Thursday, June 30, 2016

Majestic Kata Tjuta

While not very attractive, the fly net is essential here. The
little buggers were even heavy early in the morning!
One again we were up very early for a sunrise trip to see Uluru in morning light. This time a breakfast was served at the site. It was interesting watching the sun come up behind us and change the color of Uluru as it rose higher and higher in the sky. We could also see the moon in the western sky above Uluru. There have been a number of mornings where we have had the pleasure of seeing both the sun and the moon in the sky at the same time.

The morning sky behind us.
After breakfast, we took a hike at the base of Uluru to see some of the ancient cave paintings. During our drive around the base, we could see the area where you are allowed to climb the face of the rock. Due to high winds and heat, the climb was closed. Actually, the Aboriginal people do not like people climbing this rock as it has significant spiritual meaning to them and is a very sacred place.

After a short hike to see the sites at the base of Uluru, we continued on in the coach to the nearby Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) rock formations. Actually, they are 30 km away, but it was a nice ride. The air conditioned coach was a nice escape from the heat!
Uluru in the early morning

Cave paintings at Uluru

Our young guide explained how the
Aborigines find food out here.
Kata Tjuta is the Aboriginal name, which means "many heads" because the rock actually is comprised of 36 domed heads of red land. The tallest dome is about 546 meters high, making it 198 meters higher then Uluru.

One of the hikes was in the Valley of the Winds which is often closed due to too much wind or high temperatures. While we were they it was closed in the afternoons so we did the sunrise excursion.

Even though we were warned that "the Australian outback is teaming with wonderfully unique and diverse wildlife," we still never saw a kangaroo in the wild! We saw one Dingo, some wild horses, wild camels at a distance, but nothing else besides some birds. Actually, I am glad I didn't see too many creepy crawly things!
Interesting rock formations of Kata Tjuta.

Another view of Kata Tjuta.

The holes and markings are sacred.

While Uluru is a special place, we found Kata Tjuta even more so. This rock formation is also known as The Olgas. It seems that white man thought he discover these places and named them after kings, queens, governors, etc. 

The indigenous people have always had their own names and they are finally being used by the rest of the world. In the past few years, more land has been given back to the indigenous people and the government leases it from them for the national parks.

The benches in the park are natural wood from the area.
Kata Tjuta has even more very sacred sites deep in the caves and out of our view. We found it more interesting in both the Aboriginal stories and its physical characteristics. Kata Tjuta consists of 36 domes with the highest rising to 546 meters above the plain which is 198 meters higher than Uluru.

A beautiful reflective pool deep in the rock.
It was interesting to learn about the underground water source and how the natives knew where to dig with a stick to find it just below the surface. We also learn about the controlled burns they have used for centuries to control growth and nourish the soil to improve their next "harvests “of native plants. Just how did they figure that out?

The cave paintings were amazing. To think that some of them have been scientifically dated to 5,000 years and the rocks themselves dated to 1.5 billion years old! We visited one area that would be considered the “family room.” It is a cave where ancient paintings teach the stories of good and evil to the children. These are usually taught by grandparents. 

The indigenous people have no written language so everything is shared through stories. They are also identified by their language group as there are still over 200 different languages today. And the various groups do not understand each other's language, but the cave drawings provide a common way of communicating. This way they could get information from one another when passing through another group's area. At one time there were over 800 different languages! 

We were luck to have a relatively cool sunny morning so we could hike up to the Valley of the Winds before it was closed for the rest of the day.


Kata Tjuta at sunset.
Aboriginals also have a very special way of selecting a marriage partner based on maternal and paternal traits. In this way, they find a mate from another group that fits the match system so there is not a genetic issue of inbreeding. It is fascinating to learn about all of different cultures and how they figured out things we consider "scientific" today! They really are not primitive! They just have a different lifestyle.

The sunlight setting oan Kata Tjuta was stunning. Once again we had Sundowners and snacks while we watched the changing colors. Mother Nature is sooooo cool!

Dennis found a German speaking "girl friend."

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Short Stop in Alice Springs

We arrived and quickly went to the airport.
Upon arrival in Alice Springs, we were taken to the airport for a flight to Yalara, which is the town near the main attractions in The Red Center - so named by the color of the earth there. The name Yalara is Aboriginal for "howling"and "dingos" so that's what we expected we might hear and see.

Our accommodations were at Voyager's Sails in the Desert hotel. It was a very nice place with a beautiful swimming pool that we never got to use! It seems that all of the tours are either sunrise or sunset. This means you are on a tour bus at 5 AM or 4 PM. There was a short midday break for lunch to get out of the heat, but no time to swim. Bummer!

Outback: as red brown as expected.
We arrived at the hotel at 3:30 PM and we're off on our first tour at 5:30 PM for sunset at Uluru (known to white men as Ayers Rock) followed by an Aussie barbecue under the stars. I didn't try the crocodile, but I tasted some kangaroo. It was a beautiful night so we could see all of the constellations in the southern sky. Our guides were young adults and very knowledgeable about the history, flora, fauna and the sky.  

Early the next morning we were back on the bus for sunrise and breakfast at Uluru followed by a walk to significant sites around the base. Originally we were signed up for a 6 kilometer walk around the base. Then someone said that it is more like 8 km. And those who did it said it was closer to 12 km. Happily we switched the group that visited select sites without walking all those miles!

It was interesting to learn about the way the indigenous Aboriginal people have lived there for thousands of years. It is believed that they have been there for over 80,000 years! They live off the land, eating berries, ant honey, grasses, native fruits and emu, buffalo, deer and fish.

Uluru (Ayers Rock) changes colors throughout the day.
Until refined foods were introduced, they were healthy. Now there is a serious issue with weight and diabetes. Apparently their genetic make-up does not do well with sweets and carbohydrates in general as they were not available for generations. Maybe that is true for many of us!


Now they have leased their lands to the government for national parks and have a cash economy, which gives them access to processed foods and sugary soft drinks and alcohol. While this community income helps provide better housing and education, they are suffering from indulgence of less than healthy foods. Also suffering is the demise of teaching the children the old ways of living off the land.

Uluru in the afternoon.
Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) is one of their most sacred sights and there are areas where men cannot go or even look as well as those where women cannot go as well. Their most sacred sites are off limits to tourists. They have allowed us to visit some sacred sights and see their cave paintings. The guide shared the stories that the Aboriginal people believe as to how Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) were created. Very interesting! And they believe them today just as they have for thousands of years. Without a written language, they continue to pass their history and beliefs through story telling.

And at sunset it becomes purple.
Here are some interesting facts about this area. Uluru is 3.6 kilometers long and 348 meters at its tallest point, making it higher than Sydney’s Centerpoint Tower and 24 meters higher than the Eiffel Tower, but 33 meters lower than the Empire State Building. What we see at Uluru is just the top of it; this huge slab continues approximately 5-6 kilometers below ground! The sand dunes in the area are estimated to be up to 30,000 year old and geologists have dated the underground water table to be as old as 7,000 years in some areas.

Uluru is one of Australia's most iconic symbols of the outback region and is listed a World Heritage site. Uluru is a place that speaks of timeless folklore, indigenous culture and spirituality. The most beautiful times to see the "rock" is at sunrise and sunset. Of course, we did both!

Sundowners in the Outback!
We first saw Uluru in the late afternoon sun from a lookout point. Of course, Sundowners were in order! The tour provided wine and snacks for us as we watched the changing colors as the sun set. Then we were taken to the site of the evening's under the stars barbeque Australian style: kangaroo, crocodile, beef steak, chicken and all of the trimmings. After dinner, one of the guides explained what we were seeing in the night sky. Like out on the ocean, the stars and planets were stunning here. It made for a long day of travel and sightseeing, but well worth it.

Our guides were most informative. The ATT King Tour company has drivers and guides who love this land and love sharing its stories. That made the journey extra nice even though we spent a lot of time traveling in very nice coaches. They also made sure everyone was staying hydrated as it can be a concern in the hot sun and drying winds out there. They were well versed in the history and culture and kept us entertained.

A view of the salt lakes in the desert outback as we
flew into Yalara from Alice Springs.
We learned much about the land and its people. As with most indigenous people, there were many challenges and very poor treatment by the white settlers. Even though the Aboriginal people have regained much of the land that was taken from them, they are not very visable. They tend to stay in their own villages in the outback.

Aboriginal Artist in Residence at Sails in
the Desert Resort. I loved his work!
We did see a very disturbing site on several occasions a man was punching a woman in the face and stomach right on the street. Dennis' first instinct was to help her, but he stopped as he remembered he was in a foreign country and dealing with a different culture. Not that the beating was acceptable, though; he just should not have gotten involved. Unfortunately, many of these underdeveloped regions and cultures have a problem with domestic violence.
Our lovely room.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Exploring the Aboriginal Lands

Working with a travel agent in Newcastle, NSW, our trip to what is known as The Red Center was planned to see the major sites. Since we wanted to experience the iconic Ghan Train, it was necessary to fly to either Darwin in the north or Adelaide in the south since the train only runs from Adelaide through Alice Springs to Darwin and back.

We will be sailing into Darwin, so we decided to check it out in advance. Besides, the word is that the longer ride from Adelaide is bumpy and two overnights. Not to mention it was a shorter flight to Darwin.

Actually, we enjoyed a night in Darwin to scope out the water front. Our hotel was located on the water and a short walk to the shopping and restaurant district. We would return to Darwin at the end of the Red Center trip for a few days to explore in detail. Using the ATT Kings Tour group made the travel and transfers much easier, even though we are not usually "tour people" Australia is so huge that this was the easiest way to see the National Parks.
There were 46 cars on our train!
The Legend of the Ghan is about people: the Cameleers, Adventurers, Innovators, and Railway men. From 1839, camels were imported and used to carry goods for explorers of the inland areas. Many of the cameleers were mistakenly believed to be from Afghanistan and were called Afghans.

Our suite was very comfortable.
When the railroad was laid beginning in 1877 and goods were moved by train, the use of the camel began to decline. The government even encouraged the police to shoot any camel caught trespassing so the cameleers released their camels into the wild, where they have flourished. There are about one million wild camels in Australia today.
In 1929, the first train out of Adelaide to Alice Springs carried 100 passengers, mail and fresh fruit. Somewhere along the journey, the train was named “The Afghan Express” or “The Ghan.” During World War II, The Ghan played a role by transporting troops to Darwin.

So much better than airplane food!
In 1957, they began running a fortnightly passenger train, known to locals as the “Flash Ghan” due to its sleeping berths. The freight train running opposite weeks was known as the “Dirty Ghan.” The total distance from Adelaide to Darwin is 2979 kilometers. Our trip from Darwin to Alice Springs was 1420 kilometers.

The Ghan only runs twice a week so our schedule was fixed around its departure from Darwin. Our agent booked us in the Gold Service so we had a sleeper car with an ensuite bathroom, which proved to be wonderful after a day of sightseeing in the heat of Katherine Gorge, a stopping point along the route. A shower after the treks is soooooo welcomed!

Nice dinner on the Ghan.
The meals were very gracious with the old fashion dining car-style service. There was a cocktail lounge accessible all day and evening in the Gold Service class. Good food and wines was part of the white table cloth service package. Apparently there were three or four of these dining cars and lounges dispersed among the 46 cars of the train. It was really long as trains go and filled to capacity.

These trees were filled with bats!
Loved these trees!
The upper half of the Ghan route stops in Katherine with a tour north-east to Nitmiluk National Park. Nitmiluk is the home of Katherine Gorge, a seies of 13 sandstone gorges carved over a billion years by the Katherine River.

This area is home to the Indigenous Jawoyn people and many of their stories are told on the rock walls.
We were advised to keep our limbs inside the boat!
We took a river cruise t see the art dating back to This artwork gives ancient evidence that these people were here during the last Ice Age!

Unfortunately, the water was too high for us to leave the boat and see them. There is a window of time for these tours for when the water is to high to go ashore and when the water is too shallow for the tour boats! Since there had been an unusual amount of rain, the water was high. The plus for us was that the Outback will be greener than normal. You can have the best laid plans, but Mother Nature still rules!

It was very peaceful just cruising along the river while enjoying the scenery. We have found there to be many beautiful places in the world. People in every country insist that you have never seen anything like "their" mountains, gorges, lagoons, bays, beaches, etc. Well, we are here to tell you that they are all lovely and none are particularly unique in the world of nature! We are not trying to put any place down, it is just that they are all interesting to visit and it is best to go without great expectations.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Time to Explore Oz's Outback

Waiting for the train to Brisbane.
While S/V Trillium is at the spa at The Boat Works on the Gold Coast of Australia, we are off on another adventure. The good people at Everything Marine at The Boat Works is inspecting and installing new standing rig, so we are heading out to the hot, dry red dirt country of the Northern Territory of Australia. Remember that here going up north is going toward the equator so it will get hotter. While I want to see the sights up there, I am not looking forward to the heat and humidity.

The Brisbane River winds all through the city.
As a side note: people ask why we are getting new standing rig. We like to consider ourselves cautious sailors. S/V Trillium was built in 2001 and is in beautiful condition, but she has the original rigging. Since we are about to embark on a long and challenging eight months of sailing to Indonesia, across the Indian Ocean, around the treacherous Cape of South Africa, across the South Atlantic Ocean, up the coast of Brazil and South America and the Caribbean Island chain, we consider it preventive maintenance! And I know Dennis does not want to be stuck somewhere with major problems and listening to me complain!

The city is full of beautiful old trees.
We hopped onto a train in Coomera on the Gold Coast (their version of Miami) as the boat is up the Coomera River about five miles from the Coral Sea. Our first stop was Brisbane, the capital of Queensland.

It is a city of relatively new high-rise buildings of various architectural design. There is a heavy use of reflective glass on the exterior to catch the reflection from the water and changing sunlight. With more than 70 cranes in the sky, we think they are overbuilding – especially apartment complexes!


Pies and fries (they call them "chips") Aussie staples!

The Mall is a closed off street that goes for several blocks.

The market in the Botanical Garden on Sunday.

We lucked out with a hotel I found online. The Royal on the Park is an elegant older structure with modern updated rooms. The location was perfect: across the street from the Botanical Gardens, a short walk to the mall street in one direction and to the riverfront in the other.

Australia is a country of outdoor living as many of the bars and restaurants are open air. We spent Saturday afternoon exploring the area and scoping out restaurants.

On Sunday morning, we were greeted with a nice surprise. Our plan was to take a nice stroll through the Botanical Garden and then find a place for brunch. As we entered the garden, we were welcomed by the weekly Sunday market of arts, crafts, miscellaneous and FOOD!

My Breakfast: Potato Pancakes with fresh applesauce
We found an interesting twist for breakfast. It is a German food truck specializing in potato pancakes served in a variety of ways. Two orders plus fruit smoothies from the next vendor made for a great breakfast.


The Potato Pancake station.

Dennis had poached eggs on his.

Following breakfast and a stroll though the art fair section, we wandered throughout the Botanical Garden. It was a lovely way to spend the morning.

We had decided not to sail into Brisbane as it meant backtracking about thirty miles. Instead, we opted to see the city from the river on the City Cat ferry and spent a pleasant Sunday afternoon just making a round trip from Eagle Pier to the Queensland University and back out to Hamilton near the Port of Brisbane. Dinner on Eagle Pier was a perfect ending for a great day.

Many yachts moor off the Botanical Garden.

Beautiful plants everywhere.

I just don't understand why people need to damage plants
like this. The canes were full of carvings.

Monday turned out to be a special day. Back in Vanuatu, we had met a couple of yachts in different places. An invitation from Tony Love to make contact when we got to Australia was extended. This a frequent thing among sailors. In fact, we hosted a couple from Germany at our home when they came through Lake St. Clair, having met them in the Caribbean.

Our original plan had been to sail from New Caledonia to Brisbane, so I had emailed Tony about places to leave the boat while we traveled. He offered to make arrangements for us at his yacht club, the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron. Then we discovered the Down Under Rally which would let us check off the Bucket List item of sailing into Sydney Harbour! And so our plans for sailing into Brisbane were scratched.  

Dinner after a long river cruise.
After deciding to spend a few days in Brisbane before our trip to Darwin and the Red Center, I contacted Tony. He offered some suggestions on what to see and do in Brizzy. Suggesting that we meet for lunch or dinner, he and Margot picked us up at the hotel and showed us the waterfront where we would have sailed into his club. Then he gave us a tour of the yacht club and an interesting story of its history. His grandfather was a founding member and Commodore. Both Tony and his father were Commodores there.

Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron

Inside the club
Of course, we went out to see his new boat. Tony had invited Stuart, who we had also met in Vanuatu, to join us for lunch so we reconnected there as well. I found the afternoon to be one of the most enjoyable of our adventure. It was fun to see Tony's love and passion for sailing, his club and his boat. And Margot, who flies into nice places and leaves when it is passage time, is very amenable to it all. She would have to be since sailing is in Tony's genes!

Thank you, Tony Love!
Actually, our first contact came when he noticed Grosse Pointe Farms, MI on our stern. He was sailing a boat called S/V Patriot, a Swan Chicago-Mackinaw racer, which he bought in Chicago. See how small this world really is! He recently sold S/V Patriot and bought another boat from California. One of the most wonderful things about the yachting community is the connections we make. While we will probably not see most of them again, as sailors we have shared something that just can't be fully explained to others. But they will always be special in our memories.

  My saying is: "Until our wakes cross again ..."