Monday, December 21, 2009

Oh Yeah....I was writing a blog.





As you may have noticed, the blog posts stopped roughly a month ago. I'll blame some of it on actually having work to do, but that excuse really doesn't hold up- my apologies. Since my last entry, I've been to Canberra, back to Brisbane, written a 5000 word paper and a 10000 word paper, given a 15 minute presentation, gone to a national Cricket match, gone hiking in the Glasshouse Mountains, had a surf lesson, survived nearly unbearable heat, and finally, left the land Down Under. I've attached a few pictures of the events of the last month, but I really want to take this last entry to thank you for reading this blog. It's really meant a lot to me knowing that people have been keeping up with me in Australia. I've tried to keep it funny and interesting (although I know it hasn't always been), so, thanks mate.
This trip is one I'll never forget. I've learned alot (look left at intersections, everything is more dangerous in Australia, and the definition of a billabong, for example), I've made great new friends (you know who you are), and had experiences I'll never forget (diving on the Great Barrier Reef and star-gazing in the Outback). Sadly, this will probably be my last entry (my normal life isn't near this interesting), so again, thanks, and if you ever get the chance to visit a sunburned country, don't miss it!

Cheers,
David

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Brief Six Days in Sydney





After leaving Stradbroke Island we drove straight to the airport and caught our flight to Sydney. Our free days and Sydney were first instead of last, so we took our free days to ride the ferry out to the beach suburb of Manly and travel inland to the iconic Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains. In the Blue Mountains the five of us hiked two trails: the scenic National Pass cut into the side of a cliff and the Federal Pass which runs beneath the Three Sisters and ends with a ride on the steepest funicular railway in the world. On our non-free days in Sydney we visited museums (lots and lots and lots of them) and saw the sights around Sydney. One of the highlights was the Bing dinner, a 5-course meal followed by a ballet in the Opera House. We also went to the beach where Australian beach culture originated (Bondi Beach), the Australia Museum, the Powerhouse Museum, and toured the Sydney's historic barracks.
One our last day in Sydney, we had three free hours, so a friend and I decided to go sailing on Sydney Harbor (how often do you get that opportunity?). I found a place that rented small Lasers so Jared and I decided to go for it. Upon arriving at the rental place we discovered that they wouldn't let us both go out in one Laser; "We do have catamarans though. They're basically the same." After a terrifying near-death experience, we decided that learning to sail a catamaran in 30-knot winds wasn't the best idea and we decided on kayaks instead. Next stop: Canberra. I just hope that Australians exaggerate their extreme dislike for their capital city...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Straight Outta Stradbroke





Today was our final day on Stradbroke, a day filled with frantic data gathering, data analyzing, and finally, a couple dozen raw oysters. My last two and a half days have been spent driving to various parts of the island trying to get data for my targeted research project. Sadly, almost all of my data has proven to be statistically insignificant, however, data that tells you nothing still tells you something. Last Saturday we gave 35 minute presentations on a theoretical development in groups of six, Sunday was our exam, and since then I've been working on my research island. I have had some fun though; everyday last week we played either rugby or soccer on the field nearby- we had some serious 10 vs 10 play (and I finally scored a goal). Sadly diving didn't work out because of an unfortunate incident with the first part of our group, however it sounds like I'll have at least one more chance. Tomorrow we leave here at 7AM, ride the ferry back to the mainland, head straight to the airport, and then fly to Sydney. Our free days are Saturday and Sunday and then we have a week of "class" mostly involving visiting museums in Sydney and Canberra.
The pictures above are a few snapshots of life on Straddie- My friend Jared helping me with my research project, a storm rolling across Moreton Bay from Brisbane, the view from Point Lookout at the northeastern edge of the island, and a picture from our tour of the local sand-mining operation. I'll post again from Sydney!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Life in Cell Block E


Just a joke, although this part of the research station at Moreton Bay does seem to look like a federal penitentiary. Since arriving here on Staddie, we've had our introductory lectures, toured the island, and had attempted to all throw boomerangs. A local Aborigine guide came by and played Didgeridoo, showed us traditional artifacts, and demonstrated how do throw spears and boomerangs. As you can imagine, there were all sorts of comical results when 50 of us attempted to throw a boomerang (both of mine went into trees). Yesterday we also went swimming at Brown Lake (aptly named), a nearby lake solely fed by rainwater that is the color of tea because of tannin runoff from the Eucalyptus trees in the area. Today we're touring the local Rutile mining operation to get a feel for another important aspect of the island. I've also been planning my research project, which at the moment, is going to attempt to study the effects of the local dirt roads on the nearby environment.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Back In Brisbane





We’re back in Brisbane today, for merely a single day- tomorrow we’re headed west to Stradbroke Island (“Straddie”), just across Moreton Bay. We left Heron yesterday and then had a roughly eight-hour bus ride back into Brisbane. It’s really bizarre: the main road, the M1, between Brisbane and the rest of the East Coast of Australia is only two lanes with an extra passing lane interspersed every five or ten kilometers. It’s unbelievable that the main artery for 1500 kilometers is merely two lanes. The next two weeks we’ll spend out on Stradbroke Island, taking our Coastal Resource Management class; I’ll also be carrying out my research project there. It’s exciting to finally get to do some work on my project. The internet should be better at Straddie, so hopefully the blog entries will be more frequent (and before I forget everything like at Heron). I’ve added a few last pictures of the island to this post including dive pictures and some snorkeling pictures. Enjoy!

Heron Island





I’ve spent the last two weeks snorkeling, diving, working in the lab, and playing beach volleyball on Heron Island, about 80 miles off the East Coast of Australia in the Great Barrier Reef. After 22 hours on the train we arrived in Gladstone and promptly boarded the ferry for the two-hour ride to Heron Island. The entry into the island’s harbor is impressive- the resort sank a ship in the edge of the channel as a break and the hull stands out against the island. We stayed at the University of Queensland’s Research Station, and we were provided with wetsuits, fins, masks, and snorkels to snorkel to our hearts’ desire during our free time. We had a week of labs which involved activities such as taking pictures of fish with underwater cameras to laying out transects and measuring coral cover at low tide. We also organized a six-team beach volleyball tournament, and not to brag, but we won- there’s something special about running up and blocking your professor’s spike back over the net (he was a pretty serious player). We also organized some beach soccer on the last from which I’m still healing. Playing on the beach really evens the playing field- you never quite know where the ball is going to go. We were also fortunate enough to be on Heron Island during the time of the year when Green Turtles crawl onto the beach in the evening dig nests, lay their nests, and then crawl back into the ocean. The amount of wildlife I saw was staggering- sting rays, sharks, turtles, and more species than I can even name. There wasn’t a dive or a snorkel where I didn’t see something new or exciting. There are tons of pictures I want to post so I’ll disperse them over the next few entries

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Those Pictures

Here's a handful of mountain pictures from my time in Cairns. Sadly, the internet here is so anemic I couldn't add any diving pictures to this post. The first is the view from the highest mountain in Queensland, and the second is the swimming hole we hiked to (notice the people on the left of the waterfall for scale). Hopefully I'll add that and an update of life here on a coral island in the next few days- hopefully.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

FInding Nemo, tall mountains, and secluded waterfalls

The last three days have been quite an exhausting whirlwind. Things started early two days ago when a group of us ventured north of Cairns to the Mowbray Valley for a hike. The "trail" was about 2 kilometers up a canyon full of secluded pools and waterfalls, culminating in a 60 meter (everything is in metric- I apologize) cascade with a swimming hole. Monday was the warm-up hike, Tuesday was the real hike- we got up at 4:15 AM to get on the Mt. Bartle Frere trail at 6:00 AM. Mt. Bartle Frere is the tallest mountain in Queensland at whopping 5321 feet (really?). That doesn't sound very tall right? The trick was that the trail head started at basically 0, and (rapidly) descended to 5231 feet. The trail was really unique- we started in rain forest and skirted our way up ridges pulling ourselves up with roots and tree trunks. After leaving the rain forest we entered a fun boulder field and then entered cloud forest- rain forest that receives its astronomical annual rainfall straight from the clouds which cover the summit 200+ days a year. We ate lunch at the summit (there are trees on top- boo) and then we stumbled our way back down and finished at 3. Today I woke up early again to board "SilverSwift" and travel to the Great Barrier Reef for 3 dives. My dives ranged in depth from 0 to about 55 feet and from 38 minutes to 47 minutes. We saw sea turtles, reef sharks, a stray eel, oodles of fish, and an exact replica of everyone's favorite Disney fish (Nemo, in case you were wondering). Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the actual dive because my camera doesn't enjoy diving as much as me. I can however assure you that it was pretty unique- towering corals, coral walls, shallow corals, deep corals, corals of all colors, and thousands of fish. I would highly recommend a dive if you ever somehow end up in Cairns, Australia. Tomorrow morning we leave here at 7 AM for a 25 hour train ride to Gladstone, and then a 2 hour boat ride across open ocean to Heron Island, where I'll be for the next two weeks for my coral reef class. Internet may be sketchy, but I'll post as much as I can. Unfortunately my photos aren't ready for posting currently, so I'll put some up next chance I get.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Dedication


This is dedicated to a special reader.

Undara




Wednesday afternoon we arrived at our resort at the Undara National Volcanic Park. The three and a half hour drive was broken up nicely by another stop at a (slightly warmer) swimming hole (see above). Wednesday evening we watched the sunset over the Outback from a bluff above our resort- the orange sun setting over the orange Outback. Thursday we got to visit the Undara lava tubes, which are short caves that are several hundred feet tall and wide, but only a few hundred feet long. The absolute highlight of our time in the Outback was star-gazing on Thursday night- it's truly something you cannot see in the Northern Hemisphere. Alarmingly, you can't see the North Star from here or any of the Big or Little Dipper- I was completely lost. However, what you can see really makes up for it- the Milky Way is truly spectacular here, much more visible than at home. We were also able to see the two neighboring galaxies to our own, something only visible this far south. And all of this was accentuated by the near total darkness of the deserted Outback. Sadly, my camera didn't have the settings to photograph the seen; instead I'll just have to recommend that if you ever find yourself in the Southern Hemisphere, take the time to glance at the stars. We finished up the evening with a campfire where we learned the "Australian Song"- Waltzing Maltida. Out professor also explained what the song means because honestly it's pretty incomprehensible- check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waltzing_Matilda if you're interested. Friday we had our mangrove and rainforest exam (whew) and then went on a brief kangaroo observing expedition (definitely my favorite animal here). The Outback is unlike any place I've ever visited- the sheer magnitude of the emptiness, the vastness of it, is honestly scary. The roads in the Outback are the first thing you notice- four lande roads are unheard of, and between the sparse towns in the Outback, the roads become one-lane with dirt pull-offs on the side to avoid oncoming traffic. Driving through the Outback, you come across the stereotypical Australian "bush" towns- towns of only a few hundred with a dried-up creek, a handful of trees, and a hundred year old bar that also serves as a hotel. I did actually see one golf course, although it was the most pitiful hilarious excuse for a golf course I've ever seen. There wasn't a speck of green to be seen anywhere, and there wasn't any sign of people either. Yesterday we drove back to Cairns the biggest city in Northern Australia for five full free days (woo). I'm going on my first dive here and hopefully hiking as many other days as I can- I'll update again soon. Thanks for reading.

P.S.- the previous entry was a poem written in 1908 by a famous Australian poet that I really feel fits the Outback and this country.

The Outback


I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges
Of drought and flooding rains
I love her far horizons
I love her jewel sea
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me.

-Dorothea MacKellar

Friday, October 9, 2009

Yungaburra





Last Sunday we drove three hours south to Yungaburra to the rainforests of the Atherton Tablelands. We didn’t waste any time, and Sunday afternoon we went to visit the Cathedral fig- a monstrous strangler fig and then to a lake in a volcano crater nearby, Lake Eachem. I couldn't help but laugh when I walked into the Yungaburra grocery store Sunday night and heard Sweet Home Alabama on the radio- where am I again? Monday we went back to the volcanic lake to carry out some rain forest experiments and for a refreshing swim in the lake. That afternoon we had our first encounter with “the Australian Bush” at Davies Creek. Monday night half of us went night canoeing to spot wildlife- we saw a platypus, numerous wallabies, and various types of possums. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures because I was driving our canoe and I was kept busy avoiding the other canoes (there were a lot of beginners). Tuesday we went to another nearby national park for some work and a refreshing but frigid swimming hole (see above). In the evening we did some work at a local farm where the owners are working on regrowing the original tropical rainforest that was cleared in the 1950's. We got to see numerous platypi and the only other egg-laying mammal in the world the echinda- an animal just like a porcupine except that it can't throw it's spines. We also saw went into a glowworm gave and saw perhaps the cutest thing ever (see above). Wednesday we got up at 4:45 AM to go count bird calls at another huge fig tree. I was tasked with counting the call of Lillan’s Honey-eater (sounds like a machine-gun) and the Wampu Pigeon call (it sounds just like it’s name)- safe to say, I’m a pro now (I counted about 200). I’ve attached a few pictures of the rainforest and the hostel we stayed in (On the Wallaby). Next stop, the Outback!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Brief Reprieve





Today we finished our 4 day crash course in mangroves with a group presentation on mangroves and a reflective essay. Thursday and Friday we were divided into three groups of 8, and each group was assigned an aspect of mangroves: estuary, fauna, and forest (my group). Our group visited five sites where we measured canopy cover, tree species, height, and circumference, number of seedlings, pH, salinity, and several other things I can't really remember along 30-40 meter transects. Thursday I was in charge of measuring tree height with a hypsometer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypsometer- check the last sentence; I didn't know what it was either) and Friday I got to jam a pvc pipe as far into the ground as I could and pull out a very muddy soil core. Friday night and Saturday morning we compiled our data and then gave a 20 minuted presentation this afternoon. This is definitely a strange way to take classes- they only last 4 days, but instead of 1 hour, they last 10-12 hours. Tomorrow morning we pack up early and drive to the rain forest southwest of Cairns where we'll stay till next Saturday at Yungaberra and Atherton. It's nice to get a break, although it's going to be a little short for my taste- tomorrow should basically be a rest too. I've posted some pictures of our work for the last few days, another crocodile pic, and a picture of a flying fox colony we cruised by (I wouldn't want to meet one in a cave). I'll post more from the rain forest.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Swimmer's Delight





Welcome to Northern Australia- for the next two weeks I’ll be in and around Cairns way up north in Australia. I’m currently in the Daintree Rain Forest World Heritage area where I’ll be until Sunday working on the mangroves part of the program. Sunday, our group of 24 swaps with the other group of 24 and travels to the rain forest and the outback west of Cairns in the Atherton Tableland, where we’ll be for four more days. Finally, I’ll have five free days in Cairns itself. I’m still working on plans for those days- hopefully lots of diving and maybe a little hiking.
Yesterday morning we left Brisbane at 10 AM for our 2 hour flight more than 1000 miles north to Cairns. After a quick lunch, we drove north for more than 2 hours along the coast of the Coral Sea and through the rainforest, past numerous sugar cane plantations and even a ferry crossing, finally arriving at the Crocodylus Village, nestled into the rain forest. This morning we started bright and early to take a cruise down the Daintree River to study mainly mangrove species, but also crabs, birds, fish, and as you can see from the picture crocodiles. It seems as if crocodiles control life up here- they inhabit all the streams, creeks, rivers, and even beaches, largely minimizing any desire to go for a quick swim. For the next four days, we’ll be travelling around in our “troopie” (see picture), wading knee deep in mangrove mud, and preparing for a presentation and exam Saturday afternoon- the real work has begun!
On a side note, that bottom picture is a slightly-modified road sign warning visitors of the (somewhat amusing) consequences that speeding can have on Cassowaries- an endangered peacock-like bird with razor-sharp claws that lives here in the Daintree Rain Forest (and apparently wanders around our hostel at night). We’ve been assured that they aren’t aggressive as long as we steer clear of their chicks…

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Aww...




Friday I made it to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the largest koala sanctuary in the world (is there much competition?). For $16 you could get a picture holding a koala, or you could just hold one for free. I was cheap, so just imagine a little koala clinging to me if you want. Other highlights include a bird that wouldn’t speak no matter how hard I tried, but quickly said “bye bye” the instant I turned around- a trick solely to get me to come back and try to get him to talk some more (and fail). My favorite part was the kangaroo pen where there were about 50 various species of kangaroos hanging out ready to be petted. If you pretended you had food in your hand they would come over and let you scratch behind their ears or pet them or try to take a photo with them or whatever- they’re actually really similar to dogs. I’ve attached some of the cuter pictures.
We began Friday with lawnbowling, the "socializing" game of Australia. The game involves two teams of four members; team members each roll two balls toward a small white ball positioned about 30 feet away. The goal is to have your ball stop closer to the white ball than other people; the "trick" is that the balls are unevenly weighted, such that there is a heavy half and light half and the ball curves toward the heavier half. You can also knock other people's balls out of the way or hit the white ball away from its original starting point. All in all, lawnbolwing appears to be a game played for the company, and a game that, according to locals, becomes more enjoyable as one consumes more drinks. I've attached a picture below. Off to Cairns tomorrow!

The Beautiful Game may be a bit of an overstatement.





Several titles for this post came to mind at one point or another, including things like, “It must be the economy…” or “This really takes me back to U11.” In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, I went to the Brisbane vs. Sydney soccer game this afternoon. Brisbane won 1-0, but it took a dull 87 minutes for Brisbane to break the tie. Perhaps most depressing, in a stadium that holds 55,000, I was one of only 7,100 in attendance (my seats were good though). Something else occurred to me during the game too- soccer is much lamer in countries that call it soccer instead of football (football is Australian Rules here). I’ll have to scientifically test that sometime. Maybe I’ve been a little bit harsh- I had a decent time- it was the first pro soccer game I’ve been to, and it was a sporting event in a foreign country.
Yesterday I made it out of the city to the Glass House Mountains northeast of Brisbane. A group of nine of us climbed Mt. Tibrogargan, an old eroded volcano with a very exposed, steep scramble to the top. The Glass House Mountains are ancient volcanoes that have been more resistant to erosion over the past several million years than everything else around, so the mountains tower 800-1300 feet above very flat surroundings. The views were great from the top, and it was great to see Australia outside of a city. The forests here don’t have much in common with Southeastern United States deciduous forests. We also managed to get back into Brisbane before another dust storm moved in early yesterday evening.
Tomorrow I meet with my research adviser and we finish up classes in Brisbane and Tuesday we fly north to Cairns in the morning. I’ll update with kangaroo and koala pictures soon!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Just exactly how often does this happen...



Yesterday morning everyone was surprised to walk out of lecture and discover that the world was ending- Actually it was just tons and tons (literally) of very fine dust from the Outback. As you may have heard, it started in Sydney yesterday morning (http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/09/22/world/international-us-australia-weather.html?scp=1&sq=sydney&st=cse) and worked it's way up to Brisbane by noon. Today we finished our last day of classes and tomorrow we all get to finally learn what lawnbowling actually is. Over the past week I've also learned that as it turns out, everything is more dangerous in Australia: animals (our professor warned us yesterday that, "There are snakes here that will kill you before you hit the ground"), wall sockets (he also warned us that 240 volts could give us a "nasty shock"), and even street crossings ("Right is right"- i.e. cars come from the other direction here- this one's tricky). Culturally things have been pretty similar (like California), except for morning tea, sports (I'm still working on rugby, and I haven't even thought about Australia Rules Football or Cricket yet...), and passing people on the left. This weekend I'm hoping to make it out to the mountains northwest of the city and maybe make it to a soccer game. More to come in a couple days...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Brisbane Pictures


Here's a picture of downtown Brisbane I managed to snag from the ferry- Public transportation ferry's are definitely the coolest form of public transportation. I'll post more soon!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Brisbane!

After 14 hours, I finally made it to Brisbane. I met a fellow Stanford abroad student before we boarded who coincidentally ended up sitting next to me. For a few brief moments we were convinced we had scored one of the only empty seats on the plane between us, but that illusion was tragically shattered about ten minutes after takeoff when the flight attendant informed us someone else was moving up from the back- alas. Today will be the tough day- it's only 10 AM here, and I need to force myself to stay up till late tonight. The weirdest thing is cars driving on the opposite side- look right not left when crossing the street! Pictures will come soon (as soon as I take some).

Friday, September 18, 2009

BNA->BNE

Finished all my packing and headed off to the airport! First I have a quick 4-hour "warm-up" flight to Los Angeles, and then my real flight from LAX to Brisbane (a mere 14 hours). Saturday September 19th 2009 will be lost for me due to the mysterious workings of the dateline, but I'll make it up on my 40 hour return day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Packing!


I'm trying to remember that thing that you always forget, that thing that isn't crucial, but sure would be nice, that thing that you can't believe you forgot to pack somehow or another...