Friday, November 29, 2013

Interlude Post 13 (and final) from Cairns, Australia

Happy late Thanksgiving everyone! We have established a reputation for spending turkey day on adventures, and this year was no exception.  We did get some roast chicken, but as Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Oz, we spent most of the day underwater!  We met many new creatures, but Wally the giant Maori Wrasse is our new friend.  He followed us like a puppy and LOVED to have his lips rubbed as he swam by you.  Our night dives were full of grey reef sharks, quite the eerie experience but totally awesome!  Saw some nudibranchs (brightly patterned slug like creatures, tons of fish, a giant cuttlefish (I'm pretty sure he was smarter than us) and turtles, but the coral was very cool, mostly hard corals, and very bright colors.

We spent two nights on a ship out on the reef and three days diving.  By the time we got back, we were exhausted but deliriously happy.  That was our last big adventure in Australia, in a couple of days we fly to Hawaii to see Kellee's brother for a few days and then on to Trinidad and finally back to Navigator!  Spending time on the water lately has made us really miss her and we're excited to get back.

Backing up, we put some serious kilometers on the car working our way back towards Sydney then took a break for a few days in Coolum Beach, a sleepy beach town near Noosa Heads and just enjoyed the sun and sand for a couple of days.  The water was a nice temperature, but lots of nasty looking jellyfish washing up on shore kept us on the beach for most of the visit.  It rained in the afternoon, which would become the common theme for the rest of our camping vacation.

We worked our way north along the coast, with a stop in Airlie Beach, gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, which if you didn't know any better, you'd think you were in the British Virgin Islands.  We did a day sail with some snorkeling, which also made us miss Navigator and we enjoyed the day, but it did rain...every day.

North from there we found another sleepy beach town, Mission Beach, and holed up for a couple of days relaxing by the pool, watching the kangaroos in the camp (one night on my way back from the loo, I got surprised by one crossing right in front of me...totally fearless, but about my height!) and looking for cassowary.  A cassowary is a bird like an ostrich or emu, but more aggressive.  The bathrooms had signs reading: "If you see a cassowary, do NOT run! Back away slowly and put a tree between yourself and the bird, and continue slowly backing away"  Awesome.  We started a list of all the ways you could die in Australia, here are some of our favorites:

-Sting from jellyfish (some jellyfish are so small you can't see it).
-Cassowary head butting you or eating your face.
-Gum tree falling on your tent (they drop perfectly healthy looking heavy limbs randomly, in calm wind).
-Kangaroo jumping in front of your car.
-Crocodile lurking in the river bed along your hike.
-One of the ten most poisonous snakes in the world crawling in your tent.
-Attack by Titan Triggerfish.
The list goes on, but I digress.

From Mission Beach we passed through Cairns and continued north in the Daintree National Park rainforest to the end of the paved road in Cape Tribulation, so named from Captain Cook after he ran aground near there on the Great Barrier Reef and his "troubles" started.  We spent a night on the beach, again in the rain.  Went for a nice walk in the morning and drove back south...we did finally see a cassowary here in the rainforest, but safely viewed from the car.  Our walk on the beach showed signs for killer crocs and jelly fish, and there were vinegar bottles on the beach in case of stings...only in Australia!

The final campsite was in the heart of the rainforest outside of Cairns and boy did it rain.  We escaped to the movies for awhile and enjoyed the new Hunger Games flick with popcorn for dinner.  The mornings were nice and sunny, and then (finally!) we got a sunny day and spent it at the pool.  Then it was time for our dive trip, definitely a highlight of this trip and something we are very glad we did.  The live-aboard boat was the way to go, nice and chill and not that crowded and lots and lots of time in the water!

So now we're back, we gave our camping gear to one of the dive instructors and are happy that our tent which we've called home for the last 6 months has gone to a good owner and now we have all of our stuff strewn around a hotel room for the final packing.  We have enjoyed our time in Oz and during all of "Eur-Afric-Oz" but we are excited to see Tom and get back to Navigator for the final leg of our sabbatical adventure.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Interlude Post 12 from Alice Springs, Australia

Greetings from Alice Springs, in the middle of the outback of Australia!

We are having quite the adventure here in the desert (and deserted) red center of Oz.  We took a
comfortable, scenic, overnight train, the "Ghan", from the south coast city of Adelaide and arrived in Alice Springs a couple of days ago.

Today we take the same train back south and pick back up our car to then drive back to the east coast and make our way to the Great Barrier Reef area.

We left Adelaide and pleasant 15 degrees C (about 60 F) and arrived in Alice in a sweltering 40 degrees C (about 105 F), but it's such a dry heat here that you don't sweat and you need to drink fluids all day.  We checked into our campground and promptly jumped in the pool to cool down.  We hit the rack early since the next morning our tour guides Mic and Calvin from Emu Run tours were picking us up at the ungodly hour of 0540.  They plied us with funny anecdotal stories about the bush flora, fauna and history as we drove over three hours south of Alice to Uluru, previously known as Ayers Rock, er, "the big red rock".  They told us to keep an eye out for the feral camels roaming the bush, but we didn't see any...just the yellow road sign depicting a camel....that was a first.

We visited several sites of geological and Aboriginal cultural significance throughout the day, and even got a couple of short walkabouts in around the national park, learning why Uluru is so important to the indigenous culture and some of the folktales associated with the massive monolith.  We wrapped up the day with a barbecue as we watched the changing colors of Uluru as the sun set over our shoulder.  It was a great fun day, but the drive was long and we didn't get back to the tent until almost 1 am.

The next morning we had booked another tour with the same company to see the West MacDonnell Ranges, a desert mountain chain of great natural beauty.  Since the day was so hot, we limited our walkabouts, but learned more about the Aboriginal culture and natural history of the area and even got to cool off at a local watering hole.  It's quite a hike to Alice Springs and the Uluru area, but we were really glad we made the excursion.  Most of our tour mates had flown in, but taking the train allowed us to see a lot of the interior....miles and miles of bush country speckled with free ranging cattle stations.  We also crossed the Finke River...the oldest river in the world, that hardly ever runs with water above ground and begins and ends in a desert.  Alice is a unique place...they actually have a river boat race in a dry river...they cut the bottom out of the boats and run through the sand, we didn't get to see it, but it sounds like the folks in this extremely isolated desert town are much more creative with their free time than finding kangaroo tails to pull or cows to tip over.

Before our excursion, we had spent our week or so since arrival in Australia working our way from Sydney down the east (wilderness) coast and across the south.  We spent most nights in national parks, and took a ferry to Kangaroo Island, which being isolated from the mainland allowed for some cool wildlife.

We caught glimpses of little penguins, the smallest of the 30 odd species of waddlers, and just as funny to watch as you would think, plus koalas sleeping in the trees, they spend 20 hours a day sleeping to conserve energy...Kellee found herself wishing she was a koala.  We also saw Australian sea lions and fur seals sunning on the beach, kangaroos hopping along, wallaby, and our personal favorite, the wombat.  These furry creatures look like miniature bears and were just roaming around one of the campgrounds we stayed at in the southern most, a reserved wilderness area of Oz known as Wilson's Promontory.  It was quite chilly there, but the wombats and birds were awesome.  We even had to slow on the road for passing Emu (ostrich looking giant birds).

We have been surprised by a couple of large lizards, and almost ran over a 4 foot red bellied black snake, which the ranger told us was venomous but shy, and told us we really needed to watch out for the brown snake, which will chase you....we were especially cautious on our hike the next morning, but thankfully had no unwelcome reptile encounters.  Oz is full of venomous creatures, we've had to make notes for where we'll have to watch out for paralytic box jellyfish, and are very careful when we hike to watch for snakes, lizards, spiders and scorpions.  We had a giant beetle sneak into our tour bus, but the guide took a good look and exclaimed, "not poisonous!" and turned back around to watch the road for suicidal kangaroos....a much bigger threat.

The Great Ocean Road winds along the south coast of the state of Victoria and though the day was grey and windy, the sandstone stack formations on the coast were spectacular.  We camped by Bells Beach, world renowned for the Ripcurl surf contest held here.  It's understandable why Ripcurl started as a wetsuit company here, the water is cold!

Melbourne was a pretty city that we only stayed for lunch, but would've enjoyed more time exploring the alleyways and city gardens.  We did a short Sydney visit as we had both been before, got some pictures of the iconic Opera House and took a harbor ferry to the Taronga Zoo...before we knew how much of the local wildlife we would see on our adventures.  We also hit up the bookstore for a good road atlas and were confronted with the largest travel section of any bookstore we've ever been in...which, knowing how much we like bookstores, is really saying something.  Aussies like exploring, that's for sure.

Except for driving on the left side of the road, and the kangaroo crossing signs on the highways, you could easily be in America.  All the fast food chains are here, and we embarrassingly have fallen in love with the local mom and pop stores that sell "chicken and chips" which is some delicious variation of fried or charcoal roasted chicken...and chicken salted french fries....chicken salt?! Yep...delicious.  We also loved the thickshakes at Cheeseworld...yes, I know, we only stopped for the reviewed milkshakes, but you must order THICKshake, otherwise, you get...milk.  Learned that lesson the hard way.

After a couple days of driving through farmland to get us back to Sydney, we'll start slowly working our way up the Gold Coast for some surfing and into the hopping off points for the Great Barrier Reef, where we'll get out on the water as much as our time left will allow.  We're dubbing it "operation get tan" as our land adventures have robbed us of our golden complexions and we need a base layer before we get back to the unrelenting sun in the Caribbean.