We got to Australia two weeks ago, and tomorrow we're going to China. How about that.
Our adventures began in the city of Melbourne, a sprawling town of some 4 million (approximately the whole of NZ) in the middle of the southern coast. Our friend Petra's uncle John met us at the airport, holding tiny liscense plates with our names on them. John is a great guy, and a generous host. We spent four days touring around Melbourne and environs with him and his partner Sue.
Inside the city we saw a variety of new and old neighborhoods, ranging from the young and upscale but not too upscale St. Kilda beach, to the terrifying Docklands, where they paved the old wharf and put up gigantic apartment towers. Melbourne is developing at an insane pace, due largely to a boom in the resources economy, as Australia digs up everything that China will buy to fuel its own insane growth. How about that. (Speaking of China, read the weblog of our friend Ian, whom we'll be seeing soon: www.ian-in-shanghai.com).
Outside of town, we took a trip to Montsalvat, an artists' colony established around the turn of the last century by a Swiss architect. The materials were salvaged from various constructions and demolitions in and around Oz (yes, short for Australia) at the time, and the feel of it is right between a medieval village and a medieval castle. My personal favorite was the make-your-own guitar workshop, where classes were in progress. Seeing the room full of raw timber that would become acoustic guitars was pretty amazing.
We also got a driving tour of the bay, including a ferry ride across the channel, and a view of the water from Arthur's Seat, a large hill/small mountain on the east side of the bay. We can not thank John and Sue enough for their wonderful hospitality!
Then Jo and I took off for even more driving, renting a car and checking out the Great Ocean Road, which stretches a few hundred kilometers west of the city. Great, Ocean, and Road pretty well describe it. We stopped at the 12 Apostles, the main tourist attraction on the Road: they are large pieces of rocky land that erosion has separated from the nearby land, standing by the shore. There are only 8 left, as erosion has overdone things a little. However, the really nice stops were the unexpected and less common ones, including a beach with beautiful rock formations that looked like sand drip castles, or petrified roots; clay cliffs with a rainbow of earthtones just below us, and a view of the sea; canoeing in the first Aborignal-owned nature preserve in Victoria, where we saw pelicans, ibises (ibes?), egrets, herons, shags, and more.
Back in Melbourne, we stayed with a guy named Steve, who we found through Hospitality Club (dot org). Our respective schedules meant that we barely got to see Steve, but he lived on a tram line convenient to the Chinese embassy, where we blew a fair amount of time getting our visas, and to the East Brunswick Club, where we got to take in a concert by Love Is All, one of our favorite Swedish bands (definitely see them if you haven't -- so rad!), and Cut Off Your Hands, a pretty solid group from Auckland, NZ (the live show is better than the cd, should you get to hear it). That was a long sentence. Sorry. From what little we did see of Steve, we can confidently report that he is a really nice, cool guy, and we wish we'd seen more of him. Thanks, Steve.
While staying at Steve's, we did some basic city wandering, museums, the botanic garden, the war shrine. It went by pretty quickly, and we got up wicked early (again) for a flight to Alice Springs, a town of 27,000 located right in the middle of the desert. Here we are staying with Ian and Trish, the couple who hosted Joanna in Atherton (in northeastern AU) while she was studying abroad here in college. They moved to Alice a year ago, and so here we are, where it is always over 90 deg F, and often over 100. But it's a dry heat.
We spent the first few days driving over unsealed roads through the desert in their 4x4, stopping at beautiful gorges and waterholes, as well as the former Lutheran Mission of Hermannsburg, now home to an excellent Aboriginal art collection. The proprietor gave us a great talk on what it all meant. You should really look into this stuff.
Then, as in Melbourne, we rented a car for a long trip. This time the destintations were Uluru (Ayer's Rock), Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), and Watarrka (King's Canyon), three of the best things the desert has to offer. Uluru is an astoungingly huge red rock sitting all by itself in the middle of nowhere. It has a lot of significance in Aborignal culture -- disrespectful tourists climb it; respectful tourists walk around it, which we did as the sun was setting. We also got up quite early to come see the sun rise, which was a lovely event, though saturated with other tourists.
Kata Tjuta is a series of smaller rocks domes that we hiked in between (also no climbing!), and Watarrka is a great (smallish) canyon where we did the rim hike. The great surprise there, besides the gorgeousness of it, was the side hike to the Garden of Eden, a swimming hole where we hopped in, and then dried on a sunny rock. The whole area is like but unlike the US South-West.
One noteworthy stop on the way was Stuart's Well, a "town" consisting just of camping and tourism stuff, where we caught a free performance of Dinky the Dingo. Dinky is a wonderful dog that, when someone plays the piano, hops up on the keyboard and "sings" and "plays". Though not exactly "musical" the performance, with Jo on the piano, was "awesome" and "hilarious". Dinky has raised over $11,000 for the Royal Flying Doctors. We took a video.
Now back in Alice, we are relaxing, organizing, and packing for the trip to China. We can not thank Ian and Trish enough for their wonderful hospitality, too! Tonight we're going to see some Aussie rules football in town, and that will be that.