We had been to Australia twice – 1994 in the southeast (Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Blue Mountains, Snowy Mountains), then again in 1996 (far northeast Queensland). Back in ’96 we said, we need to go to the Red Centre! And the Top End! Well, it only took 26 years to get there.
To skip this narrative and go straight to the photo galleries – our trip photos, and of course Buddy Bison! – click here. Click any photo below for a larger version.
We started in Alice Springs, the best known city of the Red Centre in the southern part of the Northern Territory. (Some people may know of Alice Springs from the book and tv show, “A Town Like Alice”, where Alice Springs was the ideal that the main characters wanted to achieve for where they lived. Liza also thought there was a NASA tracking station nearby that was used for the Mercury, Gemini, and/or Apollo missions, but that was incorrect. There is a military presence however – not that we saw anything – the Joint Defense Facility Pine Gap spy satellite tracking station 11 miles southwest of Alice Springs.)
Although a car would have been quite useful given we were birding, we wanted to acclimate a day or two to the whole driving-on-the-left concept, so instead we rented bicycles from Red Centre Adventures. Luke at RCA would have delivered the bikes to our hotel, but we walked over when we saw how close it was. And if you visit him in the shop, you get a very nice flat white. 🙂
The bike trail system in Alice is terrific. We had thoughts of riding out to Simpson Gap to the west, only about 15 miles each way from our hotel, but as it was toasty hot and water stops limited, decided it was better to just do part of the trail and instead spend the bulk of our afternoon at Alice Springs Desert Park (located off the same trail). Another day we rode south through Heavitree Gap along the Todd River. Other locales visited included the Olive Pink Botanic Garden and the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Preserve.
Speaking of the Todd River, a funny story we heard related that there is an annual boat race on the Todd each summer, and given that it is almost always dry then, the race is that you run carrying your boat. Last year the river had water in it, so they canceled the race! 😉
Our final full day in Alice was spent on an all-day tour out to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. And when we say all-day, we aren’t kidding – we were picked up at 06:00 at our hotel, and after picking up more folks at other area hotels, we headed out on the five hour drive just to *get* to the park. After a stop in Erldunda (which *is* the geographic center of Australia, they say), and getting a view of Mount Conner (aka “Fool-uru”, as many tourists think it is Uluru), we first visited Kata Tjuta. For a time known as the Olgas, Kata Tjuta is a group of ancient, orange-hued sandstone-conglomerate domes seemingly erupting from an otherwise flat landscape.
From there we continued on to Uluru, for a time known as Ayers Rock. Uluru is a massive sandstone monolith, sacred to aboriginal Australians and is thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago. It was great to get “up close and personal” with the formation, viewing aboriginal rock art and exploring a bit at the base. (Climbing is now strictly prohibited.) The group then backed out to a beautiful viewing spot to enjoy a sunset bbq with Uluru basking in the glow, then returning to Alice – where we arrived at nearly 01:00 the next morning!
The next day, somewhat bleary-eyed, we left Alice and flew up to Darwin, in the “Top End” of the Northern Territory. There, with our rental car and somewhat less panic by Liza, we birded on our own in the East Point Nature Reserve and the George Brown Darwin Botanic Garden. We also very much enjoyed a productive day of birding with Luke Paterson of NT Bird Specialists on his “sticky beak” tour of Darwin and surrounding hotspots including Lee Point, Buffalo Springs and Howard Springs Nature Park. Although Liza’s general plan is to photograph as much as possible and figure out IDs later (or ask Robert :-), a local guide truly is indispensable.
Then we traveled onward 180 miles into Kakadu National Park with birding stops at the wonderful Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve and a brief stop at the Adelaide River. In Kakadu we stayed at the Cooinda Lodge – it’s always great to stay at a lodge in a park rather than outside, which in this case would have been in Jabiru about 30-40 minutes away. Being at Cooinda meant we could just get up in the morning and enjoy the birds around us, not to mention the very early (06:30) cruise on the Yellow Water Billabong for birds and crocodiles.
We returned to Darwin for a few days, enjoying a sunset “gaze and graze” cruise in Darwin Harbour. We rounded out our time there with more birding (of course) at Holmes Jungle Nature Park and back at the botanic garden, then a visit to Stokes Wharf to learn about Darwin’s WWII history (their Pearl Harbor), not to mention Cyclone Tracy and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Leaving Darwin we flew to Hobart, Tasmania – all the way from the Top End to the bottom of Australia. Whereas Alice was hot and dry, Darwin/Kakadu hot and humid, Hobart was *cold* and windy. Time to shed those hot weather clothes and dig out the woolens! We hiked a bit in nearby Fern Tree, visited Kunanyi/Mount Wellington (snow!), and enjoyed the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. The highlight of visiting Tassie though was our day trip to Bruny Island, on a birding tour with Inala Nature Tours and guide Cat Davidson. There are 12 birds endemic to Tasmania, and they’re all found on Bruny; that day we saw 11 of them. Not bad!
Too soon it seemed it was time to head back to the US. We overnighted in Melbourne, and on a recommendation from a gal we chatted up in the Hobart airport, spent that afternoon in the area of Degraves St, strolled along the Yarra River, and had dinner at a fun tapas restaurant called Claypots Barbarossa.
For those interested in the birds, we saw 207 species, and Liza managed to photograph about 160 of them. Some better than others of course, but still a nice percentage!
Again, to go to the photo galleries, click here.
A few notes for posterity:
Hotels we stayed in:
- Mercure Alice Springs
- Oaks Darwin Elan
- Cooinda Lodge, Kakadu
- Argus Hotel Darwin
- Rydges Hobart
- Parkroyal Hotel, Melbourne
Bike Rental: Red Centre Adventures, Alice Springs
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