One Last Vacation for the Road

After two and a half years, our Australian adventure has begun to wind down. Drew is leaving and Ashley only has a few months left. Prior to his departing east for west and south for north, we enjoyed a final weekend in Sydney. Unlike our first trip, which was plagued with jet lag, sleeplessness, and confusion about this strange place, we had a great time enjoying the city. We continued to find great places to eat and explored places we had never been.

Our Friday stared with a lovely run through the Royal Botanic Gardens.  It’s hard to believe that 9 months ago we joined the masses running through here as part of the Sydney Half Marathon. The park is one of our favorites and no trip to Sydney is complete without at least one visit. From there we visited the Sea Life Aquarium. It’s the sister aquarium to the one in Melbourne, but we liked this one better.  Ashley was immediately delighted by the platypus exhibit.  Everyone’s favorite monotremes were on display and actively playing.

From there we made our way through tanks containing more of her favorite animals (penguins and octopodes). Unbeknownst to us, the facility is also home to two dugongs.  We got to watch them playing with their food and generally being silly. We also signed up for a short glass bottomed boat tour of the reef tank.  It was much better than expected. The keeper was chatty and we got to feed the fish.  We even had a white tipped reef shark circling our boat. Our favorite fact is that to keep the parrot fish happy, they cover popcorn with fiberglass and drop it into the exhibit for them to munch on. Apparently that’s an acceptable substitute for real coral.

On Saturday we walked from Bondi Beach to Coogee.  The walk is just over 6km and is full of great views and little beaches. We particularly loved all the little lap pools right against the ocean.  It’s easy to see why everyone who lives in the area loves the beach.  As a reward for the walk, we had some delicious fish’n’chips before returning to the city for a relaxing afternoon.  We wanted to make sure we were well rested for the opera.

We’re not huge opera fans, never having seen one, but decided the chance to see any performance in the Opera House was too good to miss. We saw a production of Puccini’s Turandot (pronounced with the ‘t’).  The costuming and choreography were wonderful, but it definitely wasn’t opera for beginners. The subtitles helped but the conventions of operatic signing still made things difficult. Still, it was a great evening capped off by drinks at our favorite bar.

Sunday was destined to be a long day, as it was Drew’s last day in Oz and with Ashley for a while. We made the best of it though.  A great brekkie and walk through the The Rocks Market was a good start.  We had planned to watch an old French film at an arthouse but found a Lego exhibit instead. It was hosted by one of Australia’s master builders and he was present to talk about the huge objects he’d built.

The pieces were amazing and full of great little details. Drew and Ashley also got pictures with Lego Movie stars.  Lucy was especially obliging.  Ashley built a great rainbow mustache in the free play area, but the lighting made pictures difficult.

It looks like this will be the end of the road for our shared Australian adventures. Ashley will have to pick up the slack for Drew and see what else she can find on this side of the world.  More pictures are here, and Drew will probably follow up with a post about leaving later.


NZ Day 3: The Road to Queenstown

Imagine the steepest hill you’ve walked up. Now make it steeper. No seriously, raise the grade. Now imagine that for every 9 feet you walk forward, you walk up 3 feet. That’s Baldwin Street where we started our day. It’s in a cozy suburb of Dunedin, and holds the Guinness World Record for World’s Steepest Street. Ashley absolutely had to walk up it. It’s murder on the legs. However, Thomas, the resident cat, was very happy to have visitors. At least as happy as cats get.

Much of the rest of the day was spent driving in and out of the rain. We took the scenic route along the coast and stopped for waterfalls, miniature dolphins, and petrified trees.

The weather was chilly, although more normal for the region, and the rain was nice. The dolphins decided that under the water was more fun than above and none showed. The petrified trees on the other hand were interesting. They sit right on the shore and look more like stumps than anything else. Drew expected more like the petrified forest in Arizona, but these stumps were more worn down by the pounding surf. The easiest ones to make out were the downed logs stretching across the beach.

The rest of the drive took us through rolling hills and banks of clouds. That is until we reached Lake Wakatipu. We crested a ridge and began to see craggy peaks above the clouds. For most of the drive these were obscured by the low hanging clouds, but eventually the tops started to peek through.

Also, have we mentioned the sheep? Sheep farming is quite a big deal. It was rare for us to go more than 30 minutes without seeing at least a few of these guys.

Once we made our way into Queenstown and checked into the hotel, we made our way downtown to grab drinks and dinner. It was Ashley’s birthday, so Drew treated her to a drink at an ice bar. The drinks weren’t bad, and overall the experience was a lot of fun.

The rest of our pictures can be found here, here, and here.

Exploring the NT: Kakadu and Darwin

From Litchfield we drove to Kakadu. The park is huge, with the main town/center being ~120km inside the park. So much of the park is flood plain that it’s amazing to guess that the roads are open year round.

We decided to stay in a crocodile shaped hotel. Yep, that’s a thing that exists and you can stay in it too!

Our morning was booked up by a river cruise. Unlike a tacky “jungle boat” cruise, we saw wildlife everywhere. Of course the crocodiles were the main attractions. Getting to see them as up close as is safe, we got to see how they glide through the water. They make no noise or ripples, and they barely move anything besides their tail. It was an impressive and majestic sight. I also don’t want to get any where near one.

Besides the crocodiles, we saw birds. Lots of birds. Big ones. Small ones. Drab ones. Bright ones. We got some good views of the Jabiru, or Black Necked Stork; it’s the unofficial mascot of the park and a spectacular bird. We also saw multiple eagles, ducks, geese, and spoonbill. A few fish came around the boat but nothing large.

During the dry season, the flood plain is a verdant wetland. We saw evidence of wild horses, pigs, and water buffalo while we were out. On our second day in the park we got to watch a buffalo run across the flood plain. Having never seen one in real life, it was an amazing animal to watch move through the grass.

We would have more things to write about on our first day, but the car broke down. We spent a couple of hours stranded about 50k from our hotel, but luckily within cell phone range. The hotel was amazing and sent someone to pick up Ashley and our guests while the rental company sent a tow truck. We spent the rest of that day hanging around the hotel (and writing posts).

The next day we went north to a site known for its aboriginal art. The paintings are very different from the those at Ulruru and around Alice. The colors were more vibrant but still predominantly ochre, red, and yellow. The drawings were also more detailed. We ran into a ranger doing a tour.  He was one of the traditional owners of the area and could trace his ancestry to individuals who had painted the wall.  He explained the significance of many of the pieces and, oddly, how to cook a pig nose turtle.  From there, we hiked up to a look out that had a breathtaking view of the flood plan.  The greenness of the plain is shocking to someone who lives in the desert.

Once we had our fill of majestic views, we returned to Darwin. Along the way we stopped at billabong for a quick hike. It’s hard to estimate the size, but it was either a large pond or a small lake. Apparently billabong doesn’t imply size. The expanse was covered in lily pads. A few were flowering but most had died back for the winter.

Once in Darwin, we ambled through the evening air to Doctors Gully to feed the fishes. The former refuge of a salvage merchant, folks come to this fish sanctuary to get an up close experience with diamond mackerel, milk fish , and the occasional bat fish. We had a great time feeding and petting the fish. Yep, the fish come so close you can pet them. Some, like the bat fish, might even nibble on your fingers.

From there, a tasty dinner was had and then we bid our friends adieu and returned to Alice. It was a fantastic adventure. The parks highlight the amazing diversity that exists in the NT.  Pictures of Kakadu and Darwin, and we’ll see y’all again soon!

Exploring The NT: Litchfield

After Uluru, we flew to Darwin for the next part of our NT adventure. About an hour and a half outside of Darwin is the Litchfield National Park. It’s the ugly duckling of Top End parks. More people know about and go to Kakadu than Litchfield. This is both awesome and a shame. Awesome because it meant we had the park mostly to ourselves. A shame because the park is spectacular and deserves more recommendations than it gets.

Back left, cathedral termites. Center front, magnetic termites.

Litchfield is know for a variety of things but the most impressive are the rock pools and termite mounds. Yes, termite mounds. Magnetic termites build their mounds oriented north/south to minimize sun exposure., while cathedral termites build massive mounds, growing up to 3-5 meters in height.

The rock holes are wonderful for swimming in. It’s the dry season and technically winter but the water is pretty warm and flowing. We dipped our toes in and it was surprisingly comfortable. We moved on to another splash pool and looked at a couple of spectacular waterfalls. During the wet season, water levels can rise almost a meter. If you can imagine that much extra water flowing through the water, you’ll get a sense how dramatic these falls can be.

Another interesting feature of Litchfield is the cycads. These plants have been around since there were dinosaurs, and have changed little since then. This group looked like it had recently survived a fire, and they were a fabulous golden yellow.

Speaking of fire, on our way over to Kakadu, we ran into an unexpected surprise. Wildfires are a major problem in Australia and particularly in the NT. The state often uses controlled burns to reduce the impact. It’s unclear what we drove through, but the smoke and flames were right next to the road. Bush fires like this smoulder through the undergrowth, but usually don’t reach the canopy of the trees. There are several species of plants around that actually won’t germinate without the heat of a fire.

We also stopped in at the Territory Wildlife Park. It’s the Top End’s equivalent to Alice’s Desert Park. The park is well laid out and enjoyable. The highlight was watching a buzzard breaking open a (fake) emu egg. After that, we made the drive into Kakadu for a day of exploration and avoiding crocs.

More pics here and we’ll post more of our adventures soon.

Cradle Mountain National Park

Let’s get this out of the way to start with. A wombat decided to chew on Ashley’s shoelace. Here is a picture. If that’s all you need, then there’s no need to keep reading.

Still with me? Good. We did some other things besides feed shoelaces to wombats. It was another rainy day here in Tasmania. Rather than huddle up at the lodge, we braved the elements and headed into one of UNESCO’s top world heritage sites. We simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do some hiking while we were here.
The hike around Dove Lake is advertised as one of Tasmania’s best short walks. Even with the low cloud cover and rain, it was certainly an amazing hike. We hiked around the crystal waters of the lake and through a beautiful section of rainforest. The water was so clear that we could easily see rocks at the shore line from 20-30 yards away. We wanted to hike to the summit of Cradle Mountain, but the low hanging clouds blocked all view and we didn’t feel like hiking for 6-8 hours in the rain and fog. In all of these pictures? There should be a mountain in the background.
After a wonderful lunch and short nap, we went to the Devils@Cradle wildlife sanctuary for a feeding tour. The sanctuary is hoping to help preserve the Tasmanian Devil by isolating populations from a deadly cancer that is decimating the native population. There were a number of devils and quolls around, but Ashley’s highlight was the wombats. We were allowed to pet them and watch as they roamed free, hence why Ashley’s shoe was nommed on. We got to watch the animals get fed and learned a lot about their life-cycle and habits. Three of the devils were very happy to be photographed, but the rest were much more keen on having dinner.
Both quolls and devils are carnivorous marsupials, so we decided to spare everyone pictures of the fresh feast the animals enjoyed. We’ll be leaving the Cradle Mountain area tomorrow, but still have a few days in Tasmania before jetting off to Perth.
More adorable pictures are here.

Narawntupu National Park

We’ve skipped a few days, first because it was rainy in Launceston and we had a low-key day, then because we didn’t get the internet up and running our first night at Cradle Mountain.

In Launceston, we visited the local history museum and the James Boag brewery. Both were nice rainy day activities, and while we found an excellent new beer (get the Wizard Smith beer if you’re in Tassie!), nothing too exciting happened.

The next day made up for that though. We drove out of Lonnie and headed up to Narawntupu National Park. It has been described as the “Serengeti of Tasmania,” and it did not disappoint.  We hiked through a coastal forest up to a lookout and saw an amazing amount of wildlife. There native birds were out in force, and the park provided a nice blind to watch them from. We even got to see some black swans reasonably close.
The ‘roos, wallabies, and pademelons (in order of size) were also out. Ashley is still the raining champion of the “spot the thing” game. According to the park, the wallabies are the most inquisitive of the group but we’ve found the pademelons to be the most open and hospitable.
At the top of the lookout, we could see down to the beach as well as the marshy plane that was be home to much of the wildlife in the area. On our way down, we ran into a couple who warned us of snakes along the trail. Despite keeping his eyes peeled, Drew walked right past a big one. Turns out Australia has copperheads too and it’s mating season, which means they’re a bit more ornery than normal. Fortunately this one didn’t seem too interested in us. The second one quickly slithered away as we walked past. Just about the only animal we didn’t see was a wombat, which Ashley had been waiting for the whole trip. However…
Once we’d finished our hike, we drove to Cradle Mountain. One of Tasmania’s most iconic locations, it’s the last of the big parks we’ll visit while we’re here. On the way, we made a brief detour to the 7 Sheds brewery. We only saw one shed, but the beer was fantastic. We can only hope they get some coverage in Alice. Once we arrived at Cradle Mountain, Ashley immediately found a couple of wombats behind the room. The folks in Hobart probably heard the squeeee she let out as she dashed out to take pictures. The lodge here is lovely and we went for one last short walk before dinner, where we planned an excursion into the park for our last big hike of the trip.
More pictures here (the last few are of snakes, so if you aren’t a fan, stop at the wallaby drinking from a puddle).

Freycinet National Park

We departed from Port Arthur early in the morning. Our next destination was several hours away and we wanted plenty of time to hike there. We were headed for the Freycinet National Park and the beautiful beach at Wineglass Bay.

The drive continued along windy, narrow roads. Ashley described the land as looking a bit like Cornwall (the fact that we’re listening to an audiobook set in 1920s England may have helped inspire that comparison). It is a mixture of pastures, old trees, and lots of sheep. This morning, a beautiful fog hung over the farmlands. We stopped to get a few pictures of the fog and the dew covered spiderwebs on a fence. From there it was off to the park.

There are two ways to hike to the bay. The first is a 200m elevation change (both up and down, each way), but is only 3km each way. The other is a much flatter route, but is 9 km each way. In the interest of time, we opted for the steep, short route. Roughly 300 steps up led us up to a beautiful overlook on a saddle between two mountains. Fortunately, this is where most people stop.
The walk down to the bay itself was steep, but nothing too treacherous. What awaited was a pristine white sand beach overlooking a bright blue bay. The water was too cold for swimming, but neither of us wanted to hike back wet anyway. We sat on the rocks eating a picnic lunch and enjoying the quiet – there were a maximum of 20 people on the beach the whole time we were there. We were amused by the persistence of a shore bird was unable to ply any crackers away from us and spent most of the time making sure the other birds knew we belonged to him.
On the way back to our lodgings, we stopped at Devil’s Corner to sample the wines. It was very relaxing to sit and sip on a glass while overlooking the ocean. The wines were quite delicious and we sent a few bottles off to wait for us in Alice.
We stayed at a holiday park about an hour south. They had a small herd of European deer which seemed out of place, as well as wallabies and possums.  We were warned about the possums being overly nosy. Not long after returning from dinner, Drew went out for some fire wood and found one of them perched on the railing… we made sure all of the doors and windows were closed before going to bed.
We spent the next day driving to and enjoying Launceston. Nothing dramatic or exciting, but a very relaxing day. We enjoyed being in a city for an afternoon, with shopping and good food a few minutes stroll away. We’ve made plans for the next day or two that will take back out bush, but it was nice to be in civilization again for a bit.
More pictures are here.