I’m now sitting on a very uncomfortable little stool at a computer in a camp ground in Bunbury, Western Australia.
But back to Queensland. Our last day in Port Douglas we went to Kuranda. It’s a very touristy little village near Cairns. We went anyway because to get there you ride the skyrail, an arial gondola, for a fifty minute ride way high in the air with fabulous views. Also in Kuranda there is a huge aviary, a walk-through butterfly enclosure, and an animal reserve where you can hold a koala.
Views from the gondola
One of many trees like this in Kuranda
The aviary was amazing with both native birds and species from other countries, all very brightly coloured and exotic. A bright yellow/orange one, a “Sun Conure” from South America, landed on my shoulder as soon as I walked in.
The butterfly enclosure was really special. They are all bred on the premises and there’s a section where you can learn about how they do it. I think they’re all native Queensland butterflies. Anyway it’s a huge walk-through enclosure full of tropical foliage and dozens and dozens of butterflies in many varieties. It was breathtaking and beautiful.
The wings of this butterfly are bright green and black on the other side.
We saw quite a few koalas in their enclosure and they were very active and entertaining. Koalas, being nocturnal, are usually sleeping during the day, but this lot were quite active, and wonderfully soft to touch.
Early the next morning we flew to Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the middle of the Australian desert. We arrived in time to do a two hour walk around the base, getting about one third of the way around in that time. It looks like a big oval dome but it’s actually a quite irregular shape.
Like the Great Barrier Reef, I had always wanted to go to Uluru. Well I finally got there and it was, for both of us, every bit as magical as we’d been led to believe. It’s a truly stunning place and I get why it is so sacred to the Aborigines.
The next day we drove the fifty kilometres to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and did an eight kilometre hike. Kata Tjuta is another spectacular rock formation in the desert. It’s really special and beautiful there too. We were full with the beauty and power of it all.
A bit closer
Kata Tjuta up close
A flock of galahs
That night we went to the “Sounds of Silence” dinner. It’s an award winning “dining experience” and worth every penny. First we were taken out to a sand dune in the desert and served champagne and canapés while we watched the sun set over Uluru and listened to the best didgeridoo player I’ve ever heard. I’m not much of a foodie but this meal is worth describing. The canapés were bite-sized crocodile and macadamia nut filling in a filo pastry cup, smoked salmon rollups, tiny vegetarian sushi, and perfectly cooked tender kangaroo meat on toast rounds. All delicious.
After this we walked down a little path to an area where we were to eat dinner, at tables set with white table cloths and napkins, crockery and silverware. And as much red or white wine as we wanted. First we ate roasted squash soup with hot crusty rolls and butter. Then we helped ourselves to squash and feta salad (not a winner for me), couscous and citrus salad (which was), caesar salad with crocodile, potato salad, baramundi which is a wonderful Aussie fish, roasted kangaroo pieces, chicken sausages, lamb cutlets, hot roasted potatoes, and baby carrots with rosemary and various sauces and gravies, and much more.
It was an incredibly clear night with almost no moon and we were in the middle of the desert with no light around us so the stars were extremely clear and bright. After dinner the ‘star guy’, with the help of a pointer flashlight, gave a very interesting and funny talk about the stars. Then we had dessert. Brownie slices, and carrot cake, and roasted-wattleseed-and-apple-crumble (really delicious), and bread and butter pudding, and raspberry coulis, white chocolate sauce, smooth English custard, chocolate sauce, and cream. And a glass of port to finish off.
Then they rolled us all back onto the bus and took us back to our various hotels. From beginning to end we felt royally entertained and fed. It was a really special night.
Dinner in the desert
Back in the late 1800’s a man named Horrocks imported nine camels to Australia. Only one survived the journey. Anyway I guess he didn’t know how to ride a camel, or use a gun, because he managed to shoot himself while riding the camel. They blamed the camel and shot it. Sometime after that camels were imported to haul supplies in the desert to build the railroads and roads. They were so useful the government set up a breeding program leading to a population of twenty thousand. When all the railroads and roads were finished the government then decided that all non-working camels had to be shot. The cameleers, being fond of their beasts couldn’t do this so released them into the desert. There are now estimated to be one million wild camels in the Australian desert. And we saw a bunch of them.
And there’s still a few cameleers around who like to take tourists on camel rides in the desert around Uluru so we thought we’d better go ride one. The morning after the fabulous dinner we got up at some ungodly hour to go ride a camel and watch the sunrise over Uluru.
It was fun.
After camel riding we packed our bags to leave for Western Australia, but still had time for one last hike at the base of Uluru covering different territory from our earlier base hike. What a magical place. I’ve heard people say that one day there is enough because there’s nothing to do. For us it was the opposite. We would have liked more time there. Two days wasn’t enough.
We flew to Perth, picked up a rental car and drove to Kojonup about four hours south. We stayed that night at a B&B. Fred and Marge were our hosts. Fred is eighty. We know because he told us, and I’m guessing Marge is in her late seventy’s. There was nothing sophisticated or elegant about Fred and Marge, or their house. It was the absolute epitome of country kitsch. Actually it was more like country kitsch on steroids. But they were so kind and welcoming, and our room was warm and cosy and clean, and we’d been up since 5.30, and going all day, so we fell like rag dolls into their welcoming arms. The next morning Fred cooked us a fabulous breakfast and Marge made us an equally fabulous packed lunch and we continued on our little road trip to see Western Australia’s south west, and Tingle trees.
We drove to Albany on the south coast then headed west stopping at Peaceful Bay.
And then on to the tingle trees – a species of eucalyptus that only grows in this one small corner of Western Australia. They are up to four hundred years old and grow to sixty metres tall. There’s a tree-top walk that allows a view of the top of the trees and the surrounding country.
Western Australia’s south coast
The next morning we set off for Bunbury, stopping on the way to climb a tree.
If you look closely you’ll see there is a little hut in the very top of this tree. It was built for observation for bush fires, though is no longer used for that. There are three of these bush fire observation trees in south west Western Australia. This one is called the Diamond Tree. It’s a Karri tree, which is another eucalyptus found only in this part of Western Australia and it is fifty-two metres high. We decided to climb it. It was terrifying and exciting all at the same time. We both agreed that in our twenties we probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but it seems life gets more precious as you get older, or you just finally get it that you’re not invincible, so it felt pretty scary but we were determined to do it anyway. It was so worth it.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.