Monthly Archives: May 2008

Clean Sweep

Posted by on May 31, 2008

I’m leaving Broome today. I have a 6-7 hour drive to Port Headland where I’ll stay overnight before I head to Exmouth. Almost the entire coast between here and Port Headland is beach. It is known as 80 Mile Beach, which is an understatement because it is much longer than 80 miles.

If you look at a map, the beach is very smooth and circular which have lead some to speculate that a meteor might have hit the Earth off the coast here sometime in the past.

Despite working on my photos in Broome, I wasn’t able to upload that many due to internet connection issues. It would drop every few minutes canceling any upload I attempted. I do have a few photos up from Purnululu (aka the Bungle Bungle mountains).

McDonald’s Australia (or, Long Live The King)

Posted by on May 31, 2008

If it looks like Burger King...

If it looks like Burger King...

I know that my McDonald’s posts are some of the most popular ones I do, but seeing how long I’ve been in Australia (waaaay longer than I ever intended), I haven’t had a whole lot to write about. Since the beginning of the year, in addition to Australia I’ve been in Brunei (no McDonald’s that I could find), Malaysia (saving that till I get to Kuala Lumpur), Indonesia, East Timor (no McDonald’s), and PNG (no arches to be found in Port Moresby). That doesn’t leave me with a whole lot of Ronald to talk about.

Nonetheless, I feel it is time. Time to talk McD’s.

The menu at the McDonald’s Australia isn’t really that special. When I first arrived in Melbourne there was a McDonald’s about half a mile away (1km) from where I was staying. The first time I went there they had something called the McOz on the menu, but it was replaced by the next time I went there. The McOz was just a regular burger with beetroot on it. It was the same as the Kiwiburger I found in New Zealand, minus the egg. (and I must say, I’ve become a convert to putting an egg on hamburger. It bothered my American sensibilities at first, but now I’ll go out of my way to have a fried egg on my burger at a restaurant.)

The McOz was replaced by the McFeast which is just a burger with lettuce, tomato and mayo. Boring.

There is no $1 menu because nothing here costs anything close to $1. Even a simple cheeseburger is over $2, and the Australian dollar is close to parity with the American dollar. A large McFeast meal is $8.75. Sadly, McDonald’s is the cheapest meal you are going to find in Australia.

...and it tastes like Burger King...

...and it tastes like Burger King...

They have just introduces a bunch of new sandwiches in preparation for the olympics. They are the McEurope, the McAsia, the McAustralia and the McAfrica. Needless to say, as the spokesman for all of the Western Hemisphere, the Americas are pissed at their exclusion from the menu.

  • The McAsia is a chicken wrap, harkening back to the days of yore when Asians ate their foods in tortillas.
  • The McAustralia looks good, but in reality the only good parts are on the edge of the burger. If you look inside, the middle is totally dry and empty and there is nothing but a big red rock in the center.
  • The McAfrica is given to you in a box. When you open it you find it empty and the cashier can not explain where everything went. In truth, the burger has been put in a safe deposit box in Switzerland.
  • The McEurope is chicken. No joke required.

But honestly, I really don’t want to talk about McDonald’s. The whole McDonald’s around the world is great, but McDonald’s often isn’t the interesting fast food story. In Brunei for example it was the pizza. Because it was a Muslim country, they didn’t have any pork. What needs to be brought to the attention of the world in Australia is Burger King….. or, the lack thereof.

It should be BURGER KING!

It should be BURGER KING!

There is no Burger King in Australia. They have Hungry Jacks.

Hungry Jacks is to Burger King what a watch sold by a guy on a street corner is to a Rolex. A cheap imitation of the original.

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was in Australia when I saw the Hungry Jack’s sign. For a country which still has a queen which doesn’t even live in the damn country, you think they could extend the monarchy to something as important as flame broiling.

What was their beef with the King? I think they couldn’t take the idea of two monarchs ruling them from other countries.

What happened to him? Was he beheaded like Louis XVI or Charles I? I imagine there was some burger cabal of Ronald, Wendy and the usurper “Hungry Jack” who got together to plot the coup. Mean, motive and opportunity. Just follow the beef and it will lead you to the truth.

Shame on you Australia. Shame, shame on you…..

Magnificent Desolation

Posted by on May 29, 2008

Buzz Aldrin described the surface of the moon by saying it was “Magnificent Desolation”. That phrase could probably be used to describe the part of Western Australia I’ve been driving through the last three days.

Since I’ve left Darwin, by my trip odometer, I’ve put on about 2,200km (about 1,400 miles). Western Australia is EMPTY. I can’t really stress just how devoid of anything it is. For hours and hours I saw nothing but scrawny eucalyptus trees, termite mounds, red dirt, and occasional rock outcrops. There are no radio stations to listen to and nothing really resembling a town. Between Kunnurra and Broome, there were some outposts and roadhouses. Most of the time you could look out and see no evidence of human beings other than the road itself. No fences, no cattle, no buildings, no power lines…..nothing. I resorted to listening to my iPod while driving. While having an ear bud in your ear while driving isn’t probably the safest thing (I only used one), I wasn’t too worried because I would only see another vehicle every 20 min or so.

I found the maximum length of a road train in Australia is 153.5m or 500 feet. That’s a lot of truck. I asked a drive what his average speed was and he said 80 kph (48 mph). In the wet season, it much be a real bitch to get those trucks through some of the stream beds and flood plains which are everywhere.

I spent two nights at the Turkey Creek Roadhouse, where I was picked up by a tour group to go and visit Purnululu National Park, which I have to say, really surpassed by expectations. I have close to 300 photos from there I have to go through and will right a longer post about it later. (The list of articles I have to write it getting pretty long.) I usually can’t even use my computer at night because I have no electricity.

I’m currently in Broome, on the west coast. When I got in to town I was relieved, but ultimately got depressed when I realized that, as the crow flies, I’m still only about 1/3 the way to Perth. It should be more of a straight shot from here on out, however.

Broome seems to be like some of the towns in Arizona where people flock to during the winter. The campground I’m staying at looks more like a cross between a refugee camp and a permanent party. My plans for Broome are to get through as many photos as possible, sit on the beach and not drive.

Gas in the outback is expensive. I was paying the equivalent of US$6.80 per gallon ($1.87 Australian per liter). One place was US$7 per gallon, but I didn’t fill up there. I risked it and drove 160km to to next gas station.

I can’t even tell you how much my camper sucks. I’m going to write up more about, but the short version is, if you are going to make a drive like this you are better off spending a bit more per day on the car if you can get significant improvements in mileage. You are going to spend more on fuel than on the car.

The weather out here is nice. Temperature never gets above he low to mid 80’sF (30C) and it is very dry. No humidity. It is the beginning of the dry season and you can see bush fires, or the evidence of them, all over. Burning is natural and part of the ecosystem. There is a bird up here which will pick up burning sticks and drop them to spread a fire to flush out animals.

I have another day in Broome, so expect to see some more updates tomorrow at least. From Broome I’ll probably travel to Port Headland and then to Exmouth, each of which are probably 6 hour stretches in my camper. Port Headland is the approximate half way point.

I have also determined that there is no way in hell I’m driving to Uluru…..

Plants and birds and rocks and things

Posted by on May 25, 2008

Driving yesterday went much longer than I thought it would. The map is deceptively small. Most of the drive was near the Victoria river and the Victoria River Gorge in Gregory National Park. The scenery was quite stunning and unexpected. It reminded me a lot of West Texas and New Mexico, except with more trees. The rocks in this area look old…nay, ancient. They are dark red with a black film over everything.

This area is definitely arid, but it isn’t a desert. It is currently the dry season, but there is a wet season. You can see flood level markers all over and there are enough trees that obviously water has to come from somewhere. As I came close to Western Australia, I began to notice some boab trees. I think the boab tree has quickly become one of my favorite trees. I remember seeing a photo of a boab tree from Africa in an encyclopedia when I was younger and it scared me. I have no idea why. I have definitely overcome my boabaphobia.

The time zone change from NT to WA is 90 minutes, because the middle of Australia is 30 min offset from the east coast. I really loathe time zones which aren’t full hours. (I’m looking at you India, Newfoundland, and Venezuela)

Today will be a short drive from Kununurra to Turkey Creek where I’ll do the tour of the Bungle Bungles tomorrow. Wednesday I’ll try and make the long drive to Broome. I figure that will be at least 10 hours.

NT? More Like MT (as in empty. get it?)

Posted by on May 24, 2008

While I can find occasional internet kiosks and can check email and even do updates, uploading photos is probably going to be out of the question until I get to Broome.

This morning I’m in Katherine, NT, which appears to be the only real settlement between Darwin and Alice Springs.

Last night I slept in Kakadu National Park and took photos of some 20,000 year old aboriginal rock paintings and took a boat tour on the Alligator River. Saw four crocodiles during the boat trip and saw a ton of birds. There will be a much larger post on Kakadu when I can get through all my photos.

The drive from North Kakadu to Katherine was several hours and during some stretches of road I didn’t see another vehicle for an hour. It is hard to grasp just how empty this part of the country is. One road sign I saw said “Katherine 40km, Alice Springs 1245km”. I’m not sure there was anything else to put on the sign.

My goal today is just cross into Western Australia and stay the night in Kununurra, WA. Monday I then hope to drive a few hours and take a plane flight over the Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park. Purnululu is pretty much undeveloped, so if you want to see the Bungle Bungles, you have to either spend several days driving in the park with a 4-wheel drive and all the supplies you need, or take a short flight. I’m opting for the flight because I’m by myself and I don’t have a 4×4.

Despite the long distances I’m driving, I don’t have a road map. I don’t really see the need for one because there are only a few roads and the drive from here to Broom (Perth for that matter) is pretty much just staying on one road. The landscape here is mostly small, skinny trees with lots of grass between them. There are lot of small grass fires in this region, many of which are set on purpose because the trees need fire to germinate. During the drive, I could see lots of small fires or blackened areas which were recently burned. During the boat trip I took, one of the guides said there was a bird who would pick up burning sticks and embers and drop them to spread a fire so it can flush out more animals.

I’ve also been getting into the habit of getting fuel at every opportunity, because stops are so few and far between. Even though the speed limit in NT is 130 kph (80.7 mph) I usually end up driving at around 80-90 kph because if I go faster, it wastes gas and it heats up the inside of the van too much.

The other thing I’ve seen on the roads in NT which I haven’t seen before are road trains. These are normal truck which haul 3 or 4 full size trailers. I’ve seen trucks haul 2 or even 3 of the smaller size trailers in the US, but never anything like this. When you see 2 or 3 together, it really is a road train.

If nothing else, the long drive is giving me a chance to work on my upper body tan.

I Do Kakadu Day 2

Posted by on May 23, 2008

This will have to be quick. I found an internet connection, but I only have a few minutes.

So far, Kakadu has been pretty amazing. It is part African savanna, part American Southwest indian ruins. Since I’ve been here I’ve probably shot 6gb of photos and I’m going on a river boat tour in about 30 minutes. There are warning signs for crocodiles everywhere here. In theory, I guess any pocket of water can have one. People have been killed by them, but usually only the stupid. I’ll be spending the rest of today in Kakadu and then start the drive to Western Australia and the Bungle Bungles.

My camper sucks ass, but that will be another post for another day when I can rant in a longer form.

Kakadu

Posted by on May 22, 2008

I finally got my camper and I’m off to Kakadu National park today in the Norther Territory. I had to wait an extra day for my camper, but it was no big deal. In addition to Kakadu I’ll probably stop at Lichfield National Park on way to Western Australia. I have plenty of time to get to Perth so I’ll probably take my time. I’ve been told the diving in Exmouth is really good, so I might stop an investigate that.

I have no idea what the internet situation will be like over the next few weeks. I know there are some towns on the way, but nothing major. I’ll be camping most nights, so if I do have internet access, I doubt if I’ll be able to upload images until I can get to Broome at the soonest. The scenery should be amazing. This really is the outback. Perhaps I’ll even get to have a real bloomin onion….

Lets also hope I don’t get eaten by a crocodile.

Greetings Territorians

Posted by on May 20, 2008

I’m (back) in Darwin. I was last here in February when I landed in Australia from East Timor. It has taken me this long to work my way up half the country. I’ve been lazy.

Some fun facts about Darwin and the Norther Territory:

  • Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory. It is not a state. It has a status similar to what US states had before they became states. The population here is 215,000, half of which (probably more than half) live in or around Darwin. Unlike US Territories, they do have representation in the Australian Parliament, but in reduced numbers.
  • The size of NT is slightly less than that of Alaska with a similar population density.
  • People of the Northern Territory are indeed called “Territorians”. I suppose they by definition, they have an intrinsic property of being “territorial”.
  • Darwin was originally established as a telegraph station, as was Alice Springs, also in NT.
  • Darwin is indeed named after Charles Darwin. The HMS Beagle stopped here and the captain named the port after him.
  • Darwin was bombed by the Japanese in WWII. The war in Pacific was very real to the Australians as the Japanese had every intention of invading and occupying Australia. Thankfully, the Australians took back PNG to control all of the Australian continent and got 2 bonus armies every turn and denied the Japanese the bonus of holding all of Asia by attacking SE Asia.
  • In 1974, 71 people were killed and a great deal of the town was destroyed by a cyclone. It was the biggest natural disaster in the history of Australia. Cyclone Tracy was the most compact tropical storm every recorded and it made a beeline right for the center of Darwin.
  • The weather here is nice, but that is probably a factor of being May. I’m sure it is much hotter in the summer. It seems very flat.
  • While tourism is big here, it is much smaller compared to what I saw anywhere on the east coast. That is a good thing. I’m getting sick of the 20 something Euro backpacker crowd, at least in the doses you see them in eastern Australia.

Tomorrow my goal is just to get my next few weeks in order. My first stop will be Kakadu National Park. I have to decide how I’m going to get there (rent a car or take a bus). It is very close to Darwin and there are lots of tours which leave from Darwin. After Kakadu, it is sort of up in the air. My goal is to get to Perth in 2 weeks. From there, I”ll probably fly to Uluru and then Adelaide and then Sydney so I can finally get to Lord Howe Island. Then I fly to Singapore. I think I’m going to use Singapore as a base for a few regional trips including Sumatra and Christmas Island.

I’m going to get out of Darwin as soon as possible so I can get on the road and moving.

Theory of Travel Evolution

Posted by on May 19, 2008

I’m off to Darwin in a few hours to begin the western half of my Australia adventure. I’m going to miss Cairns because the weather here is so amazing. This is the second nicest weather I’ve encountered on my trip (#1 being Honolulu).

I get bombarded by advice from Aussies when I tell them I’m driving from Darwin to Perth. There are so many suggestions of places to go and things to see in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. This drive is going to make my trip from Sydney to Cairns look like a trip around the block. The current plan is to rent a camper and just sleep in the vehicle like I did in New Zealand.

One of my goals for the drive is to listen to the entire Feynman Lectures on Physics. I have to try and rent a vehicle with a port that I can hook my iPod up to. I can’t think of a more productive way to pass the time while driving. The listed distance from Darwin to Perth is 4,200km (2,600 miles). I drove about 3,300 from Sydney to Cairns.

My Papua New Guinea photos will be up shortly. You will be able to see them on my new photo site:Everything-Everywhere.com/Photography/. It has taken me a while, but it is mostly ready to go. I’ll be posting photos to that site before I post to Flickr now. If you normally look at my photos in Flickr, I’ll still be showing them there, just not right away. I want to give special thanks to my friend Jason in New Brunswick, perhaps the best programmer I know, who helped me convert the imported Flickr files so they can be read by Google. I’m using an open source program called Gallery2 for my image management and there is a pretty steep learning curve, but I think it will be worth it in the long run.

*UPDATE* I now have all my photos at TravelPhotos.Everything-Everywhere.com

Back in Aussie

Posted by on May 15, 2008

I’m back safe and sound from Papua New Guinea. I have a lot of stuff to write and I’ll try to get some of it up over the next few days. I’m in Cairns for two days before I fly to Darwin and start the drive to Perth. That is going to make going from Sydney to Cairns look like a trip around the block.

Oddly enough, I met a lot of Americans in PNG. I almost never meet Americans while traveling and I hadn’t expected to meet any in PNG of all places.

I probably had more conversations with people in PNG than I did my entire time in Australia. You don’t get the average 18-22 year old gap year European who is out to get drunk in Papua New Guinea.