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Triennial

Yara River, Melbourne, Australia

The day was supposed to be rainy and it started already in the evening to be quite chilly. I was driven close to Melbourne by one of the friends and from there I took a commuter train, using my MyKy card, the card that gives you access to all transportation around Melbourne. The train ride and the look of the train stations reminded me of the London suburbs that I discovered way too many years ago. In a sense Australia preserves a reminiscence of Britain that you can see mainly in its suburbs but also in the way people act and dress in cities. The train chugged along and left me in Southern Cross station in Melbourne where for the second time in the entire trip I had to get cash in order to be able to store my luggage in the station’s lockers.

Triennial at the NGV, Melbourne, Australia

The Triennial at the National Gallery of Victoria, the prime museum of contemporary art is a remarkable event that take advantage of the large spaces of the NGV building. Large spaces in the building accommodate large works of art that are mixed with videos, mixed media and interactive works.

Triennial at the NGV, Melbourne, Australia

Coming a little bit late and having to catch a flight to Sydney in the evening I did not have too much time to spend in the city but I still was able to take a quick tour through some landmarks that I missed the first day.

State Library, Melbourne, Australia

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Posted by on April 14, 2018 in Australia, Blog

 

Skirting around the ocean

The Twelve Apostles, Victoria, Australia

The twelve apostles were actually only seven. But they stood strong in the gale of Victoria’s southern ocean guarded by a impressively tall bluff  probably more than 50 meters.We got here after about 3 hours of straight drive from Melbourne with a friend who lives there and wanted to show me the coast.

Twelve apostles, Victoria, Australia

Great Ocean Road is considered one of the best, if not the best, drive in Australia. It is relatively close to Melbourne, and it follows a V on the southern coast. But it is actually a long and arduous drive, especially if done in the same day. I wanted to rent a car and do the drive myself but my friend offered to take me there and we had a long catch up chat on the way. We started driving earlier than 7 AM and got to the spectaculars rocks where we were surrounded by large groups of Chinese each one of them having having at least one selfie stick.

Bell beach full of surfers, Victoria, Australia

From the Twelve Apostles the road returns following the coast overlooking the sea that many times reaches close to the road. Several resorts are aligned on the way, charming closing gulfs with large beaches, or spectacular heights from where you can see all the way down the green ocean. We drove for more than 5 hours on the road and stopped on the way at several lookouts. One of them is over the Bell Beach, the main beach in Australia for surfing competition.

Surfers at Bell Beach, Victoria, Australia

As the day was inching to the sunset we took the ferry from Queenscliff and cross into the Mornington peninsula at Sorento and drove through signs of jumping kangaroos – none showed up, though and I will leave Australia without seeing the most endemic animal of the continent – to my friend’s house and from there to some of his friends for a delightful dinner in a warm and friendly, typical Australian, atmosphere.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2018 in Australia, Blog

 

Melbourne

St Kilda Pier, Melbourne, Australia

What strikes you first when coming to Melbourne is how relaxed look to be its inhabitants, an atmosphere that becomes imprinted upon the city itself. It’s true that this is prevalent in the entire Australia – more to talk about this later on – but when you are in a vibrant city you expect a little of, you know, the craziness associated with the large cities that we are way too familiar in New York.

Melbourne skyline from St Kilda

And probably to make sure that I stayed in this relaxed spirit I hopped a tram in the morning and got in St Kilda, the sea side neighborhood full of interesting people drinking their coffee and reading their books like is nothing else to be done in the day, in cool cafes that align the main road.

Hugo is a rakali, native water rat, that is coming for food on the pier

St Kilda Pier is the place to be and you are there together with the penguins who come on the rocks in the evenings and with ratali, a species of native rats that come out all day if you know how to call them …and of course feed them.

The circular tram of Melbourne

Melbourne is a city with a vibrant cultural life, ease of moving around by bikes or public transportation, and lots of pockets of free Internet; a city full of cafes and bars that look to be filling to the brim in late afternoon by people coming out from work. It has a remarkable tram system that runs extremely often on most of the main streets that you can hop on free of charge if you go in a large swath of town that encompass the entire city center.

St Peter Catholic Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia

From St Kilda I hopped in the tram and went all the way to Fitzroy and Collingwood, with its edgy look, a larger immigration population, many beautiful and creative cafes and lots of antique and vintage clothing shops. All are aligned around Brunswick and Smith Streets that represent the main thoroughfare of the two districts.

Concert in Federation Square, Melbourne, Australia

It is a lot to see in Melbourne and not having enough time – time is always too short when you travel – I started to do a tour through alleys and streets in the relaxed style that characterizes the locals. From Federation Square, an interesting concoction of metal and glass cubes in whose main square was happening an open air concert, to Hosier Lane covered in graffiti, to the two cathedrals, one catholic one Anglican. Talking about the Anglican church, that guy Henry the Eight was quite a character if you think, not of what he did in his lifetime but for the heritage that he left behind, a sort of Brexit way before his time.

Hosier Lane is the graffiti Lane in Melbourne, Australia

We continued through the connected inside galleries full of glitzy shops connected to the outside one full of restaurants conduits of accessibility that let cross the entire city following their path.

Royal Gallery, Melbourne, Australia

I ended up where I started on the shores of the Yara river guarded day and night by the Melbourne high rises, an iconic image of the city.

Downtown Melbourne by the Yara River by day…

…and by night.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2018 in Australia, Blog

 

Rain Forest

Alexandra’s Point, Daintree Rainforest, Queensland, Australia

In the early morning we could not tell if the ferry got fixed. It was too late in the night for Fiona to call, the owner of the Pink Flamingo, the charming place we stayed in Port Douglas but she guaranteed that it will be running in the morning. This is the only way to connect the upper part of the coast to the towns down south and a lot of people depend on this ferry. On the past day crocodile tour the guide made an entire case for not building a bridge that may bring factories and development destroying the rain forest in the process, “and it if gets destroyed, is no reason for you to be here”

Watch for crocodiles….

And the predictions about the ferry went true so we zipped in no time over the river and started to drive in a tunnel of vegetation sometimes completely obliterating the sky. We stopped on the way at majestic beaches with the rain forest coming all the way to their virgin sand, with large palm trees leaning tempting to offer a touch of shade, with gulfs that were curving in front of us for more than a mile that held in them a crystal clean green water. And it was no soul in place and so we just found out that the beaches cannot be used because the crocodiles are of salt water type, the same we saw yesterday, and no matter that they prefer the river that has a lower salinity, they swim from one river to the other through the ocean and is advisable not to be in their way. More than that we were told that we better stay at least 10 feet from the ocean to make sure that a jumpy croc would not try a quick one on us.

…and jellyfish

But if somehow you escape the crocs, in the summer month the jelly fish are the ones that may send you to the pool. Each jelly fish station has a bottle of vinegar that may alleviate the stings but if you got touched by their tentacles you still have to pack and go to a hospital. So not too much fun in the water here on the Queensland coast.

Dubuji walk in the Cape Tribulation Rainforest

So we settled for some hikes into the rain forest and drove all the the way to Cape Tribulation where the resort’s huts where in the midst of the jungle and long monitor lizards were racing on the boardwalks. However we were wandering what the people who decided to stay there do if they cannot come close to the ocean.

Dubuji walk in the Cape Tribulation Rainforest

But we just found out that close by is a spectacular walk named Dubuji, a meandering boardwalk through various types of vegetation, all luxuriant, with large leaves covering our heads and mangroves large as a huge tree. It was a different forest than the one in Mossman Gorge and way more interesting.

Dubuji walk in the Cape Tribulation Rainforest

The sun’s light was filtered through the canopy giving special colors to the water at the base of the mangrove. The vines were climbing on the trees with extended roots to increase their stability. Beside Dubuji Walk there was also another walk through a mangrove forest that we skipped. We had to make it to Cairns to board a plane and we were concerned about the ferry’s possible delays. Besides from Cape Trib the drive to Cairns takes about 3 hours.

Rex Overlook on the way to Cairns

So the only stop on the way back was at Daintree Ice Cream, an institution in the forest that I think that is visited by everybody who comes this way. They serve a pre-packed 4 scoop ice cream from four exotic fruits they grow on their property but they accept only cash. It was the first time in 10 days when we used cash in Australia.

Cairns, Queensland, Australia

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2018 in Australia, Blog

 

Land of the crocs

Mossman Gorge, Queensland, Australia

Green. Luscious green. The palm trees, the lawns, the sugar cane, the banana trees all have a fresh green color. You are surrounded by it and feel like it may not have been any other color invented in the world. And it’s April, meaning a sort of mid October for us in the Northern Hemisphere.

Mossman Gorge, Queensland, Australia

But we are also in the mid of a rain forest. The oldest and also quite a large one. And the only rain forest in the world that touches the reef. It extends toward the ocean and reaches the beaches of Queensland covering them in its overwhelming green bringing the palms and the vines to their sand.

Mossman Gorge, Queensland, Australia

We left in the morning with the intention to drive all the way to Cape Tribulation, about almost two hours drive from Port Douglas and we stopped on the way at Mossman Gorge, an aboriginal ran place. The place has a large network of hiking paths that meanders by the river and under a dense green canopy, through trees with extended roots and a dense spreads of vines.

Mossman Gorge, Queensland, Australia

Mossman Gorge is at a relatively short distance of Daintree River, a river full of crocodiles, that bask in the sun on its shores. Thare are trips on the river to see them and we planned to take one of these trips the next day. So we went straight to the famous ferry crossing over the river that connects the lower part of the rain forest to the its northern side, more lush and more interesting. We were the third car in line but it looked that something was not right because the otherwise fast ferry looked stuck on the other side. After one hour of questioning and calls, while a huge line formed behind us, turned out that a cable snapped and the ferry would be out of commission for several hours. The operator canceled our RT ticket but she gave us cash for the credit card payment so for the first time we had in our hands Australian dollars. This is, almost exclusively, a credit card country, .

Croc in Daintree River, Queensland, Australia

We turned around and went to Daintree Village looking for the elusive crocs. And kept looking for them in two separate river outings the Daintree River Cruises, one of the many outfitters that do these trips on the this and other rivers, waiting for the ferry to get resurrected. Meanwhile a whole drama was unfolded on the other side of the river with a 1.2 km line of tourist buses waiting to cross and people being shuffled by the crocodile river sruises boats over the river for a more comfortable wait.

Looking for crocodiles in Daintree River, Queensland, Australia

We finished all the possible cruises and the ferry was still being repaired so we turned around and went back to Port Douglas for an early dinner.

Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2018 in Australia, Blog

 

The Reef

Ready for snorkeling

After several days in the outback you may feel that the entire Australia is a desert but when you fly into Cairns you are surrounded by the lush vegetation of Queensland. It’s like the desert never existed. It was humidity in the air and we drove – yeah, on the left side – through large plantation of sugar cane and banana all the way to the charming village of Port Douglas, one hour out of Cairns.

Diver

Cairns and Port Douglas are the two hubs for Australia’s main attraction, the Great Barrier Reef, a underworld marvel that spreads on the length equivalent to the distance between Maine and Florida. I did a little bit of research about how to visit and snorkel in the reef and we settled on Wavelenght, a boat run by local marine biologists that looked to be the best bet for a snorkeling trip.

The coral reef

But the weather started to be iffy, with high winds and a rain forecast and we had to see what better boat would fit this weather, especially because the prediction was for high waves and a very rough ride to the deep ocean.

The Great Barrier Reef

In the end we chose to go with Calypso, that does the same route as Wavelength navigating around Opal Reef, but they have a bigger boat but they do also diving. But no matter how big was the boat the sail was extremely rough and the crew was standing around the 60+ people with bags in hands… just in case. A Dramamine pill though helped a lot.

The Great Barrier Reef

Calypso sailed all the way into the ocean, about 90 minute one way, and they gave us suits to protect from jelly fish that may not have been so active now but are a menace on the coasts of Australia. We did three snorkeling stops, each for about one hour. After each outing the entire crew, supervised by a bearded captain was counting the people on the boat, asking everybody to sit still till the count is over.

The Great Barrier Reef

The reef was spectacular and it looked so different in each location, in some places having more fish than in the other. However in terms of fish and marine life I doubt that anything beats the Red Sea. The Dahab’s Blue Hole in Egypt still remains one of the best snorkeling experience we ever had. But here you have the corals…After the third dive they packed all gear and snorkeling and diving suits and started to clean and prepare them for the following day tour. We sailed back on a less rough sea to the charming village of Port Douglas where life happens in a slow paced, relaxed, Australian way.

The snorkeling boat

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2018 in Australia, Blog

 

Hiking in Watarrka

The group we joined, collected by Mulgas Adventures was a treat for everybody. Mulgas’ requirement was 18-49 years and the spirit and the expectations stayed in these limits. There were 24 people from 8 countries from Europe, US and Australia and few, if any, ever slept in anything less than a comfy bed. They shared the stories and worked all together to cook the meals in a jovial atmosphere like they knew each others for years.

Priscilla’s crack, Watarrka National Park, Australia

After the last breakfast together we packed and went for a hike in Watarrka National Park, about half an hour drive to the camp where we slept over night. The hike was on the rim of Kings Canyon that you reach after you climb about 350 steps through a red rock landscape reminiscent of the rocks in Utah.

Garden of Eden, Watarrka National Park, Northern Territories, Australia

The red rock was quite different though from the one we knew from the US, looking like the skin of an animal creating spectacular dome formations. The canyon is well known in Australia and one famous local movie was shot here, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”. There are staircases to access more heights and right in the middle of the hike is a beautiful place nicknamed “Garden of Eden” where the lights reflect majestically on the rock and also in the water collected at the base. From there you get all the way on top of the canyon that has one the faces perfectly flat, this point being a ceremonial place for the local aboriginal people. The hike was for sure very nice but slightly less spectacular than the hike we did in Kata Tjuta. Maybe only from our own perspective who hiked all the canyons of the South West USA.

Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park, Northern Territories, Australia

It was the last day of a memorable trip for most of us. Some from the group booked a four day trip that would return them  to Uluru and would fly the next day from Ayers Rock. They would sleep on more night under the stars at the first camp close to Uluru.
Matt made some calls and he drove us all to Curtin Springs where another Mulgas Adventure bus was waiting for us. So we said goodbye to our good friends for three days and started to drive back on Lasseter and Stuart Highway reaching Alice Springs after sunset, several of us hanging out together late in the evening for some well deserved drinks in town. Thank you all for such a great trip. Thank you Mulgas and thank you Matt!!!

Emu in the Erlanda Farm, Northern Territories, Australia

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2018 in Australia, Blog