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

The Red Center

Posted from Alice Springs, Northern Territory at 5:40 am, May 24th, 2024

Today was a travel day from Perth to Adelaide to Alice Springs. We arrived in Alice Springs at sunset and only had time to get to our hotel and eat dinner, but we’re setting out first thing in the morning on a six-hour bus ride to see what the middle of Australia is like. Our eventual destination is Uluru (more commonly known as Ayers Rock until 1993). While we could have flown there directly, with most of our trip focused on Australia’s coast I wanted to spend a bit of extra time seeing what the red center is like, and Audrey surprisingly agreed to join me on a horrendously long and dusty bus ride that I’m hugely excited about.

In the mean time, spending the day on planes and in airports allowed me to finally finish editing down a massive amount of underwater GoPro video into something that is borderline watchable, so below is a four minute collection of highlights from our diving with Hama and Lynny in Christmas Island – click the “Watch on YouTube” link for the best quality version.

Underwater scenes from four days of diving on Christmas Island, including my attempts to not be eaten by giant trevally.

A Day in Perth

Posted from Perth, Western Australia at 3:55 pm, May 23rd, 2024

After a week of diving in Christmas Island, today I decided that we should visit the Aquarium of Western Australia so we could figure out the names of all of the fish we’ve been seeing. It was actually a really good aquarium, with a 100m long tunnel through a 3 million liter tank being the highlight, although they also had a swimming-pool sized coral reef tank which Audrey and I agreed is something we should get after we win the Powerball.

The afternoon adventure was a walk through the 988 acre King’s Park in downtown Perth. It’s bigger than New York’s Central Park, and two-thirds of it is preserved native bush, while the rest is landscaped mostly with plants from Western Australia, making it a very attractive place for local birds. The highlight of this visit was a walkway 50 feet above the ground in the tree canopy, with the smell of eucalyptus and the sound of birds filling the air. Additionally, just this morning I commented to Audrey that we haven’t seen kookaburras in a while, and this afternoon we encountered five of them huddled together on top of a streetlight. It was an incredibly cute and un-photogenic scene, but one finally flew to the top of a nearby tree, providing our first opportunity for a photo of a kookaburra that wasn’t on an electrical line or other man-made object.

Tomorrow we’re flying to Alice Springs for a brief visit to the red center of Australia. We’ve been traversing timezones at a rapid rate lately – Christmas Island is one hour behind Perth, and Perth is 1.5 hours behind Alice Springs – so sunrise wakeups over the next few days may be interesting challenges, but I’m looking forward to seeing some iconic landscapes in the morning light.

Corella, Perth

This bird is a corella, which is in the cockatoo family. We photographed him from a parking lot where a local man informed us that they call them Australian alarm clocks due to their loud calls.

Kookaburra, Perth

We’ve been seeing kookaburras since Tasmania, but they like to perch on electrical wires, which doesn’t make for pretty photos. This guy was perched WAY up in a tree in King’s Park making it hard to see his giant beak and head, but it may be my only photo of this iconic bird where it isn’t perched on a man-made object.

Underwater Christmas

Posted from Perth, Western Australia at 4:34 pm, May 22nd, 2024

We’re in Perth for two days in between visits elsewhere, and after sleeping in due to a very late arrival last night we spent most of today catching up on exciting things like laundry and photo editing. While I’m sure everyone probably wants to read a recap of our amazing day (I have so many clean clothes now), instead here are a few frames from GoPro video taken during our four days of scuba diving on Christmas Island.

Giant Trevally, Christmas Island

This is what happens when a piece of fish is thrown in the water while you’re snorkeling and there are ten giant trevally on patrol.

Dolphins, Christmas Island

After 25 years of having dolphins flee the second I jumped in the water, the curse has finally been lifted.

Lionfish, Christmas Island

Lionfish in the Caribbean are invasive and causing all kinds of problems, but in their native Indian Ocean they’re just another pretty fish to enjoy.

Angelfish, Christmas Island

Someone better at fish identification than I am can tell me what type of angelfish this is.

The Last Day of Christmas

Posted from Perth, Western Australia at 6:31 pm, May 21st, 2024

When we arrived on Christmas Island there was a group of kids and adults waving to the plane from just outside of the airport fence. It seemed cute at the time, but a week later as we’re leaving I was thinking about that moment again, and when your whole world is a 52 square mile island that is totally isolated in the midst of the vast ocean, the twice-weekly arriving flight really is a big deal. The flight means that you’ll get to see new visitors and returning residents in the coming days, that fresh produce will be onboard in the styrofoam coolers that so many people bring with them, and it’s the one time that there’s a direct connection to the rest of the planet. If I was a kid growing up on the island, I’d probably wave, too.

It’s sad to be leaving, but we tried to make the most of our last day. I spent a couple of hours down on the cliffs photographing birds again early this morning, then Audrey and I departed our awesome house rental for the last time, dropped off our borrowed locator beacon at the police station, and said goodbye to the ladies who have been helping us out all week at the visitor center. From there we headed through the park to Margaret Knoll, and discovered one of the island’s best spots for bird photography – I’m not quite sure how we missed it this whole time, but both Audrey and I came away with some keepers.

Our last stop for the trip was Dolly Beach, which turned out to be down the roughest road we’ve yet encountered – maybe not the smartest place to visit when the twice-weekly flight departs in just five hours. To give credit where it’s due, our rental car looks like it should be taken out back and shot, and it sounds like it’s about to fall to pieces when you drive it, but the thing got us over some gnarly terrain and up and down some steep grades. Ironically, after surviving the route to the Dolly Beach trailhead, the trail itself was in the best condition of anything we’ve hiked here, with a nice boardwalk most of the way. It rained a bit as we arrived, which apparently triggers every crab on the island to come out and play, so Audrey will have another half a million photos of red, blue and robber crabs to edit during our flight back to Perth. Since the road to the trailhead took longer than expected we had to cut the hike short and didn’t actually see the beach, which gives us yet another reason to return some day. While rattling our way back to the airport we also got a tiny taste of what the red crab migration must be like as we dodged hundreds of crabs who had been triggered by the rain and decided to come out to frolic in the road.

It’s going to be a shock to the system going from an island of 1700 people to Perth and its two million residents, but we’re there for just a couple of days before the trip takes us back to some of Australia’s more remote locations. This three month adventure is moving along a bit too quickly, but as hoped, every day feels like it is creating memories that will last a lifetime.

White Tailed Tropic Bird, Christmas Island

The golden bosun (white-tailed tropicbirds) finally decided to be (mostly) cooperative for our final day on the island.

White Tailed Tropic Bird, Christmas Island

This bird made us wait a while, but eventually decided to fly past and put on a show.

Frigate, Christmas Island

Audrey got a picture of a frigate bird a couple of days ago that showed off their pretty green neck feathers, and I’ve been trying to copy her since then.

The Day of Many Crabs

Posted from Christmas Island, Australia at 4:31 pm, May 20th, 2024

I have been outside photographing birds so often over the past week that we now run into strangers on trails who recognize me and ask how the photos came out. But it’s been a fun endeavor, and the golden bosuns were finally cooperative today, even though they still made me work for the photos, at one point hovering near some cliffs for several minutes only to start soaring overhead again once I had run down a few dozen stairs to the cliff’s edge. Thankfully, in the end we came to an agreement and I walked away with a few nice shots.

After starting the day photographing birds on my own for a few hours, I came back to pick up Audrey – she insists that when you’re on a tropical island you should have time to lounge, which I disagree with vehemently – and we headed off to the police station to borrow a locator beacon. We later realized that the island is much smaller than we thought, so we might have been overcautious in carrying a beacon when you could probably walk across the entire island in half a day, but with very limited cell coverage (calls work in town, but no data anywhere), and roads that sometimes rattle the car so much that you’re still shaking when the drive ends, it didn’t hurt to have an extra safety device along for the ride.

Our destination for the day was an area on the far side of the island called the Dales, so named for tiny freshwater trickles that flow through the area, and which we chose due to its variety of crabs. The red crabs, whose annual migration make the island famous, are everywhere, as are the giant robber crabs (albeit in much smaller numbers), but this area is also home to blue crabs, or “Luigis” as Nadine at the visitor center named them for their mustache markings. Between the huge spiders that we again encountered and the many, many crabs scuttling about in the jungle, Audrey spent the hike very much in her happy place.

The trail was reasonably easy to follow until its end, where Nadine had told us “just follow the water downhill and climb over the rocks, there’s no markings”. After bushwhacking over jagged rock, repeatedly crossing the small creek, and pushing our way through the jungle, we eventually got to a dropoff into a small gorge with a sign at its head containing numerous warnings about the terrain ahead, including (ironically) an admonition to “stay on the marked trail”; it is fair to say that anyone reading that warning had long ago decided to do exactly the opposite.

We’ve got a half day remaining here tomorrow before our flight departs, and while I’ve chosen Tasmania as the place I would move to if I had to leave the USA, Audrey has decided that we’ll need to split our time between Tassie and Christmas Island. It’s been a good week.

White Tailed Tropic Bird, Christmas Island

One of several shots that the golden bosun let me have today. I’ll give it another go tomorrow, but it’s nice to finally have a few photos of Christmas Island’s colorful and endemic tropic bird.

Common Noddy, Christmas Island

The day started with a failed attempt to photograph golden bosun at Flying Fish Cove, but the common noddy were a nice consolation prize, and they didn’t get too annoyed having me hanging out with them on the jetty.

Red Crab, Christmas Island

It would have been a travesty to leave Christmas Island without having posted a picture of one of its famous red crabs. We see them everywhere, including maybe 50 of them that live in the tiny yard of our rental house.

Orb Weavers

Posted from Christmas Island, Australia at 4:27 pm, May 19th, 2024

The white-tailed tropic birds (aka “golden bosuns”) continue to elude me, at least when I have a camera in hand; three of them were swooping overhead as we returned from diving this morning, but during the several hours that we were out on the cliffs taking photos they disappeared almost completely. These birds are clearly playing some sort of twisted mind game with me, and so far they are winning.

Today was our last day of diving on Christmas Island, and despite seas that looked like they were going to be rough, the trip out to our dive site in Hama’s small boat wasn’t the roller coaster we expected. The dive crew consists of Hama, the company owner, and Lynny, a 75 year old divemaster who you would guess was in her fifties based on how she gets around on the boat. She’s also got a memorable personality: today we had two other people scuba diving with us who are also avid free divers, and they mentioned being able to free dive to depths of 70+ meters. With steep dropoffs all around the island (it’s an ancient volcano) Lynny said to them after our first dive “I saw you two swimming out to the edge there and look down, and thought to myself ‘good god they better not'”. Thankfully no one decided to test the limits of their dive equipment today, and we had another good day of diving.

After saying thanks and goodbye to Lynny and Hama we went off again to see the birds, although it also turned out to be a trip to find several softball-sized spiders for my arachnid-loving travel companion. At one point one of their massive webs blocked half of the trail down to the cliff edge, and while Audrey says the orb weavers aren’t dangerous, I strongly suspect that particular spider web was built with hopes and dreams of ensnaring a hiker.

On our second birding stop a red-footed booby had somehow managed to get itself onto the wrong side of the cliff-edge fence, and was in a panic trying to take off through the wire, so I got to play the role of booby rescuer as I gently lifted the bird to the top of the fence where it had the airspace needed to take flight. Oddly it calmed down completely when I picked it up, briefly assessed its situation from its new perch, and eventually took a dive off of the cliff and glided back to its home as if nothing was amiss. Operation booby rescue thus ended in a massive success, making the lack of cooperation from the golden bosuns an easier pill to swallow.

We’ve got a day and a half remaining on the island, so tomorrow we’re planning to head to the far side through the jungle. We’re pretty sure our rental car will survive the “road” that leads there, but the police station loans out personal locator beacons to reduce the number of people disappearing without a trace, so we may take them up on that loan offer before departing.

Red Footed Booby, Christmas Island

Red footed booby at sunrise. I’ve been getting up each morning to photograph the birds as they fly out into the rising sun, and while most of the photos get quickly and unceremoniously deleted, every now and then one of them comes out pretty nice.

Orb Weaver, Christmas Island

This spider was not in any way small, and despite what Audrey says I’m pretty sure it wanted to eat me.

Giant Trevallies

Posted from Christmas Island, Australia at 4:16 pm, May 18th, 2024

The golden bosuns remain elusive, but they will not defeat me, and mark my words, there will be a photo of that unique bird in a journal entry before we leave. Probably.

We weren’t diving until noon today, and Audrey wanted the morning to lounge, so I got up early to photograph birds, and luckily a few of them were showing off. I later made a trip to Flying Fish Cove and the visitor center, but after an hour of waiting to see who might fly by I returned with only two photos: one of a grasshopper who had been giving me the stink eye while I was there, and the other of a butterfly who I think was taking pity on me and wanted to make sure I got at least one nice picture.

For our afternoon scuba diving the seas were a bit choppy, so Hama put us in the water only a short boat ride from the jetty, but we still had good dives. Today’s fishes included more lionfish, at least three different species of eels, shrimp, giant clams, but most memorably we had a return visit from the giant trevally. During our surface interval between dives another boat was moored nearby filleting their catch, which is what the trevally were there for. Not wanting to miss the show I jumped in with a snorkel and found myself in the midst of a trevally feeding frenzy every time another bit of meat hit the water. The frigate birds also got in on the fun and were trying to snatch fish out of the air before the trevally could get to it, so it was quite a hectic event. Hama decided to join in since he apparently keeps a jar of sardines on his boat, but his aim was a little too good and I had to dodge a sardine in the water as a four foot long fish lunged behind me to grab it. It was yet another unique adventure on a trip that has been filled with them.

There’s a bar with snacks a short walk from our house that is open only on Saturday evenings, so we ended the day with drinks and calamari under tropical skies with stars overhead. We’ve got a couple of days left on this island, and while I had initially feared that seven days on Christmas Island might be a bit too long, I don’t think we would have had any issue if our stay been even longer.

Red-Tailed Tropic Bird, Christmas Island

After two straight days of bat pictures, now it’s two straight days of red-tailed tropic birds. Their golden cousins will hopefully be in tomorrow’s entry.

Golden Bosuns

Posted from Christmas Island, Australia at 4:58 pm, May 17th, 2024

We scheduled a rest day from diving today, so this morning Audrey finally got to lounge and drink coffee while I roamed around on the rocky shore trying to photograph birds without getting burnt to a crisp in the sun. All of the birds here are photogenic, but the one I’m most hoping to get a good photograph of is what the locals call the “golden bosun”; it’s a golden colored tropic bird that is only found on Christmas Island. It also happens to have an uncanny ability to fly past when I don’t have a camera at the ready, but we’ve got several days remaining and I’m a patient man.

We started the day with a visit to Nadine at the visitor center, who we had previously met at the airport after arriving, and whose helpful directions are probably the only reason we’re not still searching for our rental house. She gave us more advice for our remaining days, including tips on a few trails (her description for one of them: “there won’t be signs and it will look like you’re just climbing on rocks in a river, but trust me that will be the correct way to go”). When we asked where the best place to see the golden bosun was, she told us we were welcome to use the visitor center balcony – “in fact, there’s one now” she said, as one flew by as I stood there with my camera in the car.

After lunch we did a quick snorkel in Flying Fish Cove, and it was surprisingly good with loads of fish, a lionfish, and a moray, and then we headed out to check out some of Nadine’s recommended spots for birding. Enroute we stopped at the old Chinese Cemetery to see boobies and frigate birds, and much as we experienced elsewhere on this island, the minute the car stopped every chicken in the world came running out of the jungle like a scene from a bizarro Night of the Living Dead to see if we had snacks (we did not). We continued our bird search around the northeast tip of the island, eventually running into a detour sign that pointed to a smaller dirt road. Having learned nothing during my time on this island thus far, I followed the sign, and we spent the next fifteen minutes re-enacting scenes from Lost as we traversed a dirt “road” through jungle, past the occasional rusting construction equipment, and next to a radio tower or two.

Tomorrow we’re diving again, and it’s the weekend so all of the locals will be out partying in the evening, including at the outdoor cinema where the chalk board at the roundabout has been advertising Kung Fu Panda 4 as this week’s feature film.

Brown Booby, Christmas Island

Brown Booby, Christmas Island. I pulled this photo up and at first thought I’d processed it in some weird way, but this really was his color against the morning light.

Red-Tailed Tropic Bird, Christmas Island

Red-tailed tropic bird, Christmas Island. These guys are pretty, but the golden white-tailed tropic bird is the one I have my eye on.

On the Third Day of Christmas

Posted from Christmas Island, Australia at 5:27 am, May 17th, 2024

While taking Audrey on a path through the jungle today, she was walking ahead of me for a portion of the “trail” and accidentally walked through the web of a massive orb weaver. With any other girl I would have been a single man only microseconds after the six inch spider started running across her back, but luckily I picked someone who later described the moment as the highlight of her afternoon. Still, I’m glad I managed to get the arachnid off of her before it ran onto her bare neck; she loves spiders, but that might have been too much even for Audrey.

Our day today consisted of scuba diving in the morning and an ill-fated attempt to photograph birds in the afternoon. The scuba diving was again fun; the other couple who was supposed to dive cancelled, so it was just us and Hama underwater. We again saw a giant moray, a couple of sharks made appearances, and my favorite for the day was a school of about ten giant trevallies, 3-4 foot long tuna-like fish that were hanging out under the boat, apparently hoping we had been fishing and were about to dump some fish parts overboard. At some point hopefully I’ll either get some video up, or else I’ll steal whatever Audrey puts together and post it.

Following an afternoon siesta we set out to a park that had been recommended for birds, and took some flight photos from a clifftop overlook for a bit. While we saw a few of the unique golden tropic-birds, numerous boobies (relax, they’re a species of bird), and a bunch of frigate birds, bats were again a surprisingly common sight and not an animal I ever expected to be photographing in flight. Unfortunately our vantage point was limited, and I could see tons of other birds flying and landing nearby, so I figured we’d hike down to Smith Point, which the nearby trailhead indicated was only a short distance away. This was a poor choice on my part.

The path started off well enough, with a set of stairs and an informational panel, but at the bottom of the stairs it simply dumped us out into the jungle with zero indication on where to go next. Scanning the jungle, we would occasionally see a post or sign and set off towards it, but whenever we’d reach a point where nothing was visible we’d have to make a best guess of where to go, set off that way, and trace our steps back if we didn’t eventually run into some indication that we weren’t setting ourselves up to become crab food once it got dark. After bushwhacking through crabs and spiders in the heat and humidity for thirty-ish minutes I finally gave up, and we retraced our steps back to the trailhead, with Audrey becoming close personal friends with the giant orb weaver along the way. Tomorrow we’ll give the birds another try, but this time we may check in at the visitor center to get better advice on where exactly we should go before heading out again.

Flying Fox, Christmas Island

While I wasn’t planning on posting daily bat pictures while on Christmas Island, this guy flying around was my favorite above-water photo from today.

Lionfish and Flying Foxes

Posted from Christmas Island, Australia at 11:52 pm, May 15th, 2024

It snowed while I was in New Zealand, and Audrey was freezing during our time in Tasmania, but we’ve now reached the opposite extreme. Today’s high was 84F, the low was 80F, humidity was around 75,000%, and the sun is pretty obviously focused on this island through a magnifying glass high in the sky. It may take a couple of days to get used to Christmas Island’s weather.

We’re here primarily to scuba dive and see crabs, although ironically not at the same time. Hama and Lynny took us out on a tiny boat with one other diver first thing this morning, and we hopped into water that was a balmy 82F. The coral was pretty beaten up from a storm a few months ago, but is still far better than most places we’ve ever dived. And since the island is an old volcano, the reef starts right where the cliffs meet the water, and drops into blackness a short distance from shore; it’s a really wild underwater scene. While diving we saw lionfish, a shark, an absolutely massive giant moray, and (most unbelievably) dolphins. My useless super power has always been the fact that the moment I go into the water, any dolphins in the vicinity swim away, but at the end of our first dive a school of dolphins decided to play in the boat’s bow wake while we were in the water waiting to get picked up, so either these dolphins were unaffected by my powers, or else the gods of useless superpowers have smitten me and left me powerless.

After diving I needed a nap – sun and baldness are a bad combo – so it wasn’t until later in the day that we set off in search of giant robber crabs, the largest land crustacean in the world. Lynny had suggested a spot in the national park that was good for seeing them, so we had to trust that our elderly Rav4 could survive one of the island’s very rough jungle roads, all the while dodging the smaller local red crabs along the route. When we finally arrived at a clearing surrounding an old Buddhist temple, a basketball-sized crab was already out waiting for us, and a flock of chickens, sensing we might have snacks, came running from the opposite side of the clearing. As the sun got lower more of the humungous crabs appeared, and I also noticed some odd black birds flying around. Looking closer, I turned to Audrey and said “I’m pretty sure those are bats”, and sure enough, Christmas Island is home to a sub-species of fruit bats affectionately called flying foxes due to their huge size. After walking a bit we found a durian tree that was apparently the best place in the world for a giant fruit bat, and several dozen of them showed not a bit of concern for us as we photographed from below.

The daily routine will likely be similar for the next week, although at some point soon we’ll hopefully acclimate to the weather, otherwise I fear the only other options are spontaneous combustion or slowly melting like the witch in the Wizard of Oz.

Coconut Crab, Christmas Island

Coconut Crab, Christmas Island. This is zoomed in a bit, but they’re not at all small, and we watched one actually tear apart a coconut.

Flying Fox, Christmas Island

Flying Fox (fruit bat), Christmas Island. These bats are actually active during daylight hours; as far as I’m aware I’ve never seen a bat flying in sunlight before.

The Island of Christmas

Posted from Christmas Island, Australia at 4:31 pm, May 14th, 2024

If you’re like me and have watched a LOT of nature documentaries, you’ve inevitably seen tales of a remote island near Indonesia that is home to red crabs that perform a mass migration each year, covering the ground like locusts as they swarm from one side of the island to the other. This extinct volcanic peak near Indonesia is an Australian territory named Christmas Island, and it is exactly the sort of bizarre, off-the-beaten-path spot that appeals to weirdos like Audrey and me. The red crab migration won’t be ongoing while we’re here, but over the next week we’re still looking forward to being robbed by giant coconut crabs (aka “robber crabs”), attacked by frigate birds, and wowed by colorful underwater creatures.

The logistics of planning a trip to Christmas Island weren’t as extreme as some trips we’ve taken, but they were still a challenge. I’m writing this from the one available flight to the island, and it departs only twice each week from Perth. Once we land we think we’ve rented a car – I got a PDF back from someone saying that there will be a car at the airport waiting for us – and we’re pretty sure we’ve rented a house, although so far we know what road the house is supposed to be on, but not its actual address, and we’re honestly not sure if street numbers are a thing here or not. We contacted both of the dive shops on the island, but one of them was waiting on metal to patch their boat, so we decided to reserve four days of diving with the shop whose boat still floats. The interwebs have conflicting reports as to whether there is an ATM on the island or not, but there does appear to be a bank that will exchange currency, and we’ve got our fingers crossed that credit cards will be accepted in some locations. With a population of only around 1700, it’s a good bet that services will be very limited.

All in all we’re not totally sure what we’ve gotten ourselves into, but we do know that this bit of the trip will be another fun adventure in the midst of the many excellent adventures that have unfolded during our little odyssey down under.

UPDATE: We’ve arrived, and an ancient Toyota Rav4 with only a few missing pieces was waiting for us at the airport. It still has almost half of its original paint, it drives most of the time, you barely notice the bits that have corroded away, and the place where the shocks used to be isn’t as much of an impediment to driving as you might expect. On the flip side, we found our house rental, and it is AWESOME. Our divemaster recommended it, and it’s a Balinese villa with gardens filled with red crabs that make Audrey happier than she’s ever been. And speaking of the divemaster, he stopped by tonight to get us to sign waivers, and he’s also awesome; after we finished signing he drove us back to his shop/house to try on rental gear, then gave us a five minute tour around town. It’s going to be a fun week.


Posted from Fremantle, Western Australia at 3:48 pm, May 13th, 2024

Rottnest Island is located 30 minutes by boat from Fremantle, and since its discovery by the Dutch more than 300 years ago has been famous for the tiny marsupials that live there. The quokkas are adorably cute, unafraid, curious, and look at all times like they’re smiling. Clearly, this was an island we had to visit.

We arrived on the ferry around 10am with not a quokka in sight, but since we had six hours before the return trip we weren’t too concerned. The options for circumnavigating the island are either a three hour bike ride, or a hop-on, hop-off bus, so we opted for the latter. As we were waiting for the bus to depart I noted that the gathering crowd was of the – shall we say, less active? – sort, and I was starting to wonder what we’d gotten ourselves into, especially a few minutes later when an elderly lady on a motorized chair came crashing through the rope barriers and popped a wheelie into a curb before someone finally managed to get her under control. It was an inauspicious beginning, but luckily things improved from there.

The island is undeveloped aside from the settlement on the east side, so once the bus departed it was all sand dunes and sea views as we headed to the west end. While the amount of droppings on the island was evidence of a large (and well fed) quokka population, the nocturnal critters remained elusive, but on our short hike we ran into an osprey, terns, sea lions, king skinks, and (annoyingly) a plague of flies. After an hour of peaceful walking along the beaches we re-boarded the bus and took it to Geordie Bay, a spot where we were told the quokkas would be active during the day.

Geordie Bay had a general store with low, saloon style doors with signs on them indicating that they were meant to keep quokkas out. We took that as a good omen, and a short time later met our first of the gopher-sized little hoppers who wandered up to us, took a few sniffs, then moved on to the next thing that caught his attention. More quokkas soon appeared, and we played the roles of silly tourists as they came up to us, sniffed, posed for photos, and then investigated the next item in their path. After another short hike into the main settlement even more showed up, and while I’m normally not one to get too close to wild animals, given their curiosity and lack of fear, as well as the fact that the visitor center has a poster that says “did you get your quokka selfie?”, we joined Roger Federer, Margot Robbie, and thousands of others who have left the island with selfies with the residents. Audrey laughed uncontrollably for the whole latter part of our visit, and it was two happy visitors who returned to Fremantle at the end of the day.

Quokka, Rottnest Island

When they hold the cutest animal in the world competition, quokkas will be strong challengers for the title.

Quokka Selfie, Rottnest Island

With quokkas coming right up to you, it’s shockingly easy to grab a photo like this one that will make me smile every time I look at it.

Going to Prison

Posted from Fremantle, Western Australia at 3:04 pm, May 12th, 2024

Australia is much bigger than we initially realized, so while planning the trip the logistics of getting from A to B were daunting. There are several places in Western Australia that we wanted to see, but after looking at flight schedules and driving options we had to cut a few of them out. As a result, Perth became a place where we’re spending a few extra days in order to facilitate visits elsewhere, but since I’m loathe to let time pass without activities we’ll keep those days filled with adventures.

Today’s main adventure was going to prison with a lovely man named Nigel. Since the early days as a penal colony were so pivotal to Australia’s development we wanted to see at least one of the old gaols, and Fremantle Prison is a UNESCO listed site that is huge and still fully intact. Nigel met us (and 19 others) at the gates and then led a shockingly good tour through the massive prison for the next 75 minutes. With cells that were originally only 4 feet by 7 feet, no toilets (Nigel made sure to tread lightly when telling us about prisoner’s buckets), and no heating or cooling, it was clearly not a pleasant place to have been incarcerated, and despite increasing the cell sizes in the early 1900s, the lack of heating, cooling or plumbing persisted until the prison eventually closed in 1991. The tour also included a visit to the gallows, which was a macabre place; as we entered Nigel gingerly stated “Welcome to the gallows. Or maybe welcome isn’t the right word, but I’m never quite sure how to start this part of the tour.”

After telling us many horrifying stories about prison life, the tour ended and Nigel bid us a cheery good day. Our other main stop was the eclectic Fremantle Markets, a series of indoor stalls with everything from produce to Tibetan food to palm readings to jigsaw puzzles – if you needed dragon fruit, soothing oils, banh mi, and a nice skirt, this was your ideal one-stop destination. Audrey was excited by the opportunity to do some shopping, while I felt exactly the opposite, so we went our separate ways during the afternoon, and she had some retail therapy while I visited the shipwreck museum and learned everything there is to learn about how to sink a boat in Western Australia.

Tomorrow we’re off to Rottnest Island to hang out with quokkas, a sentence that will hopefully make more sense in 24 hours if/when we post some photos.

Kangaroni, Fremantle Markets

For anyone who ever wanted pepperoni that tastes like kangaroo, the Fremantle Markets has what you’re looking for.


Posted from Fremantle, Western Australia at 4:08 pm, May 11th, 2024

Today was sadly the end of our time on Kangaroo Island, but I made one last early morning visit to Duck Lagoon to say goodbye to the koalas. For an animal that sleeps for 20 hours, poops up to 200 times per day, and has one of the smallest brains for its body size of any mammal, they are oddly endearing and I’ll miss them. A handful of kangaroos and wallabies were out and about as well, so it was a proper sendoff from a special place.

From our awesome Airbnb it was an hour drive to the ferry, with our weird Chinese rental car constantly beeping and warning “Hey don’t stray” any time I looked away from the road to scan the horizon for animals; we finally ended up just covering the driver side camera with a hat to get it to shut up. Loading the car onto the ferry in reverse was again humbling – I had to keep telling them that if it was my own car I could back up competently, really I could. Once we were off of the ferry in Cape Jervis it was another couple of hours to the Adelaide airport where we boarded our 3.5 hour flight to Perth. Our lodging for the next three nights is in a hotel built in the 175 year old prison guard’s cottages, so it should be a unique stay in the city.

Since I didn’t get a chance to take many photos today, below are a few pictures from the last couple of days of the non-kangaroo and non-koala animals that we saw on Kangaroo Island.

Gallah, Flinders Chase National Park

Gallah, or pink and grey cockatoos for those of us who like easy to remember names.

Goanna, Kangaroo Island

“There’s a goanna in the road” did not immediately get Audrey excited. “It’s a big lizard” evoked the reaction I was expecting.

Invisible Platypuses

Posted from Kangaroo Island, South Australia at 2:12 pm, May 10th, 2024

Last night when we went back to Duck Lagoon to look for koalas, there was an Italian couple camping who had been on Kangaroo Island for five days. I asked them what their favorite thing had been, and with zero hesitation the girl said “Hanson Bay”. They had apparently seen fourteen koalas during a two hour guided walk and had some impressive video, so suddenly we had a destination for today.

Hanson Bay is located on the opposite corner of the island from us, and we took a roundabout route across the northern part of the island to get there, during which we finally figured out where the kangaroos have been hiding. They’re most active from dusk until dawn, but we saw dozens of them lazing about next to the road under the trees, in pastures, and along the hills during our drive. Audrey was also excited by a goanna traversing the road – they are a decent-sized monitor lizard that according to Crocodile Dundee are best eaten medium or well done.

Before visiting Hanson Bay we planned a return visit to Flinders Chase National Park for a short hike. As we entered the park a koala started crossing the road, and for the next several minutes we were the happiest humans on the planet as we photographed him slowly getting to the other side and ascending what was obviously a far superior tree to whatever one he’d been asleep in previously. By the end of the day we had seen about a dozen koalas, but I’m confident that even if that scenario repeated itself for a year we wouldn’t get tired of them.

Once in the park we skipped the ranger station to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s perplexing encounter, and traveled up a dirt road to see the Platypus Pools. While the platypus in the area were of the invisible variety today, we nevertheless had a nice hike before heading to Hanson Bay for our two hour guided walk (it’s a private reserve, so you can only visit with a guide). No one else signed up, so we roamed the reserve on our own private tour with the resident guide who already knew where a bunch of the cute little buggers were resting, so as she told us about the animals and the 2020 fires we got to visit with one koala after another. Audrey and Kira (the guide) bonded over a shared desire to hug every animal we saw, and after a very memorable walk through koala heaven we finished our trip with a few more kangaroos before starting the drive home.

Koala, Flinders Chase National Park

Koalas sleep twenty hours each day, but this guy woke up and decided it was very important to cross the road to a tree on the other side, making two Americans who happened to be driving by very, very happy in the process.

Western Grey Kangaroo, Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

Western Grey Kangaroo in Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. The kangaroos are BIG, and is it just me, or do they always look like they’re flexing?