Glamping in the Grampians

How lucky am I to have rung in another new year in yet another new country!  I was fortunate enough to spend the first week of 2016 hiking, swimming, sunbathing, and eating ice cream in the town of Halls Gap in the Grampians National Park.

Boronia

To kick start the annual “New Year New Me” fun and fit lifestyle, I took on Boronia Peak.  The peak was situated a short distance from the campground and was a nine kilometer circuit, taking our daring dozen approximately four hours to complete.  The upward trek was a medium grade climb equipped with a relatively easy rock scramble up the face of the outcrop to the top.  Once atop Boronia Peak, one is left to rehydrate, refuel, and snap a few selfies amongst the picturesque background* of Grampians National Park.

There is an option to complete the return hike via the same route taken to reach the peak, but what’s a hike in Australia without a little bush trek action?  Our daring dozen became a nerveless nine, as those feeling a bit more adventurous took the path less traveled (and unmarked).  Down the opposite outcrop face we scrambled and through every prickly, poking, and scratching tree and shrub we strode to reach the original path.  I was advised during this excursion not to put my hands in any crevices, not to make too much noise, and not to stand still for too long as there was an abundance of Aussie creatures that could bite, jump, sting, manhandle, and kill me within three minutes (if you don’t believe me, check this out:  Come to Australia).  Fortunately, with only a few minor slips, cuts, and scratches, we all made it out alive.

Grand Canyon

While not nearly as “grand” as the United States’s, the Grand Canyon is a definite sight to see.  A 1.8 km circuit from Wonderland Carpark, it is a family-friendly walk thanks to its relatively easy ascent.  Clearly posted arrows and signs make it easy to find the vast rock valley sprinkled with small outcrops that are great for climbing and getting a better view of the surrounding mountains.

Mount William

It is highly frowned upon to go to the mountains and not witness at least one spectacular mountaintop sunset.  Where better than from atop the highest peak in the National Park?  The strenuous 1.8 km upward hump to the top of Mount William was well worth the sweat, tired quads, and overpowering wind.  Located just over 1,100 meters (3,600 feet) above sea level, the wind scored panoramic view was breathtaking.  You do not realize how vast the Park is (or how small you are) until you are able to see its full expanse.

I took a break from my hiking excursions to take a short bike ride to the Brambuk (pronounced bram-book) Aboriginal Cultural Centre** in the town of Halls Gap.  The Centre was constructed as a “testimony to the survival of Aboriginal or Koori culture.”  The building contains artwork and artifacts from native Australian tribes with an abundance of cultural history not shared elsewhere in Australia.  To this day, Aboriginals are still unequally represented and mistreated in Australian society, but through select government regulations and rights activist groups, they continue to strive for equality.

Mount Rosea

By midweek, that daring dozen I spoke about dwindled to a mere venturesome seven, but darn if the seven of us didn’t pack up and head out for yet another 10 km, 4-hour return hike; this time up Mount Rosea.  Slightly more challenging than Boronia Peak, the trek began with a level walk through a fern gully, followed by (what seemed like) an endless maze of rock formations to the top, only broken by a short bridge named the Gate of the East Wind (LOTR-esque, don’t you think?).  Searching for small lizards and skinks hidden among the shrubbery is an easy way to alter the monotony of winding and back-tracking curves that define the path.  Yet again, no disappointment once we reached the peak, but it is quite hard to be disappointed when you feel like you are standing on top of the world.

Pinnacle

We wrangled a rather large group together to tackle the Pinnacle before our departure from the Grampians.  Another family-friendly walk, approximately 1.8 km from the Sundial Carpark, leads you to an outcrop from which you can see Mount Rosea and Mount William in the distance.  The furthest outlook of the Pinnacle is railed-off to ensure the safety of park guests as they view the steep cliff side.

Venus Baths

As expected, I did not return to the carpark with the majority of our pack.  Instead I agreed to take the longer trek and return on a different path that would lead us back to the town of Halls Gap.  Approximately 900 meters from town, we took a small detour.  Much to the dismay of my Aussie friends-slash-tour guides, the Venus Baths were more like the Venus Sinks, seeing as they were rather dry in comparison to previous years.  During exceptionally wet summers, water rushes over the rock faces and into crevices, such that people are able to use the rocks as slides into rather deep pools.

Eight days is not nearly enough to experience all the Grampians National Park has to offer, but I can say I am happy with the ground I covered, the friends I made, and the memories I will cherish forever.  If the first week of January is any sign of the year ahead, I would say 2016 is going to be one exciting as year!

xo

*No photos do justice to the striking beauty of Grampians National Park.

**To respectfully honor the Aboriginal people and their culture, the taking of photos is not permitted within the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre.

Bula Mai Fiji

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Fiji, home to the most beautiful beaches, the clearest and bluest waters, and the most personable people I have ever met.  It is hard to say anything bad about a place, when your biggest worry during your stay is falling coconuts.

In Pacific Harbour, located in the south of the island Viti Levu, is the Fiji Palms Resort.  The Fiji Palms gives the feel of a quaint, secluded oasis, while still having the ease of access to civilization.  In a prime location, resort guests can enjoy the pool deck, the beach front, or take a twenty minute walk to the Arts Village to enjoy shopping and local performances.

Along the 30-minute scenic drive to the capital city, Suva, we saw primary and secondary schools, correctional facilities (jails), and local villages.  While some Fijians use automobiles to travel, some still use longboats or bamboo rafts to cross rivers, like the Navua.  In some villages, children have rigged devices to keep their books and uniforms dry as they swim across the river to go to and from school.

Lining the roadsides are native flora:  taro, kansaka (tapioca), paw-paw (papaya) trees, kava, and umbrella trees (Albizia saman).  Taro is potato-like plant from which the roots and leaves are eaten.

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Suva is home to Parliament which resides in the same building as the courthouse (pictured above).  The country has both a president and prime minister, the President being of highest ranking.  Currently, a rugby pavilion located to the right of Parliament is being renovated to move general admission seating from the Parliament side of the stadium to the opposite side (talk about prime box seats…).  Sandwiching the rugby pavilion between Parliament and itself is the Government House, home to the President of Fiji.  The Presidential palace is guarded by Fijian soldiers dressed in white sulus and red tunics.  The changing of the guards occurs during the first week of every month, at which time on duty guards and off duty guards swap duties.

After our sightseeing of Suva, we attended a lovo, or traditional Fijian meal.  A lovo is a method by which the food–typically chicken, pork, and fish–are smoked in a pit covered by palm leaves and dirt.  Prior to serving dinner, a lali, or drum is played to welcome guests of honor.  Lalies are beaten to different tones and rhythms to signify different occurrences (death of a chief, visitor’s welcome, chief visitation, etc.) within the village and as a means of communication between villages.

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Following dinner, villagers hold a kava session and perform entertainment in the form of songs, dances, and chants.  A kava session is the ritual and social drinking of kava, or grog which is made by soaking the ground roots of the plant in water.  Kava is a member of the pepper tree family and offers sedative and anesthetic properties when ingested.

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Following a few days of poolside rest and relaxation, we took to the ocean.  Aboard self-driven Wave Runners, we began a 60 kilometer jet ski safari to the backside of Beqa Island.  Jet skis tied together, we submerged ourselves into the barrier reef surrounded by sergeants, parrotfish, forcepfish, giant clams, and more.  Driving to Beqa’s coast, we anchored and enjoyed lunch on a beach that rivaled any postcard.  About 100 meters offshore, a patch reef was protector to seastars, elephant trunk fish, and two white tip reef sharks (by far, the highlight of my mermaid adventures).

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As if five hours in the Pacific wasn’t enough, the day following our jet ski safari, I ventured on a second snorkeling excursion to another reef, about a 15-minute boat ride from our beach at Fiji Palms.  I jumped off the Natalya Earl and into the bluest water I have ever seen.  It was as if someone had taped blue cellophane paper over my mask’s lens.  Absolutely unbelievable.  In two hours, I covered a few hundred meters of reef, and while I missed the reef shark sighting, I got to check several new fish species off my list.

The last few days of our stay at the Fiji Palms Resort were spent relaxing by the pool, hunting for seashells and sea biscuits along the beach, and enjoying the immense hospitality exuded by the resort staff.  I mentioned it before, but Fijians are the most personable people.  Every day and at every passing you could expect a greeting and a smile.  Never have I been to a resort where staff, other than the bartenders, engages you in genuine conversation.

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Our week-long stay at the Fiji Palms was up, but the holiday extended to the western side of the island in Nadi (pronounce Nan-dee).  We carted our luggage two and a half hours to the Sheraton Denarau Villas.  While equally as beautiful, the fast-paced, impersonal, resort lifestyle was less appealing than our homey stay in Pacific Harbour.  All in all, I wouldn’t trade holidays in Paradise, regardless of the number of hotel guests, for snow any day.  Summer in December is fine by me.

xo

Fijian Dictionary

  • bula (mboo-lah).  hello
  • lali (lah-lee).  drum
  • Nadi (nan-dee).  Nadi, city in western Viti Levu
  • sulu (soo-loo).  sarong
  • vinaka (vee-nah-kah).  thank you
  • vonu (vah-new).  turtle

 

 

Talk Nerdy to Me

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While travelling to the destination (Melbourne Museum) of, yet another, solo Sunday exploration, I cut through the Carlton Gardens, home of the immaculate Royal Exhibition Building.  The Building hosts many events throughout the year, including but not limited to:  university exams (BOO!), bridal expos, design fairs, and car shows.  It can be toured (a fact I was unaware of until after planning my day) and you can bet it will be toured, so stay tuned…

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The Darwin (#mancrusheveryday) to DNA exhibit is only a small portion of the Melbourne Museum which is home to approximately six permanent galleries, each comprised of up to five sub-galleries, three changing galleries, an IMAX theater, and an amphitheater.  The Melbourne Museum is equivalent to the Museum of Natural History in NYC, although, I’m convinced its number of specimens trumps New York’s…easily.

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I have never seen as many nor as perfectly preserved insect specimens as I did in the Bugs Alive! exhibit.  The exhibit had displays of beetles, butterflies, spiders, ants, and more displayed in shadow boxes standing well over two meters tall.  It was an entomologist’s dream come true, to say the least.

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While there were no aquariums housing live marine fauna, the preserved animals found in jars and tanks around the Marine Life exhibit offered easier observation of past and present species.  Museum guests could approach and get an up-close-and-personal view of a giant squid, Australia’s infamous blue-ringed octopus, a blobfish, and dragon kin (seahorses and pipefishes).  My marine biology-loving nerd flourished in this particular section, as I was able to see anglers and other deep sea species that are typically not present in other museums or aquariums.

“Try not to have a good time…this is supposed to be educational.” –Charles M. Schultz

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The Melbourne Museum caters to the entomologists, marine biologists, environmentalists, and Norman Bates’s of the world.  The Wild exhibit is floor to ceiling, 270-degrees taxidermy heaven.  Everything from birds to monkeys to large felines to rhinoceroses (well rhinoceros, but yes, there is one!).  It is quite possibly the coolest, most disturbing exhibit I have ever experienced.  The Museum has placed several touch screen monitors around the exhibit, on which guests can select animals from an identical image of the wall, and the image of the animal of interest will enlarge with both the scientific and common names.

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The Mind and Body Gallery included a look into the anatomy and physiology of the human body, as well as the workings of the human mind.  Among other things, interactive exhibits exemplify how the brain varies between mentally healthy and unhealthy individuals, how the brain works to memorize and analyze inputs, and how generations have contributed to the ability to study such instances.

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It would not be a trip to the Melbourne Museum without a tribute to the aforementioned city.  The Melbourne Gallery gives a brief history lesson from the 1890’s to present-day.  More than 1200 collection objects tell the Melbourne Story, including artifacts from the first derby days, Cole’s Book Arcade, and, Australian hard rock band, AC/DC.

xo