ULURU

My last full day at Uluru, and this one was all about Uluru.  It started with a sunrise viewing, yes that makes two sunrises in a row for me.  Then a nice base walk around the entire rock.  Then I spent some time at the cultural center, and then my third and final sunset viewing.

Again, I am going to try to just let the pictures speak for themselves.  The base walk was a real highlight.  It was great to get up close and personal with what had only been a looming figure.  I think the whole trail is only about 6 km and is basically as flat as they come.  Make sure that if you do go, that you take every side trail possible.  They take you really close and to some awesome sites including a spectacular water hole and some really great cave paintings.

I was there early in the morning so, some of the photos really lacked light due to shadows to come out well.  Also, there are several areas that are sacred and off limits to photography.  This includes the whole cultural center.

In the end, I decided not to climb Uluru.  It seems pretty clear after spending time in the Cultural Center of the park that the Aboriginal people really don’t want you to climb it.  I decided to honor that request despite the fact that I really, really wanted to climb it.

To sum it up, GO TO ULURU.  It is an experience that is one of a kind and worth every minute and penny you spend to get out there.  Three days was perfect to see everything.

GO TO ULURU!

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Uluru Day 2

For my second day in Uluru, I decided to go to the other portion of the park called Kata Tjuta.  This is the other large rock formation in the area, and while it may not have the prestige and aura of Uluru, it was still an amazing experience.  The day started with a sunrise viewing of Kata Tjuta.  I also took a picture there of Uluru in the distance, so you can appreciate all the open space of the NT.  Plus, it looked pretty cool with the sun coming up next to it.

My first bush walk of the day was through the Valley of the Winds.  This is probably the most challenging hike in the whole park as you actually have to scale a good bit of vertical distance; however, some of the ridge hikes on Oahu make it look like kiddy fare.  That being said, most people don’t do the full loop around entire trail.  Amazing considering I had 25 mins to spare at a leisurely pace.

The best part was that our bus driver got us there before all the other tours, and I was the first out of the bus and onto the hike.  I know, amazing morning energy for me.  It was totally worth it though, as I literally felt like I had the whole place to myself for most of the hike.  I even got a chance to see a few wild kangaroos!  All in all, the hike was top notch and I recommend the whole loop to anyone who is in decent walking shape.  I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.

The second part of my day was the Walpa Gorge.  This hike was much flatter and easier than the previous hike, but also lacked some of the really stunning scenery.  You basically walked straight into a gorge and then out of it.  It was nice and all, but something you can definitely live without seeing.

The day concluded with yet another sunset view of Uluru.  I tried to limit the photos here…

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Uluru Day 1

Originally, when I found out about this Fellowship, I was really keen to travel to New Zealand. I’ve been wanting to go there for some time, but after checking out costs and, most importantly, weather I decided that maybe I should save New Zealand for some other time, in the summer. I just didn’t want to risk getting stuck inside by freezing fog and rain.

Winter, however, is the perfect time to travel to the Northern Territory. The day time temperatures are manageable, the evenings are cool but not freezing, and there are no flies. So, I decided that I would go to Uluru (otherwise known as Ayer’s Rock) for 3 days and check out a completely different part of Australia. Uluru is in the middle of nowhere. There is a little resort town that is 20 km away and then the nearest town is another 450 km away. You are in the heart of the dessert and besides the other happy inhabitants of Ayer’s Rock Resort, you are there alone.

It took about all day to get there from Melbourne, but from the moment your plane descends from the clouds you know it is going to be worth it. You see this amazing red dessert below you (that was actually the lushest it has been in decades) and then this giant rock looming at the distance. The sky is so blue, the grass that is there is incredibly green, and the dirt, red. A primary color bonanza, and that’s the middle of the day.

I stayed at the Outback Pioneer Lodge which is the cheapest place in the Resort. It had all the comforts of a nice sleep away camp, but for $35 a night you couldn’t beat it. I actually thought it was perfect for the setting. Plus, you still have access to everything else in the resort. For touring around, I got the 3 day Uluru-Kata Tjuta Explorer pass from Uluru Express (www.uluruexpress.com.au) which gave me unlimited access to all of the major attractions at the park.  It’s a steal only for $180 compared to all the bus around and tell you about stuff companies.  All the info you need is at the park’s cultural center and the Uluru Express drivers were very friendly and knowledgeable.

The first day, all I had time for was to catch “the rock” at sunset.  Another perk of using this smaller company was access to the small car viewing area which is closer and way less crowded than the coach (bus) viewing area.  What a great show as the sun sets and paints Uluru in these great red and orange colors.  I’d never thought I would take so many pictures of the same thing, but every minute it seemed to look a little different.  Below, is the gallery of my best shots from my first sunset.

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Melbourne Day 3 (Aquarium and St. Kilda)

This was the first day that I got to sleep in for the trip.  And, by sleep in, I mean wake up at 7:30.  Carlie had an early evening flight and we had plans to pack in as much of Melbourne as we could.  Being a couple of people obsessed with the ocean, we decided to head first to the Melbourne Aquarium and then to the funky coastal town of St. Kilda.

The Melbourne Aquarium is a nice aquarium about the size of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps or the New England Aquarium in Boston. Most of the displays were found along this winding maze like path through 3 floors.  They had a great display of giant cuttlefish and a nice touch tank filled with sea stars that I really enjoyed.  Carlie and I both found the displays to be really great, but the information signs were often either lacking or rather obscure.  You then find yourself in a massive room surrounded by a large fish and shark tank as sort of the grand finale of the aquarium.  The other big exhibit the aquarium has is the Penguin exhibit.  They have the only Antarctic penguin collection in Australia, filled with Emperor Penguins.  Not that I am in to birds, but it was a nice display and having them behind glass took care of that awful penguin smell that the NE Aquarium suffers from their penguin exhibit.  Overall, I think that it was definitely worth the time and the money to check out.  See some highlighted photos below and a full collection on FB.

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After the aquarium, we made our way, via tram, St. Kilda, a small coastal Melbourne suburb.  It basically has one main street that parallels a coastal esplanade.  It’s filled with little boutique shops, funky cafes, dessert shops.  We ate lunch at this cool restaurant that was outfitted with classic Rock and Roll posters and album covers.  We then took a walk along main street to gawk at all the delicious treats in the pastry shops.  There were 3 or 4 different shops that just had windows filled with amazing desserts.  There were so many shops and dessert options that we decided to walk along the entire esplanade and check out the St. Kilda pier to work up an appetite.

There is actually a colony of Fairy Penguins that live at the end of the St. Kilda pier.  Normally, you have to get there at dusk or dawn to see them, but we were lucky enough to find one hidden amongst the rocks.  We stood there for about 10 mins while Carlie tried to coax him/her out of her hole.  While she didn’t get far, she did manage to get it to look at us long enough for a good picture.

We ended our Melbourne adventure with delcious desserts from this little shop.  I had a chocolate mint fudge and Carlie had a Mars bar cake like pastry.  Paired with capuaccino and tea, it was a lovely mid day meal, and a great way to end an awesome weekend…on Monday.

Melbourne Trip Day 2: The Great Ocean Road

The whole reason I decided to take a trip down to Melbourne was to meet up with my friend, Carlie, and to take a tour of the Great Ocean Road.  The Great Ocean Road is a coastal highway that follows the southern shoreline of Victoria.  It was constructed after World War II, mostly by veterans who returned from the war without work.  It was designed to rival the Pacific Coastal Highway in California.  For the record, it’s gorgeous and much easier to drive, but still can’t compare to the PCH in my opinion.

The day began a 5:30am as I had to meet Carlie down at her hotel in South Melbourne at 6:45am.  From there we got picked up directly by the tour company and started on our 12 hour journey.  Yup, that’s right 12 hours on a bus (more like a large minivan).

Our first stop was Bell’s Beach, a famous surf beach featured in the final scene of Point Break.  We were walking down the beach and Carlie asked me if we could find the species I study here.  I said that I thought it was too sandy here and that we would have to walk out to the point.  Of course, 14 seconds later, Carlie looks down in the middle of a sandy beach and finds one.  I couldn’t believe it and am still convinced that it’s more an example of Murphy’s Law than anything else.  Look how excited she is! Being a marine mammal scientist, she promptly anthropomorphized her finding, naming the sea star Sandy. That’s what happens when you spend too much time studying dolphins.

This first stop also illustrated how entertaining a few members of our tour group were going to be.  First, there was this british women that was just absolutely crazy.  Sputtering all kinds of ridiculous muttering, she “befriended” a korean girl and called her “her daughter.” She also asked the tour guide to talk to god about the rain.  As most of you know, I am pretty versed in British dry humor and sarcasm, and I promise you that this woman was totally serious.  Carlie dubbed her Photobaggins and this was appropriate as she had the Korean girl take all sorts of pictures of her and Carlie always seemed to be in her way. The best part is that we all found out she was actually on the wrong tour and our poor guide had to spend her lunch break sorting her out on the other tour.

The other hilarious event involved a Chinese man who was on the tour with his family.  During our first stop, he snuck off and stole coffee from one of the other tour buses.  Our guide saw this and told him nicely that it wasn’t for our tour.  Five mins later, he went to go get some more, prompting our guide to have to chase after him.  Considering it was only 7:45am, it was a pretty funny morning.

Another good find by Carlie at Bell’s Beach

One thing the PCH doesn’t have, a really cool wooden sign for the start.

I can’t say that we had great weather; it was rather gray they entire day.  However, there was still enough light to take some good photos.  The tour basically consisted of stopping at every scenic lookout along the road.  I’ve posted all my pics on Facebook, so feel free to check them out there.

We also had some “bonus” stops.  We got to check out a small Koala colony and see and feed some parakeets.  Unfortunately, they give you seed to feed the birds.  The next time any of you see Carlie, you should ask her about her bird feeding experience.  If you don’t start laughing at her uncontrollably after she tells you the story, then come see me and I will tell it to you properly.  I also learned a funny bit of trivia at this stop.  I am not sure if my elementary school music class was unique, but we had to sing the song, “Kookabara sits in the old gum tree.”  At this stop, we got to see a Kookabara, and low and behold, it was sitting in a gum tree (eucalyptus tree).  Suddenly, that goofy little song made a little more sense to me.  It always amazes me when something that sounds so exotic is really very simple.

We also stopped in a temperate rain forest.  This was also pretty interesting to see.  It was filled with large ferns and giant eucalyptus trees.  It felt a lot like some of the giant Redwood forests in California mixed with some of the rain forests of Olympic National Park in WA, just filled with eucalyptus trees instead.  I certainly wasn’t expecting to see that on our tour.  Although, it was an extremely short walk (hike) track they took us on.  Carlie and I felt like we were on the strenuous Manoa falls track.

We stopped for a nice lunch in the sleepy fishing town of Apollo Bay and then we quickly passed by an important geographical milestone for me.  Right after the bay, I went on past the most southern part of the trip and that is also the furthest southern point that I have ever been, just around 38.78 degrees S. Not bad for a kid from Jersey.

The highlight of the trip is at the very end of the Great Ocean Road, and that is the Twelve Apostles.  The Twelve Apostles are actually eight rock stacks that line a limestone cliff face and sandy beach near the Port Cambell National Park.  There used to be nine of them, but no, there were never twelve and no one knows why they are named as such.  All of the remaining pictures below are from the park:

I don’t think I will ever get tired of these amazingly blunt signs.  Please note the googly eyes.

If only it was sunset…

We both have been in Hawaii a little too long.  Carlie has around 5 layers on and it’s about 60 degrees out.

These two are on their own.  This is maybe my favorite picture.  It looks like an oil painting.

One more look.

We decided to spread some Aloha.  Well, Haole to you to. (Props to the lady who took this photo for actually framing it properly).

From there, it was a long 4 hour ride back to Melbourne via an inland highway.  Luckily, I had my iPad and we could watch a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory to ease the long ride home.  I also got massacred in a game of Battleship.  Embarrassing.  When we got back to Melbourne, we capped off the day with a great dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant in South Yarra.  It was the only place for 4 blocks that was crowded on a Sunday night, and it turned out to be a good indicator of tasty food.  It’s kind of interesting to eat Mexican here as it is much more of a specialty dining experience than the US…even Hawaii.  The place is called Fiesta and has been made famous by a couple tennis pros.  For example, I had the Andre Agassi burrito.  For dessert, I introduce Carlie to the dangerous and delicious Tim Tam cookie.

I think we were both a little scared about taking a 12 hour bus tour, but in the end we both really enjoyed it.  If you go to Victoria, go see the Great Ocean Road.  If there are only two of you, it’s worth it to take the tour.  If there are more of you, than hire (rent) a car and do it on your own.

Melbourne Day 1

Melbourne Day 1

Started with waking up at 4 in the morning, so that I could catch the 5am bus and train to the airport. Got to the airport with plenty of time, but mistakenly left a small pocket knife in my carry on bag. Not sure how because I checked the bag before as i had been using it for field work and always carry at least one knife. Apparently, under Australian law, any knife that has a locking mechanism is considered a weapon and because I had one in my bag I was supposed to be turned over to the Australian Federal Police. Luckily the security woman seemed to think that my 1.5 inch blade knife wasn’t that dangerous and said she would just confiscate it. I felt lucky in the end, but that was a handy little knife.

I flew Qantas down to Melbourne. What a great airline. They have a super fast machine based check in procedure with lots of staff to help people. The planes are big and comfortable and they feed you a meal on every flight FOR FREE! I highly recommend them for all domestic Australian travel.

Melbourne doesn’t have public transit that goes out to the airport, but a company called SkyBus runs a bus service direct to one of the city transit hubs and you can buy a return ticket for $26. So, I hopped on the bus and made my way to the city via Southern Cross Train Station. From there it was just a few blocks to the hostel I was supposed to stay at for the night. However, something got messed up when I changed my reservation and I didn’t have a reservation for that night anymore. Luckily I got a room in the other YHA hostel in North Melbourne. Though, I hadn’t taken the time to figure out the tram system in the city, so I walked up there with my two bags.
It only took about 30 mins, but was just an extra little insult to injury.

Finally after my room situation was all squared away, I went out to explore the city. I checked out the Queen Victoria Market (but wasn’t there on the right day for the famous foodie tour). Then got on the free City Circle Tram. Melbourne uses a tram or streetcar system as its main system of public transit. The city circle tram is a literal circle around downtown and has a narrated guide. A nice way to start off your Melbourne visit. My one complaint is that it was quite crowded with low windows that made picture taking near impossible.

Although, I found Melbourne, on the whole, a bit drab with more of a dirty urban look to it. It wasn’t until I got to Federation Square that I started taking some pictures. This is some really unique architecture there with a nice contrast between very contemporary Film ands Art Museum contrasted sight an old Cathedral, and the really classic looking Flinders Street Train station.

Here’s Flinders Street Station and a good view of the City Circle Tram

Federation Square

Quite a unique look. Apparently Melbornians either love it or hate it. I thought it was pretty cool.

A full view of the ultra classic looking Flinders Street Station. I think this was my favorite building in the square.

I had to eat here. I always loved this book and am known to appreciate a good reference. It was a little pricey, but the burger was quite good. The fries were very fresh tasting, but a little soggy for me to really like them.

This was the view from the rooftop lounge of my hostel. On the whole, I found the Melbourne Metro YHA a little too cramped to be comfortable, but this rooftop lounge was a nice unique feature that makes up for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The highlight of day one was finding this awesome jazz club, The Bennetts Lane Jazz Club.  It’s hidden in this back ally but is well known as Australia’s best jazz club. It certainly was an awesome little venue. A small stage and a tiny bar, but the perfect size to fit a lot of people and still make the feel very intimate. I ended up making some friends waiting in line to get in to the show. I met some expat Britts who now live in Brisbane and they were kind enough to invite me to join them at their table. They even bought me a couple beers. People really like that I am from Hawaii. It seems to be a rare place to visit from and everyone in OZ loves it. Plus, people can’t ever place my accent and get a kick out of learning about my past places of residency. No one ever can believe that I was born and raised in Jersey. Ha!

I truly was fortunate to be in Melbourne for the second night of Vince Jones and his band.

He’s a bit of an Aussie jazz icon, and I was really excited to get to see him at one of the clubs that he calls home. I have to say that after the first two songs, I was afraid that Aussie jazz just wasn’t going to hold its own compared to American jazz. However, after that point the concert just took off.

Vince Jones is a soulful performer who you can just see pour himself into the music. His band was top notch and followed his every musical whim. It’s been far too long since I saw live jazz, and this concert just blew me away. I never thought I would find music of that quality here, 10,000 miles away from where jazz was born. Truly sublime.

It was a strange and somewhat hectic day of travel and tourism, but it ended with magnificence.

Aussie Bits

Well, this past week had only one good day of tides, so I spent much of the week writing and working on parts of my dissertation.  Definitely not that exciting and definitely not a good use of my beautiful surroundings.  Spending all day in front of the computer also really drains my energy to blog and spend more time in front of the computer.  Thankfully, the tides should cooperate on Saturday again and I will be back out in the wild.

I did manage to snap a few interesting photos here and there with my iPhone, so I will share those with you all.

Right now, I am housesitting for my advisor here.  She and her family live in this great little neighborhood called Balmain.  It’s one of the “eastern suburbs” of Sydney.  It’s filled with high end boutique shops and restaurants.  Admittedly, it’s a bit of a class up from my usual style of living.  I constantly feel underdressed.  However, it’s also a beautiful spot filled with parks that line the harbor.  I snapped this one on a walk on evening.

This blurry little gem is from a pub in Bondi.  Wednesday night was the third and deciding match of the State of Origin Series.  This is part of the NRL (National Rugby League) and it’s a glorified All-Star game with the best players from New South Wales against the best players from Queensland.  Queensland has dominated the contest over the last decade, but NSW actually managed to force a third game and everyone in the state was keen to watch.  I went to the pub with some of the EAPSI fellows to watch. This sports bar was packed with people on a Wednesday night and everyone was really into the game.  It’s only the third full rugby match I’ve ever watched, but I think that we all had a great time. Queensland won, but NSW did have an exciting comeback at the end.

This sign is posted in the Cafe around the corner from the house here.  It exemplifies how Australian culture is way more receptive to sarcastic humor.  I saw this Virgin Mobile advertisement at the bus stop today too.  I thought both were pretty clever.  Blunt, dry sarcasm everywhere, gotta love it.