Thursday, August 30, 2012

Going for a drive

So it turns out that hitchhiking is illegal in Queensland (I did check before trying it). But, it is pretty common to post ride offers online and find people to share petrol that way. There is also a company that offers cheap relocation car rentals when they are trying to move cars to a different city. So, I booked one of those cheap cars (5 dollars a day) and recruited a couple of people who want to go to Darwin. We head out tomorrow for a 3000 km drive across northern Australia. Should be an interesting trip.

There is a baby sticking it's head out of the pouch.


Cheddar cheese has always been my favorite kind of cheese. So, I find it's name here quite amusing. Cheddar is simply called "Tasty". Sharp Cheddar is called "Extra Tasty". It's not Tillamook, but it is pretty good.

Well named cheese.
What does one do with tasty cheese while backpacking Australia? Make macaroni and cheese of course. Except I didn't buy any pasta, so I improvised dinner tonight. I steamed a bunch of vegetables and then stir-fried them with the cheese. It came out pretty good and seems like it should be healthier than pasta. 

Also tasty

Monday, August 27, 2012

Birds & Reptiles...

On Sunday I went up north of of Cairns to the Daintree Rainforest. Despite the way it sounds, it's named after a british geologist, not a type of tree. It wasn't as exciting as scuba diving the great barrier reef, but it was still a nice trip. 

Good photography subject. I almost got him in flight a moment later. 
These are actually the same species of parrot. The red one is the female. 

This one was downright friendly. The kind of just seem like oddly shaped deer. 

Since I was a kid, I've wanted to find a creek flowing across a beach. It really seems like the best of both worlds. 

I could have stayed here a while longer...

Baby Crocs. The guide said there were about fifty when they hatched. Now it's down to eight. Actually that's good when you think about it. Our planet already has an apex predator with a high reproduction rate... 

Go to Cairns they said...

Most people I asked where I should go while in Australia have said "Cairns". So, last week I bought a one way ticket. The first night I booked a room at a hostel called "The Asylum". It was was the cheapest, but it turns out even I have standards for where I will sleep. So the next day I found a room at the "Reef" which is a bit nicer. I spent the rest of the day walking along the beach, touring Cairns  and eventually wandered into a tour booking company office.
They offered me a deal for a free scuba dive with a reef snorkeling trip. I figured it was time to give diving another try and see if my ears would clear now that I have been out of NM for a while, so I took them up on it. And, that's how I found myself scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef on perfect Saturday morning.
I have two pieces of good news. The first is that my ears do clear again with patience and the second is that my water proof camera really is.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The 6' Track, Blue Mountains, Australia

The first weekend I stayed in the Blue Mountains there was a flyer posted in the hostel looking for someone who wanted to hike something called "The six foot track". I googled it and decided that sounded like something fun to do, so I emailed "Roy" from the hostel computer to ask if he was still interested. I didn't hear anything back for a couple days and went back to Sydney figuring I wouldn't. But the next day I got an email from Roy. He was interested and he was is Sydney so we met to discuss the trip over coffee.

We got along well enough, so we decided to head to Katoomba the next day. Roy knew Katoomba a bit better than I did and introduced me to the Common Ground Cafe. They sell the best roast beef sandwich I have ever had and also have the most reasonable prices I've seen yet here. I highly recommend it for anyone who happens to be in Katoomba...

After a solid night's sleep back at the same hostel I saw the flyer in we caught a bus to the Jenolan caves which are at one end of the track. An overturned milk truck delayed the bus a couple hours on the way out, so we took only a quick look around Jenolan before heading down the trail.

The cave/tunnel the road goes through entering Jenolan.

The first hydro-electric dam in Australia. The caves had electric lighting a year after the invention of the light bulb. 

We climbed these stairs for a long time. The first couple of miles just kept going up and up. 

Now this looks to be about six foot wide. Very creative naming system. 

The first kangaroos! Or maybe they are Wallabies. It depends who I ask. 
They were actually pretty comfortable with us.

My first ever southern hemisphere fire. It took me a couple tries to discover a good fire starter. 
The first day was actually really hard between starting out late and so much steep climbing right there at the start. It felt like the trail just intentionally went to top of the highest hill for no good reason. I felt a little discouraged as we finished the day worn out after 12 km on the trail and maybe 3 getting started knowing we still had another 35 to go. But the camp fire was nice, company was good, the food was warm, and the sky was perfectly clear and dark.

After spending the day hiking through forests of different eucalyptus trees, listening to strange bird songs I couldn't even begin to identify, the reality of this trip finally sank in as looked up at that alien sky full of stars I've never known. A few people have asked over the last weeks if the trip felt real, but it never quite seemed to until then.

If you have a high resolution screen you should be able to make out a number of stars.
Thanks for the new camera departure gift guys. It's been great so far. 

Despite hiking more than twice as far, the second day was much easier. The terrain was mostly rolling or down hill and Roy and I found an easy pace to roll across the country side at. We ended up hiking a third farther than we expected to and camped next to a river. 

I actually expected a lot more of the track to look like this being use to trails in the US. But, it was a nice mix. 

Roy crossing the "swing bridge" over the Coxs river.

Heading onto the bridge.

Roy got a shot of me crossing from the far side. The bridge swayed way more than I expected. I guess it's well named. 

What the heck is this doing out here? Yes, it's a prickly pear. No, I don't have a clue what it is doing in the Blue Mountains. 

Sunset after 25 kilometeres.

The third day was mostly steep climbing back up out of the valley floor; it wasn't a long day. It was only 10km back to town and few more in town, but it was a lot of climbing over those first 8km. I didn't take many pictures and just enjoyed challenging myself physically on the climb up.

Celebrating the end of the trek. 
We went back to Common Ground for another sandwich, stopping for a drink on the way. Our timing was near perfect as it started to snow as we got to the Cafe. It didn't stick at all, but never expected to see snow in Australia at all and Roy hasn't seen it in years so it was a nice bonus. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Australia, The Blue Mountains

My friend Kim was going to Katoomba in the blue mountains about 60 miles west of Sydney for the weekend. I hitched a ride without knowing much more than that there was good hiking here. I spent most of yesterday hiking in the canyon area below Wentworth Falls. I met several talkative locals and got some good, but conflicting intel on the most important places to go over the next few weeks... I also hiked some of the trail with a father and son who were training for a 96km trek in Papua New Guinea. They were on their second trip up the canyon wall for the day, but I'm still glad I could keep their pace. 

Walking along the Darwin trail.

Looking out through a hole in the creek bed.

Wentworth Falls.

Australian for "easy trail". I might have been beyond the point the sign was referred.  
Wentworth Falls from where I had lunch.

You can almost see the whole falls here. It's a couple hundred meters tall. 


Smaller but still nice water fall.

Vick and Matt. I hiked most the way back up and had a cup of coffee at the top with them. 

A different perspective of the falls on my way out. For reference the off colored dots on the fall wall are hikers and this only shows the top half the falls. 

There were a lot of places where the trail was under the cliff like this. 
A nice sunset to end the day, 

One thing that keeps coming up here. Every time I meet an Australian and they find out I am an engineer they want to put me to work out in the mines... The stories on pay keep going up with each person I talk to, most are talking from two to three hundred thousand a year for engineers. I just keep telling them I'm retired and traveling for the time being. If people are making that kind of money, I guess that does explain the 16 dollar price of this breakfast...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why yes, that is a zip line in our city park

I walked about seven miles around a bay in Sydney yesterday. The most impressive thing? A city park that includes a zip line among the playground equipment. I guess they haven't discovered frivolous law suits here.  
It's not a huge zip line, but it was reasonably fast and there is a spring at the bottom to shoot you three quarters of the way back to the start if you hit it fast enough.