August 2003

Australia is too big for one update. So this update is just the Southeastern bit (Victoria, New South Wales, and ACT).
But first a short summary of Australia:

We started in Melbourne. It was cold and rainy most of the time we were there (August is winter here, of course). Even so, it was nice wandering the botanic gardens as well as the shops and cafes along the river. But after a few days we decided we'd seen enough of the city and it was time to move on.

And this time we moved on in a campervan! We decided that we'd probably need to rent a car to get around Australia, but then we decided that the overall savings of cooking our own meals and not staying in hotels would make it worth upgrading to a campervan. And at any rate it would be a fun change.

Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens again Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens with Melbourne skyline More of Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens

Our plan was to head north from Melbourne along the east coast, so we headed... west. Enough locals were unanimous in their acclaim for the Great Ocean Road along the southern coast that we felt we couldn't just skip it. For two days we drove along the ocean and got to see highlights like Loch Ard (site of an old wreck) and the 12 Apostles (huge cliffs standing out in the ocean after the softer rock around them was worn away).

Our newly rented campervan Mirador along the Great Ocean Road Two of the Twelve Apostles on a gray evening Same Apostles on the sunnier next day Loch Ard: site of a submerged wreck More stone precipices Big waves More of the 12 Apostles

Next we made our way to Philip Island. This turned out even better than expected. The Koala reserve was great--we got to see wild koalas up close. Well, as wild as anything can be that sleeps 20 hours per day, eats for 3 hours, and moves very slowly for the remaining hour. That night we saw the penguin parade. Lots and lots of Little Penguins return to their homes after sundown each night. They spend several days or even weeks out swimming and eating, then they come home in big groups. They wait for the sun to go down so they're harder for predators to see, then they come up on beach and waddle back home.

Actually it's slightly more complicated: first they come out of the water, get scared, then go back into the water. Next, they come out of the water, get scared, then go back into the water. Next, they come out of the water, get a bigger group together, get scared, then go back into the water. After a dozen or more attempts, they finally get up the courage and continue up the shore towards their homes. Then the next group (of 8-20 penguins) comes ashore. Once they're walking on shore they seem to loose their fear and you can see them up close.

Sleeping female koala Mitch eating eucalyptus leaves More of Mitch

From there we meandered through the countryside on our way to Canberra. We saw great chainsaw-made sculptures in Lakes Entrance and walked the 90 mile beach looking for shells. I made fajitas on one of the ubiquitous Aussie grills, and we even saw kangaroos on the side of the road. (Live ones, I mean. We had already seen lots of dead ones.)

Mornington Peninsula Another view of the Mornington Peninsula Matt in Tarra Bulga National Park Angela in Tarra Bulga National Park Great Fern Gully in Tarra Bulga National Park Chainsaw carving in Lakes Entrance

Eventually we made it to Canberra and did some typical tourist adventures: visited the National Mint, toured Parliament House, saw the War Memorial, and visited the National Museum. (It's very unusual, but hard to explain. So I won't bother.) Canberra was nice, but had that strange planned city feel. We were ready to go visit one of the towns that we'd most been looking forward to: Sydney.

National Mint View of Canberra (War Memorial) from the Parliament House View of Parliament House from the War Memorial

Sydney was a fun town. We stayed at a campsite outside of town and commuted in each day. It almost felt like I was working again. No trip to Sydney would be complete without a visit to the Opera House, so we headed there right away. After a ferry ride to Manly Beach, we followed the 9k scenic walkway along the coast. The next day we visited Darling Harbor--including the Chinese Garden and the aquarium. It was a great aquarium with live platypuses, sharks, and weedy sea dragons being a few highlights. Later we visited the Botanical Gardens (every city in Australia seems to have them) and then the observatory.

Sydney Opera House Angela Chinese Garden in Darling Harbor Opera House from the Harbor Bridge

Eventually we moved north from Sydney into the Hunter Valley wine region. We had a great day of tastings--the first place alone gave us 14 different things to try--and found a few choice items to stock the campervan cave.

After wine tasting with Max Out in Max's vineyards

After that we followed Waterfall Way through a number of national parks. We saw an echidna, lyre birds, a spotted tail quoll, and hundreds of kangaroos. You may need to see the photos to know what animals I'm talking about.

The Big Golden Guitar Echidna in Wollomombi Park Spotted-tail Quoll at Lookout Point View from the lookout Upper and Lower Ebor Falls Kangaroos in Cathedral Park More kangaroos in Cathedral Park Excellent walk in Dorrigo National Park View straight up Crystal Falls in Dorrigo National Park

Next we went up the coast to Byron Bay. After being disappointed that we weren't able to take a kayak trip to see dolphins due to northerly winds, we hiked around the peninsula. And the lack of dolphins was more than made up for by seeing humpback whales off the coast! Later, we celebrated Angela's birthday with our first nice dinner out in a long time.

As we've been heading north, the weather has been getting warmer and warmer. I'm looking forward to Queensland being even warmer and nicer.

Relaxing on her birthday Whale spotting (Look! you can see the splash!) Byron Bay Beach
Australian update number two comes from Queensland.
The one key fact this time:

For those of you that don't know Australian geography very well (like me), Queensland is the northeast corner of the country. That means it's nearest the equator and has a fairly tropical climate. For us it meant the beginning of warm weather.

First we drove to Brisbane, but we couldn't help stopping in Surfer's Paradise. The town is a tourist trap, but the beaches are great. We played in the waves and had a picnic on the beach to break up the driving.

The old beach and the new high rises Playing in the waves

In Brisbane we followed the Lonely Planet suggestion for a walking tour. We saw fountains, City Hall, the University, etc. The highlights were a Nepalese Pagoda--built for some world fair--and the lagoon on the South Bank. It's warm all year round, so it's great to have a place to swim that's just walking distance from downtown. It made me want to look for work in Brisbane and maybe stay a while longer.

Nepalese Pagoda in Brisbane Matt at the Pagoda Lagoon and skyline Making sandwiches for a picnic

Next we took a ferry (or barge, as the Aussies call it) from Rainbow Beach over to Fraser Island. It's the largest sand island in the world. It's got perfectly clear freshwater lakes and steams, rainforest in the middle of the island, and sand blows (sand dunes). I even got to see a wild dingo for the first time. Looks like a dog. I wouldn't have known the difference if the guide hadn't been so excited.

Swimming in Lake Birrabeen Big old hollow tree Part of the 75 mile beach Big sand blow (Australian for sand dune)

We drove up to Hervey Bay for whale watching, but we stopped along the way at Tin Can Bay to see and feed the dolphins. Well, just one dolphin actually. He was raised by people after his mother was killed, so he's even more friendly than most of the dolphins there. We had a great whale watching trip where we saw around a dozen humpback whales playing. They like to rest up in Hervey Bay before migrating south for the summer.

Mystic the dolphin Eating breakfast out of Angela's hand Humpback whale watching Adult whale

We stopped in Eungella National Park for some hiking and stumbled across a rufous bettong. Sorry, no pictures. Just imagine a big rat that hops around like a kangaroo. Then we got up early the next morning and got to see several platypuses swimming and feeding.

Tarzan swinging on vine Jane walking through a giant tree arch

One thing I should have mentioned before is all of the sugar cane. It's sugar cane season in Queensland, and there's cane growing everywhere. After driving past miles and miles of cane fields, we figured we ought to take a tour and learn a little more. The tour was great, we learned all sorts of little details: like the cane has to be processed within 16 hours after it's cut, and that the whole factory is powered by burning the dried cane remains. It was great to be able to see the whole process of transforming raw cane into molasses and sugar crystals.

Farmers at work in the cane field Chopped cane is dumped into the first stage of the factory Matt samples the intermediate molasses Raw sugar moving up the conveyor belt Rainbow Lorikeets love the spilt sugar Photographer scares them away Standing in another cane field

But after that heavy industry (and learning!), we got back to real vacationing: snorkeling and diving in the Whitsunday Islands. We had great weather and clear water for some nice diving. The captain feeds the fish, so we were assured of getting to see lots of fish really close up. Then, continuing on with the diving theme, we went out to the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns. The diving was great there as well.

We might have done even more diving there, but we cut our time in Australia just a bit short in order to head to Singapore. My old roommate Andy was there for work, so we changed our flights around to go and meet up.

Until next time,


Our catamaran One of the islands Another Whitsunday island Picnic in Port Douglas Snorkelers on the reef Wally the famous Napolean Maori Wrasse

Last modified: 13 September 2003