Monthly Archives: April 2015


I spent the last four days of my trip in Sydney, trying to see the sights with minimal walking. It’s a large, noisy place, but fortunately I was only a couple blocks from the Central train station, staying in a nice apartment in Surry Hills.

10 April, 2015 – Opera House

I left Cairns very early and took a plane to Sydney, arriving fairly early in the morning. After coffee with my airbnb host, I took the train to Circular Quay (“Circular Key”) and went on a tour of the Opera House. The history of it’s construction is fascinating.

11 April – Hop On Hop Off Bus

I spent the day riding around on the top of a double decker bus, getting off at a few locations: “The Rocks” for views of the harbor and a stroll through the Saturday market, Paddington to visit the Photography Centre, Bondi Beach for a picnic lunch watching the surfers, and the Australia Museum which had a great “Nature Photographer of the Year” exhibit.

12 April – Blue Mountains

I spent a delightful day with Mandy and Jarred, who I met last year in the Ecuadorian jungle. They picked me up at the Wharoonga train station, about 45 minutes north of Sydney, and we went for a drive in the Blue Mountains. Since I can’t hike, we stopped at several viewpoints and took short strolls. I was impressed with their knowledge of local fauna and appreciated seeing a variety of forests. If I get back to Australia, a canyon hike in the Blueys will be on my list. Thank you both for a great day.

13 April – Zoo

After a short ferry ride to the Taronga Zoo, I rode the cable car to the top and slowly made my way down through the Australian section. I enjoyed seeing local animals up close and support the focus on conservation, but I was dismayed to see some parents allowing their children to harass animals and elephants should definitely not be kept in zoos. My favorite part was the Koala Encounter. I paid extra to get close to a couple koalas and lucked out because one was awake and moving about. (They sleep as much as cats, about 16 hours a day).

14 April – Home Again

I arrived before I departed, thanks to the international date line, recovering the day I lost on my way to New Zealand. I was sleepy all day, then slept for ten hours, nearly resetting my biological clock.

Great Barrier Reef

6 April, 2015 – Arrival in Cairns (“Cans”)

Another big change, from the desert to the tropics; a wave of humidity engulfed me as I departed the plane in the early evening. There’s not much public transportation, so I took a taxi to the city centre. I’m staying in a nice small apartment booked through Airbnb. Easter Monday is a holiday here, so I’ll have to wait until morning to pick up a few items at the supermarket, conveniently located across the street.

7 April – Cairns 24 Hour Medical Center

I spent most of today walking slowly back and forth between my apartment, the medical clinic, and radiology to have my foot examined. Sadly, no more hiking for this trip. The theory is that something dropped on my foot a couple months ago, perhaps a can in the kitchen, and didn’t realize that I injured because it stopped hurting quickly. Hiking aggravated whatever it is, perhaps a stress fracture. Doctors orders: minimize walking, no more than a kilometer at a time on a flat surface, for at least two to three weeks. Looks like I won’t be hiking in the Blue Mountains. The good news is that swimming should be fine.

I saw virtually nothing in Cairns, only a couple noisy trees, one full of bats, the other colorful birds, and a large swimming lagoon near the ocean.

8-9 April – Coral Sea

Aah, to be under the water again, admiring the coral and fishes. I enjoyed living barefoot for two days. Gentle rocking of the boat, soft humid breezes, this is the life!

I completed six dives in two days. A fast, crowded boat took us out to the reef and on a couple dives, and then we transferred to a nicer liveaboard boat. My cabin, which I shared with a young woman from Holland, was spacious and comfortable with it’s own bath. I could have easily spent more time aboard.

Fortunately swimming is easier than walking for my foot, though I flipped more with one than the other. I hadn’t been diving for many years, so I signed up for a couple beginner dives. Had I realized that my certification is good for life, I would have taken a refresher course ahead of time and been able to dive without holding someone’s hand. Instead, I choose to snorkel most of the time. On the second day the current was strong enough that we had to swim continuously to keep from drifting back to the boat.

I brought a waterproof housing for my small camera and had fun trying to take pictures of the fish; it’s a challenge to photograph small moving objects while bobbing around in the water. The coral was more damaged than I anticipated, at least in the sections we visited. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world, covering about 350,000 square kilometers, so I certainly didn’t see it all. Some portions looked like underwater gardens, so if we stop polluting our oceans, maybe it can recover.

I was tired when we got back to Cairns, and my body still felt as if it was rolling with the waves when I went to bed.

The Red Centre

I just spent a week in the outback of central Australia. Flying doctors, school of the air, fly in – fly out jobs, this place is vast and remote. The terrain is gently undulating, rather than pancake flat as I imagined, and greener, thanks to rain in February. The growth cycles of the plants are not tied to the seasons, but rather to the rain, which is rare, sometimes not at all for a year or more. When it does rain, it tends to pour, overflowing dry rivers and promoting growth spurts. On average, there’s just enough rain for it not to be classified as a desert, but it is very arid, as my lips and hands will attest. (I used lotion for the first time since leaving home). Overall, the scenery reminds me of the American southwest, with lots of red soil and a smattering of fantastic rock formations, thought we don’t have kangaroos or camels wandering about. (Initially imported for transport, camels are now being exported back to the Middle East).

31 March – Alice Springs

As someone mentioned when I told him I was going from Auckland to Alice Springs, these two places have nothing in common except they both start with the letter “A”. One is a green port city, the other a dry outpost. With a population of about 28,000, Alice is the third largest city in the Northern Territory, and there are no springs.

It was a long day getting here. I got up at 4:00 a.m., which is 12:30 a.m. here. Jane, another of my wonderful women hostesses, picked me up from the airport at noon. We had lunch and then I explored the town while she returned to work. I started at the mall where I did a little shopping and spotted a dot painting, which I now regret not purchasing. I just missed feeding time at the reptile center, but got to hold a python. Jane dropped me at the desert park where I got to spend a wonderful hour walking from aviary to aviary. I virtually had the place to myself and wished there was more time before closing.

1 April – West MacDonnell Ranges

I took a day trip to numerous spots in this colorful mountain range with only three other tourists, including the same Aussie American I chatted with on the plane yesterday; he’s taking about three weeks to hike the Larapinta Trail, something I wouldn’t consider in this heat. Our guide was very knowledgeable and shared a lot of information with us, about both local history and nature.

I got dropped off at Jane’s home and enjoyed a beer and meal with her and her co-worker, Odette. They both assured me that Cooper’s Pale Ale is the best beer in Australia and I need not look further (so far my samplings have proved them correct). It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, much of it spent lamenting that Americans take too few vacations.

2 April – Getting to Uluru

I was picked up at 5:40 a.m. (thank you Jane for an early ride to the rendezvous spot) for a three-day camping trip. There were twenty-one of us, the majority exchange students from other countries. There was also four people from Finland and a few Aussies, seeing Uluru for the first time.

It’s a long drive to Uluru, more than five hours, on an almost straight road. With a few stops along the way, we reached our campground in Yulara, the town just outside Uluru-Kata Tjuta  National Park, in time for lunch. Afterwards, we visited the cultural center (the land surrounding this area has been returned to the Aboriginal people and they manage it jointly with the park service), and took a couple short walks near the base of Uluru. The majority of this broad monolith is underground and what we see is one end of a giant rock formation that has been turned on end.

A light rain started right after dinner, so the majority of us, including me, rolled out our swags under the tables in the dining tent. Turns out the rain stopped shortly and we would have been fine outdoors.

3 April – Kata Tjuta

We were up at 5:00 a.m. so we could have breakfast before driving to the Kata Tjuta dune viewpoint. Kata Tjuta (“catta-jew-tah”) means “many heads” in the local Aboriginal language. (This rock formation was previously known as the Olgas). From there the sun rose behind Uluru, far in the distance.

After sunrise, we took a 7.5 km circuit in the Valley of the Winds section of Kata Tjuta. Other than my left foot, which has suddenly started killing me, it was a wonderful hike.

After lunch, we drove to Kings Canyon where we settled in for the night. Dinner included kangaroo steaks, which were too chewy for my taste. This time I slept out under a full moon. Just after I drifted to sleep, another camper spotted a scorpion. This led to much commotion and the scorpion’s demise. I rechecked the perimeter of my swag and went back to sleep hoping nothing would crawl on me during the night.

4 April – Kings Canyon

Once again we were up before dawn for a drive to a trailhead. We took a four-hour hike though the Zion-like Kings Canyon, a wonderland of sculpted red rock. Other than the first stretch, nicknamed Cardiac Hill, the rim walk was not difficult. I taped up my foot, took ibuprofen, and stepped carefully.

After lunch, camel burgers, those of us going back to Yulara boarded a very comfy tour bus for our three ride, while the rest of the group returned to Alice Springs. We made one stop along the way and reached the Outback Pioneer Lodge with plenty of time for a shower before sunset. My private room with a shared bath is both my most expensive overnight lodging and the cheapest room in town.

I walked up to the viewpoint near my hotel to watch the sunset. We didn’t get the magic red light on Uluru, but the sunset over Kata Tjuta was amazing. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was an unusual sunset, apparently caused by a lunar eclipse that I missed.

I had dinner with a couple fellow campers, a cook-it-yourself BBQ/salad bar combo, eating outdoors with a nice band in the background.

5 April – Yulara

There were clouds on the horizon so sunrise wasn’t spectacular. I walked around this tiny town, the fourth largest in the Northern Territory, visited all the galleries, and bought a few small souvenirs; I really like some of the Aboriginal designs. My foot was throbbing, so I spent the afternoon lounging around the lodge, repacking my suitcase (to fit in my purchases) and sorting through hundreds of photos.

Words cannot describe the beauty and joy of standing on the top of a red dune and watching an amazing sunset, especially while wearing shorts and enjoying a gentle warm desert breeze. I am a happy traveller! BTW, this trip has convinced me that I need to move to someplace where I can enjoy the warmth of summer wearing sandals.

At dinner I met a nurse from Queensland and had a nice long chat over a beer. She is heading back to a remote Aboriginal community for another ten-week stint in a nursing home. The place is so remote that a bus runs only twice a week, when rain or Aboriginal “men’s business” doesn’t close it. (Most aborigines, many separate tribes and languages, remain secretive about their stories and rituals).

6 April – Uluru

I finally had clear skies at sunrise and saw the oxidized rock turn red, nice. I was going to walk around the base, about 6km, but turned back a third of the way around since my foot was aching again. I strolled back, thoroughly enjoying the view. Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon were both beautiful, but Uluru is the most peaceful. It feels good to be here. I could easily stay longer, but I’m catching a mid-afternoon flight to Cairns.

Sorry for the length of this entry and the number of photos, I don’t have time to edit further.

Last Days in New Zealand

27 March, 2015 – Tauranga (“toe-rung-ah”)

I lounged in the morning, petting one of Gladys’s ragdoll cats. We went into town for lunch and a bit of window-shopping. I then hiked to the top of Mount Maunganui while Gladys circled the base. In the evening, I joined her and a half dozen of her friends for dinner and a Peta Mathias performance. Peta is an NZ cook and comedienne with a local TV show. She demonstrated how to cook a fatty lamb dish with black pudding, which I would never eat, and told humorous stories of her catholic school years. The show felt like a commercial for her cooking trips, but her singing was beautiful.

28 March – Tauranga to Auckland

Thanks to tips from Gladys and Jacque, my next hostess, I had a perfectly choreographed drive to Auckland with scenic stops along the way.

My first stop was Te Puna, where I took an hour walk through a quarry turned into a park. In addition to a variety of gardens, there were random sculptures and rusty equipment throughout. I next strolled through Katikati (“catty-catty”), appropriately nicknamed Mural Town. The murals, scattered about town, are mostly historical in nature. There is also a smattering of artwork and poetry, a nice addition to any town. Alas, there was no dark chocolate, a rare commodity in NZ.

I took a hike at Karangahake Gorge, exploring a few of the many trails throughout this old mining site. Lunch at the Native Tree Café was delightful. My third “hike” of the day was to a bird blind at Miranda Shorebird Colony.

Less than an hour later, I met Jacque at the Auckland Botanic Gardens. Founding member of a butterfly trust, she was volunteering at an annual “Eyes on Nature” event designed to reconnect children to nature. I arrived just as an energetic cultural performance was beginning, and then toured the gardens until her shift was over.

29 March – Tiritiri Matangi

Jacque joined me for a guided tour of this amazing bird sanctuary. Until a few decades ago, this island, a 75-minute ferry ride from Auckland, was used for pastureland and nearly treeless. Staring in the 1980’s, volunteers planted nearly 300,000 trees. They poisoned the kiore rats (used for food by the Maori) and reintroduced a dozen species of endangered birds and a few reptile species. I was able to see and hear many of them today.

30 March – Auckland

Jacque sang me Happy Birthday when I got up in the morning and later gave me a basket of butterflies to release. When she went to work, promoting reading in the schools, I wandered around the city centre, from Myers Park to Wynyard Quarter. My favorite spots were the Auckland Art Gallery, with a variety of historic, modern, and contemporary art, and along the wharf. To celebrate my birthday, Jacque and I went to dinner at the Sky Tower, the tallest manmade structure in the southern hemisphere. We timed it for sunset and enjoyed the slowly revolving view of the city. (Thanks for the suggestion, Gladys).