Monday, February 13, 2012

Wandering around the Great Barrier Reef

The last part of our trip was spent in Gladstone, an industrial town and port. The highlight of this part of the visit was an all day snorkel trip to Lady Musgrave Island at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. We rode out on a charter boat, docked at a pontoon float, and hopped into an aquarium of tropical fish.

Australia is an AUsome place to visit!

We hope you get to hop on over to see it sometime, if you haven't already. YOLO!!

Wandering up the Bruce Highway

We left Brisbane and drove up the Bruce Highway towards Gladstone, taking two days to get there. We had to concentrate to make sure we stayed on the correct (left) side of the road, especially when entering the highway or turning onto another road.

Rural Queensland reminded us a lot of our southern states - lots of trees lining the roads, rolling hills, cattle ranches, melon and sugar cane farms, and open land.
Australians are very environmentally conscious - we didn't see one piece of litter, not even a cigarette butt, the whole time we were there. They are extremely protective of all wildlife, to the point where, for example, developers have to count the number of hollow trees they might remove from a piece of property, then replace them nearby, so possums have a place to nest and live. Along the way we detoured to drive on Steve Erwin Highway past the Glass House Mountains (small mountains with unusual erosion patterns)...

...the Australian Zoo (Steve Irwin's zoo)...

and the Sunshine Coast, which is Australia's Florida - the place pensioners (or retirees) go for the winter, summer or forever. Australia's beaches are beautiful and unlike most places we've been, uncrowded, sparsely developed, and not commercialized. 

We ended our day in Bundaberg and with a trip out to Mon Repos, a turtle rookery, for an amazing nighttime experience where we... 

witnessed loggerhead turtles hatching then digging their way out from under 
18 inches of sand and scampering to the water.

After the hatchlings dug their way out, the ranger dug out the nest and thoroughly sifted through all the egg shells to count how many had hatched and how many had not. She explained the whole procedure to us as she did her work and recorded the results for later research. The female hatchlings will swim around in the ocean, travelling great distances, for 30 years, then they will return to this same beach to begin reproducing, up to four times (nests) a season. The beach is imprinted into their memory during their dash to the ocean. Unfortunately, only one out of a thousand hatchlings survives to adulthood, so the chance that any of our hatchlings will return is very slim.

We also had the opportunity to observe a female loggerhead who came ashore to dig a nest and lay more than 100 eggs. Our ranger guide told us we were very fortunate - we were the first group this season (November to March) to witness both activities; most groups only get to see one or the other (and sometimes neither) as, naturally, the turtles and hatchlings are unpredictable. It was amazing to watch all this activity in complete darkness - lights and flashes distract the females from their task so we were only allowed to take pictures when she was covering up the nest and moving the sand around so the area appeared close to how it did when she arrived, her attempt to disguise the nest and protect her future babies.

 Mon Repos is French for My Rest. Tom decided to rest while we were waiting for an "event" to happen.

 We were out at the rookery for five hours that night and it was an experience we will never forget. YOLO!!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wandering around Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

"Crikey!" (as in Wow!) Queensland, Australia is a cool place to visit.

I thought for sure we'd hear at least one person utter that phrase while we were wandering around Queensland, Australia for two weeks...but I guess only the person who is most associated with the expression "crikey," champion crocodile hugger Steve Irwin, used it on a regular basis. Sadly, Steve can no longer exclaim it. "Crikey" and Irwin's legend live on, however, at the Australia Zoo in Beerwah, an hour's drive north of Brisbane just off the Bruce Highway.

Tom had some business meetings and work to take care of for his current project in Gladstone, Australia (construction of an LNG plant) so he took a few days vacation and flew over early and I tagged along for fun.

We started our adventure in Brisbane staying at a B&B for two nights. Lucerne on Fernberg Our hosts, Brian and Helen, were outstanding. They were so friendly, sociable, and helpful, by the time we left, we felt more like "guests" than customers.

Our bed was in a separate guest house behind their historic Queenslander-style home, with a bedroom, living area, bathroom and a kitchen nook stocked with breakfast items and snacks. We were within walking distance of the Central Business District (CBD), many restaurants, and a fantastic walking/running/cycling trail.

Actually, the very first part of our adventure was renting a car and driving on the left side of the highway. What a weird sensation and experience that was the first time...and for the whole two weeks, actually. But we managed just fine once we got the hang of it...and with lots of concentration by both the driver and the passenger to always make sure we were on the correct side of the road.

Apparently, Australians have a hard time knowing which side to be on, too, as we saw signs like these all over the state.

It rained the first two days we were there, but from our Brisbane base and with umbrellas borrowed from Brian and Helen, we were able to blend in with the locals while we used our feet to explore the CBD, the south side of the Brisbane River, the local eateries and the new Bicentennial Bikeway and Walkway, which goes for miles alongside the Brisbane River.

Brian kindly loaned us his GPS and even programmed it for our excursions out in the country to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and Mount Coot-tha. This is what Brisbane looks like on a rainy day from the top of Mt. Coot-tha.

We loved the koala sanctuary, especially having the chance to interact with the animals. Scroll down to see why and get your oohs and aawwws ready.

One of the first things we learned here is that koalas are not bears, they are marsupials, along with kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and the Virginia opossum. Marsupials are mammals but they are different because they have pouches in which their young finish developing.

There's a baby in there somewhere...see the extra legs?

Aren't they cute? Aawww. YOLO!!