Conquering Kings Canyon

On taking the early morning rim walk around Kings Canyon and the Karrke Aboriginal tour.

Much to Glen’s horror (and mine if I’m honest), we were up before the sun on Sunday morning so we could go on the early morning rim walk around Kings Canyon. We wolfed down some breakfast with a bunch of other eager hikers and then went to reception to meet our guide.

Glen and I were the only ones going on the tour so we had the guide to ourselves (as well as a giant bus). We arrived at Kings Canyon with the sun almost ready to burst over the rim. The guide, Marcus, was happy to have just two, seemingly fit, “young” people in his group as that meant no stragglers and no waiting for people with dodgy hips etc. The walk, advertised to take about 3 to 4 hours was going to be over in no time.

Walking the Kings Canyon Rim

We started with the 500 steps up the side of the canyon, setting a cracking pace that left my throat burning and my lungs heaving by the time we reached the top. We then set off around the rim, going through staggeringly beautiful rock formations bathed in the sunrise light. The rocks were so red!

We passed through Priscilla’s Crack, a split in between two rocks that featured in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. We’ll have to watch the movie again now. There was also a tree that Elle McPherson had posed against. You can easily understand why it’s a popular spot for photos.

We continued on at a good speed, heading out to lookouts, seeing fossils that Marcus wouldn’t normally stop for if there was a larger group. (So happy was he to have only the two of us that he mentioned it to just about every other tour-led group, inspiring envy as we left their 24-strong hordes behind.)

On one of these slight detours we spotted a wallaroo (or Euro if you’re from WA) amongst the spinifex. Hooray for wildlife sightings!

We bumped into the British doctors we met at the Fields of Light dinner at Uluru; they were hurrying to get it done before embarking on their 500km-drive back to Alice Springs to catch their plane.

We went up and down rock ledges, down to the Garden of Eden (a water hole that can no longer be swum in because of all the sunscreen polluting the water), and I finally got to eat something off a bush – a native fig. Tasted like a fig.

We took photos along the way, continued our march that didn’t feel too strenuous for most of it, and then came around the other side of the canyon and began our descent. We reached the bottom two and a half hours after we’d started. If we’d not stopped, we would have easily done it in two, but then we wouldn’t have seen anything.

We got back on the bus with another group of people who’d done the shorter and easier creek walk and then arrived back at the resort at about 10am to find that Optus had installed a mobile phone tower nearby and we had signal again. (We’d been without it since yesterday…yet managed to survive.)

Karrke Tour

The middle of our day passed with naps, lunch, and reading, until we had an Aboriginal cultural tour booked for 4pm. It took place about half an hour down the road and was called the Karrke Tour. (Karrke is the name of the bowerbird local to these parts.)

We were greeted and joined a German couple who were halfway through their tour. The tour guides, Peter and Christine, took us to different stations where we learnt about different types of ochre, making jewellery, and bush tucker. They showed us live honey ants, their abdomens full of juice, and then how to cook a witchety grub. They pop when they’re done. After that it was different medicinal plants.

The Germans then finished and we continued on to see the large amounts of work involved in collecting and grinding seeds to make a type of flour and then turn that into a tasteless, utilitarian bread.

We were shown different hunting tools and weapons, and then real live witchety grubs as they were extracted out of the roots of trees. They’re soft and squishy to touch, pretty big for a bug and apparently taste of raw egg when raw. When they’re cooked, they take on the taste of the tree they were growing in so if they burrowed into eucalyptus leaves, they’d taste of eucalyptus.

The tour went for half an hour, was well structured, very interesting and Peter and Christine friendly and engaging. I’m glad we went along. While we were chatting to Peter on our way back to the car, we said how we’d seen a wallaroo earlier in the day. He said he’d lived there 15 years and only seen them three times, that’s how rare and shy they are. He also said that the number of kangaroos and emus has gotten low so now they’re a rare sight too, when before they’d be plenty of them to see. We were now more likely to see dingos (which we had).

Back at the resort, we packed our bags, went for dinner and had an early night ready for our return to Uluru in the morning and then our flights home.

Kata-Tjuta to Kings Canyon

On visiting Kata Tjuta, walking the Valley of the Winds and Walpo Gorge, seeing wildlife (perentie, dingo and eagle) and arriving at Kings Canyon.

I was keen to get going early on Saturday morning as the Valley of the Winds in Kata Tjuta (formerly The Olgas) had closed the previous day after 11am due to the heat, as well as us having to drive 300 km to Kings Canyon in time for dinner.

Despite this, however, when the alarm went off at 6am, Glen and I both dismissed the alarms and went back to sleep. I thought Glen had a backup alarm set for 6:30am but he didn’t (at least not for a Saturday morning) and we both woke up at 7am instead. A quick shower, a quick breakfast and we were on the road before 8am.

Kata-Tjuta

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Kata-Tjuta (the Olgas) is the other big rock (or collection of rocks) on the horizon in Uluru – Kata-Tjuta National Park. From a distance it reminds me of a sculpture gone wrong with bits jutting out all over the place; or like it’s the unfinished version of Uluru.

I drove us to Kata-Tjutu and straight to the Valley of the Winds, which was due to close at 11am due to the rising temperature (slated to be 37°C). There are two lookout points at Kata Tjuta, one easily reached, the other part of a 7km loop. We set off and I wanted to at least get to the second lookout, and agreed with Glen that we didn’t need to do the full loop which would take about 3 hours.

We got to the first lookout, continued on through the gorge, and ascended to the second lookout. We were soon joined by about 25 high school students on some sort of trip, perhaps a last hurrah for year 12. We took our photos, rehydrated and then returned, bumping into the couple from Sydney we’d met the night before. They were going to do the full loop…and more power to them. We were quite satisfied with what we’d seen haha.

The trip took us about two hours with breaks included. It lived up to its name with the channel being quite windy. We made a stupid joke about Glen’s name meaning ‘Valley’ so he was ‘Glen of the Winds’ for a while and you can imagine the connotation that has.

Back at the car we headed for Walpo Gorge, a 1km trip that took about an hour return. It was spacious, rocky and ended in a cool shady spot. I was thrilled that, along the way, I spotted a 1-metre long perentie, happily strolling along beside the path. That provided much amusement – and filled a gap in what has been a fairly wildlife-free trip.

While it’s been awesome to see these iconic Australian places, I’ve got to say that as far as gorges go, Karajini National Park is by far the best we’ve been to.

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Uluru to Kings Canyon

After Walpo Gorge we hopped back in the car, got petrol at the resort and then booked it up the Lasseter Highway to reach Kings Canyon. Google said it would take four hours but somewhere I managed to do it in three. (It would have been 2 hours 45 minutes if we hadn’t stopped a couple of times.)

The drive was uneventful all except for THE DINGO! Glen spotted a sign for a rest stop and wanted to pull over. When I pulled in, I headed for a park bench and pulled up alongside it. At which point we both noticed the dingo sitting under the bench. It was completely unperturbed by our presence. We took our photos, and for some reason Glen didn’t want to get out and say hello.

We left after five minutes. I was absolutely thrilled to see a wild dingo. During the drive we’d also seen a wedge-tailed eagle flying overhead, which brings our animal count to about six (including zebra finches, rock pigeons and a small lizard).

We arrived at Kings Canyon Resort a little after 3pm and checked in. The guy at the counter seemed a bit unsure about what the hell was going on. He gave us our room key but we’d booked a package that came with a bunch of other things so it was a bit of rigamarole from there on. It was all sorted in the end though and we booked, for Sunday, a 6:30am Kings Canyon rim walk (ugh…so early), as well as a cultural tour at 4pm.

After getting into our room, we crawled into bed for a few hours and woke up groggy at 5:30. We’d booked another special dinner, again outside. I’m not sure about Glen but I was starting to feel a little over fancy dinners by this stage but we’d paid for it so we went. I think it’s been the best food out of the three we’ve been on.

Dingo
Dingo!

Under a Desert Moon

We joined two other couples – one from Melbourne with four kids and another from Brisbane nearing their seventies – for champagne and canapés. Conversation began with where we were all from and quickly progressed to talk about Uluru and dingoes.

We then were shown to our tables, each seating two and placed around a fire, which at the start of the evening was too hot for all of us but was eventually forgotten and pleasantly comforting.

We had a six-course degustation that took Australian ingredients and gave them a different twist. Remarkably there was no lemon myrtle. We had kangaroo loin with mushrooms, emu koftas (and other Middle Eastern inspired flavours), a delicious granita of passionfruit and pineapple (which tasted like a frosty fruit and I could have eaten way more), barramundi with beurre blanc and parsnips, and then a macadamia baklava with bush berries and vanilla icecream. Delicious!

Conversation bounced across the tables as we shared our experiences of what we’d seen and done. I think that when people look at Glen and I they think we’re in our twenties and we’re doing these things as our ‘one nice treat’ on a holiday that would otherwise be spent in backpackers or in the back of a 4WD. I think they’re surprised when they find out what we’ve done.

Thankfully dinner was all over by about 8:45 because that meant we could have an early night. We said our farewells and got back to the room, preparing ourselves for an early morning start. I think Glen’s hankering for one of those sit-by-the-pool holidays…I might be as well.

Uluru and the Best of Intentions

Uluru

On contemplating the climb/no climb situation; taking the Mala Walk; opting for driving instead of walking around Uluru, and dinner under the stars at Tali Wiru.


In preparing for this trip to Uluru, I’d checked the weather and was chagrined to find most of the days we’d be here the temperature would be well over 30°C. Today (Friday) and Saturday were slated to be 37°C – not the best temperature when you want to walk 10 km in the open sun.

Despite waking at 7, much earlier than we’d anticipated, we didn’t hit the road until 9am. The concierge recommended we join the Mala Walk, which is guided by a ranger, that started at 10am. That gave us time to stop at the cultural centre first (great building with strong thematic interpretation, however, overloaded with text and poorly attended) and then get to Mala Car Park to wait for the guide. The heat was already getting up there.

Because of the 36°C+ weather, the route to climb Uluru was closed and so only people who’d gone up there earlier were given access down. Glen and I were both surprised at the numbers tramping down the side of Uluru considering the prominent messages about climbing it being a mark of disrespect to the Anangu people who consider Uluru a sacred site.

The numbers of people doing the climb have dropped to about 20% of visitors, and a guide said that the reason the climb is still open is because it’s believed, by certain tourist bodies, that if it were closed there wouldn’t be anything else for tourists to do.

Now, no doubt getting up there, climbing the rock and seeing the valleys, the pools, the difference, would be something worth seeing, but, in my opinion, not at the expense of disrespecting another culture, especially one that’s suffered so much as the Anangu (and other Aboriginal people). I also struggle to understand how people can quite easily, it seems, disregard a heartfelt entreaty not to climb it, purely for their own self-satisfaction.

Getting Around Uluru

Uluru

We followed the tour guide for an hour-long guided walk along the Mara track, which took us to significant Anangu sites (including rock art) and ended down Kantju Gorge where there was a waterhole. We heard various stories relating to the Anangu mythology and how they lived off the land.

Once the tour finished, we hummed and haahed about continuing our walk around the rest of Uluru which would take at least three hours and cover 10 km. The heat rose and fell as we went from no shade to shade, and so did our willingness to undertake such a trek. In the end, with the heat beating down on us, we opted to drive around Uluru instead and justified it any number of ways. And now that we’ve done it, I don’t regret it at all.

We got back to the car and went clockwise around Uluru, stopping on the side of the road at various opportunities to take our photos (though not of sacred sites where we were told not to). There is something truly magical about the place, and I loved the variability of the surface of the rock. We imagined faces, or the flood of water during the wet season, or that Uluru was itself dropped from a great height and sinking into the earth because of the way the lines ran.

We stopped at Kuniya Walk and went along the track to another waterhole, stopping at caves where there was more rock art, and then took a break at the waterhole. Hundreds of tiny birds that peeped flew around us. They were so small that even when tens and tens of them landed on a branch, it barely moved. They were also so small that it was easy to overlook them until they launched into their air and the sound of their wings beating furiously amplified in the enclosed space.

There were also a bunch of berries around (and a helpful sign that said which of a few were edible or poisonous). I didn’t eat any, as much as I wanted to. Glen was concerned I might poison myself so for his sake, I didn’t.

Our trip around Uluru took a fraction of the time and saved us from dying of heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Once back in town we stopped for lunch, bought a few things and returned to the hotel for a bit of a relax before the night’s dining experience.

Tali Wiru

When I booked the holiday and accompanying experiences, I booked us in for Sounds of Silence, an outdoor dining experience with tables of ten. Last night, Glen read the description of it and realised that we were going to be repeating what we’d done the night before except without the Field of Lights. As good as the experience was, we didn’t need to do it again.

When we talked to the staff at the counter in the morning, they seemed uncertain about us getting a refund because it was less than 24 hours away but “while they checked” they upsold us on doing Tali Wiru. Tali Wiru is another outdoor dining experience, but limited to 20 people and an a la carte menu.

We caught the big car thing at 6pm, a vehicle so big it reminded us of the polar bear trucks in Churchill. We drove for about twenty minutes through the outback to a remote location (past the industrial area for the resort) where we stopped and got a nice view of the helicopter that another couple had arrived via. Glen and I instantly had FOMO (fear of missing out) that we hadn’t arrived in such style. I spoke to them later and heard how wonderful the experience had been. Ahhhh next time.

We walked up the hill to a fire pit where one of the staff was playing the didgeridoo. We were served champagne and then a series of canapés consisting of scallops (with ants), kangaroo and another that I can’t remember. All delicious. The chef then came out with an arranged platter of difference bush tucker which she explained and then offered us to sample.

I ate one of the ants which tasted salty, sweet and sour all at the same time. I also had a bush tomato which tasted like beef jerky. Most of the ingredients came from rainforest in Queensland so I felt a bit cheated that they weren’t local ingredients but instead under the broader umbrella of ‘indigenous’ ingredients. Still, they were delicious.

We struck up a conversation with the helicopter couple who’d come from Sydney but it was broken when we were shown to our seats. There were only 18 of us, all in couples, and all with our own tables. We were still able to chat with people as and when we felt like it. I also had a good view of Uluru in one direction and Kata Tjuta in the other until the sun went down.

Different from the dinner the night before, we were given a la carte choices, of which I had pressed wallaby as an entree, toothfish for a main and then a lychee and bush-fruit-I-can’t-remember-the-name-of dessert. All came with matched wines so it was a merry night.

We had a star talk again tonight, though this was longer and went into Aboriginal astronomy as well which was interesting. We also saw six of the zodiac constellations. After dinner we sat around the fire with hot chocolate (and cognac for those who wanted it) and heard a bit about the local Indigenous people and how they hunted. Made me realise we only scratched the surface on this ancient culture and its practices.

While around the campfire we chatted to an American couple who have been living in Australia for six years. They’d driven from Melbourne with their three children (two of which are four years old). They’d stayed in Coober Pedy and Port Augusta and one of the children had caught pneumonia. They were very happy to have a night out without the children.

After dinner, we climbed aboard the monster truck again and were driven back to our hotel. So ended another day out in Central Australia.

The Red Eye to Uluru and the Field of Lights

Long gone are the days of doing things on minimal sleep. We caught the Red Eye from Perth to Sydney at five minutes to midnight on Wednesday. There are no flights direct from Perth to Uluru. The only ones that go near enough are to Alice Springs which would have involved spending a night there and either catching another flight or driving. We opted to go via Sydney instead.

The winds over Australia must have been on point on Thursday because we landed in Sydney early (and sat on the tarmac for a bit) and our flight to Uluru also took less time than estimated (which we lost waiting in queue at Avis).

I’d slept a bit on the plane over to Sydney and then, much to Glen’s horror, fell asleep, horizontally, in the Virgin lounge. I would have been appalled too but I was too damn tired to care. People go in there in thongs, for God’s sake, so I doubt anyone minded.

Because Glen didn’t sleep through any of the four-hour layover, he was verging on delirious, evidenced by him panicking that we needed to head to the gate because they’d called our flight. I checked the board only to see he had gotten confused and thought we were going to Darwin. Crisis averted in time.

The flight to Uluru seemed to go forever because of the lack of a good sleep, but Glen and I had a seat between us that we intermittently used to bend ourselves in half and doze on.

Ayers Rock Resort

We waited about 40 minutes for our hire car, mostly because of hold-ups with other people who were in front of us. A queue formed behind us and by the time we were sorted, it was about ten people long. I felt for the staff who’d have to deal with each of them. Still not sure why everything took so long, considering everything is prebooked.

We drove down to Ayers Rock Resort, the self-contained town with all the amenities and accommodation. On the way we saw Uluru in the distance, obscured slightly behind a haze of what I’m assuming was due to burn-off. Much like the Rockies that are seemingly plonked onto the Albertan prairies, Uluru is just, well, there. The surrounding landscape isn’t as barren as I’d expected, as there are plenty of scrubs, trees and grasses all over.

We checked into Sails in the Desert and had lunch while we waited for our room to become available. By then, we were both tired and in need of a proper horizontal, no interruptions from flight announcements, screaming children or loud-talking businessmen on mobile phones. We were given our room about half an hour later, got in and promptly went to bed for a few hours.

We woke up at 5:15 when the alarm rudely shook us out of our slumber. We had dinner/tour reservations and needed to get going, but that awful tired/sick feeling took a while to shake off. However, we were out the front of the hotel and waiting for our bus with time to spare.

Field of Lights

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In the evening we went on the A Night at Field of Lights experience. British artist Bruce Munro created a light installation using 50,000 lights and a lot of optic cables that was so popular it’s now being kept until March 2018. It covers 49 square kilometres and is powered with solar power. When the sun goes down, the lights turn on to create, literally, a field of light. It was one of the reasons we wanted to come to Uluru in the first place.

Our experience, however, began before the sun set. About a hundred people got off the buses and walked up to a spot where we were served drinks and canapés (crocodile, kangaroo, prawn and some other vegetables) while the sun gradually set. This gave us the chance to see Uluru and a silhouetted Kata Tjuta. Two American couples struck up a conversation with us so we had a chat with them about their two-week holiday in Australia and New Zealand and a bit about earthquakes in California before being directed to our tables for dinner.

Glen and I were the last to be seated and joined a table of three other couples: a 51-year-old mother and her 19-year-old daughter; senior husband and wife from England; and two young English male doctors working in Cairns. Normally the idea of making small talk with random strangers is our version of hell, but everyone (including us) was friendly and fun.

Dinner was huge. After a starter of soup (with the perennial favourite lemon myrtle), the main was a buffet that consisted of salmon, kangaroo, beef, chicken and prawns, as well as vegetables and other sides. We were stuffed by the end of it (yet still managed to sample a wide variety of the desserts that were available later).

In between the main and the dessert, we were treated to a short astronomy presentation that was full of small bits of interesting information and terrible-but-oh-so-good jokes. The presentation aside, however, the stars, when the lights were turned up, were astounding. The night sky looks a little different in this part of the country from what I’m used to and of course the sheer number of stars was staggering. Makes such a difference when there’s little-to-no light pollution around.

After dessert, we were given about half an hour to walk through the Field of Lights as they changed colour. It was a subtly beautiful experience, as the lights aren’t turned up as bright as they could be but instead the colours are muted across the landscape and seemingly go on forever (until you reach the edge and realise you have to hurry to not miss the bus).

We left at 10 and happily climbed back into bed.

Need a Hand with that Flat Tyre?

I’d wanted to check out Coral Bay while we were up in Exmouth but there wasn’t enough time to do it without getting stressed and being rushed. Instead, I’ve filed it away as something to do on the next trip up here. So, in exchange, we slept in and decided to take it easy, eventually choosing to go for a snorkel at Lakeside.

We packed up the cabin, put everything in the car, and then I went to the campers next door and asked if they wanted our leftover food (carrots, weetbix, garlic etc). The guy gratefully accepted it and then said, ‘Do you need a hand with that flat tyre?’

Excuse me? What? Flat what?

I popped me head out and looked at the car. Sure enough, the back right wheel was completely flat.

Oh.

The guy was happy to lend a hand. In fact, he changed the whole thing and saved us having to get our hands too dirty. Thank god we didn’t have our hearts set on going to Coral Bay early or else we would have been in a flap. He changed the tyre as if he’d been doing such a thing for years, said thanks again for the food, and we were on our way.

We drove around to Cape Range National Park again and then to Lakeside to go drift snorkelling. Glen stayed on the beach as he was extremely worried about jellyfish. Meanwhile I went in with nothing but speedos and flippers.

It was fun to drift on the current while looking at the fish. The water was warm. The experience pleasant. Although when I drifted down the current picked up a bit and made it harder to go back into shore. Luckily it wasn’t that deep and I could simply stand and walk back in. Snorkel and swim complete, we returned to the car and to town.

We stopped for lunch in Exmouth, where I ordered something revolted that I couldn’t finish. We filled up the tank and headed for the airport. Two emus sat beside a floodway sign so we stopped and looked at them. Strangely, an empty 4WD was parked near them, its occupants nowhere to be seen. Glen surmised that they had probably stopped to take photos of the emus and had subsequently been eaten by them. Sounds plausible enough.

Got to the airport, discovering that I was missing one beach towel. Very annoying as it was one of our favourites from Canada. I hope someone finds it and makes use of it. I then dropped off the keys…in the wrong rental car hire box. I’m sure they’ll get it in the end.

Short flight home, landing in much colder weather than we’d experienced in Exmouth. Time to rug up. And the cat looks like she wants cuddles too.

Whale Sharks of Exmouth

The bus picked us up at 7:20am and took us, along with 16 other excited passengers, to the jetty where we’d board the boat for our day of swimming with whale sharks. Despite having heard positive reports about a currently good run of sightings, I was a little worried we’d spend a day on the boat without much to show for it.

While we waited for the inflatable to take us to the boat, a sea turtle intermittently popped its head out of the water in the bay next to us. Kind of like an aquatic version of whack-a-mole. If nothing else, we’d seen a turtle’s head.

Once on the boat, we were given a safety briefing and provided with full body stingy suits, attractive things that make you look like a human condom. They also smelled of human sweat so it was a relief to get moving so the breeze could blow the smell away.

We went for a snorkel in the bay first, drifting down a ways as we floated above coral and a bunch of fish. I saw many of the same species I’d seen the day before including a large starfish and a cat fish. The water was warm and it was a nice way to, well, get our feet wet.

Back on the boat we were soon zooming out to see as a whale shark had been spotted nearby. The captain was happy we wouldn’t have to travel for 45 minutes to reach it, as they’d had to do the day before. Glen and I were in group two, each group consisting of nine people plus a spotter.

Group one hopped in and we got ready, slipping on snorkel and mask and flippers. Once we received the go ahead we jumped in and lined up with the spotter, waiting for the shark to come in line with us and then it was on for young and old as we swam hard to try to keep up.

The shark we saw was a juvenile male, about 4-5 metres long. He was so beautiful. The spots on his side are so well defined and the strange shape of its head and mouth is captivating. I swam as fast as I could, which admittedly isn’t very fast, but this shark, with a few flicks of its powerful tail, steamed ahead and left me behind. Others were much better at keeping up.

We had seen a whale shark. Mission accomplished!

Poor Glen didn’t have such a good time of it though. He often gets seasick so to be on a boat and then to have to snorkel through choppy seas made him feel decidedly green. Up came his breakfast and after two dives with the shark, he decided to call it quits and have a lie-down.

The rest of us went in and out of the water with this juvenile male over the next hour or so before he finally had enough and disappeared. We then saw a much younger and smaller whale shark who was double the adorable level and was quite happy to hang around and have a look at us for a while.

Even though we didn’t see one of the giant ones, I’m really glad we saw what we did. I couldn’t get over how beautiful they look.

After the swims we had lunch on board and then were taken to a part of the reef for a snorkel. That is until they spotted a tiger shark near the boat. It didn’t come to the surface but based on how big it looked from above, it was likely to be a bit of a monster. After that sighting, the skipper wasn’t keen for us to go snorkelling so instead we drifted along spotting more sharks.

Apparently we saw different types but one tiger shark was enough for me.

We got back to land at about four, Glen very happy to no longer be swaying left and right. Despite the seasickness, I think we can claim that trip as a success.

I’d like to come back and see the humpback whales and the manta rays but I think Glen will abstain from them. Anyone else want to join me?

Mini-break in Exmouth

This weekend we’re continuing our exploration of Australia by heading up to Exmouth to swim with whale sharks (much to Glen’s horror). We saw so much of Canada that it seemed ridiculous to not see more of Australia.

We left drizzly and grey Perth at 11am, boarding an almost full flight up to Learmonth. We landed an hour and a half later, flying up the coast and seeing the pointy bit you see on the map. I think it’s Shark Bay, but don’t quote me.

After collecting our luggage and picking up the hire car, we drove into Exmouth and had a late lunch. Based on a recommendation we then drove around the tip to Cape Range National Park to reach Oyster Stacks.

High tide was at 4:20 and we got there about 3:30. It was windy and the water looked choppy. I was anxious about getting in the water, made worse by the signs warning of dangerous jellyfish. But FOMO won out in the end and I got in the warm water with my snorkel and mask.

Fish everywhere! Thousands of very small, silvery fish in a massive swarm coalesced around me. Large fish in a variety of colours, iridescent fish, tiny bright blue fish, yellow fish, zebra fish, a fish with a long snout that swam close to the surface, starfish, sea cucumbers and coral…all amazing.

I chose not to swim out to the actual oyster stacks (columns of rocks with oysters on them) purely out of fear of getting stuck out there and not being able to get back. Nevertheless, I saw a lot, and really happy about it.

Glen stayed on the beach, taking photos of sea snails and crabs in the rocks.

The sun was getting low in the sky on the drive back, casting a golden glow across the landscape. We soon saw an emu and later a kangaroo nearly jumped into the side of the car. We stopped and took photos of Sturt’s Desert Pea on the verge, then went up to the lighthouse. People were gathering with their chairs and bottles of beer to watch the approaching sunset.

Back in Exmouth we bought food at IGA, then checked into our accommodation, a caravan/camping/chalet place like the ones I used to stay at with my family in Albany. We cooked snapper with carrots, broccoli and sugar snap peas, and watched tv. It’s like being on holiday.

Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Glen and I went to Karajini National Park in Western Australia’s North-West for Easter this year. Two of our friends came along too and we made a bit of a long weekend of it. Karajini had been on our list for a long time, but it’s not the easiest place to get to. We flew from Perth to Paraburdoo and then drove two hours to reach the national park. Despite the distance involved, it was well worth it. Karajini lived up to all my expectations.

We ‘glamped’ at the Eco Retreat, each couple taking over a ‘tent’ with its own ensuite – hot water and a flushing toilet in the middle of nowhere? Hell yeah! Who cares about the cost? Highlights from the accommodation included nights looking up at the Milky Way, the ability to have a prepared meal, and scores of frogs inhabiting the ensuite. It wasn’t until the day we left that we were told that Stimson Pythons like to live underneath the toilet rim and feed on the frogs. Apparently the snakes are buggers to get out. I’m glad we only heard about this as we were leaving.

Gorgeous Gorges

We divided our days across different gorges, ticking off most of the accessible tourist gorges. (There are plenty of other off-road places but you need to either know about them or go with experienced guides. Maybe next time.)

On our first day we went to Oxer Lookout (very easy) and then hiked down Weano Gorge. Glen rolled his ankle before we’d gone five minutes down the gorge but he soldiered on. This gorge was narrow, filled with undergrowth, and led to a small pool, which, for some reason, I took forever to make the decision to get in. FOMO pushed me over the edge and I got in. Our first gorge, our first swim in a pool. Was magical.

On our second day we hiked down Kalamina Gorge. This one was stunning, a wide gorge with water trickling down over layered rocks, and at the end we went swimming in Rock Arch Pool, frightened of spiders and trying to find warm patches. Beautiful to say the least.

On day three we want down Dales Gorge and checked out Fern Pool, Fortescue Falls and Circular Pool. Amazing places (even if Glen described Fern Pool as ‘an ordinary pool’). Highlights were the waterfalls at each location, including the ‘warm’ one at Circular Pool (this pool is so cold that anything else feels warm), and the fruit bats and Olive Python at Fern Pool.

On day four, our last day, we attempted part of Joffre Lookout (and then I chickened out at seeing the sheer cliff face we had to climb down) and then left the Eco Retreat and drove a long way to Hammersley Gorge. Again, another beautiful gorge. We were worried we’d been rained out as the skies opened on the drive but it was intermittent and we enjoyed swimming along the 400-metres of this gorge, in between sheer rock faces. Unfortunately Spa Pool was out of bounds but we got to enjoy its warm waters trickling down.

Karajini is definitely way up there for special experiences.

The Great Ocean Road, Victoria

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After attending our friends’ wedding in Geelong, we took the opportunity to head along the Great Ocean Road and see the 12 Apostles. It’s one of those things that we probably wouldn’t have done if that hadn’t been a reason to be out of Melbourne so we took it.

We left Geelong on Saturday morning, warned that part of the Great Ocean Road was closed due to landslides. However, we’d been given directions on how to get around the dangerous bit so were not too phased about missing out on a stretch of it.

It rained most of the day so it was with some ambivalence that we left our apartment and headed south, already rearranging our upcoming plans. The original idea was that we’d drive south, stop along the way, go for some walks in the forests, check out the beaches, and then end up in Apollo Bay where we’d spend the night.

The next day we’d drive to the 12 Apostles, which is about an hour and a half from Apollo Bay, then head back up to Melbourne for our flight at 5:30pm. Not having done this journey before and expecting we’d do more than we actually would, we soon realised that the amount of time we’d set aside was too generous. This is also because we didn’t keep in mind the ‘Dan and Glen Factor’.

What is the ‘Dan and Glen Factor’?

The ‘Dan and Glen Factor’ is two-fold. The first is that if there’s something we’re really keen on seeing that everyone else has seen, then it is likely we won’t see it, either at all or in its entirety.

This has occurred on multiple occasions, specifically when seeing Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon, Northern Lights and moose. While others are almost assured seeing these things, when it comes to us, some sort of caveat kicks in so we miss out on it.

The second part of the ‘Dan and Glen Factor’ is the speed in which we see things.

‘Oh, you need two hours to see that.’

Really? We’ll be done in 15 minutes.

‘You should really take three days there.’

Thanks for the suggestion but we’ll have finished after a day and a half.

So when we think we’re going to take a whole day to travel a couple of hundred kilometres and go exploring, we should really know that, when combined with a hell of a lot of rain and wind, we’re going to be done by lunchtime.

Zooming down the Great Ocean Road

We got out of Geelong, zoomed through Torquay, attempted to see a lighthouse but the rain got worse, then headed onto Lorne where we chucked a right and went inland, away from the road.

The Great Ocean Road wasn’t as pretty as I imagined it would be. It’s certainly atmospheric when there’s a storm ranging but at least on the stretch we saw, there wasn’t really much that truly grabbed me.

What did strike me as we continued our journey from coast and then inland was the variability of the landscapes. That really impressed me. We went from rocky coastal forest into stringy bark forest where all the bark was peeling off. That amazed me. It was so beautiful. We also went through farmland and then ferny forests shrouded in fog. I loved it.

And, one of the real highlights, was stopping on the side of the road to look at a koala and her joey in the tree above. That’s right. We saw a WILD koala with a JOEY. I couldn’t believe it. How lucky were we?! She seemed unfazed by the crowd below taking their photos and the joey was very big.

We continued on to Apollo Bay, having taken the detour inland, and got to one of their Chinese restaurants were we had a big lunch. We’d booked accommodation in the town but as it was only lunch time and we didn’t really see the need to hang around, we headed for the 12 Apostles.

The 12 Apostles

An hour and a half after leaving Apollo Bay, we reached the 12 Apostles visitor centre with a million other people. We got out of the car, and were thankful that by now, at least for a little while, the rain had stopped and the skies cleared.

We had a bracing walk to each of the lookouts, navigating around clumps of people who were stopping to take their selfies with some of the Apostles in the background. There aren’t 12 anymore as a few of them have been excommunicated.

You can actually see how the erosion is taking place, with the water eating into one edge of it and the strength of the wind blowing away the upper layers. It’s an impressive sight and a great place for a biology lesson (though I was surprised at how little interpretation there was. One sign and even that was small and uninteresting).

We went from the lookouts at the top to the sea level, seeing a washed up blue-bottle jellyfish and watching the clouds roll in again. We piled back into the car and the rain came down heavier. We bypassed seeing the other natural rock formations along the way, and instead took the road back up to Melbourne.

Impromptu Melbourne Visit

One of the reasons for returning to Melbourne on Saturday night was so we could go to Ikea the next morning to buy a sink. We’re getting the kitchen renovated next week. We had to pay for all the stuff on Friday/Saturday but when they rang on Friday it was to say that they didn’t have the sink we wanted and they didn’t know when it would come in. What would we like to do?

We didn’t want a different sink but WA operates separately from the eastern states so even though there was one in Richmond, Victoria, they couldn’t get it shipped across the country. So we decided we’d get it ourselves.

We possibly could have squeezed it all in on Sunday – seeing the 12 Apostles, returning to Melbourne, buying the sink at Ikea and then catching the plane – but we felt it would be too much of a rush and having seen what we came to see, we could spend a night in Melbourne and see some friends.

Glen drove us back to the city (I’d done all the other billion hours of driving) while I searched for accommodation for one night. There were only three rooms left in the whole of the Melbourne CBD. I’m not joking. Something to do with some bloody horse race.

We ended up staying at Pegasus Apartment Hotel, which was nice and did for what we needed, but we couldn’t believe how limited the choice was. We got into Melbourne in the evening, then went out for dinner with Julian, Deanne and Albert, before we caught up with Simon and Shih-Ern and a few us went dancing after.

All in all a packed but fun day (oh my god, we saw two koalas!), and going to bed never felt so good.

The Roadkill Capital of the World

One of my least loved things about this trip of Tasmania is the amount of roadkill we’ve seen. The roadsides have been absolutely littered with the struck (and in some cases scavenged) corpses of wallabies, bandicoots, possums and a few rabbits. We noticed it the first day we got here and every morning in particular there have been constant reminders of how close wildlife lives to human habitation here – and how often it’s killed for the misfortune.

Most of the wildlife we’ve seen this trip has been of the dead variety. This is probably because we haven’t been doing much driving at dusk and at night. When we returned from the Kermandie Hotel in Geeveston after dinner, we did see a living animal on the road. It was either a bandicoot or a potaroo. Glen was driving and doing so slowly enough to spot it and give it time to hop off the road. While it survived an encounter with us, I wonder how much longer it would survive if it likes to hang out on roads.

While each drive has been distressing, on Easter Monday I realised I had an opportunity to get some photos that may come in handy for work. So, after spotting a dead wallaby, I pulled over and got out to take photos. Glen anxiously stood on the side of the road, keeping a watch for cars (the drivers here are pretty shit and don’t stay in their lanes…much like most Australian drivers), while I took photos of the deceased. I won’t know if they’re any good until I get home but I’m hoping there’s something useful that can help encourage people to slow down and watch for wildlife on the roads.

I also took the opportunity to pick and eat some wild blackberries that were growing on the side of the road.

Bruny Island

We drove to Kettering and then waited for the ferry to take us across to Bruny Island. The ride took 15 minutes and we arrived in good time, getting onto the island at 11:30am. We drove north to the lookout point, which wasn’t much to look at, and then headed south through the island.

Our first important stop was to get some oysters. Bruny Island is famous for its oysters and I’d been seeing oysters on the menu for days but had abstained from ordering. Today was the day. Glen hates them so I got a plate of six to myself. The disappeared down my gullet pretty quickly. They were tasty. I didn’t get food poisoning. We moved on.

Next was the Bruny Island Cheese Company for a cheese platter and a ploughman’s lunch, sitting outside and playing Exploding Kittens. The cheeses were all very “subtle” (which is to say there was barely any flavour at all). We ate them. They weren’t our favourite but it was a nice spot to stop for lunch.

We then drove to the isthmus, walked up the hill to the lookout point to for 360° views, and then down to the beach in the vain hope of seeing Little Penguins in the rookery. It was the middle of the day; the penguins were out at sea, eating. They’d return at night but we wouldn’t be there to see them.

With plenty of time to spare, we drove to the very southern tip of Bruny Island and checked out the lighthouse and the views. Along the way was more beautiful scenery than you could poke a sharp stick at. Mabel Bay was particularly stunning. It’s a shame the water is a little on the cold side.

Once at the lighthouse we went for a walk along the rocks. I saw a spotted lizard disappear. We left and drove back north. Again there are plenty of walks on Bruny Island, as there are on the mainland, but not much time to do them. This time around.

The Search for White Wallabies

It rained on our drive to Adventure Bay but stopped once we arrived at our accommodation. 43 Degrees is eco-based accommodation. We’re staying at the waterfront units at the southern end of Adventure Bay; there are two others at the northern end.

They’re Nissan hut style buildings, tastefully decorated with a kitchenette, two rooms, bathroom and a living area. There’s a deck outside overlooking the bay (which is where I’m typing this). It’s luxurious without being pretentious and is multiple steps up from where we were staying the night before.

We unloaded the car. I went for a walk down to the beach and put my feet in the clear and chilly water. There were lots of conical shells washing up on the shore. After I got back, the owner of the property arrived and welcomed me and talked to the couple who are staying next door. They asked about the white wallabies that live on the island and where to see them; I benefitted from their enquiries. Once they’d all gone, I grabbed Glen and we drove up the road to one of two locations where we could see these white wallabies.

We saw regular brown wallabies first, which suited me just fine. The couple from next door showed up. They didn’t stay long. With no white wallabies readily available they weren’t willing to wait and heading off to the other location (they saw them in the end). I looked around and saw a white mound in the distance. A white wallaby!

It was down towards another accommodation which said, at the entrance to the driveway, “guests only”. I defied them and walked down the driveway…but didn’t get too close to the wallaby (who was hanging out with a regular one) for fear that someone would come out and tell me to bugger off. I don’t know why I worry so much. I should have just gone closer.

Anyway, I saw it clear enough through my camera lens and then found another near a fence. Meanwhile, truckloads of regular wallabies are bounding by, no doubt wondering why these freaks are getting all the attention. I wondered why there’d be so many white wallabies around, considering it’s a genetic defect, but with few, if any, predators on the island, they’ve probably been breeding quite happily. I wonder if they’re easier to see on the road; they’re quite bright.

We’d stopped at the general store on the way in and discovered there is only one place to eat dinner on the whole island and that’s back the way we’d come. As there were cooking facilities at 43 Degrees, we bought some chicken and vegetables and other supplies and Glen cooked a barbecue. It did nicely.

After dinner I walked down to the jetty where a bunch of people were fishing. The sun was setting. The light was amazing. It was oh so beautiful. The fishers were pulling squid out of the bay, all of which were being scooped up and taken home for cooking. They inked a lot. I felt sorry for them.

We’re now settled in for the night. Wallabies are bounding out the back of the property. The TV is on. It’s getting dark. It’s a perfect night for our final evening in Tasmania.