We are going back down under! The plan is to visit and hike in national parks, learn about aboriginal culture and rock art at Uluru/Ayers Rock and in the Northern Territory, and to scuba and snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef!
  • Day36

    Last Day: Falls, Butterflies & Birds

    August 28, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    This is the last day of our wonderful 5-week Australia trip. While still in Litchfield National Park, Sande wanted to see if the bird life here was as good as we’d seen in Kakadu. So on the way to a new plunge pool, we stopped at Tabletop Swamp. Sounds pretty yucky, but the remaining water in this quickly drying billabong was glassy and attractive to egrets and spoonbills in particular. The noisy white sulphur-crested cockatoos were prevalent as well. They have a terrible squawk, but are fun to watch as their ‘headdress’ fans out like a punk mohawk as they alight on a branch, then gets tucked back like an Elvis ‘do once they’ve settled.

    There was a bit of a breeze this morning, making it comfortable to take some more short walks. After walking the perimeter of the billabong, we drove to Tolbert Falls for a 1-2 mile walk along the escarpment—more remnants of the ancient plateau. More trees and bushes are flowering now that we’re in the tropics—wild ginger, kapoks, turkey brush and others we can’t think of right now. The water is not meant for swimming for cultural sensitivity reasons (we didn’t hear what those were).

    Another 30 minutes of driving got us to Wangi Falls for lunch at their cafe and a dip in the large and popular two-waterfall swimming hole. Before getting in, we watched a water monitor hunt for insects at the edge of the water. It was about 3 feet long nose to tail.

    After watching others do it successfully, Darryl, Nance and Sande climbed up about 10 feet to a small pool of deep, cool water under the small waterfall.

    Refreshed, we headed back to town to view the butterflies at the Butterfly Farm, where we’d had dinner earlier (Chris’ place). There weren’t as many varieties of butterflies as we hoped, but it was still fun to walk among them in the habitat created for them. Chris also keeps bunnies (small babies!), goats, pigs and a freshwater crocodile for visitors to feed and pet (not the croc!).

    Finally, it was back to our house for more bird watching. Thanks to Nance for sharing her photos!

    It’s been a fantastic trip, with ‘heaps’ of variety and memories. (Across Australia, they say ‘heaps,’ which is endearing.) We loved the openness and friendliness of the people, who have such good humor. From the Reef to the red rock desert, and the tropics as well, it is a fascinating country. Thanks for sharing our journey with us!
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  • Day35

    The Lost City & Magnetic Termite Mounds

    August 27, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    We’ve gotten the hang of the hot weather here. Get up early, go for a bush walk (it’s too hot to ‘hike’), have a picnic lunch at a swimming hole (plunge pool in Australian), then carry on with the walk while we are damp and cool.

    When planning our visit to this park, two places intrigued us: the Lost City (pillars of rocks amid an otherwise flat landscape) and the magnetic termite mounds. Having a 4-wheel drive rental allowed us to make the 45-minute drive down the dirt road to the Lost City. It was well worth the bumpy ride, especially since Nance spotted an emu for us in the woods, and it had a young one. It got away before we could get the cameras organized.

    The Lost City pillars of sandstone and quartz are the last stubborn rock remains of an eroded plateau — dating to a time when the area was covered in water. There was a nice trail around the formations, and as we’ve done so many times now, we struck up a conversation with a traveling retired Australian couple and their daughter with her baby. It’s great to hear where they’ve been or what highlights they’ve seen, and also to hear about their travels in America, as many have.

    After the Lost City, it was on to Florence Falls, for our daily dip. This pool had two waterfalls, and for some reason, one was warm, while the other was comfortably cool like the pool. We had hiked (oops, walked) a loop trail to the pool, and on the way back, Darryl spotted a wallaby in the bush. This was a rock wallaby, that lives among the crevices and caves of the eroded sandstone. Our photo here is using the magnify photo feature to highlight the little critter, so hopefully it comes out okay.

    Our last destination for the day was to the magnetic termite mounds. We’d seen many large termite mounds in various places in Australia, but in this location, a species of termite builds its mound more two-dimensionally (tall and flat), oriented with each flat side facing east and west. During the cool parts of the day, it can live on the warmer side of its structure, and when it gets hot, it moves to the cool side. The termite is blind, so it isn’t sensing sunlight to orient its mounds. Scientists think they can sense the earth’s magnetic poles. Experiments were done to artificiality change magnetic north-south and the termites built mounds to the artificial poles. Crazy!

    Finally, we retired to our great Airbnb house with many porches and outdoor seating areas to watch the birds around the yard. The Lorikeet photo is courtesy of Nance’s great camera and photo skills.
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  • Day34

    Edith Falls Hike and Swim

    August 26, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    Another travel day where we broke up the drive with a stop for a hike and swim. At a ranger’s suggestion, we went to Edith Falls, which was on our way out anyway. It was a short 2.5 mile hike along a rocky gorge, ending in a picturesque waterfall and swimming hole. We had the place to ourselves for about 5 minutes, but even then, it was just a few more who showed up, and they were traveling retired Aussies, So it was fun to talk to them about the local wildlife and where they had traveled.

    We saw a little water monitor slip into the water from the rocks,which was fun to see, since our latest art acquisition depicts a water monitor. While having lunch after the swim, a black whip snake slithered around on the lawn. They aren’t venomous, but could bite if antagonized.

    We’ve checked into our last lodgings on our Australia trip, a very nice Airbnb in the small former mining town of Batchelor. We had dinner at the Butterfly Farm, which is a combination lodgings, restaurant and petting zoo. The proprietor, Chris, is a real character, and was hamming it up with Darryl and Nance.
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  • Day33

    Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge)

    August 25, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    Yesterday, we said farewell to Kakadu National Park with a hike and swim in a croc-free ‘plunge pool’ at the base of a waterfall. Then it was a few hours driving to Katherine Gorge (aboriginal name, Nitmiluk National Park).

    The Katherine River runs through the park as a series of gorges (13 in all), broken up by rock portage points. So, in the morning, we met the boat which took us through the first river gorge (with many freshwater crocodiles) to access the gorges suitable for kayaking (not as many crocs).

    We learned that ‘freshies’ don’t see people as food, since the narrow shape of their jaw and brittleness of their teeth require them to swallow food whole. That doesn’t mean they won’t nip (or worse) if threatened. ‘Salties,’ on the other hand, will actively hunt humans, and have been known to learn repetitive behavior, like fishermen who come to the same spot around the same time.

    Anyway, we had a beautiful 3-hour kayak through 2 gorges—requiring a short, but tricky portage over a rocky section to the next gorge.

    As we were driving back to our Airbnb, we decided to stop at a roadside art gallery. What a treat! They had nice art, but more fun for us this time were the friendly wallabies out on the lawn! The proprietor gave us some slices of yam to feed them, and they kept coming up to us like friendly dogs. One had a joey in her pouch!

    Another fun thing we saw later that day was a Bowerbird structure. If you haven’t read about these birds, look them up!
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  • Day31

    Ubirr: Rock Art Galleries & Injalak Arts

    August 23, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    We set off this morning for a ranger talk about the renowned rock art in the Ubirr section of the park, but no ranger showed up. Kakadu National Park needs to get more rangers (interested, Eliana?). So we walked the paths on our own to view the aboriginal rock paintings, and sometimes we’d catch parts of a private tour guide’s presentation.

    The rock paintings are beautifully preserved and represent a variety of things—hunting fish and other animals; ancestral spirits; celebrations (dancing people); and warnings about sickness or danger from European pioneers (guns and slavery).

    An added bonus was a hike to a lookout point over the floodplain — just breathtaking! It was what we imagine the Serengeti looks like—Lion King’s Pride Rock overlooking the savannah with a watering hole.

    Next up for the afternoon was a trip across the Alligator River, which is an adventure in itself. You need to check the tides before crossing, and near high tide, the saltwater crocodiles are on the hunt for fish. We saw quite a few, from the safety of the shore.

    The purpose of crossing was to visit the Injalak Arts Centre in aboriginal land (you have to get a permit to go). The non-profit, community enterprise employs indigenous artists and sells their artwork in a gallery space. There are demonstrations of artists at work as well, and it was there we met Allan and purchased a canvas he had completed that morning. It was in the cross-hatching style that is prevalent in this part of the Northern Territory, and depicts a barramundi fish (good eating on this trip so far), a long-neck turtle and a water monitor.
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  • Day30

    Kakadu: Sunrise with Birds; Croc Attack!

    August 22, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    A pre-dawn start got us to our sunrise river cruise on the Yellow Water billabong and down the East Alligator River (a European misnomer).

    It was a beautiful, cool, morning on the river! The bird sightings were fantastic, and our boat pilot and guide was humorous and very informative—she positioned us just right to see birds, water lilies, and crocodiles.

    Toward the end of the cruise, we saw a crocodile attack a huge buffalo that was swimming across the river. We got it on video, but it might look too small on the screen. Our guide had just finished saying that the crocs don’t try to eat the buffaloes, but probably could if they were smart enough to gang up on them. We’re not sure why this one tried. The buffalo probably got some scratches, but it scampered out of the water, then turned around and gave a shake of its gigantic horns at the croc.

    Next, we visited the Warradjan Cultural Centre, a wonderful museum that explains a lot about the ways of life of the traditional peoples of the area.

    Finally, we ended the day with the last public tour ever of the uranium mine which is surrounded by, but separate from Kakadu National Park. The founding of the park in 1979 was part of the deal when the Aboriginal owners of the land agreed to allow mining through 2021. The mine will close and the company will restore the land to its natural environment over the next 5-10 years.
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  • Day29

    Kakadu National Park: Rock Art & Birds

    August 21, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    Yesterday was a day of travel—flight from Cairns to Darwin delayed 3 hours (good thing for cards!), then a 3+-hour drive to Kakadu National Park. This is the dry season in Australia’s wet tropics, and while it is so much warmer than our other destinations (mid-90), at least it is not humid.

    Today, we zipped off to catch a ranger talk that turned out to be cancelled, but we still had a great walk around the rocky outcropping of Nourlangie, viewing cave art and stopping at lookout points. The rock art here is so much more detailed than the art we saw around Uluru. The indigenous people around Uluru view the world with a bird’s eye view (dot paintings of the landscape, e.g.). We’ll have to ask a ranger about the distinction.

    In the afternoon we walked around a billabong — water hole/wetlands area. We were pleasantly surprised with how much bird activity there was. On our 2-hour walk around the billabong, we saw pelicans, jabiru (a stork), egrets, geese and many others. What we did not see—fortunately—were crocodiles, which the signs warned us about every 100 yards or so. The crocs stay in the water or within 5 meters of the water’s edge, so we knew where to put our feet!
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  • Day27

    Fitzroy Island Turtles; Bats in Cairns

    August 19, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Our last morning on the ship started with an early morning, steep climb to the summit of Fitzroy Island—for those who were keen. From the top, we could look out over the channel and islands to the sea in a beautiful clear day. Dani pointed out a type of palm tree that ‘walks,’ as it grows new roots in search of water (inspiration for Tolkien’s Ents?)

    The hikers got ‘second brekky’ back on the beach, then we got our snorkel gear on for our last time on the reef. There were beautiful jellyfish, which we steered clear of, even though we were told they were not the stinging kind. Darryl saw a small reef shark, and we both hovered over a single green sea turtle a couple of times, and watched them drift to the surface for a breath of air. They looked just like Crush in ‘Finding Nemo.’

    After awhile, we were called in from the water to visit the turtle rehabilitation center on the island. One of the founders, Jenny, talked to us about their work, and about the threats to turtles (single-use plastics, and hunting, primarily).

    Back in Cairns, we said our farewells to the amazing crew of Coral Expeditions, checked in to to our accommodations and headed over to see the flying fox bats we’d been told about. The bats gather in huge numbers in trees on the library grounds. A sign said their wingspan can be up to 1.5 meters, and they looked 3-4 times larger than the bats we’re used to seeing. The close-up photo on the sign looked just like Erin & Nick’s Rico pup! We tried to wait until the bats flew off in mass at dusk, as we’d been told they would, but after an hour, we were hungry for dinner. We still saw a good showing of bats flying around in the dark.
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  • Day26

    Diving and Snorkeling Nathan Reef

    August 18, 2019 ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Overnight we sailed to Nathan Reef, where we were able to stay for water play all day. Diane and Nance took a morning dive with Robbie and the Gallagher family of three (from Rockville, MD!). During our half hour below, we gave a wide berth to a sting ray with a strong, sharp-looking tail lying on the bottom. We saw lots of different coral formations, giant clams, sponges, clownfish in the anemone, some shrimp and other colorful fish. It was a great dive. The Great Barrier Reef really is special for its varied coral formations—check out all the varieties we’ve seen in the photo of Dani’s slide talk.

    In the afternoon, Darryl and Nance went diving and Sande and Diane did a ‘drift snorkel.’ We were taken out in the tender boat about 10 minutes away from the ship, and we drifted with the current along the reef edge. Similar views as on the dive, but with better lighting near the surface. The photos don’t always do justice to the colors we saw. Darryl has been enjoying the diving a lot.

    In the evening, we finally saw some of the migrating humpback whales we’d been hearing about. They were pretty far in the distance, so no good photos. The captain was nice enough to follow them for awhile, even though it was against our direction of travel.

    This was our last night on the ship, so it was time for another trivia quiz. Diane was drafted to the Gallagher family table, in a trade for 11-year old Austin. The Gallagher-Douglas table came in first place!
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  • Day25

    Hinchenbrook Island Mangroves & Hiking

    August 17, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Today was a day out of the water, but still on the water. Saltwater crocodiles are in these waters, so it was not a day for swimming. Dani took us on the glass bottom boat and talked to us about the mangrove forest as we motored through a channel of Hinchenbrook Island. The island is a national park and rainforest that is part of the Daintree.

    The water was so smooth and mirror-like, you could almost forget it could be a deadly place. We actually didn’t seem any crocs, but we saw a beautiful sea eagle (yay for bringing the binoculars!), some egrets, and a grey heron. Saltwater crocodiles are the largest of the crocodiles (over 5.5 meters long)—and they can live to over 100 years. We also heard about a mud skipper fish that holds water in its gills and can walk across the mud.

    Next, we sailed to Dunk Island to hike through the rainforest to the summit of Mount Kootaloo. A lookout point offers a view of the reef and its islands from above. Near the lookout are the ruins of a radar station built during World War II.

    Finally, we were treated to drinks on the beach at sunset on tiny Purtaboi Island. Another great day!
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