30 October 2013

Travels in Oz (Uluru/Ayers Rock)

Since first travelling to Australia I’ve always wanted to visit Uluru (Ayers Rock). I often use the expression 'in the middle of no-where', but that's never been more true of anywhere than Uluru. It is almost 500km from the nearest town (Alice Springs) by road and close to the red centre of Australia.

I’ve always known (theoretically) that Australia is a big place, but that's really a huge understatement. Looking out of the plane window and seeing nothing but red earth and scrubby bushes in all directions certainly emphasises the point.  Auckland to Sydney is approximately a 3.5 hour flight and Cairns to Ayers Rock is about the same with a stop at Alice Springs. I won't even think about how long it takes to drive!

If you’ve heard of Alice Springs it’s probably from the book and/or film A Town Like Alice. Our flights only gave us a 45 minute stop there and so we didn’t have time to visit the town. Flying into Alice Springs the plane comes in low over red earth with seemingly nothing else around and then the runway appears – phew!!

For a small place Alice Springs airport has flights to all the major cities in Australia and is a busy hub. It’s the first time in years that I’ve got off a plane and walked across the pan to get to the airport buildings. It reminded me of my first flight ever, which was to Cyprus. My first impressions on coming out from the aircraft were the heat – high 30s searing dry heat - and the feeling of being under an enormous blue dome as the land is so flat.

The flight to Ayers Rock from Alice Springs is about 45 minutes and gave me my first look at the monolith. If you’re interested in facts the rock is about 3.6km long and 1.9km wide, and stands about 348m high with much of its bulk below ground.

One of the interesting things about travelling are the time differences you experience. Auckland is two hours ahead of Sydney, so if you leave early you don’t miss too much of your day in Sydney. Flying from Sydney, New South Wales to Cairns in Queensland we gained another hour. Ayers Rock is in the Northern Territory and here our watches went back half an hour! Interesting.

Ayers Rock is a World Heritage Site and to visit it you stay at one of the hotels in the Yulara Resort. The impression I gained was that everyone was here for a few days and packed as much in as possible before moving onto somewhere else. There are a lot of tours but most involve variations on the theme of visiting Uluru, Kata Tjuta which is a nearby group of large domed rock formations and Kings Canyon.

We played the tourist role and had a sunset dining experience in the desert. Before dining there were drinks and canap├ęs at a look-out area to watch the sunset and view Uluru. The trip is called the Sounds of Silence, but unfortunately with around thirty of so other people there wasn’t a lot of silence, however the sunset was magnificent. The guide told us that Uluru is an arid desert, which I understand means it’s a category based on the amount of rainfall they have – very little, but enough for a variety of bushes and trees. To be honest I had expected no vegetation at all, but there was a surprising amount given the small rainfall.

Even before sunset the full moon was apparent and this was somewhat unfortunate for our stargazing, but it certainly lent its own attraction.
There were a number of tables set up in a dining area and we had a United Nations assortment of dining guests and enjoyed some great conversation and food. After dinner all the lamps were turned off and we had an opportunity for star gazing – as much as the full moon would allow – an interesting talk on the stars we could see, and a short period of silence to enjoy the night sky.

Before our holiday I booked a dawn trip as I’d been told that was the very best time to view the changing colours of the rock. The funny thing is when I booked the trip the fact it happened at dawn (i.e. very early) didn’t really sink in. The reality only became apparent when I set the clock for 3.30am, but it was an experience worth the early start.

It was the only time I needed a light top. The early morning air is refreshingly chilly, but once the sun appears it doesn’t take long to heat up.

During the time we were at Ayers Rock we enjoyed a tour around the hotel gardens where one of the local guides showed us some of the plants that grow in the area and their food and medicinal uses. The various uses of plants, whether their roots, leaves, flowers or seeds is amazing. I shouldn’t have been surprised, after all Aboriginal people have been in Australia for tens of thousands of years and would need all this knowledge to look after themselves, but it certainly made me realise how little I know and how much I rely on civilisation for food and especially medicine.

28 October 2013

Travels in Oz (and reading)

I’ve been travelling in Australia for the past few weeks visiting places I’ve never seen before (with the exception of our starting point - Sydney). It’s been a long time since I’ve done this type of free-wheeling type travelling and I've loved every minute.

The trip started in the lovely city of Sydney, which is a place I never tire of visiting.

The first place on our list of 'first-time' visits was Port Douglas in Far North Queensland.

I have to admit that while seeing new places was important, so also was having some downtime and this was the main reason for visiting Port Douglas. 

Port Douglas has a tropical monsoon climate and heavy rainfall during the summer season, but we were lucky with no more than a few drops of rain one evening. The average temperature for this time of year is the high 20s and it was every bit of that and tipping 30 some days.

*Spoiler Alert - there isn't much adventuring in this post - I guess a lot of people would rush around the Daintree forest and Great Barrier Reef, I didn't but I did enjoy my R&R time.

My favourite relaxing past-time is reading – hardly surprising as a writer! One of the pleasures of holiday reading is being able to read an entire book in a much shorter timeframe than usual.

I started with a book by Lisa Gardener. She has been on my list of authors to read for some time as a suspense/thriller author who writes a great page turner, but also paints realistic characters with great depth which is something often overlooked in the twists and turns of a plot.

As a complete contrast I then read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Since finishing English studies I’ve not read many of the classics, and I had an ulterior motive in my choice of classic. I’m a fan of PD James and had bought her book Death Comes To Pemberley which is based on the characters of Pride and Prejudice. While I knew the basic storyline I wanted to read the classic before PD James treatment of the characters.

What can I say about Pride and Prejudice? It’s certainly given me an appreciation of the time in which I am living. I wouldn't enjoy the restrictions of life at that time, but then I guess I wouldn’t have known any difference. Elizabeth Bennet is an interesting character and forthright in her opinions for the time. In respect of the writing it is interesting to see how style and type of writing comes and goes in fashion. I’m not a fan of omniscient point of view, but it was generally the style of the time. I find the omniscient POV pushes you away so you’re not as emotionally invested in the characters but I enjoyed the sharp wit of Elizabeth Bennet.

I thought PD James did a good job of writing in the style of the original book and following on with the lives of the characters, but it lacked the usual twists and turns of her other books.

If you’re thinking that I didn’t do an awful look of adventuring in Port Douglas I have to admit you’re right, but as it's been a busy year I really enjoyed a few peaceful days around the town and the edges of the Daintree Rainforest. 

Next on our travels was Uluru - Ayers Rock - and I promise the next installment will be all about Aventures in Oz rather than reading :) 

07 October 2013

Spring Clearing

We've had our annual inorganic collection this week. Every year around this time the local council collects the items that are too large to go out in the usual rubbish collection. A few days before we’re notified of the collection date, and over that weekend the neighbourhood turns into a gigantic jumble sale.  Everyone puts all their junk on the grass verges and the streets are full of vans and small trucks cruising along looking at the piles of stuff. As we put things out people were already picking through it to see if there was anything they wanted or could use. The weather has been lovely, and so it was conducive to a quick chat. 

As it’s Spring all this clearing out motivated me to sort through my bookshelves and cupboards, and the local Op shops have gained out of the exercise.  In England they’re called Charity shops. Here in New Zealand the shops also raise money for various charities, but they’re known as Opportunity Shops, shortened to Op shops. I like the name, it gives a feeling of extended life for books, clothes and other items. 

All this spring clearing – notice I said clearing not cleaning - reminded me of Spring when I was a child. My mother would change the curtains to lighter weight ones and clean all the windows. Very often this also coincided with a rearrangement of the furniture and my father would come home and do a double-take as he walked into a changed living room.

As I've mentioned before it still takes some getting used to having Spring at this time of year, but the urge to tidy out things and begin new projects is still strong. 

I think my mulling over of prospective book projects is beginning to look more like procrastination. Time to get moving!