A Travellerspoint blog

February 2009

Pinnacles Desert

sunny 100 °F

Our second trip in Western Australia would take us north along the coast to the Nambung National Park. We had over 400 miles of road to cover before making our flight in the early afternoon, so once again we got an early start. We left Perth Beach (A) and headed to the Pinnacles Desert (B).

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After fighting rush hour traffic (something I hadn't had to do since leaving Raleigh), we made our way up the coast. The road to the Nambung National Park was even more deserted than the road we had traveled to the south coast. Keeping an eye on the fuel gauge and on the clock, we streaked along the highway. A little before 11am, we reached the entrance to the Pinnacles Desert.

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The pinnacles are limestone mounds formed hundreds of thousands years ago. Seashells were broken down into lime and seeped through cracks in the ground (there are differing theories, one is that they seeped along the root systems of trees and another is that the buildup occurred around the trunks of the trees). The lime was then covered by calcrete, and the pinnacles themselves were covered by the shifting sand dunes.

Eventually the dunes shifted to expose the pinnacles. Sand, rain, and wind continue to shape these eerie looking formations. They look like rocks purposely positioned vertically in the sand. After a trip through the informational center, we once again took the Yaris offroad through the desert to get a closer look.

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It seemed a little odd driving 3 hours to view rocks in the sand, but the sights were amazing. Fields of rock formations stretched out. Some of the pinnacles reached 10 feet in the air. The blue skies made the yellow sand and rock stand out even more. Some of the pinnacles had shades of pink and dark gray layered in with the yellow. No two shapes were the same. Clusters of pinnacles formed artful collages with the desert serving as a backdrop.

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It's hard to describe how visually appealing the fields of pinnacles were. I couldn't help but keep driving deeper into the desert to see more of the formations. It seemed that the each of the designs were unique, and your eyes couldn't help but wanting to admire each one individually.

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We left the car often to get closer to the formations. Just when you thought you had enough, you'd turn the corner to another field and take in the sights as if you had never seen anything like it before. Once again we stayed much longer than we had anticipated and were now in danger of missing our flight (and we had to find a gas station before running out of gas). Snapping a few final pictures, we got back in the car and started the drive out of the desert.

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One good thing about driving through endless miles of nothing is that you encounter the wildlife more frequently. On our way into the park, 4 emus ran across the road and sprinted into the desert. Several kangaroos bounced along the road before skirting into the brush. It was an uniquely Australian experience.

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After filling up with gas and grabbing a couple sandwiches, we headed back towards Perth. The Yaris was now covered in a layer of red dust and filled with sand. Dawn humored me by reading facts from the Australian guide book we had brought along to pass time on the long drive back to the city (my dad had told me that my brother, who is arriving later this week, had been studying up on Australian trivia to stump me and I had to be prepared). Our trip through Western Australia was coming to a close, but it had been a very good trip.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:11 Archived in Australia Tagged desert hiking national_park Comments (1)

I'll give you the Tingles

sunny 105 °F

After a 5 hour flight from Sydney we arrived at the Perth Airport (A). As usual, we weren't going to spend much time in Perth immediately, but rather hit the road and spend time in the city later. Our destination was the Nornalup National Forest on the south coast. After picking up our mighty Toyota Yaris, Dawn and I headed south to Walpole (B).

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Our route took us away from the coast and through the countryside in Western Australia. Towns are few and far between, and when you do come across something marked on the map, it is usually not more than a gas station (and sometimes a pub). The unspoiled landscape was very pretty, and there was plenty of it. It was broiling outside, and Dawn made me roll up my window, threatening to strip naked if I didn't turn on the air conditioner. Keeping her clothes on, Dawn dutifully began looking for places to stop, but there were few turnoffs from the road and fewer attractions to break up our trip. The Toyota Yaris isn't exactly an offroad vehicle (think of a smaller Corolla without a trunk), but we were going to have to leave the paved highway to see the sights. We came across a sign indicating a lookout point, and headed up the offroad dirt path for a view of Western Australia.

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We arrived in Walpole in early evening and checked into our room. We had met a couple taking a break from the heat at one of the lookouts who recommended a hike to see a giant tingle tree. It sounded like something we could do before sundown and it would be a good preview of what we would see on the Treetop Walk. We drove back to the entrance to the Nornalup National Park and headed up the offroad tracks, once again going offroad in the Yaris. After driving through the heart of the park, we came to a sign indicating the path down to the giant tingle. It was astonishing.

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It was absolutely enormous, even larger than the giant trees we saw in Melbourne, bigger than any tree I had ever imagined. You could easily fit 40 people underneath this tree.

Tingles are the largest buttressing (where the base of the tree grows outward) tree in the world. The buttressing is due to a shallow and broad root system where most of the roots stay near the surface (and there is no taproot to secure the tree like in North American hardwoods). Only the layer of the tree immediately under the bark is alive, so the tree is able to survive even when fire, fungi, or insects cave out a cavity in the base. In fact, a major characteristic of the red tingle is the exposed cavity at the base of the tree, often caused by bushfires. You can see in the picture above how the inside of the tree is charred.

The large tingle we saw is about 300 years old, but the oldest tingles in the forest are nearly 400 years old. It is amazing how such an immense tree could be supported with a hollow base. What is even more amazing is that another giant tingle is only 20 feet away from this one!

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We made our way back to the car once the sun started going down. Wanting to get to the waterfront to watch the sunset, we exited the park and headed south to one of the points (not really sure where we were going). Speeding through the winding roads worrying that the sun would set before finding a viewing point, we stumbled upon a path down to a fishing spot on the edge of the water. We had made it just in time.

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After watching the sun go down, we made our way back to get some sleep. Still on Sydney time (Perth is two hours behind) and after a long drive, I was ready for bed. We planned to get up and get an early start on the TreeTop Walk through the Valley of the Giants.

Our early start didn't quite go as planned since the TreeTop Walk didn't open until 9. We made a detour to go see the Circular Pool (a sign had been posted near the walk to the Giant Tingle). The stream feeding the pool was a brownish color and filled with frothy foam (the locals call it the Cappuccino Pool). The dark color comes from the breakdown of plant material against the rocks (which also causes the foam). We took a couple pictures, took in the scenery, and then took off as soon as it got close to 9.

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The Treetop Walk through the Valley of the Giants was built in 2002 to help protect the tingle trees. Tingle trees aren't widespread and are limited to the area around the national forest. Like I mentioned before, the tingles have a shallow root system which can be damaged just from walking around the trees. One of the most popular trees (and largest) actually fell over due to root damage. The boardwalks and treetop walks keep people's feet off the ground and away from the roots of the tingles. Anxious to see the trees eye to eye, Dawn and I practically ran to the start of the walk.

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This walk is actually what convinced us to come to Perth. Bill Bryson, a humorous travel writer that wrote a book about traveling through Australia, spoke very highly of the walk. The walk is a series of trusses that lead you up to the treetops of the giant tingles, eventually reaching over 200 feet in the air. The walk is made to sway as walk through it, giving you the feel of moving with the branches as the wind blows. It sounds nice, but swaying in the wind 200 feet in the air makes your knees wobble and compels you to grab the railing tightly as you look down through the grate flooring. I also took every opportunity to jump up and down on the scaffolding while Dawn was in the middle of the trusses.

Even after seeing the size of the Giant Tingle the night before, I was amazed at the sheer size of the trees. The crowns of many of the trees had broken off during wind storms and showed new growth. Wind actually promotes the buttressing (the more the tree sways, the more the trunk spreads out for support), but it's hard to imagine such an immense tree swaying in the wind. The tops of the trees also supported many dead limbs caused by exposure to fire earlier in the trees life. Here is a video Dawn took towards the end of the walk. Listen for the distinctive call of the Australian raven, it's been the soundtrack for my trip in Australia (it makes an arrr, arrr, arrrrrrrrrrrrr sound that sounds like a diseased cat).

After completing the TreeTop Walk, we made our way to the second walk through the tingles, this one being on the ground. Being on the ground didn't make the tingles any less impressive, rather after seeing them from above made you appreciate just how big these trees really are. We were able to walk through more trunk cavities and snap a few more pictures. On some of the tingle trees you may notice large bumps (especially in the pictures above). These growths are actually the tree's defense to viral infections and are prized by furniture makers for their irregular grain.

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We left the Valley of the Giants and began making our way back to Perth. We decided to travel the long way through the wine country and see some of the scenery closer to the coast. Around lunchtime we stopped at a winery to sample the local wine and grab a quick bite to eat. It occurred to me that doing a wine tasting is not the best thing to do on a road trip, but I told myself that I would only have one glass. Dawn sampled each of the wines offered by the winery (Lost Lake), and I sampled the reds. The featured wine was a honey merlot, served chilled over ice. The honey merlot was not sweet as I had expected, but rather very smooth and refreshing (especially on a hot day). We each ordered a glass (and of course each got suckered into buying a bottle of wine), and settled into the patio for lunch. The view was beautiful as we looked over the vineyards and two horses sunning next to a crystal-blue pond.

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We stayed at the winery way longer than anticipated, but it was so peaceful and relaxing we had to drag ourselves away. Dawn slipped into a wine induced nap, and I tore up the highway to make it back to Perth before sunset. I had booked a place on the beach so that we could see the sun go down over the Indian Ocean. Living on the east coast, I have seen the sun rise over the ocean, but had never seen it set. Several hours later we reached the outskirts of Perth and began making our way to the coast. I took a detour to go through the heart of Perth to get a feel for the city. The city of Perth is beautiful, it's skyline sitting on the Swan River. It was a larger city than I had anticipated, but didn't seem too large (reminded me of Charlotte). I almost felt disappointed we didn't have more time to spend walking through the city.

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Arriving just before sunset, we hurriedly checked into our room to make it out onto the beach. Dawn and I dipped our feet in the ocean and staked out a warm spot in the sand to watch the sunset. Kite surfers and wind surfers were acrobatically riding the waves. It was high tide and the waves looked pretty rough, but a man attempted to ride a boogie board into the surf with the aid of flippers (he gave up shortly after repeatedly being thrown back to the shore). After watching the sun set, we picked up a pizza and some Swan Draught and called it a night. Tomorrow we are headed to the desert to see the Pinnacles.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 05:24 Archived in Australia Tagged hiking beach national_park Comments (0)

Perth

sunny 85 °F

We are headed on a weekend getaway across the country to the "City Of Light", Perth.

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Perth is the fourth largest city in Australia with 1.5 million people. It is the capital of Western Australia, the largest state in Australia (larger than Texas and Alaska combined). 75% of Western Australians live in Perth (it's amazing to think that in such a large area of land, all the people live in one city).

Perth is truly an isolated city. It is the only city of any size in Western Australia, surrounded by the Indian Ocean on one side and vast emptiness inland. The closest city, Adelaide, is 1,500 miles away (that would be like the closest city to Los Angeles being Tulsa, Oklahoma). The residents of Western Australia are so isolated from the rest of the country that the idea of succeeding from Australia is frequently brought up. In fact, in 1933 68% of Western Australia voted to succeed from Australia and become an autonomous colony of the British Empire. However, no action was ever taken and Western Australia remains part of Australia (the rest of Australia also built a railroad to connect Western Australia to the rest of the country).

Perth was originally settled by the British in the 1820s in response to a rumor that France was going to claim the western portion of Australia. Not many people began moving to the area until after WWII.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, each state in Australia has special ties to different beers. While in New South Wales people drink Tooheys, VB, and Carlton Draught most often, Western Australia drinks primarily Swan and Emu (two brands you have trouble finding locally in Sydney). The name Swan comes from the original name for the colony, the Swan River Colony (Perth is settled on Swan River).

We plan to drive over 1000 miles this weekend, so it's going to be a busy trip. I'll upload pictures and stories once we get back.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 04:52 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

In a galaxy far, far away...

sunny 105 °F

Shortly after arriving in Sydney when riding on the tram, I saw a billboard-size image of Queen Amidala. Assuming my eyes were playing tricks (from Star Wars deprivation in Australia, it had been nearly three weeks down under at this point), I didn't give it much thought. A couple days later, Darth Vader was on the front page of the newspaper. Excitedly scanning the article, I looked for a reason the newspaper would be doing an article on Darth Vader (and trying not to get my hopes up). One of the museums in town was apparently setting up a Star Wars exhibit. With the temperatures soaring over 100 degrees, I was able to convice Dawn and Jeff to come along to beat the heat.

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The Star Wars exhibit was a collection of props and costumes that had been used in the movies. The point of the exhibit was not to dive deeper into the Star Wars world, but to show how science fiction movies help shape new technology (translation: lure people in with promises of cool Star Wars exhibits and then trick them by making it educational). The exhibit spanned two floors and displayed loads of costumes from all 6 movies, case after case of model ships used for the space scenes, interviews with the special effects creators, and background information on how the creative team came up with their ideas.

The first floor displayed all the model ships used in the movies. It was interesting seeing the high level of detail that was put into the various models. Surprisingly, the size of each model was not as you'd expect. The Millennium Falcon was about 6 feet in diameter while Darth Vader's Super Star Destroyer was only 2 feet in length. In fact, Leia's ship fleeing the Star Destroyer in the fourth movie is actually 5 times as large as the Star Destroyer, but clever filming techniques (they slowed the camera down as it passed over the Star Destroyer), makes Vader's ship seem much larger. Videos typically accompanied each group of models to show how the shots were taken and how each model was used.

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I found it interesting that most of the individual fighters in the original trilogy got their inspiration from WWII fighter planes. The X-Wing and WWII fighters were nothing more than an engine, tiny cockpit, and oversized guns . The TIE fighters look like the front of a B-17 bomber.

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In the center of the ship exhibit sat the land speeder (the full size one). There were videos displaying how they used a curved mirror angled at 45 degrees to hide the tires. However, they didn't use the full size land speeder for all the shots. For non-close ups, they used a smaller model of the land speeder. The sign claimed that the model couldn't be distinguished from the real thing. I remain skeptical. I'm going to rewatch the fourth movie to see if I can tell when Ken is driving the land speeder.

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Dawn was being a good sport and letting Jeff and I take our time reading all the displays and watching the videos, although she didn't seem very interested. Jeff and I walked on to start looking at the costumes, but Dawn was no longer with us. When I went back to find her, I found her going through the "Build Your Own Land Speeder" exhibit. She was only pretending to be uninterested to save face (so she wouldn't have to admit to anyone that Star Wars can be cool). Jeff and I then had a competition to see whose land speeder could go the fastest.

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It was pretty cool seeing all the outfits that the actors wore in the movies. They had Yoda, Mace Windu, little Ani, Obi-Wan Kenobi, wookies, wampas, bounty hunters, Darth Vader, Lando, Princess Leia, and every other character from the movies. They also had people walking through the exhibits wearing outfits (sith lords, tusken raiders, jedis). It was amazing how lifelike the costumes actually looked (see if you can tell which wookie is actually real in the picture below).

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We worked our way up to the second floor, which focused primarily with the droids and current technological advances in robotics. There were plenty of exhibits, but much more hands-on activities. It seemed we had stumbled into the more educational portion of the exhibit. We watched some more videos, completed a couple more activities, and decided it was time to head home. We left the refreshing air conditioning of the museum and exited back into the heat of Tatooine to start our walk back to the house.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 03:24 Archived in Australia Tagged museum Comments (2)

新年快乐

sunny 105 °F

Happy New Year (in Chinese)! Sydney is celebrating the Year of the Ox. It was the last weekend of the Chinese New Year celebration, so Dawn and I went down to Darling Harbor to watch the dragon boat races.

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The Chinese New Year symbolizes many of the same things as the western new year. It is a chance to start fresh and look forward to peace and prosperity in the coming year. The Chinese New Year is celebrated by families coming together and sharing meals, decorating (hanging lanterns and using the color red liberally), and giving packets of money to the younger family members.

Sydney put together a 3 week celebration for the Chinese New Year. This year, Australia Day and the Chinese New Year fell on the same day, January 26th. We missed the first night because of the Australia Day party, and then we were in Fiji for the big parade. There was no way I was going to miss out on all the festivities, we had one last chance. So after church Dawn and I headed down to check out the final event, the dragon boat races.

Dragon boats look like long and narrow canoes. The boat is propelled by people paddling (not rowing) in a synchronized movement. There are around 20 paddlers, a person in the rear steering (like on a white water raft), and one drummer keeping everyone in rhythm. The boats were decorated with dragon heads at the front and dragon tails at the back. A large drum was strapped towards the front of the boat for the drummer to use.

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There were different classes of races at the Sydney Dragon Boat races. There was a junior class, corporate teams, and competitive teams. There was not a monetary prize, just something fun for people to do together. Heats were run every 10 minutes, so the action was non-stop for 2 days. The racers started in the middle of Darling Harbor and frantically raced towards the spectator end of the harbor. An announcer called out the winners and the winning boat would take a victory lap as the crowd congratulated them with applause.

The specific races we saw had to do with breast cancer awareness. All the racers were survivors of breast cancer and teams had come from every major city in Australia. After the final heat, the boats picked up additional cancer survivors and met in the middle of the harbor to perform the Flower Ceremony. Originating in Canada, the Flower Ceremony is a way for everyone to remember those who were lost to breast cancer (it was especially touching with the recent passing of Kay Yow). The boats all linked together and as the crowd observed a moment of silence, flowers were dumped in the water for those that had been lost.

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Figuring we had seen enough boat races, Dawn and I wandered through the rest of the Chinese Peace Garden towards Chinatown. There were representations of all the animal zodiacs. The dragon, dog, ram, cock, etc were all present. After snapping a picture with the ox, Dawn and I moved further into the park. I got really excited, before us was the longest dragon I had ever seen.

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A ceremony was taking place, so I patiently waited for the performance to begin. Half of the ceremony was in Chinese, but I did pick up that this was the longest performing dragon in the southern hemisphere. We didn't have to wait too long, after a few minutes the music started and the dragon started its dance. Dawn caught part of it on video. Watch at the end of the video, three little kids have a dragon of their own that dances next to the big dragon.

Dawn was starting to get sunburnt, so we made our way back home. We had plans to go snorkeling at Clovelly Beach, and since it was one of the hottest days all year, I couldn't wait to get in the water.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 05:44 Archived in Australia Tagged event Comments (0)

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