I had a two-week holiday in Australia in early August 1997. I went in part to visit my best friend Dee, who's backpacking around Oz for a year, and in part because I've always wanted to see Australia.
For information on Australian slang, see the page I'm maintaining on Dee's trip to Australia at http://www.stevedunn.ca/oz.html.
Warning: There are links below to a number of holiday pictures. Most of these files are fairly large. You've been warned! If you'd prefer to view thumbnails with brief descriptions, visit http://www.stevedunn.ca/photos/australia/.
Saturday 2 August: I left Toronto and flew to L.A. The inflight movie was Father's Day; I'd give it 6/10. Since I had a five-hour stopover in L.A., I met some friends for dinner. We ate at the Crocodile Cafe in Santa Monica, then went on the Santa Monica pier and rode some rides. We then went back to the airport, where I only just made it in time for my flight to Australia. I caught one inflight movie on this plane - Murder at 1600 (6.5/10).
Sunday 3 August: This day basically did not exist. During the night, I passed through the International Date Line and advanced a whole day.
Monday 4 August: I landed in Sydney. It was before sunrise, and it was overcast with light rain, so I didn't actually get to see any of the city. A couple of hours later, I was in a plane on its way to Darwin by way of Alice Springs. I'd be back in Alice later in the trip. The movie was Selena, and I'd rate it 7/10.
I arrived at my best friend Denise's flat mid-afternoon. We didn't really do a heck of a lot that day because I was feeling kinda tired, but several of her friends dropped by that evening. Despite repeated threats, they did not shave my head.
Tuesday 5 August: Denise showed me around Darwin. There's not a heck of a lot to see. It's not a very big city. It's a short walk from her flat to downtown. By mid-afternoon, I was feeling OK, so I tried Vegemite. It's disgusting.
In the evening, a whole big gang of friends went out to a new British pub in Darwin, and I've forgotten the name of the place. If you're looking for it, you can't miss it; it's on Mitchell Street. We were there partly just to have fun, and partly because Diana was leaving Darwin the following day to head home.
Wednesday 6 August: I left on a three-day camping safari in Kakadu National Park. Kakadu National Park is Aboriginal land which they've allowed the government to use as a national park, and it's one of the largest national parks in the world (18th largest, I think). It's beautiful, and if you're ever in the Darwin area, go see it. You'll see shorter tours, but don't even think of anything shorter than three days. Also, take a 4WD tour if possible, because some of the most beautiful parts of the park are only accessible via 4WD. One other note: during the Wet (wet season - roughly November through April), some parts of the park are not accessible at all, and the place is supposedly completely infested with bugs, so visit during the Dry.
This was a cool tour. It's aimed at backpackers, so it attracts a pretty young crowd (the oldest in this group was 34, the youngest 22) of people who want to have fun. Special mention goes to Nicollette, who was the best-looking girl on the bus. Another Austrian, Heidi, was also a babe, and as I found out later, I'd meet more beautiful Austrians. I think there's a law somewhere that says only beautiful women are allowed to visit Australia from Austria.
We started off by looking at some large termite mounds. There are several species of termites in Oz, and most of them eat grass, not wood. The most interesting ones are the gothic, or cathedral, termites, who build large (up to 5-6m high) mounds all over the Top End of Australia.
At the end of the afternoon, we went on a cruise through a crocodile-infested river (the Mary River). We saw a herd of cows on the bank, and three crocs nearby, and we tried calling the cows to come visit us in the hopes that one of 'em would become a croc's dinner and we'd get really good pictures of it all. But the cows just ignored us.
Thursday 7 August: We all woke up a couple of hours before sunrise and piled into the bus so that we could watch the sunrise at the wetland observation centre at Mamukala. I'm not a morning person at all, but I spent most of my holiday getting up at some really awful hours, mostly 5-6 am, and enjoying it. Must be something about being on holiday. Either that, or cuz we were all sleeping on the bus.
We also saw Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr Rock and at Nourlangie Rock. We had lunch at Anbangbang Billabong. Say that five times quickly without your friends giving you funny looks. Billabong, so we were told, is the only word that's the same in all Aboriginal languages, and it means watering hole. One other thing I noticed in the Top End was that many Aboriginal words have repeated syllables.
Friday 8 August: Last day of the Kakadu tour. We went swimming at Twin Falls, cheerfully ignoring the signs proclaiming that crocodiles were known to live there. No worries, mate; they're only freshies. I discovered on this day that my waterproof sunscreen wasn't. Waterproof, that is.
We also saw Jim Jim Falls, which wasn't. Falling, that is. It's dry season in the Top End and it hardly rained the whole time I was there. Jim Jim is another of those repetitive Aboriginal things; it's named after anjimjim, which is a type of tree found in abundance nearby.
After the tour ended, most of the people who were on it went to the Victoria Hotel in the Smith Street Mall in Darwin for drinks. Then we went to Rattle and Hum (more on that later). When I got home from that, I discovered that the gang was planning on going out, so I hit my third bar of the evening. Sorry, don't recall the name of the place. I also discovered that Jac had had his tongue pierced, at Dee's urging, while I was gone. But when you have your tongue pierced, it swells up and you have difficulty feeding yourself. It can also interfere with speech. So Jac took the stud back out.
Saturday 9 August: The gang got together and decided to go swimming at Andy's place. At one point, those of us who were in the pool were wearing only one piece of clothing each, covering our bits. So the girls were topless. I was wearing my swimmies with nothing underneath (apparently, Aussies don't do this), but the other guys had their dacks on under their swimmies, so off came the swimmies and they were almost naked. Kris, you made my day, hon. But what's a nice Canadian girl like you doing playing topless in a pool in Australia? Particularly a prairie girl from Winnipeg. Shocking! Too bad there were only two girls there ...
Sunday 10 August: We were going to go watch the beer can regatta (which is the second silliest regatta idea I've ever heard of, the silliest being the Henley on Todd regatta on a dry riverbed in Alice Springs), but everyone was feeling kinda lazy. So lazy that when we went to Andy's place and found that all four of the residents were asleep, they had to be shown that it's bad to sleep in. Jen was selected as the victim and thrown in the pool by Jac and Will.
By the time everyone was up, we couldn't be bothered going to the regatta. Besides which, it was probably over already or something. So several of us went swimming at an abandoned quarry near Darwin. And to get into the quarry, the best way is to jump in. Er, I mean jump down. Way down. I have a couple of pictures, taken with Andy's camera, showing me posing in fear of the jump, and then in mid-air. It took me forever to get up the balls to jump, but I had to do it because I'd just watched the three girls jump. If three sheilas can do it, a bloke has to, too.
Will works as a bouncer at a strip club called Sinsations in downtown Darwin (part of the same place as Moose's Place, where Denise used to work), so some of us went there for dinner and entertainment. There were four blokes (me, Andy, Jac, and Will), and two sheilas (Denise and Kris). The ladies were paying more attention to the dancers than the guys were! They were picking the girls apart, and to be fair, they were doing a pretty good job. Some of the girls just should not have been working there. One, in particular, wasn't very pretty, didn't have a great body, and was so stiff on stage that you had to wonder if she was a robot. Jac has a favourite girl here, and I have to agree with him; she was easily the best in the place. I think she was Miss South Australia. Sorry, blokes, no pictures of her!
It was Kris' last day working at Rattle and Hum (the big backpacker bar in Darwin) before she continued her travels, so we all went there and drank while she worked. Heh. And she was pouring us particularly strong drinks for no extra charge. Kris, once again you made my day!
Monday 11 August: Off for a one-day tour of Litchfield National Park, with the same tour company (Northern Territory Adventure Tours - highly recommended!) as the Kakadu tour. Litchfield is beautiful, too, and is a popular getaway spot for Darwin residents. Among the places we visited were Buley Rockhole, Florence Falls, and Wangi Falls. We also saw a goanna called a Merten's Water Monitor wandering around at the picnic area.
Since it was the last night in Darwin for three of us (Kris, Jen, and me), we went to Rattle again. Before that, I took Dee and Jac out for dinner to thank them for putting up with me. Jac just had a steak. I ate grilled Barramundi (the big game fish in Australia), and Dee had crocodile schnitzel. Since she couldn't finish it, I got to eat half of it.
Tuesday 12 August: Once again, I'm on a tour run by NTAT - a six-day tour to Alice Springs and the outback. Or, almost on it. My travel agent put the wrong time on my confirmation, so I missed the tour bus and had to catch a Greyhound to meet the gang at Katherine at lunchtime. I missed seeing a bunch of dead people at the Adelaide River WWII cemetery, and Charlie the Water Buffalo from Crocodile Dundee. So I missed the first few hours of a six-day tour; no worries, mate. But I am upset about having to pay bus fare for someone else having stuffed up, and I'm hoping that my travel agent will pick up the tab for it.
This afternoon, we found ourselves at Nitmiluk, a.k.a. Katherine Gorge. Many of us paired up and went canoeing; my partner for this was Neil. Neither of us had ever canoed before, and we never managed to master motion in a straight line. But we were just about the fastest paddlers out there.
Wednesday 13 August: Our first stop of the morning is at Mataranka, where there are thermal springs which apparently stay at 34.5 degrees year-round. We went swimming in 'em, of course. They empty out into a river, and I went for a swim in the river, too. It was lovely.
We saw the Larrimah Hotel, which has a pink panther statue in front of it (yes, I have a picture of me sitting in his lap, and a picture of our whole gang hanging out with the Pink Panther), and the Daly Waters Pub, where there is an assortment of patrons' underwear hanging above the bar (yes, I have a picture of that, too). Apparently, the deal is that they'll hang your undies up, but you have to remove them while on the pool table. If you can do it without showing the whole bar what you got, fine, but if not, well, everyone gets to see what you've got. The Daly Waters Pub is supposed to be the oldest pub in the Northern Territory. Both of these are in little towns that used to be telegraph stations. In the great big expanse of nothingness between Darwin and Alice are a number of such towns.
Thursday 14 August: We visited the Devil's Marbles, where I got the same picture that everyone else who visits there takes. There's this pair of big rocks with enough room for a person to stand between them, so you stand there and put your arms on them and pretend to be holding them apart.
We got into Alice Springs this afternoon and checked into the Melanka youth hostel. I didn't like the place, but I'm used to real hotels. But I heard a couple of the real backpackers in the group also whinging about the place so I take it that they also didn't like it. Between the two nights I stayed there, I found a room where the light above my bed would flicker but not come on, plenty of bugs, poor maintenance, a shower that sent more water back towards the wall than forwards towards you, a bathroom door that was propped open because it would have fallen down otherwise, etc. I don't know if there's another youth hostel in Alice; if so, I'd suggest you might want to try it first, and consider Melanka your second choice.
Friday 15 August: The day started with a visit to a camel farm, where I rode a camel (but I have no pictures). One of the other travellers (Barbara) just about got thrown by her camel. To commemorate this, someone bought her a postcard of a stampeding camel. Most amusing, though probably not if you're Barbara :-)
We visited King's Canyon. King's Canyon is impressive. I have another picture from there that, apparently, everyone else has. There's this rock table, and three people stand on it. They link arms or hold hands, and the two on the outside lift their outside legs and raise their outside arms and if you let go, they'd fall and really hurt themselves. But my picture is special because I'm hanging onto two gorgeous girls. They're Austrians (remember, only beautiful Austrian women are allowed to visit Australia) and they're sisters. And you don't have their address. Neener neener neener!
Saturday 16 August: Today, it's the Olgas (Kata Tjuta, to use the real name of the place). They're these huge rounded rocks sticking up out of the ground in the middle of a flat desert. I have a number of pictures of them, but photos really don't do them justice. To appreciate the scale of these things, you really have to visit them.
At the end of the day, we drove to Uluru, otherwise known as Ayers Rock. We had a look at it, for the benefit of those who were thinking of climbing it the following day. We then went to the sunset observation area and watched the rock change colour as the sun set. You don't really notice it as much when you're there, so you just take pictures every few minutes and say "Well, it looks red." But when you get your pictures developed, you see just how much the colour changes.
Back at the campground, we sat around the fire and sang songs. People from different countries were asked to sing songs from their homes. We also sang Waltzing Matilda, and our guide explained the Aussie words and slang and history in it. Now it finally makes sense.
Sunday 17 August: We got up way, way too early so that we could be at Uluru before sunrise. I climbed it. It's not a difficult climb as far as the risk of falling or skill required to climb it, particularly since there's a chain on the steepest part and a painted white line the rest of the way to show you the best path, but it's very tiring. The furrows in the side of the rock channel the wind, and there are places on the top of the rock where it's so windy your eyes start to water. Partway up, I thought I was a complete nutter for having put myself into a situation where I had to climb back down the thing, but it was fun.
The whole area around Uluru and Kata Tjuta is Aboriginal land, and they've leased it back to the government. It's run jointly by the government and the Aboriginals, and they share the proceeds from park admission charges. Uluru has a number of sacred sites around it, and the Aboriginals strongly suggest you not climb it. However, they have given their permission for it to be climbed, and apparently have said that they will not revoke their permission. I was told that they did a survey of tourists and found that 80% of visitors would not have come to Uluru if they were not allowed to climb it.
At the end of the day, we all got together for a barbie, drinks, and dancing. I ate roo, camel, and buffalo. Then the gang that had mostly been together for six days (there were a few who only took the first three days, and a few who only did the last three days) said good-bye.
Monday 18 August: In total, I saw about a quarter of the gang again today, between the folks I saw at the hostel in the morning and the four others who were on the same flight out of Alice I was. This time, I arrived in Sydney on a beautiful day, and had a lovely view of the harbour, opera house, and bridge from the air.
Because of the date line, I spent a night in the plane and arrived in L.A. on the same day I left Sydney (earlier in the day, too). I watched two movies - Liar Liar (already seen it; 10/10) and Breakdown (7/10). And now for a beef. If you ran the U.S. Immigration staff at LAX and you knew you had five 747s landing at about the same time, would you think you might need more staff to handle the load? Well, if you said yes, you're disqualified as being too smart to work for government. Prior to this trip, the longest I'd ever taken from landing until clearing customs and immigration, anywhere I've ever travelled, was about half an hour. At LAX, they didn't even let us off the plane until 45 minutes after we landed, and then we all stood around waiting to see the immigration folks in a hall whose air conditioning system evidently wasn't engineered to handle that many people. By the time I'd cleared immigration and customs, it was two hours after the plane had landed. Coincidentally, my flight back to Toronto had just left, without me on it. And the next flight was seven hours later, thanks to the airport curfew at Toronto. So I spent seven more hours at LAX. On the bright side, it was a gorgeous sunset (and, according to the folks working there, they rarely get gorgeous sunsets - probably because of the ugly brown haze hanging over the city). The moral of the story: U.S. Immigration are morons.
Tuesday 19 August: Seven hours late, I arrive home at last. I buy some food to fill up my empty fridge, spend a lot of time being followed around by my darling kittycat, get my photos processed, and start doing laundry in the hopes that I can get rid of about a ton of red dirt that's infiltrated everything I own.