Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Litchfield NP - return to Darwin

I awoke early in my luxury accommodation and decide to return to Darwin immediately rather than do anymore sight seeing. The day was cool and overcast threatening rain.
I elected to return via Berry Springs. This cut considerable distance off the return trip but involved some dirt roads and a very prominent sign that advised that the road was 4WD only in the wet. Since I was in the dry and my car is an "all wheel drive" I cast caution to the winds and proceeded.
It really was a grey day and commenced to rain lightly as soon as I left the Safari Camp.
I quickly came across the dirt section and found it to be a good quality graded road.  In my youth I would have flown along this at high speed but I restrained myself and merely cruised along. One section of the road had a series of puddles in a low area that required me to slow down and weave around them but nothing of concern.
On a tight winding down hill section I suddenly came across a Road Train that had stalled and was stuck in the road part way up the slope. A pretty impressive sight with the prime mover and three trailers filled with sheep. A second road train had pulled up and hitched itself to the broken down one. As a team the two trucks were working to get themselves moving again to get up the hill. (That is 2 prime movers with three trailers each, hitched into a single train that was over 100 meters long.) There was a lot of slipping wheels as I passed and then I realised that 2 more road trains were waiting at the bottom of the grade to get up and over also. That was a lot of trucks and sheep.
I decided not to stop for pictures, I think that my presence may not have been wanted.
A little further on I crossed a small wooden bridge and drove into a river bed. Dry at this time of the year it was an opportune moment to stop as another vehicle had been tailgating me for the last few minutes. As I was kicking up a lot of dust I had not wanted to pull over and let him pass as I would be then eating his dust. A photo break would allow the dust time to disperse.

The creek would be flowing in wet weather and explained why this was a 4WD only road at that time of year. It was a pretty little area. The constant fear of Crocs ensured that I stayed well clear of the waters edge however except where I could get a good view of the stream and creek bottom.

With the dust dispersed I continued on and made it into Berry Springs. Breakfast was some time ago and Darwin still an hour drive so I had in mind to stop and find some food.
I ended up at Crazy Acres Farm. They have a small produce counter and sell seasonal fruit and veg. They also it turned out make light meals, serve drinks and sell home made ice cream.
I settled on the Farm tasting plate and a Mango smoothie. The Farm plate was very fresh and tasty, I would have called it a ploughmans lunch.

I don't care what the poor people were doing The Bludger was enjoying life.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Litchfield NP Day 2

Despite the bunk bed I had a good nights sleep. I made breakfast which consisted of a cup of tea and a banana and moved out before the heat of the day built up.

First stop was a drive to the Wangi Falls  and a walk up and around the falls themselves. I chose a clockwise direction and the first part of the walk was a rocky path up to the top of the cliffs. It then levelled out with vistas across the park, but not of the falls themselves.

Just above the falls was a stream that fed the falls themselves. Walkways ensured an easy crossing of the stream but also prevented further exploration. From there a path leads to a wooden staircase that takes you back into the rainforest. It was quite pretty. If you ever take this walk thongs (flip flops) and sandals are not appropriate.

Back at the bottom it was tempting to have a swim with a huge pool at the base of the falls to swim in but still a bit early. I had a quick look and then moved on to Greenant Creek.
From there I took a longer walk through rainforest and then onto open woodland to the top of Tjaetaba Falls. This was a lengthy walk with the day now warming up. At the top there were two pools.
The larger didn't look very nice to swim in with lots of green slimy looking stuff on the rocks and at the entry and exit points. A small waterfall lead to a second pool at the edge of the falls. Smaller but more appealing. I took off my boots and clothes and lay in the cool waters, wishing that someone else would visit to see me being adventurous.

I gave up waiting and dried off in the sun and a cool breeze. On my way back down I passed a party of about a dozen people on the way up. With hindsight I was glad to have the pools to myself.
From there I took a look along the track to Blyth Homestead. The track was clearly marked as 4WD only. I have an "all wheel drive" Subaru. Generally I find that I can go where many 4WDs can go. However I was quickly defeated on this one. A creek crossing was about 1Km down the track, depth markers indicated about 400 mm. That would be above my door seals and I could not see what was underneath. I conceded defeat and returned to the main road.

It was now late morning and I really needed to check into work. Mobile phones and mobile broadband do not work here, so I decided to head towards Batchelor at the park entrance. Also I was running out of food so needed to buy lunch, so that what I did have with me would cover dinner.
I ate once more in the Rum Jungle Tavern and caught up on work and emails.
Heading back to the Safari Camp I investigated the Tabletop Swamp and Tolmer Falls. The Tolmer falls were large impressive and off limits for swimming. Also the carpark was full of tour busses and cars full of other tourists. Too many people for me.

Back at the Camp I rested and then cooked an early meal before the daylight faded.
The Bludger had a quiet night and lamented the lack of Queensized bed.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Litchfield National Park - Day 1

Sunday: The day started well. A cool night had me thinking of pulling out Doona's or an extra sheet. I started the day with a short walk and a visit to the Rapid Creek Market to pick up some fruit and veg plus some bits for the planned trip away. Then a leisurely pack and prepare for the trip.
I departed just after midday and had a quiet cruise down the Stuart Highway to Batchelor. Here I stopped at the Rum Jungle Tavern for a restorative cider. I am always concerned about dehydration on trips like this, so I like to avail myself of the facilities available at local pubs.
The Rum Jungle Tavern was a modern outback pub filled with TV's for the racing and a TAB. It had little soul or character. A pity because the name Rum Jungle evokes images for me. There used to be an Uranium mine in the area, now closed down but I have had it romanticised for me in another way. I am not sure how, but I suspect it may have been in a novel.
Batchelor has a sign proudly showing that it won Tidy Town awards in various years. Close by the sign is a stylised Castle which to me makes it more eligible to claim a Tacky Town award. I moved on.
Shortly the road enters the Litchfield National Park. At the moment the Park is covered in a light pall of smoke. You can see it in the air and smell it. The cause is controlled burn offs to prevent fierce bushfires later in the year.

Fire is a natural part of the Australian bush caused by natural sources, such as lightning and even the Aboriginals used to burn tracts of land to drive out animals and clear the way for them to walk through. The flora and fauna are adapted to it. Some seeds will not germinate until a fire has passed over them. In places the fire was close to the road but not a source of danger.
My first stop was the Magnetic Termite Mounds. These termites build large flat mounds orientated North/South to make the best use of cooling breezes and minimise absorption of the suns rays. Quite spectacular and I was reminded somewhat of Stonehenge or similar standing stones.

Next stop was the Florence falls, a waterfall falling about 20 metres into a pool below. The pool is a designated safe swimming hole. Saltwater crocodiles are a constant menace around here. Few escape an attack from a Saltie.

The falls were delightful, even with a large group of tourists in and around them. A circular path leads from the car park to the falls and back. Walking in the direction that I did a short walk leads you to a viewing platform and then down a series of steps to the bottom of the falls. It wasn't a difficult walk or climb down. The water at the bottom was crystal clear and I could see fish swimming. It was also a pleasant temperature and after the initial chill was a pleasure to be in. I swam right into the waterfall and enjoyed a scalp massage, all the while hoping that nothing solid came over the falls.
The pool is deep and quite large with almost no submerged obstructions and yet it had sufficient places to enter and exit without too much difficulty. Thank you mother nature.
It was late afternoon by this stage and after air drying I dressed and continued along the path. This section followed a creek through Monsoon Rain Forest and then a gentle climb back to the car park. It was very pretty. Next time I have visitors they will be forced to come out here.
I made my way back to the car and drove to the nearby Buley rock hole. Not quite as spectacular as the Florence falls. But much more accessible without the walk to and fro. The rock hole comprises a series of small water holes linked by rapids and small waterfalls. Once again very pretty,but as it was more accessible and smaller it felt more crowded. I did not swim I was content to just explore the area.

From there I eschewed the other highlighted sights and made my way to my accommodation. At this stage I was feeling really good and at peace with the world. I was looking forward to a couple of nights "glamping" in an on site safari tent with fridge, lights, power, insect screens and a queen size bed. Private facilities and a private BBQ. Well that is what the brochure said and that is what I booked. You can see where this is going can't you?
I was booked into the Litchfield Safari Camp. My first doubts crept in when I approached reception.

Reception was a card table under an awning outside a shed, with a "reception" sign to remove any doubts or confusion. That was not a problem, probably quite appropriate for this climate. Reception however was unattended. I made my way to the general store next door, well tin shed actually, assuming, correctly as it turned out, that the receptionist shared duties as storekeeper.
I queued up waiting to be served. After a short wait for two people who could not make up their minds what they wanted and then another couple who had the same problem, I announced what I wanted and it was confirmed that the attendant was also reception. He then turned his attention to the couple behind me and proceeded to have a friendly chat.
I do not like waiting.
I do not like waiting, while someone, who has effectively pushed in front of me, is served. Especially when it was an obvious chat. I started thinking up some sarcastic comments like "OK I will just go back to Darwin please give me a call when you are ready to deal with me." I restrained myself.
We all eventually moved back to reception. The couple behind me had picked up my vibe, or were polite and understood that I had arrived before them, and suggested that the receptionist deal with me first.
My booking was confirmed and I was given directions to my Safari Tent.
The couple behind me commented to me that I was "in for an experience." The tone in their voices was a warning. They mentioned to the receptionist that they didn't know that my tent existed. He replied that they were expanding. Oh I thought, I get a brand new tent.

Reception man, who I think is the owner, mentioned that it was a bit older and that I did not need a key as the screen door was not on it yet. I said, "well I hope that there are no mosquitoes". He said "Oh it has screens" but he looked concerned. My doubts were now high. He continued his description on how to find it. "round there...next door to my daughters place...you will probably see the kids." Well I certainly can, and hear them, and she seems to have a number of friends over for a BBQ, one of whom has parked right in front of my tent, I mean luxury accommodation.

Also my Queen sized bed has transmogrified into three single bunk beds.
I had a beer and ate my lunch, as it was now 6pm and I was starving. I investigated the tent and found that the zips on the screen doors are broken, there is no way to prevent the mosquitoes entering.

So I then walked back to reception and suggested that they had made a mistake on my accommodation. I was given a barrage of excuses and no attempt to rectify the problems. I said "it's a good job my partner has not come as we don't have a queen size bed". His face brightened "oh you are on your own then" he said. I could see the relief that I was not going to claim that a couple should be able to sleep in something bugger bigger than a single bunk bed. I did so anyway.
Quite frankly I did not get what I booked and paid for. I am pissed off.
The Bludger made the most of what he had with the aid of part a bottle of Gin before bed.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Happy Birthday Lori Rae Jorgenson

We lost touch long ago. But I still remember you and always wonder how your life turned out.

Keep well.

The Bludger is reminiscing of love lost.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Windows 8 and a new Intel CPU in one week.

Geek alert. Stop reading now if you do not need exposure to nerdity.

The above picture is my new acquisition, an Acer Aspire V3-571G laptop. It may not be the best looking laptop, but the selling point for me was that it is one of the first laptop models featuring the new 3rd Generation Intel i7 CPU. Specifically Intel Core i7-3610QM 2.3GHz. The chips were released to Manufacturers early this year and laptops featuring the chips have only just been released.
Why is it so good? Well it has 4 cores and hyper-threading which gives an equivalent of 8 CPUs. This means that it will be fast and can support multiple virtual machines. Unfortunately Windows itself has trouble with multiple cores, so the full power will not be fully experienced in a Windows environment.
I am also experimenting with Windows 8. Rather than destroying a perfectly good PC I have installed Virtualbox and created a Virtual Machine to run Windows 8 in.
Once I had figured out how to add the Windows 8 ISO as a virtual CD then the installation went quickly and easily.
First Thoughts.
I should mention that I am using Windows 8 Consumer Preview edition. This is freely available but cannot be upgraded to the proper release when it is available. Basically any work that I do on it will be lost. That is one reason for using a virtual machine. No great loss.
Setup was straight forward. It required an Internet Connection and used my email address to connect to my Windows LiveID. Windows Live now has a record of my hardware, OS and password if ever I forget it.
My first playing showed that Windows had found and accessed a Calendar of mine. Not sure which one, but it is populated with a pile of Birthdays of friends. Off hand that does not match any of my Calendars maybe it is getting them from Hotmail or somewhere. I have not linked it to FB or GMail so this is a mystery.
Opening the mail client it prompted me to set up links to a variety of email services. I declined, I am not ready for that yet.
I tried to edit the above photo, but it would not read the SD Card with the photo on board. Fail. That is probably a feature that I need to turn on in Virtualbox.
My biggest issue is that I am going to have to learn a new interface. I don't know how to make Windows 8 do anything. The interface is too dumbed down for me. I cannot even work out how to shut it down cleanly.
The Bludger has a pile of geekdom to explore.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Static Discharge

On my flight back from Singapore to Darwin we entered some cloud and encountered some slight turbulence. The Air Crew put on the seatbelt sign during that period. Looking out of the window I had a view of the wing shrouded in a translucent haze, rather obviously what we would call mist or fog on the ground. I watched the light patterns caused by the red and white navigation lights for a while. Then I noticed that there were smaller flashes on parts of the wings including the flaps, the ailerons and the things protruding backward from under the wing (nacelles?).
I assumed that it was static electricity, but why it was doing what it was doing I could not work out. The individual sparks were such as you might see on a child's sparkler, but randomly dotted around, not a long continuous burn. As we left the cloud the sparks ceased. It was an intriguing sight, one that I have not encountered before.
On returning home I was able to look it up and find that it is indeed static electricity and it is the rain droplets causing a sudden discharge that causes the flash. This is common in all metal air planes and in fact they are designed to funnel static charges to the wings where they are discharged by "Static Discharge Wicks".In fact the view of the A320 that they show is almost identical to the view that I had.
The Bludger learnt something today.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Airline On Time Performance Statistics.

Warning: Grumpy Old Man alert.
The below is taken from published figures by the Department of Infrastructure and Transport. The emphasis is mine.
For March 2012, on time performance over all routes operated by participating airlines (Jetstar, Qantas, QantasLink, Regional Express, Skywest Airlines, Tiger Airways, Virgin Australia and Virgin Australia – ATR/F100 Operations) averaged 78.7 per cent for on time departures, and 77.3 per cent for on time arrivals.  Cancellations represented 1.5 per cent of all scheduled flights.  The equivalent figures for March 2011 were 79.6 per cent for departures, 76.4 per cent for arrivals and 1.0 per cent for cancellations.........
Of the major domestic airlines, Tiger Airways achieved the highest level of on time departures for March 2012 at 90.0 per cent, followed by Qantas at 85.3 per cent, Virgin Australia at 79.8 per cent and Jetstar at 74.1 per cent.  
If you look at the chart on the summary report you can see a declining trend in on time departures and arrivals.
However it seems that in May The Bludger has had the misfortune of catching the Jetstar flights that are in the other side of the demographic namely the 25.9% and increasing that do not take off on time nor arrive on time.
Outbound was hardly worth talking about. The Darwin departure lounge overcrowded with a delayed flight to Bali. A lot of browned off potential passengers and one bloke gathering names to perform a "class action" against Jetstar. Yeah right! I surmised that he was facing an uphill battle.
So in comparison the 10 or so minutes that I was delayed "due to the late arrival of a connecting flight" was almost insignificant.
However homeward bound was a different story.
Prior to departure I had been blitzed with information that the flight schedule was 10 minutes later than booked. OK no problem.
When I checked in there was no indication that there was an issue. I had a leisurely meal in a Chinese Restaurant in Singapore airport and made my way to the departure gate. The message boards were flashing "go to gate". However the large amount of people in the walkway outside the departure area was an ominous sign. (In Singapore they have individual security checks on a per flight basis. Entering the airport and passing through immigration is just like the good old days. That is to say easy. The security check happens as you leave the public areas and walk into a glass cage optimistically called the departure lounge.)
I spent the next 15 minutes wandering the walkways before entering the glass cage. Shortly after, we boarded the plane.
And then we sat and waited.
And waited
And waited.
At one stage the flight crew told us that we would be "delayed but soon be on our way as luggage was being loaded from a late incoming flight".
We waited some more.
Then some more.
Eventually I snapped. In a controlled fashion. I asked one of the hostesses how much longer it would be. She did not know. I asked her if she could ask the captain to inform the passengers over the PA how much longer we would wait. After some pressure she said that she would, walked off and quite clearly ignored my request as she never went near the flight deck nor an intercom.
We eventually pushed back, by now 50 minutes after the amended departure time. We took off. We were allowed to undo our seat belts. I got out writing materials and wrote a letter of complaint to the Captain and asked a steward to pass it along.
I had 2 basic issues.
1. Passengers are treated with no respect. All that was required, to moderate my level of "pissed off" was an announcement of the delay and an update as to when we could expect to get off the ground.
2. Why did we board the plane if they knew that there was a delay? From a passenger point of view it is preferable for passengers to wait in the departure lounge, where they can walk, stretch their legs, get a drink, go to the toilet and use electronic equipment. Once boarded all those rights (not privileges) are taken away, you are expected to sit passively in your seat and do sfa.
To his credit later on the Captain came over to talk with me and offer apologies. Something about the delay being a problem with the luggage loaded incorrectly and that they were busy fixing the mistake. Well yes I want to be safe but at the same time being treated with no respect is not good.
I think that is why they won't let you carry guns on board. Hijackers are not the problem. Disgruntled passengers who are treated with the same level of respect as live cattle are the problem. I suspect that, in-flight service started degrading shortly after guns were banned.
Now that the pilots can hide behind a locked door they can totally ignore passengers.
The Bludger was not happy.
Postscript: After writing this, I notice that Jetstar has sent me a survey to complete "was I happy with my recent travel experience". I will be showing them opportunities for improvement in parts of the survey.