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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

 

Sleeping under the stars

Swags

How was to be sleeping under the stars?” Matt started to unpack the food, a lot of food…., and everybody, men and women started to prepare dinner. After everybody got stuffed we were given the spiel about what is a “swag”. On their site it was stated that we will sleep in “swags”. In American English “swag” means something else so I kind of thought that it should be some kind of tarpaulin under which we sleep. But the “swags” proved to be some thin mattresses covered in a waterproof material that you put directly on the ground and …sleep under the stars inside your sleeping bag.

Kata Tjuta at sunrise, Northern Territories, Australia

The Milky Way was right on top of us and if I were not jet lagged probably I could have stay all night to watch a sky completely littered with stars like you have no chance to see in our towns because of the light pollution. When I woke up around 3 AM the moon have risen and all was covered in spectacular silvery light that is hard to forget. In the night you could hear the dingos howling not too far away and the wild camels snorting somewhere nearby. We woke up for the sunrise but the only thing I wished was to sleep the next night again under the stars. I’d try this in Long Island but I bet that I would get a racoon jumping on me in the morning.

Climbing in Kata Tjuta

The hike of the day was in a national park, Kata Tjuta, around some rocks named after a Russian Queen. They used to be known as “The Olgas” and they could be seen from the sunrise place from where we watched Uluru. Eventually, to mark its aboriginal roots, the rocks were renamed around 1900 Kata Tjuta, that means “many heads”.

Climbing Kata Tjuta

A lot of legends are associated with the rocks but as we understood they are kept secret and are not shared at all with outsiders. The only thing we could find out is that it is a place exclusively for men’s initiation and as a result the women are not allowed to come.

Kata Tjuta

For us it was extremely beautiful hike on a circuit that goes around and inside the perimeter of the rocks that took about 3 hours for a little more than 6km. After the hike we returned to the campsite for a quick camel burger lunch and took our backpacks and moved to a different location. On the way we collected a large amount of wood and made a big fire and ate the kangaroo steaks around it. Everybody gathered around the fire and ended up placing the swags close by it and went to a deep sleep under the same sky covered in billions of stars.

 

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2018 in Australia, Blog

 

A rock in the middle of Australia

Driving through the Australian outback

At 6 AM Matt stopped his bus in front of the hotel to pick us up. We booked a tour with Mulgas Adventures after we checked several days a number of accommodation sites that came up each and every time with absolutely no place to sleep around Uluru. It would not have been an issue just to drive there but still being the outback we had The accommodations in the area are few and quite expensive ranging between $300-$450/night but in spite of this no site turned any availability. However a number of outfitters offers very low cost 3-4 days tours from Alice Springs to Uluru and the one we picked was Mulgas Adventures that offered something quite interesting but also puzzling: sleeping under the stars.
Their logo: “WTF’s Mulgas?” But WTF they mean by: “sleeping under the stars”?

This is what happens if you don’t drink enough water in the desert

There are about 500 km from Alice Springs to Uluru, first on Stuart Highway that connects Darwin to Adelaide. Also Stuart was the original name of the town till Alice got involved with her waterhole to confuse the hell out of everybody. In the outback you keep driving fast and look for jumping kangaroos, but none came in our site. It’s nothing in between the two stops that are few and far between, mainly gas stations and a tiny restaurant. The rest is the bush on both sides with mulga trees and eucalyptus and occasionally dead trees burnt from lighting strikes. We stopped at a camel farm where all tours offer a camel safari, actually a glorious name for just riding a camel around a loop. I guess in the lack of any other transportation the camels, introduced in Australia by Afghans in 1860, were a solution but I doubt that Todd & Co enjoyed riding them. It bounces the hell out of you and I think the only worse thing is to ride an elephant.

Curtin Springs is one of the stops on the way to Uluru

After another stop in Erlanda we took a left turn on Lasseter highway, named in the honor of the guy who crossed the outback first time and discovered Uluru and we kept driving to Curtin Springs, the last stop before getting to our destination. The tours syncs well with the planes landing in Ayers Rock’s Airport and we picked up the rest of the group and went straight to the camp to leave the luggage and from there to the rock.

Uluru

Uluru is spectacular in its unicity. Just a large 364 ft tall rock in the middle of the desert with a circumference of about 10 km. It’s a sacred site for the local aboriginal people an the legends associated with it are numerous, some inscribed in their cultural center. But their secrecy goes to the point that you neither can take photos of them nor buy a brochure or booklet in the store.

The cracks in the rock look like opening to another universe.

The Pitjantjatjara Anangu society, the aboriginals of the area, is very well tiered and the business of men and women are totally separated, each keeping their secrets and legends from each other, and both of them protecting them in great secret from the outsiders.The rock and the entire park was returned in 1985 by the Australian government to the aboriginals who manage the place and try to impose the rules,one being not to climb the rock. Besides they request that some places considered sacred on the rock not to be photographed.

Circumambulating the rock, Uluru, Northern Territories, Australia

If coming in the steaming hot summer months you may have time to do a full circumambulation of the rock of the 9.9 km, but in this month when the sun sets around 6:30 PM we settled only for a drive around the rock and a walk of the front of the rock and the caves in the middle, full of old paintings.

Watching the sunset over the rock…

From there Matt rushed us to get to see the sunset over the Uluru, set a table and filled it up with a generous load of sparkling wine till the entire rock became sort of bubbly like in one of the local dreams.

…and ending a hard day with a (or more) glass of sparkling

 

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2018 in Australia, Blog

 

A town named after Alice

Alice Springs at dusk, Northern Territories, Australia

This entire trip started differently. First, we never planned to go to Australia. It just happened because one of us had to work some days in Sydney. Because Australia was not on the radar, I never read about traveling there in spite that I read about of lot of other places I never ended up going. So when it became clear toward the end of March that it would happen, I started frantically to dig in books and sites to plan something on the knees. Besides, because the work schedule in Sydney was very fluid, I had to adapt and move destinations around to fit the best the 2 weeks available for hopping around the continent. Because of the nature of a large and sparsely populated continent I started, for the first time ever, to book in advance hotels, cars and flights. I never do this in advance. I usually do this on the spot on location, each day of the travel and I finally understood through what the people who like to have things planned in life go through. It’s terrifying… Let it flow and it will come smoothly.

Tip: While trying to book various flights we noticed that you could fly on 80K miles from US to Australia on all airlines with tickets bought one day in advance. It does not look that many people go that route.

Major Mitchell cockatoo drinking water

We packed sleeping bags near business suits, a suitcase near backpacks, and we boarded in the middle of, hopefully, the last snowstorm, at JFK the long haul flight with an intended 10 hours stop in LA. After a change of flight in Sydney to Alice Springs, we finally landed in the middle of Australia after about 41 hours.

Wallaby

Alice was the wife of the first superintendent of the telegraph, Charles Todd, and ended up somehow resting her name on the waterhole and eventually to the future town in the middle of nowhere. The town is right in the center of Australia and its existence sprouted from the fact that in 1872 was on the line of newly developed telegraph. The telegraph construction is a local legend, assigned to Charles Todd who was given 18 months to build the line from Darwin in the north to Port Augusta on the southern cost passing through Alice Springs, on terrain that was never explored. I seriously doubt that Verizon could do it even nowadays…
I guess that Todd was as surprised as us to notice how different are the animals and birds here. While walking the 3 km from town to the telegraph post we were surrounded by parrot like birds of different colors, wallabies sitting for photos and dingos, all surrounded like us by lots of annoying flies.

Royal Flying Doctprs Service old control room

Another remarkable feat is the fact that the Australians initiated in 1911 an aviation service to offer medical care for the people living in the outback. It is the famous Royal Flying Doctor Service that operates nowadays a large fleet of planes on a territory larger that the entire Europe. I guess when the doctor came they did not ask for what insurance somebody may have… It’s striking to realize that 100 years after the Aussies offered flying medical services for all these stranded people of the continent the US Congress tries in full force to limit the medical coverage for people.

The sunset is a special show for the town, the glowing sky inviting everybody on top of Anzac Hill. We joined the ceremony and later dragged ourselves to the hotel to hit the bed after 51 hours on the go….

The sunset show on top of Anzac Hill, Alice Springs

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2018 in Australia, Blog