Sunday, June 22, 2014

Grampians National Park

In Australia we celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s birthday, which essentially means that we get to enjoy a long weekend in June with Monday as a “public holiday”. Over that long weekend, Erik and I decided to head to the Grampians, a mountain range about 3 hours from Melbourne that offers hiking, rock climbing, and wilderness.

We based ourselves in Halls Gap, a town of about 300 people that swells during holiday times. Our accommodation was a small cottage surrounded by mountains and frequently visited by kangaroos. The town itself is really cute and has a great pedestrian/bike path that we used to walk from our cottage to town and also to the visitor’s center. There are some hiking trails that start right from the center of town, which is quite convenient!
Seeing kangaroos in the wild never gets old!
We left Friday after work and arrived at D’alton’s Resort around 8:30pm. David, one of the owners, was waiting for us with information about our cottage. It was a little chillier in Halls Gap compared to Melbourne, so we were happy to learn that David had turned the heat up in our cottage before our arrival, making it feel nice and toasty when we walked in the door. The cottage itself had a small kitchen, so we brought plenty of food from Melbourne, as I had heard that food prices were very high in Halls Gap.
Cottages with mountains in the backdrop
Cute and cozy cottages!
On our first day we planned to hike to the top of Mt Rosea, however, about an hour into our hike the clouds and rain came and we had to turn back. The visibility was poor and we decided that it was not worth the hike to the top if we were not going to be able to see anything once we arrived there. After making it down to the bottom, we tried another hike, this one to the Pinnacle, and ended up having to turn back on that hike as well! The weather just was not cooperating, so we spent a lazy day hanging out in our cottage, which actually turned out to be very enjoyable!
We hiked a little past this landmark before turning around on Day 1. 
Crazy-looking rock we noticed on the way down
Sunday’s weather was much more cooperative, and David gave us a tip about an alternative trail to the top of Mt Rosea, so we took that route, which allowed us to enjoy a different hike compared to the one we had just done the previous day.
It kind of looks like I'm about to jump in this picture, but I assure you I was not!
A "selfie" near the top of Mt Rosea
Erik got ahold of the camera, so there are a few pictures of me from our hike!
View of the Grampians from the top of Mt Rosea
Before our second attempt to hike to the top of Mt Rosea, we completed the hike to the Pinnacle, which is one of the more popular hikes in the Grampians. We saw a lot of people on that trek, including lots of young families and school groups. There were definitely more than 300 people in Halls Gap on Queen’s Birthday weekend!
Erik near the Pinnacle, with Mt Rosea in the background
Cool rock formations make for enjoyable climbing with this guy!

View of Halls Gap from the Pinnacle
We also did a short walk at Reed lookout to the Balconies, where Erik decided it was safe to walk out onto a ledge. Actually I sent him out there for the photo, and he was a good sport!

Before leaving town, Erik wanted to get in a quick workout, so he ran some sprints on the local footy oval. He had the company of MANY kangaroos during his workout, which certainly helped to keep me entertained!
These kangaroos often stopped to watch Erik running!
This guy was about to box! This was the first time I've ever seen a 'roo assume this position.

This one nearly hopped right into me when I was taking pictures!

The pouch must be handy on cold days!
Pucker up!
'Roos and mountains!

In addition to ‘roos, we saw a few emu and heard lots of kookaburras on our weekend in the Grampians. The Grampians have endured bushfire damage over the last few years, most recently this past January, and much of the northern park is still closed due to that damage. One of the more popular spots to visit, Mackenzie Falls, has been closed since January, and I would definitely like to make a trip to that area once it re-opens. The Grampians are supposed to be an amazing place to visit in the spring due to the large amount of wildflowers that bloom there, so perhaps a spring camping trip will be in order?!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Country Footy

This is Erik’s third season of playing Australian Rules Football. For the past two seasons, Erik has played at a local club where I was working as a sports trainer. He started the season with that club again this year, however, he was not getting as much playing time as he would have liked. He was attending two training sessions per week and seemed to be playing quite well, but the coach must have thought otherwise.

While Erik was getting limited playing time, my co-workers were always in my ear about the possibility of Erik playing footy with them. The thing is, they play country footy just outside of Ballarat, so it’s not just around the corner if you know what I mean! Regardless, Erik decided to give it a go and went to training with them one night a few weeks ago. The rest, I suppose, is history, and Erik is now a Newlyn Cat. He and my co-workers and a few other guys who live in Melbourne drive to Newlyn on Thursday nights for training. They leave around 4:30 and get back at 10pm after they’ve eaten dinner with the club (the dinner thing is not just a country footy thing, all clubs have a team dinner on Thursday night after training). For the last two Saturdays I have driven with Erik to the games to keep him company and to watch him play with his new team. Fortunately I already know a few of the guys on the team (my co-workers!), so that always makes the games a bit more fun to watch.
Erik's first country footy game, played in a town called Waubra.
Erik is spending time as a "ruckman". Here he is going up in the "ruck" (like a "jump ball" in basketball), which as you see can be quite physical. The difference between this and basketball is that it happens many times per game, after every goal and when the ball goes out of bounds.
Country footy is a bit different than what we have been exposed to so far in regards to Aussie Rules Football. The most noticeable changes are at the games themselves. Firstly, we had to pay to get in! $10 per person is charged at the gate, even for players. We have never had to pay to get in to any of Erik’s games before, so this was a bit of a surprise to us. After the money has been paid, each driver tries to get a parking spot around the oval so that he/she can sit in the car to watch the game. I've learned that this comes in handy when it starts to rain! Whenever a team scores a goal, a chorus of car horns is heard "tooting" (honking) in support of the team.
Front row seats!
Watching from the car is nice when the weather turns bad!
In addition, country football teams are linked to netball teams. What is netball, you ask? It is a little bit like basketball, but you cannot dribble the ball and there is no backboard on the basket. The girls wear dresses and they play outside in winter, right alongside the football game.
The letters on the dresses signify positions on the court.
Note the strange-looking basket. Netball has limited contact compared to basketball.
Most country footy teams seem to be literally in the middle of nowhere. There are fields and farms along a country road and then all of the sudden there is a footy field where there are a hundred or so people watching the game, most from the warmth of their cars.

A wind farm in Waubra. Fortunately the turbines were still that day!
The culture of country footy is definitely a bit more unique than that of the footy played in Melbourne, and thanks to my co-workers, Erik and I will be enjoying the quirks of country footy for the next few months.
Newlyn's home ground. Not a bad spot to be on a nice winter day.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Gili Air

If you are a regular blog reader, you might have noticed that the hubby and I are ALL about active vacations/holidays. While that statement is true, we can also appreciate spending a few days lying around on a beach doing nothing. Just as Zanzibar was the perfect end to our Africa travels, Gili Air was the perfect way to end our trip to Indonesia. The Gili Islands are 3 small islands just off the coast of Lombok, and they are commonly known as Gili Air, Gili T, and Gili Nemo. I thought Gili Air would suit us nicely, as Gili T is known for wild parties, Gili Nemo is known for being really quiet, and Gili Air lies somewhere between those two in terms of island activites.
Our first views from Gili Air, looking back towards Lombok.
Rudy arranged for a speed boat transfer from Bengsal to Gili Air, and that transport was included in the cost of our Mount Rinjani trek. Within 10 minutes we had arrived on Gili Air, where the clouds of Lombok were left behind and it was warm and sunny. There are no cars on any of the Gili Islands, which is part of the appeal. In Bali and on the mainland of Lombok there were people on motorbikes everywhere, so the absence of traffic and tooting horns was welcome. The methods of transport on Gili Air are walking, biking, or horse cart (cidomo), and we were happy to walk. 
Near the main boat landing on Gili Air. Bali's volcano, Mount Agung is in the distance.
A cidomo, one method of transport on the island.
The "road" around Gili Air
We chose to stay on the east side of the island, where there was more "action", and I was really happy with that choice. It gave us options for bars and restaurants, and the best snorkeling reef is right off of the east coast. I waited really late to book our accommodation for the island, and there weren't many choices when I finally got around to booking. We ended up at Omah Gili, which was not my first choice, but I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived. The location was good, just off of the main walkway, and the "lumbung" was a cool spot to rest our heads for a few nights. 
Our "lumbung"
Nice landscaping on the Omah Gili grounds
Our lumbung at night!
Our first night on Gili Air. Happy hour views of the mountain we had just climbed!
We pretty much spent our three days on Gili eating, drinking, and swimming. We tried a few different bars, all of which had good happy hour specials, but our favorite bar/restaurant on the island was "Chill Out". Chill Out had delicious drinks and awesome wood fired pizzas, not to mention a sweet view from the dinner table. All of the bars and restaurants have cozy beach furniture complete with big bean bags, so it's easy to spend an entire day at one of the places along the beach.

Crazy clouds over Lombok
A good spot for dinner and drinks!
Wood fired pizzas are all the rage on the Gili Islands, apparently!
One day we went diving with Gili Air Divers to Coral Fan Garden. The visibility was great and the conditions were calm, which made for good diving. However, we were put in a random group and one of the guys sucked down his tank, so the dive was a little shorter than we had hoped. We also rented a snorkel and mask and used that at the reef just off of the coast. There were heaps of fish and we spent about 30 minutes swimming around with a sea turtle!

On the last morning we were up before sunrise. Below are a series of photos taken during the sunrise over Mount Rinjani. It would have been a great morning for those hikers on the summit!

Originally we had planned to fly out of Lombok, but when we realized how much more time we would have to spend in a car to get to Lomok's airport, which is not at all near the coast, we decided to cancel our flights and booked tickets on a ferry to Sanur, Bali. Our "ferry" stopped at Gili T to pick up passengers before heading to Nusa Lembongan, an island off of Bali's coast. If we ever go back to Indonesia, I think Nusa Lembongan would be on my list. The accommodation dotted along the cliffs looked amazing, along with the swell of the waves and the waterpark apparatus out in the middle of the ocean. How cool is that?
Our "ferry" back to Bali
Seems that clouds love to form over Lombok!
A waterslide in the middle of the ocean?!
Another cool structure off of Nusa Lembongan
Once we left Nusa Lembongan, I seriously thought we were going to die. The sea was really rough, and we were going very fast. It was actually quite scary. Fortunately we made it back to Bali in one piece, though maybe a little wet from boat spray!

When we arrived in Sanur there were many locals hanging out in the water. We went for one last swim before eating dinner at a restaurant along the beach and catching a taxi to the airport for our late night flight back to Melbourne. Indonesia is a place that we may have never gotten the chance to visit if we had not moved to Australia, seeing as it is a long way from the US of A. Now that we have had an opportunity to experience a little bit of what Indonesia has to offer, we understand why it is such a popular destination for Aussies, and I am already thinking about where else in Indonesia we should visit if we get the chance to go back!
Busy Sunday on the beach in Sanur
Sunrise and the Melbourne CBD in the background!