Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wednesday, Oct 28th, Sydney


The Sydney Opera House is more than an opera house.  It’s a studio that seats 300, and in which we saw a musical titled “Velvet” last night. Think Studio 54 disco party meets Cirque du Soleil, with some Las Vegas showgirls and the world hula-hoop champ in lights.  It’s a theater circle stage that seats 400, and 4500 rooms underneath it all to support all of them.  

To top it off, the large shells with a million panels that you associate with it aren’t even attached to the venues below, nor are the shells connected to each other.   And all the main electrical wiring, water, sewage, and ventilation systems are above the venue and below the shells. And you thought it was just a weird design.

Since we parked our car in the hotel garage yesterday, we’ve taken two trains, two ferries, and nine buses.  We always figure out the transit system by just about the time we leave, and Sydney will take every minute.  They integrate each part well, and the payment process works easily, they just need to improve the mapping and signage. 

Desperately needing my surf-watching fix, we took the ferry to Manley today.  Manley beaches are world famous to surfers, and currently host some of the best surf schools.  We watched teams of instructors take about a hundred students through running, swimming, and paddling drills before any could get their surfing feet wet.  Just off and on the Boardwalk were also rollerblade and skateboard schools, and volleyball trainings.

There’s a film/benefit on aboriginal stockmen at the university we’re going to tomorrow night, but we’re not sure what is happening during the day.  It’s our last full day before we leave, and that’s usually a good time to just relax.  I doubt if there will be any more photos, so I hope you’ve all enjoyed the trip as much as we have.  We’re glad the stock market seems to have rebounded from when we left.  Looks like we get to keep traveling.

Here is a link to the photos from yesterday and today.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Monday, Oct 26th, Sydney


Our circle route today into the Blue Mountains, east of Sydney, was more than we expected.  Thirty-five million years ago, the sea floor off the coast of a smaller Australia rose up about four miles.  It was among the last events in the 60-million year breakoff of the continent from its home in the supercontinent, Gondwana. 

Since then, lots have happened, including volcanos covering the whole place with lava several times.  But the soft sea floor residue, now hardened sandstone and siltstone, has eroded under and around it.  The resulting wide valleys, formed over millions of years when rivers of water melted from periods of ice age climate, reveal absolutely stunning vistas.  None of them are going to displace Arizona’s Grand Canyon, but the infrastructure, promotion, and allied support from nearby communities makes them great places to visit.

Later, we visited the Blue Mountains Mt Tomah Botanical Garden.  "Tomah" is the aboriginal word for Fern Tree, and they had several varieties (hard and soft-sided trunks).  The also had Dawn Redwoods and a really beautiful set of displays for cave-exploring and geology history.  All for free.

We're off to Sydney for our last place to stay.  Home on Friday.

Here is a link to the photos we took yesterday.
Sunday, Oct 25th, Penrith

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Saturday, Oct 24th, Ulladulla


A town with a mangrove marine reserve, geology walk, fossil cliffs, several surf schools, and a golf course along the beach - must have been a lot of fun.  It was, except that it rained more than anytime on our trip.  We did love the Mangrove reserve, complete with oysters on the tree trunks.  We caught up on some television, went to a movie (Burnt - we recommend it),  and took a nice ride up the coast and back.

We did get to see the fossils and the rocks, both on the beach last night, and this morning on geology walk.  My suggestion is that the town redo its brochures to include a map, and make sure the Information Center staff all know where it is. We also stumbled upon an additional walk around a nearby point containing hand-carved wooden tributes to aboriginal and environmentally-sensitive living.

Finally, we stopped by Fitzroy Falls on the way to the Blue Mountains.   What a gorgeous waterfall.  One of the top 15 we have ever seen, especially if you include the valley it falls into.  Wow!

Here are two links to yesterday and today's photos.
Friday, Oct 23rd, Ulladulla
Saturday, Oct 24th, Penrith

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wednesday, Oct 21st, Canberra


Today, we spent the morning at the Australian National Film and Sound Archive, and the afternoon at the Australian National Botanical Garden and the Heritage Nursery.  We learned about the country's colonization of its northern neighbor (Papua New Guinea) from 1948 to 1975, and then about the colonization of Australia by the plant community.  The short of it was that the plants were a heck of a lot more successful.

And at dinner tonight, we talked about under what conditions two cultures could interact successfully when values, governance, and technology were so far apart.  Is it inevitable that colonization and conflict result?  Is it made more inevitable when valuable resources are coveted?  Can international bodies like the UN really dissuade bad outcomes?  Are prime directives (think early Star Trek episodes) implementable?

I'm going to work to see that the NFSA's library of films and radio programs are fully-digitized, and made available online.  Their historical and cultural value is unparalleled, incorporating much of the materials produced by the British during and after World War II.  It was a pleasure to spend a few hours in their luxurious theaters and sound studios watching unique perspectives on the history of Australia.

And thanks very much to The Heritage Nursery staff for assembling and operating such an excellent nursery.  It was an wonderful ending point for our day, and we only wish we could have brought a bundle of plants home with us.

Here is a link to the photos we took today.
Wednesday, Oct 21st, Canberra


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tuesday, Oct 20th, Canberra


The Australian National University was the right place to stay in Canberra.  The University House rents out vacant apartments which are in the middle of student activities, cafes, seminars, and a bus ride from public facilities like botanic gardens, arboretums, galleries, and museums.  The bus system is puzzling, but it stops within reasonable walking distance of most we wanted to see.

But it would be hard to miss the National Museum and Gallery.  These two structures have architectural signatures which demand plenty of attention.

Inside both were outstanding collections of aboriginal and colonial art which complemented the stories and insights we've collected in our travels this trip.  In addition, it provided us with significant planning background on the 70% of the country we aren't seeing this time, and which we hope to get to in the future.

The Parliament building, housing 4,500 rooms, should not be missed.  But what is outside pales with the dynamic contrasts playing out in the inner chambers.  The barely-civil, verbal jousting which occurs during the daily "question time", between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Party membership, is a refreshing dose of partisan politics - served with humor and wit.  As we've recently become devoted "footies", we're beginning to find Australian legislative games a whole lot more enjoyable than ours.

Here is a link to the photos taken over the past two days.  Monday and Tuesday, Oct 19-20th, Canberra, Australia.   

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday, Oct 18th, Eden


We're staying in a lot of one-night places along this road trip, and we hate leaving something behind in the hotel room.  We have a variety of electronic devices, with their attendant power and connector cables, batteries, and carrying cases.  We also have books, keys, wallets, glasses, and water bottles. So we're finding that it pays to be a little obsessive compulsive in our approach to packing.  Every item goes in the same case, and in the same part of our luggage.  Each of our carry-ons has many pockets, and the same things go in each pocket every day.  Our bathroom ditty bags contain the same items, each in the exact place as when we began the trip.  It seems to be working, as we've only lost one little adapter so far.

The southern coast of Australia continues to charm and amaze us.  Today, we turned down onto a road to see a small wharf.  As we pulled into the tight little parking lot at the bottom of the hill, Pat spied whales a few hundred feet from the dock.  For thirty minutes, three humpback whales checked us out before heading back out of the harbor.  Yesterday, we came across a right whale playing in the shallows just off a rocky point we were hiking.

The Surf Rescue Clubs at several of the coastal towns invited their residents to come out to the beaches to refresh their beach and surf skills, and to see some demonstrations of the team in rescue operations.   I felt like I was six years old again, and was beginning to be taken under the wings of my hometown lifeguards.

We'll be driving inland to Australia's capital city, Canbarra, tomorrow to stay in the dorms at the Australia National University for two days.

Here is a link to the photos we took today.
Sunday, Oct 18th, Eden


Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday, Oct 16th, Metung


We are eating more breakfasts than usual. Getting up each morning at 7am, with an ambition to take to the road for a couple hundred miles, our stomachs demand some attention.  A typical includes a long tall coffee, eggs, bacon, and toast for Pat; orange juice, hot chocolate, and ham and cheese crossaint for me.  Exploring all day until 4-5pm, we're also not having dinners as large as usual, either.

The town of Mahun anchors the eastern end of Gippsland Lakes, just behind ninety-mile beach.  To explore it well, we needed a boat.  Seals and dolphin greeted us at the start, and our journey throughout its inlets, waterways, and lakeside communities revealed terns, gulls, cormorants, pelicans, egrets, and eagles.

And a hot, muggy morning turned into a very comfortable afternoon.

Here is a link to the few photo we took.
Friday, Oct 16th, Metun

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Thursday, Oct 15th, Waratah Bay


Australian museums rock.  The country’s history is chock full of fascinating events, colorful people, and writers and photographers who captured it.  But it takes really creative curators, dedicated staff, and generous donors to come up with the museum exhibit designs we’ve seen on this trip.  Throughout Australia, localities have protected important early communities and facilities, preserved the records which tell the stories, and organized volunteers to run the operations.  The larger, more traditional museums in the main cities coordinate by publishing brochures featuring these resources in thematic collections, making it easier for visitors to know the geographic and topical inventory available.  There seems to not be much of a museum caste system in either governmental or private resources.

We’re heading southeast of Melbourne toward the coast again.  Tonight, we had dinner in K&O’s Bar and Grill in Fish Creek, after spending some time in Alison Lestor’s home gallery.  Alison is one of Australia’s most popular children’s book author, and Pat bought one of her books about MAcQuarie Island (between Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica).   Having spent time recently in Antarctica, the drawings, text, and issues in the book were familiar.  As Alison’s also a local surfer, and member of the aptly named Swell Mamas, seeing her surfboard hanging up in the gallery didn’t hurt her popularity with me either.

We also checked out the Prom, a peninsula south of here with granite rocks on coastal mountains overlooking beautiful beaches.  There should be more of that on our drive to Metung tomorrow.

Here is a link to the few photos taken today.
Thursday, Oct 15th, Waratah Bay

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tuesday, Oct 13th, Melbourne


Well, there are some days when everything goes wrong.  Yesterday was almost one of them, and would have - had it not been for the kindness of some strangers who have become friends.

But first, we stopped by the oldest jail in Australia, and saw the conditions awaiting those men and women who rebelled at being long-term indentured servants to the free Tasmanian merchants and farmers.  

And then, we went on a tour of the first Cadbury Chocolate Factory established outside of England in 1905.  As I type this, I'm eating some delicious milk chocolate we bought.

Arriving from Tasmania at the Melbourne Airport, we learned from Jason at East West Rental Cars that we had reserved our car for Oct 12th to Oct 31st, 2016!  Worse yet, a motorcycle race coming up in Melbourne had reserved all the cars available for the next week.

Trying our best to maintain our sense of humor, we explored all of our options with Jason.  He called (remember, we have no phone) the internet car rental broker who connected us with him, and found another company who could rent us (at more cost) a manual drive (ugh) clone of the one we had requested.  

Later last night, we successfully navigated our way to our next accommodation address in Melbourne city center (no easy feat in a city with a lot of one-way and very narrow streets in that area).  It was an 18-story apartment complex, in which some apartments were being brokered for short-term rentals.  Except that our reservation was for Oct 12-14th, 2016, and no one knew we were coming or were there to open it up for us.

A resident, Benjamin, on his phone and standing outside the very secure entrance, came to our rescue.  Responding to Pat’s "We need your phone" plea, he called the number we had for our building contact (Katrina).  Again, we encountered only the best support from both of them.  Benjamin, a Malaysian citizen studying human resources locally, let us into the building lobby to sit on the couch while Katrina found us another apartment (which turned out to be an expensive two-bedroom, with absolutely die-for views, on the 16th floor). 

Oh well, the day was already setting records for throwing us curves.  To cap it off, we very narrowly escaped being run over while jay-walking crossing the street in front of our apartment as we returned from retrieving some dinner.  We looked the wrong way, and I had to pull Pat through the air across two lanes to avoid being hit by a phalanx of cars. 

We awoke today to a more normal day.  We left our car in the complex garage, and walked or used the metro bus and tram system to explore downtown Melbourne.  It was an architectural and cultural cornucopia.  We completed a 5km walking tour, rode the Circle City Tram, and stopped in for a tour of the Parliament.  We hope to see two museums tomorrow.

Here is a link to the photos we took today.
Tuesday, Oct 13th, Melbourne

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday, Oct 11th, Richmond, Tasmania


Richmond Bridge has the oldest stone bridge in Australia.  Built by convict labor in 1625, it's no accident that the town has the oldest jail (1825) and church (1836).  The Bridge was necessary to establish the colony from 1834 to 1853 at Port Arthur, where the main convict processing operations took place (where we began this visit to Tasmania).

Tasmania has been everything we expected and more.  It ranks up there with places we agree we could live, although I'd really need to experience the other seasons.  We've had higher than normal temperatures, and less rain.  The radio talk show commentaries have been excellent, keeping us up with government leadership changes and controversial issues.  And the locals seem to have a good handle on the work/life balance, though it took some adjustment slowing down in the late afternoons when businesses closed. Thank goodness for the improving wifi.

Tomorrow, we fly back to Melbourne, and have 19 days to get to Sydney.  Other than seeing more of the coast, parks, and people, we're keeping the schedule and route flexible.  Our hosts for tonight, Simone and Mathew Carter, of Richmond Barracks, have suggested some of their favorite stopping points, and we look forward to checking each out.

Here is a link to the few photos we took today.
Sunday, Oct 11th, Richmond

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Saturday, Oct 10th, Derwent Bridge


If Tasmania is described as looking from space like a big heart, then we’re about center left (where the right atrium meets the right ventricle).  The town is called Derwent Bridge, and it’s famous for three things: the end of the 65-kilometer overland trail across Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park from Ronnie Creek (where we were yesterday); the home of Greg Duncan, whose “Wall” of sculpted wooden carvings is becoming a huge tourist attraction; and the site of Tasmania’s oldest rocks (1.45 billion years along Lyell Road). 

We’re spending the night at 14785 Lyell Road at the Derwent Bridge Cottages, earlier today met hikers finishing the trek while we had ice cream at the National Park headquarters, and just got back from Greg Duncan’s amazing studio. 

Building over a decade his 100-meter long, three-meter high, Huon pine tribute to the people and industries which contributed to the area’s history, Duncan has redefined wood-carving to present DaVinci-quality figures, tools, and materials. 

Here is a link to he photos we took today.
Saturday, Oct 10th, Derwent Bridge.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thursday, Oct 8th, Deloraine


Tasmania takes much more than a week to see.  Nevertheless, our travel hopes were to see as much of the coast, mountains, and major tourist attractions as possible.  We've visited the area around Hobart, and the coast north of it.  As we head out to the rest, we've chosen to circle the major mountain range in the middle of the island.  The rest of the coast is probably beautiful, but the roads leading to them are  isolated and mostly long arteries.

Today, we followed the trail to the "cute" towns which were founded by sheep ranchers in the early 1800's.  We even drove over a bridge built by ten of them, and supervised by a robber sentenced to death, who became a successful businessman in the town.

The successful sheep ranchers came from England as free men, petitioned the government after a few years here to acquire huge tracts of land, and then contracted convict labor in the 1830's to build the structures.

One family, the Archers, has lived on the Woolmer and Brickendom estates for seven generations. Unlike other tourist destination historic estates, all of the furnishings within are original belonging to the family.  Unfortunately, they wouldn't allow photographs inside, because the tables, chairs, porcelin, and art rivals any great estate we have visited in England.  The buildings, however, are almost 200 years old, and are pretty good for unpaid day laborers.

Here is a link to the photos we took today.
Thursday, Oct 8th, Deloraine

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Wednesday, Oct 7th, Port Arthur


Long before Britain deported 166,000 convicts to Australia, did you know that she sent 80,000 to America?   While visiting the Port Arthur Historic Site yesterday, where the first separate juvenile incarceration program was established, we learned that until the American Revolution, ships sailed with human cargo to her closest mercantile port.   We'll investigate more about how they were used, and what became of them.

At Port Arthur, British penal program design was developed from 1828 to 1853, and rehabilitation became the key component which began to dominate its future.  For the first time, children were housed and supervised on a small facility across the bay away from adults.  Deportees as young as nine (think Dicken's Artful Dodger) were held there.  Adults were classified, segregated, trained in skills, and employed in timber (boat-building) and mining projects.  The islands were full of some of the tallest trees in the world, first-growth mountain ash.

Today, we head north to Swansea in a four-day swing around this beautiful island.  Here are the photos we took at Port Arthur yesterday.
Wednesday, Oct 7th, Port Arthur

And the photos we took along the eastern coast today.
Wednesday, Oct 7th, Swansea

Tomorrow, we head inland, in search by Saturday, for the world's tallest tree.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Monday Night, Oct 5th, Hobart


“Nature, history, art, and culture – all in one day”, said Pat while we had dinner at a small cafĂ© tonight.  We had been to the top of Mt Wellington in the morning, to the Cascade Female Factory around noon, and the Museum of Old and New Art in the late afternoon.  All of them the providing premier experiences in three-hour bites.  

Mt Wellington is one hell of a rock, towering above the landscape.  From its peak, you can see snow-capped peaks 150 kilometers away.  You can also be blown off your feet, and required to hold on tight to anything bolted down.  The 22-kilometer, narrow windy road which climbs up from town, gives no indication of either the power of the views or the strength of the winds.  Both leave you breathless.

The Cascade Female Factory Site in South Hobart helped 25,000 British women criminal deportees during the period from 1828 to 1853 become convinced they should work for Tasmanian farmers, merchants, and mine owners.  Today, we visited the facility in which they were imprisoned, and learned more about who they were, and how they were convinced.
Three cheers to Judith and Chris Cornish of Live History Productions, who played all of the characters in the re-enactment within the walls.  Their talents brought the whole thing to life. 

Finally, we descended three stories into a solid rock hill below a winery owned by a professional gambler who developed a system used to bet on horse-racing and other sports.  Sinking (literally) $75 million into one of Australia’s most popular tourist attraction, and the largest private museum in the country, he admits it was mostly to relieve his guilt for having done nothing he felt was valuable.  Located on the Berriedale peninsula in South Hobart, David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art(MONA) is full of the most surprising, and moderately outrageous, art I’ve ever seen.  Pat and I raised our eyebrows quite a few times as we moved throughout.  What we did like, however, was the information tool given to visitors to access content about each piece of art.  A modified cell phone using blue tooth, it not only brings all the relevant photos, video, and text about all art within your vicinity, but charts you access and movement in an online 3D schematic, providing data on all objects in the museum.    
Here is a link to the photos we took today.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Monday, Oct 5th, Hobart, Tasmania


I can't think of anytime in the last few years when someone said to me, "I'm going to Tasmania".   Now that we're here, I can't think of why a visit here shouldn't be seriously on our bucket lists.   And Australia next door isn't too bad either.

We flew in last night, picked up a little Hyundai, and are staying in the capital (Hobart) until tomorrow.  Our hotel is on the main Sandy Bay Road, and we'll use the bus to visit sights downtown today.  Tomorrow, we begin a five- day circle route around the island.  I'm hoping we can find this 327-foot Mountain Ash.

Here are a few photos we took on our way to dinner down by the wharf last night.  I had the restaurant's signature fish chowder, and Pat had scallops and fries.

Sunday, Oct 4th, Hobart

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday, Oct 2nd, Geelong


Today, I think Pat really began to understand the beauty of surfing.  We stopped by several spots along the Great Ocean Highway, including world-famous Bell's Beach, and I heard her comment "Good ride!" as she watched through her binoculars as surfers tried to get the most out of a six-foot swell rolling into town on a beautiful day.   I've appreciated how much she cares about what surfing means to me, but today I think it started meaning something to her too.

Arriving early in Geelong, our last stop before we fly to Tasmania on Sunday, we drove to their Botanical Gardens while our hotel room was being cleaned.  One of the first trees we saw were their Dawn and Giant Redwoods.
Planted in 1873, the Giant Sequoia came from central California.  The Dawn is endemic, and Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve actually got ours from here.

I have probably over-used the word "great" in these posts, but it is never more appropriate than when used to describe the coastal highway we just completed.  Constructed by returning WWI vets in a major public works project, it was dedicated by them to their fallen comrades, and is called the largest military memorial in the world.  It's compares with California's Highway 1 along the coast near Big Sur.  Except it's got major surf spots that are accessible.  The county is even called Surf Coast Shire.  And koalas sit in the trees just above the road.  It's awesome.

Here is a link to the photos we took today.
Friday, Oct 2nd, Geelong.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thursday, Oct 1st, Apollo Bay


Do you know what the tallest flowering plant, and hardwood tree, in the world is?  Or where it is?

Australian Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus Regnans), in Tasmania is 327 feet.  This one's a little shorter in Mait's Rest Rainforest, Victoria.

But, you say, this doesn't look like a rainforest?  Lower your gaze.  A remnant of Godwana, this stretch of Australian coast has the perfect conditions to also support Australian Tree Ferns. Pre-dating the dinosaurs, the variations of this early earth resident are the source of most of our present-day oil.

The Twelve Apostles are broken coastal limestone stacks (there is really only eight) nearby that must hold the record for most appearances in the background of selfies.

Finally, we found the elusive Echidna.  We were checking out a surf spot, and happened to look down on the cliff below us.  It gets my vote for the cutest Australian.

Here is a link to the photos taken today.
Thursday, Oct 1st, Apollo Bay.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wednesday, Sep 30th, Ballarat


On the way out of Hall's Gap this morning, we drove to the cave where the painting of Bunjil, Gariwerd's creation spirit, and his two helpers is found.  Easy driving, followed by a short walk, certainly contrasted with our perilous journey yesterday. 

One of this part of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions is Sovereign Hill, an open-air museum recreating the main street of Ballarat, the site of the biggest alluvial gold rush in the world.  Set in the 1850’s, Sovereign Hill is located on a 25-hectare site containing 60 historical buildings, with costumed staff and volunteers that present theater plays, conduct military ceremonies, assist in gold panning, lead mine tours, and run businesses along its streets.  An enormous amount of antique furniture, machinery, carriages, and devices is displayed throughout.  Open since 1970, the original town was consumed by fire in the 1860’s, but extensive photos taken from the top of the town hall guided its reconstruction. 

In our conversations with the coffin maker, we mentioned where we were from, and he told us that redwoods from California that were brought during the gold rush still stand in the Ballarat Botanical Park.  We’re stopping by tomorrow morning to see if we can find them.

Here are the photos we took today.