A Travellerspoint blog

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Our kids belong in the zoo

overcast 60 °F

Today we split forces. Henry didn't want to go to the boring zoo, and Pearl didn't want to go on a boring bird trip, so we matched each child with their preferred activity.

Henry and Sue jumped on a suburban commuter train out of the city to the Dandenong Range. Thanks to Gabby Webster for recommending Grant Picnic Ground and the surrounding national park. When we first arrived at the picnic ground, a large Chinese tourist group was in the bird area, feeding aggressive Cockatoos. Lots of bloody fingers. We decided that hiking the beautiful fern-tree shaded trails was more to our liking, and while we tramped, Henry spotted the elusive Superb Lyrebird, a gorgeous grey peacock-like bird.

Upon our return the picnic ground, the tourist group had relocated to the nearby cafe, so Henry was able to enjoy feeding parrots and cockatoos in a much calmer setting.
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Superb Lyrebird
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Pearl and Daddy spent 4.5 hours at the wonderful Melbourne Zoo. Part of the fun was riding the #55 tram from the city center along with the smartly attired Melbournians during morning rush hour. The trams here are punctual and clean. The floors were spotless: no piles of discarded sunflower seeds, rolling pop cans, or used nappies like any day on Chicago's green line. Sorry, got sidetracked there. The Melbourne Zoo has a smaller footprint than the excellent Brookfield Zoo, but packs in so much that our time there flew by.

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On the way back to the condo, we stopped by a playground at Flagstaff Gardens that Pearl spotted earlier in the day with her acute sense of playground-dar.
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Continuing with today's theme of splitting forces, Henry and Pearl are outside now playing tag. Later today, we'll leave Henry in charge of a sleeping Pearl and go out for a walk as we say goodbye to beautiful Melbourne...

Posted by skwclar 20:37 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Kangaroo Island, a.k.a Road Kill Island

sunny 70 °F

We have spent the last three days on Kangaroo Island, Australia's 3rd largest island. Our beautiful beach cottage was equally beautifully absent of wifi, which meant that we could grill meals, play board games, and watch movies together with no distractions.

Kangaroo Island and Adelaide, the largest nearby city, are in a unique time-zone: thirty minutes behind Melbourne and the rest of the east coast of Australia. Kangaroo Island reminds us of an Australian version of Madeline/Washington/Beaver Island. Simple and quiet. Long dirt roads. Dave's first comment while driving to our beach house was, "I like the creative use of corrugated metal on the houses here."

Most people (like us) come to Kangaroo Island to appreciate nature and the abundant Australian wildlife. When we first opened the gate to the yard of our cottage, we were face-to-face with a terrified wallaby. It wouldn't be the first wallaby we encountered on our property. They are abundant like squirrels are in Oak Park. In fact during our drive around the island, we saw at least 50 wallaby or kangaroo speed bumps in the road, which led us to dub the island: Road Kill Island.

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During one day we toured the entire island from corner to corner. It was a long, slightly boring day punctuated by brief but fantastic moments of great beauty:

Roos!
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We saw 17 koalas in Hansen Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, including this little guy who put on a show for us with slo-mo jumping from branch to branch of a eucalyptus tree. We thought a better name for the sanctuary should be "The Enchanted Koala Forest".
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Flinders Chase National Park with Admirals Arch and the Remarkable Rocks.
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Cape Borda with a serene view from atop the cliffs over the Southern Ocean.
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A spiny echidna (like an Australian porcupine) seen on our hike to Cape Borda.
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Huge, hairy spider found in bathroom AFTER using the facilities.
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During the seven hours of driving, we experienced many a bone-rattling dirt road. Dave put it into perspective by saying, "It sure beats driving in wintery Chicago right now."

As we learned, all dirt roads aren't created equally. After several shortcuts turned out to be dead ends, and after what seemed like hours spent on unimproved horse-and-buggy tracks, riding down a decent dirt road without fording a stream felt like a trip down the Champs Elysees. It was made even more exciting because we were racing to get home before sundown when the wallabies and roos play chicken with the cars.

All joking aside, we had a wonderful time on Kangaroo Island. It is one of the few places left in Australia where you can view native animals without the threat of introduced species.

On our ferry ride back to the mainland: a truck carrying at least 1,000 sheep, 4 layers deep. From looking into their eyes, it was clear that these poor sheep understood that their halcyon days of grazing safely in the outback were over. Cars that were parked on the ferry near the sheep were treated to a shower of unmentionable organic matter. Good thing the internet doesn't have smell-o-vision.

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Posted by skwclar 01:49 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish

sunny 88 °F

Greetings from Cairns, Australia--home of the Great Barrier Reef!

We've actually been here for 2 days but on our first day, we called a media blackout so that we could have a solid day of homeschooling, relax at the pool, and enjoy the temps in the upper 80s.

Northern Queensland feels more like Hawaii, with very humid air, palm trees, crashing surf, and coastal mountains. As the only family with kids at this resort, we have thoroughly enjoyed our complete takeover of the pool.
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Today we ticked off an item on our bucket list: snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef.

Our seaworthy vessel departed the port at 8:30am for an 8-hour cruise to three different locations on the outer reef. Sue and Henry paired up since they are the most enthusiastic snorkelers and like to remain in the water the entire time. Dave and Pearl enjoyed shorter spurts of snorkeling combined with rest periods and snacking.

The GBR really lived up to its reputation. We saw countless varieties of colorful tropical fish--angelfish, tangs, seahorses, pufferfish, triggerfish, barracuda, parrotfish, clownfish, sea cucumbers. The coral was shockingly beautiful and varied, many times seeming to be piled right on top of each other. Canyons and pinnacles of coral rose out of the deeps of the ocean. Both pairs of the Griffin snorkeling team saw 8-foot long sharks in the wild, up close--and lived to tell the story.

Pearl sat out for the snorkeling at first, since she was a little worried about the big waves; but in the meantime, she caught up on her reading about sea creatures.
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Lunch included whole prawns with staring eyeballs.
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Snorkeling buddies Sue and Henry. Lycra bodysuits were necessary during peak jellyfish season.
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Pearl and her new friend Eddie imitating Nemo
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Posted by skwclar 00:56 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Daintree Rainforest

rain 88 °F

Today we headed to the Daintree Rainforest, part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland, a UNESCO world heritage site.

In keeping with the homeschooling theme, we picked up a self-driving tour CD of the national park. We were entertained (some more than others) with fascinating historical and scientific facts about the rainforest and its wildlife as we drove around.

First we crossed the crocodile-infested Daintree River via a cable-driven ferry. A bridge would never be successful in this part of the country, especially over such a wide river, because of the fluctuating water levels. While crossing, we made one unconfirmed siting of a crocodile.

Our next stop was at the Daintree Discovery Center. This was a perfect stop for us: The ranger behind the cash register was knowledgeable enough about birds to survive Henry's intense interrogation, and along with the price of admission, we received personal audio tours in both adult and child versions. Something for everyone.

We learned many details about the layers of the rainforest and its inhabitants, and the mosquitos enjoyed feasting on our fresh American blood. Unfortunately, we didn't spot a cassowary (large awkward ostrich-sized bird with brightly colored markings.) About 1200 cassowaries live in this part of the world, but they are shy birds... Bummer. One interesting fact that we learned from our audio CD: cassowaries don't digest their food. The food pretty much looks the same on the way out as it did on the way in. Therefore, they need vast territories for finding the huge amounts of food that they must ingest in order to survive. Who knew?

We enjoyed our drive through the rest of the rainforest. It completely lived up to its reputation and rained the entire time.

Upon returning to our hotel, the whole family enjoyed a dip in the pool and a rousing game of "Bodyguard"--where Henry fiercely protects Pearl from a pirate, played here by Daddy.

If we had seen a cassowary...
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Henry speaking to "Santa" the nature guide who is giving him the bad news that we are in Australia at the wrong time for Birds of Paradise.
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Daintree Rainforest
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Our budding videographer for National Geographic Channel
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Atop the canopy tower at the Daintree Discovery Center
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Necessary sign in the bathroom?
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Posted by skwclar 00:25 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Shoo fly

sunny 96 °F

Why would we get up at 5am to catch an early flight in order to see a rock in the middle of a desert?

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Uluru, in all its blazing glory, right before sunset.

Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is the most instantly recognizable of Australia's geologic features. This entire area is sacred to the Aboriginal people and is steeped in native history and lore.

Traveling from the tropical wetlands of northern Queensland to the heart of Australia's desert in the Northern Territories was a complete shock to our systems. Cairns was warm, very warm. Ayers Rock is hot. Searing, frying, sucking-every-drop-of-water-out-of-your-system hot. Dave pointed out that the temperature at that very moment was 90 degrees higher than the current temp in Chicago.

We have been wondering if it is really worth it to travel such a long distance to see such a specific, simple place. We can all say--absolutely, without a doubt, it is worth it.

The rock is stunning as it rises aggressively out of the desert floor, changing colors as the light changes throughout the day. As seen from our airplane right before our mid-morning landing:
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This is Uluru at high noon.
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But there is something equally memorable about this leg of our journey. The flies are absolutely terrible here!
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Within seconds of exiting your car, your entire body, especially your face, is swarmed with hundreds of annoying flies. Slightly smaller than a typical housefly, their only redeeming quality is that they don't bite. But they land on your face, in your eyes, up your nose. They get tangled in your eyelashes. You can't walk around without performing a strange, flapping dance.

Some relief was provided once we purchased head-netting for $8 each (RIP OFF!) at the visitors center.
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We are here for only one more day, so now that we are armed with the netting and our reliable bug spray, as well as the knowledge that the flies are worst during daylight hours, let's see how many more chunks of desert rock we can appreciate!

Posted by skwclar 01:47 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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