Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Family Visit / Part 2

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is the largest coral reef system in the world covering 344,000 in area. It is approximately 2300km in length and extends from the northern tip of Queensland south to just north of Bundaberg. It varies in width between 60 km and 250 km and has an average depth of water of 35 metres in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.
This unique and diverse marine ecosystem comprises about 2900 reefs, 600 continental islands and 300 coral cays. Only six percent of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park consists of coral reefs however. The rest is made up of sea grass, mangroves, sand, algal and sponge gardens, interreefal communities and other habitats.
It is home to approximately 1500 species of fish, 360 species of hard coral, one third of the world's soft corals, 5000 - 8000 species of molluscs, 400 - 500 species of marine algae, 600 species of echinoderm, 17 species of sea snakes, 22 species of seabirds and 32 species shorebirds that live and breed on the islands, 13000 dugong, 6 species of marine turtles and 30 species of whales and dolphins.
The Reef was inscribed on the World Heritage List on 26th October 1981.

Port Douglas is one of the closest departure points to the outer reef but it is still a 2 hour trip out there by boat. We chose Wavelength Charters because they cater only for snorkelers, take a maximum of 30 people, have a comfortable boat and have sole access to some better parts eg. Opal Reef. We took our seasick tablets the night before and I was glad we did. We sailed into a 1-2m swell and a 20 knot wind. It was a little bumpy until we got into the protected area behind the reef. Some others who had waited until departure to take medication were quite ill during the journey.

We were provided with our wet suits, mask, snorkel and flippers and then had a very detailed safety briefing. When you are alone 40km off the coast on the edge of the continental shelf you tend to listen to that quite carefully. Then it was into the warm 27deg C water for our first look at what was a few metres underneath.
What can I say but WOW!
This was the first of three different spots they took us to with each one being better and different than the last. We had about an hour at each spot to float about and look at the coral and the thousands of brightly coloured fish.

After each 'dive' and we were back on board, there was a roll call and count. They didn't want to leave anyone behind.
It has happened!!!!! But not with Wavelength
We continued to explore after a great lunch during which a marine biologist, Chris, (he took the reef pics on this blog) gave us a talk about the formation of the reef, what to look for as far the the different kind of corals are concerned and most alarmingly how short a time it may be around. Global warming and ocean pollution is killing the coral at a fast rate. Some estimate it may be with us only for 20 more years or so.
The colour of the water around the reef is an amazing azure blue and is so clear. The deeper parts are a dark luminous blue. It was a bit daunting to think that where we were swimming was only a few metres deep but just over the reef on the eastern side it plunged to 1000m.
At the last spot known as SNO we were warned to keep an eye out for a huge Maori Wrasse who is a regular visitor when the boat anchors here. And on cue he turned up and swam amongst us.

There was a very steep drop off between the boat and the reef at this point. It was suggested that this may be a good spot to see some reef sharks. I floated around there for about 10 minutes but saw none. They are night hunters and usually shy. Unfortunately we didn't see any turtles either.
All too soon the adventure was over. There is little doubt about the reef's status as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It was another bumpy ride back to port but at least this time we had a following swell.
That evening we celebrated our day with a great Italian seafood meal at 'Bucci'.
The following morning we headed north towards Cape Tribulation in the Daintree rainforest. This is a far north as you can go on the east coast of Australia without a 4WD.
Our first stop was the Daintree River ferry.

From the sign above obviously I was not going too close to the river bank to take pictures. Numerous companies run croc sighting tours up and down the river. We travelled along the scenic winding road enclosed by thick jungle. There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy some very panoramic views of the area.

We took a short detour down to Cow Bay and had a pleasant walk along a deserted beach followed by a sampling of ice cream made from exotic fruit grown locally such as black sapote, soursop, wattle seed, coconut, macadamia, mango and jackfruit.

At Cape Tribulation we travelled for a few hundred meters up the 4WD track that leads 100km to Cooktown and ultimately another 1000 km to "the tip" or Cape York, the most northerly point of Australia. It was already rough for that short distance.
"Cape Trib" is a very popular tourist destination and was pretty crowded as it has one of the best beaches in the area.

The 1200 Daintree Rainforest contains 30% of frog, marsupial and reptile species in Australia, and 65% of Australia's bat and butterfly species and 18% of bird species in the country can be found in this area. There are also over 12000 species of insects. All of this diversity is contained within an area that takes up only 0.2% of the landmass of Australia. The Daintree is over one hundred and thirty-five million years old making it the oldest in the world.
It certainly is an impressive area to visit.

All too soon our trip north was over and we headed back to Sydney for a last night on the town.
A few drinks at the Opera House Bar and dinner at the Ice Bar on Circular Quay and then a really decadent dessert the Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe.
Next morning we took our visitors back to the airport for their 24 hour journey home.
We had all had fun and I think they now had a reasonably good idea about the Australian way of life and how scenically diverse the country is.
It was good to have them both here.
And to end, some classic statements made by the 'tour group' during the two weeks. Of course only we four know who said them and the context in which they were said.
"where is the freakin' steering wheel?"
"BIG orange tabby"
"as big as this table"
"back off, bitch!"
"I thought I ordered a pork rib"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Family Visit / Part 1

The co driver’s sister, Kelly and her husband, Mark, came for a two week visit from the USA. Despite travelling for 24 hours they were both sparking on all cylinders during the three hour drive from the airport to the south coast. We went for a short beach walk after lunch, caught up with all the news and after an early dinner we let them hit the sack as jet lag took over.
Next day we found them some kangaroos to photograph up close, fed them fish and chips at the Innes Wharf at the Bay and took them for short drive around the coast.
Next day the weather was predicted to be a bit nasty so we headed over the mountains to Canberra to visit the National War Memorial and the Australian Museum. The weather up there was perfect.
The following day was a beach day, a long walk along Tabourie in the morning followed by surf fishing in the afternoon. Mark bagged his first Australian salmon! He also had his first encounter with Australian venomous wildlife coming across quite a large black snake in the front paddock.

Then we were off the Sydney taking the scenic route along the Grand Pacific Drive, stopping at Gerringong Beach for coffee and at Stanwell Tops near Wollongong to watch the para gliders take off from Bald Hill.
Then it was onto the beach side eastern suburbs for lunch at Bronte and a quick visit, via the famous Bondi Beach, to South Head at the entrance to Sydney Harbour.

Next morning we were up early for the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. Well, not me who suffers from terminal acrophobia but the other three. This takes three hours and I spent my time well sitting in the sun beside the opera house with the daughter watching the groups of 'crazies' making their way up and over the top span of the bridge.

After lunch in the Rocks area, we hopped on the Manly ferry for the half hour ride across the harbour to that northern beach side suburb for a coffee. Despite being a commuter service this journey is really like a harbour cruise.
Sunday morning we headed back into town by bus. The Sydney Marathon was on and 35,000 runners cause a bit of traffic chaos so better not to drive. The ladies shopped while the men sat outside the pub, drank a couple of beers and watched the world go by. Then we walked around Circular Quay area, the Opera House, the Botanical Gardens and finally window shopped through the Queen Victoria Building.

Up bright and early the next morning, we headed for the airport to catch our three hour flight to Cairns followed by a one hour drive further north along the Captain Cook Highway to Port Douglas in Queensland.
The history of Port Douglas is based around gold fever. The town was founded in 1877 but the gold rush meant the population quickly escalated as people arrived from all over the country to try and find their fortunes. As the gold dwindled so did the population of the town and industry virtually disappeared. The town was then largely destroyed by a cyclone (hurricane) in 1911 and there seemed little hope of recovery. However, with its natural beauty and unspoilt beaches it was soon rediscovered and slowly but surely the town gained a reputation as a tourist destination. Being the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the world heritage listed Daintree rain forest, it is now popular with Australians as well as foreign visitors.

We had booked what turned out to be a very comfortable villa a few kilometres out of the town centre which had it's own pool and spa, a must in this hot sticky climate.
We bought some good steak and fresh prawns and had a great BBQ meal with a few bottles of wine, particularly Verdelho, which Kelly had discovered she liked.

Next morning we explored the town surrounds, marina and beach. Four Mile Beach is very pretty and was quite crowded. But this is tropical North Queensland and there are a few things to remember. One is this is saltwater crocodile country and, second, during certain times of the year marine stingers frequent the shallows.
The saltwater crocodile is the world's largest reptile. These are found on the northern coast of Australia and inland for up to 100 km or more. It has been reported to grow to lengths of 7 metres and weigh one tonne but the average size is around 4 metres.
Hunted almost to extinction for its skin, the crocodile is now a protected species in Australia. But they do present a danger to humans taking 2 or 3 people annually. One has to be careful on river banks, boat ramps and even the ocean. Warning signs are very prevalent.

Marine “stinger season” generally runs from November through to May or June. During this period, the more dangerous jellyfish are of particular concern. These include the common Box Jellyfish and Irukandji. Severe stings from these may cause victim to stop breathing or their heart to stop, potentially resulting in death. To prevent this happening authorities install stingers nets in the ocean during the season and recommend the use of Lycra stinger suits.
For us the pool was a much better option, even in 'out of season' September

Then we headed for Mossman Gorge. This is a very accessible and scenic section of the world heritage listed Daintree National Park. Strangler figs and epiphytic plants flourish and the crystal clear Mossman River cascades over granite boulders on its way to the ocean. It was an easy stroll along the 700 metres of walking track to viewing platforms over the Mossman River. People were taking advantage of the cool water that races down from the mountains by swimming in the rock pools. No crocs here!
The area is home to the Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal Community who organise tours which take visitors through the rainforest explaining traditional Aboriginal rainforest plant use. All tour guides are Kuku Yalanji and well versed on the stories and legends of the area. By the time we reached the two kilometre loop track through the lush, green rainforest the heat and humidity was getting to us so we returned to the car and headed for the small township of Mossman for lunch.

Mossman is very green and lush with an economy built around the sugar mill established in 1894. There are still some excellent examples of older style Queensland houses left in the town.
That night we enjoyed a great seafood meal at 'On the Inlet'. Fresh reef (Kingfish and Coral Trout) and estuary fish (Barramundi) plus Coffin Bay oysters were the order of the day. And a bottle of Lost Block Semillon.
Next morning we dropped the ladies off at the beach and headed for the marina to pick up our half day fishing charter which was to take us into the Dickson Inlet for some estuary fishing. The fish didn't exactly jump into the boat but I caught a nice Javelin Fish (Grunter) and a fighting Mangrove Jack and Mark landed a good sized Giant Travelly. We had expected to see some crocs lying on the mud banks as the tide went out but unfortunately, nothing! Apart from some fairly large mudskippers that is.
Then it was Mex for lunch and home for a swim to prepare ourselves for our big adventure of the trip the next day, a snorkeling trip to the outer Great Barrier Reef.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Big Storm

Parts of southern New South Wales were ravaged by a violent storm in the early hours of Sunday morning. The area including the Illawarra and Wollongong and the Shoalhaven on the south coast have been declared a natural disaster zone by the state Emergency Services Minister.
The State Emergency Service is responding to 800 outstanding calls for help in the Illawarra and on the NSW south coast after wind gusts of up to 120 kilometres per hour ripped through coastal towns and villages.
Electricity supplier Integral Energy says 100,000 customers lost power during the storm and 9,000 homes and businesses remain without electricity.
It could take many days to restore power to some outlying areas.
We suffered no property damage but there are some mighty big trees down around us.
We have spent two days repairing fences and chainsawing downed smaller trees and branches. Some fallen trees are so big they will never be completely cleared.
There is at least 10 years firewood now lying on the ground.
We just got the electricity back on at lunch time today so that was three and half days without power. Apart from no light and communications that meant no pump (so no shower, toilets or domestic water), no cooking (apart from the BBQ) and no refrigeration (we buried the contents of our freezer on Monday evening). The up side was we could eat out every night. Once power had been restored in Ulladulla on Monday evening the restaurants were pretty busy.
There was of course a shortage of ice and portable lighting.
Anyway we are glad no one was hurt and that we have 'survived'.
It was the worst storm I have been through in my twenty years on the coast. The co driver said the sound of the wind reminded her of tornados in the mid west of USA

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Living Desert Sculptures / Broken Hill

"The Symposium is a necklace for the maiden - the maiden being the incredibilty beautiful desert landscape around the mountain"
Dr. Ahmad Al Ahmad-Sculptor.

Work on the site commenced on 1st April 1993 and ended third week of May 1993.
During this time a lonely hilltop, the haunt of Euros and Wedge-tailed eagles, was transformed into an artwork of international standing.

...........................Jumber Jikiya
...........................Rustiva, Georgia

.................Tiwi Totems
...........Gordon Pupangamirri
...........Tiwi, Bathurst Island

.....................Nhatji (Rainbow Serpent)
.............................Badger Bates
.............................Broken Hill, Australia

Bajo El Sol Haguar (Under the Jaguar Sun)
..................Antonio Nava Tirado
..................Mexico City, Mexico

.....Angels of the Sun and the Moon
..............Valerian Jikiyan
..............Rustiva, Georgia

A Present for Fred Hollows in the Afterlife
...................Lawrence Beck
...................Koolewong, Australia

............Dr. Ahmad Al Ahmad
............Damascus, Syria

..............Moon Goddess
...............Conrad Clark
...............Katoomba, Australia

..............................The Bride
...............................Dr. Mahomad Mira
...............................Damascus, Syria

...............Badri Salushia
...............Tbilisi, Georgia

........Thomasina (Jillarruwi- the Ibis)
...........Thomas Munkanome
...........Tiwi, Bathurst Island

........Facing the Day and the Night
...........Eduardo Nasta Luna
...........Mexico City, Mexico