Sunday, September 30, 2007

Alas, We've Run Out of Time

Our last day in Australia. We have a date with some penguins tonight, and then tomorrow morning we get on our flight to New Zealand. I'm hoping to use the flight to catch up on writing a few more blog posts to finish telling some stories about Australia, so there will probably be one more splattering of Australia posts to come.

We're definitely looking forward to being in one place for longer than a few days, but are going to miss all the camping and driving around we've been able to do.

The past few days have been great though because we've been staying just outside of Melbourne with some new friends we met while camping up in Queensland. They showed us footy (Australian Rules Football), fed us kangaroo, and made a last valiant attempt to get us to eat Vegemite.

What a beautiful world

Well, since it is tough to tell all of the stories maybe I will just try and throw up some of the most beautiful pictures and let them speak for me. These are pictures up until we reached the Blue Mountains.

We saw our first kangaroos just before this sunset in Undara. We stayed out past dusk to try and see more, but of course the next day they were hopping through the campground.

This is the view from the beach we camped on in the Whitsunday Islands.

One day in the Whitsundays we managed to get up for dawn.

Somehow the rain drop on the lens of the camera makes the lighthouse in Byron Bay look much better.

We later learned that these fields of flowers (which we see everywhere now that spring is here) are canola.

The Breadknife in the Warrumbungles is only about 10 feet wide, but extends hundreds of feet above the mountainside.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Snorkelling and Other Sea Life

In Cairns and the Whitsundays we did a bit of snorkeling which was absolutely beautiful. I’m still not very proficient at underwater photography, but with some editing of the pictures some came out ok.

Anyway, here are our two intrepid snorkelers. Mekayla’s picture came out with a bit of a modernist twist that I rather like.

This picture of the coral does mostly capture the colors correctly, but it is impossible to capture the experience when it is just a few feet from your face.

The schools of fish that seem as interested in us as we are in them are in my opinion one of the coolest parts of snorkeling. And it is amazing how many fish you see in just two or three feet of water.

While I’m on the subject of sea life I might as well sneak in a few pictures from the whale watch. Not much different from New England whale watching in my opinion except that the sea is an incredible blue.

See ya!

The Elusive Platypus

Given the amount of time we spent trying to photo a platypus and because Mekayla went and shaped her birthday cake as one, I cannot skip out on writing a blog post about trying to observe them.

They are as cute as you think they are, but much smaller and rarer than you can imagine. The first time we went looking for them we sat quietly by the side of a pool where it was said they came out and expected it would be rather obvious when one showed up. After over an hour we gave up. We saw our first one from 60 yards away when we noticed other people pointing off into the water.

It was a barely visible hump that was really only distinguishable because when it was on the surface for 10 seconds at a time it swam around. Then the platypus would arch its back and disappear into the black river. They would then stay under water for a couple of minutes before briefly resurfacing.

We probably spent 3 hours trying to find and take pictures of them that day, and then we got up at daybreak to pursue them again the next day as well. We certainly did see many and with patience got to watch them for quite some time. But taking good pictures of them was very difficult because they were so shy. The few times that they did surface near me I was rarely able to focus on them and take the picture before they submerged again. This is what I got most of the time:

But there were a few decent shots in the end as well. This one does a pretty good job of showing their size.

On the Road

The roads in Australia certainly deserve their own post. They are a very different experience from the interstate highway system in the United States. Occasionally we have actually come across divided highways with overpasses and separate passing lanes. But far more often we have seen one long stretch of two lanes, one in each direction.

Passing (called overtaking here) is always an adventure, and of course there are the previously mentioned road trains. More exciting still was the many miles of the Kennedy Highway and Gregory Developmental Road (there is probably a bad joke in that which only my Mother would find funny) where the two lanes in either direction converged to a single lane, in both directions. The speed limit is 100 km/h.

When cars come in the other direction you each slow down and drive with half your wheels in the dirt and the other half on the pavement. When a road train comes you pull over off of the pavement. They don’t get out of your way. Fortunately a helpful gas station owner gave me a lengthy rundown of what to expect on these roads. There were signs, but having someone hit you over the head before the insanity starts is quite helpful.

Along the Kennedy highway we also saw someone who was putting our adventure to shame: a lone biker heading out into the outback. When we passed him, he probably had over a hundred kilometers before the next town. His bike was weighed down by what was mostly water and food.

Along one of the back roads before we left the Atherton Tablelands we also met the largest snake we have ever seen. Its body was only halfway onto the road and yet it was taking up the entire lane and had its head 2 feet up in the air looking at us as we drove past. Since seeing it I have lamented not stopping to take a picture, but at the time all I could think was “big snake, must go faster.”

We figured out afterwards that it was actually a python, completely nonpoisonous and not dangerous at all. Since seeing it though there have been numerous other sightings: snake shaped branch, snake shaped bark, snake shaped leaf, etc. Maybe one of these days we will again see an actual snake. In the meantime our travels will occasionally be delayed by detritus in the road.

Oh, and this is me fording my first creek in Eungella National Park.

And here is me testing the depth before going across another one. We were actually kind of frightened by this one, but it all worked out.

Trying to Catch Up

We’ve now reached the state of Victoria and have only a few days left in Australia. There seem to be a ton of blog posts I have partially completed, so I think I will have to resort to summarizing in some of them and using more pictures than words. The route map is also now updated and a couple of thousand kilometers have passed by since the last update including a 1400 kilometer train ride.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Mekayla’s Birthday Cake: Not Just a Dessert, an Experience

The real reason we rented a cottage for a few days in the Blue Mountains was so that we would have an oven in which to bake a cake.

For those who are unaware, Mekayla has a birthday tradition of creating a differently shaped cake every year. This year she chose a platypus. And as if sculpting a cake into a platypus wasn’t difficult enough she also decided that the “cake” should be a chocolate bread pudding since we are partaking in a fair bit of British inspired culture these days.

Of course, neither of us has ever made a bread pudding before (though we did eat one our Servas hosts made up in Queensland). Our kitchen also turned out to be lacking in a few areas: a rather deficient baking pan, metric measurements in the recipe but nothing to measure them with, an oven in Celcius which didn’t measure temperature correctly anyways. Oh, and this being a recipe of Mekayla’s obviously meant we had to find a way to add fruit to it.

It turned out pretty well despite the limitations. In the end we think that there was not enough pudding for the amount of bread we ended up using. The top layer of bread was much too dry. On the second day we just started removing the top layer and eating the bottom layers of fruit and bread. These were quite delicious.

At some point we need to find some willing soul who really knows how to make bread pudding and is willing to teach us. Also chocolate bread pudding seems like it might be some bastardization of a real bread pudding. The real thing seems like it should not have any chocolate in it, but for a birthday cake I think the chocolate is very necessary.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Happy 28th Birthday

We spent Mekayla’s birthday yesterday the way all good birthdays should be spent: camping! We started off the camping season camping on Cape Cod for my birthday, and now we’ve gotten rather adept at it after having camped about 23 of the past 30 nights. Pretty good start to our year in the wild.

Although my posts are still a bit behind the times we’re now down on the outskirts of the Blue Mountains about 250 km west of Sydney. We stayed at Dunn’s Swamp which despite the name is an amazingly beautiful area where an ancient river carved deep troughs into the surrounding sandstone.

We had gotten a little worried before we got here that it was going to be rather cold (after one night where it dropped down to freezing). But the weather has actually improved as we went more south and spring is beginning to show us some of the great Australian wildflowers that we have read about. And never fear parents, our sleeping bags and tent are holding up exceptionally well in the weather.

Today we are heading up into the Blue Mountains where we have rented a cottage for a more extended celebration of Mekayla’s birthday for the next four days. Then it will be on to Sydney and on the 19th we are taking a train ride to Adelaide.

I guess the way to end this post is to finish off with some pictures of the birthday girl.

We had pancakes with chocolate melted on them for breakfast.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Australian Squirrels

In Boston occasionally you see tourists spending time taking pictures of squirrels and chipmunks. Certainly I too have been guilty of this as well, but for the most part we all get over it by the age of 12 or so. And by 18 after having seem dozens jump out in front of your car they have become a cute but mild nuisance.

We think we are taking pictures of Australian "squirrels". But they certainly are cute. Wallabies and kangaroos seem to be just about everywhere. In areas where they have been around humans they are really not that bothered by us. And the roads are certainly littered with their carcasses.

Since they are so adorable, here are some more kangaroos. Eventually we might get tired of it, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Servas: Atherton Tablelands

We stayed with our first Servas hosts on August 20th. Servas is an international peace organization that has a network of host families willing to take in wayward travelers for a few nights. For the hosts they get to “travel” without leaving home, and for travelers you get to actually meet and talk with some locals.

Our first hosts were a retired geologist and a psychologist (doing work with Australian Vietnam vets) living on 100 acres in the Atherton Tablelands. Not really a farm, but they were impressively self sufficient with various fruit trees (grapefruit, mandarins, lemons, plums), 3 one megaliter tanks for storing rainwater, a wood-burning stove for cooking and heating, and solar panels were just starting to be installed.

David had also just recently gotten a horse who seemed to serve as both transportation and lawnmower.

To the untrained (American) eye these are chickens, but in reality they are chooks (shockingly this word is also in my spell checker’s dictionary).

Over the two days we had lots of discussions about geology, some politics, non-violence movements, and climate change. There is too much to summarize here, but definitely a great experience.

Map of Our Progress

We've added a map of our progress on the right hand side of the blog page with our itinerary.

You can also see it here: Map of Progress.

We've now entered New South Wales! It is still raining.