Thursday, May 29, 2008

Glasshouse Mountains Panorama

I've been messing around with trying to get panoramic shots, and this one did fairly well. It's large, but I think it's pretty decent.

Click on it to view full size.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The list gets shorter...

Hello again, all. It's been a long time since I made a blog entry, which basically means I've been up to nothing of any real note. This situation was well remedied over the past 2 weeks. (I apologize to all of you who have slow internet connections...there will be a lot of photos here.)

Firstly, I was very excited to have my mother and brother come down and join me for a couple of weeks. Having not seen any of my family or friends from home for nearly a year, I'd been looking forward to seeing them.

Secondly, I got to mark a few more things of my "things to see before I die" list.

Whitsunday Islands - Day 1

My family arrived on the 9th of April, and, essentially slept for 2 days. It easy to do this with the time differences, and the jet lag and all that. On the 11th, we woke up at 4am in order to catch a 6:50am flight north to Mackay in the middle of the eastern coast of Queensland. Mackay airport is the smallest airport I've ever flown into or out of. Think of a typical grocery store in the U.S., and cut it in half lengthwise, and you'd have a pretty good idea of the size of this airport.

From Mackay, we rented a car and drove about 2 hours north. The drive was really pretty, vast valleys carpeted in sugarcane plantations, with mountains all around.

After the 2-hour drive, we ended up in a little town called Airlie Beach. This was a nice little beach town, and the pub we had lunch at had what may be the best fries I've ever had - except they call them "chips" here. There's quite a pretty beach park they have here.

My brother couldn't resist the opportunity to take photos of the wild kookaburra that was in a tree in the park.

After lunch and a wander, we got back into the car and continued about 10 minutes to Schute Harbor.

This is where we'd have met our ferry, if I'd remembered to look at the timetables. As it was, we missed one, and had to wait about 3 hours for the next one, so we drove up to this overlook we'd passed. Now, Schute Harbor is one of the ferry terminals for a group of 74 islands called The Whitsunday Islands. I was expecting flat, coastal islands like the Florida Keys or something, but I was in for a surprise. Essentially, these islands are the visible tops of mountains that rise out of the ocean. They are quite stunning.

Once we did, actually, get on a boat, we were headed to the final destination of this northern leg of our adventure - a resort called Daydream Island. This resort is located on its own little island, which was about, I'd say 900 yards long and about 200 wide.

They had a couple of restaurants, a rainforest walk, giant reef lagoons with loads of different fish, pools, beaches, and great views. Oh...and wallabies on the beach.

Here's one of the views from the top of the rainforest path:

There are also cockatoos absolutely everywhere.

Whitsunday Islands - Day2

The next morning we set out to knock the first item off the list: seeing the Great Barrier Reef firsthand. We got on a boat right from our island, and cruised about 2 hours through the islands, then out to open sea to reach the reef. As we approached, we could see the top of the reef literally touching, and in some places poking out from, the surface of the water.

We arrived at a moored, permanent pontoon called Reefworld.

This platform is about 50 or 75 feet from the reef wall (you can see it at the top-right of the picture there). This is fantastic, because you can come and go as you please, snorkel at your own pace. It's a very stable platform with easy access to get in and out of the water, toilets (not even marine ones), shade, showers, places to sit, a little shop if you need anything (for instance, batteries for your underwater camera) etc. They have a semi-submersible so you can even see the reef without getting wet (But who wants to do that? Of course, we did it anyway - it was free!). They serve lunch and everything.

Enough of the platform, let's get into the water, shall we? We all had to wear these full-body mesh suits. They are to protect you from jellyfish stings which could potentially be deadly.

The most famous local reef resident is probably Wally. He's a LARGE maori wrasse who is about 6 feet long. Evidently, he often comes right up to people and let them give him a pat, but we didn't get that pleasure. We did get a decent shot of him, though.

They also have a 6-foot-ish Queensland groper (aka: giant grouper) which hangs out under the platform (not my picture, but one that the guy who took the photo of the 3 of us gave me when he burned his photos of us onto CD).

He's not friendly, but evidently does keep away most of the fish away at we might not want to have around while in the water. He keeps the place safe, as the people working there say.

Here's a bunch of pictures we took while out there in the water:

One of the big surprises was the giant clams. They were among the most colorful things out there. This first one was about 3 feet in diameter, and its lips had all these bright green spots.

This next one had bright green and black stripes, with bright blue at the fringes.

These clams were all over the place, and none were the same color or pattern. Evidently, this is because the patterns and colors are determined by the bacteria that live there, rather than by the clam itself.

Whitsunday Islands - Day 3

The following day, we took a sailing cruise around the islands.

The ultimate destination of this cruise was Whitehaven Beach. This is a gorgeous, white beach in the nook between 2 islands. Similar to the sand at Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island (which you can read about here) the sand is so pure and white that it doesn't get hot in the sun because it reflects all the light.

Oh, yeah. My mother would like to mention that the boat was purple. PURPLE! It's unmissable behind my brother and I in our stinger suits.

The cruise was great, and we really got good views of the islands. In fact, look at this one while laying your head on your right shoulder. What do you see?

Whitsunday Islands - Day 4

The last day, we didn't have a lot of time to do much but wander around the resort and take about a billion pictures of the fish in the lagoons and anything else we could see (all told, we took just under 2000 pictures during these two weeks). My brother did manage to catch this amazing photo of a lorikeet who was visiting some folks who were eating outside of the resort's cafe. (Caution: Clicking the picture will open the full-size photo. If you have a slow internet connection, you might not want to do that.)

Brisbane Area - Day 5

After our trip to the tropical north, we settled in Brisbane for a few days and did stuff that's right around this area. The first day, we took a drive down to a place called Byron Bay, which is about 2 hours south of here. I've been here myself before, but never managed to get weather that made it worthwhile to take pictures. This time, we lucked first.

Byron Bay is a bay at all because of the little peninsula which juts out to the north called Cape Byron. There's a short drive to the top, and there you find a lighthouse that looks out over the water from about 800 feet up.

The view is quite spectacular looking inland toward the hinterland.

The view down to the rocky point is beautiful, too.

Yes, my brother and I did walk all the way down there. Yes, it did start to rain just as soon as we made it. We hauled tail back up (well, one of us more quickly than the other). Yes, it did STOP raining as soon as I was at the top. We may as well have taken our time.

Incidentally, Cape Byron is also the easternmost point on the Australian Mainland.

My mother and I can practically reach out and touch California...or Peru...or something. We left here, drove about an hour up to Surfer's Paradise, checked into our hotel, put clothes in the dryer, and went to dinner at The Hard Rock Cafe.

Brisbane Area - Day 6

My brother and I were going to go deep sea fishing at 6am this morning, which is why I'd gotten us a room in Surfer's to begin with. Due to the strong wind advisory, however, we wound up not going fishing. We wound up wandering around Surfer's for the day instead.

We had breakfast at the pancake place, then took the 90-minute tour on the Aquaduck amphibious vehicle.

This was a cool little tour, and it gave us nice views of the Surfer's Paradise area and some of the homes on the river. The views from the Aquaduck were nothing compared to the ones from the Q1 tower, though.

The Q1 is the world's tallest fully residential tower. It is 1058 feet tall (including the spire). It's also the tallest building in Australia. These views are really fantastic.

From here we took the 15-minute drive back south to Burleigh Heads. This is a little headland that sticks out from the coastline just a tiny bit. It does, however, have about the best view of Gold Coast.

Brisbane Area - Day 7


Since no trip to Brisbane would be complete without a trip to the Australia Zoo, we took the drive to visit the koalas and kangaroos. We made a stop at the Glasshouse Mountains overlook on the way. I'd never been to this particular place, but the view of the mountains are pretty amazing.

We all hung out with the kangaroos.

And, of course, the koalas.

If you want to know more about the Australia Zoo, check my first visit here.

Brisbane Area - Day 8

Not much to note about day number eight. We mostly just hung around town, walked around the Queen Street Mall some, and my mother went to the casino. We did catch an evening rugby game with a bunch of my friends and colleagues from work. It was a fun evening.

Driving to Sydney - Day 9

On day 9, we got up early in the morning, and started heading the 12 hours down to Sydney. We stopped right at the halfway mark in a little town called Coff's Harbor. I decided that we were better off splitting the drive into 2 days, and this gave us enough daylight to take a drive on a tourist road called the Waterfall Way.

The Waterfall Way is a twisty little road that drives up the side of the plateau to a really small town called Dorrigo, which sits about 3000 feet above sea level. The drive is very pretty, and is dotted with waterfalls which cascade down the mountains right beside the road. One of the better falls on the route is one called Dangar falls, just on the outskirts of Dorrigo.

Arriving in Sydney - Day 10

The following morning, we continued our drive into Sydney. As we neared the city, the drive really started to remind me of driving I-26 into Asheville. Well, except for the glimpses of water. Very mountainous, with the highway cut into the mountainsides. They even have places where they cut it such that the median wall is sandstone!

On the way in, we did get to cross the Harbor Bridge, which was cool.

We got settled at our hotel, and then walked up to the rooftop terrace and snapped a photo of the skyline.

Then, we hopped in a cab and went up to see the Sydney Opera House. The Sydney harbor is magnificent. (Caution: The next 3 photos link to the full-size images)

Here's a shot with us in it:

You can see into it through the glass on the faces of it. (Again, large picture if you click this photo.)

Sydney - Day 11

Today, we decided to take a half-day guided tour of the city. The tour was quite informative, and took us all around town. One of the first things we did was head up to another park with a good view of the harbor., then we drove around the corner past the Naval Yard. The HMAS Sydney happened to be docked here.

One of the weirdest things we saw was this house.

What's that old saying again? Anyway, we continued on to what the locals call "The Gap." This is the entrance to the Sydney Harbor.

We ultimately ended up at Bondi (with a long "i" like in "hi") Beach. This is, perhaps, the most famous beach in Australia.

After the guided tour, we hopped on the "Do-it-yourself" double-decker bus tour, and got some further opportunities to get photos and see the city. I thought this old, gothic cathedral, St. Mary's, was quite pretty (it's being spruced up in preparation for the Pope's visit).

We also got some day shots of the opera house and an up-close look at it. I'd never have know that the roof is covered with normal, 4-inch square ceramic tiles.

Sydney - Day 12

On the last day of our adventure, we took a tour to the Blue Mountains. On the way we stopped at a small wildlife park. They have swamp wallabies all around.

This one REALLY wanted to play.

They had a loads of different birds, including this golden pheasant.

And penguins.

Also, they had a number of rock wallabies, and I discovered when I went through the photos, this one has a joey.

We eventually made it to a town called Katoomba. There's a center here we went to that has an incline railway, cable cars, etc. Sadly, it was so rainy and misty that none of the pictures came out very well at all. We'll go with these:

At the end of the tour, we took a ferry back to the city and caught a nice sunset.

Well, that's it. Unil next time!