Sunday, August 30, 2015

Blue Mountains

Heading off for a weekend trip to the Blue Mountains. Our interest grew for the Blue Mountains after continuing looking at beautiful pictures other people have posted on instagram. Our list grew of places to see and explore, but after a little research on the area we realized there is so much to see in the area, we had to select a few areas and focus on them. You could easily spend weeks exploring the mountains and its surroundings.

Being on a budget for this weekend we booked one night accommodation in Katoomba, a basic motel room for $95 (which was cheap for the blue mountains) this included the basic necessity's  fridge, microwave, heating and TV. We raided our home fridge and took an esky with food supplies to save money on a few meals. Our room was an easy walk to the 3 sisters and other tourist attractions in this area. The weekend was in late June (winter) so it was freezing cold early mornings and evenings but we were lucky to get beautiful sunny days. We set off early Saturday morning and planned to make it to Bulli tops before 6am to get some sunrise pictures of the Illawarra coastline and escarpment. The day being a little cold, the sunrise was a great start to the weekend and as we drove to the Blue Mountains the early morning fog in the paddocks were also awesome and we got some great pictures.

We arrived at Wentworth falls around 8:30/9am the car park was empty, with only a few people around.We had a map of the area, with lots of tracks that intertwined together, there were variety of long and short distance tracks. At first glance the map looked really confusing, but we just headed off along the Wentworth falls track and the rest fell  into place, we viewed Fletchers and Jaimison lookouts, walked down to Princess rock under-cliff circuit, onto the Short cut track. All tracks were well displayed and easy to walk,although lots of stairs to get the heart rate up. We spend a good 4 hours wondering through lush rain-forest, exploring waterfalls, cliff faces, cliff tracks, lookouts, old ruins. The Wentworth falls area is an amazing area, lots to explore and fascinating landscape and scenery.

As the morning become midday the tourist buses invaded the place and by 11:30am it was almost impossible to get a picture without another person stepping in front of you or groups of people in the way, the walking tracks become congested and the place had lost its serenity. We headed back to the picnic area where we had some lunch and planned our afternoon.

The afternoon we headed in the direction of blackheath, and its surrounding area. I had walked the Six Foot track a couple of years ago (from Katoomba to Janolan Caves, 47km) and remembered the "bowtell swing bridge" which was a great fun river crossing bridge, my google maps on my phone had other ideas though and took us for a drive around the country side. We did not find the bridge but had the opportunity to explore a quieter side of the mountains and came across a small reserve called Coachwood Glen.

It was quiet and isolated at the time we arrived, the track stated it was approx 30min walk, 600mtrs. We spent a good 1.5hours there, taking pictures of the lush rain forest and waterfalls, this place was beautiful and quiet, it felt like we were a world away from anything. But again on our way back to the car, a bus of tourist arrived and the peace and quiet of nature was gone.

We headed back to our accommodation for the evening and had an early night as our plan was to wake early to catch the sunrise at the three sisters lookout.
Up at 5:30am we headed down the road in the freezing weather. I was surprised how many other people also were there, we found a spot and watched the sun rise over the mountain range, an amazing way to start the day, next we headed into town for breakfast and coffee then over to leura.

Our navigation wasn't the best this weekend or Andy would say my navigation??) we parked the car about a kilometer away from Cascades walk. but ventured along a small track towards it. The Leura Cascade Fern Bower walk was a nice walk, we strolled along the track and enjoyed the views, the track was an easy walk (4.5km return) although muddy in sections, it was mainly sandstone steps and board walks.

When arriving at the cascade there was an open cave to view the waterfalls, we sat and just relaxed and took in the beauty of the place, continuing along the track it ended at a lookout overlooking the vast mountain ranges. As our day was coming to an end we drove over to sublime lookout and had a late lunch before our drive back home.The Blue Mountains is a huge area and we will be heading there again to explore more of this amazing area.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tasmania North Coast and Launcestion

Taking a short 4 day break down to Tasmania we were lucky to come across cheap airfares into Launceston for $19 each way. Deciding to book this trip in November when the weather is a little warmer. We booked a hire car for $189 for the 4 days, with Avis car hire.
Our flight arrived early in the morning so we had a full day to explore, heading from Launceston to Burnie for a quick lunch and to visit family, during the drive to Burnie we stopped at a couple of unique little stores for local produce, cheese, chocolate, antiques and a few farming markets.

Arriving in Burnie for lunch, we stopped there for a while then we spent the afternoon driving along the north coast to Stanly, which is a small coastal fishing town with the main landmark being "The Nut" which is a huge volcanic plug, with a flat top, set on the ocean front, the height is approx 143mtrs. As we set off we made a few stops along the way first being Table-cape, this beautiful place has an old lighthouse a short walk between a lookout and the light house, driving off the main highway towards Table-cape there are fields of colored Iris and rows of multi coloured flowers which looks amazing. Also along the way we stopped at port Latta Jetty which is approx 2km long heading out bass strait.

 Arriving at Stanly we spent a few hours looking around, it was really windy the chair lift was closed, it is possible to climb the Nut but it was freezing and windy so we decided to just look around as it was getting late. The town of Stanly is a cute coastal town, lots of small gift shops and cafes to relax.
Heading back to Burnie we spent the night at a waterfront cottage enjoying the local beer.

The next day after a late start we headed over to Cradle Mountain with so many walks available (long challenging, and short easy) we decided to walk around Dove Lake, St Claire,(approx 6km) which took about 4 hours, at a nice easy pace stopping along the way for lots of pictures, this walk is easy but a slight hill at end got the heart rate up. We suggest starting from the right hand side, from the carpark. A great walk with a beautiful view of cradle mountain and the surrounding lake. There is an admission fee into park for the day, and a shuttle which takes you down to all the walking tracks. Self drive is also easy as long as parking is available.

From here we headed to our accommodation which we had booked prior to leaving home "Mountain Valley Wilderness Lodge" Loongana, which is situated approx 20km from cradle mountain (if you could go in a straight line) but driving took 1h.45 min by road as you drive around all the mountains, at this point you realize how isolated Tasmania can be as there were no petrol stations or food outlets for the whole trip from cradle mountain to Lodge.
Arriving late afternoon at Lodge we checked in and were advised of the activity's that were available. We headed straight down to the river to observe the platypus. Later that night the owners come around to our rooms and tired raw meat to logs outside ready for the Tasmanian Devils and the Spotted Quolls, we had the log fire burning , snacks ready and got comfy in front of the open glass doors/windows to view the nocturnal activity's, around 9pm the action started  we saw many spotted quolls and devils on a feeding frenzy.

Many of the devils unfortunately suffer from the cancer growth that is plaguing them, we watched them feeding for hours, it was an amazing sight watching these creatures in the wild.
The following morning we decided to go view the glow worms in an underground cave on the property, this trip ended up being the highlight of our trip as there were only the two of us and the owner Len, we ventured down into a cavern of an underground cave, we saw a few glow worms and some huge ancient spiders. As we were keen and totally interested in this hidden cave, Len took us further through than he would usually go into cave, crawling through muddy water on our hands and knees we came to an opening of a beautiful cathedral of sandstone, it was awesome. Spending a couple more hours walking around the property learning about the history and hearing stories from Len. This was a beautiful place and we experienced a real connection with nature and its amazing beauty.

We then headed back to Launceston for the night, we stayed in a Best Western Hotel, which was in a the main center of town, close to most attractions and restaurants, we wandered around that evening exploring  the town.
The next morning our final few hours in Launceston we headed over to Cataract Gouge, a beautiful area and an easy walk around the Gorge then taking the chair lift over the gorge, which was an experience worth doing. There were many wild life animals wandering the area also, Peacocks, variety of birds, Tasmanian Pademelon this was another amazing day and the end of our time in Tasmania.

We drove back to the airport were we left the hire car, boarded the plane back to busy Sydney airport.
Looking forward to returning to Tasmania and exploring other areas of this unique land.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park

 The changing colours of the rock 

Trish and I saw a Jetstar Friday frenzy sale with $99 each, one-way for Uluru (Ayers Rock) we both decided to book it. Our trip was booked in June for which was a very cool time of the year to visit the area; temperatures were around 5 degrees at night to around 22 degrees during the day which was sunny with a cool breeze. 

We started researching our accommodation and it was a bit of a shock, as the prices for accommodation were way out of our budget, the cheapest option was camping/hostel room but being in the middle of winter (July) the weather in Uluru can get very cold early mornings, evenings and through the night. We also searched through travago and many other travel deals were we finally decided on the Dessert Gardens that is run by the Novotel Group. The lowest price we could find for a room for was $230 per night which included a buffet breakfast. (Valued at $35per head).  ($920 for 4 night), I had a little blond moment at this time and remembered it was a member of the Accor advantage group so I called them to ask a price, for the same room we managed to get a free night which brought it down to $690 for 4 nights and breakfast included still. With the Accor card we also could purchase buy one get on free meals at selected restaurant throughout the resort. On arrival at the Dessert Gardens we were also upgraded to a deluxe room free of charge. The hotel Dessert Gardens was quiet and spacious. We were upgraded to the deluxe room which was in a quiet location of the property, large room with a court yard out back, were we could just see the rock through the trees.  The room had all the standard features with air con, TV, fridge, jug, 2 large beds, bathroom with bath and shower. The room was very simple and acceptable, but for the price wasn’t anything special. (We have paid a lot less in other areas for nicer places). Our photos of the room, here.

We started looking at the places of interested were we wanted see, and looked at  different kinds of transport around to do this., we decided to hire a car being our best option, so we had the freedom to do our own thing, I googled a few car hire company's and came across an hire car search page called vroomvroomvroom and booked a small car for $33.00 a day this costing $99 for 3 days, on arrival to pick up car we spoke to another traveller who also was picking up a hire car she had not booked prior, and she stated she payed $150 per day.  We also got an upgrade on car, to a nice Toyota corolla. Also a word of warning there is only one petrol station in Yulara and with no signage of price when looking at pump the price being $2.09 per litre with a cost of $60 for half a tank.

Getting from Ayers Rock Airport to Yulara is fairly easy you can catch the free bus to your accommodation with a few handy tips that are worth listening too and don’t forget to buckle up. Or the other option is to hire a car.

Yulara is little a small town made up of a town centre surrounded by accommodation of all budgets and staff housing. In the town centre you’ll find a post office, ANZ  ATM, IGA grocery shop and a host of cafes and restaurants.  There is also an art gallery where you can watch and buy aboriginal art, and join in on one of the cultural talks. There is only one place to buy alcohol and it’s the Out Back Pub.
Getting around Yulara is easy you can catch the shuttle bus which does it rounds every 20 minutes, starting at 1030am till 6pm and 630pm till 1230pm but walking is very easy and the distance isn’t too far.

We had buffet breakfast included so we filled up there each day. We also did a few shops at the IGA grocery shop which was good to make lunch each day and a few snacks and prices were good. Most nights we ate out, our first night we ate at the Out Back Pub one burger, steak sandwich and chips cost $35 and four beers cost $30, great food in a great setting. The 2nd night we got take away at Ayers Wok a noodle bar with most meals around $16, the food was delicious. Our 3rd night we ate at the Out Back Pub again with two burgers, chips $35 and two beers $15. On our last night we ate at Gecko and ate an Emu, Kangaroo and beef pizza with salad and two soft drinks $55, The pizza was pretty tasty and better  than we were expecting.

The only place to buy alcohol is the Out Back Pub, as the whole area is classed as a dry area by the local indigenous people the Anangu. To buy beer from the pub you need to show your room key and you can only buy 1 six pack of beer per person at a cost of around $30.

Valley of the winds walk, Kata Tjuta
We did a number of treks while in Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park, the park itself has an entrance fee of $25 (3 day pass). Over first was the Valley Of The Winds at Kata Tjuta (which means many heads) or the Olgas we trekked to the 2nd lookout before turning back, which was about 6km. A short drive down the road we did Walpa Gorge Walk which is into another section of Kata Tjuta it was 2.6km return. On the way back we also stopped at the Kata Tjuta Dune Walk which was 1.2 km return which gave us a breath taking view of Kata Tjuta from a distance. And to turn around and see Uluru in the other direction was amazing. We loved Kata Tjuta more than we enjoyed Uluru.
We got to the ranger station By 630am and got in line and boy did the line soon grow, Get there early to get a good place at the front of the line. A few minutes to 7am (sunrise) we arrived at Mutijulu to get some photos.  

Uluru and cave paintings
The cultural centre is near Uluru and worth a look, we headed to Uluru after. We had mixed feeling about climbing Uluru and when we arrived found it closed due to high winds. We decided to walk around Uluru which is 10.5km, from the point you climb the rock we went to the right which follows the close to Uluru till around the halfway point then the track is further away.  During the walk we took two sidewalks the first to a waterhole with a few cave paintings on the Kuniya Walk and the Mala Walk which took it up to 15km and about two to three hours.
At sunset we drove to Uluru Car Sunset Park to see the amazing colour change of the rock, a truly amazing experience to witness. 

We took a look at the Camel camp, which is a short drive from Yulara. We didn’t ride the camels but we did walk around and meet a few as well as a few other Australian animals fenced into a small paddock. While feeding one of the camels it nearly bite my hand, and those camels have some big teeth.