Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Sweet Home California

Posted from Culver City, California at 4:45 pm, June 12th, 2024

Yesterday our 13-hour (alternate unit of measure: 4.5 movies) flight from Sydney to Los Angeles departed at 9:30am, and through the magic of the international date line we completed the journey across the Pacific and landed in Los Angeles three hours before our departure time at 6:30am. Since then it’s been weird being home again after three months away – I had to figure out where I’d packed my house keys, remember how to work the microwave, attempt to not kill anyone driving on the right side of the road, and re-learn a few other habits that I’ve never had to think about before.

On a positive note, I didn’t realize how nice it would feel to no longer be living out of a backpack; I unpacked things and put them into drawers with tons of available space, and did laundry without having to wonder whether the clothes would be dry before I needed to re-pack them. Similarly, for the first time since March I don’t need to figure out how to ration my two plug adapters when multiple things need to be plugged in, and I don’t have to remember to flip a switch to turn on the outlet when I need power (seriously, why do they make you do that overseas?). It’s rather surreal to be home again – even more so because I’m fighting through jet lag and hugely sleep deprived – but it’s nice to sleep in a familiar bed and sit out in the garden, even if I am going to miss the adventures that took place 7500 miles away.

Below are a few pictures that didn’t make it into past journal entries. I may post a few more as I go through trip photos and find others that didn’t make the cut originally, but otherwise this entry likely marks the last journal for the sabbatical. It’s been fun, if at times challenging, to keep a daily record of events, and it will be nice to have a written account to re-live the trip in the future. I appreciate everyone who has mentioned that they’re following along, as experiences really are more meaningful when they can be shared.

Fairywren, Tasman National Park

A fairywren in Tasman National Park. These fearless and pretty little birds visited us in several places throughout Australia.

Crater Lake, Cradle Mountain National Park

Crater Lake in Cradle Mountain National Park. I’ve not got much cartilage left in my knees, but on this particularly day I decided the views were far too good not to clamber over the rough trail and sacrifice what little soft tissue remains.

Black Currawong, Cradle Mountain National Park

Black Currawong in Cradle Mountain National Park. Audrey LOVED these birds. They’re similar in appearance and behavior to crows, and won’t shut up, making loud, cat-like calls incessantly that echo around the forest.

End of the Road

Posted from Sydney, New South Wales at 11:59 am, June 10th, 2024

Today was the last full day of the trip since we’re flying out early tomorrow. Unlike the rest of the trip, I didn’t really plan many activities for our final two days in Sydney, instead leaving some time to wind down and prepare to ease back into my old life. Today we slept in, then jumped on a ferry and headed across the harbor to do some walking in the town of Manly. Being a grown, mature adult I definitely didn’t snicker at the names of the businesses there – Manly Pharmacy, Manly Barber, and my personal favorite, Manly Nails and Waxing. After walking through town we did a bit of the Manly Scenic Walk along the coast, where a few fearless bush turkeys were out scavenging and helped wish us farewell.

Australia is a big place, but Audrey and I were talking about it at dinner, and we think we did a decent job of seeing it over the past six weeks. It would have been great to have seen Ningaloo Reef, Kakudu National Park, the Whitsunday Islands, or some of the other bits that we missed out on, but there’s a lot of ground to cover and there’s only so much you can pack into one trip. Hopefully we’ll make it back someday, but if we don’t we’re leaving having gotten a really enjoyable tour around some of the country’s best parts, and a great opportunity to get to know the koalas, devils, kangaroos, sharks, birds, and landscapes of this amazing part of the world.

Australia Itinerary

Our approximate route around Australia over the past six weeks. There’s still a lot left to explore.

A Night at the Opera

Posted from Sydney, New South Wales at 2:21 pm, June 9th, 2024

During our hour-long tour of the opera house today there was a rehearsal in the main hall with an orchestra and a 1000-person choir made up of singers from across Australia. Our karma continues to be excellent on this trip, and after sitting quietly and listening to the music for ten minutes I no longer felt like we had missed out on seeing a performance at this amazing venue.

We started the day roaming the narrow streets of the Rocks district over by the harbour bridge and browsing all of the stalls of their Sunday market, then made our way back to the opera house for an afternoon tour. The tour was only an hour, but they packed in a lot, and getting to hear even a short rehearsal from such a huge choir in that iconic building was an experience to remember. The opera house really is an architectural marvel, and like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it’s a place that I won’t soon forget. We finished the day with drinks and dinner on the harbour, watching all of the lights of the Vivid Sydney festival brighten the surroundings after sunset.

Tomorrow we’ll likely jump on a ferry to enjoy the harbour views, then spend the day doing some hiking at Manly Beach to close out the trip. From Christchurch to Tasmania to Sydney, and a million places in between, it’s been a great experience finally getting to see this part of the world, and hopefully we’ll be back again someday to see even more of it.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge. As Audrey always reminds me, be sure to include the clouds in the photo.

Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House at sunset. We planted ourselves at a bar across the harbour and spent two hours watching the light change.

Cockatoos and Opera Houses

Posted from Sydney, New South Wales at 2:36 pm, June 8th, 2024

Today started with sweeping vistas of the Blue Mountains and ended with the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge lit by LED projections. My life might be pretty good.

I got up this morning and went roaming around Katoomba looking for the sulphur-crested cockatoos that the town is famous for. These birds are pretty, loud, and (to use the Australian term) cheeky – one anecdote noted how a resident of Katoomba installed anti-bird spikes to ward off the noisy ruffians, only to have a cockatoo patiently spend a day removing them one-by-one rather than give up a favorite roosting spot (video). I found about fifty of them in the Woolworth’s parking lot this morning making a racket, but we also encountered them later in the day at the local bakery stealing whatever was left on tables, and surrounding a street musician; we think they might have been enjoying the guitar, but we’re not entirely sure.

Following our adventures with the cockatoos we did a short walk along the Blue Mountain overlooks, and despite my inability to capture the landscape in photos, it was even prettier than I expected. After leaving Katoomba I wanted to take the less-traveled route back to Sydney, so we made a loop onto the Bells Line of Road (that’s the actual name), which had almost no cars and considerably more pie shops than the route we’d taken into the mountains; the apple and cherry pie was truly delightful.

Our home for the last three nights of the trip will be Sydney, which is currently hosting Vivid Sydney, an event where buildings and the harbour are lit up every evening with LED lights and projections. We took a walk down to the opera house tonight, and it would be one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen on its own, but the dramatic lights and projections on its roof took things to another level. Tomorrow we’ll do a tour of the building’s interior, which I’m looking forward to since it’s one of those places that’s so famous and iconic that it makes you want to pinch yourself when you’re actually standing next to it. I’m not ready for this adventure to be over, but luckily there are a few more days left to enjoy before we head back across the Pacific.

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, Katoomba

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, Katoomba. America has them in exotic pet stores, Australia has them in the Woolworth’s parking lot.

The Elusive Lorikeet

Posted from Katoomba, New South Wales at 1:09 pm, June 7th, 2024

Yesterday was a travel day so I didn’t post a journal entry, but we said goodbye to everyone from the dive trip, and since the crew only had a few hours to prepare for the next group they fed us and had us off the boat by 8am. From there we spent several hours in the airport – pro tip: the $4 massage chairs in the Australian airports are one of the greatest things ever – then had three hours flying through the air in chairs like ancient Greek gods, and finally landed in Sydney. After landing it was a two-hour refresher course in driving in rain, darkness, and massive traffic as we white-knuckled our way through Australia’s largest city.

This morning, after we both woke up feeling like we were still rocking on a boat, we headed off for a day that Audrey has been looking forward to for months. When I asked her what she most wanted to do in Australia, the answer was immediate and consistent: see a Sydney funnel-web spider. For those (like me) who know nothing about spiders, Sydney funnel-web spiders are one of the only spiders that is both deadly and aggressive, rearing up when confronted, and with a bite that can kill you if not treated quickly. Obviously I was super excited when I first heard that I needed to find somewhere in Australia that was infested with killer attack spiders, but thankfully she was OK with seeing them at the Australian Reptile Park, which has a large collection of spiders that is used to produce antivenom. Luckily we arrived while one of the staff was milking spiders, and Audrey spent about an hour watching multiple Oreo-sized spiders ferociously assaulting the tongs used by the staff to keep them at bay while venom was collected.

The reptile park was also a favorite hangout spot for a large flock of very colorful wild lorikeets, so while my arachnid-loving partner was getting her spider fix I was chasing colorful birds outside. We also took advantage of the park’s “three bags of kangaroo food for $5” special, with predictable results; Audrey didn’t stop smiling for most of the morning after being mobbed by wallabies.

Tonight we’re in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The weather has been rainy and foggy all afternoon, so we haven’t actually seen the aforementioned mountains, but the forecast says the sun will return in the morning. The plan for tomorrow is to see the views and do a bit of hiking before the tour buses from the city arrive with their hordes of visitors, after which we’ll meander back to Sydney via some (hopefully) less-traveled rural roads just to the north.

Lorikeets, New South Wales

Today’s lorikeet photos required all of my stealth and cunning. Photo credit: Audrey.

Lorikeets, New South Wales

The lorikeets were doing some serious posing today.

Lorikeets, New South Wales

Rainbow lorikeets are fairly common in Australia, but I feel like even the Australians who see them every day still appreciate what a pretty bird they are.

Tiger Sharks and Sexy Shrimp

Posted from Holmes Reef, Coral Sea at 4:00 am, June 5th, 2024

Two tiger sharks decided to pay a visit on our first dive of the day. We were diving with Pedro, one of the staff, and as the first shark appeared Pedro went absolutely nuts, pumping his fist and chasing after it – apparently it was his first ever tiger shark and he was a wee bit excited. For me, his reaction was almost more fun than seeing the sharks. And before my mom gets too worried, what I’ve been told from divemasters elsewhere is that you don’t really want to be on the surface when a tiger shark is in the water, but they’ll ignore scuba divers once they are under the surface. These were big sharks, and both crew and passengers were fired up to get to see them.

Our next two dives were at a spot named “Amazing Caves”, and I’ll leave it to the reader to guess what the attraction there was. Underwater spelunking isn’t generally my first choice of things to do while diving – I don’t like having to maneuver in narrow spaces while trying not to bump my regulator – but at least one of the caves was a big one and ended up being a fun swim through. We wrapped up the trip with a visit to Nonkies Bommie. I’ve got no clue what a “Nonkie” is, but as I’ve learned on this trip, a “bommie” is a giant underwater rock, and this one was a fun spot to do a few laps around to admire the fish and beautiful coral fans. One of the other passengers saw a sexy shrimp at this site – we initially thought she said “sixty shrimp”, but as it turns out there is indeed a species of shrimp that is commonly known as the sexy shrimp, and while I’m no expert on small crustaceans, having pulled up a photo on the internet, it is indeed a fine looking shrimp that I’m a little bit bummed to have missed out on.

Tomorrow we wake up early, say goodbye to everyone on the boat, then we’re off to Sydney (and yes, we’re following the PADI guidelines of waiting 18 hours after diving before flying). Somehow this three month adventure is down to its final week. When it started back on March 17th I had a little bit of trepidation about leaving my familiar routine for such a long period, but as it’s coming to an end I honestly don’t remember exactly what the old routine was anymore, and would gladly continue these adventures longer if it was an option. I’m lucky to have had this opportunity, and hopefully this sabbatical won’t be the last time that I pack a bag, walk out the door, and don’t return for a very long time.

Sea Fan, Holmes Reef, Coral Sea

Sea fan on Holmes Reef. The coral has been very healthy on our dives.

The Coral Sea

Posted from Bouganville Reef, Coral Sea at 1:58 am, June 4th, 2024

Today was four dives at Bouganville Reef in the Coral Sea, but not just any four dives – two of the dives were at a site called Middle Earth, and one was at Dungeons & Dragons. I’m not sure who gets to name the dive sites, but my hope is that a bunch of geeks were the first ones to dive Bouganville Reef and thus earned naming rights, and while I don’t know the names of the other sites at the reef, I’ll just assume that there’s a “Gandalf’s Beard”, “Hobbit Hole” and “Balrog Bommie” somewhere out there.

Like Osprey Reef (which we dove yesterday), Bouganville Reef is an extinct volcano that is totally isolated out in the middle of the ocean east of the Great Barrier Reef. When I looked out of the window this morning, the only indicators that we weren’t in open ocean were a few breaking waves way off in the distance, and the remnants of a ship that wrecked here more than fifty years ago visible on the near horizon. We jumped in at 7am today with clear, beautiful purple water dropping 800m into the depths below us, then dove along the very steep reef wall before ending in the shallows. Despite all of the coral bleaching and other reef issues going on around the world, these remote sites seem to be completely healthy, with all manner of colorful corals covering the terrain. Since we are out in open ocean it’s also a good spot for big oceanic visitors, and while I haven’t seen any visiting fish besides tuna, another group had a manta ray appear out of the blue during their dive yesterday.

Despite really choppy seas while we’ve been motoring overnight between reefs (there have been plenty of empty seats at dinner), we’ve apparently been lucky with the weather – the captain says he usually only gets one winter trip each year that’s able to visit all three of their Coral Sea destinations – Osprey Reef, Bouganville Reef and Holmes Reef (tomorrow’s destination) – so after our three days on the Great Barrier Reef we’re also getting to see all of the highlights of the Coral Sea. Four dives a day is a LOT, but it’s also really neat to get so much time underwater in a completely alien world with fish that seem curious about the awkward bald thing floating by them.

Clownfish, Coral Sea

Clownfish posing in the Coral Sea.

Sharknado

Posted from Osprey Reef, Coral Sea at 12:27 am, June 3rd, 2024

Day five of our liveaboard trip took us out into the Coral Sea to a remote volcanic pinnacle named Osprey Reef. The dropoffs at the edge of the reef go down 1000 meters, so this is a good spot for oceanic critters and sharks. LOTS of sharks.

Our first dive of the day was the first drift dive on this liveaboard; for the non-divers, a drift dive is where you get dropped off in one spot, drift with the current, and get picked up elsewhere. The Blue Marlin Wall dive site is so named because it’s a steep wall (that’s the obvious bit), and we’re not sure about the “Marlin” part since they never mentioned anything about possibly seeing one. With dropoffs below us extending thousands of feet we floated along, alternately observing the reef wall and then checking out the deep blue background as tuna and sharks materialized into view, swam past, then disappeared again into the background.

The second dive of the day was called “Sharknado”, so named because they do a “shark attraction” that involves tuna heads in a cage being lowered into the dive site, resulting in all of the local sharks coming in to check it out. My favorite bit of this dive was actually the entry, where we jumped into a school of maybe twenty sharks and slowly descended towards the reef. The sharks obviously didn’t care about the divers in their midst, and it was my first time swimming through a school of sharks, so it was almost certainly my favorite descent to a dive site of all time.

I skipped the day’s third dive to recover a bit (have I mentioned that they dive a LOT on this boat?), then did the fourth dive later in the day in super clear water where swimming over deep chasms in the reef felt exactly like flying through the air – I may or may not have Superman’d over a few spots. We’ve got two more days of diving, after which twenty-five percent of the (approximately) one hundred dives I’ve done in my lifetime will have been on this one boat.

Grey Reef Sharks, Osprey Reef, Coral Sea

I think this was the best start to any dive that I’ve ever done.

Safety Stops with Batfish

Posted from Ribbon Reef, Great Barrier Reef at 5:37 am, June 2nd, 2024

Today is the day where everyone doing the three day trip departs and those doing the four day trip embark, so after a 6:30 wakeup and a walk on Lizard Island we only had three dives on the schedule. Under any other circumstances three dives in one day would seem like a lot, but compared to the past two days (and the next three), today felt downright leisurely. Also – and it hurts my soul to write this – I was extremely glad for a bit of downtime to catch my breath.

All but three other passengers left at Lizard Island and a new group joined, but we’ve gone from 24 people on the boat to just 12, so there’s more room at meals and the dive deck has gone from crowded to feeling like we’ve got our own private dressing rooms. Our first two dives today were good ones, with minimal current, tons of pretty coral, and lots of neat marine life ranging from large groupers to big barracuda to teeny pipefish. We spent a ton of time in the shallows on the second dive, with amazingly colorful corals, pretty starfish, innumerable reef fish, and a billion other things that I’m not capable of identifying. During our return to the boat Audrey also found the world’s friendliest batfish; the two foot long fish hung out with her while we did a safety stop (photo below).

We had high hopes for this evening’s night dive since the one two days ago was so great, but Audrey’s light died pretty early into the dive – it turns out that diving at night is less fun when you can’t see – so we shared my light and I served as her seeing-eye buddy for the dive. It was still neat having so many fish around, but it’s not quite as easy to relax on a dive when you’re also trying to make sure that your partner of nineteen wonderful years doesn’t accidentally swim headfirst into the reef.

Tonight we’re expecting a somewhat rough crossing from the Great Barrier Reef into the Coral Sea, then if we’re lucky and conditions are good, tomorrow should be an action-packed day of diving in a pretty special place.

Batfish, Great Barrier Reef

The world’s friendliest batfish and Audrey during our end-of-dive safety stop (Audrey is the one holding onto the mooring line).

Potato Cod

Posted from Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef at 5:19 am, June 1st, 2024

After five dives yesterday I was wiped out, and today’s first dive was at a narrow pinnacle with a reasonably strong current where you’d swim half a lap into the current, then half a lap getting pushed. When we came out of the water both Audrey and I needed a breather and so we decided to skip the second dive, which was at the same site. Luckily during the break between dives two minke whales came in to check out the boat, so I hopped in for an easy snorkel with the whales, who were playing coy but still came in close enough to cause a bit of spine tingle whenever they appeared from the blue – seeing a small whale slowly materialize as it swims towards you is a pretty awesome experience.

Our second dive of the day was at Cod Hole, famous for its human-sized and very friendly Potato Cod. This dive site had a significant current when we got there, so we jumped in, used a rope to get to the mooring line, used the mooring line to get to the bottom, then sat on the sand while our onboard reef monitor handed out snacks to one of the giant fishies. The potato cod are apparently able to respond to hand signals after several years of human interaction, and this one waited like a dog for its treats before sucking them down in giant gulps.

Our last dive of the day was along a coral wall, after which we came back to the boat and conked out for thirty minutes, then had our final dinner with many of the passengers who will be departing tomorrow, including (as we learned tonight) a teeny Columbian girl who is apparently an undefeated chili-eating champion; her proud mother told us “she doesn’t feel the spice, and has won $2000 so far, beating all of the big men!”

The second half of the dive trip is out in the Coral Sea, and visits several remote reefs that are extinct volcanoes that rise thousands of feet straight up from the ocean floor. We’re going from 24 passengers to just 12, so it should be a much cozier group. After last night’s shark madness Audrey showed Pedro (one of the staff divers) a video, and his response was “that’s nothing compared to what’s coming”. We’re tired and may need to skip a dive or two going forward if we’re going to make it through this trip (that kills me to admit), but we’re super excited to see what else is out there.

Potato Cod, Great Barrier Reef

Potato Cod at the aptly named Cod Hole dive site. There was a pretty intense current, so we all sat on the sand while our reef monitor handed out snacks to one of the residents.

5 Dives and a Million Sharks

Posted from Ribbon Reef, Great Barrier Reef at 5:36 am, May 31st, 2024

This week of diving is going to be BUSY. We did two dives after boarding on the first day, then FIVE dives today, including a night dive with what seemed like every shark in Australia swimming around, past, and alongside us. After the first dive I was worried it could be a horrific trip, after the last dive I’m pretty sure it will be one of the best dive trips we ever do.

The trip started ominously with a checkout dive in choppy waters where there was all sorts of confusion about what to do, what the hand signals were, etc. Before I even got to the bottom I’d blown through a quarter of my air, and Audrey and I both came up questioning what we’d gotten ourselves into. Since then, however, it has been amazing. The coral is generally really healthy, the fish are fearless, and there’s tons of neat stuff to see.

While yesterday’s two dives were on the inner reef, the boat motored through the night, and now we’re diving the outer, less visited portion of the reef, specifically Ribbon Reef #9. The first four dives today were good ones – we saw a few cuttlefish on the day’s first dive at 7am, and I need to see more since they are awesome. All sorts of other fish have made appearances, but between my utter inability to identify fish and the fact that it would bore everyone reading this journal for me to do so, I’ll just move on to the night dive with a bazillion sharks.

We did two dives at the same spot today, one in the late afternoon, and one after dark, and the difference in the dive site was the epitome of “night and day”. Before we even jumped in the water for our night dive we could see tons of sharks, trevally, and other big fish out hunting, and when we got in the water it was an instant madhouse. We were utterly surrounded by big fish, with three foot trevally and six foot sharks gliding past just inches away. They didn’t care one bit for us, and were totally focused on getting their meal on, sometimes pushing themselves under ledges to wrestle out poor souls they’d found. After forty-five minutes of swimming through hordes of the beasts we returned to the boat, and I’m pretty sure that dive is now safely in my top three dives ever (mantas are hard to beat).

Tomorrow there are only four dives on the schedule, then we have an in-between day with just a couple of dives while some of the passengers and crew rotate out at Lizard Island, then we’ll have three more very full days of diving out in the Coral Sea. The photos for the next few days will all be screen captures from GoPro video, so the quality won’t be quite up to the standards of the big Canon camera, but they should give some sense of what we’re seeing.

White-tip reef-shark, Great Barrier Reef

Pedro could have reached out and petted this reef shark as it swam over the coral. There were dozens of sharks in VERY close proximity on this dive.

Crocodile Rock

Posted from Cairns, Queensland at 1:56 pm, May 29th, 2024

A lot of the time Australia feels very similar to home, but then something happens to remind you that you’re in a whole different world. This morning we joined two other Americans on the lodge’s outdoor deck for breakfast when I noticed an eight-foot long python climbing a tree just behind our table. One of the servers was on her way out with coffees, focusing intently on trying not to spill anything, and when she looked up to see that she was eye to eye with a very large snake her tray nearly tipped, she did an immediate one-eighty, and I’m not sure whether the coffees ever got delivered. In a similar vein, this evening we’re staying in a big hotel in downtown Cairns, and just after dark I waded out into the sea of humanity looking for an ATM, withdrew my money, and heard a noisy flock of birds in a tree in the median. While looking closer to try to identify them, a massive fruit bat flew over my head, and I quickly realized I wasn’t hearing birds. Australia isn’t totally dissimilar to home, but when it’s different, it’s very different.

In addition to the adventures above, our day started early with a 7am ride to look for crocodiles with the Daintree Boatman – you’d have to be a crazy insane person to spend six weeks in Australia and NOT devote at least one morning to driving around in a tiny boat looking for 17-foot man-eating reptiles, right? The weather was foreboding, and we eventually got rained on, but we did manage to spot a ton of neat birds, a tree full of giant fruit bats, and eventually a couple of crocs made appearances as well. Following the boat ride we said goodbye to the friendly staff, spiders, snakes, lizards and frogs at the lodge, and headed down to Mossman Gorge for one last hike through the rainforest. Aside from some wild pigs the animals in that part of the rainforest were hiding from us, but it was good to get one last walk among all of the strangler figs, vines, and other jungle residents.

Tonight we’re in Cairns in preparation for boarding a boat in the morning for a week out on the Great Barrier Reef, a place that has been on both of our bucket lists for many, many years. There may be intermittent internet access while out on the reef, but if the journal doesn’t get updated for a few days please wait a bit, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve met an early demise, and I’ll still try to write daily entries even if there’s a delay before they get uploaded.

Bee Eater, Daintree Rainforest

Our day started with bee eaters posing next to the boat dock.

Azure Kingfisher, Daintree Rainforest

Surprisingly, following the rainbow bee eaters, the birds got even more colorful when the azure kingfishers started posing for us.

Python, Daintree Rainforest

The poor girl serving breakfast nearly tipped her entire tray when she looked up and saw this guy in a tree two feet in front of her.

Be Cass-o-wary

Posted from Daintree Rainforest, Queensland at 1:18 pm, May 28th, 2024

We spent the entire morning today roaming around the rainforest at our lodge looking at all sorts of critters. At breakfast we shared our table with a tree frog who was sleeping while sticking to the table leg. Afterwards the staff pointed out a two-foot long Boyd’s forest dragon who was hanging out on a tree, and tons of other weird birds and bugs were out and about – there are ants with bright green butts and caterpillars that stick out red devil horns when you disturb them! Coming to the rainforest for two nights was definitely a good call.

The staff here seems excited that we like the wildlife so much, and have been coming to find us whenever something new shows up; after a guided walk in the morning we were getting ready to leave the resort when Sarah knocked on our door to let us know that a tree snake was hunting frogs in the pond. After more photos of the snake, as well as a bush turkey who wandered by, we finally jumped in the car for a drive up to Cape Tribulation to look for cassowaries.

The route to Cape Tribulation started with a ferry ride over the croc-infested river, and was followed by a drive along a road that was still in the process of being rebuilt after several sections had apparently washed away. One of the warnings from the park service about the huge, dinosaur-like cassowaries was to “be cass-o-wary” (they aren’t the friendliest animals), but when we finally spotted one he was alongside the road and not too interested in the humans that were watching him from the car. Sadly there was no good place to pull over so I didn’t get any photos, but Audrey managed to grab some video of the encounter so that we’ll still be able to remember it in our senile years.

Early tomorrow morning we’re off on the river to spot crocodiles, then we’ll give the cassowaries one more try on the way back to Cairns, where we’re spending the night prior to boarding our scuba liveaboard on Thursday.

Boyd's Forest Dragon, Daintree Rainforest

Our lodging is apparently a hotspot for Boyd’s forest dragons, with three of them hanging out in the area this morning.

Boyd's Forest Dragon, Daintree Rainforest

Close-up of a dragon.

Dragonfly, Daintree Rainforest

Continuing the day’s dragon theme with a dragonfly. I really like this new zoom lens.

Tree Frogs

Posted from Daintree Rainforest, Queensland at 2:16 pm, May 27th, 2024

This morning we flew from Uluru to Cairns, so in the span of four days we’ve traveled over two thousand miles from Australia’s southwestern coast through its center to the northeastern coast. Cairns is where our weeklong Great Barrier Reef diving trip starts in three days, but until then we’re spending a couple of nights further north in a rainforest that is around 180 million years old, making it one of the oldest rainforests on Earth.

After checking in to our ecolodge and giving Audrey time to photograph the very large spiders outside of our room, we ate dinner next to a small pond with several of the world’s largest tree frogs hanging out on leaves nearby. There were also some distressingly active spiders ensuring that the mosquito population was kept in check, as well as the biggest moth I’ve ever seen watching over the entire scene. Audrey has been in her happy place since we arrived, but while I’m a big fan of the frogs, I’m going to need a bit more practice before I’m totally OK with having golfball-sized spiders bungeeing in throughout dinner.

Our plan for tomorrow is to go for a drive to look for cassowaries and whatever else pops out of the rainforest, and in two days we’re planning on an early morning river trip to spot giant crocodiles (as one does). Somehow I’m down to the last two weeks of this long sabbatical, but that two weeks is going to be filled with plenty more epic adventures.

White-Lipped Tree Frog, Daintree Rainforest

The white-lipped tree frog is the world’s largest tree frog, growing up to six inches in length, and at least four of them joined us for dinner tonight.

Uluru

Posted from Uluru, Northern Territory at 2:47 pm, May 26th, 2024

Our visit to Uluru has been a very good one so far, except for the flies. The flies are evil and should die, even though they are just doing what flies do. We have headnets to (mostly) mitigate the hordes that follow us around incessantly and crawl on everything and and make us insane and I’ll stop writing about them now and get back to the good parts of Uluru even though I hate the flies oh I hate them so much.

The bus ride from Alice Springs two days ago was a neat way to see the scenery, although it did get a bit pungent over the last two hours after a passenger spent a while checking out the “emergency use only” facilities at the back of the bus. Noxious odors aside, it was an interesting ride; there were roadhouses with fuel, supplies, bars (!) and occasionally emus every fifty miles or so along the route, and not much else. I expected the landscape to be something akin to Mars, but apparently it has rained more than normal over the past few years so there was a lot grass and trees, making it feel a bit like Utah or Arizona with camel farms.

Uluru is just as unique and impressive as we thought it would be, a huge sandstone monolith rising from the flatness all around it. We had a bit of time to enjoy it from a couple of viewpoints yesterday before heading off to a fancy dinner under the stars where we watched the sun set on the giant rock while a man played the didgeridoo and we were served drinks and appetizers. Dinner started under a black sky with thousands of bright stars, but then an intense moonrise lit up the horizon, brightening the clouds and revealing the landscape. All the while they kept bringing drinks and food, and if I haven’t recently mentioned how the karma gods must have me confused with someone else, this dinner was yet another example of an experience that I’m not sure I deserved, but that we’ll remember forever.

After a late night and a lot of drinks I woke up at 5:15 this morning to catch the sunrise, jumping on the hop-on hop-off bus into the park. The bus left the sunrise viewing area a bit sooner than I would have liked, but from there they dropped me off for a hike to circumnavigate Uluru, which I was able to do at my own pace. The rock is amazingly scenic, with colors changing throughout the morning. I had to keep my camera in the bag for much of the hike since the aboriginal people do not want certain areas photographed, but it’s tough to capture how monumental it is from up close anyhow. Audrey came out on a later bus and did a walk of her own, and we finished the day with a nighttime visit to the Field of Light art installation covering 700 m2 outside of the park and containing 50,000 lights, so we’re both going to be heading to bed tired, dusty, and fulfilled tonight.

Also, flies are terrible creatures.

Uluru

Photo of Uluru from one of the vantage points in town, taken yesterday. With so few landmarks anywhere else for miles around, it’s easy to see why it’s been such an important site for millennia.

Field of Light, Uluru

The Field of Light temporary art installation at Uluru. It was a surprisingly neat place to walk around in under the stars, and camera phones are getting ridiculously good at low-light pictures.