Uluru a.k.a. Ayers Rock and Kata Tjutas

Leaving Sydney and going to Uluru and Katja Tjuta also known as Ayers Rock and the Olgas. It was almost sad to leave my home away from home, but I knew new adventures were awaiting me.  What I didn’t know was how quickly, When I got to the airport I informed security that I have an artificial knee and that the alarms would go off. This got greeted by let’s give this woman the third degree. My innocent folding plastic shoehorn that I acquired long ago on some airline was handed from hand to hand, the blunt scissors were ¼ inch to long, but they were going to let it pass, and so it went until I was finally cleared.

Once I got on the Virgin Australia aircraft it just continued in the same vein, Fortunately I had brought my own lunch, because once the flight attendants had finished handing out lunch to regular fare passengers they decided to retire to the galley and hang out. It had me questioning the wisdom of purchasing an Australia pass, not because I was flying at discounted prices and had to buy my food but I was also not able to get a cup of coffee even though the drink cart was next to me. Fortunately subsequent flights totally allayed any concerns I may have had.

As the plane approached Uluru airport, one could feel the palabable excitement on the plane. The rock was clearly seen in the middle of the desert. There is this large monolith with nothing but shrubs around it. An impressive sight indeed, and one begins to understand how the aboriginals has made this into one of the holy sites in the area which has now become a National Park and a World Heritage Site.

The bus taking me to, Yulara Resort which has many different hotels, was waiting   and very soon I arrived at Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge which is the backpacker part . My room was a mixed sex 4 bedded room but it wasn’t quite ready. I knew that I had to share bathroom but didn’t expect the whole place to be long cabins and the showers and bathrooms a distance away. As it turned out it was fine. There was also a communal kitchen with its own dining area, laundry facilities, a bar, restaurant, and a casual take out place as well as a swimming pool.

At night you could order a cook your own Barbecue meal with a salad buffet, there is  a selection of different meats including Kangaroo  and Crocodile skewers that you cooked on very hot griddles. The food prices were very reasonable which could not be said for the excursions.
For my first night I had booked a dinner under the stars. This included a sunset view of Uluru, buffet dinner, an astronomer explaining the stars as well as unlimited wine, beer and sodas. All for the bargain price of $ 177. Since there was a full moon the stars were not really visible, but the sunset was gorgeous. I had a great time sitting at a table with a couple from Canada and another from Manhattan.

The next morning I had booked what I thought was a sunrise guided tour to Kata Tjuta. It was a bus that took you there and would pick you up in 3 hours for the cost of $80 plus the park pass of $25.  I could not have managed a complete guided walking, but it would have been nice to have some explanations. The sunrise was very lovely with the rocks  taking on many different hues. As awe inspiring as  Uluru  is, I found I preferred Kata Tjuta or the Olgas as it is also called. There were several rocks and the stone is different from Uluru which is only one rock. One could walk around but I only managed to get to the first outlook, then I called it quits. The walking was just too difficult for me to manage.

By the time we returned to the hotel it was very hot and I decided to go and lay by the pool which was a nice break, but after a while that got too hot as well so I returned to my room.
The first night I had shared the room with an English girl and it was just the two of us, because it was late in the day we assumed that we were going to be alone the second night as well.

When I got to my room the door is open and this very tall man is standing in the doorway. First thought, we are being robbed, my laptop was being charged and sitting out. As it turned out he was one of our new roommates a Norwegian who was traveling with his Portugese friend. Two aging, sweet, gentle, hippies who were on their way to a week long outdoor music festival held outside of Cairns, they were to share our room for the night. How lucky was I, they had rented a car and invited me to join them for the sunset at Ayers Rock, since I already had my park pass I accepted with pleasure. I also got to see the sunrise and it was not at all like the pictures. The red is not as vivid and I couldn’t see any inner glow, which is how it had been described as happening when the sunrays hit the rock.


 I am glad that I have been here but it is time to move on to Brisbane.


Greetings from Sydney.                                                    Oct 22, 2012
Though the actual travel time was quite lengthy 30 hours give or take it didn’t seem too bad. I slept part of the time thanks to pharmaceuticals, courtesy of my friend Lena. The layover in L.A. went very quickly thanks to some Australian co-travelers. I encountered my first and am sure more to follow Aussie expressions. One of the men said “I am going to get pissed” I of course assumed it meant to get annoyed, he meant to get drunk.

 Sydney greeted me at its worst I think. Icy winds which were almost gales that eventually turned into torrential rains. Fortunately my very lightweight  Uniqlo down jacket protected me well. It turned out that my phone refused to go on Wi-Fi so I ended up buying a Sim card, I purchased a Telstra card for $30 which was excellent. But before that I needed to change money. Banks here don’t exchange money unless you have an account and I ended up having to go to a money exchange that  totally took advantage. $460 US became $420 AU very quickly. Next on the agenda was a transport card. The man at the corner deli informed me that my best bet would be single senior cards $2.50 each valid until midnight daily. He also informed me that as of that moment I was an Australian senior, no complaints on my part. This card permits me to travel as much as I can in one day on buses, ferries and CityRail.

No to waste any more time I took the bus to Circular Quay and saw the famous opera house as well as the harbor bridge. I walked around for awhile until the rain became too much. Ducked into the Museum of Contemporary Art and had a sandwich. Jetlag was setting in and I needed sleep. I thought I remembered where to get the bus to go back to Potts Point, but I didn’t. It was raining cats and dogs and I was directed to a kiosk where  the bus information was. He knew exactly which bus and sent me to Bridge 3.
There is no Bridge 3 but there is a Bridge Street. I did eventually get back to Sydney Central Backpackers which is my home away from home for a week. Before I tucked in I had managed to buy a delicious Australian goat camembert and a bottle of N.Z. Semillon/Saugnon Blanc which I sampled.

It seems that every area in Sydney is called a suburb except the central part. In the case of Potts Point there is a very clear demarcation to Kings Cross which is very seedy to put it mildly. Yet they are next to each other, they even share the same subway station, one exit genteel, the other less so. The hostel where I am staying is quite nice and very busy. I have a single room on the ground floor which is most adequate. The bed is extremely comfortable and  I have so far not had any problems sleeping. It is definitively a lively place with socializing going on into the wee hours. I bless my ear plugs.
Feel very safe since I have a Panda on my door

There is something a little peculiar here in Sydney, nothing is clearly marked, neither the train stations nor the zoo. Will get to the Zoo later,this is not quite true it’s very clearly marked if you know where to look. The Central Station has no large bulletin boards saying which platform the trains are on. Fortunately there are a lot of employees to ask. Once you get to the correct train there is a lot of information. The transport system though is quite remarkable, my $2.50 daily ticket ,is today taking me round trip on  a two hour journey  61 miles from the center into the Blue mountains. Yesterday it took me on a round trip ferry ride to the Zoo several busses and trains. I know I am not supposed to use this ticket but my grey hair lets me pass as an elderly Australian.

Tuesday morning I was picked up By Dianne and Murray who so graciously offered to take me sightseeing. They are a couple who befriended my friend Sue, and subsequently me, through the Travelzine a Yahoo group of intrepid travelers.

 They drove me up the Eastern coast to Palm Beach, a magnificent drive along the coast. We stopped a couple of times and saw some amazing native ferns and flowers. We ended up at a small place by the water. It was a combination grocery store, restaurant and take –out. We opted for the fish burgers with chips and a bottle of wine as take out. With that we were given wine glasses, a bottle of water and water glasses. The view was lovely overlooking the boats that  people used to get to and fro the island. Basically the same food was served as in  the restaurant at 2/3 the price. The burgers were delicious served with aioli, salad and capers.  
 Dianne enjoying her lunch at Church Point

The weather has greatly improved, the sun is shining and the winds have abated over the days. It has been a whirlwind of impressions.

After they had left me off back at the hostel I felt that I should continue enjoying the lovely weather and the extraordinary diversity of fauna  I went to the Botanical gardens They are very large gardens next to the Sydney opera, Though almost everything was labeled it didn’t strike me as a botanical garden as much as a lovely very large park with flowers and different statues and a fountain surrounded by water.

I got very excited when I recognized a native pine that Murray had pointed out earlier in the day. It is a very distinctive looking Norfolk Fir. There were also some interesting looking birds, which I found out are called Australian White Ibis.

Have found out why all the different parts of Sydney are called suburbs except CBD. That is because they were all separate townships at one point. Not that it makes it much clearer but now I know.

Wednesday October 24
Spent a delightful and most frustrating day at Taronga zoo , nothing is clearly marked, the map makes no sense but I did get to see Koalas, Kangaroos, a two headed reptile, Platypus and many other animals. The platypus is a semiaquatic mammal endemic to eastern Australia, including Tasmania. Together with the four species of echidna, it is one of the five extant species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth. Had a delightful lunch of a Reuben Sandwich at one of the cafes made with what seemed homemade bread. Am really amazed at how good the food is at public attractions. This was true throughout my visit.

I did take the bus up from the ferry landing and the cable car down. Make sure that you sit with your back to the zoo so that you get the full view of the harbor it is breathtaking. There was a regatta going on as we descended it was fantastic to see the white sails mirrored in the opera house, or is it the other way around. 

There was still plenty of time before my dinner date so decided to go to Bondi Beach. This is one of the main surfing beaches in Sydney and looks like it would be a nice place to live in. There was an outdoor art show along the beach which I saw part of before I went to “Iceberg” which is a swimming club, restaurant and bar. As a foreigner all I had to do was show my driver’s license and I was admitted to the bar. Had a nice glass of wine for $6.50 while watching the swimmers in the pool, the pool, which is common all over Australia is an enclosed part of the ocean. Since there seem to be surf everywhere this is a calm piece of water for swimmers.

Then it was time to meet my internet friends for dinner at China Doll on Woolloomooloo wharf. There are many aboriginal names but not as many vowels perhaps. We had a really delightful evening and it was nice being able to put faces to the names.

The next morning took me to the Blue Mountains, am really trying to pack in as many “should do’s” as I can. When I got off the train in Katoomba  went straight to the Hop-on-hop-off bus counter ad bought a ticket. Should really have read the guide book more carefully or even the pages I had printed out, could as easily have done this by public transportation. The bus takes you to various starting points then you have to hike. I opted for the moderately easy walk, it was anything but. What was supposed to take 30 minutes took me 90 minutes because I somehow managed to get onto another pathway. Though the views were quite spectacular I have to recognize that I am not a hiker, and it is not something that I really enjoy. Got back around 6 pm and bought some steamed Chinese dumplings 8 for $10. Sydney is not cheap.

Friday had a reservation for lunch at Marques one of Sydney’s top restaurants. Dianne joined me and as we perused the prix fixe menu we decided to splurge and go for the 5 course as opposed to the 3 course menu. As a rule I don’t enjoy tasting menus but this was spectacular and most of the wine pairings were well matched. This was a good choice on our part.

That night I had bought  a Living Social deal for a Harbor Cruise on a tall sailing ship,
which included wine and hors d’oeuvres and like so many other things it seemed like a good idea at the time.I didn’t take into consideration that it would be dark and impossible to see anything. Did meet some locals, and ended up having a great time, otherwise I have found  that people are not particularly friendly. Very polite and courteous but quite diffident, I have stood on many a street corner with a map and not one person has stopped and asked if they could help me. So different from how I imagined Australians, but have also been told that once I get out into the country my experiences will meet my expectations.

Today was a magic day, my friend Lidia from L.A, another Ziner who I have been corresponding with and I met up to go to the Fish Market I had read that there was going to be a mussel cooking demonstration, apart from that I like fish markets. This one is like no other I have ever seen. All the fish mongers sell ready t to eat food, it is almost like a food court that also sells fish. The varieties of fish is mind boggling, many that I have never heard of. For sale at least 6 kinds of oysters on the half shell, sushi, and sashimi, steamed crabs, lobsters, sea food salads and fish and chips and so much more. I ordered a dozen Pacific oysters and Abalone sashimi Lidia had oysters with Salmon Caviar and also Pacific oysters. We were both overwhelmed by the abundance of food and how different this was to a regular fish market, We ended our day at the Chinese Garden which was not exactly a highlight but we made up for it by going to Paddy’s Market where we got a Chinese massage and picked up some inexpensive clothing.

Met Lidia for breakfast, at my now favorite restaurant , CafĂ© DOV at the corner of Victoria and Orwell Streets. We had decided to go to Manly  Beach, and arrived at Circular Quay a few minutes before the ferry was due to leave. Once again the ferry ride was lovely, the Sydney Harbor is rightfully something that Sidneysiders can be proud of. Manly Beach was quite different from Bondi, it appeared more upscale with a lot of boutiques and a supermarket by the wharf. We did some window shopping and I actually bought a night gown before having Fish and Chips at a restaurant   that was recommended. It was very tasty, but not extraordinary.

Unfortunately Lidia had to leave in order to get back in time for her trip to the Blue Mountains. I ambled along a street fair and then went into the supermarket where I was surprised to see how reasonable things were. I had been warned that because the earth is fairly shallow, that fruits and vegetables are not particularly good or tasty. After having walked up and down the aisles, and resisting temptation to purchase unusual condiments, managed to end up in front of the fish counter. There were some wild caught shrimp that looked very good. Bought just over a pound (500 gr) a head of garlic, whole grain rolls, one lemon, some sliced Ham and sliced Jarlsberg as well as a bag of washed and mixed salad, all  for less than $15. Cooked my dinner at the hostel,I had a nice dinner with enough leftovers for the following day’s lunch on the plane to Ayers Rock or the politically correct name Urulu., and in the process discovered how the Australians can afford to live in Australia. The wages are so much higher. Don’t know about taxes yet, will keep you posted. This young girl who unwittingly gave me this revelation, works for an olive oil importer and hands out samples at various markets. She make $26 an hour which seems to be the going rate for temporary workers

One of the things that is most impressive are the public seating areas. One building which housed the blood bank had Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs in the lobby.  Outside in the square were folding beach chairs that encouraged people to sit down and speak to strangers. Also the terrace houses which were so lovely and reminiscent of New Orleans with the wrought iron work.
The shuttle bus picked me up at 7.30 at the cost of $12.50 and dropped me off right at Virgin Australia’s terminal. I don’t know if these shuttle buses run all over Sydney or only in the Potts Point, Kings Cross area because there are so many hostels there. It certainly seemed a bargain to me since the train to the airport is the same price, and then you have to get to the train.

It seemed that I had so much time in Sydney, yet there were many things I neglected which I may or may not be chastised for. I did see a lot and did most of the things I wanted to do, I could probable have used another couple of days to fit in the rest but it was time to move on.