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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September 17 - 20, 2011 - Moreton Island & Tangalooma

Just across Moreton Bay from Brisbane lies Moreton Island, a sand island whose crystal blue waters and ivory colored sand beaches attract masses of day-trippers from the Brisbane area. They flock to the island in various forms of watercraft for either a day at the beach, a few days on the hook or for a veritable vacation. Large commercial motor cats ferry pedestrian and vehicle passengers over several times a day as well, pouring 4WD's onto the sand tracks and suitcase toting vacationers. There is a small settlement here called Tangalooma which hosts a resort, a very small convenience store and a couple of restaurants. The big attractions here are the towering sand dunes where those wishing to hike up the hill of soft cascading sand (too much effort four us old farts) can toboggan back down to the water's edge, and the Tangalooma Wrecks which form an artificial breakwater for the anchorage and diving opportunities for those wanting to drop several hundred dollars into the coffers of the tour operators. It is very beautiful, albeit very busy. If you can tolerate a rocky rolly anchorage, full of zipping little watercraft then it is a worthwhile trip out here.
We enjoyed a long walk far down the beach away from the hustle bustle to find ourselves a private spot to enjoy the sun and sand. I found a large plastic plate that had washed up onto the shore which I filled with pretty starfish that littered the beach. We spent 3-1/2 days swimming and lolling about here, witnessing spectacular sunsets and acting like locals before heading up to Mooloolaba.

Friday, September 16, 2011

September 4 - 16, 2011; Manly and Brisbane

Returning to Destiny, we unpacked our clothes outside in the cockpit because everything was covered in red dust. I spent the next day laundering to get the red out. The hiking shoes were another challenge altogether but eventually came clean. With the weather warming and while we were in a relatively calm marina we began a little bit of maintenance work on the boat. Waxing is always needed. Paul and Lei ellen on "Gato Go" were in one of the nearby marinas, so we met them a couple of times for dinner. Then one day, Scott and Muriel came by in their car to rescue us from our labors. They took us on a day trip down the coast. We love it when they get bored because they always want to drive somewhere with us.
On September 8th, weather and tides were right for us to move up the river to Dockside Marina in Brisbane. I've said before how much I love it there and was excited to be getting out of Manly. It's an all day trip and we knew that we would not be able to arrive at "nil tide". Fortunately there was an end berth available for us to tie to until 7 PM when the tide would go slack. As we passed the marina to make the turn back up river, I thought I was seeing an apparition. At the end of one of the arms sat a large St. Frances catamaran named O'Vive!  I yelled back at Frank to check it out - how could it be? Dave and Nathalie had shipped her back to Florida from New Zealand two years ago. Had they turned right around and sailed here??? As I was pointing at her, a man came out on deck, pointing his binoculars at us and then started waving his arms. My gosh it was Dave! He came over as we were just getting the dock lines looped to the  cleats. What a sight for sore eyes. He explained to us that after returning home he put O'Vive! on the market. An Aussie couple had come along and bought her. They somehow engaged Dave to deliver her to Brisbane. He did it in 4 months of hard sailing with a small crew. He had just arrived the day before us and now had the new owners on board. They were leaving soon for Yamba. Well, what do you know? We are constantly surprised by the twists and turns of destiny.

The Jacarandas were just coming into flowering season, lining Dockside's boardwalk with varying shades of lavender blooms. We enjoyed walking all over Brisbane nearly every day. As I have said it is an extremely walkable city. Several times we trekked over the Story Bridge into China town for a meal. Many days we strolled to South Bank just for the exercise or a dip in the beautiful pools. The weather is still very cool at night and not quite warm enough for shorts during the day (except for Frank who wears shorts year round). We spent lots of time with Scott and Muriel, meeting them and their daughter Lauren and her boyfriend Will for dinner. Wednesday we walked to the Queen Street market for fresh groceries, pasta and baked goods.  Being springtime, however, there was a lot of rain.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September 3rd, 2011 - Final day in Yulara - Sunrise at Uluru (Ayers Rock)

As we boarded the bus for sunrise at Ayers Rock I thought to myself, thank goodness this is our last early wake-up call for a while. We saved a seat for Martin and Pauline, but Pauline arrived solo, reporting that Martin is so sick this morning he can't get out of bed. You know someone is really feeling ill to forfeit this trip. We arrived at the Rock in darkness, swallowed more instant coffee, ate a biscuit and lumbered over to the staging area to find a clear view of Uluru for sunrise photos. People crowded around jockeying for position with their tripods and their small groups. It was more of a free-for-all than we had anticipated, not at all as organized as the sunset viewing. Frank was soon fed up with the crowd and set off in pursuit of a spot away from the masses. I stuck by Pauline, but eventually lost her in the crowd. Frank came back for me and led me down a short path to a perfect site that no one else seemed to have discovered - must be his acute sense of navigational prowess that led him there. It was almost haunting to be standing there in the desert in near darkness looking out toward this hulking mass as it came alive under the faintest hint of sunrise at our backs. Shadows faded to reveal shapes that appeared along the face, one in particular looked like a pair of lips that became a smile. It was such an amazing experience that I couldn't decide whether to take pictures or to just enjoy it. Not long after the sun broke the horizon we were loaded back into the bus and carted over to the base of Uluru. Up close it is more than impressive. It is very colorful as well, which surprised us even further. The textures and shadows that we had seen from afar were actual deep crevices, caves and at parts freestanding boulders. The face is not smooth but pitted and textured. There is a lake at the base of one side that's obscured within the surrounding formation.There are trees and greenery within. We were given a personal tour by a local ranger who rendered a historic account of the Aborigines of the area and their life as it evolved around here. Ayers Rock is sacred and parts of it are forbidden to us, in fact we are told not to gaze upon certain areas of it. He explained meanings of drawings that were still visible in certain protected areas. When he finished the short walking tour, we were given an opportunity to climb the rock. Now here it gets a little weird. The Aborigines do not want climbers on the rock. We were advised against it. However, there is a gate that leads to the climbing area and there were climbers up on the rock. The gate was closed, and entrance blocked with a sign that clearly stated: Climb closed due to high winds at summit. Another sign on the closed gate stated: No Entry Penalties Apply. I guess enforcement is not a big concern in these parts, Mate.  We strolled through the Cultural Center and museum and then were taken on a driving tour around the base. We opted out of the hike around the base because time was becoming an issue for us now. We had a flight to catch in a couple of hours.
All in all we are very happy to have made this journey to the Red Center of Australia. It was an adventure, a spiritual journey and it was the experience of a lifetime. We met two new amazing friends whom we promised to contact when we returned to Sydney on Destiny.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

September 2, 2011 Uluru (Ayers Rock) - Part 2 - Trip to King’s Canyon

September 2nd, we awoke at what felt like the middle of the night, packed the required gear for our trek to King's Canyon, dressed in layers and downed the instant coffee that was in our room before walking out the door to meet the bus. We chatted with the bus driver a bit, making friendly talk while I ruminated on how best to fold my fleece jacket into a pillow for the 4 hour ride to the canyon when he casually mentioned that we had the best seat on the bus for spotting kangaroos, wallabies, camels and other assorted wildlife. My need for sleep took a back seat to my wildlife spotting desires. Now I was wide-eyed and eager. Frank opted for sleep. As I was listening intently to the driver's descriptions of what we might expect to encounter throughout the day's activities my neighbor across the isle and I discovered a common bond: we had someone to chat with while our husbands nodded off. Her name was Pauline, she lived in a suburb of Sydney and we hit it off immediately. We didn't see any kangaroos, but certainly did witness several brushfires burning at random. Our driver told us that these are nearly always burning somewhere and are often deliberate burns, although more often than not they are runaway fires that will take out an entire station before it burns out. Mid morning, we stopped at a cattle station for breakfast. Everything is so remote in this part of Australia that there aren't really rest stops, per se, just very large stations that also offer amenities to the remote traveler. We used the bush toilet and then went to place our food order at the large outdoor dining area. We sat at long tables and our tucker (breakfast) was cooked right there outdoors by a couple of friendly blokes, as I suppose any rancher would arrange for his drovers or whatever the ranch hands are called. It was very good, but once again we were stuck with packets of instant coffee. They just don't do brewed coffee in this country.
We were on a tight schedule and were herded right back onto the bus fairly quickly for we still had quite a long drive ahead. We had traveled nearly 40 minutes when off the side of the road we spotted a herd of Brumbys, wild horses similar to the Mustangs in America. The herd was reasonably large, and apparently a very rare sight according to our driver. I scrambled to grab my camera but by the time it booted up, the Brumbys were long gone.
We finally arrived at King's Canyon. I simply cannot describe this beautiful geological wonder. It is sacred Aboriginal ground and so magical that it boggles the mind. A canyon out in the middle of nowhere and seemingly coming out of nothingness, it is a wonder to behold. The colors and rock formations are so beautiful that although I took many, many photos they just don't do this place justice. We hiked the rim, which is only about a 6 kilometer walk, but takes approximately 4 hours and is not an easy go. The first very steep climb up to the rim is comprised of 500 steps, according to the ranger, and commonly referred to as heart-attack hill. At the halfway point we stopped for a breather. The ranger took this opportunity to evaluate each of us and to help us determine for ourselves whether we were fit to continue. This sent a few of the guests back to the bus. It was rigorous. Frank became red in the face and so winded that I got a little worried. Many people had to make several stops just to breathe. My heart felt it was pounding out of my chest but I couldn't stop or I would lose my momentum, so I stepped around those who were abruptly stopping in the middle of the track and bending over gasping for breath. I did my gasping at the top. Our guide had warned us this was no walk in the park (national park that is). It was well worth the exertion because when we arrived on the rim we were rewarded by the splendor and magnificence of the view. The geology kept changing along the way which enhanced the experience even more. Eventually we arrived at a deep gorge fittingly called The Garden of Eden. Here again Nature revealed her creative side as we left the red, amber, golden and deep brown rocky ridge behind to behold lush greens and tropical palm trees. At the very bottom rested a serene little lake banked on one side by a lovely beach. Other visitors were lounging there and wading into the cool water. How amazing. The birdlife really impressed me, in particular the Bowerbird. The male Bowerbird builds a unique nest/structure, called a "bower", that (to me) resembles a basket with handles sticking up and is comprised of rocks, sticks, colorful objects the brighter the better in order to attract a female. Often the nest contains pretty shells, bits of trash that have a reflective or sparkle bit, coins, etc. The males competing for females will often conduct raids on each other's bowers. It is rare to find one of these nests, and yet we happened upon one just off the trail leading back up the other side of The Garden of Eden. The ranger did not encourage us to leave any sparkly trash for the bird to put into this bower. Another species we saw in here was the Spinifex Pigeon. A pretty little bird with a crested point on top of his head, much like a cardinal.
After this short respite, our legs were beginning to really feel the strain as we hiked back out of the Garden. By now, Pauline and I were hiking mates leaving her husband Martin and Frank pretty much behind. We thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the hike and especially the return part that was all downhill.
Back on the bus. Weary travelers were we all. Round about the half way point of the return journey we stopped at Curtin Springs Cattle Station, 1,028,960 acres BIG. It featured outback campsites, caravan hookups, a bush-style restaurant, a small shop, bush toilets, showers, and even a phone booth. Frank and Martin stumbled thirstily toward the bar. Pauline and I had a look around and settled for ice cream bars. The rest was short enough and soon we were back on the bus heading for Yulara. I finally began to nod off and after a little while, someone yelled, "Camels!" Sure enough, right there just along the roadside was a large herd of camels. The bus must have started them because they took off at a trot. This time I did manage to snap a few shots of the camera before we lost sight of them.
That evening, we met Pauline and Martin for dinner at the Outback Pioneer BBQ and Bar, where you grill your own steak. Outdoor venue, located at one of the local lodges. It was really good! We were draggin by then, so dinner was an early affair, and so was bedtime. Next morning was another 4:30 wake up call to depart for sunrise at The Rock. We were delighted to find that Pauline and Martin were scheduled for that tour as well.

Monday, September 5, 2011

August 27 - September 1, 2011. Brisbane and then Uluru (Ayers Rock)

We arrived back in Brisbane at around 5 AM, cleared Customs and hit the car rental desk as they opened at 6:30. We were happy to have a car for a little while because back in Manly, there was no real transportation other than the train, and the station was a mile walk for us uphill from the marina. Incidentally, there isn't much in Manly other than some resort style cafes and restaurants and a small grocery outlet. We spent the next week happily driving to the grocery store, out to the Spencer's house and just driving in general. By the 29th, as we were strolling the local shopping center, we realized we faced a challenge returning the rental car to the airport by 6 AM on Sept. 1. We happened to pass a travel agency shop that displayed a large poster of Ayers Rock. Lightbulb in brain lit brightly...lets just make a trip out of it and jump on a plane to Uluru when we return the car! This is the perfect time of year for a trip to the Red Center. We walked out of there much poorer but with tickets in hand.
Flying to Uluru is an amazing journey by air (this country gets bigger all the time!). I had the window seat and darn near cramped my neck and back craning to look down. Leaving Brisbane, we passed over stunning mountain ranges, forests and farming areas, and then some of the most beautifully colored landscapes I've seen. There is a massive salt flat that for some 20 years has been dry as a desert as of course it is in the desert. Because of the recent monsoon-like rains, what was once a large lake has filled again. Surprisingly, thousands of pelicans have flocked to its shores. How in God's creation did they know to go there? Apparently, also there are fish in there. What? How does that happen? Nature never ceases to astound us. I kept grabbing Frank, saying, "Oh my gosh, look at that!" Poor Frank, all he wanted to do was nap - not gonna happen with my face to the window. Eventually the brilliant white of the salt flats turned to intermittent greens and reds, and then suddenly out of nowhere rose the RED monolith that is called Ayers Rock. Even from the sky it is breathtaking. Other than a few scattered tent-like structures not far from the rock, there was nothing else about to suggest human habitation. Several miles away, however, we spied a donut-shaped formation that appeared to be some sort of habitat, albeit quite small, that we assumed to be Yulara, the resort town of Ayers Rock.
Disembarking from the plane we noted that Qantas and Virgin Australia occupy the only two gates of the tiny terminal building, which explains the price of our tickets. It is all very organized to near military standards. You pick up your bags, you board a bus and are taken to your hotel. The resort owns all of the hotels, so depending on how much you want to spend, you can choose between camp style to 5-Star accommodations. We had selected The Lost Camel, a midrange hotel at a mere $450/night...nothing included. Very, very basic, with a double bed, shower and toilet; not dissimilar to an outside stateroom on a cruise ship. It was comfortable and clean, and besides we were not here for the hotel room.
Our first excursion was a sunset viewing of Ayers Rock. We were carted off in a bus to the viewing area, which was still some miles away from the actual Rock, and was completely fenced off. There were several pocket groups of tourists pouring out of their respective busses, chattering away full of excitement. We were each given a camp stool on which to sit and told to help ourselves to the snacks and drinks that were set out on a folding table. Champagne, wine, Sprite, nuts and chips were available in unlimited quantities. We were given instructions by our guide that, although it was daylight, we should just watch the rock as the sun begins to shift and then eventually fade into darkness. The Rock seems to take on a life of its own, casting vibrant colors and eerie shadows that appear to make it come alive in some spiritual sense. All I can say is everything I've heard is true. Although we snapped dozens of photos, it is impossible to capture the sensation that we felt during this phenomenon. Frank and I were both mesmerized as we witnessed the transformation that I cannot come close to describing. This is most definitely an encounter one must personally experience. It was so lovely that the bus ride back to the resort was spent in complete silence as each of us reflected on his or her impressions.
Disgorging from the bus back at the resort, we immediately set off to dinner. Side note here. The resort owns everything, including restaurants, shops, etc. The food is OK, everything is expensive, so for us it was a matter of sustenance, not a culinary journey.
We hit the bed early. Next morning we had a 4:30 AM departure for Kings Canyon.