<< markandrupa


march/april 2008

We had a mere four weeks to cover a country the size of the lower 48 states so we concentrated on a few areas, spending time in and around Sydney and Melbourne, driving the Great Ocean Road and cruising about the Red Center in a 4WD.  By the end of the trip we'd logged 2,500 miles on the road, and when combined with the 3,000 miles in New Zealand we covered more ground than I do in an entire year back home.



Trip log

  1. Sydney - march 13

    Our trip began in Christchurch, New Zealand, where we were finishing up a five-week tour of the North and South Islands. It was rainy and overcast so we spent the morning on the hotel's WiFi putting the final touches on our upcoming Australian adventure.

    The three hour flight to Sydney was easy breezy. Our landing approach took us right over the harbor with a wonderful view of the famous Harbor Bridge and Opera House. Touchdown is not normally a memorable event, but disembarking in Australia allowed us to notch our seventh continent. We didn't waste time taking advantage of the warm evening weather - after checking in we raced down to the waterfront and picked up tickets for tomorrow evening's performace of La Boheme at the Opera House. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the lively waterfront atmosphere and finished up with a light dinner overlooking the harbor. Desert was a marvelous Butterscotch & Honeycomb ice cream from Royal Copenhagen on the quay.

    Sydney Harbor Bed & Breakfast, The Rocks, Sydney

  2. Sydney - march 14

    After five weeks of on-the-go touring in New Zealand we settled for a relaxing day of pedestrian sight-seeing in Sydney. We stopped in at The Strand and the QVB, a pair of restored arcade-style malls filled with designer shops. In the QVB one particular shop caught my attention - the Peter Lik gallery. We'd never seen his work before and the beautiful panoramic images and intense colors really had me floored. They had an almost 3D quality to them and were exquisitly lit. No particular image called out to us, but it was fun just to browse the gallery.

    Our next destination was the YHA office (Youth Hosteling Association) where we had hopes of picking up discounted tickets for the Adelaide to Alice Springs overnight train (The Ghan). We lucked out: with a $42 membership fee we saved $366 on the tickets.

    Additional sight-seeing this afternoon included Hyde Park, St Mary's Cathedral and the Australian Museum. We arrived at the museum thirty-minutes to closing, but we were only interested in the BBC's Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit so the cashier let us in for free. Needless to say we were really impressed - many of the photos were from Africa and Antarctica so we were familiar with the subject matter, but what really set these photos apart were unique compositions and incredible lighting.

    The Sydney Opera House was not all that I expected. The lobby and auditorium were impressive in the sense that they were wide open and hadn't a need for interior supports, but the exposed cement columns and backside view of the exterior's famous curved panels made the building feel sterile; The orange seats in the auditorium were the only splash of color. We had fantastic seats just off-center in the second row of the first balcony and the performance was quite enjoyable to my novice eyes. The score wasn't particularly memorable, but the music did a marvelous job reflecting the oft-changing emotions portrayed on stage, so much so that it was easy to understand the (much contrived) plot without peaking at the translation screens.

    We passed Royal Copenhagen on the walk back to the hotel and I sprung for another Butterscotch & Honeycomb ice cream cone.

    Sydney Harbor Bed & Breakfast, The Rocks, Sydney

  3. Sydney - march 15

    We spent the bulk of our day in Paddington - a charming turn-of-the-century neighborhood a short 20-minute bus ride from the waterfront. As we stepped off the bus we spied ahead of us a pair of familiar faces. Cris and Connie, a Seattle couple whom we'd met one week earlier at our B&B in Dunedin, NZ, had just finished shopping the market and were now off to visit with friends. We took their recommendation and spent a couple of hours at the Market, browsing the hundred or so tented stalls arranged in a leafy courtyard. The handicrafts were top quality and Rupa ended up with a small leather wallet and change purse. Later we grabbed an eclectic lunch of cheesesteak, sushi roll and fresh juice at the food trucks.

    We walked three hours through town back to the waterfront, spent the early evening relaxing before grabbing a really nice seafood dinner at Rockpool restaurant. For the third night in a row I satisfied my desert stomach at Royal Copenhagen.

    Sydney Harbor Bed & Breakfast, The Rocks, Sydney

  4. Blue Mountains - march 16

    After a couple of relaxing days in Sydney it was time to move along. We picked up an Australia atlas at the book store and arrived at the Mariott to pick up our rental car shortly after noon. Unbeknownst to us the rental desk closed at noon on Sundays, but lucky for us the rental agent was still closing up and graciously stuck around to rent us a car.

    We ended up with a hip smurf-blue Camry and worked our way three hours inland and up into the scenic Blue Mountains. The highway eventually narrowed to a busy two-lane country road connecting small towns with cheesy taglines like "Lawson - The Original Blue Mountain", "Leura - The Garden Village" and "Hazelbrook - The Jewel of the Mountains". We found our historic 1932 B&B outside Wentworth Falls and settled into the charming Chauffeur's Cottage - a detached one bedroom apartment with kitchenette.

    Our only sightseeing of the day was Echo Point, where we admired the Three Sisters - a jagged three-spired sandstone formation overlooking the sweeping Kedumba Valley. We finished off the day with a nice, relaxing dinner at the Rooster Restaurant in Katoomba - an award-wining restaurant serving up French-inspired cuisine in the former living spaces of an historic home.

    Chauffeur's Cottage, Silvermere, Wentworth Falls

  5. Blue Mountains - march 17

    Part of why we came to the Blue Mountains was to relax, so today we had a bit of a lie in and didn't make it out of bed until about 11. Out on the veranda we enjoyed a light brunch of yogurt, a breakfast bar and gingernuts while we picked out a four hour hike from the fabulous "Blue Mountains Best Bushwalks" guidebook.

    We began the hike at Scenic World, where we rode the steep tram 600ft down into the forested Jamison Valley (to the theme song from Indiana Jones). At the base of the cliff we enjoyed a leisurely walk through a fern and eucalyptus forest. The New Zealand forests had been eerily silent, so we were excited to see and hear a variety of birdlife. After half an hour we came to the Giant Staircase - 850+ steps that zigzag back up cliff face (many hikers choose to descend the staircase and ride the tram back up, but we'd started too late to catch the last tram). It was an exhausting climb, but a number of strategically placed benches provided moments of relief. From the top, we continued back to Scenic World along the scenic Prince Henry Cliff Walk. We paused to take the catwalk out to the Three Sisters, stopped at a number of vista points, strolled thorugh an amusing Scribbly Gum glade and took a rest at the Katoomba Cascades.

    We were back at the car around 7pm and we rushed over to Echo Point to see the Three Sisters again, but we just missed sunset. By this time we were both running on empty, having only had breakfast and a Powerbar all day, so we drove back to Wentworth Falls and found some dinner a Canton Palace. I'd been a long time since we'd had Chinese food and the aroma hooked us. The food was tasty too, especially the szechuan eggplant, which was perfectly cooked with just a bit of heat.

    Chauffeur's Cottage, Silvermere, Wentworth Falls

  6. Blue Mountains - march 18

    Another relaxing morning in the cottage. We had hoped to visit the Jenolan Caves today, but after calling ahead we learned that only four of the ten caves were open today, and even these appeared to be the less interesting ones. Apparently weekends are the best time to visit the caves, so we sadly decided to skip them. Instead, we drove into Katoomba and had lunch at the art-deco Paragon Cafe before continuing on to past Mt. Wilson to visit the Catherdral of Ferns. Having just come from New Zealand, where ferns were more than prevalent, this small patch was a bit of a dissappointment.

    The rest of the afternoon we spent hopping from viewpoint to viewpoint, including spectacular Govett's Leap. We finished yet again at the Three Sisters, arriving in time for sunset. We stayed a while to see how the floodlights would illuminate the rocks, but the lights werent very strong and sky was darkening very slowly, so we called it off and instead headed home. We planned to eat our leftover Chinese in the cottage, though we supplemented it with take-out szechuan eggplant.

    Chauffeur's Cottage, Silvermere, Wentworth Falls

  7. Phillip Island - march 19

    We were up early today to check out and drive back to the Sydney airport in time to catch a two-hour flight to Melbourne. Upon arrival we learned that my checked bag didn't make the flight. The claims agent was ready for us though, with a note in hand and a food voucher that we redeemed while waiting an hour for the next flight to arrive. With luggage in hand, we proceeded to rent a Mitsubishi Lancer and were on our way to Phillip Island by 4:30pm. Despite heavy rush-hour traffic we made the drive in under 2.5 hours, and with sunset fast approaching we headed straight for the Penguin Parade.

    Phillip Island is home to the world's largest colony of Little Penguins (also known as Blue or Fairy Penguins). Little Penguins are the smallest of the penguins, measuring only 17in tall and weighing around two pounds. After securing tickets, we followed an elevated boardwalk out to the beach, where a pair of cement bleachers faced the ocean. We managed front row seats, and as the sun began to set we could make out the first of penguins forming rafts just offshore. They stormed the beach in groups (to avoid predation by seals), and once safely ashore they quickly waddled across the open beach to their burrows hidden among the low-lying bushes. The lighting was puposefully dim, and though it was bright enough to see the penguins it wasn't bright enough to make out their beautiful indigo-colored coats.

    Under cover of the bushes the penguins were more relaxed, and the elevated boardwalk afforded us wonderful, close-up views of the little birds without disturbing them. Those that had just returned from the sea were plump, and many were resting on their bellies before continuing deeper into the colony. Others were preening, or flirting with their neighbors, or chattering angrily at passers-by that came too close to their burrows. The most entertaining, though, were the heavy-set chicks, which looked like little Russian nesting dolls dressed in downy coats straining to maintain their balance.

    It was 9pm by the time we left, and fearing that the restaurants would all be closed we grabbed a quick snack at the cafe. Before taking off though, we checked under our car for stray penguins; a young girl in the neighboring car giggled a bit, but quickly decided that it was a worthy effort and bent over from her seated position to check under her car as well.

    We felt bad arriving at our B&B so late, but our host was quite gracious and simply glad to see us. She showed us around the main floor of the house, most of which was open to guests, and then brought us to our comfortable upstairs bedroom. It'd been a long day, and we took some time to relax before finally turning out the lights.

    Castle Villa by the Sea, Cowes, Phillip Island

  8. Phillip Island - march 20

    The weather was kinda of ugly this morning, so once again we enjoyed a nice lie in. We finally made it out around noon and attempted to tackle some hiking at Woolami Beach. It was cold and blustery though, and with beach sand pelting us in the face we quickly retreated and instead drove over to the Koala Conservation Center. By now a bit of rain was falling, but there wasn't much in the way of indoor activities on the island, so we decided to stick with it. We toured the grounds using the elevated boardwalks, which allowed us to get a bit closer to the koalas, who like to hang out high off the ground. It took us some time to find our first one, but we soon realized that the rangers had placed signs on the trees with koalas.

    For the next two hours we wandered the boardwalks, picking out about a dozen koalas. Being nocturnal, most of the koalas were curled up and napping, though a few were taking advantage of the cool, overcast weather to grab a snack. One sprightly fellow was moving about just off the boardwalk railing, and having run out of leaves he hopped onto the railing and proceeded to crawl past us and around the corner toward a fresh supply of eucalypt leaves. It was our best look yet at a koala, and seeing his razor-sharp claws up close made me rethink my desire to cuddle with one.

    Back in town we had a quick dinner at a vibrant little fish and chips diner called Pink Penguin Fish & Chips before heading back to the Penguin Parade. Tonight we opted for the Ultimate Penguin Tour, an expensive small-group visit to a secluded beach away from the boardwalks and the crowds. Our guide handed out radio headsets and night-vision goggles before driving us over to the beach, where we found a nice spot to settle down and watch the show. Heaps of penguins came ashore, appearing less agitated than those at the Parade as they more confidently strolled across the lightless beach. We used the goggles to view the action, but they were difficult to focus, had a narrow depth of field, and didn't zoom. Overall, while we enjoyed the quiet, peaceful experience of watching penguins uninhibited by the activity at the Parade, I can't really recommend the Ultimate Tour. Perhaps if the penguins came ashore when it was a bit lighter out it might be worth it, but in the dark, with finicky goggles, the experience just doesn't add up. A much better deal is probably the exclusive Penguins Plus package, which on crowded nights would offer a less hectic viewing opportunity under the lights at the boardwalk.

    The Castle Villa by the Sea, Cowes, Phillip Island

  9. Dandenong Range - march 21

    We were checked out and on the road by 10am this morning. Our plan was to make a slight detour on our trip back to Melbourne by way the the Dandenong Ranges. The drive out was uneventful, though I'm glad we weren't driving the opposite direction, as a near-continuous line of traffic stretched for miles back to Melbourne as city-folk took advantage of the long Easter weekend to get out of town.

    We had picked out a number of short hikes to tackle, and our first stop was Grant's Picnic Ground in Sherbrooke Forest. We were lucky to find a parking spot among the hundred or so other cars and we immediately set out down on a short 30-minute wooded trail. Given the number of cars in the lot the trail was suprisingly quiet, and we managed to pick up two new bird species on the hike - a boisterous Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo a pair of Laughing Kookaburras. We stopped by the picnic grounds after the hike and quickly realized why no one was on the trail - dozens of families were scattered about, hand-feeding a variety of outlandishly-colorful birds. Galahs, Autralian King Parrots, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, and adult and juvenile Crimson Rosellas are vied for attention. The Sulphur-crested Cockatoos were the most vocal, and they put on a spectacular show when they found a balled-up possum napping in the cavity of a dead tree. A nice bonus for us, though, was a Superb Lyrebird lurking about under the canopy in search of a cheap meal. The three-foot-long songbird had a long tail, which an adult male will unfurl in a dramatic 16-feather courtship display; ours appeared to be a young male or female with a rather ordinary tail.

    We stayed long enough with the birds that we didn't manage to make any of our other hikes and instead proceeded on to Melbourne. We returned the car, checked into our stylish downtown hotel, and grabbed dinner at a rather ordinary Chinese restaurant. We finished the day at an internet cafe where we continued to work out logistics for the coming weeks.

    Oaks Hotel on Lonsdale, Melbourne

  10. Melbourne - march 22

    We began a self-guided walking tour of the city at the Queen Victoria Market, a large indoor/outdoor market with over 1000 stalls. It was Saturday morning and the market was busy with locals out doing their grocery shopping; between the dairy and cheese shops, the butchers and fishmongers, the bakeries and the produce stalls I doubt they ever see the inside of a grocery store. The market spread into an adjacent building where household goods and clothing were being sold on open tables, lending a third-world gray-market feel to the place.

    We continued our tour with a walk down Swanston Street and ended up at Town Hall, where prominent billboards advertised the premier weekend of the Melbourne Comedy Festival. The festival was one of the world's largest, and with over 250 acts to choose from we figured we might as well give one or two of them a try. We had plenty of help, in the form of promoters that were invariably linked with one of the "up-and-coming" shows - either a producer, an actor/comedian or a friend. It was prodding them as to why we should see their particular show, and even then the show's timing didn't work our they happy to offer feedback on our current frontrunners. The most recommended show was a comedy skit by the "The Delusionists" proclaiming to portray the history of everything that ever happened in an hour. We tried to get tickets at the box office, but they were sold out. Instead, we scored the final pair of half-price tickets to our second choice, a quartet of stand-up comedians billed as the "Best of the Edinburgh Fest".

    We were still browsing for an early evening show when a pair of actors from "The Delusionists" approached to promote their show. They were excited to learn that the show was sold out, but dissappointed that we wouldn't get to see it. They gave us a tip though - five seats were being held in reserve until 5pm for friends/guests/critics. We grabbed a quick dinner at the historic Block Arcade and were back in line shortly before 5pm. We managed to pick up two of the final five tickets, and had just enough time to grab a drink at the Town Hall bar before lining up for the show.

    The venue was a small 50-seat room in the bowels of Town Hall, but I suppose that's part of the fun when you're watching amatuer sketch comedy. Everything That Ever Happened Ever was an entertaining, twisted review of the pivitol moments in history, presented as a mix of video and live-action performances. It began with the big bang, which was represented on screen by the destruction of the Death Star and Han Solo shouting "great shot kid". Other sketches included Jesus attempting to impress his "blind" date with a miracle, a present-day interview with a pre-recorded Nostradamus, a bizarre but gut-wrenchingly funny Dr. Suess "Green Eggs and Ham" skit and some political commedy around the current American presidental primary race (especially interesting to hear from an Australian point of view). It was a fun hour, and the actors did a great job, and we left quite pleased with our choice.

    We had just enough time between shows to stroll over to the QV (a modern outdoor mall) and enjoy tasty cups of hot chocolate and a fudge brownie at the (popular) Max Brenner Chocolate Bar. The soufflés looked particularly tempting, but we weren't certain they'd be ready in time and so we had to pass.

    Th four stand-up comedians in our second show - "The Best of Edinburgh Fest" - were all professionals, and their popularity was confirmed by the sold-out 500-seat theater. The opener, Mickey D, was the best of the bunch. He had great stage presence and a number of memorable lines, including one about waking up: "When I wake up some mornings I can't determine whether I'm hungry or horny - a real problem when presented with a doughnut." The second and third performers were less inspiring, while the final performer (Tom Stade) kicked it back into gear. We enjoyed his bit about traveling through India and the life of a snake charmer: "Ahhhhh - there's a snake in the front yard! Well..... shit..... let me grab my flute!"

    The box office was still open after the show, so we picked up show tickets for tomorrow night and then returned to the internet cafe to finalize more of our upcoming travel plans.

    Oaks Hotel on Lonsdale, Melbourne

  11. Melbourne - march 23

    We used Easter as another excuse for a lazy morning, though we did manage to get the laundry done as well as a bit more travel planning. An afternoon Australian Football League (AFL) match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) was our first excursion of the day. We'd seen a few Aussie rules football matches on TV and had been entertained by the pace of the game and iconic "draw a pair of pistols" motion the umpires make when a goal is scored. We were also excited to see the MCG, a 150-year-old stadium that today seats more than 100,000 spectators, making it the fourth-largest stadium in the world. Unfortunately, the match itself didn't live up to our expectations, with Hawthorn destroying the home team 150-50.

    The match lasted 2.5 hours, after which we walked into town along Wellington Parade to see the historic buildings. We picked up sushi rolls to go for dinner and ate them on a bench before walking over to the Imperial Hotel for our evening comedy skit, Princess Cabaret. Similar to last night's show, Princess Cabaret was an amateur performance in a small venue with a tiny stage. A series of short skits and musical numbers featured raunchy, off-camera looks at six Disney Princesses (Jasmine, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Belle and Ariel) and Tinkerbell. Sadly, the skits were not particularly witty or crafty, they didn't flow into into each other or build, and overall we just felt that the writers could have done more with the topic.

    Oaks Hotel on Lonsdale, Melbourne

  12. Geelong & The Great Ocean Road - march 24

    I felt rushed this morning as we checked out of the hotel, and with a nagging feeling that we hand't made the most of our time in Melbourne I was a little grumpy. We had some time to kill before picking up our rental car, so we browsed a nearby Aboriginal art gallery. The manager showed us around and pointed out various aspects of the imagery, noting that Aboriginal art is typically derived from dream sequences. We enjoyed the abstract style and bright colors, and figured that if we came across the perfect piece we'd consider purchasing it.

    Picking up the car only served to worsen my mood when the agent informed us that they didn't have the car we'd reserved. Instead, all she could muster was a small two-door hatchback with a manual-transmission. She was considerate and tried to find us another option, but in the end we agreed to take the small hatchback at a sizeable discount. As we drove off, we noticed additional rental vehicles being off-loaded out front, so after retrieving our luggage from the hotel we drove back and exchanged our little hatchback for a newly-arrived four-door sedan.

    We had trouble getting out of town, as our Google directions were misleading and it took us a while to figure out how to turn right (across traffic in Australia) at the intersections. As it turned out, right turns needed to originate from the left lane of traffic, which was counter intuitive but worked out well in practice, as it it kept traffic moving through the intersection until the light changed, at which point the right-turning traffic simply merged with the cross traffic. As we drove out of town we were reminded that this had been a holiday weekend by the long line of returning traffic.

    Our first stop outside Melbourne was the ocean-front city of Geelong. It was 3pm and too late to visit the nearby bird sanctuary, so instead we drove down to the thriving family-friendly waterfront where we were greated by grassy lawns, volleyball courts, refreshment stands, a pair of public pools, a sandy beach and a fully-restored 100-year-old carousel. Spread out along the esplanade and tying the whole waterfront together was a collection of more than 100 colorful bollards - old larger-than-life wooden pylons painted by a local artist to represent figures from Geelong's past: lifeguards, clowns, firemen, sunbathers, etc. The whole scene brightened my mood, but it was getting late and we with some driving left to do we weren't able to stick around for long.

    South of Geelong we joined up with the Great Ocean Road. The coastline was beautiful, but ominous skies to the south kept us on the move. We stopped for dinner in Lorne as a fiece thunderstorm came ashore, and continued on toward Apollo Bay despite the difficult conditions. Night was upon us, fog shrouded the poorly-lit cliff-side road, and rains had washed loose rocks down onto the highway. We finally pulled into the motel lot around 10pm, and though the office was closed the owners had left us a note and key. Our room was small but welcoming - more like a boutique hotel than a roadside motel - and it wasn't long before the storm had lulled us to sleep.

    Sandpiper Motel, Apollo Bay

  13. Otway National Park & The Great Ocean Road - march 25

    Comfort Inn, Port Fairy

  14. Tower Hill Reserve & The Grampians - march 26

    Grampian Chalets, Halls Gap

  15. The Grampians - march 27

    Grampian Chalets, Halls Gap

  16. Naracoorte Caves - march 28
  17. Robe to Kangaroo Island - march 29

    Kangaroo Island Lodge, American River, Kangaroo Island

  18. Kangaroo Island - march 30

    Kangaroo Island Lodge, American River, Kangaroo Island

  19. Kangaroo Island - march 31

    Kangaroo Island Lodge, American River, Kangaroo Island

  20. Adelaide - april 1
  21. The Ghan - Adelaide to Alice Springs - april 2
  22. Alice Springs - april 3

    Aurora Hotel, Alice Springs

  23. Alice Springs Desert Park - april 4

    Aurora, Alice Springs

  24. Alice Springs and Standley Gorge - april 5

    Glen Helen Resort, Glen Helen

  25. Glen Helen and Grose Bluff - april 6

    Kings Canyon Resort, Kings Canyon

  26. Kings Canyon and Yulara - april 7
  27. Uluru and Kata Tjuta - april 8

    Sails in the Desert, Yulara

  28. Yulara to Sydney - april 9

    The Russell, Sydney

  29. Sydney - april 10

    The Russell, Sydney

  30. Sydney to Seattle - april 11

    At home in Seattle

Souvenir List

  1. Kangaroo magnet from Cape Otway
  2. Kangaroo Island Sugar Gum honey packaged in a koala honey bear
  3. Aboriginal artwork - "Desert Yams" by Jeannie Mills Pwerle
  4. Wood coasters depicting native Australian wildlife
  5. Bridge Climb magnet and photos
  6. "Sydney" t-shirt for Emily