Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Whale Watching

Hervey Bay's biggest claim to fame is it's whale watching.  From August through October the Humpback whales of Antarctica come to the warm shallow waters of the Bay to breed and give birth.  Most females will give birth at the beginning and then immediately get pregnant again for another long 11 month gestation until she returns to the Bay the following year to give birth again.  Our tour guide shared that this is all they do while they are here--they don't eat.  They feed on the crill in Antarctica, and the 3ish months they spend in the bay, neither the males or females eat anything.  However, the calves eat like crazy, putting on about 60 kilos (that's about 120 pounds) a day, feeding for 16 of the 24 hours in a day.  He also told us that the calves don't directly nurse.  The mom excretes the milk into the water near the calf.  This is possible because while human milk fat is about 2% and very liquid, whales milk fat is more like 48%, so it comes out the consistency of peanut butter, for easy chomping.  I thought that was fascinating, so I had to share.

Anyway, we kept putting it off because it was expensive and it didn't matter how many times people told us it was amazing and majestic, we just weren't sure it was majestic enough to justify the price.  However, I finally stumbled upon a buy on get one 50% ticket deal, so we decided to lump it and go.  It was really good.  I, of course, was enjoying another boat ride if nothing else.  This was a big one, with three levels for whale viewing:

We took off from Urangan Marina, which itself is very pretty:  

We cruised along the coast of Fraser Island up to Platypus Bay, where most of the whales that haven't already left were congregating.  We ended up seeing around 7 different pods (groups) of whales.  We saw probably 3-4 different Mom and calf groups.  One was just sleeping right under the surface and didn't budge even though we got really close in the boat.  One toward the end was actually breaching and doing a lot of acrobatics from afar (the guide guessed it was because one of the many sharks was trying to get a calf), but by the time we got over there the shark and left and everyone had calmed down again.  It was a calm day on the water, which usually means the whales are calm, too.  We didn't see any full breaching or flips or anything, but we did get to see a few interesting pods.  

The first was a group of 7 adult male whales that were fighting.  They got pretty rough, and they were using the barnacles on their undersides to scrape up the tops of the competing whales.  Here's a shot of a few of them, and you can see the scrapes on their top fins.  A couple were even bleeding:

They were very obliging and swam all around and under the boat, so we got a few good pictures of them.  This is probably the closest, so close I really needed to zoom out, but didn't have time.  You can see some of his barnacles, snout and blowhole:

The real "money" shot is the tail, and I began to see why.  It is very difficult to get a decent shot of the tail.  They don't need to bring their tails out of the water like their blow holes, so it doesn't happen near as often, and when it does, it's quick.  I heard many sighs of exasperated, "Missed it!" every time a tail popped out from my fellow passengers.  I did manage to get a couple good tail shots, one here of the upper side of the tail:

And another of the underside, the hardest of all:  

I also discovered that the blowhole is actually holes.  They are more like two slits, as you can see here:

Which is why the blow hole spray is actually V shaped, like this:

We also snapped a few pictures of us.  We were trying to get a whale in the background with us, but were somewhat less than successful.  Here's Daniel:

On mine in the right hand corner, you can see the whale "footprint" the big oval shaped ring they leave after they dive under, so we just missed it:

They were just so fast, the only good way to capture them was video.  Here's a link to a short one of the fighting pod:

From 2011-10-24 Whale Watching

Toward the end we came upon a mom, calf, and escort, which is a nice way of saying a male that is trying to get busy with mom.  The calf sticks to mom like glue, though, so it makes things a bit difficult.  The male kept scooping up the calf and tossing it to the side, which doesn't actually hurt it.  He did get a little irritated with the persistent calf at one point and slap a fin at it, which I managed to catch.

It was definitely a cool trip, and I managed to get my first sunburn.  I had gotten kind of lazy with the sunscreen because I had't burned yet, or really even tanned much.  Well, that will teach me.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Forgot one-1770

I went back and was looking at my pictures, and I realized we forgot the last stop on our trip.  We took a detour at the last minute.  Katy asked if we'd like to stop at the town of 1770.  We said sure, why not.  1770 is a small village on the coast that's claim to fame is that it is the place where Captain Cook first landed in Australia.  There wasn't much there, just looked like so many towns on the Queensland coast:  pretty but small:

The fun part was that Daniel really wanted us to spell out 1770 with our bodies and take a picture.  However, he kept insisting there was a double zero (I think he thought it was called 1700).  Katy and I kept saying no, but he got down on the boardwalk and made a double zero with his arms and legs and pleaded there a while for us to make the 1 and 7.  We just laughed and took pictures.  I think he was getting a bit delirious from being in the car so long.

The real find was a little cafe in Agnes Water where we had dinner.  We got a very tasty plate of fish and chips, but the real event was this bakery case.  Oh, what to get!

Holiday and Home

House swapping means you get to experience a vacation and a new home.  You experience exotic tropical rain forests and exotic light bulbs, with B22 fittings instead of screws, to replace.
In the period of a week or two, we experienced Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday island, with some of the purest sand in the world.  The sand doesn't even get hot in the sun, and there is no development on the island.
Here's a panorama view from my cheap not-so-i Phone:

And then we get back to Hervey Bay, and while still within view of the Bay and majestic Fraser Island, there is a house and a lawn to be tended to.  So you get majestic pictures like this:

When you pack for several months in two suitcases, you leave out important things, like your old lawn shoes that can get dirty.  So I improvised and wrapped plastic bags around my only sneakers.  I was conscious about getting matching bags - who wants to be tacky in front of the neighbor's.  I'm still not used to the fumes of and sounds of a gas mower, but it has the power to get the job done.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Townsville and Magnetic Island

So our friend Elizabeth lived in Townsville for 6 months and loved it and told us we needed to see Magnetic Island off the coast there.  Both were fine, but, I'm sorry to say we were a little underwhelmed.  If we hadn't already seen the beautiful islands along the reef or the rainforest city of Cairns, we might have appreciated it more, I guess.  Plus, we were getting tired, which made it a bit less interesting.  Still, there were some highlights.  Like Airlie, they have a large saltwater lagoon for swimming (even more important since you can't swim there because of the jellyfish), but it was closed for maintenance, so we didn't get to swim.  They did have a nice beach we walked along and there was full moon.  Katy tried a couple different night settings on her camera, and got a good picture:

They also had a gigantic golden orb spider sculpture along their main street.  Katy and I both thought this was a bit creepy.  Here is her "squishing" it:

The next morning we got up early so we could have some time on Magnetic Island in the morning before driving back to Airlie Beach for the night.  The ferry was quick--only 20 minutes.  Magnetic is different from a lot of the islands we visited because it's not a resort island.  About 2,000 people live there so it just looks like a small suburb, nothing fancy.  We took a bus to Picnic Bay, where they had the largest section of beach that was netted to keep out the jellyfish.  Daniel got really far out and yelled for me to take his picture while doing the Oscar wave:

We took the bus around the island to the different bays.  The biggest was Horseshoe Bay.  Here's a picture:

I spent most of my time there drinking coffee at a cafe and looking at the small selection of shops on their main street.  As you can see, it didn't take me long:  

I found a second hand cookbook, so I spent some time reading that.  Eventually Katy and Daniel caught up with me and we decided to walk to Acadia.  We took some pictures of the frangrant frangipangi that are all over the island and are a popular scent here for everything from hand soap to laundry detergent:

About 10 minutes into our walk we realized this was a very bad idea.  It was in the nineties, the sun was high overhead, and no shade.  But we had to persevere on until we could at least get to a bus stop and wait for the bus to come around again.  Luckily, we met a pleasant Israeli couple to talk to while we were waiting for our grumpy bus driver.  We ended up taking it right back to Horseshoe Bay where Katy and Daniel got right back into the water to cool down and I got an ice cream bar.  Eventually we called it quits and headed back to Townsville to drive back to Airlie.  We had a nice surprise waiting for us.  Because of our kangaroo issue, we were arriving a day later than we had originally scheduled.  Our bed and breakfast was kind enough to let us stay a different day at short notice, and because the inn part was booked, let us stay in a beach house they rent out, too, across the street.   It was swanky.  We got a good night's sleep and then drove back to Hervey Bay.  We then spent the next few days recovering.  That was a lot of excitement and we were tired. Katy stayed a few days and then was off to continue exploring Australia before flying to New Zealand at the end of the month.  She's be there for at least a month and might actually still be there when we get there, so there's a slim chance we might catch up with her again.

Atherton Tablelands-great food and nudists

About an hour from Cairns is the agricultural region known as the Atherton Tablelands.  It's the plateau part of the mountains nearby, so they grow a lot of coffee, tea, sugarcane, and bananas to name a few things.  Katy found a brochure for a food tour, and while we had no intention of paying $150 a piece to go on it, we thought there was no reason we couldn't take the same route and do some sampling ourselves.  Here's a picture of an overview of the area:

Our first stop was Jacques coffee plantation.  It was interesting to say the least.  We weren't there long and the owner started in on Katy.  He's married, but this didn't seem to stop him, and he was even so bold to tell her he'd give her a free plane ride if she'd ride naked.  Once he heard she was a masseuse, he was trying hard to get her to come work at the plantation for while.  He just would not leave her alone, so she agreed to take a short ride and see the place where the workers lived.  She got to talk to a couple of the workers who informed her that he and his wife were naturalists, so if she didn't like to see nude people walking around, than should probably wouldn't enjoy it here.  Made you wonder why anyone worked there.  

For all of Mr. Jacques annoying habits, he did grow and roast very tasty coffee.  I bought some beans to take home, and finally decided to try an Australian iced coffee while I was there.  They aren't at all like an iced coffee from Starbucks.  They start with a scoop of icecream, then They start with a scoop of ice cream, then add a shot of hot espresso, chocolate syrup, milk, whipped cream, and then chocolate shavings.  It was gooooood.

The drive out of the plantation was interesting, with a line of giant termite mounds:

At Jacques we found a brochure that gave us a free wine tasting at Golden Drop winery, which specializes in  mango wines.  They were really tasty, but too expensive for me.  After the winery we went to the Mount Uncle distillery, which did tropical liqueurs like plum, mulberry, banana, and coffee.  They were awesome, but my favorite was actually their bright pink marshmellow liqueur.  Daniel took a nap in the car, but Katy and I did a tasting.  Sadly, they only currently ship within Australia, so I you couldn't get in in the US.  They even had some wild guinea fowl and a peacock on the grounds, and a wonderful tea room to boot, not to mention the banana plantation.  The peacock was fast, but I got a slightly blurry pic:

After that we decided to forgo further food delights and instead try to see the platypuses (platypi?) that were supposed to be at a nearby river.  These are very, very shy creatures, so you have to be really quiet, but we eventually saw more and more as we wandered along the river.  They are fast, too, and don't have to come up for air often, which made taking their picture difficult, but I got a couple.  

This whole day had pretty much bored poor Daniel to tears even though Katy and I were enjoying it immensely.  He started to get a bit mischievous, so he climbed way up in a tree, and made me go back and get Katy where she was still taking pictures of platypuses/platypi.  The plan was to bring her back and he'd yell, "The British are coming!" and scare her. Reminder:  Katy is from England, so we like to tease her about that sometimes.  So, I went back but she had managed to get really close to a platypus, so I didn't want to disturb her.  I started to go down the hill so I could get a picture, too, and ended up sliding all the way down the hill on my white shorts (yeah, I know I should have known better, but they were only $5).  After pictures and collecting myself, I thought sure Daniel would haven given up, but he had only climbed higher in the tree, so he was able to do his shouting at Katy.  I think she thought is was more funny than it scared her, and we made him stay there so we could take a picture:

He said several people had passed but no one had noticed him.  I guess most people aren't expecting a grown man in a tree.  We headed home after that. 

Daintree and Crocs!

After the more relaxing day at the Botanical Gardens, we decided to go full tilt the next day and hit several attractions at once.  After renting a little Holden at Thrifty, we made our way up to Mossman Gorge, part of the Daintree National Rainforest.  The drive up was stunning, another of those driving twisty mountain roads along a cliff that drops into the ocean.  A bit nerve wracking, but worth it.  We passed our kangaroo on the way--it was still there two days later on the side of the road--Ewww!

We got to seem some live wildlife as well.  We were treated to the rare sight of a cassowary on the way to Mossman.  They are native to Australia, and they are pretty much only in the rainforest, so even locals don't see them very often.  Not only did we spot one, but it came right up to our car and pecked the tires!  That actually made us a bit nervous as they are aggressive birds known to attack humans.  Here's an up close pic of this very unusual looking bird:

I also got a short video you can click here that shows it inspecting our car:

From 2011-10-09

Mossman had several hiking tracks including to a river, and a loop through the rainforest, so we ended up hiking a couple of hours.  It was very pretty but very hot.  Here's the river:

You aren't technically supposed to swim, and I can't even remember which big bad Australian thing was supposed to get you here, but eventually we got so hot, we did at least stick our feet in.  Here's Daniel sitting on a rock trying to keep cool:

It was a little surreal sitting in the rainforest with our feet in the water and all these technicolor butterflies flying around us.  Of course the blue, green, or red ones wouldn't cooperate, but this more sedate orange one was obliging:

Here you can see the three of us toward the end of our hike, when we were absolutely dripping with sweat.  That's a giant fig tree in the background.:

The rainforest at Daintree was impressive.  It's actually the oldest rainforest in the world, as it escaped some volcanic eruptions and an ice age that got the rest of the world's rainforests at some point.  When we emerged from the forest we saw a decidedly newer invention, and a welcome one:  an ice cream truck!  It actually had softserve instead of just popsicles, so it was even better.  Here's another good pic of the rainforest mountains:

After Mossman Gorge, we took a river cruise on the Daintree River to see if we could spot some crocodiles.  This was our boat, piloted by a great old guy with wild stories who had been giving the same cruise for years, so he new all the crocs' hiding spots and even had names for all of them.  

We got to see two.  I was so busy taking pictures of the birds, I didn't even realize there was a croc sneaking up on them (the bump closer to the left hand bird):

Eventually, he got enough out of the water for us to get a better look.  This one our guide said was 7 years old, so a good size, but not a huge fat one yet:

On our way back, we could go a little closer to the other side of the river, where we found a baby croc that he said was just born this year.  He still looked plenty big to us:

Still sweating buckets, we decided to keep head to Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the ocean, and about as far north as you can get in Australia without a 4 wheel drive.  Even, so we had to take a cable ferry across the river in order to reach it.  You can see on the right hand side of it the cable track it follows to keep the platform steady so they don't have to tie it up each time it goes back and forth:

It was worth the effort, because I think Cape Trib might have been the prettiest beach yet.  The water was really warm, although you couldn't swim because of jellyfish and crocs.  You really weren't supposed to even walk with your feet in the water because of the crocs, but we were feeling dangerous :)  I just walked along the edge, but we actually saw two kids swimming in the surf.  I don't know if they didn't see the signs everywhere or what, but they did get out pretty quickly, so maybe someone told them.  I mostly looked for shells while Daniel walked pretty far up the beach.  He's the distance speck in this picture:

We ate at an Irish pub in Port Douglas for dinner, where I had a fish pie, which was definitely a new experience, but it was good.  We were so pooped when we got back to the hotel, we basically went straight to bed.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cairns Botanical Gardens

So, I'll get the exciting news out of the way first, and then the rest of it is just going to be pictures of pretty flowers, so if you don't like that, you can just read the first part.

So, after our fun time in Airlie Beach, we we driving another long day to Port Douglas.  We had just passed through Cairns and were about 40 minutes from our destination when a kangaroo jumped out in front of us.  It was so quick and really small enough that I didn't think it would do much.  I thought it would just sort of be like hitting a fat raccoon, your car bumps and you go on.  Well, I don't know if it's their height or body shape, or just how they jump up when you hit them, but kangaroos almost always hit your radiator and trash it.  We had heard this from friends, and it was the case with us.  We were fine, and the car was able to drive, but we couldn't because without the radiator the car would overheat.  Luckily, a tow truck driver was just across the highway towing someone else, so he came over to help.  He got the gross job of actually removing the kangaroo wedged into our grill.  Then he took Katy and I to the hotel we were planning to stay at the next two nights in Cairns that thankfully could take us a night early.  I also got the Port Douglas hotel refunded after a lot of arguing with a call center in India for hotels.com.  Daniel stayed with the car until another tow truck driver from the same company could get him, which only took about another 10 minutes.  It could have been much worse, but it did lead to a lot of paperwork, calling insurance, staying and two extra days in Cairns, switching hotels, and renting cars twice.  All told that little kangaroo probably cost us about $900.  Stupid roo.

However, it did let us go at a more leisurely pace as we were sort of stuck there while everything got sorted out.  We actually slept in a bit the next day and then went to the botanical gardens, which we hadn't planned to visit, but were glad we did.  They had beautiful flowers I had never seen before.  Plus, that night we ate some very tasty pizza on their esplande and watched a group of local teens called the Cairns Pyros do their best to set themselves on fire.  They actually even jumped rope with the whole rope on fire and hulu hooped with fire.  No protective gear or anything, and occasionally one would yelp, "Ouch, I burnt my hand again!" but then they just kept going.  Katy got a good picture:

And here are all the lovely flowers:

I haven't discovered what that one is called yet, but I believe this one is some type of African hibiscus:

These are all different varieties of wild ginger plants:

There were also these brush turkeys all over:

We've seen lots of stunning butterflies, including the Ulyssus ones that are bright blue, but they usually won't land long enough to take a picture.  I did manage to catch a different one there:

And of course, it wouldn't be Australia until there was a creepy spider about.  We saw so many of these golden orb spiders I stopped taking pictures.  This was one of the smaller ones with a beetle it had caught.