Thursday, June 23, 2011

Facts and Figures for Tassie Twosome

We have escaped Chilean ash clouds affecting Australian airspace, so that means the end of our adventure in Oz.  Thanks to everyone who has followed us and enjoyed our blog.  We'll finish with some statistics from our time in Australia.

Blog posts: 235 
Page views to date: 4083  
Approximate distance driven: 14,810 km (9202 miles)
(New York to LA is 2800 miles) 
Mammals spotted: 24
National parks visited: 17 
Birds spotted: 110 
Waterfalls viewed: 28
Caravan Parks we stayed in: 38
Australian States visited: All 6 and the Northern Territory
Pictures taken: about 8000
People who visited us: 2 (Thanks Sarah and Hannah!)
Scuba Dives: 17


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Becalmed by a Volcano

Not so "Minima!"

It's been an awesome experience in Australia over nearly 11 months.  However, it's going to be a little longer than we planned.  Due to ash from a volcano in Chile, Australian airspace is being affected and flights cancelled.  Therefore, we get 2 extra days in Adelaide.  In the end, it should work out o.k., as long as we leave on Thursday as planned.  We also got to check out a "mini" hotel, the Majestic Minima.  The hotel room was bigger than advertised and electronic check-in was painless.  A real value!

Km to Adelaide:  917
Total Km Perth-Darwin-Adelaide:  11510!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Dingo Fence

While we were in Coober Pedy, we drove out of town on the Oodnadatta Track to see the Dingo Fence.  Known in South Australia as the "Dog Fence," its purpose is to keep dingos out of the southeast sheep-farming region.  The Dingo Fence was completed in 1885 and remains the longest fence in the world.  It stretches over 5600km (3500 miles) from the Great Australian Bight to southeast Queensland.

The success of the fence is open to debate.  Dingos are less common in southeast Australia, but kangaroos and rabbits may be more common.  These animals compete with sheep for pastureland and may decrease the carrying capacity.

This intersection of the Oodnadatta Track and the Dingo Fence seemed particularly remote even though we were only about 15km from Coober Pedy.  It was very quiet and definitely another great Outback location.

Coober Pedy

This was one of the most interesting places we went on the whole trip and that is saying a lot.  Coober Pedy is primarily known for the mining of opals.  About 85% of the world's opal is from this area.  To say this is a unique town is an understatement.  The population is about 3,500 and 60% of the people are European.  This is truly an outback desert town with no grass, extreme heat in the summer, and it has only been since 1985 that there is a reliable water system.  50% of people live in dugout houses underground that stay at a constant temperature year round.  The first thing we did was go on a mine tour.
This mine dates back to 1916.  The shafts were filled in hiding the mine below and it wasn't until 1968 that is was accidently discovered when an underground home extension broke through. 

I'm posing with the mannequin of the first woman miner in the area.

I'm pointing at a picture of a 2 year old boy smoking!  These newspaper clippings were found when the mine was excavated.
This was a very informative and interesting tour with so much to see.  We even saw some real opal seams still embedded in the mine.

Next, we had to add a final "big thing" to our list-the big winch.
This picture is for my mom who hates grammatical errors on signs.
Underneath the "Free Addmission" someone wrote in the dust, "and free spell checks."
I think the only "big thing" less impressive than this was the Big Scotsman.
We also did a lot of shopping for souvenirs throughout the day but didn't buy much.  Our last stop before checking into the B and B was an underground church.
We stayed in a caravan park the first night but the second night we wanted to stay underground so we stayed at the Underground B and B.  Very nice place and very nice hosts.  We had a delicious dinner at a Greek restaurant too.

Km to Coober Pedy: 801
Total Km travelled: 10593


We were driving back from Kata Tjuta and Ben spotted five wild camels along the side of the road.  We hadn't seen them in the wild yet so this was quite exciting.  They just calmly kept eating and walking along.

With Uluru in the background

Kata Tjuta

The other big attraction at the national park besides Uluru is Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas.  Kata Tjuta means "many heads".  It is made up of 36 steep-sided domes.  These domes are made of a different type of sedimentary rock than Uluru.  They are made of conglomerate rock, also known as pudding stone.  It is a a mix of gravel, pebbles, and boulders cemented together by sand and mud. 
We did a great 7.4km walk through Kata Tjuta called the Valley of the Winds.  It was great walking weather with beautiful blue skies and cool temperatures.

Example of pudding stone

The walk around Uluru was amazing, but we may have enjoyed this walk more because there was some challenging parts to it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Many Faces of Uluru


We finally made it to Uluru, one of the last stops on our epic road trip.  Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is about a 4 hour drive southwest of Alice Springs.

Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is a large sandstone rock formation in the middle of the desert.  It has been a sacred place to the local Aboriginal tribe, the Anangu, for thousands of years.  Today, it is a major tourist site for Australia and in some ways as associated with the country as the kangaroo.

For the tourist, this large rock is a surreal experience.  The peculiar red sandstone changes colors depending on the angle of the sun and the position of the viewer.  We chose to walk around the base of Uluru, a trek of 10.4km.  We were struck by the way the rock changed with each step--giving a new perspective and insight.

The rock has several near-permanent waterholes that were important for the Anangu in this harsh, desert environment.  There are several areas that remain sacred and off limits to visitors and also several rock art sites.

After our hike, we stopped at the Aboriginal cultural center and reviewed the significance of Uluru to the local Anangu people.  Like most similar experiences in Australia, the cultural center does a good job of describing the relationship of Aborigines to the land and traditional foods.  However, gaining any real insight into the longest surviving culture on earth is frustrating and fleeting at best.

We finished our day by viewing Uluru at sunset.  As the sun sets, the rock changes color.  The picture at the beginning of this post is shortly before sunset and this is shortly after sunset.

Kilometers travelled - 634
Total kilometers travelled - 9792

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

West Macs

We drove to West MacDonnell National Park for a quick overnight trip before heading to Uluru.  We made several stops.  The first was at Simpson Gap.
Next was Standley Chasm which we really should have skipped because it cost twenty dollars and wasn't that great.

We really liked the next stop though.  It was the Ochre Pits.  This is an area where ochre was/is sourced by Aborigines for use in art, ceremonies, and as body decoration.
You can see the bands of red, white, and yellow.  This rock would be ground and mixed with water to make a paint.  Black charcoal was also used.

We spent the night at a campground at Ormiston Gorge.  We went to a talk given by one of the rangers and walked to the waterhole.

On our way out of the park the next morning we got to see three black-footed rock wallabies.  They were out sunning themselves on the rocks.  They have a large tail used to help with balance and textured foot pads for gripping the rocks.

Km travelled: 317
Total travelled: 9108

Thorny Devil

After making our art purchases we went to the Alice Springs Desert Park.  We got headphones and an audio guide to use as we walked around the park.  We learned about the Central Australian desert birds, plants, and animals and the adaptations they make to survive in this harsh environment.  The surprising thing is the amount of life there is despite being a desert environment.  We went to a demonstration with free flying birds and walked through the nocturnal house.  Our favorite animal we saw was the Thorny Devil.
This lizard is green and brown and almost has a camouflage pattern to it's skin.  It has a false head behind it's real head that it presents to potential predators.  It mainly eats ants, sometimes thousands a day and has ridges on it's body that funnel rain water down to it's mouth.  A very intriguing little creature.

Km travelled to Alice: 576
Total travelled: 8791

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Aboriginal Art

One of our many goals for our Australian experience was to learn about and purchase some unique Aboriginal art.  We've been looking for the right piece since we arrived and have visited galleries and shops in Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, Perth, Darwin, and many smaller cities in between.

We made our first Aboriginal art purchase in Katherine, and followed it up by adding to our collection in Alice Springs.  We had a great experience working with Aboriginal Art World.  Unfortunately, we don't have any pictures to share as our selections are wrapped for travel home.

Australian Aboriginal art is a relatively recent innovation, but it is based on ancient rock art, body art, and traditional ceremonies.  The most recognizable is the Central Desert "dot" form, but there are many other styles.  For example, the northern part of the country uses a "cross-hatch" or "x-ray" style which closely follows the impressive rock art of the area.

The predominant medium is canvas or linen, but other objects are often utilized.  Many boomerangs and didgeridoos are painted, etchings are made on bone or boab nuts, clap sticks can be painted or wood burned, and baskets are dyed and woven.

The Aboriginal art movement began in the early 1970s when a schoolteacher encouraged Aboriginal children to paint a mural.  The elders in the area believed that the children were not prepared to depict traditional ceremonies and several elder men completed the mural.  Since then, the art form has continued to grow and expand.  The potential subject matter for the paintings is diverse.  Subjects include "bush tucker," animals, depictions of homeland regions, aspects of women's ceremonies, and "Dreamtime" representations.

We've had a great experience learning about this window into an ancient culture.

Devil's Marbles

We stopped at a cool place on the way to Alice Springs.  The Devil's Marbles are huge rounded granite boulders precariously balanced on each other.  According to the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, "the marbles were formed from an upsurge of molten rock that cooled and became solid beneath a layer of sandstone.  The solidifying granite caused vertical and horizontal fractures creating rectangular blocks.  Over time water infiltrated the cracks breaking down the sandstone and then the granite.  As a result, rounded granite boulders perched on top of each other have been revealed."

We saw a dingo too!


Sunday, June 12, 2011

9 Years!

Our 9 year wedding anniversary was on Thursday. We had a very nice day that started out early with a breakfast cruise along the Katherine River.

We ate breakfast on the boat as we cruised through the first gorge.  We got off the boat, took a short walk along the river to the next boat, and cruised through a second gorge.  We went on the early cruise because we had a very long day of driving ahead of us with a couple of stops.  The first stop was at Mataranka where we visited the Elsey Cemetery where many of the people from Jeannie Gunn's famous Australian book "We of the Never Never" are buried.  Ben is reading this book right now about Jeannie and her husband who worked at a rural cattle station in the early 1900's.  We were surprised when we saw the memorial to Jeannie that it was the 50th anniversary of her death the very day we were there.

We had our anniversary lunch at a very quirky place, the Daly Waters Pub. 

We ended up in Tennant Creek for the night.  It poured rain for a while.  We hadn't seen rain for probably 3 weeks and it is getting cold now.  It will probably be down around freezing tonight!

Km today: 693
Total travelled: 8215