It rains five days a year here, and today is one of them!

North-western Australia is pretty remote: we saw our last traffic light 3 days ago, and driving at night becomes a battle of the wills between the driver and the members of the local wildlife who regard mini-buses as objects of curiosity and wonder… Since I’m not driving, it’s all great stuff!

Today we have reached the zenith of our trip north: the town of Exmouth, located about an hour’s drive north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and close to the Ningaloo Reef. It’s very different to the East coast of the country which has a lot of rainforests: here the landscape is defined by the vivid red soil, with scatterings of short scrubby bushes, and “rain days” number just five a year. Sadly, today was one of those days! We still managed to get in our snorkeling though—apparently fish don’t mind the rain—and the water was still its famous brilliant turquoise colour, but the views of the beaches were not as stunningly beautiful as they would have been on a sunny day.

Snorkeling was good fun: Rosie’s enthusiasm to spending as much time in the water as possible (preferably observing fish!) meant I saw a great many varieties from pretty many-coloured coral-eating parrot fish to evil looking black catfish, and even a shark (which thankfully sped away in the opposite direction as soon as I turned around to find Rosie to save me!).

Tomorrow we head south again: it will take two long days on the bus to reach Perth and actual coffee shops (“civilisation”) again.

Drinking in (and around) Melbourne

After Sydney’s impressive harbour and beautiful beaches, it would easy to be disappointed with Melbourne which has few obvious tourist attractions. However, while Sydney is a stunning supermodel, Melbourne is a multi-layered “onion” of a city, each new exploratory trip reveals new layers: hidden gems of classy shops, chic food markets, interesting cafés, and funky bars. (In the case of the funky bars, “hidden” is literally true: back alleys lead to bars with bizarre but cool school science lab themes, and un-marked entrance ways hide bar staff who hold encyclopedic cocktail menus in their heads.)

If one does tire of the eating and drinking in the city, then a one or two-day trip down the Great Ocean Road provides beautiful coastline scenery. Alternatively, a day trip to the Yarra Valley provides a good excuse to taste some fine Australian wine while admiring the view from the shade of a converted barn or farmhouse.

It would be easy to compare Melbourne to London: for example the Queen Victoria markets are similar to Borough market, and the converted Treasury bar is a bit like the Bank of England pub, and so on. Melbourne felt a little more compact though: while Melbourne has huge sprawling suburbs, the central area where all the action is, did seem a lot smaller than London’s disparate “villages”. Either way, it’s definitely a great place for people who like cities and city-breaks.

Too busy travelling to blog

I have been in Australia 6 days now, and I really have been too busy to blog! I have taken a great number of photos though, so perhaps I will be able to provide a photo-based retrospective, instead of the running commentary of my last trip.

Anyway, the story so far is that Sydney was just how I remembered it: gorgeously beautiful vistas, excellent coffee, and full of restaurants serving tasty food that was at the same time both comfortingly familiar and slightly different from “the usual” fare. I had forgotten how huge Sydney is though, but since this was my second visit I felt much more able to take life at an easy pace and only revisit those sights I felt warranted a second visit—although there are still too many highlights to list here!

One thing that definitely made this visit more enjoyable was that the flights we took (leaving the UK in the evening and arriving first thing in the morning) were a lot more palatable than departing in the morning and arriving in the evening which left my body clock about 12 hours out of sync with reality. In theory we “lost” a whole day to flying, but it did mean we spent more time sleeping on the very boring plane journey, and were able to start enjoying our holiday as soon as we arrived!

Consumer Rights and Banking

Professor Ross Anderson has called for improved banking regulations in the UK, but I think the really interesting part of the article is the description of how the British government and British banks are working together to reduce protections afforded to bank customers when they are the victim of fraud. Scary stuff.

(Previous to his career in academia, Professor Anderson worked in the commercial banking sector.)