Month: December 2013

Tuesday I got back from two days in Uluru (Ayers Rock).  In my two previous trips to Australia, I hadn’t managed to get there, so third time’s a charm, right?  It is lovely in an oddly endearing way with its scrub and desolation, beautiful in a unique and very different way to a place like Sydney, whose beauty is based on its architecture, harbor and shoreline (and maybe the people).  It’s also hot, as you would expect a desert to be in summer.  But really the star of the trip–or stars, rather–were Kata-Tjuta, or the Olgas, a rock formation whose Aboriginal name means “many heads” due to its multiple domed rocks. 

I got to Ayers Rock on Sunday afternoon and spent most of that time determining what tours to take and what to try and see.  I knew that I hadn’t given myself enough time to explore the area much, but I also didn’t relish the thought of being in a hostel in the middle of a desert for too long (don’t get me started on the hostel).  There isn’t much else to see in the immediate area of Ayers Rock; the nearest city, Alice Springs, is around four hours away.  Another national park, Kings Canyon, is three hours away.  So really, Uluru-Kata-Tjuta National Park is very isolated.  There’s nothing else out that way, so you’re going there just to see a bunch of giant rocks.  I booked a couple of tours, including an astronomy tour to take place that evening–if you’re going to be out in the middle of the desert, you may as well try to see some stars, right?  Not far from my hostel dorm, there was a lookout over Uluru and I went to check it out around sunset.  I had heard that Uluru changed colors in the light, which makes sense.  But throughout sunset, I thought it looked largely the same and I was left less than impressed.  However, the sun was setting right by Kata-Tjuta, and it was glorious.  Possibly the best sunset I’ve ever seen.  The cloud cover made for a great sunset, but the astronomy tour was cancelled that evening and I was rescheduled for the next night.

My tour Monday afternoon wound its way through the national park, spending time in the Olgas and admiring Ayers Rock from afar.  The temperature outside was roughly 100F on the ground, but during our short hike in Kata-Tjuta between Mt. Olga and another rock whose name I can’t remember, our guide advised us that it would be even hotter since the rocks would radiate the heat and the sun would be bearing down on us.  (Why do they do such tours in the middle of the afternoon, anyway?)  The hike itself was decent, aside from the insects (it’s not Australia’s spiders you need to be concerned about—it’s the number of flies), but the journey was a bit more interesting than the destination.  A lot of the area is closed due to Aboriginal cultural significance, and some areas are off-limits when it’s really hot, as was the case with the Valley of the Winds (which a fellow tourist said was far better than the hike we’d done).  After our hike, we drove around to a lookout to see Uluru at sunset while drinking wine.  I was a bit too busy with the latter and making friends with a fellow solo American female traveller to take any pictures, but I can tell you that the sunset there wasn’t that spectacular.  At sunset, it really is Kata-Tjuta that you should see.

Needless to say, I was sweaty and disgusting from all the hiking that afternoon, so my new friend let me take a shower in her hotel room.  She even gave me a bag full of fruit, some milk and a bunch of tea bags before sending me on my way to the astronomy tour.  I felt this tour was more informative and interesting than the one I took at the Sydney Observatory several weeks ago, and much smaller as well.  We didn’t see nearly as many stars as I’d hoped, as the nearly-full moon was so bright it was casting shadows.

Tuesday was uneventful since my flight was in the middle of the day, but as always, I was glad to come back to Sydney.

I look forward to my next trip to the Hunter Valley (read:  wine country) the weekend after Christmas.  Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

One week away: Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road

I was fortunate enough to have friends of a friend host me in Melbourne for four nights.  My hosts Kevin and Leeanne were SO gracious and helpful.  Half the stuff I did in Melbourne I wouldn’t have seen if it hadn’t been for their recommendations. For example, I wouldn’t have gone to the completely amazing Melbourne Museum to see the fantastic Designing Bond exhibit.  I only wish we were allowed to take pictures inside.  There were clothes, set pieces, drawings and mockups of sets…it was a Bond fanatic’s dream.  The biggest room in the exhibit was set up like a casino and had a re-creation of the poker table from Casino Royale, complete with the outfits of the characters sitting at the table.  I walked into the room and said aloud, “This is what I paid to see!”  It was opulent and wonderful and I geeked out looking at Bond girl outfits and such.  I spent roughly 5 or 6 hours at this museum alone; there’s so much to see and I only glanced at most of it. There’s a section dedicated to Aboriginal history, another section about the history of Melbourne, exhibits about dinosaurs and geology, human anatomy, and so much else.  If you wanted to take your time looking over everything, you could easily spend a couple of days there.  That night, I met Leeanne, Kevin and a couple of their friends at the Queen Victoria Market, where merchants sell their crafts or food.  It’s a very happening place with a lot of good stuff to pick from.

The next day, I went to the Immigration Museum primarily to see the Faith Fashion Fusion exhibit about Muslim women who respect and observe their faith by covering themselves but who also show a lot of creative flair while doing so.  (I like looking at clothes in museums–can you tell?)  After that, I went back to Federation Square and stumbled upon a banner for a music video exhibit currently happening at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and decided I had to see it. I’d already been told it was a really cool museum.  Naturally, I wandered in about 1.5 hours before they were to close and spent most of that time geeking out over music videos.  I subsisted largely on VH1 and MTV as a teenager, so for me this was a must-see.  I was not disappointed.  They even had a whole section devoted to David Bowie!  There were SO many videos to watch, there wasn’t nearly time for them all.  There were pieces from an OK Go video, A-ha’s iconic “Take On Me” video, even a room devoted to showing “epic” videos that were more like movies in scale–the videos were being shown on an entire wall as opposed to a tv screen.  There was a lot to see in that museum, and unfortunately time didn’t allow me to see much more of it, but if I found myself in Melbourne again, I would go back.

That Friday, I went to the cool beach suburb of St. Kilda, which features cool music venues that get some good acts whose names I recognized.  I wasn’t there all that long and didn’t look around much.  It was a bit cool and breezy that day, so I sheltered in Republica for a while (they had a fireplace!) and was consumed by how mind-blowing their pizza was.  (You can see the picture of it on Instagram.  Yes, I am one of “those people” who takes pictures of delicious food just to taunt you.) That evening, I checked out some films at the inaugural Aperture Film Festival, which Leeanne and Kevin had helped organize.  They had also graciously invited me to the festival’s networking event afterward, and I wasn’t going to say no to free wine and food.

Saturday morning I headed over to the Abbotsford Convent for their farmers market and had breakfast and bought some really good chocolate.  The final event of the Aperture festival honoring the best film and people’s choice was that afternoon. Afterward, a lot of people went to celebrate the success of the festival by getting Thai food and drinking leftover wine from the previous night’s networking event, and a good time was had by all.

Early the next morning, I caught the van for my Great Ocean Road trip.  Less than an hour and a half into the trip, we had a great team-building exercise when the van broke down and the group of us had to push it in the hope that that would get it going again.  No such luck, although some townies were able to pull it with their small sedan and that worked like a charm (go figure).  We made a stop at the Otway Treetops park and had dinner in Princetown, a town with 13 residents but which is clearly accustomed to having tour groups stop in.  We went to see the Twelve Apostles at sunset, although the clouds prevented us from getting the view we’d hoped.  It was still really amazing to see the Apostles in person though after having seen so many pictures of them.  We stayed the night in the really nice Port Campbell Hostel.

The following day, we went to Brambuk, an Aboriginal cultural center in Grampians National Park, where we saw a movie about the Aboriginal origin story of the area and painted our own boomerangs with Aboriginal symbols.  I felt a little weird about the cultural appropriation going on there, but everyone’s work turned out well (except mine–I’m almost never successful at being artsy).

The next morning was the final day of our tour and we got up early to get in some hiking before our 5+ hour drive to Adelaide.  We hiked to the Pinnacle and MacKenzie Falls, both of which were well worth the trip (although it was pretty sad to realize how out of shape I am).

The trip was great, and I would go with Topdeck again.  I stayed the night at a hostel in Adelaide and took a little while to wander around town in search of dinner.

I was really glad I had an awesome breakfast the next morning, because the rest of the day did not go as expected at all.  I got to the Adelaide airport around 9:30 in preparation for my Virgin Australia flight at 11:30, only to find out it had been cancelled.  I eventually got shuffled onto a Qantas flight that left around 4:30.  However, the Qantas flight supplied everyone on board with their choice of free cheese and crackers or an apple and free beverages, which pretty much everyone took advantage of.

So I had an eventful week away, and now I’m looking forward to my trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock) in 10 days!  Until next time…