A Travellerspoint blog

Australia

The Man From Snowy River

sunny 60 °F

After Jeff left, it was time to take one last out of state trip. Dawn had been talking about reliving one of her favorite childhood movies, The Man From Snowy River. We headed off to the airport and boarded a plane back down to Melbourne.

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The Man From Snowy River plot line goes something like this:
An 18 year-old boy, Jim, loses his father in a tragic accident due to a wild colt stirring up penned brumbies. Jim goes down into the lowlands to work. He later returns to run his father's farm, but finds he has to earn the respect of the mountain men. He takes a job on a horse farm, but eventually is wrongly blamed for the escape of the brumbies and losing the prized colt. Jim decides to round up the brumbies with the other men to prove his innocence. The escaped horses run down a steep cliff, leaving the men at the top. In the climax of the movie, Jim rides his horse down the steep incline to capture the brumbies and stand up to the colt that caused his father's death.

After spending a couple days in Melbourne, we hired a car to drive north east into the Snowy Mountains. Due to a mix-up with our rental, our Honda Getz was not available. Instead, we were given an Audi convertible (I certainly wasn't complaining).

We left the city behind us and drove into the quiet countryside. The weather was getting cooler, but I wasn't passing up the opportunity to put the top down on the car. It was awesome.

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Our drive took us right through a section of woods that had been destroyed by the recent wild fires (you may remember my blog about it). It was astonishing to see the extent of the damage done by the fire. Many road signs were badly scalded and illegible. Not a single green leaf or blade of grass could be seen anywhere. Blackened tree trunks stretched out as far as we could see.

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Before heading into the mountains, we made a detour to a wildlife park. It was going to be our last chance to see some of the native wildlife here in Australia. We saw more Koalas, birds of prey, wallabies, kangaroos, echidnas, platypuses, goanas, and jumping mice. It wasn't anything we hadn't seen before, but it was still cool. In the kangaroo pen, I encountered the largest kangaroo I had ever seen (it was easily over 6 feet tall). The goanas were also funny to watch swim.

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We made it into the Snowy Mountains close to sunset. The air was definitely chilly, but the views were great.

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We checked into our room and settled in for the night. I hadn't actually seen The Man From Snowy River yet, and after Dawn and I went all over Melbourne to find a copy, we fired up the laptop and started watching the movie. I think I made it half way through before falling asleep (if you've seen the movie, you could probably tell by my poorly written synopsis). Dawn did make me rewatch the scene where Jim rides down the steep mountain face. For those who haven't seen the movie, I found the clip on YouTube:

We woke up early the next morning to meet our guides. We were to take a full day horseback riding tour of the Snowy Mountains. We put our gear on, mounted up, and took off up the mountain. It was just Dawn, me, and the two guides.

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After letting the horses warm up, the guides picked up the pace to a trot and then full out canter through the valley. It had been about 3 years since my riding lessons and I had forgotten the feeling of riding such a powerful animal. After slowing back down to a walking pace, we started the trail up the mountain. The guides took us to some scenic lookouts. The views were beautiful.

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We stopped at several different lookouts to let the horses rest after the steep climbs. The guides told stories of other trail rides with students, and then tried to gull us into believing stories about the yeti-like creatures that live in the Snowy Mountains. After a quick lunch at a little cabin, we headed up another trail to the scene from the movie where Jim takes Denny down the steep side of the mountain.

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The movie doesn't do the cliff justice. While movie effects make the cliff look steeper, it also makes it look like Jim goes down the mountain just for a short distance. It is actually a very long way down.

I took a picture down the cliff, and I was scared just being at the top (and of course I kept worrying that my horse would take off down the mountain). The guides kept teasing me to "man up" and get the real Snowy Mountain experience. Dawn and I posed on the edge of the cliff with our horses.

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We made our way down the mountain (using the long way, but it was still pretty steep). The views were just as pretty on the way down. The guides told us there were impressed that our legs were keeping up after the long trot and canter rides, building up encouragement for one last canter back down to the stables. With a groan, I hauled my tired butt off the saddle and kicked the horse into a gallop. After 10 hours of being on a horse, I was ready for this ride to be over.

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After a nice long, hot shower, I eased myself into a lounge chair in the bush living room (a living room out in the open). After declining an invitation to watch the preseason footie matches with our host, I started a campfire to fight back the cold night. Dawn and I worked our way through a six pack watching the fire burn, and the host's dog tried to catch the sparks flying up from the fire. Sitting in a comfortable chair was about all I could manage after the long day.

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The next morning we started the drive out of the mountains back down to Melbourne to catch our plane. Backwoods Australia is even more empty than backwoods North Carolina. I think we were the only car for 30 miles in either direction. However, I managed to find a cop on the country highway who didn't hesitate to write me a ticket for "crossing a solid white" (i.e., the tax for the obvious tourist driving a fancy convertible sports car). After a $300 fine, we got back on the road and made it to the airport. We were headed back to Sydney for our last weekend in Australia.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 20:38 Archived in Australia Tagged mountains animals horseback_riding Comments (0)

Bye Jeff!

Leaving Adelaide, I flew back to Sydney to share the last three days of Jeff's stay in Australia. Jeff was coming back from his month-long excursion up the east coast. Over the course of those couple days, Jeff and I visited our old haunts: namely Paddy's, the kebab shop next to Paddy's, the Toxteth, Big Buck Hunter at the Toxteth, and the central YHA. There was only one thing left to do, have a going away party.

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Jeff and I met up with Dawn, Rob, Hailey, and various other people that used to work with Jeff. Our plan was to do a bar crawl to experience the bars we frequented most often along George Street. The plan didn't really get implemented as we only made it to two of the bars.

We first went to 3 Wise Monkeys where Jeff had worked while living in Australia. Jeff surprised everyone with his newly grown mustache. Everyone was jealous, so we each tried to create our own (Rob and I tried to wear a beer mustache).

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As you would expect, a lot of beers were bought and a lot of stories swapped. We stayed at 3 Wise Monkeys until closing time, only briefly leaving to run next door to Cheers to take a 'Dusty Fairy' shot.

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I have no clue how to make a Dusty Fairy, but I do know that it has enough liquor in it to light on fire. Once you light it on fire, you sprinkle chocolate dust on the shot to make sparks. After everyone oohs and ahhs, you blow out the flame and slam the shot home.

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We stayed at 3 Wise Monkeys until they kicked us out, and then we stumbled back to our rooms. It was after 4 in the morning and Jeff still had to pack to catch a noon flight.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 20:12 Archived in Australia Tagged beer Comments (0)

Adelaide, South Australia

sunny 85 °F

Time to travel to the only state left unvisited, South Australia.

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South Australia is the fourth largest state (it is 1.5x larger than Texas), but only has 1.6 million people. In typical Australian fashion, the majority of the people live in a single city, Adelaide, which boasts a population of 1.1 million. Residents of Adelaide proudly claim that their colony was the only freely settled colony in Australia (no imported penal workers). Adelaide was a planned capital city, situated in the middle of the southern coast and near a river. Adelaide is known for its food, wine, festivals, and sporting events. We happened to arrive during Festival (a huge carnival filled with shows, food, and alcohol) and on the weekend of a V8 race (their version of NASCAR). It was unbelievable the number of people present in the city.

We arrived late in the afternoon, checked into the hostel, and set out to explore the city. Adelaide has nice wide streets and tons of shops. Walking the main strip, I was very impressed with the modern feel of the city and the cool looking buildings. One building was covered in white panels that would light up different colors to create a kaleidoscope of images. Cafes, restaurants, pubs, and clubs lined the streets, and people were spilling out of all of them. The road turned into a wide pedestrian walkway, and musicians played every 30 yards. Dawn even stopped to admire some of the artwork.

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We walked the entire strip and came up to the Festival. It slightly resembled a state fair, except there were no rides and no games. Instead, there were tents advertising shows of all kinds. All forms of dancing, singing, and performing could be found. Unfortunately tickets for the events sell out quickly, and we arrived on a Saturday night. Instead we made the most of the event by picking up delicious food (a fresh-toppings pizza and hot fried donuts). The vendors also tried creative ways for you to stop at their booths for drinks. Once person had a double-decker bus that had been converted into a bar. Wine vendors poured very full glasses and would give you advice on which glass to order. In my opinion, it was the perfect carnival.

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We left Festival towards closing time and made our way back down towards some of the bars. It was shoulder to shoulder trying to make it down the street. Every bar and cafe was packed. We gave up on the idea of fighting our way up to a bar and decided to make our way back to the hostel, until we ran into giant robots.

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We made it back to the hostel and got some rest. We were waking up early to do another wine tour.

The Barossa Valley is one of the most famous areas for Australia wine. Shiraz is the most popular grape grown in the region, as the middle-eastern derived vine fits well into the dry climate near Adelaide. Driving out to the valley, we passed by a giant tree that used to house a family!

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A married couple were too poor to live in a house, so they moved to the outskirts of town and stumbled upon this tree. They actually had 2 children while living here, and went on to have 8 total.

We made one more stop before reaching the first wine tasting at a toy shop. Australian tourist stops are often centered around ridiculously large items, like the Big Pineapple or Giant Guitar (there are over 150 such items around Australia), but we were lucky enough to get to see the Giant Rocking Horse.

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We went to a couple different wineries, and the wine was excellent as expected. After getting slightly tipsy, I got grilled by two Swedes about American politics. Thankfully the conversation moved towards European Union politics as a British man began filling me in on how the EU operated. After lunch we went up to a lookout to view the Barossa Valley. It was a beautiful day, and the valley provided magnificent views.

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After hitting up another couple wineries (and $150 in purchased wine later) we started making our way back to Adelaide. We went out for another night on the town and saw some very interesting people. I had wanted to go to a bar called the Stag Hotel, but it was overrun by drunken V8 fans. The race had ended, and the NASCAR-esque fans were everywhere (and every bit as redneck as typical NASCAR fans). We slowly made our way back to the hostel, keeping a safe distance from the rowdy and sunburnt crowd. Dawn and I rented a true Australian Movie, Two Hands, which was Heath Ledgers first starring role. It was pretty cool seeing a movie shot in Sydney after living there. Dawn was going on another tour tomorrow, so we both called it a night.

The next day I walked down to my office, the McDonalds, and had a productive work day. During the day I took a break and sat out in the sun along the river behind the Parliament House watching the swans and ducks swim lazily. Adelaide had really grown on me during my short stay, and would be a top choice if I had to pick one city to live in for an extended period.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 18:20 Archived in Australia Tagged tour wine Comments (2)

Tasmania

sunny 63 °F

Since we had to move out of our apartment last weekend and only have three weeks left in Australia, we decided to go way down under–all the way to Tassie.

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Tasmania is the smallest Australian state, both in size and population. Tasmania is about the size of South Carolina, has 500,000 people (half of which live in the capital city), and has a third of its state dedicated as National Reserves and World Heritage areas. We would spend the next 6 days making our way around the state taking in the natural beauty.

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We left Sydney and flew into Hobart, the capital city (A). Surprisingly enough we knew some people in Hobart. We met up with Rob and Hailey (two of our friends from Sydney) who also happened to be in Tasmania. We spent some time at one of the few bars (that we could find) in Hobart and celebrated St. Patty's Day a little early.

After getting some work in, Dawn and I headed southward and went deep into one of the national forests. Our destination was another tree-top walk to view the ancient Huon pines. To get into the national forest, we actually followed a logging trail (complete with gigantic logging trucks). Several trails and lookouts were available along the way, so we stopped frequently to stretch our legs and take in the crystal-clear air. Even though we have seen them multiple times, I can never get used to seeing absolutely enormous trees. I used to consider the pine trees behind my house monsters, but they are nothing compared to the behemoths located here. The trails were empty, and the feeling of total seclusion took hold as we wound through the forest. Streams ran along the trails, providing pleasant background music. The chilly air was crisp and kept us moving.

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One of the trails we took led us down to the second largest tree in the world. Apparently there is a formula to calculate the weight of trees based on their size, and based on this formula this was the second largest tree known to man. The largest is a redwood called General Sherman (1,256 tons) and the cleverly named Big Tree came in at second with a weight of 405 tons (a blue whale ways a hefty 190 tons). Unfortunately this tree was shrinking (it was reaching the end of its life) by a couple meters a year and will soon shrink below the 80 meter height that makes it automatically protected from logging. The picture doesn't do it justice, this tree was gargantuan.

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After viewing the second largest tree in the world, we were ready to walk among the tree tops. We drove into the Tahune AirWalk and made our way onto the scaffolding. This tree-top walk was different from the one in Perth in that it wasn't a loop, just a large T-like walk that took you to a great lookout. The tree-top walk in Perth was completely surrounded by trees, and although it went higher, never went above the canopy. The tree-top walk here in Tasmania followed a river and presented awesome views of the mountains and surrounding forest. One end of the walk hangs 200 ft above the water. You feel like you are floating above the water while standing at the end, and the views are incredible. The 20 minute walk took over 1.5 hours for us to complete, the views were just that good.

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We came down from the tree-top walk and went along the trail to view the Huon pines. Huon pines grow extremely slow, but also grow to be extremely old. Most of the trees were not very large (in fact they looked like crooked, moss covered, large spruce trees). Ship builders used to use these trees to make ship hulls because of their natural resistance to water. We did see some cross sections of some very large Huon pines though. Here is a shot along the Huon River, you can see some of the pines along the shore line (the pines look like pine trees, the stringy bark eucalypts are the ones towering overhead with exposed trunks).

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The Huon River valley and the national forest was very nice, but our next stop was supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Tasmania. After a night's rest back in Hobart, we drove between two National Parks to reach Strahan (C) for the night and then to Cradle Mountain (D). Driving through the national parks offered countless stunning views. Mountains and valleys created beautiful backdrops. We stopped at a number of lookout points to take in the fresh air and beautiful sights. Clear mountain lakes, mountain peaks standing out above the treeline, mist creeping over the ridgeline–every turn offered another awesome view. Here are a couple pictures from the drive:

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Cradle Mountain is a World Heritage site (a list of cultural or natural sites around the world that hold some significance). A ranger at the visitor center said that Cradle Mountain was the second most beautiful site in the world (first was some mountain in Japan). Despite its beauty, the weather does not always cooperate. It rains 7 out of 10 days, is cloudy 90% of the time, and has snowfall a third of the year. We lucked out and had a clear, sunny day. We started off the day by doing some shorter trails in the Cradle Mountain valley along streams and waterfalls.

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We eventually worked our way up to the Cradle Mountain Lake walk, which was a 3 hour hike around the lake in the valley of Cradle Mountain. The clear skies made the water a cool blue color, and the intermittent clouds danced shadows across the valley.

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We spent nearly all day hiking in the trails around Cradle Mountain, but we didn't even come close to seeing everything. We also have tons of awesome pictures, it's a shame I can't post them all. That night we stopped in Devonport (E). Devonport was the third largest town in Tasmania, but it would be an unremarkable town in North Carolina. However, I did find the best internet connection I'd had in all of Australia (including libraries and internet cafes), and it was free! Welcome to my office in Tasmania: McDonald's.

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We left Devonport and headed to the east coast. Cutting across Tasmania would be like cutting through West Virginia with no interstates. The two lane roads went up and down the mountains, curving to follow the flattest route. We came to the top of a mountain and were presented with a breathtaking view of some smaller peaks and the valleys below. After not seeing any cars for hours, suddenly a caravan of giant 4-wheel drive vehicles pulled off at the lookout. This crew solicited sponsors for a week long off road event to raise money for a new event every year. They came from Melbourne and planned on tackling the Tasmanian wilderness. While others checked the map, two guys popped open a couple of VB road sodas. I think they were as surprised as we were that there was actually someone else out here in the middle of nowhere. We chit-chatted briefly, discussed routes to take through the mountains (thankfully because they told us our intended route was blocked), and then set off on our separate ways.

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We were truly in the middle of nowhere, because there was literally Nowhere Else to go to.

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We arrived in Coles Bay (F) later that evening. However, it seemed that the hostel we had planned on staying at had confused the night we were arriving and had booked us for the previous night. This was not the type of town that had multiple places to stay. Just as I was coming to terms with sleeping in the car and freezing cold, the check-in lady told us that the hostel in the national park had an opening, but it was a little basic. Since she was also offering it to us for free, it seemed like a better option than sleeping in the car. We drove into Freycinet National Park, followed a windy dirt path along the water, and finally found the hostel. Basic might have been an exaggeration.

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Lean-to shack may have been more appropriate. We had a hole in the ground with a toilet seat to serve as a bathroom. However, we did have a private beach and were actually sleeping in the national park. We went down to the beach to catch sunset. Wallabies were bouncing in the sand and hardly seem to notice us. Later in the night, more wildlife came alive. Possums climbed along the trees while noises came from every direction. I think Dawn was a little freaked out being so far out in the woods. At one point, when I turned off the flashlight and stood really still, she nearly killed me (although she still claims she wasn't scared). The shack on a beach actually turned out to be one of my favorite hostels in Australia.

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The next morning Dawn and I got an early start. We wanted to climb to the Wineglass Bay Lookout, but we also had to head back to Hobart and catch our plane later that evening. Arriving at the trail starting point just after sunrise (and a quick stop at the real bathroom), we started the hike up the mountain. This was easily the steepest trail I had ever been on. There was very few level portions of trail, and most of the trail was actually steps leading up the mountain. Upon reaching the Wineglass Bay Lookout, we were both literally dripping sweat (which is an accomplishment in the cool Tasmanian climate). The view was very nice, and we took our time taking in the sight to give our legs a rest.

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We hurried down the trail (it was much quicker going all downhill) and flew along the road to get back down to Hobart. We barely made our flight and our travels through Tasmania were over.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:26 Archived in Australia Tagged mountains animals hiking national_park world_heritage_site Comments (1)

Blue Mountains

sunny 88 °F

Finally we were able to go to the Blue Mountains. Dawn and I had been holding out until Greg arrived since he had expressed interest in going. The Blue Mountains are the mountain range that surround Sydney. The original colonists called them the Blue Mountains because they look blue when viewed from a distance (like a hazy gray color). Up close, they are your typical mountains. However, just like most of Australia, it seems like it has been totally untouched by human hands and the natural beauty is astounding.

We stopped on the way up the Blue Mountains because our guide knew a perfect place to see kangaroos. The novelty of seeing a roo had slightly worn off, but it gave the three of us a chance to take a hike through the woods. We ended up not seeing any kangaroos (to the disappointment of the rest of the group) and headed up into the mountaintops.

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Our guide had actually grown up in the Blue Mountains (he was 64), so he had plenty to tell us about the area. It was also cool because he knew the best lookouts and trails to take. The first lookout we made it to was unbelievable. It had views of the valley surrounding the 3 Sisters (more on them later) with more mountains visible in the background. It was a sheer cliff that dropped hundreds of feet, with no guard rail! Let the pictures speak for themselves:

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We drove around the valley to some hiking trails. We hiked down to another lookout. This lookout was one of the viewing points of the 3 Sisters. A large waterfall is also visible running down one of the mountains. The Aboriginal story of the 3 Sisters is as follows: A chief had 3 daughters, each unmarried. He was very protective of them. Three men from a foothills tribe fell in love with the women and tried to sneak them away. The chief found out and used his magic stick to turn the three sisters into stones so they couldn't go any further. He then turned the magic stick on himself and changed into a lyre bird to fly down and confront the men. However, he dropped the stick while flying. Without the magic stick, he couldn't change himself or his daughters back. To this day, you can still see the lyre bird scratching in the underbrush trying to find his stick.

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We then took a lift down to the valley itself. It was nuts. The lift just dropped off the mountain and plummeted to the valley floor (check out the picture). Once getting off, we were in the dense forest. We even saw a lyre bird scratching in the dirt! The guide hadn't seen one in months and was surprised to see one (in the middle of him explaining how rare they were, Dawn spotted one 20 yards away). We walked through the valley to the old coal mine. I stopped to fill my water bottle up at a mountain spring run-off, the guide wouldn't stop talking about how refreshing the water was (meanwhile my brother kept trying to tell me about all the bacteria in the water).

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Near the coal mine there was a lift that the coal workers used to use to get up and down the mountain. It is the steepest passenger rail in the world, averaging a 45 degree incline. The seats are reclined so that you can have a more comfortable ride up. It was awesome, and also a little frightening (especially when you go through the cave). It felt as if you were going straight up the mountain.

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We had one last stop before leaving the Blue Mountains behind us. The Blue Mountains are so mystical because it took a long while for anyone to figure out how to cross them. The steep cliffs made simply going over the mountains impossible. Eventually an explorer figured out that the only way over the mountains was to follow the ridge line (the original path is the current paved road, no better way has yet to be found). Of couse the Aborigines had figured this out long before the colonists. To help navigate the cliff lines, they had carved markers in the rocks. These carvings pointed the Aborigines along the correct path. We stopped to see one of these carvings, a kangaroo pointing back down the ridge line.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 12:45 Archived in Australia Tagged waterfalls hiking tour world_heritage_site Comments (1)

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