Friday, 28 June 2013

Cairns and around - Part1

For this last part of the trip, we took the plane from Darwin towards the last state that remains on our travel plan: Queensland. As written on the cars, Queensland is the "Sunshine state". We plan to stay two weeks in Cairns since there are quite a few things around here, this is the first part!

Arrival in Cairns

Arriving with the plain is cairns is probably one of the best things to do. As it arrives, it flies over a section of the great barrier reef allowing everyone on board to have a good look at the beautiful blue colors from the reef and the mountains in the far back surrounding the city of Cairns.
Arrived at the airport, a friend of mine (an Overclocker) comes to pick us up. Steve shows us quickly the main places in town and the few attraction to not miss out. After that we head to his place to have lunch together.
After lunch, we took a moment with Steve to go through a local map and tick the major attractions that we should be visiting later that week when we'll have a car. Most of the things to see are waterfalls all around the table lands, gorges and of course beaches. 


Two days after our arrival, we headed to the town of Kuranda, This small town is located somewhere in the middle of the rain forest on one of the mountains near Cairns. To get there, we decided to take the Skyrail gondolas and return with a small train that slowly goes down the mountain slopes all the way to Cairns.
The Gondolas journey is 7.5 km long and reminded us a lot of the one in Taipei.

On the way, we did two stops. At both stops short walks brought us to beautiful lookouts over the rain-forest. The most impressive ones was definitely the one of the "Barron Falls" (picture below)

On the way back we took the train. The train tracks are quite old (build in 1880) and it takes about 1h30 to drive it down the 30 km rail track back to Cairns. On the way, 15 tunnels, 37 bridges and breath taking views.

The Great Barrier Reef

It would not have been possible to visit Cairns without going to see, swim and dive on the reef. This reef is the longest in the world and its 2600km length spread over 344,000 km2 can be spotted from space.
It takes about 2h30 by boat from Cairns to reach the outer reef (where it is the most beautiful). There, we got rigged up with snorkelling gear and went out to explore the reef life. Later during the day, I also did some diving in order to reach about 5-6m depths on the reef - that's where the big fishes are. Sadly, no sharks ...

In the water, it took Adeline only a few minutes to get used to snorkelling and breathing through the tube. After that it is just like you've seen on TV. Beautiful fishes swimming everywhere, lots of colors and many many different corals everywhere.
We even saw some of the big clamps that move when you touch them.... magic!

Sadly, I've sold the GoPro camera in Sydney, so no under water pictures of this. But believe us, it's like on TV and feels like in a swimming pool.

River cruise with Steve

During this first week, Steve wanted to show his mother in law the shack that he had bought with some friends of a fishing club. The place is located on the Daintree river, about an hour north of Cairns.
Once a arrived there, we were supposed to pick-up a small boat on a trailer and drive a little further to the closest launch bay. Unfortunately, Steve had forgotten the bowl that is necessary to hook up the trailer to his car. So we simply launched the boat from the pick-up location and decided to go down the 10km of river between us and the shack.

The motor on this boat din't wanted to start initially, and it took us about 30 minutes to get it to start ...

After a few minutes out, we start to see a few crocodiles. They are far away and busy getting a tan in the sun. These are salt water crocodiles ... the biggest you can find and the most ferocious. We keep going - it is better to not make any stops since our motor might not be able to start again ... who knows!

After 1h30 of slow ride, we arrive at the shack. It is quite a big house build of wood which the climate, termites and time have taken care of - but still, a great place. Steve and his friends plan on replacing what needs to be replaced and restore the shack to become a great weekend destination for family and friends.

We don't stay long, it is already time to go back.

But again, the motor doesn't want to start. 20 minutes later we are on our way back, but after only half-way through, the motor stops and now completely refuses to start. Our little boat is now slowly drifting in the middle of the river with potentially hungry crocs swimming around.

A few minutes only later, a tourist boat passes by and gives us a ride back to the nearest pontoon.  There we  arrange things, bring back the boat and then drive back to Cairns. What a day - what an adventure, thanks Steve!

More Pictures

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Darwin and Litchfield National Park

This is the last time that we are taking the Ghan and we head towards Darwin. From Katherine, Darwin is only  a few hours away, so we will be there in the evening. The city of Darwin is located in the North of Australia and holds about 130,000 inhabitants.

Our arrival in Darwin

We arrive at the Darwin train station around 7pm. As soon as we leave the train, we can feel that here the weather is very different. Even though it is the winter right now, the air is really humid and it feels like we've left the desert for good and entered the tropics.
The train station is about 10km away from time. We've got to take a shuttle to reach Darwin CBD. Darwin is famous for its parties and the backpackers are highly attracted by the destination. Sadly Darwin hasn't got sufficient accommodation for everyone and others like us can't find a place to stay for the night and will have to sleep on the streets.

I'm saying on the streets because here in Darwin, it is forbidden by law to camp, or sleep in a campervan anywhere in the city. Police and Rangers are patrolling the town all night long to fine infringers on the spot.
After several hours of research we decide to head towards the beach in the hope of finding a safe spot for the night. It's only  at 3am that somebody shows up out of nowhere and gives us a hint for a better spot on the beach.
(Sorry, but no pictures of Darwin...)

The Next day... Litchfield National Park

After a terrible night, an unpleasant visit at the tourist office and being refused access to the parliament house (because our bags are too big to be stored, seriously!) we decide to leave town and head to the Lichtfield National Park. We hop on a bus to Batchelor (a town nearby) and decide to hitch-hike our way to and around the national park for the coming four days.

This time, the luck is with us. Right at the bus station, a local lady gives us a ride to the CBD of Batchelor and there within a few minutes, we find a group of three Germans that accept to take us on board for the next two days and drive us around with them to each of the spots in the park, Really great!

Waterfalls and cascades

In the park there are lots of rivers, cascades and waterfalls. Some of them are small, but most of them are quite impressive and deserve to be checked out. While driving around each of the spots, we could enjoy some refreshing breaks in the water that was at the perfect temperature: 18C.


Along the way in the park there are several camp sites. Since this is an extended weekend (birthday of the queen),  lots of Australians have planned to drive down to the park and spend two nights there. It is hard to find a spot, but after some research, we find one that is huge and only hosts one little tent ... and no car.
This is weird, but the spot is large enough all of us as well as two other Australians that are just passing by and are also looking for a spot. After a little while a French guys shows up. It's his tent and he came also here hitchhiking, which explains the "no-car" factor.

He agrees and we all setup camp and start a fire.

We spent a great time there. The two Australian guys left on Monday as well as our German drivers. We decided to stay a few more days to enjoy the waterholes near the camp and relax before heading back to Darwin just in time to grab our plane to our next destination ...

More pictures

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Katherine and the Top End

After a week spend in Alice Springs, it is time to hop back on the train and head over to the next town north called Katherine. About 1000km north of Alice springs and 400km south of Darwin, Katherine is famous for the gorges formations nearby. The rain season having just come to an end, we should be just in time for the opening.

The plan

When everything is in sync, it is supposedly possible to do some kayaking in the gorges. This is probably also the best way to go around them and spend a day paddling around the impressive rock formations. Sadly, when we arrive, we get told that the canoe is not yet open for a full day and two-day rental period (but only 4 hour shifts). The gorges being quite long, there isn't much you can see in just for hours, so we decide to walk instead.

The reason give to us for this closure is the fact that the water level is still a bit high in some parts of the gorges, and also that there is a strong possibility that a few crocodiles remain in these waters .. which makes it not the most secure place on earth to paddle in ... trust me!


So ... this is probably the first time that we have to pay for a camping. There is no camping spot near the Katherine gorges where it is allowed to camp (for free). Since there is only one tour company allowed to operate in the area, they "of course" make sure that you spend all your money on them.
The price is quite expensive. $18 per person per night, for just a piece of grass to pitch your tent. No electricity available, but free washing machines and swimming pool.

Aside of that heavy price, the camping is infested by fox-bats. These huge bats are all over the trees in the camping, the don't really sleep at day and eat fruits a night on the nearby plantations. The whole place is smelling bat shit and it is probably the worse camping experience that we had so far since the beginning ...
Lets try to have a sleep and recharge for tomorrow's hike.

Hike in the gorges

Since the start, we are trying to get as much information as possible to prepare this hike. One does not go just like that hiking in the gorges. You need to apply for a permit that allows you to camp at about 10km from the entrance of the park and it is important to know where you are going so a "rescue" mission can find you in case your are not back in time.

There are 13 gorges in total. Only the first three are usually visited by tourists or day-hikers. Since we plan to have a two day hike, we aim towards the 5th gorge (Smith Rock), sleep there overnight and come back on the next day.

The hike is quite intense, the track is in a very bad conditions with big rocks, small rocks and sand all mixed together. There is also only one water filling tank on the way (about 5km from arrival), so we had to be very careful on our water supply and save as much water as we could ... hard when it is 35+ degrees and under a beating sun. And there is a small swamp to cross and a bit of climbing to do as well ... only do this if you are in a great physical condition .... or you will just not make it alive.

Arrived in the gorges, we immediately climb down, and stay down in the shade of these for the whole afternoon to avoid the heat until the evening comes.  In the evening, we head to the campsite (on top of the cliffs), watch the sunset and quickly hide in the tent as a cloud of hungry mosies comes to eat us.

On the next day, we wake up as early as possible and hike all the way back to the camp ground for a last night of noisy-sleep and head back to the train.
Crazy and really intense three days!

More pictures!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Alice springs, Uluru and much more

If Uluru is Australia's world recognized figure as it stands on most postcards, it is easily thought that the rock is the only thing standing in the middle of no-where... which is not quite right. For this new post from the Australian Outback, here is what we've seen in our time in Central Australia, more less near the booming town of Alice Springs! 


Alice Springs, the not that lost town

Here in Australia, Alice Springs can't be named a town but a city. Over 20,000 people live full time here in Alice, right in the middle of the Australian continent. There "is" a river here, but most of the year it is just sand that runs in it, and  the city itself lives for it's major part from Tourism and some left over of old-days gold rushes, mining and cattle farming. 

We never planned to stay too much in town since nearly everybody encouraged us to not do so. So we booked ourselves onto a three days camping tour to cruise us around the regional highlights that are Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. If the first one sounds famous, listen up and remember this. The two others are actually much more worth the trip! So don't come out here just for Uluru, or you are just wasting your time and money. 

Three days around Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon 

Day 1 - Uluru 

 On the first day of our tour, we directly head over Uluru. The rock isn't close to town, it is about 450km south west of Alice. Arrived there, the view is as expected. Impressive. The massive rock just stands there as in the post cards. The Australian government made a great job to surround it with a national park that protects it since the 70s from the touristic fever.

At the rock we have two options. Walking around or climbing to the top. The second is not very well taken by aboriginals that worship Uluru (it's a bit like pissing on the wall of a cathedral some said), so we went for the base walk. Uluru is a massive rock. It took us about 3 hours to complete the 9km base walk around it before heading to the sunset viewing area.  

At night, we return to camp, prepare dinner (bbq of course) and make a fire. After that we climb a nearby hill with our swags (Australian style tent+sleeping bag all-in-one) and sleep there under the stars.  

Day 2 - Kata Tjuta 

The next day, we wake up early and rush with the bus to the Kata Tjuta sunrise viewing spot. There the colors were highly spectacular. I had some fun again shooting this short time lapse sequence of the sun rising over Kata Tjuta. The sun up, we head to that place called Kata Tjuta. It's a very old mountain formation near Uluru (40min drive) that's mean many heads (36 in total).

 There, time has carved the place in several remaining rocks that in some places created gaps, canyons and overall incredible views. There was some rain the week before we arrive in the region, so don't worry for the green in all the pictures, most of the time it isn't there. 

Back at camp for lunch, we cook up some mince for preparing wraps and jump back on the bus to drive all the way back to visit the Kings canyon on the next day. But before that, we make sure to pick up enough wood to have the most epic camp fire in da place!  

We arrived at the Kings Canyon camp at the end of the afternoon. What's up there? Well guess .... BBQ, beer, camp fire, beer and more beer. Again sleeping under the stars with our swags. Since our tour group is only made of 5, the evening went really well, and we all enjoyed having some marshmallows over the fire for desert.