Friday, June 29, 2012

Here There Be Crocodiles

Here Be Dragons was a phrase used by cartographers to denote dangerous waters or uncharted territory.


Warning: Crocodiles may be present in these waters.

Would you go swimming after reading that sign? We did. :-)

Luckily, the only crocodiles we spotted on our recent trip to Cairns were at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures, a farm/zoo that offers tourists a close up look at Australia's saltwater and freshwater crocodiles.

These "salties" and "freshies" can grow to massive proportions. A crocodile shot in the area in the 1950s was reported to be 23 feet long!
This croc looks like he just gulped down a human...or two.
In addition to the crocodiles, Hartley's also boasted an array of other native Australian animals in their zoo. We saw cassowaries, kangaroos, goanas, koalas, and quolls to name a few.
This photo answers the age old question, 'What does a wallaby do with its tail when it sits down?'

After a couple hours of walking around the zoo, we decided it was time for lunch. Drew chose the Dinosaur Burger—grilled crocodile—with a side of chips (fries!).

For a palate cleanser, we sampled some ants that happened to be marching nearby. These Green Tree Ants had a refreshing citrus flavor. Drew has become quite the ant connoisseur here - his research area has ants that taste like coconut!
Heather & Ian - this one's for you!

Lest you think that all the crocodiles were at Hartley's...
On our trip to Cairns, we also went whitewater rafting on the Tully River. It was gorgeous—a day full of Class IV rapids in the middle of the rainforest. Waterfalls cascaded into the river all around us and Ulysses Butterflies flitted around our helmets and paddles. As we got closer to the take-out and the water became calmer between rapids, our guide warned us, "If you fall out during a rapid, get back in the boat as quickly as you can before we come to another flat water pool."
Apparently, the crocs don't like rapids but they do hang out in the flat water areas.  You can bet that I was hanging on to the raft for dear life after that warning.
Neither of these are photos of us, sadly. Pics are from the Raging Thunder website, the outfitter we rafted with

As if the crocs weren't dangerous enough, box jellyfish also visit the Australian coastline. These jellyfish are one of the most venomous animals in the world. The public beaches often have nets in place offshore to keep the stingers from washing into the swimming area. Children wear 'stinger suits' (swim shirts) and beaches will usually have a bucket of vinegar to pour on unlucky victims. The vinegar helps to neutralize the venom but it still leaves a wicked scar. Ouch!
I hope we're not scaring you too much, though. The beaches felt very safe and people were frolicking in the water everywhere we went. Really, the only thing we worried about was staying warm in the cold water.  But more on that in the next post.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Walk in the Rainforest

While in Cairns, we rented a car for the day and drove an hour north to Daintree Rainforest. It was definitely a highlight of our trip.


Daintree Rainforest covers roughly 1,000 square miles and is home to a wonderful array of plants and wildlife.
Learning about the different types of rainforest timber

We started our day by visiting the Daintree Rainforest Discovery Centre. The Centre has a guided tour that zig zags up elevated walkways and enables you to see all levels of the forest, from the ground to the canopy. We quickly discovered that the ground level contained some amazing ferns, odd looking fruits, and lots of mosquitos.
Stinging Tree - DO NOT TOUCH.  Why did this make me want to touch it??

Up in the canopy, we were surrounded by song birds and butterflies. The air was warmer and we could even see some flowering trees in the distance.

As we walked around the Centre's paths, it was easy to see how Aboriginal cultures lived off the land in the rainforest. Massive fruits littered the ground and little marsupial critters scurried from tree to tree.  Our guided talk taught us all about the 'bush tucker' that was available to eat in the area, like sapote and Davidson's Plum and jackfruit.
Ehh, not sure if this one was edible...

The people at the Discovery Centre were so friendly and very helpful in suggesting nearby hikes where we could spend the rest of our afternoon. They also clued us in to the Daintree Ice Cream Company, a local farm that grows all kinds of rainforest fruits and then turns them into delicious ice cream.

Each day, they prepare 4 different flavors of ice cream. A cup of ice cream comes with a scoop of each flavor so you can try all four. The flavors of the day were mami sapote, passionfruit, wattle seed and macadamia. Yum!



No rainforest story would be complete without a cassowary. Cassowaries are large flightless birds, native to Australia. Though rare to see one in the wild, we were warned several times to be wary if we did see one. They have been known to charge people and their sharp claws can do serious damage.


There are two interesting facts about cassowaries that I find fascinating.

The first is that cassowaries have a funny looking calcium ridge on their heads that is filled with a honeycomb like substance. When an interpreter at the zoo mentioned that scientists have a few theories but no one has confirmed what the exact purpose of the ridge is, Drew leaned over to me and said, "I bet it has something to do with picking up sound vibrations." Sure enough, we looked it up when we got home and that is one of the three popular theories

Before & After art. Someone painted the bottom sign, normally a speed bump, to look like a dead cassowary.
The other interesting fact is that cassowaries eat the large rainforest fruits whole. They just gulp them down. The outer layer of the fruits will break down in the bird's stomach acid and then they just poop out the rest...which is an almost intact fruit. Needless to say, they have to eat a lot of fruit to get enough nutrients and calories from the skin!

I was so excited to see this Cassowary poop.
Cassowaries also make a low whumping sound. Check it out. It looks like they are about to hock up a hairball when they do it.

And no rainforest post would be complete without a cool tree picture...

Drew, ever the climber

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Week In Cairns

Last week, Drew and I jetted off to Cairns for a much needed vacation...and to escape the cold winter that has descended upon Canberra. As Drew pointed out, it's not that cold in Canberra compared to where we grew up in Virginia; however, my instincts think it should be summer, so it feels like the coldest winter I've ever lived through.

Cairns is on the northeast coast of Australia and has a tropical climate year round, making it a great place to visit during the Australian winter. If you want to sound like a true Australian, you must pronounce it Caahns, with a long drawn out 'a' and no 'r.'
Click on photo for larger image

We chose Cairns as our holiday destination partly because it is the only place in the world where two World Heritage locations meet—the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.

As we drove around the area, I felt like we had entered another country. Palm trees grew everywhere and what I thought were odd looking corn stalks were actually sugarcane crops.
Australia is one of the top ten producers of sugarcane. We were told that when the fluff of the lilac colored tops blows off, then it's ready to harvest. The other primary crop around Cairns is bananas.
It took us awhile to realize that these plants were bananas because the plastic bags covered up the bunches of fruit. The plastic bags help to protect the bananas from insects and sunburn. According to one local that we asked, the banana farms employ laborers to drive around in a small cherry picker and affix the plastic bags over the bunches of bananas. A good laborer can bag up to 500 bunches a day.

The other interesting thing that we saw in the city of Cairns were giant fruit bats. Known as flying fox bats, they belong to the megabat suborder and are the largest bats in the world. I learned two new words when researching this post—frugivorous (animals that eat fruits) and nectarivorous (animals that lick nectar). Megabats are both frugivorous and nectarivorous.
The best photo I could get - all the red circles are bats. The large inset photo is from gogreentravelgreen.com.

The other wonderful thing about Cairns were the beaches to the north. We spent a few days at various beaches near Cairns and found that, with just a 15 minute drive away from the city, we could easily have an entire beach to ourselves.


We also found one of the most beautiful drives near Cairn. Captain Cook Highway runs between Cairns in the south and Port Douglas in the north. It's a lovely winding road that drives past gorgeous beaches and through lush rainforests. Though we didn't see any, I imagine it's a motorcyclist's heaven.

Up next...
More adventures from Cairns: Cassowaries and crocodiles, and reefs and rainforest.  :-)


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Baby, it's cold outside

In Australia, June 1st marks the start of winter. We've been wearing our winter coats and running our heat at night since mid-May though. It's cold, cold, cold outside.
Parrots are easy to spot on leafless winter branches.

Now, to be fair, it's not nearly as cold as winters in Colorado. There's no snow...not even a chance of snow. But when all my friends and family in the States are chatting on Facebook about trips to the beach and how much they are enjoying the warm summer weather, it makes our 4 degrees Celsius mornings seem bitterly cold. (Quick Conversion - 4 degrees Celsius is 40 degrees Fahrenheit)

Drew and I have a few techniques in place, though, to combat our winter blues.

1. We play Christmas music. There's even been talk of having a summer/winter solstice Christmas celebration on June 20th.
 (Yes, that's the Glee version of 'Baby, It's Cold Outside')

2. We are drinking copious amounts of tea. Aussies are big afternoon tea drinkers, so the grocery stores always have lots of tasty varieties.
3. We've planned a trip to the beach in June. In northern Australia, the weather stays warm all year long. We'll be taking advantage of that and visiting Cairns for a week of sun, snorkeling, rainforests, and hopefully a bit of whitewater rafting.

In addition to hunkering down for winter, we've been quite busy. In early May, I was offered an awesome promotion at my job which meant going back to work full-time. Drew spent most of early May doing field work and now he's working hard on a research paper that is due in a couple of weeks.

Of course, we're also making time for fun things, such as having friends over for dinner, going for walks around the lake, and just generally enjoying our time in this beautiful country.

The last of the Autumn leaves around Lake Burley Griffin