Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

I should be packing my bags, but... I decided to take the local bus to the village of Kuranda and visit the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, where, since 1987, they have been hand-raising more than 23,000 butterflies each year. The sanctuary offers tours of their nursery labs and aviary - with over 1,500 butterflies in the aviary at any one time, it's the next best thing to joining the annual Monarch migration to Mexico!

I was wearing a bright red shirt and quickly learned it was a favourite color of the Ulysses Butterfly as they were continuously fluttering up to me in 'high floral hopes', (or perhaps to witness such a fashion faux-pas?) At times, I had as many as three of these, large, beautiful neon-blue butterflies on my shoulders at one time. They are hand-raised and live in a safe environment and are accustomed to people, which affords an up-close look and a unique photo opportunity.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Great Barrier Reef II

Despite choppy seas, 25-knot winds and ocassional rain showers during our 80-minute, 30-kilometer commute to the outer reef, the sun was shining bright on our arrival and snorkeling in the 75-degree water was as remarkable as anticipated.

A Red and Black Anemonefish, (amphiprion melanopus,) a species of anemonefish of which Nemo (a Clownfish, amphiprion ocellaris) is undoubtedly the most famous member!

Photo above by Katrine V-H (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Green Sea Turtle

Thanks to Kat for the use of her photo... below is my attempt at the same image :-(

Photo by Katrine V-H (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Jun, one of our Silverswift crew members, leads a snorkel tour on the reef. In this image above, he's holding a pineapple sea cucumber, one of several sea cucumber species found on the reef.

A male parrot fish (there are over 30 species of parrot fish on the GBR), scrapes away at the algae on the coral reef, scratching away a thin layer of the calcium as well. The calcium bits help digest the cellulose of the algae. The calcium is excreted in long streams of sediment. It is estimated that 30% of coral sand is old parrotfish poo!

Parrotfish are protogynous, beginning life as a female and are dark (almost black) in color. After eight years, their sex changes to male at which time they acquire their beautiful coloring.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Full Circle...

It seems like only yesterday I was online researching hostels in Cairns – “What about this one called Traveller’s Oasis; I wonder what it’s like?”

In the blink of an eye, six months have pasted and I have come full-circle on my Australian journey. I’m spending my remaining few days 'down under' where the journey began – at Travellers Oasis!

Virgin Blue flight DJ1429 touched down ahead of schedule last night and after a smooth, three-hour flight 40,000 feet above the east coast of the country, (during which time I watched the new, based on a true WWII story, Daniel Craig movie: Defiance), we landed in light rain to 70 degree temperatures. Winter temps in Cairns are temperate so bye-bye long jeans, hello shorts and Havaianas!

(Havaianas thongs are the iconic beach footwear of Australia. [Yes, I have a pair… in conservative brown.] They are extremely lightweight, incredibly comfortable and surprisingly durable. Did I mention their iconic status…? Check out this link to Havaiana Day 2009 in Noosa:

Tomorrow I board ‘Silverswift’ for a day of snorkeling and diving on Thetford, Pellowe and Flynn Reefs. Pics to follow…. J

Farewell Sydney...

Farewell Sydney... my 7 p.m. flight to Cairns (pictured above) is now boarding. Sydney to Cairns... 2,730 km./3:20 hr./min.

(In case you don't immediately recognize the aircraft... it's a Boeing 737-800! As the pilot confirms the V-speeds on departure, he'll rotate the nose for take-off and set the throttle controls to 'auto' (it's a small, round, black button located under the left engine throttle lever.) While maintaining a comfortable RoC (rate of climb) of 1,000 ft. per minute, he'll reach over the throttle console to retract the landing gear once V-3 speed has been attained. Because of my 737 training, I'm familiar with those gauges and controls... I'm ready if the pilot needs a hand!)

I spent part of my last day in Sydney taking in the beauty of Circular Quay, the Ferry Terminal, the Opera House, the skyscrapers of the Central Business District and the busy Harbour below from high atop the South Pylon (conrete and granite tower) of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I can't say enough how impressed I was with the city and all it has to offer.

Views of Sydney Harbor from the South Pylon of the Harbour Bridge.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hunter Valley wine region...

Tyrells, a five generation, family-owned winery in the Hunter Valley, makes top-quality table wines the old-fashioned way - in small batches using century-old equipment and methods. The original wine cellar shown here is still in use and features traditional wood post and corrugated steel construction with dirt floors.

Barrel #11, (on the right) is aging 3,000 gallons of 2008 Shiraz. The barrel was made by C.A. Schahinger Coopers in South Australia from oak planks from California. This vessel's first vintage was in 1996.

The 130+ wineries of the Hunter Valley region, (a two-hours drive north of Sydney,) are known for their Shiraz reds and Semillon white wines. I enjoyed a teenie, tiny sip at several cellars.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cairns Express...

I depart Sydney for Cairns (in north Queensland) Saturday evening and as tempting as it is to drive the 2,730 km. (32-hour) Bruce Highway to Cairns, I've opted for the Qantas 'bus' for this leg of my journey.

Australia's Princes Highway (Route 1) passes directly under one of the main taxiways of Sydney International (Kingsford Smith) Airport, making it easy for an upclose look at the new Qantas Airbus A380.

Unfortunately, the A380 is NOT pictured above, but you can take a virtual tour here: . And, if you find yourself wondering, "How much does an A380 cost?" Answer: $330 Million

Sydney Airport Control Tower

The Sydney Fish Market

Balmain Bug... a type of (clawless) slipper lobster, closely related to the rock lobster, is a popular, edible crustacean found in local fish markets.

Mud Crabs... considered to be among the tastiest of crab species, are relatively common in the northern states of Australia and generally prized above other seafood by the general public.

Salmon... heads for bait and soup stock

Giant Crabs... can weigh up to 15 kg. and are one of the largest crabs in the world.

Octopus... of all sizes

Don't look, DeeDee... :-)

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is the largest, single-span arch bridge in the world and an enduring international symbol of Sydney... and I'm standing on the very top of it!

500 people (in teams of 14-15) climbed the Harbour Bridge with me on Saturday, July 18th. The weather was picture-perfect, as captured in these snapshots taken by our climb leader, Chris.

It took over 10 years of legal battles and a $20 million dollar investment, before Bridge Climb's owner, Paul Cave realized his dream of offering this unique tour experience to Sydney's residents and visitors.

Bridge Climb has even hosted seven weddings on top of the steel arches and countless marriage proposals!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Darling Harbor via Monorail

Residents, commuters and visitors alike take advantage of Sydney's extensive mass transportation system which includes trains, buses, ferries, light rail and monorail service.

The monorail trains pictured here travel a closed circuit linking a dozen major destinations including: China Town, City Hall, the Harbourside Convention Center, Darling Harbor and the Marine Muesum and Aquarium.

It's a inimitable perspective traveling between the tall office buildings and viewing the hustle and bustle of the city directly below. It feels much like riding the monorail at Disney World.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Cleared for takeoff..."

My co-pilot, Matt, is smiling for the camera, but his hair tells the true story.

A couple of 'touch and go' landings at Manchester's (NH) Grenier Field with me at the controls of the Boeing 737 Flight Simulator and my instructor's hair was standing on end!

Truthfully, Matt did keep me from stalling the jetliner; and had to remind me to retract the wheels after takeoff; and he did manage to keep the nose lined up to the runway... but otherwise it was all me.

(According to my co-pilot, a 737 can be flown from Sydney to San Francisco, a 14 hour flight, with a little as six minutes of hands-on flying; the balance of the flight is all computer. Such a flight would have four pilots, as regulations limit command time to 4-hour shifts.)

I have officially logged my first 30 minutes at the controls of a 737... and I can cross 'Airline Pilot' off my list of potential careers. :-)

Check out the flight simulator website at:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Nerves of Steel...

Did you know... for $200 and nerves of steel, you can climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge?

The climb takes about three hours and you climb to the very top of the bridge! (Aussies are serious about offering unique sightseeing tours for the city's visitors. :-) )

No, I haven't climbed it yet... but I'm considering it. Unfortunately, you can't bring any camera equipment with you... or any jewellery... or any loose item that could fall from the bridge!

Check out this stunning panorama from the top:
(click and move the mouse to view 360 degrees.)

"Click" on the photo above to enlarge...
You can see the row of climbers ascending the right arch of the bridge.

Manly Beach, North Sydney

Seagull enjoying a sip of fresh water at the Corso in Manly, North Sydney

High School students, on winter holiday for two weeks, were taking advantage of the time off from their studies to earn a little pocket money by performing for an appreciative audience of visitors enjoying the day at Manly Beach.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Three Sisters...

The "Three Sisters", Echo Point, Katoomba, The Blue Mountains, NSW

The Three Sisters - The Legend
The Aboriginal dream-time legend has it that three sisters, 'Meehni', 'Wimlah' and Gunnedoo' lived in the Jamison Valley as members of the Katoomba tribe. These beautiful young ladies had fallen in love with three brothers from the Nepean tribe, yet tribal law forbade them to marry. The brothers were not happy to accept this law and so decided to use force to capture the three sisters causing a major tribal battle. As the lives of the three sisters were seriously in danger, a witchdoctor from the Katoomba tribe took it upon himself to turn the three sisters into stone to protect them from any harm. While he had intended to reverse the spell when the battle was over, the witchdoctor himself was killed. As only he could reverse the spell to return the ladies to their former beauty, the sisters remain in their magnificent rock formation as a reminder of this battle for generations to come.

Why are the Blue Mountains... blue?
The Blue Mountains is densely populated by oil bearing Eucalyptus trees. The atmosphere is filled with finely dispersed droplets of oil, which, in combination with dust particles and water vapour, scatter short-wave length rays of light which are predominantly blue in colour.