Photos from our first visit to Australia - August 2001

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The trip began at Darwin. This photo is on the beach at sunset. We traveled from Darwin to Uluru (Ayer's Rock) and back, all within the Northern Territory.

Termite mounds were new for us. This one is made by "Cathedral Termites" and is among many we saw.

Our home was a Toyota HiAce van remade into a camper with a pop-up top, gas stove, microwave, refrigerator, hot and cold running water.

Nourlangie Rock, site of aboriginal rock paintings. People have sheltered under this rock for tens of thousands of years. They would come during the season of lightning storms, which are pretty amazing to hear locals tell it. The site is located in Kakadu National Park.

Kangaroo painting at Nourlangie.

A different style of kangaroo painting at the same site.

Various human figures.

Several aboriginal creation ancestors which figure in the dreamings from this area.

Duane with the Arnhem Land ridge in the background. The ridge runs for hundreds of miles and is around 300 feet tall. Arnhem Land is aboriginal land. To the right of Duane on the ridge are several lighter vertical pieces known as Lightning Dreaming which figure in the creation stories.

This is what the accessible rock art sites look like. Most of the tourists were speaking German, Italian or French.

We had a two-wheel-drive vehicle, so many roads were closed to us. We joined a 4wd tour to Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. Saltwater crocodiles are a big problem in Kakadu, and are actively managed so tourists don't get eaten.

As we hiked in along Jim Jim Creek we saw this lovely scene, featuring a crocodile trap.

Jim Jim Falls, which is dry in the early Spring, like now.

Jim Jim Falls showing the plunge pool at the bottom.

The park rangers check for crocodiles, so this is one of the places where you can swim. The water was very cold, since it gets very little sunlight. You can see one of the swimmers on the other side.

We hiked back out of Jim Jim Falls and headed to Twin Falls. This required more driving, more hiking, then canoeing two different stretches of the creek.

Twin Falls is spring-fed, so flows all year. It was really pretty when we arrived shortly before noon. Since this water does get sun it was an inviting swim with a nice beach.

Duane and Clare Ann wading.

Sun shining through falling water.

Duane swimming. It was lovely to look up and see the sun coming down through the water as it fell.

Canoeing back out of Twin Falls.

It really was a 4wd road. We crossed water a couple of places and much of the road was too much for our van. This whole area is under water in the wet season.

Then up to the East Alligator River, named by a European who didn't know crocodiles were different, for a cruise.

There truly were crocodiles here. It reminded me a lot of the Disneyland jungle cruise, except that these were real. This one is about 12 feet long.

The ferocious open mouth is a method of cooling down by panting, not a sign of impending attack. Nevertheless, this crocodile decided we had come too close and slipped into the water.

Since these crocodiles can leap out of the water 3/4 of their body length, the guide decided to move on.

This is what a swimming crocodile looks like. They're easy to confuse with logs and such.

The same area is home to the smaller freshwater crocodile which is not dangerous unless threatened.

There are many aboriginal rock art sites, most not open to the public. This open one is called Ubirr.

There were many more fish and animal pictures here. One place looked like an inventory of the food that was available in the area.

The barramundi is a favorite fish now as it was back when these paintings were made. It is very tasty with firm flesh. Barra and chips - yum.

Our camper in action. The gas stove swung out rather than having you cook in the small enclosed space.

Yellow Water is a marshy area in Kakadu with lots of wetland wildlife.

The outback is a dry place and it takes a big windmill to do the job. This one is typical.

Our first real wildlife was at Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park. This wallaby was nosing around the campsite. Later that night we came across a herd of two dozen or so grazing in the central green of the campground.

Katherine Gorge was also rich in flying foxes. These are really big bats.

There are 13 separate gorges along the river in Katherine Gorge, each separated by rapids. We hiked along the top of the first one.

Katherine Gorge.

Canoes going up the river.

We stopped at the first rapids for a snack and a swim.

Clare Ann wasn't able to get any laps in, thanks to rocks and such, but we at least got cooled off.

Want to see all 13 gorges? It's only 17.5 km.

Daly Waters is a roadhouse that sort of dates back to 1830 but really got going during WWII when this area along the Stuart highway was a major military area with many airfields, hospitals and supply dumps. The sign says "Australia's most remote traffic light."

Road trains are the triple trailer trucks of the outback. They pull three 40 foot seagoing containers or the equivalent. Since the roads are two narrow lanes wide it makes things interesting.

Clare Ann holding apart two of the Devil's Marbles along the Stuart Highway.

There were huge brushfires along the road. It made this a very smoky visit.

Devil's Marbles.

Devil's Marbles.

Duane playing a didgeridoo, the aboriginal instrument made from a small tree trunk that has been hollowed out by termites.

Finally, at Wycliffe Wells we had kangaroos in the campground. The only others we had seen were running from a fire along the highway.

The aboriginal culture center in Alice Springs has a didgeridoo class, so we took it.

We were a long way from most places here in Alice Springs.

Outside the Alice is Simpson Gap. There is a similar formation that divides the city in two, but the gap part is big enough for a highway.

Rock Wallabies can be seen here, and not many other places. Can you see this one?

From the middle of the preceding photo, here is the Rock Wallaby.

It was hard to remember that we were in early Spring, but all the flowers kept reminding us. We were really surprised at how many there were in the desert.

Near Simpson Gap are the ochre pits where aboriginal people gather the ochre for rock and body painting. It is one of 6 places in Australia and Tasmania where ochre is found, and it is still being used.

More views of the ochre pits.

The sediments were laid over time, then tilted vertical and cut through by a seasonal river. The range of colors was amazing.

Ochre Pits.

More flowers along the way.

A gorge outside Alice Springs.

There really are kangaroo warning signs.

A field of flowers.

One of the more interesting types of flowers.

Kings Canyon in the outback. Particularly interesting because we live near Kings Canyon in California.

Our campsite in the red center of Australia near Kings Canyon.

The red dirt and yellow flowers were a constant source of amazement.

Our first view of Uluru (Ayer's Rock).

Uluru from the sunset viewing area, probably the most familiar view of this Australia icon.

Up close Uluru looks very diferent, with texture including very deep cuts. These features are explained in dreamings from the area's aboriginal population.


Sunset, the time when Uluru blazes red, is the time to view it. The sunset viewing area is almost a kilometer long and was packed. It reminded me of a pre-football game tailgate party.

Sunset at Uluru. Actually more gold than red.

Uluru was recently returned to the aboriginal owners then leased to the park service. Aboriginals do not climb Uluru since that is the path taken by a creator being in the dreamings. Europeans and Americans feel compelled to climb it. So the literature says please don't climb, but when you do . . . .

We did the suggested thing and hiked around the base. There are many sacred sites where ceremonies are performed and it is forbidden for any but properly initiated persons of the proper sex to see the places. There is enough to see anyway along the 9 km walk. Surprising cool places with water flowing from the rock.

The texture of the rock was a complete surprise. We knew it is sandstone, so expected the usual sandpaper feel. What is happening instead is the oxides inside leaching out and forming this scaly surface. Very strange.

At many places caves in the base are partially covered by fallen slabs creating a cool hidden place. These are mostly sacred sites with rock art. A few are open to the public.

This is one of the nicest pools with surrounding trees. A very meditative place where even the more obnoxious tourists tend to be quiet.

In places it looks like the skin of the rock has fallen off, revealing an inner structure. That's not the proper geological explanation, of course.

One of the places that looks like the inside of the rock is exposed.

Typical flora around the base.

Back in our campground in the park center Clare Ann put on her MCC Country Rep hat and did some business from the mobile office. Cell phones have really changed how people on the move can be accessible. The SMS capability of our phones is partly what allowed us to be away for three weeks.

Near Uluru is another remarkable sandstone formation, Kata Tjuta. If Uluru wasn't there, Everyone would talk about Kata Tjuta.

View of Uluru from Kata Tjuta.

Typical flora in this area included many flowering bushes.

The primary view of Kata Tjuta.

On the back side and up close the formation is quite different from Uluru.

This formation is a conglomerate made from cobblestones. The geological explanation is a very old mountain system breaking down into cobbles, sediments being laid around and among the cobbles, then an uplift.

We did the 7+ km walk around and among this formation too. At one point the trail marker just points up this rock face.

Kata Tjuta from the middle of the formation looking toward Uluru.

Red dragonflies and ants with green bodies are what you see in Australia.

Our splurge was a meal catered by the park service on a sand dune far away from the park center. It is called "Sounds of Silence" since you are away from any human activity. This is the view of Uluru from there.

The sunset is one of the attractions. You are offered canapes made from kangaroo, emu, salmon and such along with drinks as the sun sets.

Here we are with Uluru in the background, photo taken by a nurse from Seattle there with his wife to celebrate the completion of her PhD in microbiology and entry into medical school.

Our table with Kata Tjuta as a backdrop. After the meal when it is quite dark the stars are the brightest I have ever seen. They have a person do a sky tour and also have three Celestron 8 telescopes set up so folks from up north can view the triple star we know as Alpha Centauri and such.

Time to head back to Darwin and our return flight. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn.

We drove across the Tropic of Cancer in our VW camper 25 years ago in Baja California. A nice symmetry to be here now.

We had driven 314 km from Uluru and had 1620 more to Darwin. Australia is a big place. The Northern Territory alone is 10 times the area of Java, and has 190,000 people compared to 120 million on Java.

Huge brush fires continued. They are part of life here.

This type of termite mound was everywhere. Only in developed areas do they stop, and they were even in the process of being built right through the highway.

A closer look at the termite mounds.

Our last campsite was the fanciest. It was in Katherine and had an ensuite bathroom. Our first campsite with private bath.

We visited Litchfield National Park our last day in Australia. It is the home of the "Magnetic Termite Mounds." These termites build a tall, thin mound oriented north and south. The thought is that they are regulating the inside temperature with this orientation. It is certainly remarkable.

Magnetic Termite mounds.

Clare Ann showing the relative size of the Magnetic Termite mound.

One more nice waterfall. You could swim beneath it, but we didn't. Time to go home.

Last updated March 14, 2002. Prepared by Duane Ruth-Heffelbower. These photos were shot with a Pentax ZX-10 using Pentax 28-80 and Pentax 70-210 lenses, Kodak Gold 400 asa film and various permutations of the camera's automatic exposure settings. The camera's pop-up flash was used for fill as needed. The prints were scanned using a generic scanner at 150 dpi 1.5x size and optimized for the web with Paint Shop Pro.

visitors since December 26, 2001.

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