Australia: November 19-23, 2012. Crossing Australia

Australia:  November 19-23, 2012   Perth to Sydney

Outside the the Indian Pacific windows the far horizon offers Australia’s arid land of no mountains and a few bushes, scattered sheep and emus.

Our stop in the ghost town of Cook gave us time to stretch outside before the dry, 101 degrees sent us back inside the train.  We began to have longer stops but no place to go.  It was revealed that we were having mechanical trouble and eventually  lost a locomotive.  Our tour of Broken Hill was cancelled but we were allowed 30 minutes to stroll through a bit of the town.

A morning tour of Adelaide offered a cooler climate and tour of this flower filled city.

By the 21st we realized the arrival into Sydney would be three hours late but we celebrated in the fact that we would then travel through the Blue Mountains in daylight.  Well worth the delay.  As we climbed, the beautiful pines and eucalyptus came into view along with small towns with 19th century  architecture of brick-a-brack porches and cast iron fences.

Back in Sydney, the Queen Victoria Building is decorated for the Holidays and shopping is supreme.  Our finale with the Indian Pacific friends gave a memorable Wow factor:  Dinner at the O Bar & Dining.  A revolving restaurant atop the 47th floor overlooking Sydney, the harbor, Sydney Opera House, and the Bridge.  We toasted our last night with Australia’s fine red.  The Sydney panorama  revolving each hour seemed fitting for the close of our Great DreamTime Total Eclipse Tour.

Until the next one,

Melita after 23 days in Australia

 

 

 

Australia: Sunday, November 18, 2012 The Indian Pacific

Sunday, November 18, 2012                     Three nights on The Indian Pacific

Perth:  gorgeous city with  great weather where The Cricket is king.  Small carry-on packed for our three-night journey on the legendary Indian Pacific.  Larger piece will be stored in a separate car and we will not see it until arriving in Sydney on the 21st.

Our coach arrived with the usual Australian friendly, No Worries driver and transferred the nine of us to the Perth train station.  The super long Indian Pacific was waiting for us.  Easy check-in, no worries with the weight.  The group boarded car L while I am with the singles In I.  Tom,, traveling for seven months, is across the aisle, Deanna from Sydney, is two doors down.  We enjoyed each others vagabond stories.  Surprise to find my wonderful attendant, Yasmin, from the Ghan here on the IP.

Lovely views as we climb into the hills with Avon River gurugling along our left side.  We’re on the Early Dining, so lunch was right after boarding.  Later in the afgternoon a welcome champagne reception was held in the Lounge Car.

Lots of conversation as you meet everyone, mostly Australian, though I dined with a couple from Dresden and later lunched with a couple from Scotland.  Went right to bed and slept throught the Whistle Stop at Kalgoorlie at 10:30pm

With the blinds open to there are clear sky outside saying,  ‘sleep tight’, ‘no worries’.

Melita from the Indian Pacific

 

Australia: Friday, November 16, 2012 Alice to Uluru

Friday, November 16, 2012                   Alice to Uluru

The road from Lasseter’s Casino, Alice Springs to Uluru redefines long and flat.  Either side the landscape is dotted with red sand, brush, an occasional outcropping.

Good conversation with Dava Sobel (Galileo’s Daughter) and David Levy (Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9) at the Rock.  One of the best things about traveling to see an eclipse is sharing the experience with fascinating guests.  An eclipse tour is like a family reunion.  Many of our guests have traveled with us since 1986 (Halley’s Comet), 1991(Total eclipse), and others joining along the way.

There it is:  The Big Red Rock.  Again we take the group on a base walk before toasting the magic hour.  Vibrant colors.  Nature’s fine creation.  What a piece of work is this mighty land.

Fun dinner at the Outback Pioneer where we selected and Bar-B-Qued our own meat from a selection of kangaroo, crocodile, prawns, T-bone ++.   Sandy and Lucille, Dr. Seth and Karen Shostak grill their own.

Tomorrow Dr. Seth Shostak, wife, Karen and I jump from this tour to join the Indian Pacific group in Perth.  Then for three nights we will cross back this wide continent to Sydney.

Melita from Uluru

Australia: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 Perfect Eclipse Green Island

Wednesday, November Eclipse 14, 2012

1:30am  Group 1 boarded our chartered vessel, Ocean Freedom, and sailed across rocky seas to Green Island.  Early start to get a good spot for photographers  and join the 68 guests from our group already staying on Green Island.

Arrived:  2:30am.  We were met by Daniel, Julie, Sue and Matt at the Pier and were led through the dark rain forrest to our viewing site on the beach.  The dark and clear Southern Hemisphere sky rewarded us with the Southern Cross, Magellanic Cloud, and an organza ribbon of Milky Way.

Tensions mounted as the Eastern horizon began to pink heralding the Sun’s arrival.  Cameras and telescopes poised and thankfully the clouds were blown away by the wind.  Group II arrived just prior to First Contact.

Clear Skies!  We wait! 

5:45am.  First bite at the top end and the blood is pumping.  It’s like waiting for the Rock Star to arrive.
6:38am.  Diamond Ring.  Screams, moans, oohs and ahhs.  Then silence and we watch.  The experience is as much where it happens as it is we are what is happening.  We are bonded and sealed by eclipse addiction.  Dr. William Sheehan tells us that eclipses give our brain a rush of dopamine.  Sublime and an incomparable feeling of pleasure and fear.
6:40am.  Diamond Ring.  Is that all there is?  Too short, two minutes ++ seemed like two seconds.
7:40am.  And the shadow moved onward till November 2013 in Gabon.

We gasp, laugh, hug one another, cry and agree to see the next one.  With prominences reaching toward infinity it was one of the most spectacular totalities.  Photo:  Kirk Palmer

Back across, the ocean is much calmer now.  The eclipse has it’s own weather pattern.  Ours was a stunner.

Napped for two hours then headed to Hartley’s Crocodile  Reserve for our Eclipse celebration.  Champagne and passed Hors d’ouveres greeted the group before dividing the group for cruise among the crocodiles and feeding presentation.  Sean could be the next standup comic as he entertained us with predator lore.

Lavish dinner on white linen set, long tables was the perfect ending to an absolutely perfect eclipse day.

Happy Melita …all is well….

 

Stargaze Team:  Claudia, Daniel, Julie & Melita

 Totality Photo:  Les Anderson

Complete eclipse photo:  Kirk Palmer

Australia: November 11. 12, 13, 2012 Cairns

Australia:  November 11, 12, 13, 2012            Cairns

The entire group of 187 came together tonight at our welcome reception at the Oasis Novotel.  The reception was lovely with drinks and a bountiful spread of hot and cold hors d’ouevres.  The staff, Claudia, Daniel, Julie and Glenn were introduced to the group followed by our lecturers:  David Eicher, editor, Astronomy magazine, David Levy, comet chaser, Dennis Mammana, sky photographer, Rich Talcott, Sr. editor, astronomy magazine, with Seth Shostak, Sr. astronomer, SETI Institute giving the key note lecture “Is it safe to send signals into space?

On the 12th and 13th we alternated between the two excursions:  Yesterday was the Rain Forest Aboriginal Day.  Wanted a real experience for everyone with Aboriginals and the Brothers Link and Brandon served it up.

We learned to spear our food, hiked the mango grove forest with mud oozing up between our toes, listened to the digeredoo.   Afterwards went on a river cruise along the Daintree in search of crocodiles.  The day ended with a deep rain forest walk with blue butterfiles, giant Jurassic ferns, and crashing waterfalls.  Amazing.

Dennis Mammana, sky photographer, gave an exuberant talk on viewing the eclipse and protective glasses were handed out to the group

Today is was the Great Barrier Reef for the Kangaroo group.  A boat out to the Reef for 3 stops to snorkle and dive.   Swimming with Nemo, a few sharks and sea turtles.  Awesome.

Tomorrow begins at 1:00am as we cross to Green Island for the viewing.

Melita with Expectation of Clear Skies

Photo:  Dennis at the beach on Green Island awaiting the eclipse.

 

Photo:  Hunter Gatherers:  Kirk Palmer

Australia: Saturday, November 10, 2012 SYDNEY

Australia:  Saturday, November 10, 2012              SYDNEY

The Grace Hotel is an elegant, arte deco centrally located hotel. Our full day of touring took us throught the Botanical Gardens, Bondi Beach, naughty King’s Cross with lunch on a harbor cruise.  Afterwards we walked to the Sydney Opera House for a full inside tour of this architectural gem.

Friends, Julie Markem and David Smith were surprised to meet each other in Sydney after years of separation since childhood.  It truly is a small world.

Afterwards dropped by fellow Skalleague’s opal place, Costello’s.  Everyone picked up a special gift and did some opal shopping.

The food scene is extraordinary:  Great fresh food, expensive, new age design restaurants and all worth it.

Melita from Sydney

Australia: Friday, November 9, 2012 Kata Tjuta – Sydney

Out early for Kata Tjuta and Walk of the Winds. Weather cool when it could have been 110 degrees as it was last week. Mars-like giant red rocks tower over us as we follow the footpath to the rock art.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta have to be seen, stood next to, touched, and if you can, feel the spiritualness of nature here. They speak to you.

After a delayed flight to Sydney we were a late for dinner at Cyrene’s at the harbor. Boomerang group arrived from Tasmania and joined us for dinner. All is well.

Thursday, November 8, 2012 Alice – Uluru

After a hearty breakfast on The Ghan train, arrived in Alice Springs. We picked up our luggage from the platform and boarded the coaches, Kangaroo I & II. Glenn Sweet is the tour manager for II and I am on I.

Mining is big here too: Uraninum, Zinc, and Gold. The demand bigger than the production. You can figure out the buyer and it is not the USA. Is this why we have a new Marine base in Darwin?

Long and mostly flat, mostly iron rich drive to Uluru. Our dirver, John, gave a running commentary of the history and culture here.

Photo:  Michael Grazi

The Big Red Rock. There she is! Very big, very red. Sacred to the Aboriginals and photographers. After a guided base walk we gathered at the magic hour for champagne toasts to the kaleidoscope of colors on the rock.

As the Sun set directly facing Uluru cameras cliock and click! Hors d’oeuvres and champagne gave a little romance to the tour. Wonderful fun.

Dinner back at the hotel and late stargazing looking for the Magellanic Clouds and the Southern Cross. Only in the Southern Hemisphere.

Waiting……..  Melita

Australia: The Great DreamTime Total Solar Eclipse

Australia:  Saturday, November 3, 2012                                       Darwin, Australia

Left LAX on Wednesday at 11:55pm and awoke 9 hours later on Friday, headed Down Under for the Great Dreamtime Total Eclipse. This time I am flying across the Pacific to Darwin, 19 hours; on November 14 will get up at 1:30am and cruise to the outer banks of the Great Barrier Reef to Green island to stand for two minutes of totality and watch that “lucky ole Moon” slide in front of the Sun.  I say: yes, yes, yes, let’s do it again!

DARWIN.  Mining town at the Top End of Australia where the booming economy comes from underground:  Gold, oil and gas, among other favored minerals.  The bounty of the north and west is turning these otherwise peaceful towns into something of a Wild West.  There are eight men to one woman and prices for hotels and food inflated over the rest of the country.

Darwin was rebulit after it took nine times as many bombs as Pearl Harbor in 1942 and the residents evacuated to Adelaide River.

The highly prized Aboriginal art is plentiful here and by today’s art market, adding millions to the economy.

Australia is a good example of the currency wars. Having watched, with trepidation since 2009, the AUD blisteringly escalate from .98 USD to $1.10 then slide back to $1.03 as it is today.  Economy booming and prices so high on goods and services, even the locals are challenged.  Australia’s outside customer is the force behind this escalation leaving the minders of Darwin and the West struggling to meet their demands.

Still Australia is worth the long flights and dog sniffers in quarantine to arrive in this exquisitely beautiful country where each bend in the road is another spectacular photo, the people reach out to warmly welcome you, and the only thing bigger than the eclipse is a horse race on Tuesday:  The Melbourne Cup and a horse named, It’s another Dundeel, is favored to win.

Melita from Darwin Australia

Wednesday, November 7, 2012                      The Ghan

For those who love the train, the Australian trains are some of the best.   We boarded The Ghan at the Darwin Station at 9:30am and headed for Alice Springs.  Our cabins are roomy with en suite shower and toilet.  We proceeded to the dining room at appointed time for a delicious lunch on tables set with white linen and fresh flowers.

In the afternoon we took the Whistle Stop at Katherine; most took the cruise through the gorge.  High rocky cliffs, some vegetation and rock art.

Back on board and a quick shower before drinks with friends and rack of lamb dinner with a good Australian wine, long conversations, then off to bed.

Left my blinds open on my large picture window for the sunrise to awaken me and was greeted at 3am with lightening and thunder.  Awesome to look out at the scene as we rumbled along.

After another bountiful breakfast, off at Alice Springs and headed to Uluru.  Looking forward to being back on the rails Saturday, November 17, from Perth riding the Indian Pacific.  This time for three nights as we cross the continent back to Sydney.

Melita from the Northern Territory, Australia