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.