04 October 2006

Canberra Floriade

On the 19th of September we returned back to Canberra in order to go for another ultrasound scan of our baby - all ok (see the baby blog)! Secondly, we needed to recollect the heap of luggage that we had stored in the office of one of Daniel's colleagues at the ANU. As it happened, we were quite lucky with our planning, as the 20th was the first day of the Canberra floriade. The floriade is Canberra's main festival and bolsters the towns image as "Australias garden capital". The festival features hundreds of flower beds with millions of flowers of all kinds, sizes and colours. The flowers were planted so that the different colours would form various patterns related to the theme Carnivale - the world on show. Unfortunately, the patterns were very hard to discern, and a possibility to view the flowers from above would have been very welcome. Amnyway, the flowers were phenomenal.


One of the flower beds, this one with Turkey as the theme. As is apparent, the weather was sunny and warm (something you forget to appreciate while you're there).


A beautiful Tulip-looking flower.

Outback Undara

A trip to Australia is nowhere near complete without at least a short encounter with the outback. On our journey inland to the lavatubes at Undara we got our dose of outback ambience. First one must get to whatever destination one has picked and this includes a loooooong drive on single lane road where one has bear the constant risk of not managing in time to avoid a massive aproaching roadtrain. On the other hand there's an unmistakeable air of liberty when one takes off into the horzon on an endlessly long stretch of tarmack. At around 19:00 we arrived at Undara Experience, which is a large tourist complex right in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Only thing around is cattle and wildlife. We cooked a bit of dinner in the campsite kitchen and then cuddled into our tent for a night in the wild. On the following day we had bush-brekky and then headed on a half day tour of the place's attraction, the lava tubes.


Our little tent containing two beds, a light and that's it. Temperatures do creep down to only a couple of degrees at night, so you'd better tuck yourself well under the blanket.


In the morning we were honoured with the company of these Northern Nailtail Wallabies. Notice the length of its tail!


This is what the outback brekky is all about, you pay a heap of money to toast your bread over a pile of embers. To be fair the toast did actually turn out to be quite tasty and eggs, bacon and toms were provided by the bush-chef.


When having bush brekky you had better watch your bacon! If you clear your plate to far from your body (maybe only half an arm's lenght) you might have a kookaburra air-raiding your food.


On the way to the lava tubes we passed a very funny looking bird. Unlike the emu and casowaries this Brolga can actually fly.


Finaly a lava tube. This is the second out of three sites three that we visited. As can be seen the tubes are not complete as many sections of them have collapsed during earthquakes. The tubes at Undara are the oldest remaining lava tubes in the world, thanks mainly to the dry weather, which has kept erosion low. In its entirety the tube is around 100 km's long. The floor of the tube is covered with fine dust generated from the erosion of the volcaning rock. The walls of the tube are full of cracks, but like a roman bridge the individual peices of the ceiling keep it up.


On the third site on the tour we got to enter a longer intact segment of the tubes. Here the walls were covered with signs of the volcanic origin of the caves. One could see how lava had flown at different levels, how the walls had re-melted and started dripping and on several places gas-explosions had melted huge hollows in to the ceiling.


The tubes are not without life. Small bats like this fella like to "hang out" in the tubes.

Tablelands

The time has come to leave the coast and go straight up into the highland plateau, which is called the Atherton Tableland. The first part of the journey is a step ascent on a winding road. After an hour of driving uphill one reaches the flat tablelands. The climate changes slightly to more dry but most places also very fertile because of the volcanic soil.


On the way to Youngaburra on the first day we experienced this wonderful sunset over lake ??.


We stopped in Mareeba to have a bite at a Chinese reastaurant. Apparently many Chinese immigrated here to work in the mines, hence there's even a Chinese temple in a small town like Mareeba. On the main street was also this loud tree! The racket was created by a flock of rainbow lorikeets, which you may also be able to see if you zoom in on this picture.


We stayed overnigh in Yungaburra which is strategically located in close vacinity to a heap of nice places on the tablelands. Here a freshwater turtle poses for the tourists in the crater lake Echam.


The famous curtain fig.

Mossman Gorge

On our way southwards again we passed by Mossman gorge.

The first activity was a short one-hour walk with an aboriginal of the kuku-yalanji tribe. He told some stories of his relationship with the rainforest and traditions of his tribe. Somehow, when one talks with an aboriginal one really understands how dificult it can be to understand one another across cultural divides. It is as if one speaks a different language even though it is all spoken in english. On the picture our guide illustrates how traditional body paints are derived from different colours of ochre (iron rich soil) together with black charcoal.

After the walk and some tea with dampers we went further into the Gorge where it is possible to follow a path through the beautiful rainforest.


Emma sits at a small creek. A very idyllic spot.

A pool and a small stream.

Cape Tribulation - Rainforest meets the Reef

Now we pushed even further north beyond the Daintree river and into the the Cape Tribulation area, which features pristine rainforest and milelong almost deserted sand beaches. The Cape was named by Captain Cook on the voyage where he discovered Australia for the Europeans. Off shore lies the reef that was named after Cook's ship Endavour, which ran aground on it. Cooktown about 100 km north of Cape Tribulation is where the expedition were moored for several months in order to repair the damages to the ship. So, there's quite a bit of history to the place.
We settled into a small B&B called Rainforest Hideway and remained in the place for three nights.


Cape tribulation at dusk.


An excellent way to get a view of the coast is from one of these small sea-kayaks. Besides the view and a good exercise we also spoted several green turtles that live among the corals. It's quite fantastic that there's a coral reef right at the coast, and as we paddled we could peep down and see it.


Here we're on Noah Beach with the Noah Range in the background. Beautiful water, empty beach and a stunning backdrop.


Cape tribulation beach looking absolutely irresistable, but only a few people venture into the waves. The reason is that a crock had been spotted off-shore a few days earlier. Even though crocks have never before attacked on beaches like this one and the crock has not been seen for a couple of days people still chose to remain on land.


Yep, Australia is a dangerous place. Crock warnings are put up when one the fellas is spotted and the stinger (stinging jelly-fish) warnings are there all year round, but fortunately it wasn't season for them when we were there.


This the cabin we stayed in at Rainforest Hideaway B&B. The place featured complete rainforest immersion in the sense that there were no windows in the cabin but only a net to keep insects out. Remarkably there were no mosquitoes and because the cabin is inside the rainforest there was hardly any wind. During the night we could hear all the animal sounds including bandicoots hopping around on the forest floor and shrub-fowl screeching loudly for hours!
The breakfast was served on the large porch and while having yummy fruits and gas toasted bread, birds would come and sit of the fence to have a bit of breadcrumbs or fruitpeels. To our great disappointment the cassowary that regularly comes by the place did not carfe to show up any of the 3 mornings that we stayed.


Here's the rainforest of Cape Trib. We came across this lovely blue swimming hole on a guided rainforest walk. This pool is a sacred 'birth-pool' to the local aboriginals.


On the rainforest walk we also saw several of this flowering Bumpy Satinash. The tree trunk is actually partly hollow in order for it to provide shelter for a collony of ants. The ants take care of the tree which in turn secreets a sweet nectar for the ants to feed on.



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26 September 2006

Port Douglas and The Great Great Barrier Reef

Instead of going on the obligatory reef-trip from Cairns we decided to head to a more enjoyable place to be the base of our reef trip namely Port Douglas (Port).

Already the Cook Highway out of Cairns entices one to go further north and Port itself is unlike Cairns truly charming. This charm, however, comes at a price - litterally. The clientelle in Port is less backpakker more executive. Still, there are some hostels; the one we stayed at was Dougie's.

We spent our first afternoon at the 4 mile beach in Port. Although the sand is not that white, the beach is really nice. The only tricky part is the high tidal difference.

The second day in Port we went out on what was probably the most anticipated part of our journey - The Great Barrier Reef. As none of us have any diving experience we chose to take a snorkeling trip. The boat left Port at 8 and we then sailed for 1 and a half hours before reaching the Opal Reef.

The first of 3 diving sites was this pinnacle pertruding the deep water.

It is undescribable how it is to swim right over the potpourri of coloured corals and fish. The fish are swimming around you at an arms length and the you almost hit the corals as you swim over them.

This is Emma with snorkeling gear and a wet-suit to keep her warm. This picture is from the edge of the pinnacle where the sea-floor drops tens of metres.

And here's underwater Daniel!


Little striped fish swimming just below the surface of the water and all around you when you snorkel.

When we ereached the 2nd diving site the tide had already receded and it was no longer possible to swim on top of the shallowest parts of the reef. Instead one could swim around the edges which were sloping gently in to deeper waters. We could swim into small coves where the seafloor is covered with dead coral "rubble" and suddenly you find yourself standing on the sefloor miles from any permanent landmass.

A group of large fish called Redfins patrol the water for tasty small fish. They really look huge when you swim with them under-water.

And here the rarest creature we managed to get a glimpse of - a green sea turtle.

After a lunch on board we plunged into the waters at the 3rd and last diving cite. By now the shallowest parts of the reef were completely free.

A flock of Redfins were cirkling the boat and greeted you as you swam away from the boat.

This entry will be extended soon...

Kuranda day trip

One of the must-do things in Cairns is to go on a day trip to Kuranda up in the hills behind Cairns.

On the way up to Kuranda we took the cable cars. The cable cars go for about 8 km over the rainforest canopy with 2 intermediate stops along the way. Their whole purpose is for people to get a different perspective on the rainforest by seeing it from the gondola above. On the stops one can walk around on small boardwalks and the last stop offered views of the Barron Falls. When one wants to continue the journey one just jumps into an empty gondola and off you glide.

At the end of the cable track is the (themepark) village of Kuranda. After a wholesome brekky we entered Birdland which is a collection of Australian and "exotic" birds from other countries.

The attraction is that one can feed several of the birds and several of them jump onto your hand, arm or even head. These are cery "friendly" parrots from India.

It is also here that we saw for the first and the last time a Cassowary.

This is a real bewdie, a red-tailed black cockatoo! And it's a rally big bird as you can see.


Going back down to Cairns we hopped on the scenic railway that in old days was used for mining purposes. Here our picture is taken in front of the train at the cozy railway station in Kuranda.

It is a 2 hour winding journey down the mountain along the Barron River before arriving back in Cairns. Along the way one passes several beautiful viewpoints and some waterfalls as the one on the picture.

The pictures from this day were taken on a good old film-camera so they had to be scanned before they could come on the blog. The quality is, therefore, so so!

Cairns

The first task when heading to Cairns is to get the pronunciation right! Try and I'll test you if I see you...

First day in Cairns we made arrangements for the rest of our trip, booking hostel rooms and getting a rental car. Unfortunately, we will probably most rememeber Cairns as the place were we had our camera snatched from our bag. Therefore, we have no pictures of the previous destinations as they were all in the camera memory.

Here is a picture of some typical "Queenslanders" in Cairns. A Queenslander is a style of wooden, richly ornamented, two story house that is typical for Queensland. The style of building is not dissimilar from the typical style in southern Thailand and Malaysia.

Brissie

On our arrival in Brisbane we learnt that on that very night there would be a huge fireworks spectacle called "River Fire"! From the balconny of our hostel "Somewhere to Stay" we had the best view of down town Brisbane and so we brought some snacks along and waited to see the free show. Now, the thing about River Fire is that it does not only involve heaps of gunpowder, but at the start and the end two fighter jets fly low over the city centre while spewing an enormous tail of flames from some sort of flame-throwing booster. Not only is it spectacular to see but it also makes an absolutely ear-shattering noise! The fireworks was nice too... It was launched from severeal of the high-rises along the river. As for the rest of our stay in Brisbane we have no pictures to show (See Cairns entry).

Upon the previous night's action, we thought we would have a more soothing day and had decided to go on a cruise up the Brisbane river to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, but we missed the boat. So we spent the day looking around Brisbane from the Queen St. Mall to the pleasant South Bank Parklands.

On the third day in town we had made sure to book the river cruise in advance ensuring a pick up by the boat operator. After a 1+ of sailing we berthed at the sanctuary. The sanctuary had many coulourful birds and parrots, Wombats, Emus, Bandicoots, Dingos, Snakes, Rats, Roos, Wallabies and of course more than 300 cute, fluffy, cuddly, soft, greyish, sleepy, smelly, sharp clawed Koalas. B.t.w. Koala is an aboriginal name meaning "no drink" because Koalas never come down to drink, but get all the fluid from the not very juicy leaves. The special attraction of this sanctuary is that they allow for the Koalas to be "cuddled". This means a short opportunity to hold one of them in your arms while a guy from the sanctuary takes a nice photo of you. Of course this was an absolutely irresistable opportunity for Emma, so off went the 15 dollars and in came the undeniably irresistable Koala.
Later on Daniel got his chance to hold a lovely Olivegreen Python, absolutely free of charge! Another small cash handout secured us two bags of Kangaroo tucker. This was to be given to the animals jumping around in the large Roo enclosure. So we spent the rest of our time at the sanctuary hand feeding kangaroos and wallabies and posing for photos next to them. Another hours cruise took us back in to Brisbane centre and late that evening we took off in a plane bound for Cairns.

Orange Valleys

This post is the first in a series recounting our OZ-tour that mainly took us to North Queensland. However we started of our World Heritage Site tour by visiting the Blue Mountains on a day-trip from Sydney. On an early morning train we travelled the scenic tracks to Katoomba. Katoomba is a little town almost completely "devoted" to serving the tourist hordes. Several cable cars go over deep chasms and up and down the cliffs' edges. The mountains truly are awe insipring. Unfortunately, we cannot show any pictures from this destination (See Cairns entry for explanation). We got back to Sydney late in the evening and went to China Town for a mouth burning Chinese hotpot dinner.

The following day we headed for Paddy's markets, where you can buy the cheapest Australiana. We purchased a big bag to hold some of our burgeoning inventory. Later in the afternoon we headed for Brisbane and that's that!

20 August 2006

Australian War Memorial

In commemoration of all the Australian soldiers who faught and died in battles the government has built this memorial, which also houses an extensive exhibition about all the mainly overseas battlefields where Australian soldiers have faught.
The inner court of the memorial with the memorial hall at the far end. In the middle of the pond the eternal flame burns for the fallen soldiers. Very traditional!

The memorial hall is decorated by beautifull murals. The one in the dome is particularly attractive.

The names of all the fallen Australian soldiers is engraved in to brass panels along the side walls of the court.

The exhibition contains a boys dream collection of WW2 aircraft and tanks. The most interesting and peculiar object on display, I thought, was the japanese midget submarine, which had been sunk in Sydney harbour. Surely, only the japanese could survive a trip all the way to Australia in such a constricted space.

Black Mountain and Telstra Tower

We've been living right at the foot of Black Mountain and we have used the tower as a beakon whenever we could not find our way home. Now, we thought we ought to pay a visit to the summit and see it close up. We went up along the winding road, paid the entrance fee to the tower, and rocketed up the lift shaft! Actually, paying an entrance fee felt so unusual to us, as everything else in Canberra is free. Anyway, the view from the tower was really great. The tower itself is not that tall, but the fact that it sits on top of a hill contributes significantly to the quality of the overview from the top.
Telstra tower rises in between the gum trees.

View from the tower of Canbera Civic (the cluster of tall buildings), Lake Burley Griffin and Parliament Hill. The ANU campus is situated at the foot of Black Mountain and extends out onto the Acton peninsula where the National Museum of Australia is located.

Just to get the perspective right, here's black mountain with Telstra Tower as seen from the shore of the lake.

Embassy hopping

As Canberra was constructed from scratch there was a good opportuinity for nations who wanted to establish diplomatic ties with Australia to build their embassy buildings in some characteristic style. Needless to say, not all embassies are particularly interesting, but a couple are very nice indeed. Here's a couple to begin with.
India's embassy is very lovely. Not so grand but just very elegantly designed.

The Royal Thai Embassy. We happened to come by on the night that the Thai embassy was hosting a reception to celebrate and share the festivities that were held in Bangkok in commemoration of the Kings 60th anniversary as monarch. In spite of our pretty casual outfit the embassy staff strongly encouraged us to come in and so we did. So we had a bite of tasty Thai food, heard a speach by the ambassador, and saw a lengthy video of the grand and lavish celebration in Thailand. An excellent end to a bush-walk.

The Finnish embassy might be an attempt to promote Finland's image as a high tech (Nokia) nation. Not bad though.



A few more to come.