Not The Foggiest

After a sleep-in, we awoke in a bit of a panic, leaving ourselves too little time to finish packing and enjoy a leisurely breakfast – we must have been tired but awoke rested and ready to go.

We took a quick shuttle bus to the airport and said goodbye Alice Springs. Apart from seeing the Todd River, we saw very little of Alice this trip, but to be honest we struggled during planning to come up with anything worth us devoting a day or so here (except, perhaps, a scheduled rest day which about now would be a good thing). We would love to be corrected on this but in the end, for us this trip, Alice was a transit lounge with an airport to save us the agonising drive to Darwin.

The airport teamed with school kid sporting teams on their way to/from fixtures – thankfully the noisiest of them were on a different plane to us. Twoish hours in the air and we landed in Darwin and were greeted with a wall of humidity that was stifling.

After acquiring our hire-car, re-checking with them that they were ok with us driving to Kakadu (possibly through water covered roads) we headed out to a supermarket to stock up our pantry bags prior to heading to our B&B for the night near Fogg Dam.

“Eden” was the name of the property; the B&B unit (a rare self-catering one) occupied much of the ground floor overlooking a pool. It was spacious and comfortable with screens, fans and thankfully aircon. Our hosts, Heather and Jeremy, were very friendly and accommodating. After unpacking and re-organising our stuff to suit 5 days touring in the same car (meaning we could spread out a little), we headed out to Fogg Dam to see what we could see.

The area is the remnants of a water source built to service a proposed rice plantation system – oddly the rice growing scheme made a lot of sense (the area is perfect for it) but the management and infrastructure did not. Pity, still there are lots of remnants of wild rice and other plants now.

The vast dam silted up and now, along with adjacent wetlands, is a home to millions of waterbirds, fish, turtles and a number of really large, apparently dangerous crocodiles.

Twitchers would go nuts here – the volume and variety of birds we saw without any specialist equipment and the peacefulness of the area was wonderful. We saw wallabies feeding and even watched a snake neck turtle cross the road. Thankfully, there are no flies here – mosquitoes and other buzzies however more than compensate and we have yet to be carried away by them.

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Both Jo and I are avid tea drinkers – we love the stuff. In our journeys so far we have encountered situations where making tea in a place has been terrific, ok, terrible and “abandon all ye hope”.

We travel with tea (most often Earl grey ), sugar (raw sugar mostly, although through Europe we took a liking to Demerara) and usually have skinny milk, so the raw ingredients are the same – well, except for the water I suppose – this introduces the “anti-tea” factor.

Some water makes awful tea – them’s the facts. The water at Uluru for example was plain evil – I remember when last there it had a light briny tang but these days it goes through desalination and other processes that render it almost water-less water when making tea. Some kettles are so mineralised that adding nice water renders it yuk by the time it boils.

We are hoping that far-north water makes better tea – rain water is great and up here, there is lots of rain so hopefully we should be close to conquering anti-tea for a while. Jo likes tea, I NEED it so we are searching for ways to achieve it on the go – we will keep you posted.

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King for Just One Day

We had an early start this morning, waking just after 4 to be picked up by tour coach at 5. Blearily we dragged luggage and 6 litres of water (we were told we needed at least 3l each), walking sticks, hats, sunscreen, fly nets etc to a waiting coach. Having checked out from the resort, we piled sleepily onboard and proceeded to doze as we drove through the black landscape , dodging wildlife as we sped towards a breakfast stop. There were times when the road was blocked by wild brumbies (horses), cattle and we even saw a pair of dingoes and a fox – more wildlife than we had seen in total for the rest of the trip so far.
We arrived at Kings Cattle Station and had a hearty breakfast – nothing quite like bacon and eggs to wake you up, before heading into Kings Canyon National Park for the start of our walk.

After much agonising, we elected to do the more challenging “rim” walk, that was up and around the top of Kings Canyon. Hoping my knees would not fail we trudged the 500+ rough-hewn steps to the first level and then soldiered on through a startlingly beautiful, rugged and alien landscape.

Oddly, the sandstone here is actually white – where there were fresh breaks you could see it clearly, iron oxide however stains every surface rich red. The landscape here is different again to Uluru and Kata Tjuta – here, layers of sedimentary rock crack east-west and north-south to form cubes that weather to form domes and split to form gorges and canyons.

After much trudging, we crawled through “Priscilla’s Crack” (affectionately named after featuring in the movie “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) to an amazing amphitheatre adjacent to the sheer drop of the canyon walls. I remembered this part of the walk, and the subsequent scramble at the far end of the canyon down into the “Garden of Eden” from my previous visit but this time the paths were well established, there were steps and it was much easier of broken aching knees.

I was amazed how ancient the geology was here – ripples in rocks were once under-sea sand beds that were around before major life forms existed – no fossil records, amazing really. The walk took us nearly 4 hours and about 4l of water. The canyons were lush with trees and cycads, there was plenty of water in holes and streams with breezes in the canyon deliciously cool. Atop the rim, the rocks could get baking hot (the walk is often closed because it is too hot to walk there safely).

I am so glad we had the walking sticks – going up was hard work but manageable but coming down I found really difficult, knees giving way and legs turned to jelly – it would have been much more difficult without the sticks.

It is difficult to capture the scenery here photographically – fortunately it was overcast for most of the walk, and no so baking hot as I remember, but the scale of the geology is breathtaking – so proud that we made it all the way around and so impressed with what we saw along the way.

After transferring our cases to a new coach, we began the marathon journey from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs. I was determined to see a camel (we have seen very little wildlife really, but apparently camels run wild in these parts) – the lunch stop was at a camel farm and I managed to EAT camel in my burger (which I thought was fairly indistinguishable from beef). We hurtled along the Stuart Highway towards Alice Springs, our stop-over location prior to heading for Darwin. The journey was long, painfully uncomfortable for now swollen and fatigued legs and the scenery we drove though was uniformly uninteresting – hundreds of miles of scrub, most burned so the red sand and blackened stems were all there was.

Eventually, over 5 hours later we pulled into our hotel on the outskirts of Alice Springs – tired and hungry, we headed for a Barramundi Restaurant (Jo had expertly planned us to be close) and Jo had grilled barra and I had dukka crusted barra – both delicious.

The free wifi was tantalising, we got a bunch of stuff done before being too exhausted to continue – bed and a sleep in – rare but it seems necessary.

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Round the Rugged Rock the Wobbly White-Ffolk Walked

My last visit to Ayers rock was waaaay back in the 70’s when I was 18. Back then things were different – I was sound of body, weak of mind – these days I find myself increasingly visa versa. I was part of a student camping tour (probably more accurately labelled a “drinking tour”) and we climbed Ayers Rock before sun-up to watch the sun rise.

Uluru is a little like I remember it – we awoke early to another stunning sunrise and headed past the Cultural Centre to the car park at the base of the rock. Interestingly, the car park was adjacent to the place where rock climbers start their ascent.

It was closed due to a myriad of reasons (probably the most important was the cultural insensitivity visitors show who climb – I know, I was young and knew no better). I remember clearly the first part of the climb, a scramble across rubble to the base of a section of chains – clearly visible in the photos.

The day was overcast and the morning crisp with a light breeze. Rugged up, we began the base walk.

Most pictures of the rock show it as this weathered dome, mostly smooth and stark. Getting up close and personal it is really obvious that this picture is far from the case. Certainly where the rock hits the plane there are caves, crenulations, rubble and gulleys and thickly vegetated  gorges.

My biggest surprise was how much water and lush plant life was around. We took a detour called Mala Walk that meandered into Kantju Gorge, a shady oasis with rockpool at its deepest. The place is so tranquil, peaceful and quiet – we saw few walkers so had the track largely to ourselves.

The track wends its way gently around the base of the rock, clearly indicating those spots that are culturally sensitive (no photos) and leaves huge vistas of craggy, weathered alien shapes in exposed faces. We clambered amongst overhangs and caves, rested in humpies along the way and by the half-way mark were in sun as the place started to heat up.

We headed in to Mutijulu Waterhole, I remembered that place as somewhere we swam when last here, now thankfully protected and full of deep cool water. They had had rains a week ago and the remnants of that were still clearly visible with a recent verdant rush of growth, particularly from those sections recently burned.

The final leg of our 10.6km trek was taxing – the terrain was still fairly easy but it was hot, we were tired, fly blown(thank goodness for the fly nets – I hate flies so much) and a little baked.

It was with a great sense of achievement that we returned to our starting point, conquerors of Uluru. We returned our hire car and returned to the resort.

After a nice light lunch we veged out at the resort a little, being tourists and blobs. We had a posh dinner at the resort to finish our time there. I had smoked kangaroo crepes and duck terrine, Jo had bush spiced calamari and lamb two ways – all rather delicious. We both then decided on desserts (rare for us to do the full 3 courses) – I had rhubarb crumble and Jo had chocolate and macadamia fondant. Well supped, we returned to the room, packed and had an early night in preparation for an early start the next day.

The vastness of the national park is matched by the awesome scale of Uluru and Kaya Tjuta – the colours are unmistakeable and no photo seems to do them justice. We loved our time in the red centre, but it is time to move on.

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Kata Tjuta (The Olgas by any other name)

When I was a lad, fresh from first year uni, I went on a central oz tour – we saw many things, but no the Olgas. Jo and I were determined to explore them this time around and we did so starting with a sunrise.

Driving towards them, you have no sense of their scale, that is soon rectified however.

From a distance, the mounds look smooth, up close the mounds are layered lumpy conglomerate – rocks, stoned and boulders cemented together and glowing red with iron oxide.

We explored Walpa Gorge in the early morning, walking to the furthest most point, joined there by a load of school kids. It was blowy and cool whilst the sun was rising, but soon heated up as the rocks glowed red with the rising sun.

After a short rest, we tackled “The Valley of the Winds” walk, to the first lookout – this path takes you in among the mounds and was most spectacular indeed. We opted not to do the extended circuit (partly because we were already buggered, partly because we had a bigger few days of walking ahead).

Lunch followed and then a leisurely drive back to the resort for a rest and the next sunset vantage point.

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Sunrise – Sunset

Much of our central Australia adventure centres around sunrise and sunset – viewing Uluru and Kata Tjuta at both was a priority as we were led to believe there were spectacular colour changes to be seen.

The only issue with that plan is that our days so far have been HUGE, starting really early, finishing very late. Coupled with the complication that our hire agreement really does not let us drive in the dark (apparently you hit wildlife then, who knew?) so we have been up at sparrow’s fart most every day so far.

Our anniversary day we wanted to see sunrise over Sydney Harbour

and sunset over Uluru, both of which combined for a pretty special day.

Our sunset was less magnificent that it could be (ie. we managed to observe the rock stay pretty well the same colour the whole time due to odd cloud cover and diffuse light because of that).

We got up to see the rock in silhouette and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) lit by morning sun, having breakfast amongst the flies which was actually pretty spectacular.

You get a sense of how HUGE the skies are out here, how monumental the monoliths are, and how puny us humans are in comparison – nice one natural landscape.

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One Perfect Day

Leaving early from Brisbane, we took the (surprisingly short) flight to Sydney, train to Circular Quay and the beginnings of a perfect day on the Harbour.

If you have not visited Sydney, your really must, I think the Harbour is magnificent and we were perfectly happy to wend our way through The Rocks, then work our way around the Quay towards the Opera House. The sun was shining, water calmish and the company wonderful.

Our first goal this holiday is, on our 30th Wedding Anniversary (which is today, 2 April, 2013), we wanted to wake up to see the sunrise over Sydney Harbour and then follow it up on the same day with sunset over Uluru – we are on track for that goal, waking to see a flooping huge suburb of a cruise ship blocking our morning view of the Opera House (damn you :P)

Walking around the Quay in the morning transit back to the airport, we caught the above view – nice hey?

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Planning our next big adventure

So in the last few days of our European holiday last year, we started discussing our “next holiday”. We wanted to re-visit parts of England and explore Scotland and Ireland; we definitely wanted to re-visit Paris but also wanted to explore the European countries along the Mediterranean Sea. But we figured we couldn’t take another 6 week holiday in 2013 so talked about where we wanted to explore closer to home. As a teenager, I had visited Tasmania and we went as a couple to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. As a teenager, Peter had visited the Northern Territory so we decided that it would be our 2013 holiday destination. Once we considered the best time of year to visit and checked the school holidays calendar, everything fell in to place – we could celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary while in the Northern Territory.

Our initial research centred on packaged bus tours so that Peter didn’t have to drive the vast distances in the outback but we soon baulked at the prices. I started researching do-it-yourself and soon got absorbed in the planning. Fairly early on, I discovered that getting from Brisbane to Uluru wasn’t going to be a direct flight but that flights were available from Sydney which is one of our favourite cities in the world to visit. A little more research and the plan was obvious. Easter Monday we would fly to Sydney and book into a hotel with harbour views. We would awake to a sunrise over Sydney Harbour then fly to Uluru and watch the sunset over Ayers Rock …. a perfect day for our 30th wedding anniversary.

With that plan set in concrete, the next decision was how to get from central Northern Territory to the Top End. There were plenty of options – drive, bus, train, fly. Driving and bus was going to take a large chunk of time with little return. Train sounded interesting but we have had bad experiences with holiday train travel. We settled on flying; not from Uluru but from Alice Springs with a day bus trip to Kings Canyon that conveniently starts at Uluru and finishes in Alice Springs.

Once that was decided, it was simply a matter of planning the route we could drive through the Top End in a hire car – Darwin to Fogg Dam to Kakadu to Katherine to Litchfield to Darwin with a flight home from Darwin. Time will tell whether it all works out cheaper than the organised bus tours.

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Weekend Getaway

Part of the “holiday” ritual, when possible, is a long weekend away and off the grid – necessary to re-condition the batteries and the mind. This time last year we booked a cabin at Wychwood Forest Escape

An isolated cabin, in remnant rainforest, little or no phone/internet connection seems the perfect getaway.

We enjoyed the peace and quiet so much last year that we decided to go back this weekend and this time chose the cabin overlooking the pond.

The day of arrival the cabin was cool and a lovely breeze kept us cool in an otherwise blistering day, the trees roared with breeze all night – very restful. the next day was still and by 8am unbearably hot – so we closed up and put the aircon on and veged out which was bliss.

The proprietor supplies an awesome breakfast basket, the deck had a kettle bbq and an array of cookware – we took provisions and devised some fantastic meals amidst book reading, paper folding and r&r – wonderful weekend in northern NSW – the heat was oppressive sadly which made our morning at The Channon Markets a bit of a trial.

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…home again, home again, jiggaty-jig.

Our last night in Singapore was always going to be SATAY. We had heard of a section of the city where, after 7pm, they close off the street and set up tables and chairs then mobile hawkers descend and try to sell you stuff so we thought “why not”.

The food, if a little more expensive (and I think a little more inaccurate when calculating change) but the atmosphere was electric with one stall competing with another as “best” satay.

We ordered 30 sticks, avoiding the mutton (the last mutton ones had, as is traditional, a small glob of mutton fat mid way along it – tastes good but is a but off-putting in retrospect), some rice cakes and got talked in to a Jug of Tiger beer (because they also said they had sprite/7Up so Jo could mix a shandy and help me finish the jug) – alas, no mixer so Jo had a coke and I did my best with the jug.

The food was fantastic, such a vibe and we also user the MRT to get there and home (something we had not planned to try, but thought “why not”, figuring if we could master the Metro in Paris and the Underground in London then this should be easy apart from the Cantonese – it was).

Wandering around Singapore at night is amazing, we felt safe and happy that we had done some aspects of the city proud but more importantly we had rested and refreshed – hopefully avoiding the worst of the effects of jet lag when we get home. Big sleep in planned and a lazy morning ahead.

After a morning swim and a suitcase re-organise to “who cares, we are going home, oh god just make it all fit in” mode we checked out of our hotel room and took a taxi to Changi Airport. After checking our baggage in (having carefully managed the weights so we were just under our limits on all bags) we had Yum Cha for lunch then boarded the plane bound for Brisbane, home.

After an uneventful, uncomfortable (and rather boring as we had seen all the movies we were interested in) flight we arrived in Brisbane, cleared customs and had planned to catch a taxi home but, such a nice surprise, our friend Michael was there to meet us as a welcome home.

After a good natter, catch up and a lot of silliness we packed all (including the kitchen sink) in his car, guessing initially that it could not possibly fit – due to luck and the tardis-like properties of his car all was cool and arrived home by about 2.30am, still buzzing.

What is it about home? The reassuring click of the front door, the layout of the house that often does not require you to turn on the lights to navigate, the familiar toilet seat, the perfect amount of tannin in the teapot, the casually accommodating basket of bits and pieces that accepts your keys, the friendly glow of your own fridge, the sound of teaspoon on china, the crispness of fresh sheets, the support of your own bed, the smell of your pillow, the familiar night sounds of your own home, the bastard next door with the whippersnipper at 7.30am?

It is said that travel broadens the mind, certainly we have loved this experience and have already begun thinking of our next two adventures. We have really enjoyed travelling together – sure sometimes we could have willingly murdered each other but I think we make a good tag-team travel group. It is however, after a time away, lovely to come home.

Hope you have enjoyed this journey even a small fraction as much as we have, dear reader.

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