‘200 countries of origin. 230+ languages. 120+ faiths. 1 community.’
That’s the slogan of the Melbourne Cultural Diversity Festival in Federation Square. It’s a beautiful day, there are food stalls from many national cuisines, and crowds have turned out to see band after band take the stage. Afrobeat gives way to Colombian cumbia; Vulgargrad, ‘perestroika punk rogues’, follow the Lebanese Dancers for Peace; Bombay Royale, a tight horn-riffing Bollywood 9-piece, is followed by a Serbian folk-dance troupe (I take a rest from dancing for a while). And we have a speech from the besuited Minister for Multicultural Affairs.
The festival finally winds up with Dereb the Ambassador: a thrilling, soaring, quarter-tone voice against mesmeric cross-rhythms, from a small Ethiopian in a baggy sports jacket. The day is perfect: bright sun on the plaza, and cool in the shade of the crazy modern buildings that surround Fed Square. And the most relaxed Aussie vibe, from the Chinese, African, European, Asian, Latino, and indigenous Australians watching, dancing and smiling.
We get an email fom a friend back in the UK. She went to a meeting in Brighton, about multi-culturalism. It was besieged by thugs from the so-called English Defence League. Sickening.

It’s really chucking it down as we drive back into the caravan park (formerly Cosy Cabins etc) after an evening at the Lodge. It’s cold, too. We sat in studded leather chairs in front of a big log fire, getting warmed and feeling slightly scruffy among the neatly-pressed Lodgers.

But now we return to our berth, unpowered, so we can’t use the heater. And, as I say, it’s chucking it down. And very very dark. Brian turns into the space, and there’s a big bang from the side of the van, and we stop. He reverses, but there’s a horrible cracking sound, and the big thing doesn’t move.

We have to go outside, hearts sinking, into the rain cold and dark. We shine the little cheap torch we bought and see that we are impaled on an ancient tree stump, wedged into the side of the van, just by the gas compartment. Brian is mortified, and spends a dark night of the soul, examining his life…

In the morning, big guys come in a tow truck, and drag the camper van sideways, freeing it within minutes.

At the Discovery caravan park (formerly Cosy Cabins) I wake up and walk to the shower block amongst the soaring peeling trees, light of heart and whistling the organ solo from Del Shannon’s Runaway. It’s a beautiful clean rain-washed morning.

However, I can’t turn the hot tap on – it’s really tight. I use both hands and exert undue force… and rip it out of the wall! A great searing gusher of fiercely hot water hits me full in the manhood, knocking me backwards, and I dance and hop trying to get round the side of it – but I can’t escape! I try to ram the broken tap fitting back in, but there’s a hole in the tiled wall now – this is hell! I will have to hop and twist until I am cooked… I’m trying to wedge the tap in but hot water’s spurting round the side. Suddenly I hear Gill’s voice, and I shriek “Go to reception! Tell them I’m being boiled naked and RUN!”

Well… to cut a long story short… I managed to shove the thing in and stem the full thrust, allowing me to scrape my par-boiled body around the edge of the cubicle and escape, quivering and wrinkled. The man from reception arrives finally with his toolbox. His only comment: “I dunno what that maintenance man’s been doing…”

We speed climb slow rattle and crash for miles through Tasmania’s changing landscape – velvety orange-green meadows, rows of poplar glittering gold in autumn, dark mountains emerging from cloud – until we climb up to the desolate scarred copper-mined hills of Queenstown, where vegetation is beginning to grow back after nearly a century of pollution. We moor the beast in a strange holiday park on the outskirts. It’s chucking it down again, rattling on our roof.

The next morning we investigate the Queenstown Museum – and it’s a real gem, one man’s labour of love. From yellowing typed labels we read about the terrible mining disaster of 1912, and the faces of doomed miners smile at us in their Sunday best from framed photographs. Tragic, too, the story of old George, proud fireman on the ABT Railway, who toot-tooted his 15-year-old daughter as his train passed. Her horse promptly threw her and she was killed. He never forgave himself, took to drink and died unloved, and now his ghost haunts an upstairs window of the Museum.

From Hobart airport we pick up our big 4-berth Mercedes camper van. It’s big, really big. It has a shower, a toilet, fridge microwave toaster 4-gas cooker, 2 double beds (when you’ve made them up from the seats)… but no heater. We didn’t expect to need a heater, but we find out that we really really do. The heater/aircon thing in the ceiling just doesn’t work. After driving to Mountfield National Park, we spend a miserable night huddling partly-dressed under the bedclothes and whining.
We emerge into the cool but clear morning – and we’re in The Caravan Park of The Giants. Not Giant Camper Vans, but giant trees. We walk between the massive straight eucalypts, pale grey and pink striped trunks, bark hanging down in coiled strips, fallen trees lodged in the crooks of others. The undergrowth is littered with more strips of bark, hollow logs, all the debris of a forest constantly renewing itself. It starts raining again, but the forest canopy shields us slightly. We walk under giant umbrella-like ferns, the ones you see in dinosaur illustrations. We follow the well-maintained path to Russell Falls, a massive three-tier waterfall – literally breathtaking.
Then we start seeing the pademelons. They’re small wallabies, and utterly charming. They bound past us and off into the bushes. In the camp-site they approach quite close. The next night, as Brian is shaving in the shower block, a pademelon springs in, and proceeds to lick the urinal from end to end.

In Tasmania’s capital, Hobart, you take a fast catamaran ferry to MONA – the new Museum of Old And New Art. It’s probably the most exciting art gallery I’ve ever been in (ah… I forgot Guggenheim Bilbao. Close though). It’s carved down deep into the sandstone, vast dark spaces with artworks revealed in pools of light. It’s the private gallery of David Walsh, millionaire art-lover, and it’s free to the public.

Every visitor is given an i-pod touch which tells you about the exhibits (icon buttons Love, Hate,  Artw*nk, Gonzo, in Walsh’s whimsical style). It has a GPS to locate both you and the nearby artworks. Amazing.

Egyptian sarcophagi, Chris Ofili’s ‘Madonna’, Roman coins, Sidney Nolan’s ‘Snake’ – 1200 paintings filling a massive gallery – Greg Taylors ‘C**ts and Other Conversations’ – porcelain vaginas cast from 150 participants – pre-Columbian antiquities, many paintings, films, installations, all shine out of the cool gloom.

Two extraordinary works grab the attention. ‘Cloaca Professional’ is Wim Delvoye’s mimicking of the digestive system: a rack of connected chemical retorts which has a ‘feeding time’ and of course a ‘poo-ing time’. I watch an attendant (keeper?) feed one end with sandwiches, salad and fruit. Later (sadly I missed it) she collects the result from a nozzle at the other end. Really.

BUt my favourite is ‘Bit.Fall’ by Julius Popp. It’s a big sprinkler system that drops phrases made out of water – actual words (culled from Google searches), words in Helvetica, raining down and disintegrating as they fall in front of the sandstone cliff. It’s astonishing.

Upstairs in the stylish café, we drink sparkling Riesling from their own winery, and beers from the Mona micro-brewery, with excellent sandwiches, at feeding time.

Mac keeps quitting. I slept badly. Shoulder hurts. I take 2x 30/500 Co-Codamol. They kick in on the tram downtown: ‘Aaah…’ Life becoming more intense, and interesting.
Victoria Market: vegetable, meat, fish stalls: oysters, king prawns, scallops. Fish I don’t recognise, take-away food of all kinds. I squirm into the crush (I’m enjoying this) and emerge with a big Weisswurst with sauerkraut.
On Elizabeth Street: Dura-glit sunsparkling Harleys on the pavement. The clacking ‘CROSS’ sound goes off and a welcome wave of pedestrians breaks over me.
Big sound on Swanston: a Chinese anti-Party demonstration. Many uniformed people in ranks, protesting persecution of Falun Gong adherents. Mild interest turns to horror: a beaten man is hanging by his wrists from a gibbet. ‘Surgeons’ surround a bloodied shape on  an operating table; supposedly removing live organs. Leaflets and petitions: a small woman sings a haunting melody into the microphone.
I’m in a darkened theatre. Dancers swirl and writhe. A grid of silvery wires suspended, their ends connected to a wheel at the side. Music: cutlery-smashing sound, sub-sonic bass, power chords, feedback… The dancers attach themselves to the wires, and every movement changes the beautiful hanging shape, like a mantra-ray swooping. Music swells, crashes, fades… Rather polite applause. I’m stunned.
Then to Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens. Slender eucalypts with their pale grey and pink striped bark, and massive, text-book palms. It’s not Itchycoo-Park – but it’s all too beautiful!

We take the Tranzalpine train through beautiful mountain scenery from Greymouth, on the west coast of New Zealand, to Christchurch, on the east. It climbs on a single track through the beech rain forest, high into the Southern Alps, over Arthurs Pass, whose station is at 737 metres above sea level.

Our conductor is friendly and large with a crew-cut and a single earring, and talks at length about his cat’s sang-froid in the earthquake. Charlie does the commentary on what we’re seeing as we pass through the dramatic mountains, and rattle over high viaducts and through many tunnels. Another laconic Kiwi, he peppers his talk with analogies of his domestic life: “Say the world is, for instance, my daughter’s bedroom: over-heated with skimpily-clad things dancing around, while the meter is racing…” We are near-hysterical with laughter at times. It’s not all light, though; he tells of the privatisation of the railways in the eighties, the asset-stripping, the vast profits made, the under-financing, the jobs lost. Otira was a railway township of 600 inhabitants, but is now barely inhabited, and up for sale. Again.

Above are the visual impressions of the journey: Charlie and our conductor, the fat fire man, views…

On Franz Josef Glacier on the west coast, where the ice age meets the rain forest, Cliff is our laconic guide: “If you can’t remember my name – just look around yer”. We strap on our crampons to get on the vast slowly flowing mass of ice. Even though I’ve got a cold, it seems to smell, somehow, fresh, and of course, very cold. But it’s a sunny day, blue sky occasionally obscured by soft grey cloud. The glacier looks dirty, but the dirt is the millions of pieces of rock scraped away by the ice – the moraines that we learned about in geography. Because this is the shaping of the earth in front of your eyes.

The ice itself is pale turquoise, deepening in colour at the thin deep crevasses that we need to stay well away from. Upthrust massive slices of ice in fantastic formations; great wedges of it scalloped into ‘suncups’ by the melting of the sun; deep streaks of colour mottling it. There’s a very satisfying, comforting crunch as your crampons stab the ice – you’re not going to slip with these on. The crevasses are exciting and terrifying: it’s the lure of the cliff-edge, the call of the drop. Cliff himself tells of how his fellow guide fell in one and managed to wedge his elbows into the sides. Forunately he was light and Cliff hauled him out quickly with a caustic quip.
The vastness is overwhelming. What looks like a few hundred metres is nearer a mile in reality. Tiny people are lost in the pale blue ice-scape.

Milford Sound is at the end of the road from Te Anau. It’s an amazing fiord, and you can only see it properly from a boat. There are boat-trips all day (including continental breakfast on ours!) but the Sound is so vast that they seem lost – even the Cruise ship you can see here.

It’s brooding in cloud, then glittering in brilliant sunlight with the high peaks white with snow. People say it’s even better in the rain – and it rains an awful lot. Mitre Peak (actually a series of five peaks) rises 1692 metres out of the water. Our pilot (captain? guide?) tells us that in Maori, the name of the mountain is ‘Upstanding Manhood’. “But it’s a bit early in the morning for that kind of thing, I guess…” he adds.

From the rail of the cruise boat we suddenly see a school of bottle-nose dolphins arcing out and back into the dark water, blowing as they leap.