Thursday, July 19, 2007

Geotagged stuff

As promised, I've geotagged almost all of my photos (mostly because I'm a dork). If you find Google Maps inordinately interesting, you might enjoy this. If not, you'll probably wonder why I bothered. Flickr has a built-in map service, but it uses Yahoo Maps, which has crap quality for places outside the US, so I'm using an alternate service called that combines Flickr and Google Maps.

You can track my travels around the continent by viewing just my photos, zooming in on whatever catches your interest. I also recommend viewing all photos taken for specific locations (works better at the higher zoom levels). Click "Show All" in the top right of the control box. It's a lot of fun just to explore and see what other photos were taken in some areas. Major locations (if you don't feel like exploring, skip to the next section):
Some areas of particular interest:
  • The Opera House and Quay in Sydney. Boats! And you can see the Harbor Bridge if you scroll a bit to the northwest.
  • William Creek, strangely rendered in very high resolution. You can see the weird little park full of stuff that fell into the outback, and you can even see little planes on the landing strip.
  • You can spy on our bush camp near Mt. Conner (the mountain itself is worth checking out too).
  • Check out Mt Ohlsson Bagge to understand what I meant when I described the landscape.
  • This picture along the Heysen, where you can actually see the orange shade of the rocks in the picture on the satellite photo.
  • The gravestone structures in the Hobart park, which are visible on the map.
  • The arctic exploration boat in Hobart harbor, which seems to be on the map, plus if you scroll a bit to the east, there's an enormous battleship. That wasn't there when I visited.
  • The gorge in Cairns. Also, you can follow the scenic train tracks as they wind down the mountain, all the way to this waterfall and beyond.
  • The 'Map' mode in Farina (the ghost town) shows all the zoning that some optimistic town planner put in place - hundreds of blocks, only a couple of which were ever developed before the town died.
  • I don't know when Google's source images were taken, because it looks like the outback is very wet (speaking in relative terms here) in the photos. For example, Lake Eyre actually has water in it, which it definitely didn't when we were there.
Ok, that's that! I think we're actually wrapping up the blog finally. I've got one more post coming on some panoramas I've been stitching, and that will probably be it.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sydney Redux

Here it is! I wasn't lying when I promised I would get to it eventually! The final installment! That said, this won't be the final post on the blog. I'm slowly working at geotagging all my photos, and once I've done that I'll make a post letting you all know, and highlighting some of the more interesting points to browse.

Pictures are here, at the end of the of the rest of the Sydney photos. The new ones start at this one.

As I mentioned at the end of the Tasmania installment, I had to get up at the lovely hour of four in the morning to catch my plane back to Sydney. I had three days to kill there before my plane home to the US (plane tickets out of Tassie were over a hundred dollars cheaper on Thursday than the weekend).

Arriving back in Sydney, I circumvented the stupid subway service, who thinks it's acceptable to add a $15 surcharge when you use the airport station, by taking a bus to the next station on the line and going from there. Ha! After dropping stuff at the hostel, I set off for the Circular Quay. The Quay was busier than the last time we had been there, maybe because the weekend was approaching (this was on a Thursday). The downside of this was that there were crowds to contend with, but the upside was that there were a lot of street performers out doing their thing, and some of them were pretty interesting. I stopped by the Opera House to buy a ticket for a show at one of their smaller venues (more on that later). On a whim, I visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, which had a pretty interesting exhibition by an Aboriginal painter that mixed their traditional dot painting with modern aesthetic ideas.

I stopped again in the Botanic Gardens for lunch, where I was harassed by birds looking for a handout. When I dropped the last of my bread by accident, it was immediately snatched up a bird with a crazily long, curved beak. The seagulls, usually annoying and aggressive, all seemed to be afraid of this bird, and got out of the way when he walked toward them, so I decided to let the issue drop.

After that I took a ferry up to Manly Beach, Sydney's other famous beach (recall that we visited Bondi the first time we were here). I had a super-duper day pass that got me onto all the bus, train, and ferry routes I wanted, which was pretty sweet. The surf at Manly wasn't hugely exciting, so after about an hour there I hopped on a bus to an area called Palm Beach, recommended to me by Hedley, one of our program advisors. It's on a little peninsula north of the city, and seemed to be a well-to-do neighborhood. The beach was gorgeous, making me wish I had come sooner, since dusk was starting to fall at this point. The lifeguard was no longer on duty, so I decided swimming maybe wasn't a good idea, but the surf was inviting enough that I waded up a good stretch of the beach.

After climbing around on some rocks on the shore at the far end of the beach, I walked back into the water to wade some more, but after a few steps something leaped out from the sand right where I was about to step and skittered away underwater. That was enough to convince me to stop wading, but when I walked back to the sand, the waterline was scattered with Man O' Wars. These lovely jellyfish have a little sail that takes them wherever the wind blows, so if it's blowing the right way they will wash up on beaches (in a neat evolutionary trick, half of them have sails facing the other direction, so the whole colony won't get beached at once). While not deadly, their sting is very, very painful. And since these little guys were definitely not all over the beach when I got there, that meant they had been washed in while I was in the water. Awesome.

Walking well away from the water now, I wandered back down the beach, enjoying the sunset, and caught the bus back to Sydney for dinner and sleep.

The next day, I had signed up for a "Learn to Surf" camp for a change of pace, and because, well, why not? They picked us up in a van, then transferred us to a Land Rover to take us over sand dunes to the beach we were going to use. Our guide for the day introduced himself with "Hi, I'm your instructor. My name is Ecca, and I'm totally mad." He then proceeded to illustrate this fact on the drive out by veering into the surf from time to time just for fun. The company provided everything we needed, and Ecca worked with us to show us how to do the basics. I stood up on my board successfully, but didn't try any turns because the surf wasn't great that day. I also saw another Man O' War, this time just floating in the water about three feet to my left. And I managed to offend Ecca by saying surfing wasn't a sport (or, as I clarified, no more of a sport than, say, mountain climbing).

That evening, back in Sydney, I went to a show at The Studio, a small theater tucked into the side of the Sydney Opera House. It only cost $20 AU, as opposed to shows on the main stage, which I believe start at around several hundred dollars. The show, Paradise City, was very, very cool. It featured a bunch of performers: a gymnast, a dancer, a skateboarder, a singer, a breakdancer, and a BMX biker, all performing on a tiny little stage with two ramps, and some plastic traffic barriers as props. At times all the performers would be on stage at once, weaving in, out, and over each other. It was incredibly tightly choreographed and a lot of fun to watch. The skater and biker moved in a very dancelike fashion, which seemed very original and gave the whole thing an aura of fusion. All in all, very worth going on its own right, plus now I can say I've seen a show in the Sydney Opera House.

Saturday was my last day in Australia, since I was leaving early in the morning on Sunday. That morning, I went to "The Rocks", a neighborhood on the west side of the bay that has a large open-air market on weekends. I shopped for presents for various people, and got a present for myself: a didgeridoo, made in the traditional fashion by Aboriginal artists (I'm slowly learning to play it).

I ate lunch on a pier looking out across the bay, and wandered around for a while trying to find an open post office to mail postcards. Apparently a city of some millions still doesn't have any post offices open on Saturdays. I saw a movie at a theater, and walked through Hyde Park a several square block area in the middle of the city. Besides lots of nice landscaping, the park contained a fascinating mix of people. Besides the old folks and young couples walking around, there were bored teenagers, school groups, and a group of goth-metal people making crappy music on the grass. Further down, there were BMX bikers practicing tricks on the plaza in front of a war memorial, with passing families stopping from time to time to watch them.

And that was it! I ate a last meal at the hostel, and spent the night repacking my stuff so that I could both carry it all through the airport by myself, and not get fined for having overweight baggage. The trick is to make your carry-ons as heavy as possible without taking up too much volume.

The next morning, I was up early again for the trip back home. It's not really part of the Australia tales, but I'm going to tell you about it anyways because it was a minor odyssey in itself.

The airport was pretty crazy: no liquids were allowed on the international flights, they brought a sniffer dog through the check-in line looking for God knows what, everyone's bags were searched, and everyone got patted down at the security checkpoint. Isn't flying fun? On the bright side, I was time traveling on the way back. My flight touched down in LA about an hour before it took off from Sydney. We were about an hour late getting in (a recurring theme with Qantas), and then stood in lines for another hour or so to get through customs and about ten security checkpoints. It was nice to be reminded that as annoying as security at Sydney had been, the good old U.S. was still way worse. After dragging all my bags across what must have been half of the LA airport (and if you've ever been there, you'll understand that half the airport is not a trivial thing), I made it onto my flight, my three hour layover now completely gone.

The last stop before Minneapolis was an hour layover in Phoenix. Right when boarding was supposed to start, the flight board changed from "On Time" to "Cancelled." CANCELLED. I made it twice across the ocean, not to mention all over the Australian continent, without any travel disasters, and then the very last flight I need goes KA-BLAMMO! At the customer service desk (after an hour of waiting), I got my first taste of just how much airlines in this country really suck. They informed me that the earliest flight available was at that time tomorrow. When I asked about compensation, they offered "a voucher for a meal in the airport and a room in a hotel nearby." What?! You just canceled my flight for no discernible reason, and you aren't even going to give me a voucher for a discount on a future ticket, assuming I ever wanted to trust US Airways again? I already have a meal and a bed, they are waiting for me at home, where I should be right now instead of standing in this airport talking to you. I didn't actually say all that, because it pretty clearly wasn't the poor service agent's fault, but oh man.

Because I was more patient and less cranky than most of the travelers, the agent, who was actually very nice about the whole thing, looked around some more and discovered that she could send me to Nevada, and then on the red-eye home. So that's how I ended up in the Las Vegas airport in the middle of the night. Obnoxiously, you actually have to be 21 to play the slots there, so the one possible reason to appreciate the airport was unavailable to me. Granted, I was only going to spend the 35 cents of change in my pocket, but if I'm in the Las Vegas airport, I should at least gamble once. I finally made it at home at 4am, where my eternally patient parents kindly picked me up.

Well, that's all, folks! Hope you've enjoyed it. Like I said at the top, check back later for more geotagged photos, especially if you get excited about things like Google Maps.

To answer a few questions before they are asked:

Would I go back? Absolutely. The current pipe dream is get a job in Adelaide, and vacation for months at a time in Tassie. Being more realistic, I have no idea when I will have both the time and money to go back, but I think I will, sooner or later. It's a beautiful country.

My favorite part: I honestly can't name a single thing that I liked the best. I loved traveling, I loved playing ultimate with a great group of people, I loved the city of Adelaide, I thoroughly enjoyed most of my classes... I can't reduce everything down to one best event. Some of the moments that stick out:
  • Trying to steal a koala with Cassie.
  • The ghost tour at Port Arthur.
  • Hiking down Tunkalilla Beach on our second excursion along the Heysen Trail.
  • Sitting around with Cassie, Emma, and Kather, drinking wine and looking at pictures.
  • Sunrise at the Mt. Conner station with our host, Ian.
  • At frisbee practice, Huy's pathetic attempts at skier plios, and seeing Dave fall off his bike.
  • Emerging from the blizzard on Mt. Rufus to a breathtaking panorama in Tasmania.
  • Eating lunch with Katherine on a hill in Sydney, watching ferries pass under the Harbor Bridge, between the Opera House and Luna Park.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Six months later

Well, school is out, so now I may be able to use all my free time to actually finish writing up the last part of the trip. In the meantime, here's a small gesture of faith: I've started geotagging my photos. You can view them here. The service is pretty neat in that if you click "Show All", you can see photos other people have tagged too, which makes for some fun exploring. Right now It's mostly just Kangaroo Island and Victor Harbor pictures, and a few from Adelaide proper, but I plan to tag more soon.

Another bit of news: I may actually get rewarded for all the writing I've done on this blog. I got a modified version of my story about hiking up the mountain in Tasmania published in a student magazine here devoted to student travel experiences, and they're supposed to pay me $45 for it, which is pretty cool.

That's it for now. Tune in in a week or two for the final installment.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

No really, the blog isn't dead yet.

I've been meaning to write up a small post for a couple weeks now to convince you all that the last bits of my trip are still coming, if you haven't already given up reading. But what with schoolwork, frisbee, and my job, I've been busy all the time, so I haven't even managed a token post. But really, someday I will write some more. Someday!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Tasmania! Part Two!

Pictures for this are in the same photo set as last time. We start here.

As you may recall, we left off my Tasmanian adventures at Lake St. Clair, where I had survived Mt. Rufus and seen a platypus. I had one more day in the area, and while it was still raining, I had exhausted the life-threatening possibilities of the area, so I opted instead to take a ferry that dropped me off at Narcissus Bay, very far away from the campground with no way to get back except walk. I was following the last leg of the Overland Track, which, as I mentioned in the last post, is the big draw for this part of Tasmania. It was easy to see why this trail is such a popular destination. The area was the same sort of lush, moss-covered rainforest that I had passed through the day before. There were impressively large trees, burbling streams everywhere, ferns way bigger than any I had ever seen before, and picturesque pebble beaches (I was following the lakeshore a lot of the time). The fog and rain burned off as the day progressed, affording me some very nice views of the surrounding mountains, especially the stunning Mount Ida.

When I got back to the campground, I discovered that there was another problem standing between me and making it back to Hobart: I didn't have enough money. Somehow, in amongst all the other brilliant planning I did for this particular part of the trip (see the last entry concerning everything I wished I hadn't left behind), I had also managed to not bring quite enough money for the return bus fare. To make matters worse, my debit card was mysteriously denied by the machine in the visitor center (I still don't know why, as I had plenty of money in the account, and it worked fine everywhere else). And those traveler's checks that I had carted everywhere I went, just in case? The coach service didn't accept them, and the visitor center couldn't cash them. In the end, I payed the bus driver the last two and a half dollars of my fare in 5 and 10 cent pieces that Katherine had left in my backpack.

The next day I spent the morning shopping, doing laundry, and walking all over Hobart. I also visited the Botanic Gardens to continue the trend established in all the other cities (they were pretty nice). That afternoon I caught the coach bus heading out to Port Arthur. Some of the coach lines, like this one, serve primarily as school buses for kids who live farther away. None of the schoolkids seemed to be carrying backpacks or any homework to speak of, even though it was a Wednesday, further reinforcing our earlier hypothesis that Australian schoolkids don't actually do any work in school. On the bus I also talked to a nice German guy, Tom, who had just finished walking the Overland Track, and had been on the same bus back to Hobart as well. He and I turned out to have pretty much the exact same itineraries, even more so when we arrived at Port Arthur and turned out to be rooming in the same bunkhouse. There were a couple French guys in the bunkhouse who had also just finished the Overland Track. I spent part of the evening exploring the shoreline, ate dinner, read for a bit, and went to sleep.

On Tuesday I walked the half mile from our campground to the Port Arthur site. Port Arthur was once an old convict camp, which has now been converted into a popular tourist site. Many of the old buildings are still partially instact, and you're free to wander around the ruins, which are marked with informative signs and the like. The parts I enjoyed best were the "separate" prison, a building for troublesome prisoners that practiced a fearsome sort of psychological punishment, and the interpretive center, where you were assigned a specific prisoner from the records of the camp, and followed their story from the crime that got them transported in the first place to their fate, whether it was to die at Port Arthur, escape (unlikely), or earn their freedom.

That night I had signed up for one of the special ghost tours on the site. A guide with a lantern led us around the site in the dark, stopping frequently to relate spooky stories and stuff. I wasn't sure going in what sort of quality to expect, but the tour turned out to be very good. Our guide told us a nice mix of fascinating historical tidbits, reported ghost sightings, and things that had supposedly happened to her and other guides. I don't know if she was just a good actor or actually believed the stories, but some of them were genuinely creepy. We also got to visit several places that aren't open to the general public during the day, and just seeing the site in the dark was pretty cool. Then, when the tour ended and everyone else headed for the parking lot, I realized that I had to walk back to the campground. Half a mile, on a overgrown dirt path through the forest, with only my headlamp, in near pitch-dark. Good plan, Ian.

The next day I got up nice and early and boarded the bus back to Hobart (again). At Hobart, I parted ways with Tom, the German guy, who was continuing on to Freycinet National Park. I spent the morning wandering around the city, saw some neighborhoods next to the downtown area, and bought some fresh fruit and bread at a nice market. In the afternoon, I walked to the Cascade Brewery, where I had reserved a spot for one of their brewery tours. The place is still a working brewery, so we had to wear safety vests and glasses. We got to see all the different parts of brewing Cascade beers. One of the cool parts was how much was recycled from the brewing process. Leftover parts of the barley and hops are sold to local farmers to mix into animal feed (many of the same farmers who sell barley to the brewery), and carbon dioxide created in the fermentation process is piped to their non-alcoholic beverage factory, where it is used in the bottling process. At the end of the tour, we got to sample their line of beers. On the tour, I talked to Laura, an ex-grad student from Utah who was spending eight months in Hobart. After the tour, since neither of us had anywhere to be, she suggested we drive up to Mount Wellington, which overlooks the city, and I agreed. We stopped at a nice little cafe on the way up, where I bought a wallaby burger (it was delicious). Then we hiked out to a scenic overlook, which provided an excellent view of the city and surrounding landscape. Laura was an avid surfer, so she pointed out all the beaches with the best surf (it was a very clear day). After that, she drove me back to the hostel, where I relaxed and watched Fargo in the common room. It was kind of funny to realize I was the only person there who actually 'got' the caricatures of Minnesotan accents. Bedtime was early because the next morning I had to get up at 4 to catch a shuttle to the airport for my flight to Sydney. Four in the morning.

That's it for Tasmania. Tune in about a month from now for when I finally get my lazy self around to writing up the (presumably) final installment of this blog, my second Sydney visit and the trip home.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I wasn't aware until my mom pointed it out to me just now that I forgot to link the pictures from Tasmania in my last post. Here you go. I swear I'll post about the rest of Tassie soon. Believe me, I'd rather write about Australia than about the importance of covenanting in Hobbes' Leviathan, but I don't get much of a choice.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


To get the Hobart, Tassie's capital, I flew through Melbourne. My Cairns to Melbourne flight got in late at night, and being stingy, I decided to forgo a real bed for the night and just sleep in the airport (my flight left at 6 the next morning). I didn't sleep real soundly, but I think it was the best way to go, because I saved not only the $25 for a room, but $20 for the shuttle bus, not to mention the stress of hauling my bags all over the place.

Getting in to the Hobart airport, the very first thing I saw was sniffer dogs. Like several other states, Tassie enforces a quarantine on fruit products coming into the state. Unlike the other states, Tasmania seems quite serious about enforcing their rules. They had adorable sniffer beagles sniffing all the incoming people and baggage. Awesome.

After dropping stuff off at my hostel, I decided to explore the city. Hobart is a very pretty little city nestled in amongst tree-covered hills and a large natural harbor that services a lot of antarctic expeditions. It also feels a bit more historic than most Australian cities. Maybe it's just the sandstone construction that dominates most of the architecture, or maybe it's their weird statue obsession, but Hobart actually feels like it's seen some things in its time, unlike most of the other Aussie capitals, which could have been plopped down two weeks before. I walked along the harbor, which hosts everything from little fishing skiffs to a massive antarctic expedition cruiser to floating fish 'n chips shops, the IXL Jam Factory, so named like a century ago by the owner, who wanted to make it clear that he excelled at everything (get it? yeah, apparently puns aren't a new phenomenon), and a ton of sculptures. Really, I don't know why, but Hobart has to have about 1.3 statue installations per capita. They even erect statues, and then later add on to them and slap a second plaque on to commemorate the addition.

Back at the hostel, I talked to a Frenchman who had just gotten back from circling the island with a German and an Australian who he had met a couple days before, and also a South Korean who had flown in yesterday. That was about it for excitement that evening. The weird thing about Hobart is that even though it's a sizable city with a perky downtown district, absolutely everything closes down at 6pm. Even the restaurants. It's weird.

Friday, after packing up and shopping, I ate lunch in a rose garden, then hired a bike and pedaled via the Derwent River to the suburb if Glenorchy, which was constructed to house the workers at the Cadbury's chocolate factory located on the scenic peninsula overlooking the river. I also biked across the Tasman bridge, a massive bridge that apparently needs to get even taller from time to time, since it's a drawbridge. After that it was time to catch the coach bus to Lake St. Clair, the end point for Tasmania's wildly popular Overland Track. I wasn't hiking the track due to lack of time (it takes something like six days), but the area offered some nice day hikes, and I really wanted to see some of the wilderness that Tasmania is so popular for. The hostel (really just a bunkhouse as part of the larger campground, oddly enough, was one of the nicest I stayed at. It had a very nice kitchen area, good ambience, and I got a room to myself (thanks to the fact that it wasn't yet peak tourist season). Walking outside, I saw what at the time I thought was the fattest wallaby and joey ever. turns out it was actually a pademelon (which I didn't yet know existed). Eating dinner I talked to a very nice couple from Sydney who were making their way around Tasmania on holiday. Sitting around after dinner, I glanced out the window, only to find a possum looking right back at me with his nose pressed to the glass.

At some point it occurred to me that it was raining steadily and I had left my rain jacket in Hobart. I had also left my chlorine pills and flashlight, all of which I had not and would not need at any other point on the trip except while at Lake St. Clair. Brilliant.

The next day, after talking to a ranger at the visitor center, I set off for Shadow Lake and Mt. Rufus. It was still raining steadily, although not very hard, which was good, because any downpour would have soaked right through my hoodie/long underwear combination. Going up, the trail was frequently a stream. Not a trail with a rivulet of water running down it, no, they were directing us to walk up streambeds. At some point, the lush rainforest started giving way to eucalypt forest and scrubbier foliage, and the rain turned to snow. By this time I had taken up with a group of three who were also aiming for the summit of Mt. Rufus. They were, of course, far better equipped and experienced than me.

After a bit more walking, we hit the ridge climbing up to the summit. Now, when they had said Mount Rufus, I hadn't quite understood what they meant. Our hikes in South Australia had gone over some mountains, but there "mountain" meant "a bit of a climb and then a nice view." Turns out in Tasmania, "mountain" means "terrible visibility, gale-force winds, blowing snow that feels like pinpricks on any exposed skin, deep snowdrifts, cloud cover that blots out the sun and everything else, and poorly marked paths." Who knew? Thankfully, my long underwear actually kept me quite warm, although it would have been nice to have some gloves, and something to protect my face from the biting snow. After a while of this, we reached a high point, and decided that it seemed to be the summit, and perhaps the marker had just been buried by the blizzard in progress. The trail continued down the other side, but the hikers I was with turned back, telling me about the time they had misjudged a distance and ended up weathering a night on a mountain with no tent or sleeping bags ("I don't reckon I want to do that again," said one). I kept going down the other side. Why? Because I'm dumb. A little while later I reached the actual summit, which was marked with a massive cairn. There was one worrisome moment where I briefly lost the trail, but after not falling down the side of the mountain and backtracking a little, I found it again, and soon I was descending out of the blizzard.

Through the occasional breaks in cloud cover, I had been catching absolutely amazing views, and once I was out of the mist, the scenery hit full force. I had heard a lot about how pretty Tasmania was, but this hike was what really drove it home. I was literally stunned by how beautiful the area was. Also amazing was the sheer variety of things to see. From the barren summit, I descended into a mossy forest full of weird palm-like plants, then back into thick rainforest, then into a swampy plain, and finally back into eucalypt forests again. To illustrate in another way, I encountered the following forms of water: rain, hail, snow, lakes, ice-crusted rocks, bubbling brooks, rushing rapids, a spring burbling up right next to the path, and an underground stream (which for some reason the path walked on top of for a while).

I was incredibly glad that the waterproofing on my boots held out through the summit section of the hike, but at some point on the way back down it finally gave up, so by the end of the hike my feet were pretty wet, and I was eager to get back home. Still, I couldn't resist a short detour to Platypus Bay, so named because platypi sometimes come there to feed, and lucky hikers might get to see one. I stood there for quite a while watching the bay, and while I did see a fat pademelon feeding on the shore, there were no platypi to be found. Finally, I gave up and turned for home. As I glanced out for one last look, a rock that I didn't remember seeing before caught my eye. I turned to look, and sure enough, a couple seconds later it disappeared under the water. Holy crap I saw a wild platypus! I watched for a long time as the platypus would dive underwater to feed, then return to the surface to chew its food. I was really excited, and felt very lucky to have gotten to see it (to give you an idea, I was the first entry in two days in the logbook for platypus sightings at the visitor center).

Ok, turns out I have a lot to write on Tasmania, so I'm going to cut off and put up what I've got so far to satisfy the less patient among us. Check back in a week or so for the rest of my Tasmania adventures, and at some point beyond that, the rest of Sydney.

Thursday, January 18, 2007



Cairns is the tropical region of Australia. It reminded me of Florida in that it's a place where Mother Nature has made it more than clear that humans should not be living... and yet we stubbornly move in anyways. Let's see, besides the usual Aussie potpourri of snakes, spiders, massive sharks, poisonous fish, and vicious UV rays, Cairns boasts the further benefit of enormous crocodiles (7 metres?!!), and jellyfish that spend all summer washing up all over their beaches. So yes, throughout the hottest, most humid half of the year (and believe me, it is very humid), the water is deadly. Brilliant.

So then, you ask, why were we dumb enough to go to Cairns? Well, the main attractions are the Great Barrier Reef and tropical rainforests the edge the city. And as much as I've failed to pitch it, Cairns is a perfectly decent place to vacation, although I would never ever want to live there.

Saturday morning we walked into Cairns' downtown district, perused the shops (all rather touristy, though we did get some tasty gelato), and then walked up and down the waterfront. The city looks out over a beautiful bay, although of course you can't go in for a quick wade unless you want to chance being eaten by a giant crocodile (there are warning signs all along the path). Still, it's a very pretty waterfront with nice parks and a saltwater swimming pool for the kiddies. The afternoon we spent hanging out at the hostel and planning the next few days' activities. The hostel was very nice, and despite being basically the same price as the others we had stayed at, had nicer rooms, its own small swimming pool, and a free nightly movie. Over dinner we talked with a nice old couple from Melbourne vacationing for the week. They came down every night to have a beer and watch the movie, so we compared notes with them each following evening.

The next day was rainforest day. We go a package that took us up to the town of Kuranda via a Skyrail through the rainforest (built to minimize the environmental impact). There were intermediate stops to walk around and look at the rainforest, and at one of those stops we got a guided tour from a park ranger who was quite possibly insane. Good times. Kuranda itself was overly touristy, but we had a good time wandering around and browsing all the shops (also we enjoyed a delicious chocolate milkshake). The trip back down was by a scenic train, originally built to get supplies to some foolish inland colony (once again, I really don't get why anyone thought "hey, let's settle here!"). It was built entirely by hand, and seven men died during its construction. These days it takes tourists, still traveling the original route, which was very pretty, sometimes tunneling straight through the mountain when they couldn't get over or around.

The next day we set off on our chartered boat for snorkeling on the Barrier Reef. Somehow we got very lucky on our choice of touring companies. Most reef charters are big electric, air conditioned catamarans (boooring). Ours was the Falla, an old wooden number that looked a little like a pirate ship and traveled most of the hour and a half journey to or from the reef under sail power alone. Way cooler.

On the way out, in the middle of the safety presentation, a peg that the foremost sail was roped to broke in half, leaving the sail flapping in the wind with the rope whipping around viciously at the end. So our crew had to interrupt the talk to pull the sail back in, then two of them threw their weight into holding it in place while the third pried out the splintered bits of peg with a screwdriver and replaced it with one from the other side of the boat. Was anyone steering while this was going on? Possibly the thirteen year old tourist, who they let steer for most of the return trip.

Later in the day, the crew related the story of the Falla's origins, which are as follows. It was built originally to harvest mother of pearl from the giant clams. Next it got a license for profitable lobster harvesting. When it got too old and outdated for commercial work, it was bought and used in a reenactment of the First Fleet (Captain Cook's expedition) and sailed to Sydney. That owner lost it in a game of cards (no seriously) to two Italian brothers, who sailed it as far as the Cairns area, ran out of money, and then realized they could turn a profit by chartering it out to tourists. It stayed in the charter business until 2002, when it hit a reef and sank to the bottom of the ocean(!!). It was hauled in and probably would have gone to scrap had a former crew member not bought it and rebuilt it, becoming the new captain. So yeah, we sailed out to the reef on a boat that had spent time on the sea floor.

Anyways, the reason we were on the boat, seeing the reef, was fantastic. We spent quite a few hours snorkeling, and got to see a ton of cool stuff. We saw sea turtles, and eel, an octopus, rays, sea slugs, and giant clams. Oh, and Katherine "found Nemo" (i.e. a tiny clownfish). The guides found a rather large "gummy shark" hiding in a cave near where we had anchored, but it was too deep to see without scuba gear. Also, on the trip out we happened across a school of tuna under attack by a shark. The tuna were leaping out of the water all over the place, and for some reason had attracted a flock of gulls who were circling and swooping. Katherine and I decided we were really okay with not actually seeing a shark while we were swimming around (Katherine: "I would have peed in the water"). All in all, it was a most excellent outing. I think my favorite part was the giant clams. To be honest, I never realized they actually existed in real life. And they are huge. I mean, those things could swallow me alive if they were so inclined.

Tuesday we took a bus up to a beach north of the city. Beaches are where Cairns residents happily congregate to enjoy all of the deadly things the area has to offer, all in one convenient location (don't worry, even the crocodiles are known to go for swims in open sea when they feel like it). If you go in the water, you run the risk of getting plastered by the box jellyfish, which is by all accounts indescribably painful, not to mention possibly deadly. There are nets strung around the popular beaches to prevent this, but don't worry! There's another jellyfish, the Irukandji, which is small enough to get through the holes in the net, and is also horribly venomous. But yeah, we had a good time at the beach, by which I mean we didn't die or contract skin cancer (hopefully).

The next day Katherine had an earlier flight back to Adelaide (via Melbourne), and then home, while I was continuing on to Tasmania. We split a cab, I checked my luggage early for my evening flight, and I saw Katherine off. Then, too cheap to pay for another cab (no public transit runs to the airport), I hoisted my backpack and set off walking on the road out of the airport. Turns out it's a very long walk out. Still, I was glad I had walked, because halfway out I stumbled across a boardwalk into the mangrove swamp that surrounds the airport. I had never been in a mangrove swamp before, so it was a very new experience. The mangrove trees themselves are very crazy-looking, and there are little creatures all over. Mostly I saw tiny crabs that eat decomposing leaves, but there were also a massive white bird, and mysterious conical shells that didn't seem to have anything living in them, and yet moved slowly across the ground.

After that I continued my hike along the road until I made it to the Mount Whitfield conservation park. The area is ecologically isolated, making it home to lots of weird species of animals and such, like the cassowary. It's a bird, and yet it's dangerous and unpredictable, and sometimes attacks humans. What is wrong with this country? Highlights from the warning sign about cassowary attacks at the beginning of the trail included "Do not run away, this will expose vulnerable areas of your body to the bird's attacks" and "If you have a backpack or jacket, use it as a shield." I had a pleasant hike up part of Mount Whitfield, got some nice views, saw a ton of ugly turkey-things and less ugly quail-things. Then I grabbed some dinner and hiked back to the airport for Tasmania!

Monday, January 08, 2007



This part of our trip started off eventfully when our train was stopped for 2 hours in the middle of the night because there were bushfires threatening the tracks up ahead. I guess the bushfires moved on or changed directions or something, because after that the ride went smoothly. We got in to Sydney around 9am, so we hopped a train (Sydney's public transport is a combination of trains, buses, and ferries) to our hostel in King's Cross, another former red light district. I really can't explain how we kept ending up in hostels in formerly seedy districts. I think Katherine has a latent talent for these kind of things. Probably tied into her creepy talent for finding people in random places (for example, finding Kyle in a Melbourne street, and finding both Cassie and me at separate times in airports on the trip over, even though we weren't on the same flights as her).

After dropping our bags at the hostel, we walked down to the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens. The gardens were very nice, and are situated right on the edge of the harbor, making for some excellent views. We saw a positively enormous spider near the bathrooms, sat in a stone chair on a point that a former governor's wife apparently sat in every day to survey the harbor, and ate a picnic lunch of pita, hummus, and chocolate milk. After that we walked towards the Opera House, which is situated right next to the gardens. We walked around, took the requisite tourist photographs, and continued on down the quay, which houses a lot of shops and restaurants, and is the launching point for most of the ferries to other places. Then we went shopping and returned to the hostel, where we gorged ourselves on nachos. So many nachos...

The next day was museum day. First up was the Maritime Museum. The exhibits inside covered just about everything that involved Australia and water. They had a lot of cool original artifacts, like the boat used by the first lady to circumnavigate the globe, a boat made from beer cans, and "Spirit of Australia," the fastest boat in the world. That last one was especially fun because it turns out water speed record contenders are absolutely off their minds. The guy who built Spirit of Australia is a "self taught" mechanic. Who installed a jet engine in his boat. And most people who attempt to break the record die. Other good exhibits were one on the guy who spent 7 years in a collapsible kayak (making it from Germany to Australia), and a pirate exhibit aimed at small children that included a full-sized mannequin hanging from a full-sized gallows, and a motion-activated video ghost of Blackbeard that scared the crap out of me. How is that appropriate for kiddies?

Having spent hours in the museum looking at pretty much everything (Katherine is [un]luckily as big of a nerd as I am), we weren't even done yet. We still had to see the main attractions, a full replica of Captain Cook's Endeavour (the boat he "discovered" Australia in) and a decommissioned submarine, both docked in the harbor right outside the museum building. The Endeavour turned out to be very interesting, in large part thanks to the friendly volunteer guides who told us all about it. It's a "full" replica, right down to the plates in the galley, which are made of pewter. The only exception is the modern navigation/communication gear installed in the hold. And why do they have all that gear? Why, because they sail the boat to other cities/countries from time to time. And if you pay enough, you can buy passage along with them, including a hammock spot in the sleeping quarters. What the crap?! The submarine was also pretty neat. We got to look through the periscopes (they have a 'search' periscope and an 'attack' periscope for different situations), poke at all the machinery, and read the duty rosters and stuff that were still there from the last trip it took. It was every bit as cramped and claustrophobic as you might think. I was reassured to hear that they don't still take the sub out for voyages.

Having spent far, far longer than intended in the Maritime Museum, next it was on to the Sydney Aquarium. Highlights:
  • Platypuses! Platypi? Anyways, they are adorable. Also adorable were the Little Penguins.
  • A large crocodile and assorted crocodile facts. For example, they have a valve in their throats so that they can drag you under the water and wait until you drown. Also, they can grow up to 7 meters long. Think about that for a second.
  • Shark rays, aptly named since they look like the illegitimate offspring of a shark and a ray.
  • A frighteningly large crab.
  • Fish that can change sex at will. What the heck?
  • The oceanarium. This was a massive aquarium with glass-ceilinged tunnels going underneath it. What made this one so much cooler than similar ones I've been in was the amazing sealife in it. There were tons of different kinds of sharks, some of them very big, an enormous ray (it's wingspan had to be over six feet), and a lot of other fish. Also cool was the fact that the oceanarium and the seal sanctuary were both floating structures that got fresh saltwater directly from the harbor, making them a more natural saltwater habitat.
We got home very, very late (the consequence of getting way too excited about museums), and gorged on ravioli. To give you an idea of our overeating problems, the ravioli we ate was supposed to serve four people. Also we had a whole loaf of garlic bread.

The next day was our last in Sydney, so we decided to go to the famous Bondi Beach. It turned out to be quite enjoyable. We sunbathed, bodysurfed, and occasionally got battered and swamped by the waves. Then we hopped a bus right from the beach to the airport and were off to Cairns.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007



On Saturday morning, I packed all my things, and then Katherine, Kyle, and I caught a taxi to the airport for our flight. The dryer broke when Kyle tried to dry his clothes, so his baggage was way overweight, causing him to jettison some course readers at the airport and repack his bags in line, and he made me carry his "stupid monkey puppet" for him. Why he had a monkey puppet in his bag, to this day I don't know. Our arrival in Melbourne was a little rough at first. After Kyle departed (he was staying with a friend in a suburb), Katherine and I fought waves of people heading in the opposite direction to a U2 concert to drag all our luggage to the tram stop (most of Melbourne's public transit is by tram). Then we watched in confusion as several trams of the type we wanted drove past us on a street that was not on their route. Finally a transportation officer came and explained to us (and everyone else at the stop) that our tram route had been changed due to "people standing in the street down by Parliament House" (that's a direct quote). Things went smoother after that as we checked into our hostel, ate some dinner, and relaxed. Our hostel was in St. Kilda, a former red light district, now home to hordes of hip twentysomethings and seven cake shops in a three block area.

The next day got off to another rocky start. First we filled the entire communal kitchen with smoke trying to cook some bacon for breakfast. Then the train Kyle had to take into the city was partly closed for maintenance or something, so he was hours late. Once he arrived, we wandered along the St. Kilda beach and out onto the pier, then took a tram into downtown Melbourne. We walked to Federation Square, a well-known square with a lot of really bizarre architecture that serves as a center of activity. It was Polish Day apparently, so we got to see Polish musicians playing and lots of stalls selling birthstones and vodka. After that we visited the Melbourne Museum, whose claim to fame is the preserved body of Phar Lap, Australia's favorite racehorse. Phar Lap won tons of races in his time, became a national icon, and then died under mysterious circumstances in America. Now he's stuffed and on display in the Melbourne Museum. After that, we visited a lot of souvenir shops, took some trains around downtown, saw some landmarks, and walked through Melbourne Central shopping mall, which reminded me a lot of the Mall of America, except that instead of an amusement park they have an old shot tower under a massive glass dome.

One note on Melbourne traffic: I swear the preferred method of crossing the street is to stand on the curb for a few seconds, then dart out randomly and pray that you don't get hit. Some intersections don't even provide pedestrian crosswalks or traffic lights, seemingly assuming that there's no need for them since everyone will be utilizing the dart method anyways.

On Monday Kyle wasn't making the trip into the city, so Katherine and I set off on our own to the Bayside area, some suburbs south (I think) of the city. We wandered through a nice little shopping district, ate some focaccia sandwiches, and aimed for the beach. As soon as we got there, the weather, which had been beastly hot (36 degrees C) and relentlessly sunny until that point, suddenly clouded over and got cold. We were'nt all that surprised, as this only continued a long streak of malicious weather determined to prevent us from swimming. For the last month of school, every weekday would be hot and sunny, but as soon as the weekend arrived when we were able to go to the beach, the temperatures would drop, only to rise again the next week. So I half-expected exactly what happened here. We still laid around on the beach and tried to swim briefly, and tried to figure out what exactly the bathing boxes were used for. That evening we ate way too much pasta and watched Billy Elliot in the lounge.

The next day, we packed up our stuff and dragged it to the Melbourne Central train station (after first eating some delicious cake from one of the St Kilda shops). We had a whole day before our train left, so we first visited the Old Melbourne Gaol (gaol is just a bizarre way of spelling jail), most famous as the place where the infamous Ned Kelly was imprisoned and ultimately hanged. If you aren't familiar with the Ned Kelly story, he was an outlaw who carried off a series of daring holdups, culminating in a firefight where he appeared in heavy metal armor that made him impervious to the police officers' bullets. Unfortunately, his armor didn't cover his legs, so the police shot them out, captured him, and later hanged him. Now he's basically a folk hero. Australians love him, and there's all sorts of theories about how he may not have been all that bad of a guy (for example, he may have been falsely accused of the intial crime which forced him to go on the run). Besides lots of information on Kelly, the gaol had exhibits about other prisoners, death masks (plaster casts of hanged criminals' heads taken for phrenology), and grisly details about death by hanging that tour guides were happily relating to groups of small schoolchildren while we were there. Really, Australians have some very strange ideas about what's appropriate for kids.

After the gaol, we creepily ran into Kyle crossing a street, so we walked down to the Shrine of Remembrance with him - Melbourne's World War memorials. After visiting a few more souvenir shops so Katherine could buy a stuffed wombat, we took a train that was supposed to get us back to Melbourne Central to catch our train to Sydney. A series of extremely unlucky events led to us not disembarking at Central, finding out that all the trains were only going in one direction, meaning we couldn't return to Central from the stop after it, taking a tram across the city, and then running into the train station shouting not to leave yet, at which point the conductor yelled at us, "We're not even boarding yet, calm down!" Turns out there had been some delays, so then we stood on the platform for a while before we could get on the train which was taking us overnight to Sydney.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Post-school travel overview

Classes ended on November 18th, and from then until December 10th, I traveled around Australia. As mentioned in the itinerary a few posts back, I went to Melbourne, Sydney, Cairns, Tasmania, and then back to Sydney before going home. A lot of our friends just headed straight home, so most of the time it was just me and Katherine, or just me (Kyle, our friend from William Jewell, went to Melbourne with us).

We stayed in youth hostels, which were very cheap, and usually pretty nice. The hostels had basic kitchens, so most of the time we just bought food from supermarkets and cooked it ourselves. The menu was pretty simple - eggs and cereal for breakfast, pita & hummus or turkey sandwiches for lunch, pasta, hamburgers, or nachos for dinner - but it always tasted delicious after our busy days. We also chronically overate by accident (more on that later). Since none of us were old enough to rent a car, most of the intercity travel was by plane, which was thankfully not too expensive on Australia's discount carriers, Jetstar and Virgin Blue. Within the city we got around by walking and using public transit (which is very good in Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney).

I'm going to split up the posts into installments again, this time probably by city, so keep checking back over the next couple of weeks. First up is Melbourne.