Monthly Archives: September 2014

Adelaide, Saturday 27/09/14

Well, I didn’t see a Cassowary, though pretty much everyone else I met at Cape Tribulation did. Never mind.

My last post finished rather abruptly, due to my being rather tired. I’ve been staying in hostels where kitchen and sitting areas are next to dorms. Some people start talking and even singing, very early in the morning, which I find harder to deal with than noise late at night.

So maybe it’s time for me to write about some of my impressions of Australia.

The first thing that struck me was the walking signs for pedestrians. Drivers are very respectful of ordinary crossings, but the crossings with lights are different. I have spent ages waiting for the green man to let me cross the road. In Toowoomba I thought about starting smoking to pass the time. I run to cross when the knocking sound starts, as they don’t give you much time to cross – and the fines for breaking the rules are heavy.

In fact, for such a laid-back population, there are a surprising number of rules and regulations. In Queensland there are dress codes for cafés and restaurants and even in one case, in a hostel for after 5.30pm. I suppose this is a reaction to the fact that large amounts of flesh are revealed on the streets, especially on foreign female backpackers, who nearly all wear very short shorts.

As for the men, as well as extremely “casual” wear outside of the big cities, there is a lot of hair – long in pony-tails or dreadlocks, curly and profuse, copious beards, hairy legs, (astonishing after six months in Asia).

Absolutely NO eating or drinking on many of the buses – they are tediously clear about this.

Waitresses call me “darlin'”, and in many cafés and restaurants you have to order and pay at the service counter before sitting down, as in English pubs.

All in all, it’s the little oddities that catch me out.

The distances between major cities and towns are huge, so I have been using different forms of transport to get around.

Cape Tribulation lays claim to the oldest rainforest on earth, Daintree, and is where it reaches to the Coral Sea. I had the good fortune to have a guide who was from the indigenous people of the area and could discuss how they used the natural vegetation for food and medicines. It is mysterious and beautiful.

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This Satinash tree produces flowers directly from the trunk.

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I went for a guided walk in the forest at night, which lasted about three hours. I didn’t see much I hadn’t seen before, apart from some tree frogs and a Giant King Cricket. This latter got one member of our group very excited, as apparently it is related to the New Zealand “weta”, the largest insect on earth and the name of Peter Jackson’s special effects film company. Like me, you may be beginning to see a pattern of superlatives when describing Australia – “oldest”, “biggest”, “most”. It is literally an extraordinary place.

Back in Cairns, I took a glass-bottomed boat and a semi-sub around the coral reef of Green Island. This is because I can’t swim well and I don’t like snorkel masks, so it was the only way I could see the Great Barrier Reef for real. I did try to get one-to-one swimming lessons before leaving the UK, but my local pool let me down. It is one thing I regret, as there have been some great swimming locations on my travels. However, I did enjoy the boat rides, seeing corals and turtles and shoals of fish. Once again I was in luck, as just as we were disembarking we saw 17 sting-rays swim under the hull – a very unusual occurrence.

I tried to get another wwoof placement in a restaurant which claimed an organic orchard. I imagined I would be planting trees and pruning or fruit- picking, but again, it was only a small garden and the work was mainly cleaning. Though I was disappointed, it took me to a place called Yungaburra, and a hostel called, “On The Wallaby”. The name is a reference to a poem, which is about being out in the bush. I loved this place and all the staff. There were no locks on the doors, taking me back to an earlier time when this would have been commonplace.

I walked to Lake Eacham, in a volcanic crater, where I saw fresh-water turtles, but also Archer Fish – the ones that spit at flies out of the water, ( not that I saw them doing this).

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The highlight of my time there, however, was a nighttime canoe trip. The guide, Tracey, was very knowledgeable and extremely good at spotting small furry animals sitting in trees. It was strangely calm, sometimes gently rowing in the front of a two-woman boat, sometimes just drifting along, with the stars above. We saw possums, bandicoots , tree kangaroos, (adorable), a python . . . A truly memorable occasion.

Back in Cairns, I decided to take a flight to Alice Springs. It was expensive, but worth it. Through a cloudless sky, I could see the whole country laid out below and was able to appreciate the features and changes in the landscape. I took a few pictures through the plane windows.

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In Alice Springs it was springtime. There was blossom on the trees and birdsong on the air. Walking in Olive Pink Botanic Garden I came across two Bower Birds.

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I hope you can see. The female is standing in the bower, while the male is the speckled form on the right with a bright purple streak on his head. In the next two pictures he has started to dance before her and then join her in the bower.

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Unfortunately a passing car disrupted them and I thought it best to allow them a little privacy.

Of course, when you go to Alice Springs, you go to Uluru. More of that later, as I’m off to a wine tasting now.

Cairns, Wednesday 10/09/14

I went to Hervey Bay to go whale-watching for humpbacks.

Almost as soon as we left the bay in our catamaran, we started to see the spout of water from whales in the distance. It takes some time to catch up with them, but we were closing in on two when we lost sight of them for a while. After about five or ten minutes, the boat began to rock gently and there was a whale underneath. I was standing on a small platform over the right-hand hull and it actually swam under my feet. It hung around by our side for a short while, blowing water that did not smell, (another myth dispelled), and then disappeared once more.

The rest of the day was spent chasing whales. The most spectacular was a pod of three, flipper and tail flapping against the water. First we saw the splashing.

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Then as we approached, I could see they were on their backs, sometimes raising both flippers and crashing them down against the surface of the water to make a loud noise.

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Then there was “lobtailing”.

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We even saw them breach on three occasions, so once again, my luck was in.

As these whales were so active, we did not try to get too close. At the end of the day, when we had seen several more whales, we approached a pod of three or four, who came over to take a look at us. This was a parting gift.

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In contrast, the next day I went to Fraser Island, the largest sand island on earth, along with Katrina, a German woman I met in the hostel.

It was a short trip across the bay to the island.

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The blue planet.

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A slightly different blue – same planet.

It is remarkable that there is such a diversity of vegetation here, all built on sand. This is thanks to the mycorrhizal
fungus which provides nutrients and the particular way in which sand dunes are formed. We saw eucalyptus woodland, rainforest, mangroves, coastal heaths and inland lakes and creeks.

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Rainforest

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The sandy Eli Creek.

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Lake Mackenzie, which was formed by rainwater, but is somewhat acidic.

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Seventy-five mile beach, used as a main highway to get round the island.

I also saw my first, (and to date my only), dingo.

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From Hervey Bay to Magnetic Island by train and ferry.

I wandered around most of the island, seeing wallabies, cockatoos and lorikeets, and even a glimpse of a possum. The highlight of my time there was horse-riding, which included bare-back riding in the sea. It is relaxing and calming, as you can leave all the work to the horse.

I’m continuing to explore Australia, while trying to find another organic farm to help out with. I want to make the most of my time here, but the tours are expensive and it would be good to stay a bit longer in one place.
Have to go and pack my bag once more, as tomorrow I’m going to Cape Tribulation, which sounds drastic but is actually where I’m hoping I’ll meet up with some more of the wildlife. Perhaps I’ll see a Cassowary.