Monthly Archives: June 2007

Cabin ‘roo at Ross River

For reasons I do not fully understand, I connected with the outback, particularly in the Red Centre, at a deep level. As a result, on my first trip back, I made sure I spent time in the Centre. I spent a few days in Alice Springs and then headed out to Ross River Homestead, where I rented a cabin a bit more “away from it all.” I had underestimated my reaction on returning to this area, and had not planned nearly enough time. After three days, I had to leave Ross River, and I’m sure they thought it odd that tears were running down my face as they drove me back to Alice Springs. But it was very hard to leave, having had to work so hard to get back.

If you saw the movie Quigley Down Under, you’ve seen this area; this is the site they picked for recreating the outback cattle station (for non-Aussies, station=ranch). It’s located along the eastern stretch of the MacDonnell Range, a splendid, ancient, eroded range of red mountains that looks like the bones of the earth sticking through its red skin.

I had a splendid time at Ross River Homestead (one of the oldest homestead in the Northern Territory). I spent my days hiking among rock formations and along dried river beds, and my evenings listening to tales from local Aboriginal story tellers or learning about the area’s history.

The area around Ross River is made more wonderful by the wildlife. There is an astonishing variety of bird life, as the southern and northern bird habitats overlap here. There are also plenty of kangaroos. Having become accustomed to the presence of humans, they are often surprisingly close at hand. (The big ones are, anyway—they know they can take care of themselves—smaller ‘roos were still a bit shy.) Apparently, the paving stones in front of the cabins make a nice place to catch the sun—my guess is because it is a bit cooler than the surrounding red dirt. As a result, it was not uncommon to return to my cabin and find I had company.

cabin-roo2.jpeg

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Three Sisters

My first visit to the Three Sisters was on my first trip to Australia. However, my favorite photo of this rock formation was from my second trip to Oz.

The Three Sisters is a three-peaked rock formation at the edge of the Jamison Valley in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney. On my first visit, it was sunny and there weren’t many people. On my second visit, it was raining lightly and there were buses full of tourists. However, because of the rain, the tourists were all packed into nearby tourist venues, ordering snacks or playing video games. I put my hood up and headed outside alone—and was abundantly rewarded, as you’ll see in the photo below.

The Three Sisters, by the way, derive their name from Aboriginal mythology. Back in the time of legend, three sisters went into the forest to forage with the local witch doctor. The girls got tired and decided to stay behind while the doctor headed farther into the woods. They idly threw stones over the cliff, which woke up a mythical carnivorous creature known as bunyip. Hearing the girls’ cries of distress, the witch doctor came running, magic stick in hand. To save the girls from being dinner for the bunyip, he turned them into the three stone pillars that still stand in the mountains.

The Three Sisters are worth a visit, as is the entire area surrounding them, even if you do go on a sunny day. But if you happen to be there when it’s raining lightly, perhaps you’ll see what I saw that day.

Three Sisters, Blue Mountains, New South Wales

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Travel Tips

The first impression one may have in reading this blog is that I’ve only been to Australia. My first trip to Australia was a pivotal event in my life, but it was by no means my only trip. I have been to 35 countries on six continents, and have traveled widely in the U.S. My adventures have ranged from high end to exotic to rough and tumble, with accommodations that span the spectrum from elegant hotels to nomads’ tents. As a result, I’ve learned a fair bit about traveling successfully—and I actually get paid on occasions to do presentations on the topic.

I thought that, in between travel tales, I’d share a few top tips for making travel easier, safer, healthier, and more find. Today, I’ll introduce two of my favorite products for when I’m on the road.

The first is J.R. Liggett shampoo. This is great shampoo—all natural, biodegradable, easy on the hair, and rich enough that you probably won’t need conditioner. The thing that makes it perfect for travel is that it’s a bar. A 3.5 oz. bar of this shampoo is roughly the equivalent of 24 fluid ounces of liquid shampoo. It’s light weight, easy to pack, and won’t spill. I’ve been carrying this stuff for ages, but have come to appreciate it even more of late, with the strict limits now being placed on liquids as a security measure on airlines. There are a couple of brands of bar shampoo, but this is the one that has always worked best for me. (And as a cautionary note: some folks just take pine tar soap along, especially when camping, as it can double as a shampoo, but be aware that pine tar increases photo-sensitivity, so you may burn more easily or get sun poisoning if you’re relying on this in a very sunny situation. No problem if you’re just going to museums, however. Not as good for your hair as the J.R. Liggett shampoo, but it will suffice.)

J.R. Liggett shampoo can be found in many health food stores or online at http://www.jrliggett.com

Recommended item number two is Emergen-C from Alacer Corp. Emergen-C is an electrolyte powder that comes in little foil packets. I always have some of these with me, but never so faithfully as when I’m on the road. The pressurized cabins in airplanes are notorious for their dehydrating effect, and while drinking lots of fluids helps, adding some electrolytes is even better, especially on long flights. Then, of course, if your destination is some place toasty, it’s good to have your Emergen-C along there, too.

Why Emergen-C? Well, it has twice the potassium of the top sports drinks. It adds stacks of vitamins that help with stress (B vitamins and 1,000 mg of Vitamin C—that’s why that “C” is highlighted in the name), and it’s all natural—no chemicals or artificial sweeteners to hurt you. Just lots of lovely electrolytes and stress vitamins in a yummy, fizzy drink. Of course, because even staying at home can lead to a need for electrolytes, this is not a bad thing to have on hand even when you’re not traveling. You can find it at almost every health food store, camping outfitter, or Whole Foods store. Good stuff. And if you need it, a life saver.

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Phillip Island’s Penguins

Australia is sometimes called the land of the parrot. This is a fair description, as parrots, including rosellas, cockatoos, and galahs, are numerous and close to ubiquitous. The bird life in Australia is one of the great delights of this country—from the mobs of geese, storks, herons in Kakadu to the major migratory flyway near Broome to the birds that one finds everywhere, such as emus and kookaburras.

But there is a bird that most people wouldn’t think to associate with the land downunder: the penguin. However, Australia is the first landfall north of Antarctica, and there are large penguin colonies in several places along the south coast. The spot at which tourists are most likely to encounter these wonderful birds is on an island just south of Melbourne: Phillip Island. Every night, hundreds of penguins come ashore here, and are almost always met by a phalanx of eager visitors. The spot has been made increasingly touristy over the years, but it is still absolutely worth going—for the sake of watching the penguins.

Here’s a little from my book about my first visit to the island:

Shortly after the sun sets the first group of penguins “lands.” There is a shimmer at the edge of the water, a little extra white on a wave, a flip-flash of silver, then a penguin stands up. If there are no other penguins around, it again disappears into the foam. Soon, others arrive. They do not come ashore alone, always in groups—there is safety in numbers. Still, the sea gulls harass the small band trooping up the beach, trying to get them to give up the food they’ve brought for their mates.

If a wave comes along, the penguins drop on their stomachs and ride it in. They are undaunted by the crowd that has come to watch them—until someone disobeys the rules and takes a flash picture. The penguins flee for the safety of the water. (And the offender’s camera is confiscated.) In a few minutes, when it appears that the danger is gone, they start back up the beach.

By this time, farther down the shore, another group has gathered and is waddling solemnly towards home, and the flash and shimmer of another approaching group can be seen on the crest of a breaking wave. Soon, hundreds of penguins are on the beach—600, it is estimated. There are approximately 1,200 in the colony, but this is the mating and breeding season, so someone has to stay at home and sit on the egg. This job is traded off, with the male and female staying behind on alternate days. As a result, there is a tremendous “social hour” when the penguins return home, and we could hear them chattering and whirring as each related the day’s activities to the other mate. Some eggs had already hatched, and we could see the downy chicks in the nests, waiting anxiously for dinner.

Penguins on Phillip Island Note that the penguins on Phillip Island are the Fairy, or Blue, Penguins, which, at 13-inches in height, are the smallest variety of penguin.

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Kangaroo Island

While in South Australia, I visited Kangaroo Island, which is just a short flight south of Adelaide. It was a splendid destination that offered glorious scenery, astonishing wildlife, and splendid natural wonders, from Remarkable Rocks to the extensive Kelly Hill Caves. Here’s an excerpt from my first day on K.I.

Kangaroo Island is a fairly large island, nearly 100 miles long and 30 miles wide. The terrain is a combination of lush, rolling, sheep-dotted pasture land; dense scrub; serene forests; wild, rugged, sea-lashed cliffs; and long, peaceful beaches. Because of its isolation from the mainland, as well as the very low population level, Kangaroo Island is rich with native wildlife, some of it unique to the island.

We drove through the thick bush-land, where openings in the sea of green were filled with wildflowers. The road was unsealed, and the long, straight slash of reddish dirt looked like a fresh cut in an otherwise unbroken mass of plant life. Waves of greenery hung over the edges, seemingly ready to engulf the road at any moment.

As we approached the sea, the dense brush gave way to low coastal vegetation springing out of pure, white sand, dotted with small flowers that hugged the ground, trying to escape the wind. We had arrived at Seal Bay.

We walked out onto the hills of drifted sand and clambered down their steep, shifting sides, descending to the beach, where we were surrounded by Australian sea lions. The colony here is made up of nearly 500 sea lions, and they were ranged all along the bay, as far as the rock-sheltered white sand stretched in either direction.

These sea lions are beautiful creatures, with glossy coats and huge, innocent-looking, dark eyes. They are large, but quick. Many of them were sleeping, but several of the youngsters dashed into the surf to play. They splashed joyously, then raced back onto the beach. After a bit of exercise, they would suddenly stop, and just crash to the ground, going from playtime to nap time in a split second.

Some of the bulls showed off for our benefit, stretching their necks skyward and assuming regal poses. Because the pups are getting quite large, now, we could get relatively close—their massive fathers feel that the children can fend for themselves, and they aren’t as jumpy as when the pups are younger. However, one makes a point of staying a respectful distance from the very territorial males. Besides, the mothers with their babies are more adorable, even if the pups are nearly full grown.

Australian Sea Lion on Kangaroo Island

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Australia Calling

The long climb from out-of-work adventurer to successful freelance writer is outlined, though briefly, in the epilogue to Waltzing Australia. The long “second step” may seem short in the rear-view mirror, but it seemed very long indeed at the beginning, before I had really succeeded—and before I had managed to get back to Australia. I never truly despaired—that might have resulted in giving up. However, there were times I longed for the certainty I had when I was traveling in Oz—not to mention longing for the country itself. I’ve been back to Australia three times since that first six-month trip, but before my second trip, when it seemed that I’d struggle forever to make things work out, I wrote the following little poem.

Australia Calls Me Still

Australia rises suddenly

And catches in my throat:

My heart beats faster, and the hair

At my neck’s nape stirs,

And a sad thrill,

A sweet remembrance salted by the miles,

Floods through me,

And I know I must get back,

Somehow, someday,

To what I was, and who, and where

When I was in Australia.

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