Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Boomers Do Queensland

I'm behind in posting. Now in Melbourne after spending nine days in Cairns and four in Uluroo.. That's two states and two ecosystems away.

Our room Internet is non existent so I will have to rely on my little phone for all social networking over the next four days. 

To catch you up let's start with our time in Cairns. Cairns is in Queensland and is the gateway to two world heritage sites: Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. We checked both off our list.

When it comes down to it this area is all about the reef, the rainforest, and the beaches.   We had nine days but probably only needed four.  Live and learn.  

Our first rainforest venture was Kuranda. The little town on the edge of the wet tropics was a little hippie enclave. The kind of place where a passing hiker says namaste instead of g'day.  Where you see plenty of wild colored hair and long flowing skirts.

It was also where we saw the cassowary on an otherwise ugly side trail. I've already written about our big animal adventure. Suffice it to say it was the highlight of all our hikes.

Since we are here in  the dry season waterfalls are a little skimpy, but we heard tales of great roaring cascades. I'll have to take their word.  But the trees were very cool. In particular the twisty, curvy vines that hung down just begging for our best Tarzan imitations caught our attention at every turn.  Sometimes straight. Sometimes twisted and curled. Sometimes strangling a tree.   The paper bark tree was at first a mystery as we wondered what animal was ripping off the bark but then saw that it rips off all by Itself and sometimes with Hubby's help.

Once Grace arrived we visited the Daintree Rainforest.  It was raining. A little miserable being wet in the wet tropics. We visited Mossman Gorge the southern end of Daintree.  Big roaring water running over monstrous sized boulders.

And speaking of Boulders, earlier we visited a similar area called The Boulders. Aptly named.  It stood out as the spot where your typical crazy male ((Aussies in this instance)  dives from high above into the water rushing through the boulders below.  Everyone shook their heads but couldn't stop watching.

The Beach

Hubby and I visited Trinity Beach. I had assumed Cairnes would have a beach but all they have is mud flats at low tide. They do have a very cool man made pool Referred to as the lagoon. It was shallow and had it been warmer I would have jumped right in.  We watched a Zumba water  aerobics class and thought of the mimis (grannies) that used to exercise at the Y.

Trinity Beach was quite lovely. I walked the shore snapping selfies and scenery while Hubby napped on the beach.  I collected shells to spell out a love note to my sweetie in the sand but as soon as the last shell was in place, in came the wave. Poor placement on my part. I settled for scribbling in the sand.      

The Reef

This was my big adventure. I'm not a swimmer but was convinced that I'd be able to snorkel with a jacket or noodle. We got lucky. After two days of rain and wind, we got a sunny calm day.

I was nervous but put on a thin life jacket and jumped in staying near the snorkel guide. After I stopped hyperventilating into the mask and calmed down I began to enjoy myself. Had no idea what I was seeing but it was all impressive.

Where we snorkled the reef is near the surface. It's huge with lots of different kinds of coral and tiny and small fish swimming about. Schools of fish right below me.  I kept worrying I was going to hit the coral with my flippers it was so close. Saw a really big turtle, my highlight. Also some really cool giant clams.

We had two spots to snorkle. The first  stop was off St. Michaelmas Key, a little strip of white sand sitting in turquoise blue waters. Gorgeous.  The second was just in the middle of the sea. Since the wind had picked up I skipped the 2nd snorkle. Grace reported that there were some incredibly large fish so I kind of wish I'd gone for it.   Before Grace arrived I tried to talk Hubby into going on his own not thinking I would do it.  In hindsight, two reef trips would have been fun.

So that's a bit on the rainforest, reef and beaches. Next up Uluroo.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Boomers Report Wild Life Sightings

We are now enjoying the second leg of Australian adventure, Queensland. But I really feel the need to totally devote a blog to Australia's varied flora and fauna. I read Bill Bryson's book "The Sunburnt Country" twice.  He is quite effusive about the topic so thought for a start I'd let you know how our animal spotting is going. I'll visit Flora later.

Giraffe Toganda Zoo Sydney
Our first animal encounters were at the zoos. I've been to three wildlife parks so far. Everyone is a haven for kangaroos, koalas, lizards, wombats, echidnas and birds.  

The echidna Featherdale Wildlife

The wombat Featherdale Wildlife
One zoo had a nice selection of African animals but the Aussies pretty much stick with what's in their own backyard. . I have to believe a Grizzly, black bear, polar bear exhibit would be a huge hit.   We North Americans have our own killer beasts and damn proud of them. I took a few million photos. All nice and safe.

The thing about a zoo, it gets you all hyped for seeing them in their natural habitat. But first, the signs. 
These alone tell you there's something a bit different going on here. Kangaroo, wombat and cassowary crossing?
Kangaroo and wombatt Xing

 I kept a lookout for bandicoots but alas did not spot one.

And I suppose they use these water warnings for crowd control.

Nothing makes me want to jump in the ocean faster than the possibility of a big ole croc bite or jellyfish sting.

Based on our in the wild sightings, Australia will be known as the wild bird trip though a couple of non-bird things have made an appearance.

Our first wild animal was the cockatoo. A zillion of cockatoos actually, flying from tree to tree in the royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney.

And oh the noise they make. It wasn't long before we realized the cockatoo is everywhere and is a bit of a pest, like when they hang out in front of the bakery in Katoomba hoping for crumbs.

A volunteer at the gardens told us where we could find the frog mouthed owl. Strange beast sitting in a Norfolk pine. And then there's the Lyre bird. We stumbled across this bird at the Jenolan caves perhaps coming too close to its nest. The Lyre bird began making the most incredible noises I've ever heard from a bird. I think whoever came up with the old video game sounds stole them from the Lyre bird.  Just as annoying as a begging pigeon but much prettier is the Crimson Rosella. People feed them so they hang around looking for a handout. This one wanted our sandwich.

The Australian Magpie was hanging out at the WWII Barracks area on our Manly hike. He was an  extremely patient subject.

I saw a Kookaburra in Manly also but the one that visited our BnB in Cairns was more photogenic. Apparently they are regularly fed by the hosts of our Kooka's BnB just to keep the birds and the guests happy. Working!

The birds go into their maniacal laughter every morning. Quite the alarm clock.

I studied the poisonous looks of snakes at the zoo.  Australia has most of them so you can forgive me for just assuming any snake that crossed our path would be one of the bad guys. We saw two slithering across our trail by a river in Kuranda National Park. They moved way too fast to get a picture or solid identification, but when in doubt assume poisonous viper.

We spotted a couple of wild kangaroos from the car, near the crossing sign.  I think they were the red kind. One was already roadkill but the other one seemed healthy enough. I attempted a photo but by the time we got the car situated, off it went. Most of the zoos let you feed the kangaroos. They are mostly disinterested. Apparently they get fed plenty.  I bought some kangaroo feed that some other pushy wild thing was more than happy to eat.

Our favorite wild sighting so far has been the cassowary. I saw one at the zoo being fed  an ice cream cone by a kid. Later I read a cassowary could kill you if it felt threatened. Still, I wanted to see one. It's like wanting to see a bear in the U.S.  And we did! It seemed curious and came near but once we began to move, it took off.  I learned from a couple of bird watching ladies that a sighting is really rare and that our cassowary was probably just one of four in the Karunda area. I'm glad we lived to tell the tale.

We still haven't seen a wombat, echidna or koala in the wild. We have however had a couple of close counters with a koala. The kind you pay for.

About half way through our trip. Still plenty of time to add to our list. Grace has arrived. On to Part two.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Boomers Get Educated in Sydney

We are leaving Sydney. On our way to warmer climes, Cairnes. The last few days here have been pretty easy going which has been good since I've got a lousy cold and it's been a bit drizzly. Caught the cold several days ago and it's gone through the stages: sore throat, stopped up nose, cough. But unlike flu or food poisoning or the like, a cold does not bring you to a standstill. I was pretty worn out on some days but we kept moving. I was like Dora from Nemo, "keep swimming,  keep swimming. " We kept our focus on becoming knowledgeable about Australia so be warned dear readers. This will be a bit Fodorish without the insight.

First stop was a tour of the New South Wales Governor's house. It was like a house out of Downton Abbey, very castlely and in the midst of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Every room we were shown had a photo of The Queen, sometimes young, sometimes old. (There will be lots of picture changing some day.) We learned that the governor's position was mainly to sign bills and meet visiting dignitaries, most recently a fellow from Vietnam. I know this because his picture kept appearing too. We saw the family crests of each governor. When I was in England long ago I checked to see if Mattingly had a crest. Nope. I could have paid to have one done. I bet that is what some of these governors did. Our tour guide was from Connecticut.  This was disappointing.

The Royal Botanic Garden is a lovely park by the harbour. It was envisioned by Elizabeth Marquarie, the governor's wufe. I mention her because she had chair carved in stone overlooking the harbour and I sat on it. 

We visited the Sydney Art Museum. Honestly, I'm not much of an art museum person. We live down the street from the Walker and I only go to remind myself that I'm not missing anything.  I'll occasionally go to the MIA for a special exhibit.  This museum was a mix of classical, modern and aboriginal art pieces.
A little something for everyone but nothing that particularly stood out.  That's about all I can say about that.

Next on the museum round up was the Maritime Museum.. Lots of manly ships to tour. It's hubby's kind of museum. Guns, torpedoes, that sort of thing. The museum had an exhibit on Shackleton's misadventures in Antartica on loan from the Smithsonian. I'd read the book so felt like I was practically an expert. The exhibit that showed X-rays of fish was certainly unique. I thought Grace would find it interesting since she studies fish.  And there were lots of stories about Australian swimmers and sailors who broke records for sailing around the world or swimming the English Channel. Aussies love their water heroes.

We spent one day in Manly. Manly is a beach town with a nearby little trek through some brush and through some military memorials. We saw gun bays created for defense in WWII. I presume they were never used so it must have been a cushy assignment for an Australian soldier. We read about Australia's involvement in wars that we don't hear much about in the U.S. like The Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion. (Hubby tells me we were involved in the latter but it must have been only a page in high school world history.) The Aussies have lots of memorials to the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Air Core) throughout Sydney. The absolute number of casualties in The World Wars is not high compared to the U.S. and other countries but the percentage is up there. 

The Manly walk took us by a cemetery used by the Quarantine Station. Beginning in the late 1800s until about 1918 it held the graves of smallpox, flu and the plague victims. Most were children or adults in their 20s or 30s. If you believe in the hereafter, then you will be gratified to know their final resting place overlooked a stunning harbor full of sailboats.

We were warned to watch for wildlife, but saw only birds including our first kookaburra.

The Sydney Public Library is a neat old pile of rocks. We caught the tail end of a free tour and learned about the two main benefactors who left money and lots and lots of books.  We saw one of the early printings of the Magna Carta. It was only about the dimensions of a postcard and an inch thick.  We guessed velum must have been pricey in those days. Why else make it so small?   The Reading Room is very impressive.
 It is what I imagined seeing at the Library of Congress but didn't because books are stored underground. Though to be fair, the LoC probably has a few more books.  The Sydney library also had a very thought provoking exhibit of photography capturing the best journalistic shots of world events, nature and sports. I actually read most of the signs! 

I visited the Sydney Barracks on my own because Hubby got tuckered.  The barracks was home to newly arrived convicts many of whom were assigned to government building projects. The whole convict story is one I need to study further. Convicts began arriving in Australia only after the U. S. won its independence.  No more Georgia penal colonies available.
While the convicts were punished and under curfews, they were often free to move about and marry and live with family. Many became quite prominent. The architect of many historical buildings was a convict named Greenway.  At one time people hid their convict ancestors from the family tree but now it's considered cool to have a convict in the ancestry line.  It's all rather fascinating. Hubby is reading a novel covering Australia's origin story that is also a TV series here. We saw Episode One so will have to tune in on Sunday's now to see more.

Our big spend adventure was a dance performance by the Bangarra Dance Company at The Sydney Opera House. I'm always hesitant about parting with big bucks but I was reminded that we spend the same for two good seats to a Twins game. There were two separate dances neither of which were accompanied by a digger-ado, much to Hubby's disappointment. The music was quite new age digital. The choreography was quite new age native. The first dance represented islanders from xxxx and involved imagining sea creatures in the frozen section of the local market coming to life. I liked it, especially the interpretation of the crabs and lobsters. Some of the dancing reminded me of Maori dance movements not that I'm any expert. The second dance was an interpretive dance telling the story of death and rebirth of aboriginal cultural symbols like the sheoak. Lots of pained body movements and contortions going on around giant branches hanging from the ceiling. Just didn't do much for me. 

The rest of our Sydney visit was spent eating and buying essentials like cough syrup. We've been generally pleased with the food at all price ranges. Even the tourist spot food choices beat the microwaved/cold sandwich offerings back home. I do miss the free diet soda refills we get in the U.S. though.  

Don't know if I've lost or gained weight on our adventure because the scale is in kilos and stones.  Both give lower numbers than pounds so I've decided not to to the math and simply enjoy the low numbers. At least until we are done with the Beach part of our trip. 

On to the reef!


Friday, June 12, 2015

Boomers Risk Life and Limb to See Waterfalls

Yesterday was a big hike day in the Blue Mountains.  After a little discussion, we opted for the six-hour more difficult hike over the four-hour wimp hike.  Rightly or wrongly, we always assume we are fit enough for most trails provided they do not include rappelling off the side of a mountain.  After this hike,  we may revisit that high opinion of ourselves.

Our chosen trail was the Wentworth, Hippocreme and Vera Falls trail.  There were actually six waterfalls on this hike so I don't know why they just didn't name it the Tour de Falls.  I took photos of at least five of them, though with the exception of Wentworth Falls, I'm not sure which is which. By the time I do my Shutterfly book I'll have it all figured out but for now they are just pretty pictures.
One of those Waterfalls

It's interesting what makes a hike fun.  Obviously some gorgeous scenery wildlife spotting, and sunshine help the rating.  This trail had some great scenery, six waterfalls as a start. Not much wildlife except for a flock of cockatoos, and only a spot of sunshine.  But for me fun also includes a little safe challenge. This one definitely had a few.  For my younger readers, keep in mind we are senior citizens.

First there was the steepness of the hike.  We hiked 650 meters down and 650 meters back up.  For you non-metric folks, that's about 2130 feet. The Shanghai Tower, 2nd tallest building in the world, is 2100 feet.   Of course it wasn't straight down except for a few meters at the top.  And for that stretch the Australian National Park builders gave us some ladders to descend. Still, I didn't look down. It made for a nice photo op.
Descending the Trail

Next was the narrow and cliff hugging trails.  One small section was only the width of my foot. Bill's foot was almost too wide.  I found that if I got the right perch at the bottom of the single foot trail, I could basically swing myself to the wider part.   Some of the trails also hugged the cliff, but the Aussies generally had some fences on the most dangerous spots. Again a good photo op.
Don't Look Down

Third was the historic nature of part of the trail. One portion of the hike was billed as "rough and indistinct" for only expert navigators. Hubby declared that he was a very excellent navigator (said in the same voice as Ray in Rainman).  Indeed we lost the trail twice.  And I, the normally directionally challenged, spotted the the correct course correction.  Just sayin'.

And the final reason I enjoyed this hike was its occasional danger. I loved all the moss covered trees and rocks and kept running my hands through what seemed like a little soft bright green forest.  Unfortunately, the moss turned ugly when it covered the stones we were supposed to use to cross a very cold, fast rushing, and rocky Jamison Creek.  I did a rear first slide down one stone just trying to reach the main crossing point.  Hubby went first to assess the situation and concluded that he needed to strike a new path.  The trail had us walking across several wet slippery boulders then jumping about a foot onto another slanted slippery rock.  He was convinced we'd slide into the creek if we attempted it.  So the Hub forged a new route across the creek while I waited at the intended trail awaiting his help across.  I wish I had a photo of this scene, but as we were the only two hikers around for the majority of the time on the trail, there was no way to capture the moment.  It involved Hubby sitting on the edge of the final boulder while I climbed up in between his legs then somehow worked my way around him.  Truth be told, I think I could have made the leap.  We had two more creek crossings but they did not match the first crossing adventure.

Hubby Crossing the Creek

It took us about six hours to finish our trek.  By the end I was feeling the weakness in the quads and my knees were a bit achy but I was also feeling triumphant. Only 20,000 steps but half of them were vertical.

About midway through the hike, we discussed whether this was our hardest one.  We concluded that our hike on the Exit Glacier in Alaska still won that honor. It was a nine-hour hike on a snow-covered trail. I wanted to quit several times.  But this one came close.

Back to Sydney!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Boomers Go Bushwalking And Other Such Things

On our last night in Sydney I indulged myself with a photo taking "tour".  Canon was sponsoring  the activity and the cost was reasonable.  The crowd at Vivid was unbearably large though.  Every street near the Sydney Harbor looked like the most crowded day of the state fair times four.  We still managed to find a couple of quieter spots for picture taking.   I was loaned an EOS camera to use which is a step up in quality from my dinosaur.  It was filled with the latest doodads and gadgetry so was quite humbling. I felt stupider than normal trying to figure out the various buttons. But learning while doing is my preferred approach and it resulted in a few good photos on an SD card I got to keep and a big print of my favorite.

On Monday we bid Sydney a temporary goodbye and hit the road.  It was an uneventful but still stressful drive though it had its moments of levity. I can't help but chuckle every time hubby turns on the windshield wiper rather than the turn signal.  And the "we're checking your speedo" traffic sign was good for a laugh.  Not sure if that was the work of vandals or a bored transportation worker.  We were careful to watch for wildlife as the signs indicated they were around.  We also learned to be careful of slippery roads when  "frosted".  

En route we stopped at a wildlife park called Featherdale. With that name it would fit right in to the Minneapolis shopping scene. It was a rather sad little place but we could get up close to the Koalas and the Kangaroos.  And we got a better look at a Tazmanian Devil though he didn't look to devilish as he was napping. 

We've got a nice little apartment for our stay in the Blue Mountains with a fireplace and a whirlpool tub.  It's chilly, in the 40's so it feels good to have both.  

Tuesday we decided to forgo our first hike of the Blue Mountains because of high winds and visited the Jenolan Caves instead.   It was a windy, curvy road leading to the caves.  Combine that with driving on the left and you can imagine how relieved hubby was to get there.  We did get to see several kangaroo along the side of the road.  One unfortunately was already roadkill.  Kangaroos are like deer in Minnesota except the Aussies put them in zoos.  I don't think I've ever seen deer in a U.S. zoo. 

It was well worth the drive. The Jenolan Caves turned out to be a pleasant surprise.   I took many photos with both my phone and my expensive camera. I am always amazed at what good photos the phone will take.  We opted for the Orient Cave tour which had some spectacular formations. Unlike Mammoth Cave the crystals are intact and white in these caves.  The caves have been a vacation spot since electricity first came to New South Wales. We were told that the caves got electricity before Sydney and that itself became a big tourist draw.   

Today the wind was gone so we trekked through the Blue Mountains. The day started nice but then the fog and rain moved in.  The park reminds me of Shenandoah National Park. It's paths are close to roadways and there are plenty of little waterfalls.  Not much in the way of wildlife so far. I'm hoping to see a koala in the wild!  What you do see around here are birds.  The birds Aussies consider a nuisance are quite beautiful, like cockatoos and red birds that watched us eat our sandwiches.  I'll figure out their name later! 

Tomorrow we will do the Wentwirth Falls area. Hoping for better weather!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

American Bumps Into Aussies on Coastal Trail

Australians, like the British, drive on the left side of the road. When someone drops off a passenger it looks as though they've just abandoned the car in the middle of the street. At every crossing they remind the rest of the world to look left by painting the words on the pavement.   As I have yet to be hit by a car while crossing, I figure I'm doing pretty well. However today we picked up a car and did a little road adventure of our own.

Sitting in the passenger seat while your husband sits next to you on the right really tests the strength of your relationship.  Driving to Bondi Beach was like a 15 minute ride on the Screamin' Demon.   Parked cars on my left looked as though they were ready to leap through my window.  If I flinched Hubby screamed at me. He turned on to the right side of the street once. I kept my heart in my throat but just barely. This was only a trial run. Tomorrow we drive to the Blue Mountains about two hours away. I'm going to just close my eyes.

Bondi Beach was beautiful. Despite cooler temps there were still plenty of surfers and swimmers to watch,  I even got a bit warm walking the Coastal Trail.   I saw a saltwater swimming pool that is fed by the ocean. It was very cool. Those Aussies know how to enjoy the ocean.

We dined at Bill's, a lovely restaurant with not so lovely service. Perhaps they did not like me requesting free food because I was dining with Bill.  Having read that Australians don't tip and advice to leave no more than a 10% tip for only excellent service, we opted to leave nothing.  I felt like I should slip out the back door.

Yesterday we did a typical tourist thing and went on a guided "free" tour of historic Sydney.  While advertised as free, the guide, Lily, let us know that they operated on a pay what you think it was worth basis.  She had a rather thick Polish(?) accent so we missed a few details. Therefore she got less than the paid tours though I suppose it's possible we wouldn't have understood those guides either. Lack of a control sample I'm afraid.   But still we learned a few interesting tidbits like this Governor Macquarie guy named everything after himself or his wife.  Pays to be in power.

We also took an evening harbor cruise to see the Vivid Lights from the harbor.   It was pretty, though in order to stretch the tour to two hours the boat went back and forth three times.  After once you've kind of seen it all.    Took a few photos but taking shots at night is tricky so I signed up for a photo class sponsored by Canon for tonight.  They lend you a camera and coach you through the settings to get just the perfect pic.   I'm figuring it will come in handy at other times as well.

Big news. Got some new shoes. After two days with my blister producing shoes, I couldn't take it anymore. Killed me to pay big bucks for another pair of tennis shoes, but my toes feel better.   I'm over 100,000 steps for the week and I can definitely feel it. A little foot massage would be nice about now.

So tomorrow we head to the Blue Mountains. We'll spend four days there then come back to Sydney for another four days.   Luckily I now know I must walk on the left side of the trail so I am ready.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Hello From Down Under

It's day 2 of our great adventure though it feels like day 3.  Crossing the international dateline is confusing.  We arrived  in Sydney at 6 a.m. on June 4 after starting at noon on June 2.  Took us quite some time to get through customs because of our declaration of our half jar of planters peanuts.  Would have gotten right through except for an alert sniffing dog that immediately noticed something amiss in Hubby's backpack.   Was my Hubby a secret drug smuggler? Nope. Just someone who forgot he still had an apple left to eat. Criminal. They let us keep the peanuts but took the apple.  Wasn't even a honey crisp.

Our Priceline hotel, the Radisson Blu,  is just dandy and close to Sydney Harbor and the Rocks. We spent our first day fighting off jet lag by walking around the opera house and crossing the harbor bridge.  We also spent a great deal of time trying to spend as little as possible on food. Although we declared ourselves honey badgers with plans to not give a sh&!!, our frugalness just kept kicking in every time we studied a menu.  This led to lots more walking or in fitbit terms, steps.  Did about 13,000 in the morning of June 4.  When I synced it said I did 13,000 steps the day before when I was actually on a plane. Even a fitbit gets confused by time changes.  Did another 25000 that night. Crazy huh?  What's really crazy is I am wearing godawful hiking shoes and now have blisters on three toes.
After dinner we marveled at the Vivid lights displays on the buildings then finally called it a day. I was certain it was at least 10 p.m.   Not quite. We were in bed and sound asleep at 7:30.

Our official day 2 began early because by 6 a.m. we'd already slept 10.5 hours.  Google found us a pancake restaurant nearby so we were feeling pretty smart.   We still learned a thing or two. Black coffee is watered down expresso called a long coffee and eggs come scrambled, sunny side up or turned over.  Over easy was a new term for our waitress as well as the cook judging from the results.

After breakfast we hopped a ferry and went to the Taronga Zoo which is just delightful.
View from Taronga Zoo
We saw our first ever platypus and the other egg bearing monotreme mammal, the echidna,  The latter is famous for being the answer to a trivia question that we missed in a Cincinnati tournament.  What's most remarkable about this zoo is the backdrop of the Sydney Harbor.  Seems a little surreal to be staring at a giraffe with the Sydney Opera House off in the distance.  We spent the entire day at the zoo and plan on resting a bit then head out for dinner.  I've only done 16,500 steps so I need a few more.

Oh and one more discovery.  When you say hiking and thank you like an Aussie, it sounds like you are from Kentucky.  Now that's bloody remarkable.

Follow the leader. Big lizards.