Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Red Centre

Not one, but two holidays in the month of October! Yippee! As you may have read in the post below, we spent a week and a half in New Zealand earlier this month attending a conference and seeing the sights. Brian's last contract ended the day before we left for New Zealand and we weren't sure what was next for him. The day we returned home from New Zealand, he was offered another contract (for six months). The new job was set to start in a week and a half and Brian, not wanting to idle away his days sitting around the house, said 'hey, let's go somewhere.' Not a lot of arm twisting needed there! We debated for a day or so about whether to go to Adelaide, Darwin, Alice Springs or Perth - all cities we haven't been to yet. After a brief survey of friends and colleagues, we settled on Alice Springs. This would take us into the center of Australia to see it's iconic sites and allow us do some bushwalking in the desert. After only three days back at work after NZ, we were on a plane to Alice Springs!

Below, some of the highlights. We bought a new camera the day before we left (its so cool - waterproof and all) and we took hundreds of photos, hence the reason it's taken me a week to get this post published!

We left Canberra early in the morning and got to Alice Springs late morning. We hired a car at the airport and drove west for five hours to our first destination, Uluru (also known as Ayer's Rock). Funny how you can leave Canberra in the morning and be at Uluru for the sunset! This photo is from about an hour before sunset.


The photo below was taken at sunset. Notice how the color has changed? It was pretty cool to watch the colors and shadows change as the sun went down.


We camped that evening and the next morning got up for the sunrise over Uluru and then walked the nine kilometers around the base of Uluru. The rock has all sorts of interesting features, both natural and cultural. Below, aboriginal rock art.


Uluru was pretty spectacular, even after seeing a million images of it. A giant monolith rising out of the desert is pretty impressive. Our biggest complaint about Uluru was that there weren't enough signs telling the visitor about its significance to the Aboriginal people. It is a very sacred site, but the signs around the base just tell you that a particular site is sacred so they can't tell you any more and please don't touch it or take photos. That got a little annoying after a while when you are really hoping to understand something about the native people and the significance of this land to them.

Our next destination was Kata-Tjuta, or the Olgas. Made it there for a great sunset as well.


The following day we did a terrific hike called the Valley of the Winds around Kata-Tjuta. This walk was awesome as you walked within its ancient valleys and really felt like part of the place.

Our next destination was Watarrka National Park. The Perentie Lizard below was spotted on the side of the road on our way there. It was huge! I'm getting conflicting information on whether this lizard is the second largest lizard in the world (according to the locals) or the fourth largest lizard in the world (according to Wikipedia). Either way, at over a meter long, we were pretty excited to have spotted it.


Kings Canyon was our main destination in Watarrka NP and there we walked around the rim of the canyon. Every morning we walked about 7-9 kilometers before the heat of the day. It got up to about 97F at the hottest time (and this is in the mid-season moving from the cool season to the hot season). We'd spend the middle of the day either lounging at our campsite in the shade or driving to our next destination in the comfort of our air conditioned car :) The view from the rim of Kings Canyon below.


Below, weathered sandstone domes as far as the eye can see!


Below, a stop at a lovely little spot with a water hole, known as the Garden of Eden. There was a surprising amount of water around, though as Brian pointed out, 25 kilometers between water holes only seems close when you have motorized transport. The Aborigines survived in this land for millenia!


Our next major walk was at a place called Ormiston Gorge. The photo below was from the high point of walk, overlooking Ormiston Pound. Apparently its known as a pound because early settlers used the mountains as a natural enclosure for cattle.


Our next stop was at Glen Helen Gorge, a nice stop with a small "resort" ie. a few rooms, campsites and a restaurant with really nice food. The water was freezing cold and the water hole itself was surrounded by wetlands and awesome rock formations.


Our last day and a half was spent back in the town of Alice Springs where we had a lovely evening with an ANU friend, Hannah, who now lives in Alice. We spent an entire day at the Alice Springs Desert Park, an attraction that guided you through three desert habitats: desert rivers, sand country and the woodland habitat. Each had lots of examples of native flora and fauna and we saw a terrific bird of prey show and heard a ranger talk about Aboriginal desert survival skills. Below, a Cane Grass Dragon.


A red kangaroo looking unamused at Brian's photography...


And a Princess Parrot in one of the many aviaries.


There you have it, an amazing week in a nutshell. These are only the best of the best photos. If you'd like to see more, I highly recommend you watch the slideshow of photos on my Red Centre web album.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Aotearoa

Brian and I just returned from nine days in New Zealand. Aotearoa, by the way, means Land of the Long White Cloud and is the indigenous Māori name for New Zealand. The ACTS (Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability) Conference was held in Christchurch and this was my third year attending this conference, so I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to go again AND get a holiday in New Zealand at the same time! The trip was delightful – the conference was terrific and the south island of NZ is every bit as amazing as I’d heard. A few photos from the trip (though not the best quality; our camera is still acting up).

The view from the gondola outside of Christchurch overlooking the Banks Peninsula.


The Avon. Christchurch is all around a very British-inspired city.


I convinced Brian to take me punting on the Avon.


We took the TranzAlpine Train out of Christchurch on the east coast across Arthur's Pass to Greymouth on the west coast.


Some of the stunning mountain views from the train.


More spectacular views from the train.


Taking it all in.


An art display in Christchurch that tickled our fancy - a tribute to the once popular petrol fueled car :)


Several afternoons were spent exploring the Botanic Gardens.


Tulips and architecture - a great combination.


The architecture was one of the things we really liked about Christchurch. It gave the city a lot of character; much older than Canberra. The Kiwis were all very friendly (the people, not the birds or the fruit) and for the first time in years, we had proper Mexican food! Not sure how it ended up in Christchurch but we had two dinners at a respectably authentic Mexican restaurant. Yay! So much we didn't get to see - I can definitely envision another trip to NZ!