Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Small Furry Critters...and lots of trains!

So this is another one with lots of pictures, particularly of animals of varying degrees of weirdness, cuteness and general attractiveness. Thoroughly enjoyed taking these! Apologies for the terrible formatting - I unreservedly blame blogspot's terrible photo integration software for this, but at least it saves space and makes things slightly more readable (I hope?).

Heading north from Melbourne towards Australia's tropical Top End, it was hilarious to witness the transition from suburban, pleasant Adelaide to classic redneck territory as I watched the landscape transform over the 3000km (1850 miles) via Alice Springs to Darwin. On the whole, buying a rail pass to get around this huge country has been a mixed blessing: without a driver's license, there are few alternatives apart from Greyhound buses and planes, which would mean just hopping from city to city without seeing anything in between. In fact, trains here have turned out remarkably comfortable, and it is very pleasant to just watch the world go by. The only thing that naturally falls short of expectations is the photography: unlike India, it is definitely not possible to just hang out an open door whenever you like.

Making very sure everyone knows what train they're getting on...
My first train was The Overland from Sydney to Melbourne, which winds through almost unbroken seas of golden wheat(?) fields. This is one of the three "great trains" through Australia, the other being the 2670mi India Pacific connecting Sydney and Perth and The Ghan (1800 miles), which I rode, from Adelaide to Darwin. The legroom inside is frankly astounding - enough that I could stretch my legs fully without my feet touching the seat in front - and the seats are armchair-style so I was a very happy bunny on this 10-hour journey which would have been exceedingly unpleasant on any UK train. The view was, shall we say, reasonably repetitive, with the only real variation occurring in the degree of undulation in the countryside, but pleasant enough to follow for a day (Apologies for the window reflections...):

Adelaide proved a little surprising at first - as I made my way from the station to the house of my first couchsurfing hosts, Stephen and Luke, the city was completely deserted when it should have been rush hour on a weekday at 6pm. Indeed, Adelaide is a quiet place, but I had an awesome time staying at Luke and Stephen's, who took me in happily and let me partake in their beautifully relaxed lifestyle. We got off to a good start as I got treated to an AB, a stalwart of sorts of Adelaide cuisine - a massive takeaway of lamb/chicken gyros, chips and a generous measure of chili sauce. On the whole, couchsurfing has turned out to be a fantastic experience, and it was nice to get a bit of local knowledge of a place instead of stumbling from one standard backpacker place to the next.

Before leaving the fertile southern shores of Australia I decided I couldn't not go to a wildlife park to see all the weird and wonderful creatures this continent has spawned over the millenia. Cleland Wildlife Park proved a lovely day out and I got some pretty decent pictures out of it. 

Fun fact about koalas - they don't just look *really* slow, they actually are. In fact, they are the only mammal whose brain does not fit its skull but is, in fact, far smaller and sort of swims in liquid. This is because they spend a far higher percentage of their energy output than other animals digesting their poisonous eucalyptus-based diet so that not enough energy is left over to run a powerful brain. Living in said poisonous tree means they can actually get away with it because they have so few natural predators (predominantly fire). Talk about living the dream...

An intimate moment...and a...more intimate one?

And most importantly, of course, more marsupials (wallaby/Tasmanian devil/kangaroos)...

...and awesome dingoes!

My favourite, though, has got to have been this feisty kangaroo delightedly disposing of my apple core for me, and coming back keen for more:

Cheeky bastard! Gutted I didn't quite get his face in the frame here.
On my last day in Adelaide, Stephen and Luke took me rockclimbing with their Uni climbing club - on a perfect day for it (ie <30C), we drove out to Morialta Conservation Park to find a wall that, fortunately, proved manageable even with my meager skills. In fact, after chilling out for most of the excursion, enjoying my surroundings and trying and failing to find decent vantage points for photos, I had a go without and, even without climbing shoes, just about got by.

The man himself!
 The journey up to Darwin from Adelaide proved a long one. Having missed out on Ghan tickets for the first half of the trip to Alice Springs, I had to hop on an overnight coach for this leg before catching the train in Alice. Fortunately, a mostly empty bus and ample opportunity to stretch out made this bearable. As the wheat fields began to give way to the desert, I failed to adequately capture yet another glorious sunset through the bus window.

The border between South Australia and the Northern Territory comes, predictably, in the middle of nowhere - so much so, in fact, that Australia's point of inaccessibility (point on a continent furthest from the nearest coast) is right nearby. 

That conical thing on the hill is Australia's Point of Inaccessibility. A very, very long way from anywhere...except, as it turns out, Kulgera Pub!
...where they've come up with some interesting decorations.
The "Red Centre" - aptly named...

Alice Springs itself proved too much for me at 45-odd degrees - even in the bone-dry air it's hard to cope with those kinds of temperatures, so I fled to a shopping centre after finding very little to see in the town itself. Finally, the time came to board the Ghan, which proved as comfortable as the Overland and a lot more exciting in terms of views. My humble abode for the next 24 hours also came with oldschool-looking carriages and engine: Australia's trains are few and far between, but what they do have is pretty cool!

Whistlestop in Katherine: if possible, this place was even more desolate than Alice Springs - but at least water existed as we entered the tropical latitudes. 
Having made it to the tropics at long last, Darwin et al. will follow in the next post. Hope this one wasn't too long to deal with...feedback, as always, much appreciated!

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