Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Central Australia Part 2 - Uluru

So like I said at the end of my epic Kings Canyon post, we got to stop on the side of the road, run up a massive sand dune, and see the sun set over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. That's Kata Tjuta on the right, incidentally!

It was pretty damned impressive, I have to say.

Sara managed to get a couple of silhouette shots. I wasn't brave enough to mess around with my shutter speed without having a tripod to rely on!

From there, it was another 45 minutes in the bus to the campsite (permanent tents with actual beds in them - my kind of camping!). After a dinner of steak, roo steak, and camel sausages and a quick shower (nothing like showering with a massive grasshopper to make you rush...), it was off to bed after what seemed like the longest day ever. To be honest, the next day wasn't a whole lot shorter. We were woken up at 3.45, and breakfast was on the table until 4.30. Nothing like a nice bowl of Coco Pops in the middle of the night! :S

I will say one thing for getting up at stupid o'clock: the stars were TOTALLY worth it. I've not seen stars like that since the Inca Trail! Aaaanyway, we left camp at 4.45. It was a 45-odd minute drive from camp to the other side of Uluru where you can see the sun rise hitting the rock. On the plus side, it wasn't raining, which made a nice improvement on the previous day!

Anyway, sunrise was at around 5.45. We staked out a good spot, tried not to freeze to death, and stood around waiting...

Gradually, the sun began to come up, and the rock started to change colour from a grey colour to brown:

To red:

And then finally, FINALLY, the sun crested the hill:

And once that happened, the rock turned orange:

Once sunrise was over, we piled back into the bus, and headed around to the start of the base walk. I was slightly horrified when I realised that it was only 6.30 in the morning, that we'd been up for nearly 3 hours, and that we were about to walk 9.4km in two hours... :S

The walk around the base is incredibly worth the effort. At 6.30 in the morning, it was still relatively cool - you'd be nuts to try and do it in the middle of the day! - which meant it was fairly easy going for the most part. It's only when walking around the base that you can see Uluru for what it really is - enormous and ridiculously varied.

Does this look like an alien skull to anyone else???

The edges of the rock are so defined against the sky that a lot of the time, it looks like it's been photoshopped into the landscape.

The lines on the rock are actually stratigraphic layers - Uluru is actually a slab of sandstone bedrock that was pushed up during a mountain building period in the Palaeozoic era millions of years ago. That's pretty freaking cool, especially when you realise that there's another 2km of Uluru below the surface...

The black lines on the rock are a type of algae, and indicate where water's flowed during rain. Apparently Uluru is pretty bloody incredible in the rain, but frankly, I'm glad we didn't have to experience it!

It really is the most amazingly changeable scenery...

This bit, for instance, looked like a whale:

While this bit was just bizarre and amazing:

This is one of my favourite photos from the walk:

This is the waterhole inside Uluru - it's sheltered from the outside, and we got to see it when the water level was really high from all the rain in recent months!

Just around the corner from the waterhole was this rock art. It's amazing how different Central Australian rock art is from the rock art further north in Kakadu... Although apparently it serves a completely different purpose, so I suppose it's not all *that* surprising.

This bit was just cool. I really wanted to know if there was a little waterhole up over that lip:

And this ridge? This is where the climb is. God knows why the hell you'd think climbing it was a good idea...

Especially when you see this. This is the chain. Or, more accurately, the first THIRD of the chain, which is all you can see from the ground.

You still have to get up several more ridges to reach the top. Not only is it incredibly disrespectful to the local Aboriginal people to climb, but something like half of all people who climb the rock use the top as a bathroom. That's just wrong. Not to mention the fact that the strong winds at the top can actually knock you right off the side of the rock! Thank God the climb looks like it's going to be closed permanently sometime in the next twelve months...

We finished the walk at around 8.30 (which, frighteningly, was deemed morning tea time!), and drove to a lookout to get some photos of the whole of Uluru:

From there, it was a 45 minute drive out to Kata Tjuta. But that's a story for another time. A painful, painful story, filled with the cheesiest, worst Australian music imaginable... Isn't that something to look forward to?? ;)

K xx

Monday, November 29, 2010

Baked berry cheesecake

I'll get back to the story of the Central Australian trip when I have more brain power. But for the time being, I did some baking yesterday. It was pouring with rain and freezing cold, so I decided that I'd try my hand at cheesecake. I've been meaning to for ages, it's one of the few types of baked goods I've not tried (except in brownie form!), and my original reason for not trying was the lack of a springform pan. But I've had one of those for a while now, but hadn't christened it. So when I bought a super trashy gossip magazine on Saturday and it had a recipe for baked berry cheesecake, I figured I'd give it a go!

So, here's what you need:

Start with a 23cm springform pan:

Grease and line it and set it to one side:

Then place 250g plain biscuits in the food processor:

And pulverise the crap out of them:

Then take 125g melted butter (incidentally, the photos get a bit shit for a while, because my SLR battery died):

And mix it through the biscuit crumbs:

Then press the biscuit mixture into the springform pan and put it in the fridge until firm:

While the base is in the fridge, place half a punnet of strawberries (I threw in a couple of raspberries for good measure) in the food processor:

Add in 3/4 cup of icing sugar:

(Welcome back, SLR! You were much missed - it took two point and shoot cameras and a lot of me going "Gaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!" to get the intervening photos...) And pulverise the crap out of it (that's pretty much the basis of this recipe, really!):

Then add in a 250g block of cream cheese (I used low fat) and two eggs:

And pulverise the shit out of it some more:

Then add in 300g sour cream (again, I used low fat):

And DON'T pulverise the shit out of it! Instead, pulse it until just combined:

Then, pour it into the tin on top of the biscuit crumb base:

Bake in a 170 degree oven for 60-70 minutes. It didn't say to, but baked cheesecake is usually cooled in the oven. It looked pretty...wibbly...at the end of the hour, so I cooled it in the oven with the door open. I think it got overdone a little bit:

Once it's cooled, place it in the fridge until cold. Once it's cold, remove it from the tin and the baking paper, and decorate the top with the leftover strawberries and raspberries to cover up the brown bits. Technically, you're meant to put blueberries on it too, and just arrange them all in an artistic pile. But I can't stand blueberries. So it's very...pink (Incidentally, you can see what it was MEANT to look like in the side of some of the food processor photos):

Then slice it with a knife that's been run under hot water and dust with icing sugar. I couldn't find the tiny sieve, so I had to use a teaspoon, which is why the icing sugar is a bit lumpy...

But it was delicious. And for my first attempt at a baked cheesecake (one with a fairly vague recipe, might I add!), I don't think I did too badly at all! I'll definitely be trying cheesecake in the future, but I might try one that's a little less pink, just for something different...

Give it a go, and try NOT cooling it in the oven, and let me know how it turns out?

K xx

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Central Australia Part 1 - Kings Canyon

The start of the trip wasn't all that enthralling, so I'll skip through that quickly - we caught the bus to Sydney, spent the afternoon at The Rocks, ate dinner in a food court at Darling Harbour because the idea of paying $30 for a plate of pasta was ridiculous, flew to Alice Springs the next morning, and spent the afternoon melting into sweaty disgusting puddles at the Botanic Gardens.

We were being picked up the following morning at 4.45am, which meant getting up at 3.30. Which was bad enough on its own, but at about 1.00, a MASSIVE thunderstorm came through. And we were staying in a bungalow with a tin roof. So there went a couple of precious hours of sleep. I was convinced that it would have stopped by 4.45 (surely there couldn't have been any water left in the sky after that long??), but when we finally got up and turned the TV on, SBS Weatherwatch (the only thing on at that hour!) showed us a dirty great blue raincloud smack over the middle of Central Australia. Awesome...

Thankfully, the rain had eased by the time we had to go and stand outside waiting for the bus. But of course, by the time we had to get OUT again to sort out final payments etc at the tour company office, it was pouring again. And it continued to pour for at least an hour after we left Alice Springs. We had the grand plan of sleeping in the bus, but our tour guide decided what we needed to listen to at 5am was the radio. So there went the sleeping plan *sigh*

Breakfast was a cold toasted cheese sandwich from a truck stop two hours into the five hour drive to Kings Canyon. Mmm, delicious... The drive was long and painful, except for the part where we had to cross one of several creeks that had flooded the road, and our tour guide had to get out and wade through to check how deep it was because she couldn't see the bottom. It was only about 20cm, but she decided we should stop for lunch and hope the level dropped in that time. So we drove about 15 minutes back to a station, and had lunch in the company of this dog:
I couldn't work out if it was permanent marker or quite how they'd managed to get the dog to hold still long enough to write 'Dont [sic] feed me' on its back...

Aaaaaanyway, after lunch, we forded the creek without any problems and made it to Kings Canyon - FINALLY!! After a bit of a briefing, we set out on the clifftop walk, which is meant to take 3.5 hours. Our schedule allowed two hours... The walk started out with wading through a creek (thank God for Goretex boots!) and then this:
Four hundred steep, uneven stone steps. Awesome... Apparently the locals call it Heart Attack Hill. Nice. There were at least two stopping points along the way. But we were still going pretty damned fast, unfortunately for me. Fortunately, the view was worth it, as was the occasional piece of wildlife.

This little guy was pretty well camouflaged, but someone in our group managed to spot him.

And here's the view from the top. Not too shabby, huh?

From there, we started the walk around the canyon top, and got a spiel on the difference between canyons and gorges. Apparently canyons are created by wind erosion and gorges are caused by water erosion. Or something like that, anyway. The moral of the story is that the Grand Canyon is a gorge. Doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?

From the start of the rimtop walk, we could see up the gorge to the waterfall:

The walk itself was a heck of a lot easier once the 400 dreaded steps were over. And it was pretty spectacular:

Our tour guide made all kinds of obligatory Priscilla, Queen of the Desert jokes, which went over pretty much everyone's heads. Sad, really. It's one of about five Australian films in existence that doesn't make me run screaming for the door... About half way through the walk, you descend into what's called The Garden of Eden:

And then it's back up some stupidly steep wooden stairs to the other side of the canyon. Once there, the scenery changed a bit, and there were some cool, if slightly random, features like this one that looked like a chimney:

There was also a lot of water around, which meant (as my friend Fem pointed out when I put the photos on Facebook) if we'd gotten stuck up there, we wouldn't have had to drink our own pee to survive. Always a good thing... :S No one but Bear Grylls needs to do that if they can avoid it!

It looks rather like the Bungle Bungles on the second half of the walk. Not that I'd really know, I've not been to the Bungle Bungles. But that's totally not the point!

Finally, we got around to the best spot for photographing the waterfall and the canyon. And it was totally worth the hauling butt to get there:

After we'd spent a decent chunk of time looking at the view, our tour guide checked the horizon and went "Oh crap..." Because this is what we saw:

Yes, that's right. A dirty great thunderstorm moving in towards us. And that creek we'd crossed on the way into the canyon? If it rose by even 20cm, it was going to be impassable and we'd be stuck and miss Uluru and Kata Tjuta. So we hauled butt even faster back towards the car park, despite it requiring us to rush past some gorgeous scenery:

Once we got back to the point where you could see down to the car park, we could hear the thunder rolling in, and the temperature started to drop pretty quickly.

And when we got back down to the bottom, the creek we'd had to wade through to reach the steps? Yeah, it wasn't 5cm deep any more. It was about 20cm deep. I don't think even Goretex could have helped there. So there was a lot of foot pain getting across the rocky bottom of the creek in bare feet...

Our total time for doing the 3.5 hour clifftop walk? 1.5 hours. We made it back through the creeks that were covering the road, but about 15 minutes after we forded one that was 15cm deep, our tour guide got a call on the radio telling her that it had now hit a METRE deep and wasn't looking at slowing down. It's crazy how fast the water level can rise out there.

From there, it was another three or four hours of driving before we got to Uluru. We didn't make it to Uluru in time for sunset, but we got to take photos of sunset from the top of a sand dune by the side of the road, which was much cooler somehow. Plus, it meant we got Kata Tjuta in the pictures too! But I think those can wait for another thesis...I mean, blog post.

K xx

PS. This was my 100th post. I *was* planning something special (a giveaway) for my 100th post, but I don't really have the time to do what I had planned. So I'll keep it on the back burner for a less busy time of year...
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