December 2002 Travelogue


12/09/02 Australia at Last!

On December 1st (on this side of the dateline, that is!), we arrived in Sydney, Australia! We had an early morning flight, so had arisen at 4AM to catch our ride to the airport and go through the whole international check-in procedure. It was actually relatively painless, although on international flights (other than on US carriers or between the US and another destination), each passenger is limited to 20 kg of baggage. NOT anything you can fit into two checked bags, mind you... 20 kg total. Technically, we were over, but this time, the man didn't charge us.

We arrived in Sydney to a very slow immigration process. It took well over an hour to clear immigration and then we had to go through the agricultural inspection. We got a free boot shine!! (No more mud! Yay!)

Sydney, Kirk, Donna, Shay
My old friend from Dallas (and I don't mean that he's old, just that we've been friends since 1994), Kevin, met us at the airport with his two adorable daughters, Sydney and Shay (ages 4 and 2). Kevin and his family of 5 have been living in Sydney for 6 months, after moving from Austin, Texas. His sister, Kelly, has lived out here for almost 9 years! They had graciously agreed to be our hosts for a few days. On the way from the airport to his home in Mosman, a suburb on the North Shore of Sydney, he gave us a little sightseeing tour, even stopping for pictures of Harbour Bridge (yes, there is a "u" in Harbour when in Australia) and along the beach at Balmoral.

We arrived at their house and it was like a homecoming, they made us feel so welcome (and it's so nice to see a familiar face after 2 months on the road)! I hadn't seen Vicki (Kevin's wife) in 6 years and had never met their kids, but we really were appreciative of how instantly welcome we felt. (Have I emphasized this enough? okay...enough said!) We got settled a bit and then all walked down the beach to a little cafe for a bit of lunch.

Afterwards, Kirk and I were determined to start our search for a car, knowing that the process wouldn't be as easy as New Zealand, where we were able to simply show up at an auction and place a bid. Kevin drove us over to Kings Cross (a particularly seedy area of Sydney, but an area that sponsors a car market specifically for backpackers).

We were terribly disappointed in what we saw. We had heard that the cars in Australia were more costly than those in New Zealand, but these were WAY MORE expensive and in MUCH WORSE shape! But, we were, after all, just doing our investigative work at this point. So, we looked around and then headed over to a used car dealer that the market also recommended, who specifically does Backpacker sales, the Traveller's Auto Barn. Their cars looked fairly nice, but their literature told us up front that their cheapest car was our top price! However, we did have a nice conversation with the chap there and he helped us to decide what type of car to look for -- a Ford Falcon wagon (we had originally been thinking a campervan, but the cooling systems on those won't handle the kind of miles we plan to put on the car per day). We went back to Kings Cross for one last look, carefully looking at each Ford Falcon (or similar car, like the Holden Commodore). Then, we made our way back to Mosman using public transport -- first on the subway, then the ferry and finally a bus. We spent the rest of the evening quite enjoyably, chatting with Kevin and Vicki, eating a fabulous dinner they had cooked up and playing with their three lovely girls.

The next day was more of the same - car hunting. Back to Kings Cross, several times, in fact. And we visited another car dealer who specialized in the backpackers market, Travelers-mate. Their cars were quite beat up, but they were in our price range! We test drove several cars there, but didn't find one we wanted. There were a couple more we wanted to test drive that weren't ready, so we said we'd come back the next day.

On the 3rd, we got up EARLY and went straight to Kings Cross. It turns out, we got there too early! It was less than half full of cars and most of them we had seen and discarded already. We went to a nearby cafe for something to drink, hoping it would fill up soon. An hour later, we checked in again, but saw nothing that was particularly great. We headed back to TravellersMate. We test drove several more cars, and even went out to their secondary lot to see what was sitting out there. That's where we found our car! We found a 1985 Red Ford Falcon S Wagon that was in fairly good shape. It test drove pretty well. Kirk made a note of all the things wrong with it that we would want fixed before we would buy it. Also, we made it a condition of the sale that we wanted the air conditioning fixed. So, we started negotiating. We agreed to buy the car (only if they could and did fix the air conditioning) for AU$3,200 if they fixed all the things wrong with it that Kirk listed out. In addition, they agreed to throw in some camping equipment (i.e., table, chairs, tent [yes, we have one, but now we have one to sell with the car, which will make the car even easier to sell], foam mattress pad for the back, esky [like an igloo cooler], plastic bin, plates, bowls, cups, utensils, etc.) AND they would register the car through December 2003! We all agreed and shook on the deal.

We were free for two days of sightseeing now, while they fixed the car!! We decided to celebrate by starting now! Kirk seems obsessed with towers, so we went to the Sydney Sky Tower and Sky Tour. The tower was nice and they gave a wonderful narrative description from the top of the tower looking in each direction. The Tour, on the other hand, was a bit hokey, we both agreed. However, the price was for both.

One of the things we could see quite clear from the top of the Tower were two different bush fires that had started near Sydney. It is particularly hot and dry here (they are in the middle of a terrible drought) and the bushfires are as bad if not worse than those experienced by California in recent years.

Donna and the Opera house from the ferry
On the 4th, we took the ferry into Sydney and headed over to the Opera House, which is right next to Circular Quay ("Quay" is pronounced "Key"). We decided to tour the Opera House. Kirk and I had both been to Sydney before and seen the Opera House, but neither of us had been in it before. It has a rather interesting history, beginning with the difficulties surrounding its construction. After a contest to select plans for the structure (there were 233 entries), a virtually unknown architect from Denmark, Jorn Utzon (age 37), won the contest. It was estimated that the structure could be completed in 4 years for AU$7 million. In fact, it took 14 years and AU$110 million. After 7 years, due to disagreements between the architect and the governing body, the architect and his entire team walked off the project WITH ALL THE PLANS! So, a whole new team of architects was hired (led by Peter Hall, a 29-year old chap from one else wanted the job!). At that point, the shell of the buildings had been built, but none of the internal structures (i.e., none of the acoustics). He had to figure out how to build four different performance halls with proper acoustics, that would fit into the existing shells AND meet all the required specifications! As it turns out, the concert hall is larger than the opera house (which was not the original plan). When we arrived at the concert hall, we were in for a real treat! The Sydney Symphony Orchestra was having a rehearsal. Now, often, if you are visiting the Opera House and rehearsals are going on, you won't be allowed in that particular hall, but the Sydney Symphony Orchestra has been quite tolerant and allows tourists to sneak in for a listen as long as they aren't disruptive! Wow! We had our own little concert!

After we left the Opera House, we walked across the Botanic Gardens, down Martin Place and over to Pitt Street. We saw a rather odd "demonstration" taking place. They were protesting "bad photography". It turns out, it was an ad for Olympus! It was quite a clever idea, and really pretty funny; they certainly had the attention of practically everyone on the street...trying to figure out WHAT they were protesting!

From there we walked all the way to Central Subway Station. In reality, we were searching for the headquarters of customs/taxation body. We were trying to figure out whether we should have been charged a tax of $208 on our replacement gear (for the gear that was stolen). It turns out we shouldn't have been, but it needed to have been handled at the ordering stage. Oh, well.

Then, we went over to the Hyde Park Barracks Museum. Kirk was particularly keen to see this museum, which originally was built to house convicts in the early 1800s. It has also been used as an immigration depot and a courthouse, before being converted into its current state.

We then decided to head over to Darlington Harbor. We hadn't made it over there yet. It was a particularly hot day, as well, and we knew they had an IMAX, so we figured we could see what was playing. As we disembarked from the ferry, we heard an announcement from the nearby Maritime Museum that they were experiencing power problems, so guests were asked to proceed to the main foyer.

When we arrived at the IMAX, they had at least two movies we were interested in. However, they, too, were experiencing power outages, and couldn't show the films! So, we waited for a bit to see if things might change, and then gave up, heading back to Mosman, in hopes that things would be better there. There is also a theatre quite close to Kevin and Vicki's and we thought we might be able to see the new Harry Potter there, instead. As so often happens, though, with mass transit, we arrived exactly 5 minutes after the movie started! So, we went back to the house and hung out for a while, played with the kids and went the late showing. The movie was quite good, although Kirk didn't think it was as good as the first one.

On the 5th, we took Sydney and Shay to the Taronga Zoo. It was a particularly hot day again, and in fact, we went to the zoo as a second choice. We had originally planned to take them to a petting zoo to the Northwest, but it was heading into the bushfire zone and when we called, they recommended we not come that day. We had a nice time at the zoo and stayed as cool as possible (sticking to the shady spots). When we went to take the Gondola back up to the top (instead of pushing the trolley back up), we found that there were power outages there too (did I tell you that they were because of the bushfires?), so we ended up taking a bus. We all had another wonderful dinner that night (salmon and mashed potatoes and broccoli).

On the 6th, we awoke to find the temperature had dropped a bit (yay!) and our car was finally ready! YAY again!! Vicki lent us their car to go get ours. When we arrived, Kirk found a few other things wrong with it that he had them fix. But we did also notice that some of the things they "fixed" made the car worse! For example, the car used to run really smoothly. Now, it sounds (this is a girl's description, remember) very chuggy! Go figure.

Anyway, we got our car back to Kevin's, loaded it up and said our goodbyes and then we were on our way! First, though, we wanted to take care of one important detail -- getting the registration transferred into our name (we have only 14 days to do this). So, we went straight to the RTA to do this. Well, it wasn't so easy! It turns out, in New South Wales (the state we were registered in), you have to have a permanent address AND proof of it. Once again, Kevin came to our rescue...he faxed a letter (and I didn't realize he had to go to his sister's house to fax it, either!!) saying we live with him (thanks, Kevin! You ARE a lifesaver!).

So, finally, we were legal, so we headed down toward Wollongong and decided to push on past. We stopped briefly in Kiama to see a 60 meter blowhole, but the seas were not cooperating and it was barely blowing at all. We stopped shortly beyond at a little town called Gerringong and spent the night in our luxuriously long and cushy station wagon.

Donna and the Bushfire Smoke
On the 7th, we awoke early (we need curtains in that wagon!). So, we had some breakfast and then got on the road toward Canberra. We drove by Seven Mile National Park, which must have been on fire the night before or quite recently. The tree trucks were all blackened and several burned out trees were lying on the ground, still smoking. We drove up through Kangaroo Valley, where another friend, Phillip, is building a house. We tried to call him, but got no answer. Kangaroo Valley is very beautiful, but while we were there, it was incredibly hazy from all the smoke from the bushfires!

Helen, our host in Canberra

Telstra Tower

It's windy up here!

Canberra Parliament

Kirk and our new car

The Australia-American Monument

Part of the Australian War Memorial

National Museum of Australia
From there, we drove through Mossvale and Gouldburn and then on to Canberra. You may remember that while we were in Huka Falls, we met two couples from Australia? One of them lives in Canberra and they had invited us to stay with them while we visit the ACT (Australian Capital Territory). So, we drove into the visitor's center and gave Helen a call (her husband and son are in Tasmania at the high school running championships).

Then we drove out to her house. She took us on a walk around Mt. Roberts, near her house, where we had nice views of the city. After, we spent a lovely evening chatting and just catching up.

12/14/02 Canberra to Melbourne
We left you where we had just arrived in Canberra, Australia's Federal Capitol. Australia is similar to the USA in that the Federal capitol is not in a State, but rather in its own Territory. Canberra is a modern, planned city with LOTS AND LOTS of greenspace. We arrived on Saturday, December 7, and on Sunday, the 8th, we went to a local church (Canberra Christian Life Center) that our hosts had recommended as a place that their friends took them occasionally. It was a wonderful church that held their services in a former high school. We even sung several songs that we sing at King's Harbor. We had a great time and chatted with folks afterwards when they have tea and coffee.

That afternoon we went to the Telstra tower to get a overal view of Canberra. I (Kirk) really like towers. The view, of course, was fantastic, but the wind was quite strong. You had to sort of lean into it. The rest of the afternoon we drove around Canberra, and took pictures of the Parliament and various monuments, including the Australian-American Monument. We also drove by the American Embassy, the High Court, the Australian War Memorial and many other significant buildings.

On Monday the 9th, we went to the Parliament House, took a tour and got in to listen to the House during Question time. They have this every day at 2:00 PM. It seems to be the time that members of the house can ask questions of the Executive branch of government (Prime Minister and various other Ministers). It was quite lively and one member of the opposition even got thrown out of the room during the first two minutes. They had lots of discussion on the drought, anti-terrorism measures, ethanol content in gasoline, and many others. We even got to hear the Prime Minister (John Howard) speak. After the session, we took a small tour around parliament and learned about the building, etc. The building is built into a hill and they even have grass growing on the roof. After parliament we went to the Australian War Memorial for a little less than an hour, not nearly long enough. The memorial is really more like a museum. They had a great section on Australian Prisoners of War.

The next day (Tuesday Dec 10), we went back to the Australian War Memorial to finish that up. This time, I got to see the great WWII section and a few nice planes. Next, we went to the Australian National Museum and saw some of their "Nation" section -- pretty neat. Good info on Australian Slang, the history behind the flag, the Australian seal and many other icons in Australian history. That afternoon, we picked up the rest of the items we needed to hang curtains in our car. When we got to the holiday park in Eden (it was called the Garden of Eden Caravan Park!) that night, we made curtains from a duvet that we bought at Salvation Army and hung it in the car, so we can sleep in a tad past dawn now, and we can also close the curtains to hide the contents for a bit more security.

Dinner at Raspberry Hill
Wednesday we drove south along the coast and then up into Alpine National Park. We camped that night at Raspberry Hill campsite, near Falls Creek at a beautiful site. We were completely alone (except for the cows, flies and birds.

Thursday, we drove to Power's Lookout, which is on the far edge of Alpine National Park, looking back over Mt. Buffalo National Park. From there, we drove down to Melbourne and stayed at a holiday park in Dandenong, a suburb of Melbourne.

St Patrick's Cathedral

St Patrick's Organ

St Patrick's Rose Window

St Paul's Rose Window
Friday, we took the bus and train into downtown Melbourne and walked around the city a bit. We had a very nice lunch at a chinese place in Chinatown, and then toured the beautiful Anglican St Paul's Cathedral, and the Catholic St Patrick's Cathedral. We also saw a Festival of Trees (Christmas trees) in Federation Square, and found the JFK memorial in Treasury Gardens. We thought it unusual that Australia would have a memorial to JFK. We had to get back to our holiday park early since the last bus to our park was at 6 PM.

That evening, I did some work on our car to try and find out why the air conditioning was no longer working. It turns out the pressure switch has failed. I'll have to get an estimate because I can't replace it myself. (If I take it off, the gas escapes, which is illegal in Australia). I did fix the fog light, and a few other bugaboos. After fixing the car stuff, we went to the movies and saw the new James Bond flick. Pretty good! Very James Bond.

Today we took the train back into Melbourne, and we can stay later, since we parked the car at the train station this time.

12/17/02 The GREAT Ocean Road...and great it IS

Well, as Kirk last wrote, we had headed back into Melbourne (by the way, for those non-Aussies among you, Melbourne is pronounced by the locals as "Mel-bunn"). While Kirk was working on the update to the website, I was off searching for his birthday present... that's right, his birthday is coming up!! December 19th, for those of you who have forgotten, or don't know! Of course, since we are on THIS side of the international date line, it means that he will be having it a day earlier than usual!

There was one other thing we did as well... In 1998, when I was visiting Australia, I met a very nice girl from Melbourne and still had her phone number. I very much doubted it would still be working, but looked up her name in a phone book and, to my shock, there she was! So, we rang her! BUT, the number was out of service. ARGH!! The phone book was one year old! She wasn't listed under her name in the new phone book. Bummer... so we didn't get to call her at all.

After we finally finished our shopping and internet updating, we did some walking around. We walked over to the Queen Victoria Market, which was breaking down for the day. It looks like a rather extensive market, although there wasn't much for us to see by that point.

From there, we had a quick bite and then walked over to the Old Melbourne Gaol, which has been turned into a museum. This gruesome building was built from bluestone in 1841 and, although we didn't get to go in (it was closed by the time we got there), we've heard it's dark, dank and rather spooky. Over 100 people were hanged there during the time it was used as a gaol, including the infamous Ned Kelly (more on him another day).

Melbourne Skyline

More Melbourne Skyline
Gee, where do you think we went after that? (Let me give you a hint...Melbourne has a sky tower...) Gee, we headed to the Melbourne Observation Deck at the Rialto. Where, of course, we went 253 meters above the city to view...the city (and it's surroundings). It WAS a nice view. And they showed a little 20 minute film of Melbourne as well.

By the time we had finished this, there was really nothing left open to see/do and we didn't feel like wandering the streets endlessly, so we took the train home and prepared for our departure the next day.

On December 15, we got up and started looking for a church. The disadvantage we found, in Melbourne is that most of the churches in the yellow pages don't list their service times! So, we decided to just show up and hope we were close to the right time. Kirk found a "Calvery Chapel" in the phone book in Narre Warren, so we headed there first. The phone number was the wrong number (when we tried to call for service times) and when we arrived at the address, it was a residence. We left. I had written down an alternative address for "Berwick Christian Fellowship", which when we arrived, turned out to be Berwick Adventist Christian Fellowship, so again we left.

After another check of the phone book, we headed off for Berwick Baptist Church, which we found without problem. AND we were ontime (actually 30 minutes early! Let me tell you, we were absolutely welcomed into this church from the second (millisecond, actually) that our shadows crossed the doorway! We met tons of people there and they were all wonderful! Also, we happened to have arrived at a very special service -- their children's church was conducting the service, from start to finish! It was completely precious! The pastor, Charles Olsen, invited us to lunch after the service, and we gratefully accepted. We had a wonderful time of fellowship with him and his wife, Marjorie. (So good, in fact, that we left later than we planned, which worked out just fine, as always).

After we left the Olsens', we headed straight for the Mornington Peninsula... which has the unique distinction of being the location from which Australia "lost" one of its Prime Ministers. In the late 1960s, Harold Holt, who had been Prime Minister for less than 2 years, went for a swim off Cheviot Beach, near Portsea, and promptly disappeared, never to be seen again. There were rumors that he had been abducted by a Russian Sub, an American Sub, etc., but in reality, he probably drowned because of the dreadful riptides in the area. In fact, he had nearly drowned near there only a couple of weeks before! We wanted to see the location from which he disappeared. Unfortunately, we arrived too close to closing time, and they wouldn't let us in. So, we drove down to Sorrento and caught a ferry across Port Phillip Bay to Queenscliff and then drove to Torquay for the night.

Lin, Joe, Donna, Alan, Barbara
Torquay is a famous town for many. I suspect the mere mention of the town has got several of you on the edge of your seats in anticipation of what might come next... Torquay (pronounced "Tor-Kee") is, of course, world famous in the world of surfing! It is the home of Rip Curl and Quiksilver, among several other companies. It is also the closest town to Bells Beach, the home of the world-championship surfing contest held each Easter. Torquay also had one of the strangest ranges of accomodation we had seen, including barracading all of the caravan parks (so you can't just drive need a key or a key code). We decided to stay at the Torquay Public Reserve (the cheapest). UGH! What a mistake. It was horrid. The people we met there very very nice, but the park was in terrible condition and was positively HUGE (over 600 spots). And practically everything had to be paid for separately.

We met a guy from Missouri (Sam) who was camped next to us. And, we DID see two couples from Liverpool that we had been camping near in Melbourne! They were in Torquay as well! They are great fun, and had us in stitches almost the entire time we were there.

On December 16th, we got up, got outta there and headed on to... Surfworld Australia Surfing Museum, of course! It was great fun and had lots of interesting exhibits! Afterwards, we drove out to Bells Beach, but the waves were pretty flat -- it was fairly late in the morning and it IS summer, but I was still disappointed.

So, on we the Great Ocean Road, which really starts in Anglesea. The road is fabulously beautiful and runs right along the coast for miles and miles. We mainly drove along, occasionally stopping at this lookout or that, until we got to Lorne, where we took a little detour to Erskine Falls. The falls were beautiful, but there wasn't much volume of water coming down. I suspect that has something to do with the drought. We stopped for lunch and then headed back to the Great Ocean Road. Again, we stopped at a few lookouts and then pulled into Apollo Bay, where we picked up some refreshments and a better map.

Koala in a tree

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

Loch Ard Gorge


London Bridge
North of Apollo Bay, we pulled out at Maits Rest Rainforest Boardwalk and took a 30 minute walk through the Australian rainforest. It was beautiful -- and interesting to see how the eucalypts have been incorporated into the rainforest even here. Then, we took the turnoff for the Cape Otway Lightstation, and began searching the trees for koalas. AND WE SAW ONE!! He was up very high, but you could see him clearly (if you didn't mind looking into the sun to do it). He was really cute! We took a couple of photos and then headed on to the lightstation, which we discovered, had been turned into a tourist trap!! They wanted AU$8 just to walk out to the lighthouse!! We debated and then headed back to our car and the Great Ocean Road.

We drove along until we reached Gibson's Steps, steps that have been carved right into the rock by the owner of a nearby sheepstation in order to access the pristine beach below.

A bit further on, we arrived at the 12 Apostles lookout. The 12 Apostles are 12 limestone rock stacks in the ocean, seven of which can be seen from land. If you want to see all 12, you have to take a helicopter flight or boat tour. The views are fantastic though and we enjoyed what we could see.

A little further on from the 12 Apostles, is Loch Ard Gorge, named for a ship that was wrecked there in 1878. Of the 55 people on board, only 2 survived (they were washed into Loch Ard Gorge). We saw the gorge, a nearby blowhole and the Loch Ard Cemetery (where the only 4 bodies recovered from the shipwreck were buried).

And on we went... to the Arch and London Bridge. The London Bridge was once a twin-arch set of rock stacks, linked to the mainland, but in 1990, the arch closest to the mainland collapsed, leaving two tourists stranded on the second arch (they were later rescued by helicopter). It was a miracle that no one was hurt! At the site, they have diagrams showing what the formation looked like prior to the collapse, to help you imagine (which was helpful).

Finally, we stopped at the Bay of Islands. We hadn't heard much about this area, or read much, but (particularly with the sun getting low and the light more orange), it was beautiful.

And on we went to Warrnambool, where we found ourselves at a holiday park on Lady Bay. I had heard it was quite a great one, but we were disappointed to find the kitchen closed early, the pool closed early and the barbeques were coin-operated (instead of free, like normal). But, it WAS clean. And we had a GREAT night's sleep. Today we are off to Adelaide! More later from further up the road!

Happy holidays, everyone and don't forget to wish my wonderful husband a happy birthday!

12/27/02 Happy Holidays!! (from Adelaide, Australia)

Happy Holidays, everyone!! We have put on quite a few miles since we last wrote and experienced quite a few significant events as well!

In Warrnambool, on December 17th, we spent a bit of time doing some errands...taking care of internet, and that sort of thing. Then we headed on to Adelaide, which is where we last left you.

First, let me tell you a little-known fact about eating meals when visiting a foreign country (at least Australia, although it does happen elsewhere as well)... Unlike the U.S., there is often a difference in price between "take-out" and "dine-in". This was never quite so evident as when we decided to have a quick lunch in Warrnambool before we headed out of town. We stopped at a little place called "Mack's Snacks" -- an institution of sorts (it had been there since 1948). We looked at the menu (on the wall) carefully, and chose the 1/4 chicken, which was $4.90. Just as we had finished ordering and the guy was turning away, he said "for take-out?" We hemmed and hawed and then said, uh, dine in. It was hot out and we just wanted to eat and be on our way. We hadn't decided on drinks and he handed us a menu and said to take a seat. We each had a soda and our meals were served shortly after. They even came with a roll! When we paid, it was over $20!! When we questioned this, we were informed that the eat-in price of the chicken was $8/per plate. So, look out. Always ask if the prices are the same before you make your decision.

We went on from Warrnambool to Mt. Gambier. Mt. Gambier is a small town situated beside an extinct volcano. The volcano actually has 3 craters, two of which contain lakes. One of these lakes is particularly famous, the " Blue Lake". It turns cobalt blue during the summer (which is December to February here). It was a magnificent color and we were pleased with the side trip.

Next up, on the way to Adelaide, was the small town of Kingston, home of " Larry the Big Lobster". Australians have an amazing fascination with building large things from chicken wire or corrugated steel. I'm not sure why, exactly, although it reputed was started by an American who built a "Big Banana" in Coff's Harbour, on the Queensland coast. There are reputedly almost 30 such objects scattered around the Australia landscape (including a banana, a marlin, a lobster, a bull, Captain Cook, a cassawary). We were about to have our first experience with one. We pulled into Kingston, looking for the lobster. It was supposed to be on the "far" side of town...this meant going a block further than being on "this" side of town! There he was! We took our obligatory pictures and crossed the street to check out the Sundial of Human Involvement, which was a sundial requiring the person to stand in a certain place in order to tell the time (you were, in effect, the dial). There were numerous other sculpures around the sundial by a well-known South Australian artist.

From Kingston, we continued on north to Adelaide where we were meeting up with some friends of Kirk, Jonathan and Kylie. They had invited us to stay at their home that night and again over the Christmas holidays. We got in fairly late; their daughter, Laura (she's 22 months old), was already asleep for the night. We all stayed up quite late that night talking. They are wonderful people. It turns out Adelaide was in the middle of a heat wave -- the temperatures were up in the 40s (that's centigrade...and means over 100 degrees Farenheit for you Americans). Most people out here don't have air conditioned homes. It was HOT. We slept with a fan going all night to try and relieve some of the heat.

On December 18th, we got up early. Kirk wanted to have someone take a good look at the air conditioning on the car. He had identified part of the problem, he thought, but really wanted an "expert" to confirm it. Besides, he didn't think he could fix the problem without all the gas leaking out, which would cost us more money and potentially damage the environment. So, he took the car to an aircon expert and I stayed behind with Kylie and Laura. As it turns out, our car needed to be retrofitted for a different kind of gas (the old kind was illegal now). All the old gas had leaked out anyway. There appeared to be a leak in the system somewhere, so they wanted to retrofit it and then fill it with dyed gas so they could find and fix the leak(s), which they did. Meanwhile, we got a loaner car, and went out to Kirk's work to do something he needed to do out there.

We got back shortly after 12 and the car was ready. We picked it up, packed it and headed out after a quick lunch with Kylie and Laura. Now, picture's after 1pm. We have over 850 km (530 miles) to do through the outback. For all intents and purposes, we should have left no later than 11am. AND we still needed to stop and pick up a couple more things (we wanted an extra bit of oil to add to the car in case we needed it along the way).

We pulled out of Adelaide after 2pm and Kirk was frustrated. Our original plan was to drive to Coober Pedy that night and on to Alice Springs the next day. There he would do a bit of stuff for work and then we'd do a day of sightseeing and head on to Uluru. After a day there, we'd head back. We decided, with our very late start, to reverse our plan. On the way, we found that the air con belt had broken. Probably because it was old and was now being called on do some work. We were able to have it replaced at a little town along the way. We made it to Woomera and decided to go on a bit further to Glendambo. There, we pulled in for the night. The campsite was terribly basic. They didn't even have a kitchen. While Kirk rearranged the car for sleeping, I went to the ladies' toilet and wrapped his birthday gifts.

It was almost impossible to sleep that night. We had every window in the car open...even the trunk was wide open. The air was hot and mostly still. The occasional breeze made it almost possible to sleep for a few minutes at a time.

At dawn, on December 19th (Kirk's birthday), a flock of galahs , an exceptionally noisy bird, made it impossible to sleep any longer. Additionally, flies began swarming into the car, ensuring that we would not be able to ignore the noise. We didn't even try to cook breakfast -- we just jumped into the car and drove away, trying to get rid of flies as we went. We made breakfast on the road.

Our day was filled with little landmarks...crossing into the Northern Territory, turning off Highway 87 onto Highway 4, passing this town or that, stopping at a "chew and spew". This day we found that we couldn't have our A/C on all the time. If the A/C was on, the engine temperature would slowly creep up into the danger zone. Then we had to turn the A/C off for a while and let the engine cool back down and us heat right up. As we drove on toward Uluru (the Aboriginal name for Ayers Rock), and we were still at least 150 or more km away, we saw a large mountain or rock rising in the distance. It didn't quite look like Uluru, yet it had some similar coloring. We looked at our map and realized it was Mt. Connor .

After a few obligatory photographs, we headed on toward Uluru. We arrived in time to check into our campsite before heading out to see the sunset over it. We were hoping the clouds, which had been our friend all day (our air con still wasn't working up to par) would depart in time to see the sun light up the monolith that is Uluru. But we were disappointed. But we would be back.

We headed back to our campsite and had barbequed steak, green beans and corn by candlelight. We finished off with birthday cake, complete with candles. When I sung happy birthday to Kirk, there were a few other campers nearby who joined in.

On December 20th, we arose at 4:15am (or so we thought). The sun was rising at 5:15am (or so we thought) and we wanted to be there, with a good view, to see it hit Uluru. So, we packed the car and off we went. We were the first people at the sunrise viewing area. We wandered around until we found what we decided was the best possible location. Then we settled in for the wait (we had left over birthday cake for breakfast). It turned out that sunrise wasn't until 5:51, so we were up about 30 minutes earlier than we needed to be. THEN, we found out that when we crossed into the Northern Territory, we also went back 1 hour by the clock, so it was actually an hour earlier than we thought! We had actually gotten up at 3:15!! Ouch! Well, we had the best seats, anyway!


The Olgas
As it turned out, even though the sky was pretty clear when we got up, it had clouded over a bit by the time the sun came up and there wasn't a significant change at sunrise. But, it was beautiful, nonetheless. We took our photos, ran a few errands and then headed back for a ranger-guided tour, called the Mala Walk. It was an incredibly informative talk, including explanations of many Aboriginal customs and stories. One of the things that is highly emphasized throughout your time at Uluru is that the Aborigines (who are technically the owners of Uluru) do not want people climbing it. Yet, many many people climb, despite this fact. Kirk and I both thought that they should just close it to the climbers if it offended the Aborigines, but apparently there are people who believe if it's closed to climbers, people won't come anymore (which we think is ridiculous).

After we had had our fill of Uluru, we spent a short time at the cultural center and then drove out to see Kata Tjuta (or the Olgas) before we headed on to Alice Springs.

When we arrived in Alice Springs, after a detour to the Alice Springs Shack, where Kirk did a little work, we checked into a HOTEL! Yes, I DID say a hotel! Kirk was doing a day or so of work for his company, so we were able to stay at a HOTEL!! We stayed at the Rydges Plaza. It was a very nice place (Kirk had stayed there before on his previous trips to Alice Springs). Then, as a belated birthday celebration, we went to a movie. The only thing showing in Alice Springs that we hadn't seen that we wanted to see was "Sweet Home Alabama" . It was cute and we had a good laugh.

The next morning, December 21st, Kirk was off to work and I did a little internet stuff of my own. I also scoured the town for some last minute Christmas shopping, but was mostly unsuccessful in my endeavors. Almost everything closed early (it was a Saturday, and the Saturday before Christmas at that) and much wasn't open at all. Finally, I gave up and walked back to the hotel, which was, perhaps, not a particularly intelligent thing to do at 45 degrees celsius or more. I was terribly hot by the time I got there and spent the rest of the afternoon cooling off in our room. Kirk arrived later with pizza in hand and we enjoyed a rather hilarious movie on the telly called "Blow Dry" , about a British Hairstyling Competition. It was a good farce. Then we made good use of the hotel pool!

Alice Springs Telegraph Station

The Bird of Prey Show

On Sunday, December 22nd, we checked out of the hotel before we went to church, Alice Springs Baptist Church. It was a wonderful church and we very much enjoyed ourselves. From there, we went to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve. It was an interesting place, but since it was so terribly hot that day, we spent much of our time darting from one shaded spot to another and gulping down bottles of water.

We then headed off to The Central Australian Aviation Museum to see the famous Kookaburra, a plane that went down in the outback while on a rescue mission in 1929. It's an interesting and tragic story that had the nation in its grip for years afterwards. We peeked at the exhibits in the Aviation museum as well, but then headed on to the Alice Springs Desert Park. We arrived just in time to catch the tail end of the "birds of prey" demonstration, which was very interesting and exciting, and during which they highlighted the wedgetailed eagle.

We also spent quite a long time in the Nocturnal House, which contains many creatures we would probably never see (or perhaps never WANT to see) otherwise (e.g., the Ghost Bat). We went through several walk-through aviaries, as well.

Then, we headed BACK to Alice Springs Baptist Church for their evening carolling service. We enjoyed ourselves immensely. The evening service worship team was lead by an American girl, Jennifer! We chatted with her for a while. She is from Kansas City, originally and went to Baylor for college!

We also saw Leena, who we had met at the door that morning. She and her husband, Garry, very graciously invited us to come to their house and spend the night (saving us from trying to sleep in our car in the heat of the night of Alice Springs). We were so grateful!

The next morning, December 23rd, we were up early. We wanted to get our car taken care of once and for all. Kirk had decided that the cooling problem was probably an issue with the radiator. It didn't look as if it had any sort of coolant in it at all. In fact, it looked to me as if it had nothing but rust in it! So, we left early and went in search of someone to flush the radiator and change the oil. We found someone to work on the radiator... it turned out it had to be flushed 6 times (the norm is usually only 2 to 4 times). He also put an alkaline solution in to clean it out really good. He changed our fan hub (which apparently was bad) and we also got a new air conditioner belt (the last one broke again), a new radiator cap, new thermostat and new top hose. Then, after being quoted $65-70 for an oil change, we went to the store and bought $20 worth of supplies and Kirk changed it himself. We left Alice Springs at the late hour (does this seem like a trend to you yet?) of about 2PM or so. We had almost 680km to go to Coober Pedy, where we planned to spend the night.

This trip through the outback was much more comfortable. With the radiator repair and new A/C belt, we could have the A/C going full blast the whole time and the engine temperature stayed in the normal range. By the time we finally arrived, it was 10:30 and the place we had planned to stay (Radeka's) was closed for the evening. We couldn't get in to try and get a room. We had to go up the street to the Opal Inn, which was still open (although the reception was closed). Kirk managed to raise someone and get us a room for the evening.

On December 24th, we got up, had much-welcomed showers, a breakfast at the only place open for breakfast -- a cafe attached to the petrol station next door. We drove down to the Shell station for a fill up (Shell has the cheapest petrol in town, by far, and is the hardest to find). Then, we were on our way. It was a long, long drive and we needed to be in Adelaide in time to go to the evening service with Jonathan and Kylie at 7pm. I sure hope there weren't any speed cameras along our route or Kevin will be getting some envelopes addressed to Mr. Kirk Crawford and they won't be very nice! We took a little "short cut" I saw on the map at the last minute and pulled to to Jonathan's house at about 6:30. There was no car there, but it might have been in the garage. Suddenly, there was a car there! Jonathan had been on the way to church, had seen us and u-turned to come back and get us!

We followed them to the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Para Vista , which was quite close by (had we not taken our little short cut, they never would have seen us). It was a great service. We went to the "drama" service that evening. The church writes it's own drama each year. This year, it was a "Star Wars" style drama, where the angels are the warriors trying to ensure that Jesus's birth happens as God ordains. It was quite clever and very well done.

After church, we went back to Jonathan and Kylie's and had a little tea (food) and a lot of chatting. Laura was getting tired but then it was time for her to open her presents. She is only 22 months old, but she was adorable as she fought to get the paper off the packages. Apparently last year, she was more interested in the paper. This year, she was interested in what was underneath, as well. She got quite a number of books, and I suspect she'll have a lot to keep her busy for a while! We finally all went to sleep around midnight (Laura went to sleep before that, of course!).

On Christmas day, we arose to a beautiful, sunny morning! We had some breakfast and headed off to the 9:30 service at church. Jonathan and Kylie's car is rather small, so we said we could drive ourselves. We know our way now, so we said to go on ahead and we'd see them there. They turned the corner as we turned our car around (they live at the end of a cul de sac). As we started to drive away, the car was bumping terribly and Kirk and I looked at one another... a flat tire? Sure enough, we had a flat tire at 9:12am on Christmas morning. Church was at 9:30. Kirk backed the car up to the curb and started the process of changing the tire. Somehow, he changed the tire (in his church clothes!) and we made it to church by 9:35. He managed to do all this with only two small smudges -- one barely noticeable on his shirt and one on his pants. I was impressed!! Jonathan and Kylie were wondering where we were!!

After church, we were back at the house for a bit of relaxation and then we had a fabulous Australian Christmas lunch, that Kylie had prepared. It was roast beef, green beans, carrots, potatoes, gravy, bread, etc. It was fabulous! It was a bit hard not to eat too much (we were having a barbeque's summer here!). There was an apple cake for desert.

Merry Christmas!
Later in the afternoon, Jonathan and Kylie's parents and grandmother showed up and we had a barbeque! It was an incredible feast!! Chicken and hamburger and sausages and steak and corn and more food than humans can possibly eat! It was wonderful! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and our stay with Jonathan and Kylie.

On December 26th, Boxing Day, we said our farewells and headed for our next hotel... the Hilton International in Adelaide. Kirk had more work to do. He spent the day in Buckland Park fixing his program while I spent time in the hotel trying to catch up on my scrapbook. Last night, we joined throngs of people at the Academy Cinema who were lined up (actually lined up is not a good description...amassed is better) to see the premier of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers . And see it, we did! It was great!

If you are reading chronologically, click here to go to January.