Sunday, January 31, 2010

Willy Willies

Here in Australia Dust Devils are called Willy Willies.  On our recent road trip we came across several Willy Willies.  These dessert whirlwinds are formed when local 'hot spots' on the ground draw in the cooler air around them.  The end result,  Willy Willies which vary in size, is the spiraling of the air-born dust cloud that speeds randomly across the land.  For the most part Willy Willies are harmless, but they are fun to watch as they speed across the desert floor.

The name Willy Willies is thought to derive from one of the Aboriginal languages of Australia.  In Aboriginal myths Willy Willies represent spirit forms.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


This week's photo hunt theme is spotted.
I spotted these two Tawny Frogmouths while walking one of the many paths around the Sydney Harbour.
The Tawny Frogmouth is found across Australia.  These nocturnal birds are often confused with owls, but they lack the curved talon of an owl.  During the day, they perch on tree branches, which serve as camouflage.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Road Trip

A road trip seemed like an appropriate way to celebrate Australian Day.  Especially since the road we had chosen to travel would take us near some of the most significant landmarks in Australia's history. Though when we shared our destination, Tibooburra, with our friends we received several blank looks.  Perhaps we had an incorrect pronunciation.  However, when we described where we were going we got "why would you want to go there?"  For most, the idea of visiting the remote Outback town of New South Wales was unimaginable unless you were to pass through on your way to somewhere else.  For us it was the desire to better understand the vast open spaces of Australia's interior and the people that called those spaces home.
We became interested in this isolated town after reading Julietta Jameson's book "Tibooburra and the Legend of the Tree of Knowledge."  The book left us with a clearer vision of what life--in what is called the hottest spot in NSW--was like, but we felt a visit would bring a better understanding of the people who live there.
We knew that our choice to visit the the Corner County (so named because of the joining of three states: New South Wales, South Australia, and Queensland) was a bit risky during the summer months, but it was in the intense heat that we wanted to see the area.  We figure you can't really understand one of the harshest climates in the world unless you see it in it's extreme.
Our several thousand kilometer journey--many of those on dirt tracks--took us: to empty State Parks; past dozen of emus, kangaroos, and feral goats; near a handful of homesteads; and through two Outback Cities.  Each passing kilometer brought us closer to understanding boundless space, unbridled wildness, unpredictable wilderness, and the invincibility of the elements. We were captivated by the unfolding landscape and enthralled by the overwhelming sense of freedom that surround us.

We didn't actually arrive in Tibooburra until our third day on the road.  As we pulled into town, we were surprised by the setting.  We had imagined a small settlement sitting in the desert, but found a town nestled among boulders and granite outcrops.  When we climbed out of the car we were greeted with the suffocating heat, as the mercury climbed towards 105 degrees fahrenheit. The streets were vacant as expected in such heat, but it didn't stop us from taking a quick look around.    The landmarks we had read about in the book suddenly came to life.  It  was easy to imagine Liz, Peter, Jungle, Joanne, Skyo, and Debbie sitting on the verandah of the Family Hotel, once the sun dropped below the horizon. Telling yarns till late at night.  We chuckled as we looked at the Post Office Box with it's stickers announcing mail collection on Tuesday and Thursday at 1:45.  No next day service in this part of the world.  We tried to call in at the National Park Office, but it was temporarily closed.  I wondered if it was a seasonal closure, or if the locals had chased the latest NSP employee away.  At the end of town we found the replica of the boat explorer Charles Sturt carried all the way from Adelaide in 1884 to sail the inland sea he never found.  As we stood under the upside down boat that is perched on 2 poles, I couldn't help but wonder how the men of this expedition were able to maintain their belief of an inland sea.  How were they able to carry on day after day for several years through such an intense environment?  Then I remembered my earlier sense of freedom, and realized that it is that sense of sovereignty that is the heartbeat of the Australian Outback .

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Red Banks Conservation Park

Nestled in the hills near Burra, South Australia is Red Banks Conservation Park.  The 1,035 hectare park, located 170 kilometer north of Adelaide, is largely unknown.   The rugged red gorges, with walls up to 30 meters high, are a sharp contrast to the areas gentle rolling hills.
The meandering creek beds, which house several permanent waterholes, provides an important habitat for birds, reptiles, kangaroos, echidnas and hairy nosed wombats.  In addition to the area's contemporary residents, fossilized remains of Australia's Mega Fauna can be found in the areas alluvial gorges.  These remains include the Diprotodon, a huge marsupial that weighted between 1-2 tons--it is likened to a giant wombat.  There is an interpretive trail that takes visitors on a tour of what the landscape was like 60,000 years ago when these giant animals roamed the area.
The Conservation Park includes a small camp ground with 11 sites. There is no running water nor bar-b-que facilities.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australian Day

Today, January 26, is Australian Day.  It is a day when Australians come together as a nation to celebrate what's great about Australia and being Australian.  The date reflects the anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet of 11 convict ships from Great Britain.  Upon entry to the Sydney Cove on January 26, 1788, the ship's commander, Captain Arthur Phillip, raised the Union Jack Flag and proclaimed British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia.
Across the nation, Australians celebrate Australian Day either by attending organized community events, or by getting together with friends and family.  Barbies and fireworks are an important part of a celebration.  It harkens back to the day when hundreds of people are able to call themselves Australian for the first time after having been conferred citizenship.  It is a day when a country is able to reflect on its remarkable achievements as its countrymen look to the future.
It is important to not that not all citizens of Australia view this as a day of celebration.  For many, Australian Day is the commemoration of the destruction of the Indigenous cultures.  In support of this view protests are often held in opposition of the National Celebration and the day is referred to as Invasion Day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Last Peak Of The Decade

It was time to leave the Australian Highlands.  The decision came because we were ready for a hill climb and it just wasn't going to happen if we stayed at 1500 meters.  So once again we packed up camp hoping to find a suitable spot at our next destination.

The fields of Alpine Heath and forest of Snow Gums turned to splendid Mountain Gums as we slowly wound our way down the mountain.  As we crossed the valley floor we could see Mt. Bogong, 1986 m, on our right.  Climbing to the peak of the towering mass would be our challenge the following morning.
As we pulled into the Mountain Creek Picnic Area we were once again blessed.  Not because there was a lack of people, but because there was a family pulling out of a an isolated spot that boasted a creek view.  We were pleased with our new "home."

On the last day of 2009 we woke up early.  We had read that the hike up Mt Bogong was strenuous and could take up to 9 hours.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy but we weren't going to let rain keep us from our goal of bagging the highest peak in Victoria. We double checked for rain and cold weather gear, and hit the trail.   We weren't the first to sign; at the log book there were 4 groups in front of us, so we wouldn't be alone on the mountain.
We decided to head up the Staircase and if time permitted return via the Eskdale Spur.  The 16 km track to the summit followed a fire track to where we would begin our climb.  Overall the trail was steep, but the grade fairly consistent as we climbed through forests of Peppermint Gums.  Just before the Bivouac Hut, which represented the half way point of the climb, we passed two of the groups in front of us.  Here the trail moved from the dense forest to the the steep rocky ridge that would lead us to the summit plateau.

Once we were out on the exposed treeless plain it became apparent we would not have much of a view--the peak was socked in.  However, we continued with hopes that the wind would perhaps blow the clouds out while we made the final ascent.  Large poles marked the trail and were easy to follow in the foggy conditions.  The wind slapped our hands and face and we considered pulling out our winter gear, but decided we would do that if needed at the peak.   The final climb was quick, and soon a huge cairn marking the summit appeared before us.  We had made the climb in just over 2.5 hours and were in good shape to complete the loop.  Unfortunately the cloud cover was still thick and rotating around the peak, so we decided to head to lower ground for lunch.

We found a perfect rock outcrop right before we were to reenter the tree-line.  As we sat and ate lunch, the clouds around us slowly began to lift.  The group of 4 men that we had passed on our descent would be treated to some spectacular 360˚ views, an experience not meant for us.  However, we could not complain as we sat on the monumental mountain looking north over the valley far below.
The Eskdale Spur proved to be equally steep as the staircase, and it quickly took us back to the forest floor.  We then had a 5.5 km hike along the moist, fern-filled river banks back to camp.

8.5 hours after we had set out, we walked back into camp.  The hike may not have provided a fruitful vista from the top, but it was a wonderful way to end what had been a exciting and adventurous 2009.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Strawberry Fields For Summer

Beerenberg farm is famous throughout australia for their jams, marmalades, chutneys, sauces, and pickles.  You can find their products in most grocery store isles throughout the country.  However, every year between October and May thousands of people visit the farm  to pick fresh strawberries.
Last summer I visited the farm, located just outside of Adelaide in Hahndorf,  for the first time.  I arrived in town by bus.  The farm is a short stroll from the town's center.  There is actually a bus stop just outside the farm, but I wanted to stop in town for a bite to eat.
After checking in at the main store, and paying a small fee (probably to pay for all the berries that just happen to make it to your mouth), I was sent through a beautiful rose covered walkway to the strawberry patch.  The pickings were a bit slim on the edges of the field, however for those who braved to venture into the center of the patch the reward was well worth the effort--some of the largest, most succulent berries that I had ever seen.  Of course as you enthusiastically fill your container, or as in my case containers, you need to remember that you will be returning to the shop to pay for the strawberries.  At about AU$9.00 a kilo it may seem a bit expensive, but the quality really is out of the world.

As you can imagine I have returned to the Strawberry Farm several times over the past two seasons.  As the summer wears on the berries may not be as big and lush, but they are perfect for making this Fresh Strawberry Pie from Cooks Illustrated.

Fresh Strawberry Pie
Serves 8.   Published May 1, 1998.

For the glaze to be the right consistency, you must start with 1 1/4 cups of strawberry puree. Varying that amount will yield glaze that is either too thick or too thin. Likewise, be certain that the glaze mixture has cooled before adding the berries; if it is too hot, the berries might begin to cook and soften. Pectin for lower sugar recipes is important here because this pie does not have enough sugar for ordinary pectin to set properly. Serve the pie with softly whipped cream.

2 quarts fresh strawberries , washed and hulled; one quart halved (4 cups); remaining quart sliced lengthwise into 4 to 5 slices (see illustration below) (4 cups)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon powdered pectin for lower sugar recipes (such as Sure Jell)
Pinch table salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon juice from 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 prebaked 9-inch pie shell (see related recipe)

1. Puree 1 pint (2 cups) halved berries in blender or food processor workbowl fitted with steel blade, scraping down sides as necessary, until smooth (you should have 1 1/4 cups; spoon off any extra). Bring puree, sugar, pectin, and a pinch salt to boil, stirring occasionally, in medium saucepan over medium heat. Increase heat to medium-high; boil hard until sugar and pectin are dissolved, about 1 minute. Off heat, skim foam from surface with large spoon.

2. Meanwhile, mix cornstarch and 1/4 cup cold water in small bowl until absolutely smooth. Off heat, add cornstarch slurry to strawberry mixture, then return to boil, stirring constantly, over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and, continuing to stir constantly, simmer until mixture becomes thick and clear, about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in cinnamon, lemon juice, and vanilla. Transfer glaze, reserving 1/4 cup for topping, into large bowl; cool to room temperature, at least 15 minutes.

3. Using a rubber spatula, fold sliced strawberries into large bowl of glaze, turning several times to coat thoroughly. Turn glazed berries into pie shell; spread evenly and smooth surface with rubber spatula. Place berry halves in concentric circles, flat side down and pointed ends toward center, starting at center and working toward the outer edge. Stir 2 tablespoons water into reserved 1/4 cup glaze to thin; brush over berry halves to finish pie. Refrigerate until cold, at least 2, and up to 6, hours. Serve.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


This week's theme is balanced.

This picture was taken at Belair National Park just outside of Adelaide.  The koala is balanced on a limb while eating some eucalyptus leaves.

Friday, January 22, 2010

An Oasis Turned Mirage

As we drove back to camp I couldn't help but reflect on the sticky situation we had just been through.  I questioned why didn't we turn around when the trail became overgrown. It wasn't like we were at a point of no return.  As very experienced hikers we knew the trail wasn't going to miraculously get better. In fact, there was a good chance that the conditions would continue to go down hill.  However, we chose to persevere.  Deep in our hearts we knew what we were doing was a mistake, but we stubbornly carried on.  Why was that?  What is it that causes us to go against our instincts?  Neither Mark nor I are daredevils; in fact, we are both fairly reserved in our actions. Is it that when faced with situations similar to the one we had just encountered, we become thrill seekers?  Maybe it is our need to challenge and conquer mother nature.  More than likely it was just stupidity.  Whatever the case, the event was behind us and we were now safely heading back to our camp.
I was looking forward to ripping off my sweat and dirt stained clothes to take a warm sponge bath.  I knew that after cleaning up our wounds we would sit with a cold beer and reflect on our day--a way of decompressing from a very stressful situation.  A replenishing meal would be followed by a good night's sleep.  Even though, in my current condition I felt that there was no way I would be hitting the trail the next day, in my gut I knew that it would be a different story in the morning.
As we turned into the tree-lined archway that would take us to our camp, a sinking feeling spread over me.  Not 50 meters off the road was a wicked van, and this could only mean one thing.  Sure enough, as we pulled into camp we found that in the 8 hours we had been gone the camp had been overrun by the masses.  Well maybe masses is a bit extreme, but there were several new campsites, which in itself wouldn't be so bad, but there was a family that had actually moved into our area!!!!!  I quickly looked at the site of the couple from the night before.  I knew they were still out in the park, since we had just passed them on our drive.  Their site remained as they left it that morning.  No one had moved in to share their fire pit.   I groaned "Why us?"
Mark, asked "Now what?"  I told him that we had obviously left the campsite occupied and to park where we had the night before.  I was not in the mood to try to move.  I slowly crawled from the car so I could help Mark back in.  I was greeted by an unfriendly look from the man who had taken over, which was followed by his teenage daughter shrieking that the van was too close to the fire (it was at least 20 feet away).   I sluggishly directed Mark to our parking spot and flung open the camper doors.  I wanted to get the water boiling.  I pulled out the coleman and headed over to the table that was completely covered by the intruders' stuff.  I set the stove on the bench, hoping that they would get the idea and clear us a space.   To my frustration there was no response from the father and 2-daughter team, and to make matters worse another family was strolling over to the fire pit.  From the interaction between those around us, I gathered that Ashely had invited the neighbors over for a campfire (just outside our tent door).  After all, her father had told her that everything is for sharing when you are out in the bush. Hmm, it didn't look I was going to get much of a warm private wash up.  I closed the van curtains the best I could, filled a bowl with cold water, pulled out the soap, stripped down to a sports bra and shorts, and tried to scrub up the day's horrors.
Even though the father/ 2-daughter team had finished eating and had moved on to roasting marshmallows, the table remained full of their stuff.  We really wanted to to eat, so we set up the stove on the bench and started to boil some water so we could get the pasta on. The campfire was surrounded by 9 people.  I found it interesting that even though they were in our space not one of them had bothered to talk to us, not that it mattered since we really weren't in the mood for chit chat.  Rather than joining the group I went to the tent and pulled out our chairs and set them up in front of the stove.  Mark came over with a couple of coldies and we sat in an exhausted silence, waiting for the water to boil.
Just as we put the pasta on, the father of the second group came up and started to talk to us.  We found it a bit strange not only because he had ignored us up to this point, but also because we had so rudely seated ourselves away from the group.  Before we knew it the entire second family, who were from Melbourne, were seated around us.  I still didn't understand the change, and thought maybe it was due to the fact that Ashley was a bit difficult (very loud, demanding and a pyromanic) and/or her father lacked social skills.  Whatever the case, Mark and I tried to hold a conversation while we slurped down our spaghetti, and then we settled in to some yarn telling that went on to nearly midnight.
It wasn't until the next day when we returned from a hike--yes we woke up eager to hit the trails--that the Melbourne family came to explain about the night before.  Apparently, they thought that the campsite was the father/daughter team's (who had since left).  When they saw us drive up in the van they thought we had brusquely charged into an occupied area and tried to take over.  I can just imagine their thoughts and feelings--those damn yanks they think they can bust in and take over everything!  It wasn't until I pulled the chairs from the tent that they realized that the site was originally ours and had uncouthly been taken over when we were on the trail.  When we heard the story from their perspective we had to laugh. We informed them that they were more than welcome to use the fire pit that evening.  However, they would have to pick some wood since Ashely had managed to burn the entire pile we had previously collected.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

One, Two, Three Huts

The Australian Alps are not only blessed with great natural beauty, but the area's 200 historic huts represent the rich cultural heritage from every era of European presence in the area.  These buildings, some dating to the late 1800's, were originally built for shelter and storage during stock mustering.  Over the years the huts have remained in use by graziers, gold miners, foresters, government workers, skiers and bushwalkers.
Visitors to Alpine National Park are able to visit many of the huts, as their doors are always unlocked.   The huts provide a glimpse into history, and provide shelter.  Should the unfortunate visitors need emergency refuge they will find matches, and dry firewood, and kindling.  However, some huts that have been rebuilt after being destroyed by fires containing everything from beds to kitchen sinks.

The Wallace Hut

The Wallace Hut is one of the more famous huts, and is thought to be the oldest in the high plains.  It was built in 1889 from Snow Gum Slabs and Alpine Ash shingles.

The Cope Hut

In 1929 the Cope Hut was built by the Ski Club of Victoria.  Early skiers and walkers referred to it as "The Menzies of the High Plains" because of its size and comfort.

Mt. Wills Hut

Mt. Wills Hut was one of the more modern huts that we visited.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Tricky Trail

We woke to a sky as blue as the Caribbean Sea.   A night of breathing the fresh alpine air had calmed our mind and body, and we were looking forward to a day on the trails to sooth our souls.  The climb would be minimal.  We were already at 1500m and the highest peak in the area was around 1900m.  But still, the idea of meandering through the treeless heathlands and meadows, where the winter conditions are too harsh for much to grow, was appealing.

Our morning stroll started at the Rocky Valley Dam. The reservoir sparkled in the sunlight, reflecting the white tufts of clouds in the blue sky.  We slowly zig-zaged away from the water.  In the distance, a grove of snow covered trees came into sight.  Unfortunately, the trees were not covered in snow, but instead they were the victims of a not so distant in time fire.  I found it ironic how in their current condition the name Snow Gum ideally suited the trees before us.
We continued up a gully, cut by a small stream.  The vegetation consisted of grasses, mosses, and wild herbs.  The low lying vegetation was so lush and green it was hard to believe that up until 2006 cattle grazing was permitted in this area.

Lunch came early, and after just a couple of hours on the trail we found ourselves sitting on a granite outcrop enjoying a spectacular view while eating a can of dolmas.  As we soaked in the warm rays, appreciating the shimmering blue, undulating hills and the rocky outcrops around us we decide we weren't ready to head back to the car.  We knew that we could continue on our current course and eventually hit a spur that would take us to the road, and that would return us to our starting point.

Our post lunch journey began with a slow descent from the mountain top down towards the valley.  Once again as we merged with the creek we were greeted with what appeared to be more winter scenes.  The rippling floor of the alpine meadow appeared to be covered in snow.  However, they were Snow Daisies.  The fields of white flowers that surrounded us were dotted with yellow, blue, purple, and orange.  We were in the heart of alpine wild flower country.  It was spine-tingling to think that such stunning flowers could exist in such a inhospitable environment.

We had one more small ascent before we would head into the valley below.  We crested just below Spion Kope Peak where we were treated to stunning views of the Mt. Beauty Valley. The trail now followed the rolling mountain spine.   As the track left the barren mountain landscape and entered the tree line, the trail slowly became more and more overgrown.  It was obvious that this trail did not receive a lot of traffic, but there were signs--foot prints and trash--that someone had recently passed through.  We began to question if the spur  we were supposed to catch off the fire track would be marked or completely overgrown.  Had it not been for Mark's altimeter we would probably have turned around, but when we compared the numbers on the small gadget to those on the map, we still had several hundred meters to drop before reaching the elevation of the spur.

The condition of the trail continued to deteriorate and at one point  it  was completely obstructed by a fallen tree.  After struggling to get around it, we could not find the path.  The understory had become impassible.  Further exploration finally brought us back to the semi-worn path. It had cut sharply to the left, rather than continuing straight.   Even though we were once again on the "trail", a sense of uncertainty began to grow.  I tried to hold my fear at bay and put one foot in front of the other, continuing on our downward journey.  Suddenly there in the distance a large sign stood in the middle of the track.  The spur was marked, and relief washed over me.
But the good feeling was short lived. As we  looked at the spur, the entrance was covered with silk worm webs.  Mark took the lead, attempting to remove the thousands of webs with a stick, but his efforts proved futile--they were everywhere.  The sticky strings attached themselves to our hands, hair and body.  Worms were crawling all over us.  To complicate matters the terrain had become extremely steep and slick, and the ground very uneven.  In order to  focus completely on our footing we stopped and put on our fly nets. At least our face and heads were protected from the sticky substance that filled the trail before us.
We were forced to use vines and boulders as handgrips and footholds. They served as brakes, stopping us from sailing straight down the hill. For each branch we accidently broke, mother nature fought back, scratching, chaffing, cutting, gouging and lashing our exposed skin.
I began to curse.  The spur trail, no longer exists.  It was destroyed when a fire in 2006 raged through the area.  Rather than closing the trail, hikers were allowed to continue to to bush whack through the area.  The result was a trail, but not the kind that in my mind leads to an enjoyable walk in the woods.  We found ourselves dropping straight down the side of a hill through a tangled blanket of undergrowth.
Just when we thought things couldn't get worse, we stumbled into an area of hundreds of felled trees.Packs were removed, and I felt like a contortionist as we tried to weave ourselves through our newly presented obstacle course.   I flung my left leg over a huge trunk, and within seconds I was on my back on the ground.  Without their bark--removed by the fire--the trunks were extremely slippery. Mark quickly pulled me to my feet before I had time to wallow in pity or to surrender.  He took the lead as we approached the next large trunk.  Rather than sitting on it, he attempted a side plank hop, and before I knew it he had rolled off the trunk and disappeared into the undergrowth.  I froze with fear, and was unable to let out a scream.  Fortunately he had landed in a small vegetated depression, and within seconds popped up to assure me that all was well.
At this point we stopped to catch our breath and collect our wits. As we leaned against the log, I took in my surroundings.  Once again I was acutely aware of the contrast of life and death--the worms, thick understory, fallen trees, fire devastation and the babbling brook. But wait--I soon realized that the sound I heard was not a babbling brook, but a river.  We were dropping straight to the river.  In my panic I began to shout, "Oh shit, oh shit!  How the hell are we going to get across the river."  Rather than acknowledging my fear, Mark began to walk.  He knew if he got me moving I would have to focus on the moment rather that what lay in front  of us.  

His plan worked and only a few steps later I gracelessly thumped on to my bottom.  As I stood, Mark reminded me to dig in my heels to help fight inertia.  This and keeping low in the legs proved to be fruitless.   I was soon sitting on my heels flying down the side of the hill.  Visions of Indiana Jones popped into my head, and I could only hope I would stop short of the river.  Fortunately, with the help of some vines I was able to stop.  After a grueling 40 minutes we did arrive at the river; it was time to face another demon.

There was a semi-bridge with a log, but it required a long jump at the end to reach the other side.  Mark was able to make the jump with no problem, but there was no way I could do it.  I sat on the end of the log, trying to reach the bottom of the river with my poles with no luck.  Crossing the water by foot was not an option unless I wanted to swim.  Mark was able to balance a log on a low lying rock.  We both then stood on the opposite ends of the log, a bit like a teeter tooter, and quickly moved to the center.  I had made it across, but it was a miracle that we both didn't end up in the river.
We were now faced with a climb to the road.  As we stood on the river bank looking at the sheer cliff before us, we became concerned.  It was at this point that my confidence as an uphill climber kicked in.  Rather than slipping into hysteria, I reflected on all  our previous  hikes.  In the past when faced with a cliff, the path has always followed a crevice.  Sure enough, just to our right there was a faint path that allowed us to easily ascend the cliff.  Too our relief at the top of the cliff was a well maintained fire track that took us straight to the the road.
Once on the road, we considered hitch-hiking.  However, I doubted that anyone would want to pick up two people who were covered in mud, dirt, worms, and webs.  Actually, considering the ordeal that we had just gone through we were able to make excellent time on the road, and within an hour and a half we were once again in our vehicle heading back to our oasis of a campsite.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Don't Blink

On Sunday I headed over to Rymill Park in the CBD of Adelaide for the Cancer Council Helpline Classic.  I had heard that this closed road race, a 51 km TDU prelude, is a great way to see the riders before the real challenge begins on Tuesday and they just become a blur of lycra.  The event--which consists of  30 laps--does give the crowd an opportunity to view the racers repeatedly, but they still pass at lightning speed.   In fact, it took several laps before I was able to focus on anything except the speed and to really enjoy the event.  The race, viewed by over 108,000 fans,  was won by New Zealand's Greg Henderson who races for Team Sky.

Check out how fast they speed by!

Monday, January 18, 2010

On The Move Again

The oppressive heat that had cloaked the valley and caravan park had dissipated overnight.  However, the air in the Land Rover remained thick and heavy with the apprehension of would we be able to find a camping spot.  The crowds we had seen along the River and the booked out Camp Ground had us worried about what we would find at First Falls.
We made a quick stop in Bright to buy some fresh fruit and vegetables.  This small community, nestled at the base of the Australian Alps,  has maintained its character and charm by retaining many of its historic buildings built in the 1880's.  The town also boasts an impressive array of trees including oaks, chestnuts, elms, and some of the largest cedars that I have ever seen.

As we headed out of town, we decided to stop at the information center to check out the hiking in the Alpine area.  At first I was a bit worried about the quality of information we were receiving as the volunteer at the desk rummaged through a stack of 4wd maps, looking for the one that corresponded to First Falls.  Did she understand that we wanted hiking trails, not dirt roads to walk on?  Fortunately, she realized she had no idea what she was looking for and called to another women for some help.  Mary turned out to be a wealth of information.  Not only did she give us detailed information about many of the Highland trails, but she was able to give us tips on camping.  She suggested that we head to the furthest campground; because of its remoteness, its entrance was hidden and most people miss it.  She also suggested that we head there immediately and stake out a camping area since today was the day that the hordes of people would be arriving.
We made a beeline to the camp ground.  Actually the road was far from a straight line as we twisted and turned our way up not one but two mountains on small narrow roads that we had to share with several dozen motorcycle riders that thought they were all Vallentino Rossi.
After about an hour of stressful mountain driving we arrived at Alpine National Park. As we drove through the ski resort, we couldn't figure out where people skied.  There were no majestic peaks, just small bumps.  We decided we would figure it out later since we were in a hurry to arrive at the campground.  About 20 km from the resort we passed the first campground located on a creek.  The place was packed.  All we could do was hope that Mary was right.  A few more kilometers down the road our spirits rose as we passed the second campground that had only a few visitors.  As Mary predicted we went flying past Buckety Plain.  If you hadn't known to look for it, it was as though it didn't exist.  A sharp u-turn and a short drive through an arched tunnel of low lying tree branches on a very rough dirt road brought us to an open, empty meadow.  We couldn't believe our luck.  We were the first to arrive.
We picked a spot as far from the dunny as possible, and hoped that no one would come and camp on top of us.  Like a dog marking its territory, we set up our tent and set out some water containers and plastic boxes on the picnic table.  Mark was concerned that there were only two fire pits in the area, and that by staking out one of them it would mean we would have to share the area, but we decided to take our chances-- a gamble that paid off in the end.  When we returned after a 5 hour hike, we were surprised to find the campground virtually empty.  With exception of one other couple, we were the only ones who would be staying at Buckety Plain that evening.  It appeared that we had found a perfect bush spot in the Alpine National Park.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Lance Armstrong is currently in Adelaide for The Tour Down Under (TDU). This yearly event, which was first held in 1999, is the first stop in the world cycling calendar.  Each January top cycling teams come to Southern Australia to participate in the week-long competition that takes the cyclists through the streets of Adelaide and the surrounding rural countryside.

Australians take this event seriously. In the weeks leading up to the tour, Adelaide becomes a mecca for lycra dressed men and women on bikes--they fill the local streets, bike paths and cafes.  During the week of the race crowds turn out in the thousands to watch the various stages of the tour.  So it was no surprise that after a tweet by Lance Armstrong, inviting the masses to ride with him in a public peloton, over 5,000 cyclists joined him yesterday morning for a pre-TDU ride.
Riders were to meet at Wriggley Reserve, which is conviniently located a couple of blocks from our flat.  The large crowd gathered early and patiently waited for Lance, who showed up a little past the scheduled 9:00 a.m. departure.  He took a few minutes to shake hands, sign autographs, and greet the crowd before leading the cyclists, of all ages and walks of life, on the hour long jaunt.

My lycra donned husband, a regular bicycle rider, wasn't about to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity.  He said over all the roundtrip ride from Glenelg to West Lakes went smoothly and he was thrilled to have participated in the event.

*in German Rad means bicycle

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Today's photo hunt theme is jiggly.

My legs felt a little jiggly after the 1300+ meter climb to Schilthorn Peak, home to James Bond's thrilling action scenes in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," located in Switzerland.  I'm not sure if my legs were jiggly because of the climb or from nerves, since the final part of the ascent include a very narrow passage with no additional support.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Expat Life

The expat life is a journey of continual learning, and I have learned two crucial lessons that I would like to share with you.
First, it is very important to take the time to celebrate mile-stones.  It is during these celebrations that one is able to look back and see one's successes, analyze one's failures, and plan for the future.   Reflection allows an ongoing process of continual growth, rather than allowing life to become a series of mundane actions.
Secondly, it is crucial to become active in an expat community.  Of course, you will meet many wonderful people and make many friends in your new host country, but in those relationships there will never be a true understanding of what it means to expatriate.  You can explain and educate acquaintance from the host culture about your experiences, but it takes someone who has passed through a similar situation to truly empathize with you and your needs.  It would be unrealistic to think that you never need an understanding shoulder to lean on.  Actually, when we first arrived in Spain, I made a decision that I was only going to integrate in the local community, even though there was a large ex-pat and USA  military population in the town we lived in.  Six months into my "new life" I found that even though I had become an active member in the host community, and had several new friends, I lacked someone with whom I could reminisce about life back home and discuss my frustrations vis-a-vis cultural differences.  Furthermore I missed kicking back and carrying on in an idiom familiar to all. Fortunately, I was able to find a club of Expat Women that filled a void in my life.   When I moved to Australia, I also found a supportive expat group; but I have also found a some inspiring on-line resources, including, "a comprehensive, global website helping women living overseas," is preparing to celebrate a mile-stone the 16th of January.  As they celebrate 3 years being online I  encourage everyone, wherever they are in their expat journey to visit the site.  Their are numerous resources for the novice, and the experts can tell their stories and offer their expertise.

Expat Women - Helping Women Living Overseas

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Summer Camping Ozzie Style

I was a bit surprised when the Camp Hostess strolled up to our van at 8:00 a.m., as the evening before she had told us that it would be the Park Ranger who would stop in to take care of the fees.  With clipboard in hand, she looked official as she jotted down our license plate number.  She asked Mark for his name and said "Ya' only staying for one night?"  Mark replied, "No, two."  She then told us that was not likely since the place was fully booked.  Booked?  How could it be full, there were only a handful of people in the 58 camping spots.  We were then informed that starting on that day all camping sites (including the first-come first-serve spots) were only available with a week long reservation, and the campground was fully booked for the next two weeks.  I wanted to strangle her.  Couldn't she have told us this when we tried to talk to her the evening before?  Even a little message on her board would have been helpful.  She did half-heartedly suggest, that if we were lucky, maybe we could get a spot at one of the Caravan Parks in the valley and we could then drive back and forth to the park.  As if that was going to happen; as beautiful as Mt. Buffalo was, there was no way we would be driving 100 kilometers round trip, on a mountain road, to visit a park.

So once again it was decision making time.  We wanted to do a little exploring of the area, since we weren't sure if we would ever make it back.  So we decided to call down to the Caravan Parks and see if we could find one that not only had but  would also hold a spot for us until the early evening.  Fortunately, the second place we called (the first one was a wrong number), was friendly and accommodating.
So after a full day of hiking and settling up with the Park Ranger, we headed down the hill.
The narrow, corkscrew-like road took us through alpine heathlands, snow-grass plains, wet mountain forest, and dry foot hill forests to the valley far below.  Once again we found ourselves shrouded in an oppressive heat.  It was as though we had left a blessed land high on the hilltop and arrived in the land of the doomed.
As promised, our 3x5 meter spot, overlooking the river was waiting for us.  The first challenge was backing the Land Rover in to the narrow area.  Fortunately, the space on our left was empty, but it was still a challenge not to run over any of the lil' ankle biters that were running all over the place or the tents sitting right on the line dividing space 39 and 40.  To top it all off we had an audience--the couple sitting on the porch of the permanent cabin in front of us, the 4 young adults on our right, the dozen or so people hanging around in the river, and the long line of cars waiting to get past us.  When I jumped out of the van and tried to facilitate the situation with manic arm waving, I couldn't help but feel that the onlookers were not being entertained but, rather, felt as though we were invading their space.
As the night and events around us unfolded, I came to understand that we were invaders.  For those around us, the Caravan Park--which for the most of the year is a ghost town--is their vacation home.  Whether they were there for a week or more, they were much more permanent than any tourists passing through in a logo ridden van.
The summer time residents of Porepunkah Caravan Park had created a community whose members know, trust, and help each other. We watched children's faces light up when they were reunited with friends they hadn't seen for a year.  We saw groups of men standing in the roadways sharing a coldie and catching up.  We heard the a constant babble from the river, not due to the running water, but from the groups of women cooling off while exchanging a year's worth of gossip.  No one stayed on the side-lines when the family next to us arrived with a new tent they were unsure of how to put up. Not to worry, their neighbors ran over to pitch in.  Hence, the role that the Caravan Park plays in lives of its temporary residents is much more than just a destination; it is the stabilizing core of their vacation.
The ethos of quasi community semi helps in me understand the popularity of  summer vacationing at a Caravan Park , but I am still a bit perplexed.  Perhaps it is due to my more nomadic nature, but I can not imagine returning year after year to the same exact place and spot.  Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Caravan Parks, I think they are a wonderful option for travelers in Australia.  They are clean and offer hot water, electricity, and all of those other things that are hard for us citified denizens to live without.  However, the thought of staying in the same camp for a week or more rattles me just a a bit.  Especially in the summer when they are packed to the rafters and tents are literally pitched one on top of another.  Canvas walls don't offer much protection, and getting to know your neighbor takes on a whole new meaning. This exerience of creating imagined "community" beyond the realm of the ordinary was indeed a teachable moment for me.

I have no regrets about my one summer's night in an Australian Caravan Park, and though it is not an experience that I would quickly repeat, I do feel that it has given me a better understanding of Australians.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wake Wars

On Sunday, Mark and I headed over to the mouth of the Patawalonga River for the Monster Energy Wake Wars 2010, which has been defined as Australia's premier wakeboard event.   for those of you unfamiliar with wakeboarding, it is a water sport similar to waterskiing. A rider, whose feet are attached to a board, is pulled behind a motor boat.  While being pulled along, the rider uses the boat's wake to become airborne and perform a variety of tricks involving jumps and flips.
This is not really the type of event that I am drawn to, but last year we stumbled across it on a walk home from Henley Beach.  I'm not sure if we were more impressed with the actual wakeboarding or the people watching--a crowd of close to 10,000.  Whatever the attraction, we decided to go and check out the event again.
It turned out to be a bit of a bust.  With the weather soaring close to 40˚c attendance was a low.  Also, perhaps due to last year's large crowds there were fences in place and it was difficult to get close to the area without paying to go in, so it was a a challenge to get a good photo.  On the upside, the wakeboarders we did see were women and they were impressive.  We couldn't help but wonder where they got their drive and courage.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Life Cycles

We were stirred from  a deep sleep by the madman cackles of a kookaburra.I gradually opened my eyes and when I peered out the window I discovered a fine mist surrounding Lake Catani.  The foggy conditions, overcast sky, and the white leafless trees on the hill above the lake made me want to stay tucked in my warm sleeping bag.  But I knew that looks could be deceiving.   It was not a cold Boxing Day that awaited us outside of the metal tin that we were currently calling home, but an early summer morning.  We eagerly threw open the backdoors of the Land Rover and enthusiastically inhaled the refreshing morning air.  The fine mist had washed away the dirt and oppressive heat that had settled over the area for the last few days.   Energized by the cool, eucalyptus scented air we were anxious to hit the trails and discover what Mt. Buffalo Park had to offer.

We left Lake Catani behind as we traversed a low lying valley flanked by a creek and tall grasses.  I could barely contain my excitement as we passed by burrow after burrow.  The holes dug in the earth were too big for rabbits and I couldn't imagine that that many foxes lived in one area.  I began to look for other clues of who inhabited the underground dens.  It wasn't long before I found cube shaped scat strategically placed on logs, rocks and tufts of buffalo grass.  My suspicions were confirmed and I knew that that this area was home to the common wombat. Unfortunately, the morning sun was high on the horizon and the nocturnal animal had retired for the day.
After 30 minutes we had traversed the valley and the trail began a steep climb up Mt. Dunn.  The trail took us into an area devastated by fire several years ago.  The understory had returned to life:  purple wild flowers were in bloom, ferns carpeted the forest floor, and small snow gums had sprouted.  However, thousands of barkless, leafless, lifeless trees were still standing.  The deep roots, that once provided sustenance, continued to anchor them to the ground.  However, time and the elements would eventually break that bond between tree and land.  As we looked up from the forest floor we could see how the snowy white skeletons were all slightly curved in the same direction.  The gentle giants' final attempt to escape the intense heat, their final movements forever frozen in time.

We left the cemetery of trees and their silent whispers behind for the final ascent to the top of Mt. Dunn.  We were now above the tree line and the single track trail turned to a rocky slab.  The rocks that were below our feet were once buried deep in the center of a massive land structure.  Over time the elements slowly wore down the mountain.  Wind, heat, water, and ice have carved away at the surface, have taken advantage of the weakened joints and widened cracks--turning a rugged peak  into a landscape of uniquely shaped boulders, tors, and cliffs.
The massive boulder top known as Mt. Dunn provided the perfect vantage point to observed the unparallel panorama.  Before us lay the final product of the forces of nature.  The combination of the regeneration of vegetation, the stunning rock formation, and the fire destruction was staggering.  I had to ask myself how could something so harsh be so beautiful.  Perhaps because what lay before us was a perfect representation of the cycle of life.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


On the first Sunday after the 6th of January the annual Greek Blessing of the Waters is held in Glenelg, South Australia. In this religious ceremony--which commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the River Jordan--the clergy and people of the church walk in procession with the cross out on the Glenelg Jetty.  At the end of the pier, the baptismal hymn is sung and then the cross is cast into the Holdfast Bay to bless the waters.

In the water, far below the pier, several young men from the church are on hand to retrieve the cross.  The  man that gets to the cross first will then swim to shore and return the cross to the priest, who will then deliver a special blessing to the swimmer.

2010's Lucky Guy