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Sunday, 26 February 2017

Kata Tjuta - The Olgas

Sunrise over central Australia

Day 1 was seeing the sunset at Uluru, the next morning was a very early start (4.30am wake up for 5.15am pickup!) to go and see the sunrise and visit Kata Tjuta.

Kata Tjuta in Pitjantjatjara means 'many heads' there are 36 domes that make up Kata Tjuta. It is also know as 'The Olgas', named for Queen Olga of Wurttemberg, her father was Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. The explorer Ernest Giles named them The Olgas for his benefactor Baron Mueller who had previously been elevated to Baron status by Queen Olga's husband. Mueller got a baroncy and Olga got large rock formations named after her!

The early morning tour started with a stop at the sunrise viewing platform in the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park. Hot chocolate and biscuits were on offer as we watched the sun come up.

The boardwalk up to the sunrise viewing platform, the boardwalk and marked paths help protect the vegetation from the hordes of tourist footprints!

Sunrise at Uluru.

Kata Tjuta from the sunrise viewing platform.

Once the sun was up, it was back to the bus and we headed for Kata Tjuta. First stop was the viewing platform for a photo stop. The guide also gave us some flora information, the landscape was quite green because of all the rain the region had received. It also meant that certain flowers had bloomed for the first time in years, the example that was pointed out to us, was a little blue flower called the 'pin cushion flower' it had bloomed for the first time in 15 years as a consequence of all the rain.

The final stop was at Kata Tjuta, there are 2 walking trails, we did the Walpa Gorge trail. With the sun rising it was getting hot and it was refreshingly windy in the gorge!

Looking out of the gorge to the flat landscape of the National Park.

The rock face, the highest of the domes is called Mt. Olga.

Walpa Gorge watering hole, I stopped here as this was the nicest part of the gorge, you could keep going for those who wanted to get to the end of the gorge.

Once we were all back from the gorge walk it was back to Yulara, I was back by 10am and then it was time for a nap!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Uluru-Ayers Rock

Travelling to central Australia

Visiting Ayers Rock is a bucket list entry for most people and it was for me too. But I fitted the stereotype of having seen major tourist sites outside the country that I lived in, but not the major ones inside the country! That changed last week and I made my first visit to Uluru/Ayers Rock. (Both names are used, it was the first dual named feature in the Northern Territory. Research again!) It was named Ayers Rock by the English surveyor who saw it, he named it not after himself but the Chief Minister (and later Premier) of South Australia Henry Ayers. 

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a World Heritage Site.

View from the Sunset viewing platform

Visitors to the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park can either hire a car and drive around themselves or join an organised tour. That's what I did, it was the AATKings Uluru sunset tour.

The rock becoming redder as the sun sets, pastel pink and gold colours behind it.

With the sun lower in the sky the rock looks brown.

The tour begins just after 3pm and you're taken to different locations. Along the way both the driver and guide provide information about the National Park, the local indigenous people, the Anangu, and the rock itself.

The Climb Point

People do still climb the rock, but the days I was there it was 41 degrees Celsius and the climb point was closed! The feint white line going up the rock on the right is the chainlink hold rail. The rock is huge, much higher than I had imagined, prior to coming I had already decided that I wouldn't climb as a mark of respect to the local indigenous people. Looking at the climb point, even if I hadn't taken that stance, there was no way I was climbing!! The guide did tell us that the Anangu people never climbed the rock, there was no point, there was no water or food at the top! Their sacred sites were at the base of the rock.

Rain furrows, picture taken from the bus! Just after Christmas last year there was a huge rain storm, the tail end of a Western Australia cyclone, and it poured at Uluru, it was a major deluge. The airport was closed, with people being stranded at Yulara for a few days. I saw the pictures on the news where the rock just looked like an enormous waterfall.

We were taken in to see a waterhole, I had thought that Uluru was one solid rock, it's not, there are places where parts have dropped off. This one fascinated me as it's such a clear cut.

The rock is made of sandstone (which isn't red) but gets its red colour from the surrounding ochre. Sandstone is porous and absorbs water, 'like a sponge' we were told. The water that goes into a waterhole is seeping out of the rock.

A small creek coming from the waterhole.

Along the way to the waterhole we were taken into a cave with drawings on the wall. Unfortunately some of the drawings were very faded as past tour guides used to throw water onto the drawings to make them stand out, but it ended up washing away some of the pigment. Men did the drawings, the women were busy collecting food!

The water hole with the water seeping from the rock.

Visiting Uluru/Ayers Rock was amazing, I had seen it from the air a few times as the flight from Adelaide to Singapore would pass overhead. But being at ground level really emphasised how enormous it is. The circumference around it is just over 9km! 

I can recommend the AATKings tour, as well as general information they also gave us three Anangu stories that fitted into what we were seeing. A greenish tint on the rock, the skin of a lizard, deep indentations, footprints. The stories were children's stories and were being retold with the permission of the Anangu people and they were an interesting touch to the tour. The tour finished with drinks and nibbles as you watched the sun set around the rock.

Attempt at an arty photo with glass of sparkling wine!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Beachfront Apartments on Trinity Beach

Cairns, North Queensland


Good value for a family holiday or a group of friends holidaying together. The apartment was really well equiped, down to laundry powder for the washing machine, so great for a self-contained stay.


Right opposite the beach.

This was the view from the balcony. Trinity Beach is about 20 minutes north of Cairns city and about 15 minutes from the airport. There are a few restaurants in walking distance of the apartments, a children's playground across the road. You will need a car to get around as the nearest supermarket is a 5 minute drive  away and the Cairns attractions are all in driving distance.


A well equiped apartment, with all the kitchen utensils you'll need, even salt and pepper! There's a dishwasher, a washing machine and drier, plus a clothes horse. Large screen TV, air-conditioning and very spacious.

Ensuite to the main bedroom.

The two bedroom unit has a family bathroom with washer and dryer.

The outdoor pool has a spa as well.

Optional Extras

Behind the pool there is a barbecue area, there is onsite parking for guests' cars and most is undercover. (Important when it's hot!) The manager will supply you with beach towels to use at the pool or the beach.

I enjoyed my stay at the Beachfront Apartments, I particularly loved the location, it was beautifully tranquil being able to listen to the waves as they crashed to the shore.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Melbourne Trams

Iconic symbols of the city

Other Australian cities had trams, but by the 1970s the networks were removed and buses introduced in their place.The buses were cheaper to run, the removal of the trams was a cost cutting exercise.  Melbourne however, held onto their trams, there were a combination of factors which contributed to Melbourne's trams' survival.

There was strong union opposition to their removal, unlike the other cities the infrastructure and trams themselves were relatively new. It was also argued that pulling up the rails embedded in concrete would be incredibly expensive and so the trams remained. They're now considered an iconic part of the city.

The first trams that appeared in Melbourne were horse drawn ones in 1884. Electric trams arrived later and there are still some historic trams circulating the city.

This green and yellow tram is the most iconic, this series of tram was put into service in the 1920s and remained in service for the next 60 years. It's so iconic that these old models are now prohibited from being sold overseas, they are sent on overseas loans though. They are also registered with the National Trust as a heritage icon.

These green and yellow trams are also still in use in the city centre. This one is infront of the Victorian parliament building.

The historic trams are more of a tourist experience, the modern trams are public transport. Here's one is going down St. Kilda road.

Riding a tram in Melbourne is the quintessential visitor to Melbourne experience. It's also the easiest way to get around in and out of the city centre.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Government Gardens, Rotorua

A lovely contrast to Hells Gate

The day after I went to Hells Gate, I went along the road beside Lake Rotorua and came across the Government Gardens. I've since done some research, the land the gardens were built on was gifted to the crown in the late 1800s for 'the benefit of the people of the world" by the local Maori. It was a scrub covered geothermal area and it was then cleared and formal gardens established.

This beautiful building, is the rather ornate bath house that was built by the New Zealand government in 1908 as it recognised the value of the area for tourists who came to 'take the waters'. It was later converted to a museum and it still is operating as the Rotorua museum but is currently closed for earthquake assessment.

The gardener's cottage.

All good, Victorian and Edwardian parks and gardens had an ornate rotunda or bandstand.

This Mediterranean style building is called the Blue Baths and was built in 1933 as swimming baths. Controversially at the time it didn't have separate areas for men and women, generations of locals learn how to swim here in the warm (thermal) water. It was closed in the early 1980s and has since been restored.

Rachel Pool, the water from here was piped into the baths. It was named after Madame Rachel a notorious cosmetician who promised youthful complexions because of the softening effect of the silica in the water on skin. The water is still reticulated in the modern Polynesian spa which is nearby.

The tea pavilion and the croquet lawn between the tea pavilion and old bath house.

The prince's arch, I drove through the arch into the gardens and loved the Victorian era style of the arch. Further research told me that the arch was built for the visit of the then Duke and Duchess of York (the future King George V and Queen Mary) in 1901, and the shape is that of a crown. That information made me like the arch even more!

It was raining quite persistently during the time I was in the garden so there was a good deal of juggling an umbrella and a camera to take pictures!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Hells Gate Geothermal Park, New Zealand

Tikitere, near Rotorua

Before going to New Zealand I had thought that Rotorua was a small town with one thermal park to visit. Turns out I was completely wrong! Rotorua is actually a small city and there are different thermal areas you can visit. Having a friend in New Zealand who could steer me in the right direction, Hells Gate was recommended to me as the one to visit.

It turns out that Hells Gate is the most active of Rotorua's geothermal parks. Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw upon visiting the site, gave it its name Hells Gate, apparently when he saw it he thought he had arrived at the gates of Hell!

There is a mud spa attached to the park and you can bathe in the thermal pools. Be warned the smell of sulphur is very strong! You and your clothes end up smelling of it!

Geothermal pool with the mud spa in the background.

The whole area is a smoking, bubbling, heaving mass!

Between the two rather barren looking areas of geothermal activity there is a green area which is a respite from the starkness of the landscape.

These are the Kakahi Falls, the water in the falls is hot, about 40 degrees Celsius. (Apparently the temperature of a nice hot shower!) Maori warriors used to come to the falls to bathe themselves from the blood of battle! The sulphur in the water was good for their wounds.

I was surprised to see hydrangeas in what is a native vegetation area. Reading the information guide, it seems that hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and azaleas were planted over 100 years ago by the local Maori to signify the special relationship between themselves and the Europeans.

This bubbling mass is called the Devil's Cauldron.

A baby mud volcano, every so often, the mud at the top erupts, it falls on the side and that's how the volcano grows.

The water in this particular pool is so hot that it's boiling furiously, the water is literally leaping up into the air.

Steam from the thermal pools, there are signs everywhere to stay on the path, warning of the extremely high temperatures in the pools.

The yellow areas are deposits of dried sulphur around the pools.

I'll be honest and state that visiting a geothermal park was not my favourite experience that I had during my trip to New Zealand. I had wanted to visit one and that's why I went to Rotorua, but I found the smell of the sulphur really overpowering and unpleasant. Hells Gate was really interesting and would agree that it's a great geothermal park to visit and there's so many different things to see, for anyone wanting to experience Rotorua's thermal activities, this would be the place to go.

Hells Gate is about 15km from Rotorua's town centre, the area is called Tikitere, it was easy to find and well signposted from the main road from Rotorua. (Having a GPS made it even easier to find!)