Tag Archives: Australia

Crikey!: The Australia Zoo

Since I didn’t think I had seen quite enough Australian creatures on Fraser Island (the only kangaroo I had seen so far at this point had been roadkill), I stopped off in Nambour on my way south to allow for a day trip to the Australia Zoo.  The zoo itself is actually in Beerwah, but Nambour is not far away, and since I had a place to stay there, that’s where I headed.  “Why are you going there?!” asked the bus driver when I handed him my ticket, “No one goes to Nambour.”  While this seemed to be true, as I was the only passenger to disembark several hours later, the ride was made worth it by a stop at a Matilda gas station, where I saw this 42 foot, winking, kangaroo from the 1982 Commonwealth Games.

The Australia Zoo belongs to the Erwin family, as in Steve the Crocodile Hunter (RIP ’06).  His family franchise has continued to thrive after his death, and the Erwins, Terri, Bindi, and Bob, were at the park running the crocodile show for the day, since it was in the midst of the “Spring Holidays” in Australia.

The highlight of the zoo visit for me was not the jumping crocs, however, but getting to see all of the other native Aussie animals in action, and petting some very disinterested kangaroos and koalas.

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Fraser Island: Creatures Big and Small

In the trees: the kookaburra’s crazy laugh can be heard throughout the forest.  We spotted this one sitting very still next to the freshwater creek awaiting an unsuspecting fish.

In the undergrowth: a wary goanna lazes, keeping an eye on us passersby and hoping we don’t get so close that she has to move from her sunlit resting place.

What’s that in the leaves?  Just a 7.5 foot long copper python.  Non-poisonous, and drunk on sunlight, this guy was calm and relaxed enough to touch as we walked by (he was also missing an eye from a previous, less-friendly, altercation).

On the beach: watch where you step.  Jellyfish, horseshoe crabs, and sea snakes are some of the many ocean-dwellers that meet their end on the sand.

In the tide pools: anemones, trilobites, crabs, and sea squirts hide in this rocky playground.

Open water: on my brief airplane joy ride over the island, I spotted this mother humpback and  her calf heading south.

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Fraser Island: On the Wild Side

It’s about time I finish up the posts about my trip to Australia all the way back in September…


“Australia is invigorating, because you’re usually 10 meters from something that can kill you.”

This is how guide Peter Meyer began my two days on Fraser Island, the world’s biggest sand island, and UNESCO world Heritage site.  Peter regaled me and my fellow tour group members (who came from the US, Germany, and France) with Aussie legends and endless factoids about the island (and really about everything…did you know that wombats have square poop? Did you know that finding rare whale vomit on the beach can make you a millionaire?  Neither did I).  A nearly 15-year resident of the island, with seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm for the place he loves, Peter is also a professional photographer plus naturalist, snake handler (in keeping with Australian male stereotypes), and off-road vehicle driver, while leading tours.

Central Basin Lake.

Stunning Lake Mackenzie.

"Butterfly Lake"

Eli Creek.

Fraser is a massive sand island off the coast of Hervey Bay, Queensland, where I went whale watching.  A sand island?  That means–you guessed it–the island is made entirely of sand, no soil.  The coasts of the island of surrounded in stunning beaches (popular with fishermen, campers, and 4WDs, but not recommended for swimming thanks to riptides, sharks, and jellyfish), the interior of the island has sand-grown rainforests, migrating dunes, and gorgeous lakes with white sand beaches (no soil=pristine dirt-free lakes).

The roads on the island are made of sand, so all of the vehicles are 4WD.  It’s possible to rent them and drive around yourself, but I opted for a tour, as I was traveling alone.

75 mile highway from above.

Along the way we passed many an SUV stuck in the sand for hours.  The beach along the coast is known as the “75-mile Highway,” and is so popular with SUVs that there are actually speed limits posted.  Many of Fraser’s highlights lie along this coast–the shipwreck of the Moheno (a vessel washed up in 1935 en route to Japan), the “Indian Head” overlook, a good place for spotting whales and sharks in the ocean below, the “Pinnacles” colored sands, and some giant inland dunes, great for jumping and getting sunburnt.

But the real highlight of Fraser is its biodiversity.  In the tidal pools along the beach, you can see anemones, sea squirts, crabs, and other shallow water creatures.  Jellyfish and sea snakes wash up on the beach.  Inland, the dingo is king–there are strict protocol set up to dispose of trash to try to keep their human contact to a minimum.  Dingos cohabit with kookaburras, freshwater eels, goannas, and pythons (all of which I saw during the trip).  We saw so many animals on Fraser that I’ll even save those photos for another post.

Fraser colors: sea and sky.

What Peter said at the start of our trip was certainly true on Fraser.  Every time I turned around there was a giant lizard camoflaged underfoot, or a crab scuttling into the surf.  It was here that the preconceptions I had about Australia–of a slightly wild place, where bizarre animals live in every puddle, and people pick up snakes and drive off-road at full speed–held true.  Of course, the whole country is not about crocodile hunting and adventure seeking, but my time on Fraser Island allowed me to indulge that fantasy for a few days before discovering the more-refined city life in Sydney.

Final highlight: takeoff and landing from the beach.

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Humpbacks at Hervey Bay

The coastal town of Hervey Bay, just 20 minutes from where the wedding was held in Maryborough, is particularly known for its whale watching.  Just off the coast there’s a channel where humpback whales pass every year as they migrate from their warm water breeding grounds further north back south to the Antarctic.  I was lucky enough that my time in Queensland was in the middle of their peak migration season, so there was a guarantee to see whales in the area.  So after bidding farewell to the newlyweds, who were Asia-bound on their honeymoon, I hopped on a boat for a few hours on the bay.  The whales certainly did not disappoint.  Nearly the whole time we were on the water there were spouts in sight, more often than not two–a mother and calf together.  Luckily for us watchers, the whales were pretty curious about us as well, swimming right up to and under the boat, slapping their tails and “rolling,” as if showing off.


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The Aussie Wedding

My first stop in Australia, after landing in the Gold Coast (following 8+ hours of flying–it looks so close to Asia on a map, but really it isn’t!), was the small town of Maryborough.  Not first on most travelers’ agendas.  But this was where the main event–the wedding that I came to Australia for–was held.  Maryborough is actually a charming little town, made more so by the fact that I had two welcoming families worth of relatives and friends to spend time with.  The wedding was sandwiched between the “traditionally Aussie” events of BBQ and “watching the footy” with the groom’s family the night before and all-day BBQ and drinks with the bride’s family the day after.

Downtown Maryborough

Three months earlier I had watched my friends Sam and Karlee celebrate a Lao-style wedding, and here I saw them tie the knot Western-style.  The two ceremonies were very different–the style of food, dress, and language of ceremony, just to name a few things–but both were beautiful and had superb dance floors.  Now I just wish they would go get married in yet another country…

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I’ve Come from a Land Down Under

After commemorating my one year anniversary here in Asia last month, I left the continent for the first time to head south–way south, to that crazy continent of Australia.  Two of my good friends from work were getting married (again), and I was able to take some time off to go to the wedding, and then stay to travel through the end of term break.

In the past year, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to travel to so many fascinating places in Asia.  Since moving here, I’ve managed to travel to Hong Kong, Bali, Thailand, India, Singapore, Vietnam, Burma, Cambodia, and around Laos.  Just making this list amazes me a little.  With so much to see, the year has flown by (and I’ve come to realize how much my perception of the passage of time is dependent on the seasons-is it really a year later?) and I haven’t left.  So my trip to Australia was my first time in a Western country, and a place where English is the native language, in a year.  As such, it felt a bit like coming home, even though it was a totally new place.  I haven’t experienced much homesickness in the past year, but the break was rejuvenating in a way that perhaps I didn’t realize I needed.

Surfer's Paradise, Gold Coast, QLD.

That said, while in Auz, I often asked myself: is English really the native language?  My Aussie friends and I have joked a lot about the differences in our “languages,” but in their homeland I got to see the all of their vocabulary in context, which was certainly a source of amusement.

A dictionary of Aussie slang could be massive, so here’s just sampling that I learned:
Arvo: afternoon; Let’s have a barbie in the arvo.
Barbie: barbecue; Put some snags on the barbie.
Brekkie: breakfast; Let’s go out for brekkie.
Eski: cooler; Bring an eski to the barbie.
football-not soccer, but AFL (a bit like rugby), often used with the article “the”; Let’s have a barbie and watch the footy.
Lolly: any type of candy, or a popsicle when paired with the word “ice”; Wanna buy some lollies before the movie?
Nibbly: appetizer; I reckon there’ll be some nibblies before dinner at the reception.
Pokies: slot machines, found at almost every eating establishment; I lost $30 on the pokies last night.
Servo: a gas station/convenience store; Let’s pick up some lollies at the servo.
Snag: sausage; I like snags for brekkie.
Stubby: a regular-sized bottle of beer (big ones are known as “tallies”); Get me a stubby out of the eski.

In Australia, I spent most of my time in Queensland. It’s springtime in the southern hemisphere, and as Australia’s “Sunshine State,” it was warm and pleasant for most of my visit (the same cannot be said of Sydney).  With only 10 days in the country, I didn’t even scratch the surface of Australian sightseeing.  It’s a continent–what would you tell someone to do with 10 days in America?  So many possibilities.  I stayed in the northeast for most of the time, checking out sights on the coast (and as many Aussie animals as possible), and flew to Sydney for my last weekend for a taste of the city.  Though there’s so much more I’d like to see–the Great Barrier Reef! Tasmania! The Outback! Melbourne!–I managed to get a feel for the place.

Reference map for we ignorant Americans who don't know our geography. (From: http://www.brisbane-australia.com/)

The incredible hospitality of friends and their families, mostly strangers before this trip, played an essential role in my travels.  For one, Australia is expensive.  The sticker shock coming from a year in Asia was staggering, but I think it also would be coming from the US.  The AUD is currently about equal to the USD, which made it very easy to notice the inflated prices.  But more importantly, all of the generous people who hosted me made me feel so at home.  I joked with a friend that I was doing an “Australian home-stay” with her family, and though that sounds funny, since it’s something usually associated with tours or study abroad, it’s really quite accurate.  So many people took me to see special things, gave me rides, and opened their homes for me.  And in general (with only a few exceptions) everyone I met seemed overtly friendly and good-natured.  I had the most jolly bus drivers I’d ever seen, the ladies working at 7-11 were smiley, and everyone seemed willing to go out of their way to be helpful.  Perhaps this is just my perception because I could finally understand everything that was happening, and the scripts and interactions were familiar, but in general, I left with an impression of a very warm and neighborly people.

Fishing in the ocean on Fraser Island.

Now that I’m back, Term 4 at VC is in full-swing.  The start of this term marked my one year mark teaching, as I arrived for Term 4 last year, and while I’m learning more everyday, the improvement in my teaching since then has been huge.  The change in mostly in my confidence, which trickles down to other teaching skills, like improvising and providing feedback to students.  There’s certainly much more I need to work on, but it’s heartening to compare the relative ease of starting new classes–now for the fifth time–this term with one year ago when I was panicking about what to do on day 1.

With five classes, I know life will be hectic again soon, so I’m trying to relish these first few weeks of relative calm.  This calm is really only the office though, as the city is currently abuzz with holiday festivities (the end of Buddhist Lent) and the seemingly endless social events of fall.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll continue to share stories from my travels in Australia, interspersed with updates on all of the events in Vientiane.

Wave from a humpback whale, outside of Hervey Bay, QLD.

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