Two Sights of Sydney

After a restful day yesterday we felt energised to set off and explore some of Sydney's sights. Fortunately we had brought our brollies, as we battled through the rain to the free shuttle bus round the corner. This took us to Circular Quay. A rainy day seemed a good opportunity to do a tour of the Opera House – although by the time we got there the rain had lifted and the blue skies had broken through again.


Once inside, our guide showed us the concrete beams holding up the sea-shell roofs.


Out the window we could see some of these roofs close up.


We walked through the lovely foyer, and into the Joan Sutherland Theatre, which we were not allowed to photograph (though of course I saw quite a few people doing so).


The Joan Sutherland Theatre is used for operas and musical shows (and, I think, some non-musical theatre as well). Some of the staging was being prepared for this evening's performance of La Traviata. Our guide sat us down in the middle of the stalls, and informed us that if we were coming tonight, we would have to pay over $300 for these very same seats. There is seating for 1500 people in this theatre, but the stage itself is only 11 metres wide, narrower than in most modern theatres. So the sets have to be raised and lowered from the basement between acts, rather than being wheeled out from the wings as in other theatres.

It was interesting to learn about the design competition and the construction issues – finding a way to support those shell roofs was a major one, but fortunately after 6 years they came up with the aforementioned concrete supports.

Following our visit to the Joan Sutherland Theatre we went to the second major performance space, the Concert Chamber. The seating is configured completely differently from that in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, surrounding the stage rather than just in front of it. The stage was already set up for an orchestra. And because there were no sets that might have copyright issues attached, we were allowed to take photos.


Again we sat in the auditorium and imagined we were waiting for an orchestra to come in and begin tuning up. It would be a wonderful experience to sit up in the seats above and behind the orchestra where you could see each player taking their part in the concert. Maybe next time we come!

After the tour was finished we emerged to find the sun had come out for the afternoon, and decided to walk across the Harbour Bridge. This is something we don't have the opportunity to do in Auckland, as there is currently no footpath for pedestrians to cross the bridge (though various schemes for providing pedestrian access ways have been proposed from time to time).


From the Bridge we had some lovely views of the Opera House.


It was great to explore these two iconic sights of Sydney on the same day.


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Leaving Darwin

Even though it is so warm in Darwin, the nights are a little cool, and the hotel only provided one blanket. I should have asked for another one, but during the warm days I kept forgetting. Consequently I am finishing up our holiday in Darwin with a cold.

On our last morning in Darwin we took a short walk before our shuttle was due to pick us up and tke us to the airport. Up till now we hadn't located the library, so that was our mission for the morning.

It seems quite a small library – similar in size to the one in Alice Springs.

Outside the library is a very large old banyan tree, which appropriately goes by the name of 'The Tree of Knowledge.'

Amazing to think that such an iconic tree has survived both the bombing and Cyclone Tracy, when so much of the city did not.

We also liked the pretty decorations in the smaller trees nearby.


It was a very warm morning, and I was dressed in my Sydney clothes ready for the flight (they have been having heavy snow in Sydney) – so we didn't wander far. However, we did manage to spot the local magistrates' court.

And sadly, our time in Darwin had now come to an end, and we were off to the airport.

At the airport we found the usual chaotic Virgin Australia boarding procedures. Only 3 check-in counters, one of which seemed to be having computer problems, and queues snaking around and around, with the resulting lengthy wait before we could relinquish our check-in luggage and go to departures. We flew Virgin Australia from Sydney to Ayers Rock, and it was the same set-up then. I wonder if it's the norm for VA – do they do it to save money?

Eventually we were through, onto the flight and on our way to Sydney. No meal or screens to watch movies, so I was glad I had a book to read on my Kindle – An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon. It was so absorbing that the flight of 3 and a quarter hours just flew by. Unfortunately, due to my cold, the descent affected my ears and I feel as if I am separated from the sounds of the world by cotton wool.

And now we are settled into our Sydney accommodation on the 28th floor of the Adina in Kent Street – much more central than I had realised when I was doing the bookings, so it will be handy for pretty much everything in the city.


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More sightseeing in Darwin

We made the most of our 24-hour bus tickets by catching the hop-on-hop-off bus again this morning.

Our first stop was at Mindil Beach. There was nobody there but us.


We had wondered whether we would be able to swim, but there were warnings about salties and box jellyfish, even though it was out of season for the jellyfish.

So John just went for a little paddle.

(Later we heard a story about a woman who went for a paddle in 6 inches of water and narrowly escaped being attacked by a large croc. So perhaps we were being too insouciant.)
There were no crocs lying in wait for us, but a large number of ships looming on the horizon. Some of them were probably there for an international military exercise that was taking place nearby.

There were some lovely palm trees – very tropical.


We caught the bus again and got off in the waterfront precinct. Here there is a large wave pool: since Darwin doesn't normally get waves (and as far as I can see, Darwin residents don't normally swim in the sea), the wave pool provides the missing waves. Every half hour waves are generated in the pool for twenty minutes, and people ride the waves on inflatable tyres and surfboards.


Near the wave pool is a recreational swimming area in the harbour, ringed around with safety netting to keep out the crocs and jellyfish.

And finally, John was able to have a swim!


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Sunny sightseeing in Darwin

We started our day at 9 am service at the Darwin Cathedral.

I was taken aback at the beginning of the service by the presiding priest's announcement that he didn't believe salvation was achieved by the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, but only by the example of Christ's life on earth. However, I looked around and nobody seemed to be throwing up their hands in horror, and the Dean did not arise from his dean's chair and cast forth the priest from the church. So either everyone is ok with this opinion, or perhaps it's just that we're Anglicans, and don't want to make a fuss.
Anyway, I thought about this for a while as the service continued, and came to the decision that the priest's opinion wouldn't make a difference to my faith unless I let it.
As the priest spoke the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, he rephrased it to eliminate any reference to the saving blood and death of Christ, changing this to words referencing the saving life of Christ.
However, I did notice that at the end of the service, when pronouncing the blessing, he made the sign of the Cross. Perhaps he forgot …
I would have liked to speak to this priest over morning tea and ask him where he stands on sin, but I didn't get the opportunity.
However, we did get to talk to some lovely people. As in Alice Springs, a lot of the people we spoke to at church were not born in Darwin, but have come here for work reasons, and intend to go back to Sydney or New South Wales when they retire. One couple were visitors like us, and had done the Darwin Explorer hop-on-hop-off bus trip. They recommended a stop at the museum.

So upon leaving the cathedral we went straight up to the Darwin Explorer bus stop and hopped on.

The museum was indeed very good. In the Aboriginal art section there was a life-size replica of a jeep that took John's fancy. It was made completely in rope.


In the natural history section I discovered that in prehistoric days there lived in Australia possibly the largest bird that ever lived, the flightless giant goose, or dromornithidae, standing almost 3 metres tall, and weighing up to 500 kg. We also saw a reconstructed skeleton of a marsupial rhinoceros, the diprotodon and read about the extinct marsupial elephant. I hadn't realised such giants existed in Australia's past.

And we saw a cross-section of a termite mound – very like a honeycomb.

In another section of the museum was an excellent exhibition on Cyclone Tracy. Out of the 47,000 residents of Darwin, over 30,000 were evacuated after Cyclone Tracy, as three-quarters of the city was destroyed.

Upstairs there was a display from the Northern Territory News of their most notable front page headlines over the last few years. Crocodiles were a popular theme.

But there were a few other stories.


Having enjoyed the museum, we hopped back on the bus and headed to East Point to the Darwin military museum. Here there was a very good display on the bombing of Darwin on the 19th of February 1942 (just 4 days after the fall of Singapore).

There were also a great many World War II vehicles and army equipment on display in the grounds.

Fortunately there were also some lovely cool shady seats for me to sit on while John explored everything.


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Crocodiles and other critters

Not far from our hotel is Crocosaurus Cove, so we decided to go along and get to know some salties. We joined a guided tour which included the opportunity to feed the crocodiles.

There were pools full of little ones.


And there were some VERY big ones.


The crocodiles went by names like Crusher and Leo. There was also Burt, who starred in Crocodile Dundee. These three were in individual pools, as they apparently didn't interact well with their own kind – or with any other kind. In another pool was a large male called William, with his smaller female companion, Kate. Some intrepid young people had signed up to be lowered into William and Kate's pool in a large perspex cage.

John enjoyed talking to the crocodiles.

I'm not sure if the enjoyment was mutual.


We were also offered the opportunity to handle more snakes and reptiles. I felt I would be more useful as camera person.


The snake wanted to see what I was doing. There may or may not have been a screech at that point.


On talking about it afterwards, we agreed that though the enclosures for the reptiles seemed to be close to their natural environments, the pools seemed a rather sterile environment for the crocodiles. Wouldn't they like a few trees to lurk under?

But these little cuties seemed very comfortable:



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Katherine to Darwin

We weren't in quite such a rush to get on the road this morning, as the trip from Katherine to Darwin is only 316 kilometres. Before we set off we went down the road for one more photo for our albums – the Katherine Court house. Nice looking building, isn't it?


We eventually set off mid-morning, and made it to Darwin pretty easily. The only drawback to the second half of the trip was the dearth of loos. The one we should have stopped for was broken, with no alternative available, and for 200 kilometres after that we couldn't see one anywhere. Coming into Darwin we found our hotel was very central, with a lovely big room. We returned our hire car straight away, and after a short rest, sallied forth for a walk. Darwin is beautifully warm! We found the hop-on-hop-off bus stop for future reference, and just around the corner from there we saw the Parliament buildings.


A little further on we saw the war memorial park on the headland, with a great view of what I guess is the Timor Sea.


We're looking forward to the next few days in sunny warm Darwin!


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Gorgeous Gorges on the Nitmiluk River

On our rest day today we took the opportunity to visit the Nitmiluk Reserve and do a boat cruise through two of the thirteen gorges on the Nitmiluk River, formerly the Katherine River. When a land claim settlement was reached with the local people, the river's name was officially reverted to its original name of Nitmiluk.

We were fortunate to have as our guide a young man from the Jawoyn people of this area. He had all the knowledge of the history of the river and his people at his fingertips, and the flora and fauna of that environment. His commentary greatly enriched our understanding of what we were seeing.


At the end of the first gorge we disembarked from our boat.

On the way to gorge number 2, we passed some ancient rock art.


We walked over the rocks where the water slid from one gorge to the next.


The second gorge was, if possible, even lovelier than the first.


It was thoroughly satisfying day. I would recommend the cruise to anyone visiting Katherine.

At the end of the day we had another little walk around the town, and found the Anglican Church – behind a locked fence and somewhat obscured by trees.


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The Long Road to Katherine

We were up early today to get on the road for our longest drive – 673 kilometres from Tennant Creek to Katherine. We were on our way by a quarter to 8, and had a good run – though occasionally we got stuck behind slow campervans going only 90 kilometres an hour. Too slow for speedsters like us!

On the way we crossed numerous bridges over dry river beds – no water to be seen anywhere. It is interesting that many of the outback places are named for rivers and creeks, even though when we passed them, the watercourses were all dry. Places like Daly Waters, Newcastle Waters, Tennant Creek and many others. I guess it is an indication of how important water and rivers are in the outback.

We stopped in Pine Creek (another dry watercourse) for lunch, but either we picked the wrong cafe or the wrong day – the wait for our coffees was over half an hour. As we were champing at the bit to get back on the road, this was a bit frustrating.

Our next stop was at Maranka – much more pleasant! We were served by a charming, capable 10-year-old, and I had a delicious mango smoothie. By this time the weather was decidedly tropical, so I kindly shared my smoothie with my co-driver.


We were visited at our table by a blue-faced honey-eater, but as you can see, he moved to quickly for me to get a good photo of him.

You can find a better photo of one here.


From Maranka to Katherine was only 100 km – just an hour away. I had booked ahead for our stay in Katherine, and we had a comfortable room at the Katherine Motel – very central and an easy walking distance of the main street and shops, but nice and quiet nonetheless. What a relief to know the long drive was done, and we were here safely!

After settling in to the motel, we went for a short walk to the river. At last, we had found one with real water in it!


The bridge is far, far above the river. Hard to realise that on occasion the river has risen 17 metres to just below the bridge. We learned that once when this happened, there was 3 feet of water in the main street, and a few salt water crocodiles floated in as well. Urban legend says that one was found in the meat department of the local supermarket.

Certainly when we walked down to the river there were signs up warning us not to swim, because some 'salties' had been seen in the river recently.

On the way back to the motel we saw the war memorial. Apparently Katherine was the most inland town to be bombed by the Japanese in World War II.



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Gold and Termites at Tennant Creek

Today was a rest day and a chance to look around Tennant Creek. It is a smallish township in the middle of the Outback, with a few shops and eateries, and one supermarket. These days I would pick Tennant Creek as a model for the township in A Town Like Alice, rather than today's (relatively) bustling Alice Springs.

In the morning we did a tour of the mine. Tennant Creek had its own gold rush, where the gold was extracted from ironstone rather than quartz.


It was interesting to see some of the workings of the mine, and to hear stories of conditions in those days. Not at all good, I have to say, with some horrific casualties and injuries. There was a young family doing the tour with us, and at one point the father asked if he could demonstrate the telephone to his children – they had never seen one where you dial the numbers. (I don't know what they would have thought of the even older phones I remember from my young days, where you wound a handle to talk to the operator!)


I was intrigued by the formation of the rock above the mine.


And I was even more intrigued by the termite mounds we saw everywhere alongside the road. Some were small, only a foot or so high, while others were much bigger. This one was about 4 or 5 feet high.

Some of the taller termite mounds we have seen have been adorned by t-shirts and hoodies. This is a bit disconcerting as you are driving by – I kept thinking I had seen hunched-over people.

Outside the mining museum there was some old machinery, like this concrete mixer. John showed me how it worked.


Then we found the library:

A lovely little library with views on two sides.



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The Tropic of Capricorn and some marbles

We picked up our hire car nice and early, and set off on the road mid-morning to drive to Tennant Creek, 508 kilometres away. We were a bit apprehensive, as neither of us has driven that far in one day before.

However, the road was lovely, flat and straight and smooth, with very little other traffic. And the speed limit is 130 kilometres an hour. Though we never felt we were going fast, even though occasionally when we looked at the speed gauge we could see that we had crept up over the limit.

Not far out of Alice Springs we stopped at the marker for the Tropic of Capricorn.


We are now officially in the tropics!

Our next stop for lunch was at the little settlement of Ti Tree. Nice roadhouse with clean friendly staff and dirty smelly loos. Strange paradox.


Our next stop was at the Devil's Marbles, not far from Tennant Creek. These strange rock formations balanced precariously on top of one another seemed likely to topple any moment – but they have been that way for millennia.


Most of the traffic we encountered along the way was campervans and caravans. What a great way to see the country, tootling along and stopping at your leisure. At the Devil's Marbles there was a caravan/campervan park and loos, and there would have been close to 50 vehicles already parked there when we arrived.

We arrived safely at Tennant Creek by mid-afternoon. We hadn't booked accommodation before we arrived, so we were lucky to get a cabin in the caravan park. It is rather basic, but sufficient for our needs. And the caravan park is peaceful – no traffic noise, just the sound of galahs in the trees. We walked around the park in the evening and enjoyed the serenity.


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