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.