Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Next Up

We'll be in town for a couple months, possibly doing short excursions here and there, fixing up a bunch of minor things on the camper and truck, but mostly enjoying the company of family and friends before our big USA trip starting sometime in February.  For those interested in the full gory photo details of the Australia trip they're on Kodak Gallery:


No need to log in, just go to the slideshow.  A briefer version is in the 4 new blogs below.

East Coast, Canberra and Melbourne

At this point we're back in LA and will unload a backlog of pictures over the last month or so.  After finishing with the scenic Great Ocean road, we stayed one night in Melbourne visiting our friends Blake (yes his name is Blake too) and Helen whom we met in New Zealand on the Milford Track.  They were nice enough to provide us a home base for the various times we were to pass through Melbourne which would eventually amount to 4 separate times.  We feared our stay was a bit overextended but they insisted and made our experience far richer for their local knowledge and friends we met.  They even went so far as to find us elusive tickets to the Melbourne Cup's Derby Day- a huge party in formal dress at the horse races where most of the country stops and treats it essentially as a holiday.

The first time through they took us to the storied Kooyong Tennis Club for dinner and a tour through the halls with pictures of former Australian Open champs when it was played there before the Rod Laver stadium was built.  Only staying for a day, we then began our travel along the coast in the southeast corner of the country.  This is the long but scenic way between Melbourne and Sydney.  Hundreds of scenic beaches are found along the way (1).

Partway up the coast we turned inland to Canberra, the nation's capitol (2).  The city was designed to have huge park spaces and feel wide open.  They succeeded at the expense of people calling it sprawling and boring.  Most Australians will make a "why would you go there" face at you when mentioning you're going to Canberra but it's got some good museums (especially the War Museum) and a good tour of Parliament.

Back in Melbourne a week later, we attended Derby Day (3)(4) with Blake and Helen.  The horseracing has almost taken a back seat to the elaborate tailgate parties.  In fact most people never see a live race, mostly facilitated by the convenient big screens, porta-loos, and betting tents located throughout the parking grounds.  Back home we watched "Kenny" an Australian movie- a mockumentary about a guy who works for a portable toilet company.  A good sampling of Australian humor if you can decipher the accents fast enough.

Next we take the ferry to Tasmania for 12 days.  A picture of Melbourne from the ferry deck (5).

Tasmania part 1

Most Australians Say Tasmania looks a lot like New Zealand.  And it does with the exception of most of the trees being eucalypts.  Lots fewer people, more rural, and greener than the mainland.  The northwest coast has some rugged coastline (1) and "The Nut" (2).  This was our first campsite on Tasmania (3).  Going back inland there are some temperate rainforests (4 & 5) and scenic mountain ranges.

Tasmania part 2

All of Australia is going through a huge drought and they're to the point of building desalination plants.  Tasmania gets more rain than most of the mainland and even its lakes are quite low (1).  Down south there's more nice bays and beaches (2 & 3).  Hobart is Tassie's largest city with a population around 150,000 (4).

Tasmania part 3

The Tasman peninsula was used as a hardcore penal colony for those original convicts who were shipped off to Australia and still repeatedly committed crimes.  This is where the convicts went to church, each in their own little cubicle (1 - where's Betsy?)  Some of the coastline of the Tasman peninsula (2).  The northeast coastline (3) is again amazingly scenic and yielded our best campsite of the whole trip (4 & 5).  After this, we headed back to Devonport and the ferry.  Back on the mainland, we stayed with Blake and Helen again and had a traditional Aussie BBQ (with shrimp).  On Monday we visited the ITG Australia office and they took us to a nice lunch on the South Bank.

Sadly the trip was soon over but we had Thanksgiving and the holidays to look forward to at home.  Over the 2 months we drove over 15,000 kms (9400 miles) and not one oil change.  But we did have to replace the cracked windshield.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Southeast Australia part 1

We visited a few wildlife parks on our way and have interacted with the native creatures. A good number of them are suitable for petting zoos and consequently many are petted.

Southeast Australia part 2

Here's some various rock formations and overlooks... The third one is a "Where's Betsy" puzzle.

Southeast Australia part 3

There's some more great coastline along the south, including the iconic 12 Apostles. Well... 11 since the one front and center crumbled a few years back. They also have a very PCH-like stretch of road with nice surf beaches. Their flies, however are incredibly persistent and land wherever they can find an orifice [do not insert joke here].

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

South Central Australia part 1

We’re finally back in a town with over 100,000 people and decent internet. Since the last time, we’ve essentially driven along the southwest coastline of the country, across the Nullarbor plain, down part of the Eyre peninsula and up to Coober Pedy. The southwest coast is reknowned for its turquoise beaches and white sand (1 & 2). On many of these beaches kangaroos and wallabies hang out mowing on the grass fairly unconcerned about human presence (3). This one ambled by our van door and peered in for a moment.

The southwest also has a couple forests with eucalyptus trees almost as tall as redwoods. In one of those forests they’ve erected a steel walkway amongst the treetops about 130 feet up (4). It sways in the wind and the forest floor is in clear sight through the metal grating walkway causing a bit of a pucker.

Unfortunately, snakes enjoy this country too and we nearly stepped on a King Brown (5) later to learn it is somewhere around the 3rd deadliest in the world. But all Australian snakes have teeth no longer than a few millimeters so you’re typically fine unless it gets bare skin.

South Central Australia part 2

The birds are a bit more friendly though (1).

The outback starts to dominate the central part of the country producing spectacular sunsets (2). For a short while the highway skirts the southern ocean along impressive cliffs that run for a hundred or so miles along the coast (3). The softer sandstone underneath harder rocks doesn’t allow beaches to form as chuncks of cliff crumble into the ocean. Along these long desolate roads many people just camp in various picnic areas along the way and the stars are bright. Unfortunately there’s a fair amount of roadkill and most trucks and SUVs have “roo catchers.”

This is also the land of the infamous “road trains” (4) which are allowed to be up to 150 feet long and whose air drag can lurch your ludicrously tall campervan half a lane over. On the way to Coober Pedy in the true middle of nowhere are some large dry lakes (5). A lot of this land is used by AUS and USA military for rocket tests.

South Central Australia part 3

Coober Pedy itself is one of the hottest places in the country but has a ton of opal, so the miners ingeniously turn their mineshafts into homes afterwards (1 & 2). A few scenes from the Mad Max movies were filmed in this area- very desolate and otherworldly looking (3). It’s just a lot of dirt, heat and more dirt- most of it in hundreds of thousands of piles left over from the mining activity.

The football field is kept alive by treated sewer water while the golf course doesn’t have a blade of grass on it- you carry a small patch of artificial grass to hit your ball off of. The putting greens are simply a different blend of dirt so there’s some color contrast (4&5). However, it is the only golf course in the world that has reciprocal rights with St. Andrews in Scotland. Years ago, somewhat as a joke, the offer was made (with a token gift of a mine claim thrown in) and the Scots accepted on account of the novelty of it all. Now we’re on our way back south and east to more civilized areas and coastline.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Bad formatting apology for below post

Being too lazy to correct, simply accept my apologies for the bad formatting below. Cheers!

A bit of excitement

While in Perth- normally a very clean and inviting city, we had a bit
of excitement with some of the locals. We sat down at an internet
cafe and, as many people do, completely zone out the world around
them while on the computer. Fortunately the shopkeep and one other
person in the establishment weren't completely engrossed in the latest
goings ons of Brangelina- to see a young kid probably no older than
11 "tie his shoes" next to Betsy's purse. Ashamedly, I had the best
view of her purse at her feet and saw none of this.

The shopkeep immediately came over to us and asked us to check if
everything was still there. The wallet was indeed gone. He and
the one other observant person (out of maybe 20 people crammed
in the shop) pointed him out as he was quickly walking down the street.
There were several people in black shirts so couldn't readily
figure out which one while they were back at the shop frantically
pointing in various directions. I got to the first intersection
about to give up when one passerby noticed the hubub and said a
kid just went to the right down the street. Sprinting in that
direction, a nice lady at a sidewalk cafe calmly noted that a kid
turned down the next closest side street and continued sipping her
coffee as if this was an everyday occurence. Running down the
street, in a doorway were one young boy and 2 slightly older girls-
no more than 14. No one else was around though one other young
couple followed me to possibly help or just see what was going on.

Then a strange moment occurred when the young boy looked at me and
the wheels were turning on what he could say next, but with Betsy's wallet
in one hand and the other full of her cash, he simply handed it all
over. Betsy caught up and confirmed everything was intact. At
this point curiosity got the best of me and I started to question what
a kid his age is doing all this for. At which point the oldest girl,
maybe a sister or cousin, started getting belligerent about us suggesting
this might not be a wise career path and we ought to mind our own business.

I threatened to call the police but they just laughed. They had an
untouchable attitude and began to quickly walk away. More flabbergasted
than anything we just let them go and thanked the various passersby that
pointed us in their direction. Everyone seemed to be very casual about
it and one person jokingly said "Welcome to Australia". We all had
a good laugh (much easier since everything was retrieved safely).

Later at the cybercafe, the shop did call the police and when they did
show up 45 minutes later it was explained to us that even if caught
red-handed as they were, the police could only call their parents to
pick them up from the station. And most times, Aboriginal parents don't
even show up so the kids are put back out to the street (until they reach
legal age- when the laws can finally do something). Apparently this
is a common problem in a lot of big cities and there's not a whole lot
the government can do about it. Other than that, it's been a fantastic
trip so far!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Australia part 1

For the next 2 months (until Thanksgiving) we'll be in Australia, more specifically travelling from Perth to Melbourne along the southern coast. The Indian Ocean is a nice turquoise color and there's various bizarre landforms on this coast as well. Western Australia is the same size as India but with 0.5% of the population. We already saw some of the locals hanging out in the bush.