|Subject: Australian Trip Report--LONG|
Greetings, fellow Ziners! Hope you will find this useful!
Part One; Lady Elliot Island
Three months have passed since my return from a wonderful 5 week trip to Australia. Some of you were kind enough to respond to questions I posted prior to my departure. Your help was much appreciated! Here in 6 instalments are some trip highlights which may be of interest to those of you who may be thinking of going to Australia or those who have already enjoyed that amazing country.
I was there from November 17th to December 23rd 2004. My travelling companions were my cousin and dearest friend, Bernice, her husband Tony, and for the first week, her brother Herb.
I flew (on Air Canada points) through San Francisco to Auckland to Melbourne, overnighted there with my relatives, and the next day flew with them to Lady Elliot Island via Brisbane and Bundaberg.
Lady Elliot is a small coral cay on the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef. It is about 3500 years old, formed from the accumulation of dead coral and the delivery of earth and seeds by the wind and birds. In the 1800's, the Island was mined for guano by Malaysian slaves who dug up two feet of topsoil and left the Island barren of vegetation. When the current resort owner began to develop the Island in the 1980's, because it was barren, he could build his airstrip in a day. He replanted palms, trees and shrubs, all of which provide nesting sites for 1000's of seabirds.
Our week on the Island was a unique experience, mainly because of the birds. Every tree and shrub was laden with noddy bird nests(so-called because they drink seawater and expel the salt from two holes on their upper beak with a characteristic nodding motion of the head) made of grasses, twigs and fibres bound together by bird poo. There were noddies in every stage of development, from eggs to fully grown 8 week old chicks ready to fly. Parent noddies were industriously foraging for food and nesting materials or sitting on eggs. In the day time, the sound of birds chittering, squawking in warning, and calling out to one another filled the air.
At nighttime, the shearwater mutton birds out on the wing at sea all day, returned to nest under the cabins. Their hoots, howls, and groans led earlier seamen to believe the Island was inhabited by ghosts! The staff told us a story of a previous guest who, after his first night on the Island, demanded to be moved to another cabin, "away from those crying babies!" I, on the other hand, loved the sounds.
Walking briskly, you can go around the Island in about 45 minutes. The main activities, tho', are diving and snorkeling. Our male companions dove, I snorkeled, and my non-water loving cousin read, sunbathed, attended the numerous nature talks given by the knowledgable staff, and enjoyed the birds.
Because Lady Elliot Island is so far south on the Reef, the ocean around it is cold (in November), and the corals are not colorful. They are varying shades of greens, greys, browns, beiges. The fish are very colorful; they and the other sea creatures were spectacular!
Three days into our stay, a tropical storm hit the Island, taking a toll in young chicks. The high winds knocked down many from their nests, and the rains dissolved the guano holding some nests together. There were pitiful noddy chicks dead on the paths and grass beneath the trees. On a walk around the Island, I saw a few injured adult birds, a Booby, a Noddy, and an elegant long-legged white bird with a broken wing. We humans have so many more buffers between us and the elements than the creatures.
Which thought prompts me to add that the accommodations are comfortable, clean and varied in price, and the buffet meals are ample and sometimes delicious. It was like summer camp for adults. All in all, a memorable experience I am grateful to have had!
Oh, almost forgot to add; on the afternoon before leaving, I found a plastic bottle washed up on the shore with a note in it dated March 20th, 2004 from a Ukranian biologist! I just emailed the address given and I will let you know whether I get a reply!
Part Two; Melbourne and the Dandenongs
We had 4 days in Melbourne before flying to Ayers Rock. I enjoyed walking on Acland Street and along the Harbour, taking in the street life. We had an outstanding fish dinner at the Claypot on Acland (chili crab, bream, prawns). We went to the musical "Eureka", a totally enthralling story about the miners' revolt in the gold fields of Balarat in the mid 1850's; great performances, rousing music and lyrics, and a wonderful way to learn a bit of history.
I met a woman who works in Aboriginal education and had several hours of intense conversation with her, comparing experiences and finding many similarities faced by Aboriginal peoples in Australia and Canada.
We drove to the Dandenong Mountains about an hour east of Melbourne. I loved the lush vegetation, and the many varieties of Eucalyptus trees.
We stopped at Grants Picnic area where we bought bird seed and fed flocks of crimson rosellas, white cockatoos, and pink, grey, and white galahs. By the time we saw the mother duck and her 8 ducklings, our bird seed was gone!
I was so impressed by the many small towns spaced along the road, each with quaint shops and excellent eateries. In Sassafras, we stopped at one called Ripe and bought cheese and desserts to snack on. All through Australia, I continued to be amazed at the selection and quality of gourmet foods in the smallest of towns.
We went to the William Ricketts Sanctuary where we saw some of his clay kiln fired sculptures and a movie about his life. Ricketts believed all of creation is one, in myriad forms, and the purpose of his life was to express his love and passion for the land, Aborigines, and wild life. He did so, beautifully!
Part Three; Ayers Rock
We flew directly to Ayers Rock from Melbourne on Friday December 3rd and returned on Sunday December 5th. This trip deepened my understanding of the Aborigines and their relationship to their land. A highlight of the journey for me was the flight there. From the plane's perspective, I could see the changes in the land, from linear demarcations made by human cultivation to natures' curving, graceful contours.
About one and a half hours from the coast we flew over the salt flats of dried up lakes, left from an underground salt sea which existed millenia ago. Further on, the land became red, ochre, siena, maroon, brown, and beige. I saw many waterways with tributaries curving from them into the surrounding landscape, but couldn't tell whether the water was surface or underground. I had read that much of Australia is composed of sandstone, with many underground rivers flowing beneath, so I guess that what I saw were the traces of these in the feathery filigree of vegetation appearing over vast stretches of land.
The colors were so interesting and beautiful; olive green, brown, black, sand, rust, red. The land is not barren; it is richly hued, contoured, textured, alive. I suddenly understood Aboriginal art. I could see how their pictures are maps of their land. I wondered if Aborigines travelled in spirit to behold the beauty of their land; how else could they have captured its contours and colors as they have?
As we neared Yulura, we could see the Rock to the left of the plane. Lit by the morning sun in a blue sky with white clouds, it was beautiful. We were excited to arrive and find pleasant weather, not the unbearable heat I had expected.
A Hotel bus picked us up and took us to Ayers Rock Resort with its varied accomodation, from luxurious to "bare bones". We like our Emu Apartments efficiency with its one bedroom, sofa bed, kitchen and dining area. We bought provisions at the nearby supermarket, had a snack and went swimming.
We were booked for "Sounds of Silence" that evening, but due to dense clouds and wind, the event was cancelled. We revised our plans, deciding instead to go the Cultural Centre the next morning and to the Olgas in the afternoon.
Our guide at the Cultural Centre spoke in his own language and his interpreter was the marketing director for Anangu Tours, which has won many awards in its 9 year history. We learned traditional methods of making fire, creating glue from spinifex grass or acacia leaves and branches; we were shown spear throwing, methods for carrying game and other foods; we were led to blood wood trees, lizard burrows, ant hills and berry bushes. A worthwhile experience!
At the tours end, we caught the free express bus to one of the car parks at the base of Uluru and walked up to the Rock and a little way around it, seeing some rock paintings, unique contours of the rock which told stories to the Aborigines, and a little waterhole. In the days before our arrival, the area had plenty of rain, so we were lucky to see the desert in bloom; lush green trees and bushes against the red earth.
Afterwards, we browsed in the coop store which sold paintings and carvings on behalf of a number of aboriginal communities. From a series of powerful posters on display, I learned that in the past 50 years, 50% of the indigenous medium and small mammals have become extinct, partly because of introduced rabbits and feral cats, and other destructive impacts of settlement.
After a nap back at our apartment, we drove in air conditioned comfort on a Kings Tour bus to the Olgas, 36 rock outcroppings rising out of the flat land. We hiked to them in the 39 degree heat (dry heat with a breeze and bearable). Only 8 people out of a busload managed to make it to the end, and I was delighted to have been one of them! The final stop in the walk was a small waterhole with tadpoles swimming in it. They are the fastest growing in the world, needing to become fully grown before their waterhole dries up. Once mature, they burrow into the sand, retaining water to survive. In a drought, Aborigines would find these frogs and suck from their rear end of their bodies to get a gulp of water.
The Olgas were magnificent; red against a cloudless blue sky. The brief time we spent at Yuluru was rich and rewarding; I highly recommend a trip to the "red heart" of Australia!
Part Four; Melbourne to Adelaide
We had two days in Melbourne before our drive to Adelaide. I spent it walking the city centre, admiring both the Victorian and the outrageously modern architecture. I toured the Ian Potter building in Federation Square, joined another guided tour at the National Gallery, went to the Koorie Heritage Trust on King and Little Lonsdale street to buy gifts, then to Victoria Market for uniquely Australian sweaters. The State Library caught my attention, a gorgeous old building, which had an interesting exhibit called "Faces of Melbourne", a collection of photos, dairies, and artifacts from the 1700's to the present, including Ned Kelly's suit of armour and letters.
We drove from Melbourne to Adelaide via Ballarat, Dunkelt, through the Grampions to Horshem, where we overnighted, then on through the Barossa Valley. The Grampions were beautiful! We stopped at Mackenzie Falls where we saw 5 Kookabura birds up close, perched on low branches listening for their dinners, as well as grey parrots and deer. The view of the Falls was awesome!
Onwards towards Horshem the land becomes more pasture like, and we saw scores of kangaroos grazing. The day was full of memorable vistas, beautiful trees, birds, animals and many changes in weather, from fog, to cloud, drizzle, dry and finally sunshine and a pink/rose sunset.
On the way to the Barossa Valley, the land we drove through was flatter, with golden fields and magnificent trees lining the roads and scattered through the fields, many small towns with a mix of old and new homes, and beautiful gardens.
Entering the Valley, the land changes, becomes darker green, not so flat, with many carefully tended vineyards. We found the one we were seeking, "Two Hands", and bought a magnum of one of their special vintages for Bernice's brother.
We pressed on to Adelaide through a lightning storm and settled in at the Festival Hotel on North Terrace, just down the road from the Festival Centre where the Ring Cycle was being performed all week. We didn't go; instead, we visited the Museum of Natural History, took the free tram to Adelaide Market, had lunch at the Food Court, walked back along King William Street, shopped for woolens and opals. Wonderful mix of people in Adelaide; Sudanese, Malaysian, European, etcetera; beautiful old buildings; accessible city centre great for walking.
Next day, we had another superb guided tour at the Art Gallery, then went to the Aboriginal Cultural Centre where we enjoyed some of the interactive computer programs designed to teach children and adults about ways of living off the land.
Late in the afternoon, we began our return trip to Melbourne, overnighting in Mt.Gambier, a town built on four craters. In the morning, we drove to and photographed the Blue Lake at one of these craters. The water of this lake is grey from March to November, when it mysteriously becomes a deep azure blue; and so it was when we saw it!
We drove the Great Ocean Road to Appollo Bay, drinking in the beauty of the shore lands thick with tea trees and heath, stopping frequently to access the ocean shore to view the beautiful limestone structures that erosion has separated from the cliffs on the land.
We enjoyed our stay in Appollo Bay and left refreshed for Melbourne. The drive was lovely, with excellent ocean views.
Part Five; Melbourne to Sydney
One night in Melbourne, then off to Sydney! First day, mainly driving, with a memorable late lunch in Sale (sorry, I forget the name of the restaurant!), through Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance, Orbost (where we stopped at a lovely old pub for tea, the one with the stuffed mountain dingo in a glass case on the wall), Cann River, Genoa, Boyd Town, Eden, and finally, Merimbula, where we stayed for the night.
Next day, some of the loveliest country I have yet seen; gently rolling hills, green pastures, ponds, lakes, glimpses of ocean, vineyards, little old towns with well kept homes. We visited the cheese factory at Bega; I didn't like the mass market focus. On to a little winery owned by the Collins family; lush grounds, lovely wines, affectionate dogs on the porch, a curious foal and his mother, a Shetland stallion, a welcoming atmosphere.
We stopped in Cobargo for a picnic lunch and some shopping at an interesting wood shop and an opal shop whose owner had a great story about how he got into the opal business.
On to Tilba Tilba, a charming town protected by the National Heritage Trust, one of the prettiest places I had seen. We bought King Island blue cheese at the cheese shop and homemade fudge at the corner market, whose owner had visited Canada's West Coast and said that people there were as kind to him as Australian's used to be 20 years ago! I assured him that his compatriots were being wonderfully kind to us!
We had great grilled fish at the Montague Fish and Chips Shop in Narooma with a glorious view over the water. Fortified, we drove through Batemans Bay, Ulladulla (don't you just love these names!), and finally to Mollymook Paradise Haven Apartments, where we rented a lovely room with a jasmine tree scenting the air outside our door.
Early the next morning, I walked a couple of blocks down to the huge, yellow sand beach flanking the Tasman Sea. I was told they have surfing championships at Mollymook, and I could see why; the waves were powerful! I had a wonderful walk in the sun and sand; met an old fisherman trying to catch bream and a middle-aged bloke trying to catch a woman. Don't know if either of them had any luck!
We arrived in Sydney that afternoon and stayed at Hotel 59 on Bayswater in the Kings Cross area; inexpensive, a bit worn, but with a great breakfast included, and in walking or bussing distance to all the sights we came to see. We bussed to Circular Quay, bought tickets to a play at the Opera House for the next night, and caught a bus to Watson's Bay. We enjoyed the bus ride (someone else doing the driving!) and the views of the bays along the route (Darling, Rose, Watson).
Next day, we walked to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for an 11 am guided tour of the Aboriginal Gallery. The guide gave a terrific sequential overview of the emergence of aboriginal art from 1948 to the present, which inspired me to buy a book at the excellent Gallery bookstore so I can learn more. We lunched at the Gallery with a partial view of the Botanic Gardens and the City.
In the afternoon, we visited a friend who lives on Coogee Beach. We walked up the hill by the Beach to the memorial to those killed by terrorists in Bali, then spotted a little shrine of flowers, pictures and poems below us. A lady there explained that on January 31st 2003, the Madonna had appeared on that very spot, and reappeared periodically thereafter. The woman herself had seen Mary a couple of times as a ghostlike figure in white. She was a believer and returned regularly, hoping to see her again. It is a beautiful spot with high energy, so who knows?
A quick supper, then off to the Opera House (magnificent!) for the play "Scenes From A Separation", superficial script, but decent acting, interesting set design. We walked back "home".
Last day in Sydney, a glorious, sunny one, we had a huge breakfast at Hotel 59, bought a day bus pass for $15, went to the Quay, caught a ferry to Manly. It was an exhilarating half hour trip to Manly; gorgeous harbour, many sailboats and yachts, happy groups of people around us.
On arrival, we walked the Corso, a pedestrian walkway flanked by shops. We browsed through a school sponsored flea market before finding the regular Saturday Manly market. My favourite at the market was finding opals and other stones indigenous to Australia sold by a Frenchman, 22 years in Australia. I bought a zebra stone, a split boulder opal, a mookalite, and an Australian rhodanite.
We returned to Sydney early afternoon and walked to the Rocks where there was also a Saturday market. A quick walk through, then we took the bus to China Town, saw a bit of the Paddy Market, then went to the Queen Victoria Building. A marvellous block-long beauty it is, designed and built by craftsmen with high ceilings, ironwork, marble, fabulous moving clock, and many other memorable treasures.
We bussed back to the Quay and spent some time enjoying an Aboriginal group playing digeredoos and dancing the Kangeroo, Emu, and Mosquito dances. They were outstanding! Walked a bit more, bought pastries, had tea at "home". Off to Canberra in the morning!
Part Six; Canberra and Cooma, then home to Melbourne
Guided by a helpful stranger, we found the route out of Sydney and drove to the Canberra airport to pick up Tony, who flew in from Melbourne to take us to his farm near Cooma.
Off we went to the War Memorial Museum where we joined a guided tour in progress. Impressive series of exhibits and an excellent guide opened my eyes to the Australian perspective of World War Two. Our next stop was Cockington Gardens to see a miniature replica of a British Village. The most interesting section to me was one which displayed miniatures of famous buildings from different nations; a stave church from Laerdahl, Norway (where I had been), embassies from Turkey, India, Argentina, etcetera (all of which I have not been to).
We drove through downtown Canberra; strange to see so few cars on the roads and even fewer people on the streets. We stopped at the Australian Sports Institute, a residential training centre and school for top athletes, established in 1972. Tony was especially interested because of his backgound in Olympic swimming.
Next was the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain, where we were thrilled by an incredible 360 degree view of Canberra, its lakes, parklands and mountains. We chose to have dinner in Manuka, one of the suburbs, and afterwards drove to Cooma while the sun set with a beautiful display of yellow, oranges, and reds against the purple mountains.
After a restful night in Cooma, we shopped for a picnic brunch in the local supermarket and headed out to the farm where Max, the resident caretaker, showed us around in his 4 wheel drive. Max runs 500 head of sheep on the property and shared his challenges with the sheep and the weeds while we toured. He took us to the river, once home to trout, now infested with carp who eat away at the banks, causing erosion and silt build-up. On the river banks were wombat holes, anthills, wild flowers and a feeling of peace. It was a gift to be able to see this place through the eyes of those who love it and share a history with it.
After our visit, we continued on to the Threadbo National Park, where Tony cast some flies in the river and Bernice and I picniked, all the while doing the "Canberra salute" to ward off the other, pesky variety of flies! We drove through beautiful alpine country to Wodonga, the fastest growing town in Victoria, to spend the night at the Sanctuary Motel.
The next morning, Bernice and Tony enjoyed a walk around the lake just behind the Motel. Then, before leaving town, we stopped at the Woodworking Coop next to the Three Monkeys Restaurant (good food), and bought lovely handmade bowls for gifts. Serious driving until we reached Melbourne, with only a brief stop at Glenrowen, so I could be photographed next to the giant Ned Kelly statue!
The last day in Melbourne was spent shopping, packing, visiting the Melbourne Museum (excellent!), and walking downtown.
I flew to Auckland for a 24 hour stopover before catching the flight to the West Coast and home, and stayed at the City Garden Lodge, a characterful hostel in Parnell. I enjoyed visiting with other travellers, then walking for hours downtown and to Victoria Park Market, drinking in the sights and sounds of Christmas Eve day in Auckland.
My holiday was superb for two reasons; one, the wonderful companions I shared it with; two, the diverse mix of people, cultures, cuisine, architecture, and landscapes I witnessed during my travels through 6 states (Victoria, Queensland, Northern Territories, South Australia, New South Wales, and ACT) and 4000 km. Australia is indeed a "lucky country" with many blessings, and I hope to return!
All the best, Terry in West Vancouver, B.C.