Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Beautiful Place to Be Sick

In keeping with our goal to take a vacation every few months while in Australia, we recently traveled to the Whitsundays in Queensland for a week of snorkeling and lazing around on beautiful beaches.

We did just that for about 24 hours before I was stricken with a stomach flu that Drew had just gotten over and I had been convinced I was immune to. (They call it "gastro" here which sounds so much worse to me.)

For the next three days, I stayed holed up in our rented apartment while Drew did his very best to take care of me. Luckily, I had this for a view.

I was able to rally for our last two days. The first day I felt better, we went snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. I have to admit that out of all our Australia snorkeling trips, this one was our least favorite. We went on a very large ship with lots of other tourists and the whole day felt a bit too Disneyland for our tastes. When we got to the Reef, we docked at a pontoon platform called Reefworld. The double decker platform had a huge waterslide, hence the Disneyland feel. The waters around the platform were roped off, making it hard to venture very far along the Reef while snorkeling. Plus, the company had an underwater photographer who kept trying to take our picture despite the fact that we just wanted to swim and look at the beautiful fishes. The highlight of our Reef trip was when we sat next to a Minnesota couple at lunchtime. They were on a three week snorkeling trip and had been to over 14 snorkeling destinations in Australia. It was wonderful to trade stories with fellow Americans and they also gave us several good recommendations for future snorkeling trips.

For our last full day at the Whitsundays, we hopped aboard a chartered boat and headed to Whitehaven Island. Whitehaven is famous for its 98% pure silica sand beaches. What this means is that the sand is super fine and very white. Almost like baking soda, actually. And best of all, the high silica content means that the sand does not retain heat so no burnt toesies! Cool Australia fact - when scientists needed to craft the lens of the Hubble Telescope, they chose the ultra pure sand from Whitehaven Beach.

Below are some photos of Whitehaven. As you can see, it was lovely. Despite feeling terrible most of our vacation, the final verdict, as declared by Drew, was "Well, it was a beautiful place to be sick!"

Goana on Whitehaven Island

This placard tells the Aboriginal story of how the Whitsunday Islands were formed.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Birthday Wishes

This week was Drew's birthday and I wanted it to be special.

So I gave him some books because you can never have too many books.

And this fun card that I bought in Portland in August when I was in the States. I framed it when I got back to Australia.
I'd climb anything with you.

Both of those gifts were much appreciated, as was the banana bread with cream cheese frosting that I made. FYI - cream cheese in Australia is NOT the same. It smells slightly off and the consistency is different. But Drew couldn't tell the difference.

I saved the best gift til last though. A trip to the zoo to hand feed the red pandas. Drew has been a fan of red pandas ever since we discovered Zooborns, a website devoted to pictures of zoo babies.

This is Eilish, she's the only female at the National Zoo.
We arrived at the zoo at 8:15am and were led to the red panda enclosure by Zookeeper Brendan. He told us a bit about the red pandas, including a warning that they usually nap during the day so we might only see them sleeping high up in the trees. Luckily, the two red pandas were awake and curious about the new visitors.
Eilish, the zoo's female red panda, was very keen on the fruit the zookeeper brought her, especially the grapes. We had a great time feeding her and petting her. Her son, Makalu, was a bit more timid and stayed up in the trees while we were there. He did clumsily scamper down close enough so we could see him though.

This is Eilish's son, Makalu. He was born in December 2011.

 (Video embedded above. If you can't see the video, click here.)

After 30 minutes of feeding and petting, it was time to say goodbye. Mealtime wasn't over though, as Makalu and Eilish scurried up into the trees to nibble on some fresh bamboo.

Included in our adventure was a day pass to the zoo, so we came back at 10am when it opened for visitors. When we walked by the red panda enclosure this time, the two were waaayyyy up in the trees, sleeping soundly.

It was a great experience with the bonus that we were able to contribute to the conservation of an endangered animal. Red pandas are endangered in the wild and the National Zoo is part of a breeding program to ensure that these incredibly cute creatures stick around for a long time to come.