Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Australia 2016, Day 14 - US Consulate, Bridge Pylon, Milsons Point

Day 14, my final day in Australia, was essentially just an extension of Day 13. We never went to bed! We took the red-eye flight from Darwin - I slept maybe an hour and a half on the flight, and Stephanie didn't sleep at all. Our plans to rest until noon were spoiled when we realized I left my passport in Kakadu. We landed in Sydney around 6:30 a.m., grabbed our bags, took the train back to town and walked back to Stephanie's flat where I quickly changed clothes, brushed my hair, tried to make myself look a little better by putting on some makeup, and then we headed over to the U.S. Consulate for my rather expensive and unintended souvenir - a new emergency passport! When Stephanie called the night before, she was told that we needed to get there as early as possible. By 8:45 I already had my new passport photos in hand, had gone through security, and was in the lobby of the consulate waiting for my number to be called. It didn't take long - the consulate officer gave me the paperwork to fill out - and then I waited for them to process the passport. I walked out of there at 9:30 a.m. with my new one-year passport in hand. It pays to know people!
New passport in hand - I would be able to fly back to the USA the next day.
We grabbed some banana bread for breakfast, then went home to relax for a little while and shower to make us feel better. I never did go to sleep, just rested, called home, and checked facebook. Around noon we set out to enjoy my last day in the land of Oz - I just couldn't spend the day at home! In her 3 years in Australia, Stephanie had never climbed the bridge pylon (I did on my last visit). Well, we got tickets for that with our bridge climb, so we decided to climb the 200 steps to the lookout for amazing scenic views of Sydney. You can't take your camera on the bridge climb itself, so lots of people like to climb the pylon for photos - it's worth it, for sure! We spent a while walking around the lookout, taking pictures and selfies and waving to the climbers on their way up the bridge. 

Panoramic picture of Sydney Harbour
My sweater matches the sky!

I LOVE this picture that Stephanie took - it's obvious I'm taking a pic of my favorite building, as you can see the Opera House sails in my camera lens!

It was really windy up there!
We decided to walk the rest of the way across the bridge to Milsons Point, then catch a ferry back to Circular Quay. This day was really all about the photos - we stopped at so many beautiful locations for pictures with my two favorite Sydney landmarks. It was nice not to have an agenda - we just wandered and took pictures - so much fun!
Walking across the bridge
Finally, a decent picture of me with the Opera House from the ferry!
After one last schnitzel dinner at our favorite Rocks Cafe, we decided to walk over to Macquarie's Point to watch the sunset, but as we rounded the Opera House and started into the Botanic Gardens, I told Stephanie I didn't think we were going to make it before the sun actually set, and I didn't think I had the energy even if the time allowed. The relief on her face was priceless! So we stopped just inside the gardens, relaxing on a park bench while we waited for the sunset, which actually turned out to be rather disappointing. But we got a few more special photos while we waited. Then we walked home for the last time, where I packed up my suitcase and readied myself for the long flight back to the USA the next day.

Waiting for sunset

I think this is my favorite picture of me and Stephanie from the whole trip!
I can't say enough about how wonderful this trip was. It wasn't so much that I saw amazing sights or did new and exciting things, though I did! It was the opportunity to be in one of my favorite places on earth, to see and experience and enjoy and explore, and to share so much of it with my best friend. Stephanie and I were able to spend more time together out in the city, and we loved every minute!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Australia 2016, Day 13 - Ubirr Rock, Guluyambi boat cruise, Arnhem Land

Day 13, our last day in Kakadu, started out a little later than the previous three, and we were glad for the rest. We met our bus and started the drive to Ubirr Rock, where we waited for the indigenous guides to open the site and then set out on our guided tour. As we walked to the first rock art gallery, our guide pointed out two rock wallabies on a close rock. We saw lots of birds and crocs on this trip, but these wallabies were the only marsupials we saw other than from the bus. The one on the top of the rock was skittish and soon ran off when he heard us. The other one came down and stood there for several minutes, long enough for me to change camera lenses, and even looked straight at me - I thanked him for posing for the picture before we continued on to the rock art. 
Starting the day out, before we got all hot and sweaty
Skittish little rock wallaby
Isn't he cute? He looked straight at me!
The rock art at Ubirr was more impressive to me than what we saw at Nourlangie the other day. There was one wall with a lot of different paintings - the guide said it was a menu of the types of animals that could be found in the area for food. Other paintings told moral lessons for the aboriginal people. One painting of a Tasmanian tiger is apparently proof that they were once found on the mainland, though now they are extinct except in Tasmania.  
Stephanie is an art lover - she really enjoyed the rock art.
Tasmanian tiger

After exploring the rock art galleries, we set out for the 250 meter climb up to the lookout on Ubirr Rock. Even though this time we were actually climbing UP the rock, this was nowhere near as difficult as the walk to Jim Jim the day before. It was quite fun, and we soon made it to the summit of the lookout, where we were greeted with 360-degree spectacular views of Kakadu and even Arnhem Land, which we would visit later that morning.  
Borrowed from the internet to show the size of Ubirr Rock
Pausing on the climb - so glad to experience this with my BFF!
I made it to the summit, the highest point of Ubirr Rock!
A panoramic view from the top of Ubirr
Tools of the trade - backpack, water bottle, camera, and cap
Hiking back down the rock
 After making our way back to the car park, we made our way to our last big adventure in Kakadu, a Guluyambi boat cruise on the East Alligator River. We boarded a smaller boat than on our billabong cruise, and made our way out on the water. What was neat is that we could very clearly see where the salt water flowed into the fresh water river. The Guluyambi cruise was different from the billabong tour. It was not so much about the wildlife, though of course we still saw a lot of birds and crocodiles. Instead it was more about the aboriginal culture, their mythology, their bush survival skills, and how they use the plants and animals to live off the land. It was really informative and interesting. Our aboriginal guide, Robert, was quite funny and knowledgeable. 
Say hello to Robert
Resting on the bank, just waiting for a snack
Look at that eye, and those teeth!
These crazy corellas were so noisy!
But I love how they look against that brilliant blue sky.
Part of the cruise was chance to dock and get off the boat in Arnhem Land, which is protected by the indigenous people. Non-aborigines cannot enter Arnhem Land without a permit, so that was an incredible opportunity. We were warned to watch for snakes (which made me nervous!), and then we hopped off the boat and climbed up a rock for some more spectacular views. Back at the bottom, Robert demonstrated how his people throw the spears by tossing three spears into the river - he sent the guide of the other boat to retrieve them!  
This is Two-Face Rock - the left looks like ET, the right like Terminator
Welcome to Arnhem Land!
Robert throwing the spear
What an amazing adventure!
We didn't have long in Arnhem Land before we had to get back on our boat for the return trip upstream. We were all quite hungry by then. Surprisingly, our lunch that day was in the restaurant at the Crocodile Hotel where we'd been staying the past two nights. After lunch, we experienced the most disappointing part of our Kakadu trip - we basically sat on a bus while the driver drove very slowly around the town of Jabiru (there is NOTHING to see there) and then out past the Uranium mine (again, nothing exciting there). We finally ended up at the Bowali Visitor's Centre for about 20 minutes of souvenir shopping before starting the 3-hour bus ride back to Darwin.
This picture screams "Outback" to me
On the long bus-ride back to Darwin we were treated to an amazing sunset that I tried, unsuccessfully, to photograph through the moving bus window. It was about this point that Stephanie looked over at me from across the aisle and said, "Barb, did we empty the safe?... Did you get your passport?" I think my shocked gasp could be heard throughout the entire bus. But Stephanie was great - she said "Don't panic!" It's times like these that it's really handy to have your best friend be a consulate officer. She knew exactly what to do. As soon as we go back to cell reception, she contacted her coworker at the consulate and made arrangements for me to go in for an emergency passport as soon as we landed in Sydney the next morning. This was Monday night - we were getting ready for a 1:45 a.m. red-eye flight back to Sydney, landing at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and my flight back to the USA left Wednesday at 11 a.m. What a time to lose the passport! Stephanie also contacted the hotel and arranged for them to send my passport (and her headphones that were also left in the safe) to her in Sydney. It was quite the ending to a really exciting adventure in the Australian Northern Territory!