Saturday, November 20, 2010

Australia - West to East

Julane in Cape Naturaliste
Time for a holiday again, this time to Australia and Papua New Guinea.
This trip will include lots of flights, we want to visit friends, go diving and see Kangaroos...

Our journey begins in Perth. We celebrated the 80th birthday with a friend in Perth who shares the same birth date as Patrick. Then we took a road trip to Margaret River area enjoying both the coast and the vineyards. So it was a combination of hiking and wine tasting.

Cape Naturaliste
Sunset in Cape Leeuwin

Elf crossing ahead
Besides the beautiful beaches, vast vineyards, and lighthouses, there are amazing forests too. This particular forest really caught our fancy especially the altered street sign announcing the elf crossing.

We particularly enjoyed the small town of Augusta, and the nearby Cape Leeuwin, which is most south-westerly mainland point of the Australian Continent. The Cape is considered the point where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. The famous lighthouse in Leeuwin is said to have a sign that shows the Indian and Southern Ocean.... Unfortunately by the time we arrive the gates were already closed. Looks like they keep the lighthouse in a fenced of area, I wonder if they are afraid that someone is going to take it, or that it might walk away?
I want to see a REEL Kangaroo

From Perth we flew to Brisbane from where we caught a flight up to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, more about that trip in another PNG post....

... back from PNG we arrived in Cairns to continue our Australia trip, the initial plan was to go south to Townsville and try to get a few dives on the SS Yongala, which is apparently one of the best wreck dive sites in the world. But Patrick had an ear infection, pretty much ruling any kind of water sports out.
Termite mounds

We’ve decided to head into the outback after spending a short time in Cairns which is truly a tourist Mecca. Both of us have been here many years back and dived at the Great Barrier Reef already, so no big deal  that we couldn't go diving. Anyway why not see something different this time.
So we rented a car and took off west to the parched landscape where mining was the lure of many inhabitants. The road is called “Wheelbarrow Way” and was mostly paved for the 200 km journey.
Some are taller than Julane
After passing over a rain-forested covered low mountain range, we entered a totally different landscape filled with termite mounds everywhere. They can be man-sized in height, or just small bumps densely scattered like mushrooms all over the place. The “shell” is more like concrete in density and comes in many colors depending on the earth that they live in.

Eventually we found more kangaroo warning signage but still none to be spotted except for the flattened kangaroo version baking on the highway. Actually they were the animal called a wallaby (a smaller critter that appears more like a cross between a rabbit, kangaroo and a rat and maybe even a deer DNA gene entered somehow).
We arrived to Chillagoe just before sunset, found a cozy cabin and then took off to have an evening stroll through the limestone karst landscape which was surprisingly green due to an early start to the rainy season.
Our "home" for the night
Under the balancing rock

Shortly afterwards, we drove to the local watering hole…no not for alcohol, but for swimming. There we were told, we would find the elusive kangaroo. Well we did come across the smaller brethren: the Agile Wallaby. They were definitely shy and watched us as closely as we watched them. We didn’t get very close when they took off at amazing speed in the dim light. Nope, we wouldn’t be getting warmly welcomed to pet them tonight.

Agile Wallaby's
Rock Wallaby with "Joey" in the pouch

The next morning, just outside our kitchen window while making breakfast, I was greeted with a number of birds also having breakfast. First was a large white egret, then some emu like birds with curved beaks, then a pair of wild pheasants rummaging in the packed earth. And not to be outdone, arrived a flock of beautiful large white cockatoos with yellow accents, and last but definitely not least, a quite tame and beautiful peacock paraded around. I’m not even mentioning the small birds here. "Bird Paradise" was not mentioned in the tourist brochure at all

But actually the main reason that we came out to Chillagoe was to visit the massive limestone caves littered across the area. There are ranger guided tours entering into three of the caves. We decided to join the afternoon one so we could first visit two of the other ones that are open to the public on a self guided basis.
The Royal Arch cave took about 1.5 hours to explore and was extensive. We were equipped with lights and left the dry 38C temps and immediately cooled down to damp and cool level in the low 20’s. The path was easy and meandered through many caverns. Some were in complete darkness while others had light peeking down into it. Our only “wildlife” was bats, spiders, and cockroaches (food for the carnivorous and large spiders)
We didn’t manage to find any of the pythons that also exist there.  The ranger advised us that pythons are very relaxed in the cool environment of the caves but should be avoided in the hot environment outside. He said they quite “chilled out” down there and can be easily handled!
Royal arch cave
Patrick as the masked cave monster

Chillagoe Smelter
We also visited the huge smelter (now abandoned) that used to employ a lot of people back a century ago. It was used to mine and process copper and lead; needless to say, a rather toxic environment. It reminded us a bit of some of the ghost towns of Arizona in its mining days.

We did find some interesting transport in this area. I’ll let you use your imagination about the type of folks who would be driving them…

Outback sports car with sun visor...
... and kangaroo protection

This one is more like a real Outback car

Since we still haven't see a reel Kangaroo, we asked the park ranger where we might find a bonafide 6ft tall roo and his reply was: at the golf course in Mareeba on our way back to Cairns. His advice was good indeed, here we finally seen a real roo! But the “No Trespassing” signs at the edge of the golf course only allowed us to see them from a far distance.

From Cairns we did a short stop over in Melbourne before heading back to Singapore. There we were experiencing the truth of Spring…meaning, its been cold, then super hot and now rainy!

And we’re off…

Hope the gas lasts until the next filling station!!!