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June 2007 Archives

June 7, 2007

A more complete entry

Before going into the details, let us just say that we have finally found the Australian paradise for computer nerds and ocean freaks: a beautiful caravan park with absolute beachfront and, amazingly, free wireless internet connection! So, because there is no 9 minute time limit, we will finally be able to give a bit more details about the current state of the nation.

First things first: the campervan. We've been writing a lot about our Wicked van, but what does it actually look like? Here it is:


This is our home since a bit more than a month, and will be for the rest of June.

Now back to the trip. Queensland, the northeastern part of Australia, is definitely "croc zone". Especially the salties, as they are called, are the ones that prefer a tasty human arm or leg then and again. As always, the danger is overrated - for example, between 1990 and 2001, there have been nine substantiated crocodile attacks on people in Queensland, resulting in one death and eight serious injuries. Here's the culprit:


Thank goodness for the fence. That picture was taken at the crocodile farm near Yeppoon.

Now to less edacious animals: tortoises and platypus (platypuses? platypussies?) We spotted them in the Eungella national park. Did I say less edacious? Actually, a platypus eats its own weight in 14 hours! Imagine if we humans were as hungry hungry as that! Here they are:




(ok, that's not the best picture you've ever seen of a platypus, but at least it's genuine)

After leaving the Whitsunday area (the one with the 74 islands), we headed north to Townsville. Townsville had a beautiful beachfront called "The Strand", so we stayed there a while before heading further north to Cairns (you didn't expect us to head from national park to national park just because we're biologists, now did you?) We are now back on our way south and got stuck in a place called Mission Beach. We're gonna stay here for a while before heading west into the Outback.

Despite all the beautiful beaches, it should be mentioned that the rainforests here are really quite amazing. It's inherently difficult to make good pictures in forests, but just to give you an impression, here's the best what we could come up with:


That's it for the moment. For the german or french speakers among you, here's something to laugh about (didn't know they use babelfish here):


June 9, 2007

Into the great wide open

Tomorrow is going to be the day when we're finally heading to the outback. Just to give you an impression of the distances - here's what we have travelled so far:


We've driven from Brisbane all the way north to Cairns, and now we're a bit further south at Mission Beach. While Google Maps says the distance is approx. 1800 kms, the KM reading of the car actually says we've driven more than 3300 kms so far. Anyway, our trip to Darwin in the next seven to ten days looks like that:


Darwin is the city on top where the red arrow points to, and if you think that this doesn't look like the fastest way to Darwin from where we currently are, you are right. The reasons are a) that we want to see the Uluru (formerly known as Ayer's rock) and b) the road conditions in general. The Uluru is where the leftbottom yellow arrow points to.

When you ask Google Maps to suggest the shortest path between Townsville and the Uluru, it proposes to drive along roads are not even sealed over long distances. When you look those roads up on a map and google the road conditions, you usually get something between "not too bad" to "bloody nightmare", and it becomes clear very quickly that driving more than 40 kmh is a bad idea. It also becomes clear that one flat tyre is the absolute - and rather unlikely - minimum in terms of car problems. Unless you have a 4WD, a lot of spare tyre and a lot of time, it's not what you want. As much as we enjoy being in Australia, we don't want to spend more than 7 to 10 days in the outback, and we only have one spare tyre and rather not use it at all. Last but not least, the vast differences between two cities in the outback (i.e. villages with 5 inhabitants) are often enormous. This is definitely not territory where you want to go to underprepared. In any case, the 4500 kms on the "highway" (most often one laned gravel roads) to Darwin should give us enough adventure to start with.

What will also need a little getting used to is the climate out there. In Alice Springs and at the Uluru, it cools down to less than zero degrees Celsius at night - not sure yet how good we will sleep in the campervan (no heating). But with 33 degrees awaiting us in tropical Darwin, who are we to complain?

I would be surprised to find an internet connection out there, so we say goodbye for the moment, and we will come back to this blog once we arrive in Darwin in one and a half weeks.

June 14, 2007

Hi from Alice Springs

Just a quick note that we are now at the heart of Australia, Alice Springs. Tomorrow we are heading to the Uluru.

The trip to here was both exciting and boring. Boring because it's hours and hours and hours and hours of driving with basically the same view (draw a horizontal line, paint the upper half blue, the lower half orange / yellow and you got it). Exciting, on the other hand, because it makes you realize how far you are from everything else. And admittedly, the landscape is georgeous.

From Alice Springs, it's about 1600 km south to Adelaide and 1600km north to Darwin. We drove distances as far as between Zurich and Berlin, with nothing in between but a small village that serves the cattle stations in the outback regions. There is not much either to the left or right for about 2000 km. It's quite a remote place. Another interesting fact: the state that we are currently in, the Northern Territory, is about the size of Germany, France and Italy together. However, less than 200,000 people live in this state, and about half of it in Darwin, the city on the northern top. Thus, it is not only a big state, but virtually all of it is also quite lonely.

We will update the blog with some pictures from Australia's beautiful red centre when we are in Darwin where we might have a good internet connection.

Oh, and if you think the summer hasn't quite started back home, you might take some comfort from the fact that we have about 12 degrees celsius here, falling to 4 degrees at night (and even less at the Uluru)...

So long

June 23, 2007

The outback

Finally some time to write about our time in the outback. I write these words in the Kakadu National Park, Australia's largest national park (about half the size of Switzerland). It's located in the tropical north about 130km south of Darwin. But that's another story.

The outback. Clearly Australia the way the world thinks about Australia, although almost all of Australia doesn't live in the outback (probably similar to the Alps / Switzerland). We've driven 4500 km from Townsville (east coast) to Darwin (north coast) with a detour to the Uluru, that famous rock in the red centre of the continent. It has taken us 7 days to do that, and we are correspondingly tired.

Why on earth would we drive 4500 km in 7 days? Two reasons. Number one, it gets very cold at night inland - not funny in a campervan. Number two, there isn't really much to see in between, unless you have a special interest in mines and world war II memorials. Virtually every toilet along the road is called a historic site. But of course, this is exactly why it is the outback - because there's nothing there. And that is the very beauty of it.

The first three days were just driving along the Flinders and Barkley Highway, the east-west road that connects the Queensland to the Northern Territory. Except Mount Isa, a 25'000 people mining town, there's not much along the entire 1600 km. On the fourth day, we drove south along the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs. On the way to Alice Springs, there is an interesting geological feature called Devil's Marbles. It's lots of stones that split in the middle for some reason:


I wrote earlier about Alice Springs, so there is no need to repeat it here. The next day, we drove the remaining 450 km or so to the Uluru.

The Uluru, formerly known as Ayer's Rock, is an amazing sight. Although it is "just a rock", it's an extraordinary rock. First of all, it's huge. We walked along it's base which is about 10 km. But the most impressive thing is its color, a color that changes with every nuance of the sunlight. Especially at sunset it is very beautiful when it seems to glow like a hot piece of coal in the middle of darkness:


Ever since the Europeans have "disc rock, they have climbed it, presumably because the view up there must be quite nice. For the local Aboriginals, however, the rock is a sacred site, and for them it is like climbing over the altar in the St Peters Dome. It is not forbidden to climb it, but they ask you not to. While we were there, the climb was closed anyway due to strong winds.

After a horribly cold night, we had enough of the cold and drove almost a 1000 km up north to find a warmer climate. After another two days of driving, we arrived in Darwin, the northernmost city of Australia (with a relaxing 33 degrees). We stayed here for two nights before heading to the Kakadu National Park. More about this soon. For now, let the Emu say good-bye:


June 26, 2007

Kakadu & Darwin

After the cold, red centre, we are now at the hot, humid, green top end. This is a very special part of Australia, and probably a part that the average visitor doesn't see. The little angel on my shoulder says, that's because it is so far away from anywhere. The little devil on the other shoulder says, that's because there's nothing to see up here.

The top end has two main attractions - Darwin (the city) and Kakadu (the national park). Kakadu starts out interesting because it is so big. But alas, there is not much to do there except a couple of walks that are often closed. We left Kakadu with the impression that it probably had the lowest excitement / size ratio of any national park we have ever visited. This is in no way meant to be negative - after all, national parks are here to preserve what's in it, and not to excite the visitor. We still had our share of naturalist excitement by spotting the first kangaroo that was reasonably close and still alive (to spoil the party, it was not really a roo, but a wallaby - but they are so similar that it would be wrong to make a big story out of it here).


(Disgression. We've seen hundreds of roos in the past two months, but they were almost exclusively dead. At one point during the long drive in the outback, we played a little game to make the drive less boring. I would count the dead roos, and Rahel would count the cars that came the other way. Although Rahel "won" by a narrow margin, I still counted 38 dead roos. We played that game for about 100 km, and then it just got too depressing to continue. One dead roo per 3 km is just frustrating. End of disgression.)

Another interesting animal was this spider. It is a Golden Orb Weaver (Nephila maculata), sometimes called the Giant Wood Spider, for obvious reasons. I spotted this one while we were attempting to go on a walk in the national park. Every walk has some signs posted at the beginning of the walk (the usual "crocodiles have killed people bla bla bla..."), and as I was reading the sign, I noticed that there was some silk attached to the sign. As I slowly turned my head to the right, I realized that I was standing right in front of a giant web spider, about 3 meters wide. About 1 meter away from my head, there was this huge spider. If Rahel hadn't pointed out that the walk was closed (indicated by another sign about 5 meters away), I would have walked right into it. It's the biggest web spider we've ever seen. It is most famous for its web which seems to be the strongest spider web on the planet - so strong that small birds can get caught in it. Some tribes in Papua New Guinea consider it a tasty snack. Yummy.


After spending three nights in Kakadu, we decided that we had satisfied our interest in national parks and drove back to Darwin. Now, Darwin starts out as an interesting city - it has been completely destroyed in 1974 by a cyclone named Tracy. 95% of the buildings were basically wiped off the surface. In a tremendous effort, the Darwinites rebuilt their city from scratch. We were therefore expecting a very modern city, but when we came here the first time, we had to realize that 1974 is actually quite some time ago, and Darwin is far from looking like a modern city. It rather looks as they haven't built much since 1974. But on the other hand, it has a lot of laid back charm which we quite enjoy.

Another thing that is ever present in Darwin is the second world war (WWII). After a little reading on the subject, it became clear why this is so, and why, as we wrote before, there are so many WWII memorials along the Stuart highway. The reason for the interest in WWII is that Australia was actually attacked by the Japanese in 1942, and the attacks occurred almost exclusively in Darwin. Because the Japanese were quite successful in invading the countries north of Australia, Australia thought that its time had come, and the an invasion was imminent. In a hasty effort, the Australian government sealed the Stuart highway to Darwin to accelerate the transport of troops and goods (hence the memorials). So in one sense, WWII was a major reason to connect Darwin to the rest of the country.

We are now enjoying ourselves being lazy, reading, hanging out at the beach, enjoying the sun at a constant 33 degrees. We're flying to Singapore on thursday night, but before that, we will write some closing remarks on our trip to Australia.

Oh, and since some people have requested a picture of me surfing: I must admit that we haven't any. But here's what it looked like (it's so close it could be the original):


June 29, 2007

Exit Darwin, Enter Singapore

We have left Australia and have arrived in Singapore this morning, after a flight with Tiger Airways (which should consider a renaming to Sardine Airways).

Coming from Darwin to Singapore is like coming from a botanical garden to the jungle, in every sense of the sentence. We are now again in the northern hemisphere, but only by a marginal single degree. Basically located on the euqator, Singapore is hot and wet. It is now 1 hour after midnight and a sweet 27 degrees.

Dear Australians, I apologize for calling your beer expensive. Compared to Singpore, your beer is cheap. A small beer in a restaurant costs about 11 singapore dollars, which is about 7 USD or about 8 CHF. No danger of hangovers here!

About June 2007

This page contains all entries posted to p < 0.05 in June 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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