setting for the boat trip back.

The trip had been a perfect getaway from the busy city. A few hours out on the ocean with some Germans, Canadians, albatrosses and humpback whales had been completely whale-a-lishious.

The damage & the details:
Whale watching with True Blue Cruises (Freephone: 1800 309 672, costs $69; sightings guaranteed 1 June – 1 August.

A Whale of a time in Oz

Each year most of the southern hemisphere’s large whales spend their summer in Antarctica where they scoff down lots of krill.

When autumn (May) arrives temperatures fall and the whales start migrating towards warmer temperatures. They move up along the east and west coasts of Australia to breeding areas like the Fraser Coast, Northern Territory and Western Australia.

On their way up they can be spotted on many points, and even along the south coast where some mothers take their newborn calves for a bit of quality time.

They return to the Antarctic waters at the end of spring (October-November) using the same route.

While trying to drive across the Simpson Desert, LIZZIE JOYCE and her partner were forced to hitch a ride with some dodgy truckers.

Early one January morning my boyfriend Dan and I set off on our trip across three states, covering 3,000 miles on what would turn out to be the best trip I have ever done, not to mention the most dangerous. We were attempting to cross the Simpson Desert on our way to Alice Springs from Sydney. We were fully prepared and set off in our 4WD loaded with equipment, including 60 litres of water, a double swag, a laser beam,
and an Epirb signal.

After 10 hours of driving, watching the landscape turn from highways and tall buildings to red earth and eternal horizons we glided past an old mining town called Cobar, stopped for a wee and drove on through, thankful that this ‘Hicksville’ town was not our destination. But while driving at an average speed of 120km per hour, the trusty car (which I was assured had “just had a full service and was made for driving across such terrain”) was disintegrating and the entire wheel was about to fall off.

Ugly mothertruckers

Suddenly, the brakes started to fail and smoke started pouring out the front passenger tyre. We were 120km from the last town and with at least 100km to the next, Dan decided we should drive on (without brakes) and see if we could make it to our destination. Luckily it didn’t last long anyway as the car stopped in defiance and we were forced to pull off the road in the middle of nowhere. Within minutes two semi-trailers driving in convoy by brothers, pulled up to offer us help and I’ve never been so glad to see two spectacularly ugly truckers before in my life. Freaky Brother One then began to undress me, with his eyes, almost frothing at the mouth at coming in such close proximity to someone of the opposite sex, while Freaky Brother Two was pretending to be a mechanic and baffling Dan with his bullshit. It was turning into Wolf Creek.

Nothing could be done with the car, and we had no choice but to accept a lift from Freaky Brother One to the nearest roadhouse 13km up the road. But then he said there wouldn’t be enough room in the cab so Dan should travel with his brother and I should hop into his cab by myself. By this point I was close to hysteria and there was no way I would be getting in that lorry by myself.

So we both hopped in with Brother Number Two. Dan settled in the middle of the very spacious cab which had enough room to house a small Albanian family! Relieved to be on our way to a phone box and in relative safety, (even if we were in being driven by an axe wielding maniac I had enough faith that Dan could knock him out if it came to it) I thought it would be plain sailing from here. After a couple of minutes on the road Brother Number One starts becoming agitated – he thinks he has lost his keys as he can’t use the radio to contact his brother. He pulls into the side of the road and asks me to hop out to see if he had left them in the door lock. This forced me into ungraceful acrobatic maneuvers in order to hang myself out the door and reach round to grab the keys, with freaky brother one more than enjoying the view of my ass in the air. The keys were there, so off we set again in stilted silence.

Roadhouse blues

Finally we caught sight of the roadhouse and saw our escape was only minutes away and we made a sharp exit from the freaky brothers. Good riddance!

The roadhouse turned out to be a petrol pump and a shop that was about to close. They had a phone though and we arranged for a tow truck to pick us up and take us back to the nearest town… Cobar (the Hicksville town we drove through scorning) where we would have to wait for the next three days for the car to be repaired. How ironic that the town we were laughing at turned out to be our refuge.

So we skipped the Simpson Desert and took another route to Alice Springs where we arrived two weeks later with the biggest smiles and the best memories!

Send us a travel tale (preferably about Oz) and if it’s published you’ll win a $300 travel voucher redeemable on Oz Experience Passes and ATA NT camping trips (www.adventuretours.com.au). Email your tales (700 words max), with a picture of yourself, to travel@tntdownunder.com