Travel Diary: Melbourne and Uluru (Part 2)

This is the second installment of my Australia New Zealand travel notes. Click on any of the images to jump to my photo gallery for this trip.

Day 10 Oct 17, 2022 Park Hyatt, Melbourne Victoria, iPhone

This morning we had breakfast at the Mantra Albury Hotel and then did a little bit of shopping. Mali had spotted a Katmandu store the previous evening while we were looking for a place to eat. We ate in a Mediterranean restaurant that was staffed by Indians. Mali picked up a shirt and hat at Katmandu while I had a flat white coffee in a nearby cafe.

After Katmandu, we checked out the Murray Art Museum of Albury (MAMA). It was a nice little museum with friendly staff. They were in the middle of changing exhibits. The exhibit change was more interesting than the art.

Modern art takes odd forms. This mostly empty MAMA museum room is a singular silly art piece.

Then we drove from Albury toward Melbourne. Along the way, we turned south on the Great Alpine Road and got as far as Bright Victoria. At Bright, Mali found a natural clothing store, and we got hoodies. Our Canadian credit cards were rejected but Mali’s US card went through. We brooded about the card refusal on the way to Melbourne.

In Melbourne, we checked in at the Park Hyatt and Mali’s card was accepted without problems. Something was probably wrong with the Bright store card reader but, just in case, we VPN’ed into our Canadian bank and Mali paid off her Canadian VISA.

Tomorrow, we walk around Melbourne. They have free trams which will help get around town.

Day 11,12 Oct 18,19 2022 Ayers Rock Resort, NT, Mac

On the 18th we spent the day touring downtown Melbourne. Melbourne has a free city core tram system. You can get on the green and yellow trams in the free zone and ride around the city without paying. It makes the entire core very accessible.

Flinders Street Station in Melbourne.

We visited, The Royal Arcade, disappointing. It’s an old shopping mall dating from the 1870s. We ate breakfast at a cafe near the end of the mall. We sat outside the cafe in the mall concourse; it was cold! Then we walked across the street to The Block. Much nicer but still a mall. I sat in a barber’s chair outside the oldest barbershop in the world. It was started in 1805. Then we rode the trolley up to Franklin Street. Mali wanted to get an invoice for our car rental. After getting the invoice we checked on The Victoria Market. A very large city market that still functions as an actual market. Many such markets around the world have degenerated into tourist traps. Mali picked up a dark brown Kangaroo leather hat for me. The hat’s big selling point: kangaroo leather is lighter than normal leather.

After the market, we rode the tram back toward the river and got off at Flinders Street, and then walked to the NGV Art Museum. I looked through the museum while Mali checked out the gift shop. Lots of school kids in their neat school uniforms were visiting the museum. Many were sketching in galleries. After NGV we checked out Melbourne’s “Freak Alley,” called Hosier Lane. It’s another alley filled with graffiti. Surprisingly Boise’s alley is much better.

After the alley, we headed across the river and stopped in at the Royal Victoria Gallery. A very imposing building filled with more art than you can see in a short visit. After this gallery, we popped across the street and sat on a park bench beside the Edward VII statue. Then we trammed back to La Trobe Street, changed trams, and visited the National Exhibition Grounds and the Melbourne Museum. We finished the day by having a steak dinner at the Meatmaiden followed by a stressful refueling of the rental car for the next day’s return. Why is it that finding gas stations in major urban centers is such a fricking pain?

National Gallery of Victoria.

Today, the 19th we left the Park Hyatt, drove to the Melbourne airport, and flew to Uluru. We got zinged for overweight carry-ons. Two of our bags had to be checked. My computer with my two backup drives was checked. On the return flight, I will transfer one USB drive to my camera bags. It doesn’t help to put all your redundant storage devices in the same place. You’re either backed up or fucked up. Care to go over the options again?

In half an hour, we will be going for an Uluru sunset and barbecue. I am taking both my Nikons.

Later: the Uluru sunset lived up to the hype. We took pictures and had champagne as the sun set but the barbecue after the sun went down exceeded my expectations. It was held right beside Uluru. After dinner, our hosts turned off all lights and had a star party. It was fabulous. We saw the Magellanic Clouds, Alpha and Beta Centauri, Jupiter, Saturn, and all of Scorpio: upside down. The Milky Way ran from horizon to horizon with the central bulge, never completely seen in the northern hemisphere, overhead. It was the best view of the galaxy I’ve ever had: just awesome!

Day 13,14 Oct 20,21 2022 Fullerton Hotel, Sydney NSW, Mac

I am sitting at a rather nice desk in room 603 of the Fullerton Hotel in downtown Sydney with a double flat white coffee beside my Mac as I write this. I will opine about Australia’s superior coffee machines someday but not now. This is a catch-up.

On Oct 20th I got up at 4:00 am to catch the “Hop On Hop Off” bus to Kata Tjuta. I wanted to see both of the famous rock formations in the national park but Mali didn’t and decided she would rather sleep in. I’m glad I got up. While waiting for the bus in the parking area of The Desert Gardens I spotted Orion almost overhead and upside down. The Orion Nebula was easily seen in my 8×42 Maven binoculars. The planet Mars was also up: very orange, very bright. Once on the bus, we drove to an observing platform about 6 km to the west of Uluru to watch the sunrise. It was every bit as spectacular as advertised. In my 8x42s the back-illuminated Uluru was awesome. The sunrise was so beautiful I gave up trying to take pictures and just watched. At one point the red-orange glow blending into deep bands of morning blue almost left me shaking.

After sunrise, I walked in Walpa Gorge. The gorge has some interesting conglomerate rock formations and the entire area reminded me of Capitol Reef and Grand Escalante in Utah. The Utah parks are more impressive than Kata Tjuta but Uluru is in a class by itself.

Kata Tjuta morning.

After the hike, I caught the bus back to the Hotel and met Mali in the hotel gardens. We had lunch and at 11:20 am took the “Hop on Hop Off” bus to Uluru. It was midday when we left the bus at the Mutitjulu Waterhole trail so I screwed on my polarizing filter. The filter brought out the red in the rocks. We saw the waterhole. It’s a catch basin, rainwater, gathered from the surface of Uluru, drains to the Mutitjulu Waterhole. The pool is one of the few spots around Uluru where standing water might be found year-round; it’s considered sacred by the Aborigines.

The Anangu people are now managing Uluru and they have marked many of their sacred sites. As you walk around Uluru, you will see little signs imploring you not to take pictures of certain areas. It’s hard to respect silly religious nonsense no matter what the religion. Aboriginal beliefs are just as ridiculous as Islamic and Christian beliefs. Belief remains a bullshit word but I mostly respected the signs regarding photographs.

We walked around the base of Uluru until we reached the car park where people once climbed the rock. Climbing is now banned. The Anangu never approved of climbing and now that they are administering the rock, they’ve banned it. I approve of the ban, not because of any sky fairy sacred rock nonsense, but simply because it cuts down on the number of yahoos. Without the ban, the parking lot would have been filled with four-wheel drive trucks loaded with noisy tourists decked out in gay Spiderman climbing suits. Instead, the lot was empty and we were the only people beside this world wonder. As I have said over and over, I prefer my national parks with fewer people.

At the car park, we cut across the plain beside Uluru to the aboriginal cultural center where we ate some ice cream and looked at very nice and very expensive aboriginal paintings. We then caught the bus back to the Ayers Rock Resort and had dinner in the Ilkuri restaurant in the Sails in the Desert Hotel. Mali complained about the food as usual. Nothing is cooked to her satisfaction. Even top-rated restaurants seldom match her cooking. It’s both a pleasure and a curse to be married to an extreme foodie.

After dinner, we were scheduled for a family astronomy tour but Mali decided to stay in our room. I went by myself. About three or four families with young children attended. The session was held about 300 meters from the resort behind a small rise so the skies were not as dark as the unexpected but stunning after-dinner star party by the rock the previous night. The Magellanic clouds were obscured by trees and resort glow but the view to the south was great. As the tour guides delivered their presentation I sat and watched the sky through my 8x42s. The Butterfly Cluster was brilliant at this latitude. Cygnus was low and inverted on the horizon. Vega, instead of being near the zenith, was close to the horizon. The session included views through a computer-driven 8-inch Celestron telescope. I mostly let the others enjoy the sights but I did peek at Jupiter mostly to compare it with what I see in my 245 mm DOB telescope. My DOB, from my backyard in Meridian Idaho, shows Jupiter better.

It was a long day when I got back to our room. Mali was still awake watching Bridesmaids on TV.

The next morning, we got up and packed for the flight to Sydney. I don’t like constantly packing and unpacking. Flying is worse because of carry-on and luggage restrictions. I have two camera bags. Two bags technically exceed the carry-on count so I tie the two bags together with shoelaces and Velcro to turn two easily carried camera bags into one shoulder-crushing bag. I have tied and untied my bags many times. It’s annoying.

Our Jetstar flight 661 from Ayers Rock Airport to Sydney was on time and because the airport was small the usual hellish modern airport experience was minimized. On take-off, the plane was hit by a strong side gust of wind that pushed it sideways just as the wheels left the ground. This freaked out Mali. She clung to me and said she wanted off and that the pilot didn’t know what he was doing. She’s been a nervous flyer ever since a bad bit of turbulence on a flight to Calgary Canada in 2006.

We made it to Sydney. The landing was pretty smooth. At the airport, we caught the train to downtown Sydney. You can board Sydney trains by simply tapping on and off with a credit card. This makes so much sense that I’m surprised it hasn’t spread to all the civilized countries. It wouldn’t work in the US but it’s hard to consider the US civilized these days.

We exited the train at Wynyard station and dragged our luggage through city streets to the hotel. When we checked the VISA charges later it was 89 Canadian cents to ride from the airport: easily the biggest bargain so far. Mali was proud of herself for insisting we take the train. Today we are boarding the cruise ship for our 12-day circumnavigation of New Zealand. I think I will enjoy being in a hotel that moves and not having to pack and unpack for a while.

The wetter-than-usual Australian spring extended into the interior of the continent. Our bus driver said that the vegetation around Uluru was about as lush as it ever gets. Lucky me, foreground vegetation contrasts nicely with the stunning reds of Uluru.

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