After having rested for a bit at the top of the falls, there was nothing left to do but to drive back to Melbourne and have a quick pitstop at a koala shaped restaurant...
The 3rd and final day of the trip started just before sunrise. I got up early out of my tent, to check on the kangaroos. And I was not disappointed. They were everywhere! And they were beautiful.
After having spent a couple of hours revelling in the beauty of the early morning, breakfast was served, and it was time to move on to the final part of the journey: MacKenzie Falls. A beautiful waterfall, accompanied by a couple more beautiful falls, in the MacKenzie river. Now river is a big word. It's a stream only a few meters wide. But gorgeous. I walked along the river for a couple of kilometers, in the scorching sun, passed a set of falls of which I have no idea if they have a name, continued for another couple of kilometers, and met the massive MacKenzie falls. After that there was a lovely view of the Broken Falls.
After having rested for a bit at the top of the falls, there was nothing left to do but to drive back to Melbourne and have a quick pitstop at a koala shaped restaurant...
I'm looking forward to my next journey already! There is sooooo much to see here.
The next day was getting up early, and rush to the 12 Apostles: a bunch of limestone stacks standing in the ocean. There are no 12, and there haven't been 12, so the name is a little silly. In fact there's less and less as erosion makes them slowly disappear until they collapse.
From there on it was onwards to London Bridge, and the Bay of Isles. London Bridge is a formation of limestone rock with 2 arches that is reminiscent of the London Bridge in London. However, the arch connecting to the land collapsed in 1990, leaving a couple of folks stranded on the newly formed island, so it takes a little bit of imagination now, but it's still pretty clear. And beautiful none the less.
Bay of Isles is... well... a bay filled with little isles. Or to put it more precise, it is a spot in the coastline where the limestone has been heavily eroded and the water has been able to come land inwards quite a bit, leaving plenty of stacks standing around looking pretty.
Final stop along the coast was Tower Hill. An extinct volcano, that is now filled with a lake and forresty area housing plenty of native Australian wildlife. It was the middle of the day though, so most animals were hiding from the sun and enjoying their siestas. However a bunch of emus did make their appearance, smelling the chance of stealing somebody's lunch!
From there on it was time to head land inwards. To the Grampians. A small mountainous area curiously protruding out of the wide flat surroundings. I spotted the first kangaroos here. Which is surprising, because there are 4 times more kangaroos in Australia than there are people, so would kind of have expected them earlier!
The Grampians has some beautiful rock formations, so took some time to wander and take it all in.
From there it was onwards to the Assess Ears Wilderness Lodge. A home in the outback next to a long stretch of grass that serves as an airfield, although I wouldn't have a clue when. I guess only in emergencies, because it's really nothing more than a stretch of grass with some white pylons in the middle of nowhere. There were plenty of birds though, and spotted a few kangaroos, although they were too fast to take a picture of in the diminishing sunset light. I did find a kangaroo skull, and soon went to set up the tent and went to sleep for an early pre-sunrise rise the next morning.
Between Christmas and New Year last 2015 I went on a little trip through Victoria to see some of the nature and landscapes. It was amazing, stunning, and gorgeous. First of all let's show the path of my journey:
Note how the journey is 990 km total length, which took 3 beautiful days. Now let's see that in the wider context of all of Australia:
Yes... Yes... This place is damn big...
Day one took me on the Great Ocean Road, from Melbourne to Port Campbell. Since the Great Ocean Road was suffering heavy bushfires over Christmas, sadly part was closed, but I had already visited that part before so it was alright. We went via Colac, and then cut down south to Apollo Bay where the road was opened again.
Here is the first view that was had from the Southern Ocean after a few hours of driving:
For those who don't know what the Great Ocean Road is: it is the world's largest war memorial. It was built by military servicemen who returned from World War I duty, and measures 244 kilometers long. Before its construction most of the coastal fishermen places could only be reached via the ocean.
On Wikipedia I found a funny piece of history about its construction:
The soldiers were paid 10 shillings and sixpence for eight hours per day, also working a half-day on Saturdays. They used tents for accommodation throughout, and made use of a communal dining marquee and kitchen; food costing up to 10 shillings a week. Despite the difficulty involved in constructing the road, the workers had access to a piano, gramophone, games, newspapers and magazines at the camps. Additionally, in 1924, the steamboat Casino became stranded near Cape Patton after hitting a reef, forcing it to jettison 500 barrels of beer and 120 cases of spirits. The workers obtained the cargo, resulting in an unscheduled two-week-long drinking break.
From Apollo Bay on the journey went past Cape Otway Lighthouse, which used to be the very first sign of land and life for the people on the ships that had sailed for many months all the way from Europe.
Going on from there, there was a stop in one of the beautiful rainforest areas that can be found in this part of Australia, as well as an area that was kind of the opposite. Koalas are a serious problem in this part of Australia, as there are by far too many of them. Sure, they are cute to see, but they eat so much that they leave no trees alive to grow more food to ensure their own survival. It was dramatically visible from the bus how whole forests have been wiped out by them.
For the remainder of the day a number of stops were made along the stunning coast, ending with pizza and beers on Port Campbell and a good night's sleep at a hostel. The famous 12 Apostles was so crazily busy with tourists, that the decision was made to skip that and return there the next day early morning before most people would show up. It was a good choice.
I just sold my old AppleTV, and replaced it with the latest version that supports Siri and apps and touch controlled remote and al that goodness. One of the nice little features is the screensaver, which gets updated with new footage every month, that shows stunningly beautiful full-HD fly-over videos of landmark places of our planet. One such place is a section of the Great Wall of China. And it reminded me that I really should dig through my photos from over 1.5 year ago now, when me and Veronika were walking a section of the wall, shortly after the Chinese New Year, in the middle of freezing winter. It's the most memorable walk I have made in my 36 years so far.
It took us about 3 hours to get to the wall, by bus and taxi, where we arrived closely before 8:30 in the morning. And we finished the walk in 6.5 hours at around 15:00 in the afternoon. Here's what that looks like on the map. Red is the walk on the wall. Blue is the approach by foot (top left), and descend by cable cart (bottom right)
And this is what that looks like in the greater scheme of things. You can just about make out the little red line, north of Beijing.
Knowing that the wall stretches all the way from the sea far to the east, to somewhere far away in the west... maybe the photos can give you an idea of the enormous size and beauty of this wonder of the world.
When we arrived at the Wall there was this busy chitchatting group of western seniors arriving as well. Luckily they went in the opposite direction of us.
The place where we clambered onto the Wall was quite collapsed, which is why we could get on it, via a makeshift ladder, and we had to take a fair climber up over the rubble to the remains of the first tower. Once over there, the stunning views began rolling out in front of us where ever we looked.
Off we went... Being all alone on that Great Wall, in the silence of the world, is an astounding feeling. There is so much history there. Standing there and thinking of the people who built this place, defended this place, assaulted this place, lived in this place... unfathomable.
The most challenging part of the walk came pretty soon in the journey. A part of the wall that was so badly collapsed that it basically meant a near-180-degree climb up the mountainside, being careful not to depend on loose bricks and stones. But, it was 'challenge accepted' and we soldiered on. Veronika went first. I followed, and eventually had to hoist my backpack up to her before being able to pull myself up there. We continued into the blinding winter sunlight across the peaks. The wall was so overgrown here that the path was almost tunnelled through the bushes.
We battled on and walked the walk. It was about 11 o'clock, and since we had gotten up very early, and been quite physically active, and half-frozen by now, we took a moment in one of the towers to cut up and eat some lovely Dutch cheese.
After lunch we felt a little better, but Veronika was getting more and more frozen. We got to a point where all she wanted was to get to the end, while I wanted to use this opportunity to take more photos. She clambered bravely ahead. I was so proud of her.
Looking back, the Wall section covered so far looked very impressive.
Looking ahead, we could sense we were approaching the home stretch. Even though distance-wise we had by now only covered a third of the day's trek, this was also the roughest part. We knew the next third was going to be a lot easier, and the final third would be along the touristy restored section of the wall, making that part extremely easy.
The upcoming third consisted for a big part of a huge detour that the wall made back up to the top of the mountain range, ensuring no surprise assault could be made upon it from higher ground. Great for the Chinese of the old days, but seemingly unnecessary if we hadn't been here for the beauty of it all!
From here on the Wall became a lot easier and faster to walk.
And before we knew it we were on the restored section.
It was an amazing day. But also an exhausting day. Certainly something that's better to do during the warmer season, so we were happy to pass out in the bus back to Beijing. Going back here, and actually walking along the wall in the opposite direction for at least a week is now certainly the number 1 item on my traveling "to do" list.
Every day here is a little bit happier because of the Lorikeets. They are the happiest birds that always sit and flutter around the house, twittering to their heart's content.
After a very good night sleep in a great bed, it was a beautiful morning again. We got up early to drive through Zion National Park by daylight this time, and get ourselves some breakfast over in Springdale. It was a gorgeous morning drive.
The park has some stunning views, and this was only the part you can see by car. The more stunning bits are in a valley you can only enter by foot somewhere after the two tunnels and the cute goats encountered on the road in the video above. We didn't go there though, and headed straight for breakfast.
At the restaurant we got a little visit from a cute little deer, completely not scared nibbling from some plants in the parking lot. Once he had walked away again, we got back on the road. Our journey took us east again, circling back south of Zion National Park, finding a crossing across a narrow part of the Grand Canyon. The road there was long and sometimes seemingly endless. We made some stops with stunning views, encountered a lizard, as well as some people with caravans the size of a house.
Passing over the Colorado River again, only 17km down stream from the Horseshoe Bend, the water had turned from clear to completely muddied. This is how the Grand Canyon was formed and is still forming: the water erodes the ground heavily, moving tons of earth away continuously.
But then finally, well in the afternoon, we reached the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Such spectacular views. It is hard to comprehend the size of it all by looking at photos. Being there, seeing the cracks form all those rivers, present and long gone, and the huge impact on the land... it's overwhelming.
Right! Time for a few selfies and squirrel shots!
After that amazing stop, we continued the long stretch onwards into the desert. To Las Vegas. But not without first being caught by the Highway Patrol for speeding of course. The sunset that evening over the desert was fantastic, and Las Vegas, well, over the top. The movies are real. And it's surreal to walk around there. Definitely not a place for me. But nice to have seen for once. The pounding of the gambling machine, the too many too much dolled up bodies, the meat market, the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll... it's taken too far there. But as a tourist for a few hours it's alright. Unbelievable how all those insanely large hotels are all completely booked out though...
As an indication of the crazyness that is Las Vegas. The moment we pulled in to the parking lot, and got out of our car, at our motel another car pulled up next to ours and two incredibly ugly hookers got out, trying to get our business. When it was clear we were not interested they immediately swarmed off to the next car that pulled in. As Ilja said: "Damn... they would have had to pay us a loooot of money!"
Ilja had a go at a little poker tournament while receiving free drinks (and passing on to me), and I spent nothing at all but still managed to obtain a cashout voucher for a whole 10 dollar cents! I left it for someone else.... ;-)
To finish it off, here are two videos. One driving through The Strip, the road with all the main casinos. And one walking through the ground floor of hotel Paris. The video quality is crap, but you'll get an idea of the size and crazy scale of this mad city in the middle of the desert, including replica Empire State Building, replica Eiffel Tower, almost-naked bar-dancing ladies, and much much more:
After having driven from Denver to Grand Junction, all through the dark, we had crashed in a cheap motel, like the ones in the movies where your bedroom door is straight on the parking lot. Waking up in the morning it didn't look that good... It was pouring with rain. We got on our way anyway, and lo and behold, within minutes the clouds cracked open and a bright blue and sunny day appeared.
Soon I was finally for the first time properly experiencing the endless American landscapes. You hear about them. You see bits of it in movies. But you don't really know it until you're actually there, driving through it, truly experiencing those massive ridges, deep canyons, and endless prairies, all as far as the eyes can see.
Our first stop was, the Gods know where, along a river through a canyon, with the road being halfway down the canyon edge. This was what I soon learned. The canyon landscape is deep and steep. But it is not just one canyon carved through the ground, but many canyons within canyons, creating a massive and gorgeous pattern of twisting layers. Carved out during millions of years, in multiple stages. The specific bend in the canyon where we stopped used to be an old gold mining spot, with remnants of the old aquaduct to transport clean water along to the miners still visible.
But there was much more to be seen, so we sped on our way again. The mood was good. The weather great. The views never ending and astounding. It wasn't before long that we reached Mexican Hat and had our first distant view of Monument Valley. QUITE a sight! Photos just don't do this landscape justice. It was a great feeling, visiting the Navajo country at last, and felt grateful for being able to see their old native lands.
While we were admiring the view, a long couple of Swiss ladies happened to pass by and offered to take our picture. No selfie this time. ;-) Then we moved on to drive past the impressive rocks, and have a look from the other side.
After having gazed at Monument Valley for a while, we continued our drive through and eventually out of there. Next up would be the start of the Grand Canyon, at the little town of Page. First we had a healthy sandwich break at a Subways, and then we made a visit to the famous 'Horseshoe Bend' just south of there. A very picturesque bend in the Colorado River, right at the start of the Grand Canyon. At this point the water in the river is still clear and sediment free.
After this we hurried on to our final destination for the day: Zion National Park. We were going to stay in a motel just before that, but would like to see if we could still visit the park before sundown. We didn't, but the moon was out, so we drove through the park in the dark, and had some spectacular moonlit views. Impossible to capture on camera, from a moving vehicle, though. We didn't stop, but drove through to the town of Springdale on the other side to get some dinner. We found a nice restaurant where we got some proper food, and proper beers. Very welcome after such a long, hot and dry day. Afterwards we went back through the park, back to the motel. The motel looked really nice, and had a nice pool area. But since we were there for the journey, not for the stay, we didn't actually use it.
On the 26th of August I woke up to be greeted by Maude the cat, who had been sleeping cozily against me. We played a bit, but then soon set out. First stop was the Starbucks opposite, where I got my first raspberry coffee ever. It was very pink, and had no coffee flavour nowhere near it. Fun experiment, but I'll stick to the real thing for now! :-)
Soon we were on the road again in the Mustang, top down, blasting John Denver's "Take me home country road" from the speakers. The roads were used by proper US style trucks and school-busses, and since we were in the state where cannabis is more legal than in The Netherlands, we encountered some of that too. But mostly it was just beautiful scenery.
At the Nederland city limit sign we stopped again, and took a mandatory selfie together, before heading into the wedding. Jon and Andrea were busy getting all dressed up somewhere, and the place itself was buzzing. That didn't deter the super cute little chipmunks from running around the place and delighting us all, though!
The wedding itself was a cute and lovely event. Albeit ironical, for me. There I was, sitting with 2 used wedding rings, at the wrong wedding for those rings, only 3 days after having received the one back...
But that didn't influence the beauty of the ceremony and I swiftly tucked them safely away. Andrea arrived, being given away by her mom and dad, and preceded by the lovely little flower girl and her mom, Andreas best friend. Jon was looking all scrubbed up in his suit, ready to receive his soon to be wife. And lo and behold, only a few minutes later, under the flower garland, it had come to pass. A newly married couple came into existence, and the party could start!
There was plenty of space, and plenty of Dutch and American sweets, food, cake, drinks. And the newly wedded couple looked very pleased with themselves.
When the party died down some hours later in the evening, me and uninvited but very welcome guest Ilja said goodbye to other uninvited but welcome guest Halie, who decided at the last minute not to join us to Las Vegas anyway :-p and we started the first leg of our little road trip, driving into the night.
The early morning straight after returning from Chengdu, China, I had to get on an even longer flight again, all the way to Los Angeles and then onward to Denver. Because my Dutch friend Andrea and her American fiancé were going to get married. And they found the perfect location for it. A little town called 'Nederland' (The Dutch name of 'the Netherlands') in the United States. Coincidentally that happened to be only an hour's drive from their home.
Everything went wrong in the morning. I overslept and missed my taxi pickup. When I got them to send a new one, I almost missed that one too. In the hurry I forgot to take my shaver and iPad, and forgot to close the gate to the house. Luckily my awesome neighbour noticed it and chained up my bicycles just in case. However there was nothing he could do about me not being able to shave or read and play games on the iPad.
Regardless, I survived the 15 hour flight to Los Angeles. Transferred through the airport fairly quickly, bought some minty M&Ms and a book to read, and was soon on my flight to Denver from which I saw the first canyon landscapes (The San Juan River and Mexican Hat I think) and some Rocky Mountains. Quite different form the Alps I had become used to!
In Denver I got picked up from the airport by Andrea and her stepdad, and soon we were cruising along the motorway. I paid a couple-hour visit to the lodge in Nederland where the wedding was going to be, where a lot of guests had gathered already, and took the mandatory selfie at the 'Nederland' city limit sign. Once back at Andrea & Jon's flat, where I would be sleeping while they stayed in the lodge, Ilja arrived in a nice Ford Mustang.
After an intense 1.5 week of getting to know Chengdu and the colleagues there, it was time to depart again. But not before taking care of two important issues.
First of all taking stock of the ridiculous amount of soaps and shampoos and such that you get when staying in a hotel like this. If you open a soap or shampoo, and not even touch it further, the next day it will be thrown away and replaced with a new one. Such an environmentally unfriendly waste. So every day I put everything in my suitcase and only got it out when needing to use it, saving the rest up for use later.
Secondly, and far more importantly, we took off our rings. Despite it having been coming for a long time, it still got very emotional when it really happened. I tucked them safely away, to look at some time on a rainy day.
We then went to the airport, had our final coffee together, and shared a mooncake. We both departed from separate terminals, so we waved goodbye and went our separate ways. Veronika back to Seoul. Me back to Melbourne.
A long but pleasant couple of business class flights was ahead of me. With a 6 hour layover in Bangkok. Departing Chengdu it was amazing how visible the pollution layer was when lifting out of it with the plane. And when we approached Bangkok airport a rainbow appeared, and the lounge was also still there (surprise surprise! ;) ) so it was quite survivable. Eventually we landed back in Melbourne with some clear skies allowing me to have a great view of Victoria from the sky for a bit.
I swiftly went onwards to home. Took out the nice tea sets I bought in Chengdu (One traditional one for me, and one a bit more western-sized as wedding present for Andrea & Jon. Because next stop: US and A! Very nice! High-five!