One hour from Melbourne I started the “Great Ocean Road trip” at Torquay, the surf capital of the world (as they are claiming, but I´m not too well informed about the surfing scene, so I guess that other places i.e. in Hawaii claim the same). In the summer the waves are considerably lower than in winter and it wasn´t too spectacular to watch the surfers. Also the bay watch (here called Surf Watch) was rather annoyed and they lingered around without much to do. So I started touring the Great Ocean Road, built by war prisoners after the First World War along the coast, offering access to some great views, nice beaches and amazing scenery. The first night in the tent at the prime holiday village of Lorne I realized a) that prices here are ridiculous (50 AUD for a unpowered camping site) and b) that nights in South Australia can even in summer be quite cold. I brought only a thin tropics sleeping bag, which was completely perfect for camping in New Caledonia, but definitely unsuitable for 10C cool nights. So I had to sleep in the car and turn on the heater every two hours to stay comfortably warm. Later I purchased a cheap quilt, which made the camping much more enjoyable.
After surviving the night I drove on to Kennet Bay which is famous for a huge local koala population. And indeed I spotted several koalas high in the Eucalyptus trees. They´re branded as lazy,
but that´s not entirely true. As they eat the poisonous Eucalyptus leaves, it takes longer to digest them and therefore koalas are often seen just doing nothing (except digesting). By the way,
koalas are not bears, but marsupials, and they are closely related to Wombats. And the make frightening noises, sounding a bit like the barking of a big angry bulldog.
The Twelve Apostles rock formations is probably the most famous stop along the road, and hundreds of tourists waited for the sunset. Regrettably the clouds were too thick and the sunrise images rather mediocre. There is no campground nearby, so I slept again in the car on the visitor parking and went again to the viewing platforms at 5.30 in the morning. Only a handful of other people were there and the sunrise was amazing, bathing the rocks in unbelievable colors. The images look like photoshopped, but it´s reality.
The next longer stops was at volcano caldera of Tower Hill. Like a bowl it protects the local wildlife which was re-introduced in the 70´s. Nowadays koalas, emus, wallabies and various birds can be spotted.
In Mount Gambier I slept in the most peculiar dorm I ever saw, in the old gaol of the city. I hope this will be the first and also the last time that I spent in a prison ;-).
A couple of hundreds kilometers further I finally reached Cape Jarvis from where the ferry leaves to Kangaroo Island (or just KI). Australia´s third biggest island covers around 4,400 square kilometers, but inhabits only 5000 people! It´s a premier destination for eco tourists, as there is fabulous scenery combined with abundant wildlife. Most tourists are either on organized one to three days tours or campers. There are only very few hotels, but many campground and smaller family run B&B´s and self-contained cabins. Despite that the period between Christmas and New Year is one of the peak holiday seasons, I never had the feeling that the island is crowded. Might due to the fact, that I started the days really early at 5.30 or 6.00, when the light for photography is best and the wildlife is still visible. Later on the day, most kangaroos and other animals hide as it is to hot (and there are too many tourist). I arrived in the night of December 24 with the last ferry, but I forgot to purchase substantial food reserves. So, Christmas Day December 25 turned out to be quite a miserable day, in many ways. Firstly, the weather in the morning was far from good, really windy with occasional showers. Secondly, all restaurants and shops were closed, so my Christmas dinner consisted of various snacks and fruits that I fortunately brought earlier. Thirdly I wanted to go to the famous Seal Bay for close encounters with seals, but that Park was closed early due to X-mas. Finally in the evening I had some luck, when the late afternoon sun provided some nice lights for taking pictures at the “Remarkable Rocks” in the Flinders Chase National Park. Those huge granite boulders were carved by nature (waves, wind, salt, lichen) in millions of years.
I spent the next two days to explore the hiking trails, and I spotted some typical animals such as the kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums and birds, but I couldn´t find the unique Platypus, one of only two egg-lying mammals in the world (Wikipedia Link for further information on the Platypus).
Despite I saw some seals and sea lions in the National Park, I returned to Seal Bay, where you´re allowed under supervision to spend some time on the beach with the animals. Like the koalas, seals have the reputation to be quite lazy, as they are lying for days at the beach. But it´s rather tiredness than laziness, as the seal hunt for three consecutive days in the water and swimming hundreds of kilometers, before they come ashore to rest for three days.
The highlight of my KI visit was the diving. The dives were conducted in maximum five meter depths below the Kingscote Jetty in almost 20C warm water. There are plenty of colorful sponges, crabs
and juvenile fishes, but the major draw are the leafy sea dragons! Amazing creatures, as impressive as the weedy sea dragons in Tasmania.
By ferry and car I reached Adelaide and again I went diving in search of the sea dragons. This time, the conditions were unfavorable (swell, low visibility compared to the dives two days ago in Kangaroo Island) and we found only one Leafy Sea Dragon. But sometimes "shitty" dives are necessary, to really appreciate the great ones.
After hundreds of trouble free flights I encountered for the first time an unusual event during the flight from Adelaide to Alice Springs. The pilot flew in too high, and when the wheels finally touched the runway, he realized that the remaining way was by far too short to bring the plane to a stop. Therefore he aborted the landing and after the touchdown started off again. The second try was better and we landed safely.
Compared to the really pleasant temperatures at the South coast of Australia, the dry heat without a breeze of Alice Springs in the center of the country was almost inhuman. Several liters of water daily are necessary to keep the body hydrated in this 40C oven. I arrived at New Year Eve, but at ten PM I was so knocked off by traveling, the heat and only few dry ciders, that I skipped partying and spent the year change asleep.
After a relaxing First of January with only some organizational tasks regarding the following six weeks stay in the Philippines I went on a budget three day/ two nights trip to explore the area around Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock. I intended to go with a rental car, but the fares were incredible expensive, so I opted for an organized tour. I met some nice people and saved some bucks, on the downside I lost flexibility to be at the best times to take pictures at the preferred spots.
The aborigines land in this part of the country is pretty desolate, it´s mostly rusty red soil and scattered bushes and low trees, often blackened by past bush fires. The only eye catcher are
geological wonders such as the Kings Canyon, the rocks of Kata Tujta and the world famous Uluru, one of the biggest single rocks in the world. We spent the days hiking and often driving in the
20-seater bus, and the nights with some drinks at the campfire, where we also placed our swags, a mix between a micro-tent and a waterproof sleeping bag. As the forecasted day temperature were
above 36C, some of the longer treks were closed for safety reasons. Too many irresponsible tourists do not drink enough and collapse due to dehydration. Unfortunately the weather turned and got
clouded when we reached Uluru, the normally impressive color change of the red rocks at sunset didn´t really occur, it just got darker. And also the sunrise on the following morning was far from
extraordinary. The landscape was still impressive, but not picture perfect. I ended the three day trip with only seven pictures on my card…
The flight back to Sydney started really promising, as we were ready for take-off already 15 minutes ahead of the schedule. I was so tired from lacking sleep during the previous two nights in the
bush, that I felt asleep immediately. When I woke up half an hour later I noted that we were still grounded and people started leaving the plane. The captain announced some technical issues with
the engine and the issue could only be solved after five hours.
Late in the evening I finally got to Sydney and the next morning the Qantas flight to the next destination Philippines was leaving as scheduled.
Previous destination: Tasmania
Next destination: Philippines