Monday, May 31, 2004

Home Again...with Maps

I am back in Canada and attempting to organize all my stories and pictures into some sort of order. Here's where I went

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The Route

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Circuits Around Australia

So far the following sections are finished:
Australia Part 1
Australia Part 2
Australia Park 3

Click on a country here or to the right to jump to the start.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Sydney...again but much colder

<< Uluru | The Route | Home >>

Friday, May 14, 2004

Now That's One Big Rock

First glimpses of that famous rock

Me and a big rock

Erin, Kirsten and Robyn at a chilly sunrise

Pink sunrise at Uluru

Tourists ignoring the sign

The Olgas - Not the biggest but still large rocks

One last campsite at The MacDonnell Ranges

<< Nowhere, OZ | The Route | Sydney >>

Monday, May 10, 2004

Miles of Nothingness

We hit the road from Katherine for two full days of driving. The Northern Territory is the least densely populated region of Australia. The Stuart Highway from Katherine to Alice Springs drives right through the heart of the desolate outback. As the miles clicked by we watched the scenery change from tropical to harsh dry landscape.
Northern Territory roads are famous for two things. First, there are no speed limits on most of the major roads. Second, transport trucks are known as road trains as they often have up to 5 or 6 long flat beds behind them. Passing them on the two lane highway made for quite the intimidating experience at first.
Near the end of the first day of driving we stopped at the Devil's Marbles. This is just the sort of random freaky geological configuration one could only encounter in Australia. For miles stretched giant rocks eroded into near perfect spherical shapes and balanced in precarious positions. The sun was low so the lighting was perfect for an extended photo session.

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The bizarre Devil's Marbles

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Potential Team Reak album cover???

We also made a short pitstop in Wycliff which hold the distinct honour of being the UFO siting capitol of Australia.

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Officially in X-Files Territory

With aliens on the brain we pushed on after dusk when we encountered some bizarre lights heading towards. The strange vehicle seemed to be nearly on top of us on a head on collision course one moment and miles away the next. It turned out to be only a bus and the flat landscape caused strange illusions with the headlights. But we still had huge laughs of our fear of aliens coming to probe our brains (and fearfully other things.)

Gas prices were a ridiculous $1.35/litre in the middle of nowhere

We stayed the night at a campground in Ti Tree. After driving nearly 1000 kilometres south there was a marked difference in the temperature. We pulled out our toques and retired straight away so we could start another day of driving.
The next morning we drove two hours to Alice Springs and then continued the five more to Uluru. Considering we were driving to what is arguably Australia's most famous tourist destination we were surprised at the small number of vehicles on the road.

<< Katherine | The Route | Uluru >>

Sunday, May 09, 2004

A One Year Anniversary in Katherine

On the way to Katherine there is a beautiful spot called Edith Falls. We nearly didn’t stop there but we were tired of driving for the day and thought we would take advantage of an early end to the day. We were delighted that we did. The lovely Edith Falls empty into a clear deep pool about 400 metres across. It was the perfect spot for a cooling swim and some relaxation.

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Edith Falls near dusk time

The campground itself was also a pleasant surprise. That night we set up our tents on lush green grass rather than hard packed dirt.

The third and perhaps most agreeable surprise was the lack of mosquitoes. I can’t be sure but I suspect this was a result of the ubiquitous toads that we encountered everywhere at the campground. Perhaps these large green creatures had managed to consume all the mozzies in the area. Regardless, I was not complaining. We sat around that evening enjoying wine from a box while Erin taught us Mau. Taught not exactly being the correct word since the idea of the game is that new players have to figure out the rules for themselves and new ones are made up all the time. Definitely good for some laughs.

The next day we completed the drive into Katherine. We spent some time wandering around the town, stocking up at the shopping centre and checking our email. We decided not to stay out at the gorge itself because the campground was crowded and overpriced. Instead we stay at Springvale campground a quiet spot on the other side of Katherine.

We shared out campground the next couple of nights with two ducks that we nicknamed Toast and Quackers. They wandered around everywhere together mostly looking to steal any of our food that might hit the ground. Well any food except tofu. Apparently the ducks were not fans of chewy soy products.

The other creatures sharing our campground were a family of wallabies. At one point around dusk I managed to count ten at the neighbouring campsite. I was amazed as I watched them. When I came to Australia I imagined marsupials of all sorts to be rare exotic creatures that I would only have the chance to see in zoos. After a year in Australia I had seen dozens of wallabies and kangaroos but it didn’t make spotting them in the wild any less thrilling.

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A small wallaby obviously unfazed by photographers

I came to Katherine gorge to canoe beneath the imposing cliffs so that is just what we did. Kirsten and Robyn in one bright yellow canoe, Erin and I in the other.

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Beautiful Katherine Gorge

The attendant at the rental shop directed us to look for the stream at the top of the first section of the river. From there we could dock our boats and hike into some waterfalls. Apparently, it would be obvious where to stop based on ‘distinct change in vegetation’. Since no one from Team Reak was an ecologist this was not so obvious to us. Instead we took our cue from the half a dozen other bright yellow canoes.

The pools themselves were crowded and with only parts being in the sun real estate was at a premium. But we lounged long enough for our arms to get a second wind.

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Post waterfall swim….Go Team Reak

We stayed a little too long at the waterfalls and then taking pics of the gorge and had to boot it back to return the boats on time. Along the way tourists from the vast 100 seater tour boats were taking our pictures. I guess we must have looked very striking paddling along in our bright canoes decked out in sexy life jackets.

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Lifejacket yellow is so my colour

While in Katherine, Kirsten and I celebrated our one year anniversary of travelling!

<< Kakadu | The Route | Miles from Anywhere, NT >>

Thursday, May 06, 2004


Although it would have been easy to stay several days in Litchfield we had to keep moving and Kakadu was the next destination. Kakadu covers a massive 8000 square miles but we were able to see only the mere fraction that is reachable by sealed roads.

Just before entering the park we stopped to replenish our water supplies. We met an Irish couple who claimed to be knowledgeable on all things Kakadu. First off they told us that we were going to need much more water. (Except that I knew the campgrounds had water plus there was a store within the park) Then when they learned we would have to stick to the sealed roads they informed us to “not even bother.” Thanks for the advice but we decided to still see what we could.

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Entering Kakadu

We spent our first night at the Kakadu which with a pool and a pub was not exactly the definition of roughing it. We relaxed at the pool until we were eventually officially creeped out by all the middle aged men checking us out. That night the pub was a welcome refuge from the monstrous mosquitoes.

Kakadu mozzies are unlike any I have previously encountered. They bite through clothing and are undeterred by 95% deet. Rather they seem incited to bite harder by it. The next morning we discovered that we were camped mere metres from a billabong. A mistake I desperately hoped we would never repeat. Our campsite was also infiltrated by scary Hitchcock type birds. At one point we left some tortillas unattended on the picnic table for just a few moments. We returned to find a half a dozen of them pecking through the package.

The day we stopped at the visitor centre and Jabiru on the way to our next campsite. Jabiru was lauded as a bustling commercial centre but all we seemed to find was a concrete strip mall with really terrible coffee. It was on to Merl to setup a camp for the night. We embarked on the road but had not proceeded very far when the discovered the road had been washed out. Unsure if the Reak Mobile would handle the water we tested it out but decided to give it an attempt but with only Kirsten, the driver in the car in order to minimize the weight.

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Now what?

While we were setting up the tents a couple of German girls asked if they could camp at the neighbouring spot. They wanted to be near some other females. There were very few other sites occupied and it was nice to be visiting a spot outside the high tourist season. The German girls proceeded to pump up a massive air mattress and we, with our thin foam mats, had extreme mattress envy.

We decided to complete the Bardedjilidji circuit before heading for Ubirr to watch the sunset. All along the path at Nourlangie were numbers obviously corresponding to a guide that we had not obtained. Robyn decided to compose her own tour for us.

’And here we have number 4 it is another rock. Like some rocks it can be hard but like other rocks it can also be soft. There is painting on the rock that has much significance of some sort to the Aboriginal people’

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Kirsten poses on some hard/soft(?) rocks

The sunset at Ubirr was lovely even with the cloud cover. We walked up to the top of the rock and gazed out over the wetlands. Apparently during the wet season the entire plain is flooded. At this time of the year most of the water has receded but enough pools remain to reflect the red light from the sunset. A truly beautiful effect.

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Sunset at Ubirr

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Erin, Robyn and Kirsten enjoying the view

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An amazing location indeed

We spent another night enduring the wretched mosquitoes. We headed to bed early once again to gain some refuge. The cries of dingos howling at the full moon were the last things we heard.

Our final morning at Kakadu was spent exploring Nourlangie. There were stacks of Aborginal paintings. Some of them quite old but some of them fairly recent possibly even painted in the last twenty years. The Aboriginal history is so incredibly ancient yet amazingly still practiced today with very little change. My first inclination was shock that 2000 year old paintings could just be covered up with new drawings. But after visiting Nourlangie I realized that the Aboriginal’s opinion of preserving their ancient artifacts was different than ours. To them repainting the drawings was in essence keeping the spirit of the original artist alive.

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A more recent example of Aboriginal paintings

On our way out of Kakadu we stopped for a picnic lunch and managed to amuse ourselves with the hundreds of ants. We dropped bits of our lunch on the ground and watched as within seconds the ants had discovered it. The way the organize themselves so quickly and efficiently. How is they haven’t taken over the world?

So overall we saw some beautiful parts of Kakadu even while sticking to the sealed roads. However there is definitely more plus all the great swimming spots are on the 4wd tracks. We decided to cut our time there short in order to head to somewhere we could fully immerse ourselves in cool deep water.

Most expensive gas price so far is 112.9 cents/litre.

<< Darwin to Litchfield | The Route | Katherine >>

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Escape to the Top End

After three months of living and working in the Brisbane area it was time to travel again. My youngest sister Erin and her friend Robyn had flown into Brisbane (both freshly graduated from university) and Kirsten was returning from her job in Eidsvold, a small town in rural Queensland. Our last night in Brisbane was spent at the Manly Pub for a few drinks.

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Chris and I at the Manly pub

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Robbie and Sue

The next day we visited the Manly waterfront. It was Erin and Robyn’s first glimpse at the Australian coast.

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Kirsten, Alicia, Erin and Robyn at Manly Harbour

Then we were off on the Virgin Blue flight to Darwin. In front of us, as we walked out onto the runway to board the plane we spotted a mysterious character. This young man, perhaps in his late 20s, was dressed sharply in dark pants and a white collared shirt however upon closer inspection his clothes were dirty and torn He limped slowly across the tarmac and as I approached him a terrible stench emanating from his body overwhelmed me. I had never before encountered someone in such conditions boarding an airplane. My curiosity about this man’s peculiar condition plagued me throughout the flight. When we arrived in Darwin I watched as an older couple met the man and welcomed him home. It made me happy to know that no matter what turmoil this man had endured he had a home to which to return.

The Lonely Planet had described Darwin as Australia’s most cosmopolitan city but other than the massive MGM Grand I saw little signs of sophistication. Sadly what we did encounter were dozens of Aboriginal people wandering aimlessly throughout the streets. Although I had been in Australia for nearly a year this was the only type of experience I would ever have with an Aboriginal person. I knew that there was so much more to their cultural but I had not had the opportunity to learn much about it. I was hoping that this time in the Northern Territory, a place held deeply sacred for the Aboriginal people would enlighten me on their fascinating cultural.

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Just really liked these painted flowers

A couple of hours wandering the streets of Darwin gave us a gist of the city’s history. Stories of the repeated attacks endured during World War II and the disastrous Cyclone Tracy which flattened the city in 1974 were pounded into our heads ad naseum. It was time to return for a pleasant veg out session at the hostel pool.

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Did you ever hear the one about the Canadian girl who found a thong?

We picked up our rental car, quickly dubbed the REAK (Robyn, Erin, Alicia, Kirsten) mobile. We lucked out at the rental shop when gathering our camping gear and the nice smelling very cute attendant through in plenty of extras. Then we were on our way to Litchfield National Park. On the way into the park we passed by hundreds of termite mounds. I was disconcerted to know that these massive piles were made by thousands of tiny termites scavenging the countryside for building materials.

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Kirsten and I pose briefly near the scary termite mounds

We camped at a no frills spot near the Buley Falls. The water from the taps was brown and undrinkable but the location was serene. Our site looked out across a luscious valley over which the next morning we watched the sun rise in a brilliant fiery red ball from the comfort of our tent.

The Buley water hole was a great place to spend our first afternoon. We sprawled out on the rocks and relaxed. Luckily the warning from the signs did not need to be heeded.

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Kirsten, Erin and Robyn relaxing in the pools

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Sound advice

The next morning we hiked from the Buley water hole to Florence Falls where we challenged one another to battle the current and reach the rock face beneath the falls.

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Beautiful Florence Falls

The swimming spots were lovely and peaceful but the threat of crocodiles is always a serious threat in the Northern Territory. Saltwater crocodiles are the most dangerous sort and are ominously nicknamed the ‘maneating’ crocodile. However just like shark attacks in Australia their reputation is highly exaggerated. I read once that more people are killed by vending machines than crocodiles each year. Yet even though the risk is exceptionally low at Litchfield this time of year the occasional scary image still managed to flash its way into my head.

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Ominous signs found throughout the top end of Australia

<< Sydney | The Route | Kakadu >>