national parks

Kurnell, NSW Australia: Kamay Botany Bay National Park

DSC06568This isn’t the kind of thing I’d normally devote an entire post to, but I promised a while ago that there’d be more Captain Cook, and this is a pretty key Cook site. Botany Bay is where Cook first made landfall in Australia, and was thus the first point of contact between Europeans and Aborigines.  Unfortunately, the historical importance of the site wasn’t enough to stop the encroachment of the modern world, and whilst the landing site and a section of park around it have been preserved, the view from the bay is not so attractive, being mainly industrial plants belching smoke into the sky (it didn’t really look like water you’d want to swim in, even if there wasn’t the threat of jellyfish and/or sharks, this being Australia).

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Anyway, although you can just drive right into the park (after first navigating through quite a lot of ugly urban sprawl on the trip down from Sydney), you’re apparently meant to purchase a pass, which is $8 per car.  We did see the sign at the entrance warning us about the fee, but it wasn’t clear where we were meant to get the pass from.  There were also no signs by the visitor centre, so we just parked up and did the Cook walk.  It wasn’t until after we finished walking and used the toilets that we caught sight of a large sign (by the sinks!) warning of a $400 fine for non-payment, so we then hurriedly made our way inside the visitors’ centre and requested a pass from the rather unfriendly and bemused woman inside.  Moral of the story is: I don’t think they enforce the fine very well, but if you’re concerned, you can buy a pass from the visitors’ centre, and apparently from machines somewhere by the entrance, which aren’t very obvious, because we missed them entirely.

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The walk is self-guided, with the help of some arrows posted around the trail now and again; we followed the main trail, but apparently we should have been doing the wheelchair accessible trail, because we missed a whole bunch of stuff and had to backtrack to see it (unless we just followed the signs incorrectly, they did kind of peter out after a while).  I got the impression that the park was at one time way more Euro-centric, and they changed it within the last couple decades to embrace the Aborigines more, as some of the Aboriginal culture stuff felt kind of tacked-on, as though it were an afterthought.  There was a large stone structure at the start that told us more about first contact, and I guess was meant to represent the meeting of the two peoples, which was all well and good (though it did somewhat overstate what happened at the meeting.  It was definitely momentous, but the actual encounter was somewhat anticlimactic.  The Aborigines basically told the English to go away, and ignored them as best they could), but then we had to walk through an “Aborigine soundscape,” which was a little bizarre.  I kept hearing people talking, which creeped me out a little bit because we were quite obviously alone, but it turns out that was just the “soundscape.”

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But I was excited when the short walk (I think the whole trail was only 1.5 km) took us down to the bay, and I spied the giant Captain Cook memorial near the waterfront.  Just beyond it, on a rocky outcrop, is the actual landing place, though I get the feeling that they don’t really want people going out to it, because it’s not particularly accessible.  I only noticed it because it was marked on one of the maps – you have to climb up slippery rocks covered in sharp pointy oysters to get a look at it, and hop over about a two foot gap from one rock to the other, which I was not confident enough to do in jandals (and certainly not in bare feet, because of all those damn oysters), so I only walked up to the rock facing it, and my boyfriend hopped over and snagged a picture of the plaque for me.

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There’s also meant to be a buoy somewhere marking where the Endeavour was anchored whilst the men were onshore, but I didn’t see it.  Probably hidden amongst all those industrial plants.  The beach wasn’t great, but it was still pretty cool to stand right where Cook and his men (including that dishy Joseph Banks) did, and I enjoyed it, even though my feet stank like rotten clams for the rest of the day (they stink anyway, but it’s usually more of a Dorito-y smell).

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There was a pier where you could walk out over the bay, and this contained more information about first contact and the Aborigine tribes that lived in the area.  Until the mid-20th century, when it was made into a national park, it was a popular holiday spot for Aborigines, who would fish and gather the oysters that are clearly here in abundance.

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I was most excited about the Joseph Banks memorial, for obvious reasons, but it was something of a disappointment.  It must have been commissioned by a man, because he chose to use a portrait of Banks from when he was old and fat, rather than the dishy young Banks that would have come ashore here.  It also wasn’t built until the 1960s or something, so was clearly a bit of an afterthought as well.

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In addition to more signs about the native flora (including Banksia, named after, well, you know who) and fauna (both of which were in abundance, hence the name Botany Bay.  If Banks and Solander hadn’t had time to go ashore here and spend a few days gathering plants, it would probably today be known as “Tolerably Well-Sheltered Bay,” going by Cook’s initial diary entry on the place), there was also a grave marker erected to the first British person to die in Australia (one of Cook’s men, who had tuberculosis.  His name escapes me, and I can’t quite make it out in the photo) put up a century or two after his death (so the spot is presumably approximate).  Even though it was a beautiful day, we didn’t see anyone else there until we headed back up to the visitors’ centre, and we then came across two groups of schoolchildren playing some sort of game with the park rangers (I think this is the sort of place that every Australian schoolchild is required to visit, so I can understand why adults aren’t keen).

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Speaking of the visitors’ centre, there was a small museum-style display in there, including a scale replica of the Endeavour, and some information about Cook’s voyages and legacy. Botany Bay was meant to be the spot where the first transported convicts would be sent, as recommended by Joseph Banks (Cook was dead by this point) and others, but Cook and his men had been there during the autumn, when it appeared to have a pleasant climate, and plenty of natural resources.  The “First Fleet” arrived during summer, when there was a drought, and found there was no source of fresh water, and not enough of a harbour, so they moved a few miles up the coast to what would become Sydney instead.  If not for that, there would be a bustling city here today, instead of urban sprawl and a bit of parkland.

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My favourite part of the whole endeavour (see what I did there?) was the mural painted on the walls of the lecture theatre. I couldn’t help but sneak a cheeky selfie with their rendition of Banks, even though it wasn’t nearly as good as the portrait of him in the National Portrait Gallery.  All told, I enjoyed Botany Bay, but this was primarily because of the Cook connection rather than what was actually in the modern park (which could do with a bit of work; some of the plaques and stuff were so worn down, you could barely read them, and the visitor’s centre wasn’t great.  I wanted a Captain Cook t-shirt or something, and they didn’t even have postcards.  Not that I particularly wanted to buy them from the surly woman working there, but still…).  3/5, but only because of the history, rather than the National Parks’ lacklustre efforts.

Texas Roundup (Yee-Haw!)

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Now it’s time to talk about all the other stuff we did/ridiculous fried stuff we ate during our few days in Texas. (Translation: This is just an excuse for me to bitch about the Texas State Fair.)  I apologise for two posts in a row that are mostly angry rants, but I do love to complain, so this is what you get.   One of the things I was most excited about was attending the Texas State Fair on its opening day.  I used to look forward to the Geauga County Fair every year, so I thought a State Fair that is one of the biggest (the biggest?) in the country must be even more awesome.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.

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To begin with, the fair is expensive.  Like, super expensive.  $18 per adult, plus an additional $15 for parking.  We managed to get half price entry by bringing a 20 oz. Coke brand product (for the homeless apparently, which is really bizarre.  I would have been happy to bring some tins of beans or jars of peanut butter or something else with actual nutritional value, but collecting a nutritionally devoid beverage on behalf of needy people felt wrong.  If they had just wanted an empty bottle, like if Coke was sponsoring it and they wanted you to buy their products, that at least would have made sense.  Donating something that unhealthy made me kind of uncomfortable, but I guess empty calories are better than no calories?  I dunno, maybe I’m being too judgy), but we still had to use the stupid ticket system to buy food and junk.  Yeah, you can’t just pay with cash at the stalls like a normal fair, you have to get tickets for everything.  I mean, rides, sure, but food?  I think it was just an excuse to jack up the prices and hope you wouldn’t notice how much everything cost, because tickets.

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And can we talk about the food?  The Texas State Fair is famous for deep-frying any kind of weird shit they can put on a stick, so I imagined they’d have all the fryers fired up, and the stuff would at least be fresh.  Not so.  I don’t know when they fry this crap (I mean, it was the first day of the fair, so it couldn’t have been sitting around for that long, but that’s not what the taste would have you believe), but it was definitely not fried to order like all the stuff at the Geauga County Fair is.  If someone tried to give you an hours-old funnel cake there, you’d tell them where to shove it.  Here, that was just standard procedure (although I don’t even think I saw any funnel cakes there.  Not strange enough I guess).  My boyfriend was more adventurous than I was; after eating a stale old fried Snickers, I’d had enough, but he tried the fried coke (disgusting.  It was soaked in some kind of cold Coke syrup that made the balls all soggy and gross) and a fried chicken and waffle on a stick, which he said tasted a week old.  So we struck out on the food.  Well, except for the free pudding samples Kozy Shack was giving away.  I’ve never been a big pudding person (in the American sense of pudding), and eating a free tub of chocolate pudding that was just sitting out seemed kind of gross to me, but it was actually still cold, and damn, that shit was tasty.  Made up for the unpleasant vaguely coconut flavoured cotton candy (seriously, how do you mess up cotton candy?!  It’s just sugar!).

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The attractions were not much to speak of either.  Except for wooden roller coasters, I don’t really go on rides (because they make me hurl if any spinning or loops are involved), but I do enjoy all the baking and craft competitions they normally have at fairs.  Well, not here.  Instead, they only had grim warehouse-like expo buildings full of pushy people selling various useless crap.  There were a few attractive art deco-y buildings, some of them used by local museums, including a music exhibit put on by the historical society, which was ok, albeit too crowded, but the rest of them were just full of new cars and other boring junk.

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And the animals, which are usually the best part of this sort of thing, were limited to cattle, horses, goats, and a few pigs.  I know there’s some poultry disease going around this year, which is why none of the fairs were having chickens or ducks, but what about the rabbits?  Or sheep?  Normally the horses all have names, and are really well groomed, but these horses were nameless, and kind of dirty and sad looking, with unkempt manes.  Clearly, these were not owned by 4-H kids like the ones in Ohio, as no pride had been taken in their appearance.  They weren’t even that many animals there overall; at a fair that’s meant to be one of the biggest, I was expecting a lot more.

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Because it was the opening night, they did have fireworks and a little parade of Texas themed floats, with Texas themed music, which was cute.  And of course Big Tex was there in all his glory, and he was pretty great.  As we were about to leave, we discovered where all the cute animals were hiding; in something that was labelled a children’s barn, which is why we didn’t go in at first, but it turns out it was open to everyone, and you could buy food for a dollar a cup to feed the animals.

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The problem is that all the cutest ones had already been fed by every child there, so they weren’t much interested in eating (plus I felt bad that they’d already been harassed by everyone, though that obviously didn’t stop me petting them).  I couldn’t get the tiniest baby goats or the Highland calf to come over, so I just ended up giving all my food to the buffalo calf, as he was the only enthusiastic one (and he was still pretty adorable).  The fair was not great (understatement of the year), and if you’ve never been to an American fair before, I’d definitely head to a nice county one before wasting your time here.  It was way too commercial, and completely devoid of that homespun feel I’d usually associate with fairs.

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The only place I did like in Dallas was a doughnut/biscuit joint called Hypnotic Donuts.  We had to wait for about twenty minutes just to get inside, but their biscuits (biscuits in the American sense, just to clarify, so picture big fluffy buttermilk scone-y things, rather than dry cookies) were nearly the size of my head, and awesome (though if you don’t eat meat, you’re limited to peanut butter and honey or jam as toppings, which was not a huge problem since I usually just have honey or lemon curd on biscuits anyway), as was the Peace-taschio doughnut with brown butter icing and roasted pistachios.  My boyfriend can recommend the fried chicken sandwich on a glazed doughnut, with bonus sriracha.

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Going back to earlier in the trip, after we left the Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco, we saw signs for a Mammoth National Monument.  Being a geologist, my boyfriend is pretty keen on fossils and such, so we stopped off at this National Park Site.  For $5, we were given about an hour long tour and explanation of the site by a knowledgeable ranger (or maybe just employee? He wasn’t wearing the hat, so I dunno).  Even though the billboards kind of made it look like a tourist trap, it wasn’t that at all.  Just a legit prehistoric site where the ranger seemed to really know his stuff and the mammoth bones are remarkably well preserved, so this is probably worth a stop if you’re interested in this kind of thing.

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We also stopped at Round Rock Donuts on our way out of Austin (what can I say, I LOVE doughnuts), which you may have seen featured on Man vs Food and other shows for its super huge “Texas-sized” glazed doughnuts.  For once, this is a place that does live up to the hype.  I only had the normal sized doughnuts, but they’re served warm, and are pretty damn amazing.  I just don’t get why they’re orange.  Not in flavour, but colour.  Their website says it’s because of the fresh eggs they use, but that doesn’t explain why the glaze is orange as well.  Whatever, they’re good, and I can deal with ingesting some artificial colouring (Cap’n Crunch Berries is one of my favourite cereals, so I’m apparently ok with quite a lot of artificial colouring!).

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Continuing on the subject of fried things, Austin is the birthplace of Whole Foods, and it’s quite a hippie kind of town, with lots of health food stores (which is why it was my favourite place we went, by far.  Not that I eat healthily (see above), but health food stores generally have crackin’ vegetarian options, which is not something that be said for most of Texas).  The Whole Foods flagship store is there, and it’s giant and really nice, but there’s also Wheatsville Co-op, home of the world famous (in the veg*n blogging world) popcorn tofu (as in, fried like popcorn chicken, not covered with actual popcorn). In fact, Wheatsville Co-op was all around pretty cool, especially for those of a vegetarian persuasion (you can’t beat homemade agua fresca and Zapp’s Cajun Crawtaters!).

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Also in Austin is the State Capitol building.  This beautiful building drew our eye at night on our way back to our hotel, because it was all lit up.  We went closer to take pictures, not expecting it to be open as it was nearly 9, but it turns out, it’s open until 10 at night, although most of the public rooms are only open during the day.  Some friendly rangers (I think they were rangers this time, they did have hats) waved us in (after we went through metal detectors), and the building is just as gorgeous from the inside as the out.

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We felt a little uncertain about just wandering up the stairs, but no one seemed to mind, and it’s the best way to get pictures of the floor and ceiling of the rotunda area (and admire all the portraits of former governors, including (sigh) Dubya)  I’d like to go back when they actually have tours on to see some of the Victorian offices, but even without it, it’s a stunning building, and I highly recommend stopping by.

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Well, that about sums up Texas.  Basically, Austin was my kind of place (aside from the heat) and Dallas definitely wasn’t, but I’m glad I got to see a state I’d never been to before, even if I didn’t always enjoy it.  Next up, a few posts from my old home state of Ohio.