Monday, April 28, 2014

Signing Off

This will be my last post from Australia. As I expected, I spent most of Sunday trying to recuperate from the very long day on Saturday. Sitting in the bus for so many hours was good preparation for our trip home, I guess! In the evening we had dinner at a funky bar called Monte's. It must be popular, as they had a security guard outside. It had a very large patio area, a children's play room, and decent food. We shared a burger and a salad (thankfully, no fries with the burger). We are both ready to eat less for a while!

Monday morning we walked over to the Alice Springs Public Library. I had heard they had a special memorial to Nevil Shute, and I wanted to see it. The garden near the front door was nice and had a lovely stone.

We've done almost no shopping at all on this trip, but we did stop in a souvenir store and picked up a few small things.

Inside Monte's

Garden sign

Memorial garden

Eucalyptus trees in the park at night

This truly is a global society. I saw this RV on the street walking back to the hotel. Jayco is headquartered in Middlebury, near Goshen, and Starcraft for many years manufactured their trailers in Topeka (Indian), my home town.

A few observations from our travel around Australia are below. This is a very large country and we only saw a small portion of it, although we did see the most populous parts. We didn't get to the Great Barrier Reef along the northeast coast or any of the north or west coasts. We had a great time visiting with old friends and seeing new sights.

Electricity: Australia has 220v current, like most other places in the world beyond the USA. We have plug adapters of all kinds that we carry, so it has been no problem. I am grateful that electronics manufacturers make virtually all of their power adapters usable on 110v or 220v. An oddity here (to us) is that every outlet has an on/off switch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in the US. In some of the older hotels, we’ve had to scrounge to find a free outlet or two.

Towels:  All our hotel/motels have had nice fluffy towels, none of those thin ones we often find in budget places in the US. But it is rare to find a facecloth provided. I mentioned this to our Melbourne host, Rosemary, who promptly gave me one to take along. The ironic twist is that since we left her place, every hotel we’ve stayed in has provided them! [When I travel to India, I know not to expect any, so I have a stash of cheap flimsy ones that I take along.]

Wildlife:  I was thrilled to see so many of the unusual native animals here in Australia, all in  nature sanctuaries. We saw lots of signs along the roads warning us of koalas or kangaroos on the road, but we never saw any (not counting two kangaroos that were roadkill). I guess it's like our area at home, where there are frequent deer warning signs, but we only see them rarely. I have enjoyed some colorful birds along the way, but they don't photograph well. There were two wedge-tail eagles on the road to Uluru.

Restaurants:  We have had excellent food everywhere. The standard pub food seems a cut above what we would find in a casual, less than top-notch restaurant. Salads always have good greens and the food is freshly prepared. It is pretty expensive, however:  $12-15 for a hamburger (maybe with fries), $9-11 for a dessert. Most hotels don’t provide free continental breakfast. The one here in Alice Springs is $12.50 per person. We knew to expect these higher prices, but it still provided some sticker shock! Nearly every restaurant brought two glasses to the table, along with a glass bottle of chilled water. Very nice to be able to refill as desired. One of the prettiest ones is shown below.

Tuesday we fly back to Sydney, spend the night, then head off on the long trip home Wednesday morning. We did not get the upgrade to Business class this time, but we are looking forward to the Premium Economy seating, which is much better than regular Economy. We actually arrive in Chicago still on Wednesday, after approximately 26 hours en route. We are spending Wednesday night in Chicago, arriving in Goshen on Thursday afternoon.

Thanks for reading and following along on our trip. It's been great!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day Trip to Uluru/Ayers Rock

Well, I knew it would be exhausting, and it certainly was! The Alice Wanderer bus picked us up just before 6:00 AM. It was a comfortable 42-seat cruising bus. We had two driver/guides, John and Craig, and only 10 passengers. John and Craig took turns driving all day -- they probably each put in 6+ hours! We were glad to have double seats for each of us to spread out and try to stay comfortable.

Our first stop was for breakfast about 7:30. It was a typical roadside petrol station/restaurant/accommodation. They had wrapped egg and bacon sandwiches for us, plus tea or coffee and orange juice.

The next portion was the long drive -- about 3-1/2 hours more. We had a stop for morning tea and biscuits (cookies) halfway there. The bus had a video system and we watched the movie "Australia," very appropriate.

We made a stop along the way where we all climbed up a small sand dune. We had a view of a false Uluru in the distance -- you can't tell from this picture, but the rock formation actually looks like a toothbrush -- a lower rock stretches off to the right. In the other direction there was a large salt lake.

John took this with my iPhone, panorama view
John in front of the salt lake
 As we entered the national park, we could see the big red rock clearly. Our first stop was at the visitor centre, where there was lots of information on the aboriginal culture and some nice gift shops. Then we went on a bit further and took a walk right up to the rock and a water hole. This was a spot where the people could easily hunt. They would hide out in a cave on the path to the water and wait for them. The young boys learned to hunt by hiding behind a rock and watching the men through a hole carved in the rock.

Path to water hole
Notice the dark hole so the boys could watch the hunters
Cave paintings
More cave paintings
And a few more
Dan at the water hole
We drove on and had two more stops where there were walks up to the rock. I stayed in the bus and watched for these, as the one to the waterhole was quite long, and enough for me!

Another cave
South end of the rock
 Many years ago a settler attached a chain so it would be easier to climb. Unfortunately, he was extremely short, so most adults can't hold onto it without bending over. It is a popular climb, about an hour up and the same coming down. However, the aboriginal people request that we respect their reverence for the rock by not climbing it, but many people ignore them. I suspect it will be closed at some point. Now it is closed for wind, rain, or high heat.

Walkers climbing the rock
After circling the rock by road, we headed over to The Olgas/Tata Tjuta. These are rocks of similar type to the big one, but there are many domes instead of one. Somehow I ended up with only one photo. The group (minus me) took a hike up into a canyon, which was fairly uneven ground.

The last event of the day was a barbecue at sunset while viewing Uluru. We were a bit disappointed; the views were lovely, but there wasn't much special about the sunset behind us. The rock did get darker and show more shadows, but nothing spectacular. John and Craig set up tables and a BBQ and cooked kangaroo and beef sausages and grilled onions. There were also several salads. They had brought all the equipment in the bus luggage compartment and the food all came from our breakfast place.

Barbecue area
Us and Uluru
Shadows at dusk
 The drive home was longer than the morning, or at least it seemed that way! We watched another Australian movie, "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." After that everyone dozed or read. I took a picture out of the front, which shows my view of the drive. We were dropped back at our hotel about 11:45. A very long day, but so worth it!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Alice Springs

We are on the last leg of our trip — five nights in Alice Springs, in the Red Centre of Australia. If you look at a map, you’ll see that it is very isolated. It is relatively near Uluru/Ayers Rock, an iconic formation that is sacred to the Aboriginals. We’ll be taking a day trip out there on Saturday. 

Alice is about halfway between Adelaide on the south coast and Darwin on the north. A major highway and the Ghan railway go through town. It was an important location for a repeater station on the Overland Telegraph Line and a European settlement was started around 1870. It was an active staging base during World War II. The population is about 20% Aboriginal out of 25,000 or more.

Our travel here was unremarkable; we flew from Adelaide to Sydney, stayed overnight, and flew here the next morning (our only early flight, 7:25 AM). We are staying in the Elkira Best Western Resort Motel, which is far from new, but charming and comfortable. Our first outing was a walk to a nearby supermarket, where we laid in supplies for breakfasts and lunches in our room. After dinner in the hotel restaurant, we took a walk around the next block to the south. It is filled with historic homes that have markers on the sidewalks. Most were built during WWII. This morning after breakfast I repeated the walk and took a few pictures on the way.

Today, April 25, is ANZAC day, a day of remembrance of the combined Australian and New Zealand forces who fought at Gallipoli in 1915, where many lives were lost. Many places are closed for the national holiday and we are taking it easy in anticipation of our marathon trip to Uluru tomorrow (we leave at 6 AM and return at midnight).

The "Red Centre" from the plane
Fountain in hotel courtyard
Bruschetta -- brought because our dinner took a while to cook!
Chicken breast stuffed with red peppers and cheese, too much cream gravy
Butter Chicken
Park and hill across from hotel
Historic home
Another historic home

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


We arrived in Adelaide Monday morning and went to our hotel. They said we could have our room in about 45 minutes, so we went off to find some lunch. There was a Hogs Breath Restaurant nearby. We’d seen this chain in other places and decided to try it. They were just opening up. Easter Monday is a bank holiday here in Australia, so there was almost no one around the city. I had a coconut shrimp salad and Dan had a chicken caesar wrap. The decor is similar to an Applebee’s in the US; the walls were decorated with old US license plates.

A gelato shop just down the street finished off our lunch. Isn't it beautiful?

Our hotel is an apartment complex, with studios as well as 1-, 2-, or 3-bedroom units. This gives us a kitchenette for making tea and a more spacious room. The garage and reception are on the ground floor and the rooms begin one level up with a nice plaza.

Next door they are replacing huge windows on a building of the University of South Australia.

After lunch we left for the suburb of Mitcham, where Abhra and his family live. They have a nice large rental home quite near Scotch College where he works and the children attend school. His parents were also visiting from Calcutta, enjoying their grandchildren. We had a pleasant afternoon visiting. Before dinner Dan, Abhra and I took a walk up their quiet street, where there are frequently koalas nesting in the trees. But not that day! We enjoyed a comfort meal of mince, dal and rice.

We thought we might do more sight-seeing on Tuesday, but decided to check out the city a bit more. We took the free tram to a shopping plaza. We visited a shop that sells opal jewelry and has a display mine in the basement. However, we passed on the opals, which were very expensive.

Our next and last stop in Australia is Alice Springs, in the center of this large continent. We are flying back to Sydney and onwards from there to Alice. We are looking forward to a completely different type of countryside, the real Outback. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Great Ocean Road

One of Australia’s best known tourist routes is the Great Ocean Road from southwest of Melbourne to Warrnambool along the southern coast. We left on Saturday morning of a holiday weekend and there was a lot of traffic. The first few towns we came to were packed—parking full up, people all over the towns and the beaches, traffic bumper-to-bumper. But the sights along the way were worth it. As we got further west, the traffic thinned out. The formations the waves have created along this coast are truly amazing. We got to Warrnambool soon after 4:00. As we came into town, we stopped at the first hotel, a Comfort Inn. The helpful desk clerk said they were full, but checked on the internet and found two possibilities, neither of which sounded very appealing. So we went to the town centre and the info desk. They were very helpful, and made a reservation for us at the Warrnambool Hotel. It turned out to be one of the typical older establishments that appear in nearly eery town. A bar and bistro on the ground floor, and rooms above. We did get a queen bedroom with ensuite bath; most of the rooms used shared baths in the hall. The noise from the bar was quite muted and didn’t bother us. It was  charming. We had supper in the bar, where they had a wood-fired pizza oven. Ours had tandoori chicken, spinach, snow peas, and onions on it.

The second day of driving turned out to be not nearly as scenic.We took the road that appeared to follow the shore, but the water was rarely in sight. We were fortunate to find a small coffee shop open in one of the towns at lunchtime. One thing that we’ve enjoyed is the excellent food at even the most humble coffee shops and cafes. 

We had made a reservation in Murray Bridge, just east of Adelaide, where we spent the night. After cruising around town trying to find an open restaurant, we finally located the old hotel and ate in the bistro.

We are finished with our major driving. We’ll be in Adelaide for the next two days and then fly to Sydney for our last adventure — a trip to Alice Springs.

Views along the way:

"London Bridge" which is now broken. Some tourists were stranded on the far side when it went down and had to be rescued by helicopter, according to someone we met.

That darker spot along the path is where it has washed away. The erosion is still going on.

A large group of riders crossing the road near a tourist camp.

The bar of the hotel where we stayed in Warrnambool. Lovely Tiffany-style lampshades and lots of character.

Tandoori chicken pizza!