Archive for the ‘Oceania’ Category

"It’s Just a Big Rock. It Doesn’t Even Move."

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

 

Uluru 282 We spent two days at Uluru, formerly known as Ayer’s Rock, in the middle of nowhere in Australia.  We flew from Adelaide to Alice Springs to Uluru, and — honestly — I’ve never seen so much dessert.  But we arrived at this national landmark for Australia, not entirely sure what we would be seeing.  Our skepticism was best summarized by Sterling, who said, “It’s just a big rock.  It doesn’t even move.”

Uluru 372 Well, Uluru, and neighboring Kata Tjuta are two geological freaks of nature — large protruding rock formations in an otherwise flat and desolate dessert.  They were, apparently, formed by run-off from long-gone high mountains, which gathered in a lake bed and was gradually submerged 4 kilometers below the earth’s surface, metamorphosized, contorted, and popped back up hundreds of thousands of years ago.  While the above left picture stinks (it was taken from the window of our plane), it shows how Uluru rises up from the desolate plains of central Australia to form a most amazing formation.

Uluru 286 Well, we were warned that Uluru can be a bit “touristy,” but imagine our surprise when we went there to watch a sunrise.  At 6:00 a.m., we were surrounded by tourist buses :-( .  Well, we beat a path out of there faster than you can say “Cheese” to a 45 person touring group!  We proceeded way past the crowds to a spot on the north side of Uluru, and took an incredible hike along Uluru’s base at sunrise.  Uluru 299

One of the unusual things about Uluru is its ties to the Aborigines of Australia.  Some thirty years ago, the lands were partially returned to the control of the Aborigines (specifically, the local Anangu tribe), for whom it is sacred.  While you can hike around it, there are areas where you can’t go, formations you can’t photograph, and parts of it history and meaning that no non-Anangu ever hears about. 

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The sister rock formation, Kata Tjuta, was also quite impressive.  The geological history is related to Uluru, but differs in that it consists of a set of huge (and I mean HUGE)  rocks, while Uluru is monolithic.  Either in its own right is magnificent, but together they’re worth the sizable detour to take them in.  The one regret I had is that we didn’t do more hiking around these areas.  The challenge is that much of it is off-limits, and so the Uluru area is more of a “watching” than “hiking” place.  But the magical beauty of these “rocks,” together with the special feeling of a sunrise hike, made this experience unforgettable.

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While at Uluru, we went to their Predator Center.  Sterling, always quick to make friends, got on quite well with a Stinson’s Python (right).  Since she can’t have a wombat or echidna as a pet, the python looks awfully tempting.  And the naturalist explained that they can go months without food, making them ideal for families that travel.  Fabulous news!  I’m sure she’ll put this on her Christmas list, but her parents and brother might just exercise some “veto” power on this future pet!

Baseball in Adelaide!

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Adelaide Baseball 006 Baseball is a terrific sport, and we knew that we’d miss it being out of the U.S. for ten months. So we came up with the idea of trying to find teams in locations we visit and set up practices where we could play, meet people in the country, trade stories, bring something for the kids from the U.S., and see how we can help their program. We’ve gotten help on this initiative from the Boston Red Sox and Major League Baseball. And a long-time friend of ours, Kristie Jochmann, has been driving the program from Milwaukee (!!) and working wonders.

Adelaide Baseball 009 So our first global baseball experience was in Adelaide, where we visited with the Woodville Senators. Kevin Stephenson was our point of contact, and was kind enough to set up a great get together. Some fifteen kids were there, ages 8 through 14, and both boy and girl players. And they were extremely skilled at the game. Their outstanding coach, Lawrie Moore (above), ran a great practice, and put the kids through their paces.

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It was great for Gibson, because he got to play some high-level baseball with some great kids, and get to know kids from another country (who were exceptionally nice to him!). And a dozen parents were there, who were soooo nice and hospitable. I got a chance to talk to them, learn lots about Australian sports, schools, and baseball in particular. (I was amazed to learn that languages taught in schools in Adelaide include Indonesian and Italian, for instance).

As you probably gathered, we brought Red Sox baseball hats for all of the kids there. At the start of the practice, they gave us Woodville Senators hats, which are terrific! I grew up in the Washington, DC, area and was a loyal Washington Senators fan, so I’m particularly enthused about a Senators’ hat.

Adelaide Baseball 031 Afterward, we feasted on a great meal that was prepared, after careful consideration for what Americans like to eat, and traded more stories. They gave us shirts, Woodville Senators’ balls, two great bottles of wine, and a fabulous DVD about their team’s past. I have to say, the baseball and hospitality these great people were kind enough to share with us made it abundantly clear to us how incredibly nice and talented the Aussies are!!!

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KI is (more than) OK

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Kangaroo Island, or KI, bills itself as Australia’s nature island. KI is just to the southwest of Adelaide and is quite large, about the size of Long Island. It is relatively undeveloped, largely protected (1/3rd of its land is national parkland), and has a small population of about 4,300.

Kangaroo Island 011 Our highlight of our stay on KI was the house we stayed in — one of three houses in a tiny complex owned and operated by Lifetime Private Retreats. The experience was exceptional. For instance, they’d come to our house and cook breakfast and dinner for us, and our meals were among the best we’ve ever had — not just on the trip, but in our lives! The view from the house was amazing, and it was a short walk down to the beach. Kangaroo Island 010On our last day there, we went down and explored among the rocks and found nesting Little Penguins — quite a sighting! The house also has a cozy round sitting room with a fireplace, and we would regularly spend time after dinner in it either reading or playing family scrabble (perhaps presciently, Sterling’s first-ever word in Scrabble was “penguin”).

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To the left, we have our friend the Little Penguin (a great picture taken by Gibson). We’re excited about penguins on this trip, because we’ll be seeing so many different penguin species. It was great to get one in Australia. March of the Penguins may have done a disservice to penguins, since many species are quite different from the stereotype. The Little Penguin is just 35 cm. in length, nests in cliff burrows, and lives in a climate totally free of snow and ice.

Kangaroo I. 2 138 Our nine-year-old daughter gave us a real scare on KI when we were on the Incredible Rocks, and a massive boulder fell on her. Fortunately, she used her fingernails to scratch out a good-sized hole in the interior of the rock and, shortly thereafter, was able to escape! Whew!!

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We knew there were dangerous aspects of Australia, but hardly expected this kind of close call! Afterward, we all collected ourselves to take in the great view from this spot.

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On this particular day, the swells in the ocean were about 25 feet. The waves were crashing so high at times that the surf would just explode. But the gorgeous day disappeared into a thunderstorm, and we headed home for an afternoon of reading and rest.

Kangaroo Island had some amazing nature experiences, as we saw Australian sea lions fighting on the beach, fur seals playing in the waves, koalas in great hiding places, crimson rosellas (a great tropical bird), the ever-present kangaroo, and — our nature highlight — the echidna (or spiny anteater) sucking out ants from ant nests.

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Becoming Tasmaniacs

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

 

At the risk of personal embarrassment, I’ll confess that prior to this trip I wasn’t sure exactly where Tasmania is.  Worse, if pressed, I think I would have offered up that it was an island off the coast of Africa.  Well, Tassie (as the locals call it) is an island, to the south of (and part of) Australia. 


Tasmania lies on the 41st parallel — the only other landmasses at its latitude (The Roaring 40′s) are New Zealand and the bottom of South America.  It has the cleanest air of any country in the world, and you can get your drinking water right out of its streams (we didn’t).  There are 450,000 people living on an island the size of South Carolina.  It’s unspoiled, temperate, and absolutely beautiful. 

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Right away, the Tasmanians did lots to make us feel right at home.  Here, Elizabeth stands next to a sign welcoming her to the island (note, for those of you who don’t know that Elizabeth’s last name is Hazard, this was a joke :-) ).  And while we usually don’t allow our 9 and 11 year olds to down some suds (below right), it was hard to resist in friendly Tasmania (again, another very feeble attempt at humor, playing on my wife’s last name :-) ).Tasmania 172

More seriously, I’m sure everyone has met some Australians in their past, and come away impressed with the Australian personality.  The people here are fun, witty, don’t take themselves too seriously, and have a “go for it” attitude.  We could really see that in Tasmania.

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As if we haven’t shocked our friends and families enough this year, we are happy to report in this blog that we have a new addition to our family.  While in Tasmania, we met a darling Wombat (see left), tragically orphaned at an early age by a careless driver.  We are filing adoption papers for said Wombat and hope to add young “Wizard” (the name our kids came up with for him) to our family soon.  Watch for him in this year’s Christmas card!

Tasmania 027 The wildlife in Tasmania is almost beyond belief.  Isolated for millions of years and largely free of introduced predators, indigenous wildlife flourishes on Tassie.  Whether it was the exotic Superb Fairy-Wren landing at our feet, a farm field full of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, or a moonlit field of wallabies, wombats, and possum, we were constantly amazed at the abundance of exotic species.

Picture 392 Speaking of “moonlit,” a highlight of our stay on Tasmania was watching a full lunar eclipse unfold.  We had the benefit of the world’s purest skies, no clouds or background light (we were, quite literally, in the middle of NOWHERE), and the convenience of having it all happen before our children’s bedtime.  Below are some of the shots I took of the eclipse as it unfolded, but they don’t do justice to the experience of having all four of us watch this transformation in the isolation of Tasmania.  But the way we really felt about Tasmania is best captured by the picture Gibson took of the moon above.

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Stunning Sydney!

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

 

IMG_0234Short version:  The reason Sydney is a long way from the U. S.  might well be that it’s a suburb of heaven.  This is an amazing place!  The city has natural and architectural beauty, the climate is fabulous, the people are friendly, there’s heaps going on culturally, it’s easy to get around, it’s an English-speaking country, and it’s safe.  We’ve loved our time here, and are sorry to be leaving.

While it’s still “winter” in Sydney, the weather here was gorgeous — crystal clear blue skies, and in the 20′s Centigrade (or 70′s Fahrenheit).  We stayed at the Park Hyatt, right on Harbour Quay.  It’s a smallish but very nice hotel, with outstanding views of the harbor, and an easy walk or ferry ride to most of what we wanted to see here.   

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The signature building in Sydney is its Opera House, which we could see from our room.  Up through the 1950′s, Sydney was something of a backwater city, second to Melbourne (which was awarded the 1956 summer Olympics).  To their credit, Sydney officials decided to build a world class performing arts center, and went with the architectural plans of an unknown Danish architect, Joern Utzon (who to this day has never seen the completed building, although he’s still alive and in his 90′s!).  The original project was budgeted at $7 million, and came in at $102 million — but worth every penny.  It actually encloses six different performing halls, and is stunning inside and out.

Highlights of our time in Sydney included the Aquarium, the Zoo, the Australian Museum, attending the opera “The Barber of Seville” and a tour of the Opera House, numerous walks, a visit to the Olympic Stadium, and a day trip to the Blue Mountains.  Much of our transportation was by ferry, since the city surrounds a big harbour, and the ferry is essential for travel. 

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One thing in Sydney we weren’t able to do was the bridge climb.  Children must be at least ten years old, so we didn’t make the cut.  It takes three hours, involves some pre-training, but you can then hike up the arch of the bridge to its apex, cut across, and return.  We saw lots of people doing it, and it looked really fun.  Next trip!

IMG_0228 While we didn’t expect Sydney to be a wildlife mecca, we saw lots of great animals.  Going to a zoo in Sydney to see giraffes when we’ll see them in the wild later this trip seems a bit odd, but we had a blast, and the backdrop of Sydney’s skyline was breath-taking.  Australia has incredible wildlife, including the koala, kangaroo, playypus, wombat, and on and on. 

Speaking of “on and on,” it’s clear I could talk forever about Sydney’s many virtues.  But we’re now off to Tasmania, and that will be the subject of our next blog.

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A kangaroo we spotted in the wild in the Blue Mountains.

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The four of us outside our hotel along the harbour.

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Our close friend the koala (not a bear, believe it or not).

A Surprising Travel Day: August 22nd/24th (but no 23rd!!)

Friday, August 24th, 2007

 

For starting our trip, we thought it made sense to fly to Los Angeles, spend a day there at Disneyland, get exhausted, and then fly that night to Sydney.  Well, the plan worked!  We had a great time at Disneyland, followed by a fun, and what quick, flight to Sydney.

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One ride that was a must at Disneyland was “Small World.”  We wanted to see how many “small world” countries would be on our trip.  I wish I could give you a definitive answer, but can’t!  For sure, the “small world” ride includes Turkey, Australia, Egypt, Argentina, India, Thailand, China, and New Zealand.  It seemed to include Antarctica.  And then — oddly —  it included a generic Africa.  Apart from Egypt, no single country of this vast continent seems to have enough to distinguish itself as a single country for Disney’s “Small World.”  Well, we’ll see about that when we get there.

One IMG_1665unexpected upside of our day at Disney was to be there in a sea of New York Yankees’ fans — on the day after they lost to the Angels, 18-9!  I’ve never seen so many long faces wearing Yankee hats.  We had a great guide, did lots of fun rides, ended with a swim in the hotel pool, and were off to LAX.  All of us had gotten up early (still on east coast time), ran all over the park, and then were ready to sleep when we got on the plane.

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It was a bit baffling to be flying at night from Los Angeles to Sydney.  We took off at 11:00 p.m., and stayed in darkness for the entire 7,509 mile, 13 1/2 hour flight.  And we slept for most of the flight.  At one point in the middle of the flight, Gibson asked me, “Daddy, what time is it?”  Well, I paused, and realized that the question was REALLY complicated.  I had no idea what time zone we were in, nor really cared.  And we were in the process of losing August 23rd from our collective lives as we passed the international date line.  There was no normal sunrise/sunset pattern to key on, or tell us when to eat.  And all I could think about was flying every June 14th for the rest of my life from Los Angeles to Sydney, arriving every June 16th, and never again having a birthday — forever preserving me at my current age.  I made a mental note to myself to follow up on that through Google to see if it actually would work, and went back to sleep!

We arrived in Sydney to daybreak, clouds and showers, and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met (other than some guy at the baggage carousel at the airport, in a Yankees cap, who picked up one of our suitcases and started to leave with it!).  We got to our hotel around 7:15 a.m., got a temporary room, and our kids got right to work on school work.  IMG_1688

So we now are into the first day of this adventure, and we’re more excited than ever.  Australia looks to be incredibly interesting, and we had no early travel glitches.  We’re in Sydney for the next four days, and have lots of fun things to do.  For years, when asked where I’d live if I could go anywhere not in the U.S., my answer was always Sydney, qualified by the fact that I’d never been there.  Well, now we’re here!