Australia Trip Report
- Submitted by: Gopal Venkat
- Submission Date: 15th Feb 2005
September 1, 2000 (Darwin)
Having lived and worked in Australia Since October 1999, I had been planning on a trip in and around Australia for a while. I finally chose to visit the Northern Territory of Australia. I decided to visit both the 'Top End' and the 'Red Centre' during my Trip. After some considerable research, I booked a tour with Travel Marvel. (A division of Australian Pacific Tours - http://www.aptours.com.au/) This tour was to Start in Darwin and End in Sydney. I was to fly to Darwin and embark on a Coach tour that finally terminated (after 14 Days) in Sydney.
I departed from Sydney on September 1 on a Qantas flight to Darwin via Alice Springs.
After a brief Stopover in Alice Springs we landed in Darwin around 2 PM local time.
(Darwin is 1-½ hours behind Sydney - in the summer) Northern Territory (along with Queensland) does not observe Daylight Savings. I took a shuttle from the Airport to my Hotel. The Cost was A$7.50. My Hotel (Centra Darwin, 127 The Esplanade. Phone: (08) 8981 5388 Fax: (08) 8981 5701. www.centra.com.au) was a 20-minute ride from the Airport. It was a good room with a Partial View of the Beagle Gulf / Timor Sea. As one gets older, one prefers Nicer Hotels rather than Back Packer Style Accommodation. Since I was joining my tour the next day (September 2) and as the tour was also booked to stay in the same hotel, it made sense to stay here. The cost of the room was A$99, which Included Breakfast.
I booked myself for a Day Tour of the Litchfield National Park with Coo-ee Tours (1800 670 007). I slept for an hour (since I had woken up early to catch my 7:30 AM flight to Darwin). I departed at 5:30 PM for viewing the Sunset at Mindil Beach / Fannie Bay. One can travel anywhere within the CBD for A$2 by taking a Taxi. (Territory Cabs). Most Hotels / restaurants will call a cab for you. The wait time is usually around 5 minutes. After meandering along the Beach for 20 minutes to find a suitable location for taking a picture, I was treated to a great Sunset. After observing the Sunset, I walked to the MGM Grand resort and requested the reception to call a Cab for me. They readily obliged. I decided to go to Schooners for dinner. Being a Vegetarian, I was tempted to try the Indian fare at Schooners. The dinner turned out to be Excellent. The House wine was Horrible (Avoid it) and I decided not to drink it after a couple of Sips. Nevertheless, as I was quite pleased with my dinner, I even decided to Tip the waitress. Tipping is NOT the norm in Australia. Unlike the United States where 10% is de rigueur whatever the service, tipping is not done in Australia. You May tip if you are feeling extremely good about the service. I took another cab to return to my Hotel. The Cabs Operate 24 Hours a day, which is quite convenient.
The weather is quite Hot and Humid in Darwin. Temperatures were around 35 C. More than the Temperature the high humidity is what gets to you. After walking around 10-15 minutes, you just want to get into some air-conditioned area and rest a while! Guess I will get used to it, as we go along.
During the brief Stop over in Alice Springs and at the City of Darwin, I managed to observe a lot of Aborigines. I found myself in a different place. One gets to see a lot of Aboriginal People (the Native People of Australia) in these parts. Uprooted from their Nomadic existence by the arrival of the Europeans, most of the Aborigines have found life difficult. The Concept of 'OWNING' did not exist among the Aborigines. They just walked about wherever they wanted to whenever they wanted to. They hunted whatever they could to feed themselves and their families.
The advent of the Europeans changed all that with large tracts of land being 'owned' by Individuals. Since the aboriginals did not have any written records of land ownership, they were thrown out of their traditional land in many parts of Australia. The European Settlers went further to 'Civilize' the 'Natives'. Many Children were taken away forcibly from their parents and sent to live in 'Schools' that tried to 'Civilize' them. In other words, they were prevented from speaking their traditional languages and observing cultural traditions. When the forcible assimilation practices were abandoned in the 70s / 80s, these people were suspended in nether world.
Not knowing their traditional Culture and unable to live in the 'Civilized' (Read: White Man's) World, these people drifted about and still do today. The result is a rapid descent into drinking, drug use (Mostly confined to Petrol Sniffing), Crime and depression. The level of Suicides among Aborigines is quite high. Growing up among their own people would have enabled the aborigines Elders to impart the traditional values and culture thus providing the younger generation a strong sense of purpose and motivation. (Respect for Elders is quite high among the Aboriginal people and hence this is easy to achieve).
I leave early (6:45 AM) tomorrow for my tour of Litchfield National Park.
September 2, 2000 (Litchfield National Park)
I finished breakfast and was ready by 6:30 AM. The Mini-Bus from Coo-ee Tours arrived on time. We picked up more people on the way before heading out of the City. I was treated to a Great Sunrise along the way. We stopped shortly for refueling and picked up another 10 passengers. The Mini-Bus was packed to Capacity now with hardly any room to move or to stretch my legs. This is NOT what I paid $95 for.
The Scenery enroute to Litchfield was nothing Spectacular. We reached Litchfield around 10 AM. We stopped to take in a view of Termite Mounds. These are called 'Magnetic' Termite Mounds due to their North-South Axis. The termites build it this way so that one part of the Termite Mound receives heat while the other remains cool all through the day. These termites are the 'Creators' of Didgeridoos. This wind instrument made famous by Groups like 'Yothu Yindi' and 'Gondwanaland'. The Termites eat away the innards of the Eucalyptus Branch until all that is left is the Outer Shell. This Hollow piece of wood is then used to produce the Sounds and the Music.
After viewing the Termite Mounds we headed for a Cruise on the Billabong. A Billabong refers to an Ox bow river formation. We were entering a private property for the Billabong cruise. The dirt road reminded me of my Travels in Africa. The Cruise lasted for 1 ½ Hours during which we spotted crocodiles and many native birds. It was quite good. We returned to Wangi Falls for Lunch. Lunch was included in the Tour Price. Being a Vegetarian I was provided with a 'GARDEN SALAD' for Lunch! Following Lunch, people were also given time for a swim at Wangi Falls. We departed Wangi Falls and headed to Tolmer Falls. Owls inhabit the area around Tolmer Falls. Since they are a protected species, there is no swimming allowed at Tolmer Falls. We proceeded from Tolmer falls towards Florence Falls. Reaching the foot of Florence falls requires a steep descent of 140 Steps. It was quite pretty and I spent some time chatting with our Guide John. He was our Driver-cum-Guide and was from Zimbabwe. His knowledge and commentary were excellent throughout. We followed our visit to Florence Falls with a visit to Buley Rock hole. This is nothing but a number of small water falls cascading in a series.
We departed from Litchfield and headed back to Darwin. I slept most of the way. I was treated to another Great Sunset. I was dropped back at Hotel Centra around 7:15 PM. I proceeded to the Dining room and introduced myself to our Tour Guide Ron, who was also going to be the Driver. The group had their introductory meeting and was finishing dinner. As usual (in most of the tours I undertake) I was Single handedly bringing the average age of the entire group by 10 years!
I finished dinner by myself and headed back to my room and chatted with my roommate who was from Holland. At least he was just a couple of years older than me! He was planning on attending some Olympic Events and was taking in this tour prior to the Olympics. Our Plans were quite similar.
We depart at 8:30 AM for a tour of the Sights of Darwin.
September 3, 2000 (Darwin)
I viewed a good sunrise from my Hotel room before heading for breakfast. At breakfast met up with a few more members of my group. The Average age is around 70. This is going to be an interesting tour for me! Our group consisted of 41 people. We departed the hotel around 8:30 AM and drove around the city. The driver/guide Ron provided a brief history of Darwin. Yes, the City was named after the Great Man: Charles Darwin.
We headed out to the eastern most point in Darwin (appropriately called 'East Point') where we stopped for a 10-minute Photo Opportunity. With all the Senior Citizens in the bus, the disembarking / embarking takes more than 10 minutes!
During our drive, we observed Dolphins playing in the waters. Due to the Incidence of Box Jellyfish in some parts, swimming is prohibited in certain areas. Survival rates from Box Jellyfish Stings are quite LOW.
We proceeded to the Darwin Museum. There is no Photography / Videotaping allowed here. Though the museum has a large section on aboriginal arts, I found the section on local fauna quite Interesting. Australia has a fascinating range of wildlife. After spending around an hour at the Museum, I realized that we still had 45 minutes left before our schedule departure. Since I did not feel like waiting, I spoke to Ron and took a A$2 Cab back to the City Centre. I spent around 1 ½ hours exploring various arts / craft shops. As the heat and humidity were getting quite unbearable, I returned to the hotel to rest and relax for a while.
The rest of the day was free and Since the boredom was killing me I decided to watch a movie at the local cinema. I saw 'Hollow Man' starring Kevin Bacon. Good entertainment, Hollywood style! Since I perceived that the 'Vegetarian' meals on my tour was going to be far from satisfying, I went to a local supermarket and purchased some cookies and miscellaneous snacks. I returned to the Hotel around 7 PM. After freshening up, I walked along Mitchell Street (famous for Nighttime entertainment) and chose a Mexican restaurant (Coyote's Cantina. Phone: (08) 8941 3676) for Dinner. After many moons, I had 'Jalapeno Poppers' (Jalapeno Peppers stuffed with Monterrey Jack Cheese and deep fried). It was excellent. The waitresses were young and quite friendly. It was a nice place and the food was good. Walked back to the hotel and spent some time writing my diary. Watched 'Con Air' on TV for the zillionth time.
We leave Darwin and head for Kakadu National Park at 7:45 AM tomorrow.
September 4, 2000 (Kakadu National Park)
We departed for Kakadu at 7:45 AM. After driving for a while we stopped at Fogg Dam to take in the view and to stretch our legs. Since this was the Dry Season, there was hardly any water. The view from the lookout point was quite good. We spotted a few wallabies, storks and even an Eagle. We continued from Fogg Dam towards Bark Hut for our Morning Tea. Bark Hut is a Road Side restaurant made from (yes) Bark from Trees.
After stretching out and having some snacks we got back into the coach and continued towards Kakadu. We reached the Bowali Visitor Centre in Kakadu around Noon where we had Lunch. We continued to Ubirr to view the rock paintings. We spent an hour at Ubirr viewing the rock Paintings. These paintings are around 40,000 years Old and are excellent. These are drawings, made by ancient aborigines, about their mythological creatures / people. The view of the surrounding flood plains from the top of one of the rocks is excellent. I was informed that parts of the Movie 'Crocodile Dundee' were filmed here. It was extremely hot and humid at Ubirr. The temperature was 39 C!
We continued from Ubirr to the Mining town of Jabiru. Uranium is the metal being mined here. We had a brief stopover at Jabiru for a stretch and a Bathroom break.
The way Ron is planning these breaks is quite good. Even though the coach is quite comfortable, frequent breaks to stretch ones legs is excellent. Continuing towards our Overnight stop at Cooinda, we observed some great views of the Arnhem Escarpment.
Arnhem land is land given back to the aborigines and permission from the traditional owners (as the Aboriginal Owners are referred to) is required to visit this area.
We reached Cooinda after 4 PM. We were Staying at the Gagudju Lodge Cooinda. Jabiru. (Phone: (08) 8979 0111 Fax: (08) 8979 0148) I got together with some members of the group for drinks and we chatted for 1-½ hours. As expected, the restaurant did not have anything Vegetarian for dinner and I ended up having a Chocolate Mud Cake for dinner! I headed to my room, wrote my diary before going to bed.
We have an early morning billabong cruise on the Yellow Waters river tomorrow.
September 5, 2000 (Gagudju a.k.a. Kakadu - Katherine)
We departed the Lodge at 6:45 AM and drove to the river. We commenced our Yellow Waters Billabong Cruise at 7 AM. We spent around 90 minutes cruising the waters. The Early Morning was a good time to do the cruise. We spotted half a dozen different species of Birds as well as estuarine (Salt Water) crocodiles. The Meleluca Swamp (Consisting of Meleluca Trees) was quite spectacular. The relaxing atmosphere contributed to our enjoyment. Upon our return to the Lodge, we had breakfast and departed the Cooinda Lodge around 10 AM.
We headed towards Katherine Gorge. The Scenery was nothing remarkable. We passed through the Old mining town of Pine Creek and reached the town of Katherine around 1 PM. After a quick lunch at the local café, I spent time wandering the streets of Katherine until 2:30 PM. Katherine has a sizeable Aboriginal Population.
We departed Katherine and headed towards Nitmuluk Park and Katherine Gorge. (The Gorge is located inside the Nitmiluk Park) We reached the Gorge after a 45-Minute drive. We boarded a ferry at 3:15 PM. There are at least five Gorges forming the Katherine Gorge System. The ferry ride through the first Gorge was around 20 minutes. We were required to walk around 400 metres (at the end of our first cruise) to board a second ferry that would cruise through the second gorge.
There are some rock paintings that can be viewed during this 400-metre walk. The Cruise through the second Gorge was quite spectacular. Pictures of this Gorge (especially the Valley area) are what most postcards (of this area) are made of. The late afternoon sun and an enhancing filter made the cliffs of the Gorge look truly magnificent. Needless to say, I availed of his opportunity and took a lot of pictures. (The Pictures came out really well)
We were provided with a 2-hour cruise. Half-a-day and full day cruises are also available. There are also walking trails along the Gorge. The trail temperature today was 50 C (and that was in the Shade! One can only assume that the Temperature in the Sunny Area of the Trail would be 60 C!!). One can also hire canoes and cruise the gorge. During the wet season the water level rises by 5 metres (16 Feet). Since the crocodiles we spotted in the waters were the harmless Freshwater crocodiles, certain adventurous folks were seen wading in the waters. Canoeing would not be permitted if there were Salt Water crocodiles around.
We returned to the town of Katherine around reached our Motel (Pine Tree Motel, 129 Third Avenue, Katherine, Phone: (08) 8972 2533 Fax: (08) 8972 2920) around 6 PM. We had dinner around 6:30 PM (one of the disadvantages of traveling with a senior group!) and being a Vegetarian I was provided with Pasta for dinner. After dinner I spent some time writing my diary before going to bed. We depart tomorrow at 7 AM for Tennant Creek.
September 6, 2000 (Katherine - Mataranka - Tennant Creek)
We departed the Hotel at 7:15 AM and headed towards Tennant Creek. We had a brief Stopover at Mataranka Thermal Pools. Taking a dip in these waters can supposedly rejuvenate one. As I did not need any, I did not take a dip. After departing from Mataranka Springs we headed towards Tennant Creek. After an hour of driving, one of the tires on our bus had a blowout. The driver pulled to the side of the road and donned his overalls and went to work on replacing the faulty tire! In places like this depending on roadside assistance is not a good idea. Some of the passengers helped Ron (the driver) in replacing the faulty tire. I kicked off my shoes and walked around barefoot on the Asphalt.
After spending around 45 minutes in replacing the faulty tire with a new one we continued onwards to Daly Waters. Daly waters is one of those remote outback towns that consists of 10 people! Needless to say the central place in towns like these is the local Pub where we had our Lunch! The pub had its uniqueness though. In addition to having currency notes from various countries left there by people, it also had women's lingerie hanging there! One can only presume these were left behind by owners with fond memories of the place!
We continued on from Daly Waters toward Renner Springs. I slept most of the way. We had a 20-minute break at Renner Springs to stretch our legs. We continued on from Renner Springs towards Tennant Creek. We reached Tennant Creek a little after 6 PM.
We reached our hotel (Eldorado Motor Inn, Stuart Highway, Tennant Creek, Phone: (08) 8962 2402 Fax: (08) 8962 3034) as the sun was setting. I managed to get out of the bus quickly and get a couple of shots of the sunset. Though I was interested in venturing into town after dinner, I was warned by the driver not to venture into town after dark, as there were a lot of aboriginals!
Dinner was at 7:30 PM in the hotel restaurant. The Manager made a song and dance about her not being informed about a vegetarian being part of the tour group. I finally had Pasta for dinner (again!). We finished dinner around 10 PM and I returned to my room to write the diary for the day before heading to bed.
Some notes on driving in the Northern Territory of Australia. There are no Speed limits on the roads (highways) here. The Main highway connecting Darwin to Adelaide is the Stuart (John Mcdouall) highway. This is a 2-lane road! Roads here are straight as far as the eye can see. The longest Straight Stretch of road is between South Australia and Western Australia across the Nullarbor Plain. (The Stretch is approximately 470 Kilometres - 300 Miles) The land on either side of the road is plain and covered with red sand in some areas (in the Northern Territory). Unless one is capable of repairing his/her own vehicle, driving solo in these parts is not advisable.
September 7, 2000 (Tennant Creek - Devils Marbles - Alice Springs)
We departed from Tennant Creek at 7:30 AM and headed to Devils Marbles. The 110 Kilometre (65 Miles) Journey took little over an hour. Devils Marbles are huge granite boulders worn down and split by weathering. In aboriginal Mythology these are referred to as the Eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. They present an amazing sight. A walk around the boulders in the main area takes around 15 minutes. We spent more than 30 minutes there.
We continued on and stopped at Wauchope for our morning tea. This is yet another outback town in the middle of nowhere. We continued on towards our luncheon spot of Ti Tree (Pronounced Tea). We passed barrow creek enroute to Ti Tree. Ti Tree has a lot of Aboriginal people. Ti tree also has a few authentic aboriginal arts shops. Next to the main restaurant / shop is a small fenced off area. It turned out that this is the 'Grog Area' where people who want to drink can have a sit down. Sadly, primarily Aborigines populate this area.
The System of 'Dole' in Australia is quite liberal. One can just be unemployed and apply to the 'dole' office for assistance. From what I have heard there appears to be no cut-off time for this 'Assistance'! Much as I sympathize with the plight of the Original inhabitants (read Aborigines), I feel that the liberal dole system in this country encourages them to idle around rather than seek work. The tax rate in Australia is around 50%. As a result of this, for each person working, 1 person can afford to sit at home and not do anything and get paid anyway!
After lunch we continued on towards Alice Springs. The 2-lane road lined on either side with Red Sand appeared to stretch forever. Tropical fruits like Mangoes are grown here in addition to Grapes and tomatoes. Quite amazing considering that the place hardly receives any water and is quite far away from permanent water sources.
A bit of info on John Mcdouall Stuart: He was a Scotsman who was the pioneer in establishing the overland route between Adelaide and Darwin. Employed as a land surveyor he attempted 2 unsuccessful expeditions to reach the northern most part of South Australia before succeeding on his third attempt. During his time the Area now known as Northern Territory was part of South Australia. His successful expedition enabled the exploration of Northern Territory and large parts of South Australia as well. As I mentioned earlier, the highway between Adelaide and Darwin is named after him.
We stopped at the Tropic of Capricorn for a Photo Shoot. This is quite similar to the Equator Photo Shoot Areas in Kenya or Ecuador. After taking the obligatory pictures we headed towards Alice Springs and reached Alice around 3:30 PM. We headed straight towards Anzac Hill, which overlooks the City of Alice Springs. One can obtain Good views of the City as well as the nearby McDonnell mountain ranges. We took a short tour of the city in our coach before heading to the hotel. The Hotel (Fortland Diplomat Hotel, Alice Springs. Phone: (08) 8952 8977 Fax: (08) 8953 0225) is a nice place located in the heart of the city. I walked around the local mall looking for some aboriginal artifacts. They were quite expensive compared to Darwin. Since this was a midpoint during our trip, I did my laundry (as did most of the rest of the group), which was quite inexpensive. After dinner at the hotel, I played pool for a while before going to bed.
September 8, 2000 (Alice Springs)
Since the forenoon was ours to do as we pleased, I slept in for the first time during this tour. After a late (!) breakfast I departed the hotel around 9 AM and headed to 'Panorama Guth' situated next to the Hotel. The gallery was founded by a Dutch painter called Henk Guth. The gallery has numerous paintings of the surrounding areas by Guth. It also has a section on Aboriginal Art and Artists. The Most Striking Picture (of a Photographic Original) is of the Aboriginal Painter Albert Namatjirra. This is the best of the entire lot. Sadly, the gallery was neither selling the picture nor a replica of the same.
For a man who grew up in a Lutheran Mission and started with Watercolour painting around the age of 20, his paintings of the surrounding landscapes are quite striking. I was quite impressed with his work to buy a set of 6 replicas of his watercolour paintings. In addition I bought copy of a Guth Artwork as well. The Gallery felt generous enough to give me another of Guth's works as a Compliment!
I proceeded to the Royal Flying Doctors (RFD) Station. This is quite unique to Australia and to the Northern Territory in particular. Since medical facilities in the outback are quite sparse, this Organisation flies doctors and other medical professionals wherever required.
From broken limbs to pregnancies the Royal Flying Doctor service attends to the needs of people in the Northern Territory. In addition, they also conduct periodic clinics in Areas that do not have access to medical facilities. A 10-minute film and a 10-minute tour of the facilities give a good idea of the kind of work these people do. An entire room is devoted to monitoring calls and emergency situations in the Area. In addition to permanent staff, many volunteers devote their time and skills in helping the organization achieve its objectives. Decided to include them in the list of Charities, I frequently contribute to.
I got back to the hotel to dump my recent purchases and boarded the tour bus. We departed at 11 AM for Alice Springs Desert Park. We reached the park after 20 minutes and spent the next 2 hours touring the park. Located at the foot of the Western McDonnell Ranges, the park boasts a wide range of flora and fauna native to the outback. I had my first glimpses of live Thorny Devils and blue-tongued lizards. I realized later on that one needs at least 2 ½ hours to do justice to the park. Since I did not have enough time for Lunch I grabbed a cola and an Ice cream before we headed to Standley Chasm.
We reached the Chasm after a 30-minute drive. Named after Ida Standley, the first Schoolmistress in Alice Springs, the chasm is a deep gorge 100 Metres (330 Feet) deep.
A 15-minute walk from the Parking area brings one to the chasm. The best time to perhaps view the Chasm is when the sun is directly overhead. This lights up the walls of the chasm, which throw a red glow for some wonderful pictures. Since we reached the place around 2 PM, I missed out on some great pictures. We spotted a few rock wallabies here. After spending an hour here, we departed for Simpsons Gap.
We reached Simpsons Gap around 4 PM. It was a 10-minute walk from the parking area to the Gap. This is yet another gorge in the Western McDonnell Mountain range. Though not as spectacular as Standley Chasm, if was quite good. After spending around 45 minutes here we headed back to Alice Springs. I had earlier indicated my desire to climb Kings Canyon (which we were to visit tomorrow). Before I got off the bus, Ron (the driver) took me aside and warned of the perils and pitfalls of embarking on such an adventure. He was doing the legal bit where as a representative of the tour operator, he was providing me with all the information. I politely listened to him and postponed the decision making until we reached Kings Canyon.
I went didgeridoo Shopping. The didgeridoos were way too expensive (A$250 - A$500) for me. I settled instead for a T-Shirt and a hand painted plate! I was quite keen on observing aboriginal life and culture up close. The tours that were available in Alice Springs would have forced me to miss my tour of Standley Chasm and Simpsons Gap. The evening performance at one of the hotels in Alice Springs was costing me A$75 which included pickup / drop-off from my hotel and dinner. Being a vegetarian, I knew the dinner would be a complete waste of my money. I tried to negotiate with the hotel to waive the dinner and admit me to the show for A$40. It did not work.
I did some more laundry on returning to the hotel. I visited a nearby Swiss/Indian restaurant (located in the premises of the Diplomat Hotel) for dinner. It was not as good as the Indian Restaurant in Darwin.
September 9, 2000 (Alice Springs - Kings Canyon - Ayers Rock)
We departed Alice Springs at 7:15 Am and headed towards Kings Canyon. After crossing Hermannsburg we entered traditional Aboriginal Lands. Crossing through Aboriginal Lands requires prior permission from the Traditional Owners. Most tour companies presumably apply and obtain blanket permissions each year. The road is not paved and is a dirt road through the aboriginal land. I slept most of the way. Upon reaching Kings Canyon I did the floor walk along with the rest of the group. After completing the floor walk in 30 minutes, I decided to do the rim climb. (Since we were stopping at Kings Canyon for over 2 hours). There are 700 steps (cut into the rock) to the top of the rim (of the Canyon). The Climb is quite steep at places and the round trip took me around 45 minutes. The view from the Top is excellent. I did not do the complete rim walk (around the circumference of the Canyon) as it was expected to take around 3 hours at least. I was quite glad that I did the rim climb. To do the rim walk one should preferably arrive early into Kings Canyon (perhaps from Ayers Rock), do the Climb and the walk Stay overnight at Kings Canyon and continue the next day towards Alice Springs. (I suppose the reverse route would work as well - Alice Springs / Kings Canyon (Overnight) / Ayers Rock)
The road is paved from Kings Canyon to Ayers Rock. As we reached closer to Ayers Rock we stopped to take in views of Mount Connor (frequently mistaken for Uluru). On reaching the Ayers Rock resort at Yulara we were informed that our accommodation had been upgraded to Desert Gardens (Desert Gardens Hotel. Phone: (08) 8957 7888 Fax: (08) 8956 2156). There are 3 hotel complexes in the Ayers Rock Resort area all owned by the same company. Upon Checking-in, we were given a voucher for dinner, which could be used on either of the nights we were staying at Uluru (we were staying for 2 nights). I walked around and had dinner at a local fast food place and saved my voucher for the second night.
After dinner I returned to my room and went out to the Balcony. The Starry Skies above were fantastic. I quickly setup my camera and tripod and took multiple time-delayed shots of the skies above including the Southern Cross constellation. The slides did turn out well though I wished I had left my camera for an overnight exposure (about 6 hours or more) so as to capture the rings formed by the paths traversed by the stars. (As seen in many photographic magazines)
We were to depart from the resort at 6:30 AM tomorrow for the sunrise tour and the base walk of Uluru.
September 10, 2000 (Uluru a.k.a. Ayers Rock)
I woke up at 5 AM. The Starry skies were even more spectacular. We boarded the bus and started our base walk around 6:45 AM just as the Sun was coming up. The base is 9 Kilometres (5.5 Miles) in circumference. As we walked around the base, I observed Signs at certain places explaining the area of the rock (as sacred) and requesting that no Photographs be taken of that part. Having come this far to observe and learn more about the Culture of the Aborigines, it was only proper that I respected that cultural significance and refrain from taking photographs of the sacred areas. The rising sun lit the rock brilliantly and I did get good pictures of the areas that were not marked sacred. We finished the walk around 9:30 AM.
I noticed there were numerous people climbing the rock. None from our group did. The aboriginals consider the rock to be a sacred place and have posted signs requesting that people refrain from climbing the rock. Since this is a request and not an order most of the dunces promptly clamber all over it. To put it in perspective, this is akin to a bunch of tourists clambering all over the altar (and the Cross) at St. Paul's cathedral or a temple or any other place of worship. While one would consider the climbing to be heresy in London or Rome most of us never give a second thought to committing the same act upon other cultures. Sad.
I also noticed that a few park rangers were climbing up the rock with a stretcher and an ambulance was parked nearby. I was informed that one of the climbers had suffered a heart attack and the rangers were going to fetch him and bring him down. We went to the nearby cultural center and spent time wandering around. We continued on to Kata Tjuta (or the Olgas).
The Olgas and Uluru are part of the same geological formation. While driving back from the Olgas we stopped to take in a panoramic view of the Olgas and Uluru. We reached the resort around 2:30 PM. I was quite tired and slept till 5 PM. We departed for the Sunset watch around 5:45 PM. The lookout point was packed with people and filled with tour buses. I managed to stake out a decent spot and setup my camera and tripod. The Sunset was quite good. This morning I observed the rising sun lighting up the various parts of the rock and enhancing the rich red colour. The setting sun does the same to the other side of the rock. The rock gradually changes colour until all that can be seen is a dark silhouette after the Sun has set completely. I took a number of pictures capturing what I perceived to be each colour change!
I utilized the voucher and had dinner at the restaurant of the hotel. The Buffet was quite sad for a vegetarian. After dinner (or something to that effect) I headed back to my room, packed up, wrote my diary and went to bed.
The 10 Days that I haven spent in the Northern Territory (NT) so far have been good. I have managed to see most that I have only admired from afar (through Books and magazines). We leave Northern Territory tomorrow and head to South Australia.
September 11, 2000 (Ayers Rock - Coober Pedy)
We departed Uluru at 7:30 AM and drove till Erldunda where we had a short break. We continued on towards Marla. The long straight roads once again gave me the feeling of making some grand Voyage. We stopped for Lunch at Marla and also at the Border of Northern Territory and South Australia for a Photo Opportunity. We continued on towards Coober Pedy. I slept most of the way. About 100 Kilometres from Coober Pedy we stopped to take a few pictures of Straight roads with plains on either side as far as the eye can see. It was a great locale.
We reached Coober Pedy around 4:30 PM. We toured an underground home (yes, they are quite common in Coober Pedy where summer temperatures can be quite high) and a defunct Opal mine where the process of Opal mining was explained to us. It was quite fascinating. Anyone who can spend around A$150 (for 1 year) can stake out an area 50 Metres by 50 Metres and start prospecting. One must also be a serious prospector. In other words, if one does not do any prospecting after buying a prospecting licence, the licence can be taken away. Coober Pedy is still built around Opal Mining.
Checked into the Opal Inn Motel (Phone: (08) 8672 5054 Fax: (08) 8672 5501) at 5:30 PM. Went for dinner at 6:30 PM. The waitress mistook me for the 'Bus Driver'. Guess a 'Brownie' is not expected to be part of a tour group, which presumably is for 'Whites' Only. The Inbred and inbuilt racism here is quite appalling. After Dinner, I played pool with another member of the group before turning in. Tomorrow we visit an Opal Mine for an Opal processing demonstration before heading to Port Augusta. One can observe great views of the Sunset from the Opal Inn Motel.
September 12, 2000 (Coober Pedy - Port Augusta)
We departed the Hotel around 7:45 AM and headed to a nearby Opal factory to observe the Opal Finishing process. Opals can be classified into 3 categories: Solid crystal (pure Opal), Doublet (Opal Crystal stuck to a plain Glass) and Triplet (Opal Crystal Sandwiched between 2 layers of glass). Though the doublet and triplets may look attractive, the Solid Crystal is the most expensive and classy of all. After the show and tell process, I wandered around the Opal Factory and bought a Solid Crystal. Having visited Coober Pedy, it seemed a crime to go back without buying an Opal. God alone knows what I would use it for.
We departed Coober Pedy and headed towards Port Augusta. We stopped at Glendambo for Lunch. We stopped for a Photo Opportunity at Lake Hart, which happens to be a Saltwater Lake. We also took a detour to Woomera, which was the site of the Australian Missile development (now defunct). Woomera is also notorious for having a detention center for illegal migrants. I requested Ron to make a quick stop just as we were departing Woomera to take some photos of a railway line stretching into the distance and into the plains. It was quite good.
The drive towards Port Augusta was quite Spectacular. Though I run the risk of sounding like a broken record, I was and am quite thrilled to see long stretches of road and plains leading off into the horizon. I suppose, my admiration for these vast open stretches arises from the fact that I have spent way too much time living in Concrete Jungles.
We arrived at Port Augusta around 5 PM. I walked around a bit to get some photographs of the sunset and the Flinders Mountain ranges. We had dinner at the hotel. (Hiway One Motel, Phone: (08) 8642 2755 Fax: (08) 8641 0588)
September 12, 2000 (Port Augusta - Adelaide)
For the first time during this tour we had room service for Breakfast. It was quite a luxury! We departed the Hotel around 8 AM and had a short tour of Port Augusta before heading for Adelaide. We stopped at Port Wakefield for a short break and arrived in Adelaide around Noon.
It is a compact and pretty little city with a lot of character. During our extended Lunch break, I checked my e-mail messages and walked around the city center. We got on the Bus for a Short tour of the City of Adelaide before being dropped at our hotel around 2:30 PM. (Grosvenor Vista Hotel, Phone: (08) 8231 2961 Fax: (08) 8231 0765)
I left the hotel at 3 PM and headed to visit the RM Williams headquarters in the suburb of prospect. To the uninitiated, RM Williams (and Akubra) are what Stetson is to most Americans. They are the premier makers of Boots and Hats. RM Williams specializes in Boots (costing upwards of A$200) and other accessories while Akubra specialized in Hats (Costing Upwards of A$100). After a tour of the place, I bought a belt and chatted with the Manager for a while.
Took a cab and headed to the City. Today was the Start of the Olympic Soccer competition and Adelaide was one of the Host cities. The Cab driver was quite thrilled and eagerly chatted about various the teams and their prospects in the competition. Upon reaching the hotel, I called up an old acquaintance and we agreed to meet around
5:45 PM. We met and she drove me a nearby beach to catch the sunset. We arrived a tad late and missed a great sunset (judging from the colour of the sky). We headed to an Indian restaurant for dinner before heading to her place to look at some her pictures from her South American and European travels. She was quite disappointed that I was just spending a Single night in Adelaide.
The Barossa Valley is quite close to Adelaide and is famous for its vineyards. If I had thought about it a bit, I could have terminated my tour in Adelaide and spent an extra day or two in Adelaide before flying to Sydney. Oh Well.
I returned to the hotel around 10 PM. We depart Adelaide and head to Narrandera tomorrow.
September 13, 2000 (Adelaide - Narrandera)
We departed Adelaide around 7:15 AM. Since most of the Group was breaking off at Adelaide, they had come out to say goodbye to us. Out of a Group of 41 people, only 12 of us were traveling from Adelaide. We quickly left Adelaide and headed towards the Barossa Valley. Our tour itinerary did not permit a stopover and we drove on. The vineyards and the valley looked very inviting. Will have to do it another time. We stopped at Waikerie for morning tea and at Mildura for Lunch. Mildura is another area for vineyards and wines. Not the City Itself, but the surrounding area.
We stopped for our afternoon tea at Balranald and continued on towards Narrandera. We observed miles and miles of farmland stretching all around us. Tonight was the full Moon and I tried to take some pictures from the bus. The motion prevented me from getting any decent shots. We reached Narrandera around 8 PM. This was the longest drive we had done in our trip thus far and we were thankful to Ron for doing the driving. He has been terrific throughout this trip. Narrandera is farming community. We finished dinner around 10 PM and headed to our rooms. (Gateway Motel, Phone: (02) 6959 1877, Fax: (02) 6959 1512)
3 more members of our group are leaving us here and the rest of us Start for Sydney tomorrow at 7:45 AM
September 14, 2000 (Narrandera - Sydney)
We departed Narrandera around 8 AM and headed towards Sydney. I observed a sea of yellow stretching on either side of the road. These were the fields growing canola. It was quite an amazing sight. Ron explained some of the Aboriginal Names of places. Wagga in Aboriginal Language means Crow. If the Word is repeated twice it means a place of many. 'Wagga Wagga' therefore means 'Place of many Crows'. Similarly 'Gumli Gumli' means 'Place of many Frogs'. We stopped at Gundagai for Morning tea and continued on towards Sydney.
Today was the Opening Ceremony of the 27th Olympiad in Sydney and Ron was understandably worried about the Traffic heading into the City. During the entire drive, he kept asking for, and receiving Updates from his office in Sydney. We stopped at a rest area for Lunch before proceeding to Sydney.
We managed to reach the Outskirts of Sydney without much trouble and prepared ourselves for the Worst. As we kept turning each curve we expected to be greeted with miles and miles of vehicles backed-up. Fortunately, our fears were unwarranted. We reached the Central Station in Sydney without any traffic problems. I bid adieu to the remaining members of our group and thanked Ron for all his efforts.
In the 14 days of our trip we traveled around 6400 Kilometres (4000 Miles) and used up around 2000 litres of fuel. I managed to visit 2 states I had never visited before (Northern Territory and South Australia) and was able to observe up close the vast expanses of land that form the 'Continent' of Australia. I was able to observe the lives of the Aboriginal people up close at Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs and was thrilled to see the national treasures at Katherine, Kakadu and Uluru.
In short this has been an excellent trip (despite the fact that I may have lost some weight due to lack of proper vegetarian food) and I would recommend it.