Thursday, 21 March 2013

Adelaide & the Great Ocean Road

After the heat of the Outback it was great to get a little cooler weather in Adelaide before starting our trek back to Melbourne via the Great Ocean Road. We picked up our rental at the airport and had a smooth trip to the hostel with the help of a borrowed GPS. I wasn’t very comfortable driving on the opposite side of the road but am now proficient after the 1500km we racked up in a few days.
Adelaide is a very clean hip little city that was a perfect reintroduction to civilized life. The best part of it was we had a local tour guide in to form of our friend Heather that we met/stalked on the STRAY bus in New Zealand. Heather met us for a coffee and then rounded out our plans for the next day by volunteering to chauffeur us to the nearby wine region and visit Australia’s oldest German settlement called Hahndorf for some pretzels, beer and sausage. I tried to convince the girls to join me in ordering a meter long hot dog but they opted out.
Hahndorf had everything we were looking for within its tiny street of shops. We did a free cheese tasting and a reasonable wine tasting followed by lunch. Then to top it all off we went to a farm and picked fresh strawberries for dessert. Heather then took us through town and pointed out the shopping and restaurant districts for later. She was great guide and made us feel at home in Adelaide.
Our last night in Adelaide we went out for pizza on the way to the fringe festival, which was taking place not too far from the hostel. The setup was great with food and entertainment venues set up throughout a garden that you could walk through. We took it easy as we were gearing up for the drive on the following day
 Our first stop on the way back to Melbourne was a small town called Robe. It was a very quiet town that was a needed stop because I didn’t really feel like driving more than 4hrs a day.
After Robe came Port Fairy. Port Fairy is another small town that had some cools cafes. We took a spur of the moment trip to a place called Tower Hill Reserve. It is advertised as one of the few places where Kangaroos, Emus, and Koalas live in harmony. It turns out that they weren’t kidding! Within 10 minutes we had startled a bunch of Kangaroos, chased an Emu down the path and found a snoring Koala. The weather started to turn and we were kind of freaked out trying to hunt down some photos.
 Following Port Fairy we stopped at Apollo Bay. The YHA here is the best Hostel we have ever stayed in. It bordered on Spa Hotel with its great views and two floor lounges and kitchens. This ended up being an epic day of driving because we stopped at so many places. Jess’s favourite was on Cape Otwaywhere we were enamoured with the sleepy Koalas crawling around and stuffing their little faces. I enjoyed a crazy bit of road that was the twistiest road I’ve ever been on. It made the Road to Hana (in Maui) feel roomy after we a came upon a head on collision in the middle of nowhere. The closest encounter I had was with four or five chubby little sheep that were too stupid to get out of the way and decided to sprint in front of the car in an effort to tire it out.
 If you look close you see two little front teeth - something I did not know koalas had. Hilarious.
This is an echidna. A curious little creature.
In the end we checked out all the coastal sites and stopped at Torquay to see the Surf Museum and the home of Ripcurl and Quicksilver. It was entirely underwhelming and a bit of a sour end to a great part of our trip.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Outback Tour: Darwin to Alice Springs

Get ready for pictures...because here they come.
We arrived in Darwin as a starting point to our Outback tour. This is a very small town and we only recommend going here as a stop over spot. There is a high population of homeless aboriginal people, but we found the locals to be quite nice – on the day we arrived we went for a walk around town and a woman driving her car stopped in the middle of the street:
Lady “Are you tourists?”
Us “Yes”
Lady “How do you like Darwin?”
Us “It’s nice”
Lady “Good, enjoy your travels”
And off she went.
The next day we were up early and off to start our trip. Two things that you need to know if you are going to do a trip like this:
  1. You start your days early to beat the heat of the sun. We were up most days by 5:00am.
  2. You will spend a lot of time driving. In six days we were driven about 2600 km.
Darwin à Katherine Gorge à Devils Marbles à Alice Springs à Uluru (Ayers Rock) à Kings Canyon
The company we did our tour through is called Adventure Tours Australia ( The reasons we chose them was because we were able to see all of the sights that we wanted to see, they supplied the meals, accommodation was included, and we didn’t have to do any driving.
Katherine Gorge is part of the Nitmiluk National Park and was a hot, humid and lush destination. We paid $25/person to go on a short cruise of the gorge and then swim in a waterfall. About 20 minutes into the ride, our cruise driver pulled aside to let those of us off who wanted to go swimming. We were given no directions other than his finger pointing in a general direction, and “follow the blue arrows”. We hoped off and traversed over the boulders of a dry river until we found the oasis. Now they do have crocodiles that roam the gorge so many of us were a little hesitant to be the first to jump in. We let a kid be the first… he seemed fine and then we all joined in. What an amazing experience! We swam directly under the powerful falls and Jeff climbed the walls to do a canon ball. The water was a perfect temperature and we really didn’t want to leave.

As we drove on we saw less and less trees and more and more red earth. We were surprised however at how much vegetation we saw overall.
Two explorers arrived at the vast landscape of Devils Marbles many years ago and said:
Explorer 1 “What in the devil are those?!”
Explorer 2 “They look like marbles”
And so they were named. True story.
Half way through our journey we stayed in Alice Springs. This is another one of those stop over stays. Not a place worth staying too long.
Uluru (Ayers Rock) was our next destination and we were very excited to see this major attraction of the Outback. At a distance it is quite spectacular, but once we got right up close to it we were drawn by the details you can’t see from afar. We enjoyed an Uluru sunset with champagne, and a sunrise and base walk the next day. It was really worth the early wakeup call.
Some interesting facts that you might want to know:
-          Aboriginals didn’t become citizens of Australia until the ‘70s
-          Much of the Aboriginal land was not returned to them until 2012
-          Aboriginals do not want you to climb Uluru. This is a sacred sight and surprisingly they do have a trail open for tourists. Why would you want to climb on the only thing you can see for miles?
Another amazing destination was our short climb of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). A brilliant red formation, but unfortunately Uluru takes all the attention of tourists. We found it to be nicer looking from a distance, where as Uluru is best seen up close.

One problem once the sun came out was the pesky flies – I received a head net from a friendly stranger in our hostel one night. She said I would need it, and she was done her trip so I could have it. Thank you kind stranger!
Jeff didn't need one, he had his beard.
One of the highlights of this trip was our experience sleeping under the stars in a SWAG (an aussie bedroll). As you can see from the pictures it’s just the red earth, the swag, and you. We did this on two nights and we are still alive to speak of it – no bugs, snakes, or any other crazy Australian creature you can think of visited us in the night. The outback sky was breath taking – something we have recently started labelling as “Things we can’t bottle”.
The other nights of our tour were spent sleeping in tents on beds. They were pretty hot and so the swag offered much needed fresh and open air flow.

On our last day we were up again at 5:00am and off to hike Kings Canyon. It was a 6km trek and due to extreme temperatures we needed to be done by 9:00am. It was a steep start, but otherwise easy to navigate. Jeff was most interested in this day and neither of us was disappointed
 A picture to scare the mom's

 We made it to the Red Centre!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Man Makeover

Earlier today Jeff underwent a major transformation. For the low price of $15 the beard and hair he had been growing since December was chopped off – thank god. Please feel free to participate in the poll below.

He's like a new man... I even took him out for a reward lunch at Snag Stand (Melbourne)

Perth & Rottnest Island

The first part of our Western and Outback Adventure took place in Perth. Perth is one of the most geographically isolated cities in the world. The flight from Melbourne was long but the time difference worked in our favour. Perth is a very clean modern city with nice shopping and restaurant districts. It is a very walk-able city with a nice river pathway system.
Our first order of business was to head out for some bicycle and snorkel fun. Our destination was the beautiful Rottnest Island. Our day started with a river cruise past Freemantle, and 18km offshore was the island. Rottnest means “Rat Nest” in Dutch after the first explorer here glimpsed the local Quokkas. These pint sized Wallaby things would look like rats from a distance but are actually very friendly and cute.
Upon arrival to Rottnest we were issued our trusty cruiser bicycles and snorkel gear strapped on the back. Armed with a map we were left to explore the island and its many beaches. This was a once in a lifetime experience and we both rated it pretty much as high as you can for personal satisfaction. Traffic on the island is limited to a few coaches for the elderly and lame, and bicycles for the rest.
We pedalled for a couple kilometres and eventually came up to Little Salmon Bay for our first snorkel dip. Within ten feet of being in the water we were stalking a ray as it cruised along. We barely had time to fire up the camera before it outpaced us and moved on. We were surprised at the coral that was there as well as the mapped out snorkel tour with undersea guideposts.
We dried off on the bikes and continued on past a nice light house, where we befriended a Quokka, and ended up going for another swim at Little Parakeet Beach.
Our time on Rottnest was excellent and have not stopped talking about since. So many travellers do not venture into the West or through the Outback and it was a relief to have such a genuine experience. The beer and wine afterward tasted delicious as a reward for a moderate days work.
  The following day we explored the city on foot with a quick trip to the Western Australian Museum and downtown street malls. We really enjoyed our couple of days in Perth and would have liked to see the wine and beach regions to the south and some of the desert areas outside of town, but we were off to start our Outback camping tour…