Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Public First

This week's PhotoHunt theme is public.
This Round House is located at Arthur Head in Fremantle, and  it is Western Australia's oldest public building.  The gaol (jail) was built in 1830 and it was the first permanent building in the Swan River Colony.
The small prison had eight cells and a jailer's residence.  It was used for colonial and indigenous prisoners until 1886 when the Convict Establishment prison was transfered to the colony.  After that, the smaller Round House was used as a police lockup until 1900, when it became the living quarters for the chief constable and his family.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Many Faces of WA

The sun was climbing on the horizon and it was time to move on.  From our previous day's experience we assumed that the drive that lay in front of us would not take the 5 hours that we had planned on, but many more.  Unfortunately, we were not proven wrong as it took us close to 12 hours to reach our final destination.  
Fortunately, the trip was not fruitless. The long and sometimes windy road revealed the contrasting faces of WA.  Leaving the Pinnacles Desert behind us we headed towards the Southern Ocean.  We traveled through low heathland and eucalyptus open woodlands and past the concrete jungle towers of Perth's CBD and the majestic peaks of the Stirling range. The further south we traveled the less arid the land became.

Stirling Mountains WA
By mid-afternoon we were surrounded by the magnificent forest of karri, marri, and tingle trees.  Time was not on our side, and we were unable to stop and enjoy the clear, crisp air and explore the forests of the area.  Instead we were forced to observe and enjoy the landscape from the car.  As we watched the scenery flash by, we knew that we would some day have to return to the area to explore it in a more leisurely fashion.

Coastal Inlets Near Albany
The final leg of our journey took us from the larger, more traveled roads to smaller tracks.  The towering, green, moss-covered giants that lined the narrow bitumen path created a cave-like sensation.  Before us, in the few rays of light that reached the forest floor, thousands of white moths fluttered around the car.  Many of them were crushed to death against the windscreen of our moving car.
We were tired and anxious to arrive at our destination, since nightfall was just around the corner and with the darkness would come the wildlife.  When we arrived at the small town of Pemberton we knew that we were not far away, but I misread the map and prolonged our trip by more than just a few kilometers.  When we finally arrived at the Karri Valley Resort we were treated to the last few rays of light shimmering on the Lake Beedelup.

Lake Beedelup

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hunt Over

This week's PhotoHunt theme is hanging.

It is not uncommon to see dead foxes hanging on fences in Australia. According to thefoxwebsite "This is a throwback to Victorian times, when gamekeepers hung the animals they killed on a gibbet to show their employers how well they were doing their job.  It is also sometimes done to show neighbours how they treat any fox that appears on their land."
Foxes were first introduced in Australia in 1855 for recreational hunting purposes.  By the early 1870's they were established in the wild.   Within 100 years the introduced species had spread across almost all of the continent, and today there are one of the most widely spread feral animals in Australia.
Foxes cause environmental damage, by preying on many species of native wildlife  Animals that are endangered due to the fox include the rock-wallaby, numbat, bettong and bilby.  Farmers also link serious economic damage to foxes, though the significance of foxes as predators of livestock is subject to debate. There is also the fear that should rabies be introduced into Australia (we are currently rabies free) foxes could contact and spread the disease.
The Australian government uses fencing, trapping, baiting and shooting in attempt to control the growth and spread of the fox population.  

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pinnacles Or Bust

With the map on my lap we were ready for our first WA Road Trip--The Pinnacles or Bust!  I didn't imagine too many dramas.  After all, once we cleared Perth it would be a straight shot up Highway 1.  What I didn't expect was how long the trip would take.  How could less than a couple of inches on paper take almost 3 hours to drive?  We were cruising along at close to 100 km an hour.  Well, maybe we were going a little slower since the dead kangaroos every kilometer or so had us a bit freaked out but, still, how on earth did it take us so long to go such a short distance?  Hmmmm, perhaps it is the fact that the map on my lap represented one state, but that state just happens to occupy about 1/3 the of the whole continent.  We aren't talking California, but rather an area of more than 2,500,000 square kilometers.  So much for an early arrival.

After a quick check-in at the Cervantes Caravan Park we headed out to Nambung National Park, home of one of Australia's most unique landscapes.
When we arrived at the Park's entrance we had a good chat with the ranger.  He was a bit concerned that we would not be able to fully appreciate the limestone spires that eerily rise out of the sand.  First of all, it was fairly warm out and there were lots of flies.  Of course, these two things could be overcome with lots of water and a fly net, but there wasn't much to be done about the large number of visitors in the park.  Because there was a full moon that evening, there were large crowds.  The Ranger suggested that rather than trying to spend too much time in the park that afternoon we visit the interpretive center and take a short walk about, then return at dawn.  He assured us that we would have the park to ourselves furthermore, we would get to watch the sun rise and moon set.

Even thought the crowds and flies were aplenty they didn't distract from the huge limestone pillars which vary in size and shape.  These formations, which are believed to be over 6,000 years old, are the result of ancient sea shells that were broken down into sand and brought to shore by waves.  The lime-rich sand was then carried inland by wind to form large sand dunes.  Over time, acidic rain and extreme heat bound the grains of sand together forming Tamala Limestone--which was eventually eroded to form the Pinnacles.
As much as we enjoyed our afternoon walk across a landscape that resembled the set of a science fiction movie, we were glad we took the Park Ranger's advise.  As he promised, the next morning our only company was one other car and a dozen or so roo's.  The simultaneous sunrise/moonset was spectacular.  However, the highlight of the early morning visit had to be the play of the light and shadows.  It was no longer as though we were visiting a movie set, but rather as if were transported to a ethereal distant planet--a memory that will not soon be forgotten.    

Thursday, July 22, 2010

WA Doesn't Mean Washington

We had been in Australia for less than 3 months, when my husband was sent to spend some time in his company's office in Perth.   We were anxious to visit Western Australia, but were worried that due to distance and isolation we would only have this one opportunity to visit Australia's largest state. Little did we know that it was a place we would come to visit often, and that it would earn a special place in our hearts.
On our first trip to Western Australia (WA) we flew over the Southern Ocean for an hour and once again were above land. There was not a cloud in the sky and we had an unobstructed view of the ground below us.  Neither our mini-trips to Melrose and Kangaroo Island, nor several day trips around South Australia had prepared me for what was passing 30,000 feet below.  The vacant land seemed to go on for miles on end.  There was nothing--not a town, farm, or even a road below us.    
I had heard stories of arid WA and had imagined a dusty brown landscape.  Instead the land below us was a contrast of color and texture. The glistening white beaches slowly turned to yellow and red.  Embedded in the sandstone floor were outcrops of grey granite and sparkling dry salt beds.  The dog days of summer had yet to arrive and the vegetation was rich and varied in color.
The scenery that passed below us was unlike anything I had ever seen and I was anxious to hit the ground and start exploring.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tin Mine In Oz

Litchfield National Park was first visited by Europeans in 1856, and in the late 1800's Pastoral occupation began.  However, the harsh conditions kept the area from becoming  popular.  When copper and tin were discovered in the area in the 1900's, several small scale subsistence mining operations were established.  

Today visitors can visit the abandoned tin mine at Bamboo Creek.  It operated from 1906 to 1955, before Litchfield became a National Park.  The site, which is heritage listed, is in ruins but visitors are able to catch a glimpse into the life of the miners--their living quarters as well as the tools they used to extract, process and transport the ore.  A short path takes visitors past stone ruins up to the old mine shaft.  If you visit late in the evening you can see the exit of the dozens of bats that now call the cave home.  At the end of the path are the ruins of the mill.  Much of the old machinery, including the old engine that ran the mill, is still in place.  

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Forget The Room With A View

Over the years I have spent countless hours on the internet in search of the perfect place to stay.  My quest has been driven by many factors including price, location, historic importance, recommendations, quaintness, and if the place had yet to be "discovered."  It never really seemed to matter how much time I spent researching my choice,  once the decision was made I was always faced with a sense of fear.  A fear that there was something better out there.  
When we began to camp in Australia, I felt a relief.  I believed that I would no longer be faced with endless hours of searching for that perfect place and the anguished by that act of ultimate decision making.  After all a campsite is a campsite, right?   Besides, if we were unhappy with a site we could easily pack up and move on.  I soon discovered that even though this is true, the worries continue.  I am now faced with the anxiety of not only finding a camping spot but one that is not right on top of someone else.  If we do find the perfect secluded spot there is the stress of not knowing if after a long day of hiking we will find someone camped right next to us.  I'm not sure if it is the Australians' social nature or if they believe safety comes in numbers, but a solo tent is like a fire beckoning a moth.
So last month in Litchfield National Park, after discovering that the trail we had planned to hike was closed, we were faced with a decision.  Should we stay where we knew we had a spot, or risk moving on--in search for that perfect spot?  Visions of full campgrounds and the thought of having to stay at a commercial campground helped  us make our decision--we decided to stay put.  
This turned out to be a decision we regretted when we were 35 km down the road at Walker Creek.  We never considered Walker Creek as a camping option since it involved hiking in.  However, we decided to walk the 1.8 km trail since there weren't a lot of hiking options in the area.  
The single track trail follows a small creek that flows out of the northern slopes of the Tabletop Range.  The trail which gradually climbs to the second plateau doesn't really take you next to the creek bed; however, you can hear the rushing water close by.  About 600 meters in there are turn offs every 200 meters to the creek.  These are actually the walk-in campsites. If they are unoccupied they are open for day use. We didn't actually walk into any of the campsites until we reached number 7--we had been told by people walking out that it was vacant and it was the spot to visit.

The moment we saw the site--it not only had its own table and fire pit but its own swimming pool and waterfall--we knew we had made a mistake.  I would have gladly carried our gear on a hike that had taken less than half an hour for this perfect camping spot.  There was even a brief moment that we considered sleeping under the stars--we had our sleeping bags in the car--but decided against it.  As we slowly trudged back to the car, calling in at the other sites (only the first 2 had campers), we couldn't help but know we had made an unfortunate decision.
If you plan to visit and camp at Litchfield National Park, I strongly recommend staying at Walker Creek.   There are 8 camping spots with a toilet provided near campsite 6.  Before heading up the trailhead be sure to look at the reservation board to make sure there is an opening.  You need to register and pay before heading in but, not to worry, all campsites have their own pool!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Big Triangle

This week's PhotoHunt theme is triangle.

Across Australia you can find about 150 large structures called Australia's Big Things.  The buildings or sculptures have reached an international cult like status, and are the frequently the focus of road trips.
The large triangle shaped object in my picture is one of Australia's Big Things.  It is labeled The World's Biggest Sundial, and is found in Singleton, New South Wales.  The name is a bit deceiving, since there are a few bigger sundials around the world, but it is the biggest in Australia.  It was a Bicentennial gift to the city from the Lemington Mine in 1987.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Camping In Litchfield National Park

We were a bit worried about finding a camping spot at Litchfield National Park.  It had taken longer than expected to pick up supplies in Darwin and we would arrive at the park just as the sun would start to set.  As we approached Mt. Bachelor and its commercial campground, the last stop before the park, we had to make a decision.  We decided to keep moving.  If worse came to worse we could always backtrack to what looked like a typical caravan park.
In less than an hour we began the descent down a rough 4wd road to the more isolated campground at Florence Falls.  Our hearts dropped as we found the bush camp full.  The road made it impossible for caravans to drive in, so we imagined that the campgrounds on the sealed roads would be even worse.  Rather than carrying on to the fully developed campsite at Florence Falls we headed to the smaller one at  Buley Falls.  With fingers crossed we hoped that fewer facilities would mean fewer campers. Luck was on our side and we found two open spots--one next to the long drop and the other right at the campground entrance. Needless to say, we didn't spend the night next to the stinky loo.
The campground was typical for Australia with campsites right on top of each other.  We actually lucked out in that we only had neighbors on one side.  By the end of the night, even though we never met them, we knew more than we wanted about the two drunk girls camped next to us.  All the info we learned about them made it seem as if we were close friends, yet the several times we ran into the girls over the next few days they didn't even recognize us.
We quickly set up camp as the sky turned from yellow, to pink, to orange, a finally to dull grey.  We could hear the running water close by, but decided to save the exploring for morning since we were unsure about the crocodile situation.   As dusk turned to dark an eeriness settled around us. Perhaps it was my fear of crocodiles, or the crackle of the bush fires that smoldered just a few hundred meters away.  Whatever the cause there was no way that you were going to get me to sleep in the tent, and I soon retired to the back of the Toyota RAV4.   
As the first light peeked over the horizon, with coffee cups in hand, we headed down to the water pools.  It turns out that this part of the park is crocodile free and an extremely popular swimming area.  Fortunately, dawn was not a peak time to visit and we had the spot to ourselves.  As we sat next to the river, surrounded by pandanus palms and paperbark trees, with birds of prey circling overhead, I was once again reminded of why I have come to love Oz.  

As we returned to camp we were greeted by the dozen or so other campers slowly beginning to stir.  Not soon after the first cuppa was drunk and the big brekkie eaten, many of our neighbors began to break up camp.  We were faced with a decision--to leave camp set up and stay for another night or to pack it up.  We decided that even though the location was not ideal, we would stick it out for another night.  At the time it didn't seem like a big deal.  In fact, after seeing the croc free swimming holes in the daylight I was willing to sleep in the tent.  Also, we could take a short trail to the longer trail that we planned to hike.  This meant we wouldn't have to stress at the end of the day of finding a place to stay.  To top it all off we could have a riverside picnic that evening.  
Of course things didn't work out as planned.  The long distance trail was closed-- the land it traversed had yet to be declared croc free.  We ended up having to get in the car and drive to another section of the park to hike.  Unfortunately, we decided to leave our stuff at what was declared our base camp--a decision that would cost us a night in paradise...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mother Nature's Bioreactor

Imagine a million, blindfolded, 11 year olds building a skyscraper that covers eight city blocks and measures 2 kilometers in height. A pretty horrific thought, but when accomplished by one of Mother Nature's creatures it becomes an amazing engineering feat.  
Visitors may be drawn to Litchfield National Park's waterholes, but they don't want to miss the area's magnificent termite mounds. We aren't talking about a few small ant piles, but rather a series of protective fortresses that are built with grains of earth that are cemented together with termite saliva. The park's landscape is covered with innumerable dirt structures that vary in size and shape. Visitors will see knee-high piles, football size cones, enormous buttresses, and towering monoliths. The distinct physical characteristic of each mound is determined by the species of termite that has constructed it. The largest of the mounds are built by the  cathedral termite and can measure up to 6 meters high. However, it is not the sheer size that is the most impressive feature of the mounds, but instead the fact that the atmosphere within the mound is maintained between 25 to 30 degrees celcius. This is accomplished through the use of evaporative moisture cooling systems, solar collection, and the use of thermal mass for heat retention. A monumental architectural feat for a soft-bodied, ant-like insect.
Wow, all of this without MIT degrees.  

Cathedral Termite Mound

A second species of termites found in the park are magnetic termites. Temperature is also a driving factor in the construction of their mounds. Rather than creating massive structures, the magnetic termites build an edifice that resembles an enormous, sculptural tombstone. However, it is not just the structure that is critical in the thermoregulation of the mound, but it also involves the careful alignment of the mound.  Hence all magnetic termite mounds are perfectly aligned, north to south. The structure and positioning of the mound allows the sun to warm a larger surface area during the cooler mornings, evenings and winter months, raising the internal temperature of the mound.  Then during the heat of the day, due to the mounds narrow profile, less surface area is exposed and less heat is absorbed.

Magnetic Termite Mounds

Profile Magnetic Termite Mound

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Feral and Free

This weeks PhotoHunt theme is free.

Between 1860 and 1907 an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 camels were imported into Australia, and used as draft, pack and riding animals by people pioneering Central Australia. The animals were perfect for traversing the arid and isolated interior.  Not only were they able to travel great distances across hot, dry, sandy deserts with little food and water, but they could carry and haul heavy loads. In the mid 1920's, when motor vehicles began operating in the central areas of Australia, most camels were set free.  
Today, it is not uncommon to come across one of the feral descendants of the original imported camels in the Australian Outback. In fact, it is the only place in the world you can see a one-humped camel in the wild.
Recently we took a wrong turn near Alice Springs and happened to come across this big guy.    

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cool Fire

For tens of thousands of years the Aboriginal people of Australia have had a cultural obligation to look after and clean up the country.  One of the ways in which they completed this duty was through the use of fire--a tool that when used properly would create minimal harm while bringing maximum benefits.
Today, the National Parks of the Northern Territory are starting to realize the value of this ancient Aboriginal knowledge and fire is being used as a management tool to reduce the amount of fuel loads and to create firebreaks.  It is through the use of traditional patch burning during the cooler weather that the land and important historical sites can be protected from large, destructive wildfires later in the season.  It is also important to note that since traditional burning has been reinstated there has been an increase in native fora and fauna.

Since our visit to the Top End was during the cooler months of the dry season we saw several controlled fire burns.  As we entered Litchfield Park we were required to drive through a prescribed burn.  As we drove down the narrow road, the flames leaping toward the car, I couldn't help but wonder if our car rental insurance included third-degree burns.  It was also a bit eerie to sit at our campsite and not only hear the faint crackle but to see the smoke rising from the smoldering fires in the near distance--a stone throw from where we were to sleep.  As we drove and walked through the charred and sometimes burning landscape, I had to force myself to remember that it was not destruction that I was witnessing, but rather a temporary scar that in the long run will protect and encourage life.

"This earth.  I never damage.  I look after.  Fire is nothing. just clean up.  When you burn. new grass coming up.  That means good animal soon.  might be goanna. possum.  wallaby.  Burn him off.  new grass coming up. new life all over."
Bill Neidjie-Bunitj Clan

Saturday, July 3, 2010

No View Blocker Here

This week's PhotoHunter theme is open.

There are a lot of wide open spaces here in Australia.  This photo is of the Nullarbor Plain, the world's largest limestone karst landscape that occupies an area of about 200,000 square kilometers in the southwestern part of the continent.  The name Nullarbor derives from Latin and means no (nullus) trees (arbor).  With only a few hardy, drought-resistant and salt tolerant shrubs to block the view the Nullarbor is the perfect example of a wide open space.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Salty vs' Fresh

Prior to visiting the Top End of northern Australia I didn't know a whole lot about crocodiles, except that the Land Down Under has some fierce ones--or at least that was the picture that had been painted in my mind.  So as we sped past the first Crocodile Safety sign at the side of the road in Litchfield National Park, I quickly pulled out the guide book to learn more about the reptile whose habitat I was about to enter.  It turns out that there are more than 20 types of crocodilians in the world, and two species are found in Australia: the freshwater and the estuarine or saltwater crocodile.

Freshwater crocodiles are only found in Australia.  "Freshies" live in freshwater rivers, creeks and plunge pools.  They are relatively small and rarely grow to more than 2.5 meters in length and weigh no more than 60 kilos.  The nocturnal predator, enjoys a diet of birds, bats, reptiles, insects, fish, and small mammals. They are considered to be a timid animal, though they can become aggressive and bite if they are disturbed.  Fortunately, their jaws are not large or powerful enough to cause serious injury to humans.
Estuarine crocodiles are found in Australia, South East Asia, New Guinea and Indonesia.  Saltwater crocodiles live in estuaries and the sea, but during the wet season they can move into freshwater swamps and rivers .  "Salties" are the world's largest living reptile and the males average a length of five meters and weigh about 450 kilos.   Their diets are similar to their freshwater cousins, however they may also eat snakes, turtles, and larger mammals (including water buffalos and humans).  It is important to note that less than 30 people have been killed by crocodiles since 1971, but they are still an opportunistic predator that will quickly strike without warning.

Today there is an estimated population of 100,00 crocodiles in Australia.  However, from the 1940's thru the 1960's the reptile was hunted, for its skin, to near extinction.  They are now a protected species and it is illegal to injure or harm them.
As the estuarine crocodile population grows, they continue to move further inland into freshwater rivers, billabongs and creeks in search of new territory.  Thus, the National Parks of the Top End have had to implement crocodile management zones.  These zones are only open during the dry season, and are accessible after the areas have been extensively surveyed and any "salties" that have moved in during the wet season have been removed.  Traps remain in place for the entire dry season as a saltwater crocodile may move in at any time.  So when visiting the Parks of the Northern Territory it it critical that all warnings and closures be followed.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Chocolate Covered Poached Pear

One of my favorite summer treats is chocolate covered strawberries.  Unfortunately, currently I am in the middle of winter so I decided to try dipping a more seasonally appropriate fruit in chocolate.  I first poached the pear so that it would be soft.  Also, I used milk chocolate since that is what I had on hand, but would use dark chocolate in the future.  I served the chocolate dipped pear on a blackberry/rhubarb compote.


1 cup caster sugar
1/2 bottle white wine
4 cups water
1 cinnamon quill
1 star anise
4 small ripe pears
100 grams dark chocolate, chopped


2 sticks  rhubarb, cut into 1-2 cm pieces
3 tablespoons caster sugar
1/8 cup water
75 grams fresh or thawed frozen blackberries
1/2 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 1/2 teaspoon water


For Pears
1. Combine sugar, wine, water, cinnamon, and star anise in a sauce pan over low heat.  Stir to dissolve sugar.  Add pears and cook until pears are tender (about 45 minutes.)  Chill pears in refrigerator.
2. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.  Remove pears from refrigerator and dry with a paper towel.  Dip bottom half of pear in chocolate.  A pastry brush can be used to spread the chocolate up the side of the pear.  Place chocolate dipped pear on wax paper and allow to set.

For Compote
1.  Place rhubarb in a saucepan with caster sugar and 1/8 cup water. Cover and place over medium heat and cook for 5-10 minutes until softened. Add blackberries and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes until softened. Add the corn starch mixture and stir for 3-4 minutes until thickened. Set aside in a bowl to cool to room temperature for at least 5 minutes.