Tuesday 29 May 2012

Day 424: The Fleurieu Peninsula

Having rented a car, we set off for a beach day on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

1st stop: Victor Harbour where we walked out on this long causeway to a little island full of granite boulders and penguin burrows.  Sometimes, the causeway has a horse drawn train running on it.

2nd stop: a long, long beach on the southern side of the peninsula.  Nothing but sand, waves, and dead birds (oh, and some living ones too)

3rd stop: the beach on the western side of the peninsula, at a place imaginatively named Second Valley, turned out to be the most interesting, with hills, rocks and lots of interesting sea life.

This is Antonia's amazing sponge collection from the eastern beach:

Monday 28 May 2012

Day 423: Barossa Valley

Today we took an outing from Adelaide to the Barossa Valley which is one of the major wine growing areas of Australia.  You could liken it to Sonoma County north of San Francisco in the US.

First we drove through Hahndorf, a town settled by immigrants coming from Germany back in the 1800s.  The town is touristic and has a sort of germanic charm to it.

Below is one of the scenes of the Barossa Valley.

This tree was home to a couple and their 16 kids!  No kidding!  Talk about a tree house.  However, it seems instead of living up in the tree, they lived in the hollow base.

Finally we got to our first winery.  We visited Jacob's Creek winery.  They have an extensive (and generous) tasting for free.  We paid them though to taste their 50 year old tawney which I must say was delicious.  At $185 for a half bottle, I'm sure it was a fair price but out of our price range.  We did buy a few bottles of shiraz which we're still working our way through.

This is the Barossa Reservoir "Wisper Wall".  This was truly amazing.  I stood at one end and Penny at the other 150m away or so and I we could talk to one another just as if we were standing next to one another.  It was uncanny.

Several small towns in the Barossa valley.  This garage/antique shop sold old Chevrolets.

Autumn with the leaves turning colors here can be stunning.

Sunday 27 May 2012

Days 421 and 422: Adelaide

We spent 6 days in Adelaide last week before taking the train across.  We stayed in the YHA Youth Hostel in the center of the city there.  It's kind of like a hotel but there's a huge shared kitchen.  The staff made pancakes every morning between 9 and 10am which was fun.  Except that they didn't put baking power in the recipe so they were actually a bit gooey on the inside.  I did manage to convince them though that they need to add some baking powder to their recipe.

The first day we were there (saturday), there's this guy who shows up every saturday and does a 4 hour walking tour of Adelaide for free.  And it was truly 4 hours indeed.  He showed us pretty much all the monuments of the city.  He took us into the local aboriginal gallery which was pretty interesting.

 One of several sculptures of bronze pigs around the pedestrian district.

This sort of sculpture reminded me of the shiny thing we saw in Chicago (but it was much smaller and not nearly as polished).  

 This children's playground was just plain weird.  Fish bone play thing.  Spiky things that look like the're there to impale small children.
Look closely, there's a tree growing out of this VW!  Yes, this VW was converted into a pot for a tree.  I wonder how many parking tickets it gets!

Above is the Adelaide Waymouth St Central Office, a tall windowless building.  One of my personal favorite buildings in the city.

There's a fantastic indoor market in Adelaide which unfortunately I don't have any photos of since it was both crowded and dark which would have made it really hard to get a decent photo.  But you can get virtually there you want from fine French cheeses to Moroccan spices to frech vegies, meats, seafood.  It's a covered market that dates back over 100 years.

All in all, we had a pretty decent time in and around Adelaide.  It's a city well worth a visit.  We found the people pretty nice too.

Friday 25 May 2012

Days 418 to 420: The Ghan

... by Antonia.

We are on a two day train ride from Darwin to Adelaide.  It's a nice ride through the outback of Australia.  I'm doing my work and looking out the window.  The train we're on is called the Ghan and it's huge.  In fact, it's nearly a kilometre long.  Outside the train, the scenery keeps changing.  Sometimes it's savannah and sometimes it's forest, and sometimes it's a bit in the middle.  In some areas the ground is black and looks like it got burnt.  Sometimes you see a couple of termite mounds pass by the window.  I have to do my lessons on the train so I've been busy. Yes... Work... Work as I watch Mummy listening to her Walkman and looking out the window and Daddy relaxing and reading the magazine.  Well, it's not that bad... And plus the train stops in Katherine where Daddy and I will get off and go on a cultural tour where we'll learn about art.  Mummy will also get off but she's going on a boat ride tour.  Tomorrow when we're in Alice Springs we'll all go for a camel ride.  Yay! and it's suposed to be 'relaxing'.  Well, that's it folks.

The Boat Tour

Our genial hosts
The crocodile they found for us to look at

The Cultural Tour

Mike and Antonia learn to paint...
... make fire ...
... and throw spears
(you'd almost think orange and white was the official school uniform, wouldn't you?)

The Camel Tour

Contrary to popular belief, they are pleasant, peaceful and comfortable to ride. 
Plus, I don't seem to be allergic to them.

Monday 21 May 2012

Day 416: Litchfield Park

Managed burning made a bit of a haze over this bit of bush.

We ended up with only a small amount of time in Darwin so we couldn't make it out to Kakadu.  A lot of people say Litchfield is nicer anyway.  It certainly appealed to us. I've never seen such nice swimming holes! We swam, picnicked, went on a couple of short walks, looked at termite mounds, that sort of thing

We took a detour through Bavaria
(actually, this was obviously created by a homesick immigrant.  Good, though)
The best waterhole at Florence Falls
An average sized termite mound...
(actually, it's the biggest one)

Sunday 20 May 2012

Day 415: Yolngu Boy at the Deckchair Cinema

We couldn't get into the YHA in Darwin, so we found another backpacker's hostel, one populated by very young people getting drunk on the roof terrace every night and not cleaning up after themselves in the admittedly very inadequate kitchen.  As much as Cairns YHA was a really wonderful place to hang out, this one kind of puts you off.  It was nice that we had found somewhere else to spend the evening.  One of the things we missed out on in the US was going to a drive-in cinema.  We kind of made up for it now because Darwin has an outdoor cinema that runs every night during the dry.  Instead of being a drive-in, there are rows of deckchairs, and just a few cafe tables at the back.  We got very lucky, because they were showing a film from the local area, Yolngu Boy.  That's much more the kind of thing an adult is looking for when they're travelling, as opposed to Happy Feet or Hugo, which Antonia regretted not seeing.

Yolngu Boy is about three teenage boys from the Yolngu Aboriginal group in Arnhem Land.  One of them, Botj, has a very troubled life - he's barely got back from jail and now he's about to be sent back there, just as soon as he recovers from serious burns he got while setting fire to the local community centre in a drug induced rage.  This situation is intolerable to his friend, Lorrpu, who decides they should trek overland to Darwin apparently in the hope that their community elder will intervene on Botj's behalf.  It's a long trek through the wilderness, and it's obvious that the three only just about know how to survive in the bush. So it's partly about a reconnection with their ancestors' way of life, but it's also about the continuous presence of modernity, which even turns up unexpectedly out in the wilds.  Lorrpu, who initiated the trek, is able to build a deep sense of connection with his ancestral identity, Milika doesn't really give a damn about bush life, only came along out of a sense of loyalty, and is perfectly happy being a whizz at football and listening to rap. Either way can work, but Botj emerges as an unhealable victim of the dislocations between ancient and modern ways that have already destroyed his father.  The boys make it to Darwin, but despite all Lorrpu's efforts Botj ends up leaping (or falling?) from a bridge in another drugged state and ending his life.

For a film that surely didn't have a Hollywood budget, with the three main characters apparently played by untrained actors, it's a more than excellent movie.  I can't really recommend it enough.  A little thumb's up to the short animated film by Al Oldfield that preceded it, also made locally, called The River Inside.  We enjoyed that a lot as well.

Saturday 19 May 2012

Day 414: Atherton Tablelands

When you get to Cairns you are supposed to go drive around the Atherton Tablelands, sampling the local delicacies.  I can see how it's got a pleasant sort of almost provencal feel to it.  It's about 7 degrees cooler and a whole lot drier than Cairns.  We didn't have any particular plans so we just drove around in a big loop, stopping at a liqueur distillery to sample some very nice things we couldn't transport, and probably couldn't afford anyway.  And we found this amazing tree to look at for free.

It was only a quick tour because we were about to embark on the nightmare trip to Darwin.  We got on a Virgin Australia plane in Cairns, arrived in Brisbane at about 7pm, and connected to another plane to Darwin, arriving after midnight.  Mmmm... how we wish there was a train from Cairns through to Darwin. Anyway, we stayed at the airport hotel, which was very expensive, but a whole lot nicer than the hostel we went to the next day. 

Friday 18 May 2012

Days 412 & 413: Great Barrier Reef

... by Antonia.

Daddy and I had booked a tour boat in Cairns to go to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  When we got to our boat, we got on and signed some forms.  Then the boat took off.  It started to get bumpy.  Some of us started to get seasick. Just to reassure you, only two people started to really throw up on the ship.  The rest of us, except for the crew and my adult friend Eveline (who never gets seasick) just had tummy aches.  I liked Eveline. When we got to the Great Barrier Reef after three hours of getting bumped around on the boat, we got into our wetsuits and popped into the water.  Daddy went scuba diving while I went snorkelling with some of the other people.  We saw loads of giant clams and turtles and coral and starfish and fish!  After that we went to sleep and in the morning we snorkelled and scuba dived until we had to go back to the shore.  I was sad at the shore because I wasn't able to say goodbye, but I still had a nice time.

Day 413: Willie Gordon's Guurrbi Tours

The reason I drove all the way up to Cooktown was to go on Willie Gordon's Guurrbi Tour to look at Rock Art in his area.  His tours are very highly rated and this is because he has definitely got the gift of the gab.  It's quite amazing how he can talk, seemingly informally about art, the stories that go with it, family life, politics, history, land rights, personal anecdotes, flora and fauna of the bush, ... and then, the next day, he does it again, I guess. It is personalised: Willie was great with the three kids who were on our tour. He'd visited Britain so it was really interesting to hear what he had to say about us as well. He seemed particularly interested, though not impressed, by Richard Dawkins, but he also had things to say about several Australian personalities I never heard of. I managed to cause trouble by not caring where I had been born, being hazy about my national identity, and eating half the witchetty grub he had intended for himself!  I had a great time though. There's actually so much content there that it's hard to summarise, so if you get the chance to go on this tour yourself, do it. There's a lot of Aboriginal cultural experience tours in Australia, but Willie isn't easily replaceable, I imagine.

PS: I forgot to mention that the art was interesting, the witchetty grubs were tasty and the bit of bush we visited was beautiful even in the rain.

Rock art
Mid-morning snack

Days 412 & 413: The Inland Road to Cooktown

I dropped Mike and Antonia off for their sailing, snorkeling and diving tour and embarked on a longish journey to Cooktown were I was going on a guided bush walk to look at Aboriginal rock art.  When we rented our cheapo economy class car, we somehow got upgraded to a Subaru Forester.  It turned out to be a great car to drive and the inland road is like something out of a car advertisement.  Just a long straight, relatively narrow strip of tarmac with nobody else on it, through open savannah.  It was the sort of road it's easy to get carried away on, and I did a bit, but I got a come down on the way back. I had nearly reached the turnoff back down to Cairns when I got stopped behind an accident.  We were there for almost exactly two hours, while the emergency services tried to extract someone who must surely have been a corpse by them from a car that was reduced to a cube by being driven into the rocky embankment at the side of the road.


Wednesday 16 May 2012

Day 411: Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation

Antonia's sculpture at Cape Tribulation

This was our first look at real tropical rainforest.  Antonia was sure we would get stung, scratched, bitten, pecked by cassowaries, eaten alive by triffids or saltwater crocodiles and I don't know what else.  Mike was the one who got a leech.  We didn't notice this until several hours after he had somehow brushed it off himself and we discovered he was leaving a trail of blood everywhere he went.  Fortunately, we were having coffee at a rainforest centre when we discovered this, and the guys there took it in their stride.  "Leech bite, mate?  No worries!"  Hmmm, a bit of surgery and a bandage later, and Mike is all ready to meet the sharks tomorrow.  We went to look at a mangrove swamp from a boardwalk after that, and were careful this time to avoid leaning against things.

Mike collecting leeches
Mangrove Swamp

Monday 14 May 2012

Days 408 & 409: The Sunlander

The Economy cabin!
 We rolled our suitcases back down the hill from the hostel to Roma Street station.  They keep the Sunlander, the famous train that runs from Brisbane to Cairns hidden somewhere at the back of the station, and only inform you of where it is if you ask!  We reached the platform five minutes too late to check our luggage, but not too late for Mike to stand in a queue to see if he could upgrade our seats to a cabin for a smaller fee than advertised.  This resulted in a tiny economy triple cabin becoming available about five minutes before the train pulled out.  I should explain that we have Ausrail passes and can travel all we want for no extra money, but only in seats.  If we want to lie down at night we have to pay for an upgrade.  At the full rate, this comes to over $400 for three people, and the train companies don't advertise the fact that they have triples - and maybe they often don't.

It takes two full days and one night for the Sunlander to get to Cairns, but the time seemed to just fly by.  I should describe the scenery, though I spent quite a lot of the time reading, writing or dozing.  It started off with thin Eucalyptus woods that seemed to go on for most of the day.  This was especially the case since we had to stop for two hours due to some motorcyclists trying to ride along the railway line and one of them coming a cropper a bit ahead of us.  When we woke up the next morning, we were in savannah - very flat golden grasslands with occasional trees and blue mountains rising out of them here and there.  By the time we got near Cairns the hills were covered in the dense green rainforest we had come to see.

Saturday 12 May 2012

Day 407: Moreton Island

The beached ferry!
I decided we had to do a day trip to Moreton Island, so we spent an hour trying to book ferry tickets over Mike's cell phone.  Then we spent about $50 on a taxi to get us to the ferry terminal!  There is no other way to do it other than to take an organised tour, which frankly would have cost us an extra $30 for a lot less hassle.  Anyway, I was glad we went, because the ferry drops you on Moreton Island beach, right beside a line of wrecks where everyone goes snorkeling.  This may well be my main snorkeling adventure of the trip and I really liked swimming beside the wrecks. You get a really nice sense of depth when you swim beside them. I don't know how long they had been there, but they had already attracted quite big coral growths, lots of fish and the odd shark (the safer kind) and turtle.  Antonia and I have one set of snorkeling gear between us.  I can wear her flippers and goggles but not Mike's.  She can just about wear my wetsuit.  She looks kind of ridiculous in it, but it gives her a lot of buoyancy.  She needed it because it is quite a longish, deep swim from the beach to the wrecks, through a channel with a strongish current flowing through it.  Nothing much to an adult, but a bit challenging for a ten-year-old.

Part of the line of wrecks

After that we hiked along the beach to the resort to find some fish and chips, hiked back and went for another quick swim, before hopping back on the ferry.  That's about all you have time to do on a day trip to Moreton Island.
I don't suppose we will find one this big at Scarborough!