Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Ghan Holiday Day 5-6 - Alice Springs and West Macdonnell ranges

It was a long drive to Alice Springs from Kings Canyon!  Fortunately we were distracted by various birds of prey on the drive and iPads are sanity savers.

Our first stop in Alice Springs was to visit their reptile centre, which was a good little centre, and even had a wandering goanna named Ruby that the kids could pet.  After the show, where we got to handle snakes and blue tongue lizards, the kids felt bold and went right up to Ruby to pat her...

Unfortunatlely my daughter was bitten by the goanna and it had to be "removed" from her hand by the centre's staff.  She was a brave little girl, and the bite wasn't deep and didn't require any special treatment except antiseptic and a bandage. She is also quite the trooper since she hasn't got a phobia of lizards, but she did wonder why it bit her.  I said that it was because she had been eating chicken nuggets beforehand.

We stayed at Chifley Alice Springs Resort which was comfortable and had a laundry but the internet reception was non existent unless you hung out in the lobby.  We had dinner at Doubletree Hilton's Hanuman restaurant which was an Asian restaurant with a mixed variety of Indian/Thai food but was quite tasty.

We drove through the West MacDonnell park and checked out the various waterholes along the way. We saw a great variety of birds and I THOUGHT I saw a Major Mitchell cockatoo but without a photo to back up my claim, I might as well NOT have seen it.

Simpsons Gap
Standley Chasm
Glen Helen gorge
Ellery Creek big hole
Ormiston Gorge
Of course the birdlife was what fascinated us! Red backed kingfisher, western bowerbird, whistling kite, brown falcon, forest kingfisher, treecreeper (maybe).



We even saw waterbirds like purple swamphens and white winged stilts at Glen Helen Gorge. After a long day walking we were glad to have a lie down and get ready to catch the Ghan the following day.

Ghan Holiday Day 3-4 - Kings Canyon

Before we departed in the morning we went to visit the camel centre and had a ride on some camels and do a spot of baby camel feeding.

Then the drive to Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge.  Along the way we saw the impressive flat-topped mesa Mt Connor, which some people mistake for Uluru.

The Wilderness Lodge was a glamping adventure, with our "tents" more like hotel rooms than tents - they even had an air conditioner in them!  And the separate stand alone bathroom was bigger than ours at home!

The staff were lovely and cooked lovely food and even had special food for the kids!  However, the kids were happy enough to eat our food, so they didn't need chicken nuggets and chips (they ate the risotto entree that we had).  They even had their own dessert (which was bigger than our dessert) except my son was too sleepy and went to bed before dessert was served.

There was even a dingo on site!

In the morning we set off for Kings Canyon and did the rim walk - an impressive 6km walk that wasn't too difficult and amazingly the kids did very well and didn't need too many rests and did not need to be carried at all.  I was very proud of them.

Then we walked the shorter Kathleen Springs walk, which had a nice little billabong at the end of it. That was a nice wind-down for the day!

All the travellers who stayed at the lodge were very friendly and we chatted to them all during the shared evening meal.  I would highly recommend a day spent at the Wilderness Lodge - but a quick warning, it's not cheap!  And we were out of contact with civilisation for that whole period of time so leave your phone back at the tent to charge!

Ghan Holiday Day 1-2 - Uluru and Kata-Tjuta

We have been looking forward to this trip for more than 6 months, and it was great thinking that the kids were big enough to appreciate it!  It started with wanting to catch The Ghan, which is a luxury sleeper train experience from Darwin to Adelaide crossing through the Australian red centre.  So, we decided we'd see the big rock, Uluru (also known as Ayer's Rock) , then get the Ghan to Adelaide.

Jetstar flies direct to Uluru from Sydney, so with the kids loaded up with their iPads fully charged, we set off.  My son loved the "orange and white plane" and talked about it constantly during the trip.

Now how cool is this - you could see Uluru from the plane!

You could also see Kata-Tjuta (The Olgas) as well.  These rock formations are like impressive blips in the landscape.

We got our hired car, with a booster for my son, and he felt happy being all grown up putting on the seat belt like the rest of us.  Then we set off for the Ayers Rock Resort, where all the accommodation for the area is.  Food is transported up a few times a week from Adelaide, so even the overpriced IGA foodstore had food for everyone.

The accommodation there varies from camping grounds to mid range motel/hotels to the Sails in the Desert, which was the resort.  We stayed at Sails, and it was perfectly acceptable for our needs!

We had a snack at the Walpa bar and the Pork Belly Sliders were quite tasty!  There was a kids menu as well and my daughter ordered a salad (which we said she wouldn't eat) and my son had fish and chips.

We went out after to see Uluru at sunset, but it was crowded at the viewing area close to the resort, but it was still an impressive sight.  No tripod makes for poor pics, so there are a heap of blurry photos which I am too embarrassed to share with people!

The next day we spent a full day at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park, leaving the resort at dawn to see the sunrise over Uluru.  Too much cloud to give an impressive colour, but the rock is always impressive.  There was a decent train of cars at 6am heading to the sunrise viewing area.

We stayed at the lower part, on ground level to view the rock, but there were a fair number at the elevated platform as well.

We did the Mala walk afterwards, around the base of the rock, but there were so many people and the kids couldn't understand nor be engaged with what the guide was saying so we went off on our own to explore.

After walking around sections of the Rock we went to see Kata-Tjuta (The Olgas) and walked the Walpa Gorge walk - which was plagued by flies which distressed the kids a lot.

And what kind of trip would it be if we didn't squeeze in some birdwatching!  We saw Ring necked parrots at the resort as well as yellow throated honeyeaters, white cheeked honeyeaters, spiny cheeked honey eaters.  There were a lot of zebra finches around Kata-Tjuta.

There was a lunar eclipse whilst we were in Uluru as well - how cool to have a red moon at the red rock!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Movie Review: Mad Max Fury Road - a surprisingly refreshing action movie

I'm not sure if it's very un-Australian of me to say that I have never seen any of the Mad Max movies. Actually, that may not be entirely true - there is the possibility that I watched them on television as a child, but I don't own any of them on DVD/VHS but I have absolutely no idea what they're about except that Mel Gibson was in those movies.

And I hadn't really watched many of the trailers.  I had seen one.  I knew Charlize Theron was in it, as Imperator Furiosa (the only time I had come across the term Imperator was in World of Warcraft, where the last fight was against an Imperator Mar'gok - since then I realised it's a word meaning "commander").  Nicholas Hoult was as well, and I recognised him from playing Hank "Beast" McCoy in the X-Men movies X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

I also heard it was an action movie which of course, is something I enjoy.

I did have concerns that I would not understand the movie if I hadn't seen the previous Mad Max installments.  However, I can safely say that you don't need to have seen any of them to understand or enjoy the movie.  I'm sure there are little easter eggs from things in the previous movies which would have gone over my head (much like how it's done in the Marvel Universe movies, if you don't know the comics, some of the subtle references would go over your head but it doesn't detract from your enjoyment or understanding of the movie).

And I will say here now, that I did not know how "feminist" this movie was before I watched it.  Feminist is probably not the word I am searching for, but how anti-misogynistic it was, with a cast of strong female characters.


At the start you see Max, a little crazy from all the deaths of people in the past haunting him, and he's captured by a raiding part of War boys (who are part of Immortan Joe's dominion - a fat, deformed, oxygen dependent warlord who wears a mask and has a shock of long white hair).  They use him as a source of blood for transfusion.  The post apocalyptic world looks pretty bleak - heaps of people with deformities, no doubt from the nuclear radiation - and Immortan Joe controls his people by making them beg for water.  Joe also has women for his harem for breeding, and also milks them for "mother's milk" which is what he feeds his War Boys, apparently.  The War Boys are all indoctrinated to believe that they die to be reborn again, and die in glory to get to Valhalla, so they are relentless fighters.

Immortan Joe controls water - there are other nearby gangs that control oil, bullets etc - and he sends out Imperator Furiosa with a war part to the oil town to get supplies.  Halfway there she abandons her mission, as she has her own mission.  She has taken the breeders and is trying to make for her own homeland, "the green place", from where she was taken as a child, and provide safe haven for the breeders.   These breeders are all model perfection, which provide the eye candy for the movie, but it is not unusual as they are selected to be breeders after all.  Rosie Huntington-Whitely is one of them and even she, heavily pregnant fights hand and tooth for her freedom.

The rest of the movie is basically a long chase across the desert, with fighting almost every step of the way.  Max breaks into this picture because the War Boy who owns him, Nux, goes out on the raiding party to retrieve these "treasures" of Joe's and so Max is tied to the front of the vehicle whilst the assault on the Furiosa's vehicle occurs.

The movie, though titled Mad Max, is really about Furiosa, and Max barely speaks throughout the movie - a little reminiscent of the Terminator, but he is still an essential part of the unit trying to protect the hope and promise of freedom for these women.

Nux, becomes part of this little family after he "fails" Immortan Joe, but the wives beg to spare his life because there has been enough killing.

I was especially impressed with the one nude scene in the movie, which was tasteful, and of Megan Gale in her first acting role. You don't really see anything, but she is actually a trap for marauding groups, and the group of Vuvalini (which I hilariously misread as Vulvalini) which are the a matriarchal society that Furiosa was originally from. However, it seems their role is merely body fodder as they make their way back to Immortan Joe's citadel, as that is the only place with water where they can have some semblance of hope of returning life, as one of the old gun toting ladies has a bag full of seeds.

So this bunch of crazies heads back, with more fighting and crazy stunts (by the way the stunts were all real with very little CGI apparently) and eventually win the day. But oh what a ride!

The cinematography is awesome, the landscape bleak yet beautiful in a empty yet wild way, the stunts mind blowing, the cars are Frankenstein-like in nature. The world really is crazy in Miller's post war era.

But this movie's real triumph to me is the strong female characters which don't seem out of place in this world.  In a genre that is mostly male driven and dominated, and even in this world which is also male dominated, it is the women who come out with the strength and hope of the movie.  Fighting for life.  Fighting for freedom.  Fighting against oppression.  And they do so without ridiculously sexy costumes which are totally impractical for what they're doing.  Only the wives are scantily clad but they would have had very little in the way of practical clothes, serving only as objects of desire, breeding - a favourite pet or toy perhaps - but the rest of them, especially Theron's character with her missing arm, and shaven head, are not beauty showcases.  It seems real, and believable in this unbelievable world.

And this movie passes the Bechdel test in leaps and bounds, with flying colours.  It is interesting to note that a Men's Rights Activist blogger has called for men to boycott the movie because  he is concerned "men in America and around the world are going to be duped by explosions, fire tornadoes, and desert raiders into seeing what is guaranteed to be nothing more than feminist propaganda, while at the same time being insulted AND tricked into viewing a piece of American culture ruined and rewritten right in front of their very eyes."  (I don't want to link to that article because I refuse to let my site increase any traffic to his, so you can find it on google).

Well. Considering that this is an AUSTRALIAN movie, originally filmed in Australia (but this time filmed in Namibia because it was too WET here in Australi) with an Australian director, I find his comments amusing.  Fortunately it seems to have had the opposite effect with some people, who after hearing about the boycott became more intrigued. Considering the movie has rave reviews from many sources, including a 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, I think that the movie is a success, and George Miller should be proud for another fine piece of cinema history in the making. I would highly recommend you see this movie - for even I was skeptic, but I left feeling a sense of awe after this movie.

Oh, and here's a picture from the promo that they did last week for the movie in Sydney, where they caused mayhem with closure of a major road in peak hour on a weekday.