One bonus of being in the same time zone as Singapore was absolutely no jet lag on arrival in Perth. Nigel’s sister Sally, her husband Dave and their two kids, Jamie and Laura were there to meet us off the plane which was a luxury. Straight through customs, in to the waiting van and off to Hilary’s Boat Harbour, a marina complex boasting bars, boats and beer. We sat in the late afternoon sunshine and soaked up western indulgences.

Although we’d arrived just at the start of Winter, the days were warm and the nights chilly – really the best of both worlds. We made the most of all the home comforts Sally & Dave offered us and it was the perfect point of the journey to be living in a real home again. We got to recharge the batteries and get the washing done properly and even enjoyed cooking the odd meal which was a novelty.

We spent around three weeks with the family, catching up on gossip, and planning our route across Australia.

Both Nigel and I had visited Perth briefly eons ago and it was interesting to see how it had changed since then. Firstly the building expansion is extensive. They were slowly eating away at the vast tracks of bush that surrounded the city and the government were releasing pockets of land for development at an astounding rate.

We drove round one of the most recent plots where all the house foundations were laid out like lego and advertisement hoardings promised ‘all mod cons including underground pipes and bitumen roads’. It was a little like the computer game ‘Sim City’ where small communities are formed and people spend days camping out for the next release. It’s going on so quickly that it is common to get lost in a developing area as new roads, traffic lights and amenities are added at a punishing rate.

Other things though were reassuringly the same. One of the most striking aspects of Australian life is their unflinching straight forward attitude to it all. This is shown in some of the products that are for sale and marketing techniques that prove popular. For instance there’s a liquid for your car engine called "Start, yer Bastard", or a holiday offer entitled "Bugger Me, That’s Cheap" and one of the favourites was an Indian Restaurant imaginatively named "Red Ass Curries". Love it, you know just where you are!

Day to day life hasn’t changed that much either on the face of it. You still have to punch any fly that lands on you before it moves, the whole nation seems to retire to bed at 9pm and no one seems to give a hoot about what’s happening north of Indonesia. Oh yes, and they’re still obsessed with sport and beetroot which was comforting.

Just after arriving, Sally & Dave surprised with a real treat. Since the advent of SARS in the region most of the luxury cruise liners were docked in Australia, travel to SE Asia having been put on hold. The enterprising companies saw a real opportunity though and began holding mini-cruises from many of the major cities aimed at the locals. Each sailing was fully booked with people scrambling for any cancellation tickets, so we were very fortunate to land the last couple of cabins on board The Star Cruiser Virgo and duly set sail for a 200 mile cruise straight out to sea.

The weather however was not on our side and it gradually got rougher and rougher after we left Freemantle until we had waves 20ft high and a gale-force wind howling around! It made swimming in the pool quite an adventure with the water sloshing from one end to the other with each wave roll and most of it going over the side. Not for the faint-hearted, and yes Nigel and his 12yr old nephew Jamie were both in the thick of it! It got so bad that they had to drain the pool on the return journey.

The food was incredible, loads of the stuff available at every hour of the day. The cost of eating was included in the ticket price, so the Aussies made the most of it with full sittings at every meal. The reason for the straight forward sailing route was so they could open the casino for 4 hours whilst in international waters. At the time we reached this point though the weather was so severe most people were holding on for grim death as the chips and dice took on a life of their own.

Arrival back in port saw numerous customers stagger, green gilled from the bowels of the ship staring back at it with venom in their eyes. Very funny.










India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa