Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tree Kangaroo - no kidding!

[Michele]  I know that Greg and Katie want to write a couple more blog entries on their adventures here but while they are recovering from the nasty West to East jet lag, I will share just one of our highlights:  We spotted a Tree Kangaroo!

Now I entitled this blog "Tree Kangaroo - no kidding!" because I anticipate one of two reactions to the news that we saw a tree kangaroo

  • "What the heck are you talking about? How do kangaroos climb trees?"  - or-
  •  "No way, you  actually saw one? They are so rare!"

In answer to both I respond, "No kidding!".

We stayed in Yungaburra one night with the intent of seeing platypuses.  I went down to the creek at 6:30 am to see some but only saw a bush turkey and a runner who advised me to look up for Tree Kangaroos.  I think I smirked at that suggestion, because the tree dwelling macropod is noctural, critically endangered and hard to spot (wikipedia page on Tree Kangaroos).  But the jogger enthusiastically pointed out that the recent rain may have brought them out and that they have been spotted near the creek.  OK.

Later in the morning after a group of us attempted to see platypuses (Robin saw one but none of the rest of us did) we headed back to the cottages and I was looking up into the trees, not really looking for Tree Kangaroos so much as admiring the eucalyptus trees.  Hmm. there is an odd brown blob in the crotch of that eucalyptus tree.  Hmm.  I don't see brown blobs on the other trees.  Hmmm.  That blob is furry.   And I think it has ears, oh, and paws.

So here is my blurry and backlit photo of a furry brown blob sleeping in the crotch of a eucalyptus tree next to a photo from wikipedia.   Just for the record our good camera broke on the reef trip with Chris, Pamela and Lexie so this was taken with my pathetic iphone camera.  Katie and Greg should have better photos.

Addendum: A fancy camera can be very helpful sometimes!  Here is Katie's much more convincing photo of a Tree Kangaroo.

See! told you it was a tree kangaroo.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef

[Greg] I am guest blogging today, to describe our trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, specifically Adelaide Reef. This is one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had! It is not easy to put into words. First, we started with an absolutely perfect day. The sun was shining, and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. We met the boat, Big Mama, down at the Clump Point docks. It was a very long trip out to our diving spot, about 3 hours. And the tropical sun never seems to move in the sky. It seems to be in the exact same place, nearly all day. The wide-brim "Aussie" hat, and SPF 6,000,000 sunscreen is an absolute must. (slight exaggeration) So we anchored the boat, flopped over the edge, and the adventure began. Just being in the sea, feeling the surge of the current, the gentle sound of waves, and the bright blue sky was amazing. Then we looked underwater through our masks. Thousands and thousands of brightly colored tropical fish, just like in an aquarium store, were right under our faces. Incredible corals of all sizes, shapes, and colors. It was fascinating to watch. Katie had a slight problem learning to breath in the snorkel. It's a nervous moment when that tube first fills with water, and feels like it's going to drown you! But Dad was right near by, teaching how to make that blast that fires the water right out. We swam together for nearly 2 hours, until the lunch break. We were actually able to see Nemo; we found a large anemone with a pair of orange clownfish in it.

After lunch was more of the same, but in a different location. This time, we went to the reef at the edge of a sandy flat area. There were a lot of larger fish here, especially parrot fish. We saw some large angel fish, too. All told, we saw angelfish, parrot fish, butterfly fish, scores and scores of chromes and anthers, wrasses, (watched a cleaner wrasse clean over 2 dozen fish!) a puffer fish, clownfish, box fish, grunts, squirrelfish, croakers, drums, and half a dozen others I cannot name. I was the most incredible display of wildlife I have ever seen. We arrived back at the dock about 6:00, and the sun was already going down! The tropics are so strange. I am very tired, but as David Letterman used to say, "it's a good kind of tired."! More adventures tomorrow!!
We found Nemo!

staghorn coral with blue algae

Greg and Katie arrive down under!

Banana farm on the Bruce

[Greg] I will start this story, like any good story, at the beginning! Michele and Gavin were gracious enough to invite Katie and I to Australia. We flew out of Philly at 4:30 on Monday afternoon, November 11th. After a stopover in Dallas, we lived the fantasy: a 16 hour flight to Australia!!! (if you think a 16 hour flight sounds like torture, you are correct) We had to take a connecting flight to the town of Cairns, and as we were coming out of customs, TA DA! There they were, waiting for us. We were enjoying a previously unknown level of jet lag, so it was nice to have them spot us first. Hopped into the car, and we were off to South Mission Beach, and our Aussie adventure!

First thing anyone needs to know about FNQ (Far North Queensland), is this place is HOT HOT HOT! Since the sun is directly overhead, the temperature feels much, much different than it does back in the Northeast. I can be only 80 here, but it feels like the equivalent of 100. But the place is absolutely beautiful. I had thought it was subtropical, but it is the full-blown tropics here! It was about a 2 hour drive from the airport, and we stopped and rented an extra car to accommodate us. I rode with Gavin, and Katie rode with Michele. We drove through the tropics, looking at all the sugar cane fields, mountain ranges, and lush, green scenery. We had a quick stop in Innisfail, for supplies, and my first taste of Aussie food. (a traditional meat pie) Back on the road, and on our way to South Mission Beach!

Cassowary butt.
I don't wish to make anyone jealous, but I SAW A CASSOWARY ON MY VERY FIRST DAY!!!! It was just hanging out on the side of the road as we approached town. I came to understand; these things are very hard to spot! So I guess I'm just better than everybody else.  :))))))  (just kidding)

It wouldn't hold still for a photograph, so I got a picture of its butt, as it turned tail and slipped into the woods. We arrived at their house, got unpacked, and did everything we could to stay awake. We took a swim in the Coral Sea, and found rocks floating on top of the water. Seems there was a volcanic eruption somewhere, and pumice floated over to Australia. Robin had a talent show at school that night. She performed very well, by the way. I simply don't remember anything after that; I collapsed into a coma as soon as we got home.

I forgot to mention, we took off from Philly on Monday afternoon, but it was actually Wednesday morning when we arrived here. So now it's Thursday morning, and I took off for a walk down a path called the Kennedy tract. It was a narrow walking path set into the side of a cliff along the Coral Sea. Palm trees, coconut trees, geckos, iguanas, and shells on the beach! I walked to a creek that was supposed to have a crocodile, but no luck. We spent the afternoon driving around and learning the area, and buying supplies.
Dunk Island

The newly rebuilt Kennedy Track

Mangrove tree at Logger bay along the Kennedy Track

Will eats an ant on the Lacey Creek walk.
Friday we went sea kayaking, and afterwards took a walk through the rain forest. The weather has totally been our friend so far; it has been sunny and once you get used to it, warm but not crazy warm. We have been eating like kings; lamb, local Thai food, fish and chips with fish caught right off shore, and an unbelievable amount and variety of fruit. I've never had a passionfruit in my entire life, and they are great! We've seen people shopping in bare feet. Try that back in the US! Well, that's enough for one day. Gotta go get some rest, because tomorrow is the crown jewel of our trip, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef!

A three cassowary sighting day

A blurry looking and (no doubt)
feeling Greg and Katie
arrive at Cairns airport
[Michele]  Ok, well none of us actually saw three cassowaries in one day but amongst our family we saw three in one day. Well, probably two the sightings were of the same bird...  But still an impressive day.

First Cassowary: On the way to the airport  in late morning to get Greg and Katie a cassowary casually crossed the road in front of us.  We got some fabulous photos.

Second Cassowary:  Coming back from the airport Greg and Gavin saw a Cassowary by the police station.  Do you realize that this means that Greg saw a Cassowary on his very first day in Mission Beach?  Before he even got out of the car!!   This is un heard of!!
Cassowary casually crossed the road on our way to the
airport. BTW, in the rearview mirror you can see Gavin's
"Bitcoin is the honey badger of money" t-shirt.  Very
appropriate if you have been following bit coin prices recently.

Third Cassowary:  On the way to the talent show Robin and I saw a cassowary near the police station at dusk. Now I know what you are thinking. Hey wait a second, isn't that the same place that Gavin and Greg saw a cassowary?  Yes it probably was. BUT we were not in the car with them when they saw it 4 hours earlier.  Therefore, our sighting counts as an entirely new Cassowary sighting.
Our beautiful little swan Robin looking
proud after her great performance!

By the way Robin did a fantastic jobs dancing the Little Swans dance from Swan Lake at the talent show.  The show was very heavy on singer/guitarist and the ballet dance was refreshingly different.  We all thought that she rocked it.  Apparently the judges really like singer/guitarists.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Recovery from cyclone Yasi

[Michele]  It is a bit glaring that we haven't yet written about the recovery of the Mission Beach area from cyclone Yasi two years ago.  The effects of the cyclone that hit this region in Feb of 2011 are deep, ubiquitous and long lasting.  So why haven't we written about it yet, eh?

Ok, Ok I will give it a go though I'm still learning more all the time about the lingering effects of the cyclone.
This satellite image shows the massive size of cyclone
Yasi as it approaches the Australian coast. 

First some facts: Yasi was a category 5 (Australian scale) cyclone when it made landfall on 3 February, 2011.  On the Saffir-Simpson scale it was a category 4 (recent hurricane Sandy was a category 2). The eye of the storm passed right over South Mission Beach, where we are currently living.  Wikipedia reports that in Mission Beach wind speeds were estimated to be as high as 290 km/hr (180 mi/hr).  Imagine trees in this kind of wind.  Now imagine rooftops blowing off of buildings and debris flying around.  Horrifying! Storm surge reached 7 m (23 feet), which is less than was predicted.  Even still, most of the beach had lost its sand and every building was impacted (wikipedia).  

The storm was huge - see image. When it travelled inland, it dumped so much water on the interior deserts of western Queensland that global see levels dropped.  Yasi along with a few other Australian storms that year produced so much rain in the interior basins that sea level lowered 7 mm for a while.  Rather than quickly flowing to the sea these waters were trapped in the basins until they evaporated. (
We took this picture of the rainforest
in 2011 just 6 months after Yasi.

In July of 2011 we visited Mission Beach for a week and wrote a blog about our observations then.
Reading that blog now makes me cringe a little.  At the time, we believed that Mission Beach would eventually recover to its pre-Yasi state. Now, I'm not so sure.

$3.6 billion in damages were reported making this the most expensive cyclone to hit Australia.  What is remarkable about that figure is this area is sparsely populated. If the cyclone had hit farther north to Cairns or farther south to Townsville the sum of damages would be staggering.

An empty apartment building
damaged by cyclone Yasi
has not been repaired. 
For Mission Beach and Tully (town 20 min inland from the beach) the lasting effects of the cyclone include closed store fronts, empty houses and continued construction to damaged structures.  Many people moved away either because they had enough of cyclones or because their jobs were gone.

For Mission Beach the closure of the Dunk Island resort seems to have had the largest impact on the community.  The 160-room resort on an island 4 km off the coast was very popular holiday destination.  For $200-$300 per night you could stay at a beautiful resort on a tropical island.  This drew tourists to drive 2 hours south from Cairns rather than to the posh Port Douglas just 20 min north of Cairns.   Dunk Island resort was often fully booked in the winter months.  We never stayed there overnight but we enjoyed day visits to the beautiful resort to go snorkeling at Muggy Muggy beach.  The resort sustained a lot of damage including roofs blown off and walls ripped off. The staff who sheltered there during the storm give horrifying accounts of the storm passing over them and sounding like jet engines.  The upshot two years later is that the resort owner has no plans to reopen the Dunk Island resort because the insurance costs are too high. As a consequence all those tourists are no longer coming through Mission Beach.  Without the tourists, the shops and services decline which further deters tourists.  For example, you can no longer scuba dive on the reef out of Mission Beach, you have to go to Cairns.
Dunk Island resort in July 2013. Note blown off roof
and ripped walls. The owner sees no point in making repairs.

The town has seen some temporary economic relief in terms of re-construction projects.  For example, we got to watch progress on construction of a new sea wall this winter/fall along our favorite track.  This project and the new jetties at Dunk Island and Clump point are now complete. With these construction jobs coming to an end we may see further stress on the local economy. Belt tightening across Queensland and Australia doesn't help this situation.

The rainforest is recovering with very dense vegetation at the
ground level and a sparse canopy.  Gavin wanted very
badly to get into this photo as you can see.
When we visited in 2011 our focus was on the effects of Yasi on the rainforest.  The trees were completely denuded of leaves in the cyclone.  Now the trees have green up but the rainforest is recovering. Because the canopy is very sparse, the rainforest is overly dense at the ground level.  It will take a few decades for the forest to reach a mature state again but it progresses.  Birds have come back and the Cassowary seem to be doing well.  We've seen a lot of them.... except when Betsy was here and when Grandma Lorna was in the car.

I know that the rainforest will recover but I don't know what the future holds for Mission Beach.  It is still a remarkably beautiful and laid back place.  I hope that tourists will continue to come here for the atmosphere and to look for cassowaries.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.... ah

[Michele] You know how you can sail through life not noticing something until someone points it out?Then you can't un-notice it.   For many things you can even become hyper alert to them.

Some American things that we can't get here I've been noticing for a while.  You can't get a bagel in Far North Queensland.  I'm not being picky about my bagels either.  Within Australia, you may have to go to Melbourne for a decent bagel but up here in Far North Queensland, you can't even find those horrible frozen bagels.  No bagels at all.  Robin's friends don't know what they are. I also noticed that you can't get those terrific thick pretzels, like Snyder's sourdough hard pretzels.  Mmmm.

But it wasn't until last week when a post office worker pointed it out to me that I realized that Australia doesn't have Reese's Peanut Butter cups.  Not at all.

In America, I'm a fan of an occasional Peanut Butter Cup and every Halloween we buy a bag for trick-or-treaters but keep some for ourselves. But I hadn't noticed that the candy wasn't here until the postie mentioned that Australia didn't have them.  Well of course, I instantly developed a huge craving for Reese's Peanut Butter cups.  

Forget "Who put chocolate in my peanut butter?".  Who forgot to import Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to Australia?

I want them.

I want them NOW!

-- cue Deus Ex Machina music ---

Betsy brought this awesome bucket of
candy for us from America.
Betsy arrived yesterday for a work holiday. We have several papers to work on as well as a couple proposals in the short 9 days that she is here.   I'm very glad to see Betsy but most importantly.... she brought Reese's Peanut Butter Cups from America!  


Although yesterday was also Halloween, none of the trick or treaters got access to our peanut butter cups.  Oh No!  We gave them the Australian Smarties and the Cherry Ripe lollies and they were none the wiser.

BTW: We got a grand total of 7 trick or treaters (3 in one group and 4 in a second). Of the seven, 4 were not in any sort of costume. Two little girls were wearing princess outfits and another girl was in her pajamas as her costume.  They really don't know how to do Halloween here.