Monday, August 31, 2009

Bush Camping Adventure

A trillion stars, a billion grains of sand, a million drops of rain, 3.5 thousand kilometers of road, hundreds of mosquitos, dozens of wild animals, two people, and one land cruiser--our bush camping trip from Perth to Adelaide was nothing short of amazing.
As we set out to explore the southeastern part of West Australia's coast and to cross the Nullarbor Plain, we hoped to have as much of an, off-the-main-road-outback-experience as possible. Rather than relying on conventional campsites and caravan parks, our goal was to find secluded spaces that would allow us to experience and appreciate the Australian wilderness. For the most part we were able to do this. Four nights were spent bush camping in fairly isolated National or Conservation Parks, and three nights were spent in more conventional National Park campgrounds. Other than wildlife, we had human company only on two of the seven nights.
Our first stop was just over 400 km south-east of Perth at the Frank Hann National Park. We arrived after dark but were lucky enough to find the faint and hidden trail that would lead us to Lillian Stokes Rock. It was here, on a granite outcrop that we set up our first bush camp. We were alone, in the middle of nowhere--no phones, computers, no TV's. The only sound to be heard was the occasional pitter-patter of rain on the roof, and our bird-chirping wake-up call. In the morning, as we walked amongst the bilabongs, we felt any tensions-related to our city life- slowly melt away.


Lillian Stokes Rock

We spent the next two days in National Parks near Esperance. Here we were treated to perhaps the whitest sand beaches and the bluest water in the Land Down Under. At Cape Arid we camped hidden among mallee trees, next to a meandering river. A moonlight mid-night walk included a frantic moment when I was charged by a very large red kangaroo. Fortunately, he veered off at the last moment. At Cape Le Grand we had to share the perfect view of a wide sandy beach with one other couple. Our afternoon hike was ruined by rain, but rewarded with a Southern Right Whale playing in the bay. Both evenings we were lulled to sleep by the rhythmic crashing of the surf of the great Southern Ocean.


Cape Arid



Cape Le Grande

It was at this point that our trip ran into a bit of trouble. The dirt track that we had hoped to take up the the Eyer Highway was closed and we had to take the sealed road which added over 200 km to our drive. The extra distance made us unsure of where we would stay that night. We had no desire to just pull over on the side of the road, like many people do (because of the long distances and lack of facilities). We also did not want to stay in a caravan park, they seemed so constrictive and depressing after our previous 3 nights. Just before Norseman, we passed a small brown sign that said Dundas Rocks. We decided to head up the dirt road and see what we could find. A small sign to the entry of the the picnic area had a caravan on it so we decided it meant we could camp in the area. Under a yellow flowering tree, once again, we found ourselves on our own. I was a bit worried that we would have troubles sleeping, since we were really unsure if we were really supposed to camping in this area and because we were fairly close to a town. However, sleep came as easy and as deep as the previous nights.



Dundas Rocks

As we studied our map the next morning we were unsure of how to plan our day. The detour had us behind schedule. The campsite we had planned to camp at the previous night was too close, yet we would have to drive over 9 hours to arrive at the park we had originally hoped to stay at that night. Our maps showed a small National Park just outside of Eucla, so we decided to give it a try. To our delight we arrived to find another perfect bush campsite located next to some impressive sandhills. Not only were we treated to a cloudless evening (perfect for stargazing), but we also had a magnificent sunrise. Because the sandhills provided a barrier between us and the sea, the only sound was the humming of our own brain.


Sandhills at Eucla National Park

On the sixth day of our travels, we were disappointed with the promise of a wonderful camp area at Fowlers bay. We could only hope that Cactus Beach would live up to it's reputation. We were greeted with the most conventional campsite of our journey, an amazing sunset, and hundreds of mosquitos. We were able to keep the mosquitos out of the vehicle, however my two trips to the dunny left me with over 15 bites on my rear end!!!! Needless to say our stay at Cactus Beach was prickly and cut a bit short.


Sunset at Cactus Beach

The second to last day, we were faced with torrential rain. Conditions forced us to once again change our travel plans. Instead of bush camping on the back roads to Iron Knob, we had to cross our fingers and hope that Lake Gairdner would provide us with a final campsite similar to those to which we had become accustomed. To our relief we found a campsite at the end of the rainbow. The salt water lake proved to be the perfect place to end our bush camping adventure.



Lake Gairdner

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Surprise






This week's theme is surprise.

I was surprised to come across this normally timid nocturnal wombat in the middle of the afternoon! The picture was taken at Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ripples



This week's theme is ripples.

These ripples were created by the tidal currents of an ancient sea and are over 600 million old. The picture was taken at Telowie Gorge Conservation Park, in Southern Australia.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Artificial



This week's theme is artificial.

In Spanish the literal translation of fireworks is artificial fire—fuegos artificiales. For this week’s photo hunt theme artificial, I choose a picture of the New Years Eve 2009 Firework Show at the Sydney Harbour Bridge. After all it was a dream of seeing these Fuegos Artificiales that brought us to Australia—little did we know that it would be for more than a vacaton.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Gawler Ranges

While doing research for our trip to Coober Pedy and the SA Outback, I kept coming across the Gawler Ranges, but didn't pay much attention to them because they were a bit out of the way. Then when planning our trip to Eyer Peninsula, once again the name came up with some pictures and we decided we just had to go for a visit.
So after our night at Streaky Bay (see post Exploring the Western Coast of Eyre Peninsula) we headed for the hills. With the wind carved cliff and sandy dunes behind us, we entered the rural farming community of Minnipa--the gateway for the Gawler Ranges. Our first stop was Pildappa Rock: a cross between the Uluru's great monolith and Hyden's spectacular Wave Rock. A climb to the top of the large reddish pink monolith provided us with an excellent view.
View From Top Pildappa Rock

Surfing the Wave

The track from Pildappa to the Gawler Ranges National park provided some spectacular scenery. Due to an abudance of winter rain the contrast of colors in the bush was incredible. Each layer seemed to have it's own color of green!

The Bush

As tempting as it was to focus on the striking scenery, we did have to keep our eyes on the road. We didn't want to run over any of the reptiles that were warming themselves in the sun. Though most of them would begin their scurry to safety with plenty of time. We did see one skink who was a bit slow on his feet and we pulled over for a photo op. I knew he wasn't a happy little guy when he stuck his tongue out at me!

Blue Tongue Skink

After about a 50 km drive we finally reached the entry to the Park, and from here we still had another 30 minutes-on a strictly 4WD access-to arrive at the Organ Pipes. The final destination was well worth the journey. It was here that we were able to view the natural wonder of columnar joints. The Gawler Ranges information booklet explains that these multi-sided pillar like formations were formed millions of years ago when cooling volcanic ash condensed. Organ Pipes, which is located in a very rocky gorge, is an example of hundreds, if not thousands, of these pillars. It was easy to see how the site got its name. After a quick lunch we once again hit the road. Due to the large number of kilometers that we would have to cover we kept additional stops to a minimum. But we continued to be amazed by the scenery.
Gawler National Park would be one of those places that we would revisit if there were more hiking trails. Unfortunately, the only trail in the Park was the 1/2 km we did to the Organ Pipes. However, it is a true gem and a natural wonder that was well worth the visit.

Organ Pipes

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Barbies, and I Don't Mean Those Plastic Dolls

Several years ago while walking down the narrow cobble stone streets of Utrera, I came across woman standing outside of a home with her face pressed against the bars of the patio gate. Though I could not see the woman’s face I knew she was an older person by her stature, and manner of dress. She was a tiny little thing (didn't even come up to my shoulders), and was dressed from head to toe in black. I assumed that she was a local viuda--widow-- but could not figure out what business she could have at this particular house since I knew that it was the home of Major Peter from the local American Air Force Base. As I approached, I slowed down to see what she was observing. There, in the middle of the Spanish tiled patio, had to be the largest bar-b-cue grill I had ever seen. Sensing that I had stopped, the older woman turned and grabbed my arm. In almost a whisper she asked, "What is that, is it some kind of car?” Rather than replying, “Why it's a grill you crazy old bat,” I took on the role of cross-cultural ambassador (one I often had to play in a small town in rural Spain) and explained what the grill was. When I finished, she looked at me like I was crazy and slowly walked off, muttering to herself.
I cannot imagine that same scene ever occurring here in Australia. I have seen more barbies here in OZ than anywhere else that I have traveled. I am not talking about privately owned grills, but ones for public use as well. When I say public, I don’t mean a little bar-b-cue pit at the park, where you are expected to bring your own charcoal, matches and lighter fuel. Here in Australia the public grills are self-lighting gas or electric. They are well maintained and often they are for use free of charge. You can find them everywhere. We have seen them, often in use, at National Parks, Rest Areas, and in the smallest towns.
The public barbie is one of those things that I really like about Australia. I find that they make public spaces more inviting, cleaner and user friendly. They help cut down on fire-hazard in the forests because they are either electric, and, if they are gas the flame is enclosed. Finally they are great if you are on the road and want something warm to eat. Recently, when making a motel reservation we were told there was a kitchenette. When we got there we only had a small fridge, but no worries, we just headed to the local park to cook up our tucker.

Our 4th of July at a Public Barbie

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Verjuice

A recent visit to the National Wine Center of Australia was a bit of a disappointment. The ultra-modern building is located in the Botanical Gardens (a supposedly development free city park). Like the building the Wine Discovery Journey--a state-of-the art interactive experience--was a bit on the minimalist side. You would think that since Southern Australia is such a large producer of wine, they could have put together an informative display. I guess the Center is meant to be more of a venue for wine tastings, wine appreciation classes, and functions.
On a more positive note, the real focus of this blog, there is one section of video monitors that has various video clips of celebrity Australian Gourmands discussing the relationship between food and wine. It was here that I was introduced to verjuice, by Maggie Beer--a Barossa Valley Chef. Well, actually I had seen bottles of verjuice on grocery store shelves next to the vinegars, and had just assumed that it was a type of vinegar. However, I now know (thanks to Maggie Beer) that verjuice is not a vinegar, but rather an unfermented grape juice made from an unripe grape. In her video she explains that verjuice can be used as an the acidic base (substituting lemon, and/or vinegar) in cooking. The benefit of such substitution is that verjuice provides acidic tartness, without bitterness. She also points out that since verjuice and wine share the same acid base, it is a wine friendly condiment that compliments rather than competes with the taste a fine wine.
Of course I had to run out and buy a bottle of verjuice. Though not cheap, at about $10, I just had to give it a try. I have used it in dressings, sauces, and marinades. I find that it adds a little zest without masking the other flavors. Though it will not replace my many types of vinegar nor my fresh lemon, there will always be a place for verjuice in my kitchen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Does Security Mean Secure


Yesterday I was at the Adelaide Airport with my husband. Even though we have been to this airport several times in the past year, it still always surprises me that anyone can pass through security. You don't have to have a ticket or even a photo id to enter the arrival/departure area. As we waited for Mar to board his plane we were discussing this, when I remembered another airport security story.
Mother’s dream of coming to Spain for Semana Santa was finally a reality. Our Holy Week together had been a seven days of overindulgence: gourmet lunches with fine wine, high speed train rides, shoe shopping, fried food in greasy spoons, coffee on plazas, elegant horse shows, beer in testosterone filled dives, high end hotels, purse shopping, late night flamenco in smoky bars, and bodega tours.
As I awoke in Madrid, at the end of our weeklong adventure, or perhaps the start of my mom’s long journey home, I was finally able to understand why
Easter Monday is called Lunes de Resaca in Spain. My slight headache could not be blamed on the lack of sleep-thanks to the all night revelers in Madrid nor the horrible pillow-but rather to a week of passionate living that can only be experienced in Spain.
My mother was anxious about post holiday travelers and wanted to arrive at the airport with plenty of time. Rather than accompanying her all the way to the airport, we agreed I would only go for part of the early morning metro ride.. This would provide me with some time to return to the hotel and relax before checking out and returning by train to Sevilla.
We entered the subway at Plaza de España and traveled deep into the bowels of
Madrid. When the first metro train entered the station and all I could say was “I can’t do this”. We watched the hoards of people enter an already jammed train. I suggested that since we had plenty of time we could wait a bit for the crowds to dissipate. Less than two minutes later a second train pulled into the station and to out relief it was half empty. So we began the four-stop journey to the airport line. We arrived at her station in less than ten minutes and we found the indicated platform for trains going to the airport. Once again we were faced with masses of people. After the first packed train departed, I suggested that she move next to the edge and quickly get on when the next train came in (I was beginning to worry that the trains back into the center were going to be overcrowded and I wanted to get out of the rat hole.) So we said a quick and awkward goodbye and as quickly as the train pulled into the station my mother disappeared into the crowd. I stood at the back of the platform and tried to see that face which as time passes I see more of in my own mirror, but she had been swallowed in the crowd. I waited until her train departed and began to work my way back to the hotel.
Back in the room I allowed myself the luxury of a bottle of sparkling mineral water from the mini-bar. I figured that if nothing else a Perrier and a six hundred milligram ibuprofen would make my headache go away and if I was lucky lift the fog. I had planned to stay at the hotel until just before noon, so if my mother needed to get in touch with me, she could call the hotel. I had slipped a card with the hotel number in her bag earlier that morning. It was just before ten-o-clock in the morning and I decided that a long hot bath would prepare me for the streets of Madrid.
Before I entered the bathroom I opened the safe so that I could reconfirm the time of departure of my train to Sevilla. When I withdrew my travel wallet, instead of opening the envelope that contained my ticket, I was drawn to my passport. Perhaps, it had been our discussions of how lately when I look at pictures of myself I see my mother that led me to open my treasured possession. One look at the picture and I began to yell “Oh my God, Oh my God” Not because of the striking similarities, but because I had my mother’s passport. I frantically stuffed my few belongings into my bags and within minutes I was running down the stairs with my backpack and purse thrown over my shoulder, and my Perrier in hand.
As a young child whenever faced with stressful situations I would begin to speak a hundred miles a minute and was called motor mouth by my family. I can only imagine what the concierge at the front desk would have called me. I was finally able to explain the situation and told her that if my mother called, to let her know that I was on my way to the airport. I also let her know I had to pay for the Perrier as I emptied my coin purse into my hand. After a hysterical moment of trying to count change she grabbed a few coins, and sent me running out the door.
Fortunately, I knew the route and did not have to stop to study the metro map. The concierge had said the trip would take about 40 minutes, which would leave me less than an hour before my mother’s flight departed. Fortunately the metro was fairly vacant, and once I connected to the airport line I was able to sit, drink my Perrier and count the minutes. To my relief I made the trip from the hotel to the airport in less than half and hour, though it did take an additional 10 minutes of sprinting through
Barajas to arrive at the U.S. Airways check-in counter.
I approached the airline’s security people, took a
deep breath. As calmly and as slowly as I could I explained the situation. They told me that no one had been through with the wrong passport. I once again explained that my mother had to have come through the line, with my passport. They said, no, that they would have noticed that the passport name did not match the ticket name. I informed them that our last names are identical and perhaps they didn’t notice the first name. At this point I took out the passport and insisted that they go to the desk and check if there was such a person on that flight.
I was not allowed to approach the counter, nor was I allowed to know if the passenger whose passport I was holding was on the flight. I was left standing behind the check-in area, not sure what to do. After twenty minutes a young man approached the desk with a blue passport in hand. He walked up to me, asked if I had my mother's passport. He then flipped over both passports and removed the security stickers from the passport he had and put them on the one I had. He then took my mom’s passport and went back through security. As he walked away I began to wonder why he never even checked my own passport photo nor did he even open my mother’s passport to make sure it was a correct document.
At this point I felt relieved, but then I began to realize that I had no idea where my mother was. I assumed that she was at the gate, or was she? Was she being detained for traveling with someone else’s identification? Would she get her passport?
I checked the flight board. Her flight was scheduled for an on time departure, and was currently boarding. I assumed that if there had been problems, I would have been detained as well. At this point I could only wait till my mother completed her long journey to hear her part of the story.
This story leaves me wondering, just how safe is all the security they have us go through in airports other than Adelaide's.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Low

I have decided to become a photo hunter. PhotoHunt is weekly blogging event where people are invited to participate by posting a photo on a given theme.

This week's theme is LOW.

This poor little guy got stranded at LOW tide.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Exploring the Western Coast of the Eyre Peninsula


This past weekend Mark and I headed over to the Eyer Peninsula. For all us Yanks, Eyer is pronounced air. Triangle shaped and over 300 km in length, The Eyer Peninsula is located on the coast of Southern Australia between the Spencer Gulf and the Southern Ocean.
This was actually our second visit to the peninsula. Last March we spent a long weekend hiking the
National Park in the lower portion of the peninsula. We spent one day hiking in Coffin Bay National Park, and the other at Port Lincoln National Park. Each park boasts good trails, magnificent scenery, and an abundance of wildlife. Not only did we see a Death Adler, an Orange Spider Wasp, a Skink, and several ‘roos, but we actually saw a mob of over 30 Emus! It was really a breathtaking experience.
Mob of Emus

Our decision to return to the peninsula was based on Mark having to report to a job site out at Port Lincoln. We decided to head over early, and continue exploring the western coast. With the flight to Port Lincoln being less than an hour, we arrived just after 8 am. We stopped in town to pick up some tucker for the day, a cuppa joe and hit the road. Our final destination for the day was Streaky Bay, and we would be following the coastal road. Our map indicated lots of little brown cameras (photo ops) along the route, but our guidebooks provided no descriptions of what each of these sites had to offer. With so many options and so little information we would have to pick and choose, relying on our intuition.
As we drove along the Flinders Highway we had an occasional glimpse of the Southern Ocean, and could tell that we were gradually climbing above sea level. I had read that the wind carved cliffs in the area were amazing and at Locks Well, I made the decision that we needed to stop and have a look. We took the small side road that began to zig-zag down to the beach. It abruptly stopped about 1/2 way down, and left us with 298 stairs to climb down to the sand. We walked about halfway down, admired the surf, the color of the water and the surrounding cliffs. We took a few pictures and headed back to the car. Perhaps instead of car I should say monster. The reason I point out the size of our rental is because rather than gently sitting down to get in, I had to use a step combined with a complicated twist to get into the seat. As I did this, I looked back out over the ocean, and to my surprise in the water far below me there was a Whale. I shouted this to Mark, and got the usual…”It is not….”. I will admit I have been known to see boulder ‘roos, bush emus and mistletoe koalas, but I was sure that it was a whale in the water below us. I was frantically looking for the binoculars, when all of a sudden my sighting was confirmed with “It is a Whale, she just blew!” So for the next 15 minutes we watched 2 Southern Right Whales frolic in the surf.
We then continued on our way with stops at: Murphy’s Haystacks to stroll amongst the strange granite formations called Inselbergs,Venus Bay for coastal leg stretched that included some very rugged cliffs and a pod of dolphins, and Point Labatt to view the only permanent colony of Sea Lions on the Continent. Our drive was concluded with a “vuelta” around Streaky Bay in search of fresh Oysters—Mark’s reward for being such a good chauffeur.

Murphy's Haystacks

Cliffs at Venus Bay

Our second day of exploring would be taking us inland to the Gawler Range, but we decided to do one last scenic loop along the coast. Once again the magnificent Southern Ocean provided us with a truly amazing experience. However, this time it was not Whales, but rather Blow Holes. Maybe because we don’t have a lot of ocean experience we had never heard of or seen a geological Blow Hole before. The sign at car park described them as “Vertical fractures in the limestone enlarged by solution (limestone reacts with water H2O + CO2 → HCO3 a weekly acidulated solution) to form pipes and shafts. If connected at the base with open air, waves force air and water through narrow openings-blow holes.” Even though the explanation sounded a bit technical for 8 am, we decided to go and check them out. As we approached the cliffs, we began to hear a strange sound. It was not the crashing of the waves on the rocks, but rather an expulsion of air--the same sound that a whale or dolphin makes when breathing! Closer inspection took us to various holes in the ground. Not only was the sound coming from the holes, but you could also see a spray of water each time they blew. It was like watching Mother Nature let out a deep sigh. It was at this point that we truly understood why the motto for the Eyer Peninsula is: "A breath of fresh Eyer."


video
Blow Hole

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Roads

As I sit to start my Blog, I am unsure where to begin. There is so much to cover! Perhaps a good place is distance. Maybe I should be more specific and say distance and driving.
For 10 years I used to dread my 12-minute commute to work, which for the most part was on the freeway, and was counter traffic. The rest of my life was contained within about a 10-mile radius. If and when we had to leave that space, there was a battle over who (me or my partner) was going to drive. Neither of us really enjoyed driving. On weekends, when we would head out for the trails, driving more than an hour and a half was considered over the top.
5 years ago when we moved to
Spain, where we lived in a fairly small town. No more need for a car in town--everything was walking distance. However, when it was time to get out and hit the trails, there was nothing closer than a couple hours drive. So at least twice a month we suddenly found ourselves driving several hours both to and from trailheads. Granted, we would stay overnight and not drive home until the next day, but still we were driving more than we ever had, and it was strange--we never seemed to even think about it!
Then last year we moved to
Australia. Now we were really looking at some significant distances to cover. First, we had to deal with living in (what we consider) a large city. If we want to leave town in any direction other than south it takes at least 30 minutes just to get out of town. Then the state we live in, Southern Australia, is huge! Just to cross it, either north to south or east to west, would take nearly a day. Some areas of SA become so remote that you can go for hours on end without seeing a thing, not a house, sheep, fence or even a petrol station. Well, I guess the occasional Kangaroo does pop up. Especially when you least expect it. But there are some very large open spaces here in Australia.
How has all of this changed our driving habits? Well we continue not to drive in town. Fortunately there is an effective
public transportation system in Adelaide. We are even able to use it to reach several trailheads. However, when looking at getting out of town, the word road trip comes to mind. We no longer bat an eye at driving hours on end to reach our destination. Just last weekend we drove over 2,000 km (with more than half that being on dirt track) in 5 days. For the most part, the time in the car passed quickly. Perhaps it was the amazing landscape, the 12-disk book on tape, the numerous cuppas or the ABBA cd.
For some reason we no longer dread long drives. In fact, we have done more than our fair share in the past year, and have several more planned. I guess you could say it is all part of our great Australian adventure.
I should note that it is my husband who does all of the driving. After all, I can’t drive on the left-hand side of the road!