I've been, I've been to the Land Down Under...

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Aug 13th, 2012, 06:18 PM
  #1
Amy
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I've been, I've been to the Land Down Under...

(and I really had a great time!) My three nieces and I had our first trip to Australia from 26 July to 11 August, seventeen straight days of sunshine wherever we were. This is going to be my somewhat wandering trip report; I got in at 2AM yesterday and worked today, so please excuse any minor incoherency.

Qantas's 16 hour flight from Dallas to Brisbane did just what it says on the tin, got us from Dallas to Brisbane, so comfortably that I slept for about 14 of those sixteen hours. Of course, staying up the whole night before helped with that.

The first thing we noticed, of course, was the language difference. To quote from my email home,
"The letter r is highly overrated anyway, right?
Let me start that again...
Cheehs, mates! The lettah "ah" is highly oveh-ated anyway, innit?
We're loving the Australian accent, but it is amazing how closely you have to listen to make sure you're going the right way and such."
Of course, I realize that it isn't an accent when you're living there, but it was to us. (And I'm sure there are tons of regional varieties, and we enjoyed them all. We're not picky.)

A station wagon taxi took the four of us to our first place, Tribeca Apartments on Boundary Street. The lovely young man at reception let us in early--at 9AM, in fact--which predisposed me to like the place anyway, but there was nothing to dislike anyway: a two BR, 2 Bath apartment with a full kitchen, terrace, and washer/dryer is a great way to spend some time in Brisbane. (Oh, and here I'm going to make a big ol' stereotypical generalization and say that a. there are a lot of Aussies who could talk the hind leg off a donkey and b. most of those people either have been to or want to go to the US, which is funny, because most of the people I know in the US want to go to Australia. Kinda nice, really.)

We walked out into clean brisk Brisbane and found our way over to the River Walk, where tons of people were out playing in the Saturday sun. There were also fair numbers of ibis; I can see where they could get annoying, but they provided a nice change from pigeons. Later in the day we walked to Woolworths (supermarket, not the 5&10 Americans would be familiar with) and got supplies. I was in awe at the dairy case: cream, heavy cream, slightly thickened heavy cream, thicker yet heavy cream...All my dairy dreams come true, and I have to say in all due modesty that I made the best chicken fettucine alfredo ever with the leftovers of a Woolworths roast chicken and some of that cream and parmesan. I also loved the selection of eggs, although it was a bit bewildering to have to decide just how happy you wanted your chickens to have been.

Next day we went to the train station (with some directions assistance from a guy on one of the ubiquitous rental bikes; great plan, that one is) to catch the early train out to Beerwah for the Australia Zoo. For anyone who wants to do this, it's quick and painless, but I will give you a bit of warning about the announcements: they announce in segments and it sounds like you're going to be ending the line somewhere far short of Beerwah, which can be a little disconcerting. But just stay on and the train goes to Beerwah station where the Australia Zoo bus is waiting to take you to the Steve Irwin assemblage.

Part Disney, part zoo, and wholly money-making, the Australia zoo was nevertheless a fun time. My nieces were brought up on the Wiggles and Steve Irwin, and their Australia zoo visit was equivalent to my visit to the Inca terraces in Peru. (I was brought up a geek. But regardless of your opinion of Steve or the Wiggles, my nieces have grown up into lovely young ladies.) For those of you whose lives have remained Wiggles-less, here's a look:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AFwiezJvOg

There's a fair amount of interaction available, with feeding elephants (huge lines for that one), holding koalas, and feeding kangaroos special 'roo food, plus the shows. (Okay, the Crocoseum show was kinda lacking in the crocs area, but the bird part of it was cool.) You can also pay for animal "encounters", which are nicely conducted with passionate and sincere animal handlers. It's a private enterprise and heavily involved in conservation, so the $59 ticket and added costs seem to be going to good causes. We did pack our lunch, though, which is allowed and which I recommend. A bottle of water alone will cost you about five bucks.

The next morning before our flight out to Cairns we walked about the city some more, admiring Cathedral Square and the Anzac Memorial (including a visit to the underground crypt) and the big City Hall, where the Olympics were playing to the almost empty big square on a large-screen television. I would like to have had more time in Brisbane, in fact, but Cairns was calling, so off we went.
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Aug 13th, 2012, 07:13 PM
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Cairns and the Daintree

Shaggy, tropical Cairns strikes me as a fairly normal seaside city, with shop arcades and big hotels and lots of souvenirs, but we stayed in the historic Lilybank Bed and Breakfast in Stratford, a peaceful suburb with its own small shops and sleepy charm. Lilybank is an old Queenslander home with its own historic marker, and we enjoyed having the whole upstairs to ourselves. Pat was very helpful in our reef passage, plus made us breakfast in the morning. There's a frig and microwave there, and we got some things from the deli a short walk away for our dinner. The gardens are lovely, as is the pool, but we weren't quite warm enough to swim as it was getting to be evening when we came in.

Our Great Barrier Reef Tour was with Passions of Paradise, http://www.passions.com.au/ We had a lovely ride out, seeing dolphins on the way, and went first to the Outer Reef. There was quite a mix of people on the boat, including an Australian bachelor party group, lots of French people, and some Japanese, but the crew managed fairly efficiently. It was a beautifully sunny day and the water was warm, but it was extremely windy; I didn't manage the Outer Reef swim. After a buffet lunch (and yay, I didn't get seasick! {albeit I rode on the front of the catamaran outside all the way back and froze my tuchas}) we went to Michelmas Cay, which is a lovely little beach from which I snorkeled and really got into the zone, so much so that I started swallowing salt water. Not a good idea. I did love swimming along with my new, and waterproof--at least, it's still working--Kodak Playsport Zx3 movie camera. (I don't have stills of this part of the trip, and haven't loaded my videos yet, but I may have some links later.) It is winter, of course, so we were blessed with the sun, but the beach was pretty cold with the wind! Passions is supposed to sail part of the way back but wasn't able to; not sure how high their sailing percentage is, as a few reviews mentioned the same thing. Regardless, it was a good day's excursion and decently priced at $149.

Next morning we were being picked up to go to Daintree, so I wandered further into sleepy Stratford to get some laundry done. (We did, um, a lot of laundry.) The laundromat was open but completely empty, with a note to get coins from Stratford store. As that's pretty general, I asked the be-earringed gardener next door which Stratford store it might be, and got directed to Stratford General, a mini grocery/whatever else type, and got my laundry coins. (Runs about $3 to wash, $3 to dry in most places, for those who, like us, want to travel all the different weathers with not too much luggage.)

It's a beautiful ride going to Daintree, going past Mossman and up into the rainforest. It takes about two hours, and there we were at Daintree Wild Bed and Breakfast.

Daintree Wild is a private zoo, with wallabies (sooo cute!), kangaroos, and emus* wandering freely, an aviary, various local species, and a lovely bridge walk over two types of crocodiles. The accommodations were spacious, clean, and comfortable; we were in the Rosella room by the pool. It's a shared bath, but as we only had one family as neighbors and there are two separate baths/showers, it worked out fine. (The girls were a bit overwhelmed by the big, nippy, toothless emus, who like to get very up-close and personal and perhaps nip your sleeves. We took a nocturnal walk one night that really should have been on candid camera, as the emus, who were supposed to be sleeping...weren't.) www.daintreewild.com.au

We visited the zoo for evening feeding with volunteer Luke, a chandelier repairer by trade (there has to be a name for that, but I don't know it) who is working his way around the world doing jobs for room and board. He was certainly enthusiastic about the animals he was tending, and we got to see the brand-new dingo puppy that they are bottle-feeding. The zoo is run with a lot of loving care, and the accommodations are very nice. It would be helpful to have a car as there's literally no place to go for food, but they serve a decent dinner from a limited but good menu, and we enjoyed the evenings in the candle lit restaurant as well as our sunny days in the zoo.

In the morning we took a two hour horse ride, beach into rainforest, with Wonga Beach Equestrian Center. http://www.beachhorserides.com.au/ The scenery is lovely; my horse was an ambler, but that's probably good as I haven't ridden in a loooong time and actually didn't feel too bad the next day. We went onto Wonga Beach (surprise) and then rode in the rainforest for a while; there was a fairly long time of nose-to-tail riding in order to get there, but that's to be expected. A afternoon dip in Daintree Wild's very cold pool helped keep the muscles loosened up after the riding.

Next morning it was back to Cairns for the airport, and out of Queensland to Alice Springs, Northern Territory, a whole world of difference away.

First, though, here are some pictures of the Queensland portion of the trip: http://travel.webshots.com/album/583246212ELNGSg
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Aug 13th, 2012, 07:41 PM
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Nice start to your report! If we can get over how long the flight will be, my husband and I really want to see Australia.
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Aug 13th, 2012, 08:19 PM
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What a great start to a report. I hope you chose happy eggs! We are lucky here in Australia to have a wide choice of caged (), barn laid or free range eggs and chicken. We have the same choice, more or less with pork/bacon products.

I've just had a quick read but will read it properly tonight when I'm home. I think I helped with a couple of your questions when you were planning the trip, so I'm glad you had a great time!
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Aug 13th, 2012, 08:32 PM
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Did you eat a vegiemite sandwich?
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Aug 13th, 2012, 09:21 PM
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Few visitors do - it takes a sophisticated palate to appreciate vegemite.

Glad you enjoyed your trip, Amy & am looking forward to the rest of your JBR.
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Aug 13th, 2012, 11:15 PM
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In this case 'sophisticated palate' means complete lack of tastebuds



That would be 'chooks' Amy, and you made me laugh out loud with that one.

Write on, I'm loving this report.
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Aug 14th, 2012, 12:15 AM
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Hi, Amy. I have enjoyed your report so far, thanks. It is always interesting to learn what others think of places you have been to.
I too chuckled over the happy hens / chooks. In Dunedin there is a place that makes and sells Happy Hens. (At least I hope it is still there.) These are cute decorative little pottery hens painted in all sorts of cool colours. I have one sitting on my kitchen windowsill, and have a couple of little square tiles with paintings of happy hens. I bought them because they reminded me of the chooks we used to have when I was growing up on our orchard in Hawke's Bay hundreds of years ago.

Looking forward to your report on Alice Springs, a place I have a lot of time for - although we have only managed 12 days there in two trips.
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Aug 14th, 2012, 12:19 AM
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Rubbish! You just need to exercise a little restraint - it's not peanut butter jelly or whatever that sweet stuff you Yanks slather on with a trowel is
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Aug 14th, 2012, 01:03 AM
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If I had a nickel for everytime I've heard that one...

I can't speak for all 312 million of us, but I've never managed to get past the smallest dab on my tongue.

Maltesers though, oh my!
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Aug 14th, 2012, 01:18 AM
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Enjoyed the report Amy. I'd say welcome back, but you kind of went the wrong way... and without so much as a howdoyado on the visit for us even further down underer.

Glad you had such a nice trip. There's stuff here I can

it takes a sophisticated palate to appreciate vegemite.

Of course. That's why our pre-schooler adores the stuff. (and I'm the applier of said... uh, stuff)
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Aug 14th, 2012, 01:37 AM
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Oh, oh. Didn't mean to post a smiley face about caged eggs, that was supposed to be a grumpy face!!
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Aug 14th, 2012, 01:44 AM
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Hey Clifton, she came to Sydney, no need to go further south!
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Aug 14th, 2012, 03:21 AM
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LOL, yeah I suppose not. Well, I'd not want to rain on her lovely report with all the stuff she missed anyway.
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Aug 14th, 2012, 07:17 PM
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Amy
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I went for "reasonably contented" on the eggs, couldn't afford the vegemite, and I KNOOOOWWWWW how much I missed by not getting further. (sigh. darn economics/US vacation time.)

So, on to...

Alice Springs and the Outback

So, right, I know Alice Springs is IN the Outback. But it's hard to otherwise express those vast amounts of semi-arid land that lies between settlements. (It's a rather gorgeous vast amount of nothingness, to be sure.)

As usual, I would have loved to have had time to explore some of Alice Springs' attractions, such as the Desert Park, but instead I got the nighttime winter image of a somewhat down at the elbows town with drive-through drinks shops and a rowdy gathering of desert bike riders in the middle of the pedestrian mall. It's not a fair image, really, walking into town over the dry Todd River and past the bars; it felt...sad.

Our lodging for the night was Alice Lodge Backpackers: http://www.alicelodge.com.au/ They have a free airport transfer (and free internet) and were perfectly fine for our night before/night after the three day Outback trip. Our room was tiny, with two yellow and two purple walls trying valiantly to cheer up the deep green linens. The girls handled it all bravely, but their first hostel experience was definitely an eye-opener. And the bathrooms are mighty cold in the morning! That said, it's cheap and cheerful, with a nice guy at reception and very vivid signage about what to do and not do.

Our three-day, two-night Outback safari began early the next morning with our pickup by guide Dave in the 4WD Wayoutback vehicle. Now, before I start, I have to explain that Wayoutback currently has a tour that seems identical except for it being a 24 person minibus rather than max 16 truck...for $300 less. I've queried about the difference between the two (we had booked the $600+ one as that was what was on offer back in January when we booked) but, pending an answer, I'd say go for the cheap one as the itinerary seems identical and the accommodation is a swag either way. www.wayoutback.com.au

That out of the way, it was indeed an amazing adventure (interspersed with, of course, hours of bum-numbing riding in the rather noisy 4WD.)

Jet lag appears to be hitting, so to be continued...
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Aug 15th, 2012, 03:19 AM
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After a road stop at a rather uninspiring camel farm and an off the road excursion to gather firewood, we got to Yulara and the Ayers Rock Resort campground, which would be our site that night. Our group, consisting of a family of four from Belgium, two Swiss young ladies, a Netherlands couple, a grandmother with daughter and grandson from Australia, and the four of us, worked together to get lunch on and cleaned up. (Part of the deal is cooperative meals, although the guide does most of the cooking.) Then we went to Uluru.

Up close, the rock is, to me, more interesting than from a distance. The markings and indentations and caves provide rich ground for the stories of the Anangu, and our partial base walk provided many interesting perspectives and a glimpse into the lives of these native people. The cultural center at the beginning is interesting, as well, but I found Uluru itself to be much more resonant. As most people know, there's an interesting quirk in that the Anangu really don't want the rock to be climbed, but there is a path with very visible (albeit, from my understanding, not easy) access, and there were indeed people climbing that day. One thing that surprised me about Uluru was the vegetation surrounding it; I love the variety in texture and subtle color palette of the silvery-green shrubs, trees, and plants.

After our base walk, we went to a sunset viewing site. Of course, it's a rather celebratory mood there, and there are lots and lots of people to watch the spectacular play of light and color on the rock while sipping wine and eating munchies. It's gorgeous, even if it has become cliche by this point, and I'd think you could see it often without it ever becoming old.

It gets cold quickly after sundown, of course, and we went back to our campfire, dinner, and first night in the swags, a kind of canvas bedroll with a thin mattress. Sleeping bags were helpful for the cold and the ground, and I slept reasonably well, although I got a little claustrophobic with both sides of the swag zipped. It really wasn't terribly cold that night, about 5 (40F) compared to the previous week's -5 (23F). Still, I was glad of my scarf!

A sunrise view and feral camel sighting in the morning, then on to our first major hike, the Kata Tjuta (Olga Mountains) Valley of the Winds walk. It started out cold (it ain't called Valley of the Winds for nothing) and continued to be a bit unsteady underfoot, with lots of loose rock, but quickly warmed up and gave us beautiful views of the Olgas and the vegetation. It's about a 4.5 mile (7.4km) walk, which took us 3-3.5 hours; there are some ups and downs, but nothing terribly steep.

After a stop at Lake Amadeus/Mt. Connor viewing (Mt. Connor is the one that is the Uluru ringer, 100km closer to Alice) we got to Kings Creek Station, a cattle/camel ranch that is now more tourist accommodation than anything. There's a food counter, helicopter service, camel safaris, and tents available, but our site was another open one. (It actually had tents, but, well, who wants to wimp out?) We were supposed to be up at a bush camp, but (to the girls' relief, actually) we were near the regular camp showers and toilets, as our 4WD's gearbox had broken.

We limped in 2nd gear the next day to Watkarra, Kings Canyon, where steep is, in fact, a factor.
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Aug 15th, 2012, 05:38 PM
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Pictures of the Outback region before finishing up this bit:
http://travel.webshots.com/album/583251714FqhYdh All of that ferrous oxide is pretty excitingly photogenic.

Our final Outback day was spent hiking the rim of Kings Canyon in Watkarra National Park. That's a simple sentence to write, but I have to admit that the ascent was not entirely simple. The views are breath-taking, though, and the prehistoric palms and various other plants add even more interest to the rugged outlines of the canyon.

Descending a long steep staircase, you come to the "Garden of Eden" pool, a/k/a the toilet of Kings Canyon. (Everything that happens on the rim eventually washes down to here, and it's a long walk with no restrooms, so...) You're allowed to swim, but the water is mighty cold this time of year; maybe 60 degrees at most. We prudently refrained, but one brave yobbo from another little group did try it. Let's just say that he did not contribute to the atmosphere of still serenity that had encompassed the still pool surrounded by greenery.

On the way back, we came across a rock wallaby, predictably enough, on the rocks. Just soooo cute. Even the name is cute. Wallaby wallaby wallaby.

Descent is more gradual than ascent, fortunately for one's knees, but I was pretty tired by the end. The rest of the day didn't require too much energy, though, as it consisted of waiting at King's Creek Station for our lift back to Alice Springs. We were supposed to have been doing some off-road riding, but the truck had broken completely, so our expected arrival back to Alice of 5:30 ended up being 10PM. Most of the remainder of the group were doing a five day trip, so a great lady in a truck picked us up and took us back to Alice, including a stretch of dirt road that took her about an hour, bowling for bunnies the whole way. I'd reckon the road would have taken some people two hours, but we were air-borne part of the time. It was actually kinda fun, and, near the end, we saw a 'roo bouncing slowly across the road. I'd been able to contact Alice Lodge (whose reception closes at seven) with my amazing bargain Telstar Card (I swear you could phone forever for five bucks; I've still got $1.50 on it after multiple calls.) So they had our room keys at reception and the luggage we'd left with them back in our tiny yellowviolet room. ('cause, hey, we follow directions, she said, glancing across at the huge suitcases brought by the EU.)

Next morning in Alice we had time for some muffin and fruit shopping at Woolworths and going to the Post Office, which doubles as an office supply store and was quite busy. Here I came upon another big bargain for those of us who are inveterate post card senders. (Only me,then? Okay...) Anyway, it costs $1.60 to mail a postcard, but you can get lovely ones of animals and scenes and such with the postage printed on for the same $1.60, which saves you at least 60 cents per card. Not a big deal if you send five, but there are those of us who send, um, a hundred and seven. (Teacher: it's who I am, not just what I do. Osmosis is a valuable tool for the educator.) I did get charged for 40 extra Kookaburra cards, though, which made me use my Telstar card in Sydney; huge props to the customer service rep on the phone at Australia post who straightened everything out and got me an express refund sent to the GPO! She was amazing and actually sounded personally interested.

Back to Alice Springs airport via $12pp shuttle. I like the cut-out aboriginal art pattern canopy that creates great shadows on the ground as you go in. A small thing, I know, but it adds character to the airport.

On to Sydney!
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Aug 15th, 2012, 08:46 PM
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Amy
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Oh, just needed to add:

TIM TAMS!

(especially caramel ones)
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Aug 15th, 2012, 09:17 PM
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Freddo frogs. Caramelo Koalas.
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Aug 15th, 2012, 11:01 PM
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Maltesers!
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