‘Travel | Australia’ Posts
The quick brown fox jumped over the good, but lazy Parker family.
I can count on exactly one finger the number of “first” cities I like (New York) and wasn’t planning on this being any different. So, I was a bit surprised when I found myself picking out curtains in Sydney after being decidedly ho-hum about Melbourne.
Granted, I crammed a LOT into my 30-hour Sydney experience, including the Bridge, a tour of the Opera House, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Observatory Hill, a beach (Manley), two ferry rides and one of the best opera performances I have seen in the last five years (La Boheme at said Opera House).
In the end, the Sydney / Melbourne question went a lot like the rest of the trip: all the greatest stuff came when we weren’t expecting it, and for entirely different reasons than we expected.
The best city was the afterthought (Sydney). The most time was needed at the place we had the least (Tasmania). The best part of the Great Ocean Road wasn’t actually part of the Great Ocean Road (Adelaide to Port Fairy). The best part of my Australian vacation was the work. Even with all the spectacular vistas, the best part wasn’t the parks but the people.
In the next couple of weeks, I will pull my thoughts together on the trip as a whole … and try and distill all the best bits. But until then, I think it is a fair say that this was far and away the best three weeks of travel in *my* short lifetime, and while Belize was paradise on earth, Australia is where I will be packing my bags for if I ever get the means.
The sport is nothing like American baseball, but the easiest way to explain it is through that terminology. (A new Aussie friend of ours explained that you can tell when an American understands Cricket because they start getting offended when the baseball analogy is made.)
Basically, there are two batters (batsmen) who don’t bat as much as they protect the wicket (three croquet mallet handles stuck in the ground behind each of two home plates) from pitchers (bowlers) who hurl wooden balls trying to knock the wickets over.
There are “outs,” which comes if the bowler knocks down the aforementioned wicket, or the batsman makes a batting error (hits the ball to one of the outfielders, or uses something other than his bat to strike the ball). Two batsmen are on the field at once, and each stays until he is out once, scoring as many runs are possible. All members of one team bat before the other has their go.
Runs are scored when the ball is hit well enough that the two batsmen can exchange places. There are even two types of home runs (6 runs if the struck ball clears the park without touching the ground, and 4 runs if it just dribbles over the boundary). Good batsmen can score one hundred — or more — runs in a match.
There really isn’t the downtime here that you have in baseball, with nearly constant action through the whole match (except for when they break for tea, of course). Because each player does their batting all at once, there is a better opportunity for a “dual” to develop between batsman and bowler. Also, when the batsman or bowler is having a good go of it, there is a sort of “king-of-the-mountain” tension that develops as well.
The greatest thing about the game is that it is watched here by all kinds, though women do seem to roll their eyes when it is discussed at the dinner table.
Once we got back on the road from Otway to Melbourne, there was much to see, but not a lot to photograph. The last day of the Great Ocean Road — which is actually the first day for most as it is closest to Melbourne — was a series of small beach towns with some scenic surfing beaches in between. Lovely, but not unlike coastal America.
Driving the last little bit into the big city more than a little tedious … lots of one way streets, a omnipresent tram system, flocks of asian tourists, no serviceable map, and rush hour traffic. There will be more on all things Melbourne a little later.
Shortly after arrival they took us on a “dusk” walk around the properties, and within the first 20 minutes we had seen three koalas, were explained the entire regional ecosystem and were firmly behind their site management plan. On our way back it was all down hill, only tripping on three parrots, two dozen kangaroos, two wallabies and a magpie that enjoyed attacking human’s shoes.
The owners are a zoologist and a natural resources manager in their mid-twenties, who have overcome some pretty long odds to launch this, their dream project. Besides using the property to test a range of ecological hypotheses — including the best ways to revegetate portions of Australia that have been over-cleared — they take in injured / abandoned animals such as a baby kangeroo who flopped around the house while we ate dinner that night. If you have the chance, we highly recommend making the trip.
We had quite a great crew of fellow quests, including a retired couple from Sheffield, England and a couple of small business owners from somewhere along the Gold Coast of Australia. Much of the convesation that night was predictable (“how in &^%$ sake did *he* get elected?!?) but everyone was most generous to keep it amicable and gave us the widest possible recognizing that the lady sparkler and I weren’t unilaterally responsible for the current geo-political situation.
Ah, imagine that … two cultures who don’t assume the worst about their contemporaries.
On our way back from the second, we ran into three billy goats (“gruff” presumably) in the middle of the path. Don’t know where they came from — they weren’t anywhere to be seen on the way out — but they were sure enough there on the way back. Initially, things didn’t look particularly good … the biggest one of the bunch approached slowly, dipped its head, and started pawing the ground.
Perhaps, now is a good time to pause for some back-story:
Last year when the lady sparkler and I were in Tucson, we mis-timed one of our hikes and found ourselves out in the desert after dark. As we were scurrying back, we had not one but two rattlesnakes try and kill us. The second of the two actually rattled across the path between the lady sparkler (who stopped) and myself (who sped up).
Yesterday, we were hiking around Mount Richmond in the middle of the day, when I noticed a large tree branch that was down across the path began to move. We’d find out later that it was actually a copperhead, one of the 14 breeds of snakes in Australia that can kill you. Now, when you think copperhead, you think of a normal-sized snake that just happens to be poisonous. This, however, was the size of the basilisk from that Harry Potter movie. It looked like it had recently eaten a moose. Or an auto.
Anyway, back to the goats. The only thing that kept me from running around like a blithering idiot around the snakes — other than the whole “being paralyzed with fear” thing — was that I keep being told that they are just as scared of us as we are of them. The goats? Not afraid of us, though, this turned out to be a good thing.
Momma goat DID dip her head, and pawed the ground, but was just looking to soften up the dirt before she laid down to completely block the path. Her two chil’en quickly followed suit. We gingerly chose about a 6 inch path between the goats and the 200-foot cliff, and resisted the urge to pet the (now) cute little goats. Didn’t want to open ourselves up to *that* conversation with Customs.
Turns out that not everything in Australia is trying to kill you.
My favourite (notice the “cheeky” Anglo spelling) was a place called The Granites (above, top). We tripped on it purely by accident (we saw a small brown sign with a distance, but no description) and went on a lark. We got a set of exquisite pink granite boulders in an amazing blue-green sea.
The lady sparkler’s favourite was Cape Dombey (above, bottom) which is part of a “recreational reserve” in the port town of Robe where we are spending the night. Also an accident, we had set off for the town’s lighthouse (modernist, hideous) when we tripped on the Dombey obelisk that sat on a set of breathtaking cliffs.
We have had such incredible luck this trip off recommendations, but even better luck with serendipity.
Now, leaving Tasmania, we were more than a little concerned that the mainland would be just as beautiful, and it turns out that’s the case (how much beauty can a couple stand?!?) The views through wine country were really unbelievable, and some of the beaches on the way back into town were as spectacular as they were empty. (Near as we can figure, school started back up this week.)
In other news … Adelaide has taken our time confusion and kicked it up another notch — BAM! — as it turns out the town elders decided that adhering to time zones was a silly notion. Apparently being a half hour off sounded like a laugh, so we are now (temporarily) 16 hours and 30 minutes ahead of D.C. time. Oh, and we haven’t figured out how to adjust the clock in our car, so we have just stopped even trying to care what time it is.
Tomorrow, we start our four day drive along the Southern Ocean into Melbourne, in what is supposed to be the prettiest portion of our trip. My “shutter” finger is just aching in anticipation …
Still no word on her bag though, other than the knowledge that it never made it through LAX. Interestingly, when we were talking to one of the Qantas baggage service people about what happened, she rolled her eyes and said, ‘LAX happened.’ Not that we needed another reason to dislike Californians, but apparently their baggage handling skills are world renowned for all the wrong reasons.
We spend the day driving 200 kilometers south through what is widely considered as the most beautiful portions of Tasmania. We knew we were in trouble when I had taken over a hundred pictures *before* we even entered the first of three national parks for the day. (The final tally included two full memory cards for over 350 images.)
Today was less about rainforests, and more about landscapes. We passed though mountain ranges, savannah grasslands, scrubland/hill country, reeded marshlands, both rocky and sandy beaches, before finishing up in rolling prairie-land. All this in little more than one hundred miles driven.
Which brings us to our first conclusion of the trip: everything is decidedly *not* bigger in Texas.
The roads here never end. We could spend four weeks on an island the size of West Virginia, and never see the same thing twice. The trees here would take half a dozen adults to surround holding hands. The animals are bigger (they even have longhorns). The land is more diverse. The mountains are higher. The beer is larger. So are the hats. Even the hubris is bigger (they have routed an entire river through pipes for use in hydro-electric plants.)
And we haven’t even reached the mainland.
Near the end of today, we were wincing as we drove around corners because the impossibly beautiful just kept getting more beautiful … it was actually more than a bit overwhelming. Words honestly can’t describe this place. The photos we posted do a pretty good job of showing the beauty, but really can’t give a hint to the scale … so, while you are looking think ‘vast’ and then triple it.
UPDATE: the lady sparkler’s luggage was waiting for us at the hotel in Hobart, which is great as we fly back to the mainland tomorrow morning. t.l.s. has never been so excited about the possibility of shaving her legs.
About that: I should have mentioned that while we made landfall yesterday, our luggage didn’t. the lady sparkler being a smart girl has two changes of clothes and four pair of underwear in her carry-on. I have 10 pounds of camera equipment. The most beguiling thing about this parallel universe we find ourselves in is that neither of us seem to care about the state of our baggage.
About that: Tasmania is just devastatingly beautiful. Since Australia is the original continent — and there hasn’t been much in the way of earthquakes, volcanoes or glaciers to stir up the ground — much of what you see has been that way for the last billion or so years (give or take).
The place we stayed last night was at the entrance to Cradle Mountain National Park, and so we began the morning hiking through the temperate rainforest at the mountain’s base. The youngest trees looked 500-years old, and there was a *thick* carpet of moss on anything that wasn’t moving.
After our morning in Eden, we bustled ourselves off to Strahan (the ‘ha’ is silent) on the western coast of Tasmania. The last quarter of the pictures are from the city’s “park,” which seems a mild understatement as it is big enough to house a 40-minute walk through rainforest to a trio of stunning waterfalls.
It’s a mad, mad world.