Month: September 2016

My Tour Through The Kimberley Part I

I just came back from the most epic journey through The Kimberley in Western Australia. It was truly an adventure and I can’t wait to tell you about it! When I first started to plan my trip to Australia this was one thing I really wanted to do, so I signed up for it right away. When I was finally in Darwin I couldn’t wait till Saturday. The tour was just around the corner.

Day 1

After calling to confirm my reservation I was told to be outside my hostel at 6:50 am. However, during dinner I thought that 6:50 was a very odd time and decided to wait outside my hostel at 6:15. Unfortunately I had heard correctly and the bus came at 6:50 sharp. This wasn’t the best way to start my trip, but mistakes always make things more exciting.

Kimberley Wild

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Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Circuit

After spending 4 days on a boat I was eager to stretch my legs, so I ventured up to the Atherton Tablelands. This is an area inland from Cairns known for its waterfalls, dairy, and farmlands. I was interested in exploring the area and doing the Waterfall Circuit Drive so I rented a car and took off! Well, not at the fastest speeds. This was my first time driving on the left side of the road and it took some getting used to. How hard could it be driving on some lazy country roads? Or as it turned out, some narrow, switch-back jungle roads. Thankfully the drive was only an hour and a half long. I guess that’s one way to learn.

As I gained elevation it thankfully cooled off, but it was also a rainy day. That wasn’t going to stop me! My first stop was Lake Eacham, one of the two crater lakes in the Tablelands. Originally I didn’t plan to stop here, but the sign said it was only 2 km away and I couldn’t resist. Driving up to the lake reminded me of the jeep scene in Jurassic Park. I was expecting Mr. T-Rex to come out at any second. (Must go faster!!!)

Milla Milla Waterfall Circuit

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Diving the Great Barrier Reef with Mike Ball Expeditions

The first thing I wanted to do in Australia was go diving, so I flew into Cairns. The Great Barrier Reef is on many a-diver’s bucketlist, and it was time to check it off mine. When I first began to research diving the Great Barrier Reef I was disappointed to hear that the amount of people travelling to the reef was beginning to show.  The charters were big tourist traps and the reef was slowly being destroyed. This worried me, because if I went all the way to the Great Barrier Reef I wanted to do it right. So I spent lots of precious time looking up the best possible way to go diving.

During my research I came across a well-setup website with lots of helpful Great Barrier Reef dive information. They also had a toll-free US number, which many other sites did not have.  After trying to narrow down my options I needed help with the final decision. I played phone tag for a few days, but finally got in contact with Joel.  I told him my concerns and what I was looking for. An hour later he emailed me several options I might be interested in, and highlighted two that he would specifically recommend. He was extremely helpful and I decided to go with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions 3 night Fly/Dive Cod Hole.

GBR

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Cairns Botanic Gardens

After my hike at Mt. Whitfield I decided to walk through the Cairns Botanic Gardens, which are right up the street. Hot from my hike and in need of a break I went to the visitor’s center cafe for a smoothie. I stood in line and waited my turn. Then someone stood in front of me as if I weren’t there. Strange…I ignored it and continued to wait. Then someone else cut in front of me. What was going on?! Apparently Australian’s don’t take lines as seriously as North Americans do.  I finally got to the register and ordered my smoothie, which may or may not have been worth the wait. Thankfully the gardens would not disappoint.

Cairns Botanic Gardens

The first area I walked in was Flecker Garden and it was beautiful! I made a figure-eight through the garden just to be sure I didn’t miss anything. The little paths, creeks, and bridges made it a very enjoyable walk. Some of the areas would have been perfect for a live-action Disney movie.

Cairns Botanic Gardens

Cairns Botanic Gardens

The point of Flecker Garden is to show trees and shrubs from tropical regions all over the world, not just Australia. There was vegetation from Asia, Africa, and South America too. The first thing I noticed was the large number of bright red flowers, each unique in their own way.
Cairns Botanic Gardens

Cairns Botanic Gardens

While peacefully wandering down the boardwalk I heard a loud chatter. When I got close to the noise I had to dodge various tree parts falling from above. The troublemakers were a flock of Rainbow Lorikeets enjoying lunch, and boy were they loud.

Cairns Botanic Gardens

I thoroughly enjoyed every flower I found in the botanic gardens. Many of them had such bright and beautiful colors, and were unlike anything I’d seen before. I wanted to look up all of their names, but the list of flowers is too long. If you’re up for the task,  check out the scientific names here.

Cairns Botanic Gardens

Cairns Botanic Gardens

The Cannonball Tree, or Couroupita Guianensis, has seeds about the size of a softball. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see a flowering seed, but they produce large pink and yellow flowers. And the seeds do look perfect for throwing at siblings…

Cairns Botanic Gardens

Cairns Botanic Gardens

Cairns Botanic Gardens

This white flower was one of my favorites; it looked so delicate. However it must have been late in the season because the rest of them were withered and burnt. Thanks for sticking around so I could photograph you!

Cairns Botanic Gardens

This beautiful pink and yellow group of flowers is Aphelandra sinclairiana. It’s nickname is “orange shrimp plant,” and I can absolutely see why someone decided to give it that name. Although I doubt they taste as good as actual shrimp. Care to try?

Cairns Botanic Gardens

Cairns Botanic Garden

This white flower, Cheilocostus speciosus, is related to the ginger family and is used around the world for its medical benefits. Sadly, it is threatened in some areas due to its popularity.

Cairns Botanic Garden

Cairns Botanic Garden

The Cairns Botanic Garden has more than this one area. I finished Flecker Gardens and moved onto the Rainforest Boardwalk. First the boardwalk winds through a traditional Cairns coastal rainforest, as it looked before human take-over. Then the boardwalk goes through a swamp rainforest, which looks exactly how it sounds.

Cairns Botanic Garden

It’s amazing to look around when you’re surrounded by rainforest. I couldn’t see very far due to layers upon layers of trees, foliage, and plants. I hope to never get lost in a rainforest because I certainly would not see my way out. Still, I can’t get over how beautiful the canopies are.

Cairns Botanic Garden

Cairns Botanic Garden

After the rainforest boardwalk I found myself walking next to the saltwater lake. It was fascinating! Everywhere there were crabs with one large orange claw. As I walked down the path a wave of crabs would scurry away and hide in their holes.

Cairns Botanic Garden

When I settled down to take pictures of the crabs I saw a different shape in the background of my viewfinder. Although it blended in perfectly with the mud, I spotted (what I think is) a mangrove mudskipper. What are the chances?!

Cairns Botanic Garden

I made my way to the freshwater lake which was perfectly sunny and beautiful. There were birds standing on the edge of the lake, and little fish swimming everywhere. Very picturesque. As beautiful as it was, it was getting too hot to stick around, and I made my way back to the main road.

Cairns Botanic Garden

Cairns Botanic Garden

At the end of my walk I saw another Australian Brush Turkey. This time he was close and laid back enough that I could take a good picture. Yay! On my way out a flock of birds also flew into a tree in front of me. They were fig birds, and I managed to get a picture of a male and a female together.

Cairns Botanic Garden

Walking through Cairns Botanic Garden was wonderful. I wish I had gone earlier in the day when it wasn’t so hot, but I saw so many interesting things that the heat couldn’t hold me back. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to every area of the garden, but if you want to check it out for yourself their website has descriptions of everything here!

 

 

 

Mt. Whitfield Conservation Park – Blue Arrow Circuit

I am very excited to write my first Australia post! I woke up at 5am on Saturday (darn you jetlag), and decided a hike would be perfect after my 16 hour flight. After scouring the guidebook, I came across some viable options at Mt. Whitfield Conservation Park. This website is very helpful, and describes the 3 hikes available. Official Website – Mt Whitfield Trails

The bus to Mt. Whitfield left at 7am. As I patiently waited until 7:15, I looked at the bus schedule again and realized I was looking at the Mon-Fri schedule. Oops! The bus wasn’t coming for another 45 minutes, so I decided to walk the 2.5 km. The walk was easy enough and I had no problems finding the park.

Mt Whitfield

After a quick glance at the park map I decided to hike the Blue Arrow Circuit. It was the longest option, but I was early enough to beat the heat, and I needed the exercise. So off I went!

Mt Whitfield

There were lots of people out for their morning jog. One thing that took some getting used to was the unfriendliness (not quite the right word), of the locals. Apparently Australians don’t smile and say “good morning.” The only people who said good morning were and a father/son duo who were definitely American, donning their Lakers gear. Oh well, there’s always little differences.

Mt Whitfield

This is the first viewpoint. It was still early and the clouds hadn’t cleared yet. Unfortunately, I never got a view of Cairns, but there were plenty of other views to keep me happy.

Mt Whitfield

The clouds decided to stay for the first part of the hike. There was one more lookout before I headed deeper into the rainforest. A man was having a meditative moment watching the planes land at Cairns airport, so I didn’t stay long. I didn’t want to disturb him.

Mt Whitfield

Mt Whitfield

When I turned into the rainforest I started to see the really good stuff. The first animal I saw was a Kookaburra. It landed on a branch right in front of me. I was so excited, and stopped to watch him for a couple minutes.

Mt Whitfield

When I continued on it began to get darker, and the canopy let in less and less light. The rainforest got denser and I started to hear more critters. I kept hearing things move, but the trees were so thick that it was difficult for me to spot where a sound was coming from, or to snap a picture when I did see something. I saw (what I think was) my first wallaby!

Mt Whitfield

My goal was Mt. Lumley, which is the highest point in Mt. Whitfield. When I got to the top I wasn’t greeted by any impressive views like I was hoping. Just a fenced off building and a covered bench to sit on.

Mt Whitfield

Mt Whitfield

However, what the top lacked in views, it made up for in flowers and bugs. Purple flowers no less, which of course made me very happy. After munching on trail mix and watching the bugs flutter back and forth, I snapped a couple shots.

Mt Whitfield

Mt Whitfield

I headed back down and stopped at another viewpoint before turning back into the forest. The clouds were still being stubborn, but I was optimistic they would clear by the time I finished.

Mt Whitfield

OK, some bird  on this trail sounds like a laser beam. “Pew pew!” I kept hearing it, but could never identify what was making the sound. So I just imagined I was in Star Wars, battling a giant bird on some far away planet. “Pew pew!”

Mt Whitfield

Right around here I heard a crazy ruckus. It scared me at first because it was so loud. When I looked up I couldn’t figure out what it was, but slowly realized it was more birds. After some patience I caught a glimpse of a group of cockatoos. How cool! Didn’t get a picture, but I had no idea they were in Cairns.

Mt Whitfield

Birds, birds, birds. So many birds! When I took a picture of this little guy an Australian runner laughed at me. “Don’t worry!” he said. “There are plenty more. They’re all over.” Still, I had tried to snap a picture of this bird earlier but couldn’t get a decent one. Finally I got one.

Mt Whitfield

Mt Whitfield

Success! My last view before finishing my hike was sunny.  It was also starting to get hot, so I was glad to be done. I certainly wasn’t used to the humidity, which my soaking wet t-shirt was proof of. Gross.

Mt Whitfield

This hike was just what I needed after being cramped on a plane for so long. While the views at Mt. Whitfield were OK, the wildlife was great! There were many birds, and a decent amount of mammals, lizards, and bugs. I wonder what all I would see if I did this hike again.

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