October 28, 2004

Last Stop, Hawaii

Our final trip was a four-day stopover in Hawaii on our way back home. We didn't have enough time, and were too tired out, to travel around much. So we just stayed in and around Honolulu, which was actually quite relaxing for a change. We stayed in Waikiki Beach and had a good time catching some local waves and nightlife.

We also snorkelled at Hanauma Bay and wandered around downtown Honolulu. We had a great time, but we were counting the days until we were back home!

Hawaii pictures are posted here.

Posted by miriam at 03:39 PM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2004

Into the Red Centre

Our last Australian trip before heading back to Canada was into the Central Australian outback, also known as the "Red Centre." Unfortunately we only had 5 days including travel time, but we managed to squeeze a fair bit in.

To start with the obvious, the Red Centre is indeed red. The big famous rock, the desert dirt, the sand dunes, and even the kangaroos are all red.

But there's also more green than I thought there would be. When you're driving through the outback, you're surrounded by flat plains covered in different kinds of desert scrub and trees. The sky is huge and bright blue, and you can even spot the odd camel! (They were brought to Australia as work animals in the 19th century).

If you fly into Alice Springs, as we did, you don't immediately see that landscape though. "Alice" is a pretty big town now, all grown up from its early days as a telegraph station relaying messages across Australia. We did pay a visit to the telegraph station. Because it's in a nature reserve, we saw a lot of the relatively rare and very cute black-footed rock wallabies there. The station also had a lot of interesting historical info about both the telegraph station itself and early encounters between the Aboriginals and the white settlers in that area. As you would expect from other countries that were colonized, the "encounter" didn't go very well for the Aboriginals. You can still see the effects of racism and socio-economic disadvantage on the Aboriginal people living in this area today. It's too complicated and difficul to write much about here, but too important to not mention at all.

After Alice, we headed out to visit the main attraction in the area: Uluru (Aboriginal name) or Ayer's Rock. Australians often describe Uluru as "iconic", and no matter where you are in Australia you do end up seeing a lot of pictures of it. But no matter how many pictures you've seen, it's still an absolutely incredible sight. It helps to drive for five hours through flat terrain to get there, so that you can appreciate how crazy it is for an enormous rock to be sitting there in the middle of nowhere. It's a very sacred site for the Anangu (the local Aboriginals), and when you're there you can see why. We did all of the usual Uluru touristy things: walk around the base (4 hours!), watch the sunrise and sunset, and visit the Cultural Centre explaining its significance to the Aboriginal people and how they are administering the site jointly with Parks Australia. The one thing we didn't do was climb to the top of Uluru; the Aboriginal traditional owners ask visitors to respect the sacredness of Uluru by not climbing.

We also visited another crazy rock formation in the same park, called Kata Tjuta or the Olgas. If it weren't so near to Uluru, this site would probably be equally famous. It's just as tall and red as Uluru, but it's made up of 36 "domes" instead of just one big rock. We went on an incredible four hour hike through the area - not only are the rocks amazing, but there are lots of beautiful plants and birds there as well.

When you're visiting the Uluru-Kata Tjuta park, you pretty much have to stay at the Ayer's Rock Resort, the only sizeable accomodation option for hundreds of kilometres around. Since it has to cater to all tourists' needs, it has everything from a couple 5-star hotels, to a motel, a hostel, and a campground (where we stayed). The restaurants are equally diverse; we mostly cooked our own food at the campsite, but we did visit the "Outback Pioneer Barbeque." Here tourists can barbeque their own food Aussie-style. Of course we had to try the Outback Combo: emu, kangaroo, and crocodile. It's a good thing it was fun because the food tasted terrible! I think croc is never good, but our bad barbequing was probably responsible for the taste of the emu and kangaroo. It shows how many tourists visit the area that the Resort has heaps of shops, including Aboriginal art shops, souvenir shops, a grocery store, a post office, and a bank.

On our way back to Alice, we stopped in at Simpson's Gap. As Lonely Planet pointed out, it's pretty amazing for a big chasm to be carved out by a river that's nearly always dry. We also saw more rock wallabies hopping up and down the sides of the canyon, and even saw some of them wrestling - pretty cute! If you want to hear Anatole rant and rave at great length, ask him about people who pass the time visiting a beautiful spot full of endangered species by screaming and yelling at each other.

Overall, it was one of our best trips and we are definitely hoping to go back to the outback next time we're in Australia!

Pictures of our outback trip are here: Red Centre, Uluru (Ayer's Rock), and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).

Posted by miriam at 02:26 PM | Comments (1)

October 23, 2004

In and around Sydney

We've posted a second batch of photos from Sydney. We spent a couple more short weekend stints there, including one in the Manly beach neighbourhood courtesy of my friend Ben from grad school (thanks again, Ben!).

For my birthday, Miriam surprised me with a trip to a lovely B&B in the Blue Mountains, a national park and world heritage area just two hours from Sydney -- by commuter train! We had officially given up on squeezing the Blue Mountains into our trip because of all the packing we had to do, but Miriam had been secretly plotting and managed to twist the proverbial rubber arm of yours truly to cut the packing short.

The Blue Mountains get their name from the oily blue mist given off by the forests of eucalyptus that carpet their slopes. And they were pretty blue -- very cool.

Posted by anatole at 11:32 PM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2004

Be vewy, vewy qwiet ...

My obsession with kangaroos has been discussed before, so I won't get into it again in any detail here.  :)  Suffice it to say that we've posted a heap of new photos, including a lot of kangaroos. And these are the sorts of ridiculous things I did to get close enough for that perfect shot.

Photo Credit: Guest Photographer

So without further ado, here's what's new at koalatree:

  • Mossman Gorge [photos], Daintree Rainforest, Queensland: After meeting up with Miriam's parents and exploring the Great Barrier Reef, we all spent a few days in and around Queensland rainforests. Although we didn't have Uncle Brian with us, Mossman Gorge was still pretty great.

  • Canberra [photos], Australian Capital Territory (ACT): We lived in Canberra for about two months. You'll be able to tell from the small number of photos that (a) we were very busy and did a lot of work while in Canberra and (b) when we weren't that busy, we fled to Sydney as quickly as possible. Canberra's not quite as bad as it's reputation, but ... maybe it was the fact that the cafes all closed at, like, 3pm; maybe it was the fact that the transit system made OC Transpo look like the Paris Metro; or maybe it was that sinking feeling that would set in around four or five in the afternoon every Saturday when you were hit with the full meaning of this:
    Canberra rates as the safest city in Australia, with about one person murdered each year per 300,000 inhabitants. Some may say that person is the lucky one.

    -- Sydney Morning Herald (4/3/97)

    No matter what the case, Canberra is no Sydney or Melbourne. It is no Washington D.C., either, despite the original city planner's best efforts. What can you do?! It does have some nice museums, though, and there are kangaroos nearby ...

  • Namadgi National Park [photos]: This is a national park just south of Canberra. We visited with Miriam's parents. Namadgi had the highest "k/km²" (kangaroos per square kilometre) of any place we visited. Hence "the big lens" and the "crouching and sneaking" about.

Thanks to Miriam's dad for the photos of me stalking - with only the best intentions, of course - kangaroos.

Posted by anatole at 03:21 PM | Comments (1)

October 14, 2004

The bad news, the good news

In case this is now your source of news about Australian politics, I feel I ought to report that John Howard and the Coalition swept the Australian election. Goodbye, Styx Valley.

On a happier note, I learned a new "ee" word: furphy = a false report or rumour. I read it in the Melbourne paper The Age, as in, "In politics there are the real reasons parties win elections, and there are furphies." Read about John Furphy and the origins of the word here.

Posted by miriam at 03:38 AM | Comments (3)

October 08, 2004

Update on Tassie Forests

You might remember our stories and photos from visiting the Styx Valley in Tasmania. We wrote about how the area was due to be clear-cut and about how logging in Tasmania is followed by poisoning wildlife with 1080 poison.

Well, the good news is that with an Australian federal election coming up in a couple of days, the pressure has been on to save Tassie's forests.

This week, the Labor Party promised to protect 240,000 hectares of forests, including the Styx Valley that we visited (this is pending a review, but environment groups are hopeful. Said Don Henry of ACF, "We're eyeing the champagne bottle off in the back of the fridge.") And even the incumbent Liberal Party, while not promising to stop old-growth logging, did say that they would ban the use of 1080 poison on native wildlife.

Here's hoping that when we next visit Australia, the Styx Valley forest will still be there...

Posted by miriam at 03:10 PM | Comments (0)

October 02, 2004

And the answer is...

Well, I'm sure you've all been dying of curiosity to see the answer to our quiz. Quite a few people have told me their guesses in person, but I'm afraid that not one single person was right. What can I say - it was a toughie ;).

Without further ado, the fake abbreviation is:


See the thing is, no one in Australia actually drinks Foster's, so I guess that's why they haven't bothered shortening the word. Now VB, on the other hand, is another matter entirely ...

Posted by miriam at 09:23 AM | Comments (1)