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Australia

Tully River Whitewater rafting

We got picked up for our white water rafting trip really really early in the morning. Fortunately, we got plenty of time to sleep on the bus as the Tully river is quite some distance from our hotel. The other neat thing was that they were renting Tevas, so we didn't have to get our sneakers soaking wet. I was prepared to, but hey, to be able to borrow sandals was better. We got life jackets, helmets, and a guide and got on the river. Unlike every time I've been white water rafting in the US, this guide actually prepared us for everything. We practiced what to do if we fell out of the boat. We practiced various commands (forward paddle, backpedal, get down, etc). Beyond that, he would tell us before we went over each rapid. Unlike all of the rivers I've rafted in the US, where you just basically go, in the Tully, you go over one rapid or set of rapids, then park and wait. The guides kept getting out of the boats to go stand on the rocks and play lifeguard for the following boats. It was a pretty slow process with not a lot of action, but it did prove that they were committed to safety. It also gave us a chance to be one of the first over some rapids, but one of the last over others. Despite all precautions, it is inevitable that people will get tipped into the river- that's part of the fun of it. However, I wasn't planning on being the first one dumped in. It actually was a pretty elegant slip compared to some of the flips people end up doing. I have been rafting many times before and as the boat tilted, I knew I was getting thrown out. I even had the mind to inform everybody on the boat "I'm over," a second before I actually was. I also was able to hold onto my paddle and assumed the "overboard" position almost immediately. I think that helped set the tone for some of the other folks on the boat. In addition to the guide, me, Mike, and Shanaenae, we had 2 Brits and one chick from Holland in our boat. They were pretty nice. During the 5 hours we went down the river, we got to know everybody and their personalities pretty well. The Brits were first timers. The guy was full of the spirit of adventure and was willing to try all of the "risky" things that would get you to fall in. There was one particular rapid that was basically an inclined waterfall, or rock waterslide, that both he and Mike ended up out of the boat on because the guide told them to sit on the edge of the boat and not hold on. The chick, on the other hand, was pretty scared of everything until near the end when our guide intentionally instructed us to maneuver in a way that would tip her side of the boat. She fell in, which she had been nervous about the whole time. When she got back on the boat, she was pretty happy that she fell in because it got her over her fear. Towards the end of the trip, we got to a big rock that everybody was jumping off of. I was pretty nervous, but the British chick encouraged me to do it, even though she wasn't going to. After I jumped, I got back to the boat. The first thing I said was "Thanks for pushing me to do that." I'm really glad I did it under those circumstances. The guides assured me the water was deep enough so that we wouldn't hit bottom (which I didn't). We were wearing life jackets and helmets. Most importantly, the rock didn't really have much of an angle on the side that we were jumping off of. My two biggest fears of cliff diving were that I would hit my head on the way down or hit something sharp under water. According to the people watching, I did jump closest to the rock of anybody there, which makes me glad I was wearing a helmet, even if I didn't end up needing it. However, it also means that I'm not likely to ever do it again, as I'm not likely to be confident of not hitting my head. Perhaps that's for the better. Personally, I had a great time and would recommend the RnR Tully river trip to anybody. The only part about it that upset me was the guide at the end. He was splitting up things to carry up the hill and asked to borrow some guy from one of the other boats. When I volunteered to help carry the boat, he kept pushing me to carry the paddles, clearly implying that it was a man's job to carry the boat. If he had picked men who were stronger than I am, I wouldn't have minded. But when he chose two scrawny men who would never have been able to complete some of the firefighter training I did, I was a little peeved. Whatever, he sexisted his way out of a tip. We got back up to the rafters building and had some snacks as we got a chance to look at the pictures and video the photographers had taken of our tour. It was neat to watch what it looked like as we went over the rapids. Some of the faces the British chick made were absolutely hilarious! Plus, we got to see our spills, graceful and not. I did have to buy one of the overpriced photos they took, both because of the hilarious faces and in case my disposable water camera failed for some reason. Again, it would have been nice to have the digital water camera, but oh well. It was late dinner time when we got back to our hotel, so we went back to Cafe De Lema, as we knew that the food was tasty and reasonably priced. Usually, I'm opposed to going to the same places repeatedly while on vacation, but the food was so good and I'd had such a hard time deciding what to get the other night that I was ok with it. This time I got the other dish I was debating on getting before- the pasta puttanesca. It was just as good as I expected it to be. I was happy.

Tomorrow: Last day in Australia, first day in New Zealand

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Tropical Rainforest

We got up and got on a bus that took us to the rainforest. The driver told us the story of their Johnny Appleseed: "Mangoseed Jack." He brought a mango to work every day and planted the seeds. That's why the coast has tons of mango trees supposedly. We also learned a lot about the native plants of the forest. Many of the species were around when the dinosaurs were. The rainforest itself is the oldest continuous rainforest in the world. We stopped at this Daintree discovery center and took a guided tour. The tour was about an hour, but really only needed to be 30 mins max. Mostly, the guide stood in one place and rambled on because there really wasn't anywhere else to go. We walked on a little boardwalk for a while and climbed a tower that put us over the tops of the trees. It was neat to go above the treetops, but there really wasn't too much to see. The only thing I really got out of the discovery center was some info on cassowary poop. Basically, the cassowary is a flightless bird that looks like it has some type of dino head. It is related to the emu and ostrich, but is brighter colors- like blue. The cassowary eats fruit, but doesn't digest the seeds. It then deposits the seeds in an open space. The seeds grow, fill in the space, and complete the canopy. Basically, the whole survival of the rainforest depends on this one bird. For example, there is a fruit (poisonous to us of course) called the cassowary plum. It has a layer of color for the bird to find it, a layer of insect repellent so it won't get eaten before the bird gets there, and a layer of just enough food to encourage the bird to eat lots of them. The bird gets rid of all of those layers to reveal another layer of insect repellent and the seed itself. the seed that we saw was just smaller than my fist. It takes a pretty big bird (like the cassowary) to move that. The wind isn't going to move it that far, and so it relies on the cassowary to plant it in an empty spot. One of the biggest empty spots in the rainforest is the road. Unfortunately for the plants, the cassowary often deposits seeds in the middle of the road, where they get run over and don't get to germinate. Fortunately for us, the cassowary often goes in the middle of the road, so was got a chance to see a daddy with his baby. (Yes, the daddy does all of the child rearing in the cassowary family. The mother just leaves the egg and goes looking for more boyfriends.) After that little break, we got to see Cape Tribulation. The scenery is nice and all, but I'm not quite sure what's so special about that place instead of the rest of the rainforest. Apparently it's one of the only places in the world where you can touch the ocean and the rainforest, but as there were jellyfish, we most certainly didn't go in the water to do that. We had lunch and then went to the Mossman Gorge. As we were in the rainforest, it was raining. We walked out on some platform to see the gorge and then walked back to the bus. Then, we headed back to the hotel. On the way, we saw loads of sugar cane plantations. Apparently, the settlers here logged the rainforest, and then burnt what was left in order to make plantations. Only problem is- the rainforest is a closed system. A plant uses the nutrients from the ground to grow, then dies, returning the nutrients to the top of the ground, where bugs consume the dead plants and turn them back into rich soil. If you take away the rainforest, the soil gets used up quickly. They have ot bring in chemical fertilizers in order to keep the plantations going. Sounds like South American slash-and-burn farming you say? Pretty much. The disturbing part about it is that this part of Queensland wasn't really settled until the 1900s. Overall, we spent most of our time on the bus getting there, when we did get there, spent most of the tour part on the bus, and when we did get off the bus, there wasn't much to see (although the guides managed to draw it out some). As far as tours go, this one wasn't really worth going on. There wasn't really any content. The pizza we had for dinner was decent, but I did take note of the menu. One one of their pizzas, corn was one of the toppings. Outside of Rami's house, this is the first place I have ever seen that. Rami, please consider this your public apology for us making fun of you putting corn on pizza. Apparently, there is at least somewhere else that does that.

Tomorrow: White water rafting

Cassowaries

Cassowaries


a spider

a spider


Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation


Fern tree

Fern tree


the rainforest

the rainforest


the rainforest

the rainforest

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

SCUBA diving the Breat Barrier Reef

The scenery in Port Douglas, where the boat left from, was pretty amazing. You have not only a great view of the ocean, but a great backdrop as the mountains come right up to the sea. We enjoyed the scenery as the Quicksilver VIII (the boat) brought us out to the reef.

They have this pontoon boat platform thing out there. It has some underwater viewing chambers where you can stay dry, but still see some of the fish from under the water. It was also the takeoff point for all of the excursions. They had snorkeling, but I didn't really have any time to do that. Why? Because I SCUBA dove!

I don't have any digital pictures I can post because the SCUBA camera I specially bought for this trip flooded. However, I fortunately did two dives (about 40 mins each) and so I was able to bring a disposable analog underwater camera on the second one. When I get home and get the pics developed, I'll scan and post.

The SCUBA dive was amazing. Thanks to SCUBA Tank Dave for teaching me. We got to wander around this underwater landscape, guided by our divemaster. She pointed out all sorts of neat things- something eel looking here, some huge fish there. We even got to pet a few fish. She showed us where to stick our hands to get this giant (several feet across) clam-looking thing to close. We even got to touch some type of coral-like thing that looked like moldy yellow spaghetti, but felt soft like velvet. The colors, although muted by the depth of water, were still amazing.

There were orange corals, yellow corals, corals with bright blue tips. There were one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. There were Dori fish, Nemo fish, and tons of other fish I don't think I've seen before. We saw entire schools of tiny little fish hovering over coral, schools of large fish that we accidentally startled, and even fish that were eating.

Being just inches from all this marine wildlife was truly magnificent. I just wish I could have taken more pictures and that I could see them already.

I now know why SCUBA diving the Great Barrier Reef is one of those "Bucket List" things for so many people. I would love to do it again some time.

When we got back to Palm Cove, we headed out for dinner. We ended up at this place called Cafe De Lema. It's pretty cute. The food was great though. The service was good as well. I had some homemade gnocci that was definitely some of the better gnocci I've had in my life. Mike thought his meal was the best meal he'd had on the trip. We got talking with the people at the table next to us. It was their second time going there in two days because they thought the food was great too. I highly recommend the restaurant.

Tomorrow: The Rainforest

Touching a large clam

Touching a large clam


Huge fish

Huge fish


Coral

Coral


Snorkelers

Snorkelers

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

To Palm Cove

There aren't so many flights out of Uluru, so we ended up with half a day to kill before we got to leave. I did laundry- woo hoo. I did get a chance to read and relax while it was running though, so it was nice to have some more continue. We arrived at the Cairns airport, which was another airport where they pull stairs up to the plane instead of having gates. As we walked off the plane, the sauna hit us smack dab in the face (and everywhere else). It was hot, muggy, and just generally gross. However, there were no flies, so it was ok by me. Perhaps the silver lining to Uluru is that it made Cairns seem better by comparison. Normally, I would complain about a hotel with ants. However, compared to the huge nasty things at Uluru, we didn't say anything. Other than the ants, which probably get in because some of the windows only have shutters- no glass, no screens- our hotel was one of the best we've been to. It's fancy without being pretentious, so it seems a lot nicer than other places. I think its elegant simplicity makes it stand out more than places that are clearly trying too hard to be nice. Plus, our space is huge. Mom has her own room, Rachel and Mike share a room with their own bathroom, Shanaenae and I share a room with a bathroom, plus we have a living room with a view of the pool and a mini kitchen (in addition to the multiple microwaves, minifridges, and tvs in the other rooms). We didn't really have time to do much the first night other than get settled. Most of Palm Cove shuts down by 7, so we didn't have too many choices of things to do anyways. We went to El Greko, this Greek restaurant. Our appetizers came out pretty quickly and were good. I even got graviera cheese, which I had never had before. (Although it is halfway between a bread cheese and a Haloumi, so it wasn't too different and crazy.) Then, a belly dancer came out. At first, we just watched and had fun, until she tried to pull us up to dance with her. Mom party pooped, so the dancer tried to pull me up. I stood there and embarrassed myself for a while until she let me sit back down. And then, we waited. And waited. It was over an hour before our food came. It was good, but not worth an hour's wait. Moral: don't go to El Greko in Palm Cove. We got in much later than we expected, and so went straight to sleep as we had to get up early the next day for.... ...The Great Barrier Reef!!!!!

The view from our hotel

The view from our hotel

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The big rocks- Uluru and Kata Tjuta

We got up before the buttcrack of dawn in order to see sunrise over Uluru. As we drove out to the sunrise viewing point, we had a pretty decent view of the rock as it gets light well before sunrise. The rock itself is actually gray, but when it rains, the iron in the rock gets oxidized, which leaves rust all over the surface. The red of a sunrise shining on that rust was beautiful. After the pretty pictures, we continued our tour via foot. I was glad we invested in some fly nets. While the bugs weren't really out at night, which made sunrise and last night's dinner more enjoyable, once the sun came out, they came out as well. Even the bus was full of them. I was also glad for the breeze so that I could wear my sweatshirt to keep the bugs off, but still not be super hot. Our guide showed us several places around the rock. Apparently I was tired and fell asleep during some of the bus ride portion, but I did catch the discussion when we were on foot. First, Uluru is actually not the Aboriginal name for the rock- that's the Big Rock. Uluru refers to a water source. If all of the water sources around the area dry up, there is still one right next to the rock that will hold water. However, it is special and only the women can draw from it. If that dries up, there is one last hope- Uluru that is actually up on the rock. This site is so special that only certain important men could go draw the water, and that only after showing proper respect for the ancestor who guards it. As water is the most precious resource out in the desert, this last opportunity for life was very special to the aboriginals, much more important than the rock it lies on. This is why if you pointed to the rock from afar and asked them what their name for "that" is, they'd think you were pointing to the water, and say Uluru. That being said, the Big Rock is still important to them. It's where the ancestors' souls live. When a child is born, and ancestor comes out to take care of the child and be with it for it's life. When the person dies, the ancestor guides his/her soul back to the rock, which is where souls are supposed to return. The rock is just more of a holy site like a cemetery than a lifeline like the Uluru. The name Uluru stuck until a European came to map out the rock. He named it after his sweetheart's dad, Ayers. The European name for the place has since been Ayer's Rock. He also named the water source for his sweetheart- Maggie Springs. Unfortunately for him, while he was out naming things after her and her family, she got married to somebody else. My opinion is that it serves him right for ditching her in order to try to get her something "romantic" but completely useless. These days, Uluru is coming back in style and you can refer to the area under either name and be understood. Our guide also told us many of the stories the Aboriginals tell about the different rock formations. Each one represents some snake, some man, some pole, some mark left behind as somebody kneeled. The man's skull, I saw as a skull the first time we circled the rock, even before he told the story. Some of the other things I could see in the rock, but some of them I couldn't. It's like looking at the stars in a way. The dippers are easy to see as dippers, but some of the constellations that only have 3 stars in them are hard to see as dogs or whatever. The Aboriginals used the rocks to tell these stories, which were important to pass down both as history and as stories with morals, like fables. They also painted on the rocks and used those paintings to tell more recent stories. Our guide interpreted some of the rock art for us. One thing I think that was neat is that they represent people as a horseshoe shape. Why? Because if you sit in the sand cross legged, that's the shape you leave behind. If they neeed to differentiate an image of a person as a woman or a man, they'd put a stick or a boomerang next to the horseshoe. By the way, the boomerangs that come back were only used by the Aboriginals on the coast. The ones in the red center used boomerangs that don't come back, as they were hunting on land where you can go pick up your weapon if it drops and also were not usually hunting things that would fly away. We made a quick stop at the visitor's center on the way out, where I saw a gorgeous original that I could actually somewhat afford, but Rachel convinced me to get a print that was something like 1/40th the price instead. I hope I don't regret it. When I get home though, I'm going to see if there are any museums anywhere on the east coast that have Aboriginal art. This stuff is just so unique, and now that I know what a lot of the symbols mean, I can even figure out the story a little. I spent the afternoon relaxing in the air conditioned apartment. It was buggy, but we had done a decent job of keeping the flies out, so I could ignore the rest of them. It was actually kind of nice to have some down time where I didn't feel like I should be doing something else. Anywhere else, I would have found something to do, something to see, but there really wasn't that much to do or see here. Plus, there was no way I was voluntarily going out into the flies. I read, napped, caught up on sorting pictures, and just generally had a calm afternoon. In the evening, we went out to Kata Tjuta, the other big rock. Actually, unlike Uluru, which is a monolith, Kata Tjuta is made up of many different kinds of rock and the rocks have split somewhat so it is not just one rock. It was still pretty. On the way there, we passed trees that look like Dr. Seuss's truffula trees, just a different color. I feel like they had to be the inspiration for the drawings in the Lorax. Apparently, these are desert oaks. Desert oaks don't grow outward as juveniles, which is why they look like truffula trees. Instead, they spend their effort growing a deep root. Once the root hits a water pocket and the plant has secured a constant water source, only then does it start growing outward. As we got closer to Kata Tjuta, the oak/truffula trees diminished as they wouldn't be able to reach through the rocky soil to a water source. Instead, we saw some desert eucalyptus trees, flowers, and other plants. Once we got close enough, we hiked into one of the Kata Tjuta gorges, but the flies were even more horrendous than they had previously been. I was thankful that they were having a party on my fly net, and not in my face. I put on that stinky fly cream, but since I was sweating through it, the flies followed me anyways. I don't know how the people here do it. Flies were crawling all over the face of our morning tour guide, but he just kept talking as if they weren't there, not even bothering to swat at them. Somebody needs to introduce some birds, bats, or lizards to take care of them. They really ruined the experience for me and you could tell that it was even worse for some of the visitors who hadn't gotten fly nets yet. We drove back away from the features so that we would have a good view of them at sunset. As we watched the sun descend, we had a picnic of some bread, oil/vinegar, and spice mix. The spice mix wasn't that great, although it could also have been that the bread wasn't. It didn't really matter though, the flies were all over it in moments, so I wasn't really going to continue eating it anyways. Also, I was paying attention to the changing of the colors of Kata Tjuta. It actually looked quite different in the different light.

Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are pretty, but you can see that on a post card. As we didn't climb either rock*, I really don't feel we got much more out of this place than aboriginal stories, art and the night sky. While the stories were nice, I'm sure there has got to be a way to find them in a book. I saw aboriginal art elsewhere, and I know there are other places where you can see a lot of night sky- maybe Siberia or the Sahara or something. I honestly recommend skipping Uluru/Kata Tjuta to anybody planning a trip to Australia. Spend your time somewhere else where there's something to see and you don't have to waste all your energy trying to keep flies out of your nose.

*You can't climb Kata Tjuta at all. Uluru climbing is technically allowed, although it is still considered disrespectful to the Aboriginals, so I wouldn't want to do it. One reason is that it is the place of their ancestors, so you can compare it to hiking all over a graveyard or scaling the wall of a cathedral. The other reason is that it is a very hard climb. People die climbing it and many have to be rescued every year. If you do get injured or killed on their land, the aboriginals take it personally as they feel that they have not been good guardians of the guests on their land. Because it disrespects the people, it drains rescue resources, and it is no longer vital to the tourism industry (people like us come here even though we're not going to climb it), there is talk that the climb will be shut down in the relatively near future.

Tomorrow: we get out of this horrid place!

Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta


Uluru

Uluru

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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