Rachel Down Under!

Boiling Point

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on June 21, 2011

Just wanted to give a quick plug for my friend Luke’s radio show, which is on 89.7 Eastside FM every Tuesday night at 6:00 pm.

Tune in to hear some of the latest science articles, news and facts, to enjoy Luke’s deep voice and witty Aussie banter, and if you’re lucky, you might even hear me put in my two cents. Happy listening!

 

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Red, wet, and wild

Posted in Australia, Central Australia by rssmith218 on June 13, 2011

Amazingly, this photo aptly sums up my recent trip to Australia’s red center- wet, red, and muddy! Central Australia is a semi-arid desert, which means it receives less than 12 inches of rain per year. And yet, during my trip to the Outback, it rained almost continuously for 3 out of the 4 days of our trip!

We began in Alice Springs, also known as “The Alice.” Alice is the second largest town in the Northern Territory, and yet it has a population of only 27,481- this gives you an idea of just how sparsely populated the Australian Outback is! From Alice, we camped our way through to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which you can see in the below maps.

Sydney to Alice Springs!

And now, Alice Springs to Uluru-Kata Tjuta!

We arrived in Alice Springs at mid-day, and after a delicious lunch, we spent the majority of the day preparing for our camping trip- for example, you’re not supposed to travel in the Outback with less than 3 liters of water per person per day, even in winter- but we also found time to explore the quiet, and mostly empty Alice Springs.

Alice is empty!

As the sun began to set over Alice, we climbed to the top of Anzac Hill at the end of town. Little did we know that this would be the only sunset we would see over the next few days, but can you believe how beautiful this is? Alice is surrounded by the MacDonnell Ranges, which glow red in these photos with the setting sun.

Look how small Alice is!

The mountains extend all of the way around Alice….and I was expecting the Outback to be flat!

We stayed until the sun finally set, and the clouds became increasingly spectacular….

Great sunset, right guys?

Our next stop, of course, was the local saloon, where we celebrated Christine’s birthday with some unusual delicacies….

When you’re in the Northern Territory, you’ve got to try some NT Draught….yum!

….but do you really have to try crocodile spring rolls,

an Outback “mixed grill” platter ((Kangaroo, Camel, Buffalo, Venison, more Crocodile….would you be game?),

or (especially!) an oyster-vodka shot?

Well, we did! Happy Birthday Christine!

After a freezing night at the hostel, we were happy to wake up early to meet our camping tour. We spent the next 5 hours or so driving through the outback…which you can see here in the early morning light….

It may be hard to see in the above photo, but one of the things that struck me most about the outback was the green-ness of the scenery. I always imagined that the red center would be, well, more red. Apparently this year has brought record rainfall to Central Australia (which we were soon to find out first hand….), making the landscape unusually green. In the rest of my photos, you will notice how much the greenery stands out against the bright red earth.

Nowhere was this distinction greater than in Kings Canyon, where we stopped for an afternoon walk.


As soon as we climbed this steep hill,

we were met with incredible views of the surrounding area…Beautiful!


As we continued to walk through this strange landscape,

the rocks only became more incredible….

…..and the views became even more amazing.

For example, here is King’s Canyon from one side…..

…..and now from the other!

Pretty amazing, eh? In between the two sides of the canyon was the Garden of Eden, a lovely stretch of waterholes and river plants….

….where, among other things, I saw my first poisonous snake!

After our hike, we headed to our campsite, gathered firewood, and made a fire for the night.

We made dinner, ate, and quickly climbed into our sleeping bags just as the first drops of rain began to fall on our campsite.

The record amounts of rain have also led to record amounts of mice in the outback, and we found our campsite to be completely infested with mice. We pulled drowned mice out of our washing water, wrestled with mice in our sleeping bags, and watched hundreds of mice scatter with every one of our footsteps around the campsite.

We awoke the next morning in a rainshower, and pulled our wet, sleepy heads from our soaked sleeping bags. We jumped into the wet and smelly bus and drove to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Here, we stopped at Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas, where, despite the rain, we enjoyed a breath-taking hike through the Valley of the Winds.

Kata-Tjuta, which means, “many heads,” in the indigenous language, was one of the most amazing places I have ever been. These photos hardly show the size and scale of the rock formations, and the pouring rain actually added to the experience by creating waterfalls off the tops of these features. Remember, normally this area is completely dry- rain events like this happen less than 10 times a year on average, according to our guide.

A promising start to the walk- water rushing down the red rock path leading into the Valley of the Winds!

But it’s definitely worth the rain for these views…

Look how many waterfalls are coming off the rocks here! We walked up a giant incline through this valley,

and from the top, we had two of the most amazing sights. First off, this view of the valley below-

So big!

and secondly- this view of a massive waterfall on the other side- incredible!

And, of course, another photo for scale…do we look wet or what?

Our walk through this magical place took us past more rocks and waterfalls than I should recount here, but I will leave you with one last photo of this unbelievably big and beautiful landscape.

As if that walk weren’t enough for one day, after a quick lunch we headed to Uluru, where we did the Mala walk around some of the features at the base of Uluru that best highlight Aboriginal culture and interactions with this great rock.

Uluru is an Australian and Aboriginal icon, and I’m sure you’ve seen photos of the sun setting over this infamous rock, such as this one here.

Or maybe you’ve seen photos of Uluru from space, like this amazing photograph taken from Space Imaging’s Ikonos satellite in 2004.

Either way, I bet you’re less likely to have seen photos of Uluru the way we saw it last week….covered in waterfalls!

And I mean BIG waterfalls!

It is really difficult to show what it looked like and felt like to be there in photos, but hopefully these have given you a small taste of ¬†Uluru. We followed this walk with a “sunset” view of Uluru….can you see it in the distance?

Soaking wet, we hurried to our campsite (thankfully covered!) where we made dinner, and started a fire to dry off our freezing, soaked clothes.

Let’s dry off those clothes!

Cheers for a great trip (and for surviving the elements!)

Christine and I passed a dry night sleeping in the bus, and we awoke early the next morning to catch the sunrise over Uluru. Again, rainy weather foiled these plans, but we still got a slightly clearer view of the rock than we did the day before.

We ended our trip with a morning walk around the base of Uluru. The rain stopped for the first 2 hours of our walk and this time we saw Uluru without waterfalls. It was a beautiful and peaceful walk, and it was amazing to see so many sides of Uluru.

Just as we were ending our walk, the rains began again, and it was amazing to watch the waterfalls begin to work their way down the sides of the rock once again.

Here, you can see the waterfall starting at the top of the rock. After about 10 minutes, water was pouring all of the way from the top to the bottom.

My trip to the Outback was one of the most unforgettable and unique experiences I have had in Australia. It is hard to explain why this area is so special, but I love that the Outback is a place of extremes. With contrasts between red and green, dry and wet, native and non-native, the Red Center is truly a place of its own.

Goodbye, Aish!

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on June 2, 2011

I am sad to say that my good friend and fellow Aussie explorer, Aisha, has officially left the continent to return to her studies back in the States.

Together, we have taken in innumerable Sydney sights, and have also toured some of Oceania’s most beautiful beaches, mountains, and forests.

We have consumed more sour straps that either of us would like to admit,

spent hours searching for bandicoots in the Sydney bush,

hung out with the 3 Muskateers,

and have found ourselves trapped in all sorts of awkward social situations.

We’ve read eachother’s emails,

we’ve marveled at the magnificence of ferns,

and we’ve found some of Sydney’s most special and secret spots.

Together, we discovered the deliciousness of haloumi,

we’ve enjoyed some of Australia’s most amazing cultural traditions,

and we’ve taken more photos of eachother than I can even sort through!

We have truly had some unforgettable adventures these past 10 months, and I know that¬†Sydney isn’t going to be the same without Aish!

Of course, before Aisha’s departure, we managed to have a couple final adventures, which I will quickly recount here. We were joined by Aisha’s brother Rasheed, and Aisha’s college roommate, Selam, and for some last Sydney signatures before Aisha’s return to the States.

What about a day at the beach? Hello, Bondi! And hello to Selam!

Who loves Watson’s Bay? We do!

Wait, why am I wearing a Snuggie?

And lastly, we had to give Aisha a formal goodbye (and also celebrate her birthday!) with all of the great friends we’ve made this year!

From the beginning….

…..to the end….

…it has been quite the adventure. Best of luck in Baltimore, Aisha!