Sunday, January 31, 2016

What to do in Port Douglas?

On Friday, January 29, we flew to Cairns and took a bus to Port Douglas. We spent three nights at a beautiful resort hotel in Port Douglas called the Sea Temple Resort & Spa.
Suzanne at the Sea Temple
The rooms are in separate buildings surrounded by tropical gardens. The pool is a real centerpiece, meandering all over the place. Many of the rooms have patios which lead directly into the pool. Our room has a patio with a private garden and a huge bath with a whirlpool tub.
Well, and here is another surprise for me – we are now in the tropics! What a variety of climate we are experiencing. From the dry heat of the Outback to the humidity and heat of the tropics, from desert to lush rain forest, from low scrubby plants, rocks and sand to tall palms, beautiful flowers, and wet, muddy soil.

Our first day here we all went to see the Great Barrier Reef. We took a catamaran out to a platform that they built over a part of the Outer Reef. They provided gear for snorkeling which Don enjoyed doing.
Don is ready to go snorkeling
I was happy to look at the underwater observatory on the platform and then go in the glass bottom boat to get a closer view of the magnificent coral and creatures that live there. I never realized that there were so many sizes and shapes of coral. It was quite fascinating.

So many shapes of coral
On the second day here we went to tour the rain forest. Most of the original rain forest was logged and destroyed, but a small part of it was accidentally preserved and is now a protected area, a World Heritage Site. We visited Cooper Creek Wilderness and learned a lot about rain forest ecology. Our guide was very passionate about the forest. He taught us that everything was intertwined – the plants, the animals, and even the humans who used to live here. When they removed the pygmy population in the 1980’s they removed that human component and the health of the forest is deteriorating. Pigs were introduced when the first settlers arrived and they are now damaging the forest. However, since they are protected, you are not supposed to kill them! What a dilemma for someone who is so passionate about his trees!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Visiting Ayers Rock

Our next adventure took us to Ayers Rock (whose Aboriginal name is Uluru) which is south and west of Alice Springs. We went by bus and it took about five hours. We made several stops (thank heavens) for photos, potty breaks, and sightseeing. One of the stops was a camel farm where several people rode a camel (not me). We were traveling through desert, with lots of scrub brush, red earth, and rocks.

We stopped at Curtain Springs cattle station and found out they ran cattle through much of the area we were driving through. The station was founded in the late 1800’s and had been in the family ever since. The ranchers lease the land – they cannot own it. On this huge acreage they only have about 4000 head of cattle which is about all the available water and vegetation can support. They use a water trap to muster the cows! It is a fenced in watering hole (the only place they can drink) and when they want to cull cattle, they just close the gate and trap the ones that are inside. It is a fascinating enterprise, but very isolated.

We stayed in another beautiful resort, the Desert Gardens. We spent several hours driving around Urulu and took several walks to get up close and personal. We were there to watch the sunset as it lit up the rock and turned it many colors.
Don, sunrise at Uluru

The next morning we were up at 5 a.m. to drive back to view the sunrise at the rock. The clouds and the colors were just fantastic. Later in the day we drove to another famous land formation, Kata Tjuta to walk the Walpa Gorge. Urulu is the second largest rock in Australia, basically made of sandstone. Kata Tjuta  is a conglomerate mountain. They are both sacred to the indigenous people, the Anangu and are the key features in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Suzanne at Walpa Gorge
As we were traveling through this part of Australia (also called the Outback) we learned a lot about the Aboriginal people and how they used the land, the animals, and the vegetation. They live by a principle called Tjukurpa (chook-er-par). This is taught to people via stories and song, and also involves the law. The stories teach what is right and wrong, how to conduct themselves in certain situations, and how to look after the environment. They believe in spirit beings that lived on earth before humans and created the features of the natural world and are the ancestors of all living things. Where they left physical evidence of their presence (such as Urulu) that becomes a sacred site and the place where many Aboriginal rituals are held.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Alice Springs Northern Territory Australia

On Tuesday, January 26, we headed for Alice Springs, where we would spend the next two evenings at the beautiful Doubletree Hotel just outside of town. Our plane was delayed, so we did not have much time for a city tour. We had some free time to eat and shop at the Todd Mall, which is pretty much the center of town. Today is Australia Day, so most of the stores were closed.

Alice Springs is in the center of Australia, in what is called the Northern Territory. The NT extends all the way to the northern coast of Australia. It is the least populated and the largest land area of Australia. However, it does not have enough population to be a state. It was organized as the northern territory of the state of Southern Australia. The Alice Springs area is desert and temperatures are in the 90’s or higher. They have had a lot of rain lately, so it was pretty green and most of the waterways had some water. We have arrived at an unusual time.

We visited four interesting spots in Alice Springs. The Royal Flying Doctor Service was founded almost 100 years ago to use aircraft to bring medical services to communities scattered hundreds of miles apart. They are extremely well organized, using electronic media to diagnose illnesses and airplanes to move people if necessary and to bring services to others.

Telegraph Station
We then went to the Old Telegraph Station. In the 1800’s communication between Australia and the rest of the world took forever. Then the telegraph was invented and Australia needed to get hooked up. There is quite a story to how the underwater cable was laid from India by the British (they thought they had better keep up with this colony since they had already lost one colony – us!) The Aussies had to string lines across the continent to meet the cable and they did manage to do that. The Telegraph Station is the remnants of the buildings they used for the repeater station at Alice Springs and the original site of the city.

The next day we visited the medical center (Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation – or the Purple House) where they treat the indigenous population who are suffering renal failure and need dialysis. This has become an extremely serious problem and affects many people at a very early age. There are many contributing factors to this problem including poor nutrition, diabetes, low birth weight and underdeveloped kidneys, and genetics. The center is doing many things to help solve and alleviate this problem.

Our last visit was to the Alice Springs School of the Air. This is a program which was started in 1951 to bring education to the children living in remote areas of the Outback with no other access to schooling. It was originally started with a teacher who taught lessons and broadcast them to the students over the radio. There might be one student at home, or several students in a central location. Now, they use the Internet and there is video so all the students in one class can relate to each other during the lesson. It is also extremely well organized and very successful. We were all surprised that this complicated system was only utilized by 140 students!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Visiting Adelaide Australia

We spent the next two days, January 24 and 25 in Adelaide. Now here was another town that I had no idea what to expect (sounded like an old west cattle town) and I was delightfully surprised. It is located in the state of South Australia at the southern end on the Gulf of St. Vincent. The Indian Ocean lies to the south. Adelaide has a small town feel, even though it has a population of 1.3 million. It was one of the first planned cities. Like Melbourne it has wide streets with narrower streets in between. It was designed by Colonel William Light as a grid interspersed with town squares. Adelaide is surrounded by a green belt of parks and recreation areas and the Torrens River runs through the town.

Koala at Cleland Wild Animal Park
When we got there the city was impacted by the ending of the Great Australian Bicycle Race (or something like that), so we could not drive through the town. Instead we went to visit Cleland Wildlife Park. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we spent several hours walking around and looking at just a few of the unusual animals that make their home in Australia. We saw hairy nosed wombats, a monitor lizard, koalas, dingo dog, potoroos, several styles of kangaroos, cape barren goose, emus, and lots of other birds.
Don feeding a kangaroo

That evening we had a home hosted dinner in one of the northern suburbs. Jo and Kristy made the 8 of us who attended feel right at home with drinks in the back yard and a simple meal of chicken, rice, and salad. Dessert was also yummy.

On the second day, four of us took a prearranged tour of the wine country a little north and east of the city. We drove through the hilly countryside looking at all of the vineyards with grapes just coming into readiness. I was reminded of the
Seppeltsfield Winery
Napa Valley back home in California. We visited two wineries, Seppeltsfield Wines started in 1851 and Jacobs Creek Wine Visitor’s Center. They were both spiffed up for the tourist trade and presented us with some wine tasting.

Then we drove to Barossa Chateau which is a restaurant and winery. We enjoyed lunch - barramundi, goat curry, and kangaroo were a few of the choices. We drove on through the rolling hills to the German town of Hahndorf. Now I was reminded of Solvang in California! (Why did we come to Australia if it is just like home? I will tell you later.) Anyway, we enjoyed walking around, looking in the shops, and purchasing a few souvenirs.

A funny story about Adelaide is that one of the streets is named King William Road. Because no one is allowed to cross the path of a king, no road is allowed to cross this road! So, the street has one name on the west side and another on the east side of King William. Well, at least they have a rationale for changing a street name!
Adelaide Australia

Monday, January 25, 2016

Melbourne Australia

I have been trying to decide how to talk about Melbourne. I was not expecting much from this city, but I have been delightfully surprised by how beautiful and interesting it is. I could go on and on talking about it! It is the capitol of the state of Victoria, which is in the south east part of Australia. The city is a combination of modern high rises and businesses and lovely, old buildings which were built in the early days of the city.  Melbourne (pronounced Melburn) was one of the places England sent their convicts, so there are a lot of old jails! They experienced a 10 year gold rush in the mid 1800’s which made it one of the most affluent and populous settlements in Australia at the time (hence the beautiful, old buildings).

Captain William Lonsdale laid out the city in a grid pattern with wide streets (to accommodate turning horse drawn carts) and narrower streets in between. There are even narrower streets interspersed, called lane ways, to allow deliveries to businesses. There is a free tram system in the middle of the city which makes getting around a real treat.

Fountain in Carlton Gardens
On our last day in Melbourne we visited two wonderful museums. Many of the museums are free (especially for seniors) and there were lots of people out enjoying them, in spite of the light rain that lasted all morning. The Melbourne Museum is in a park next to the Royal Exhibition Hall.It is a modern looking building with lots of exhibits, somewhat akin to our natural history museums. We came to see the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Center. It was so interesting – but way too much to absorb; all about the original inhabitants of Australia.
Next,we took the free tram to Federation Square. This is an area along the banks of the Yarra River
Yarra River at Federation Square
with many art galleries, museums, shops, boat rentals, etc. There was a big screen where people were watching the tennis from the Australian Open. The NGV International museum we visited was in a complex called the National Gallery of Victoria. There were three floors of a very eclectic mix of art – from modern and contemporary to old masters to design to sculptures & ceramics. We saw lots of interesting pieces. One of our favorites was a large pool of water filled with 6 different sizes of white ceramic bowls. There was a current in the water, so the bowls moved about randomly and made beautiful music when they clinked together. The artist was also a musician and we loved the music that was created! And this was only two of so many things to see. I wish we could have stayed longer.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Visit to Australia, January 2016

We are just beginning our trip to Australia and New Zealand. I wanted to let everyone know that we have arrived safely. We left California late Tuesday, January 19 on Qantas airlines. It was a nice flight, if you can call 16 hours on a plane nice. We did at least get food and drink. As we were over Australia and half way between Sydney and Melbourne, the plane turned around and headed back to Sydney. There were weather problems in Melbourne and they wanted to refuel. So we ended up 2 hours late to Melbourne, but we are here.

We actually arrived on Thursday, January 21, losing a day by crossing the International Date Line. We are still trying to get our brains around that! The weather was cloudy with spritzes of rain. We are staying in an apartment hotel, so we have a 3 room suite (kitchenette, living room, and bedroom). We have a nice view of Elizabeth Street. It was all we could do to enjoy the welcome dinner before heading to bed.

Don on tier three of the Melbourn Goal
The next day, January 22, was quite rainy – but we forged ahead with our sightseeing.  After a continental breakfast in the hotel our 16 member tour group climbed on the bus, dragging our umbrellas and coats. We toured the Melbourne Goal (one of the many jails built in the 1800’s). The building was architecturally quite beautiful, but learning what happened there was quite depressing. Other places of interest on our city tour were St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Shrine of Remembrance (to those killed in WWI & WWII), the Botanical Gardens (walked through in the rain, but still quite beautiful), and Victoria Markets (a mainly indoor market and food court reminiscent of Central Market in LA).. We also drove by many beautiful parks, the huge sports complex, Parliament, the Yarra River, etc.

In the evening we had another adventure when we went on the tour to see the Fairy (Little) Penguins arriving on Phillips Island. They are only 13 inches tall and really cute. We spent two hours getting there by bus. The country side was so green and lovely. The freeway had several interesting sculptures that flashed by before we could take a picture and the sound barriers are all different with an attempt at decoration.

Anyway, the penguins spend their day in the ocean eating and sleeping on top of the water. When it is dark many of them congregate on the beach and when it looks safe they waddle across the sand to their burrows which are dug into the hill side. So, we all sit in the grandstands and cheer them on. There are boardwalks built over their nesting areas, so you can walk along and see them coming and going. It was very interesting – these penguins are the smallest in the world and quite delightful to watch.