Friday, October 31, 2014

Camping in Kakadu


 
It was a great idea….renting a mini-van equipped with all the camping gear, pots and pans, refrigerator, microwave, sink and range.  We would get off the plane, take a taxi and pick up the van and be on our way to Kakadu National Park.   And that really is what happened.  This is going to be a long post because a lot of other things happened too!

We enjoyed the drive stopping at Mary’s River where we saw our first ‘in the wild’ kangaroo and the termite nest.

Very Tall Termite Nest
That is also where the T-belt warning light came on!  Trust me – that is not a good sign as I quickly found out in the manual.  The T-belt light is the timing belt and if that goes, the engine goes!  As there were no places to stop and call the rental company we drove on in the hopes that we had time to get to someplace that could help. 

The further we drove, the more comfortable we became and Peter said, “Let’s go down this road a little ways”.  It was a sandy billabong road with about an 8” berm on each side and soon it became obvious that we should turn around and let a 4-wheel drive use it!  In the process of turning around we ended up on the berm  with one wheel hanging in space.  No one around so we found some wood (no rocks available) to pile under the wheel for traction.  Did I mention that it was very hot in Darwin and Kakadu? 

Help appeared in the form of a pickup and several men who kindly stopped and pushed our mini-van onto the road.  Yes, they were shaking their heads about the ‘tourists’!  We were off again and did NOT take any more side roads like that.  And yes, the warning light was still on.

Thanks for all your help!
We stopped in at the first campground/resort area but it was only 3 p.m. and we had lots more light to explore.  The fee to camp there was $15.  We got our park passes ($27 each) and drove to 


That was such a treat!  There were hundreds of birds in the lily pads in these wetlands.  Binoculars and cameras were busy!  So many birds and so little time! 

Lily Pads

Radjah Shellduck
A long covered blind with lots of benches and explanations of the area made sitting here so pleasant.  I could have done without the flies.  A kangaroo was foraging next to the blind and a Willie Wagtail (black bird) was picking bugs off his back.

Willie Wagtail and the Roo
Traveling on to Jabaru was the plan.  It was dark and late when we arrived at the campground to find that the hookup would be $50 on a dirt plot next to many other people.  We opted to find another place to stop.  On another side road we ate chicken and coleslaw for dinner and tried to get comfortable for the night.  It was too hot for the sleeping bags or sheets.  We had already been told the air conditioner would not keep the back of the van cool and there were no fans left to give us.  We were not told that the oval LED light on the side of the van would come on in the dark and could not be turned off.  So much for the dark night! 

Next morning we left early to go to the cultural center so we could call the rental company and find out what to do about the warning light.  Bowali Cultural Center was lovely in the early morning.  Saw our first Black Cockatoo, found a found to call the rental company who said to call back in 10 minutes after they checked with a mechanic, and a very interesting gift shop that was closed for 3 more hours.  The mechanic said, “Go ahead and drive it!  Usually you have time after the light comes on before it has to be changed.”  I also asked why the range did not work and found that probably the valves had giggled out of alignment.  They had and we had morning coffee with our breakfast– finally. 
Aboriginal art in the closed gift shop!
 Next stop was the Aboriginal Cultural Center.  The museum was extremely well designed showing artifacts, explaining the way of life and the history of the Aboriginal people.  Unfortunately there was no brochure and photos were not allowed.  In the picnic area, we met a very helpful Australian birder who identified one of the birds we saw.  I made sandwiches for lunch.  Did I mention it was hot and humid?

Entrance to the Aboriginal Cultural Center
We stopped at Mamukala again on the way out of the park.  Different lighting and a few different birds. It is such an incredible sight. 

Rajah Shelduck, Purple Swamphen, Wandering Whistling Duck
We arrived back in Darwin around 5 p.m. and found a Doubletree Hotel on the esplanade.  Great rate, great bed, great shower and a great view.  Maybe camping is not my thing!   I’d heard about Australian beets and had purchased a can for the camping trip.  We did not use them and when I found out the can opener was broken, I asked at the hotel if they would open the can so I could taste them.  They took the can and brought the beets back to the room in a bowl with a passion fruit so I could taste it too.  That was so nice. 




Next morning we took a walk in the park, returned the mini-van, and got a taxi to the airport.  

Goodbye Darwin – Hello Melbourne!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014




Cairns’ tropical climate definitely put me in vacation mode!  We stayed at The Cairns Plaza Hotel just across from the esplanade.  Nice hotel with a friendly helpful staff and a good breakfast.  We took walks along the water watching the many birds in an out of the water. 

Masked Lapwing strolls along the beach

Superb Fruit Dove and baby
A large public swimming pool parallel to the seashore with people practicing snorkeling, swimming and generally enjoying the water was a major draw to the area.  Several large sculptures marked inviting resting spaces all along the esplanade. 





We walked around the town, checking out the local grocery store, cafes, and parks.  Wi-fi was free in the town and we caught up on emails, news, etc while sitting on the park bench.  That was a real plus!  Generally internet cost from $10 (a day in Cairns hotel room) to $22(a half hour in Sydney).  So free wi-fi was appreciated!  We were interested in the cost of food – oranges were the same as ours, milk was about $5 half gal and ours is approx $1.50.  Island prices!  We also enjoyed the night markets.


Since we had limited time (2 days) we decided not to go to the Barrier Reef as neither of us snorkel or swim and it was a pretty pricey trip. Instead we took a boat to The Green Island and enjoyed exploring all of it!

Exploring The Green Island
We met a lovely Japanese couple who were birding and together we watched a Silvereye go in and out of a nest that looked like dried flowers.  The couple (about our age) did not speak English, we did not speak Japanese and yet we were able to identify another bird with our bird books and sign language as we enjoyed each other’s company. 

Coral through the Glass Bottom Boat!


Next stop Darwin!































Friday, October 24, 2014

Australia's Highest Botanic Garden




After picnicking at Mt.Wilson in the Tree Fern Cathedral and watching the Magpie and the Currawong fight over crumbs from our sandwiches, we went to Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens.  There are birds where there are gardens!   These gardens are stunning with mountains as backdrops, interesting art work and sculpture integrated with plants and paths with water features to follow.  They showcase cool climate plants from around the world and cover about 623 acres.



The Waratah /Annual Celebration was in full swing.  The Waratah grow in patches of sandy loam on ridges and plateaus in the Sydney basin, NSW Central and South Coast districts and in the Blue Mountains.  They are shrubs or trees that grow between 9 and 16 ft. tall!  Spectacular!  They are more often seen in parks and reserves than in nature now.  The Waratah is the floral emblem of New South Wales and there is an Aboriginal story.  I love this!  
Waratah



Visit a rock garden, a bog garden, rrhododendrons conifers, Gondwana Walk, woodlands, jungle rain-forest and more.  The views are breathtaking, the walks winding and peaceful, the flowers colorful and the birds beautiful.  My favorite bird is the Superb Fairy -wren with such a blue color and a tail that sticks straight up!  The female has the same form but is a brown.

Rhododendron
Rhododendron 







Male Superb Fairy-wren
Female Superb Fairy-wren

Laughing Kookaburra

Back to Sydney to catch a plane to Cairns!

Note:  Google Gondwana  http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/238402/Gondwana

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Blue Mountains of Australia



Our friend the Pied Kurrawong
Katoomba is the largest and seemingly main town in the Blue Mountains. We checked into the charming 1920’s “Blue Hotel”.  Our room faced a park-like area with big trees where Pied Kurrawongs kept us entertained and woke us in the mornings. 




Breakfast in the 1920's dining room

Bar/lounge area of Hotel Blue
 The Cliff Drive had us stopping several places for birding, walking and exploring.  Along the way we met a couple from North England who were also birding and a typical birding conversation ensued.  “Have you been to….?  Have you seen….?  Where is the best place to ….? “ always about birds and nature.   Such fun to meet fellow travelers! The views in these mountains are spectacular with the vast expanses of forests. 

The Blue Mountains
 Katoomba (an Aboriginal word meaning “shining falling water” offers a variety of architecture and lots of art deco shops.  We discovered a place to get fish and chips after 7 pm.  Most shops close around 5 or 6pm and roll up the sidewalks!  Any places that were open were very busy.  We took our dinner back to the hotel and enjoyed a quiet evening.

Things I found interesting in the room – no stopper in the hotel sink, electric blankets under the sheets, great antique armoire to be used as a closet and windows that opened out from the bottom. 

We learned to go for an early morning walk and return for breakfast.  That way we avoided parking fees and inconvenient places to park with crowds of people at the lookouts.  Discovering birds, plants and trees along the paths in the early mornings was wonderful as the sun came up.  Looking out at the overlooks with the vast acres of forest was breathtaking.

Picnic at Leural Falls (someone had to take the picture!)

After a breakfast of sausages, toast, pancakes, eggs and coffee we were off to Woolworth’s for picnic food.  I’m used to Woolworth’s being a sundry store but here they are modern grocery stores.  We picnicked on a ham sandwich and fruit at Leural Falls under very tall Eucalyptus trees.  The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and a Laughing Kookaburra joined us. 

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - with his crest up!
Laughing Kookaburra
Often there were signs telling about the area including the legends. I loved reading those!  The Three Sisters legend tells about three sisters who were in love with three brother warriors from the neighboring nation.  Marriage was forbidden by tribal law.  The brothers decided to take the sisters by force. Tribal war forced the leader of the sisters’ tribe to turn the sisters into stone until the danger passed and the war ended.  Unfortunately the leader was killed in the war and to this day no one has figured out how to turn the stone back into the three sisters.
The Three Sisters
The tree fern forests fascinated me –seeing the patterns the sunlight made through fronds and then looking at the frond patterns from above.  We spent the day exploring the Blue Mountains and of course checking out the towns, walking paths and lookouts.  So many parrots and other birds!


Back to Woolworths for roast chicken, coleslaw, red pepper and avocado (dinner cost $22 plus a bottle of wine!).  We were trying to keep the cost of meals down as well as finding out what things actually cost (not tourist prices).  Fun to watch the local news too - no ads and the female reporters wore interesting big jewelry!  The events were well presented with lots of background given.  The big story was about the attempted beheading and increased security.   


Next morning we after breakfast, we checked out and drove to Mt. Wilson for a picnic lunch with a Kurrawong and a Magpie! Then on the Mt. Tomah Botanical Gardens.  What a treat! 
  
Love the Australian Magpie!








Friday, October 10, 2014

My Australian Trip (Sept 19-Oct 4)


Peter and I just returned from a trip to Australia. We visited Sydney, Cairns, Darwin and Melbourne areas. This seemed like a good experience to share with you so here goes the first installment!

The week before the trip was spent deciding what to pack and how to pack it.  We decided to take a carry-on and a personal bag and not check any baggage.  Neither of us like waiting in lines or waiting for lost luggage.   We made a list of clothes and personal items, laid them on the guest bed and re-evaluated.  I found Rick Steve’s Packing list for Women extremely helpful.  www.ricksteves.com

In those bags in the above photo are clothes, personal items, cameras, lenses, binoculars, iPad, phone, notebook, collapsible cane and my sleep bi-pap machine. I’m planning on doing laundry once and air drying my hair when necessary!  (By the way.. this plan worked!)

The news before we left was about the attempted plot by ISIS to behead a bystander in Sydney and about the Phoenix airport being closed due to a drug raid.  The good news was that the Australian dollar hit a 6 month low!  Interesting beginning to the trip!

We took the AZ Shuttle to Phoenix (2 hours) and US Air from Phoenix to LAX (2 hours).  We boarded Qantas 10:05 p.m. for the 13+ hour trip.  The flight was packed and we did sleep some.  The food was good.  I can’t remember the last time the airline served meals without collecting money on the spot! 

The International Date Line messes with my head!  Arrived in Sydney 6:10 a.m. and picked up our car at Thrifty. Fortunately Peter likes driving a shift and adapted well to driving on the left side of the road while shifting with his left hand.  I was the designated navigator.  I wished for larger letters on the maps many times!


We found our way to The Blue Mountains stopping along the way to enjoy the scenery and birds.  The first bird we saw was the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.


This is a beautiful large white bird with yellow crest that can lay flat against its head or stand up like a crest depending on its message!  They are everywhere and they are many in number!  We saw them on wires, in picnic areas, flying in flocks and pecking for food on the ground. They have yellow under the wings and under the tail and a raucous call.  Hard to miss these guys!



Friday, October 31, 2014

Camping in Kakadu


 
It was a great idea….renting a mini-van equipped with all the camping gear, pots and pans, refrigerator, microwave, sink and range.  We would get off the plane, take a taxi and pick up the van and be on our way to Kakadu National Park.   And that really is what happened.  This is going to be a long post because a lot of other things happened too!

We enjoyed the drive stopping at Mary’s River where we saw our first ‘in the wild’ kangaroo and the termite nest.

Very Tall Termite Nest
That is also where the T-belt warning light came on!  Trust me – that is not a good sign as I quickly found out in the manual.  The T-belt light is the timing belt and if that goes, the engine goes!  As there were no places to stop and call the rental company we drove on in the hopes that we had time to get to someplace that could help. 

The further we drove, the more comfortable we became and Peter said, “Let’s go down this road a little ways”.  It was a sandy billabong road with about an 8” berm on each side and soon it became obvious that we should turn around and let a 4-wheel drive use it!  In the process of turning around we ended up on the berm  with one wheel hanging in space.  No one around so we found some wood (no rocks available) to pile under the wheel for traction.  Did I mention that it was very hot in Darwin and Kakadu? 

Help appeared in the form of a pickup and several men who kindly stopped and pushed our mini-van onto the road.  Yes, they were shaking their heads about the ‘tourists’!  We were off again and did NOT take any more side roads like that.  And yes, the warning light was still on.

Thanks for all your help!
We stopped in at the first campground/resort area but it was only 3 p.m. and we had lots more light to explore.  The fee to camp there was $15.  We got our park passes ($27 each) and drove to 


That was such a treat!  There were hundreds of birds in the lily pads in these wetlands.  Binoculars and cameras were busy!  So many birds and so little time! 

Lily Pads

Radjah Shellduck
A long covered blind with lots of benches and explanations of the area made sitting here so pleasant.  I could have done without the flies.  A kangaroo was foraging next to the blind and a Willie Wagtail (black bird) was picking bugs off his back.

Willie Wagtail and the Roo
Traveling on to Jabaru was the plan.  It was dark and late when we arrived at the campground to find that the hookup would be $50 on a dirt plot next to many other people.  We opted to find another place to stop.  On another side road we ate chicken and coleslaw for dinner and tried to get comfortable for the night.  It was too hot for the sleeping bags or sheets.  We had already been told the air conditioner would not keep the back of the van cool and there were no fans left to give us.  We were not told that the oval LED light on the side of the van would come on in the dark and could not be turned off.  So much for the dark night! 

Next morning we left early to go to the cultural center so we could call the rental company and find out what to do about the warning light.  Bowali Cultural Center was lovely in the early morning.  Saw our first Black Cockatoo, found a found to call the rental company who said to call back in 10 minutes after they checked with a mechanic, and a very interesting gift shop that was closed for 3 more hours.  The mechanic said, “Go ahead and drive it!  Usually you have time after the light comes on before it has to be changed.”  I also asked why the range did not work and found that probably the valves had giggled out of alignment.  They had and we had morning coffee with our breakfast– finally. 
Aboriginal art in the closed gift shop!
 Next stop was the Aboriginal Cultural Center.  The museum was extremely well designed showing artifacts, explaining the way of life and the history of the Aboriginal people.  Unfortunately there was no brochure and photos were not allowed.  In the picnic area, we met a very helpful Australian birder who identified one of the birds we saw.  I made sandwiches for lunch.  Did I mention it was hot and humid?

Entrance to the Aboriginal Cultural Center
We stopped at Mamukala again on the way out of the park.  Different lighting and a few different birds. It is such an incredible sight. 

Rajah Shelduck, Purple Swamphen, Wandering Whistling Duck
We arrived back in Darwin around 5 p.m. and found a Doubletree Hotel on the esplanade.  Great rate, great bed, great shower and a great view.  Maybe camping is not my thing!   I’d heard about Australian beets and had purchased a can for the camping trip.  We did not use them and when I found out the can opener was broken, I asked at the hotel if they would open the can so I could taste them.  They took the can and brought the beets back to the room in a bowl with a passion fruit so I could taste it too.  That was so nice. 




Next morning we took a walk in the park, returned the mini-van, and got a taxi to the airport.  

Goodbye Darwin – Hello Melbourne!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014




Cairns’ tropical climate definitely put me in vacation mode!  We stayed at The Cairns Plaza Hotel just across from the esplanade.  Nice hotel with a friendly helpful staff and a good breakfast.  We took walks along the water watching the many birds in an out of the water. 

Masked Lapwing strolls along the beach

Superb Fruit Dove and baby
A large public swimming pool parallel to the seashore with people practicing snorkeling, swimming and generally enjoying the water was a major draw to the area.  Several large sculptures marked inviting resting spaces all along the esplanade. 





We walked around the town, checking out the local grocery store, cafes, and parks.  Wi-fi was free in the town and we caught up on emails, news, etc while sitting on the park bench.  That was a real plus!  Generally internet cost from $10 (a day in Cairns hotel room) to $22(a half hour in Sydney).  So free wi-fi was appreciated!  We were interested in the cost of food – oranges were the same as ours, milk was about $5 half gal and ours is approx $1.50.  Island prices!  We also enjoyed the night markets.


Since we had limited time (2 days) we decided not to go to the Barrier Reef as neither of us snorkel or swim and it was a pretty pricey trip. Instead we took a boat to The Green Island and enjoyed exploring all of it!

Exploring The Green Island
We met a lovely Japanese couple who were birding and together we watched a Silvereye go in and out of a nest that looked like dried flowers.  The couple (about our age) did not speak English, we did not speak Japanese and yet we were able to identify another bird with our bird books and sign language as we enjoyed each other’s company. 

Coral through the Glass Bottom Boat!


Next stop Darwin!































Friday, October 24, 2014

Australia's Highest Botanic Garden




After picnicking at Mt.Wilson in the Tree Fern Cathedral and watching the Magpie and the Currawong fight over crumbs from our sandwiches, we went to Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens.  There are birds where there are gardens!   These gardens are stunning with mountains as backdrops, interesting art work and sculpture integrated with plants and paths with water features to follow.  They showcase cool climate plants from around the world and cover about 623 acres.



The Waratah /Annual Celebration was in full swing.  The Waratah grow in patches of sandy loam on ridges and plateaus in the Sydney basin, NSW Central and South Coast districts and in the Blue Mountains.  They are shrubs or trees that grow between 9 and 16 ft. tall!  Spectacular!  They are more often seen in parks and reserves than in nature now.  The Waratah is the floral emblem of New South Wales and there is an Aboriginal story.  I love this!  
Waratah



Visit a rock garden, a bog garden, rrhododendrons conifers, Gondwana Walk, woodlands, jungle rain-forest and more.  The views are breathtaking, the walks winding and peaceful, the flowers colorful and the birds beautiful.  My favorite bird is the Superb Fairy -wren with such a blue color and a tail that sticks straight up!  The female has the same form but is a brown.

Rhododendron
Rhododendron 







Male Superb Fairy-wren
Female Superb Fairy-wren

Laughing Kookaburra

Back to Sydney to catch a plane to Cairns!

Note:  Google Gondwana  http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/238402/Gondwana

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Blue Mountains of Australia



Our friend the Pied Kurrawong
Katoomba is the largest and seemingly main town in the Blue Mountains. We checked into the charming 1920’s “Blue Hotel”.  Our room faced a park-like area with big trees where Pied Kurrawongs kept us entertained and woke us in the mornings. 




Breakfast in the 1920's dining room

Bar/lounge area of Hotel Blue
 The Cliff Drive had us stopping several places for birding, walking and exploring.  Along the way we met a couple from North England who were also birding and a typical birding conversation ensued.  “Have you been to….?  Have you seen….?  Where is the best place to ….? “ always about birds and nature.   Such fun to meet fellow travelers! The views in these mountains are spectacular with the vast expanses of forests. 

The Blue Mountains
 Katoomba (an Aboriginal word meaning “shining falling water” offers a variety of architecture and lots of art deco shops.  We discovered a place to get fish and chips after 7 pm.  Most shops close around 5 or 6pm and roll up the sidewalks!  Any places that were open were very busy.  We took our dinner back to the hotel and enjoyed a quiet evening.

Things I found interesting in the room – no stopper in the hotel sink, electric blankets under the sheets, great antique armoire to be used as a closet and windows that opened out from the bottom. 

We learned to go for an early morning walk and return for breakfast.  That way we avoided parking fees and inconvenient places to park with crowds of people at the lookouts.  Discovering birds, plants and trees along the paths in the early mornings was wonderful as the sun came up.  Looking out at the overlooks with the vast acres of forest was breathtaking.

Picnic at Leural Falls (someone had to take the picture!)

After a breakfast of sausages, toast, pancakes, eggs and coffee we were off to Woolworth’s for picnic food.  I’m used to Woolworth’s being a sundry store but here they are modern grocery stores.  We picnicked on a ham sandwich and fruit at Leural Falls under very tall Eucalyptus trees.  The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and a Laughing Kookaburra joined us. 

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - with his crest up!
Laughing Kookaburra
Often there were signs telling about the area including the legends. I loved reading those!  The Three Sisters legend tells about three sisters who were in love with three brother warriors from the neighboring nation.  Marriage was forbidden by tribal law.  The brothers decided to take the sisters by force. Tribal war forced the leader of the sisters’ tribe to turn the sisters into stone until the danger passed and the war ended.  Unfortunately the leader was killed in the war and to this day no one has figured out how to turn the stone back into the three sisters.
The Three Sisters
The tree fern forests fascinated me –seeing the patterns the sunlight made through fronds and then looking at the frond patterns from above.  We spent the day exploring the Blue Mountains and of course checking out the towns, walking paths and lookouts.  So many parrots and other birds!


Back to Woolworths for roast chicken, coleslaw, red pepper and avocado (dinner cost $22 plus a bottle of wine!).  We were trying to keep the cost of meals down as well as finding out what things actually cost (not tourist prices).  Fun to watch the local news too - no ads and the female reporters wore interesting big jewelry!  The events were well presented with lots of background given.  The big story was about the attempted beheading and increased security.   


Next morning we after breakfast, we checked out and drove to Mt. Wilson for a picnic lunch with a Kurrawong and a Magpie! Then on the Mt. Tomah Botanical Gardens.  What a treat! 
  
Love the Australian Magpie!








Friday, October 10, 2014

My Australian Trip (Sept 19-Oct 4)


Peter and I just returned from a trip to Australia. We visited Sydney, Cairns, Darwin and Melbourne areas. This seemed like a good experience to share with you so here goes the first installment!

The week before the trip was spent deciding what to pack and how to pack it.  We decided to take a carry-on and a personal bag and not check any baggage.  Neither of us like waiting in lines or waiting for lost luggage.   We made a list of clothes and personal items, laid them on the guest bed and re-evaluated.  I found Rick Steve’s Packing list for Women extremely helpful.  www.ricksteves.com

In those bags in the above photo are clothes, personal items, cameras, lenses, binoculars, iPad, phone, notebook, collapsible cane and my sleep bi-pap machine. I’m planning on doing laundry once and air drying my hair when necessary!  (By the way.. this plan worked!)

The news before we left was about the attempted plot by ISIS to behead a bystander in Sydney and about the Phoenix airport being closed due to a drug raid.  The good news was that the Australian dollar hit a 6 month low!  Interesting beginning to the trip!

We took the AZ Shuttle to Phoenix (2 hours) and US Air from Phoenix to LAX (2 hours).  We boarded Qantas 10:05 p.m. for the 13+ hour trip.  The flight was packed and we did sleep some.  The food was good.  I can’t remember the last time the airline served meals without collecting money on the spot! 

The International Date Line messes with my head!  Arrived in Sydney 6:10 a.m. and picked up our car at Thrifty. Fortunately Peter likes driving a shift and adapted well to driving on the left side of the road while shifting with his left hand.  I was the designated navigator.  I wished for larger letters on the maps many times!


We found our way to The Blue Mountains stopping along the way to enjoy the scenery and birds.  The first bird we saw was the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.


This is a beautiful large white bird with yellow crest that can lay flat against its head or stand up like a crest depending on its message!  They are everywhere and they are many in number!  We saw them on wires, in picnic areas, flying in flocks and pecking for food on the ground. They have yellow under the wings and under the tail and a raucous call.  Hard to miss these guys!