Monday, 24 December 2007

Ayres Rock and The Olgas

Ayres Rock ( Uluru in the local Pitinjara language which I have almost certainly spelt very very badly ) is pretty much slap bang in the middle of Australia. It took 3 hours to fly here from Sydney !
You get what you expect from Ayres Rock, in that it is simply a bloody great big rock sat in the middle of the desert. It's about 350m high, 7 miles around, but amazingly, descends more than 6km down under the desert floor. It has great cultural significance to the local Aboriginal folk so these days they request that you do not climb the rock. As it happens, we never got the chance as the Park Rangers closed off the climb due to excessive temperatures. It got to just over 40°C later on, which I can assure you, is more than a little warm. We walked all the way around the base of the rock and we're absolutely knackered by the end of it.
Ayres Rock is a very spectacular sight at the best of times, but sunrise or sunset tends to really bring out the colours of the rock. Mind you, the clouds at sunset were pretty amazing too.

About 60km away from Ayres Rock are The Olgas ( Kata Tjuta ). They are a similar formation to Ayres rock, but rather than being a single huge monolith, they're a group of rocks sprouting from the desert floor. They're actually a little bit taller at 500m. They're not quite as impressive as Ayres Rock, but are probably prettier and are certainly more interesting to walk around. Again the temperatures were sniffing the 40's, so it took a fair bit of effort to drag ourselves around the 6 mile walk though the rocks. Mind you, a tea of Emu, Kangeroo and Crocodile was waiting for us at the end....

Here's a view from within the Olgas.

And here's some rapid Goanna action....


We flew into Honolulu airport on O'Ahu to begin with. Although O'Ahu isn't the largest island, this is where most of the population of the Hawaiian Islands live. Honolulu itself feels a bit like Florida in as far as it is a large, very developed American city with lovely beaches on tap.

First thing we went to visit was the memorial to the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbour. The USS Arizona was blown to pieces during the attack on Pearl Harbour that brought the US into the 2nd World War. Over 1177 sailors died on the Arizona alone. A very sobering, but informative trip.
Next up, we drove across to the North Shore. The is the home of the famous Pipeline waves and was in the middle of staging the finals of the annual surfing championships while we were there. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't really working for us, so the waves were relatively tame. The tubes were there, but were quite small ( about 5' , so some people were still managing to surf through them ). Still looked bloody scary to me !
We polished the day off by snorkeling in an ancient volcano crater that had been flooded by the sea. Loads of amazing tropical fish and turtles and stuff to be seen by simply walking in from the beach. Bonza.

Next up, we jumped across to the island of Hawai'i. This is the biggest of the Hawaiian group of islands, and whilst all the islands are volcanic, this one is home to the most active volcano on the planet. Or it was until July. Bah ! Still the scenery around it was spectacular ( see the video clip taken from near the top below ) and we got to crawl though some of the old lava tubes left behind from previous eruptions( photo on the right ) Some of the lava formations left behind were also really fascinating. They looked like they were made in treacle rather than molten rock.

On the far side of the volcano we found the perfect beach. Unfortunately, it was blowing a gale, so although it looks absolutely idyllic, when we were actually there, it felt more like Skegness. Rats. The weather was not being kind to us here.

Now I'm thinking that you're all thinking that Hawai'i sounds fantastic.. Well, there is a down side. Hilo, ( pronounced Heelo ) the town where we were staying, has more than it's fair share of rain. In fact, it is the wettest spot on the surface of the planet ( along with somewhere in India - near Goa I think ). At times Hilo could have been Manchester.... Lesson here is read the climate tables in a guidebook before booking your accommodation.

Here's the view from the top of Hawai'i - on the side of the Mauna Lao volcano.

Los Angeles

Well, to get across the Pacific to Oz, first we had to travel up from Santiago to LA. Blimey, what a long way ! 15 hours on a 767, including a stop in Lima to loads passengers and wave some spanners at the dodgy aeroplane, left us a bit spaced. Fortunately, Becky's Dad and cousin Christina stepped into the breach and organised us a cracking hotel to stay in close to the airport. We only had one full day in the LA, so we spent it walking along the beach front from Santa Monica down to Marina Del Rey. Not really action packed, but it was about all we could cope with before jumping onto another long haul flight to O'Ahu. I'm starting to really dislike aeroplanes and airports....

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Rapa Nui ( Isla de Pascua - Easter Island )

A bit of geography first. Rapa Nui is a small island ( about 24km across ) in the middle of the Pacific. Politically, it is part of Chile, geographically, it is part of the archipeligo that stretches from Hawaii in the North, to New Zealand in the South. It´s about 3700km from the Chilean coast and about 1800km from Pitcairn Island which reputedly makes it the most remote inhabited lump of rock on the planet. There are about 3000 people living on the island, which when the sun went in, had a remarkable resemblance to Craggy Island of Father Ted fame...

The island is probably most famous for the Moai. These huge statues were carved by the indigenous polynesian tribes that inhabited the island before the Europeans turned up ( a Yorkshireman was second - beaten by the Dutch ). They were the symbols of power and wealth the tribes used to show off to each other instead of clubbing each other to death. Very civilised bunch see. All the Moai have the same stoic, chin-out, staring into the distance, lips pursed, expression. All the rage with the sculptors presumably. We had a great time whizzing around the coast of the island Moai spotting from a moped.

The other remarkable thing about the island is the huge volcano crater at the south west tip. It´s about 1 mile across the crater. Huge. I couldn´t fit it all in a photo so there´s a bit of video at the bottom of the post that will give you more of an idea of the size of the puppy. The volcano was the site of the Orongo village. This place has great significance later in the life of the indigenous tribes. After they´d got bored carting Moai around the island, they devised a bizarre triathalon style competition stealing bird´s eggs to keep themselves out of tribal trouble. It was a race down some huge cliffs, a swim across a scary looking bit of sea and then a climb up onto another little island. The first to return with a Sooty Tern ( no Sweep and Sue jokes please ) egg was proclaimed the Bird Man of the island and their tribe would rule for the next year. Or something like that. The guide was speaking in Spanish.

The day before we flew out, we managed to get a bit of diving in for the first time on the trip. Athena hadn´t dived for a couple of years and I hadn´t been under since our trip to Jordan about 5 years ago. It was like riding a bike though, so after a few buoyancy wobbles we were scooting through the crystal clear waters looking at the huge coral reefs. There were loads of friendly fish to play with, but the highlight was the brace of huge turtles we saw. Great experience. Must do more diving.

We seemed to attract animals on this part of the trip. We had a very vocal cat and a sullen black dog ( which was called Frank ) that seemed to like hanging out on the porch of our hut. Slight panic during breakfast one morning when the fella in the photo crawled onto our table. Seemed like quite an amenable chap once he was sitting on my thumb....

Ranu Kao Volcano ( windy so the sound is a bit dicey )

Long lost missing episode of Father Ted....