Friday, November 17, 2017

Brisbane

Brisbane is a modern metropolis by the sea.  With a mild sub-tropical climate and ringed by parks and wild lands, it is easy to see why millions of Australians call it home.  Of course, don’t ask anyone about housing costs, you might not get away unscathed. 

We opted to do a one-day tour of Brisbane’s Central Business District.  There were no convenient places to leave the van and ride the trains for a multi-day visit. 

The CBD is a eclectic mix of modern high-rises and hundred-year-old stone and brick buildings.  
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We started our tour at City Hall.  A testament to the wealth and prosperity of the city, it was built in the 30s, with its 85-meter clock tower, when the surrounds were nothing but docklands, and empty fields.
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They don’t do things in half measures here.  The building was designed to host visiting politicians and foreign dignitaries, as well as a hub for local activity.  At the time, Brisbane was very remote, only accessible by sea, or the long rough road from Sydney and Melbourne. Note the Corinthian columns. We also got a chance to climb the clock tower, and visit the in-house museum.
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Check out that banquet hall!  The huge domed ceiling is intense.
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The plasterwork makes my neck hurt just thinking of it.
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We continued on to visit the Gallery of Modern Art across the river. Brisbane is situated on the mouth of river Brisbane. As such, the CBD is built right up against its banks.  Bridges, roads, parks, and the swankiest apartments line and crisscross it. 
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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

North of Brisbane

The last three capital cities we have to visit are Sydney, Brisbane, and Canberra.  First on our southerly route is Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. 

On our way to Brisbane we stopped by Rainbow beach, just south of Frasier Island. For those wondering why we bypassed Frasier Island (avoided really), it is due to the crowds (over a thousand arrive per day in some cases).  The rampant bogan (roughly translates to redneck) 4x4 drivers also put us off, we met a few of them near the ferry departure points, and were not impressed.  Finally, Frasier is mostly more of what we have already spent weeks enjoying, rainforests and beaches.  Due to the sandy bottom, the ocean surrounding Frasier has no reefs, and is pretty empty (aside from the migrating whales).  So in the end, we opted to avoid paying hundreds of dollars each for the privilege to being trucked about on sandy 4x4 tracks with hundreds of other tourists.

We weren’t able to find the rainbow in “Rainbow Beach”.  Climbing the enormous dunes made up for it, though. It's hard to get a sense of the scale, but these sand dunes are hundreds of feet high, and drop down right to the beach.  Only a thin layer of forest colonizing the surface keeps these dunes from drifting inland and burying the town and farmland behind.
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Continuing towards Brisbane (locals pronounce it Bris-bin), we detoured into the Glasshouse Mountains. These peaks started life as magma intrusions into the surrounding sedimentary rock millions of years ago. The surrounding rock has eroded away over the eons, leaving the tough basalt behind.
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Next stop: Brisbane.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Tail of a Whale

By Jen.

One of the reasons we continued down to the Head of Bight after driving through Coober Pedy was the fact that I couldn’t guarantee that we would be able to see whales at the other locations, especially if we went up into Cape York. However, since we bypassed Cape York, we were actually going to arrive at Hervey Bay while there were still potential sightings of humpback whales in Platypus Bay (near Fraser Island).  They don't guarantee sightings after the second week of October, we would be there during the first week. So, we started making our way towards Hervey Bay, with excitement that we would have a chance to see more whales.

First off, though, was Bundaberg. This place is famous for 2 things: rum and ginger beer. We thought about doing the rum distillery tour, but it seemed it was really expensive ($100+) and may or may not include a tour of the actual facilities. Plus, neither of us particularly enjoy alcohol, so we decided against it. However, the Bundaberg Ginger Beer facility had an inexpensive self-guided tour that I thought could be interesting, so we decided to check it out. As part of the tour, we discovered that ginger beer was actually made by fermenting yeast, just like beer, but they add a heating process to it afterwards to remove all the alcohol. Additionally, if you have ever wondered what the difference is between ginger ale and ginger beer, it is that ginger ale is carbonated (like a regular fountain drink), while ginger beer is brewed (like alcohol). There was a tasting of all their flavors afterwards. I tried a sample or two, but was reminded again why I really don’t like anything but water or juice. Jonathan tried them all, which made him feel a bit weird, after having so much sugary drink in a while without any food with it.

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At the botanic gardens, tons of ibises were nesting!

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The Bundaberg Ginger Beer visitor center was built in the shape of a wine barrel!

The flavors Jonathan decided were worth bringing back with us.

Next, then, was Hervey Bay. We booked a half-day tour through Hervey Bay Boat Club Adventures, which was the cheapest option. While being less costly, it still offered much of the same conveniences of the other tours, including a hydrophone, tea, and snacks; it did NOT include any underwater viewing options. It did take about an hour to get out to Platypus Bay, which means it also took an hour to get back after leaving it, so it might be one of the slower tours. We encountered our first whales shortly after entering the bay. It was a mother/calf pair, which is pretty typical for the bay this late in the season. Most of the males and single females have already ventured further south by this time. The calf started feeding and they stopped moving, so we moved on.

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Mother and baby.
https://youtu.be/TwQXZmjqvCk

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Anyone else think it looks less like a “hump” and more like a deformed fin? I feel deceived.

Our second sighting of whales was another mother/calf pair, but accompanied by a male. This calf was feeding as well, but finished shortly. Then it had tons of energy and went about breaching and jumping and generally showing off for us.

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Check out those spots!

Tail
https://youtu.be/_Xhay8YUHtM

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It kept rotating as it jumped, so I got several angles.

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Jumping calf.
https://youtu.be/RbfgGehM2eI

The male, too, was swimming nearby and singing to the female. He would come and go, diving deep, and one time even went under the boat while the mother and calf passed in front of us. It was a sight to behold. Occasionally, we would even hear the whale song without the use of the hydrophone. The tune vibrating up through the boat. It was truly something else! Apparently the male will sing the same song all year long and then switch it up the next year.

All 3 of them right next to boat.
https://youtu.be/AO6oYRjPP0o

 Whale Song. It does sound a bit like Dory’s impression. Apparently only males sing, though.
https://youtu.be/7D0uQY9ONmY

At one point, we thought things had calmed down and he was going to feed for a while, so we left, only to have to turn back again and return when the calf started exercising again.

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They were super close to the boat.

Finally when they had quieted down a second time, we spotted two whales communicating to each other via fin slaps (quite some distance apart). We tried to get closer, but once we arrived the slapping mostly stopped.

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Fin slap, calf jumping
https://youtu.be/OeNd-zaxpT0

Needing to get on with our tour so that we weren’t late in getting back, our captain started piloting us towards Fraser Island. We saw dolphins and turtles and other non-active whales on the way. And got a pretty close view of the largest sand island in the world.

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You can even see a whale surfacing there on the left!

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So, what did I think of the experience? I loved seeing the whales! I did wish it was a breeding ground, though, as seeing the adults do what the calves did would have been awesome. Also, I always pictured humpback whales as gray. Apparently they are black. There are 2 versions: Northern and Southern. The main difference is that the Southern Humpback whales have white undersides, while the Northern ones are all black.


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I don’t think the owl is accomplishing its job…