December in Australia

December 2013 Australia RouteI’m happy to report that I’ll be spending most of the month of December in Australia!

Starting in early December I’ll be embarking on a 3-week long tour of Australia with G Adventures. This tour will be the 5th continent I will have traveled to with G Adventures and my longest trip with them to date.

I’ve been to Australia six times now, but my first and biggest trip to Australia was back in 2008 when I spent almost 5 months in the country and visited every state and capital city. I drove from Melbourne to Cairns and from Darwin to Perth. I even took a bus from Adelaide to Alice Springs.

I’m often asked if I revisit places I’ve been before, and the answer is a resounding YES! Most of the stops on this trip are places I visited in 2008, but it was under different circumstances. My photos from 2008 were OK, but I have a much better idea of what I’m doing now. Also, after years of daily photos, I’ve pretty much run out of decent photos of Australia to post on my site. So if nothing else, I’ll be able to restock my portfolio with Australia images.
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Sydney’s Second Chance and How You Are Never “Done” With A Place

Sydney Opera House at NightIn February of this year I was invited by New South Wales tourism to attend the Australian Open of Surfing in Sydney, Australia. I’m not a surfer and I had been to Sydney several times before, so I wasn’t really that interested in attending and suffering through a 16 hour flight. However, having read my list of my 13 Most Wanted Destinations, they sweetened the pot by throwing in a trip to Lord Howe Island.

This, however, is not a story about Lord Howe Island.

This story is about Sydney and about how no matter the number of times you visit a place, you can never assume you have it all figured out.
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Thoughts on Australia

Over the course of the last five years, I’ve been able to explore more of Australia than most Australians have. I’ve been to every Australian state and territory and have driven over 20,000km throughout the country. My recent trips to New South Wales and Victoria this year have given me a new opportunity to see Australia and reflect on some of the changes I’ve seen over the last 4 years since my first visit.

Here are some of my thoughts:
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The Rugby World Cup

I am writing this on the Sunday Morning of the finals of the Rugby World Cup in Auckland, New Zealand. Tonight’s final match will be the New Zealand All Blacks vs Les Bleus of France.

I was last in New Zealand in 2007. I spent 3 weeks driving around the country and the one thing I came away with was that the three biggest sports in New Zealand were rugby, rugby and rugby. I see rugby fields in parks and at schools. I’ve seen kids throwing and kicking rugby balls at the beach. Yesterday I went to a horse track in Auckland and the announcers were taling about….rugby.

In all my travels I’ve never seen an entire country so singularly focused on one team as New Zealand is on the All Blacks. Yes, they have a national soccer and cricket team, but they seem to take a very distant back seat to the All Blacks. Continue reading “The Rugby World Cup”

8 Facts You Might Not Have Known About New Zealand

When this is posted, I should be arriving in New Zealand via Qantas Airlines for the first time in over 4 years. I’ll be spending the next 10 days driving around with Aussies who are there for the Rugby World Cup. Because I never did it last time, I think it is time for another installment of “8 Facts You Might Not Have Known…”

1) New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote. Women were granted the right to vote on September 19, 1893 and voted in the first election on November 28, 1893. Universal suggrage did not occur in the UK until 1928 and in the United States until 1920. Continue reading “8 Facts You Might Not Have Known About New Zealand”

Travel and Tragedy

Brush Fire in Western Australia
Brush Fire in Western Australia

If you’ve paid attention to the news in the last several days, you’ve probably heard about the brushfires in Australia. I’ve been paying closer attention to that story than I normally would have because I’ve been to many of the places which have been damaged by the fire. I’ve driven through country Victoria, I’ve seen first hand what the conditions are like and I’ve even seen brush fires (albeit nothing on the scale of what is happening now). I even got to see a rather large brush fire up close in Western Australia on my drive from Darwin to Perth.

There are tragedies which happen all around the world all the time. Floods, mudslides, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fire are natural disasters which occur every few months and probably will never end. When you hear these things, there is a ceratin intellectual sympathy for the victims which exists, but it is nothing on par with what you experience when something happens to someone you know. To quote Adam Smith from The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759:

Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.

Travel changes that equation. Travel creates a link and changes how you perceive far away events. Everyone in the world saw the events of 9/11 on television. The previous year I had visited the World Trade Center. I had been in the buildings and had a personal grasp of just how big they were. When they were destroyed, it wasn’t just an intellectual outrage at people dying, I was personally flabbergasted at how it was possible for something so large to disappear. That extra feeling came from having been there. Obviously, the closer you were to the event, the bigger the impact would be.

On New Year’s Eve there was a fire in Bangkok which killed 60 people. It was about a kilometer from where I was staying at the time. That night I heard sirens and sounds but had no idea what was going on. The next morning when I read the news, it sort of hit me harder than it would have if I had read about somewhere else. 60 people died……right over there. I heard the sirens. Maybe I met one of the people who died. It drove the story home a bit more than if I had been somewhere else.

Sometimes this can backfire. In the tsunami of 2004, a disproportionate amount of media attention was given to Thailand, in particular Phuket. The tsunami killed almost a quarter of a million people around the world. The death toll in Thailand was over 5,000 which would be a horrible disaster by itself on any other day. Of those 5,000, about half were western tourists. Most of the video of the tsunami which made it to the internet was from Thailand. Thailand was by far the biggest tourist destination hit by the tsunami.

The 5,000 deaths in Thailand, however, were dwarfed by the over 130,000 killed in Indonesia, 35,000 killed in Sri Lanka, and 12,000 killed in India. Yet, a disproportionate amount of attention was given to Thailand because that is where the westerners were and where everyone goes on vacation.

On balance, the ties and connections made by travel are beneficial. The more people can see other places and meet other people, the impact of disasters like these will be more than intellectual curiosities which are quickly forgotten.

The Seven Wonders of New Zealand

Ladies, gentlemen and Kiwis of all ages. With the assistance of New Zealand native son Craig Martin, author of the Travelling Europe ebook, I present to you the Seven Wonders of New Zealand!


White Island
White Island

White Island
Known as Whakaari in the local Maori dialect, the name “White Island” came from Captain Cook who thought it was always in a cloud of white steam. Located in the Bay of Plenty near the North Island, it is an active volcano and was the former location of a sulfur mining operation which ended in disaster. Helicopter and boat trips to the island leave daily from Whakatane.

 

White Island
Milford Sound

Milford Sound
Perhaps the most magnificent location in all of New Zealand, Milford Sound is technically a fijord. Viewing the sound is done via many boat tour operators which operate from the harbor. Day trips leave from Queenstown, which is the closest major city to Milford Sound. The Milford Track is also one of the most popular hiking trails in the country. The number of hikers on the track is limited to 40 per day. If you visit during a rain storm, you can witness hundreds of waterfalls which will appear on the walls of the sound.

 

Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier

Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers
The only glaciers in the Pacific, Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers have the unique distinction of being the only glaciers in the world which flow into tropical forests. Only a 30 min drive from each other, the glaciers can be accessed from the town of Franz Joseph Glacier. Both glaciers are very accessible by walking, though it is not recommended to get to close because of dangers from falling ice. Also unlike many glaciers around the world, both glaciers have been advancing since the mid 1980s.

 

Poor Knight Islands
Poor Knight Islands by David Galvan

Poor Kinights Islands
The Poor Knights were named by Jacques Cousteau as one of the 10 best dive locations in the world. He probably knew what he was talking about. Located in the north end of the North Island, the Poor Knights shows the diversity of the geography of New Zealand, as you can go diving in tropical waters one day and visit fjords and glaciers the next. The Poor Knights are a protected marine reserve. The Poor Knights are best accessed from Whangarei or Tutukaka, north of Auckland.

 

Rotorua Hot Spring
Rotorua Hot Spring

Rotorua
Rotorua is one of the most active geothermal areas in the world. You can find boiling mud and pools of scalding water in the city parks. There are also geysers and geothermal spas nearby. You will know when you are close to Rotorua because of the strong sulfur smell in the city. In addition to the geothermal attractions, Rotorua is also a hub for adventure tourism as well as water sports on Lake Rotorua. Rotorua can be reached in a days driving from Auckland.

 

Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park
Home of the real Mount Doom and many of the landscapes from The Lord of the Rings, Tongariro National Park is home to three active volcanoes: Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro. The park has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Tongariro Track is one of the most popular hiking destinations for backpackers in New Zealand, and Tongariro also has one of the most popular ski slopes in the country.

 

All Blacks
All Blacks by Darren Waters

All Blacks
While not a traditional type of selection, the All Blacks are perhaps the sports team which is most closely associated with a single country. The three most popular sports in New Zealand are rugby, rugby and rugby. The All Blacks are the New Zealand national rugby union team and have been playing for over 100 years. The team name is believed to have come from a typo in a British newspaper who wanted to describe the Kiwis as all backs. Always ranked near top of world standings, they have sadly only won a single world cup. They are famous for the haka, a Maori war dance, which they perform before every match. Watch a video of the haka.


Other articles in Gary’s Wonders of the World series:
Seven Wonders of the Philippines | Seven Wonders of Australia | Seven Wonders of New Zealand | Seven Wonders of Japan | Seven Wonders of Egypt | Seven Wonders of Spain

The Seven Wonders of Australia

Planning a trip to Australia and have no idea what to see while you’re there? For your entertainment and information, I present to you the Seven Wonders of Australia.


Sunset at KakaduKakadu National Park
Kakadu is the premier national park in Australia and offers some of the most stunning displays of wildlife you can find on the continent. Saltwater crocodiles can be found all over the park, as well as kangaroos and wallabies. In addition to stunning rock outcrops and wildlife, Kakadu some of the oldest aboriginal artwork in Australia. Many of the rock drawings date back over 20,000 years. Kakadu was the location for many of the scenes from the movie Crocodile Dundee
.

Uluru at SunsetUluru/Kata Tjuta
Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) is probably the best known natural icon in Australia, and no list of the Seven Wonders of Australia could be complete without it. The iron content in the rock makes its colors change through the course of a day from bright to dark red. Sacred to the local aboriginal Pitjantjatjara people, it is also of great cultural significance as well as natural significance. Often overlooked, nearby Kata Tjuta is actually higher than Uluru but has been eroded into several pieces.


Sydney Opera House and Harbor BridgeSydney Harbor
What says “Australia” more than Sydney harbor? Maybe a kangaroo holding a boomerang and beer in the outback, but that’s about it. The center of Australia’s largest city, Sydney Harbor is home to the Sydney Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. You can take a ferry across the harbor, walk across the top of the Harbor Bridge, have tea in the Opera House, and take a stroll in the nearby Royal Botanical Gardens.


Bee Hive Domes. Purnululu National Park. Bungle Bungles/Purnululu National Park
Had this list been created 30 years ago, the Bungle Bungles might not have been listed. Having come to the world’s attention only in the mid-1980’s, the beehive domes of the Bungles make Purnululu National Park the premier attraction in the Kimberly region of Western Australia. Difficult to get to, what makes the Bungles fascinating are the unique erosional features which are unlike anything else in the world.


Heart Reef. Great Barrier Reef Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is so big, the scope of it can really only be appreciated from the air, or even better, from orbit. By far the largest coral reef system in the world, the Great Barrier Reef extends over 2,600km (1,600mi), almost the entire length of the coast of Queensland. It is usually on any short list of the natural wonders of the world. There are plenty of places you can experience the reef, the most common of which are Cairns and the Whitsunday Islands.


commentGiant Eucalyptus Trees of Tasmania
Tasmania is the most unspoiled wilderness in Australia. In addition to its pristine beauty, it is home to many unique species of plant and animal including the threatened Tasmanian Devil. The most dramatic of all the things in Tasmania is the Eucalyptus Regnans, the giant eucalyptus tree. Also known as the Swamp Gum, Mountain Ash or Tasmanian Oak, it is the largest flowering plant and hardwood tree in the world and is second only to the redwood tree in height.


Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean RoadThe Great Ocean Road
One of the greatest drives in the world is the Great Ocean Road on the southern coast of Victoria. Carved by thousands of years of battering by the Great Southern Ocean, the sandstone formations of the Great Ocean Road are truly stunning. The Twelve Apostles, London Bridge, Lord Ard Gorge are just some of the significant erosional features which can be seen on the drive near the town of Port Campbell.

Honorable Mention
Lord Howe’s Island, Fraser Island, Blue Mountains, Coober Pedy, Shark Bay, Mungo National Park, Pinnacles Desert


Other articles in Gary’s Wonders of the World series:
Seven Wonders of the Philippines | Seven Wonders of Australia | Seven Wonders of New Zealand | Seven Wonders of Japan | Seven Wonders of Egypt | Seven Wonders of Spain

 

Hey, Hey We’re The Bungles!: Purnululu National Park

Beehive domes in Purnululu National Park
Beehive domes in Purnululu National Park

On my swing through Western Australia, I made a stop at Purnululu National Park, home of the Bungle Bungle mountains. When I told people I was making the drive from Darwin to Perth, everyone told me I had to stop at the Bungle Bungles.

I wasn’t really prepared for how remote and hard to get to it would be. To get to Purnululu, you have to drive about three hours south of Kununurra, which is itself a day drive from Darwin. (800km/500miles) There are no real cities or towns anywhere near Purnululu. The closest thing to a settlement is the Turkey Creek roadhouse, which is nothing more than a gas station and a campsite. There is an abrigonial community near the roadhouse, but it is closed to the public.

Echnida Chasm
Echnida Chasm
Once you get to Turkey Creek, you are still several hours from entering the park. The day tour I took picked me up at around sunrise at 5:30am. We had a 4WD bus, similar to the sort I took on Fraser Island. Just going from the Turkey Creek roadhouse to the entrance to the park was a three hour drive, none of which was paved. From the park entrance to anything interesting in the park was another hour drive from the park gate.

The Bungle Bungles weren’t really “discovered” until the 1980’s. I put “discover” in quotes because it was known to the local aboriginals and to local ranchers, but they never thought it was a big enough deal to tell anyone about. In 80’s a television crew in a helicopter brought footage of the bee hive domes back.

Cathedral Gorge
Cathedral Gorge
The main reason why Purnululu is special is the erosional features. The Bungles aren’t a large mountain range. I’m not even sure you can call it a mountain range at all, but that is the term which is used. On the north side of the range, you can find Echnida Chasm. The chasm is just a split in the rock where it was cleaved apart. You can walk down the middle of the gap which rises up almost 100ft (30m). At some points, you have to turn sideways to get through because it becomes so narrow. After four hours of driving, Echnida Chasm was the first part of the park we visited.

After that, we packed up again and drove to the south side of the park to have lunch. It took about an hour and a half to get to the permanent camp which the tour service has in the park. We had lunch there and then went to the south part of the rang, where we were able to walk around the signature feature of the park: the Bee Hive Domes.

Picananny Creek
Picananny Creek
The bee hive domes are called that because a) they are domes and b) they are striped like a bee hive. Both of those features are fairly unique. The domes were created by erosion channels which flowed at 90 degree angles to each other. You usually only see erosion channels which are close to perpendicular to the face of a mountain, but here you see it on more than one axis. Despite how dry it was when I was there, Purnululu can experience so much rain during the wet season that they close the park.

I assumed the striping on the domes was due to different layers of sediment, but I was wrong. The bands are due to layers of microrganisms which gives the bands color. Underneath the bands, the rock is an almost white sandstone. There were a few places where the colored crust was broken off and you could see the sandstone underneath.

Tree reflected in water
Tree reflected in water
Also on the south side is Piccananny Creek, which is the main water channel during the wet season. It was dry when I was there, but you can see large erosional channels carved into the rock in the bed of the creek. You could also see what looked like post holes in the rock. This happens when a smaller rock gets trapped in a depression and the water swirls the rock around, scouring out a round hole.

The biggest feature in this area is Cathedral Gorge. It is an enormous water carved channel created by the creek. You can look at the walls of the gorge and see just how high the water gets during the wet season. (about 12ft/4m) The walls of the gorge are enormous and really give you the feeling of being small when you are inside.

From what I’ve seen, Purnululu is probably the premier attraction in Western Australia, however, it is so remote and hard to get to, it isn’t something I’d go out of my to see for its own sake. If you are making the trip from Darwin to Perth, however, you definitely need to stop as it will be the most incredible thing you’ll see along the way.