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Monday, December 22, 2014

Interrail Geocaching Part 1 - Eastwards

Doing an Interrail trip is one of the things on every European's bucket list. Now I finally found time to tick this off, combining it with Geocaching in a couple of countries I hadn't visited before.

The first part of my trip took me eastwards to Vienna. I'd been in Vienna a couple of years back and had visited some of the sights, so this time I focused on the old town and the area around the brand new main station.
More pictures can be found in this webalbum.

Bratislava is just a short hop from Vienna, so I traveled there next. Bratislava has a beautiful old town in the center and an impressive castle at the edge of the city.
It also features a very interesting museum of old-timers just next to the train station.
More pictures can be found in this webalbum.

My last stop in the East was Prague. There I completed two Where-I-Go-Caches which took me to all the important sights in the old town as well as in the "lesser town".
During my one-day walk around town I managed to find 13 Caches, which is a good number considering the high tourist density in this beautiful city.
More pictures can be found in this webalbum.

Part 2 - Benelux
Part 3 - Northwards




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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Quokkas on Rottnest Island

Rottnest Island is best known for it's large Quokka population. Quokkas are small marsupials that only live on the island and in very small areas on the mainland around Perth. The first European explorers mistook them for giant rats and thus gave it the name Rotte Nest (Dutch for Rats Nest).

Nowadays, it is a favorite holiday location with many beautiful beaches and a large protected nature reserve with many birds.

The only mode of transport on the island, besides to a tourist bus, are bicycles. I didn't have to go far to spot the first Quokkas hiding in a bush next to a residential house.

After enjoying a nice swim at Parker Point I completed the short cycle loop. On the way back I encountered a couple more and very inquisitive Quokkas :).

Back in the town center there was also a peacock strolling around, hoping for scraps from tourists.

Overall the trip was very enjoyable :). You can find more pictures in my webalbum.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Fremantle and it's Prison

Fremantle is located a very short trip South of Perth and was the first area settled by the Swan River colonists in 1829. And even today it kept much of it's colonial charm, with many old buildings remaining in the city center.

Even more interesting is Fremantle Prison, a huge complex that was built by convict labor between 1851 and 1859 and has remained in operation until 1991. Since then it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been opened for tourists.

The Doing Time Tour offers a sneak peak at prison life over time with reconstructed cells for different time periods.

Because I didn't have time to see everything I ended up going back the next time I was in Perth to do the Prison Tunnels Tour. Under the prison there is a vast network of tunnels which were built to access and retrieve the water in the limestone. For many years the prison was the main water supply for the whole town. Part of the tour consisted of a boat trip in the still submerged tunnels. Unfortunately, we weren't able to take photographs, so I have to redirect you to their homepage for more impressions. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this tour as well even though they made me look a bit ridiculous ;)

More pictures from my visits to Fremantle can be found in my webalbum.




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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Christmas Island is not the only Australian Territory in the Indian Ocean. There are also the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, so named to distinguish them from the Coco Islands near Burma.
It couldn't be more different from Christmas Island even if they tried. The islands are completely flat, with the highest elevation of 5 meters, and feature almost endless sandy beaches (at least during low tide).
Due to unfortunate circumstances I was not able to dive here, because the only dive shop on the islands was on vacation himself! So I did everything else there was to do on the islands which meant a lot of snorkeling. The most interesting snorkeling is The Rip at Direction Island, a small channel where the water flows into the lagoon, making for perfect drift snorkeling with many fish hanging in the current. My personal highlight there was a clear picture of a big Doubleheader Parrotfish.

On Monday I joined Geoff's Glass-bottom Boat Tour. On the way to Prison Island we spotted a couple of humongous Green Turtles resting on the bottom of the lagoon. On Prison Island we had a short stop and observed juvenile Blacktip Reef Sharks surfing the waves.
Next was my personal highlight. A shark feeding followed by optional snorkeling, which I took advantage of at length, thus getting very close to Blacktip and Grey Reef Sharks :)
Because all of us had been to Direction Island before, we went Horsburgh Island, the northernmost island in the Cocos Atoll, instead. There we spotted a leftover cannon from WWII which back then was used to protect the only entry into the lagoon next to Direction island. Even though it looks like it was built on water, the cannon was on the Beach as short as 20 years ago. An impressive demonstration of erosion going on around these islands...

Friends I made on Christmas Island highly recommended the Motorized Canoe Tour. Due to the tides we started at 6am and after a short drive we had an extravagant Champagne Breakfast on the beach. As soon as everything was served we saw an invasion of Hermit Crabs!
The Canoe Tour took us around and onto South Island, where we climbed to the highest point in the atoll, where the leftovers of a WWII lookout could still be seen.

Our tour ended with snorkeling around Pulu Maria, where we spotted a very active Octopus.

To round up my experience of these islands I also joined a Cultural Tour to Home Island, the place where the Cocos-Malay population lives. There we saw the house of former owner/"king" of these islands, the Clunies-Ross estate.
And in the village museum we saw the plastic money that Clunies-Ross made to pay his "employees".

Visiting these islands was definitely an interesting experience. On West Island, where a small Australian expat community lives and all tourist activities are located, exists only one buffet-style restaurant, for which you need to sign up on a Blackboard before 4pm. During dinner on the beachside a Night Heron regularly visits hoping to steal some food.
It was a great way to end a long trip, with a good mixture of relaxation, quiet and adventure :)

More pictures can be found in my webalbum.





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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Geocaching and Lost Places on Christmas Island

Christmas Island being such a remote place I had a vary eye on the few Geocaches on the island, hoping they would survive until I managed to get there. So I registered with great surprise that a new series was published days before I arrived!

The series was dedicated to the seven deadly sins as portrayed in the movie Se7en and they were located at the major tourist highlights of the island, giving me a great excuse to visit them.

With a bicycle as only transportation method this was a daunting task, but taking it day by day I made very good progress and I dared to go farther and farther afield.

The first Geocaching highlight was Sloth, a Cache located in an old locomotive which hasn't moved since 25 years and is easily located at Drumsite.

Lust at the Dales was the farthest away, due to road closures, and I managed to find it while on a Nature tour enjoying a shower under the beautiful waterfall.

Pride at Dolly Beach was the second farthest. To get there and back in time for afternoon Scuba diving, I got started at daybreak. The last part led along a two kilometer walk across the jungle, where I was able to spot a very young Robber Crab along with Red and Blue Crabs.

Envy at beautiful Lily and Ethel Beach was a bit more tricky due to an error in the listing, but after a short chat with the owner this was corrected and I found it with the second try.

Wrath, the sixth Cache in the series, had not yet been published due to a veto from the reviewers and since my time was drawing to a close the owner was kind enough to supply me with the missing hint.

So on my last day on the island I had another early start and went looking first for Gluttony, the final of the series, and then continued all the way to South Point to an abandoned railway station, which was the first Cache published on Christmas Island.

Finding a couple of other Caches during my stay, I ended up finding all published Caches on Christmas Island!

Next to the old locomotive and train station there were two more lost places and they were easily accessible in the middle of the Settlement. The first is believed to be the first house built on the island and was used by an overseer.

Next to it is "Virgin Castle", a building which was used in the Sixties to house Nurses and Schoolteachers.




Christmas Island also played a vital role during WWII and so it isn't very surprising to still find gun encampments as well as lookout posts close to the Settlement.


More pictures can be found in my webalbum.

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Monday, December 01, 2014

Crab Migration on Christmas Island

The second reason for visiting Christmas Island was in hope of experiencing the famous migration of the Christmas Island Red Crabs which happens every year after the start of the wet season between October and December.

When I arrived on the island it had not yet started, nevertheless I was able to spot a Red Crab and a Robber Crab (also known as Coconut Crab) during the first afternoon :).

With my main time taken up by diving I forewent the recommended car hire and managed to organize a bicycle instead, which might not be possible in the future, because the only person doing that will leave the Island at the end of the year. Given the mountainous nature of Christmas Island biking around turned out to be quite challenging, nevertheless it helped me to get to remoter beaches which I might have missed otherwise.

To reach the Dales, the remotest part of the National Park, I joined a half-day Nature tour which was very interesting and brought us to the beautiful Hugh Dale's Waterfall.

After a couple of days the rain started. But not as you might imagine it. It would rain in one spot between 5 and 30 minutes, but when you continued 10 meters further along the road it would be completely dry! Fortunately, it was enough to get the crabs moving and so I went up the hill to Murray Road where the Crabs first come out of the forest and already spotted a large number of them on the move.

I also observed a Robber Crab attacking a Red Crab and taking a claw off it!

Around the same time the first Crabs started appearing down in the Settlement area where I stayed. Some of them climbed along and up my window, which woke me up one morning!

It continued to rain and when I went to Murray Road two days later the number of crabs had greatly increased. At places there were so many that they were climbing over each other to get where they wanted to go!

Seeing so many Red Crabs moving in the same direction was an unforgettable experience.

I'm counting myself very lucky that I was able to witness this event :)




More pictures can be found in my webalbum.

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