Gettin’ Dirt-y

23 Jul

Today was quite eventful with lots of “firsts” for me. It all started when AJ picked me up this morning around 10am for a lovely round of golf, which I may or may not have been pestering him about for ages, HA!

Only joking.. that’s a picture of the Golf Club of Tennessee. The Winton course was unlike anything I have ever seen. Rather than having luscious fairways and greens, lined by trees and brooks, the Winton Golf Club is quite literally a dirt course.

teeing off on the dirt course

My golf game was a total disaster. I rarely hit the ball in the air, and when I did, it was never straight. Very disappointing, but I still had a fun morning. I found it awkward playing on the course because you have to tee up on every shot, including chip shots to the green. AJ said that on other dirt courses, you can move your ball 1 golf club length to a patch of grass, but there’s just not enough grass patches on the Winton course for that rule to apply very often. There were no sand traps, and probably only water hazards when it’s the wet season, although the only marked hazards were areas of “high grass” that had actually been mowed. AJ reckons that the caretakers mow it every time they lose a ball.

The putting “green” was made of dirt and recycled petrol… I think? I may need to get some verification on that.

roo prints on the putting green!

Once your ball is on the green, you have to rake a path from your ball past the hole in order to smooth out the line. The speed of the green is dependent upon how much [recycled petrol?] is put into the mix. Most of the greens were perfectly flat so you could just line your put with the marks left by the rake. I realized toward the end that I was relying a bit too much on that though because some of them started to actually break a bit. There goes the one thing I was faring well with!

raking the green in preparation of the putt

The dirt course was certainly an experience! I’m still trying to tell myself that I would have played better if I could have swung with a few divots. (Shhhh, we’ll just go with that!) I will have to give some props to AJ though because he didn’t try to coach me at all (until it was pretty obvious I needed some sort of guidance when I wasn’t getting any better). Take notes, Dad!

After playing 9 holes of golf, we put his golf bag back into storage and regrouped for the camel races, another “first” for me! When I got back to the Aussie, Emma and Jasmin were prepping in their dresses so I quickly followed suit. Shortly after, AJ gave us a lift down to the show grounds, which would have been about a 15 minute walk otherwise. We meandered our way through a couple of stalls with hats and pins and puppets, then decided to follow the crowd into the center arena, where we found ourselves watching the camel tagging competition.

Jasmin and Emma are perched for viewing

Camel tagging… The contender climbs inside the fence where he waits to meet his furry component. With one hand on the fence, the judges start the clock. The contender must then chase down the camel and “tag” it by sticking a provided strip of ducked tape anywhere on its body. He must then touch the fence where he started before retrieving the piece of ducked tape that he stuck on the camel. Whoever can achieve this two-step process in the shortest amount of time wins the prize money. But the event does not come without its hazards. While trying to tag and untag the camel, the camel itself is running, kicking, spitting, and even biting at the contestants. It’s a dirty job, but man, oh man is it hilarious to watch!

camel tagging competition

After the camel tagging, the crowd dispersed back into the main viewing area for the races. As soon as we crossed over the race track, we found ourselves mesmerized by all the cute and cuddly little creatures in the petting zoo… along with all the other kids. It was only $4 to go inside, but I think we were all a little too embarrassed to be pushing the 6 year olds out of the way so that we could hold the baby ‘roo.

the petting zoo

precious little joey!

Joeys are actually adorable to watch. Yeah I know, hard to believe. You hold up a little pillow case or a jacket with the sleeves tied up or anything else cozy and resembling a pouch, and they dive in head first leaving just a tail or foot awkwardly sticking out of the top. So funny!

One burger and a couple foot-racing competitions later, the camel races themselves were back on.

jockeys leading their camels to the starting line

The camel races are very similar to any horse race, except that sometimes the riders can fall off the back of the camel, and other times the camel will decide to stop racing and turn in a completely different direction. At least that was the case about 10 years ago. Now there’s a bit more money at stake, so people actually take care to train their camels. I was still hoping for some sort of novice mistake! Regardless, they are such awkward creatures when running. They look so clumsy with their big dangly legs swinging around in front of themselves. Pretty amusing!

camel racing

move your bloomin' arse!

I wasn’t able to stay for the remainder of the races because I had bar duties to attend to at The Aussie, but I certainly enjoyed my big day out! Not many Americans could say they’ve played golf on a dirt course or cheered at the camel races, but somehow Winton made it possible for me to do both in one day. What a wild place this is!

myself and the girls at the camel races

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Yabbing

24 Jun

Shiloh is our lucky host of today’s activity! And this time he gets ALL the Aussie Hotel barmaids. After swinging by the butcher shop to grab some unwanted scraps, we headed out toward Bladensburg National Park to one of Shiloh’s best “yabbying” spots. We stopped off at Scrammy Gorge for a quick tourist pic.

scrammy gorge

scrammy gorgeI guess it fills up with water in the wet season. Pretty rough and rocky when we were there though. Shiloh told us he’d take us snaking another time.. apparently that’s a great spot to find them. Eek!

When we got to the muddy river of choice, Shiloh started cutting up the bait for a few traps.

yabby trap

yabby trapThe idea is that the “yabbies” or crawfish will wander into the trap in search of the meat and then ideally not be able to find their way back out.

tossing the trapWe tossed a couple traps in and left them alone while we went to work on our individual catches… a much more exciting sport.

The preferred method is to tie a bit of meat onto the end of a string and drop it down onto the bottom. And wait.

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Since the water’s pretty murky, you have to just bounce it around a little until you can feel a yabby latch on with their claws. Apparently they don’t even eat the meat. They just rip pieces of it off to add to their little home.. maybe for the stench? Not sure.

263508_775681166608_4982418_nWe tried a couple different methods.. pull them up quick like ripping off a bandaid and try to fling them onto the land. Or pull them up really slowly in hopes they don’t even realize they’re leaving the water. Either way, it’s really easy for them to simply let go. So it was heaps of fun trying to figure out how to keep them hanging on long enough to grab them.

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262770_775681056828_6400165_nAfter awhile, the yabbies started to wise up, or maybe we were getting worse, or impatient. So we called it an arvo. We pulled up the traps and secured another handful of yabbies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot a bad collection in my opinion! Shiloh said he usually catches more with the boys but hey, we’re newbies 🙂

Once we got back, Shiloh boiled up all our findings and we feasted on yabbies with salt and three island dressing. Slight hint of muddy water to the taste, but that’s easily forgiven. Very simple. Very good.

feast

Do-you-think-he-saurus Rex

19 Jun

For our next adventure on the Winton to-do list… Lark Quarry! What’s so special about Lark Quarry? It’s the only fossilized evidence of a dinosaur stampede. And it was the inspiration for the stampede scene in Jurassic Park. Our curiosity of this site is constantly refreshed every time we walk outside because most of the public rubbish bins on the main road are Lark Quarry themed…

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Most of our friends that live in Winton have been to Lark Quarry… just not since they were little kids. Brendan was our lucky host for this adventure so he got to drive with us alllll the way out to the dinosaur trackways, almost 2 hours away.

Upon arrival, there is a bridge connecting the parking lot to the actual building that covers the footprints, on which you “travel back through time” with a series of periodical developments, such as first homo sapiens, ice age, etc. Brendan told us the last time he was here, the footprints were open to all the elements and even though there was a little pathway, the kids would hop over and run amuck with the herding footprints. The new conservation building was constructed in 2002 to help preserve it… from kiddos running amuck and erosion from weather.

conservation building

So here’s the story: In the 1960s a station manager in a nearby opal quarry found what he thought were dinosaur footprints. Paleontologists came and excavated the site in the 1970s and after removing about 60 tonnes of rock, they uncovered some 3300 dinosaur footprints. There are 3 different types of species identified from the footprints. What scientists believe happened is that there were 2 smaller species of dinos (lizard-hipped and bird-hipped dinos). Though the lizard-hipped dinos are carnivorous and the bird-hipped dinos are vegetarian, they can tell through the spacing of the footprints that they were co-existing peacefully around a lake. Then a much larger set of footprints from a carnivorous theropod comes barging into the scene and all the animals (approximately 150-180) fled the scene. The footprints become spaced farther and farther apart so it is obvious the animals went from meandering around to long running strides as they attempted to escape this large predator.

footprint

stampede scene

You can see where there are still chunks that have not been fully excavated. These serve as a sort of insurance in case something happens to the existing footprints that have been uncovered.

So why are these footprints still here? I’ll quote one of the boards in the museum:

After the stampede occurred conveniently on the muddy banks of a river 95 million years ago, “the mud hardened; the lake slowly rose, covering the tracks; buried by the next flood; thousands of years; sediments laid down forming rock over millions of years; and then the world changed. Dinosaurs disappeared. Once a lush lake, now a dry mountain range. Rain, runoff stripped away the rocks forming gullies, mesas, hard topped escarpments. Fast forward 1976-77 paleontologists, volunteers excavate the only known dinosaur stampede on earth.”

After our tour, we went on a nice loop-de-loop hike, which turned out to be a very short trail. But it was a nice way to stretch our legs and good a good view of the place before we hopped back in the car.

lark quarry w emma

Musical Fence and Automobiles

16 Jun

If you look at the map of Winton that’s provided by the visitor information center, you’ll find a handful of different attractions in the area. Emma and I decided that we were going to spread these out across our stay in Winton so that every few days we would have something new and different to look forward to. Today we decided to venture our way to The Musical Fence. Our destination was just past the hospital and petrol station on the complete opposite side of town. And with our slow, distracted pace, it took us about 20 minutes to reach by foot.
musical fence

Ta da! The musical fence! I’m not sure quite what we expected, but we got a hard case of giggles when we saw this. It’s basically scraps of metal and containers that will make noise if you bang them.

drumsticks

There was a mailbox-type stand in the entrance of the musical area so we opened it up to see if anything was inside, and we discovered the drumsticks! They were cut from piping material. Perfect match.

Emma tackled the drums….

emma playing drumsI tested my talent on the… hub cap wall…

playing.. wall?

We actually had a great time! I would love to see what this looks like when the school kids are getting after it. The scrap material was situated so that they had different pitches. A great reminder that music can be found anywhere!

While we were in the music arena, if you will, we noticed a ton of old cars in the next lot, so we decided to check it out. We found ourselves at Winton’s Diamantina Heritage Truck and Machinery Museum. No one was tending the door, but there was a guest book and donation jar in the entrance for those who wanted to sneak a peek.

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Here are a few of our favorites:

back and forth

This one had steering wheels on both sides so that it always moves forward, which so happens to be Australia’s motto. The country’s crest includes an emu and kangaroo because those animals only move forward as well.

trainThis reminded me of those Barbie jeeps we had as kids, except it was an actual car that was linked to the backs of other cars to create an open train. I wanna ride!

Outside we saw a road train.. very typical for Australia, though it scares me to think of driving along next to one of these in the States.

road train

It’s just like a normal trucker with extra loads draggin behind. The record for the longest road train was an Australian guy that pulled 112 trucks behind a single Mack Titan in 2006. Yikes! I doubt that would actually be road legal… not sure what the actual limit is though. The longest one I’ve seen on the road was 4 trailers deep.

Check our first 2 sites off our Winton enrichment list 🙂

Sheep Shearing, what else?

12 Jun

Jamie told Emma and I yesterday that he would take us out with him sheep shearing today. Not sure if he was entirely serious, I told them to go ahead and wake me up in the morning and I would make a game-time decision as to whether or not I felt like accompanying them. Sure enough, Jamie burst through my doors at 7am saying, “let’s go, let’s go!” We drove about 50km to Lanifer Station, where we met up with Brownie and the shearing commenced. They oiled and then turned on the razor, which resembled the one used by Jim Carey in The Grinch, only the razor was attached to a big metal pipe rigging. It was fairly loud and shook quite a bit, but Jamie seemed to have a good handle on it.

all in a days work

Jamie shearing sheep #1

As Jamie sheared the sheep, Brownie skirted the fleece. Basically what he does is toss the whole fleece onto a large spinning table. Then as he spins the table, he rips off all the stained edges of the fleece that were originally on the sheep’s belly and legs. The fleece goes into a pile in one bin, and the scraps into another.

the shearing set-up

the skirting set-up

After watching Jamie shear 4 or 5 sheep, he decided it was our turn to try it out. So Emma and I took turns dragging the sheep out of the pin first. All you have to do is turn their heads sideways towards their body while pushing their bums downward. Once they’re in a sitting position, it should be easy to grab their front legs and drag them on their back. From there, you’re supposed to pin them in that position between your legs so that they are unable to wiggle around while shearing them. Sounds simple enough.

Even though I know this doesn’t hurt them, I felt bad roughing them around because it seemed so unnatural. By the time I was able to actually get the sheep in a position to start dragging it (primarily thanks to Jamie who did most of the work for me), I found the sheep was rather heavy. I dragged it a few steps and then darted away when it started resisting, causing the boys to have to wrangle it back into submission before it took off running. Whoopsies!

Emma dragging out her victim

The shearing itself was far from graceful as well. Once Jamie sheared the sheep to the point where only the big, open part of its back was left, he let Emma and I have a go on our own sheep. Emma seemed to handle hers alright, but I don’t think I would have much of a future in shearing. I found it slightly difficult determining where the sheep was underneath all of that fleece. Because I didn’t want to nick the poor bugger, I ended up shaving into the fleece rather than keeping the razor flush against its back. Shaving over their boney little legs made me a bit queasy as well. Jamie ended up pointing to the next place my razor was supposed to be so that I had some sort of direction though.

I'm shearing!!!

I also found my choice of shoes somewhat ironic for today…

my Uggs found their way home

Once I finished shearing and Brownie grabbed the fleece out from under me, the sheep jumped up and ran into the pin with the one Emma helped shear. It’s reaction? Well it shat himself, of course. Poor thing!

my patchy sheared sheep

For an experienced shearer like Jamie, it takes him 2-3 minutes to shear a sheep on a good day, but as long as 5-7 minutes on a bad day. You hear of shearsman competitions though where some of these guys can shear a sheep in as little as 20 or 30 seconds. Of course they get counted off for anytime they nick the sheep. But nicking a couple sheep when you’re shearing dozens if not a couple hundred a day is inevitably going to happen.

sheared sheep

sheared sheep

Having had our fill with our try at shearing, Emma and I sat back and watched Jamie power through dozens more sheep. By the time he had sheared about 45 of them, Emma and I were laying in the sun on the back of his truck bed. Since he was only halfway through and it was already about 1pm, he opted to give us a lift to the drag races. I think this probably worked out better for them anyway because they were able to shear much quicker when they were able to fall into their usual routine without having to entertain.

farewell Lanifer Station!

The drag races were pretty comical. I’ve never been to one before so I wasn’t totally sure what to expect, but I imagined those funny little 1-seaters that let off the parachute once they pass the finish line. Winton’s 1/8 mile drag race was slightly different. The event took place on the landing strip of the Winton airport. The airport only flies to Townsville and Longreach on certain days, so I doubt it was that big a deal to shut it down for the day. Crowds gathered in bleachers and chairs set up on one side of the strip, while more official-looking people with medical assistance waited on the other side. The first 2 cars that pulled up were exactly what I imagined.

jazzy drag racing car

After that, I soon realized that anyone in Winton Shire could actually enter their car into the race. There were throwback cars with revved up engines to trucks and even a bus! And yes, the bus actually won its first heat.

the drag race competitors

I don’t know much about cars at all, so I never really figured out what was going on, but 2 cars at a time would pull up to some splashed water behind the starting line, spin their back wheels and kick up a bunch of smoke, then take their places at the starting line.

wetting their wheels?

When the streetlight turned green, they were off! Then at the end of the runway, there was a turnoff behind all the official-looking people where the cars could line back up for their next race. It was a great event with everyone cheering for their friends and making bets on who would win. I only stayed for an hour or so though because I had to be at work. But sure enough, as soon as the races were over at 4pm, everyone started trickling back into the Aussie Hotel. So I didn’t miss much of the entertainment!

Crocodile Darwin

28 May

Leading up to my time in Darwin, everyone made it sound like there was nothing to do in the actual city other than signing up for tours in the surrounding National Parks. Having already been to Kakadu and Litchfield with Adventure Tours, I thought this may result in a bit of a struggle. Though it was rather small, I loved Darwin! I can see how it could be boring after awhile, but I wish I had stayed longer than a week. Everything you needed in Darwin could be found on Mitchell Street, but there were about 5 square blocks worth wandering through.

Side note: I would advise all backpackers to stay at Youth Shack because it’s right in the center of everything, and from what I hear, everyone preferred it over the other hostels on that strip. The YHA is apparently horrible, which comes as a surprise to me because it’s usually a safe bet (albeit more expensive). I stayed at the Cavenagh (aka The Cav) and quite liked it! There was a nice pool in the center, which was always very social, and a bar and bistro that stayed open until 10pm every night. Perfect if you’re traveling alone!

Most of my time in Darwin was spent wandering around and relaxing, but I have 3 events in particular that I find worthy of sharing…

Deckchair Cinema

“Where stars light the screen.” This outdoors cinema was unlike any other because of its dinner buffet, decently stocked bar of beer and wines, movie munchies, and of course the lawn chairs! I was accompanied by my Italian friend, Marco, whom I met on the Groovy Grapes tour up to Alice Springs. The flick of the night was Once Upon a Time in the West, a classic Western movie which I’ve actually never seen before. And Marco hadn’t seen it since his childhood, so he was happy to revisit the cinematography and soundtrack. The stairway leading down to the cinema was blocked off for some unknown reason, so it took us about half an hour to actually find our way to the Deckchair Cinema. We arrived just as the movie was starting, so I didn’t get a chance to snap a picture, but I found it enchanting enough that a Google search seemed necessary for sharing.

I would have really preferred to have seen Griff the Invisible or Red Hill, both of which are Australian films starring Ryan Kwanten, the hottie from True Blood! But the old Western added a little extra to the whole idea of the classic outdoors cinema.

Mindil Beach Sunset Markets

These markets take place year round on Sundays and Thursdays. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go to one of them! I caught a bus just down the street from the Cav for $2, which dropped me off 3km later right in front of the markets. Immediately you see the hoards of people flooding in for this special attraction.

Mindil Beach Sunset Markets

Live music was around every corner, my favorite of course being Em Dee, “high-tech didgeridoo meets drum n’ bass.” Not only did it look difficult with how much he was taking on at a single time, but the music was actually pretty good! I almost wish I had stuck around to purchase one of his CDs. Dance partayyy!

Em Dee

The booths consisted of pretty much everything you would expect: t-shirts, mugs and coozies, crocodile and kangaroo skins, jewelry made of coconuts and shells, south sea pearls, opals, didgeridoos, boomerangs, southeast Asian dresses and fisherman pants, etc. I found a cute little hand-made bracelet for myself!

pressed flowers sealed over mother of pearl

Of course an entire lane was also dedicated to an eclectic mix of grab-and-go foods as well. I tried some goat and wallaby-on-a-stick but settled with a delicious crocodile burger. It’s surprisingly better when it’s not fried – in which case, yes of course it tastes like fried chicken!

I was so mesmerized by all the booths’ offerings that I hardly noticed the sun setting until everyone flooded the beach.

Mindil Beach Sunset Markets

Mindil Beach sunset

The sign leading to the beach was rather heartwarming: WARNING! No swimming due to crocodiles, sharks and box jellyfish… Noted! Thank you! (I will not be swimming this evening.)

sipping on some fresh coconut milk

When the sun finally went down, many of the people went home. However the markets stayed open until 10pm. And the night performers took over!

juggling fire from a pole held up by 4 volunteers

Overall, it was a fabulous night of shopping, food, beach and entertainment all jumbled into one!

Crocosaurus Cove

Alas, my final adventure takes place right in the heart of Darwin! Croc Cove is home to the biggest tourest trap of all: The Cage of Death. Essentially what they do is place you inside a glass cage that is lowered right into the tank with a massive saltwater crocodile. Initially these salties would go mental at the sight of a person in their cage and would swim right up to them, banging, trying to find a way in to eat them… supposedly. Now they have gotten so used to all these tourists that they hardly even pay attention to them. I actually witnessed this poor guy get lowered into a tank all fired up with his underwater camera, and the crocodile was just chilling on the bank of the water. The guy submerged a couple times to try and take a picture, but I don’t think he could even get one. Lame! But good in theory. I probably would have done it myself if some Darwinians hadn’t warned me about it first.

The Cage of Death

That being said, one girl was lucky enough for her “near death experience” to take place during the croc feeding, which takes place twice a day. I’m not sure how much different it would have been from her side of the glass, but I guess it was pretty cool to watch!

croc feeding over The Cage of Death

You hear a lot about the jumping crocs in Darwin. In order to catch prey such as bats or birds that fly and perch in trees, the crocs will actually swim upward with such great force that their tail can propel them out of the water. Whereas larger crocs can get about half of their body out of the water (still a few meters!), the little crocs can clear the water by several feet! I was unable to catch the peak of its jump on camera, but I was able to witness one croc make a bold attempt to jump for his flesh-on-a-stick.

jumping croc

Perhaps my favorite part of the day was getting to play with all the baby crocs. And by play, I mean fish for them. Following both of the croc feedings, guests are given the opportunity to enter a platform above the baby crocs where they can feed them from a fishing pole.

fishing for crocs

The strategy is to splash the meat in the water where there are no crocs. This gets their attention so that they will swim for it. Once their eye is on the prize, you hold the meat up above the water so that the little guys will jump for it. So cute!

croc fishing... tap, tap!

champion fisherman, right there!

After the fishing/feeding session, I wandered into the World of Crocs exhibit, where I was allowed to hold a baby croc!

baby croc

I felt a little guilty holding it because the poor thing had been kept in a teeny tiny little locker for his “shift” this afternoon. It kept peeing on the caretaker, who did not seem enthused about working there. When I asked “does this hurt him?” he shrugged it off with a “BAH’DUNNO!” I’m gonna guess it couldn’t have been comfortable for him, considering how much he weighed and that I was holding him by the neck. The underside of their body is quite soft and vulnerable in comparison to their backside. Poor thing! But I did get to hold a baby croc…

Darwin was a blast! Wish I could have stayed longer, but now I’m off to Cairns 🙂

Out of the Outback

24 May

Luke saved the best of Kakadu for our final day. We hit the road by 6:30am this morning toward the Mary River region in the south entrance of the park. We started at Gunlom (Goon-lom) which is a 2km return hike, rated as a difficult climb. Climbing this in the morning was definitely the best way to go. I was certainly winded and a bit sweaty, but had it been the heat of the day, it would have been another story entirely. The top of the climb had gorgeous views of various different plunge pools and waterfalls. Even though it was still early, many other tourists had already found their way to this spot.

top pool of Gunlom

Gunlom upper pools

lookout over Gunlom Falls

We probably only stayed at the top for half an hour before heading back to the base of the largest waterfall for a better view.

Gunlom Falls

I was a little curious as to why there was still a baited crocodile trap here. Hopefully just a precaution? Usually they’re only located where they know to be salties and are waiting to catch them.

crocodile trap

Forging onward, we drove to the Yurmikmik walk sites. This was Luke’s favorite spot, so he definitely built up the hype in the days preceding this. We had a 7.5km return hike to Motor Car Falls. It was a wonderfully curious spot with a nice flat boulder in the shade of the pool’s entrance.

Motor Car Falls

our entry to the plunge pool

The water itself was emerald green! Definitely unique from all the other waterfalls we had been to. Upon further examination, we realized the green hue was due to a ridiculous amount of algae growing all along the rocks at the bottom of the plunge pool.

Motor Car

drifting algae

Rather than deterring us from wandering into the shallow side, we saw this as a source of great amusement. Wigs were made and sludge balls were thrown everywhere. All the while I was thinking how nice a spot this would be to bring some floats and a cooler of beer! This definitely ranked as the groups favorite place in Kakadu!

Michel's inspecting his medium for the next slime ball

Unfortunately this was our last stop on the Kakadu tour. We had a good 4 hour drive back to Darwin, where we were able to clean up and have a nice farewell dinner at Monsoons.