Saturday, November 7, 2009

Articles to Read: Way2Go and Australian Traveller

I've been submitting some articles about my trip to competitions run by magazines. First up is my submission to way2go (published by NRMA) for my favourite Australian beach. I nominated Cape Leveque, with a beautiful picture of its sunny white sands. Check out the article if you find a copy of the magazine in newsagents (unfortunately, the article is not on their website).

Secondly, I submitted an article to Australian Traveller for their competition about favourite secret holiday spots. The competition hasn't finished yet, but the article has already been published on their website in the Reader submission section. Check out The Other Port Douglas online. I earlier wrote a blog post about my stay there.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Back Home

I'm now back home, and hope you've enjoyed following my trip through my postcards. If you want to read some of my recent writing, follow my blogs Quick & Tasty and Declutter Your Life.

Also - check out the photos of David and I published in the September/October 2009 issue of Australian Geographic Outdoor magazine, on page 17. Taken early in our trip at East Mt Barren on the south coast of WA, you may recognise the photo of me from this blog post. Oh, and our names are the wrong way around!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lake Mungo - 18th September 2009

A lake that has been dry for thousands of years, the highlight of Lake Mungo is the lunette on its eastern shore. (It's also known as the Walls of China, but we feel it doesn't quite live up to that moniker.) Formed from years of west blowing winds, the lunette is impressive both scenically and archaelogically. Whilst walking through the clay outcrops rising up from the dunes, I look carefully for any remains of bones (the ancient remains of Mungo Woman and Man were found here), but I'm not sure if I spot anything.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wilpena Pound - 14th September 2009

Wilpena Pound is the jewel of the Flinders Ranges. After meandering for a few days through the northern and central Flinders Ranges down to the pound, our first glimpses inside of it come during our ascent of Mount Ohlssen Bagge. Our quick ascent of the steep climb whets our appetite for the grand tour we have of the pound on the St Mary Peak Loop Route the next day, climbing to the top of the Flinders Range's tallest peak and taking in its breathtaking views, before returning through the flat expanse inside of the pound.

Oodnadatta Track - 12th September 2009

After being very bored the previous day driving down the endless bitumen of the Stuart Highway to Coober Pedy, we decided to take a different type of route to the Flinders Ranges: going along the Oodnadatta Track. After heading across to William Creek, it was a slow, scenic trip down the eastern 200km section of the track to Maree, as we followed the historic route of the Overland Telegraph and the original Ghan Railway, with its barren desert and artesian springs. The old outback pubs of William Creek and Maree at either end of the stretch provided some welcome refreshments on the hot, windy day.

Coober Pedy - 12th September 2009

Whilst Coober Pedy mightn't be a place you'd choose to live (unless you like the allure of striking it rich mining opal, perhaps one day), it is a visually stunning town. In addition to the eeriness of the tailings around the town, there is also the broken away range of coloured hills known as The Breakaways located to the north of the town. Looking oddly alien and surrounded by a pale barren plain known as the Moon Plain, it is easy to see why the location has been used in many movies and commercials.

Uluru - 10th September 2009

Today was the day of the rock. It started with the silhouette of Uluru against the growing pre-dawn light on the way to the sunrise viewing area, before we embarked upon climbing the rock. (I would've skipped this based on the current don't climb requests and the fact that I'd climbed it as a kid, but David naturally couldn't resist the temptation, and I head along too.) After a rest back at the resort, we headed back out in the afternoon heat to encircle the rock on foot on the Base Walk, which offers views of the artwork on the rock and close-ups of the weathered patterns on its different sides. Finally, we wrapped up the day at the sunset viewing area. As Uluru changed to red in the last sunshine of the day, I felt we'd seen it from every angle possible.

Kata Tjuta - 9th September 2009

Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas, are an impressive group of massive domed rocks located 50km from Uluru. Whilst none are individually as large as Uluru, the overall group is bigger and some of the individual domes are taller. Also impressive is that the rocks were formed differently geologically to Uluru, despite their proximity. Whilst walking through the Valley of the Winds in the afternoon I was continually being wowed, looking up at the domes rising above my head. We also visited the Gorge walk, prior to capping off a day devoted to Kata Tjuta at it's sunset viewing area.

Kings Canyon - 8th September 2009

Whilst Uluru receives all of the attention, Kings Canyon located a few hundred kilometres to the north is an equally spectacular location to visit in the Red Centre. The main attraction is the Rim Walk - a hike around the rim of the canyon. With views of the sheer red sandstone cliffs, beehive rock formations like the Bungle Bungles and its own "Garden of Eden" (sadly rather dry when we visited), it was an unfortunate place for David to run out of battery life on his aging camera battery. Luckily, we managed to squeeze a touch more life out of it, and get a shot taken of ourselves on the hike.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

West MacDonnell Ranges - 7th September 2009

To the west of Alice Springs lie the West MacDonnell Ranges (the range continuing right through the south side of the town to continue as the East MacDonnell Ranges to the east). Some of the most well known sights to see in the ranges are Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm, which are both located quite close to Alice Springs. However, if you continue out to the western end of the range, whether by road or by foot on the 200km plus Larapinta Trail, you will reach Mount Sonder, which is a beautiful sight to see, especially at sunset and sunrise. It is easy to see where the colours of the painters from Hermannsburg, such as Albert Namatjira, come from.

Aileron - 5th September 2009

It was only 130km out of our destination of Alice Springs and we had no intention of stopping at Aileron, a station and roadhouse, but then we saw the Aileron "Big Man". Located on top of a hill behind the outcrop of buildings, next to a Hollywood-esque sign, he certainly grabbed our attention and led to us stopping for a short while.

Devils Marbles - 4th September 2009

The Devils Marbles are a field of granite boulders, the weathered remains of part of an expanse of granite that is still mainly located underground, and of special significance to a number of local Aboriginal tribes. On the other hand, they are also located conveniently close to the Stuart Highway, and make for a welcome rest stop to take some photos and do some skylarking, on which is for most people a long expanse of empty highway.

Daly Waters - 4th September 2009

Daly Waters Pub is the quintessential outback Australian pub. Reputedly the oldest remaining pub in the NT (built in 1893), this is no heritage-listed building to wander about admiring the architecture. Rather, there is the memorbilia to admire, such as the vast collection of underwear, which I guess you could look through to determine which is the oldest item...

Top End Wetlands - 31st August 2009 - 2nd September 2009

Kakadu and the surrounding areas include a huge expanse of wetlands, beautiful spots to visit to both bird watch and enjoy the scenery. Over a few days we witness the serenity of Yellow Water during a misty dawn (until some buffalo start bellowing), the large numbers of whistling ducks and magpie geese from the hide at Marmakala, the waterlilies of Fogg Dam and a pair of Jabirus frolicking at Arnbangbang Billabong.

Ubirr Rock - 31st August 2009

After viewing the rock art at Ubirr, we walk up on top of the rock to view a Top End sunset over the wetlands. It's such a serene spot (especially given the numbers of people also gathered around us) and a wonderful way to end a hot day. Just be quick to leave after sunset when all the mosquitoes come looking for prey...

Kakadu Rock Art - 31st August 2009

One of the must-do things of any trip to Kakadu is to see some Aboriginal rock art. We had sadly not seen much so far on the trip (many sites in northern WA being off the main route), but at Kakadu we went to both Ubirr and Nourlangie. It's amazing to view the layers of paintings painted over each other - the act of painting being more important than the actual painting. Some of the art has stories behind it, whilst other paintings such as the ones of barramundi are the ancient Aboriginal form of those noticeboards of big fish photos at popular fishing spots.

Adelaide River - 31st August 2009

Well, I'd been on peaceful crocodile tours before on the Daintree River and Yellow Water at Kakadu, so on this trip we opted for one of the jumping crocodile tours on the Adelaide River. The commentator on the boat assured us that it was all natural behaviour, although being rather lazy creatures and meat not often being proferred to them just above the surface of the water, I guess there's not too much danger of the crocodiles starting to do this to wary boaters and tourists. It's a pretty action packed tour, with numerous crocodiles being fed (the females are the most agile), plus some baby crocodiles spotted on the banks and the local kites also given a snack, whilst swooping down around the boat.

Darwin - 30th August 2009

My favourite place in Darwin was the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. The range of food available to buy is pretty amazing. We started with some oysters au natural, before tasting some mini spring rolls, tempura prawn and skewered camel, having a main course of some East Timorese dishes and a massive squid spring roll, and wrapping up with some Dutch mini pancakes with berries. And after our earlyish dinner we joined everyone on the beach to watch a beautiful tropical sunset.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Litchfield National Park - 28th August 2009

The Litchfield National Park is the perfect place to visit with the hot weather we're having at the moment. With swimming possible at Florence Falls (see above), Buley Rockhole and Wangi Falls, we spend the afternoon having a swim at each one, before driving on to the next still in our swimmers. Florence Falls is the most scenic out of the three locations, with the waterfalls still gushing towards the end of dry, due to being spring-fed. Buley Rockhole is a series of deep rockpools that the river cascades through, upstream from Florence Falls, whilst Wangi Falls is a very large plunge pool at the bottom of two falls. We also go on the Shady Creek Walk at Florence Falls, which passes through some delightful monsoon forest. We're particularly happy that this is all accessible by sealed roads, without long walks, as we're still not wanting to drive much on unsealed or 4WD roads after the roughness of the Gibb.

Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) - 27th August 2009

At Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk), we take advantage of the boat cruises on offer and go for a three gorge cruise, rather than going on a walk like we've had no alternative to back in the gorges of the Kimberley. We still do one short walk, up to a lookout early in the morning, but before the day hots up (to about 36C). The second gorge is the most impressive of the three that we visit (the first, second and third gorges - all that are accessible by boat). The high cliffs tower up above us and our guide points out many interesting features, including how torrential the river gets during the wet season (the photos we later see of the gorge during the record 1998 floods are impressive). We stop for a welcome swim on the way back, in a pool between the first and second gorges, and also unexpectedly get to see some Aboriginal rock art, our first on the trip.

Road Trains, Northern Territory - 26th August 2009

Ever since Adelaide, we've been encountering road trains on the highways of South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory (even the Gibb River Road - which was a dusty experience!) Early on, whilst crossing the Nullarbor, we eagerly reported any three trailer ones, but I'm sure since then we've seen some four trailer ones. Pulled up at road works on the Victoria Highway across the border into the Northern Territory, we have a road train pull up behind us - normally far closer than I'd like them to be behind us.

Bungle Bungles - 25th August 2009

Not having a big tough 4WD to tackle the reportedly rough even for a 4WD track into the Bungle Bungles, we instead took the quick and easy (but expensive) option of a scenic flight from Kununurra. After flying south over the Ord Irrigation Area, the massive Lake Argyle and a few cattle stations and ranges, we spent 20 minutes flying over the Bungle Bungle Ranges. The most impressive sight in the range are the distinctive striped beehive domes (which unsurprisingly feature in all photos of the area, although there are also gorges and rock formations other than the domes). Unfortunately, it was all over so quickly, although the sight of the Arygle Diamond Mine on our return trip was also interesting.

El Questro Wilderness Park, The Kimberley - 24th August 2009

El Questro Wilderness Park is probably best known for his homestead, where stars such as the cast of Australia have stayed. (I will have to finally watch that movie after having seen so many of the locations where it was filmed.) However, there is also camping available for us people on smaller budgets. (One warning though, there is an extra "Wilderness Pass" to pay for in addition to the camping, which makes it rather expensive.) The gorges in this part of the Kimberley are different due to the pockets of rainforest growing in many of them. Whilst staying overnight we saw (and swam at) El Questro Gorge, enjoyed Zebedee Springs (see above), and visited the magnificent Emma Gorge (see below), where we swam in a waterfall plunge pool surrounded on three sides by sheer red cliffs.

Home Valley Station, The Kimberley - 23rd August 2009

After having gone camel riding earlier in the week, I felt that I should finally try horseriding. And where else but a station in the Kimberley? Whilst staying at Home Valley Station, partially chosen because of the lovely green grass to camp on (plus the facilities including the pool and bar were brand new), David and I organised to go on a guided horse ride in the morning. My horse was called Vegemite and she was a bit of a stubborn one. After some early troubles getting her walking after the other horses and not stopping to eat grass so much, I seemed to get the hang of it and we both enjoyed our ride, although by the end of the 2 1/2 hours my legs and bum were glad of a rest. David wasn't so lucky with his horse - Dan, who stumbled whilst trying to eat some grass whilst we were waiting for a gate to be closed, and both of them took a minor tumble, but were fine for the rest of the ride.

Manning Gorge, The Kimberley - 22nd August 2009

Manning Gorge is located midway along the Gibb River Road, near the Mt Barnett Roadhouse (the only place with petrol right on the road). This means that unless people are doing the full road, usually with a 4WD, they don't visit it, leaving it uncrowded for those of us that do. Next to the campsite is a lovely waterhole for swimming, complete with inner tubes to float in, a lovely way to end a hot day of driving. By wading or swimming across the waterhole (with belongings floating in a polystyrene box) and walking 45 minutes, you get to the Manning Falls, another beautiful spot. We are the first arrivals early in the morning, and go for a lovely, peaceful swim before more people arrive, some of them jumping into the deep pool from high up on the rocks, which David joins in.

Windjana Gorge - 21st August 2009

Windjana Gorge was our first stop on the Gibb River Road, an unsealed road that traverses the Kimberley from Derby to near Kununurra. Cut by a river through the Napier Range, an ancient coral reef that means that fossils can be spotted in the sides of the gorge (with close attention), the highlight of the gorge was the proliferation of fresh water crocodiles. Walking along the banks of the river, mainly just large pools with slow flowing water due to it being close to the end of the dry season, we spotted one every few minutes, usually hanging about in the water or sometimes on the banks below us.

Broome - 19th August 2009

Ever since I started planning this trip, I wanted to do a sunset camel ride on Cable Beach in Broome. When we originally arrived in Broome, I was disappointed that the next few sunset rides were already booked out (Broome has been by far the busiest place we've visited), so I booked a ride for when we returned from the Dampier Peninsula. The sunset on the day we had a ride was wonderful - even better than the previous sunsets we had viewed on the beach. Unfortunately, the comfort of camels as steeds wasn't that wonderful, and I was glad that it was only an hour long. However, our camel, Ghan, was a docile old guy, and the ride was a wonderful way to end our time in Broome.

Lombadina, Dampier Peninsula - 18th August 2009

On the Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome, nearly every little community runs mudcrabbing tours. We ended up going on a tour with Robert from Lombadina. Originally, I wasn't planning on going, being deterred by one description of the possible depth of mud (well, they are mudcrabs). However, luckily I decided to go along! After a bumpy 4WD trip along back tracks, we arrived at Lombadina Point and then spent a few hours traipsing through the mangroves (luckily we were assured there were no saltwater crocodiles about this part of the peninsula), often getting muddy shoes and hooking out mudcrabs with what look like oversized tent pegs. Well, Robert did most of the finding and the hooking (although David hooked one that Robert found, and then found and hooked one all by himself!) Once we had as many mudcrabs as people in the sack, we headed back to the town and had a delicious dinner feasting on the crabs.

Karijini National Park - 12th August 2009

In the Pilbara region of WA, inland from the industrial towns of Karratha and Port Hedland, are the gorges of Karijini National Park. Like gashes in the dry landscape, many of them are not visible until you are nearly at their edge. Whilst sections of the gorges are wide and easy to walk in, at times they narrow to only a metre or two, generally with cold pools of water, making walking difficult or limiting access to canyoning trips. Hancock Gorge (above) is one of the most spectacular for its narrow fissure, with Kermit Pool reached via the "Spider Walk".

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cocktails in Exmouth - 29th July 2009

The most sophisticated place in Exmouth, and the only place which has a cocktail menu, is the Novotel Ningaloo Resort. (My mother who visited the town 30 years ago couldn't believe there could be a Novotel here now.) Principally constructed from corrugated iron in sympathy with the local environment, there is a superb bar and restaurant area overlooking a lily pond and the Exmouth Gulf. Perfect for a visit on a sunny afternoon, with a cocktail or two!

Joeys in Exmouth - 25th July 2009

Whilst staying in Exmouth, I've had the time to help volunteer with the local C.A.R.E. group, who look after injured native wildlife, mainly orphaned joeys, whose mothers have been killed on the roads. Some of the work isn't that interesting (joeys go through a lot of bottles that all need to be thoroughly cleaned...), but then there's the fun stuff like feeding them and nursing them in pouches. These two little bubs are some of the younger joeys currently being cared for: Leela and Sampson.

Turquoise Bay - 19th July 2009

Turquoise Bay is the place to snorkel off the shore in Exmouth. The crazy thing is that it's a 45 minute drive away, on the other side of the cape in the Cape Range National Park! Due to this (and the weather on our days off), we only get to the location to snorkel after a couple of weeks in town. The location is unusual for snorkelling in that it's a drift snorkel, with you entering the water at one end of the beach and then emerging at the other end after letting the current drift you along. I see a lot of fish life - particularly wrasse, parrot fish and some other fish I've identified before but forgotten their names. However, it's a bit breezy and the water rather cold, so we don't stay long today.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Exmouth - 7th July 2009

I wasn't original planning on doing a whale shark trip. Sure, they are big, magnificent looking creatures, but the trips are quite expensive. However, after having gotten jealous of David's reports from the whale shark trip he'd done two days before (as part of his Divemasters course), and with him going on another such trip, I decided that I had to go along, too.

First up on the trip, though, was a dive (or snorkel). We went diving at a spot called Central Station - a bommy that is a cleaning station for manta rays. We were rewarded with a close up visit from two manta rays, who seemed to completely ignore the presence of us divers, whilst getting cleaned by the resident fish. If anything, manta rays are even more impressive when you are diving, than when seen from the surface (or at least some of my photos were). We also saw a turtle, probably a loggerhead, of which I also got some good photos of it swimming above us.

The next part of the trip was the whale shark snorkelling. After chilling out on the boat for awhile waiting for the first sighting, we ended up going snorkelling about six times with four different whale sharks. It's quite unreal, being in the water close to these giants of the fish kingdom; they're just so laidback, cruising along just under the surface of the water. Definitely a very different experience and well worth the trip. Not that these are the largest creatures of the sea - the large numbers of humpback whales we saw from the boat throughout the day reminded us of that!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Coral Bay - 28th June 2009

Coral Bay isn't the nicest place. Arid and lacking much vegetation, the caravan parks and resorts are squished in together, being particularly crowded during the peak season. However, that is forgetting the one reason for Coral Bay's existence - the proximity of the Ningaloo Reef, which is close enough to snorkel to off the shore (we skipped this due to the unbeach-like weather) or easily accessed in minutes by dive boat.

We went on a double boat dive at Lottie's Lagoon and the Canyon, with a snorkel with manta rays in between. Whilst the coral wasn't as spectacular as I had been expecting, after comparisons saying Ningaloo was just as good as or better than the Great Barrier Reef (although the cloudy weather wouldn't have helped), Ningaloo definitely stands out for the array of large marine animals you can interact with. The most famous are the whale sharks, that visit between April and June each year. (We had just missed them at Coral Bay, although the season was still running further north at Exmouth.) However, the manta rays, are just as impressive. Literally "barrelling" a few metres below the surface of the water (a typical feeding pattern), these gentle giants put on a majestic display, whilst us snorkellers bobbed on the surface up above.

But that wasn't all we had to be satisfied with, as we spotted a dugong wallowing along the surface of the water during our boat trip. The cows of the sea (unusually, the only marine mammal that is vegetarian), they had already departed from the waters around Monkey Mia for the winter when we visited there, so it was incredible to get to see these unique creatures for the first time, too.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Monkey Mia - 25th June 2009

One of the most well known wildlife experiences on this part of the coast is the feeding of wild dolphins that regularly visit the shore of Monkey Mia. Starting in the 1960s, this activity is now fully controlled by the state Department of Conservation, meaning that hopefully this can continue for generations of dolphins to come, with no harm done to them. The dolphins turn up like clockwork (or even early on the morning we were at Monkey Mia), with up to three talks by a ranger each morning that each culminate in the feeding of the non-infant dolphins some fish by eager tourists. Thanks to David, I got choosen - although I was so engrossed in feeding my fish to the dolphin properly that I forgot to turn around for a photo!

Rainbow Jungle, Kalbarri - 23rd June 2009

Next door to the Seahorse Sanctuary was the Rainbow Jungle parrot park. Most of the parrots in the park are Australian parrots - it's incredible the number of different parrots this country is home to, in all shades of the rainbow. There were also some parrots from overseas, including these red and blue macaws from South America. They are cheeky, lively birds, and this one took a liking to David's hat (no harm done to the hat!)

Seahorse Sanctuary, Kalbarri - 23rd June 2009

The section of the Western Australia coastline running from Pinnacles north to Exmouth is called the "Coral Coast" in the tourist brouchures; but I feel it would have been better named the wildlife coast! There are so many amazing opportunities to view sea creatures in the wild, plus some great parks with more animals to see. Arriving in Kalbarri in the pouring rain, it was a very easy decision to visit the Seahorse Sanctuary (which was completely indoors). Set up to breed seahorses for the pet trade (meaning that hopefully less seahorses are taken from the wild, plus these seahorses will actually survive in home aquariums), it was amazing to view tanks full of the extremely cute juvenile seahorses, hanging onto the ropes and each other, and just generally bobbing around.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Pinnacles - 20th June 2009

Early accounts of the Western Australia coastline by Dutch explorers make no mention of the Pinnacles, despite the limestone outcrops being present on a stretch of coast mapped by the Dutch following their frequent shipwrecks along it. Perhaps the Dutch simply missed the formations, or perhaps at that point in time they were buried under the shifting sand dunes. And maybe the sand will start shifting again, and once more the Pinnacles will be invisible to the human eye, their alien forms hidden beneath the sand.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

New Norcia - 19th June 2009

I had heard of New Norcia before our trip, but had not seriously considered visiting the town, thinking that it was too far out of the way on the way to the Pinnacles. But sometimes, it's good to change plans...

What makes New Norcia unique and worth visiting is that it is the only Benedictine monastic town in Australia. As in, the town is completely owned and run by the monks. It's also a very old town, having been established in 1846 as an Aboriginal mission. The monks were originally mainly from Spain, with most of the buildings built in a beautiful Spanish style and twenty-seven of them heritage listed.