Redbank Gorge (and the time I swam with snakes)

In February 2017, we went to Redbank Gorge, known locally as Rwetyepme, pronounced ‘roo-chip-ma’. A little more than 2 hours from Alice Springs, this watering hole was a wonderful relief from the hot summer heat!

After a beautiful drive alongside the West MacDonnell Ranges, you come to a turn off for Redbank Gorge. We had a lot of rain that summer, so everything was pretty green. Note, this gorge is not wheelchair accessible. From the carpark, it’s about 2km to the watering hole – while there IS a trail, it’s quite sandy, and rocky.

We actually stopped short of the watering hole when we first got there. We were carrying our lunch, towels, floating rafts, and water which started to feel pretty heavy. So we found a good spot to place our belongings, and then we hopped into the river. When the rains aren’t quit as abundant, this river bed is usually dry.

After our dip in the water, and some lunch, we decided to check out the watering hole. Over the rocks we climbed.

It was gorgeous! We hopped in, and then started swimming. I am not sure of exactly how far we swam – but the deep water seemed to flow through far to the other side. I think we were gone for about an hour. During that hour, we had one of the most Australian, most Outback experiences ever.

As we’re just swimming along – mainly doggy-paddling so we can look up through the gorge and enjoy the scenery, we see a couple of snakes. I have no idea if they are poisonous. There were four of us swimming, person number one seemed to have disturbed the snakes, who appeared to be babies. I was right behind the first person, so when I swam through the same spot, one snake seemed to be over by the wall of the gorge, but a second snake was clearly agitated. It rose up vertical in the water, and started coming towards me. Well, I swam freestyle as quickly as I could, trying to splash the snake as much as possible (does that deter them?). Mind you, we’re in a gorge, so it’s narrow – there are no rest spots, and the water is deep so you cannot stand. I couldn’t quite reach out and touch my hands from wall to wall, but it was close. So again, there wasn’t a lot of room. Also, it should be noted that not all parts of the gorge are this narrow – just, apparently, the parts with snakes!

Once out of danger, I debated – do I tell the other two people traveling with us? I decided not to, since there was only one direction to swim in, and there was a small chance the snake actually retreated and was back to hanging out in a sunny spot on the wall.

After we all caught up to each other, I relayed the snake story – they were fine, but we were all a little concerned about the swim back. We climbed some rocks to get up high enough out of the water to relax a little. While waiting, we ran into two other people who were also exploring the gorge. They had swimming noodles – smart! We told them about the snake, so they said they would go first, and whack the snakes out of the way, should they see them. (And they did!)

After our harrowing gorge swim, we got out of the water, and packed up our things. It was about 5pm at this point, and we decided it was time to head home. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a waterproof camera, so I can’t share with you pictures from inside of the gorge.

On the drive back, we decided to stop off at at the Mount Sonder lookout, which is right before the turn off for Glen Helen. What stunning views! And here you can really see how green everything is!

And nothing compares to the sunsets here in the Outback! It was a great, action-packed day!

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Four Days in Sydney

In January 2017, a very good friend of mine came to Australia as part of a larger trip she was on wherein she went all the way to Antartica! We got to meet up with her at the end of her trip, and explore Sydney together. These are the highlights from our trip!

After an easy two and a half hour flight from Alice Springs, we took the train in from the airport into Sydney’s CBD. Our first meal was outside at a pub at the Kings Cross Hotel, which provided decent pub food. That evening we went to the Darlo Bar, which was just across the intersection from our lovely airbnb in Darlinghurst.

Day 1: We started with breakfast at Bills, which was recommended by an Australian friend of ours. They are known for their ricotta hotcakes, and for good reason! Then, after breakfast, we decided to walk to the harbour via Potts Point and then Sydney Cove. We enjoyed a stroll along the water and took in the sights and smells of the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Then we made our way to The Rocks, where we browsed street vendors with clothes handmade in Sydney. Then we had lunch at Caminetto, a great Italian restaurant at the north end of Playfair. Still up for more wandering, we walked around Millers Point for a bit, and then explored the Sydney Observatory for a while.

Back in the neighborhood, we decided on Mexican for dinner. We went to Playa Taqueria, a tiny place that did not disappoint (side note, we went back in November 2018, but Playa Taqueria was no longer there, it is now a Japanese place). They had a $5 Pacifico happy hour special, and the enchiladas were huge!

Day 2: We took the 324 bus from Darlinghurst to Watsons Bay. (Note: If you take the bus, you have to provide exact change, or travel via an Opal card). Because we didn’t find a published fare sheet, we didn’t know what the exact amount was, and when we asked the driver, the driver had to manually look it up. In the end, the machine was broken so we didn’t have to pay. The bus ride was less than half an hour. At Watsons Bay we walked around, enjoying the view of the Tasman Sea from the Gap Bluff. Then we walked along the water back towards the shops and restaurants. It was a pleasant walk – we were all in flip flops and easily handled the cliffside path. We walked past Macquarie Lighthouse and Christison Park (great views toward Harbor Bridge), and decided on The Grumpy Baker for a light snack. Their milkshakes were amazing, as was the soy chai latte and the pumpkin and feta stuffed rolls. Next we decide to walk to Bondi Beach.

After about an hour walk, we made it to Bondi Beach, which is gorgeous. We decided to relax at North Bondi Fish with a pitcher of Pimms and a bucket of fries. After that we walked along the beach and watched the surfers. Next we went to the North Bondi Returned Services League (RSL) where we had a quick drink and enjoyed the views. (Note:: Bring your ID, you’ll need it to get in. If you have an Australian ID, they will scan it and log you in as a guest).

We took the 380 bus back from Bondi Beach to Oxford St and Victoria. It was about a 30 minute bus ride. This spot, just south of the courthouse was bustling with people and restaurants. It was a nice walk back to our place from there.

Dinner at Sushi on Stanley was excellent. We had to wait, and we were assured by the locals in front of us that it was worth the wait. There were a number of restaurants on the street (Stanley), and we thought about checking some of the other places out, but the locals were right – it was worth the wait. As a vegetarian, there were a number of options, and the mini rolls were awesome and bite sized. The meal was $31.00 for all three of us … an amazing deal! We finished up the evening by walking over to RivaReno Gelato off Oxford St for dessert. They had amazing options – we sampled a lot of them and really enjoyed it! Shockingly, I only have one picture from this part of the day.

Day 3: Slept in a little this morning, and then walked over to The Rusty Rabbit just around the corner for breakfast. As with all of our meals, it was delicious. Then we decided to walk to the Sydney Opera House to see if they had any tours available. (Note: If you want a 10% discount, you have to book at least a day in advance.) We wanted a tour for that day, so we went to the SOH, waited in line, and then learned that there was going to be another tour in about 15 minutes. Perfect. The tour lasts about an hour, and you’re outfitted with headphones to hear the guide. The behind-the-scenes glimpses into the Opera House are pretty cool. Construction started in 1957, and didn’t finish until 1973. The revolutionary architect was basically forced out, and while still alive today, lives in Denmark and has never seen with his own eyes his plan realized. More info on the construction can be found here.

After the SOH tour, we headed back to The Rocks for a late lunch. We went to Glenmore Hotel’s rooftop deck, which had great views of the city and the Opera House. Good pub food in a relaxing environment.

We spent about an hour in the Art Gallery of NSW. They have a number of interesting exhibitions going on, and some grand master classics. We only had an hour until it closed at 5, so we stuck to the ground floor and explored the European art. It wasn’t crowded so it felt like my own private gallery.

That evening we got dressed up and went back to the Sydney Opera House to see a show – “Music in the Key of Yes”. It was a celebration of the 1967 referendum vote in Australia to end constitutional discrimination of the Aboriginal people. Civil rights songs from the 1960s were reinterpreted by Aboriginal singers. It was beautiful. And two days after the US holiday for MLK, not to mention the civil rights turmoil we are experiencing in the US, the show really hit home. We got there a little early and were able to spend some time enjoying the evening sunset! It was also really nice to see Sydney at night, when everything is lit up! More about the show here.

Day 4: Our last full day in Sydney…! We started the day at BootsDarling, in Taylor Square. Cute little cafe (although in the hot temps, the fans inside were not enough to keep us cool). Their fruit bowl was awesome! Then we caught the 380 bus down to Circular Quay. Most buses along Oxford Street go to Circular Quay, so you don’t have to wait long. The only annoyance was that you could not top up your Opal Card at any convenience store – seemingly the only place to do this was at the 7-11.

Once at Circular Quay, we went to Terminal 3 to catch the ferry to Manly, which come every 20 minutes. The views from the ferry, looking back towards the CBD, were great! Once in Manly, we rented an umbrella for $15 for the day. It was well worth the money since there’s absolutely no shade on the beach. We ventured into the water a couple of times, but it was pretty chilly in there, so we didn’t actually go swimming. At some point, the lifeguards put up flags to specifically designate swimming areas. It was a little chaotic, as most people in the water couldn’t hear the announcement, but eventually everyone got the message. After getting sufficiently hot on the beach, we went to get lunch at this chic little place called The Pantry. It’s on the beach, so the views of the water were great. We spent a few more hours on Manly, and then made our way back to the CBD via ferry. From Circular Quay, we took the 380 back up to Darlinghurst.

Back in Darlinghurst, we went to dinner at this great Indian Restaurant called Trunk Road. Wonderful ambiance, soft lighting, exposed brick, great food and light jazz playing! Come with cash though, as they don’t take credit cards.

On our last morning, we called for a cab to pick us up. For three people, we calculated that it would be cheaper to take a taxi than the train, which is a little less than $20.00 a person. (Note: The taxi charged an additional 5% for using a credit card.)

Four days was a pretty good amount of time for a city break. Had we had more time, we might have ventured further afield, like to the Blue Mountains, but it’s always nice to have more exploring to do! So, until next time …!

Canberra with Kids

In February 2017, after hiking and camping in Mount Kosciusko, driving along the coast in New South Wales, and exploring the museums of Canberra, we met up with friends for a couple of days and explored the kid centric parts of Canberra.

We stayed at the Alivio Tourist Park, about 5 km northwest from the CBD. For 2 nights, one room cost 330 AUD. We managed to cram four adults and two kids into the place, but it was as tight fit! When we cooked dinner, the kids ate first, and then once they cleared out, the adults could eat next.

The tourist park is outfitted with a lot of amenities. It was February, so the only one we used was the pool, but in cooler weather, you could use the outdoor sports equipment.

Then, on Saturday, we went to the National Dinosaur Museum. They pack a lot of information into that place! As you’re approaching the front door, you walk through the dinosaur garden that is filled with fiberglass dinosaurs. Then, as you make your way inside, you walk past animatronic dinosaurs who twist and turn. There was always someone knowledgable nearby, ready with all sorts of pre-historic information. One of the guides stressed that dinosaurs are not extinct; they are still around today, living among us in new shapes and sizes.

After we went to the museum, we walked a short distance to Armadillo Cafe, where we had a delightful meal, and a couple of really yummy vegetarian options. We sat outside, and enjoyed the misters that kept us cool.

What a lovely time!

Canberra

In February 2017, we had a couple of days to explore Australia’s capital city, Canberra.

The first thing we did was head to the National Gallery of Australia, where they have a wide range of exhibitions, spanning many countries and time periods. We especially enjoyed the sculpture garden, the exhibits from central Australia, as well as some of the contemporary pieces.

We then headed to the Australian War Memorial, a somber reminder of society’s obsession with armed conflict, and the price we all must pay for it. We stayed for the Last Post, a daily ceremony wherein one story is told of one of the 102,185 names on the Roll of Honor. The names on this list were killed as result of their service to Australia.

Dinner was at a Tex-Mex place in the CBD.  Probably not the best Mexican we have ever had, but emerging from the Mexican drought of the Australian Outback made this the meal of the trip!

Lisa had a day of work on Thursday, while Kevin went to Parliament House for a tour and to sit in on Question Time. Each day that Parliament is sat, the members from both the Government and the Opposition have an opportunity to ask questions of each other. These queries are usually regarding some current proposed legislation on the docket or a controversial topic of the day.  For politicos, this is quite entertaining.

On Friday we both explored Canberra. We went to Old Parliament House, which is now a museum, known as Museum of Australian Democracy, Old Parliament House. In the basement, there was a wonderful exhibition of current political cartoons. Here are some highlights.

Upstairs, you can see the old houses of Parliament, as well as some office space. It allowed you to glimpse into parliamentary life before the new Parliament House was built just up the hill in the 1980s. Official duties in this building ended in 1988.

There was also an exhibition that challenged the meaning of Democracy, and who’s allowed to participate, as well as the role a Democracy should play on the global stage.

In that same vein, the question of sovereignty, and self determination continue to haunt Australia today. In 1972, the original landowners of Australia set up an Embassy in front of the then Parliament House. It wasn’t until 1992 that a more permanent structure was established. The fight for indigenous rights is ongoing.