Do You Come From the Land Down Under?

February 18, 2006
Split Point LighthouseAfter breakfast this morning, we walked across town to pick up a rental car for a couple of days. Then, we set off toward the Great Ocean Road. We passed through Geelong and then Torquay, where the road officially begins. We stopped several times along the route to enjoy the views and to have lunch.Eagle Rock

We also stopped for a walk at Split Point Lighthouse and the view over Eagle's Rock - really spectacular!

We continued along the coast to the towns of Anglesea and Aireys Inlet before we decided it was time to turn around and head back to the city. We stopped at a supermarket about 15 kms outside of the city, and there was a Target in the same plaza! I had to go in to see if it was the same as the Targets in North America, and sure enough, it was nearly identical.

As we were driving across the bridge with the port visible on our left, we saw the largest cruise ship in the world, the QE2 - she just docked this morning. Unfortunately, there was no stopping places on the motorway to take a picture, so we just continued on to the hotel for the evening.

February 19, 2006
The weather this morning didn't look very promising - thus, no excuse to skip the fitness center. After a work out, showering and eating a light breakfast, the weather was starting to clear and we decided to go out. We walked across the river to a book store that we had seen earlier, but it wasn't open on Sunday - we are once again without reading material! It was such a nice day that we continued our walk down toward the Docklands. According to the guidebooks, this area is undergoing a resurgence. It is a very nice area with vast amounts of parkland for biking and walking, and there are several new condo developments, but unfortunately, very few cafes or restaurants yet. So, we crossed the Yarra River and walked along the southbank, passing the Exhibition Center (where the car show was) and stopping at a restaurant for a late lunch. We had lunch at this same restaurant on Friday and we weren't disappointed with our return visit - the food and service were excellent!

After a stop at the market, we returned to the hotel for the evening to finish up our laundry and pack.

UluruFebruary 20, 2006
We were awake at 5:15 this morning and on our way to the airport by 6:00. Our flight to Uluru (Ayers Rock) left on time at 8:20. It was a very uneventful 3 hours - I watched the movie Pride and Prejudice and Markus napped. We had a great view of the rock on our descent. What a magnificent sight!

We got to the Ayers Rock Resort and checked into our hotel. We explored the area and found the supermarket, post office, cafe, etc. just a few steps away in what is referred to as the "town center". That makes it sound much bigger than it is. The whole collection of shops is barely larger than a good sized 7-11! But, you can find just about everything you need, so it more than suffices.

Kata TjutaDidgeThis evening, we went to the "Sounds of Silence" dinner in the desert. We started with champagne and canapés as we watched a glorious sunset behind Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). Dinner was quite nice and our table companions were great - we sat with a retired couple from Virginia (Jeanette and Ken), a family of 3 from Sydney (Irena, Philip, and their 16-year old son, Aaron) and a couple from Slovenia (friends of the family from Sydney). It was a really good mix of people and we all enjoyed the dinner conversation. The call to dinner was played on a didgeridoo, a native wind instrument, similar to the Alpen Horn. The "music" was beautifully haunting. After dinner, there was supposed to be a star gazing session with an astronomer, but the cloud cover was so thick, not a star was visible. The astronomer still gave a presentation, but it just wasn't the same without actually being able to see the stars.

Our table had a good time, none the less - so good in fact that we didn't realize it was time to go, and the coach left us behind! We dubbed ourselves the "Ayers Rock 10" (a man from New Jersey, James, joined us after dessert), and were all having a good laugh about our exposé (about being left behind in the desert overnight and having to wait until first light to walk the hundreds of kilometers back to the resort!) being sold to the tabloids. In reality, the bus returned for us in about 30 minutes and shuttled us safely back to the resort (about 5 kms away).

February 21, 2006
There was nothing on our agenda today - as such, our plan was to walk around the resort area and take a few pictures from some of the lookout points. But, unfortunately, it is very overcast and raining intermittently, so we spent most of the day browsing in the shops (that took all of 5 minutes!), replying to a few emails and reading a couple of magazines that we bought this morning.

Tonight, we are scheduled for a "Night Sky Show" at the observatory, but unless the sky miraculously clears in the next couple of hours, it will most definitely be a bust!

Sure enough, the show was canceled and we had one of the most boring days/evenings of the trip! As such, this might be a good place to share a few facts about this area of the Northern Territory. First of all, the Aboriginal names are now widely used - after all, the Aborigines had named these places thousands of years before the European settlers first laid eyes upon them. Uluru (the rock) is one huge piece of unfractured sandstone. It is 3.6 kilometers long and 348 meters high. It isn't, however, the tallest in the area - that distinction goes to Mount Olga at 546 meters. Mount Olga forms part of Kata Tjuta (the "Olgas"), which is a series of 36 domes (the sun is setting behind Kata Tjuta in the picture above).

February 22, 2006
It rained all night and it was still raining this morning when I got up to check the conditions for sunrise viewing. Bluntly put, conditions sucked, so I went back to bed. We checked out of our hotel (still raining), caught the shuttle to the airport (still raining) and had an on-time departure (still raining) for Cairns. Markus and I were the only two people sitting in business class, so the crew was very attentive. They even gave us a full bottle of wine to take with us!

We got settled into our hotel in Cairns and walked to the supermarket. As we have a full kitchen, we dined "in" tonight - and we also thoroughly enjoyed a glass of wine compliments of Qantas!

February 23, 2006
Under CoverHorrible weather just seems to be following us! We were planning to book a snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef today (we are not on the ground long enough to dive as you are not supposed to dive within 24 hours of flying), but with the abysmal weather, we're really glad we didn't. It's definitely no fun being out on the ocean in the rain and it's even less fun in the wind and the rain and the resulting swells!

Kate?We were suffering terribly from cabin fever by the afternoon, so despite the weather, we ventured out, umbrellas in hand. We stopped at an Irish bar to wait out one particular deluge of rain. We tried to get something to eat, but the kitchen had just closed - missed it by 3 minutes!

The rain slowed and continued our walk down to the pier, where we were able to get something to eat at the Pier Grill - we shared a Thai prawn pizza - very different combination of flavors, but quite nice.

As we were walking back to the hotel, we went into a shopping center and the local bookstore had a table full of paperback books for Aussie $5 (about $3.75), so we bought a couple. Armed with new reading material (at last!), we spent the rest of the evening inside and dry.

February 24, 2006
Our Only Reef ViewThere was some sunshine this morning, but the sky still looked very ominous. Tropical Cyclone Kate is hovering out in the Coral Sea - just as with the hurricanes in Florida, she may take any number of courses, one of which will bring her right into the beaches of Cairns. Looks like we are getting out just in time!

This afternoon, we flew to Sydney, arriving just before 5:00 PM. At the right is the only view we had of the Great Barrier Reef - really disappointing!

Harbor NightlifeWe checked into the Sydney Marriott, went to the lounge for a few nibbles and then set out to explore the area around Darling Harbor. The weather was gorgeous this evening and the harbor area was very crowded - a combination of tourists and the Friday night after-work groups. We walked around for about an hour, until an outside table was available at one of the restaurants/bars. We had a light meal and sat to watch the world go by.