Sydney

Those are bats hanging on the tree

When one mentions Australia there are two things that come to mind, especially after the Olympics of 2000, Sydney and beaches.  Well it is all for a good reason.  If there is one place that you can visit in Australia it has to be the state of New South Wales.  I wondered why it is called New South Wales as there is no other Wales than the Wales we know in the UK, would it not be simpler just to call it New Wales?  Well, name issues aside NSW is the most populous state and it has a bit of everything that we associate with Australia.  A trivial fact is that New Zealand was briefly part of NWS in the mid 19th century.  Sydney is the biggest city in Australia and its trademark is the Sydney Harbor but besides the city which has a lot to offer there are beaches in and around Sydney and within a couple hours drive you can reach the outback, see the Blue Mountains and drive north on the Pacific Highway to Hunter Valley, the oldest winemaking region of Australia. We flew to Sydney from

The CBD from the Botanical Gardens

Melbourne on the 12th of March, the flight was uneventful until we reached the city where we flew over the city and had grant views of the city and the harbor with the dominating Harbor Bridge, locally known as the “Coat hanger”, the Quays and the Sydney Opera.  What a view!  It was and will be one of the greatest approaches that we have ever experienced.  The city looks big and I remember reading somewhere that the area of Sydney is about 7 times bigger than Paris!  So you get the idea, there were a lot of expectations and Sydney did them all justice.

You need time to explore Sydney and we only had a week.  We used as much of that as we could.  On the first day we went downtown and started our walking tour at Martin Place, this is where Channel 7 has their main offices and if you are there at the right time you can see some of their morning shows being aired live, similar to

Another view of the CBD

the morning news show is New York.  We walked through the Domain and the Botanical Gardens. While the Botanical Gardens are not as spectacular as the ones we saw in Singapore, they are still very very good.  The city skyline in the background and the general setting, the lush green and the many birds make this a wonderful place to picnic, jog, stroll or even just sit on the grass and enjoy the warm sun.  From the distance you can see the roof of Opera House and once you hit the water the views are just amazing.  Behind us on the left was the skyline of Sydney, while not as big as New York or Chicago it is very nice and with the Gardens in the foreground and the water it is just amazing!  Now to the main attraction, the Sydney Opera house and the Sydney Harbor Bridge, there is no much one can say.  It is stunning, it is a view that is just breathtaking.  I

Voila!

have seen it so many times on TV or pictures but nothing can do it justice, you just have to be there.  It was a sunny and very warm day but Ben was enjoying the outdoors, he loves being outside – I know we did not give him much choice but still.  We just stood there and took in the scenery, while all around us there were tourists and locals alike strolling through the park or just having a picnic.  The warm wind and the sound of the water just enhancing the whole experience.  We took many pictures as you can see and wondered loudly why it took us so long to get here to see this.  We walked towards the Opera House.  The Opera House is not really as nice when you are close up, this is a building that you have to take in and admire from a distance.  When you are walking along it you do not see much and what you see seems a bit outdated, a bit old… …the brown glass does not help the appearance either as it looks like the windows have not been cleaned in a while.  From what I hear it is not the best of theaters and the indoors is rather mundane.

Ben abusing his mother!

The Sydney Harbor is actually part of Port Jackson.  Port Jackson is the natural harbor and it is location of the first European settlement in Australia.  The first European to discover Port Jackson was Lt. James Cook in 1770 and it was named after the Judge Advocate of the British Fleet.  Although, Cook’s first landing with the HMS Endeavour was on 29 April 1770 (230 year in about a month!) in Botany Bay, slightly south of Port Jackson.  The sight is marked within the Botany Bay National Park near Kurnell.  In 1788 Governor Arthur Phillip returned and established the first British colony, later to become the city of Sydney.

As we passed the Opera House we sat in awe of the Harbor Bridge, sure I have seen bigger, longer bridges before but the setting and the form are a sight to behold.  It is the world’s tallest and probably widest steel arch bridge.  There are two pairs of pylons on each side and one can actually go up one of them on the south side of the bridge.  For the adventurous, there is also a climb the bridge for exciting views.  As I am afraid of heights that was not really an option.  We stopped and enjoyed another excellent flat white (my new favorite brew down under) while taking in the scenery and observing the colorful masses going about their business all around us.  It is a very busy place.  We then

Oh... he's so much fun!

continued our walk through the SydneyWriter’s Walk, that honors Australians and foreign writers.  The plaques start somewhere near the Opera House and go all the way around through Circular Quay (pronounced key for some reason) to the International Passenger Terminal west of the Quay.  It provides  an overview and interesting quotes.  The Quay is a bustling ferry, bus and train terminals where commuters and

The Family

tourists mix.  It is around this spot that we see the famous New Year’s Celebration.  We walked west around the International Passenger Terminal and into the Rocks, an inner-city suburb that today has established itself as a chic area full of bars, restaurants and an interesting market on the weekends.  This area though had a rowdy, it was an area filled with prostitutes and shady taverns that sailors frequented.  The buildings were about to be demolished for redevelopment, thankfully though it was saved.  Its close proximity to the Sydney Harbor and its slightly elevated position make it very popular with the tourists.  We got some food and walked through the weekend market, so many people, so many sights, so much to do.  We decided to call it quits for the day and head on home, we had just spend a good five hours mostly walking to one of the prettiest urban places on earth.
So long…..

Ben is greeting the world!

The Harbor Bridge

...the view from the east side

Breathtaking!

An artistic approach!

Great Ocean Road – Part 2

As far as coffee places is concerned, I stand corrected, I actually have seen a Starbucks it was empty and it is the first one after driving for about 8000km since we got here in the beginning of February and that is fine by me. The drive on the Great Ocean Road was planned from the beginning and it was among the Top 10 things to do in Australia.  Unfortunately, the way things turned out with the weather and all we cut it short by only taking a day to enjoy the drive.  So we decided to take the Princess Highway west and then turn south when we reached Terang and reach Port Campbell, which is at the west end of the Road.  This was necessary as the Road itself is quite narrow with many curves and although the whole length is about 250km it takes more than 4 hours to drive it all.  So we took a shortcut, on the highway to Terang we could drive fast (for Aussie standards) and reach Port Campbell in about 2 1/2 hours.  Again, we drove through some very nice towns, towns like

A candid moment...

Colac, like Camperdown.  The highways in Australia dissect many towns, actually the highway usually forms the main street, so it does make an interesting drive.  Most of these towns are like very much like towns in the US, in the 50s or 60s.  There is a main street where cars park at an angle, there are the occasional McDonalds, KFC or Subway but these sleepy towns are mostly left in peace.  There many shops and combo shops that cater to the needs of the local community.  This is a stark contrast to my personal experience back home or back in the US where, for whatever reason, people tend to shop in national or international chains, where the shops look the same no matter if they are in New York or in Dusseldorf. As soon as we reached Port Campbell we stopped at the Grotto, basically a sink hole with an awesome view.  We got our first taste of what the Great Ocean Road is all about.  It is full of magnificent views, awesome landscape, waves, wind, a dramatic sky and the great wide open ocean, green hills, nice little sea-side towns and National Parks.  It is probably one of the finest roads that I have ever driven on.  We stopped at a few of the look out points and the pinnacle of our trip was the 12 Apostles.  The formations that have been shaped by the unrelenting waves and wind that have hit the limestone formations for millions of years.  South from of here there is nothing but Antarctica, about 5000km.  The waters are

The London Arch -it used to be a bridge 🙂

cold and the beaches of Victoria although spectacular and great for surfing are not great for swimming, the same actually goes for most beaches around Australia.  I still believe that the best beaches can be found around the Mediterranean.  We then stopped at the London Arch (formerly London Bridge) and then at the 12 Apostles.  At the 12 Apostles there were hundreds of tourist, not sure where all these people came from, as most of the other spots along the route were not nearly as crowded.  I dislike these huge crowds, all these package (or as I like to call them packaged) tourists that go on a well beaten path laid by thousands before them dictated by special interests that do not allow for any interesting side trips and to me is he most boring form of tourism.  Anyway, we had to weave our way through the masses, it was always a hassle to get the pictures we wanted.  There was the constant roar of helicopters and planes flying overhead, carrying tourists.  You cannot convey that in the pictures, the pictures look great but the masses and the noise did distract from the beauty, the

Awesome!

awesomeness of the formations and the sounds of the ocean. So while it is the most popular spot we enjoyed the other spots more as you could just sit there and marvel in peace and quiet.  The Road also took us inland through rolling hills with spectacular views, we drove through the Great Otway National Park.  This park, while relatively unknown, contains ancient rainforests, tall wet forests, waterfalls and a rugged coastline.  It is also here that we saw the only Koalas that we have seen on all our travels.  We had to pick up our pace but we were also hungry so we stopped at Apollo Bay, a nice little town that is much quieter than Lorne.  It sits at the edge of the Great Otway N.P. and it has a nice little beach.  Of course we went for fish and chips, which this years celebrates its 150th birthday.  I am not sure if we are attracted or somehow it is coded in our DNA but we walk into one of the places and it was owned by Greeks.  Throughout our travels we have met so many Greeks, it was

Beth at the Apostles

really nice as we are Greeks from Greece and not Greeks from Melbourne, that automatically elevates us to a special status and we do occasionally enjoy better prices but always excellent hospitality.  We had to try their own homemade Greek deserts and had kataifi, gianiotiko, etc. while looking out at the sea. Ben as always did put up a show and he was adored by everyone.  This stop lasted longer than we had anticipated and hence had to get going as everyone was getting tired and still had a long way to go.  So we left the Great Ocean Road at Apollo Bay and headed north the way we came.

It was and probably will be for a long time the best and most scenic route we have done.  There is something for everyone and the combination of water, rugged coastline and very nice vegetation is a eyesight to behold.  We will have to return and take more time to explore and hike along the coast, maybe when Ben is at an age where we would not have to carry him.

So long….

Some of the Apostles

Another wonderful beach

A place I'd like to live....

I love the guy!

The travelling family!

Another view of the Apostles

The youngest driver

Beth and the uncle!

The Great Ocean Road and coffee!

Ben enjoying a short hike on The Road

This will be a short post as we are at the airport right now and we will board our flight to Sydney shortly.  So I will start with the important things first, got to keep our priorities straight.  Coffee!  I have yet to taste bad coffee here in Australia and there are coffee houses everywhere.  They are so crazy and proud of their coffee here that Starbucks, that coffee imperialist from Seattle was kicked out or never set foot here.  I do not know which but it does not really matter, they do not seem to have made to shore yet.  I had to learn what to order, there are different kinds to order, long black, flat white, etc. exciting stuff.  It is wonderful just to be able to have a great mug of coffee at a nice side street coffee place and to just observe the people go by about their business.  It is a great combination of good weather, a lively city, “no worries” people and excellent coffee.  How many times did I say coffee in this one paragraph?

Melbourne’s weather has been quite awful for the past week so we had to be careful when to do what.  So we kept delaying our trip to the Great Ocean Road but yesterday was to be the day as our days in Melbourne are counted.  Kyriakos, Beth’s uncle accompanied us during the trip, keeping with our traditions we keep showing Aussies their country :).  We drove south west to Geelong and from there we took the Princess Highway west, they do choose fancy names for their roads all the way to Terang and drove south to Port Campbell.  Port Campbell is almost at the start of the Road when you approach Melbourne from the west.  We did stop and see most of

My BBs near the London Bridge

the major lookout points along the route but had to skip the last part of it as we were running out of time and had to get back.  It take at least a couple days to really enjoy the Road, better if you take three or four days and do some of the hikes. It is very pretty country, the landscape was probably among the best we have seen here in Australia.

I will write another post about our impressions of the road as I know have to get on the plane I have to cut this short.

So long…

Kyriakos, Beth's uncle.

The London Bridge in the background

Amazing Landscape!

Beth and the Apostles

Melbourne

Flinders Station

Well, we have been here in Melbourne for the past few days and it is definitely a different Australia to the Australia that we have seen up to now.  Our first impression of Melbourne is that it is a metropolis.  It has a nice skyline with sky scrapers, office buildings and a victorian era train station.  It is especially impressive at night with all the lights.  Melbourne in its look outside the CBD is distinctly English.  The buildings, the houses, the shops, if I had to guess I would have thought I was in a suburb in London.  The constant rain that we had in the past few weeks may actually just helped a bit as well.

The life on the streets is a totally different matter.  It is colorful, very ethic and chic at the same time.  The streets are lined with boutiques, street side cafes, restaurants, hotels, etc.  There are so many

Flinders Station

different neighborhoods and they tend to be distinctly different.  You may have heard of St. Kilda or S. Yarra, the shopping strip of Chapel Street.  It is rumored that Melbourne has the most cafes per capita in the world and I can believe that.  What makes this even more fun to enjoy is that there seems to be a leisurely atmosphere, sure people hurry and rush but somehow it feels very different to a city like Dusseldorf or London.  Maybe it is the Aussie no worries attitude, maybe time on this side of the world passes slower.  Whatever it is, it is wonderful and it is one of the things we have really enjoyed.

Melbourne is also the sports capital in Australia.  In a few weeks they will host F1 here, there is Tennis and other sports but it is mainly Australian Rules Football that makes them crazy.  I hope to be able to go see a match.  Cricket is of course very popular and very difficult to understand.  Cricket is so popular in so many places but I do not understand one thing about it, it has not gotten better after watching an hour on TV.

Federation Square

One thing that Melbourne is for sure is very Greek.  Melbourne is supposed to be the third biggest Greek city after Athens and Thessaloniki and after a week here I can attest to that.  Wherever we have gone we have heard or seen Greeks.  In Oakleigh, a suburb, there are streets that are purely Greek, hairdressers, library, cafes, restaurants, butchers, pharmacies, etc.  It was crazy, I have seen Astoria in New York and it is very much like that.  There hasn’t been a day that we did not hear strangers talk Greek.  We have impressed a few with the fact that are Greeks from Greece (or Germany close enough:).  These people love their country like nothing else.  They long for the day that they will visit or go back to Greece.

Another thing that we have noticed about Melbourne is that it rains… let me repeat that it rains…. sorry if I have

My BBs!

to repeat that because it is important as you will see in the video below.  It rains… …a lot.  It is much greener than anything we have seen until now but that was to be expected.  The amount of rain though is surprising.  We have not had a dry day yet.  The first outing in the city we walked around Flinders St. in the center of the city and took wonderful pictures of the skyline.  We walked around and wanted to visit the aquarium to end the day before heading back home.  The visit started quite well, we wend through the first section up the escalators and there out of the window we saw hail coming down the size of golf balls!  People got really excited, they do not see much snow or ice here…  So people started taking picture of the hail, themselves standing on hail and other peculiar shots.  Then came the rain.  The aquarium is situated on the bank of the river the other side is say about 30 meters away from where we were standing, right in the middle of the river there was a tourist boat, well we could not see  that boat.  The rain was so thick and dense that the boat disappeared in front of our eyes, sure it was there but we could not see anymore.  Then all hell broke

My BBs again!

loose rain started pouring in the building, the power went out, the alarms went off!  This all happened in minutes but I had realized that there would be problems as the roof started leaking and water was everywhere.  The problem is that the way through the museum is one way, you follow a specific route and come out on the other side.  People started rushing towards that side, I looked back at the escalator we had just come up onto and decided, although it was flooded to get back down and out that way.  It was a quick decision, Beth grabbed Ben and I folded the stroller and quickly made our way out.  It was an exciting five minutes but outside on the street the situation was worse.  You can see the video and judge yourself.  There were many things that I found odd but the one that topped it off is that after the fire brigade came stopped and then moved on, a police car came.  They were driving along the tram lines and the one cop in the back rolled his window down and started taking pictures!  I guess we were an attraction, a bunch of people stranded on one side of the street surrounded by a mini flood.  Beth was worried I just could stop laughing!  We went down to meet friends

Melbourne Skyline

and have dinner the following day and we got soaked wet on our way to the car park.  I was told that Australia is a very dry continent, second only to Antarctica, I guess 2010 is an exception.  It is good though for the locals, as there risk of fire is significantly lower than it was last year and the water reservoirs are also filling up, although Perth from what I hear had an exceptionally dry summer.

So we have to go back to the aquarium, we have ended up doing little things in Melbourne as the weather has turned surprisingly cooler and as I mentioned it rains.  We did go down to Portsea and Sorrento and drove back up the coast on the Mornington Peninsula, it is beautiful country out there.  There are parts of the road where you think that you are going to drive right into the sea and there are look out spots that show some nice cliffs and wide beaches.  Of course we had rain but not as bad as the one in Melbourne.  It is a funny thing again with the Greeks, I was looking for a fish

Another view of the Melbourne skyline

and chips place and found one in the seaside town of Rye.  We walked in and it was Greek owned, same as the coffee place a few doors down that we stopped for coffee and the same goes for the pharmacist another few doors down.  It is incredible, although there are many around here that are third or fourth generation but they do speak the Greek language and keep many traditions alive.  I have had the best Greek food ever here in Melbourne.  There is a restaurant called the Hellenic Republic owned by the Cypiot-Australian celebrity chef George Calombaris, it is awesome.  My description of the Hellenic Republic is simple, authentic, tasty and with attention to detail and a great service, awesome in a nutshell.

We have taken a few frequent drives down town especially in the evening and at night and the city seems to be

Ben and me, the Aquarium is in the background.

alive at most hours of the day, it is clean and it feels very safe.  People I have talked to seem to all be very proud of this city and most people I had talked to in Adelaide seemed to prefer Melbourne over Sydney.  We are going to Sydney on Friday for a week, I will let you know what I think when we are back here.  Melbourne’s population is projected to grow to 5 million in the next 15 years and you can feel the change.  A lot of new places have gone up just the past few years, the Docklands is a good example.  The city seems to have come out of the crisis relatively unscathed and the real estate market seems to be healthy as ever, sure it went flat for a bit but in a city that is projected to grow so much it is certain that things are looking up in most regards.

The one thing I really love about Melbourne is all the little shopping streets with its specialty shops, second hand bookstores, coffe places, etc. They make the city more interesting, more exciting.  It is not sterile and boring as it is in most towns in back in Ben and dad having fun!

Ben and Beth at Portsea

Germany, where the shopping streets are confined in a few distinct centers scattered around in a city.  It is also not as in the US with all the nation-wide brands of stores.  Of course you can find McDonalds, Borders Bookstores and Athlete’s Foot (the most terrible name for a shoe store ever!) but they are a few among so many other small privately owned store.  Then you have the tram that drives through most main streets in Melbourne and its suburbs, which adds so much to the character of these streets.  It reminds me of Germany of 20+ years ago, when times different and this madness of unifying everything to a few brands that make life more monochrome than we like was not as prevalent as it is today.

We are hoping for good weather on Thursday as we want to drive down the Great Ocean Road, on Friday we are leaving for a week to Sydney. Ben is doing great, he now has three teeth with a fourth one on the way.  He seems to enjoy meeting people at least as much as we do.  In the next few weeks there will be a lot of flying, I sure hope that he won’t mind them.

So long…

Our car was in there!

Ben and me on the beach at Rye

...and a family pic!

A beach on our drive

The place we are staying, it is called Marysville

My BBs again... ...more to come 🙂

The road to Melbourne

Our last night in Adelaide

Well after a month in South Australia it was time to move on.  After all there are 6 states in total and two territories (NT and ACT), which in effect do function as States though.  We had to swap our hired car as the inspection light came on, so after sweet talking Bill the Greek in the Europcar station in center city Adelaide we got us a nice Skoda Octavia that fit us perfectly for the 800km trip to Melbourne.

Our trip to Melbourne was via the Western Highway, which is the shortest route.  It is still a long route that passes through a number of towns but it is a route that besides some pretty spots is very boring.  The only stops we made besides Murray Bridge 80km east of Adelaide to marvel at the mighty Murray river, was stops for gas, coffee and nappy changes.  The good thing this time around was that there were significantly less flies compared to

Ben checking out the naughty Hindley st. in Adelaide. The world's dirtiest McDonalds is on this street!

our trip up north.  Interesting along the route are the Grampians National Park and the Little Desert National Park as well as the city of Ballarat.  The city of Ballarat is known for spawning the victorian gold rush in the 1850s.  It is quite a large city, it is probably the largest inland city in Australia.  Unfortunately, we did not have time to stop as Beth and Ben were getting impatient to get going.

What is it about Australia, its highways and its bad drivers?  I mean Aussies are as nice and polite as they come but behind a steering wheel they become obnoxious and reckless.  It is weird because I expected it to be different, the driver’s have no notion of decency on the road.  On the other side you have these narrow two lane highways that make them perfect for horrific accidents.  Road trains do not help either, it is very hard to overtake them

Eleni, Beth and the kids

and when you do you have to actually speed up significantly, something that the Australian police does not seem to really agree with.  Speed limits are quite low and frustrating as it takes forever going 100km/h in Victoria (110km/h in S. Australia).  The distances are so great and there is so much space I wonder why it has to be this way.

Another thing that surprised me is that 40-50km outside Melbourne from the west side there is nothing.  I expected suburbs that stretch the horizon but the cities are much more compact, there have been recent developments but there are not that many commuters that actually have to drive 40-50km in Australia.  We arrived as night set in over Melbourne and the skyline was amazing, a stark contrast to the very (in comparison)

Ben is growing fast!

provincial town of Adelaide.  Adelaide is quick and easy, it has over a million inhabitants but it feels like much less, it is very spacious.  In comparison when we were approaching Melbourne I thought New York and Chicago, it is not quite that big but it has a few skyscrapers and compared to where we just came from it might as well have been.  We also found ourselves to a modern multi-lane highway that also came as a surprise and not long after we came to our first mini traffic jam over the West Gate Bridge.  It was a combination of a road works and a guy who wanted to jump off the bridge, let them jump I say.  It is a weird spectacle as a drama like that unfolds a mere 10 meters away while you are in your own little world looking through a window and hearing no sound.  I do not know what happened but then I could not just stop and watch.  We finally made it to Hawthorn, a suburb of Melbourne

My BBs, taken in Murray Bridge

about 7km from the CBD and according to Wikipedia a very expensive one.  It has a population of about 20,000 people and it is very close to the city.  We will be based here for the rest of our stay in Australia.  We will explore Melbourne its surroundings, Sydney, Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef in the next few weeks.

So long….

Kyriakos, Beth's uncle and our host in Melbourne feeding the little man.

He enjoys water so much!

Our friends in Adelaide

The Red Center

Uluru from the Park HQ

Well, it has been a month since we arrived in Australia and about half our time here has passed.  It has been a wonderful month… an awesome month.

One thing that you realize once you are on the same road for over 600km and seen road signs advertising rest areas 500km ahead, a road where you can see a car approaching from the opposite direction more than 50k away or the horizon which is so far away is that this country is very, very big.  There were times when we did not see a car for an hour!  It does make you feel lonely and it makes you wonder what will happen if the car breaks down or there is another emergency.  The distances between inhabited places are between 90k-250k!  Imagine that is like going from Philadelphia to Washington DC or from Dusseldorf to Frankfurt and not see a town, a sealed road or any structure that resembles civilization.  Sure you may see the occasional car on the road and you wave at them, you really do.  It is maybe because we are the only humans for many kilometers around or because it breaks

The way up The Rock

the monotonous drive or may just be that Aussies are just very friendly to each other, who knows but you do it nonetheless.  There are many ways to greet drivers I found the one where you lift the index finger to be the most popular although the “V” sign is a close second.

On the day that we arrived in Australia we flew straight through the center of Australia.  As the sun was coming up I gazed down and all I could see is reddish brown earth with some white spots -I later found out that those are dry lakes.  There was nothing else as far as the eye could reach from 30 thousnad feet up.  I have travelled the Route 66 and the American West and I do not remember it to be that remote; the only place that resembles this experience was a couple years ago in a country that is far bigger than Australia, when we drove from Perm to Solikamsk in Russia albeit on horrific roads.  Then when you are about to reach one of these stops, even Coober Pedy, if you blink you will miss them, they go by so fast.  Coober Pedy is a town of about 2500 people but when you

Standing in the shade of the Rock

approach it it only has two exits, very close to each other.  The town spreads to the right (east) of the highway (when driving north) and not along the highway.  The cellular reception is also very localized, a few kilometers out of town and there is no reception at all.  A town like Marla with 50 people goes by even faster.

One thing that I though to take with me is our iPods and that has helped with the entertainment in the car.  I always wondered when I will listen through 36 days worth of music, well this trip has certainly helped to get through a good chunk of that.  There is something eerie about turning the radion on and not being able to get any station.
Along the road there are some peculiarities that most people are not used too, even many Australians.  First and foremost are the road trains, these are trucks that can be up to about 60 meters long!  Passing one of them takes a while, although the risk is negated by the fact that most of the highway has great visibility although not always to the left or right where wild life lurks to make the drive interesting to say the least.  The road is so monotonous that you slowly drift with your thoughts in different places and that is where it

Doing the base walk, 10.6km in 40C and with a stroller!

becomes very dangerous.  All along the highway there are skid marks, farther evidence to the dangers of the highway are the wrecks on both sides of the highway.  People just plainly fall asleep on the wheel or drink and drive.  The only kangaroos that we saw were splattered on both sides of the pavement,

The reason for the stupid nets!

along with other wildlife like lizards, birds, etc.  On the way to Uluru, we actually did hit a bird (πιάσαμε πουλιά στον αέρα! sorry it cannot be translated in English) and it must have escaped unscathed and there were no scratches on the hired car.

On the way to Uluru we stopped in Woomera, a must see for military buffs and surprise, surprise in the visitors center that doubles also as a museum, a coffee place, a restaurant, a bank and a gift shop we came across two German military officers.  Ben flashed his charming smile to them and when we talked to them in German they pretended not to be there, I guess there are some secretive stuff happening around this place or they were just fed up with Germans, it is unbelievable how many we met on our trip to the Red Center.   The town seemed deserted, up to the mid 80’s this town was off limits and it somehow feels that it has been forgotten, to rust away like the exhibits of its glorious past in the center of the town.
Farther north we stopped overnight at Cooper Pedy.  We stayed at the Stuart Caravan Park, which is owned by friends of Beth’s grandparents from Greece.

Another view of The Rock

This town had many more Greeks in the past, well over 1000 at some point.  Their dwindling numbers are now down to less than 400.  Nevertheless, as we were shopping in the general store, I came upon a face that looked Greek and so I tried my luck.  It turned out that it was Jimmy from Greece, a miner for over 40 years that emigrated to Australia as a kid with his parents.  In Greek fashion we were also immediately invited to his home for dinner with friends, it would have been interesting to meet these people and hear about their lives in this town that looked so out of place in the middle of the Outback.  Ben had to be showered, fed and then put to sleep so we had to refuse Jimmy’s offer.  At the caravan park we rented rooms (with linen!?!), as many of you know I love meeting people so I started to chat with the guy that pulled with his Land Cruiser next to our puny Jetta.  Turns out Rodney was on his way back to his farm of 5000 sq miles, yup that is about as big as the state of Connecticut.  As soon as his wife and son disappeared in their room he opened the back lid and a there from a huge cooler he pulled out a couple cans of beer and offered me one.  Beth got mad at me for forgetting that we had to get Ben and other things ready but I love these chance encounters.  It turns out

Feeding time!

Rodney is a real cowboy, that was educated with School of the Air, and has spend most of his life in the outdoors.  He was also very helpful by giving us the a fly net for Ben’s stroller, he just handed it to me although I had offered to pay for it.  Without it we would not be able to make the base walk in Uluru.

Around Coober Pedy we saw the Dingo Fence, which is the longest fence on earth and it goes a long way (literally….) to show the love Aussies have with fences.  I am amazed that people live in fenced properties down here.  I am not talking about a fence that somehow is pleasant to the eye, fitting to the environment or whatever, I am talking about fences that are up 2m in height and look as they were originally part of the Folsom prison.  I remember looking at some friend’s places on Google Earth and when I saw the fence on street view I was sure we had the wrong address, it looked more like an industrial zone but it actually is that way.  I am not sure what they have to hide or if it gives them a false sense of security but what it actually does is keep any neighborhood

It's an easy flat walk around the base

contact to an absolute minimum and for ugly housing.  We wanted to head of to the Breakaway Ranges but the road did not seem to be in good condition due to the heavy rainfalls of the past few days.  We then came across a jeep with four Germans that were actually had decided to head back due to the bad condition of the road.  They told us of other 4WD that were bogged down out there.  This chance encounter was interesting for two reasons, one that we again came across Germans, the Outback is full of them and German is enough to actually get by out there.  The other one is that this group has been on a world trip for the past six years by boat.  They always travel on land to wait out the hurricane/typhoon/etc season.  In the Outback we also met a Spanish traveller who is circling the world in his jeep, his wife joins him on parts of the trip as she has to work in Barcelona.  The guy has been on the road for well over two years.  We met many people and that has been a big part of this trip, it has enriched it and made it more interesting.    In Coober Pedy we saw the underground Serbian church and of course we visited a mine, an underground home and the underground hotel.  The town has been used as a filming location for many movies and we saw props

The Valley of the winds, The Olgas

left behind from the movie “Pitch Black”.  Here I would also like to mention the Stuart Caravan Park,  it is where we stayed for three nights in total and the hospitality was great, what would one expect, it is owned by Mr. Yianni and his family.  They also make a great Pizza.

After 1600 km we finally reached our destination.  We drove 1600 km for a rock.  This is about the distance from Philadelphia to St. Louis or from Wuppertal to Barcelona and the destination is a huge rock surrounded by lots of dry red earth.  The earth in the outback is so red, it is actually more the color of rust as it actually is rusted (oxidized) iron.  The rock which is called Uluru but to most it still know as Ayer’s Rock sits there like a giant turtle, recognizable from miles away it is a fantastic and formidable sandstone formation.  I cannot really describe the awe one feels when we first laid our eyes upon this quintessential Australian icon.  Supposedly this rock is all that is left from a mountain range.  We did the base walk which about 10.5 km in about 40C, we were exhausted after we finished and I believe that we had a mild sun stroke on that day despite the hats and the water that we made sure we drunk.  Oh, yes baby Ben was with us all the way.  He complained towards the end as he got bored and very hot but by that time he had learned

The Olgas

to drink lots of water and we made sure that he did not dehydrate.  Everyone knows about Uluru but not many people know that in the same park, not far away there is another wonderful rock formation.  A rock formation that supposedly many years ago was similar in shape to Uluru, only 6 times bigger.  This rock formation is called Kata-Tjuta or as it used to be called the Olgas, named after its tallest peak Mt. Olga.  Mt. Olga was named after Queen Olga of Würrtemberg, Germany (Olga Nikolaevna of Russia, daughter of Nikolas I of Russia).  This group of domed shaped formations is more interesting to explore as there are gorges and valleys that you can hike into.  Of course we did not miss the opportunity and we did hike part of the Valley of the Winds.  With Ben carried by Beth on her back it was dangerous to do the whole hike.  What we saw though was a wonderful and unique landscape that took our breath away.  Ben slept most of the way and there is something to be said about a baby sleeping like that on his mum’s back.  We enjoyed it immensely and love to take him around to see as much as possible even if he will not consciously remember much.  The winds were quite strong and it was a cooler day to hike, the wind sounded like whispers, and weird sounds emanated from

Sunset at Uluru!

the wind whipping the rocks.  I am not sure why the Olgas are not well known, maybe it is because the sunrises and sunsets are not as awe inspiring as in Uluru or maybe it is just lack of marketing.

The Serbian Orthodox Underground church

One thing that we really missed though, the national park is a world heritage site for it, is the cultural aspect.  We did see some aborigines driving by and one lady in the park HQ but there was nothing that else.  There was no chance to get close to their villages and see how they live or learn about their history, their culture.  In that sense the trip to Uluru left some weird after taste.  This land is new for us but it is very old for the aborigines who have lived here for thousands of years.  They know how to live here with the bare minimum.  Most aborigines that we saw where in Coober Pedy and it was not a pretty sight.  They were drunks, bums that seem not to care about themselves or anybody else.  It is a stark difference to what I experienced in the American West, where there is much more to see and do in the Indian lands and the India reservations.

We stayed in Yulara, which is a town just outside the park.  This town is actually a resort and nothing else.  There are many types of accommodation and a town center with a supermarket, restaurants, souvenir shops, a bank and a post office.  Everything is overpriced, which I kind of understand but then there was that thing with the service and the quality of the food.  I understand that it takes extra cost to haul tomatoes and minced meat from Alice Springs or wherever to the middle of nowhere,  one should expect a better level of service though.  The resort

Another day in the Outback!

employs about 1000 people on site during low season, which in Australia is during their summer.  This country is so different and hot that the winter is the high season!  There are 2000 people on site during high season all to service about 800 rooms, and a caravan park.  If you really think about it is a bit crazy but the resort at least does a good job in being as eco friendly as possible and by blending well in its surroundings.  Interesting was the mix of the staff, most where not from Australia.

The trip took us about 7 days, we crossed half a continent, that also means half a country to see a rock.  But as always with any trip it is not only the destination but the experiences that you gain while you travel there.  That was one of the main reasons that we did not want to just fly there.  It was mainly me that wanted to see and experience The Bush.  I wanted to have a beer in bar together with many other locals and travellers, a bar that in a town of 30 people.  A town where every road in every direction is dirt road and the next stop is a few hundred kilometers.  You got to see that, feel it and converse with the people.  It is the only way to

The Dingo fence

understand, at least a little bit.  Flying to Uluru from Melbourne or Adelaide and then back is half the experience.  It is an experience that will remain with us for a long time to come.  With Ben this trip has also some special significance as we literally spend every hour of every day together by forming our own little world for him.  We were not sure how he will take it but looking back at the experience and the pictures are proof he had a heck of a time.  He has become a world traveller before he turned 10 months.  His smile in the morning was priceless and despite the fact that we could not always make it comfortable for him he never complained, he took it at a stride and we can only learn from that.

We have spend a month in Adelaide and South Australia, we have seen so many people and so many places.  It is now time to move on as we have to see so many more places.  We are now moving into the second phase of our trip, in this second phase we will travel even greater distances but this time most of it will be by plane.  We are going to move to Melbourne by car and we will base ourselves there.
So long….

Can you see his teeth?

6000 plus km in that capsule!

Overlooking Coober Pedy

Ben in our motel room in Coober Pedy

Props left behind from Pitch Black

The Olgas...

...and Uluru!

Stuart Highway

Distances to some destinations

My BBs!

Well, on the 22nd of Feb we were all ready to go.  We woke up early, too early for Beth but exactly right when you consider that midday on our road the temperatures could reach 40C plus easily.  If you have a map go take it out and trace your finger along the route that we have taken.  Find Australia and then go all the way down about halfway between Melbourne and Perth.  There you will find Adelaide, from Adelaide, we will follow the Stuart Highway north.

Stuart Highway was named after John McDouall Stuart, who was the first European to cross Australia from south to north.  Oodnadatta, Stuart’s original route is a track that actually followed a traditional aboriginal route.  The modern highway is in parts laid on this track, although there are specific parts of the the Oodnadatta track that run parallel to the modern highway and are popular with the more adventurous drivers.  It is also along this route that the original Ghan (the train connection) run, the new one is closer and in many parts right next to the highway.  The train’s current name honors the Afghan came l drivers that used the same route when they arrived some time in the late 1800s.  The modern highway, still a dirt truck gained new significance in WWII as Darwin and the Australian north was repeatedly attacked by the Japanese.  So it was with a lot of haste that the track was widened and improve in 1940/1941 from Alice Springs to Darwin.  It remained a dirt truck for most of its life, it was in the late 80s when it was finally sealed.  All this was in my mind while driving north, believe there was not very much else to do.

Missile Park, Woomera SA

Pt. Augusta Crossroads of Australia

We drove straight north in the direction of Port Augusta, the city that prides itself to be the crossroads of Australia.  Port Augusta, about 450km north of Adelaide is also where civilization stops, 10km out of town on the Stuart highway there is nothing but red earth, the bush, Kangaroos and no mobile reception.  From Port Augusta trace the Stuart Highway, a highway straight as an arrow for hundreds of kilometers at a time with a total length of 2834 km to the next major town that is Woomera.  Between these two towns we passed through dry lakes that were white as snow as the only thing left after they dried was salt.  Basically, Woomera’s sole purpose was to beat the Soviets in the race to space and arms game.  It is an Anglo-Australian project and as you enter the town you see what it is all about as a rocket is there to greet you.  North of Woomera we pass through the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA), an area the size of England that is the largest land-based defense and aerospace range in

Coober Pedy, SA

the world.  The town of Woomera mainly serves the people that work in this range.  Work your way about 360k north, through Glendabo and the WPA to Coober Pedy.  Glendambo prides itself that it is a town of 30 people, 2200 sheep and approx. 2,000,000 flies, we did not stay to count them.  Coober Pedy is a town that in the summer lives underground as it is too hot to be on the surface.  It is the opal capital of the world and in the little experience I had in town it looks and feels like a frontier town.  An aerial picture of Coober Pedy showed how much digging has taken place, the region looked like Swiss cheese on a bad day.

...welcomed us!

From Coober Pedy it is about 150k to Cadney Homestead and from there another 90k to the town of Marla, supposedly one of the hottest spots on earth.  These places are really service areas that offer anything that travelers may need plus a bar for the people that are staying overnight and the few locals.  Marla prides itself of being the last stop in South Australia and on the way back of course as being the first stop in South Australia, I guess it is always a matte of perspective.  In Marla there is also a police station, I immediately thought of Mad Max!  These places are so isolated.  You are not allowed to transport animals, vegetables, etc. between states so in Marla there is also a quarantine zone.  When we stopped for fuel in Marla, I noticed posters about the upcoming election, apparently the vote would take place in the pub.  That is I believe a great way of motivating the voters.  If you trace your finger

NT border, only 500km to go!

farther up north about 180k you will see a place called Kulgera that is as Marla the first or last stop in the Northern Territory and like Marla nothing more than a pub, a petrol station, a motel and a caravan park.  After Kulgera, it is only 70k to Erldunda, it is here that we turned right or west to you boy scouts out there.  It is only 250k to our final destination the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.  Now I am not sure if you have realized but after Port Augusta this is the first major turn off the Stuart Highway.  Sure you can leave the highway at Pimba to go to Woomera and then to Roxby Downs but that is a stretch of less than 100k, Roxby Downs is a city that was build in 1987 to serve the world largest uranium and significant gold, copper and silver mine, the Olympic Dam Mine.  Apart from this bitumen (sealed to you non-Australians) roads there is nothing for more than a 1000k.  From Erldunda it is another 300k or so north on the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs.  Imagine that 1000k of mostly straight road and there is no other road to turn onto, nothing, nada.  Sure there are enough dirt roads to take you anywhere if you got the right wheels and experience.  For example the Tallaringa Track, which heads west at Coober Pedy through the WPA (special permission needed) for more than 500k to the West Australian border through Emu Junction, a place that is so radio active that it rivals Tchernobyl.  The British did atomic bomb testing in this area.  Once you reach the border you need a few hundred kilometers still before you hit any town of significance.

This is the other side of the same marker!

Another notable junction is to the Oodnadatta, the original south-north route.  There were many dirt roads like that on both sides of the highway and I did feel the urge to follow them but then of course I was not alone, maybe another time.

Now Erldunda is a major crossroads right in the middle of the continent and the only direction that you can go besides the north-south direction on the Stuart Highway is West.  So take a turn here and follow the Lasseter Highway for 250 km to our final destination, through Mt. Ebenezer and Curtin Springs both service stations much like Marla and Glendambo.  This highway is a bit more interesting as there are more rock formations to see and the road itself has more curves than the Stuart Highway.  Lasseter Highway ends in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, with special permission you can continue on a dirt track to the West Australian border for another 250k.
Tracing this route on a map with your finger took you a few seconds, this route though is 1600k in total distance, 3200k return and we had to do it with all the stops, hikes, sun set viewings, tours, also on the road sightseeing, etc. in 7days/6nights.

A few more meters before to the Lasseter Highway

Erldunda Station and a road train

The Bush/The Outback

Marla.

WPA, what are they hiding?

Glendambo

Ben in his capsule.

Ready to go, notice the Camelbak

Hiking in the Kata-Tjuta.

By the time you will read this we will be back in Adelaide and we will be getting ready for another 1000k of driving along the coast from Adelaide to Melbourne, we will also have spent well over 70 hours in the car.  We have been to so many places and seen so many things that I will bore you if I included them all.  I will however post a commentary on the trip itself, about our experience, our encounters with birds and kangaroos, flash floods, fellow travelers and aborigines.

Our final destination...

...we travelled 1600 km for this!

An HDR version

So long…
PS.: I do not have time to proofread these posts, so I hope you do not mind some of the grammatical or spelling errors.
PSS.: Some random videos, first one is from the drive.  This is how it looked for most of the drive!