Port Douglas

After breakfast and a leisurely morning, we left at 9:30 and boarded our coach for the drive to Cooya Beach.  We were greeted by our guide Lync who told us about the fishing and gathering ways of his family and the region.  

He guided us to a small tree area and before he started his talk, he lit paperbark and waved it around all of us. This is called a smoking ceremony and it is an ancient as well as a contemporary custom among some Aboriginal Australians. The smoke is believed to have both spiritual and physical cleansing properties, as well as the ability to ward off bad spirits. Our guide said it was to protect us from anything bad happening to us. 

We stood under a canopy of trees and he said that sometimes snakes can drop from the trees. Fortunately, none came down while we were there. 

He showed us turtle shells from turtles that were large enough to feed hundreds people. He also showed us boomerangs with different shapes and different purposes. Some boomerangs are to throw at birds to knock them down as they were flying, while other boomerangs are used to break the legs of a kangaroo to fell them.

We enjoyed homemade bread with sugar cane syrup and butter and he cracked open a coconut shell and we all drank from the shell and savored the milk.

We walked down to the beach. You have to be cognizant of crocodiles and you have to stay near the foliage and not go by the water’s edge.  The water is also filled with jellyfish that have deadly stingers. 

He picked leaves from a plant and rinsed them in the water and we put it on our skin. It is used as a bandage or as a cooling agent in warm weather. He also picked flowers and we tasted them and Lync said they are used in salads. 

Lync reached into a Yangga nest (green ants) and had many crawling on his hand.  These ants have medicinal purposes and are used to combat coughs and flu. You can eat them or crush them and then inhale their vapor which smelled like Vicks vapor rub. 

He grabbed each ant by the back part so those who wanted to (of course I did) could grasp the ant by the head and then lick the back part.  It tasted like lemon.

Lync played the Didgeridoo for us and then we all had a lesson in spear throwing which is how they catch their fish. Some natives are able to throw a spear the length of a football field. 

His family paints burner beans and they make them into trinkets for sale so I purchased one that I’ll make into a slide. Burner beans are rubbed on a flat stone to make a spark to start a fire. 

We drove to Mossman Gorge, the  gateway to the Daintree Rainforest region. This is the oldest rainforest in the world, and home to the  Kuku Yulanji people for more than 50,000 years. 

We met with a local Kuku Yalanji and learned about his culture. Before we began, we had another smoking ceremony. We walked around in a circle around a fire that was burning paperbark and we all got close to the smoke to inhale it so it would protect us and drive away the evil spirits. Our guide chanted while we walked. 

Afterwards he told us about his customs and how some of the local plants are used. It was very interesting. 

We enjoyed lunch and then went on a nature hike through the lush rainforest. Susan pointed out all of the interesting vines and trees along the way. We arrived at the rocky fast flowing water where kids were swimming. They were stupid because there were signs all over saying you cold not swim today because it was too dangerous. Susan said people do not listen to the warnings and some sadly drown. 

Before dinner, we meet with a marine biologist who talked about the Great Barrier Reef and coral bleaching. 

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most complex natural phenomena on earth.  It is composed of almost 3,000 individual reefs and it is so large it can be seen from outer space. 

The biologist said the reef is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coralpolyps. However, climate change, overfishing, and cyclones, among other things, have created lasting damage and has contributed to coral bleaching. 

When the water is too warm, corals expel algae that lives within their tissue. This causes the coral to become white. It isn’t dead and can possibly survive until conditions get better.  But if the detrimental conditions continue, the coral will continue to be under stress, and can die.  In 2020, a study found that the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its corals since 1995 due to warmer seas driven by climate change. 

It can take decades for coral to recover from a bleaching event so it is vital that these events are few and far between. 

After listening to the biologist, we went for dinner and then went back to our rooms to prepare for our outing tomorrow – snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. 

Turtle shell

Sawfish

Didgeridoo

Mother of pearl shell they use to make buttons out of

Delicious bread with butter and sugar cane syrup

Medicinal plant leaf

Eating a flower

Licking the end of the green ant

Spear throwing

My necklace slide to be

Smoking ceremony

A local Kuku Yalanji showing us his traditions. The large wooden piece on the right is used for protection if someone tries to injure you, for rain protection when placed on your head, for digging in the ground, for paddling when in the water, for carrying a child, and for carrying food etc. Very versatile.

The rainforest vines and foliage

We crossed a suspension bridge

Spotted a kookaburra

Rapids in the rainforest

Port Douglas

We had a delicious breakfast this morning. I am so hooked on the thick multigrain bread smeared with peanut butter and jam. So delicious! After breakfast we boarded the bus to take us to the airport.  Susan changed our flight and that’s why we were up so early. We flew directly to Cairns instead of first flying to Sydney. That was great news.  The only disappointing thing was, because of the change, we didn’t have the morning free, so we couldn’t take the helicopter ride over Uluru. 

It was such a wonderful experience being in central Australia – camping in the Outback  and learning so much about the Aborigines. We all said a fond palya as we left to go to the airport.  

 Bulletin:   I apparently have a McDonald’s foodie reputation with the group. Susan announced on the bus what restaurants would be in the airport when we landed and then added “And sorry Irene. No McDonald’s”!  The whole bus said. “Irene – Oh no!!!!”  Too funny!!

We had a wonderful flight. We had a nice sandwich and drink en route and then we met our bus driver who took us to pick up wine and snacks and then we went on to Port Douglas and the Oaks Resort Hotel. 

On the way, we drove along the coast and Susan said you can’t swim wherever you’d like because of sharks and crocodiles. The beaches have lifeguards that cull the water within the roped area everyday to make sure the swimmers will be safe. 

We also observed washed out areas and huge boulders that had traveled down the mountain side. Apparently there was a cyclone that came through in December and did quite a lot of flooding damage to the area.

We arrived at our hotel and checked into a  lovely suite…sitting area, large bedroom, and two nice patios off both the living room and bedroom. We even have a washer and dryer in our suite that Susan requested for us since we are such frequent OAT/Grand Circle travelers. This is our ninth trip! 

The best part is…we no longer need to wear our fly nets. No black flies here!!!  It’s about 80 degrees outside and we can take advantage of the pool if we’d like. 

Since today was a travel day, we had a free evening. We were invited to help celebrate one of our fellow traveler’s birthday in their room at 6 pm and then we ordered pizza at the restaurant and sat and laughed and chatted with some of the other travelers and then we went to bed. Busy day tomorrow. 

Palya Uluru

On our way to Port Douglas

Uluru

This morning we again had an early wake-up call to catch the sunrise at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National park. We wanted to watch the sunrise as it cast its rays onto Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock. Uluru is a large sandstone monolith that is sacred to the Aborigines. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site twice over and is only one of a few dozen sites that has achieved that status in the world. It was first recognized in 1987 for its rare plant life, geological formations, and its animals. And then in 1994 it received its second award for “the unique relationship between the natural environment and the belief system of the Aborigines, one of the oldest societies on earth.”

Uluru is noted for appearing to change color at different times of the day and year, most notably when it glows red at dawn and sunset.

As we entered the park to see the sunrise, Susan told us to say the word palya which means hello in the Aborigine language. It is a form of respect to the sacred monolith. Interestingly, the word also means goodbye, finish, and thank you.

Susan and Tristan arranged for us to have coffee, tea, and biscuits when we arrived at the park which we enjoyed in the darkness, and then we walked to one of the viewing platforms to wait for the sunrise.

It was dark and serene, and a few people had already arrived to witness the event. We stood quietly and watched as the sun started to emerge from the horizon and began to cast its colors and shadows on Uluru.

And what a sight it was!! The pictures do not do it justice. We all just kept taking pic after pic to capture the changing colors of the rock.

After sunrise, we went back to the resort and had breakfast and then we were out once again to visit the National Park and Kata Tjuta . While Uluru is the centerpiece of the national park, Kata Tjuṯa, meaning many heads, is sacred to the local Aboriginal Anangu people, who have inhabited the area for more than 22,000 years. It is an important focus of their spiritual life. It includes spectacular rock formations and we were able to walk to the gap area that made for a great photo op.

The walk wasn’t easy as the rocks and uneven stones made for difficult footing, but we persevered and Susan pointed out interesting points along the way.

As we boarded our coach to return for lunch, Susan passed out Tim Tam, a favorite chocolate cookie that the Australians love. It was very good, but very sweet.

After lunch we took an impromptu tour back at Uluru, getting up close and personal to the rock. First we visited the Cultural Center, which according to the brochure, “promises a warm welcome from the Anangu, the traditional owners of Uluru. It introduces visitors to Tjukurpa, which is the foundation of Aboriginal culture in the region and the traditional law that guides daily life for the Anangu people.” It was very interesting to learn the ways of these people.

After the visit to the center, we once again visited Uluru and Tristan told us many of the stories and legends of the different markings on the rock. He took us to a cave where paintings and markings from thousands of years ago were still present. We walked to a waterhole which is sometimes dry but today was beautiful with the water sparkling in the sun. It is a sacred area and Tristan asked us to meditate in silence for a few minutes as we gazed into the water.

Sunset was quickly approaching, but we made one more stop to a place where we could touch Uluru. There are places around the rock that the Anangu people have asked visitors not to photograph because of its sacredness, so of course we all complied. But we were able to touch the rock in a designated area. Tristan had the idea to photograph our shadows on the wall which made for a great pic.

We then had a lovely champagne party at sunset, with cheese and crackers as we watched the sun set and cast colors and shadows, just like sunrise, onto Uluru.

We left after the sunset and Allan and I and one of our friends Sharon went to dinner at a local pub. Tristan drove us over and then joined us for a soda. When we arrived, Allan and I selected our meat (2 lamb chops) and then we went over to the BBQ area and I grilled them myself. We also had unlimited salad bar to go with the meat.

Unfortunately, the lamb was fatty and very tough. We couldn’t even cut it no less eat it. We had the salad bar but we didn’t have the beer we were hoping for since they didn’t have any dark beer available.

We enjoyed talking with Tristan and Sharon and then Allan, Sharon, and I caught the shuttle back to our hotel in the resort to pack for our flight in the morning.

Beginning of sunrise

Uluru as the sun rose

The rocky path at Kata Tjuṯa

Kata Tjuṯa

Kata Tjuṯa

Kata Tjuṯa

One of the caves of Uluru.

Sunset party

Uluru at sunset

Our shadows on Uluru

Touching Uluru

Allan and me

Grilling lamb chops at the Outback pub.

The Southern Cross in the night sky

Kings Canyon

I’m a bit behind in my postings since I couldn’t post in the Outback, so I might be adding two days of postings today…one after the other… if I get back to the hotel in time tonight, so be on the lookout for yesterday’s and hopefully today’s adventures.

There are a few more things I want to say about our Outback camping adventure in this post.

First of all, the experience was almost spiritual. Wandering the camp with only a headlamp to illuminate the way and being under the canopy of stars, makes you realize how insignificant you are in this world. 

We were sitting around the campfire, and most everyone had already gone to their tent or swag, only Tristan and Jessie were still at the fire. When I got up to leave they all said goodnight Irene.  I said, you both are too young to know this, but there is a song entitled Goodnight Irene, and then I sang it softly for them. They said…that was just lovely. I thanked them and then I walked on to gather pillow and blanket for my evening under the stars. 

And the only other comment I’d like to make about our camping is…they need to install at least one mirror in the campground.  I took my shower at night… Of course no hair dryers, so in the morning my hair was a look… But not a good one. It would have been helpful to be able to tame my tresses with the help of a mirror. Our guide said no one wants to see what they look like after spending a night in the camp and I agree.. but I told her that some people might need eye drops and without the aid of a mirror, it would be difficult. She said good point. I never thought about that. So maybe there will be one mirror installed in the future.  You’re welcome future Outback campers!  

We had traveled the Stuart highway to arrive at our campgrounds, tracing the route forged by Scotsman John Stuart who managed to traverse Australia from north to south. The highway stretches almost 2,000 miles from Adelaide to Darwin. When traveling this road, you need to make sure you have plenty of water with you since if your vehicle breaks down, there’s nothing around for miles.  A lot of the road as I mentioned yesterday is dirt, with deep ruts. 

There is a service called the Royal Flying Doctor Service that uses the highway as an emergency landing strip and sections of the highway are used for that specific purpose. This is a service that provides emergency and primary care to people living in the remote areas of Australia. 

Camels and kangaroos can be seen crossing the road although we never saw any. The landscape was breathtaking, changing every few hundred miles. 

Camels you say?  That story began in the 1800’s when the early settlers came to realize that horses could not be relied upon to transverse the unforgiving  terrain, since water was not readily available. Hence the introduction of a few camels. The camels of course mated and eventually made their way deep into the Outback. Today, more than 500,000 to 1,000,000 feral camels roam the area. 

So now, I’ll talk about today’s adventure. 

We were again up bright and early and had breakfast at 5 and left the camp site before sunrise to drive to Kings Canyon. We wanted to take advantage of the cool morning for our three hour hike through the canyon. 

Tristan and Susan were adamant about the amount of water we needed to carry with us. They weren’t being annoying… It is actually the law and you can be fined if the rangers catch you without the required amount of water on your person. Some of the folks opted to do the very challenging hike but because of my wonky foot, Allan and I joined the group that went through the lower canyon rather than hiking the more challenging upward climb. 

Tristan added electrolyte powder to all of our  1.5 liter bottles. We were required to take one bottle for our hike, whereas the others needed two 1.5 liter bottles. People die every year in the canyon because of dehydration or from just being stupid and not walking on the designated paths. There are emergency phones along the way.  You press a button and a ranger will answer and you tell him where you are and what the emergency is. Then help is on the way. 

Our hike was still very challenging as we went over rocks and stones and we had to be careful of our footing.  But the scenery was so worth it as you will see in the photos. It was breathtaking gazing up at the canyon walls.  

After our hike, we set off for a picnic lunch at the Curtis Springs Station. On the way, we again stopped at the bushes along the way to pee, but I decided to wait for the next opportunity, which was a long hole toilet. It is called that because you can’t flush it. You do your business and everything just goes down and disappears into a long hole that goes God knows where. You have to be careful that you don’t drop your glasses or camera because…they are gone baby gone !  (And I’m sure if that happened you would say Aww Sh!t… pun intended!). 

At the toilet, I met an Aborigine family. I tried to make conversation, but they just nodded and said hello and that was it. My guide said that the Aborigines are very shy and do not look you in the eye. As of 2021, there were 983,700 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, representing 3.8% of the total Australian population.  Their culture is so interesting and I strongly recommend you research on your own. 

They believe the grounds at many of the sites we have and  will still visit, are sacred and should be treated as such. 

We arrived at our hotel which is really a resort. We all took showers to wash away the Outback and then met for a delicious dinner in the restaurant. 

After dinner Allan and I did our laundry. Washer and dryer was free as was the laundry detergent. While there, we met a lovely couple from India that were with a different tour group, basically following the same route we were taking. We chatted till our laundry was finished and the lady and man said they wished we were both traveling together. Such a nice sentiment. 

sunrise at Kings Canyon

Emergency call box

My bottle of electrolyte water

Beautiful scenery

Looking at the canyon walls

The salt flats

Our first glimpse of Uluru… Ayer’s Rock

The Outback

What an amazing day we had today!!! 

Breakfast was delicious at the hotel and then off we went to Simpsons Gap in the West MacDonald mountain range. The scenery was beautiful and we even spotted a wallaby looking down at us. 

Then it was a four hour drive to the Outback over a very rough unpaved road. Our driver had to get out and switch to 4-wheel drive to traverse the road.  We had stops along the way, even having a pee break where we all found a bush of our own and squated down, since there is literally nothing around for miles and miles. 

The big problem with the Outback is the black flies. They are all over no matter where you go. The flies don’t bite but they are always buzzing around your face and are really annoying. Thankfully we have the fly nets that go over our hats and they work great.  Fortunately, when the sun sets, the flies are gone. 

Our guides provided a delicious lunch for us along the way and then we stopped and we all worked together to collect wood for our camping experience. Allan helped cut the wood into the pieces needed for both the main fire pit and for the shower waters that are heated by firewood to keep the water in the tank hot. 

We arrived at our campsite and were greeted by Jen and Jessie, the camp hosts.  Allan got the fires started and we all helped the hosts whenever they needed it. We were told that we would be washing our own plates, glasses, and silverware in the sink which would be filled with hot water from the stove. Everyone works together. 

Susan took us on an orientation walk of the camp grounds. Everyone was assigned a tent and if we wanted to, we could sleep under the stars in a swag, using the tent to store our knapsacks.  She showed us the shower facilities. There were two showers, and you pull a chain across the path to the shower that says “Occupied” when you wanted to take a shower. The two toilets are also on the path and you again pull the chain across the path to let people know the toilet is in use. You were able to sit on the ‘throne’ and look out into the wilderness and when showering, you could do the same.

We had some wine and some cheese appetizers and the hosts came around with grilled kangaroo as well as camel burgers. The burgers were really good. 

We watched the sunset and then we all enjoyed a delicious BBQ with roasted potatoes, sausages, beef steak, and salad. 

After we helped clear and wash the dishes, three people took showers… Of course I was one of them. I wanted to experience showering under the stars. The night wasn’t too cold and the water was nice and hot since the fire had been going for quite awhile. The camp provided the towels, washcloths, and soap, shampoo, and conditioner.  

We were given head lamps since there is not much lighting to speak of around the grounds. There are only some solar lights along the pathways. These paths go to the cabins and also to the swag platforms, as well as to the bathroom facilities, but you have to be very careful as there are ruts and stones along the way. 

We sat around the fire for awhile and then Allan and I pulled the blankets from our tent along with the pillows, and we headed to our platform and crawled into our swags. 

I can’t begin to tell you how unbelievably magnificent the starry sky was. Of course since we are in Australia, we were seeing a different starry sky then what we normally see. The Southern Cross was very visible and the sky was cloudless and the stars twinkled non-stop all night long. 

We were comfy warm – even when the wind kicked up a bit. It was lovely being all snuggled in the swag, with the wind blowing gently across our faces. I had a great night’s sleep and we were up at 5 for breakfast, which was toast with peanut butter and jam, cheesey muffins, and an assortment of cereals.  

We stripped our bedding and brought it to the kitchen area and then bid goodbye to the camp staff as we went off for our hike in Kings Canyon. We needed to get an early start as the weather gets hot and it’s better to hike before the sun starts beating down. 

Camping in the Outback was amazing and it was awesome to eat, shower, and sleep under the stars.  Looking up at the vast and starry sky, it makes you really appreciate just being alive. 

Walking through the National Park

We spied a wallaby

The rock formations were magnificent

Cutting wood on the way to our camping site. (When we were done, we all found a private little bush to pee behind. Could not leave any tissue paper behind.)

We all wore gloves and helped collect wood. Had to make sure no termites. Allan helped saw the larger pieces.

Everyone helped to load the wood into our vehicle.

We arrived at our camping site. It definitely was but glamping!!! Here’s where we enjoyed dinner under the stars.

We each had a tent to store our overnight bag.

The outside of the tents

The sleeping platforms for the swags. The swags are stored inside.

The wood burning heater for hot water for the shower. Allan was helpful getting the fire started.

The shower. The toilet area had flushing toilet as well as a sink. I didn’t take a photo but it looked just like the shower area.

We had some appetizers while we waited for the sun to set.

Allan and I connected wood and Allan for the blaze roaring. Then someone else was assigned to keep it going by adding more wood.

One of our travelers holding kangaroo meat. It was delicious!

One of the people who run the camp. He cooked camel burgers for us to try. Delicious!!!

Camel meat

The beginning of the glow of sunset

Sunset.

Our driver Tristan helping to cook our dinner

Australian BBQ!!! Glad they fired up the barbie!

Tucked into my swag all cozy and warm.

The starry sky. This photo doesn’t come close to what the sky actuallylooked like.

Alice Springs

Our box breakfast

This morning we were up very early to leave the hotel at five to arrive at the airport for our first flight to Sydney and then to continue on to our next flight to Alice Springs. We were given a box breakfast since the hotel cafeteria would be closed. It contained milk, a cereal that was very tasty, orange juice, and an oat bar. The whole meal was very satisfying. 

We arrived at the airport and Susan our guide was very efficient and had us all checked in through security, and boarding the plane in record time. Qantas is VERY strict about luggage weight and you cannot go over the limit even by an ounce, so we all made sure we were well within the limit.  

On the plane to Sydney we were served a delicious breakfast sandwich and a beverage. 

The flight was only about an hour or so and then we boarded our next flight to Alice Springs which was about a 3 hour flight. We  were served a nice snack and beverage. 

We had already been advised to bring a hat and mosquito netting to put over it because of the flies, and they weren’t kidding. The minute we deplaned, the flies were buzzing around our faces. They don’t bite…they are just annoying. 

We picked up our luggage and then walked to meet our driver and guide Tristan who we will be with during our time here. 

Tristan is a certified guide who will oversee our Outback camping experience and it is vital that we pay attention to both him and Susan since the Outback can be a dangerous  place. People die each year because of dehydration and the Australian government has instituted strict rules about the amount of water that you must carry when hiking in the Outback. 

The vehicle that will be ferrying us around has large wheels for the terrain as well as a huge water container that will be filled each day for our use. It has a trailer on the back for our luggage. 

Our first stop was the Alice Springs Telegraph Station that was established in 1871 to relay messages between Darwin and Adelaide along the telegraph line. Prior to the line, a message to England would travel by boat and take 3-4 months each way. After the telegraph was built, Morse code messages could arrive in London as quickly as five hours. In today’s standards that seems unbelievably slow, but back then, it was a revolutionary. 

The Telegraph Station operated for 60 years, after which time the buildings served as a school and ‘Bungalow’ for Aboriginal children from 1946 to 1972. These children came to be known as “The Stolen Generation” who were forcibly removed from their families by the government supposedly for the children’s assimilation into white society and for their welfare. The Anglican Church has recently apologized for its compliance in these policies.

After hearing the history of the site, we walked around and then had lunch. Fans were going to keep the flies at bay, but we were lucky since there was a lovely breeze so we ate outdoors without a problem. I tried ginger beer which was quite delicious. 

While walking around the grounds we spied a very colorful bird and Susan told us it was a galah.  

The next stop was the Alice Springs School of the Air. This school caters to primary and early secondary education for children in remote Outback areas or places throughout Australia where the school age population is too small to warrant a conventional school.  

It was founded in 1951 by Adelaide Miethke and the schooling was originally conducted via radio. Of course now with technology, the students have computers and internet connections for their schooling. 

Each student had direct contact with a teacher and spends about one hour receiving their lessons and the rest of the time is spent on homework and working on the assignments the teacher has assigned. The school provides all the equipment needed for the students and since it is a public school, it does not cost the families much money to maintain the equipment and for the required school fees.  It is mandatory that each student have a tutor who goes through training at the school. It can be a parent or the parents sometimes hire a governess to live with them to aid in the schooling. Years ago, learning packets were mailed each month in mail bags to the children for their use, but now, everything is delivered via the internet.  

Since the children are isolated, the School of Air tries to socialize these children as well, so they are required to get together 3-4 times a year, attending the actual school for a week and meeting with the teachers and classmates who they only had been seeing via computer each day. 

At present, there are about 150-170 students enrolled. The school has a classroom with a green screen and cameras, and the children can see each other as they interact with the teacher during the live lesson, asking and answering questions by pushing a button on their computers. The children are schooled in the basics as well as music, art, language (last year they learned Japanese) and we even watched a lesson that taught the children how to hold and swing a baseball bat for their sports curriculum requirement. 

It is an amazing concept and according to studies, these children fare equally (and most times better) scholastically than their peers who attend conventional schools. 

We bid farewell to the school and drove to the Anzac Hill Memorial dedicated to all those members of the armed services who gave their lives in the wars that Australia participated in through the years. Anzak Day, similar to our Veterans Day, is celebrated on April 25. 

Before going to our hotel for the evening, we stopped at a convenience store to get some supplies for our overnight tomorrow in the Outback. We picked up wine, snacks, and depending on what hike we would be taking in the Outback, the mandatory required water supply.

Tristan and Susan, being trained in Outback regulations, will be the ones to determine who in our group would be eligible to take the 3 hour early morning hike the morning after our Outback overnight. The terrain is risky, rocky, and at times, the only way to navigate the climb is by crawling on hands and knees. Tristan would be guiding the ones who would be able to hike, making sure of their safety. Susan will be taking the others on an easier hike into the canyon.  Those people will also be required to take sufficient water with them. 

Each year, people die of dehydration because they do not understand how hot and dry the air is and how quickly things can go south if not well prepared. 

Because of my wonky foot, I would not be allowed on the more dangerous hike, which is fine with me as I’m not sure even with a good foot it would have been something I would have undertaken.  Allan and I will be content to hike the flat paths through the lower canyon. 

We arrived at our hotel and we were warned not to travel alone outside, as the area recently has been experiencing robberies by young gangs. As a matter of fact, there were riots recently because the mayor had instituted a curfew for kids and they were not allowed out on the streets after 6 pm. The kids took to the streets in protest so the curfew was lifted. 

We felt completely safe, however, and we dined in the restaurant at the hotel and had a delicious meal with a complimentary glass of wine. The hotel has a swimming pool as well as a casino. 

Then it was back to our rooms to pack our knapsacks with what we will need for our overnight under the stars.  We will not have access to our other luggage.  

The journey tomorrow will be long as we will be traveling deep into the Outback for our adventure. 

Replica of one of the first telegraph poles.

Our Outback vehicle

The latest fashion statement! Mosquito netting

Aznak hill

Kangaroos and Dandenong Ranges

We were up early for breakfast and once again, it was a very nice buffet selection of delicious food. Among the condiments offered for breakfast was a jar of Vegemite. I decided to try it on a piece of toast. When it first hit my tongue, I thought, hmmm…this isn’t too bad, but then the bitter taste kicked in, and yuck…it’s actually pretty vile. I stuck with scrambled eggs, baked tomato, and a thick slice of toasted raisin bread smeared with peanut butter and marmalade. Delicious!

I forgot to mention in my other posts, that all over Melbourne, you can see scooters parked on the sidewalks. We were curious. Do people just borrow them and then leave them somewhere else?  Apparently, you can purchase a card and that card allows you to take a scooter and use it for as long as you like, and then you can leave it anywhere so the next person who might need it can pick it up. Helmets are also attached to the scooters. It’s a pretty neat system.

Australia is now in its fall season and the weather is quite lovely. Apparently summers are extremely hot and very humid and not very pleasant for touring so we are happy that we opted to travel at this time of year, which is autumn. 

After breakfast, we boarded our coach and our driver and guide Graham took us on a journey to the Dandenong Ranges, a set of low mountain ranges that are covered in a thick temperate rainforest with gorgeous vegetation.

On the way, he stopped so we could see the eastern grey kangaroos up close. They were sunning themselves and the mom had babies in her pouch and joeys alongside of her. There are millions of kangaroos in Australia and they are culled by hunters for meat. The meat is high in protein with very low fat.  (I did whisper softly to them that I was very sorry, but in all probability, I probably ate one of their relatives last night. And then I hightailed it as fast as my wonky foot would let me back to the coach!!). However, if truth be told, kangaroos very rarely attack humans, but can cause serious injury if they feel cornered. Their sharp claws can make deep cuts, and their powerful kicks can cause severe bruising and internal injuries. Usually, they will just flee before engaging in a fight with a human. The males however will spar with each other for dominance, but rarely to the death. It is almost a gentlemanly fight, where the victor will come out practically unscathed and the loser might come away with a torn ear, some scars and a few bruises.

The Commonwealth Coat of Arms is the formal symbol of Australia, comprised of a shield held up by a kangaroo and an emu. These animals were chosen as they are native to Australia and they symbolise the nation moving forward. This is because those animals can only sit with their legs forward and neither animal can move backward easily.

After spending time with the kangaroos, we continued on. What a beautiful temperate rainforest. We saw huge mountain ash trees and beautiful ferns and the entire rainforest was bursting with life. It was a perfect day – not too warm and the sunlight that filtered through the treetops was stunning. 

The forest is prone to bushfires which can decimate the area, but the beautiful truth is, under the fallen trees and the ashes, seeds are waiting to come forth and the cycle of life will begin anew. 

Our guide Graham was wonderful and his love for the rainforest and the respect he has for nature was so evident as he walked with us and explained all about the vegetation, the wildlife, and what the different markings on the majestic trees meant. 
He showed us evidence of where wallabys had sharpened their claws on the barks of the trees, and how the trees rid themselves of disease, and how the bark of the mountain ash strips off and makes a ground cover on the forest floor. This unfortunately is great tinder for the bush fires.

The Dandenong Ranges are home to the sulfur-crested cockatoo, the laughing kookaburra, and the crimson rosella. As we walked along, the birds were screeching to each other, no doubt letting each other know that humans were around. Wallabys and wombats also reside in the forest. We walked to a lovely waterfall and just stood, admiring the beauty and enjoying the serenity.

We had a delicious lunch in a little town called Sassafras, and afterwards, we were able to peruse the boutique shops that were nearby. 

Graham then drove us to the SkyHigh lookout to view the flat plain of the mountain divide separating the wet east coast from the drier part of the continent. It was a beautiful panorama. We stopped for ice cream on our drive back to the hotel and then we bid Graham a fond goodbye. He was a wonderful naturalist and the perfect person to show us this lush vista which is unbelievably, only an hour from bustling Melbourne.  

Tomorrow we have to get up early to be on the coach at 5 am to catch our flights to Alice Springs. Qantas is very strict about weight limits. Our main suitcase that will be checked can weigh no more than 50 lbs and our carry-ons (we are allowed a knapsack size and small personal item) which together can weigh no more than 30 lbs the heaviest weighing a maximum of 22 lbs. We are well under the limit, even factoring in the two bottles of wine we purchased to enjoy while star gazing in the Outback. There is no limit on liquids…you just have to be under the weight limit.

See you tomorrow in Alice Springs!

Mountain ash trees

Wallaby scratchings

Vista from Skyhigh lookout

The Australian coat of arms

Melbourne, McDonald’s, and Kangaroo

Today Allan and I took it easy and didn’t go on the morning tour as we had seen just about everything on our first free day here. 

Plus, my foot was a little wonky from all the walking we did on our first day, so went to see a doctor at St. Vincent’s Medical Center. We were able to ride the free tram which took us a block away from the hospital. After ruling out a fracture, the doctor prescribed some meds for me to take to ease the inflammation.  She also said rest and ice the foot as much as possible.   

The hospital staff was so efficient… From triage, to the nurses, and to the doctor.  Everyone was so kind and I felt I was in good hands. 

We took the tram back, picked up the meds at the pharmacy, and stopped for lunch at McDonald’s. I couldn’t resist my go-to place for comfort food. It did the trick! 

Our guide Susan was so caring and helpful as was the reception desk at our hotel. Aussies are wonderful and caring. We’re very happy to be here. 

We had our Welcome Dinner tonight and enjoyed a delicious dinner of kangaroo. It was the loin part of the animal and was tender and tasted just like a prime steak. It was served with kalamata olives, stringbeans and roasted potatoes. Delicious. We had sticky date pudding for dessert. 

Getting back to the hotel was a little rough since everyone is out and about so the tram was packed and we couldn’t get on the first one that came.  The group decided not to wait for the next tram, but to walk back to the hotel instead, but I didn’t want to walk that far considering my foot. After a 25 minute wait, the next tram finally arrived. It was also packed, but we managed to push our way in and off we went.

About halfway into our destination, a woman with obviously a mental issue, came storming down the aisle pushing everyone aside screaming and ranting. She got to the exit door right where Allan and I were standing, so that was a little scary since she was REALLY angry and screaming. She kept pushing the button to open the door while the tram was moving and then she pulled the emergency lever and the tram slammed to a stop. She kept trying to get out while screaming and cursing, and finally she got the door open and left. The tram moved on and we arrived safely at our stop and walked the short distance back to the hotel.

Always an adventure!

Our kangaroo dinner

My comfort food. (sigh)

They serve water in liquor bottles. Such a great idea!

Another day in Melbourne and meeting the rest of our group

We slept fairly well and then had breakfast at the hotel which was very good. We then decided to take the free tram that took you around the city in a loop, stopping at sites along the way. The buildings in the city are so unique and it was very enjoyable not to have to walk to see them but just sit back and enjoy the ride.

There are lots of McDonald’s around (called Macca by the locals) so if course we checked it out. McDonald’s first opened in Australia in 1971, and it wasn’t long before the locals started calling it “Macca’s” – a nickname that has stuck ever since. There are several theories about how this came about, but the most likely explanation is that it was simply a shortened version of McDonald’s. The menu is the same except the breakfast menu is called Brekkie. We didn’t try the food, but I did have to pose for the picture.

We each purchased two myki tram cards totaling $26.40 Australian ($17.42 US) which allowed us to ride any tram anywhere for the rest of the day. We decided to travel to St. Kilda beach.

The tram was crowded but we finally reached our destination and walked to where the sand and the water meet. The beach was nothing exciting to see, but watching the sailboats and breathing the sea air was very pleasant.

Our friend Debbie was already there and we all sat down and had lunch right on the water. Allan and I had the fish and chips which was very good.

We sat for awhile chatting and enjoying the view and then took a tram back to the hotel to get ready for the orientation meeting where we would meet the rest of our group.

At the orientation meeting, we met our guide Susan as well as all the folks that will be on the trip with us. We all introduced ourselves and told a little about ourselves and Susan gave us a lot of information about the upcoming days and what to expect. There are 14 folks on the trip and they all seem like they are a lot of fun.

Susan gave each of us a small packet of Vegemite, a thick, dark brown food spread made from leftover brewers’ yeast with vegetables and spices added to it. It was developed by Cyril Callister in 1922. I haven’t tasted it yet, but apparently it has a salty flavor similar to beef bouillon, as well as a bitter malty taste. People spread it on their toast for breakfast. I probably would like it because I love salt rather than sweet and I love anything malty. Will let you know when I sample it some day.

After the meeting, one of the couples told us about an Italian restaurant they came across…A25… And so after a drink in the lounge with Debbie, the three of us went for an Italian dinner. I had the Napoli with homemade fettuccine and Allan had lasagne and we both enjoyed a red wine to go with our meal.

Tomorrow, we will be changing out of daylight savings time and our clocks will go back one hour.

We ate at the Beachcomber restaurant on the water.

The Yarra river

Of course… The obligatory Macca pic!

We’ve arrived! Melbourne, Australia

We had to take two flights before we would arrive at our destination – Melbourne, Australia – first to Dallas with United and then the almost 18 hour flight to Melbourne on Qantas. We did have turbulence upon leaving Jersey, and even the pilot was surprised that it was so rough, but he was able to get above the storm and the rest of the flight was uneventful. 

The flight with Qantas was wonderful. We had plenty to eat, were given soft PJ’s with a kangaroo on them to sleep in if we so desired, and the flight crew was amazing, bringing us extra drinks and food whenever we asked. I requested a glass of wine and a cheese plate in the middle of the night, and it was delivered with a smile. 

With 18 hours to keep myself busy, I watched movies and read. Of course, I had to watch my favorite movie – Dirty Dancing, which I’ve seen about 100 times. Just love it!  And Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was another oldie but goodie that made the time pass by. 

And, I probably got about 7 hours sleep. It’s so nice to be able to stretch out in a comfy bed. The flight attendant even put a nice cushion cover on top of the bed and so along with the pillow and blanket, it was lights out!

At the end of the flight we met another traveler, Debbie, who is in our group and it was nice to be together and get to know each other. 

Our hotel is in a convenient location to the tram as well as to the shops, etc. and our room is very nice, with an almost floor to ceiling window that overlooks the city. We  took a shower after checking into our room and then went with our new friend for a walk over to the South Melbourne Market, that was recommended for us to visit by one of our flight attendants. On the way to the market, we passed the Melbourne Heliport, where I was lucky to catch one of the choppers as it took off into the sun. It reminded me of a Miss Saigon poster. 

We arrived at the market, where you could  purchase anything and everything from vegetables and fruit, to knick knacks, pastries, meats, fish, rugs, shoes, clothing, and so much more!  And….you could even get your hair cut and styled. It was 1-stop shopping. There were also a lot of kiosks to purchase food but it was 9 am and we really weren’t hungry as we had already eaten breakfast on the plane. 

People are very friendly here and one lady stopped to ask if we needed help as she saw us trying to decipher our map and she kindly pointed the way to the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and Kings Domain.  

The Royal gardens feature more than 8,500 species of plants from around the world and many were still in bloom. There are many statues throughout the garden honoring the soldiers who fought in WWI. 

I was very moved seeing the Australian Turkish Friendship monument and reading the inscription surrounding it.  The sculpture is shaped as a crescent made from interwoven steel. It honors the soldiers who died in the conflict and poppy flowers can be placed into the steel filigree.  In front of the wreath are two seed pods symbolizing the future and friendship. The inscription reads “Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives – You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore, rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies  and Mehmets to us, where they lay side by side. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives, they are now our sons as well “. 

We walked by the Shrine of Remembrance built to honor the men and women of Victoria who served in World War I. It now functions as a memorial to all Australians who have served in any war. and is one of the largest war memorials in Australia. 

We went into the Galleries of Remembrance which is housed under the Shrine, and presents the stories of Australians in wartime for more than 100 years.  The Gallery of Medals symbolizes the sacrifice of men and women by displaying 4,000 war medals in glass cases.  

We went into the crypt where the ships lost at sea are commemorated in bronze and in the center of the crypt is a statue of a father and son, honoring the courage of the two generations who fought in the two world wars. 

We had a beverage and a little rest in the Gallery coffee shop before we walked along the Yarra river and went to Federation Square and had a bite to eat outside the National Gallery of Victoria which we might visit tomorrow. 

We went back to the hotel to rest up before dinner. Allan and I had a glass of wine in the lounge before meeting up with Debbie and we all walked to Chinatown to find the Chinese restaurant that was recommended to us – Shanghai Street. We found it…and the line wove around the corner to get in and didn’t seem to be moving, so we popped in to another restaurant across the street and had bento boxes. The meal was okay, different food items from what I am used to, but we were hungry and tired so we ate and walked back to the hotel. 

Melbourne is a cosmopolitan city with beautiful architecture, a young vibe, and a city beat. As we strolled back to our hotel, we saw people eating dinner at sidewalk eateries enjoying the beautiful evening, greeting friends at bars where the music within floated out to the people passing by, or just walked companionably side by side, pausing to listen to the street performers singing and playing instruments. The streets were crowded and everyone seemed happy and full of life. 

We were exhausted, so we bid Debbie a good night and Allan and I went to our room and plopped into bed. 

We’ll leave the Melbourne nightlife experience for another evening. 

An assortment of pasteries at the market

One of the statues depicting WW I soldiers

Shrine of Remembrance

flowers in bloom

Dinner last night. And that was for one person!! There was also mochi for dessert that we had in Japan.