to Western Australia and the Outback in 2007
Suzy saying good bye to Final Straw for a few days
departed Mooloolaba in May 2007 and sailed south to Brisbane. We decided
to stay at Rivergate Marina and wait for the arrival of the Dockwise ship,
Yacht Express, which was sheduled to bring Final Straw to Ensenada,
Mexico in mid-July. Since we had
a few months to wait, we decided this was a good time to visit a part of
Australia we hadn't yet seen. So, we made plans to spend 12 days in Western
Australia and the Northern Territories.
We started the trip by flying out to Perth
Wednesday, June 6th. Rivergate
Marina is right on the Brisbane River and is conveniently located about ten minutes from
the airport. Considering Perth is some 2700 miles from
Brisbane, about the same distance as a drive from New York to LA, we decided
it would be best to fly.
We arrived in Perth that evening and stayed at a B&B in one of the suburbs.
The next day, we drove to Fremantle where all of the 1987 America's
Cup activity took place. When Australia won the Cup away from the New
York Yacht Club, they broke the longest winning streak in sporting
history, 132 years. That was a BIG deal and the Aussies were "over
the moon" with pride. Alan Bond was the financier behind
the campaign and he was from Perth. The Royal Perth Yacht Club became
the first defending yacht club in America's Cup history after NYYC. Dennis
Connor was the skipper who lost the Cup and the NYYC wasn't
very happy about losing the coveted trophy. So, Dennis came to Perth representing the San
Diego Yacht Club as a challenger with the goal of winning it back. In an
incredible comeback, which happens to be the name of his book about this
event, he won the Cup and was, once again, an American hero. San Diego
Yacht Club kept the Cup for the next eight years. The racing in
Fremantle was fantastic stuff with some of the best video of
spectacular racing in Cup history. This was due primarily to the
size of the seas and a strong afternoon wind caused by a weather pattern
affectionately called the Fremantle Doctor (or Docker depending on the story
you believe). Jimmy Buffet wrote a little
song about all of this hoopla called "Take it Back".
The Americas Cup used to be here!
We stayed at a place right on the water at Fremantle overlooking the area
where they held the racing. The next day, we stopped by at the Royal Perth
Yacht Club to see the all the memorabilia they have from that big event. Like
New Zealand, sailing is a big sport in this part of the world. They start
young and take it very seriously.
The famous Perth black swans
Perth is well known for its large black swan population. In fact, the
flag of Western Australia has a black swan embossed upon it. We came
across these fine specimens at one of the parks along the Swan
River. There were hundreds of them walking around the various parks and
swimming in the rivers.
One of the highlights for us was visiting the Shipwreck Galleries, a part of
Fremantle's impressive Maritime
Museum. The exhibits are
exceptionally well done (and we've been to quite a few Australian maritime
museums now!). The centerpiece is the remains of the Dutch East
Indian merchant ship, Batavia, which shipwrecked on
a coral reef not far from Perth in 1629! It's a fascinating story of
life in the seventeenth century and the greed of a mad heretic who led
history's bloodiest mutiny to capture the treasure aboard. She
was loaded with thousands of Dutch guilders (worth multi-millions now)
that was to be used for trading in the Far East. She was the flagship of the Dutch
East Indian Company. The story of recovering and preserving the
sunken stern is a fascinating story in itself.
Standing in front of the remains of the stern of Batavia
After a few days in Perth & Fremantle, we drove south about 3-1/2
hours to the Margaret River in far southwestern Western Australia, basically
at the lower left corner of Australia (kind of like San Diego is to the
US). Margaret River is one of Australia's most famous wine
regions. It's truly gorgeous country with some fantastic surfing spots on the Indian Ocean. The photo below is from the
deck of a restaurant where we had lunch after an exhausting morning
of wine tasting.
Bunker Bay Beach overlooking the Indian Ocean
We saw some great surfing spots and have some good video of the breaks.
It was pretty interesting to see cars with surfboards on top parked in
front of the vineyards so their occupants could do a little tasting before
hitting the surf. There are about a hundred different wineries in the
area and some are really world class.
Entrance to Voyager Estate
We stopped at maybe 15-20 different vineyards based primarily upon recommendations
or notable awards they received. One of the more beautiful grounds we
visited was at Voyager
Estate. They have one of the best
Chardonnays (2005) in the Margaret River Region and a very good Shiraz (also 2005) and a
beautiful rose garden. I actually enjoyed stopping to smell the roses
Wine tasting at Laurance Wines
One of the prettiest wineries we visited was Laurance. They've
spent a small fortune decorating and landscaping the place. And, they have a very nice 2006 Chardonnay.
Wine glass chandelier at Laurance Wines
We got a kick out of the creative chandelier hanging in their entryway.
They also have a somewhat controversial golden maiden statute in the
middle of their pond that is the subject of great discussion in the
region. The shire (like a city council in the States) has told them it must be
removed. So, there's a big legal battle brewing over the
"rights" of a property owner to do what he pleases on his own
property. Sounds like democracy in action!
After three and a half days at Margaret River, we drove back to Perth
before heading to Alice Springs in the Red Center of Australia.
Alice Springs in the heart of the Australian Outback
The next day we flew to "The Alice" which is billed as the closest
city to every beach in Australia. They forget to tell you its about
1000 miles to the closest one. But, due to its central location, the
premise is actually true. The soil is pretty red in the Outback, thus
the label of being in the Red Center. It's also home to a large
population of indigenous Australians, the Aborigines. They have a
mystical culture and beliefs that are quite interesting. Alice
Springs had several galleries and a cultural center that displayed
Aboriginal art and artifacts.
Having a schooner of VB at Bojangles in Alice Springs
One thing we were advised to do by Aussie sailing friends back in Mooloolaba was to
Bojangles Tavern. It's an interesting place with some real characters
hanging out there. I must say, they did have a really cold VB (Victoria
Bitter beer) on tap and all the shelled peanuts you could eat. You just
drop the shells on the floor and they clean them up after they close.
So, here we are in the middle of the Australian Outback and we're told we're
live on the internet. That's right, there are six web cameras in
the tavern that run 24 hours a day AND if you see someone you know, you
can buy them a drink over the internet from the other side of the world!
Now how cool is that! Just go to the Bojangles
website, register on a secure web page and buy a drink. They take credit
cards or Paypal and announce over the PA system whenever someone
buys a drink. Very clever, the power of the information revolution via
Standley Chasm in the West Macdonnell Range
The next day we decided to drive the 4-1/2 hours south to Uluru, or Ayers Rock
as many know it. Just before leaving for Uluru, we stopped at Simpsons
Gap and Standley Chasm in the West Macdonnell Mountain Range. The
area is reminiscent of New Mexico, Arizona and West Texas, but,
believe it or not, it's bigger. Sunlight plays an interesting role in
changing the colors of the red soil in the Outback. It makes the region
a photographer's paradise. At Standley Chasm, they instruct you to come between
11 am and 1 pm for the best viewing. We and thirty others arrived
at the same time all with cameras in hand. Jockeying for a spot to take pictures without getting others
in your shot was a challenge. It was a beautiful place though and we did get some nice
photos and video.
A real Outback dinner as opposed to
dinner at Outback
We arrived in Uluru around 2 pm and checked into the
appropriately-named-for-us Sails in the Desert Hotel. It was a very nice
place and the room was quite comfortable. That evening, we made a
reservation to go to the Sound of Silence dinner. It's held on the
top of a big sand dune on the desert floor with a distant view of Uluru. The
evening is well planned and you are well cared for by the staff. A
lone digeridoo player greeted us as we watched the sun set on Uluru.
Then, we were treated to ca napes of emu, kangaroo and crocodile along with
fine Australian sparkling wine. This was followed by a walk to the
dinner tables where we had a nice gourmet buffet dinner. After dinner, there was a very interesting and humorous talk about the stars and
constellations of the Southern Sky. It was a very nice evening, albeit,
quite cold (about 35 deg F). July is midwinter here in the
Southern hemisphere! But, we
stayed pretty warm with the big outdoor heaters, a nice campfire and a port
dessert wine in here in the desert.
Uluru/Ayers Rock at late afternoon
We came all this way to see the world's largest monolith, a great big piece of
sandstone rock. You only see about 10% of it above ground. It's
truly enormous (over 1200 feet high and about six miles around the base) and
more impressive than we expected. The indigenous Aboriginal tribes of the
area believe it is sacred ground and they co-manage it with the
Australian Parks System. Probably the most impressive thing about Uluru
is how the sun changes the colors of the sandstone rock from a deep purple to
various red hues and eventually a most brilliant orange. We got up early
the next morning to see sunrise on Uluru. We weren't disappointed as the
photo below shows.
A bright orange glow on Uluru at sunrise
It was a magnificent sight. Until you walk up to the base, you really
don't get the impact of just how enormous it really is. There are a
number of trails you can walk and it really takes a couple of days
to give this place justice. We spent
most of the morning climbing around the base of the rock. Then, we
visited the local Aboriginal gallery and saw some very interesting
artwork. The paintings relate stories that the artist is allowed to tell
by elders of their tribe regarding ancient Aboriginal beliefs.
The next day we drove back to Alice Springs to spend the night before
catching our flight back to Brisbane.