31 July 2009

Australia Zoo

Dear wombats,
Congratulations on confirming your spot in the top three of Michelle's Favorite Animals! It is quite a privilege to be chosen for this short list. Since securing your spot at #3 you all will now be mentioned to everyone Michelle meets. Could you please pass word onto the echidnas that they made Honorable Mention?

Dolphins & polar bears (#1 and #2 respectively)

We arrived at Australia Zoo an hour after they opened. I barely knew what a wombat was, but I did know:
1) I had yet to see one in the wild
2) They looked overweight (Mom thought they looked like pigs!)
3) They were "naughty" according to The Crocodile Hunter

Immediately upon entering the park, Mom & I walked to the information center to book a session for photos with a wombat. I was devastated when I saw the red, capital letters "SOLD OUT". This couldn't be right. I came across the largest ocean in the world to see these critters! So I double-checked with a staff member. Nope. I read it correctly. "But..." she advised "we still have the Wombat Walk Experience." She didn't have to go any further, I already had my wallet out. It turned out the Wombat Walk Experience was an even more hands-on approach to learning about wombats for the same price! A small group helped a trainer walk the wombat on a leash around the park -- which was part of their daily exercise. The walk started at 1:30pm so we had a lot of ground to cover until then.

It was rather early so a lot of the animals were still sleeping. However, Mom & I were relieved to be at the Australia Zoo on a Monday because we often found ourselves alone in a particular area (with no noisy children to scare off the animals nor crowds of people to fight off for photographs). For instance, we were the only two people in the koala sanctuary. While strolling through, a staff member let us pet a female up in a tree. Her fur felt thick -- like touching sheepskin -- but at the same time it was very soft. They were peaceful creatures. Mom wanted to steal one she liked them so much. They looked like Yodas rolled into balls then staged on a branch.Early on we also saw dingos, Tasmanian devils, a shingleback, an enormous python, and monolithic tortoises that Mom thought were rocks. Cassowaries -- a flightless bird -- were also among Mom's favorite animals at the park. Then, we tried to find birds of prey in the enclosed area. I was finally able to see a kookaburra up close even though I've heard their call since I first arrived in Mackay. We walked through the outdoor aviary which had dozens of species of parrots, finchs, parakeets, doves, and other colorful fliers. Every step we took either Mom or I would see another type of bird & marvel at it. I particularly loved the bright blues in this parrot's tail feathers.

After studying the zoo map, I knew what section came after the birds...

We arrived at the exhibit just in time to see a Common Wombat (there are only 3 species) scurry across the open field. It was love at first sight (as you can hear from my giddy chuckling in the video).

We watched the first wombat go into the cave (which also had a viewing area) and wake up the other two wombats. Neither were interested in playing so the instigator left. Next door, but separate, were the Southern Long-Haired Wombats. According to zookeepers the Long-Hairs were the most social species.

Forcing myself to move on we saw a red kangaroo asleep on the lawn in the funniest position. We stopped by the Asian exhibit to see the elephants & tigers. The park also had a red panda which I've never even heard of! It had an adorable face, but was not round like typical black & white pandas. It looked like a panther with its long tail and the way he slinked on the branches. I found the emu very intriguing. Standing two feet above it on a platform, I realized how extraordinarily tall the birds we saw on Blackwater-Rolleston Road were. Plus, this emu was making a rumbling sound that seemed like it was resonating from its stomach.

We moved on and saw a rock wallaby. I never knew what one looked like/how it differed to kangaroos ever since I watched the cartoon Rocko's Modern Life on Nickelodeon. We observed echidnas -- not nearly as fascinating as in the wild. There were a lot of wetland birds to see including cranes, storks, ducks, and the most gorgeous bird in the zoo: a Jabiru. Its entire, long neck was vibrant shades of dark indigo which contrasted against its stark white, slender body, and bright orange legs. Mom & I were both transfixed by its beauty.

Finally 1:30pm arrived: it was wombat time!

21 July 2009

Going for the gusto!

Since we were in a large city, Mom wanted authentic Chinese food, and what better place to get it than in Chinatown? After we scoped the scene, we settled into a B.Y.O.B. restaurant that smelled a bit musty. Mom & I were greeted by a loud, but cheerful, oriental lady who immediately offered to help us decipher the menu. We wanted lo mein but that got lost in translation. Although not what we had meant to order, the food was delicious and for $30 total we left stuffed.

We checked out the markets next to Chinatown -- supposedly for up & coming fashion -- but they were pitiful! Convinced there had to be decent markets on a Sunday somewhere we rebounded to South Bank Parklands. It turned out the Scottish festival was also going on at the Cultural Centre so we heard bagpipes & saw a lot of grown men in full regalia. The South Bank Parklands markets were awesome! I've always liked markets because they can showcase a broad range of skills, products, and foods. Plus, I like that they're an at-your-own-pace but in-your-face environment where you can meet interesting people. I bargained a deal with a drag queen lady/man for an authentic Australian leather hat. There were even churros!

After we ambled around Mom & I took the CityCat (a waterbus service) back across the Brisbane River. Since we did not pay the first time, we fully expected to pay on the return trip, sort of how a toll bridge works: you don't pay until you exit. However, in the Sunday afternoon bustle, we got off without paying too. I'm still perplexed by the system but ignorance is bliss.

By Sunday evening -- our last in Brisbane -- Mom & I were still quite full from the hefty Chinese lunch. I was starting to feel hungry though & wanted to try a new genre of food. We drove to Tukka which boasted gourmet Australian cuisine. The menu was like trying to read Japanese. I recognized only a few words in each item's description. So we opted for the sampler appetizer. I've never had so much fun eating (other than at Melting Pot)! The entire meal was a tribute to native Australian foods.

First, we received complimentary shot glasses full of the gazpacho... with a twist! Gazpacho is a traditional green, Spanish soup served cold. This gazpacho had a kick of garlic & I tasted tartness, like from a Granny Smith apple. It was an odd mixture of flavors but surprisingly, we both enjoyed it!

Then, the wood slab topped with our appetizer arrived. Mom & I tried native fruits -- such as the desert lime; berries -- such as muntries (yum); bread with kumquat chutney & macadamia nut oil dipping sauces; and meats. I imagine we looked like we were participating on Fear Factor because we only took little helpings, and took our first bites together on the count of three. The first meat we tried was the light-colored crocodile. It wasn't great. I would eat it to keep myself from starving & it wasn't horrible like liver. I'd best describe it as underwhelming. Next, we tried emu. It didn't taste like chicken but had similar flavors. Of the three meats I liked emu the best. Last, we tried kangaroo filets and sausages. The 'roo sausage-link tasted like bologna to me. The filet (pronounced "Fill-ett"by Aussies) wasn't awful, but I probably wouldn't order an entire serving of it.
Mom & I had fun exploring the city, local flavors and trying new tastes (even if we had just seen them out in the wild the previous week)! However, we were both eager for our next leg of the holidays a.k.a. vacation: Steve Irwin's/Australia Zoo!

19 July 2009


Mom & I forced ourselves to rise before dawn our last morning at Carnarvon National Park. We were in search (again) for the platypi who had eluded us at dusk the first evening in the park. We arrived at the main viewing area but didn't see any movement whatsoever. So we went to an area a few hikers told us about. As we approached the second site it sounded like something big had just fumbled into the water. We didn't see anything but continued to wait on pins & needles. Mom & I kept seeing ripples but it was from tree branches hanging in Carnarvon Creek. Then, to our left, more bubbles. Since I was sitting lower on the rock I saw the platypus first & pointed him out to Mom. It swam a little closer to where we were perched, but since it was hunting, it kept disappearing underwater. After 5 minutes of observing the platypus, it submerged for the last time. I was so happy for Mom; that she was able to see a platypus with her own two eyes! Another native Australian animal she could cross off her list. Walking back to the campground I couldn't believe I almost stepped on a brown toad! I cautiously avoided him, quietly removed my camera from its case, snapped a photo & motioned for Mom to see what I found. As soon as she came over she exclaimed "Michelle it's dead." "No it's not!" I replied. I poked it with a stick.... it was a petrified! I had been Punk'd by Mother Nature. Mom had a hardy laugh though!
We wasted no time in getting on the road to Brisbane. It was 8 hours of driving, but broken up by fuel stops and meal breaks. When you don't live around a major metropolis, driving into the city is always an overwhelming experience. The single lane "highway" became 5 lanes wide. The exits became more and more frequent. Brisbane's skyline grew larger and larger ahead of us. Of course, the traffic became worse. The quaint country backroads we had been driving all the way from Mackay to Ipswich now turned into a maze of one-way streets. Our neighbors were no longer kangaroos and tents, they were Hermes and Gucci. It was culture shock. Honestly, I think I saw more Asian/Indian people than Australian/American. Mom & I made it into the room just in time to watch Deal/No Deal -- after driving around a good 45 minutes trying to locate the hotel in the heart of the CBD a.k.a. downtown area (stands for City Business District).

I expected Mt. Coot-tha to be a bit of a drive considering it's a mountain, but it was a quick hop from the hotel. We drove to the top of the lookout and I was able to Canon Photostitch a panoramic of the view of the area. For about 160 of the 240 degrees you could see the Brisbane River snake through the landscape, from Brisbane to the greenhillsides in the distance.

From here we also descended to J.C. Slaughter Falls on one of Mt. Coot-tha's many walking trails. The more we hiked downward, we knew the return trip would be intense. The Falls were underwhelming. After all our hiking the cascade was barely trickling. It was slack as a.k.a. what a waste of time!
After the strenuous climb back to the lookout, Mom & I drove to the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium. I've always been a space buff. The universe never ceases to amaze me or challenge my thinking in the most abstract way.

Not to be confused with Brisbane's Botanic Gardens in the middle of the city. I bet this place is stunning in the spring/summer. It wasn't horrible in the winter, but a lot of plants were not blooming. Mom & I did check out the tropical plants biodome, the Japanese garden/bamboo forest, the fruit trees, and the touch-me plants section.
The next day Mom & I drove across the Story Bridge to the south side of the city for an opportunity to personally make authentic didgeridoos. When we asked John -- the instructor -- about all the didgeridoos in souvenir shops he said they were all made in Bali & overpriced & that none of the profit went back into the artist's pocket.

Throughout our day John shared wonderful stories, insights into his tribe's way of life & powerful arguments. Consider this: the aboriginal people of Australia are thought to be some of the oldest races of humankind. It wasn't until 1976 that indigenous people were granted inalienable rights and realized as owners of much of the land. In February 2008 the Prime Minister (for the Australian Government) finally made a formal verbal and written apology to ["only"] the aboriginal children of the "stolen generation". What stuck in my mind the most though was John's comment that Australia gives so much of its money away to save face in the form of foreign aide and diplomacy in the Middle Eastern countries, but often when it comes to Australia's native people and their abysmal circumstances, a blind eye is turned.

ONE. We chose our piece of Yellow Box Tree -- from inland, southern Queensland. It should be about half your height. Some branches were light wood; some were darker colored. Some pieces were straight as arrows; others had many curves. TWO. Using a blade, we shaved the bark/outer layer of skin off to get to the actual wood. This was the labor-intensive part & took a lot of time. In fact, Mom & I both developed a blister on each hand (the next day I felt like I had arthritis & carpal tunnel syndrome in every hand/wrist joint). However, this was where you could really start to see the characteristics of your piece of wood.

Mom's didgeridoo was so smooth and in tact, but had a commanding brown line going from top to bottom. If you turned the piece around you could see the line/contrast where dark met light wood. It was small, therefore higher-pitched, and not long.

On the other hand, my didge had a few extruding knots to break up the monotony of the single, light color of the wood. It was almost as tall as me, which gave it a deep, bass sound when played. There were a lot of little holes from the termites all over and around my piece. Plus, it noticeably curved (I don't like symmetrical things).

THREE. We sandpapered -- with the other edge of the blade --the texture of the wood. Although Mom's didge took more time to shave, it needed little smoothing. However, mine was easier to shave but needed some quality time to look more polished. Then, we rounded one end which was to become to the mouthpiece. FOUR. Applied wood laquer -- which lightly stained the wood -- & let it dry to seal the deal. It was a chilly day in Brisbane so we had to blow dry the lacquer. We had the option to paint a decoration on the didge, but like the authenticity/outcome of burning the wood better.
(Mom's smooth, darker piece & my curvacious, lighter piece with its tiny holes in the foreground)

FIVE. Mom & I drew the designs to be burnt into the didges, but John actually did the branding. Mom created a pattern with aboriginal symbols such for walking & sitting/a resting place. I created a scene to signify the fourelements (air, earth, fire, water) because we depended on them so heavily the past week while out camping. I started with the sun which shined on the aboriginal symbol for waterfall with nourished the tree whose branchesbecame the aboriginal signal for fire. I love it! SIX. Mom & I melted beeswax to mold the mouthpieces. We received a few tips from John regarding how to play our didgeridoos and circular breathing -- which is the hardest part about learning how to play the instrument. The company mailed us a CD with exercises. I hope to become a didge master honestly. Yet, we were asked to only play the instruments in the privacy of our home because it is shunned for a woman to play a didgeridoo. In fact, in most tribes it's not like a guitar & anybodycan have a go. John told us in his tribe only the medicine man/shaman was chosen to play.

It was getting dark and we had been chatting/working all day so Mom & I returned to the hotel after a delicious meal at Little Tokyo. Of course, we tested our instruments much to our neighbors' dismay. We were awful.

16 July 2009


After embarking on the longest hike at Carnarvon the first full day, the second full day Mom & I decided to take it easy. We were obviously the last in the entire park to awake because people were returning from hikes as we were toting everything to the showers. We chose to explore the trails not on the main path/at other areas of the park.

Only 250 meters from the parking area, it took us an hour to get to Baloon Cave. Why? Mom & I were about to cross over a stream when I heard something rustling in the bush. This was not an uncommon experience for us, but it was louder than other times (trust me, we had been hiking for four days & I was beginning to become a pro at identifying sounds in the distance). In our experience in Australia, 6 out of 10 times the noise turned out to be a bird in the trees; 3 out of 10 times the noise turned out to be a lizard in the leaves. To our advantage, this happened to be the 1 time out of 10 that it wasn't a bird or reptile.

The commotion happened again. When it's a bird causing the disturbance, the branches/higher parts of the bush move. When the rustling happened a third time I realized all the tall, skinny leaves of the bush, from the ground up, were moving. This was definitely not a flier, and the creature had to be bigger than all the small, brown lizards we had seen yesterday while hiking. My first thought: a goanna (the large lizard I almost walked into at Eungella National Park). Mom and I both crept forward from different angles. I stepped off the path as quietly as possible and heard mom whisper "it's a porcupine". As soon as she uttered the phrase my eyes grew to the size of saucers and I immediately smiled becauseI knew what it was... Nothing else in this world looks like a porcupine, and there are no porcupines in Australia. Ladies & gentlemen, I present to you the world's only other identified monotreme: an echidna!
Both monotremes (I previously mentioned the second is a platypus) are native only to this area of the world, andunless you're planning on going to a tiny Pacific island, Australia is where most reside. Here he was, in front of our eyes, delving through brush and dead leaves in search of termites. If not for the noise, neither Mom nor I would have noticed him just two meters from the path because he has great camouflage. I stood frozen, snapping photos, and FINALLY took one that showed his beak & face. It was difficult to not get a blurry picture because he was constantly moving or digging, and kept turning his back to me. All this time mom was able to move in closer and experience her first monotreme in the wild (or in person for that matter). The echidna was so different from every animal I've ever seen. His spikes, his colors, his funky beak. Mom & I especially loved the way he walked. It wasn't a smooth, graceful gait. The echidna's gait reminded me of a penguin's. The way you would look if you tried to walk quickly with your pants around your ankles.

 Even if we didn't go on to Baloon Cave, Mom & I would still have been elated to see an echidna in the wild. Carnarvon National Park's website never even mentioned having echidnas in the area. I'm passing the secret onto you!

By now Mom & I realized Queensland Parks' website was inaccurate. According to the page, at Blackdown Tablelands we would see goannas everywhere & wake with the native critters. Didn't happen. In fact we saw no native wildlife during our entire stay. At Carnarvon's website Ward's Canyon was described simply as "home to the world's largest fern... a short, steep rise up through spotted gums leads to the lower falls"; not the hidden layout it turned out to be. As stated earlier, there was no mention of echidnas as part of the park's wildlife. The newest example: Rock Pool.

The website states "Here you can enjoy a swim... or spot platypus or turtles." Mom & I knew we wouldn't see any platypi before even arriving at the pool because we could hear children splashing, screaming and yelling ahead. I was imagining a small, cold pool of water, fed from a slow stream, that had eroded an odd-shaped hole in a layer of rock. Wrong. This was literally a large rock with water beneath it. The kids and the scenery were a bit of a letdown. Mom kept urging me to swim & try the water out. An open area in the middle of a national park & you want me to submerge my limbs in the cloudy water mom? There's a reason every Lonely Planet Australia & In A Sunburnt Country (a fun, non-fiction novel written by an American) warn you against swimming in streams/rivers/creeks/billabongs/lakes: crocs. No thank you, I'll enjoy the landscape from the shade of the Casuarina tree.Since Rock Pool was a bust and the two trails didn't take as long as expected, Mom & I returned to camp at midday. I had been nagging her since we first arrived at Carnarvon to hike Boolimba Bluff with me. The three kilometer hike leads you to a lookout "with spectacular sweeping views over and about the gorge." However -- and this time I will give credit to the Queensland Parks' website -- there was a steep climb up 1,000 stairs and several ladders. As much as I wanted Mom to go, I knew she had seen enough lookouts and to be honest, I didn't know if I could even complete the physically demanding climb. However, the previous trails had prepared me for this hike... or so I thought.

Mom strolled with me to the first terrace of steps on Boolimba Bluff's path. There she acceptingly popped a squat and started to write postcards. I bid her farewell & got about 15 steps further when I halted to a stop."Wait!", I thought, "This is a three hour hike. What if I get hungry?" So I turned 180 degrees and marchedright back to Mom. Equipped with a stack of Pringles, half a pack of Shortbread Cream cookies, and Crystal Light ,now I could set off. I brought my music player with me which, in hindsight, was a lifesaver. I did want to listen to the bird calls and wind blowing. However, I did not want to listen to my heart thumping out of my chest or my labored breathing as I hiked further and further upward. I passed only two people the entire 6.5 kilometer trek, which goes to show this was no easy stroll.

A bit tuckered a.k.a. tired I realized I was still walking on low ground compared to the rest of the landscape. Not a good sign! Then, I reached the climax. The posted sign simply stated the climb was incredibly steep, incredibly long, and incredibly treacherous. Boolimba Bluff was not for unattended children or anyone who was not "very fit". I never considered myself very fit. Was I cut out for this leg of the journey? I had come too far. I was determined not to disappoint Mom or myself.

Truthfully no gym membership, cardio class, or amount of hiking could have prepared me for this part of the trail. Not man-made steps... they were made of rock in odd shapes, colors, and thicknesses -- meaning they're not in a neat, curving line. They were not evenly spaced vertically -- you went from three "normal" stair heights to literally leaping for the next. They were rock steps -- uneven surfaces; loose and shifting under a person's weight. And there were 963 of them in a row. Rock steps for the next 500 meters non-stop. No terrace to stop & catch your breath. No bench for resting along the way. No railings if you stumble. At one point I knew I was pushing myself too hard when I briefly felt dizzy & had to steady myself against a large tree root. To my legs, knees, ankles, butt, lungs, and heart this section of the hike felt like Hell's Stairstepper. I was soaked in sweat. My hair was smeared on my neck. I knew my face was beet red because I felt like I had a fever. Halfway up & ready to be life flighted out of there, I was relieved that I did not push Mom to come with me on this hike.

I emerged from the intense climb deliriously glad it was over. I dragged myself to the lookout, plopped down on the bench (now they provided one!), devoured my cookies & took in the scenery. Boolimba Bluff's view was exquisite. I looked over most of the valley Mom & I covered on foot yesterday. I tried to find the main road we drove in on or the campgrounds, but all I saw were green treetops. Yet I could see the rock walls that were now level with me & watched them continue out of my eye's sight, forming Carnarvon Gorge. Not only were the views great, but after reading the informative sign, I couldn't believe the age of the terrain and struggled to imagine what the land looked like so long ago.

Coming down was almost worse because I was whooped from the uphill battle. My poor knees had to absorb my weight 963 times. My body temperature had finally returned to normal, but my clothes were still drenched. Too tired to stop the momentum I gained while descending the steps/hiking downward, I was practically jogging. I made it back to Mom in 1.5 hours, which is great considering I used 30 minutes of that total time to recover & snack atop the bluff. Mom grilled up delicious corn and chicken kebabs on the barbie a.k.a. BBQ. We ate dinner with the 'roos as usual, and were joined by a horde of Rainbow Lorikeets. They were so loud I could barely hear Mom talk so we called it an early night.

15 July 2009

The world at large

A few kilometers from the main camping area at Carnarvon National Park, I slammed the brakes when I spotted the outline of a kangaroo not more than 10 feet from the roadside. The wildlife on Blackwater-Rolleston Road was great, but I fancy 'roos more than birds and reptiles. I don't think my mom or I took a breath, for fear it would disappear immediately like the emu earlier.

Now nothing could diminish our spirits! We saw Australia's icon, out in the wild, and captured a few great photographs and then... we arrived at the campgrounds. Kangaroos were everywhere: lounging on the grass, hopping across the picnic area, snacking in the weeds nearby. I threw the car into "P" and we actually got closer than I expected to. I doubt kangaroos are this relaxed in the outback, but still, we respected them as animals & didn't try to intrude (I watched a young girl try to pet a kangaroo later, until it jerked upright, stared her down, and looked ready to rock back on its tail). We went on an easy dusk hike in search of platypi, but returned to camp defeated.(a 'roo butt in the foreground; a 'roo head in the background)
Mom & I had seen so much native wildlife that day! Coupled with the fact that Carnarvon's facilities were a bit more modern than Blackdown Tablelands', after a hot shower, dinner off the provided grill, running water, and toilets that flushed, we were in a jubilant mood. Overwhelmed from the day & since we had to switch campsites the next morning, Mom & I both opted to crash in our Little Ford Falcon That Could. I awoke at 3:00 AM with a  pinching pain in my left knee. I tried to fall back asleep but experienced the sensation again. I began to rub my knee when I felt IT still inside my pant leg! I flipped and screamed to mom to turn on the interior light. On the verge of an anxiety attack, the THING still pinned against my skin, I lifted up my pant leg to find: a small, black ant. So it wasn't an infamous Australian spider. PHEW!.... but then I remembered we weren't in America! This was a volatile country housing the deadliest fish, jellyfish, shark, snake, and spider on the planet! The bites began to swell and turn red. My next three thoughts were: "Is it a poisonous outback ant?"; "The nearest hospital is 110 kilometers away"; and "This stinging/burning sensation is intense!" About to freak out, I circled each and every hive with a ballpoint pen and checked my knee every 5 minutes for a half hour. Obviously, you know the outcome of the story, but you never know when, where & how Mother Nature is going to sneak in and ambush you!

Our first full day in Carnarvon we hiked the motherload. The majority of the aboriginal sites and attractions are off the main trail which is a 10 kilometer hike one way (not including the sidepaths and distance to attractions).

Mom & I were blessed to arrive at the Art Gallery just as Fred -- an aboriginal park ranger -- was offering free information and advice (like hold your pee, the park is monitored 24/7 by closed circuit surveillance) on his day off. He said he hiked every morning in Carnarvon to remind him of his ancestors' legacy. From Fred, everyone listening learned so much about his tribe and the land's culture like:
** Carnarvon Gorge really is an aboriginal cemetary. Therefore, most of the markings at Art Gallery are similar to headstones.

** Until 1931 Carnarvon National Park was privately owned, until the owners sold it back to the Australian government since it was unfit for their cattle.

** "Boomerang" means "woman's rib". The legend is an indigenous man left his dead wife in her "cylinder" (like a casket). Upon returning something or someone had dismembered her. In his rage, the husband launched the wife's rib at a tree, which arced and missed. He made modifications & the boomerang was born. (aboriginal axe courtesy of Fred)

Fred also brought along some of the tools his people use such as a spear, coolamon, and messenger stick. To me, the most amazing fact was that the stencils date back 2,500 years. You can do the math...

This was my mom's favorite place out of the entire park.... and to think we almost passed on it because the park's description of it was bland! It started with a trail that headed downward toward a quiet, shaded mini-waterfall washing over dark rocks. Upon closer inspection we found steps also leading upward. Following the trail it stopped at a small, railed lookout at the top of the baby falls. Upon closer inspection we found there was another lookout higher up. Climbing the trail Mom & I were now at the ledge where the water spills over to form the cascades. Upon closer inspection we traced the stream's path futher uphill. Still following the trail we rock-hopped and entered an open cave with significantly colder air. Finally, the trail & we were stopped by a wooden railing as the rock cave's wall continued uphill. Ward's Canyon was like a never-ending Christmas present. Just when you thought you had the best view, more unfolded ahead. Here in the cave were the world's largest ferns: King Ferns. Their fronds were a vibrant and healthy green. They spread along the stream's course. They have survived since the age of dinosaurs.
LAST STOP: AMPITHEATREEven from afar mom & I could tell we were approaching the Ampitheatre because the trail kept leading us to an almost solid rock wall. Mom said it reminded her of Charybdis & Scylla (from Greek mythology). We had to climb old, metal ladders to get into the passageway which was only 15 feet across at its widest point. Then the narrow strait opened up into a massive, somewhat acoustic bowl. While the passageway was chilled by the wind, the Ampitheatre provided a dangerous -- from flash floods -- but sheltered haven.Mom & I arrived back at camp around dusk and scarfed down a hearty dinner with Mommy & Joey eating their meal alongside us. We were flogged a.k.a. exhausted and it was only our first day at Carnarvon National Park!

14 July 2009


My mother -- Stephanie -- is a trooper in every sense of the word. She left Canton, Ohio, United States of America, bogged down with two large suitcases & a heavy backpack -- the majority of which contained clothes/toiletries for me. From Canton she departed to Atlanta, Georgia, then to Los Angeles, California. After hanging around the international terminal for 11 hours in LAX she flew over the largest ocean to Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, and finally landed in Mackay, Queensland, Australia. All with minimal shut-eye, no bed, no change of clothes, no home-cooked meals, and toting around 45 pounds of luggage total. Although she was in great spirits when she walked out of the "Arrivals" gate, I knew she was relieved to be done with flying too. Unfortunately, nothing in Canton could prepare her for the intense Australian sun. She got sunburnt from sitting in the car for 10 minutes!The next day I showed Mom around Mackay & its northern beaches. I took the liberty of ordering the always-delicious Eagle Boys pizza. We also ran errands in preparation for a week of camping. Not glorified camping: no Winnebago, no electric stove, no portable lounge chairs, no starter log for the fire, no mini-fridge, and no automatic air mattress pump. After stocking up on groceries it was a 4 hour drive southwest to Dingo. Arriving at the pea-sized town of Dingo we could see the massive plateau in the distance. Not looming or jagged like mountains. The plateau actually looked out of place considering we'd been driving on a straight, flat road ever since we left Mackay with nothing but bare gum a.k.a. eucalyptus trees & occasional cows along the roadside.As we drove higher & higher up the plateau to Blackdown Tablelands National Park the temperature noticeably dropped. By the time we reached the summit I was freezing in my tank top, flip flops & skirt. Thank God we arrived before dusk because we had to set up camp & get a fire started -- our only source for warmth and cooking dinner. It was a pitiful fire and the firewood we brought never really caught. Away from the city lights and isolated from television/phones/internet/newspapers, my mom & I passed the night by cooking dinner, deciding what to hike the following day, and enjoying the clean air and each other's company.

Our first full day at the park we chose to hike the hardest -- but most desireable -- trail first to Gudda Gumoo (in aboriginal dialect) a.k.a. Rainbow Waters. The first part of the hike had us winding through levels of the fragrant Wattle bushes (Wattle is apparently Australia's national flower, hence its national colors yellow and green). Throughout our entire week of camping I only fell/got injured once... and, in true irony, it happened at the very top of 300 rock stairs at the only section that did not have guard railings. Go figure!

Later, we hiked Goon Goon Dina to see the aboriginal stencils and remains of a cattle ranch from when the Europeans were settling Australia. When we returned to camp that evening my mom built a teepee structure out of sticks in the area since the firewood we brought was a dud. We turned our attention to other matters, but within a minute I turned back around when I heard a cracking sound. Apparently there were some embers left over from the previous night's fire... and in its place there was an inferno! Using the fallen tree branches, we had a roaring bonfire which cooked and warmed us well until bedtime.

"Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;"-- 1 Timothy 6:17 kept coming to mind during my short stay at the national park I experienced Mother Nature's alignment with the Lord. The sun warmed & awoke us every morning, saving us from the freezing temperature of night. Likewise, the earth provided us with shade, cooling us from the draining afternoon sun. The water cleansed my wound from falling earlier. The embers and the trees that surrounded us renewed our fire and appetites.

Our second & last day in Blackdown Tablelands National Park we hiked to a lookout named Mook Mook in the morning. We then set off on another 4 hour drive south to our next campsite. Neither mom nor I expected the journey to Carnarvon National Park to be so memorable.

Blackwater-Rolleston Road seemed promising since Google Maps recommended it. Plus, the route shaved at least an hour off the drive because it was direct. Therefore, when Blackwater-Rolleston Road turned to unpaved, red gravel just 10 kilometers outside the town of Blackwater, we were a bit tense. Once we realized there would be no bitumen until we reached the village of Rolleston we switched into Survivor mode. We weren't anxious but you could tell we were out of our league since the conversation changed from carefree to the worst-case-scenario dilemmas. We began looking for any sign of life in the distance just in case we got a flat tire or broke down. I constantly checked the temperature gauge and swerved to avoid potholes -- you do NOT want to be stuck in this remote area. We only passed two trucks the entire 150 kilometer drive.

Halfway to Rolleston, on the road ahead, my mom & I noticed something glistening in the sunlight of midday. As our compact car sped forward we watched a 4 foot, silver snake slither out of the tires' way. We were somewhat excited to catch our first glimpse of native fauna. You can imagine our delight & surprise as we turned a corner and saw a 7 foot emu standing in the middle of the road! I think I said "Oh my God" under my breath. Instinctively (like with deer in Ohio) I beeped my horn instead of flashing my lights. Even without the horn I bet the bird was shocked to see/hear something approaching it quickly. We tried to get a picture but obviously the emu had run off into the wild blue yonder. Even the Australia Zoo didn't have emus this size... MOM & I WERE OFFICIALLY IN THE OUTBACK!