Sydney, Red Center and Cairns Trip Report

Jun 17th, 2006, 10:23 PM
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Sydney, Red Center and Cairns Trip Report

Hi all,

Here is the first section of my very detailed trip report to Sydney, Alice Springs, Uluru, and Cairns. I took this trip between May 22 and June 5.

As of June 18, I only have the Sydney portion of my trip report written. I will add the Red Center and Cairns sections hopefully within the next few days.

I wrote it in word and will cut and past to this forum. I know sometimes that makes little weird charactors in the text. I hope it doesn't do that here.

Thanks and I hope you enjoy....

Keith


Australia Trip Report - May 22 thru June 5, 2006

I decided to make Australia my major 2006 vacation destination during the Christmas holidays of 2005 after talking with my aunt during our family reunion. My aunt MaeRose had mentioned to me that she wanted to surprise her husband Delaine with a trip to Australia for their 50TH Wedding Anniversary. They had always wanted to go to Australia but were intimidated by the scale of such a trip. As I had been to Sydney once before, she asked if I would be willing to go along as a semi-tour guide with them subsidizing some of my costs. I told her that I would love to go with them as I had traveled with them before and they are easy to get along with.

Let me introduce myself and my traveling partners: I’m a forty-something single man living in a small southern town located about in the middle of a triangle formed by Atlanta, Birmingham and Chattanooga. I help run a small family business with my father and sister. I grew up in this town but left when I graduated high school (just like most of my classmates) and moved to Atlanta after going to Auburn University and worked in the telecommunications industry. I lived in the Midtown and Buckhead sections of Atlanta for 15 years until I lost my job due to downsizing (thank you NAFTA). I moved back to my hometown after my dad opened this business and it had grown to the point where he needed additional help. I’ve been back here for almost ten years now. I miss all the entertainment options of Atlanta, but don’t miss the traffic, high prices and crime.

My Aunt and Uncle are in their late 60’s. She is an older sister to my mother. We have always called her Aunt Tootsie, which is what I’ll call her for the rest of this report. She is a very gregarious person as is Uncle Delaine. Aunt Tootsie drove a school bus for 25 years for a very small school system in northwest Alabama. The type of school where you have three or four hundred kids total in grades one through twelve. She was also a lunch lady, but not the scary type like I remember from my school days. She has been retired for around 10 years or so. Uncle Delaine worked as a crane operator in a large factory environment in the Shoals area of Alabama for 30 years, now retired. He is a musician at heart and in addition to playing the guitar, fiddle and piano, finds greater joy in building and playing folk instruments like the dulcimer. They are avid RVers, and travel to Folk Music festivals throughout the south during the summer. You will find Uncle Delaine in Tishamingo, Mississippi or on the courthouse steps at Mountain View, Arkansas at least once or twice a year playing his homemade dulcimer with other folk music enthusiasts. They also make an annual trip to western Montana to visit friends out that way. They have four kids, nine grandkids and two great grandkids. Aunt Tootsie will buck-dance for you if you ask nicely.

While talking about the logistics of the trip, the first thing I told her was that they needed to go get passports. This was going to be tricky as this was supposed to be a surprise trip for him, but how could she get him a passport without spoiling the surprise. I suggested that she tell him they needed passports to get back into the USA if they decided to go into Canada on one of their future trips they take to Montana. Sure enough, he didn’t suspect a thing and went along and did all the necessary steps to apply for the passport.

Meanwhile, I began my research on how to organize this trip. My first step was to go to australia.com and look at the vacation packages listed there. I found one offered through Qantas that entailed airfare from Los Angeles to Sydney, transfers and hotel in Sydney for four days, airfare from Sydney to Alice Springs, transfers and hotel in Alice Springs for two days, APT tour bus transfer from Alice Springs to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and hotel in Ayers Rock Resort for two days, airfare from Ayers Rock to Cairns with transfer and hotel in Palm Cove for four days, and airfare from Cairns to Brisbane to Los Angeles. This package was offered at $2150 per person in low season (late autumn). I searched for several days, but could not come up with a better package than this one. I told Aunt Tootsie of the package and she agreed that the price was within her budget. I told her that I was going to wait until the passports arrived before I booked, just to be sure.

On April 10, Aunt Tootsie called to tell me that she had just received their passports. She gave me the passport numbers and I immediately called Qantas Vacations and booked the package with departure date of May 22 and return date of June 5. With travel insurance and taxes, the total ended up being $2240 per person. I then booked non-stop roundtrip airfare from Nashville to Los Angeles via Southwest for $325.00 each.

On Sunday, May 21, I drove from my house in NE Alabama to their house near Savannah Tennessee. I had packed one medium sized suitcase with four pairs of pants, six shirts and enough socks and underwear to change each day. Also, one light jacket and a pair of swimming shorts. I had told them to pack light as well.

On Monday, May 22, we got up early and Aunt Tootsie made breakfast. We put our three suitcases in the trunk of the car and headed towards Nashville. We could have driven on the Natchez Trace Parkway to get there as they live very near it, but took Highway 43 instead, going through Columbia and passing by the Saturn Plant in Spring Hill.

Traffic in Nashville wasn’t that bad. We made it to the Nashville Airport by 11:00. We parked in the economy lots for $6.00 a day. Got our luggage and went to the staging area and waited on the bus to pick us up. It arrived within ten minutes and took us to the terminal, dropping us off right in front of the Southwest Departures area.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 1:45. We checked in and because my Aunt and Uncle do not have a computer, I was unable to go online the night before and get our boarding group. We checked our luggage and got our boarding passes. On our boarding cards were printed “Group B”. Not that it mattered much as once we got to Los Angeles, we had a seven hour lay-over, but I knew that we probably would not be able to all sit together on the Nashville to Los Angeles portion, and I was right. By the time the pre-boards and group A had boarded the plane, there were no groups of three seats remaining. I told them to sit together and I’d find a seat further back. They ended up sitting next to a Southwest Pilot who gave my Uncle, who had never flown before, lots of information of what we were flying over, how planes work, etc. I sat next to Mr. Sour Puss. As usual.

The fight was uneventful, which is good. We landed in Los Angeles ahead of time. Southwest uses Terminal One. We retrieved our bags and headed outside to catch the Airport Shuttle. I had assumed that our Qantas flight to Sydney would depart from the Tom Bradley International Terminal, so we took the Airport Shuttle to it and got off. However, once we got inside, there was a message at the Qantas Check-In that the Sydney flight departs from Terminal Four. So we turn around and head back out and walk to Terminal Four.

Where the Tom Bradley Terminal had been a mad house, Terminal Four was blissfully quite. There was not a single person in line at the Qantas Check-In Area and we were able to walk right up and check in. None of our luggage was anywhere near the restricted weight limits and Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine used their passports for the very first time.

Now, we had seven hours to kill. I guess we could have left the airport and gone out and seen some of Los Angeles near the airport, but I didn’t want to chance it. So we just went through security and went to sit at our gate waiting area. There were several restaurants and fast food joints, and after about an hour or so, we ended up going to the Burger King and getting a hamburger.

Because of an issue I had with my ATM card not working at any ATM machine in Spain last year (see my Spain, Portugal and Morocco Trip report for that tale), I decided to get an advance amount of Australian dollars before we left the USA. I found an Exchange Bureau in the terminal and bought $233 Australian dollars for $200.00 US dollars minus a $5.00 fee. Not the best exchange rate, but the peace of mind was worth the loss. Now I just hoped that my ATM card would work once we got to Australia. It should as it worked in Sydney four years ago, but my then bank, Southtrust, had since been swallowed by much larger Wachovia and now my ATM card had the Wachovia logo on it, even though I have the same checking account. Fingers crossed.

I had brought a book to read, but I can never concentrate on it while sitting there and waiting for the boarding to begin. With every plane that landed, I had to watch the people exit and walk by. The gate area had several different flights take off in the intervening hours that we sat there, so the people were constantly changing. I read the same page of my book a dozen times and finally just put it away. But I was surprised how quickly those seven hours passed.

I had watched several planes come and go at the gates that we could see out of the windows. But then, this huge plane arrived at our gate. Where on the other planes you looked out of the windows and looked down on the nose and the pilot’s windows, on this one, the nose was above you and the pilot’s windows were even higher. A Boeing 747. I’d flown on 747’s before, but had never seen one right outside the window as in this instance. How do these things get off the ground?

The flight was scheduled to depart at 11:50pm. They began boarding at 11:20. From all the people that had gathered in the area over the last several hours, I knew that the flight was going to be full. And it was. They called for boarding by row numbers. We were in row 61 so we were in the second group to be called. Row 61 turned out to be three seats on either side of the plane with the galley in the middle. We were seats H, J and K. I was thinking that being next to the galley would be troublesome, but it wasn’t. We let Uncle Delaine have the window seat as he had never flown, except for the Southwest flight earlier in the day. Of course, as it was dark outside, it didn’t make a difference right now, but I knew that it would as we approached Sydney.
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Jun 17th, 2006, 10:25 PM
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The flight was a good as you could expect being in economy and lasting 15 hours. I noticed something on this flight that I would continue to notice on all the other Qantas flights we would be taking over the next couple of weeks: the vast majority of the flight attendants were male. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

We were served one dinner and one breakfast. The dinner was served about two hours after takeoff. It consisted of a choice of either a Marinated Lime Chicken with Corn and Black Bean Salsa or Penne with Creamy Wild Mushroom Sauce. A Cannellini Bean Salad and a Coconut Macaroon for desert was included with either choice. We all three chose the chicken dinner. The breakfast was served about an hour and a half before we landed in Sydney. The breakfast choice was either a cold continental breakfast of melon slices, cereal and a poppy seed muffin or a hot breakfast of Vegetable Frittata with pork sausage and tomato. A hot chocolate service and a couple of drink services were offered during the long flight as well.

The entertainment system was comprised of personal screens located in the back of the seat in front of you. It offered five or six movies, like King Kong, Failure to Launch, Match Point, and March of the Penguins. It also provided several music channels, a comedy channel, a history channel and a map that tracked exactly where the plane was, how fast it was traveling and how high. I watched the map for most of the trip that I was awake.

After the dinner service, most people tried to go to sleep. I tried as well. I failed. I cannot sleep on planes. It is too uncomfortable. I did do my foot and leg exercises to help prevent DVT. After about seven hours, however, I finally got some fitful sleep due to extreme exhaust. Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine were able to get some sleep as well.

Finally the pilot announced our approach to Sydney. Eventually, the coastline became visible out the windows. The plane came in south heading directly down the coast. You could see the high-rise buildings of downtown Sydney in the distance and the entrance to Sydney Harbor and Bondi Beach just below. The plane made a wide turn and came in over Botany Bay and made a perfect landing. We pulled up to the gate at 7:30am Wednesday, May 24 Sydney time. We had completely skipped Tuesday, May 23. The pilot turned off the seat-belt sign and everybody jumped up and grabbed their carry-on and began to exit the plane. It took a good 10 minutes before we were able to move forward.

I have never understood why some major airports do not have large restrooms somewhere close to the arrival gates. The only restroom we came upon was a small room with two toilets. I imagine that the women’s restroom was even worse. Of course, by stopping to use the restrooms, we ended up last in the passport checkpoint line.

We retrieved our luggage and got into line for customs. I told Uncle Delaine that he might want to dispose of the apple he had from the flight. I remembered the story of Hilary Swank and her apple…. I know it was New Zealand, but still….. He tossed it and we cleared customs without any issues.

We entered the main arrivals area of Sydney Airport and began looking for our transfer company, Sunbus. We found him within a few minutes. He told us to stand over by the McDonalds restaurant as he had a few more people to collect before we began our trip into the city. In all, he had about 14 people to deliver. I knew that if we were the last hotel on his list, that this could take over an hour. He told us that we would be the first to drop off, and therefore our luggage was loaded last. We followed him outside. It was fairly cool. Much cooler than I had expected. I think I remember it being 18 Celsius. That is about 64 Fahrenheit. The sun was shining, however, and it looked to be a perfect day. We boarded the mini-bus and headed downtown.

The trip into town only took about 20 minutes. I knew the name of our hotel, the Mercure Ultimo and when the driver pulled up into the drop-off spot of a Mercure hotel, I didn’t think anything about it. We got out, got our luggage, tipped the driver a couple of dollars and went inside. I went to the check-in counter and handed the receptionist my voucher for the hotel, and she told me that we were at the incorrect Mercure hotel. The driver had dropped us off at the Mercure Sydney Hotel on George Street, adjacent to the Central Railway Station and not the Mercure Ultimo. The concierge offered to call Sunbus for us, which we accepted because Sunbus was our transfer back to the airport in four days and we wanted to make sure that they knew the correct hotel in which to collect us. Sunbus apologized for the mistake and immediately sent the driver back for us. The Mercure Ultimo was only about six or seven blocks away and it only took five minutes to get there.

The Mercure Ultimo is located in the Ultimo section of Sydney, which is adjacent to Darling Harbor and Haymarket. It is behind the Sydney Powerhouse Museum, and a five-minute walk to the Haymarket/Paddy’s Market Monorail Station. Even though it was only 9:30am, the hotel had our room ready. We collected our door cards and headed to the room. The room was fairly spacious, with two double size beds. We put all of our luggage in the room, used the restroom, freshened up and decided to begin our vacation in Australia by walking to Darling Harbor.
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Jun 17th, 2006, 10:26 PM
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In my previous trip to Sydney back in 2002, I had stayed at the Hotel Ibis Darling Harbor. So I was somewhat familiar with the area already. We walked past the Sydney Exhibition Center with its roof that looks like tall ship masts, past the Chinese Gardens and Tumbalong Park. We passed under the viaduct to Cockle Bay. We passed the IMAX Theater and decide that we were hungry. It was about 10:45am and we had not eaten since the breakfast on the plane. We see a Subway Sandwich shop next to the IMAX Theater, so we go inside and each order a sub sandwich. We eat the sandwiches on the tables outside, watching all the people walk along the wharf.

After we finished eating, we walked along the wharf towards Pyrmont Bridge. On the other side of Pyrmont Bridge, between the bridge and the Sydney Aquarium is a row of shops and offices. One of the offices is the Gray Line Tour company office. I had planned on making a day trip to the Blue Mountains one of the days while we were in Sydney, so we went inside and talked to the agent. He told us of a special called the Big Blue Pass where you buy one Sydney tour and you can get a reduced rate on two other tours elsewhere in Australia. We decided to take advantage of the offer and in addition to booking the tour of the Blue Mountains for tomorrow, went ahead and booked a tour of the Great Barrier Reef/Green Island and the Kuranda Rainforest for two of the days that we would be in Cairns later on in the trip. We saved about $80.00 each over the total price of each tour individually.

Having completed our Gray Line booking, we climbed the steps leading up to Pyrmont Bridge and walked along Market Street towards the Queen Victoria Building and the hustle and bustle of lunchtime Sydney. As we were now entering streets with major traffic, I reminded myself, and also told Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine to remember to look in the opposite direction than you normally do to check for approaching traffic before stepping out to cross the street as the Australians drive on the opposite side of the road than we do in the USA. As one Australian told me, “Americans drive on the right side of the road, Australians drive on the correct side of the road.” To make the crossings easier, in addition to the visual signs that indicate when it’s permissible to cross the street, Sydney has audible instruments that make a whirling sound to let you know it’s time to cross. Some brave souls dart out into the street before the walk signs indicate it’s time to cross, but we always waited. There is too much chance to forget that traffic is coming from the opposite direction than you normally expect. Plus, Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine are not as quick as they once were.

We briefly entered the Queen Victoria Building. The Queen Victoria Building was built in 1893-1898 in the neo-Romanesque style. After almost being demolished in the 1950’s, it is now the grand dame of Sydney up-scale shopping. As it was lunchtime, the place was extremely crowded. So we left and walked up another block and crossed Market to enter the pedestrianized section of Pitt Street. We walked north, towards the harbor and Circular Quay (pronounced “key”). Pitt Street was extremely busy as well. There were several street entertainers working for tips. I really enjoyed the architecture along this stretch of Pitt Street. There is almost a small town feel within the middle of downtown Sydney.

Before long we pass by Martin Place, another pedestrianized area of downtown Sydney, but going east to west, where Pitt Street is north to south. We continued along Pitt Street until we came to Circular Quay. We walked along the west side of Sydney Cove to get the best views of the Sydney Opera House. We eventually come to Campbell’s Cove and turn away from the waterfront and enter “The Rocks” section of Sydney. “The Rocks” is the oldest section of Sydney, dating back to the “First Fleet” landing of the English in 1788.

We explore “The Rocks” by walking up George Street to the top of the hill where you are underneath the southern approach to the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We turn around and head back down hill, window-shopping as we go. We stop to visit the oldest building in Sydney, Cadman’s Cottage, built in 1816. We get back to Circular Quay and buy tickets for the Manly Ferry. Roundtrip fare for the Manly Ferry is $12.40. We hop on the 3:30 ferry and head out into Sydney Harbor towards Manly.

The Manly Ferry is a must for anyone visiting Sydney. It leaves Pier 3 at Circular Quay every 30 minutes. The passage takes about 45 minutes to get from Circular Quay to Manly Wharf. Along the way, you get some of the best views of Sydney, the Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, Fort Dennison and the shores of Sydney Harbor than from anywhere else. We sat on the back, so we could see Sydney as we sailed east towards Manly. There were dozens of sailboats on the Harbor. The sun was in the western sky, so you got more of a silhouette view of the Harbor Bridge and Opera House as you got further away. It was simply breathtaking. Eventually, the Harbor makes a turn and downtown Sydney is no longer visible. There are majestic houses lining the shores of the harbor on either side, but mostly on the southern shores. The ferry makes one more turn and we pass by the entrance to Sydney Harbor on the starboard side of the ferry. North Head and South Head rise majestically out of the waters to guard the entrance to one of the most beautiful harbors on the planet.

We dock in Manly and exit the ferry and the ferry building. It has had extensive renovations since 2002. There are shops and restaurants in the ferry building now. We cross the street and head towards the beach walking down the Corso. The architecture of Manly is quirky and fun. Most of the buildings are only two stories high and some are brightly painted. There are all types of souvenir shops, grocery stores, pharmacies, ice cream stands and restaurants along The Corso. We eventually make it to the beach. As it is late autumn here in Australia, there is very little swimming going on at the beach, but there are a few brave souls with wet suits on out in the surf with their surfboards trying to catch a wave. We watch them for several minutes. I like Manly beach. It has a wide stretch of sand and huge shade trees just beyond. Then the town is just across the beach- front road. I imagine that in summer time, the place is wonderful. It reminds me of Venice Beach in Los Angeles or Key West in Florida.

We begin our return walk to the ferry building, window shopping along the Corso as we walk. We stop at one of the ice cream shops and all three of us buy a single scoop. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from the beach to the ferry if you don’t stop. It took us about 35 minutes to get back to the ferry building. The ferries leave Manly every thirty minutes also, but at the quarter past and quarter till time frame. We only had to wait about 15 minutes for the next ferry to arrive. I believe that they have three ferries constantly in use to make the schedule work. It was now about 5:15pm, and the sky was beginning to grow darker. I guess that is the big issue with choosing to visit Australia in the late fall/winter as you don’t have as many daylight hours available. Anyway, we boarded the ferry and once again sat outside, this time upfront to see Sydney as we approached. However, once the ferry got going and the wind got up, it became too cool for Aunt Tootsie to tolerate, so she went inside to sit. When the ferry rounded the bend in the Harbor and Sydney came into view, you could hear the gasps of the other passengers. There was a brilliant orange sky in the background with some purple clouds and the silhouette of the Bridge, Opera House and high rises of downtown, including the AMP Tower were amazing. The water on the Harbor twinkled as if covered with a million brilliant diamonds. This view should be on a postcard.

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Jun 17th, 2006, 10:26 PM
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We docked at Circular Quay and we exited the ferry and begin our long walk back to the hotel. We walked south along George Street all the way to Market where we turned west and crossed the pedestrian bridge that spans the freeway headed towards the Harbor Bridge. We walked across Pyrmont Bridge and marveled at the city lights in the now dark sky. At Harbourside Mall, I found an ATM machine and crossed my fingers and inserted my ATM card. I punched in my PIN code and requested $200.00. I heard it whirling and within a few seconds spit out my money and my card. It worked. Thank the banking gods. On return to the USA, this transaction converted to $152.89 on my checking account statement. Uncle Delaine used his ATM card here as well.

We walked through the mall, checking out several of the stores. We exited the mall near the round building that is the Sydney Convention Center. We decide that we were hungry and see a place near the IMAX Theater that has fish and chips. We go there and place our order to go. It costs about $9.50, including drink and it takes about 5 minutes for them to prepare it. It included two pieces of fish and a massive amount of chips (fries). The fish was ok, nothing to write home about. The fries were very good. But I was unable to finish all of them. Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine were unable to finish their fries either. We put the remaining food in the nearest garbage container and as we walked away, several seagulls swooped down and had chips for dinner as well.

We continued our walk to the hotel. It took another 15 minutes to get there from the IMAX Theater in Darling Harbor. It was about 7:30pm or so when we walked in the door of the hotel. As none of us had slept well on the plane, we all agreed that it was going to be an early night for us. We all had our turn in the bathroom getting ready for bed and were in bed with the lights out by 9pm. I don’t remember my head hitting the pillow.

It is Thursday, May 25. The bus for our tour of the Blue Mountains is scheduled to pick us up outside the hotel at 7:50am. We get up around 6am and I am the first into the bathroom. When I’m through, I leave the room to go get us some breakfast. There is a McDonalds across the street from Paddy’s Market, which is a 10-minute walk from the hotel. I order us three big breakfasts to go with juice and coffee and walk back to the hotel. We eat breakfast in the hotel room and are ready to go by 7:30am. We walk down to the lobby of the hotel and wait for the bus. It arrives right on time, but it isn’t a Gray Line bus, it is an APT bus. Anyway, we board and the bus heads for the tour departure terminal, which is located in the Star City Casino. We leave the APT bus and board the Gray Line bus. At 8:15, the bus pulls out of the terminal.

The bus begins the tour by crossing over the Sydney Harbor Bridge. It is rush hour and the bridge’s lanes headed north are cut down to two so that the traffic heading into the city has more lanes to handle the inflow. In the evening, the lanes will be reversed. The bus heads through the northern suburbs and eventually, the city fades away. The bus eventually enters the Bells Line of Road and begins to climb into the foothills of the Blue Mountains. We make a mid morning stop at the Bilpin Fruit Bowl. This little shop has fresh fruits and vegetables to purchase as well as pies, cakes and drinks. I order a carrot cake slice with coffee. It is good, if a little bit too much carrot was used. We have 20 minutes here, so after the cake, there is just enough time to make a toilet run. Soon, we are back on the bus and headed towards our next stop, Govetts Leap near Blackheath. First, we leave the Bells Line of Road and join the Great Western Highway.

Govetts Leap is an overlook of the Grose Valley. To the right of the overlook is a thin waterfall that plunges over 500 feet into the dense eucalyptus forest below. The Grose Valley has a thick forest of Blue Gum eucalyptus trees growing on the floor of the valley. Massive cliffs rise from the valley and the thick forest of eucalyptus continues on the tops of the cliffs. Our tour guide tells us that the eucalyptus trees emit an oil when it gets warm that causes a blue haze to form, hence the name Blue Mountains. We are at the overlook for about 15 minutes then re-board the bus and head for our next stop, Scenic World.

Scenic World is located in Katoomba, a short drive further along the Great Western Highway. Scenic World is located on the rim of the canyon overlooking the Jamison Valley. It has several attractions, like the Scenic Skyway, Scenic Railway and Scenic Cableway. We choose to do a roundtrip down into the Jamison Valley by riding the Scenic Railway down and the Scenic Cableway back up. The roundtrip ticket costs $16.00. The Scenic Railway is the steepest incline railway in the world, at one point having a 52 degree incline. It descends 1800 feet into a lush forest of eucalyptus and other trees and plants. Once on the floor of the canyon, you walk along a 2km long boardwalk that takes you to sights such as old coal mines and the old coal mining village from the late 1880’s. It also has information plates of the various types of plants that populate the forest floor. At the other end of the boardwalk is the Scenic Cableway that takes you out of the valley and back to Scenic World. Scenic World also has a restaurant and sandwich shop. We ordered a sandwich and sat outside on the balcony overlooking the Jamison Valley. In the distance, you could see the Three Sisters, our next destination.

We spend 2 hours at Scenic World and then re-board the bus for our next destination, Echo Point and the Three Sisters. Our bus drops us off at Echo Point. Echo Point is an overlook of one of the most iconic images of the Blue Mountains, if not of all Australia: The Three Sisters. Legend has it that three beautiful aboriginal sisters fell in love with three brothers from a rival tribe. As tribal law forbid them to marry, the three brothers decided to get the sisters by force, starting a war. A witchdoctor from the sister’s tribe turned the three sisters into the rock formations to protect them from harm during the tribal war. Unfortunately, the witchdoctor was killed during the fighting and since he was the only one that could reverse the spell, the three sisters remain as rock to this day. We have about 45 minutes at Echo Point the re-board the bus. We leave Katoomba and head towards Sydney along the Great Western Road, eventually leaving the Blue Mountains.

Our next stop on the tour is to the Featherdale Wildlife Park, on the outskirts of Sydney. We are allowed two hours at the park. Featherdale has all the animals of Australia you would expect to see, including Kangaroo, Koala, Dingo, Tasmanian Devils and Wombats. It also has many birds, including birds of prey and colorful parrots. There is a reptile building along with a huge saltwater Crocodile. The kangaroos hop about without cages and will allow you to pet them if they are in the mood. You can cuddle with a koala, if he is awake that is.
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Jun 17th, 2006, 10:28 PM
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It is now beginning to get dark. We leave Featherdale and head towards Sydney. We pass by Homebush Bay, site of the 2000 Olympics and cross the ANZAC Bridge to enter Sydney proper. The bus drops us off a half block from the entrance to our hotel. We go in to freshen up and use the toilets then head towards Darling Harbor to find something to eat. As we are dead tired from the long day, we compromise and eat at the McDonalds in Darling Harbor. After we finish, we head back to the hotel and once again are in bed with the lights out by 9:00pm.

Friday, May 26. Up early again even though we don’t have anything scheduled for today. Aunt Tootsie wants to visit Paddy’s Market, and I’m curious about it as well. We head out of the hotel at 8am for breakfast. We eat at the McDonalds across from Paddy’s Market as it is the only thing we can find open at this time. Paddy’s Market doesn’t open until 9am so we take our time eating. A little before 9:00, we head across the street and enter the behemoth that is Paddy’s Market. There is a little of everything and a lot of a few things in Paddy’s Market. A souvenir hunter’s paradise with tee shirts and stuffed toy animals galore. Most of the booths had three tee shirts for $20.00. These were not the cheap tee shirts you normally associate with such low prices; these were heavy material tees with embroidered logos, not iron-on logos. I found a souvenir didgeridoo that would fit into my luggage (about 2 and a half feet long) for $25.00. I didn’t expect it to be a working didgeridoo, but bought it for the artwork on it. The same booth also had smaller ones for $15.00 each. I bought several for souvenirs for the nieces and nephews back home. Stuffed toy kangaroos, koalas, and kookaburras also ended up in my shopping bag. Boomerangs, key-chains, magnets and opals. In the back of Paddys was a vegetable and fruit market. I saw some vegetables that I had never seen before.

Aunt Tootsie had been busy as well. She has all those grandchildren to buy for. And Uncle Delaine purchased his first of almost a dozen hats that he would purchase over the next few days. After an hour or so, we decided that we needed to take our purchases back to the hotel. When we got outside, Aunt Tootsie, knowing that I wanted to do the “Bridge Climb” suggested that I go do that and they would take the souvenirs back to the hotel and rest for a while. I said great, handed them my stuff and jumped on the Monorail as the Haymarket station was right there. The Monorail cost $4.50 per ride. It takes about 15 minutes to make a complete loop. I rode the monorail from Paddy’s Market to the City Center station and then walked up George Street all the way to the Bridge Climb office. It took me about 35 minutes to make the journey from Paddy’s Market to Bridge Climb. I didn’t know if there would be any openings when I got there, but I was going to take the chance.

I arrived at Bridge Climb at 10:30. The sign outside said that climbs were available today. So I went inside to inquire. The girl at the counter said that space was available on the very next climb, so I said let’s go. It cost $165.00, which I paid for with my visa card (which converted to $128.85 US). She told me to go wait in the staging area and to read the disclaimers. There ended up being nine people in my group. I was the only one from the USA. We had a mother and her 12 year old son from the Brisbane area that was climbing to celebrate his 12th birthday, a couple from London, England, a guy from Cape Town, South Africa, a couple from Belfast, Northern Ireland and a girl from Canada. We all had to pass a Breathalyzer exam to proceed. We had to remove watches and anything else that could possibly fall while climbing. Anyone wearing glasses had to have them mounted with a special cord that attached to the uniform we were given. The uniform is gray and blue with long sleeves. It has special attachments on it that connects it to your cap and your backpack. Then you are introduced to the safety harness apparatus that is a ball bearing like device that locks around the cable that is mounted the entire route of the Bridge Climb. This device is ingenious in that it can pass through the metal mounts without having to come undone from the cable. Safety First. After we have been given our safety device and have experienced the climb simulator, we are then given radios that are specially mounted on the uniform and have headsets that you wear to hear the commentary of the Bridge Climb leader. Now we are ready to begin our climb.

We begin our climb by entering the southern end of the Bridge below the level of the road deck. Next we attach our safety harness device to the cable. Whatever order we attach ourselves is the order we will be in for the next three hours. The 12-year-old boy goes first, then his mother, then me. The guy from Belfast is next, then his mate, the guy from Cape Town, the girl from Canada and bringing up the rear is the couple from London, the man being the last one of our group. We step out onto the catwalk beneath the southern approach to the bridge that is over part of the Rocks area of Sydney and head towards the southeast pylon. We pass through the pylon and now we are over the water of the harbor. We then have to climb ladders up through the road deck of the bridge and on up to the top span. Only one person can be on a section of the ladder at a time, so this part is not only the scariest, is also takes the longest amount of time to do. But eventually, we all pass from being 30 feet below the road deck to being 40 feet above it. We now begin our assault on the eastern arch of the bridge. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the summit where we are now 415 feet above the surface of the water below. Climbing the arch was not as scary as I thought it would be, mainly because the arch is about 8 feet wide. The initial climb is steep, but it gradually levels out. Our tour guide takes a group picture of us at the summit with the Sydney Opera House in the background. Then she takes individual pictures of each one of us and then leads us out on the scariest part of the whole journey: the catwalk between the eastern arch and western arch. It is only about two feet wide and the road deck is a couple hundred feet below you. The only thing between you and that road deck is a very small railing. And to top it off, our climb leader is taking individual pictures of us again and you have to stand there waiting and looking….. down….. I was glad I was the third one in line as once your picture was taken, you move on to the western arch, which is much wider and sturdier. Eventually, all the individual pictures are taken and we begin our descent of the bridge along the western arch. About half the way down, our climb leader told us to stop, look out towards Fort Dennison and listen. We saw a flash and a puff of smoke and a few seconds later, a bang. It was the one o’clock firing of the cannon that happens every day at one. It takes just as long to climb down as it did to climb up. And the ladders are just as steep and scary on this side as they were on the other side. But before long, we are all walking along the catwalk beneath the road deck again. And way too soon, the journey is over. We are taken back to the staging area where we remove the radio and the suit and we retrieve all the stuff we could not wear while climbing (watches, cameras, etc) and exit through the store. Here they give you the group picture taken at the summit of the bridge. You are also offered the individual pictures that were taken. I ended up buying the four different poses of me for $30.00.
KE1TH is offline  
Jun 17th, 2006, 10:28 PM
  #6  
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I walked out the door of the Bridge Climb at 2pm. I walk up towards Argyle Street and see the entrance to the pedestrian walkway across the bridge and decide to go visit the museum located in the southeast pylon. Our Bridge Climb tickets include a visit to the museum, so why not. I walk to the pylon, show the clerk my ticket and climb to the top of the pylon. The view from the top of the pylon is great, not as great as the view from the top of the arch of the bridge, but great nonetheless. And at least from here, I can take pictures of the Opera House and the harbor with my own camera. I also take pictures of current Bridge climbers doing what I had done just an hour ago. I descend the stairs of the pylon and walk back towards Sydney. I visit Argyle Cut and Nurses Walk while I passing through the Rocks area then walk south along George Street all the way to Market, turning west to get to Darling Harbor.

I get back to the hotel and Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine are in the room. They tell me that they had walked around Darling Harbor and had seen an Aboriginal man play the didgeridoo in a free show at the Outback Centre located between the IMAX Theater and the Chinese Gardens. Uncle Delaine, being a folk music lover himself, was very impressed with the young man that did the show. He said that he had talked to the guy for a good 15 minutes after the show and the guy had shown him how to play the didgeridoo. Uncle Delaine now wanted to get a real didgeridoo to take home.

I freshened up and we left the hotel to go find something to eat. As we were passing by the Outback Centre, I noticed that it was a few minutes before 5pm. The last free show of the day is at 5, so I asked Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine if they wanted to go see the show again, and they said they would. So, that’s what we do. I must admit, the show was very good. The man playing the didgeridoo doesn’t look aboriginal. He said that he found out when he was around 17 years old that his grandfather was a full blooded Aboriginal and lived in a tribe north of Cairns. He went to live with his grandfather for a few years and that is where he learned the language and customs of his grandfather’s tribe. He told us stories of kangaroo and snakes using the didgeridoo to enhance the effect. He explained the breathing technique that is necessary to be able to play the didgeridoo. Needless to say, I will not be playing it, although I used to play a mean saxophone.

Once the show was over, we continued our walk along Darling Harbor. We took one of the pedestrian bridges over to the Town Hall section of Sydney. Just past Town Hall is the southern entrance to the Queen Victoria Building. We enter the building and walk the entire length of the building and end up on Market Street. We turn west and head back towards Darling Harbor. We walk across Pyrmont Bridge and enter Harbourside Mall.

For dinner, we decide to eat at the Waterfront Grill. I order lasagna, Aunt Tootsie orders chicken and Uncle Delaine orders a T-bone steak. All of the food is very good. We spend more on this one meal than we have spent on all the other food we purchased up to this point. After we finished, we walk back to the hotel. We once again have an early night, getting into bed with the lights out by 10pm. Tomorrow is our last full day in Sydney.

Saturday, May 27. We get up and I immediately notice that it is cloudy outside. Drat. We get ready and head out to see Sydney for the last time. Aunt Tootsie wants to stop at Paddy’s Market for some last minute souvenir shopping. As it is cloudy and rainy looking, I figured why not. Before we go into Paddy’s Market, I see the McDonalds across the street and remember that we haven’t had breakfast. We walk over to the restaurant and order something, and sit and eat it there. 15 minutes later, we are headed towards Paddy’s Market once again. I purchase some more tee shirts (I end up with nine), a figurine of an Aboriginal playing the didgeridoo, a necklace with a pendant shaped like a boomerang made of opals and a couple more stuffed toy animals. Uncle Delaine buys a leather hat and Aunt Tootsie buys some jewelry. I offer to run the stuff to the hotel room so that we don’t have to carry it all over Sydney. It takes me about 15 minutes. They haven’t ridden the monorail yet, so I get them on it. We do a complete circuit then ride it to the City Centre station. We get off there and walk up Market Street towards Hyde Park. All the while, the sky is cloudy and occasionally, a few drops of rain will fall. We get to Hyde Park and walk over to Archibald Fountain. We then turn north and walk over to the Hyde Park Barracks Museum. About that time, it begins to rain again, so I suggest we tour the museum. It costs $10.00 to enter. The museum is fairly good. It showcases the history of the building from its construction in 1817-1819 and it’s many uses in the intervening years. It was a dormitory for male convicts between 1819 and 1848. Between 1848 and 1886, it was used as a female immigration depot and asylum. Between 1887 and 1979, it was used as a courthouse and office building. Most of the artifacts on display were found beneath the floorboards, carried there by mice and rats. The top floor has a display of how the barracks once had multiple hammocks for the convicts to sleep in. The rain stopped while we were in the museum.

We then walked north along MacQuarie Street, passing by the Sydney Mint Building, the Parliament House, Sydney Hospital, Sydney Library and the Consevatorium of Music. Eventually, we came upon the Palace Garden Gate to the Royal Botanic Gardens. We entered the gardens and begin to walk towards Farm Cove. As we walked through the gardens, we would pause and read the placards the described the different types of flora. At one point, we could hear extremely noisy birds in the trees above us. It turns out that the “birds” were actually bats. Gray headed flying fox bats. There were hundreds, no, thousands of them. All squawking like there was no tomorrow. We continued on past the noisy bats and passed through the MacQuarie Wall. We then came upon Farm Cove and continued to walk along the shore line, admiring the views of downtown Sydney, the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge as we walked towards Mrs. MacQuarie’s Chair. It was still cloudy, but at least it hadn’t rained since before we entered the Barracks Museum several hours ago. I was disappointed, however, because all my pictures I was taking of the Opera House and the Bridge would be duller and have cloudy skies instead of bright blue skies. We eventually made it to the point called Mrs. MacQuarie’s Chair. The most iconic pictures of the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge are taken from this point. Simply stunning views of Sydney are at every angle. Even Fort Dennison is nearby and easily within a zoom shot from your camera.

We walked around Mrs. MacQuarie’s Point for 30 minutes or so and then headed back along Farm Cove towards the central business district. When we got back to the Palace Garden Gate, we turned north and headed towards Circular Quay and the Opera House. It took about 10 minutes to make the walk. By this time we were hungry again, and right there in front of us along Albert Street was a MacDonalds. We ate there, but it would be the last time we would eat at MacDonalds as once we left Sydney, we didn’t see any more MacDonalds.

After eating, we begin our trek back towards Darling Harbor. As Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine were both very tired from our walking, it took about an hour to get from Circular Quay to Darling Harbor. In the meantime, the once cloudy skies cleared up and a beautiful blue sky was with us for the rest of the day. Wouldn’t you know it. I almost wanted to run back to Mrs. MacQuarie’s Point and see if I could get some additional pictures, but I was tired as well. Plus I had pictures from my 2002 trip that are great.

As it was only around 4 o’clock, Paddy’s Market was still open. So we went back there. I didn’t purchase anything this time, as I really didn’t have anywhere to put more things. At 5pm, as Paddy’s Market was closing down for the day, we decided to go get some Chinese food. China Town is right there at Paddy’s Market. We decided to go back to the hotel first to clean up, as it had been a long day. So we go to the hotel, clean up and then head back to China Town. We walk through China Town looking for a place to eat. We eventually find a place and have a seat outside. I order sweet and sour chicken, as does both Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine. I cannot remember the name of the restaurant. By the time we are finished, it is starting to get extremely busy along Dixon Street.

We leave China Town and walk towards Darling Harbor. It is just now becoming dark. As we enter Darling Harbor, Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine say that they are going to go back to the hotel room. I am going to continue to walk around Darling Harbor. I walk up to the Aquarium and follow the wharf on around it. I don’t believe that this part of Darling Harbor existed back in 2002. If it did, I didn’t discover it on that trip. I walk by some clubs that have loud thumping music emanating from them. Oh, if I were 20 years younger, I just might go stand in that line to enter the club. But no, I continue to walk along the wharf. Eventually, the wharf ends and you can go no further, so I turn around and head back towards Pyrmont Bridge. As I’m crossing Pyrmont Bridge, the bridge conductor stops the foot traffic so that he can open the bridge to allow a catamaran to pass into Cockle Bay. In the four days I spent in Darling Harbor back in 2002, I never once saw the bridge open. I was to see it open twice in this one evening. The catamaran is a party barge. There is loud music and cheering coming from it. I actually think its all women on the boat, so it must be what the British call a “hen party.” It circles Cockle Bay for about 20 minutes then heads back towards Pyrmont Bridge, where for the second time this evening, I see the bridge open.

I head back towards the hotel. We have an early flight in the morning that will take us to Alice Springs. When I get back, both Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine are already in bed. They’re not snoring yet, so I doubt they are asleep, but I’m still quiet. I hop into bed and am asleep before my head hits the pillow.

Tomorrow: The Red Center.
KE1TH is offline  
Jun 19th, 2006, 03:03 AM
  #7  
 
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Well, all I can say is WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Keith, what a trip report. You must have a hankering to be a writer and so much attention to detail. I feel quite over-whelmed to say the least. Cannot wait for your next installment. Liz
lizF is offline  
Jun 19th, 2006, 05:12 AM
  #8  
 
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Gosh Keith, you've taught me things I didn't know about Sydney after living there for about 40 years. Keep it rolling, looking forward to hearing about Red Centre and Cairns.
pat_woolford is offline  
Jun 19th, 2006, 03:48 PM
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Thanks for the comments so far. I enjoy doing these reports as it helps me to remember my trip and how I felt about this or that. My memory is not getting any better, so these detailed reports help me to relive what I experienced.

Here is a continuation of my trip report, covering the two days in Alice Springs.


ALICE SPRINGS TRIP REPORT


Sunday, May 28. We’re up early as our Qantas flight for Alice Springs leaves at 9:40am. I had called Sunbus yesterday to confirm our transfer (and to make sure that they had us down to pickup at the correct Mercure Hotel). Our pickup time was at 8am. I knew we could eat breakfast at the airport, so there was no rush to eat this morning. I was just able to get all my new souvenirs packed into my luggage.

The Sunbus driver arrived on time. He was a jovial fellow, talking to my Uncle Delaine the entire trip to the domestic terminal of Sydney Airport. We arrived at the airport at about 8:30 and only had to wait behind four people before we were able to check our bags and get our boarding passes. We then went through security. I always take my shoes off, but this time I decided not to and of course I made the metal detector go off, so off came the shoes and I was able to pass through fine. The shoes would come off on all future trips through security.

The domestic terminal of Sydney Airport is very nice. It is very clean. Like it is never used. It did seem fairly empty of people. It was probably because it was early Sunday morning. There were several restaurants to choose from for breakfast. We ended up eating at Hungry Jacks, which is the Aussie equivalent of Burger King. After we ate, we went to our gate area and waited for the call to board. After about 20 minutes, they did begin the boarding. The equipment was a Boeing 737 and our seats were near the front in row 8.

The plane departed on time but surprised me by taking off out over the Tasman Sea. We climbed for a long time over the sea before the plane finally turned and headed inland towards the Red Center. The plane did not have the individual entertainment centers located in the back of the seat in front of you, just screens that descended from the ceiling over the main aisle about every 10 feet or so. The movie was “Last Holiday” with Queen Latifah. About an hour into the flight, the flight attendants (again, mostly male) began the meal service. I was surprised. In the US, a flight of this length would not have a meal service. Anyway, you had a choice of a chef salad or a chicken sandwich. Aunt Tootsie and I got the salad; Uncle Delaine requested the sandwich. Shortly after the flight attendants picked up the refuse, the pilot announced that the plane would begin the descent into Alice Springs. Meanwhile, I had been enjoying the view out the window. There was a lot of red. A lot. The total flight time from Sydney to Alice Springs is about 3 and a half hours.

We landed in Alice Springs around 1:30pm. You deplane out in the environment, which in a place that gets such little rainfall each year isn’t that big of a problem, except for possibly the heat in the summer. However, the weather today was perfect. It was about 20 Celsius with no clouds at all. Just a bright blue sky. We entered the terminal and retrieved our luggage and went outside to find our transfer. The transfer company was Alice Springs Airport Shuttle, which was a large bus that could transfer up to 40 or so people. And it did. I crossed my fingers that our hotel was close to the top of the list, but it wasn’t.

We finally did make it to our hotel, the All Seasons Oasis, which was on Gap Road across from the Alice Springs Hospital and a short walk from Todd Mall. We checked in and were given our room keys. We took our luggage to the room and we all freshened up and I called the tour company APT and arranged for a tour of the West MacDonnells for Monday. After I had made the tour arrangements, we left the room and walked up Gap Road to the center of Alice Springs, Todd Mall. Todd Mall is a pedestranized section in the center of Alice Springs. In addition to the shops and restaurants along Todd Mall, there is the John Flynn Church and Adelaide House. John Flynn is the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the world’s first flying medical treatment organization. He is on the Australian 20 dollar bill. Adelaide House was the first hospital in Alice Springs, built in the 1920’s. As it was Sunday, several of the shops were closed. We walked from one end of Todd Mall to the other and back, stopping to shop in the stores that were open. I purchased some boomerangs that had “Alice Springs” on them for souvenirs and Uncle Delaine purchased yet another hat.

There were many Aboriginal people sitting in the shade of the trees that line Todd Mall. Aunt Tootsie noticed that most of the women and children were barefoot. We didn’t know if this was tradition or if the families were too poor to purchase shoes. We still do not know, as it is too delicate a question to ask. You never know whether some questions will be considered rude or inconsiderate. We then walked a couple of blocks over to see the usually dry Todd River. It was completely dry now as well. But you could tell that there was some subterranean water as the riverbed had many massive River Red Gum trees.

We walked back to Todd Mall and headed back to the hotel. Along the way, we decided to stop at a KFC restaurant. This was the first KFC I’d seen in Australia. I didn’t see a single one while in Sydney. Of course, like I mentioned earlier in the report, we saw several McDonalds in Sydney, but didn’t see another one once we left Sydney. We went inside and all three of us ordered a chicken dinner. The service was slow. I see some things are constant throughout the world.

After finishing at KFC, we walked to the local K-Mart to buy Aunt Tootsie a curling iron. I can’t believe I forgot to mention this previously in this report, but one of the evenings back in Sydney, Aunt Tootsie had plugged in the curling iron she had brought with her from the USA and it immediately began to melt on the bathroom counter. They had thought to buy the adapter that changes the prongs, but didn’t buy the voltage converter. I didn’t know that she wanted to use the curling iron or I would have told them, but we had a good laugh about it afterwards. The K-Mart was pretty much like a K-Mart here in the USA except the parking lot was covered. That was unusual, as far as I was concerned. We got her curling iron and walked back to the hotel. That evening, we turned on the TV and some show where a professional singer joins up with a non-singing celebrity and they compete against other couples with sometimes caustic comments from judges. I see some other things are the same throughout the world. Bad television is universal. Continuing the pattern that we had established in Sydney of getting in bed early, we were in bed by 10:00.

Monday May 29. Today, we have scheduled a tour of the West MacDonnells with APT (Australia Pacific Touring). The hotel has a breakfast that begins service at 6am. For $21, they offer the continental breakfast of cold cereals, fruit slices, toast, juice and coffee. For $26.00, you can get the hot breakfast, which in addition to all that is on the continental menu, they have scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausages. The pickup is at 8:30am at the main entrance to the hotel. The bus arrives on time. It is a medium size bus, one that holds about 24 passengers. We continue around town picking up additional passengers until we have 18, which is the total amount booked for today. Our first stop is ANZAC Hill. ANZAC Hill offers a panoramic view of Alice Springs and the surrounding MacDonnell Ranges. There is a monument at the top to those who have served in the armed forces. Next we head out of town and stop at the grave of John Flynn. There is a huge boulder on top of the grave. Our tour guide told us the story of how the original boulder was taken from the Devils Marbles and the Aboriginal people demanded that it be returned as they viewed the rock as the eggs of the rainbow serpent. Eventually, a swap was made and the original rock was returned to the sacred site and another rock, this one even bigger, was placed above the grave.

We continue west and our next stop is Simpson’s Gap. Simpson’s Gap is one of the most prominent gaps in the West MacDonnell ranges, with an almost permanent water hole at the base of the cliffs. During early mornings and late afternoons it is possible to see the Black Footed Rock-Wallabies amongst the rocks and cliffs, but unfortunately, we didn’t see any. The path from the car park to the gap is a moderate walk of about 20 minutes. Some of the walk is in the dry riverbed, which can be difficult to traverse (think of walking on soft sand at the beach). Just like the Todd River in Alice Springs, there are big Red River Gum trees well as some Ghost Gum trees in the dry riverbed. We are here for about an hour total.

Our next destination is Standley Chasm. As we travel, our tour guide tells us the story of Albert Namatjira, a local Aboriginal that had a magnificent talent for painting. His speciality was drawing scenes of Ghost Gum trees and other Outback landscapes. He became quite famous and wealthy, but because he was Aboriginal, did not have many rights, including the right to own land. Because of his popularity, this caused public outrage. He therefore became the very first Aboriginal to gain the right to vote, buy and own land, and to buy alcohol. He was still forbidden by law to buy alcohol for his family and friends. The Aboriginals did not have a concept of personal property, however, and so his family and friends used Albert’s alchol anyway. This got him into trouble with the authorities and he spent several months in jail. Because of this, he became despondent and quit painting. He died only a few years later. Our tour guide pointed out two particular Ghost Gum trees that Namatjira used for one of his more famous paintings. Of course, 60 years later, they have changed quite a bit.

By now, we’re pulling into the car park for Standley Chasm, known as Angkerle by the local Aboriginal peoples. The path to the chasm is about a kilometer in length, with several areas where you have to traverse slippery rocks. But the difficult trail is worth the trouble. Standley Chasm is a spectacular gap between two towering cliff walls. At it’s narrowest, it is only 15 feet wide, with the brilliantly red cliffs rising straight up for almost 300 feet. At midday, with the sun directly overhead, the cliff walls glow a fantastic red. We were there around 11:15, so the sun had begun to enter the chasm, but had not yet reached the canyon floor. If only we had more time to witness the spectacle that it becomes at midday. The path to and from the chasm is wonderful in it’s own right. There are various types of trees and shrubs, and the rock formations and colors are wonderful. It would be nice even if the chasm wasn’t at the other end.

Back at the carpark, our tour guide has set up a pic-nic for us with sandwiches, billy tea, cookies and cake. The sandwiches are good, as are the cookies and cake. I had heard of Billy tea, but really didn’t know what it is. I still don’t. As far as I could tell, Billy tea is just tea made in a can of boiling water that has just been removed from a campfire. In other words, the same as regular tea except for the campfire part. If anyone can explain any better, please do so. But the pic-nic was nice. Sitting in the shade of the huge gum trees with the wind whistling through them, the impossibly blue sky above, the surrounding red rock cliffs and ridges and a camp fire. I really did not want this moment to end. But it did. Pretty soon, we were back on the bus headed back towards Alice Springs.

The tour guide told us a few more tales of local legends, including the tale of Ms. Standley, for whom Standley Chasm is named. She was a school teacher that taught out in the bush for years. As he talked, I watched the landscape drift by. Mostly low scrubs, but occasionally, a tall lone Ghost Gum, with it’s stark white trunk, would rise out above the scrubs. After traveling for about an hour, the bus pulls into the parking lot of the Alice Springs Desert Park. We disembark and enter the park for several hours of learning about the desert and its plants and animals.

The Alice Springs Desert Park is located on the outskirts of Alice Springs, beneath the ridges of the Western MacDonnell Ranges. The park is essentually divided into three distinct areas: Desert River Country, Desert Sand Country, Desert Woodland Country. The Desert River Country is desert that exists in dry riverbeds, such as Alice Springs. The dominant plants of this type of environment is the river red gums and coolibah trees. Finches and cockatoos are the prominent birds. The Desert Sand Country is the harshest environment, but even still, many plants and animals live, even thrive, in this environment. The third environment is the Desert Woodland Country. The kangaroo is the most common animal that lives in this environment. The park has a nocturnal house to showcase the animals that only come out at night such as the bilby and mala hare. One of the highlights of the visit to the park is the birds of prey theater. In an open air stadium, the raptors fly in and out at breakneck speeds just above the heads of the audience. The day we were there they had an owl, a wedge-tailed eagle and a falcon. There is a movie that explains how Australia had migrated from the way it was millions of years ago to it’s current state of mostly desert, and how as it continues to creep north, it will eventually change again. There is a kangaroo and emu exhibit on the property as well. The entrance fee was included in our total price we paid for the entire day trip, but I believe I remember seeing that it costs $20.00 to enter the park.

The park offers a free transfer back to Alice Springs, of which we take advantage. The bird of prey show began at 3:30, lasted about 30 minutes and it took another 15 minutes or so to walk to the gift shop. Spending about 15 minutes in the gift shop, but not buying anything, I guestimate that it was around 4:30-4:45 when we left the park. The shuttle drops us off at the entrance to our hotel. After freshening up, as the dinner at the hotel restaurant was going to cost in the neighborhood of $35.00 each, we decide to walk back up to the KFC and eat chicken once more. After dinner we walk back to the hotel and get ready for bed as our transfer picup for Uluru in the morning is at 6:30am.
KE1TH is offline  
Jun 19th, 2006, 09:21 PM
  #10  
 
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Posts: 1,018
Many thanks Keith - great read
Bokhara is offline  
Jun 20th, 2006, 12:58 AM
  #11  
 
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Yes, a really good trip report. But Keith, mate, I'm really, really hoping that you're going to tell us that at least once you ate somewhere other than an American fast food joint while you were here!
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jun 20th, 2006, 04:04 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 1,018
Keith, you asked about Billy Tea.
So-called because it's made in a billy can. Here's an amusing link to explain it.
http://www.bushroots.com/Bushtails/meals/billy_tea.htm

There are a couple of tricks to making good billy tea - toss the tea leaves in as soon as the water boils, give it a quick stir with a gnarly, croooked stick (Neil OZ will know why you don't use a smooth, straight one, LOL) and perfect the swing to settle the tea leaves without dousing yourself or others.

The other essential piece of stockmen's equipment is the quart pot.
http://www.donthomas.com.au/category9_2.htm

Looking forward to your next episode.

Bokhara is offline  
Jun 20th, 2006, 06:06 AM
  #13  
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I usually do take advantage of local foods.... I ate haggis in Scotland, pigeon and couscous in Morocco, beef wellington and fish & chips with mushy peas in London, and I had kangaroo the last time I was in Australia.

However, I was with two people in their late 60's that have never been out of the USA/Canada and were leary of "new foods" but even more, were unwilling to pay a lot of money for food.

Of course, once we got to Ayers Rock Resort, they didn't have a choice..... there are no fast food restaurants there. Nor in Palm Cove. So we sorta redeem ourselves later on in this trip, as my future missives will entail.

Bokhara, thanks for the information on the Billy Tea.....

Keith
KE1TH is offline  
Jun 20th, 2006, 09:30 AM
  #14  
 
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Hi Keith,

I've only read the Sydney portion of your trip report, but I wanted to comment on what troopers your aunt and uncle are! With all that walking they must have been completely worn out by the end of each day. I hope I'm still going strong on my 50th wedding anniversary ...
cactuslady is offline  
Jun 20th, 2006, 01:41 PM
  #15  
 
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I think your Uncle's a champ too - making his first flight one to Austtralia! Not that it sounds as if he had much say in it What a fabulous surprise.
Bokhara is offline  
Jun 20th, 2006, 02:09 PM
  #16  
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I'm working on the rest of my report. Trying to do that and work..... and label my pictures as well.

I forgot to put into my report about when my Aunt Tootsie told Uncle Delaine about the suprise trip. She had already paid for it so he couldn't say no (which she told me later was also part of the plan: he wouldn't be able to veto it or talk her out of it).

She told him on Easter Sunday. I wasn't there, but she told him in front of their kids and grandkids..... she said that he teared up and was unable to speak for a few minutes.....

And I agree.... your very first plane trip being a flight from Nashville to Sydney (with a 7 hour lay-over in Los Angeles)..... that's 25 hours.... talk about trial by fire.....

Keith
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Jun 20th, 2006, 03:03 PM
  #17  
 
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KE1TH, having a few elderly relatives of my own I understand. (Actually you're a braver man than me if you tried haggis. I hate oatmeal.)
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2006, 06:31 PM
  #18  
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Tuesday, May 30. Up extremely early today. We get our bags ready and go check out of the hotel and wait for the APT bus to pick us up for our journey to Uluru and Ayers Rock Resort. It is a very cool morning, around 4 Celsius and still dark. We have candy bars for breakfast, as there isn’t time to eat at the restaurant. The bus pulls up about 10 minutes late, at 6:40. If we had known he was going to be late, we could have eaten breakfast in the restaurant. The driver loads our luggage into the luggage compartment, and we hop on. There are about 10 passengers already on the bus. I wonder at what time the first one had to be ready. The bus continues to several other hotels in Alice Springs, picking up additional passengers. Eventually, all are on board and we head south down the Stuart Highway. About 10 miles out of Alice Springs, the bus driver points out hot air balloons in the distance. There are three of them floating above the desert in the faint light of dawn. I image that the people in them are freezing as it is quite chilly outside. But I bet the views are amazing.

At Stuarts Well, about 60 miles south of Alice Springs, we stop at a camel farm. Here, for $5.00 you can ride a camel in a pen for a few minutes. There are also kangaroos and dingos. There is a restaurant for those that wanted to eat breakfast. I didn’t ride a camel, as I wasn’t so sure that I wouldn’t smell for the rest of the trip to Uluru. I did walk around the fences to see all the camels that were grazing, watching where I stepped just to make sure I didn’t bring an even worse smell back onto the bus. Our driver had told us just before our arrival that there were an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 feral camels in the outback, left over from the days when the camels were the way cargo was shipped from the coasts to the interiors of Australia. The men who jockeyed the camels were mostly from Afghanistan, and so were called “Ghans”. This is why the train that travels through this region is called the “Ghan”. Once the train arrived, the camels were no longer needed and were released to the wild and have since multiplied to their current numbers. We were at the camel farm for about 45 minutes.

We continue along the Stuart Highway for miles and miles. We cross the dry riverbed of the Finke River. Our driver tells us that geologist believe the Finke River system to be the oldest existing river system on earth still in its original bed. He also tells us that up until recently, the highway was just paved on top of the riverbed until a massive rainfall had the river swollen for a week and thus the road was impassable. The government has now built a series of bridges across the dry riverbeds so that when the floods do come, the roads are still passable. We continue along the Stuart Highway until we come to Erldunda. Erldunda is located 125 miles south of Alice Springs at the intersection of the Stuart Highway and the Lasseter Highway. We turn west here to continue on to Uluru.

About 40 miles west on the Lasseter Highway, we stop for a rest at the Mt. Ebenezer Road House. There is nothing spectacular about the Mt. Ebenezer Road House, but it does have a neat log cabin look to it and the Aboriginal art for sale in the store (which has red sand floors) is interesting to look at. On most of the unique pieces, you also have a small biography of the artist that made it. You can get a quick bite to eat here, either sandwiches or a slice of pie. I purchased a picture book that focuses on the Red Centre; in fact the title of the book is “The Red Centre” and has a picture of Uluru on the cover. It cost $10.00. After 30 minutes here, we reload the bus and continue west towards Uluru.

About 20 minutes after leaving the roadhouse, a large monolith becomes visible on the horizon. Several people think that they are getting their first glimpse of Uluru, but they are mistaken. It is the first of three major outcroppings of rock rising above the flat plains of central Australia, but the least famous of the three. It is Mt. Connor. Mt Connor, also known by its Aboriginal name of “Atila”, is a flat-topped Mesa about 60 miles east of Uluru. Atila is in fact about three times larger than Uluru, rising about 800 feet above the surrounding plains (2500 feet above sea level). Atila is not technically a monolith like Uluru, which is why it is not as well known as its neighbor. You see similar formations to Mt Conner in the southwestern United States. After being able to see Atila for several miles, the bus stops at a viewing area and we are able to exit the bus and take pictures.

About an hour later, we enter the village of YuLara, which is the resort area on the northern edges of the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. We have come almost 280 miles from Alice Springs this morning. It is just a little after noon. Most, if not all tourists to Uluru will stay in one of the facilities offered by the Ayers Rock Resort. Our reservations are for the Emu Walk Apartments, which are between the Desert Gardens Hotel and the Sails in the Desert Hotel. The bus drops us off at the lobby of the Desert Gardens Hotel, which handles the check-in for the Emu Walk Apartments as well. We receive our keys and go to our apartment. It has kitchen facilities, a den area with a sofa bed and the master bedroom with large bathroom. This is the nicest place we will stay in while we are in Australia. We freshen up and then head for the resort shopping area, also located between the two hotels just mentioned. I am impressed. The shopping area has tour and information facility, a fairly large grocery store, several souvenir shops, a post office, a bank, a beauty salon, a camera shop, and three or four restaurants. We first go to the tour and information center to make arrangements for me to take a Kata Tjunta and Uluru Sunset tour for this evening. I book the tour through AAT-Kings at $79.00 with a 2:30 departure time. I also go ahead and pay the $25 fee for my park pass to enter the National Park. The park pass is good for three days.

Meanwhile, we are quite hungry. We choose the Gecko Café for our lunch. Aunt Tootsie and I choose grilled chicken strips in white wine sauce with penne, sun-dried tomatoes and peppers for our lunch while Uncle Delaine orders spaghetti. The chicken is delicious. The cost for this meal totals about $90.00 for the three of us. I could see Uncle Delaine’s eyes widen when the bill came. I think he gets used to it later on as this isn’t the last time the food bill will be that much. As it is getting close to 2:30, I leave Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine at the restaurant and head towards the lobby of the hotel to catch my tour.

The AAT-Kings tour of Kata-Tjuta begins with the driver giving me my park pass. I board the bus along with about 10 other people from this hotel and we head to the next stop, pick up another 10 people or so, head to the next hotel and then the next hotel. We end up with a busload of around 48 people. It takes about 15 minutes to get to the park entrance where we all wave our park passes at the entrance guard as we drive pass. We are told that the park rangers are known to do spot checks to see if you have your park pass on you and if you do not, a hefty fine may be in store for you. In other words, carry your park pass with you at all times. The bus turns on the road to Kata-Tjuta and the driver tells us the story of how the first white men exploring central Australia completely missed discovering Uluru because from where they were standing, Kata-Tjuta, also known as the Olgas, blocked their view. He told us the stories of how the monoliths got their names and how several of the early explorers entered the bush, never to be seen or heard from again.

Our first stop is the Kata-Tjuta Dune Viewing Area. The driver told us that it is also known as the “Stockyard Viewing” area and we would soon discover why. The viewing area was located at the top of a large sand dune. The climb was not really difficult, but I did almost immediately discover why the area had the “stockyard” label attached to it. Flies. Thousands of black flies. And this was the cooler season where they were not as bad as they usually are. It was funny watching the people climb the dune to the viewing area. Almost every single one of them were swatting at flies. Including myself. Flies aside, the view from the Dune Viewing area was spectacular. The view from this location is from the south looking almost directly north. You don’t see the four main domes (or heads) from this view. What you see is the many smaller domes that seem to follow the larger domes like ducklings following a mother duck. We are here for about 30 minutes then board the bus for the trip to the Walpa Gorge Walk.

The Walpa Gorge Walk is a walk of about a mile between two of the larger domes of Kata-Tjuta. Walpa means “windy”. You walk into the gorge about a half-mile and then retrace your steps back out of the gorge. The gorge is a desert refuge for many plants and animals with the sheer cliffs of the domes rising on either side of you, growing ever closer to each other as you get further into the gorge. The walk is moderate in that there are areas on bare rock than could be slippery if you didn’t have on the proper type shoes. The rock is a conglomerate type, meaning that you have harder rock encased within a softer rock, almost like cement. When you enter the gorge, the temperature drops 20 degrees. We are given an hour and a half to make the walk and to be back on the bus. After everyone is back on the bus, we go to another spot that allows a panoramic view of the four major domes. We’re allowed 15 minutes here and then we head towards Uluru for the sunset viewing.

It takes about 45 minutes to get to the sunset viewing area for Uluru. We pull into the parking area and our driver points out an area directly in front of the bus where AAT-Kings has set up a table with wine and cheeses. There are already dozens of people set up along the fence with their cameras ready to begin taking pictures. I first go to the table and get a glass of white wine. I’m sure it’s an Australian vintage, but do not know which one. It is good, nonetheless. I find an empty space along the fence and focus my camera on the distant Uluru. The sunset viewing area is about a mile from Uluru. The sun is directly behind us and when we arrive, Uluru is a brownish color. Over the next 30 minutes, Uluru changes from brown, to a bright glowing red to a deep purple to gray. I took a picture about every minute or two and have the changes of color recorded on film. After the sun goes down, we board the bus and are back at the resort within 30 minutes.

Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine had explored the resort while I was on the sunset tour. In the grocery store, she found some fresh fruits and purchased them for us to snack on. We all admit that we are not that hungry, so we eat the fruit for dinner. Of course, it could have been Uncle Delaine not wanting to spend another $60 on dinner that drove that decision. Aunt Tootsie and I go explore the shops and I buy postcards for all my family and friends back home. I write my “wish you were here” notes, address them, and apply the stamps that I had just bought (it costs $1.20 to mail a postcard to the USA from Australia) and drop them in the post. I beat the post cards home. I also buy some small knick-knack souvenirs for the nieces and nephews like refrigerator magnets and key-chains (although none of them are near old enough to drive). We go to the grocery store to look around, and I buy more film for my camera. I paid US$9.95 for a package of 4 rolls of 24 print Kodak 400 Speed before I left the USA, I paid AU$10.00 for a single package of 36 print Kodak 400 speed in the grocery store here at Ayers Rock Resort. But I don’t have a choice. I guess I need to enter the 21ST century and buy a digital camera. Before long, we head back to the apartment where after watching a little TV, we go to bed. I, of course, get the sleeper sofa. It isn’t bad, but every sleeper sofa I’ve ever slept on had that bar that gets you right in the small of your back. This one was no exception.

Wednesday, May 31. We get up around 8am and walk to breakfast at the Outback Pioneer Hotel. The Outback Pioneer Hotel is the budget hotel of Ayers Rock Resort. Ayres Rock Resort is spread out along a circular road, with a large open expanse of dunes in the middle. Most of the facilities are located on the north side of the complex. The Outback Pioneer is on the south side. We walk through the middle dune area and at a point in the middle, with dunes on either side of you; it appears that you are out in the middle of the desert, miles and miles from civilization. Of course, a few more steps and the roofs of the hotel come into view and you’re back in civilization. The breakfast at the Outback Pioneer is buffet style. They offer scrambled and fried eggs, bacon and sausages, pancakes, mushrooms, and hash browns for $27 per person. More wide eyes from Uncle Delaine. After breakfast, we walk back to the room and prepare for our day.

At the concierge of the Desert Gardens, we arrange for a transfer to Uluru with Uluru Express for $35.00 each. I have already purchased my National Park pass, but Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine have to purchase their park passes as well. The way Uluru Express works is that they carry you to one of several drop-off points and pick-up from those same points about once an hour all day long. When he picked us up, I told the driver to take us to the Mala Walk car park drop-off area. It took about 20 minutes to get there. As he was dropping us off, he asked us when we expected to be picked up and I told him I had no idea as I was planning on doing the base walk and didn’t know when I’d make it back to the car park. Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine were not going to do the base walk so they arranged to be picked up by the van at the Cultural Center in two hours.

The Mala Walk car park area is also the place where you begin the climb of Uluru if that is what your intentions are. The park pass, all the literature given to you as well as signs at the entrance to the climb all state that the traditional owners of Uluru would prefer that you not climb Uluru. I had made up my mind before I even got to Australia that I would abide by their wishes, which is why I was going to do the base walk. I was very surprised at the amount of people that were climbing the rock. I would guestimate that about 60 to 70 percent of the people arriving at the car park immediately went to the base of Uluru and begin to climb. In other words, the vast majority of the visitors to Uluru choose to climb the rock. At least that was my observation. Aunt Tootsie, Uncle Delaine and myself walk past the entrance to the climb and enter the path that leads to the Mala Walk.

The Mala Walk is a short walk to areas sacred to the Anangu aboriginal peoples. The Mala is a wallaby, and one of the geologic formations along the base of Uluru, the Mala Puta, is considered by the Anangu to be the pouch of the wallaby and considered a sacred site for the women of the Anangu. There are signs posted to not take pictures of the sacred sites. You do pass some caves that are not considered sacred that you are allowed to enter. Some of them have ancient rock art paintings. Further along the path you come upon the Kantju Gorge, a peaceful solemn place at the base of the tall cliffs of Uluru. The gorge is wooded and cool and at the end of the gorge is a waterhole that is one of the only reliable sources of water in the area. The Anangu used this water hole during their ceremonies. Most people return to the car park from here, which is what Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine do. They will continue to walk the further mile or so to the Cultural Center and view the exhibits there and then take the Uluru Express service back to the apartment. I continue my walk around the base of Uluru.

The base walk around Uluru is just under six miles. You pass by several more Anangu sacred sites, such as Warayuki, Tjukatjapi, Taputji, Kuniya Piti, and Pulari as you walk. There is a deep blue cloudless sky above me as I begin my walk; the temperature is a comfortable 65 degrees. I am amazed at the geologic formations that I see in the rock face. I had assumed that the surface was basically smooth, but I was wrong. The surface is pockmarked with thousands of holes. The formations sometimes create the illusion of a skull, a smiling mouth, a fish. It’s almost like looking at cloud formations from when you were a child. I have walked for almost two hours before I encounter the first person coming the opposite direction. It is another 30 minutes before I encounter the next person. Then out of nowhere, I am overtaken by about four people traveling the same way I am. Where did they come from? They were not back there a few minutes ago. After I get back to the apartment and look at a map, I see that a remote car park is located close to where these people passed me, so they must have come from there. Anyway, the walk, while not strenuous, is tiring due to length. You pass through barren areas and then you pass through wooded areas with tall trees. Sometimes you are right up against the side of Uluru, then the trail will veer off and you end up several hundred yards from the base.

Eventually, I come to the Mutitjulu Waterhole. The Mutitjula waterhole is the ancestral home of the watersnake. This waterhole is the most reliable source of water in the entire area. Nearby in rock shelters located at the base of Uluru is some ancient rock art drawings. There is a car park nearby and therefore there are numerous people in this area. I continue on around Uluru and eventually end up alone on the trail once more. At one point, I hear voices but cannot see anyone until I look up and can see the climbing trail to the top of Uluru. I know that I am close to the Mala Walk car park and am near the end of my base walk. It has taken me right at four hours to make the complete circumference of Uluru. I watch a few people arrive and begin the climb of Uluru, think about doing it myself and decide that I will not. I begin to walk towards the Cultural Center, along the Liru Walk, to meet up with the van that is scheduled to be there in about 45 minutes. The Liru Walk is quite interesting as it passes through Mulga trees and offers nice views of Uluru. It takes about 35 minutes to make the journey to the Cultural Center. Once there, I enter the gift shop and purchase some unique tee shirts that I haven’t seen in other shops. After this, I walk to the bus stop and wait for the van, which arrives a few minutes late. The trip back to the resort takes 20 minutes. He drops me off at the lobby of the Desert Gardens and I walk to the apartment. It is about 5:30pm.

When I arrive, Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Delaine have only been back themselves for an hour. They had spent a couple of hours at the Cultural Center. Uncle Delaine is fascinated by the didgeridoo and likes to participate in any activity that allows him to use one or watch someone using one. I freshen up and we decide to eat at the Gecko Café again. We walk down there and are seated. Tonight, I order sirloin steak. Aunt Tootsie orders a small pizza and Uncle Delaine orders the sirloin steak as well. Everyone enjoys their meal and Uncle Delaine is getting used to the prices, as he doesn’t winch this time when he sees the bill. Once through, we walk through the shops again and I buy some more small souvenirs. Aunt Tootsie decides that she will send a few postcards, so she picks them out. Unfortunately, the post office is closed, but it will be open tomorrow before we fly out. We head back to the apartment where Aunt Tootsie puts her missives on the back then addresses them. We watch some TV and are in bed by 9:00pm. Tomorrow, we fly to Cairns.
KE1TH is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2006, 03:50 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 3,680
Keep them coming, Keith, top marks to you for not clambering on the Rock.
pat_woolford is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2006, 10:55 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,916
Keith, an excellent report, not only for your very keen attention to detail, but your candor. I visited Uluru in 1997 and I had forgotten much about my stay, but you have reawoken some dormant memories. Looking forward to your report on Cairns (where I have not been, but where I would like to visit, primarily to see the Reef).
thit_cho is offline  

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