Sunday, January 5, 2014

12 Apostles, formerly known as sow and piglets...

Interesting formations
Rocky Coastline
It was a dark and stormy morning. The clouds had rolled in, bringing rain with it. Periodically it was the PNW rain but all too often It was leaning towards heavy and even downpours! We persevered, however, wending our way along the coastal road...the great ocean drive...traveling ever closer to the twelve apostles.
Part of the 12 apostles
The coastline here has a lot of limestone cliffs, cliffs that are easily eroded through the actions of the relentlessly pounding surf. The surf isolated sections of the cliff, cutting them off into large stacks, standing on their own, separate from the receding coastline. At one time, these tall monoliths were known as the sow and piglets but some founding father...or more likely a founding mother, decided that the name had no class and since there were 11 of these huge columns, heck, it was almost twelve so why not change the name to the twelve apostles! There is a large debate if there ever were actually twelve but the name stuck. One toppled a while back but still...ten is close to twelve. Actually, there are a couple on the opposite side of the spit so if you count them...

The only downside to the viewing was the weather timing. I referred to the rain...when we started out it was a nice gentle fall but by the time we had hiked out, it was leaning towards the nice gentle downpour side of rainfall. We, of course, had only our normal PNW rain gear, which meant we were in sandals with a light jacket. It works well at home but we, and everyone else, were soaked! Rather than walking on the beach, we had to satisfy, ourselves with a view, a few quick pictures protecting the cameras, and a quick dash back up the path.
We headed inland, staying with the storm, heading towards the coastal city of Queenscliff. We stayed in the Vue Grand hotel, a rather McMinnamin’s kind of place...old hotel, refurbished in the same style, well developed dining areas and pub. It could easily fit in with the chain.
As we roamed the streets, we found yet another hotel with the same style amenities (hmmm....wonder of the visited Portland at some point?) along with a great menu. I am so impressed with the spice variations that were available on the foods. We had raviolis, stuffed with a mushroom spiced moisture, drizzled with oil  lemon juice and a splash of basaltic. We're seriously considering a pasta dish of some sort for our next family reunion, or perhaps wedding...some kitchen work will be needed .
The Sphinx
In the morning we caught the ferry to Sorrento. We were always heading towards Melbourne but at a very slow pace. Found a park with great ocean views and a walk along the rain today. I mentioned the limestone. Dissolved limestone turns water the most gorgeous shades of turquoise you've ever seen. The pictures rarely do them justice. On the beach walk you'll see the rock formation they call the sphinx, though it is fortunately carved out of more resilient rock than the soft limestone cliffs from the day before.

Wound our way around the coast to a lighthouse sitting out on a prominent point. This part of the coastline is extremely rugged with rocks strewn along the beaches, similar to the Oregon coastline. We sat out at a small cafe looking over the ocean. They have a surf rescue organization where they apparently teach all sorts of lessons. We saw tiny little kids, jumping up and down in the shallowest areas, under the watchful eyes of a number of lifeguards. A bit further up slightly larger kids were swimming out into the waves where the guards on surfboards sat, and body surf back in. Other groups were taking surfboards out, then working the catch a ride. There was yet another group that was practicing rescue skills....five kids went out, started waving arms like they needed help, and five others raced out on their boards to rescue them. Australia has made lifeguard skills into a competitive sport. They have annual events where lifeguards pit their skills against others in marathon type events that include swimming, surfing, various rescue situations and more.

Cactus Bloom
Roamed further along the coast, visiting a few other small, and not so small, beach towns along the way. Eventually ended up in Melbourne where we headed to the Royal Botanical Gardens.  There we spent the last few hours, roaming the paths and exploring the various flora of Australia as well as other parts of the world. A great ending to a great trip!

Wildlife Safari

Carried away with koalas
Peek a boo
I wish I could say the wildlife safari was well endowed with money. It's quite apparent that the city supports Sovereign Hill far more than the park, sadly. It was, however, a delightful place to stroll, catch pictures of the roaming kangaroos (like the peacocks at our zoo), and see the koalas!

When we had koalas at the Oregon zoo, they were the very normal hang out in the trees, sleep 20 hours a day, munch some food and go back to sleep type of koalas. On a good day, if one moved so much as a single leg, we got excited. These guys Moved! They climbed to the ground, they carted a baby to another tree, they groomed, they jumped from limb to limb, they ate, they slept, they played...I think we were there for the entire four hour period that they're typically awake during a day. Such a great opportunity!
This one carefully posed for us
Yes, the baby is in the pouch!
We did get lots of pictures of the roaming animals...kangaroos and emus were everywhere. There were also some alpaca / llama type animals that roamed by the lake. Did I mention kangaroos - they were everywhere!

Wonder what they're saying?

How often can you stand right next to a kangaroo? Talk to a kangaroo who is handing on your every word? Feed a kangaroo? And even pet one!

Alpaca at the lake
We followed one of the keepers around a bit as he fed various animals.

Spotted tailed Quell
 The Tasmanian devils are much smaller than I imagined but boy do they set up a jarring sound when they're protecting their food! The spotted tailed quell also squabble over the food, though they aren't anywhere near as vocal about it. Mostly it was the babies stealing mom’s food and arguing with her when she took it back.  

Sovereign Hill - Ballarat

Obviously, once again, first impressions are not always a good idea to go by. I was not impressed driving into the very dry and very dead town. The buildings are old and nothing was happening. Must admit it made me think of Klamath Falls. Our room is in an older part of town...that said the place is cool with real wood floors and old style period furniture. It fits in with Sovereign Hill, a very we'll developed old mining town we visited.

1000 candles a day - made by hand!
Panning for gold
They have gone all out on Sovereign Hill, recreating the old mining town that started the community. There are recreations of the tents people lived in, problems with the immigrants that came for the gold, particularly the Chinese, tours of a  mine and local stores that were common in the day - 1850's.  While the people came to find gold, others came to provide things they'd need. Mines used over 1000 candles every day so candle shops bloomed, using tallow from the animals killed daily to feed the thousands of men living there. They are still making candles there, dipping them repeatedly on huge racks into the melted wax...paraffin now. Could you imagine the stink from the tallow? Boys were apprenticed at the shop for four years...with no pay! Afterwards the owner, because they now had the knowledge, helped them set up their own shop because there was always a need for candles.
They build and maintain their carriages
Building each wheel - one by one!
They also needed carriages to haul good, gold and people so that business bloomed and is still going today. They have some of the early machines, all in working order, where they demonstrate how to create the wheel hubs, spokes, wood rims and the metal rim to finalize it. They run a number of carriages around the hill, carrying people in a real horse and buggy. They build and maintain what they have.
The machinery they have all runs on steam...and they still have 100 plus year old boilers cranking out the steam to run the milling machines, elevators into the mines and more. Fascinating.

Blacksmiths, cooks, tent makers, seamstress, post office, and even scribes all moved in to make the camps function and eventually become a city. It was fascinating to wander through and see everything.

Glass House Mountains and Waterfalls

As you drive up to the Mary CairnsCross rest stop, you can see the famous Glass House Mountains. As the story goes, they were first recorded and named by Captain James Cook in 1770. He thought that they looked very much like the glass furnaces back in England, hence the name.

The mountains have massive, jagged peaks, rising above the landscape. The mountains have had a spiritual significance to the Aboriginal people of the region, and though tourists can explore some of this beauty, it is still home to traditions, burial sites, and rock art.

We headed up the mountains for some extensive waterfalls and hikes along the gorgeous waterways. The first falls we headed for was the Kondalila Falls, an aboriginal word meaning "rushing waters". Well, I'm really not so sure where the rushing water has rushed off too - I believe "trickling water" would be a better term for it. The location of the falls were easy to identify, and I bet they would be gorgeous when they live up to their name but at this moment, the small pools represented the sum total of the water.
That said, the hike through the forest was spectacular and enjoyable and watching the kids playing in the water at the top pool was a lot of fun.

The Sunshine Coast

Skyline at coast
There are a lot of similarities between the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. Both are big tourist spots and both cater to them in many ways. The Gold Coast seems to be filled with more young people, including locations such as Surfers Paradise Beach, Bikini beach, and Mermaids beach. It does get very busy and crowded during the holiday season...and we hit the season spot on. While we did a drive through there, we spent more time roaming the Sunshine Coast with our friend Gail, another Doha colleague.
Hove To - view from our room
Gail and Rachel - our friendly guides!
We arrived in Buderim mid afternoon, locating the B and B we were staying at. My pesky first impression was not good...I remembered the corrugated iron shacks built in colonial town as a kid, and this place was covered with the stuff...though it was a high quality steel, I was told. Turns out it was an extremely popular building material, no upkeep to speak of, and it was used extensively all over Australia. The place was actually a model of efficiency, producing their own electricity using solar, capturing rain water to meet most of their needs (it is in a rainforest), recycling everything possible...just delightful. The owners had spent 18 years on their sailboat traveling around the world. Fascinating stories, shared over cups of the and scotch.

Coastline walk - very much like the Oregon coast
Gail met us the next day, taking us all over the area, local beaches, and landmarks around town. We went over for dinner another night, to find ourselves observers of a rather fierce lightning storm. The bolts and sheets were coming so fast you couldn't keep track of the roaring thunder. We sat in the open doorway and watched the show for a good hour before we finally ventured out to go home. 
Alexandria Bay
Spent the next day hiking out along the furthest coast line. They have a lot of different national parks around the country, this one preserving some gorgeous coastline. The color of the water is an unbelievably deep turquoise - absolutely stunning (lots of limestone here). We hiked around the coast, out to Alexandria Bay - our little Lexi already has a bay named after her!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Life on the Great Barrier Reef

Flying Foxes (bats) in Cairns
We traveled up to Cairns, located in the north eastern portion of Australia, entrance to the Great Barrier Reef. We wandered along the coastline from our motel, up towards the downtown area. As the light faded, a thousand birds suddenly winged their way across the sky...birds until I suddenly realized they were bats! Australia has the flying fox, a large, fruit bat. I tried to get a close up of some of them but, alas, they were too far away and too fast. 

This has to have been the most spectacular Christmas ever. We started the day with an early morning pickup and headed for the boat to take us out to the

reef where we would stay for the nest two days. The reef extends for a thousand miles...and we only saw a fraction of it.
 Our first spectacular view took us into an enchanted world of gorgeously colored fish and corals. The variety was unbelievable. Some of the fish were huge and stayed in large schools. What a massive living wall they created. The parrot fish were much larger than the ones in the Maldives, once again chewing on the coral. There were hundreds of other exquisitely colored fish wending their way up, around and through the coral. We even had a chance to see the tiny little dori fish....much smaller than our friend from Nemo. Turtles and sharks were spotted also, as well as huge scallops!

Giant Scallop
The coral was interesting in the huge variety of color and structure. Some resembled delicate flowers, others huge fungi. One of them was covered in tiny cilia, rippling as the ocean current swept by. Saw some of the gigantic clams with their velvet lined mouth, clamp down quickly on any unsuspecting critter that got too close.
Heading out to dive or snorkel

The dance repeated itself everywhere we went. Over the two days, we had the chance to explore three different sections of the reef, a tiny taste of what the entire reef must hold.
Sunset on the water

Cairns would have been a place to have stayed longer because it turns out there are so many things to see there but alas, our journey continues down in the Sunshine Coast.

Memories of Japan

Sean and Geri

I love living internationally. We have met so many people over the years and now have the chance to visit with me in new places. Sean and Geri from Japan are now living in Australia, less than an hour away from where we were staying. Since they had just moved here, they came up to the mountain so they could explore a new part of their new homeland. What a great day of reminiscing and catching up on old friends.

Picturesque valley view from the top of Mt. Tamborine
Coffee n a gorgeous shop in the middle of a nursery and then Roeland room us around to some more beautiful sites including a stunning view over the valley from the top of the hill, the location of a well placed restaurant. We roamed up the gallery walk, our first real touristy bit of walking checking out local products. The glassworks were stunning and the gallery offering aboriginal art was fascinating. I'd seen it before and read about it but actually seeing the work and stories behind designs made it much more interesting. The didgeridoos were phenomenal! Again the designs were intricate and told various stories of life in the outback. If only we had more time...and money!

Australia...the land down under

Gold Coast Beach
Gold Coast Skyline
Remember those crazy "foreign" songs we learned as kids...the ones to make us seem more "worldly"? Yeah, we'll, I finally know what a kookaburra looks like and what a gum tree is.
We spent our first afternoon driving up the Gold Coast area, and extremely popular tourist area, particularly surfers. The beaches are gorgeous and extensive and people line the shores in the summer. Fortunately we were there just before the Christmas holiday starts so there was a lull...we won't be so lucky next week when the tourists show up in droves. Julie and I took off for some shopping she needed to do...omg I could totally live here. The number of organic markets is phenomenal! Naturopaths are available everywhere. I was able to easily pick up a few things I was running low on. We wandered through some really cool paper shops as well as some high end art galleries. Gorgeous stuff…for a price!
Kevin, the Kukaburra
The cockatiels were huge!
Roeland and Julie live at the top of a mountain at Mt. Tamborine. Their place is easily a walking place: few minutes to a small shopping area-two different directions, a walk or bike ride away from the main city...yeah, small main city...but with pretty much all the services you need. It's really a beautiful place. Love sitting out in the deck watching the birds that Roeland is befriending with bribery.
Roeland and Julie
We hiked down to the village of Mt Tamborine the following morning. Trails exist everywhere, taking us along the highway and through the rainforest to get to the village (40 min) where we had to try out Hillbilly Coffee before heading on to another hike to Curtis falls. I must admit, the falls suffer from a lack of water at this moment but there are promises of lots of water to come. Every January the rains come, monsoon type rains. There are signs everywhere warning drivers that if it's flooded, don't try it. Cars get carried down creeks and rivers by the fast running water. They even had to go to some pretty drastic measures to protect the house...the basement flooded yearly.

The area here is mostly rain forests and the hiking takes you up and down through the terrain. There were a large number of trees that looked like there were a bunch of roots, because there are. The strangler fig sends out its seeds that settle on an unsuspecting tree. The seedling gets its nutrients from the tree as the roots are sent down to the ground. Eventually, the original tree is strangled and all that’s left is the strangler! The water is unbelievably clear, producing stunning reflected pictures. If my hiking partners hadn't wanted to move on, I could have snapped a hundred shots!