Broken Bay Writers – Stories of NSW Central Coast and beyond

Scribbles on life, the universe and everything… Woy Woy, Ettalong, Umina and teh Central Coast that is!

Tag Archives: Travel

Darwin Bound (July 2012)

People can be very interesting, especially when traveling. My flight left Sydney a half hr late because it was a full flight and could not be loaded quickly due to all the people trying to stow their carry on luggage. I saw people with 3 or 4 bags each. Why Qantas lets these people have so much carry on, I will never know. But, who am I to question how Qantas runs their airline!
It just doesn’t matter, because boarding a flight means I am travelling. And, I am very happy when I am travelling especially to somewhere I haven’t been before.
This time, I am on my way to Darwin in the Northern Territory in Australia. I haven’t been to Darwin before, nor anywhere else in the Northern Territory. Exciting enough to be going somewhere new, but more exciting because Darwin is warm. Average temperature during dry season (which is now) is 20 degree lows and 30 -32 degree days. Lovely!
Darwin only actually has two seasons, the wet season from October to May and the dry season from May to November. Either way, the temperature doesn’t change much! The dry season means no rain for 5 months. Imagine!
I arrive in Darwin via a four hour stop over in Alice Springs. I have no plans to leave the airport because I have work to do, but want to come back another time to see Alice and Uluru. Will have to leave that for another adventure.
Flying into Alice gives one a sense of amazement of just how vast and ever changing Australia is. As we near Alice you can see the landscape change to desert like conditions although it is officially not a desert. The ribbons of sand dunes cover the land as far as the eye can see. There are specks of white, which I believe are salt marshes. Occasionally you will see specks of darkness where there are actual trees.
What a difference from the landscape I saw when leaving Sydney. Vast white sandy beaches, inviting blue ocean and breathtaking views of the Blue Mountains which really do have a blue hue.
Another element of traveling that I absolutely love is meeting people. I am probably considered a pain in the ass because I just about always get talking to whomever is sitting next to me on my flight.
The trip to Alice is no exception. I meet this lovely couple from Nepal. They have been five years in Sydney and are now moving to Tennent Creek via a sponsorship. He will work in Tennent Creek for two years and then they will be eligible to stay in Australia. To say they are excited is an understatement. They have no idea what Tennent Creek is like and they don’t care. She has learned that you can not swim in any water there due to crocodiles. She is not concerned because they are going to have their own house. Their excitement is contagious. By the time we reach Alice, I am excited for them and spend some minutes dreaming of their life to come!
My time passes quickly in Alice airport. There is free Internet and I have managed to get quite a bit of work done. I am more than ready to move on to Darwin. Warm weather here I come!
Al is at the airport waiting for me. What a Honey he is! He has already picked up the car rental, settled us in to Sky City Casino and Resort, and is now back at the airport to pick me up. My immediate thoughts on Darwin? Warm! Love it.
It’s dark and I don’t get to see much, but that’s okay. We have a lovely dinner and settle in for the night lulled to sleep with the sound of waves lapping on the beach.
Tuesday and Al has to work all day, so do I! I settle myself in for the day and work by the pool. I even had the pool boy (not Al) deliver my lunch. This is the way working life should be!

My Office

My Office


In the evening, we amble over to Mitchell St known for it’s bars and backpackers. Low and behold an ad for Canadian Club. They seem to be doing some heavy advertising in Australia lately. Go CC!
Canadian Club

Canadian Club


Wednesday is our day off. We take the opportunity to look around Darwin, walk the waterfront (don’t want to swim as there are crocs) and then Al decides we must drive some of the Stewart Highway looking for a road train. We didn’t have to go far. As we sat at the intersection waiting to turn onto the highway, two road trains went by. These pics are for Jason and Kallen. Not sure who will enjoy them more!Road Train

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One would be remiss if they didn’t mention the sunsets in Darwin. They are spectacular, no wait, beyond spectacular. The sunsets alone are worth the trip to Darwin.

Sunset

Sunset

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Here it is Thursday already and we are sitting in the Qantas Lounge waiting for our flight home. My thoughts on the Northern Territory, I want to see more. My thoughts on Darwin…I could live here!

Cheers

Cheers

Cheers

The Way to Travel

The most civilised way to start any trip is to check in at the airport and then wait for your flight in the airport lounge. Now I know that not everybody can have lounge access, but if you can, do! We belong to Qantas lounge as Al travels frequently enough and works for such a nice company, they pay for the privilege. This means comfy seats, a glass of wine or two, some nibbleys, showers if required, nice bathrooms and lots of newspaper, magazines, or anything else you would like to read. Oh, did I mention computers?
Okay, those who fly business and first class will laugh at my little extravagance of the lounge, but at least I get to sit with them for a short time!
The trip to Tasmania is uneventful which are the best kind! We arrived late afternoon, picked up a rental car and headed for a little riverside town called Orford.
The beginning of our drive reminded me of home. The landscape is of beautiful rolling hills and farms, not unlike BC’s interior in the spring.

The spectacular views

We stayed at the cutest B&B in Orford, a 1840 Heritage house called Sanda House (www.sandahouse.com.au).

Sanda house

Peter & Linda were lovely hosts and we enjoyed playing with the family dog, a beautiful young black lab called Chester.

Chester

I must mention Linda’s homemade jams. They were delectable as was the gluten free bread!
After a very restful sleep, we decided to try out the local golf course. Peter was kind enough to supply us with clubs.

 

Look at the views behind us!

The 9-hole course was a delightful surprise with it’s views of the coast and ideal playing conditions. Al played well, really well. I….didn’t! Oh well, next time!

Al going nowhere!

First impression of Tasmania…beautiful scenery, lots of logging, dramatic coastline and friendly, authentic people! What a delight.

I Hear That Train a Comin!

Australia has an amazing system of public transport, trains! Which means, for the first time in my life I have been reliant on trains, therfore I have had to learn how to read train schedules, as well as bus schedules (go ahead, call me a small town girl), that connect with the correct trains. It has been a steep learning curve, but fun.

Just finding out which exit will suit you best when at Central Station is difficult, but trying to find the next train is even more difficult, especially when you are not sure if it’s the Eastern Suburbs, a city circle or maybe even a country train. I have learned to go to the big electronic boards, look for my destination, figure out which train system it’s on and then stress about where the platform might be as Central has three levels of platforms!

Speaking of trains, did you know that here in Australia there is a carriage called the guards carriage? This is where you will find the guard in case you have problems or it is late at night and you don’t feel comfortable traveling on the train alone.

How do you know which one is the guards carriage? There is a blue light on the exterior of the carriage. Apparently everyone knows this means there is a guard in that carriage. I wonder if tourists know that, because I sure didn’t?

Speaking of which, I always wonder how the tourists know where to buy their tickets, which tickets to buy and the most important thing…hang onto the ticket because you are going to need it to exit the train station on the other end! Maybe it’s just me, but this is all stuff I have had to learn being a “newbie” at train travel.

I have grown to enjoy train travel as long as I get a seat. If I have to stand, I of course, don’t enjoy that. I actually don’t mind so much as long as people are not taking up seats with luggage, purses or other paraphernalia that they think will keep the seat free for their use. I feel that when city rail personnel come through the train to check tickets, they should charge people that are using more than one seat if they don’t have an extra ticket for the extra seat. This would quickly stop the rude people that take up more than one seat!

For the most part, I am liking the train. It is inexpensive, a great place to people watch, enjoy the scenery or immerse yourself in what can end up being a very quirky conversation with fellow train travellers!

The Ridge

We are on a road trip that takes us 770 km northwest of Sydney where we find ourselves at the “Ridge”, Lightening Ridge that is! No gold here though, it’s opal territory, not just any opal , but home to the largest known deposits of black opal in the world.

We are in the Outback of Australia, or rather on the edge of the Outback and very near the Queensland border. And, we have stepped into another world. A world of dreams, opportunity, miners, true blue miners who spend their days looking for the elusive black opal.

As we hit town, we see the Lightening Ridge sign, quickly followed by a sign that says population ?.

Population?

That piques my interest. It’s my first question to our personal tour guide, miner and good friend Kayt. The opal bug bit her years ago. She and her husband have an opal mine in Lightening Ridge, which they work when they are not living their regular lives working in Sydney.

Kayt tells me that the reason they don’t know the population of Lightening Ridge is because the Ridge is a place where people come to disappear and disappear they can. The 2006 census counted 2, 602 people, locals believe there are more than 7000 people who call the Ridge home. Slight difference there!

My first impression of the Ridge was of surprise. It is much more touristy than I would have thought. Perhaps it is because more than 80,000 tourists pass through the Ridge every year.

Art Gallery
John Murray emu

Which is why you will find an amazing mine shaft full of carvings and art galleries, not to mention a house made of bottles. It was built by a woman, an obviously very talented woman.

The doghouse
Kat and I admiring the house
How to recycle!

I was again surprised when I walked into one art gallery and was confronted with a painting of raccoons. The artist who is an animal lover told me that she always thought raccoons were so beautiful and mischievous looking, so that is what she had tried to capture. She had never actually seen a live raccoon and was impressed that I immediately knew what they were and was interested to hear that I had seen more than my share of “coons” in my time.  She had done a wonderful job of capturing the playful side of the raccoon. Besides the coons, she had many painting of dogs, cats and Australian wildlife. Very friendly lady, very genuine, as were all the people we met in Lightening Ridge.

The mine shaft full of carvings was spectacular. The carvings are all carved by one man. A miner turned artist. He is still adding to the carvings most days. Great tourist attraction and well worth seeing if you ever happen to be in Lightening Ridge.

Al admiring a kitty, as he does!
What can be found down underground!

Into the Valley of Death..

Day 6 – Western USA Trip

Death Valley, California

Death Valley - At 7,500 feet - The Beemer is ready for action!

Death Valley - At 7,500 feet - The Beemer is ready for action!

I’m riding into “Death Valley”! One wonders if the name is significant. I am on a motorcycle with no shade and no friends! How bad could Death Valley be? Lets find out!

I cannot help but recall the words of Lord Tennyson referring to the Battle of Balaclava… “Into the valley of death rode Big Al”…

I’m up early in Lone Pine, California. I had checked the Beemer the night before and it was ready for the task… well, except for the leaking seal on the drive shaft that was lubricating the back brake disk quite nicely. No chance of a replacement seal in a small town high in the Eastern Sierras on I-395! I will have to go without rear brakes. Who needs em anyway!

My anticipation is maxed out!!! Death Valley is famously hot, dry and lonely. The names of places in and around Death Valley inspire wild images. Names such as Dante’s View, Devil’s Cornfield, Furnace Creek and Salt Creek. There is also the more prosaic Cottonwood Canyon, Mosaic Canyon and Grotto Canyon. The mind boggles!

The record temperature for this area is 134°F (56.7°C). Right now it is cool, high in the Panamint Ranges at 7,5000 ft above sea level so I have my trusty old black “brando” leather jacket on.

Death Valley - this strange black rock appeared as outcrops.

Death Valley - these glossy black outcrops appeared at the top.

The trip to the edge of Death Valley is essentially barren slopes and highly eroded rock. There is a strange black rock, looks like oil. It may be some sort of volcanic rock, it is very shiny and black. It comes and goes in outcrops. The land is dotted with the strange Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia)

I reach the edge of the main decent and stop for a quick photo op. There is nothing moving, just heat haze coming off the valley in the distance.

Fire up the Beemer and let it loose! The road is windy and often there is not much between you and eternity. The dodgy rear brake requires some adjustment in braking style into the corners. Occasionally I come into the corner a bit hot, I control the motorcycle and notice the sheer drop from the corner of my eye. My sphincter tightens! Adrenalin flows like vodka at a Polish wedding. I love it!

The first glance of the long straight roads appears. This is an awesome sight, the classical long road shot of many films. The road looks flat from a distance but it is a long series of “Whoop-d-doos”. YeeHaaaaaaa!!!!!!!

Death Valley - check those Whoop-d-doos!

Death Valley - check those Whoop-d-doos!

It is getting warmer by the minute, it was 127°F here last week. I need it hot for the bragging rights 🙂 It is the vulnerability when riding that makes it special. Out here, you really start to feel vulnerable. The smells, heat, dust, and huge alien expanse… riding, sensing and risking… it feels orgasmic!

Death Valley

Death Valley - near the bottom.

At the bottom is a small town called Stovepipe Wells. There is not a lot there… a Ranger station, gas, general store, bar and motel (don’t need much else I guess). The motel has a pool. A Dutch couple I chatted with over the western side of the valley had stayed here. At night they floated in the pool and watch the stars. It was pitch black and the stars went to the horizon – wish I had stayed there!

I fueled up at the gas station here and bought a Tee Shirt (“Got Water”). There was not many cars or people about. The temperature here was 112°F (44.4°C). I was hoping for hotter, Sydney gets hotter (but not by much – record for inland Sydney is 113.5 (45.3°C)).

Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley

Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley

Death Valley is home to the Timbisha tribe of Native Americans, they have lived in this place for about 1,000 years. You have to admire their hardiness, it gets real cold here in winter so they have both extremes to deal with.

I pick up a permit from the local ranger, he seems rather gruff. Perhaps concerned at a lone motorcyclist heading into the valley of death!

There are sandy dunes blowing across the road. It is barren and lifeless to the casual eye. I see no living creature but I know they are here somewhere. They are smart, they stay out of the heat.

I hit the lowest point on the road, 242 feet below sea level!

Here there is some dunes but mostly salt pans. There is little living here I feel.

Death Valley - 262 feet below sea level.

Death Valley - 242 feet below sea level.

The vastness of the valley started to dawn on me. I was on a 4,500 mile (7,000 km) ride with 2 weeks time. I had to move but wished I could explore this mesmerizing place. My brief flirtation with Death Valley took me over the Amargosa Mountains and on to Nevada.  I stopped at the Amargosa Opera House for a drink, it was a dry and dusty ranch.

By late afternoon I was in Vegas, looking for the BMW dealer who agreed to fix my Beemer overnight. I found a hotel with a view to the strip. I have been to Vegas many times and on this trip, I just wanted to relax and reflect on the great days ride. I found a great steak house, had a feast on a big lump of cow washed down with many cleansing ales… it was June 12, my birthday!

Amargosa Opera House

Amargosa Opera House

Death Valley

Death Valley - heading East out of Death Valley towards Beatty