Monthly Archives: August 2009

Orpheus Island

Sunset through the mangroves... sigh

Sunset through the mangroves... sigh

Orpheus Island… possibly the East Coasts’ best kept secret! IF you have a soft spot for marine invertebrates, “geekin’ it out” with researchers, total disconnection from mobile and internet services, and scavenging for bush tucker (“taka”) when supplies run low. I loved it (although I wouldn’t have survived indefinitely)!

I found out about it while I was in Kuranda. An American woman staying at the hostel had spent the last month teaching marine ecology to a group of students from the States. They’d stayed at all the major research stations from Brisbane to Carins. When I told her how cool I thought that would be she mentioned that there were volunteer positions available. Within 24hrs I’d secured a spot on the next boat to Orhpeus Island. It cut my stay in Carins a little short, but was well worth it!

The Island

Not an atoll (an island developed from coral build up over thousands of years) like many islands found in the Great Barrier Reef, Orpheus is rock solid… with a heavy frosting of sand! The boat ride from Taylor’s Beach took about an hour. As we pulled into the bay, a white strip of beach emerged between the rainforest and mangroves. Idyllic!

Only after getting off the beach, did the research buildings emerge from behind the foreshore scrub. The island is also a National Park, so the footprint of the research station is very small. The first thing that you find when approaching the station is a large round touch tank – I spent a lot of time scaring the clams and coaxing Nemo from his anemone!

Itsy bitsy anemones

Itsy bitsy anemones

Baby giant clam in the touch tank - about 10cm long

Baby giant clam in the touch tank - about 10cm long

Ciogo-what?

The research station is run by James Cook University. They’ve got a constant stream of researchers and volunteers running through the station. While I was there I spent quite a bit of time with the crew volunteering for a woman doing her PhD on Ciguatera (a toxic microorganism with effects similar to shell fish poisoning from red tide). From what I understand, ciguatera is a dinoflagellate that lives on algae, which the herbivorous reef fish eat, which are then eaten by bigger fish, and bigger fish, etc… until humans eat it. Along the food chain the toxin bioaccumulates or builds up, so by the time we eat it the levels are high enough to be toxic. The symptoms are really unpleasant, including a tingling pain so horrible that people suffering from it have asked for amputation instead of waiting for pain killers to set in! EEEPP! At the moment there is no commercial test for it, so technically you run the risk every time you eat a reef fish. This researcher was trying to determine if there were seasonal variations or certain areas on the reef that tend to have higher levels of ciguatera to help reduce the cases of ciguatera poisoning.

So these algae folks were great fun! They were out on the research boat in shifts – one day on, one day off sort of thing. Sooo, on their day off we was lucky enough to get to go out in the dingy for snorkeling. The reefs around the island were beautiful! Lots of fish, sea turtles, and humpback whales!

Snorkeling off Orpheus Island - I'm on the right

Snorkeling off Orpheus Island - I'm on the right

Roger snorkeling in the Clam Garden

Roger snorkeling in the Clam Garden

CRAZY HUGE clam - the mother of all Giant Clams ~1m long

CRAZY HUGE clam - the mother of all Giant Clams ~1m long

Volunteer Work…. Shouldn’t Really Be Called Work

Other then having lots of fun, as a volunteer on the island we were expected to do some work. Jess and Amy were volunteering with me; they were nursing students from Townsville on a weekend getaway from school work – great girls! Most of the work was weeding, but on the last day I also got to drive the mini-tractor! We were pulling out lantana, which is an invasive exotic that spreads everywhere – kinda like the Himalayan blackberry at home. We tied a rope to the back of the tractor and around the base of the lantana stalks, and then hit the gas…very slowly.

Me and Jess relaxing after a hard days work

Me and Jess relaxing after a hard days work

Garbage Beach

The research station is located on the West side of the island, so its beach is very protected. The beach on the East side of the island gets hit hard by incoming waves and a lot of debris. We hiked up and over to the East side to check out the beach and I was shocked by how much garbage there was. The research station cleans it up every three months when their garbage barge comes, so I can’t imagine what it would be like if they weren’t there to clean it up! Most of the washed up garbage was shoes, and smaller pieces of hard plastic. All slowly breaking up, and on it’s way to the garbage island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Not so picture perfect, but a nice reminder of where our trash can end up

Not so picture perfect, but a nice reminder of where our trash can end up

My first and only wild echinda sighting!

My first and only wild echinda sighting!

Almost intact Nautilus shell on the beach - still a bit stinky!

Almost intact Nautilus shell on the beach - still a bit stinky!

Tidal Flats

Exploring the tide pools is one of my favorite past times, so it was very cool to see the tidal flats exposed on Orpheus. During my visit the low tides were some of the lowest of the year; at low tide the tidal flat stretched out for about 60m. The bottom was sandy for the first bit, and then started to become coral. Closed toe shoes were a must because of stone fish (danger danger) and cone shells (danger danger) and sting rays (danger danger). It was amusing to watch everyone jump from sandy spot to sandy spot in an effort to avoid walking on the hard coral, but as you got further out it was inevitable. The soft corals looked like colourful inflated rubber

gloves. As the day wore on it really started to stink because the corals were excreting nasty smelling slime to protect themselves from the sun. In the shallow pools there were baby sharks to chase, giant clams (nature’s water gun), anemones, and tube worms to watch.

Reef off the beach

Reef off the beach

Adios Island!

One morning a big prawn fishing boat was sitting in the bay because it was too rough to fish. The algae folks bought a few kilos of fresh prawns and we all feasted on them on our last night on the island! Very delicious.

I left a couple days early because the algae folks offered me a free ride down to Townsville. Townsville isn’t very exciting, but it is the gateway to another island paradise – Magnetic Island.

The most colourful Crayfish I've ever seen! One of the divers found this newly shed exoskeleton and brought it back for us to check out

The most colourful Crayfish I've ever seen! One of the divers found this newly shed exoskeleton and brought it back for us to check out

no comment!

no comment!

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under Travel

Carins to Kuranda – the Scenic Railway

One of the folks at the community garden party in Carins lived in Kuranda, a mountain town about an hour away, and was happy to give me a ride up the hill after the work party. Kuranda has gotten kinda trapped in the tourist circuit, and promises tourists a aboriginal arts, crafts, and culture… needless to say, the bus ride would have been really expensive.

It was a beautiful place set high up in the rainforest overlooking Carins, but the place shuts down after the last bus leaves around 4:00pm. I arrived around 5:00pm – tumbleweeds scattering with the wind.  The next day was bright and sunny, and with all the big tourist buses the shops and market opened up bright and early! There was lots to look at, but I managed to slip away without buying anything.

I decided that the Kuranda Scenic Railway sounded a lot more fun then the REALLY windy road back down to Cairns, and it was! It was really beautiful… see for yourself!

Barron Falls - the deep green pools at the bottom looked like good swimming spots. No time to check it out though

Barron Falls - the deep green pools at the bottom looked like good swimming spots. No time to check it out though

Train turning another bend through the rainforest

Train turning another bend through the rainforest

I’m off to a marine research station tomorrow to volunteer for a week. So excited! Check it out!

2 Comments

Filed under Travel

Rendezvou with Permaculture Carins

Just the cutest little thing all wrapped up in a banana tree!

Just the cutest little thing all wrapped up in a banana tree!

After finishing up with the Permaculture Design Certificate I decided to try my luck at actually getting my hands dirty! I found a few permaculture groups in towns on my route up North, and contacted them to see if they had any work parties or cool events coming up. Permaculture Cairns was the only group that got back to me, but I was able to arrange to help out with a community garden renovation project they had planned.

Essentially the garden had been running well for a while, and then the main organizer moved on to greener pastures (and a cooler climate?) and the whole thing ground to a dead stop. It’s really too bad because the garden has a great location on an elementary school grounds. Permaculture Carins was alerted that the garden needed some TLC, so they organized a day to re-vamp and renovate, and hoped to get the surrounding community involved so there would be renewed local energy brought to the project. SO we all got together and worked our buts off in the hot sun, and got the garden back into tip top shape!

I worked on the Banana circle for most of the day. It's hard to see here, but there is a big pit in the middle of the circle that is filled with organics and multch... then more multch around the trees... and another layer of multch for good luck!

I worked on the Banana circle for most of the day. It's hard to see here, but there is a big pit in the middle of the circle that is filled with organics and mulch... then more mulch around the trees... and another layer of mulch for good luck!

Making multch!

Making mulch!

Compost workshop underway. The big chicken wire bales are for measuring out the correct amounts of brown multch, green multch, and manure.

Compost workshop underway. The big chicken wire bales are for measuring out the correct amounts of brown mulch, green mulch, and manure.

Planting into the multch layers - keeps all those pesky weeds away

Planting into the mulch layers - keeps all those pesky weeds away

1 Comment

Filed under People Power, Permaculture, Travel, Urban Agriculture

Sailing the Whitsunday Islands

Hook Island in the Whitsundays

Hook Island in the Whitsundays

I boarded WINGS III at noon on Sunday to set sail for the Whitsunday Islands. WINGS III is a brand new catamaran – with a hot tub on deck – that is decked out with all the dive gear you could ever dream of. Sigh…. heaven.

It was a lovely boat with an even more lovely crew! They kept us well entertained, and took good care of the folks that got sea sick.

Crazy divers...

Crazy divers...

The Whitsunday Islands are a chain of 74 islands near the Great Barrier Reef. There are ferries that scoot through the islands, but the area is too well known for sailing to pass up. We also stopped at the famous Whitehaven Beach. It was a cloudy/rainy morning, but ended up clearing up around the time we had to leave. Made for a beautiful sailing day!

Whitehaven Beach photo credit: Sailing Whitsundays

Whitehaven Beach photo credit: Sailing Whitsundays

Heather, Zoe, Kat, and Me on Whitehaven Beach

Heather, Zoe, Kat, and Me on Whitehaven Beach

To be honest, I got on the boat with no intention of going diving. I suppose that I had decided that all the doom and gloom of climate change had already completely destroyed the Great Barrier Reef.  There was only one other certified diver on board, so that meant there would only be 3 of us down there… very tempting because dive groups to the reef can get up to 80 people! The price was affordable too – $50, so I figured I’d do just one dive to take a look around.

My initial assumptions about the reef were a little off! It was beautiful! Don’t get me wrong, the Reef is definitely in trouble – only 15% will remain 40 years from now. However, it is still an amazing sight to be seen! I’ve never seen so much diversity of hard and soft corals, with vibrant colours, and lots of fish. I can’t imagine how incredible these reefs were 150 years ago… or even 1000 years ago! Magnificent I’m sure. In total I did three dives. We saw a shark, eel, barracuda, Nemo and Marlin, anemones, lots of corals, bat fish, angel fish, parrot fish, and lots more!

Moray Eel

Moray Eel

A tiny piece of the Great Barrier Reef

A tiny piece of the Great Barrier Reef

hi!

hi!

2 Comments

Filed under Travel

The Platypus Bush Camp, Eungella National Park

The swimming pool at the Bush Camp

The swimming pool at the Bush Camp

Tiered of the East Coast party scene and cookie cutter backpacker route, it was really nice to escape into the mountains and spend some time at the Platypus Bush Camp. It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s in the bush, has a glorified BBQ for a kitchen, an open air sitting area, and the clearest river I’ve ever seen – perfect platypus habitat.

The Platypus Bush Camp - view coming back from the swimming pool

The Platypus Bush Camp - view coming back from the swimming pool

My own little tree hut!

My own little tree hut!

I did a great hike to a waterfall and swimming pool with two girls I met up there – Norah and Ruth. The water was very cold, but it was nice after a hot hike through the forest.

Waterfall on the Wheel of Fire hike

Waterfall on the Wheel of Fire hike

Perfect for a refreshing dip! SO COLD!

Perfect for a refreshing dip! SO COLD!

I didn’t actually get to see any platypus, but it’s my own fault because I wouldn’t sit still long enough. C’est la vie!

Crazy tree

Crazy tree

Leave a comment

Filed under Travel

The Town of 1770

Sunset kayak in 1770

Sunset kayak in 1770 - the sky was smokey because they'd been doing controlled bush burns near by

No, I haven’t mastered the art of time travel yet. All I had to do was get off the bus – they dropped me right at the steps of a town called 1770. After surviving Fraser Island, it provided some much needed relaxation time. The hostel I stayed at is one of the best I’ve seen – Cool Bananas. A very relaxed place with a beautiful tropical garden, fire pit, outdoor dining area, hammocks, and it goes on and on.

1770 has a population of 34 full time residents. It’s not a very happenin’ place, but it does off backpackers a good chance to get out on the reef and do other water sports for a lot cheaper then further up the coast.

I went for a sunset kayak one evening. Out of all the travelers I’ve met, I’ve noticed that Australia attracts Irish, Germans, and Dutch on mass. Case in point – my entire kayak group was Irish! We had good fun, and made the best of the free goon* included in the trip. On the way back to the beach we were followed by three dolphins! It was great to watch them play around us. Then just as we got back to shore, a stingray flipped up out of the water trying to get away from our boat – Leam,  the other person in my double kayak, screamed louder then I did.

Lady Musgrave Island

Lady Musgrave Island

On my last day in 1770 I decided to do a day trip out to Lady Musgrave Island, which is on the outer Great Barrier Reef. The ride out to the island was rough, and I was one of three people who didn’t spew. Things calmed down once we got out to the reef, and it was a great day of snorkeling. The best parts were the blue stag horn coral (so vibrant!!) and the turtle den. Three big sea turtles had made a home in a dent on the top of a big brain coral, and they were happy to come out and swim with us.

Lady Musgrave Island - I snorkeled on this side of the reef... the sharks were on the other side of the island

Lady Musgrave Island - I snorkeled on this side of the reef... the sharks were on the other side of the island

When we explored the Lady Musgrave Island I found a dead sea snake – scary!! We also spotted reef sharks off the shore that were hunting for fish in the shallow water… not where we were snorkeling though.

Geek Note: There is a type of bird that migrates through these islands annually, and it likes to stop in a particular type of tree. This tree secretes a very sticky goo around it’s seeds, so when the bird’s land on the branches the seeds get stuck to the birds. Sometimes the birds get so weighed down by these sticky seed balls that they actually cannot fly anymore. It’s partly sad, but also fascinating from an evolutionary adaptation point of view because these birds then provide vital nutrients and organic matter for the seeds they’re carrying. Nutrients and organic matter are really hard to come by on an island made only from coral!

It was a bit windy out there!

It was a bit windy out there!

*Goon – otherwise known as “doom”, goon is the cheapest alcohol available in Australia. It’s “wine” that comes in 4L boxes and costs about $9….doom.

1 Comment

Filed under Travel

Fraser Island Stargazer Self Drive

Ship wreak Mahone (?) - no idea what the story is here... google it?

Shipwreck Mahone (?) - no idea what the story is here... google it?

The Backpacker Special – Fraser Island Self Drive 4×4 tour. Three days and two nights of 4×4 fun with eight of your favorite (and entirely random) friends on an island made only of sand – spectacular fresh water lakes, jungle, and highway beaches included. It was certainly a random collection of folks – me, a British couple, a Finnish fellow, a tall guy from Holland, three drunk 19-year old British boys, and a nutty German. Fraser Island 4×4 trips should be on the top of those lists for corporate team building exercises…. it was definitely an experiment in group dynamics if nothing else! HA! Maybe I’m exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad! Our drivers were safe, we got to see a lot of the island, and no one was killed by rouge dingos.

Our camp site and the gang happily eating breakie

Our camp site and the gang happily eating breakie

Driving along the beach

Driving along the beach

As for wildlife, we did spot a few dingos on the beach. The official protocol for dealing with Dingos is to:
1) Stop
2) Cross your arms over your chest (like a mummy)
3) Look at the ground (not in the eyes of the Dingo)
4) Back away slowly shuffling your feet (like a duck)
5) Make noise
I’ll leave it to your imagination to see a group of backpackers wandering the beaches, suddenly stop at the sight of a Dingo, and immediately enact the “official protocol”. It’s a sight, and Step 5 is usually uncontrollable giggles at how ridiculous you look doing it as a big group.

The view from Indian Head... not to bad, eh?

The view from Indian Head... not to bad, eh?

Fraser Island has more sand than the Sahara desert, and it gets into EVERYTHING! Despite how annoying sand can become when you eat, sleep, and drink it, the island is really beautiful. I’ve never seen jungle growing out of sand dunes! The lakes on the island are amazing – Lake Waddy was my favourite. We walking through the forest for a while and then came up to this sand dune, climbed to the top of it and could see sand dunes in every direction surrounded by rain forest, and an emerald lake settled off to the side. Very pretty. Lake Mackenzie is a classic – white fine sand and turquoise water.

Lake Waddy. Photo credit: peterjoel1 on flickr

Lake Waddy. Photo credit: peterjoel1 on flickr

One big happy family at Lake Mackenzie

One big happy family at Lake Mackenzie

One of the best parts about Fraser Island are the stars! The island is so far away from any big cities that you can actually see the glow of light pollution on the horizon around Brisbane. We were lucky to be moon-less, which made the stars that much more spectacular. I even learnt a new constellation – the Southern Cross!

1 Comment

Filed under Travel