Airlie Beach

Good morning from Airlie Beach! Home of the Whitsundays, backpackers and not much else. The Whitsundays are a group of about 75 small tropical islands in northern Queensland. It’s a very popular destination for sailing (sail, drop anchor, bar-b-q, repeat) in Northern Queensland.

Sarah and Xavier had planned a sailing trip to a nearby island resort, and I was off to swim with the fishes in the Great Barrier Reef.

Unfortunately Sarah’s sailing trip was cancelled at the last minute due to boat failure. đŸ˜¦ Instead, She and X went to check out the town, and the local swimming hole.

The thing with beaches in Northern Queensland is that while they are beautiful, you can’t actually swim there at this time of year. Summer is “stinger” season, and at times you can see hundreds of very nasty jellyfish floating around in port. So, local councils create elaborate swimming pools for people to go to instead. Sounds like it was fun, but without a sun shade, too sunny for sonny. He was flush by the end of day and needed a break from the heat.

One thing they did find that was super cool was a beach caravan if camels passing through a playground.

Meanwhile, I hopped on a catamaran and darted off towards the Great Barrier Reef, a big item in my bucket list. The small cat ran for two and a half ours straight out into the ocean. Somehow, here was a floating platform there with change rooms, picnic tables and a waterslide.

I paid a bit extra and took an entry level scuba diving tour through the reef. It was breathtaking. The coral wasn’t as colourful as I expected but the fish more than made up for it. At the end the guide offered to take us for another twenty minutes (or until our air ran out, whichever came sooner) but I had to pass. Scuba is fun, but I was concentrating so hard on not concentrating on my breathing (apparently thinking about it is more likely to cause panic) if actually developed a cramp. In my face. Of all the stupid things…

So, back on the luxury barge for a dip, a visit to the water slide, some food and a few snaps from inside of the underwater observatory.

What you can see is the huge number of fish that were out at the reef. I had no idea. What you can’t see is the school of silverbacked baitfish – each fish is the size I my pinkie, but the school was bigger than a city bus. Or the giant, overly friendly, ugly-fish (that’s my name, I don’t know what it was actually called) that would swim up to you if you waved at it.

This was my top pick for the trip and I wasn’t let down.

Tomorrow, we will be heading up to Cairns (rhymes with cans) to explore the Daintree rainforest.

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The Top End

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For my birthday this year I did something a little different. I flew to Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory to teach school kids how to build Lego robots. A small group from my office was heading up and they were a person short. I’d had some related experience at an earlier job, and Darwin was on my shortlist of places to see, so I jumped at the opportunity (and then asked my wife, who kindly said yes).

The entire flight up I had my nose glued to the window. We didn’t quite go over the red centre, but we went awfully close. I finally got to see some red dirt! (#1 on my Aussie bucket list) The dessert is beautiful. Way more colourful than I’d thought it would be. Most of the colour seems to follow what must be seasonal waterways. There were also some stunning views where you could see a roadway down the middle of the landscape with dessert on one side, and grasslands on the other. I guess just having a concrete barrier was enough to break up the encroaching sand and let the new growth get started.

After landing in the city I had a chance to take a short trip around downtown. Its a sizable community by my standards, but feels very small. Most buildings are one or two stories tall, and the CBD is made up of small shop windows along quiet streets. It reminded me a lot of PG in terms of the feel of the city.

One other thing that stood out was the large indigenous population in the area. In particular in the city parks. I don’t know the community well enough to fairly describe them, but I can safely say that there were a lot of people hanging out in small circles or sleeping in the shade. While I definitely got the feeling that poverty and substance abuse was in play, I can’t say for sure if that was the case, or just my own bias from back home where that’s very definitely the case. On a few occasions I tried comparing what I was seeing with what I’ve seen before and was rebuked. This was something different.

One thing that I did think was weird was that I couldn’t make my way down to the water. I tried finding the beach but didn’t have any luck. When I got back to the hotel someone told me that there’s a very good reason for that: the beach is home to giant salt water crocodiles. They live in the ocean along the top of Australia, and Darwin was built in the middle of one of their natural habitats. One of the ladies I met told me that it felt like a cruel joke to be so close to beautiful beach, in a city that is 32-34° 360 days a year, and not be able to swim. To help out a bit,the city maintains several inland outdoor swimming pools that are freely available to locals looking to beat the heat.

That night we visited the Middle Markets, a good and stuff market that takes place along a safer stretch of beach. You still didn’t see anyone in the water but people did get a lot closer to the edge. The markets are the place to be on Thursday nights and thousands of people showed up in style (big caravans and deck chairs) to grab a bite and watch the sun set.

On our second day in the city we went to a nearby school to help Grade 5&6s learn about robots and programming. I won’t go into much detail other than to say that it was a very fun, and very rewarding day.

That evening my colleagues surprised me with a mini birthday celebration. I had this lovely pin, silly hats, dinner, wine and churros for dessert.

The third day was a bit of a strange one. I couldn’t do too much, as most of the tours ran at odds with my flight home. But there was one thing I could do that seemed really unique I ended up tagging along with my colleagues again as they drove an hour towards nowhere to visit a school in Bachelor, NT. This is a city of about 480 people, half of which come from the local indigenous community. They had a small group up there building much larger robots for a competition later in June. I. The short time that I was there I met with about a dozen different folk from northern Queensland and the northern territory. I also go to take explore the school grounds for a bit which were lovely. Tropical climates are totally foreign to me and just about square metre contains something cool to look at. Pics below. I joked with one of the guys at the school that even the toilets were amazing – after stopping in for a pit stop I spent the next five minutes admiring large butterflies, teeny lizards, exotic spiders and a bunch of other interesting critters.

We ended up very very close to Lichfield National Park, which is the home of those giant magnetic termite mounds. I didn’t see any of the giant mounds, but there were plenty smaller mounds on the local school grounds. It looks like they crop up at the base of a tree or thick shrub and then grow as the little guys feast. There were a few places on campus where the mound had got a few feet high and the associated tree had been cut short.

I think that by any Australians standards it was a pretty dismal trip. But I still get a big thrill every time I see something that’s not North American. Termite mounds, stubby palm trees, crocodile infested waters – it’s all amazing. Meeting some of the folk from the local indigenous community and sharing some stories was equally incredible. On top of that, working with the kids is always me sly rewarding. Nearly three classrooms joined us, and nearly every kid there (and a few of their teachers) had a blast.

Brisbane

We recently took a trip north to sunny Brisbane to visit our friends Jesse and Aaron.

They were kind enough to host us, and also show us around Queensland’s capital city.

Brisbane is a river city, and it’s highlights seem to lie along the banks of the Brisbane river. Our hosts live in the CBD, but a short walk got us to a free ferry that took us about a kilometre south to the parklands of the South Bank. We were visiting during the annual Brisbane Budha festival, the worlds largest celebration of Buddha’s birthday. Following our trip along the south bank, we walked back to our hosts apartment in the CBD. That evening, we went out for Mexican food with a few other people. The portions were small, but the food, and the company, was fabulous.

Everyone slept well that night, which was good, because the next day we were off to the Sunshine Coast.

Found this fellow sunning himself by the ferry terminal.
Found this fellow sunning himself by the ferry terminal.
Along the river bank there's a rocky outcropping that many people were climbing.
Along the river bank there’s a rocky outcropping that many people were climbing.
We stopped here for afternoon tea. In the background you can see some of the pretty purple flowers that appear all along the south bank.
We stopped here for afternoon tea. In the background you can see some of the pretty purple flowers that appear all along the south bank.
We visited during the annual Budha fair. Hundreds of red paper lanterns were string up along the water front.
We visited during the annual Budha fair. Hundreds of red paper lanterns were string up along the water front.

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Art?
Art?
Definitely art.
Definitely art.
Hanging out in the sun with Dad and Jesse.
Hanging out in the sun with Dad and Jesse.

The Weather

Undoubtedly our #1 favourite thing about living in Sydney is the weather. By now we have acclimatised a bit, so it’s hard to remember exactly how good it is, but I get the occasional reminder when I travel. I was visiting San Francisco near the beginning of August, and it was pretty nice out, but still not that warm. Jeans, sweatshirts etc were pretty common wear around the city. And in the evening – Freezing!! So very, very cold.

So, this is San Francisco in the height of summer.

August 11, 2013 weather report for San Francisco
August 11, 2013 weather report for San Francisco

By contrast here’s the same set of days from Sydney. Keep in mind this is the dead of winter — effectively February 11 in the northern hemisphere.

August 11, 2013 weather report for Sydney
August 11, 2013 weather report for Sydney

Those of you from Vancouver area might notice that for February weather, there’s an awful lot of yellow sky-ball. It does rain here quite a bit in winter, but it does it tropical style; with very intense, short bursts of rain.

August 11, 2013 weather report for Brisbane
August 11, 2013 weather report for Brisbane

That said, the people down here still find it ‘cold’, choosing to winter a little further north near Brisbane, where the weather is a wintery 30 degrees.

Footie

Back home, I wasn’t much for sport, but I think Rugby is something that both Sarah and I can get behind. We started watching in France and after arriving in Australia I’ve found a whole new world of sport.

There are at least four different games that someone might refer to as ‘footie’, each varying by popularity depending upon where you grew up, and what school you attended.

  • Rugby Union is the traditional rugby that the rest of the world is familiar with. However, my colleagues claim that it’s mostly played by posh children at private schools
  • Rugby League is a variation of Union, designed to speed up the game. To my untrained eye, it’s a sort of hybrid between Rugby Union, gridiron football, and greco-roman wrestling. Each side gets a number of ‘downs’ to get a point, after which there’s a turnover and the other side goes. Players tackle each other, and stop play after getting pinned. It makes for a quick, and tense, back and forth style of play. This game is most popular in Eastern Australia, and is considered to be more of a blue collar game.
  • And then there’s Australian Football, or Bouncy Football as I like to call it. I don’t fully understand what’s happening, but it’s always a joy to watch – like children’s soccer. AFL games are played on a circular pitch, with two sets of goals on either end. You are awarded points for kicking through either set of goals, and it appears that you have to bounce the ball every ten yards or face a penalty. My favourite bits are actually when the ball first enters play. Either during the ‘ball-up’, a kind of tip off in which the ref bounces the ball off of the ground as hard as he can and players vie for control in the air, or when it enters play from the sidelines and a player has to through it backwards over his head into the field. AFL has a small following in Victoria, but is biggest by far in Western Australia.
  • And finally Soccer. Apparently officials have been trying to change to the more refined ‘football’ term that the rest of the world uses, but considering their national team is named the Soceroos, I think they have a bit of an uphill battle.

A couple of weeks back, we watched the State of Origin decider, which was some of the best footie (that’d be Rugby League) I’ve ever seen.

State of Origin is the annual best-of-three series of rugby league football matches between New South Wales and Queensland. It’s an all-star game, with players representing the Australian state in which they played their first senior rugby league, hence the name ‘state of origin’.

Not having much affiliation we chose to support our home state of New South Wales. They were definitely the underdogs, having lost the last 7 years. The nice thing about the NSW team is their colours and slogan matched our last favourite team as well. All around town you could read “Go the Blues!”

In the end, we lost, but the highlight of the series wasn’t so much the score (we all knew, deep down, that Queensland was going to win) but this guy, who decided with only minutes left in the game that he would streak 90-yards down the field, and attempt a try. He almost made it too!

Origin Streaker

Fairy Bread

Fairy Bread

Fairy Bread is an Aussie/Kiwi staple at children’s birthday parties. I have to admit, I scoffed when I first heard about it, but it’s better than it sounds. The next time you think you’d like some cake, but without all the complexity, give it a shot. đŸ™‚

Ingredients

  • White Bread
  • Butter
  • “100s and 1000s” (or, ‘Sprinkles’ as we call them back home)

Recipe

  1. Spread butter on white bread.
  2. Cover with sprinkles; the more the merrier!
  3. Nom nom nom…

Not exactly rocket science, or gourmet cooking, but it is pretty tasty.

Vivid Sydney

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The Vivid festival was a few weeks back; this is Sydney’s annual light, music and ideas show… and it’s spectacular.

For the last two years we’ve only really paid attention to the light show part of it. The music and ideas bits are interesting too, but more trixy to get to with toddler in tow. The lights, however, are a winner no matter what the age.

This year, they added a second venue very near to our house, which we made it out two twice during the two week event. The second venue wasn’t as decked out as the main core, but it did have two awesome features. My favourite was the harbour water fountains. Each hour giant fountains of water would shoot across Darling harbour in a very carefully timed dance. As the jets died down, residual water droplets hung in the air and acted as a moving canvas for a playful light and music show that could only be seen or heard from certain angles nearby.

The local maritime museum also transformed itself into a small bar, serving local wine and beer, with a kid friendly light and sound stage along the water side. We spent a good hour here while Xavier danced in the dark to Funk hits of the 70s.

The big show was a little further away in circular quay. Several of the buildings in the inner harbour had really elaborate light displays projected on them. The opera house is the most iconic:

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Others were equally stunning though. Sarah’s tops was the super dynamic presentation on the modern art museum.

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Mine was the interactive display on Cadman’s Cottage. You could finger paint on an image displayed on an iPad, and see the results broadcast on the building live. Every 15 minutes the state was captured, tweeted, and reset for the next person to play. In these next three photos, some young girls were decorating with monstrous ladybugs.

 

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Xavier’s favourite defied pictures. It was essentially a trellised fairy light garden, 15 meters long. As you walked through, thousands of small lights flickered different colours all around you.

Other displays were a little more tame, or unluckily broken down while we were visiting. Some were very elaborate – like an exhibit where light chased you as you moved across the sidewalk, or an interactive flower garden projected onto a wall that allowed you to swat at the virtual butterflies and flowers. Others were just pretty lights on an interesting surface.

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