Sunday, September 27, 2009

Byebye Brisbane

Yesterday (Sunday) we went to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, about a 25 minute bus ride from our motel. They had a student discount (yay!) and lots of native Australian animals to look at! It’s pretty small, but it had everything I wanted – kangaroos, wombats, and koalas.

Hanging out with an emu:

The kangaroos were pretty friendly because they’re used to being fed. WE didn’t buy any food, but we arrived around 9 AM as the park opened and ran into a nice ranger who gave us a bucket of kangaroo food. We fed them for over half an hour because they were so cute and soft. A good number of the kangaroos had joeys, and we actually saw joeys jumping in and out of their mothers’ pouches. It was crazy!!

Soooo many kangaroos!

A photo of a joey only partly inside the pouch:

The cutest little boy was feeding the "jumperoo":

I'm not sure if you can see this, but the joey's head and feet are sticking out of its mom's pouch. It was crazy!!

We also got to hold koalas and take photos - here's me and my date! He asked for my number after I put him down, but unfortunately I'll be leaving Brisbane tomorrow so I had to turn him down. He was quite a cutie though!

We also saw a sheepdog show. Julia, you would've loved it! They used two gorgeous border collies!

After Lone Pine, we went to the mall next to the motel and ran some last errands before we start classes and leave for Cairns on Tuesday morning. I’m going to use my sneakers in both the mangroves and the coral reefs since I don’t have water shoes and I can’t find any comfortable ones here. It shouldn’t be a problem, and I know they have reef booties at Heron Island so I shouldn’t have to wear my sneakers too much. We also got some bug spray and a Subway sandwich for lunch. So tasty!

We headed to the library at UQ for most of the afternoon. Since the internet situation is going to be pretty sketchy in Cairns, we’re all trying to find some basic research before we leave and maybe check out a book or two. We’ll have minimal access to libraries for the next month so I’ll have to do my data collection without the benefits of a huge library on site, but I’m sure it’ll be fine! For dinner, we went to the grocery store and I had soup, cottage cheese, chips, and carrots. I know it sounds like a strange combination, but it was really tasty. And of course I got TimTams for dessert!! They’re an Australian cookie and they are SO GOOD. The caramel flavored ones taste like Twix, and the double-coated chocolate flavor are deadly delicious. I’m in danger of getting addicted, and I like it!

Today we have 6 hours of class and then the rest of the day to pack, run last minute errands, and finish researching on campus. Tomorrow we leave bright and early for the airport so we can fly to Cairns and start our field work. We have 8 days of class and then our first final of the quarter – that’s ridiculous. We’ll have final exams every 2 weeks or so as we finish each ecosystem class. It still hasn’t quite hit me that we’re going to be tested on this, it still feels like vacation, but I’m exited and I’ll post again when I get the chance!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ozzie ozzie ozzie! Oy oy oy!

Australia is amazing! Everyone talks funny and eats Vegemite straight out of the can. The 48 students in the group are staying at a motel about 15 minutes from campus, and there's a bus stop right outside so it's easy to get to classes. They provide breakfast at the motel, lunch at school, and have given us money orders so we can buy dinner. A lot of us have been buying groceries because it's cheaper, and saving our money so we can do exciting stuff like going white water rafting or scuba diving in Cairns.

The campus here is beautiful and they have a real lake, not an empty bog pit like Lake Lag (not that I have any problem with Lake Lag, I'd just forgotten what a beautiful campus lake could look like).

University of Queensland is on a short break right now so campus isn't too busy, but I think they normally have about 20,000+ students taking classes so it's a pretty large and well-used campus. The dining hall food has been great so far! All in all, I have no complaints, except that it's slightly hilly here - but I need the exercise so it's all good. There was a huge dust storm the other day from Sydney and the sky turned from blue to brown in a few hours. It clogged up my throat and made it kind of hard to breathe – apparently people couldn’t leave their houses in Sydney because there was too much dust.

Photos I took at UQ (during the dust storm):

We just got University of Queensland ID cards so we can accesses the facilities here. We can use the athletic buildings, go swimming, take dance classes, and all the other stuff that normal students can do – Lisa and I went to the pool Friday morning and did some laps, and it was really relaxing. The water was super comfortable, and I’m a stronger swimmer than I expected. Probably from scuba!


We went into the city Tuesday night on the ferry, which was gorgeous and only took about 10 minutes to get to downtown. It was ladies night at one of the bars, and the bar provided these terrible grandma dresses for the boys to wear if they wanted discounted drinks. Needless to say, there were many well-dressed men (har har) and I love that non-American boys don't mind looking ridiculous and dancing crazy. It was really fun!

The group that went out to ladies night:

On Wednesday, we went on a tour of the XXXX (four x) brewery and had a great time! It was $35 for a 1.5 hour tour, dinner, and 4 drinks. The tour guide was really funny and definitely knew his stuff, although he talked about a mile a minute so we could only understand about half the stuff he said. The dinner had chicken, a sausage, and a small steak, as well as salad, pasta, and bread on the side. It was a ton of tasty food, which helped the beer settle. After we finished eating, the guys sitting at a table near us gave us their extra drink tickets because they were leaving early, so we all had a great night. And KL bought the huge blow-up display beer bottle and carried it around the trains on the way back... quite a sight!

Eating and hanging out at the XXXX brewery:

Thursday was pretty chill, we had a couple classes and I found out that my research project is going to be focused on the coral reefs! They had to assign us advisors and there were limited numbers of kids who could have each advisor, so not everyone gets to work on their desired project. But I got what I wanted! Now I have to plan out my experiment in more detail. SO EXCITING. We spent a lot of the afternoon planning our trip for the weekend since we’re going to rent cars and explore a bit.

Sitting and planning outside the library at a really cute café on campus:

Friday was relaxing. Lisa and I went for a swimming at UQ in the morning and we went lawnbowling (strange version of bocce ball) as a group. We visited the Botanical Gardens afterwards and saw some crazy awesome plants:

The view from the lookout point:

These water lizards were rustling around the plants all over the botanical garden:

Eric (a fellow Hawaii summer intern) informing us about figs:

Eric also grabbed this spider skeleton from a plant - check out the huge mandibles! Ugghhhh!

For dinner we ate at a delicious buffet for $9! It was really extraordinarily tasty. We went to a casino after and Lisa won $2!! It was exhilarating, but I don’t plan on gambling more on the machines. There was a super fun DJ playing salsa music in the middle of downtown and tons of couples were salsa dancing and having a great time. Lisa and I want to go back when we have more energy!

On Saturday, about 20 of us went to Byron Bay about 2 hours down the coast. We rented cars and drove there and back, which ended up being way cheaper than taking the bus! I had a ton of fun just playing the ocean and hanging out with a new group of people. Some of the kids went really early (left around 6 AM) and took surfing lessons, but the waves weren't great and I didn't feel the need to surf.

We saw a HUGE lizard right by where we put our towels. This country is crazy!!

There was a beautiful lookout point right by our camp:

And we had fun taking pictures in the ocean:


Our first class will be in Cairns, and we've been informed that internet access is going to be very spotty and perhaps totally absent. This is the section on mangroves and coastal rainforests, and I'm SO excited to get all muddy in the field. We've been warned about the crocodiles, cone shells, sting rays, sharks, flat fish, jellies, blue-ringed octopus, disease-bearing mosquitoes, toxic plants, dangerous ocean currents, and many of the other threats that will thrust upon us as we travel through Australia. I'm not too concerned =)

When we're in Cairns, we have several free days and a big group of us are going to get on a scuba boat and go out to the Great Barrier Reef to see some spectacular sights. This is going to be AMAZING!

This is really an extraordinary program. Our accommodations are really remarkable considering how many of us are participating, and we're visiting pretty remote locations just by virtue of having excellent professors with great connections. I can't wait for everything that's in store - Hello, Australia!!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Waitomo and Black Water Rafting

Two days ago (Saturday) we went black water rafting, which was everything I hoped it would be and MORE! We decided to do the 5 hour Black Abyss tour rather than the 3 hour version, and it was absolutely worth the extra money.

They gave us super attractive wetsuits, jackets, boots, and helmets:

We absailed 37 meters into the cave and it was SO COOL!!!! They used a crazy climbing device and I felt totally safe, and it was amazing seeing all the layers of the cave as we repelled down. Here’s a photo of us practicing!

Then we went on a flying fox (zip-lining) in total blackness, so we were surrounded by glow worms as we whizzed through the cave. Terrifying, especially since I went first, but totally exhilarating. I really want to go zip lining in Australia!

Next we got inner tubes and jumped about 10 feet down into the freezing cold lake. The water is around 11* C, which is REALLY brisk, and we tubed up and down the river to see more cave formations. We had our headlamps on as we went up the river, and then floated back down with our lights off so we could see the glow worms. It was gorgeous – there were tens of thousands of glow worms and it looked like a greenish version of the Milky Way. Absolutely indescribable and incredible. The photo I post doesn’t do it justice at all, but gives you an idea – make sure you enlarge it!:

Then we alternately walked, stumbled, and swam through the river to see more worms and cave formations. We also army crawled through some small spaces and it felt SO HARDCORE. Except they gave us SNACKS!!! Haha we weren’t expecting it, but they gave us hot chocolate and a snack bar after the zip lining, and a hot orange-y drink and a slab of chocolate after we crawled around in the water for awhile.

At one point, we had to slide our on bellies to get over a rock formation:

We stopped to take a legit group photo:

And then proceeded to climb up two waterfalls. I’ve included a sample photo they gave us, since they couldn’t take photos of us actually doing it, but it was super awesome! And here’s one of me crawling through the caves:

And finally conquering the waterfalls:

We finally emerged into the open about 4 hours after we first entered the cave. I can’t believe we were in there for that long – and it wasn’t over yet!! We got back to the base and had a hot shower, then they gave us as much tomato soup and as many toasted, buttery bagels as we wanted. It was delicious and super relaxing. What a wonderful experience =)

We then hung out at Curly’s bar for a couple hours until our bus came. We had eaten there the previous night and watched a rugby game. It’s a really nice, chill bar, and basically the only option for food in Waitomo. Here’s a photo of the entire village – about 3 shops, with no grocery store/ATM/etc…, just a couple hostels and a place to book cave tours/black water rafting. It was interesting to stay for one night, but one night was definitely enough.

We took a bus to Hamilton, where we checked into our hostel and then had our last dinner/night in New Zealand! We went to the nearest bar to get dinner and watch the All Blacks vs. Wallabies rugby match (New Zealand vs. Australia – kind of a big deal) and the All Blacks won!! The food was excellent and there were tons of enthusiastic rugby fans of all ages, so it was a great place to spend our last night in NZ, especially since we watched the NZ team win and have some incredible plays. Rugby is way more hardcore than football, and after actually watching a couple rugby matches, I have even more respect for how tough those guys are. Daaaaang. I knew the girls were tough because I watched a Stanford rugby game, but the professionals take it to a whole different level.


P.S. Now we’re in Australia! A really nice Brisbane local, Geoff (spelled the right way), picked us up at the airport in Brisbane and took us to the motel we’ll be staying at for the net week of orientation. We were one of the last groups to arrive, so lots of people were already sleeping even though it was only about 8 PM. Lisa was already there so we had a great catch-up talk and hung out with the group of people still awake until about 10. Then it was time to crash! Today is the first day of orientation, so I’ll update more about that as the day unfolds.

P.P.S. We get a morning and afternoon tea break during orientation. I already LOVE this country and program!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

High Country Horses + ICE BAR!

Yesterday we went horseback riding in Glenorchy, a small town about 45 minutes away from Queenstown at the other end of Lake Wakatipu. A ton of scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed there and the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. It was so beautiful and so fun!! My horse, BJ, liked to snack on grasses and willow branches so I had to keep him in line, but I can’t blame him since it’s getting to be spring here and these are the first grasses of the year for him. Erikka’s horse pooped a lot and had to be in front, so we all got a fun show over the course of our 2-hour ride. KL’s horse was really well behaved but a bit short, so her legs got wet during a river crossing. The weather wasn’t great – it was pretty windy and chilly, but they gave us awesome cowboy jackets, boots, gloves, and helmets so we were fine!

The stables were beautiful, no wonder the horses look so happy!

New Zealand – where men are men, and the sheep are afraid!

Amazing views. It was beyond breathtaking for the entire 2+ hour horse ride!!

Isengard (the tower of Orthanc) was filmed between these mountains:

KL barely made it through the river crossing, but we all survived:

We also went to Minus 5, an ice bar, last night and had a great time!! They gave us big parkas and we bought a shot and a cocktail because we really wanted to take a shot out of the ice luge.

In front of the sign:

We were just too cool, hanging out just outside the ice bar before we entered:

The ice bar! Lots of awesome sculptures:

Queen of the ice bar!!

Posing with the fun sculptures:

I got a Polar Blair drink, which had passionfruit juice, raspberry absolut, and other tasty juices. SO YUMMY!

We all got delicious drinks- cheers!

COLD but loving it:

We just arrived in Auckland, and will spend one night here before heading to the Waitomo glow worm caves to check those out and go black water rafting. There's still so much to do!! I'm so excited!!