Tag Archive: australia

the bat tree

at the end of our trip to australia in july (two months ago, oops), we stayed for a night and a day in cairns.  although smaller than we had expected, it was a nice town to walk around in for a day.  had we known sooner, we would have rented scooters and gone up into the jungle, but as it was, we covered most of the city on foot and left ourselves something cool to do next time we’re there.  we strolled on the esplanade, admired some marine-themed public art, and cruised the night market (which always makes me think of the night kitchen).

we had also heard that there was a large tree full of roosting flying foxes, which we wanted to be sure to find, both for our own interest and in honor of some bat-philic friends and family.  around dusk, without really planning specifically for that timing, we did indeed discover the bat tree, and its hundreds of resident spectacled flying foxes (Pteropus conspicillatus).  they were just beginning to stir, and their golden-orange neck fur gleamed in the setting sunlight as they groomed, stretched their wings, pestered each other and squawked, getting ready for the night’s activity.  we stayed for an hour, hoping to see them take off en masse, but they flew off a few at a time, allowing us a good view of their backlit wings and an accurate impression of their size (each comparable to a small housecat).  given all the other wildlife we’d seen on this trip, including mammals ranging from the tasmanian devil to the humpback whale, this seemed like a good farewell for the trip, and we headed to the airport ready to stretch our own wings and head home.

great barrier reef, part 5

on our way back to cairns, after completing our final dives on the reef, we found a pod of humpback whales having a party.  i think the photos will speak for themselves on this one.  :)


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great barrier reef, part 4

on our final day of diving the gbr, we arose early as on day 2 and completed our final dive at ‘the whale’ — less exciting than the night dive the previous evening, during which we saw grey reef sharks, but still pretty cool; a sleepy school of several hundred large hump-head wrasses hung around long enough for the first few divers in the water to say hello.  needless to say, we were among them — ear trouble and burst blood vessels (in our eyes and eyelids) be damned! (totally worth it.)

the last dive site was aptly called ‘coral gardens.’  every size, shape and color of coral we had seen on previous days was there, in about 7-8m of water, and many more.  on the first dive we headed out to the edge of the reef and skirted the wall (taking care not to drop all the way to the floor, some 30m down, which would have been soooo easy); looking off into the blue was actually remarkably similar to the ‘don’t go near the dropoff’ scene in finding nemo.  except that the humpback whales were singing again, which would have been way too early in the movie.  we also saw a large maori wrasse (probably a good 1.5m long), many beautiful nudibranchs, colorful bird wrasses, an impressive titan triggerfish, various darting schools of smaller fish, and we heard afterward that someone else from our boat had managed to spot two leopard sharks.  while jealous, we also felt that we had to leave something on the list to see next time.  ;)

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great barrier reef, part 3

on day 2 of our trip to great barrier, we awoke at about 6am to the smell of coffee, the sound of bacon frying and the sultry tones of the divemaster shouting ‘time to get up!  dive briefing in 20 minutes!’  (when i say ‘awoke,’ i actually mean ‘awoke fully’ since the numerous boat sounds overnight had prevented any deep or prolonged sleep.)  we tumbled out of bed into the deeply twilit morning, wondering whether this would count as our second night-dive, but no — by the time we were ready to get wet, the sky was pale grey and the seafloor once more visible about a dozen meters below the surface.  we gulped down muesli bars, spat chunkily into our masks to de-fog them, and hit the water again.

on this day, not only did we find nemo (as well as barracuda, various puffers, turtles, more large morays, other lovely fish, and yet more spectacular corals) — we were also treated to something i’d never considered we might experience.  during the second dive, in the pause between exhaling and inhaling, i slowly became aware of faint threads of sound, descending in pitch, repeated several times a minute.  the friends diving with us had mentioned that they’d heard humpback whales singing while diving in fiji, and i realized that this was what we were also hearing.  it was magical.  i did my best with the video function of the camera, and if you listen closely, you can just hear a snatch of it here.   when we surfaced, we heard that the whales had been sighted about 300 m away from the boat — no wonder the songs sounded distant.  we did not see them, but  stay tuned for the reports from day 3…

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great barrier reef, part 2

continuing day 1 of the dive trip… after the first two dives at ‘petaj’, we stayed on milln reef, but moved to a site called ‘the whale’ (the top of the main bommie sits just under the surface, disturbing the water in a way that looks much like a whale rolling and blowing).  the sun was warm, the breeze steady, and we mostly dried out between dives; the constant prune-fingers and dreadlock-style hair would not set in permanently until day 2.  from the surface, the water was a crystal blue-green and we could easily see the sandy bottom, punctuated by bommies of all heights and sizes.  large fish (mostly trevally) gathered under the boat while it was moored, and an impressive maori/humphead wrasse idled nearby, inspecting most divers as they entered the water.  on the afternoon dives, we also saw huge moray eels (and a large grouper startled by the same) and our first turtle (a green), as well as trumpetfish, moorish idols, puffers, fields of blunt coral fists, and many different kinds of fish that glowed galaxy-like with iridescent stars.

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great barrier reef, part 1

last tuesday, a life-long dream came true — we flew to cairns to begin our trip to the great barrier reef.  the time in the gold coast was great, and full of lovely things to see and do, but on tuesday i could not sit still.  the pebbles probably got tired of my chanting ‘want to go to cairns’ over and over, but he hid it remarkably well.  we departed brisbane mid-afternoon, flew toward a deep red sunset, and landed with the high hills surrounding cairns just barely visible against the twilit sky.  there was just time for a quick dinner and re-pack of our bags before early bedtime, in preparation for our 6.10am pick-up in the morning.

too excited to sleep well, i dozed fitfully and kept checking the clock to see whether it was time to go yet.  the alarm finally sanctioned our wakefulness, and we arose, threw our gear into the shuttle, checked in at the dive shop, and finally climbed aboard our home for the next three days.  the boat was designed specifically for diving, with the aft deck designated a wet area and lined with benches for tank/bcd assembly and general dive preparation.  32 passengers — a full roster — were on board, including us and a pair of similarly marine-enthusiastic friends from auckland, about 20 american teenagers on some kind of extended wilderness team-building trip, and assorted australians, kiwis and europeans.  we received our first briefing and our ‘safety numbers’ (numeric roll-call to ensure that no one was accidentally left behind anywhere along the way), and made our rollicking, pitching, rolling way out to the first dive site.  i don’t think anyone was actually sick but it wouldn’t have surprised me.  luckily, once we pulled up over milln reef (tethered to sets of permanent blocks in the sand to prevent repetitive anchor-damage), the swell broke over the seaward edge of the reef and left us in relative calm.

we received our first site briefing from divemaster oscar (originally from dunedin) — a detailed map of the area and suggested compass headings indicated the best route to follow for this dive, what landmarks to look out for along the way and what animals we might see, where — and then it was time to get wet.

the photos that follow are from the first dive.  by way of quality-disclaimer, i will confess that we bought the cheapest digital camera/housing combo available (about nz $250) since we had to have something but didn’t really have the budget for fancy gear at the time.  the camera has no zoom, six whole buttons (two unlabeled), and  a physical switch on the side for ‘macro’ (focal length 65–130cm!!) or ‘landscape’ (>1.3m) settings, which is not accessible through the housing, so you have to choose before the dive which you want this time around.  however, it records images at 9mp, takes both video and still shots, and all in all, didn’t do that bad a job.  given its limitations, i pretty much shot everything i saw (>1000 photos), hoping that a few would turn out.  and here are the first results.

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high above surfers

later on day 2, we went up to the observation deck of the 82-story skypoint, in surfers paradise.  we timed the visit to be able to span late afternoon through to early darkness, with panoramic views up and down the gold coast as the sun set and the lights  began to twinkle.  i may or may not have played with my camera a bit during the latter phase.

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currumbin wildlife sanctuary

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on day 3 in the gold coast, we spent the afternoon at currumbin wildlife sanctuary.  although we hadn’t been sure we would stay the full five hours available, in fact, we were kept more than busy by the presentations, birds of all sizes, monotremes, and marsupials – in particular, kangaroos upon kangaroos.  big ‘roos, little ‘roos, lazy ‘roos, bouncy ‘roos, joeys in pouches right-way-up and upside-down, and best of all, iiiiiiitchy ‘roos ready to bliss out on a good scratch.  when re-entering new zealand yesterday morning, we had to declare whether we had been in contact with any animals apart from domestic dogs and cats.  the answer: big fat YES.

on day 2, we traveled to springbrook national park, to see a rather stunning natural bridge formed by a creek eroding its way down into a cave.   the forest surrounding the creek was lush and green, with dappled sunlight reaching the ground only after making its way through the high canopy overhead and copious epiphytes including ferns and elkhorns.  brush turkeys scuffled through the leaf litter, whip-birds called and the stream continued its gradual, inevitable erosion.

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byron bay

hi!  we’re in australia for a week! and as usual, travel gives me a good excuse to get the camera out and get some new stuff up here.  there are some challenges this time around — i don’t have my laptop for photo editing, and am thus limited to using ‘paint,’ and the interweb here is a little limited.  [edit: all updated now, from back home in nz.]

day 1 kicked off with a trip to byron bay, the eastern-most point on the australian mainland, marked by a 110-year-old lighthouse.  the day was cloudless and stunning, and we were treated immediately on arrival to glimpses of humpback whales tail-slapping and breaching off-shore, and dolphins cruising through the waves just below our vantage point.  a kite snacked on the wing, a possible turtle trundled slowly through the surf, and we knew as the day warmed and we peeled off the layers that we were really on holiday.

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