A Travellerspoint blog

Not just a Fisher-Price toy

Monday September 17 - Tuesday September 18, 2007

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Well, after the Bungy jump I needed a day to recover. Ellen spent Monday skiing, so I took the opportunity to rest. I slept in a bit, then hiked up the mountain in town to take in the view, and then snuck down on the gondola. Here is a view of Queenstown from the top.
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Not too shabby, hmmm? The lakes really are that blue here, and each time you see one (even if it's the same one), you feel obligated to stop and take in the view again. And the water here is so clear. Any river I've seen has always been pristine. None of this opaque greyish water with debris and unidentified white foam floating in it that you see in the Chicago River. Equally amazing are the clouds here. Aotaeroa is the Maori word for New Zealand, and it means "Land of the Long White Cloud". And they were right on. The clouds here look like long tufts of cotton, kind of in the shape of french bread. And the often hang so low in the sky that they look like they're resting on the side of the mountains, almost as if they're taking a nap.
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Ellen and I are also endlessly amused by the sheep that roam the countryside here. The statistic is something like 20 sheep for every New Zealander, or something like that. Based on my short travels in the South Island, I would concur.

On Tuesday morning we rented a car and drove to Te Anau, a stop on the way to Milford Sound. The sound is not really that far as the bird flies (or whatever the saying is), but because of the Alps, you have to drive about an hour south to cross the range and then back up again. We decided to spend the night in Te Anau, yet another quaint little town. We spent the afternoon going on a short cruise on Lake Te Anau to see the Glowworm Caves. The caves we saw are a small portion of about 6.7km total area, and are the youngest part, only 12,000 years old (just a baby cave!) The caves are formed by the water rushing through the limestone. After disembarking the big cruise boat, you hike a small ways to the cave entrance and do the beginning of the tour on foot. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take any photos, but it was really interesting, and rather spooky, actually. They had man made footpaths through this part of the cave, but you had to do a lot of ducking and shimmying to get through the spaces. And the water rushing through was thunderous, you could barely hear yourself think. Then we got to a small dock, with a boat to hold about 8 people. Once in the boat, the guide turned off the lights and maneuvered the boat by pulling it along a rope in the rock (which we could not see at this point as it was pitch black). But when my eyes adjusted to the darkness, you could see the glowworms on the ceiling of the cave. They looked like tiny blueish lights. They reminded me of the glow in the dark stars that you buy as a kid (or college student) and stick on the ceiling of your bedroom. I guess they glow stronger when they are hungry to attract the flies that live in the caves, who then in turn get caught in the glowworm webs. Glowworms are found only in NZ and Australia. And here I though Fisher-Price thought them up!

Posted by Laur456 01:47 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

I paid money to jump off a suspension bridge

Sunday September 16, 2007

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Queenstown is the New Zealand home of adrenaline sports. I knew this going in. I told myself I would do one thing; one slightly risky but exciting activity. And it was definitely NOT going to be bungy jumping. That's for the young kids. I can't handle that stuff anymore, my knuckles turn white from gripping the arm rests during turbulance in an airplane. So we had an obligatory bus stop on the way to Queenstown at one of the AJ Hackett Bungy sites (AJ Hackett started bungy jumping in NZ back in the 80s, and is famous for jumping illegally off of the Eiffel tower - allegedly). I knew as we got off the bus that this was a marketing ploy. They sat us all down in a little theater and we watched a promotional video. (Be strong, I told myself). Then we went out to the bridge and watched a few jumps, 40 meters down to the river below. I saw the elated faces of people having just jumped. (But I don't want to do it, so it doesn't matter). 20 minutes later I was boarding the bus again, ticket in hand to jump the next morning. I have no idea how it happened, it's complete brainwashing! And that's hooey what they say about the adrenaline rush lasting only seconds. Mine started the second I handed over my credit card, and it's still going.

For some reason, I decided that if I was going to spend money to jump once, I was going to do the biggest and baddest jump they had: The Nevis Highwire, 132 meters over a gorge (that's 440ft). You ride out in a gondola to a booth that is suspended over the gorge, and holds about 20 people.

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It's purposely designed to move in the wind, and it does. They order by weight, heaviest jumps first, so I was last. I got to watch everyone else go before me. They strap a harness to your body and a separate one to your feet, they weigh you again, and then they walk you to the ledge. They count to three, take your picture, and you're off. If they didn't count, I don't think people would jump. Believe it or not, it's rather difficult to throw yourself off a ledge, harness or not! I took a picure of Ellen as she jumping (the picture of me is on her camera, so try to imagine that it's me)

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Finally it was my turn, my heart was pounding. I somehow managed to bring my camera with me, safely strapped to my wrist. This was my initial view, looking down.

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Then I turned on the video camera, and jumped. And there is suddenly nothing there. NOTHING. And I was falling, then I was still falling, and still falling.... 8 seconds, felt like forever. When you deccelerate you can feel the pressure in your head (not very pleasant) and you recoil, and then you free fall again! On the second recoil you pull a strap which flips you to a sitting position and they pull you back up. Somewhere along the line I started crying because I was definitely in tears when I got back up to the ledge. I wasn't upset, it was just so intense. The verdict? Fantastic. I highly recommend it. Would I do it again? Not anytime soon. Here's the footage (though you may want to turn the volume down on your computer before listening):

Posted by Laur456 23:33 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Hi, Mom, I climbed a glacier today!

Tuesday, September 11 - Thursday, September 13, 2007

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View So it begins at 34°S & 151°E on Laur456's travel map.

We started our Tuesday morning on the Tranzalpine train that crosses the South island from Christchurch to Greymouth. The train was very comfortable, and Ellen and I were glad for the rest. The scenery was stunning as there were no shortages of mammoth mountains with crisp snow covered peaks to entertain the eye.

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The whole trip took about four hours, and there was a viewing car, which was open on the sides. We took advantage to take some snap shots and pulled into Greymouth more than a little windblown.

I think one the main lessons New Zealand has taught me is to roll with the punches. Nothing happens very fast here, and schedules are more like guidelines. Our train ended up being about an hour late (for a legitimate reason - a passenger was sick), so we missed our connecting bus to a smaller town just north called Barrytown. But we had joined the YHA (youth hostel association) and since there was accommodation in Greymouth, we decided to stay. We had signed up to be on the Stray tour bus, and we knew they were supposed to come through Greymouth the next day, so we figured they could just pick us up on the way. The only problem was that the bus driver did not get cell phone reception in Barrytown (as we later found out) so we couldn't let him know where we were. Long story short: the poor guy working the YHA reception deserves a medal for dealing with us, as we were freaking out for fear of being left behind, especially since the schedule departure of 10:30a the next morning came and went. But the bus showed up at 1:30, and we were off. Phew. I certainly did my part in perpetuating the "uptight American" stereotype. Our bus had about 10 people on it, rather empty, actually. People from Canada, England, Ireland, and us. All very nice people. We haven't met many other people from the States here yet. Most of the people are from the UK.

The northwest corner of the south island is known for its Jade Nephrite (or Green stone) carving, historically gathered and carved by the Maori people. It's the only part of New Zealand where this stone is found. It's really beautiful, but quite expensive - more due to the labor of carving rather than the stone itself. We stopped in several towns with factories and saw how it is carved. We also stopped to do some hiking, see some waterfalls, more beautiful scenery. The trees here are very interesting, and different from those in Australia. We're in rainforest in this part of the country, and the trees are very gnarly and warped and are covered in all different shades of green moss/lichen. The forests are extremely dense, and seem to be much more alive than the forests you see in the States. I was keeping my eyes open for hobbits.

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We arrived in Franz Josef that night, home to the Franz Josef Glacier, which is one of the lowest laying glaciers in the world, I think. And, as far as I know, we're still in the rainforest .... strange. Ellen and I, again thinking we were athletic enough to keep up with the New Zealanders (or even the New Zealand tourists) signed up for the full day glacier hike the next day. Unfortunately, the beautiful sunny cool weather we had in Christchurch did not follow us to the west coast. Instead, it rained. The whole day. But we still hiked up that glacier. They gave us cramp-ons and waterproof gear to wear, but we were still soaked to the bone, at least an inch of water sloshing around in each boot. Our guide said the rain was coming down at about 5mm/minute (which seemed heavy to me), but he said it can get up to 40mm/minute. The glacier was still beautiful. It looked like a frozen river flowing out from between two mountains, which is, in fact, exactly what it is. Currently, the glacier is advancing, but it goes through cycles of retreat and advance. The guides get there ahead of time and carve steps into the ice so we can climb up. The steps, though, are of course gigantic, so I could barely get up them, much less down them as my legs are too short. Luckily, they had ropes anchored to help with the steep parts. I mostly slipped slowly down the glacier.

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Truly, though, it was really fascinating to be up there in the ice terrain. It's impossible to walk from point A to point B because the ice forms these mini mountain ranges that you either have to cut through or go around, so we did a lot of weaving in and out, and walking through narrow passages that you had to do sideways or else you didn't fit.

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And the more it rained, the greater the rivulets in the glacier became and we often had to walk through them as that was the only path to take. And then there were deep crevasses here and there; not sure how deep as I often could not see the bottom. The clouds sit very low here, especially when it's raining, and they appear to just rest on the side of the mountains. Because of the weather we didn't get the grand view that we saw in the brochure, but it was still remarkable. I was frozen to the core by the time we got back, my legs shaking from the workout, but I'm glad I did it. Now I can say I've climbed a glacier.

Posted by Laur456 18:44 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The Land of the Long White Cloud

Monday September 10, 2007

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Country #2, check: NewZealand. Ellen and I arrived in Christchurch last night, and made it to our hostel in time to pass out cold. Some fun facts about NZ: population - 4 million, (pop Australia is 20 million and the USA is, what, about 300 million???), the mean annual temp is 12.1C (I think today it was about 18-19C), the average annual rainfall is 635mm, and Christchurch is a sister city to Seattle, USA. How nice! Christchurch is billed as the most English of all the cities in NZ, and it certainly had that european feel.

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There is a lot of gothic themed arcitecture here, mainly in the cathedrals and museums. The city itself is very flat, but you can see the mountains not too far off in the background; the Southern Alps range, which divides the southern island of the country.

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We spent the morning walking around the Botanic Garden here, and it was very nice. Not much has bloomed yet, as it is still early Spring here, but it was still beautiful. It was nice to get out in the fresh air and move our legs a bit. This is certainly not a crowded city, but it was apparent right away that it is a very active city. There were lots of people out walking through the gardens, or jogging around.

After lunch, we decided to take a trip on the local gondola up Mt. Cavendish (about a 15 minute bus ride out of town). It was not until we were at an elevation where we could see over the mountain range did I realize how stunningly beautiful this country is going to be. This view was breathtaking, and we are going to be traveling into parts of the country considered to be even more breathtaking than this. Australia is beautiful, but this country is BEAUTIFUL. The view is of Lyttleton Harbor and the Banks Peninsula in the background. Christchurch is located behind me as I take the photo, on the edge of the peninsula. The Pacific ocean wraps around on either side, and you can see the ocean over the back edge of the peninsula. Ellen and I just stood there for at least an hour, mouths agape.

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While trying to memorize the view, we decided to hike down the mountain, after recommendations from at least two people working there. "It's a nice, leisurely stroll" one gentlemen told us, "It'll take you about 50 minutes". Excited to be getting a bit more exercise, we merrily began the hike, glad to be able to take in the view for a little longer. We made it about half way down, feeling good, albeit a little tired. I'm not sure of the elevation, but it's a pretty good sized mountain, and steep at that. The path then turned into a gravel road (though not really used by cars, I presume), rather than the stepped winding path we had just come down. There was a sign that read, "Caution, path is slippery in steep portions". Hardly paying attention, thinking it didn't look too threatening (and having just seen a couple and their dog hike up it), I began my descent and immediately nearly bit the dust. I laughed, then Ellen laughed, and I started up again and AGAIN my feet nearly slipped out from under me. Then Ellen nearly fell. Our laughing suddenly had a more nervous edge to it, but being already half way down, we decided continuing was easier. So we got serious. Almost two hours, two sore knees, and sky rocketed blood pressure later, we arrived at the bottom, happy to be alive. As far as I could tell, the only non-steep part of that walk was when we landed in the parking lot. Mind you, 10 people at least twice my age passed us on the trail jogging up (or DOWN), and making it look effortless. New Zealanders are some fit individuals, let me tell you, and they must be part mountain goat. I am very impressed. Tomorrow we leave on the Tranzalpine train to cross the country to the west coast, and I will be glad for the rest, because I am pooped!

Posted by Laur456 02:20 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Reference Info: photos, blogs, etc.

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View So it begins at 34°S & 151°E on Laur456's travel map.

I'm going to use this space to add links that are relevant and add any other pertinent reference information. Please check back as I will be adding links as I go along.

Ellen's blog:
http://travellen.travellerspoint.com

Char's blog:
http://thelasthurrah.travellerspoint.com

Our new friend Daniel's blog (he traveled with us in Datong, Xi'an, and Wudang Shan)
http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/tofudan/china_2007/tpod.html

Photos:
1. Cairns, Australia: http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLandingSignin.jsp?Uc=8wl5x2t.33ez62i9&Uy=sycjsg&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0&UV=168778004465_126520445505

2. Great Barrier Reef: http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLandingSignin.jsp?Uc=8wl5x2t.6pwisz29&Uy=-8b09tk&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0

3. New Zealand: http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLandingSignin.jsp?Uc=8wl5x2t.6go9w58p&Uy=-82ag77&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0

4. China: http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLandingSignin.jsp?Uc=8wl5x2t.6zslxcup&Uy=-ov8c1e&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0

Posted by Laur456 05:16 Archived in USA Comments (0)

A Family Vacation

Sunday September 2 - Sunday September 9, 2007

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I want to start off this entry by saying that I am so lucky to have friends like the Schotts (that includes Tim, now, though technically he and Kylie are now Ryans). I have been so graciously taken care of since I arrived in Sydney, and I am so appreciative. Kylie and Tim picked me up from the airport on Sunday, after a wonderfully exhausting week in Cairns, and we had a family dinner that evening at Kylie and Tim's. Kylie's parents came and Tim's family. Not only have I been spoiled by hospitality, but I've also been eating extremely well. I'm actually a little worried that my pants might not fit soon ... though we've all speculated that that's probably a good thing as they'll most likely get loose again when I get to Asia. Best to plump up while I have the chance.

The next morning Kylie, Tim, Paul and Kerry and I drove SW to the Snowy Mountains, just SW of Canberra, where the Schotts have a time share in a ski lodge. Matt was already up there with some of his friends. We spent a few days there relaxing, eating more, drinking wine, catching up on old times. Kylie, Tim and I went cross country skiing, which was fun. I fell a lot on the downhill parts, but still enjoyed it. We also did a bunch of hikes to enjoy the scenery and fresh air. The trees there are called Snow Gums, which are a type of Eucalypt. They have really light pastel colors in their bark, which peels off.

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They didn't smell particularly strong since it is still winter here, but they do have a stronger eucalyptus smell in the summer months. I also saw many Kookaburras, and was reminded of the old song from grade school "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, merry merry king of the bush is he..." This part of the country was actually devastated by brush fire several years ago and many of the trees are just starting to regenerate. Driving down, you can still see entire mountain sides filled with the white skeletons of trees and very little signs of regrowth. We also went to look for wildlife and saw some kangaroos, several with joeys in their pouches!

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I also saw an Echidna, which is the only remaining monotreme on earth aside from the platypus. See the video - how cute is she/he?

We tried to find some wombats, but unfortunately only saw some dead ones on the side of the road. The wombats all somehow end up on their backs with all four feet sticking straight up in the air; they must be top heavy or something. Sadly, I saw more wildlife as roadkill than I saw live. We did find evidence of wombats nearby, though, during our hikes. Apparently, they will deposit their feces on the highest rock they can find as that is the way they assert their dominance. Betcha didn't know that!

Here's the best family photo: (L to R) Tim, Lauren, Paul, Kylie, Kerry, Matt

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On Thursday Kylie, Tim, and I drove up north near Newcastle and toured the Hunter Valley winery region.

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It was great fun, and we had a blast trying all the wines. We also indulged in a wonderful lunch (again, it all comes back to the food...)

This weekend we're hanging out in Sydney. Well, actually not IN Sydney as it's pretty much shut down since George W is here with an assortment of other world leaders, so there's too much security to site see in the city. So, we've been hanging out here in Newport where everyone lives. Tomorrow we will probably meet up with friends to watch the footy (rugby) game on the tele (TV). Sunday I leave for New Zealand with Ellen for more adventures!

Posted by Laur456 03:47 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

A Reef-flection

Friday August 31 & Saturday September 1, 2007

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After much debate, and floundering back and forth, Ellen and I decided to book an overnight boat trip to go see the Great Barrier Reef. Ellen is a scubadiver, I am not. In fact, I am afraid of the ocean. But I had the option to snorkel, if I could get over my fear. I decided to go for it; I mean, when was I going to get another chance to see the Great Barrier Reef? I had to get over this fear (mainly because now if I didn't, it was money down the drain, and that's an even bigger fear). We set off early Friday morning from the Cairns harbor on a smaller boat called the Odyssey which shuttles passengers to/from The Reef Encounter, a larger boat with overnight accommodations anchored about 50km offshore. The trip out there was just over 2 hours. Though there were quick a few people on the boat with us, heading out to dive and snorkel for the day, Ellen and I were told we were the only overnight passengers on the Odyssey, except for three other backpackers who were there do something called "hosting", where they spend time on the boat cleaning rooms, doing dishes, etc. and then get to dive for free. Sounds like a pretty good gig, actually, I wish I had known about it! They were all nice guys and we quickly made friends: Michael from Germany, Roderick from The Netherlands, and Doug from England. Cairns is actually a very international city, and people come from all over the world to work, often for a year or so, and live the beach life and dive the reef - sort of the equivalent of being a ski bum in the States (or, I guess, a beach bum if you live on one of the coasts, but I'm a midwesterner, so we'll stick with the ski bum analogy).

I can't get over how big the Pacific ocean is. We all know it's big, and we even technically know HOW big it is, but it's still nearly impossible to wrap your mind around the scale of it. And when you're on a boat, you really get a sense that you're at the mercy of something much more powerful than you. The water can, in fact, look quite calm, while our boat is rocking like it's on a seesaw as it propels onward toward the larger boat, and I can hardly walk from here to there in a straight line. (We took anti-nausea pills, which were recommended, and I'm glad we did. There were several people on the lower deck with their heads in their arms and the vomit bags close by). The water changes color depending on how the sunlight hits it. For a while, the water looked a deep cobalt blue that was so rich! And it was completely opaque, too, like a layer that was solid rather than fluid. It looked like a giant bowl of blueberry jelly, actually, slowly jiggling back and forth in the wind.

When we arrived at the Reef Encounter boat, we found that Ellen and I were only two of four guests on the boat that night, even though they had capacity for about 50. We had a cute little room with a bunk bed and one porthole window -

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very cosy, and it was actually really nice to sleep on the boat as it rocks you to sleep. The weather hasn't been consistently good in Cairns this week, so I think that has affected the reef tourism. It actually worked out fine for me, as I needed extra attention when it came time to get into the water, which we did shortly after lunch (the food was great on this boat, by the way). In the photo below, you can see where the reef is because the water is a lighter color than the surrounding ocean. We were moored about 10-15 meters away from the edge of the reef, so I had to swim over open ocean before making it to the "safety" of the reef.

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This I found extremely frightening, so one of the crew went out snorkeling with me and carried along a life saver so I could hold on. Once I got in the water, I realized that I could see the bottom (so it must be more shallow around the reef) but once inside the reef, you actually feel very safe, almost like you're swimming in an enclosed pool. I went out a total of four times during that trip, and I think I can say that I actually felt comfortable with it by the fourth time. And once I relaxed, I could really enjoy the reef.

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It's beautiful, and it's one of those things that you can try to show with pictures, but the experience of floating over it, bobbing up and down with the waves, and literally being a few feet away from it, is inexplicable. It sounds cheesy, but it really IS a whole different world down there. I saw a reef shark hiding under the reef (it was about 2 meters long) a large sea turtle (this one is a professional picture so I can't take credit),

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giant clams, tons of colorful fish, coral, of course, and I even got to hold sea cucumber. We also did a short tour in a glass bottom boat. The picture looks more green than does the reef when you're actually in the water, but you get a sense of all the different types of coral that are down there.

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That night I got to check out the undisturbed southern sky, and I clearly saw the Southern Cross constellation, which looked like it was pointed to the right from my perspective, as that direction was North. I could also see the Milky Way - all of it. It was so dark that you couldn't see more than a few meters off the boat, even with the lights on, but you could hear the water. I felt truly isolated, and it was kind of exciting.

After docking the next day, Ellen and I went out for dinner and drinks and then crashed at our old favorite hostel, the Gecko's. I caught a flight back to Sydney the next day, and Ellen continued her travels down the coast. Here is the link to her blog, if you're interested to read another perspective: http://travellen.travllerspoint.com

I still felt like I was on the water for a few days after. Got my sea legs! Here's a link to my photos: http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLandingSignin.jsp?Uc=8wl5x2t.6pwisz29&Uy=-8b09tk&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0

Posted by Laur456 20:01 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Queensland day 2 & 3: Port Douglass and Cape Tribulation

Wednesday, August 29 - Thursday, August 30, 2007

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Since we had already taken the western road, we decided today to take the northern route. This area is known for its beaches, and we had yet to see one. The highway we took, though, was very scenic and wound right along the coastline, giving beautiful scenic vistas of the ocean. We stopped a few times at an outlook spot to snap a photo or two.

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We had heard about the small towns of Port Douglass and Cape Tribulation (probably aptly named, after experiencing the drive up there) and were excited to see what the nature up there had to offer. I wanted to see some interesting animals. After driving into Daintree, we decided to take a river cruise on the Daintree River to see what we could see. The weather this week was sub par: cool and rainy, so many of the tourists as well as local wildlife were staying away, so we heard. There had just been a downpour right before we got on the boat and our tour operator told us the last group hadn't had any luck, so we weren't expecting much in the way of big creatures. Ellen and I were the only two on the tour, so we got to ask lots of questions of our tour guide. As we floated down the river, we saw beautiful Mangrove trees of varying shapes and sizes and interesting wildflowers. There are actually 150 different types of orchids in this area. We had been on the river about 20 minutes when we suddenly rounded a bend and there on the bank of the river was the largest crocodile I had ever seen. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I've ever seen a crocodile, but that's beside the point. He was a slate gray color, and not moving at all, so at first I thought he was fake. "Is that a decoy"?, I asked, stupidly. "Nope, that's Fat Albert," was the response. The operator informed me that he was about 5 meters long, weighs 1.5 tons, and about 20 years of age.

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We were pretty close, the zoom on my camera isn't that good. Apparently, that's why we hadn't seen any other little crocodiles swimming around; they were all hiding! Not that I blame them. I guess crocodiles don't really eat that much relative to their body weight, compared to humans, and are very efficient with their calories. They can stay on the bottom of the river for several hours by slowing their heartbeat to 2-3 beats per minute to conserve oxygen. Some fun facts for ya. We also saw an Eastern Water Dragon, which is a lizard, about a foot long, and some birds as well. And that's about as much elaboration as I can offer on the birds. There was just so much to see.

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That night we stayed in a hostel called the Crocodylus Village, which was really just like returning to camp. The beds were dorm style cabins in the woods, and there was a central outdoor mess hall area. It was extremely soothing to be so engulfed by nature. Ellen and I thought we'd sit and relax, write in our journals, have a glass of wine... dinner was delicious.

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That night we signed up to go on the guided nature walk. The leader's name was Possum (like the animal) and he could imitate any animal sound in that neck of the woods, which seemed appropriate with a name like Possum. We all got lamps, put on our waterproof shoes and raingear and went out. We saw a variety of things such as spiders (big ones!), birds (including a flying chicken), an amythestine python, toads, trees 1000 years old, and even tried swinging on the heavy vines that are ubiquitous in this forest. I was no Tarzan, but it wasn't the vine's fault.

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I wanted to see a Cassowary, which is a large flightless bird, but we didn't. I'm not convinced that they actually exist.

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The next morning we thought we'd take a nice leisurely walk over the grounds, which turned into a fight for survival, arriving back over an hour later eaten alive my mosquitoes, mud up to our knees, and the pricklers of various plants sticking out of our clothes.

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After that exhausting adventure, we found an exotic fruit farm in Cape Trib and decided to attend an organized tasting. It was awesome, and everything was delicious. None of the fruit is able to be commercially distributed on any large scale due to some limitation or another, be it a short shelf life or just a weird appearance that would be unlikely to sell in the market, which is a shame because they were wonderful to eat. And we learned some interesting facts as well. For example, apparently all citrus fruit that we are familiar with today is a hybrid of either a mandarin, a lime, or a pommelo (which is somewhat like a grapefruit). My favorites were the Dragon Fruit and the Sapodilla, which tasted like brown sugar. Mmmmm....

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I've tried uploading a video of my favorite beach thus far: the Mangrove Beach.

Next up, the Great Barrier Reef...

Posted by Laur456 15:57 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Queensland: The Tropical North

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View So it begins at 34°S & 151°E on Laur456's travel map.

Ellen and I really hit the ground running, so to speak, so I'll have to backtrack a bit to catch up. Here is an image from the plane of the coastline somewhere between Sydney and Cairns.

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We arrived in Cairns (pronounced "cans") on Monday evening, and it must be because I am a native of Chicago, but the whole outdoor airport thing never seems to lose its charm. I love stepping off of the plane and straight into fresh air, it's very invigorating. We promptly found a hostel on the outskirts of town, took advantage of the 2 for 1 dinner deal at the Mexican restaurant down the street. They make a good burrito on this side of the world. A little taste of home. We awoke early on Tuesday and decided to rent a car to take a day trip inland to an area called the Tablelands, just west over the coastal mountain range. Ellen got elected driver as I don't know how to drive standard. It took both of us a minute (okay, maybe two) to get adjusted. Not only were we not used to driving on the left side of the road, but Ellen also had to learn how to manage the stick shift with her left hand (for those who are curious: it's not a mirror image in terms of the location of the gears - it's the same, just the driver is on the other side). But the rental car provided us with a visual to remind us where to be should we find ourselves driving into oncoming traffic.

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There aren't too many roads out here, working to our advntage as it's then hard to get lost. The real challenge, though, is staying on the roads and not hitting the other cars. The roads are paved, but since you are often crossing part of a mountain range, it is extremely tortuous. And, strangely enough, we found most of the inland road (not the cliffside driving) to be really only wide enough for one car, or maybe one and a half, and without painted dividing lines. I guess there are so few drivers, that when you do meet another car, both just pull halfway off of the pavement. Maybe it's not economical to make the road wide enough for two? Anyway, that wouldn't fly in the states, as one of our cars would already be driving off the pavement on both sides due to sheer size. But we survived all the driving without a hitch...all part of the adventure.

I noticed that sugarcane is a major crop here, and you can see it lining the highways all over the inland areas, which are flatter, just like you would see corn or wheat in the states. During our day trip we saw several waterfalls, and stopped at a nearby bed and breakfast for Devonshire Tea and scones. One of the best things about Australia is the names of all the places. For example, some of the towns we drove through included: Yungaburra and Milla Milla. Some other nearby places on the map: Lake Tinaroo, Babinda, and Wooroonooran National park. They're just fun to say. No wonder the Australians are such happy people.

The Australain rainforest covers less than 1% of the total land area, and we were in the heart of it. It's spotty, and not all of the areas we visited or drove through were as dense as others, but we were definitely in the tropics. There were frequent rainshowers followed by bursts of sun. It wasn't particularly hot when we were there (about 70 deg, I'd guess), which is quite cool for that area. Apparently, during the summer, the humidity never drops below 100% or the temperature below 100 deg (per a local I met - no real research here), but you get the idea: it's bloody awful! The local flora and fauna are wonderfully bizarre. We did a lot of trekking through the forest preserves, and I can't get over how strange everything is. Check out this giant Strangler Fig tree, which strangled (hence the name) and took over another tree. If I remember correctly, it's nearly 1000 years old.

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Walking through the forest, I often felt like I was in some Alice in Wonderland-ish Lewis Carrol story. My imagination was surely running away from me, as I began to humanize everything. The tall palm fronds became giant millipede-like creatures, and the trees with branches that hung lower appeared to be hands with waspy fingers reaching over the heads of unassuming tourists peering through the view finders of their video cameras.

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I swear this must be where Dr. Suess got his creative inspiration. The forest was so dense in parts that I felt like if I didn't keep walking, it would swallow me up without a sound. And as the sun was setting, I feared that might become a reality, but we made it back safe, dined, and slept again.

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Here is a link to some of the photos I have uploaded: http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLandingSignin.jsp?Uc=8wl5x2t.33ez62i9&Uy=sycjsg&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0 You will have to cut and paste, some of the link may be off the page so you may have to scroll to the right to get all of it. Hope it works!

Posted by Laur456 03:55 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Vegemite on Toast

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View So it begins at 34°S & 151°E on Laur456's travel map.

After a 24 hour delay due to our little Chicago tornado, I have arrived in Australia. I was rerouted through Las Vegas (yes, there are slot machines all over the airport) and then had a 12 hour layover in LAX. I'm not even sure what I did to pass the time ... it was maddening. But I boarded finally without a hitch, watched some in flight movies, played solitare, and caught a few winks (and kinks). When I stepped outside the airport I was struck by the smells in the air. Mostly it's undescribable; you can smell the salt water, but there is something more rustic about it, too. I suddenly remembered what it was like to be there again, not even realizing that I had forgotten these sense memories. Kylie picked me up at the airport, and I got to meet Tim, her husband. He's lovely, of course! We went straight to visit her family (Paul, Kerry, and Matt) and it felt so good to arrive at that house again, twelve years later. Everyone is still the same; jolly, gregarious, and gracious. They still have the same amazing view of Bungan Beach and the headland from the back balcony.
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We had brunch and relaxed. I spent the rest of the day hanging out with Kylie and Tim and meeting some of their friends. I made it all the way to 7:00pm before falling fast asleep for 12 straight hours. In the morning Kylie made me breakfast, and I was reunited with vegemite and toast. So tasty! Again, the familiarity is eerie, even after so long. It just felt natural. I spent the morning with Ellen, a friend from PT school, who had arrived a few days earlier, and we walked around Bondi Beach in Sydney before catching a flight up to Cairns, Queensland. I see the Great Barrier Reef in my future.

Posted by Laur456 00:50 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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