Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sydney and the end of Australia

So I'm down to my last few hours in Australia - which will be spent sleeping and taking the train to the airport. Time has gone by so fast... I spent the last 36 hours wandering around Sydney. Yesterday I walked across the Harbour bridge. It really is an amazing structure - plus it gives some good views of the opera house. And I went to the market in the Rocks (the area right near the bridge). It was a cute little market with lots of local artisans and good food. Today I decided to go geocaching - and now I remember why I don't like geocaching in the city very much... way too many muggles. So after all that I only found one cache. But I got to tour around the botanical gardens (very very cool, especially the rose garden and the herb garden), visit the governor's house and talk to the gate keeper about it, walk through Darling's Harbour (where the aquarium is), walk through Hyde Park and around St. Mary's Cathedral (what a huge building) and eat breakfast in front of town hall (a very old building that is built on a cemetary... they had to move all the bodies - that's a little disturbing, and hard to believe that there wasn't any other place in the city to put a town hall other than on a cemetary). So now I am sitting in McDonalds drinking an iced chocolate (that is fancy McCafé talk for chocolate milk with ice). Now I know I normally avoid McDonald's like the plague, but it has free wireless (and the network at my hostel is down). So this is my last message from the land of Oz. I`ll let you know how New Zealand is soon. Have fun!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Melbourne take 3

I told you I like this city. So why not visit it again? Melbourne is starting to feel like a home away from home, because I’m getting to know the area and actually know people around here. It was only a short stay – 3 ½ days, but very very action packed.
After spending a day wandering around Victoria Market (which I really enjoy doing... there is so much to see), Erin and her uncle picked me up for dinner at their place. Erin says hi to those who know her and for those that don’t, she is a friend from grad school. Anyways we had a lovely salmon dinner and I met Ana and one of her sons. After dinner, we went to the Casino. It wasn’t quite like our charity casinos... We learned how to play Roulette (apparently just putting down one chip at a time isn’t the best way to do things – who knew?) and had fun watching black jack and putting one dollar in the slot machine. It was a very atypical Erin and Lindsay night, but much fun.
Wednesday was zoo day. Erin and I went and took 300 pictures each of all the animals at the zoo. We saw lions and giraffes and elephants and gorillas and wombats and kangaroos and echidnas and snakes and lizards and butterflies and birds and monkeys... just to name a few. It was a nice little zoo to walk around. And the only way to end a hot day at the zoo is with ice cream and a twilight swim at the beach, which of course is what we did.
Thursday – what is the only place better than the zoo, why the aquarium. So after touring Victoria Market (Erin’s first time) we headed over to the aquarium. The first thing you see when you go in are the penguins. Two different species – and they are cute. We watched them swim through the water and waddle over the land. While they were great, they were the only animals in the Antarctic display. (There were a few videos and displays of researchers and the gear they use). I know there are more than just penguins in the Antarctic because I’ve seen them at my various conferences.... but unfortunately none were shown at the aquarium. We then moved on to the cool animals like lionfish, sea dragons, and clownfish. (and a diver cleaning a tank). We heard the coral reef talk and the shark talk. The shark tunnel is super cool, 360 degrees of fish swimming around you and even over your head. They really are amazing animals. The day ended with a 3D movie at the IMAX – Wild Ocean. While it wasn’t exactly what we were expecting, it was pretty cool to see the huge swarms of fish and the birds, dolphins, sharks and seals diving through it to eat the fish.
Friday – a quiet last day in Melbourne. I met Erin for a swim at the beach. After enjoying the water we walked along the beach and then had an early dinner at the restaurant before I headed back to pick up my bags and get on the bus that would drive all night to get me to Sydney for my last few days in the country.


So what do you do when the worst heat wave in 100 years is going to happen? You rent a car (with AC) and head to the beach/rainforest/mountains. Which is exactly what I did. And a good thing too, because it was so hot it caused blackouts in the city due to the extra power demands. But I went to Gippsland. You may be asking – where on earth is Gippsland? I certainly did. It is the east coast of the state of Victoria, and Wow is it ever beautiful.
There is something to be said for driving down (or up) very windy, narrow roads through green forest. It is a fun drive. I spent the first day going up and down these roads and getting gorgeous views from the top of them. I even found an old mining town with original looking buildings, though only 200 people live there now. The second day I decided to cool off by hiking through some cool temperate rainforest. You can really picture the dinosaurs living here among all the fern trees. It was like a blast from the far past. I hiked down through forest to a suspension bridge and then into the ferns. Apparently rainforest used to cover Australia when it broke off from Gondwanaland millions of years ago. Then as the climate changed the Eucalyptus trees started to take over. As long as fire keeps occurring, the eucalypts can continue to thrive and the rainforest is restricted to cool gullies. I also walked to a few waterfalls that were just trickles due to the drought. I thought I’d head over to Phillips Island and try to see the penguins. I got there but found some cool trails instead of penguins, so I walked by the ocean cliffs where the kangaroos were munching on grass as the sun set over the southern ocean.
Day 3. Wilson’s Promontory National Park. A day for hiking and swimming. First hike was up the mountainside. And wow to the views from the top. The trees, golden sand beaches and blue blue water. It was amazing. I decided to do another hike when I got to the bottom with a swim at the end, but it was too, too hot. I had to change the route of the hike in order to go get a popsicle and then head straight to squeaky beach. Now there is a place that really lives up to its name. As you walk on the sand the grains rub together and make squeaking noises, very cool. And of course the day had to end with watching the sun set over the ocean.
The next day I woke up to the faint smell of smoke. Sure enough (as I found out listening to the radio) there were bushfires not too far away. Actually they were near a village I had been in two days earlier. As the days went on (and yes it took days to put them out) the effects got worse. In the end 29 houses were destroyed and hectares and hectares of trees. It is believed that they were started on purpose and they are currently trying to catch the arsonist.
But I drove away from the fires. And went to 90 mile beach. I first heard of this beach during my conference. Apparently it is quite the barrier for many species as they cannot cross all the sand and there are no rock refuges throughout the beach for them to cross in parts. Sure enough it is miles and miles of sand spotted with fisherman and swimmers. The afternoon was spent on a little island known for its Koalas. I found lots of koalas in trees, even one with a baby. I also found a Canadian couple also taking pictures of the animals.
Saturday I went to Mallacoota, not far from the New South Wales border. I wandered around their incredibly tiny market. And then did the multi-habitat walk, including forest, heathland, beach, town. I ate my lunch on my own private beach with not a soul in sight. Life doesn’t get much simpler than this. In the afternoon I walked through warm temperate rainforest. It was different than the cool one. The trees were lilly pillys instead of myrtle beeches. And it really felt warmer than then cool rainforest. One of the walks even had plaques all around that explained what was around.
Sunday was head to the mountains day. The Australian Alps, the Great Dividing Range, driving the Great Alpine Road (Victoria has a thing for “Great”). And all I can say is Wow to the views. I drove through some of the ski resorts and along the mountain ridge, stopping frequently to take pictures. The mountains were very old, so rounded tops and lots of trees. They reminded me of Mt. St. Hilaire.
Day 7 – last day of the roadtrip. Spent in Mt. Buffalo National Park. Still in the mountains, I climbed up to 1723 m for views that went on for kilometres. I could see all the way to New South Wales. The climb up was a little creepy at time though because the whole area had been burnt in 2006 bushfires, so all the older trees were dead wood, and though new growth was occurring, it wasn’t that big yet. However, there were lots of crows and ravens sitting on the dead trees cawing with barren rocks in the background. I felt like I was in the creepy dark scene of a movie. But it was worth it for the views. I even saw my first snake. I had been told that the snakes like the boulders, so I had spent the entire week looking at each boulder before walking over it. And hadn’t seen a thing – a little disappointing. But on the way back from one of my hikes I saw a black tail slither across the trail through the grass. And then I saw the head come out on the rock. So I stood back and took lots of pictures as the snake crossed the rock and lifted itself up on to the stick. My next hike of the day saw something I hadn’t seen in weeks – rain. And not just any rain, but a full fledged thunderstorm, complete with awesome lightning and the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard. So what do you do once you’re soaked and the storm has passed? Why go swimming of course, which is exactly the way I ended my day in Mt. Buffalo National Park and my road trip to Gippsland.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Australia Day!

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!
Oi, Oi, Oi!

Happy Australia Day! (or happy day the white's took over)

And a Happy Birthday to Ruth.

Today is the day that the Australians dig out all their patriotic apparel and line the streets. The outfit du jour was either similar to the flag (blue, white and some red) or the national colours of yellow and green. Many people just wore the flag - as a cape, dress, shirt... however it could be pinned up. Hey mom, is my flag in a box in the garage? I guess I should have brought it with me :P

This morning was marked by the People's March - a parade of all the different groups of people; guides and scouts; some of sports (eg. karate), some jobs (eg. security services) but most were ethnic groups. They were all wearing their traditional clothes and playing music. It was pretty cool to see all the differences, but everyone had Australian flags. (no floats) There were various activities all day throughout the city. After the parade, I walked to a free concert stage on the other side of town. What I didn't know was that on the stage was a kids show. It may have been cool if you were 4 years old, but not any older... oh well, I wandered around until the show changed and saw some very interesting street performers including a trio (tuba, drum and sax) where the guys were all riding stuffed animal horses.

The evening was a special performance in Federation Square. Again all the different ethnic groups participated. But since it is Chinese New Year and it is the year of the ox/cow, all the performances were about cows in one form or another. I learned alot about cows.... there are 29 million in Australia and 1.5 billion in the world. And I learned that if you don't have a cow you can't get married (guess I'm not getting married). There are many love stories that revolve around cows... apparently they are really important. Some of those groups can really dance (especially the Bollywood dancers) and play (like the drummers). There were big puppet cows walking around as well. The grand finally had everyone on stage (it wasn't a big stage). Everyone was dancing and the band was playing and the choir was singing.... then the fireworks started. They went off in three locations all around the square. It was pretty fantastic because the music kept going until the end of the fireworks.

So, Happy Australia Day everyone!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Melbourne take 2

My road trip ended, I found myself in Melbourne again. You may be asking yourself why Melbourne again, well I came this time to visit some friends. The first afternoon there (Wednesday) I headed over to the museum. Tim gave me a tour of the collections and then allowed me to explore the exhibitions. I also got to learn a bit about crinoids (echinoderms) as Marc was identifying specimens. When they were done work a bunch of us went out for a couple of beers, including Jaqui who I had met at the Temperate Reef Symposium. Wow people from both conferences in one place - it really is a small world. Afterwards, I had sushi with Marc and Mark. Then Marc and I went out to the beach and you'll never guess what we saw on the breakwater rocks (unless of course you've looked at the pictures or I've already told you). Penguins. Little penguins. There were two of them just wandering along the rocks. They are tiny but apparently pretty vicious. They used to be called fairy penguins, but too many people thought that ment they were cute and pettable. So the name got changed.

The next day I wandered down the street. There was a trapeeze set up and four guys were giving lessons to people. So I watched a bunch of kids and adults get their first trapeeze lesson. They swung out on the swing and then put their legs up and then let go and grabbed the arms of the other guy. It looked pretty fun. In the evening Marc and I went swimming at St. Kilda beach (near the penguins). It was a really windy day, so the waves were pretty nice. It reminded me of the time Pam and Val took me to Sandbanks and we played in the waves. Now that was a fun trip.... ahhh.... Anyways, we had a great time floating around, though I ended up with sand everywhere. There were also lots of kiteboards just down the beach. They filled the sky with pretty colours. After swimming we found an Indian restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal (though the wine had to be sent back since it was hot the first time... apparently it was sitting beside the condensor and the whole box of wine was hot. silly, silly, you can buy wine cellars that fit in rooms now).

Friday I hooked up with Kate and got the tour of Melbourne from a real Melbournian. We wandered around the town and stopped for crepes at a little french place. It was neat to see some places I hadn't stumbled across before. Then I headed back to the museum because they have wine every Friday night at the end of the day. So I took my bottle and showed up. Sabine (also from the Echinoderm conference - from Sweden) and Chris (her partner) were waiting for Tim to come down and let them in as well. So we joined the festivities and they were festive because one of the girls was getting married this weekend. I met a lot of new people, including Gary, the crustacean taxonomy guy, who invited us to his house later that night. So Sabine, Chris, Marc and I headed back to the beach and had a short swim before showing up on Gary's doorstep (his wife's name in Linsey too) where we ended the day with gourmet woodfire pizza and wine.

Saturday Marc and I went to the botanical gardens and wandered around all the beautiful trees and plants. It is an old gardens - over 150 years. But still gorgeous, even with the watering shortages. We had a picnic lunch beside the pond and two birds came and watched us eat - obviously hoping for a snack, which they didn't get. After the gardens, we went swimming at the beach again - it is pretty warm here... the beach is a fantastic option. There were a few waves this time, though not as big as Thursday. Tim and his wife Debbie hosted a dinner party that night, since it was Marc, Sabine and Chris's last night in town. Gary and Linsey were there as well. Wow, Tim and Debbie can cook. We had Vietnamese and Moroccan food. It was a fantastic evening.

Sunday I hung out with Kate again. We went out for breakfast at a french pastery cafe with her friends. The croissants were wonderful. Then Kate, Lisa and I went snorkling on the bolder beach. It was really cool. I got to see more sea stars, sea urchins, fish, and so much more. It is neat to see habitats similar to what you work in (rocks with coralline algae) but with completely different species because it is the other side of the world. We spent quite a while swimming around and I was diving down and taking pictures. The ocean really is a fascinating place. We ended our afternoon with ice cream. My flavours were passionfruit; ginger swirl; and chili chocolate - all of which I highly recommend. Echinoderms and ice cream... does life get any better?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Great Ocean Road

Ok, I'm including almost all of the Southern Victoria coast line under the title Great Ocean Road, even though I recognize that the GOR doesn't actually start at the Victoria - South Australia border.

I crossed the border early afternoon. I stopped at the information centre to get all new brochures and sat down to plan my next few days. (by this time it is day 2.5 of my 5 day road trip). And then I headed down the road again, curious as to where my travels would take me.

And guess where they took me? Cheese World! yes that's right, there is a Cheese World. I kinda felt like Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's family vacation, but I couldn't resist. And it is a good thing, because I arrived just in time for the afternoon tasting. While their vintage cheddar is very good, it really isn't that old (20 months, not exactly 11 years) but what really impressed me was the flavoured cheddars - sundried tomatoe, garlic and herb, chili among many other. After tasting them all and realizing I couldn't travel with multiple blocks, I chose the chili cheddar and a small bottle of merlot for later.

I then headed down the coast to Cape Bridgewater. I got there and headed to the blowhole viewing area. Now, blowholes are pretty cool. They are little caverns in which air gets trapped when a large waves comes. As the wave keeps coming the air gets squished and the pressure goes up until it explodes and the water shoots out of the cavern. As I was standing there watching the water, one of the ladies on the platform told me that there was a blue whale out at sea. And sure enough you could see it blowing the water out of its blowhole. I believe there was probably at least two of them out there. I spent quite a while watching them. The world really is an amazing place.

The other thing I saw at this stop was the petrified forest. Yes that's right, the Basilisk came by this part of the world and petrified all the trees. ok, for real - the way the water has dripped through the limestone and other rocks/soils has created geological structures that look like rock tree trunks. It is pretty interesting.

The next morning I decided to visit the wildlife reserve before hitting the true Great Ocean Road. I pulled into Tower Hill pretty early (I was the first person there, I love places that don't close their gates). And I saw another kangaroo eating on the side of the road. I have been here before, in 2002. But I decided to spend more time and do more of the trails. I walked 3 of the 4 trails. The only reason I didn't walk the fourth was because there were two emus - one sitting beside the trail and the other standing beside it clearly telling me not to pass. I'm not sure if the papa was sitting on eggs or not, but I decided not to push the issue... they are big birds. But I did get to walk around the marsh land and see lots of birds, including the Superb blue wren. It has a blue head, just like the name. I also walked around the crater that used to be a volcano. The rock here is much different than what I saw on the limestone coast. When I was on that trail I saw two kangaroos eating - one big and one littler. They just stopped and stared at me for a while. Then I saw more emus, all having their breakfast. On the third walk I saw a remarkable lizard, about the length of my forearm. I called it the pine cone lizard because its skin reminded me of pinecones. I later found out (at the Melbourne museum) that is is actually called the stumpy tail lizard, genus Tachydosaurus.

When I had seen all the animals I headed to the Great Ocean Road and back to the coast. And wow, what a coast. Words cannot describe it. It is like kilometers and kilometers of flowerpot type formations (though the tide doesn't go out far enough to walk on the ocean floor). This is one of those parts of the world that just make you stop and stare in awe. This whole coast line was under water around 20 million years ago and all the calcium carbonate animals died and sank to the bottom. The water then retreated and the rock left was limestone. The ocean and rain have slowly been wearing it away, resulting in the amazing formations visible now. This was the part of Australia I really wanted to see again when I knew I was coming back. So I wandered between formations, being amazed and taking pictures.

Eventually I came to Port Campbell and looked down the hill and saw all the people at the beach swimming and playing. At that point I was quite hot, so I decided to join. I went swimming in the Southern Ocean and played in the waves. When I was refreshed I continued on to more of the amazing coast line.

Loch Ard Gorge was one place I remembered in particular because I knew there were more trails to walk down than we had time for when I travelled here last time. So I took the time to walk them all. Loch Ard Gorge is named for the boat that was shipwrecked here in 1856 and 52 of the 54 people onboard died. So this time I visited the graveyard, and other formations including Thunder cave and Mutton bird Island. I was looking out over Razorback when I met John from the Netherlands. We chatted for a while and then went to watch all the mutton birds come back to their island from the sea for the night. While there weren't 50 000 as expected it was still pretty cool to see so many birds circling the island at sunset. The night ended with a couple of beers at the local pub.

The next day I woke up and walked down to the Twelve Apostles (yet another rock formation, but this one is probably the most famous). It used to be called Sow and piglets, but the name was changed some time ago. In the early morning sun, they were very beautiful. I ate my breakfast as I gazed out over them.

I then decided to tackle yet another habitat - the temperate rainforest. I went to another national park and did a couple of hikes through the temperate rainforest with all the fern trees and huge huge other trees. They were so green and lush compared to other parts of the country. At the end of each hike was a beautiful waterfall, each special in their own way. It was a wonderful morning.

The battery on my camera was dying, so I had been carefully saving pictures as I really wanted one of a koala. So I left the rainforest and headed towards where
I had been told koalas could be found. I drove all the way down to the lighthouse without seeing a single one, but then I turned around to go back towards the highway and sure enough on the way out I saw one way up in a tree sleeping. So I pulled over and took a picture and woke him up. So I took another picture and then let him go back to sleep. Having acquired my koala picture, I was less conservative with the remaining battery juice.

I spent the afternoon driving along the windy road. Much different than the way the road had been at the beginning of my trip. It was a really fun drive with fantastic views. The coast line changed so that there were no more shear cliffs, but the trees went right down to the ocean. I spent some time reading on a beach enjoying the end of the sunshine. As dusk fell I walked along a village boardwalk through the mangroves and then ended the night with a private cheese and wine party before bed. It was a great end to my road trip.

Limestone Coast

Apparently this is suppose to be a beautiful area of Australia. (I think most areas of Australia are probably beautiful areas). My thought was to make the most of my travel days... so that means how many national parks in how many days? 2 in one day isn't too much is it? I started the day with Parnka Point in Coorong National Park. Nice view here of Younghusband pennisula which is pretty much all sand dunes protecting the national park. and then I saw my first emu. It was just walking across the dry area of the lake. very cool. From there I stopped at Jack's Point and looked at the pelican breeding islands, though it is the wrong season. But I did see a line of flying pelicans on my journeys. Driving through this part of the world meant a lot of long flat roads (not quite as bad as the outback though). I also did a little hike past a couple of dry lakes. One was white because of the limestone carbonate, and the other was white because of the salt. It looked like snow it was so white, but was completely salt.

So the afternoon needed another national park. So I headed over to Narcaroote national park, known for its caves. While it was near the end of the day by the time I got there, there were still a few tours left for the day. So I got to go in Alexandria Cave, wow, the delicate limestone rock formations were beautiful. It wasn't like caving at home.... I was too late in the day for the Adventure tours, but walking around the big caverns was pretty cool. Then I got to go in Wet cave, which contrary to its name wasn't really wet, but was much more robust than the first cave. I then had some time before the next tour, so I went for a walk down a trail, had a picnic dinner then headed back to the bat cave. We got to go in the bat observatory, where we saw via infrared video cameras the bats stirring in the caves. There were even some juveniles who couldn't yet fly. We spent some time looking at them and then went to their wintering cave for a tour. On the way to the cave, I saw my first kangaroo. That was pretty cool. It was almost dusk but not quite when we were done in the wintering cave, so we returned to the observatory to watch the bats swirling at the mouth of the cave by camera. There was even a opossum on the ladder at the entrance to the cave. We then went out and watched the bats exit the mouth of the cave a few at a time. There was one light shinning away from the entrance and the bats swooped by it eating the insects. Bats are such interesting animals.

The next day started with seeing a kangaroo eating on the side of the road. Then I ended up in yet another national park - Canunda. I had read a description of a trail in this park that I really wanted to walk... so I drove to the park. Got turned around on the way and took a scenic route past a wind turbine farm. Then found out I was at the wrong entrance. So I looked at the map again and headed off. I ended up on a dirt road (a no no in the rental agreement) but forged ahead and eventually found pavement and the right entrance to the park. I was a little disgruntled by the time I found the parking lot, but after starting the trail, which had beautiful views of the southern ocean, sand dunes and limestone cliffs I was back in my amazed at the world state. I am truely amazed at this coastline. and I highly recommend the Limestone coast - definetly a treasure.

On the road again...

I rented a little black ford. The only problem was the steering wheel was on the wrong side. It took a while before I stopped trying to get in the passenger door. The first thing to do was to get used to driving on the left. So I drove around the city a little bit. Ok, I actually drove around the city because I got lost and couldn't figure out how to leave the city in the direction I wanted to go. After finally finding the right road, a grocery store and the map, I headed out of the city towards Mount Lofty. Now Mount Lofty isn't that far from Adelaide (20 min), but it is where the city folk go to see snow flakes fall from the sky on that odd winter day that it happens. But the cool thing is you can see all of Adelaide from the top of the mountain. Once the group of kids showed up, I decided to head down one of the many trails. Waterfall Gully sounded like a good idea, though I doubted there would be any waterfall since it is the middle of drought season. I didn't realize how steep the downs and ups were on this 3.7 km trail. But the views of the valley were nice. and sure enough, at the end there was a spectacular waterfall. On the way back up (it was 700 m down in 3.7 km) I met a local man who told me about the trail and the sun intensity (all important info). As I sat at the top with my map and icecream trying to figure where else to go on my road trip, I ran into a bunch of people that had been at the conference. even Australia can feel like a small world.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Braden!!

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday dear my quarter of a century old Brother
Happy Birthday to you!!

Well another fantastic conference has come to an end. and another journey is about to start. I'm leaving Adelaide today to drive the Great Ocean Road. It will be great!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Shitty Day... Life is Great

The beautiful thing about conferences is that they renew your enthusiasm for your own work. We have really long lunch breaks, so I spend the first part of it eating and talking to people and then the second part of it working on my manuscript, utilising the enthusiasm that the conference has given me to try and get some work done. But I’m having real difficulties inserting the graphs into this particular format of manuscript. I finally got them all in yesterday – all be it in the wrong place, but at least they were visible in the manuscript. I opened the manuscript today and all my graphs were gone. I could have killed my computer… this is driving me nuts. And apparently I’m not the only one who thought this was pretty shitty. The lovely bird sitting above me as I worked let me know that he also wasn’t impressed with the manuscript by pooping on my computer. Fortunately it didn’t end up on the keyboard, touch pad or speakers, and also that I had some leftover funeral home Kleenexes to wipe up the whole mess. So I don’t know if that is suppose to be a sign of good luck, or a really shitty manuscript….

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sweating in Adelaide

Ok, it's hot here. I'm not used to sweating walking down the street before 8 am, or after 9:30 pm for that matter. Even the wind was hot. It is after 10 pm and it is still 32 C outside. But in all honesty, I'm not complaining. I finally get to wear shorts, something I almost never do at home. And I wasn't hot all day... in fact I was cold for part of it. Ah, the joys of air conditioning. I never thought I'd go outside to warm up in January, but I did today.

Monday, January 12, 2009

International Temperate Reef Symposium - Adelaide (Sunday & Monday)

I arrived in Adelaide kinda tired from staying up the whole night... maybe the one or two hours would have been a good idea??? But I had a few hours at the hostel to relax, have a shower and chill out before heading down to the university to register for yet another conference. I arrive at what I thought was on time... and was the first person to show up. So I was the trial run for checking in, getting my name tag and bag and loading my talk. It wasn't until hours later that I found out Adelaide is actually 30 minutes behind Melbourne... so I had been 30 minutes early for everything. Oh well.... I still got a couple of beers and got to meet a bunch of people. I don't really know anyone here, but that is ok. People are friendly enough.

Monday - (wow that is today.... I've really caught up to myself). First day of presentations. It is strange to listen to presentations on such a wide variety of animals after having heard about only echinoderms for a week. They went well. but the best one was near the end of the day. Ok, I'm being biased again. but my presentation went well today. And now they are both finished, so i can relax and stop practicing at night (You are right, I didn't practice every night). After the day was finished we had drinks in the garden again and I got to talk artificial reefs with one of the prominant researchers... (who's name I had to ask because his name tag had flipped around and I didn't recognize him... if you are going to plan a conference, take the extra time and paper to make the name tags double sided so that you still know who you are talking to when their name tag flips.)

Tasmania (Saturday)

With the conference officially over, but one day until the plane left the airport, we decided to explore Hobart a little. The day started with breakfast in Salamanca (see a theme yet?) with Tim, Kate, Jérome and Marc. Then after they left for more collection work, Marc and I headed towards the market. What a busy place... but as luck would have it we ran into three other echinoderm people. Even a crowded market place is a small world. After wandering around the city for a little while, we headed to the sea shore. We walked along it, even when the beach part ended and we had to start climbing over people's boat ramps. We ate our lunch outside on the porch of the casino. There were a bunch of sea stars lying on the beach, so I took some pictures and then we through them back in the water. We past a bunch of sailboats that were between races... one had the coolest sail - a skull and crossbones on it. More sea stars. And many other things. It took us quite a while to realize that the animals burried in the sand and covered with pieces of shell were in fact anenomes. (we found some open ones in tide pools later on). And we tried to come up with hypotheses of why the tunicates were only found on one side of the rocks... (Mine is that they are on the south side of the rocks, which is where the shade would be during the day as the sun passes to the north. This would help prevent dessication in the sun during low tide.) It was a fantastic day, sunny, but cool in the wind (and there was a lot of wind...) After about 6 hours we found ourselves back at Salamanca where we bought more strawberries and enjoyed the last of the sun before meeting some friends (the belgians) at the pub. The 6 of us had a great steak dinner and then went back to my apartment again for more wine (one of the Belgian girls lived in my apartment too). People started to drift off to bed, but Séverine helped Marc and I stay awake since we had to leave for the airport at 3:30am and sleeping only an hour or two didn't make sense. Eventually she too went to bed and we packed our bags and left Hobart. (both going to Melbourne on the 6 am flight, but on two different planes... go figure).

International Echinoderm Conference - Tasmania (Thursday & Friday)

Thursday - another day full of interesting echinoderm facts. Then at night we went to the Antarctic research headquaters. That was cool. They had lots of jars with preserved echinoderms. Interesting species I'd never seen. There were a couple of speeches and then a video that Marc got to narrate because he had been on that voyage. I spent a good chunk of the evening talking to a guy from Japan, that I had met at the last conference. It was good to meet him again, though I feel really bad that I didn't recognize him earlier in the week. Of course the bus dropped us off at Salamanca for a couple of drinks before climbing back up the hill to the residence.

Friday - last day of presentations. The last presentation of all was the best! ok, I'm biased. but you are allowed to be for your own presentation. Yes, I closed the conference. And people seemed to like it. It is reassuring when you look up into the audience and some of the biggest names in your field are nodding their heads as if they can accept and agree with what you are saying.

Then we all got on the double decker bus again. This time it took us to the harbour and we got on a boat to travel up river to the conference dinner. Yes we travel in class. Drinks on a yatch to go to a fancy dinner at a winery. Echinoderm people know how to do it.
Of course the night ended with a trip to Salamanca, only this time the bars were closing so we just bought some bottles and had a party in my apartment. (yes, even some of the profs).

What a fantastic conference!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

International Echinoderm Conference - Tasmania (Tuesday & Wednesday)

Tuesday - hmmm..... what happened tuesday, other than fighting with the computer to try and send files to Heather.... More talks. and the poster session in the evening. There is some really cool work going on with echinoderms.... now there are so many things I want to know about. Conferences really are a good way to get excited about work! And of course we ended the day at Salamanca. (well actually the day ended with wallabies on the lawn at the residence after Salamanca, the same as the previous day).

Wednesday - trip day. I was fortunate enough to be invited to join Tim, Kate and Jérome on their field work day. This is the furthest south I'll be for quite a while Recherche Bay (43o 30' S). While they went diving for brittle stars, I walked along the shore line. I was quite excited to see limpets and anenomes. Then I saw my first starfish! I managed to get it out from between the two rocks and took lots of pictures. It was a pretty purple. And then I put it back, still all excited and continued to explore. And I found another starfish and took lots of pictures, and a third one (more pictures), and then another, and another, and another.... I finally realized I couldn't take 10 pictures of each individual... (though I did try for a while). When they were finished their dive, we went to a place near Nine point marine reserve. and they went in for another dive. I took a nice walk along a path through the woods. Then when Kate came out of the water, she let me borrow her gear and Tim took me underwater and showed me lots of very cool creatures. Thank you very very much to both of them. By the time we got out of the water it was 7:30 pm.... diving days take a long time... and we still had to pick up starfish from another lady's house. So we went to her place and she had the table set for nine. You can't say no when the table is set. So we stayed for dinner, and it was a fantastic dinner. Her son had gone out and fished abalone. You just don't get fresher or more local than that. And then he took us out bandicoot spotting when it got dark. And we saw two of them. By the time we got back to the university it was 11:30pm (the only night we didn't go to Salamanca)

International Echinoderm Conference - Tasmania

Well, that was an amazing week. So amazing I haven't had time to write... I'll try to reaccount my stories, but it will probably take a couple of posts.

I got up at the crack of dawn (Jan 4) to leave Melbourne, and as I was walking to the airport shuttle, there were three hot air balloons rising up over the city for a sunrise tour. That was the start to my amazing week.

I flew into Hobart, Tasmania and took the shuttle up to the university, and somehow managed to get into my room 3 hours early. So that allowed me to dump my bags and visit the city before registration. (nice room - apt style residence, 6 single bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a kitchen and living room, up on the hill with fantastic views of the city and water). I walked down to the city - this city is even hillier than Saint John! It's pretty much all mountains. - and watched a local group play the Taiko drums. Then the conference began. The sunday night reception was a chance to meet up with old friends and meet new ones. complete with local echinoderms in aquaria. We drank the wine, ate the munchies and chatted away. The night finished with dinner in Salamanca (which soon became our favourite place to eat and drink).
Monday was the first day of talks. Starting with a welcome from the state govenor. He didn't even know what an echinoderm was until he was invited to welcome us at this conference. (I suspect most people don't). the talks went really well... I didn't present until Friday - dead last.... Monday evening we went for drinks at the State govenor's house. But in order to go, we all had to dress nice (ie shirt and ties for the guys). Well we are biologists... not usually known for dressing up. I was ok. (Thank you Grammi). But in the afternoon there was a show of hands for who needed to borrow a tie from one of the coordinators husband who happened to be out of town that day. 8 ties and 1 shirt later we got on the big red double decker bus that took us to the governor's house. And wow. Ro, I thought of you the whole time we were there. You would love hosting a dinner party in the dining room (the table can seat 31) and the ball room. The governor himself showed me the furniture in the little french room and the dining room. And the food and drink just kept coming... amazing really. Then we got back on the double decker bus and went to Salamanca.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Short answer - I like it.

I've spent the last day and a half wandering around Melbourne and I've decided that I like this city. and I'm not a very city type of girl. Actually to be fair, I think that if I had to pick a city to live in - based only on the city, not where friends, family, jobs are or how much things cost or what country it is, only on the city - I think I'd pick Melbourne. It is a big city, and it has it all. There is a sports district and an arts district and multiple universities. The city is definetly growing, all the old urban industrious brownlands are being tranformed into new parks and buildings. There are multiple green spaces all over the city, some old with big old trees and some still in the process of being built. But one of the coolest things is the old architecture mixed with the new architecture. and many of the modern buildings are quite modern and artsy. It is a very cool mix and the city planners have done it well. I went down to dockland today to find a spot to put dad's boat when we sail here and it is quite amazing what they have done with their old wharfs, where now everything including weddings take place. and it is easy to get around (without a car.... parking is ooober expensive). There are trams, and buses going past every few minutes. There is even a free tourist bus and tram. I took the tram yesterday and the bus today because they talk about the different areas and building in the city as you go around. And they are always pack. (why pay for the other route when the free one is going where you want to go?). There are also lots of good bike routes throughout the city. But on top of that there are signs on the corners that point out which direction points of interest are and the estimated walking time to get there.... it is brilliant. Now I know this city isn't perfect. Nothing ever is. But I must say having only been here 36 hours, I find Melbourne pretty awesome.

Friday, January 2, 2009

On the other side of the world

So I made it. After 36 hours of travel I am finally on the other side of the world. I finally got frustrated with America's lack of interest in the world juniors (It's not on TV in LA... all channels are football) and TSN's lack of broadcasting online to said LA, and the fact that at that point USA was winning 2-0 but I didn't know how the goal were scored, that I packed up my computer and went through security where the internet was no longer free. Since paying 5$ for a game I couldn't watch wasn't in my wallet, I've been offline since. I don't even know who won... Sweet. Canada won 7-4! Ok, enough with the hockey... there isn't even any ice where I am unless it is in your rum and coke. So on the other side of security (which by the way, the line up for was shorter than that in Saint John. Yes, it is true. LAX had a shorter line than YSJ. ok, ok, one was way before any flights in that part of the terminal went out and the other was during prime time, but it is still pretty amazing). So there I spent my last few hours on North American soil... trying to sleep in very uncomfortable chairs with armrests.

Then it was time to board the plane. They called our flight number, we handed them our boarding passes and passports and walked through the door. On to the tarmac. Ok, it wasn't even tarmac, but a parking lot. I went through security at one of the biggest airports in the USA to walk in a parking lot and get on a bus. Yes, it is true... apparently you can take a bus to get to Australia. After they decided that the last person wasn't going to show up, the bus took us way out down the runways to a stand alone boarding ramp attached to a 747. Strange, but at least we got on a plane. (I'm not sure how watertight the bus would be for driving on the ocean.) I sat down in my seat and promptly fell asleep.

I woke up some time later as the food carts were going past. So does Qantas do something special for new years? I don't know... it was after midnight at that point and there was a headset and customs card sitting on my lap. But I did get the food. And all things considered it wasn't bad (I was pretty hungry) and the attendant gave me an extra big marshmellow in my hot chocolate. (Don't worry dad, you have absolutely NO competition). So 15 hours of movies and sleeping later, I started to feel the plane descend. All the diving has been great - I can clear my ears very easily and sense pressure changes pretty quickly. But the coolest part was that as the flaps on the wings moved for descent, I caught a glimps of Australian soil through the wing. and then it appeared on the other side of the wing. And the trees got bigger and bigger.... and we landed.

Going through customs.... My biggest dilema was do gum and mints count as food? I'm still not sure, but after much thought I declaired them anyway. I got through customs stage 1 easy enough. Then had to wait for my bag. And while I was waiting another customs guy looked at my form. It is so informal here... lets just chat as you are standing at the baggage carrousel. I love it. Anyway, I had checked that yes I had food and yes I had recently been in a wilderness area (that's what your house is dad, a wilderness area). So as I already mentioned the food was gum and mints (I really didn't want to throw them out), and after some thought he decided they really didn't count. And then hiking really didn't matter since I had been wearing different boots at the time (it was deep snow). So I got my stamp and after the dogs checked the bags I was free to go.

Standing in the airport, not really knowing where to go. This was where my plan ended... just get to Australia and figure out the rest when I got there. Ah, that wonderful sign "i". You always know good things will be under the "i". In this case, a bunch of hostels with addresses, multiple maps of Melbourne and information on what to do in the city and shuttlebus tickets. So I pick up all of the above and went to find the shuttlebus to take me into the city.

I decided to walk to from the bus dropoff to the hostels. I had addresses and a map so all was good. And it was, until it started raining. But after that many hours in a plane all weather is appreciated. So I just sat under a overhang in front of a building reading my brochures until it stopped. Then I continued on my way.

I finally decided on a hostel - Bozo Backpackers. and like Bozo the clown this place is colourful. Bright yellow walls with pink and blue doors. but it is small, has a courtyard, free internet and isn't far from the main part of the city. I'm sharing a room with a German girl who is here on a working holiday visa. She seems really nice. Today was her day off, so she was in the room when I got here.

I spent the afternoon wandering around the city. I started at Queen Victoria Market. That place is huge. I'm used to only two or three meat/fish counters. I couldn't even count how many this one had. There were counters dedicated to free-range organic chickens. And then there were the fruits and veggies and general merchandise and the list goes on. My first thing was to buy sunglasses (because by this point it was getting pretty bright outside). and I found them. and bought them. and then found 4 more stalls selling sunglasses. but I still like the ones I got the best. My second thing was lunch - which after much going in circles ended up being 3 kinds of curry with a mango lassi. Then I walked down the street. And down another. and another. and the more I saw, the more I remembered from the last time I was here. The architecture around here is super cool. Alix would be impressed. Old and new are beside each other and it works. I found out that the place to be is on the front lawn of the library. So many people just hanging out on the grass. So many people walking the streets. People watching was pretty cool. And then I ended up at the river. So I just sat beside it for a while, watching the tour boats go up and down. And then I walked along it. and looked at the statues. Then, since I was getting tired I decided to take the free tram tour of the city. Great idea - except that it is a free tram, so it was packed. And many of the people were just using it for transportation not a tour. So it was loud, but I could still usually hear the tour guide recording. Until I ended up next to the two yelling two year old german twin boys. Just don't ask me any details about the city. I took the tram part way around again.

And now I'm back in my hostel, trying to stay awake and vaguely plan my day tomorrow so I can start to overcome jetlag (I keep thinking I don't have jetlag, I'm just tired.... ) but since it is now 9:15pm I think I can safely go to bed.