A Travellerspoint blog

Australia

The GREAT Ocean Roadtrip!

I cant think of a better way to spend your birthday than with a bunch of mates on an epic roadtrip.

To be able to do this miles away from home, with new friends on one of the most famous and picturesque ocean roads in the world was very special. 29 is going to be an AWESOME year if this weekend is anything to go by :)

Day 1

With the car packed with all the camping gear we could need and supplies from a well timed package from home (thanks Jen!) we set out to meet everyone at the liquor store to get the final essential supplies!

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We had all taken the Friday off work so we could take our time cruising the Great Ocean Road in our convoy of 4 cars and a motorbike!

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Our first stop was Torquay. Famous for its surf culture there is no better place to learn about surfing than Torquay's Surfworld Museum, but we needed to refuel on some yummy snacks and for me some early bday cake at Sticks and Stones before hand.

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A big shout out needs to go to the lovely Carol who welcomed us to the museum and on seeing the size of out group first thought we might be on a school trip which made us all laugh, but on realising that its been a long time since any of us were in school still gave us a group discount so I could go in for free :)

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I wasn't really sure what to expect from a museum on surfing, but we all had a great time. There was loads to look at from the vintage surf boards to a prehistoric fossil of a whale bones.

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One of my favourite parts of the exhibition were a group of surfboards which were letters between a father and his runaway son Maurice, these storyboards are by Gordan Stammers and are based on some of his own surfing adventures.

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Cool cat

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We all lost track of time watching the most random documentary on two Aussie guys who tried to surf across America. That's right they surfed in every state...from riding a surfboard on wheels around Times Square to surfing in a corn field. Looks like they had an awesome time and met some great/weird people.

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We were inspired to give it a go!

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Being so engrossed the morning had slipped away from us so we quickly got the convoy going and headed to the iconic Bells Beach to check some real surfers in action... Not this guy though...

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There must have been about 30 surfers who looked like corks bobbing around waiting to catch the next wave. We all shouted out in encouragement when any of them went for a wave and whooped and cheered when they caught one.

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A parrot!

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And this is Bells Beach itself... The waves here were made famous in 1965 when during a surf competition the swell reached over 20ft, some of the largest waves in a competition outside of Hawaii.

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In a previous blog we mentioned how projects were put together to provide work for the thousands of soldiers returning from World War I, the Shrine of Remembrance was one and building the Great Ocean Road was another. Funded by public donations the GOR hugs the dramatic coastline, revealing bays and cliffs around each turn. Work on the road began in September 1919 and much of it was done by hand by 3000 ex servicemen using natural materials and basic tools. Today it is 241km long running from Torquay to Nelson.

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The Great Ocean Road Arch is actually a memorial for Victorians who served in the First World War 1914-1918. 330,000 Australians volunteered to fight in the First World War, 60,000 were killed and 160,000 were wounded. This is the fourth memorial arch on this site, the first was replaced when the road was widened and the second burned down in bush fires and I think the third went down in a storm.

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We chased the sun to Lorne, pleased that the scattered showers were blowing in the other direction, for some much needed grub. You visit the seaside without some fish and chips!

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Stomachs full we rolled into our cars and headed for Teddy's Lookout point but first we had to find it! After missing the turning we turned round and after several 'woops it was that turning' we soon found ourselves on the very steep road heading up from Lorne, leaning forward willing the cars to make it to the top and wondering whether those extra chips had been a good idea!

We all made it though and what a view!

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On a recommendation from one of my mates at work we would be setting up our first camp at Cumberland River campsite, just 7km further out of Lorne, where you can camp alongside the river which opens out into the sea, with the mudstone rock-faces of the Otway Ranges adding to this backdrop. Beautiful and so peaceful....

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Well until we arrived :)

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No campsite is complete without a sofa!

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Until it pops!

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Goblets and tankards at the ready we settled in for a fun evening.

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Broomy took charge of the firewood and Dan manned the BBQ

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We introduced the group to s'mores, toasted marshmallows and chocolate in a biscuit sandwich (yum yum!) and settled in around the fire for a good old singsong! Dan had gone to the effort of learning a mix of songs including an awesome medley that was so good that even the night warden waited for it to finish before finally asking us to keep the noise down at 11pm.

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Day 2

I was up at dawn and couldn't get back to sleep so decided to go for a wander. A golden glow was beckoning and so I grabbed my camera to go and check out the sun rising over the ocean!

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It was spectacular!

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It was too good not to share but on turning round to head back to camp I was stopped in my tracks by the awe inspiring sight of a huge rainbow spanning the GOR one side to another!

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I ran back to our tent and dragged Dan to the beach so he could see it all too.

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We headed back to see if any of the others were awake and after feeding some ducks, Broomy, Toots, Dan and I decided to head back to the beach for a morning swim!

We had a few odd looks from some people bundled up in hoodies when we all stripped down to bathers and headed in to the ocean. It was freezing but who needs a shower when you have the ocean!

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We were ready to hit the road again! Yeah!

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We took a much needed coffee break at Wye River before making our way towards Apollo Bay. Its nigh on impossible to get a decent shot of the scenes that come around each turn but I can tell you that despite the rain there were still plenty of times we came round a bend and said Wow at the view.

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Fortunately when we reached Apollo Bay we had left the rain behind and it was perfect weather to go fly a kite.

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Despite best attempts it didn't go very well, even singing 'lets go fly a kite' didn't help! But that didn't matter as the group had a great time chilling on the beach, playing footy and generally mucking around.

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This is the best timed photo ever!

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The photo op I missed though was the moment Dan walked face first into a lamp post! I wish I had filmed that :)

After lunch we stopped to check out some of the rainforest that spans the Otway National Parks by taking a stroll along the 800m boardwalk of Maits Rest. This area was named after Maitland Bryant who would rest his horses here during his patrols between Apollo Bay and Horden Vale in the early 1900s.

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Full of giant ferns, moss and intricate networks of intertwined trees and roots, it was like stepping back in time.

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You could imagine a dinosaur coming out from behind a giant fern, although I wasn't prepared for when Broomy jumped out from behind one!

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Again the day was running away from us, and we almost missed seeing the last stop off of the day the Cape Otway Lighthouse.

On the way we spotted our first koala!!

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This is the southern most and oldest lighthouse in Australia, with the light being in operation since 1848. It was often the first indication of land that immigrants from Europe would have seen after being months at sea.

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As we made our way singing 'have you ever, ever felt like this, when strange things happen are ya going round the twist... (Unfortunately after a bit of a google I have discovered this wasn't the light house from Round The Twist!), a gentleman in red beckoned us to follow him into The Telegraph Station.

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This is where we learnt about how messages were relayed and the developments from ships signally with flags to using morse code. Amazingly a message could have been sent from the UK to Australia in half an hour, so people could keep up with the cricket scores of course! With closing time fast approaching we made a dash up the spiral staircase of the lighthouse to check out the view at the top.

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What we weren't prepared for was just how windy it would be!

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Our second campsite was at Bimbi Park "camping under koalas" and it definitely lived up to its name. Even on the roads leading up to it people were pulled over koala spotting, and once you see one you see these balls of fur everywhere! We even had a close encounter with a mum and her baby as she came down from a tree to make her way to another one.

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This was more like camping in the bush and we set up camp to the gutteral soundtrack of our koala neighbours who clearly weren't impressed with our arrival.

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We also got to see our first kookaburra!

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I had heard that there was a glow worm walk that was meant to be good in the area. Turns out it was Maits Rest so we tucked into some BBQ grub and waited for the sun to go down before going to check it out.

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The gang surprised me with some birthday bling, sashes and balloons.

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Our luck was changing and it was starting to rain but this didn't deter a group of us from hopping in the cars to check it out. In hindsight it was probably the worst conditions for me to start driving again in, pitch black, raining and me freaking out about koalas with a death wish! But we made it and armed with torches took tentative steps into the forest. Now we were a bit of a scared bunch so didnt venture too deep into the forest. Every couple of paces we would stop to turn the torches off descending into darkness and hoping to catch a glimpse of the spectacular glow worm show... This didn't happen and although we saw a few glowing specs I am not 100% sure if they glow worms or just white spots in our eyes from looking in torch light!

Slightly disappointed we headed back to camp but were soon lifted by a few drinks and another epic singsong. We huddled around the fire rotating to avoid the smoke. Despite the rain being in full flow we didn't let it dampen our spirits.

Day 3

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This morning would bring out the inner child in all of us as we started off with birthday cake for breakfast and a visit to the Great Ocean Road wildlife park.

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We were a bit early for some of the residents....ahhhhhh

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But once word got round that food was on offer they soon woke up

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From baby dingos to grumpy wombats

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There were all sorts...

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After making sure everyone was sure of the directions "just keep the ocean on your right" we headed to see the 12 Apostles a definite highlight for any trip down the Great Ocean Road. Although there aren't actually 12.

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A very romantic spot

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If the top section of the hole in this stack was slanting in the other direction it would be a great advert for Apple!

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We said goodbye to half of the group who needed to get back to Melbourne, those of us who remained with hangovers now kicking in took on the winding roads to find Erskine Falls, the largest waterfall in the Otway National Park. Not gonna lie it was a bit of a struggle but after stocking up for refreshments and a few chips we carried on and sore heads were soon forgotten when we saw this.

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An epic end to an epic weekend!!

Huge thanks to Dan, Broomy, Toots, Robyn, Ria, Noreen, Phil, Nelson, Shane, Tom and Lauren for amazing bday memories. Hope you enjoy reliving this as much as I did....

Come on Barbie Lets Go Party!!

Where did Tom go?

Meow, Meow, Meow-Meow, Meeeeooowww!!

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Who's up for the Grampians!!

Sxx

Posted by doyledan 03:42 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Horseback Winery Tour

In the Mornington Peninsula

sunny 16 °C

At the same time I was looking for different things to do on Groupon, an offer popped up for Horseback Winery Tour. Now you might think having a drink whilst being on a horse is a recipe for disaster but we decided to take the risk. :-)

The tour was booked with this company, who were based in Mornington Peninsula which is south of Melbourne.

www.horsebackwinerytours.com.au

The drive out from Melbourne would take about an hour and we needed to be at the winery tour at 2pm ready to leave for our 3 hour tour. In order to make the most of the trip out of the city we decided to leave earlier and stop off for lunch at one of the towns on route. Sarah did some investigating and found out that the annual Main Street Festival for Food, Wine and Performing Arts going on in the small town of Mornington, perfect timing and a perfect stop off point for Sarah and I to catch a break and have a bite to eat.

As we got closer to Mornington we could see hundreds of cyclists whizzing past us the other side of the road going back to Melbourne. They were part of a cycle fundraiser event called BUPA Round the Bay that was organised by my current employer BUPA. The event had cyclists tackling the roads around Port Phillip Bay, it looked pretty tough on some of the hills but I reckon it would have been great fun.

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Leaving the cyclists to their challenge we made our way to Mornington. As soon as we parked up the weather picked up and we could see and hear in the distance the festival in full swing. The first thing we saw was a school band playing some classic big band hits and we wandered through the crowds to decide on our choice of lunch. There was plenty of choice and due to being a little hungry we made an early decision and go for Spanish gourmet caterers with their scrumptious chorizo sausage.

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Some of the other stalls were quite quirky, especially this one where two girls were promoting fresh produce as well as a unique way to make yourself a salad dress.

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After eating we walked up and down Main street listening to music performers and other acts whilst foodies tucked into the multi cultural choices of cuisines. I could see why this area would be popular to live as the sense of community would be appealing.

On our way out we swung by to have some gelato and I tried the unique Ferrero Rocher flavoured ice cream which was delicious.

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The drive to find the winery tour was really easy from Mornington and we came to a small dirt track ready to get on the horse and enjoy the clean outdoors .

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We felt we were doing well for time but everyone was already saddled up and so we quickly signed up, got our helmets and made our way to the paddock to meet our horses.

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The guides introduced themselves and gave us some tips on how to saddle up, making sure to position your feet correctly in the stirrups before swinging your leg over. They also introduced our horses, mine was named Patch based on his patchy exterior and I was told he was a lazy boy with a tendency to coast along at the back, being a beginner behind the reins it didnt matter to me.

Sarah was introduced to her horse name Spanky! Once Sarah got saddled up she walked around the paddock for a bit until Spanky decided she wanted to scratch an itch on her backside, backing into the fencing and proceeding to rub herself with Sarah trying to stay stable on top. It was hilarious! We later found out the Spanky was on heat and had been backing into the male horses as well!...hussy!

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The winery tour guides were really good at rounding everyone up and it was clear that these horses were well trained and looked after. I was glad that the reins were given to you rather than someone walking the horse for you because you get to feel more like you understand the horse and it makes for a more interesting ride, especially when they try and go off track and chow down on nearby bushes which they aren't supposed too.

We had a go at rising trot as we made our way along the track which was fun but quite tricky to get the timing right, I did get in the end but it was a little punishing on my gentlemens parts if you catch my drift. Sarah had ridden in the past and so from what I could tell was taking to it like riding a bike. It was about 20 minutes before we got to the first winery called Green Olive.

Parking up the horses we got a chance to have a few photos with our new friends.

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Spanky had one blue eye which matched Sarahs blue eyes so she was heartened by that.

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www.greenolive.com.au

Green Olive was a beautiful setting and the owners gave us an introduction to the different wines that are unique to their winery. We tried them all as well as the olives and the spreads that were on offer and decided to buy a bottle of Sparkling wine as well as some delicious red onion marmalade, perfect for our future camping trip to the Great Ocean Road. It was a pleasant stop but Sarah and I were kind of hoping to find out more about the processes they go through to make the wine, how they look after the vines etc... which they didn't really talk about.

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After about half an hour of trying wines and having a chill out we all got back to the horses, remembering Sarah's Dads advice "if you're facing the tail end you've had too much to drink" and soon were on our way up the track with a trot here and there on the way, Patch was staying true to his character and we lazily propped up the rear of the convoy and the guides horse would every once and while get quite pushy with Patch to which the guide tried to explain that his horse was a bit of Jack the Lad and bullies the other horses. It was quite funny really.

After another 20 mins we made our way to Mock Red Hill, a cider farm and we were given another introduction into the different types of cider on offer which ranged from very sweet to quite mild, there was some delicious cloudy apple juice that I was tempted to get but decided not to bother as we had the sparkling wine. Again it was a pleasant stop but a little short and not quite so sweet, excuse the pun. :-)

http://www.mockredhill.com.au

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The ride back to the stables was really nice as the outdoor air and the rolling hills in the distance made it very relaxing and thinking about it now, I reckon I could do a longer horseback trip, perhaps as a cowboy!

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Finishing up at the paddock we said farewell to Patch and Spanky, what a beautiful pair.

Stay tuned for more tales

Dan.

Posted by doyledan 05:14 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Rock Tour! Part 3!

Uluru!! Please don't climb it!

sunny

The moment we had all been waiting for had arrived, we were going to visit Uluru (Ayers Rock).

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This was the reason we had come to the Red Centre and the sights we had seen so far had been an additional bonus. We left Kata Tjuta behind and you could sense the build up of anticipation in the van as we got closer to Uluru.

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Other than this being the iconic image that springs to mind when you think of Australia and the outback, we didn't really know much more about it. So we all gathered round to learn more...

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Uluru is a place of great significance to the Anangu people. When the white settlers came to this area they proclaimed it their own and in 1950 made it into a National Park, despite the fact that the Anangu and their ancestors had lived on this land for thousands of years. Myles put into perspective for us just how recently when he told us that there is an indigenous woman he has met who remembers the 'first contact' when white men came to the area. When she saw the white man sitting on his white horse she thought she was seeing a two headed monster, having seen neither before she thought they were joined as one animal. Taking this timeframe into consideration and that as little as 25 years ago it would have taken 4 days to travel here before the train brought the tourist boom, you can see how dramatically and quickly this area changed. It has taken years of negotiations before the Australian Government gave back the deeds to this land in 1985 to the Anangu on the condition that it was leased back to the government for 99 years.

An area of controversy is whether to climb or not climb Uluru, which is not something we had thought of before.

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We learnt that there are several reasons not to climb Uluru...

1) Showing respect for the great spiritual significance this place holds for the Anangu, who ask you not to climb. It would be the same as someone clambering over a temple or church.

2) Safety, this climb can be very dangerous. In some places it is really steep, more than 60 degrees in some places and its sandstone surface means that there is not much grip. In fact all the people who have climbed it before have worn the surface down not only scaring the side of Uluru but making it more slippery and treacherous. It has been 18 months since the last people died on Uluru, one died from a heart attack at the summit and the other died whilst making a grab for his hat that had blown off his head, letting go of the rail and falling off! They do close the climb when its too dangerous and today was one of them.

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3) To look after the environment. As you can imagine there are no toilets or rubbish collectors on Uluru so any food wrapping or human waste left up there gets washed down into the waterholes when it rains. This pollution as resulted in less wildlife in the area.

It is up to you whether you climb or not but I don't think any of our group would have climbed if it had been open after we had found all this out.

The climb should eventually close but apparently certain stipulations need to be met before this happens.

The first is if 12% or less of the tourists visiting Uluru climb it. At the moment 25% of tourists still climb. We were told that one of the reasons that this figure is still so high is because of the tourism from Japan. There is a famous Japanese film that follows the journey of a man who travels to Uluru to forfil the dream of his high school sweetheart who passed away before she could climb it herself. Many people want to come to climb Uluru to relive this moment from the movie for themselves, even though this moment in the film wasnt actually filmed on Uluru!

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We found out that all the local tour companies apart from one (which mainly has groups from Japan) have agreed to show the information signs and flag up that the Anangu people ask you not to climb. This company quickly shepherds people passed the signs and so many are climbing without knowing what they are doing.

The second stipulation for closing the climb would be when 40 people have died on Uluru. At the moment 35 people have died on Uluru, however to be included in this figure the person has to pass away on Uluru itself. Once you add the people who have died away from the site from accidents/heart attacks that happened on Uluru then this figure goes up to 185!

When the climb eventually closes the handrail that was built will still remain. This because it was built when the area was made into a National Park and anything that was there at the beginning has to remain even though it is a blot on the landscape.

As we learnt all this the moon slowly risen behind Uluru a great contrast to the blue sky and red rock.

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It was time for us to do the Mala Walk. The Mala people are the ancestors of the Anangu. A Mala is a type of rock wallaby. There are no Rock Wallabys left here now as they have all been eaten by the feral dogs and cats in the area. Recently 250 were released to try to rebuild the population but none have survived. The Mala Walk takes you passed rock formations which are believed to reflect the activities of the Mala people during Creation Time.

The teaching cave is full of paintings that have been painted over generations by the elders to teach the boys how to hunt and track animals and how to survive here.

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This is where they would study before starting their quest to become initiated into a man, known as walkabout. Depending on the conditions this could be anywhere from 2 months to 2 years where the boy would have to hunt and survive on his own before returning for an initiation ceremony.

When they return they would wait in this cave before the ceremony would begin, the men would be in their sacred area and the women would be in their area... now this has set the scene I will try to tell the Mala story...

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At Uluru an initiation ceremony was about to begin for 4 boys. The men had climbed to the top of Uluru to place a ceremonial pole to people from surrounding areas would know a ceremony was taking place. At the same time the Wintalka people over at Kata Tjuta were also preparing for a ceremony and wanted to invite the Mala people to attend. They sent messengers to the Mala people who did not notice the ceremonial pole and interrupted the ceremony. This angered the Mala people as once a ceremony has begun no one is allowed to enter or leave. They turned the Wintalka messengers away and declined their invitation.

When the messengers told the rest of the Wintalka people they were very offended. They made a fire which they fuelled with all their anger, unleashing an evil spirit, the dingo devil dog called Kurpany, to destroy the Mala ceremony. As Kurpany travelled to Uluru he took the form of other animals and plants so not to be noticed, such as snake, lizard and kangaroo. He peered over the sand dunes to scope out where everyone was.

He saw that the women and children were in their area, the kitchen cave, and took the opportunity to attack them without the men to protect them. You can see his claw marks in the cave wall where he took an almighty swipe...

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The women and children ran screaming into the mens area, so the men knew something was wrong. On realising there was real danger the Mala people fled south. The 4 boys were left behind waiting in the mans cave, if you look back closely at the first photo of this cave you can make out the outlines of where they remain standing waiting to be initiated into men!

This is a children's story which is why it can be shared with us. It was through stories like this that knowledge was passed down. For example from this story we now know information of the lay of the land (sand dunes) and that food can be found (the animals that Kurpany turned into).

The Mala walk ended with Kantju Gorge which was the main water source during the Mala ceremony, its sides are so steep and it would be incredible to see it when water cascades down.

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It was time to make our way the the viewing spot to watch the sunset at over Uluru. Be prepared for a lot of photos of the same rock.

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We managed to get there just before all the hoardes arrived on the larger buses and grabbed a great table. We marked our Eski full of beers as a sacred water source with our new knowledge of sand drawing and settled in to take in the view.

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We had time to kill before the Uluru started to change colours and so of course silly photos had to be taken...

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The other buses that pulled up brought out tables with white table cloths,, wine glasses and gourmet food. Very civilised! We were definitely the budget group with our tinnies and music, but we were having fun. This was also the point I managed to completely stacked it infront of everyone. Its not a trip until you trip :)

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We enjoyed another great dinner as the sun went down over Uluru. With the moon high in the sky we headed to camp for marshmallows round the campfire. We would be up really early to come back to see Uluru at sunrise...so more pics of this great monolith to come!

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Everyone managed to wake up, we had had another great night of stars and were pleased to see a few clouds around Uluru which would hopefully make the sunrise more dramatic. We set up for breakfast as its sihouette started to appear on the horizon.

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Waiting for the sunrise it got a bit chilly so Dan had to borrow my scarf to keep his legs warm

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It was a gorgeous morning and I love this pic Dan took

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All buzzing from the amazing sunrise we were keen to take on the 10km walk around the base of Uluru. It was only 7am and so we would be making the most of the cooler morning temperature before it got too hot. Before we set out Myles pointed how that there are several places on the walk where you are asked not to take photos as these are sacred areas. Theses are marked along the way.

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It was great to get up close to Uluru, is it just me or does this part look a bit like Darth Vader!

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To us these are just markings of erosion but to the Anangu they represent the activity of their ancestors during Creation Time which is known as Tjukuritja. Here is an example with a pic of number 5.

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This is Kapi Mutitijulu. Kapi means water and this is one of the most reliable sources of water at Uluru. Water sources are very sacred given their significance to survival in the desert, so we all took a quiet moment just to listen to our surroundings and take it all in.

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Animals are attracted here due to the water source and the steep sides around it make it a good place to trap animals and an ideal location to teach how to hunt. There is a small cave where the boys could hide and observe how the men would hunt kangaroo or emu that would come for a drink.

Nearby there is also the family cave and the walls are full of markings that show the stories that have been shared here.

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It took about 2 hours to complete the walk, the group had split up a bit to take it at their own pace so there were moments when Dan and I were on our own taking it all in which was a fantastic way to experience this place.

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Fortunately for us we had managed to avoid the flies for our whole trip, right up until the last 10 minutes of waiting for all the group to come together. Just from this we could tell that if you were there at a time when there were lots of flies, definitely the fly head gear would be worthwhile having, which you can get in Alice for about 10 bucks.

Next stop was the airport as half of the group needed to catch a plane from here rather than going back to Alice. After saying goodbyes and mucking around with the window pens we were off for our final stop of the trip, Stuart Wells, to check out some camels. On the way we caught up with the other tour group who had a flat tyre on the side of the road. We pulled over to help and had an impromptu game of pictionary... Must remember how useful window pens are!

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Afghan Camels were introduced to Australia in the 1800s because horses were not able to cope with the desert conditions so the camels were the solution.

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When the train and motor vehicles came to the Red Centre people stopped using the camels and 200 were just released. They thrived in this environment and there are now more camels in Australia then anywhere else in the world!! To control the population people go out and shoot camels which do not have an ear tag, we were advised this was necessary otherwise the camel population would double every 9 years. However one thing that can happen is that shooters will shoot mother camels but leave the calf, who on its own would die a slow and horrible death, so the owners of Stuart Wells have turned their land into a sanctuary where camel calves and a variety of other animals can be brought to to get treatment and help. From wild ponies that have been attacked by dingos to dingos, kangaroos and even galas that have been hit by cars no animal is turned away.

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Dan and Gizmo!

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On the way back to Alice we spotted two huge Wedge-tailed eagles tucking into some road kill. These majestic birds are the largest eagles in Australia with a wingspan of 3m...

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But even these guys can have a bad hair day!

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As we came back in to Alice we stopped for the obligatory tourist photo

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What an incredible trip!! Huge thanks must go to Myles for making it so great. At our leaving dinner when we were chowing down on peppered kangaroo wraps we found out that the other group had got yet another flat tyre and were still trying to make their way back. So glad that wasn't us!

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On our flight home the next day we finally got to see the Birdseye view of the Red Centre we had missed on the flight out.

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Back in Melbourne we had our own tyre problems, when one came off the Skybus we were on when we were on the highway!!

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The driver handled it like a pro safely steering us to the hard shoulder and miraculously no other cars got hit by the flying tyre too.

The whole trip was definitely one to remember!

Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 04:53 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Rock Tour! Part 2!

Kata Tjuta

We were up with the sun and those who had been awake in the early hours shared how they marvelled at how many stars had come out.

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Unfortunately for me once the glasses are off I can't see anything so even if I had been awake I wouldn't have seen them. This also meant I didn't have to worry about seeing any ghostly apparitions during the night either.

Today we would be walking through the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta. The indigenous method of counting was only from 1 to 5 and then anything other that was called 'Tjuta' which means 'many'. So Kata Tjuta means 'Many Heads', and you can see why the Anagu people named it so when you look at the rock formation.

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Kata Tjuta is a sacred mens area and indigenous women are not allowed to visit here. So why is it that female tourists are able to? The reason for this is because to indigenous eyes, non indigenous people are still considered 'children, no matter what their age. This is because they have not gained the knowledge and passed the relevant initiations into adulthood. So as I am considered to be a child and not a woman I am able to visit here. Women also have their sacred areas too which men are not allowed to go, such as areas for childbirth etc... One theory behind the separate women's and mens areas was a way of controlling the population. If there were too many mouths to be sustained by the land then the men and women would be separated until a time when the population could expand again.

This is amazing landscape to walk through and we were all keen to know more about how this area was formed.

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We had another great lesson from Myles who used the sand, rocks and water to demonstrate the different stages.

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Here's a little diagram and I ll try as best I can to remember how it went...

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1) Millions of years ago tectonic plates pushed together to create mountain ranges, I forget the name but these were bigger than Everest so they were massive!

2) Over time these eroded away and the alluvial flow brought rocks and sediment down the mountain, depositing the heavier rocks first.

3) The alluvial flow would continue to carry the lighter sediment further away until settled in another depression in the land.

4) Then a sea encroached on the land, flooding the whole area and bringing with it more deposits. This created intense pressure and forming rock. When rocks are compressed together this creates conglomerate rock, and this is what Kata Tjuta is made of. When sediment is compressed together it creates sedimentary rock which is what Uluru is made of.

5) Over the years the sea retracted from the land after more tectonic movement pushed up the land creating the McDonald Ranges. This exposed the top of the rocks and over time the ground around them eroded to create Kata Tjuta and Uluru!

The movement of the ranges being made had a ripple effect on the surrounding land. As Uluru was closest to this activity it moved most and so the lines of sediment in the rock are at 90 degrees. As Kata Tjuta was further away from the activity it only turned slightly with its lines at 15 degrees, as you can see in this pic.

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Lesson time over we stocked up on water again and Myles pointed out the Zebra Finches which you only find living in flocks near a water source.

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So if you are lost in the outback keep an eye out for these guys as they could save your life!

We were then ready to tackle the rest of the Valley of the Winds walk...

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Myles advised us to take the route where you climb up to Karingana lookout point, with the view behind us. It took a lot of will power to not turn round to take in the view before we got to the top...

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....and it was worth it!

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Tacking a well deserved break and snacking on some biscuits, we all took a seat as Myles explained to us about Ocre stone which can be found in various colours, green, white, yellow, red, even blue. When crushed up and mixed with water it creates a paste that was used as paint in the artwork that can be found in this area. Unfortunately when the artwork was first found tour guides would throw water at them to make the colours brighter but over time this has worn them away more, particulalry the lighter colours. We would see these paintings later around Uluru.

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The bowl like object that Myles is holding is called a Piti, and is every woman's must have item. It can be used for collecting food, digging, scooping water, some were made big enough to hold a baby. Either carried on the arm or attached to a head piece and carried on the top of the head, it would always be to hand, much like an early form of handbag.

As we continued the walk you could see evidence from where spears would have been sharpened on the ground in this sacred area.

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We learnt more about the hunting methods used here. The boomerang shape we are all familiar with would not have been used for hunting here, as this was used to hunt water birds. The returning Boomerang would move through the sky mimicking the way a bird of prey would fly, this would scare the water birds to fly lower into nets that had been set out for them. In this area the boomerang that is used is shaped like a big number 7, this version is not intended to return to the thrower but to tackle, break the legs or knock out the animal that is being hunted.

Another method would be to use a spear thrower to help throw the spear further and faster. The spears themselves are comprised of a long straight stick and a spear head made out of the poisonous mulga tree. The spear head is attached to the stick by using the long tendon which kangaroos have running down the back of their legs. This would be chewed to turn the tendon into a string that would be used to tie the spearhead on. During hunting the spear would get stuck in the animal such as a kangaroo who would hop away and the hunter would track it. The warmth of the animals body would loosen the tendon string releasing the stick part of the spear so it can be used again but leaving behind inside the poisonous spearhead. This would cause blood poisoning. Once the animal had died the hunter would need to cut out the poisonous wood and cook the meat so it was safe to eat.

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Here are some of the symbols used to tell other hunters about the animals in the area and where they are...

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The dark lines on the rocks in the above pic show where water would run down after it rains. It would be stunning to see these rocks when there is water running down them.

Can you make out the elephant?

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After we had completed the Valley of the Winds Walk, we went to a great look out point where you could really get a feel for the size of Kata Tjuta.

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And in the distance we caught her first glimpse of Uluru!

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But more about that in the next post!

Sxx

Posted by doyledan 23:07 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Rock Tour! Part 1!

Kings Canyon

Where do we begin! This was a great long weekend where we took a couple of days off work and jumped on a plane to the Northern Territory to check out Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta and of course Uluru, learn about indigenous culture and sleep in swags under the stars, on the awesome Rock Tour.

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We had been recommended this tour by our friend Amy so knew we couldn't go wrong and it passed our expectations mainly down to our fantastic guide/geology teacher/indigenous expert/cook and lion tamer Myles! We saw so much that I think its best to split this out into a couple of posts so here is the first...

Travelling light with just a day bag each of essentials we had a spring in our step as we walked through Melbourne to Southern Cross station to catch the Skybus which only takes 20mins to take you to the airport. We were so excited to be getting on a plane again and going on an adventure.

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We were glad we got the airport early as the queues to get to into the Tiger Air terminal snaked outside the building. As we waited in the queue there was an announcement for "Mr J. Bieber", you can imagine the ripple of excitement that went through the crowd as the possibility that such a famous pop star could be in our midst (Dan could hardly contain his inner Bilieber) then to clarify the announcer said "That's a Mr Jack Bieber" resulting in a sigh from the crowds and embarrassed chatter "I didn't really think it was him", "Yes you did, you should ve seen your face!"

After Bieber fever our flight was uneventful. As we started to descend to Alice Springs we eagerly looked out of the window for our first glimpse of the Red Centre in all its glory baking in the desert sun. The weekend before it had been a scorching 40 degrees and so we were prepared for some sunshine! But the clouds never parted and would you believe it we arrived in Alice Springs in the rain! Despite being overcast and a bit drizzly you've gotta laugh and we hopped in the shuttle to Toddys Backpackers (named after the Todd River) where we would be spending the night before the tour began.

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This gave us a chance to see what Alice Springs had to offer...which if I'm honest wasn't a lot. Yep Alice Springs definitely seemed like a bit of a dump with not much going on but then again we had gone straight from the city and familiar sites of Melbourne to this outback town so that's probably a bit of an unfair assumption. After all it does boast a bowling alley and a weird second hand shop (took me a while to realise this is what the statue was about!)

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As we walked into the town we spotted our first galas and these punk like pigeons

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we also saw a parrot on a reindeer....only in Alice!

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Alice is very much a town based on tourism a far cry from its origins as an isolated base for a telegraph station. Now there are plenty of shops to buy indigenous artwork and your own Crocodile Dundee hat. Some of the artwork is stunning and I was seriously tempted to get some but we don't have a spare $70 for a hat, let alone a spare $500 to get a painting. We were able to take advantage of the lunch deal given to us by our backpackers to have a yummy burger at the Rock Bar, so ya gotta pick em. Stocked up on salty snacks and large bottles of water for the trip we trundled back to the Toddys to catch up with the others in our dorm doing the tour and get an early night. After failing to remember how to play Yanev we have now been taught a new card game called No Peeky Peeky which no doubt will be used on our travels, thanks Brennon :)

It was a 5.30am wake up call as we had a fair bit of driving ahead of us to get to our first stop which would be Kings Canyon. There were 2 groups going on the tour in different directions and once we were allocated our bus, we found a seat we were on our way. To get everyone to know each other we were given pens to write our names on our windows and draw something which represents you... I think we got this mixed up as everyone else drew their national flag whereas we ended up drawing this...

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We were quite a mixed group made up of people from Japan, South Korea and Austrlia but it was the Brits that made up half the group.

It was great to be out of the city and finally in the sunshine! The landscape was so different, we definitely weren't in Victoria anymore...there are even Emus at petrol stations!

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Check out its prehistoric feet!

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The sun was beaming as we parked up at Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park.

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Myles got the group together and pointed out to us one of the emergency radio points to be used incase of an emergency. Dehydration and sun stroke are real issues here that shouldn't be taken lightly and can be fatal. We all stocked up on water, hats were out and sunscreen was on as there is little shelter on the rim...we were ready to tackle the Kings Canyon Rim Walk.

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Before we hit the trail Myles drew a map of Australia in the sand and told us more about the area. I didn't know that Australia is made up of 250 indigenous countries, with 70 different languages. We were visiting the land of the Anangu people.

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I am sad to say that in Melbourne the only indigenous people we have seen have been on the streets, and this was also apparent in Alice too, a stark, uneasy and unfair contrast to the booming tourism in the area. During my time at Save the Children I have become more aware of some of the issues faced in these communities and also made a contact with a lady called Viv who helps support Aboriginal Mens Rehab and Aboriginal Women's Rehab, she has explained to me the problems but also positive that with help things will get better. I was keen to learn more about the indigenous culture and history, and how things have changed to today. Fortunately for us Myles was a fountain of knowledge. He explained that his friends prefer to be called indigenous rather than aboriginal as this word has now been shortened and used with racist connotations. For this reason I will also do the same in this blog. I ll try my best to remember all we were told, one of the first things we were taught was the word 'Palya!' which can mean hello, bye, stop, we're done lets go. This word would become the group motto.

The Kings Canyon Rim walk starts with a steep climb up 'Heart Attack Hill'

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When we got to the top we learned that it was so named because a man actually died on reaching the top. He hadn't advised his guide that he had had heart surgery only months before and the exertion was too much for him. If you are fit and healthy though this climb is fine, just take your time.

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From up here we were able to start to get a feel of how vast this country is!

We gathered round for one of many geology talks from Myles who told us how Kings Canyon was formed (Dan and I both got gold stars for answering questions correctly :)). 400 million years ago Central Austrlia used to be covered in sand dunes and over the years the wind moved and deposited layers and layers of sand. This compressed overtime with the weight of all this sand and when the sea encroached on the land it cemented all the grains together to make sandstone. Cant imagine this place being under the water! You can see evidence of cross bedding which is found in rocks that were made from sand dunes.

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When 2 tectonic plates pushed together it raised the land exposing all this rock that had previously been under the sea, this is also why there are angles in the layers from where it was pushed up. As sandstone is porous it contracts and expands and breaks apart at points of weakness.

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Years of erosion resulted in the creation of the canyon we were walking on. Ta Dah!!

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So why is the Red Centre Red? This is because when water evaporates it leaves deposits of iron on the stone which reacts with the air to form a layer of red rust on the outside of the rock, if you break this away it is lighter underneath. So now ya know :)

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Taking a break in some of the rare shade!

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We stopped off at several places along the walk and Myles showed us various plants that were used by the indigenous people who knew exactly how to make the most of the seemingly inhabitable environment they lived in.

This is a Mulga tree and although it looks dead it actually isn't, however it is poisonous so don't touch it. Its wood would be used for spears.

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This is the Ghost Gum tree, so known because its white bark reflects in the moonlight at night creating an eerie silhouette in the dark. The white is actually a powder on the trees bark which was used as a sunscreen by rubbing it on the skin. This tree has the ability to loose its limbs if it is not getting enough water, so it will sacrifice a branch (the darker ones in the pic) in order the save the rest of the tree!!

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Can you spot the baby koala!

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Naturally athletic the indigenous people evolved and learnt to survive in this environment. Fossilised footprints of a hunter chasing a kangaroo have estimated that he was running at 37km! However the introduction of fatty foods and alcohol from the settlers that came here to the present day have resulted in health and social problems as the enzymes needed to break these down have not been needed before. This is one of the reasons why alcohol is such a big problem as the effects happen quicker and last for longer. Many indigenous communities now have 'alcohol free' rules and if you are invited to visit or stay you are asked not to bring any alcohol with you.

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We were also shown the Red Bull of the plant world which gives you an energy boost if you chew the leaves. If you hadn't been successfull hunting and needed an extra boost to keep going then this plant could do that. However it was frowned upon if a hunter needed to use it as it showed you werent a good hunter and would result in a punishment such as a stick in the thigh.

This is Rock Mint, which can be used as an anesthetic.

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If crushed up and put into a water source any animal that drinks it such as a kangaroo would go to sleep allowing the hunter to kill it. However this was seen as a lazy way of hunting and also destroys the water source bringing with it punishment of death. In an area where it may not rain for 2 years you can see why such an extreme punishment was used as a deterrent!

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Another plant we learnt about I think was called Pilpey, it secretes a white sap that could be used to help stop bleeding if you cut yourself helping your blood to clot. This plant also had another use, which would make you think twice about touching this plant and then touching your eyes. It was used as a form of punishment to help people to see the error or their ways. The offender would have the sap put in his eyes when he slept and when he woke he would be blind. He will only see again once he has found water to wash his eyes with and his sight will be restored. No one is allowed to help him do this and in an area of little water it could take a while!

Myles also told us about the significance of a burial site of an indigenous man found in another area that has been dated as 52,000 years old!! His body was covered in red dust which can only be found in Kings Canyon which shows the importance of the man and also the importance placed on this area as people would have had to make the journey to collect the dust for the ceremony.

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It was amazing to walk around the canyon and part of the walk took as down some wooden steps into what is known as the Garden of Eden. In the advertised trip you are meant to be able to swim here but at this time of year there isn't enough water and tourism has polluted the water here anyway so you probably wouldn't want to swim in it!

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As we started to climb up the steps on the other side our attention was drawn to the sound of a man singing the opening lines to The Lion King. As 'Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba' resonated throughout the canyon Myles slowly stepped out on to what had an uncanny resemblance to Pride Rock, whilst raising Simba to the sky!! Brilliant!!

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And of course we all had to have a go :)

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We then had the option of jumping over the canyon too! Although I opted for the bridge

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Once on the other side we couldn't resist the urge to look right over the canyons edge. Not for those with vertigo!

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After all that walking in the heat we definitely needed one of these and a cool drink!

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We had some more driving to do to get to our campsite so it was all aboard the bus again. In between dozing we spotted some of the Australian Wildlife including a dingo that ran across the road and a tree full of jet black parrots who all took flight at the same time in a burst of colour as they revealed their red tail feathers...beautiful!

Lazy gazes and snoozing was abruptly interrupted when Myles slammed on the breaks! Everyone was straining to see what had caused such a reaction...had a kangaroo or emu jumped out in front of the van, was it another car... We couldn't see anything and were all confused when Myles excitedly turned the van around say "do you want to see something awesome?" and pulled over to the side jumping out of the van.

Somehow he had managed to spot this little guy crossing the road and miraculously it hadn't been crushed by the van and trailer as we passed over it.

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This is a Thorny Devil

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This is Fool-uruu....otherwise known as Mt Connor... we all had a moment of questioning each other is that Uluru?? But it is not. The difference between Mount Connor and Uluru is that Mt Connor is part of the land whereas Uluru is a rock (more on this in the next post). Mount Connor is a table top mountain and you can see where it hard rock top meets the sloping land beneath.

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As the sun was getting low we stopped off Curtain Springs cattle station to grab some beers and make the most of the blokes and Sheilas facilities. This cattle station on its own is 1.25 million acres and bigger than the size of Belgium! The scale of places here is insane!

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On the way to the campsite we pulled over to gather firewood and many hands meant it wasn't long before we had enough. The sun had gone down so we would be arriving at camp in the dark. I ll never forget the moment Myles put on his head torch to strobe mode, started blaring out Prodigy whilst putting pedal to the metal so we had quite a ride into camp. He needed to go fast to get the van through the sand but the music and lighting made it more mental :)

We soon had the fire going and as we were going to be sleeping in swags we didn't have to worry about pitching any tents and settled in around the campfire whilst Myles cooked up a great meal which included bread which you added beer to before cooking to make it rise from the yeast. genius and tasty times.

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One of the girls asked about ghost stories but we weren't expecting to be told that the very campsite we were staying at is haunted! I think the story goes that back in the early 1980s 4 indigenous men were on the run, I'm not sure what they were meant to have done but they got caught and were burnt alive in their car. Since then rangers who have slept on that spot (only a few metres form where we were going to be sleeping) have had bad nightmares and so no one will camp on this spot now. The ghosts of the men have been seen several times and only women see them. Apparently on 3 separate occasions on his tours girls have woken the camp screaming in the night having seen them, and he hadn't told them the story! Spooky!

Trying to put this out of my mind we settled into a night under the stars!

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Sxx

Posted by doyledan 14:05 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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