Ayres Rock, More Than Just a Rock

April 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Enchanting Oceania, Nature

You’ve surely noticed by now the pictures of that huge rock smack in the middle of Australia. In Aboriginal, it’s called Uluru (said to have no true direct translation), but in English it is recognized by the name Ayers Rock. To reach it requires either a flight to the nearby town of Alice Springs (existing mostly to service the tourism related to this natural phenomenon) or a grueling bus journey from the ‘closer’ regions of Australia – although in a country this size, nothing’s really that close.

Ayers Rock, during sunrise. Photo credit - ernieski.

Ayers Rock, during sunrise. Photo credit - ernieski.

Most tourists take a quick glance at the brochures for trips to Ayers Rock and simply comment, ‘Oh, it’s just a rock’. While it’s easy to dismiss it as such –yes, technically it is a rock, the world’s largest monolith – this simple rock has a spiritual quality to it, and not just because of the stunning views.

Uluru features heavily in the religious subtext of the Australian Aboriginal culture. Many of the tales about the world’s creation, called Tjukurpa or Dreamtime, make mention of the rock in one fashion or another.

In one tale, for example, the structure of Uluru rose out of the ground as the earth wept while watching a particularly nasty battle. Needless to say, the Aboriginals find the rock to be quite central to their core beliefs; one can only imagine the first settlers to roam these desolate plains to wander upon such an unbelievable sight.

It is likely your stay will be based in Alice Springs, where visitors are spoilt with choice for accommodation, from motels and hotels to charming bed & breakfasts or budget backpackers. Believe it or not, ‘the Alice’ is a hub of social life, with loads of Aboriginal art exhibitions and some bizarre events such as the Beanie Festival and the Camel Cup.

Birds eye view of Ayers Rock. Photo credit - Corey Leopold.

Birds eye view of Ayers Rock. Photo credit - Corey Leopold.

Sunset at Ayers Rock. Photo credit - subactive_photo.

Sunset at Ayers Rock. Photo credit - subactive_photo.

The real attraction, though, is the rock. Most tourist aim for a sunrise (with a blistering 4AM departure call) or sunset viewing, as the heat during midday can melt the hardiest of traveller.

Uluru really comes to life when the sun is near the edge of the horizon; the outer skin of the rock glows as if it is on fire and might just levitate up and away into outer space. That orange glow graces the covers of many Australia tour books, but seeing it just isn’t the same as it is in person.

There is still a lot of controversy surrounding the practice of climbing Ayes Rock. While it is technically possible to do so – a chain rope was installed in the 60s to make the grueling climb a bit easier – being on the rock is against the religious beliefs of the Aboriginals. It is a personal choice, although I wouldn’t suggest it. Walking around the mass gives one plenty of perspective and the view really is better from the ground.

A little consideration for you, to the religious beliefs of the Aboriginals it is forbidden to photograph some sections of the rock. It is asked that you respect their wishes; besides, some of the best and most stunning shots can be had without any problem.

Uluru isn’t just any rock – it’s the center of the universe for some, a magical expression of nature for others. It might be hard to get to, but it is certainly worth it – a must see on any Australian itinerary. Pair this trip out with some other suggestions from our Sidetrips Suggestions, or add a Riverland relaxation and Aquatic exploration in Rockingham.

About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Experiences.

7 Quick Sidetrips in Australia

From the magical Three Sisters to the beautiful Victoria Harbor, the land of the Kangaroo offers a wide variety of attractions for travelers of all age and interest. Other than the spectacular West Coast and its natural scenic beauty, there are plenty of choices – but with so much territory to explore, how do you narrow down your itinerary? Here are some side trip suggestions for your trip down under!

Boxing Kangaroos. Photo credit - aardvaark.

Boxing Kangaroos. Photo credit - aardvaark.

Up Close and Personal with a Roo

The Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park in Calga, New South Wales is a prime destination for those interested in native Australian animals, plants, and culture. About a short 50 minutes drive north from Sydney harbour bridge,the park offers you an interesting journey back into a time where you can see animals (some endangered) roam about freely – kangaroos, emus, pademelons, reptiles, koalas.

You can choose from guided tours geared toward your interests, such as seeing kangaroos and koalas, discovering Aboriginal culture, boomerang throwing, animal feeding or learning how to survive in the bush. Or you can simply choose to go it alone to discover your own personal favorite.

Dreamworld, the Australian version of Disney World. Photo credit - tinrey.

Dreamworld, the Australian version of Disney World. Photo credit - tinrey.

Theme Park Adventure at Dreamworld

Kind of like the Australian equivalent of Disney World, Dreamworld (in Queensland) is Australia’s most popular amusement park and offers thrills for all ages. Whether you live for wild rollercoasters or your kids are dying for a Wiggles fix, Dreamworld can keep you all occupied for several days. Apart from the wide variety of rides, the 30 hectares Dreamworld also includes the Tiger Island, White Water World, riverboat cruises and an IMAX theatre.

Village life at Kuranda. Photo credit - steel-wool.

Village life at Kuranda. Photo credit - steel-wool.

Village Life

Immerse yourself in a rainforest village. In northern Queensland is the mountain retreat of Kuranda, a picturesque mountain retreat just 25km northwest of Cairns in Far North Queensland. Surrounded by World Heritage Rainforest, visitors can observe wildlife, learn about indigenous culture and art from Aboriginal residents, or go on a forest walk.

Kuranda has come a long way from its initial origins as a centre for those choosing an alternative lifestyle in the late 60’s. Historic Buildings from the villages past now house a variety of upmarket restaurants, cafes and bars. It is still laid back, but with a style and sophistication that sets it apart from other Cairns Highlands Venues and Attractions.

Sydney Opera House. Photo credit - blentley.

Sydney Opera House. Photo credit - blentley.

Tour the Sydney Opera House.

Even if you’re not an opera buff, a visit to this quintessential Australian landmark is a must-do during one of your lazy afternoon. Tour guides will give you an insider’s peek at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Explore the rich history of this remarkable architecture, as well as the moving story behind its creation, mainly the saga between client and architect, which to some degree signifies a battle of foreign and local talent.

Australia's Surfer's Paradise. Photo credit - dannyben.

Australia's Surfer's Paradise. Photo credit - dannyben.

Surf it up!

For those heeding the call of the waves, the Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast is simply heaven on earth (pun intended). It’s one of the most popular holiday destinations in Australia where you’ll find the perfect fusion of city and beach lifestyles set amidst a spectacular skyline and a brilliant stretch of coast. Ride the perfect waves, tan your body on the sandy beaches, or take a surfing lesson from some of the world’s best teachers.

Marine life at the Great Barrier Reef. Photo credit - Leonard Low.

Marine life at the Great Barrier Reef. Photo credit - Leonard Low.

Dive the Great Barrier Reef

There are skilled companies all over Queensland ready to take you on the dive of your life. As the largest coral reef system in the world, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the top scuba destinations anywhere in the world. Dive enthusiasts simply must reserve the time to explore this undersea phenomenon. Base yourself at one of the many beautiful islands scattered around the 300,000 square kilometres of coral cays and reef systems.

Australian Vineyard. Photo credit - Steve Lacy.

Australian Vineyard. Photo credit - Steve Lacy.

Sip some vino.

Australian wine? The very thought would have raised eyebrows in the not-too-distant past, but Australian wines are well respected today. The Australian wine industry is the fourth-largest exporter in the world, exporting over 400 million litres a year to a large international market. For the wine aficionados, there are plenty of vineyards to explore and wines to taste. Some of the best include the Saltram Wine Estate in South Australia, Stringybark Winery in Western Australia, and Yering Farm Wines in Victoria.

About the Author. Char Magalong. Char Magalong, freelance web designer and programmer, spent two years living, working and traveling in Singapore. Another two years stint right after that in Malaysia led to homesickness, after which she promptly returned to the Philippines. With her myriad of treasured experiences for apt comparison, she comments regularly on the beauty of Philippines and its surrounding country side.

Rockingham, Your Aquatic Playground

March 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Enchanting Oceania

They say Perth is the most isolated city in the world, a fact that gives the impression of a lonely city in the middle of nowhere, far from civilization and any other vestiges of humanity. But in truth Perth’s surroundings leave visitors spoiled for choice for ideas for a driving holiday.

Whichever direction you travel there are fresh and different destinations to explore and quaint holiday resorts set amidst beautiful scenery.

The Rockingham beach is popular with kids. Photo credit - AAAlain.

The Rockingham beach is popular with kids. Photo credit - AAAlain.

On a recent visit to Perth I decided to take a day out and head south to the vibrant and growing coastal centre of Rockingham. The 50 kilometers run down the Kwinana Highway took me about 45 minutes, and although I was expecting just another seaside resort the general feeling of the town and the outstanding scenery gave me a pleasant surprise.

The standout feature and the basis for much of the recreational activity are the beaches. The main beach is Rockingham beach, a white expanse that borders the smooth waters of the Cockburn Sound. Not as crowded as I thought it would be on a summers day, its a great beach for swimming and has a very family atmosphere. There is a wide, concrete cycle-way running up its length that will please exercise junkies, and on the grassy foreshore there are a number of picnic and barbeque areas.

The beach runs down to Point Peron, and below the point is Shoalwater Bay Beach, which is popular because we are allowed to walk our furry four-legged friends on it. Below that beach we come to Warnbro Sound, where apparently there is a nudist beach at Port Kennedy, at the south of the town.

Point Peron. Photo credit - Candice Lee.

Point Peron. Photo credit - Candice Lee.

The slogan that Rockingham has used to promote their tourism is “Your Aquatic Playground”, so much of the recreational activity is water based. The diving and the snorkeling is apparently spectacular although I didn’t do any of it myself, and it is easy to hire the necessary gear and to hire other equipment like jet-skis and tinnies. Tinnies are the transport of choice for fishermen who frequent the bays, coves and beaches of the shoreline trying their luck for the many species here. Jew-fish grow especially large, and are a popular prey.

Point Peron is a popular fishing spot as well, as it has lots of rocky feature and borders a large sandy bay. Its also a great place for a walk, as most of it is a nature reserve and there are a number of footpaths that criss cross the point. Another haunt for fishermen is the jetty at Palm Beach, which has a very tasty deli right next door.

Fairy penguings in Penguing Island. Photo credit - rosswebsdale (top) and Spiros2004 (bottom).

Fairy penguings in Penguing Island. Photo credit - rosswebsdale (top) and Spiros2004 (bottom).

There are a few islands lying off the coastline that are popular amongst tourists seeking a days adventure. Penguin Island lies 700 meters off shore and is home to a colony of fairy penguins from March through to December. You are also likely to see the other local resident, the Australian Sea Lion, on your tour of the island which departs from Mersey Point just south of the township.

There are a few islands lying off the coastline that are popular amongst tourists seeking a days adventure. Penguin Island lies 700 meters off shore and is home to a colony of fairy penguins from March through to December. You are also likely to see the other local resident, the Australian Sea Lion, on your tour of the island which departs from Mersey Point just south of the township.

Further offshore is the larger Garden Island, which is over 10 kilometers in length and has a shoreline which contains an exciting mix of beaches and bays. A haven for wildlife, look out for the native tammar wallaby while you are there.

I was impressed by the upbeat vibe of Rockingham. This is a town that is clearly looking to the future, especially if the huge developments taking place at the Waterfront are anything to go by.

I’d expect that as the Perth city-sprawl extends outwards there will be little to differentiate between Rockingham, Fremantle and Perth, but something tells me that even as this happens it will still hold onto those qualities that make it a classy and peaceful seaside resort. I hope so anyway!

About the Author. Gavin Wyatt. A journalist with a passion for travel. Originally from Zambia he has traveled around the world to end up on the sunny shores of Australia. For more of his articles visit Perth Car Hire.

Riverland Relaxation

January 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Enchanting Oceania, Feature Highlights

The Riverland in South Australia seems almost like it could be custom designed for a campervan holiday. Picture this: rolling countryside divided into a patchwork of lush orchards, where exotic fruits such as olives, citrus, garlic, apricots and grapes hang off the vine and branch.

Splitting the region in two is the mighty Murray River, which flows past high limestone cliffs and expansive wetlands, breathing life into the fertile soils and giving character to the countryside. A number of small towns in the Riverland provide bases for the fruit and fresh produce industry (one of the biggest in Australia), and it is in these that you can find hospitable caravan parks to base your motorhome in.

The scenic riches around you and the laid back, accommodating atmosphere in the towns will ensure that your tour of the Riverland is one you’d like to repeat again and again.

The Riverland extends for 300 kilometres, marked at each end by the townships of Waikerie and Renmark. The former is the closest to Adelaide, and is reached by an easy two and a half hours drive from there- an easy drive through picturesque countryside. At the centre of the region is Barmera, which is the biggest town in the Riverland and undoubtedly the commercial centre. At 221 kilometres from Adelaide, its a bit far for a daytrip, but just perfect for a weekend away!

Barmera sits on the shores of Lake Bonney, and water sports enthusiasts take full advantage of this fact. On any given day the lake’s horizon will be dotted with the sails of boats and windsurfers and boats towing wakeboarders, water-skiers and other strange inflatable contraptions regularly zoom past. Yacht races are regularly organised, attracting crowds of enthusiasts and spectators.

The lake is big enough that there are still areas of peace and quiet where anglers can try their luck with the many species of fish lurking beneath the surface.

If you can tear yourself away from the lake there are a number of fun ways to entertain yourself in the town. A favourite place to visit is the Rocky Country Music Hall of Fame, which was established to honour local country legend Dean ‘Rocky’ Page. Inside is a huge collection of memorabilia and instruments, commemorating all the Australian greats such as Slim Dusty.

On your tour of the region Waikerie is a town you should definitely call into. It gives the impression of a place where nobody takes themselves too seriously- probably helped along by the fact that all the garbage cans in town are the shape of oranges! As it is an internationally recognised destination for hang gliders, on any given day the skies are dotted with these large, silent planes gliding high above the surface.

A number of majestic old sandstone buildings on the main street add to its character, and you can find out all about the town and the surrounding attractions at the Orange Tree Information Centre, located right on the Sturt highway. A trip to the Scenic Lookout is especially enthralling- perched atop high cliffs it offers stunning views of the Murray River.

Of course you cannot visit the Riverlands without indulging in the feature that gives the region its name – the Murray River. Whether its enjoying a barbeque on the grassy banks under the a shady tree, or hiring a boat and some fishing rods and getting out for a bit of fishing, the Murray is the perfect place to recharge and forget about all of your stresses. Houseboats are also a popular form of escape on its wide and smooth waters, and a great way to finish off a day is with an evening cruise- nothing beats watching the sun go down with a drink in hand, serenely floating down the river.

Thats actually a good word to sum up the whole Riverland region- serene. Its a place big enough to see something new everyday, but small enough that you dont have to travel too far in your campervan for a change of scene. There is plenty of places to stay, every town has its share of caravan and tourist parks. So forget about your worries and head to the Riverland for that break youve been craving all this time!

About the Author. Gavin Wyatt. Gavin Wyatt is a journalist with a passion for travel. originally from Zambia he has traveled around the world to end up on the sunny shores of Australia. For more of his articles visit Discovery Campervans

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