Friday, July 29, 2016

Final Sights to See: Litchfield Falls

We are at the top of Australia in Darwin, the
capital of the Northern Territory (NT)
As we began to wind down our inland tour, our final exploration was to the southwest of Darwin. The bus trip was shorter than the one to Kakadu National Park. The natural features of Litchfield National Park are its monsoon rainforest, stunning waterfalls, termite mounds and historic ruins. The area is home to the Aboriginal Wagait people and was formerly a tin and copper mining center. Many of the areas are only accessible during the dry season and by 4x4 vehicles. Note: there are only two seasons in Australia: wet and dry!

Throughout Australia, we have seen huge termite mounds. Most of them are built on the ground, although we have seen a few of the type built in the trees. These mounds are somewhat like ant colonies as there is a queen and her “soldiers” and the workers. A cross-section of a mound shows a very sophisticated structure inside.

This is a Cathedral Termite Mounds
Many of the mounds we have seen are built from the soil and are either dark brown or reddish brown. They range in size from a foot high to many feet high. In Litchfield, we saw two different types. The red soil type, known as Cathedral Termite Mounds were huge in several places.

Then we were shown the Magnetic Termite Mounds. These are found on the floodplains and stand about two meters high. What is so interesting is that these mounds are orientated in a north-south direction which is different from the Cathedral Termite Mounds.

These are Magnetic Termite Mounds
The north-south configuration acts as a built-in temperature control mechanism. This allows the least possible amount of surface are to be exposed to the sun throughout the day. The termites actually move from one side of the mound to the other during the day to maintain their desired body temperature. Amazing!

Florence Falls

We stopped at three waterfalls and hiked to the best viewing areas. All of them had pools at the base, but some of the falls were creating a dangerous current so swimming was not allowed there. And there is the issue of crocodiles! Between falls, we stopped at a couple of rock pools where most of those on the tour took a dip.

The first falls area we visited was the Florence Falls with its double waterfall set in the monsoon rainforest. It is seen from a viewing platform from the bottom of the gorge, which is 135 steps straight down! Dennis went to the bottom where there was a swimming hole. I stayed on the viewing stand and then took a walk upstream to enjoy the peacefulness of the rainforest. I injured my right hip in the climb to the top of Kings Canyon a few days prior.
This was my peaceful find!
Unfortunately, I missed the note in the travel information about bringing a swimsuit and towel! This park is known for its beautiful waterfalls and rock pools, but I hadn’t done my homework.

Dennis swam in his shorts as they were fast-dry material. Unfortunately, I was wearing cotton capris that would have never dried so I just watched. Although it was refreshing to swim, most of the people said it would have been more enjoyable to have been able to stay longer. That’s the challenge of group tours again!

Even though the water looked pristine clear, you can never be sure of what is in it. One woman came out with blood dripping down her thigh. When she cleaned it off and finally got the bleeding under control, it appeared to have been a leech bite! I guess I am glad that I didn’t go in the water after all.

The next stop was at Tolmer Falls to see the dramatic falls. However, there is no swimming or camping in this gorge as it is home to a protected species of Orange Horseshoe Bats and Ghost Bats. I don’t think I would have wanted to go walking among the trees filled with bats anyway!

Wangi Falls was our next stop. This is a very popular one because it has easy access from the carpark. And because it gives 100 MB of free Wi-Fi! Apparently there were a number of swimming holes within hiking distance as well as camping areas. The mist coming off the falls was very refreshing, too.

The tour continued on the Buley Rockhole, which is a series of small waterfalls and rock pools. It was like a stream flowing down a gentle mountain side with plateaus along the way. There were many people soaking up the sun and cooling in the water of the pools. Although there was no shade on the banks so I didn’t stay there too long. That northern sun is hot! It would have been nice to join the others in the water to cool off.

I suffered from a bad sunburn on my upper lip! It felt dry and was cracking some so I kept putting on lip balm, but realized later that it wasn’t the sun-block type. The dry cracks split open and very sore. I kept touching it unconsciously so I must have introduced some nasty germs, because it swelled up to the point that I looked like Daisy Duck! And it hurt!! It took about two weeks of Neosporin to get it healed – and it wasn’t a pretty sight for all of that time. I will now be much more careful about the type of lip balm I use.

All in all, we enjoyed our visit to the Red Center area national parks as well as those near Darwin. Each has its own unique beauty and interest. I guess I would liken the trip to what one would do in the USA by traveling out west to visit the national parks. These were no more spectacular than anything we have in America, but I am glad we have seen them.

This trip to Red Center and Darwin pretty much wraps up our inland touring of Australia. Unfortunately, we did not have time to get to Adelaide or Melbourne or Perth. Australia is nearly the size of the USA and the distances between cities are huge.

Waiting for the tour bus after a long hot day!
They have great trains and buses as well as reasonably priced flights to get you from place to place, but time becomes the factor when you are sailing with weather windows. So now it is time to finish preparing the boat for the Indian Ocean crossing in September and move up the coast where we will rejoin the World Cruising Club’s World ARC to head toward South Africa.

The future plans with the WARC are to go to Lombok, Indonesia, then to Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling Islands before the long sail to Mauritius and Reunion. Then the final leg this fall will be to the east coast of South Africa and around the bottom in a challenging sail to Cape Town for Christmas.
In January we will be heading across the South Atlantic Ocean with a short stop in St. Helena before landing on South America in time for Carnival in Brazil! And finally, we will be heading back up the Caribbean Island chain to complete our circumnavigation in St. Lucia in early April 2017.

We have mixed feelings: 1) happy to complete the circumnavigation, 2) anxious to have time with family and friends back home, 3) concerned about readjusting to life on land, 4) worried about being bored, 5) missing the adventure of new places, etc. Time will tell!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Back to Darwin for More Adventures

Great dinner here in Darwin.
There were two more national parks to see in this region of Australia: Kakadu and Litchfield. So we flew back to Darwin for our base for these day tours. It was good to have another day to relax before getting back to the 6 AM bus rides!

The largest prawns I have ever had in my life! Yummy!
On the first tour we went to Kakadu National Park. The highlight here was the fantastic cave drawings. Dreamtime legends and images of daily life are seen at Ubirr and Nourlangie Rock. It was hard to get my head around the idea that these paintings were 500 to 50,000 years old and the rocks on which they were painted were 1.5 billion years old!

The scenery was spectacular. The heat and humidity was oppressive! It made it difficult to enjoy the day. Kakadu National Park covers 19,804 square kilometers and is listed as a World Heritage site.

It is about 250 kilometers east of Darwin adjacent to the land of the Arnhem people. The name Kakadu comes from the Gagudju language, one of three spoken in the park today. The Aboriginal people have lived in this area for 50,000 years.

The park has over 1,600 plant species, 275 bird species, 75 reptile species, 25 species of frogs and somewhere around 10,000 species of insects! We were there at the end of the wet season so everything was fresh and green. The canals and rivers were brimming with water as were the water lily-covered billabongs, which are the pools or dead water places where the flowing waters end.

We took a peaceful Guluyambi Cultural Cruise through the canals and into the Alligator River to see the plants and listen to the birds. We saw a number of different species.

On the Lilly pads, there was a father bird and four little babies. Apparently, once the eggs are laid, mom blows the nest and the rest is up to dad! I had never heard of that.

The area has both fresh water and salt water crocodiles so we were warned to keep our limbs inside the boat. It was rather humorous when they showed how to put on a life vest. I guess if you are floating in a yellow vest, it is easier for the crocs to find you!

This crocodile was just hiding in the roots of the trees.

The one salty (saltwater crocodile) we saw did not look like he was warm and fuzzy! The guide shared information about the cultural mythology of the area, the river's abundant food chain and bush survival traditions using native plants and animals.

It is hard to see the tiny birds out for a walk on the
lily pads with dad. They literally walk on water!

On the way to see more cave paintings at Ubirr, we stopped at the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. It features cultural information through interactive displays as interpreted by the Bininj/Mungguy Aboriginal people.

Unfortunately we only had 20 minutes which was not enough time to even read all of the exhibits. That is the downside of tours, but having the transportation to important sites makes up for it. It would have been nice to have stayed a little longer.

The indentations in the rock are the holes where they
ground their pigments for paint.

This is a giant termite mound!

There are entry fees for all of these national parks, but 100% revenue is reinvested into the parks. Part of the reinvestment goes to the native people for sharing their land with the public. This allows them to have a better (?) standard of living than in the older times.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Town Called Alice

Now for a break! We headed back to Alice Springs to rest. Having been up and on tour buses very early every morning and finishing with a late dinner, we needed a chance to unwind and rest the body. Two nights at a nice resort would do wonders for us!

It was Easter Weekend and not much was open. So what did we do? We went on another hike through a nature park! I am beginning to feel great pain in my right hip. Not sure it is the sciatic issue. Unfortunately all of the walking and treking hasn't resulted in any weight loss because we are eating out three times a day! I was actually longing for my little galley and my style of cooking.

As a very pleasant surprise, the Alice Springs Nature Park was a well laid out stroll through the different types of environmental areas with living displays of birds, animals and flora. Even the soil charged with each environment.

They had a bird program in the amphitheater with the birds flying right into the audience. I am not a bird lover! I like them from a distance, but don't get too close to me, thank you very much. A couple of birds came a little too close for my comfort. I thought of how Daphne, our future daughter-in-law would have enjoyed the show as she works with birds in Oregon.

The best part of the day was finally seeing a kangaroo! I have been in Australia five months and had not seen a kangaroo. I still haven't seen one in the wild, but at least I have seen some now. Actually, you walk into their pen and take photos while they look at you as if to say, “Smile, here comes another tourist."

These are termite mounds. They are everywhere!
Unfortunately, these Commonwealth countries all celebrate the day after a holiday, so nothing was open on Easter Monday. We went into town for lunch and to wander, but there was not much to see in the sleepy place. We had had an overnight there before flying out to Yalara, so we had visited the shops and Aboriginal art galleries then. We had planned to return to one gallery to buy a painting, but it was closed.

Our good fortune was that several of the Aboriginal artists were selling their artwork on the street. We bought two pieces - one each from two different artists. They were a fraction of the gallery prices which was nice for us.  But even better for the artists as the got all of the money.

One told us that she only gets $10-15 from the gallery, but we saw nothing for less than $250 and some up in the thousands. We were happy to pay her the asking price and a little more.
Of course, like art everywhere there is different qualities and artist have different status standings. We enjoyed buying direct and telling them to keep the change. They both lit up! Unfortunately, we didn't remember to ask for a photo of the artist with her work! Delta, Alpha, Mike, November! Now I will have find a way to decorate around these two paintings. But first I will need to find a place to live! It's complicated.

We learned about the Aboriginal art - both historical and contemporary. Historically, they painted on the cave walls to pass information from one generation to another. Since the indigenous people are now being educated and live in houses instead of caves, the concept of painting their stories on canvas or other objects has been encouraged.

Each of our artists told us the story in the paintings we purchased. There are a number of symbols used by all to tell the stories. These are the symbols representing the creatures and events they believe created the world. After a while one can begin to "read" the story by understanding the meaning of the various symbols.

A little too close for my comfort!

One of our paintings.

I will have to work these colors in somewhere!
Maybe a powder room?
The technique used to paint in the Red Center area is basically Pointillism. They use acrylic paints and dab dots in pattern to create a picture. They have been taught this technique as a replacement for the cave paintings that were etched into stone in three basic colors: ochre, yellow and white. Sometimes charcoal was used, but it does not weather well. I loved the work of one artist and would have paid his hefty price if I had had a place for it. Right now I have too much art and no walls!

Anyway, I have learned over the years that art that looks great in its original environment often doesn't work well in a different residential setting. It often looks out of place with the rest of the decor. So I left the big one behind. Will I regret it? Maybe.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Now For A Big Walk-About

Whew! I made it to the top! I later learned what it cost me!
Hiking is not my favorite thing to do. Climbing rocks is my least favorite thing to do. But sometimes one has to grin and bear it in order to see the sites in nature!

The next adventure was a trek around the rim of Kings Canyon. There was an easier walk at the base, but everyone said the rim walk at sunrise was spectacular. So once again we were on a bus at 5 AM! Not much sleep on this vacation. But these sites close in the afternoon due to the extreme heat. It was well into the high nineties most days. Of course, they say "but it is dry heat." To me, heat is heat! And I am not a fan of it.

The guide said the toughest part of this tour was the first 500 steps. They went straight up the canyon wall - no switchback paths. Just straight up on the rocks. No handrails. No trees to grab. It was challenging with my sciatic nerve issue. If it had not been for Dennis and a Canadian we met, I would not have made it!

And according to Mike's GPS pedometer gizmo, it was 900 steps up! Don't always believe the guide who makes the trek several times a week. In fact, Mike sent me these statistics:

Distance 6.3 km (up and around the rim, then down)

Average speed 2.4 km per hour (I am sure I was the drag!)

Max elevation 758 m

Ascent 282 m, or we averaged it to about 900 steps (who said it was only 500?)

Was it worth the climb? Once I regained my breath and got my legs to stop shaking, I was able to look around in awe! With the sun rising on the red and golden rocks, it was amazing! It is our new favorite sight to remember here. The rock formations were spectacular. As was the patterns and textures of Mother Nature.

There is not much commentary for this trek as it was just the breathtaking views. Enjoy the photos: