Thursday, 27 March 2008

Great Barrier Reef Diving

Great Barrier Reef Diving Trip

Rough seas getting out of the harbour which meant you had to chase your breakfast around the table and then sit in the middle of the boat trying to be nice to your new 'buddies' without throwing up on them. Tried to take a reference guide for all the fish but as soon as you looked to see what they were they had scapered under a rock or something. The reef is like a huge aquarium. Millions of different fish - you just get mesmerized and eventually a bit further away from the boat than you should.

Good things
Hanging under the boat at night with torches and watching 2 reef sharks circling in the gloom. Realised I had stopped breathing for 60 seconds. Not sure how yummy I looked to them but I tried to make myself look a little slimmer campared to the others just in case. Night diving is like exploring another planet like in the films. Always make sure you're not at the back getting eaten by aliens. The scariest thing was getting out of the water and seeing the sharks at the surface aggresively chase the fish out of the water under the floodlights of the boat!
Blood orange moon rising at dusk over the ocean
Favourite fishy things - giant purple sea star that looked like huge draught excluder and a giant flowery cod - 70s paisly patterned fish about 6 feet long and stupid looking.
Took Becky on her first non guided dive and realised that she can't nag under water. She has to pull my flippers to get my attention. Will have to put this into practice on dry land.
Glorious sunrises

Bad things
Getting up at 5.30am to see glorious sunrises before struggling into cold wet suits and jumping in with loads of heavy stuff on your back.

Freezing rain downpour while practising using a compass on the rear deck of the boat. Had to navigate a square which is fairly easy when you're on a boat with only 10 square feet to work in. Harder, I found out when you're in the sea at night and you've got a current trying to take you to Fiji.
Having to get rescued by the dingy on the first dive having ended up miles away from the boat. Were dragged back to the boat on the 'tow of shame'. Fell off the rope twice
Jumping into the water without my breathing respirator in place.
Getting stuck under the boat due to too much buoyancy. Looked a bit stupid flapping against the hull. I thought the crew were going to start throwing fish. Need to eat more pies.
Still rubbish at clearing my mask and had to do half a dive with a facefull of sea water.
No matter what you see someone always sees something bigger, better or more scary.
We were told that you can't get lost diving on the reef. It's true, I always find the boat. It's just that the boat is a little further away than I expect when I appear above the surface, much to the dismay of my instructors. Anyway, am now advanced diver. Learn from your mistakes as they say...

Underwater photos courtesy of Ivy and Andy from our trip...

Trip to Cape Tribulation

Daintree Rainforest
Oldest rainforest on earth next to perfect white beaches surrounded by deadly ocean that you can't swim in. Should stuff a few plastic dinosaurs between the mangroves to complete the Jurasic Park theme.

Good things
Rented from Older Cars (on last legs). Cheap and came with a spoiler.
Luxury breakfast at Palm something or other, overlooking the beach
Coast road winded around mountains next to palm fringed beaches.
Didn't have to sit under a drippy AC unit or share a bus with a sweaty Australian driver.
Stopped twice at the Ice cream factory with a tropical garden for Becky to chase butterflies
Saw a couple of large monitor lizards on our mangrove walks. Becky assumed she would get better photos of the lizard's front by noisily stalking it from behind and watching its rear wiggle away along the path.
Stumbled across huge waterfalls at Kuranda
Nearly put room keys in the rental car return box.

Stayed in a resort in the jungle by the beach and got upgraded to en suite and coffee making facilities

Bad things
No water at the resort. No coffee. No en suite...
Discovery centre was utter rubbish. Can see better stuff wandering around the forest on your own. Saw 1 butterfly and that had a pin in it. It also closed well before dusk so all the interesting birds and animals are asleep or are hidden. Need to have a word with our enthusiastic tourist information women
Stopped at KFC because everything else was closed on our 100 mile drive. Quality experience predictably appalling but marginally better than the Discovery Centre and 50 dollars cheaper.


Cairns - Sweaty Cleethorpes

Good things
Artificial swimming lagoon overlooking the mudflats
Lots of happy hour drinks and dinners
Close to oldest rainforest on earth and reef which Cleethorpes is not..

Bad things
Chewed huge chili that blew my head off. Looked like a large carrot to me. They gave seven of these huge vegetables, what are you supposed to do with them? Speechless for 10 minutes and had to gargle water in the men's room until my eyes, ears and nose stopped running and I returned to a lesser shade of maroon..
Cockroach and spider killing sprees to protect cringing wife. She had to live with them for a year and has now developed a phobia. That's nothing. I lived in Hackney for 4 years and can handle myself with a raised flipflop. Room now smells of toxic insect repellent but no scuttling noises....
(note from 'the cringing wife' - due to my cockroach phobia we have now been upgraded into our own private townhome across the street from the hostel w/ large bathroom, kitchen, living room and balcony for the same price as the cockroach infested double... because they like us....

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Spectacular Darwin Sunsets

Okay! Okay! I admit it... I did get carried away with the sunset photos, but the sunsets were so incredible in Darwin. The sky is slightly hazy over the harbour and with the storm clouds it makes for really spectacular sunsets.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Litchfield National Park

We got to sleep in until 6am today! Hooray - that extra half an hour really makes a difference.

My journey to the bathroom last night was interesting. As I approached the toilet block with our weak, overpriced flashlight I suddenly noticed hundreds of wallabies feasting on the plants around the campsite. I have attached a photo of one of them that I caught in the daylight, but seeing hundreds of them in the middle of the night was really incredible.

I have also included photos of the three waterfalls we visited in Litchfield: Florence Falls, Wangi Falls and my favourite - Tolmer Falls (the one with the unusual rock formations and the arch up over the top). We were not allowed to swim in Florence Falls because of rough waters after the storm. Wangi Falls was off limits due to the presence of hungry crocodiles and Tolmer is permanently closed to swimmers to protect two rare bat species that inhabit the caves below (the orange horseshoe bat and the ghost bat, only found in the national parks of the Northern Territory). The olive python also lives around Tolmer and hunts the bats.

Anyway, after our waterfall visits our guide took us to a smaller set of waterfalls so we could have a swim. The current was very strong. As soon as we entered the water we were swept off our feet. It was a crazy place to swim. Soon we were swimming right up to the falls and then sliding off the rocks and letting the current carry us to the edge of the pool. It was very exciting!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Cathedral Termite Mounds

As we finished Day 2 and headed back toward the Kakadu park entrance, we stopped to look at an enormous cathedral termite mound. The termite community is organized much like a bee hive. There is one queen that lays all of the eggs and several worker termites. The termites that construct cathedral mounds feed on the tall grass of Kakadu. They are blind so they actually travel underground to eat the grass. The termite mound is constructed of termite saliva and excrement (or 'spit and shit' as our guide so eloquently put it). This concoction resembles concrete and it is incredibly strong. Other animals seek shelter in these large termite mounds during bushfires. The workers must constantly repair the walls to keep out the ants, their number one predator. If something happens to the queen and there is not another queen to replace her, the colony will die out. See photos of the cathedral termite mound, our tour group companions and Rob, our fearless leader...

Gunlom (Waterfall Creek)

Rob, our guide, woke us up at 5:30am on the second day of our tour so that we could finish our bushwalk before it got too hot. We drove to Gunlom and then hiked to a smallish waterfall with a refreshing swimming hole beneath it. It was already hot and muggy by 8:30am so we were thankful for the opportunity to cool off. I can understand why locals might be tempted to swim in areas the may have crocodiles because it is so bloody hot and humid!

However, Rob assured us that this area was perfectly safe for swimming. They still have to post the crocodile warning sign just in case, but the signs say strictly 'Do not enter the water' if the area is not safe.

Stephen and I tried to swim toward the waterfall, but the current was so strong it pushed you right back. Rob and Daniel climbed up some of the rocks and leapt off. The rest of us decided that this was a bit mad...It looked too easy to slip.

Nourlangie Area and Aboriginal Rock Painting

After the 'jumping croc' cruise, we drove to the Nourlangie Area in Kakadu. From there, you can see the Arnehem Land escarpment, a long stretch of raised sandstone that goes on for miles. We did the 2km loop around Nourlangie. Our timing was pretty good as we just avoided a huge thunderstorm. Fortunately, it stopped just as our guide finished telling us a little bit about the area.

First, we stopped at the Anbangbang rock shelter, used by the Aboriginal people for 20,ooo years as a refuge during the wet season. They also used the rock as a canvas upon which to practice rock painting. A Czech scientist determined that Aboriginal people painted right over the top of earlier works. Aboriginal rock painting is divided into three distinct periods - the Pre-estuarine period (including the earliest paintings and those up to 6,000 years ago), the Estuarine period (6,000 to 2,000 years ago) when rising sea levels brought the coast to its present level and artists began to use the paintings for teaching, giving figures of animals an X-ray quality -showing the parts of the animals that were good to eat, etc. and the Freshwater period (2,000 years ago to the present) when fresh water was more readily available so the Aboriginal people had more time to devote to their art. The rock paintings function as archives for the Aboriginal people. They used natural water-soluable ochres to achieve the warm colours of their paintings.

We continued along the loop walk and stopped at the Angangbang Gallery, featuring Dreaming characters painted in the 60's by a famous Aboriginal artist. These paintings were meant to renew interest in traditional Aboriginal ways. The artist depicted the story of a man who had an incestuous relationship (not necessarily by our definition, but with someone with one of the same kin names). The woman killed herself and he fled the community. As he was camping along the river's edge and cooking, he caught fire. Covered in blisters, he leapt into the water. As a punishment, the Aboriginals say he became a crocodile, the blisters becoming the bumps on the crocodile's hide.

Finally, we headed up to the Gunwarddehwarde lookout for spectacular views over the Arnehem Land escarpment.

Jumping Crocs - Adelaide River

We boarded a double-decker river cruiser for the Jumping Crocs cruise. We went down to the bottom deck for better views of the crocs. The windows had glass panes so that the crocodiles wouldn't accidentally snap off a limb of a camera-waving tourist. Two guides stood on either side of the upper deck dangling raw meat over the side of the boat. Normally you cannot see the crocodiles during the wet season because they remain hidden under the water to keep cool. However, the crocodiles know the sound of the croc jumping cruiser and they associate it with food. Within minutes we spotted our first crocodile making his way over to the boat by swishing his long tail. He came right to the side of the cruiser and made a few passes underneath the raw meat. Finally, he readied himself by plunging his tail deep into the water. Within seconds he came flying out of the water snapping his great jaws over the meat. It was really exciting.

Overall, we got to see 5 or 6 crocociles jump for the raw meat. Their sizes ranged from 3 meters to well over 4 meters. The last croc that came over to the boat was the biggest. He looked like he had just swallowed a cow. He didn't move very quickly either. When the guide pulled the meat out of his reach he looked angry and started heading directly over to the side of the boat with the one open window. The guide immediately tried to distract him by tapping the meat on the surface of the water. He turned around and headed for the meat again, much to the relief of the passengers sitting on that side of the boat. He is the one in the photo with all of his teeth showing. Since they have stopped hunting crocodiles, these reptiles are increasing in size. They are also more aggressive as they have to compete for food. It is perfectly normal to find crocs missing limbs. They sometimes resort to cannabalism and often attack each other in defense of their territory. The larger 'salties' are more of a threat to humans. However, if you follow the instructions on the signs and stay away from the water in the national parks they are not a problem. Usually the people attacked are drunk locals or people swimming in areas known to contain the saltwater crocodiles. The freshwater crocodiles are much smaller and do not pose a threat to humans unless someone accidentally trods upon them...