SAPPORO – JAPAN’S NORTHERN CITY

Four days in Sapporo is not nearly enough! The city has a lovely feel to it – unhurried, clean and very friendly. It is easy to walk around and the public transport is very frequent, efficient and cheap. We didn’t get into the mountains but did visit the pretty little town of Otaru.

The local train to the port city runs several times an hour and the journey takes about 40 minutes. Otaru flourished from the Meiji to the Trisha Era and was known as “the entrance of the North”. It is a fun place to walk around and our first encounter was with the fish market, situated next to the station.

This is a popular place for the locals as well as visitors and the variety of seafood on offer is staggering. We found a little restaurant behind one of the stalls and had a wonderful lunch of sashimi and rice with roe – the roe is plentiful and is sold in jars and buckets!

The Otaru Canal is a beautiful attraction and is reminiscent of days gone by. Old warehouses line the canal and are now shops and restaurants. There are other lovely historical buildings nearby which have been preserved and are also banks and offices.

That night, back in Sapporo, we went to Odori Park where the Autumn Festival was in full swing with food and drink stalls and tents in abundance. We wandered through the Park and ate the biggest scallops we have ever seen

Plus other delicacies and ramen noodles – which is a speciality of Sapporo.

The Hokkaido Historic Village is an open air museum of relocated and restored buildings that represent the history of Hokkaido from 1868 to the 1920’s. We reached it by local train from Sapporo and on entering took a short ride around the village in a horse drawn tram. In all there are 52 buildings representing the Town, a Fishing Village, Farm Village and a Mountain Village. Each building shows the lifestyle of the people of that era.

It was easy to imagine life in those days – and wonderful to see local schoolchildren enjoying an excursion to learn about the history of their region.

THE ROAD TO GOLD AND KALGOORLIE

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Beautiful Salmon gums lined much of the road north from Esperance to the Gold city of Kalgoorlie. Located in the Eastern Goldfields area, Kalgoorlie/Boulder is Australia’s largest Outback city and one of the oldest – and many beautiful old buildings remain as a link to the past.  We had heard a lot about this city and the mines and the first sight we came across was the Super Pit Lookout.

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Here we could see a working mine in action and watched a blast.  This pit is 3.7km long and 1.5 km wide and 600 metres deep.  It is quite incredible to watch the workings and see the trucks weaving their way up and down- like little ants in a hole.

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A shovel of a 994F loader is here for visitors to step into showing the sheer size of the machine.

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The tyres are bigger than a man and the vehicle itself is a monster!

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Later, at Hannans North Tourist Mine we had the opportunity to climb inside and then fully appreciated what the drivers of these machines have to do day in and day out. This mine gives visitors the opportunity to experience gold rush history  and modern day mining. Wandering through the re-created part of the mining camp, I really felt for the Pioneers and gold seekers in the heady gold rush days.  Living in tents and huts of corrugated iron in the dry, hot and dusty town must have been hard but all were hit with “gold fever” and were sure they would find their fortunes here.

In a tribute to the Chinese who flocked here in large numbers and contributed to the community in many ways, the city has built a beautiful Chinese garden.  Wandering through with soft Chinese music playing in the pavilion by the lake, it was easy to see how some of these people would have been very homesick and missed their country.

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One attraction in Kalgoorlie that links to the heady gold rush days is “Questa Casa” which is Australia’s Oldest Brothel  it has been in operation for 115 years and is possibly the world’s oldest working brothel. There are countless stories and books about how it was in “old” Kalgoorlie for these ladies of the night and the lonely miners who visited them.

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This brothel has the famous “Starting Stalls” which are still operating and the girls throw open the doors nightly. Tours are available daily – sadly we didn’t have time to do one!

We wandered through the wide streets of the city and marvelled at the beautiful historic buildings – many of which have been restored and are now shops and businesses.  With the golden light of late afternoon, this was a perfect time to appreciate the architecture and imagine the city at the turn of the century and earlier.

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Even the interior of some buildings has retained its past glory – as we saw when we had breakfast the following day before hitting the road across the Nullarbor.

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Dusty Road to Derby

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Driving on these dusty roads is not without some danger – especially when you meet one of the huge road trains – the most sensible thing to do is stop and wait for both the road train and the dust to pass!  Fortunately the trip to Derby was enjoyable with very little traffic and lots of contrasting colours on the way.  We even had time to stop and have a picnic lunch on the back of the vehicle.

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Right alongside was another huge termite mound and having learned of the aboriginal significance of these mounds, I was wondering if this one contained the remains of a loved one.  It was again an unusual shape compared to others we have seen on this road trip.

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Finally we arrived in Derby which is a small outback town on the edge of the King Sound.  Its claim to fame is having the highest tides of any Australian port 11m (or 36 feet) which leaves the town surrounded by vast mud flats and mangroves.  We were advised to go down to the town jetty – the Derby Wharf – to watch the sunset.  Each evening a stream of people arrive with their chairs and eskies and settle down to watch the display and/or to fish.  We were not disappointed, in spite of cloud cover the colours were magnificent.

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There is quite a lot of history with this town and we found the Boab Prison Tree seven kilometres out of town.  This is a 1500 year old boab tree that was used as an overnight lockup for prisoners.  Before Derby was established in 1883 Aboriginal people were kidnapped from the West Kimberley by settlers who wanted divers and workers for the pearling boats in Broome.  They rounded people up, put them in chains and marched them up the coast. Some held their captives at the boab tree whilst waiting for a boat.  This seems incomprehensible to us today and doesn’t bear thinking about.  However it is now a “Site of Significance” to the local Aboriginal people and the tree is protected under the Heritage Act.

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There is a sign declaring that snakes are known to inhabit the tree and not to go near it – it is protected by a fence these days.

With a population of more than half being Aboriginal and with several communities nearby, there are a couple of art galleries to visit.  One was closed but the other was definitely worth a visit and I would recommend to anyone in the area to stop by.  It is fascinating and the owner, Mark Norval, is an artist himself who has spent more than 40 years in the area and has helped and encouraged many local artists.

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Several local people had come to the gallery that day and were sitting outside painting which was fascinating to watch.  They are extremely shy and I asked if I could take their photos and was pleased to be able to converse for a short time with them.

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Inside was an incredible array of art and artefacts and I was very taken with a couple of pieces so purchased them and was delighted to find the young artist had just arrived, so she agreed to meet me and have a photo taken with the painting I had chosen.

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Mark himself has some incredible work there and two pieces, which were not for sale, left me quite gobsmacked.  They were portraits done on perspex so each side had a different face but was constructed with the same medium – paint, lace, bark, leaves and shells.

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and the other side

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I could have spent hours here at the gallery and spent hundreds of dollars but was pulled away and on we drove, to another straight road towards Broome.

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The Red Road to Lake Argyle

 

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The scenery is now changing on this Big Loop around Australia and the road to Lake Argyle turns off the highway and winds through the stunning Carr Boyd ranges.  At every turn there is an amazing view and the colours of the soil together with the golden grasses and deep green of the thick shrubs would make an artist’s eyes water.

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We crossed several water courses  and finally came to the historic Argyle Downs Homestead.  The home of the Durack family, this house was removed stone by stone when the property was flooded as part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme and the formation of Lake Argyle.  Now it has been rebuilt and  and become a museum which serves as a reminder of the huge contribution that the family made in the pastoral industry of the North West.

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Lake Argyle is Australia’s largest freshwater lake with a surface area of over 1000 sq. km and has a shoreline of 900kms. It is now home to around 26 species of native fish, 30,000 freshwater crocodiles and three varieties of freshwater tortoise.  Hard to imagine that is was all once pastoral land which was home to native people, pastoralists and wildlife.

We stayed at the Lake Argyle Resort which has a beautiful infinity pool with views across the ranges and over the valley.

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In the evenings the setting sun gives a golden glow to the landscape visible from every part of the property.

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A great way to learn about Lake Argyle and the huge project undertaken some fifty years ago is to take a sunset cruise.  We set off with an introductory talk and an explanation about the building of the dam wall which, in itself, was an amazing feat.

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Then it was a calm cruise across the massive lake watching for wildlife and, of course, the crocodiles!  A sheen across the water and in the trees at one particular spot revealed the story of the Golden Orb spider. This spider never leaves the web and spins a web made of silk like thread which is extremely strong and has been made into a silk fabric. Scientists are now working on making a synthetic prototype which may be used in the future.

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We spotted a variety of water birds waiting for their prey and did a spot of fish feeding

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The lake throws incredible reflections during the afternoon and today, being so calm, was the perfect example of this.

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Our Guide and Skipper, Tracy, then gave a history of the area and the massive project which also resulted in several little islands being formed.  She took us to “The Bay of Islands” and nudged the boat up onto the shore.  Several little Walleroos came to investigate knowing that this was “feeding time”.

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Then we spied a freshwater crocodile – these have longer more pointed snouts than their fearsome saltwater cousins and said to be shy of humans.  Nevertheless, I don’t think I would like to get tangled up with one.

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Having said that, Tracy motored to a bay she takes people swimming at and encouraged us all to take a dip.  Crocodiles or not, we jumped in and felt the beautifully soft water cool us down very quickly.

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The sun began to set and it was a magical time of day.  With champagne or beer in hand it was the end of a day on Lake Argyle.

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WORLD WAR II HISTORY IN THE TOP END

During World War II Darwin became the first mainland state in Australia to come under direct attack from the Japanese when it was the target of over 64 air raids causing huge devastation and many casualties.  The attacks were totally unexpected at the time – in fact the sight of some 180 aircraft over the city caused many to believe the Americans had come to help.  Instead, the bombing began and caught everyone unawares.

Much of this unique military history is preserved and scattered around the city. We drove to the East Point Military Reserve which is a beautifully tended area with picnic bays and shady rest points from which you can get a view of the city of Darwin across the bay.

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This is where the Darwin Military Museum is located – some 8 kms from the city centre – and it is absolutely incredible with fantastic relics, photographs, displays, interactive stories and a very realistic film about the day Darwin was bombed.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1c2.jpg

Outside there are numerous displays set up in huts and hangars portraying the various roles the Army, Navy and Airforce played.

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Guns, trucks, ammunition magazines and camouflaged vehicles also take pride of place in the grounds

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One story which brought me to tears was of the selfless courage and bravery shown by a young gunner on board a ship the day the bombing occurred.  He was strapped to his gun, had been hit and the ship was going down but he continued to fire allowing some of his mates to dive into the water and perhaps survive – he was fatally wounded whilst firing his gun – and he was 27 days short of his 19th birthday. The photo on the wall shows a painting of him firing whilst wounded.  In later years the Navy honoured his bravery by naming a ship after him.

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Following this visit we then joined Sea Darwin for a one hour tour of the harbour showing where the action occurred and where several wrecks are located including the USS Peary.  The commentary included some stories which have since been related by survivors of the attacks.

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Various tunnels and lookout posts were pointed out and we had a really good perspective from the sea.

Finally we visited the RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service) museum on the wharf which not only gave the history of the Service (which we also saw in Cloncurry, where it all began) but also were able to board a plane as well as see a map of Australia showing where all 73 aircraft are currently located. This is, of course, constantly moving as many flights are in operation day to day.

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There is also an excellent interpretation of the bombing of Darwin which is shown by Hologram film as well as by Virtual Reality.

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This was the most amazing experience.  One moment you are flying in the plane with a  pilot shooting down the Japanese, the next you are wallowing in the sea with boiling timber, metal and oil all around.  Bombs are flying everywhere and as you spin around and look up and down, the whole scene becomes so real that it is quite terrifying at times!

Interactive mini ghosts tell their story – including that of the first Japanese Pilot captured in Australia – Hajime Toyoshima.  There is a full size replica Japanese Zero aircraft hanging from the ceiling and a replica of Camilla, the Flying Boat that escaped from Darwin Harbour during the raid.

For those interested in World War II history in Australia, Darwin is most definitely a place to visit as you can certainly have a very powerful, immersive and interactive experience at several locations.

 

The Road Leads to Darwin

Darwin, known as The Gateway to Northern Australia, is a lovely tropical city.  With so much history to devour, you really need several days here.  Then there are  the world famous markets, festivals, cafes and a thriving arts scene and yet things move at a slower pace than down south and I can’t help feeling this would be a great place to settle for a while.

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For a start there are fabulous sunsets and this one is from the balcony of a friend’s apartment very close to the city.  There don’t seem to be traffic problems and on a drive to the museum yesterday this is what we came across :

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Hardly what you expect to see in the middle of a city!

We walked along the Esplanade and came to The Waterfront area which is both residential and recreational with a big wave pool and swimming lagoon and a park for the kids.

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There are restaurants galore and we settled for a coffee before walking back – with the bonus of a lift to take us back up to the Esplanade thus avoiding the slog of walking up the hill in the heat!

One activity the Darwinites love apparently is the Deckchair Cinema.  This is down by the water and screens films nightly with a bar and restaurant food available if you don’t want to bring a picnic. How tropical is that?!

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Keen to see the MAGNT (Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory) we drove through the attractive seaside suburb of Fannie Bay and past the Botanical Gardens to find the Northern Territory’s premier cultural organisation set in a scenic coastal location at Bullocky Point with a restaurant/cafe alongside with views over the bay. The museum features collections of art from the region as well as natural science, history and culture. There is a lot of local history and there is a huge exhibit featuring Cyclone Tracey which devastated the city on Christmas Eve in 1974.

The collection of animals, insects, reptiles, shells and sea life is huge and it is all presented so well and the exhibits are so real that it is easy to imagine all this outside in the environment.

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This is the little Jacana and babies – we saw several in Kakadu but they are shy and elusive so to be able to gaze upon these without missing anything is a real bonus.

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Some fascinating aboriginal art is presented along with comprehensive explanations and even a desert artist shows her skill with a paintbrush fashioned from the tail hair of a dog – her intricate and steady lines were quite amazing.  Her hand never faltered.

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One immersive exhibition tells the story of the didgeridoo – or yidaki as it is known here. It illustrates the importance of the instrument in Aboriginal life and culture and begins with exploring a stringybark forest to find the right tree and then carving the yidaki and finally experiencing the mesmerising power of the sounds.  The painting on the wood – as shown above – all has significance to the owner, the artist and the tribe.  I actually felt goosebumps at the end of the performance.

And for those who are fascinated by dinosaurs this prehistoric skeleton is that of a giant goose – something I am sure 6 year old Hamish would love to see!

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Tomorrow we will immerse ourselves in the era of World War 2 in Darwin and there is much to see and experience.

On The Road Again -Townsville to Mt Isa

It has been two days of discovery. The 904 km drive took us through the charming town of Charters Towers with its many historical buildings and on to Hughenden where we visited the Fossil and Dinosaur Museum and were introduced to the world of dinosaurs and palaeontologists. The huge reconstruction of the Muttaburrasaurus  takes pride of place in the gallery along with smaller replicas of flying creatures, underwater dinosaurs and lots of ammonites.

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Next stop was Richmond where we called into the Kronosaurus Korner which is reputed to be Australia’s premier marine fossil museum.  This is an unforgettable prehistoric adventure and a very realistic movie showed us how the great inland sea which covered this area 100 million years ago has left behind an intriguing story of the creatures of the Earth’s Evolution.  I have to say this was a surprise in this tiny outback town and whereas I am not overjoyed with looking at a large number of rocks, the whole story was presented in such a wonderful way that I left totally converted and feeling so intrigued about all this prehistoric history that I pondered about it for the rest of the day!

The drive to Julia Creek was uninteresting – flat, open country with few trees and very straight roads.  Now I understand why – this was an inland sea!

We have come across a couple of hundred Road Trains over the past two days, all heading for Townsville and the port and carrying massive loads of copper and iron ore.  I am in total awe of the drivers of these huge vehicles and spent quite some time chatting to a young man who spends his time driving from Townsville to Darwin and back.  This is his truck – and the bullbar was taller than I am!

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We spent the night in Julia Creek which is such a quiet little town totally inhabited by millions of bushflies.  They are horrendous.  We walked to the pub where we decided to have a meal.  The place was buzzing, not with flies but mostly with workers all dressed in their Hi-Viz shirts and enjoying a beer after a hard day repairing both the roads and the railway lines after the floods. 8x3DLgaJRU6LnfuL5dImEA_thumb_a1.jpg

Leaving Julia Creek and heading for Cloncurry the landscape changed – gently rolling hills and granite outcrops, massive gum trees overlooking creeks and riverbeds and lush feed for the cattle everywhere.  More discoveries awaited us.  The Mary Kathleen Uranium Mine was located near here and is now closed but a very well presented museum tells the story and there is a wonderful display of gemstones.  Here we also found out a lot more about the ill fated Burke and Wills, found some fascinating history about the Pioneers of the area and learned that Cloncurry is the birthplace of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.  This fabulous little museum tells about the history of outback aviation, medicine and radio as well as the School of the Air.

All this information was almost to overload level and so I decided to have a little break and wandered over to the garden where the Rest Rooms are located.  Imagine my surprise to see this:

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This is life in the Outback !

And now here we are in the mining town of Mt Isa – tomorrow we are crossing into the Northern Territory and I am sure more surprises await.  Stay tuned!

A Few Days in Canberra

Last week we flew to Canberra for a few days before heading off to Tasmania.  It has been several years since we spent time visiting the museums and wandering around the nation’s capital.  Canberra is known as the “Bush Capital” and it is not hard to see why.  There are parks and gardens everywhere, the leaves are all changing colour and falling and there is an absence of traffic jams and crowds that is so common in a city.  Keen to get to see as many museums and galleries as we had time for, we headed first to the National Portrait Gallery and then the National Gallery next door.

The Photograpic Prize exhibition was on and was wonderful – 44 finalists and a presentation of varied styles and subjects. All very motivating and enlightening.  The collection of aboriginal art at the National Gallery is amazing as well as many beautiful ‘Old Masters’ and modern art.  In fact there is something for everyone at any one time.

The War Memorial was the highlight and what an amazing place to visit.  Be warned, it is impossible to see everything in one day but we did our best!

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It was a beautiful day and Parliament House was clearly visible from the entrance to the museum.

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The Pool of Memories with the eternal flame is very moving and a place where one can contemplate quietly.  As Anzac Day was only a week ago, all the wreaths made a colourful backdrop.

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Walking through the through the various parts of the Museum from The First World War through to the current wars in the Middle East, one has to wonder at the incredible waste of lives and yet at the same time praise the courage of those who went to war to fight for their country, beliefs and freedom.

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This is is my favourite sculpture  – out in the gardens and depicts true “mateship” in the Aussie vernacular.

Next day we took a drive through Canberra and out to Cotter Dam and Tidbinbilla where we learned a bit more about research into Space.

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And here is my sister all ready for blast off!  It was quite fascinating to learn about the preparations the astronauts take prior to going into space – from the very basic needs to food and health.  Not something one would undertake lightly!

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The country side side was ablaze with blossoms and various changing colours of leaves – something we never see in the tropics.

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Climbing up the Telstra Tower we had a perfect view of Canberra – how the city has grown since we were last here!

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And so, next stop Tasmania – via the overnight car ferry “Spirit of Tasmania”.