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Friday, October 31, 2014

Leafy Sea Dragons in Adelaide

To start with Adelaide was only a stop-over on the Indian Pacific to catch a couple of good nights sleep. But when I started to talk with people about it, I discovered that there is a lot to do and see.

As usual when I arrive in a new city, I try to explore it by following Geocaches. In Adelaide I spotted something special, a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy themed Where-I-Go that had points to visit all around town. Even though the distances were large, I gave it a go.

Here's the log I wrote after completing it:

That was unexpected! Without warning the Heart of Gold dropped me in the middle of Adelaide and left without the trace. And just when I was to enjoy a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster! So I had no other choice but to make a new one...

Being stranded without transport is tough, but after asking around I got hold of a three-gear hire bike. Not my first choice, but beggars can't be choosers. So into the saddle I hopped and of I went.

After one hour I had a bit of a struggle with a suntiger but managed to extract the first ingredient. After cycling for almost two hours along the coastline I finally detected the correct mixture of Santraginean water.

Fortunately from there the Mega-Gin and the Marsh Gas weren't so far away. After also procuring a dose of Ol' Janx Spirit, a hearty olive and a bit of Hypermint I ran into a small problem. Those earthlings didn't understand the urgency of my mission and demanded that I return the bike by 4:30pm. So back to the city I went.

From there I took one of those big wheeled horizontal people transporters to get me close to the final ingredient. After a short hike it was successfully retrieved. Now I had all ingredients, but no container to safely mix them... Just then I noticed a location where the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster could be prepared, and it wasn't even that much further, considering how far I've come today. What I forgot to consider was my absolute lack of winged transportation, so I ended up walking quite a bit longer until I reached the correct place.

On the way there I spotted a couple of natives, one was a small grey cuddly thing with a button nose, and the others were two jumpy-thingies. One of them even had two heads! "Earth can't be all that bad, if there are other two-headed creatures around", I thought to myself and continued on my way.


Once at the correct location it took a good deal of rummaging until the container showed itself and then I was finally in possession of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster! And after the day I had, I could definitely use it!

PS: Found 6:39 pm, #7 of 8 (day), #677 (total)
PPS: Summary - 6.5 hours spent on a bicycle, 3 hours hiking and 1 hour in buses.
After that I was very exhausted. But the next day promised even more excitement! Diving with Leafy Sea Dragons!

1.5 hours South of Adelaide is Rapid Bay, a beach with a big jetty where the Leafy Sea Dragons normally hang out. We had a very nice dive with clear water and a beautiful giant Cuttlefish, but alas no Sea Dragons.

Because chances of spotting them during a second dive were slim, we next headed farther South to Victor Harbor's The Bluff dive site. Here the conditions weren't as good as before, the water was murkier and visibility was limited to 5 meters, but that was soon forgotten when we spotted our first Leafy Sea Dragon 3 minutes into the dive! And it wasn't the only one. During the swim out we spotted 6 Leafy Sea Dragons, 4 of those were pregnant males.

Since it was getting a bit chilly in the water we decided to turn around. On our way back we spotted 4 more Leafy Sea Dragons, 2 of which were pregnant males.  Some of those might have been the same we spotted before, but a couple probably were not. That was a truly fantastic dive that surpassed my wildest hopes :).

The train left in the early evening the next day, so I had a good couple of hours to explore the city a bit further. And on this excursion I spotted a Swiss restaurant called Alphütte which was flying the Swiss flag! Unfortunately, it was closed that day.

I had three fantastic days in Adelaide and was only a bit sad that time didn't allow for a visit to Kangaroo Island and Port Lincoln, famous for it's Great White Shark Cage Diving. Maybe next time ;)

More pictures from Adelaide can be found in my webalbum.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Indian Pacific: Cross Country by Train

The Indian Pacific is one of three great train journeys available in Australia. Starting in Sydney on the Pacific Ocean it makes it's way across the country first to Adelaide and then onwards to Perth on the Indian Ocean. The whole trip takes 4 days and 3 nights. Since I opted for the most affordable option, all I had was a day/nighter-seat.

Thus I decided to break the trip up into two parts and stayed a couple of days in Adelaide until the next train came along.

From Sydney we made our way through the Blue Mountains, where we had a brief but nice view of the mountains and the valley.  After that the train meandered through rolling hills which were very lush with green pastures and forests. Besides herds of cows and sheep, I also spotted a fox and a couple of Wallabies.

After a not very relaxing night ;), the landscape had changed dramatically. Now we drove past reddish earth with few bushes and even fewer trees. But the wildlife stayed interesting, besides a goat herd I also saw many Emus, one even with three kids, and a large Gecko.

Getting closer to Adelaide the landscape changed again to pastures, large corn fields and more developments.

Three days later I re-boarded in Adelaide for the next 41 hour stretch to Perth. Since it was already early evening, we didn't see too much of the countryside, but we were able to observe a fierce storm with many lightning strikes, followed by a picturesque sunset.

The next morning the landscape was reddish earth with bushes and trees again.

After a couple of hours we entered the Nullarbor Plains, where trees were completely lacking. Soon after we also entered the longest straight in the world. 477 kilometers without a single curve!

Our first real stop was in Cook, a city in the middle of the Nullarbor Plains. It used to house 200 people with a school, pool and a hospital. Nowadays, it only has 4 town managers and a changing number of drivers who stay overnight. Thus most of the place is deserted and it looks like a ghost town.

The Nullarbor Plains were not as interesting wildlife-wise. Even though there should be large herds of feral camels and rabbits, we only saw a couple of birds.

Towards the evening, once we left the Plains, I did managed to spot a couple of Wallabies again. Late in the evening we made our second stop in Kalgoorlie. A welcome opportunity to stretch our legs before settling down for the night.

When we woke up again, we were only a couple of hours from Perth and we were greeted by large forests and in general more color than we had seen before ;).

I had a great time on this trip and I'm not sure which part of it I liked better. The first leg was greener and more beautiful, but the second leg had what we normally associate with Australia, wide areas of nothing ;).

More pictures can be found in my webalbum.

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Lord Howe Island

Not only is Lord Howe Island well known for its scuba diving, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unspoilt nature.

However, getting there is quite difficult, because there is a limit of 400 tourists on the island at any time. For me it was even more difficult to get there, because on the day of our trip there was a heavy storm, which prevented the pilot from landing on the island, so we had to turn back to the mainland and land in Coff's Harbor.

From there we were put on the next plane to Sydney, where we had to stay overnight and try again the next day. Even though the plane was delayed again a couple of times we eventually did make it to the island.

Unfortunately, the sea was still too rough the next day, so there was no diving going on. I used this day to explore the island, walking from one end to the other and looking for the few Caches which were hidden here.

The third day the sea was still too rough outside the lagoon, so we could only do one dive inside the lagoon. But that was a very promising start, not only did we see lots of fish and Shovelnose Rays, we also encountered juvenile Galapagos Sharks!

From then on I was able to do two dives a day around the island and all of them were fantastic. I was astonished about the beauty of its coral reef with many soft and hard corals, considering it is the world's southernmost barrier coral reef and water temperatures are often quite cold.

Besides the diving, I spent some more time wandering around the island taking in its many wonders. For example its large Muttonbird colony. These birds spend all day at sea and only come back to nest at dusk. They are not the most elegant on land and seeing them land, or sometimes crash, is quite a sight. Some seem so exhausted by their landing that they just sit wherever they got to a stop, even if it is in the middle of the road!

Except the juvenile Sharks and Rays on the first dive, I did not spot other big fish, but that didn't matter because there was so much else to see. On our last day we had a short visit by a Hawksbill Turtle and we spotted a juvenile yellow boxfish.


Lord Howe Island is definitely a place well worth visiting and I will go back one day, if I happen to be in the region :).
More pictures can be found in my webalbum.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Geocaching around Sydney

Scuba Diving brought me to the Sydney suburb Manly, but once there I discovered that it was also a fantastic place to go Geocaching!

At the North-Western edge of Manly is Manly Dam a nature reserve around the dam which features biking and walking tracks and also a fantastic Power Trail. Unlike other Power Trails I've done in the past, on Zargfinders Power Trail every Cache is hidden in a different way and some of the Camo's speak of a high level of craftsmanship and need very good eyes to spot, while others are of the more amusing sort ;). If you happen to travel to Sydney, you should definitely schedule a day at Manly Dam.


But that is not all there is to find. Zargfinders is also a huge Doctor Who fan and created a series of 8 Doctor Who related Caches which lead you to a bonus Cache. All of them were placed with a lot of thought to the chosen episode and again they were created with a lot of care and love. My personal favorites of this series were Blink and Silence in the Library, which both featured interesting riddles and fantastic Cache-Containers!




But Zargfinders weren't the only Cachers in Sydney. Tyreless Bubbler Dash Where-I-Go featured an interesting challenge and an ingenious final, which I had to visit three times before spotting it :).

In Sydney itself there are also a fair number of Caches hidden and during my three days in the city I managed to find a couple of them. Thankfully not all of them were Nanos. The highlight of Caching in Sydney was Thornton's Scent Bottle.

Thanks to all these wonderful Caches I have now over 100 finds in Australia :).

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weedy Sea Dragons in Sydney

Diving in Sydney is nothing for the casual diver, it is coldish (17 - 18 ° Celsius at the moment) and the visibility is often quite limited (5 - 10 meters). On the other hand, there are many interesting creatures to discover.

What brought me to Sydney was the Weedy Sea Dragon, a relative to the Sea Horse. Since I first spotted a Weedy Sea Dragon in Boston aquarium I knew that one day I'll meet them under water.

Our second dive day brought us to Magic Point, which is mainly famous for it's resident population of Grey Nurse Sharks (not related to the Tawny Nurse Sharks I saw in Fiji), but also hosts a couple of Weedy Sea Dragons. While the visibility at the Shark cave was extremely bad (lots of silt in the water), we did get to see a Weedy Sea Dragon close up :).

With that off the list, I could then appreciate the other animals. Such as the frequently encountered Port Jackson Shark (a distant relative of the Horn Shark I saw in California). On one dive we saw about 15 of them lying on the sandy bottom!

Another frequent guest on our dives was the Red Rock Cod, a member of the Scorpion fish family.

During my second dive to Magic Point we got to see the Grey Nurse Sharks a bit better, but not good enough for quality pictures, and we got to see another Weedy Sea Dragon, this time a pregnant male!

On my last diving day, we visited the Royal Shepherd Wreck, which sank in 1890. Most of it was buried in sand, but the propeller, anchor and part of the boiler was still visible. More interesting were the Common Stingarees which stayed close to the Wreck.

The last dive at The Waterfall had a real treasure to offer: Two juvenile Cuttlefish!


In summary I really enjoyed diving in Sydney, despite the cold temperatures and the short dives.

More pictures of these dives can be found in my Sydney webalbum.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Vanuatu

Even though I spent most of my time in Vanuatu with scuba diving, there were some other notable activities.

Twice I visited the famous blue holes. Those are waterholes fed by natural springs and they appear crystal clear and dark blue in places. In some of them there were ropes installed from which we could swing into the water :).





On the last day on Espiritu Santo, I joined the Millenium Caves Tour. A tour organized by locals which consists of a 2 hour bush walk, a half hour crossing of Millenium Cave, some Bouldering/Canyoning after lunch, followed by floating down river. To end it all we had another bush walk to get back to the starting point.
Every one of those things were cool in itself, not to mention that there were just the two of us with our guides on this trail, and that combined to an unforgettable day! :)

I also had to spend a day in Port Vila, waiting for my connecting flight, and I used that to do a half day tour to the Secret Gardens, a kind of botanical garden with a couple of local animals and very detailed info about the country and the region, and Mele Cascading Waterfalls, a beautiful waterfall which flows over several levels. This one was much more touristy, especially since a cruise ship was in town that day. Nevertheless, it was a nice distraction and worth the entrance fee.

Pictures of these activities can also be found in my web album.

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