Ubud: first impressions of Indonesia

Brief update:  We just finished a three day boat cruise in the Tanjung Putin National Park of Borneo, and we saw 15 orangutans. To give you an idea of how awesome it was, it is the highlight of the whole trip so far for me! The four of us are now scuba diving certified. Tomorrow we will go to Uluwatu in the south of Bali, then we fly to Philippines. If you’re wondering why we haven’t written in so long, we were preparing a presentation for the Green School of Bali. The presentation went really well, so now we can write in the blog!
————————————————–
Note to all travelers: when you arrive in the Denpasar airport in Bali, have a plan, know where you are going. We learned that the hard way. I didn’t even have the slightest idea about anything in Bali, and my parents had been there 15 years ago. Then the taxi drivers started coming at us. Luckily we had bought the Lonely Planet travel gguide on the phone earlier, so we read a few things about where to go, looked at a map and decided on going to Ubud.
Here are few facts about Bali-
Population: 5 million
Area: 6000 km2, or the size of the greater Toronto area
Languages: Balinese and Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language), but many people speak English too
Currency: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). Exchange rate is 10 000 IDR = 1$ CAD
It’s hard to say what my very first impression was, but here are a few:
-We are back in the land of bad translations into English, so we’ll get some good laughs out of that
-The Denpasar airport is beautiful (the parking garage looks like a Hindu temple!)
-There are a lot of motorbikes on the roads!

image

When we arrived in Ubud, I realized that Balinese architecture is amazing. The island of Bali is Hindu, so there are a lot of temples and statues.

image
All the carvings are so detailed, and the gardens are beautiful.
image
Here is our family photo of 2015. Daddy, what happened to you?

In Ubud, we found a perfect little accommodation, called Kajeng Bungalows. Near the center of town, but on a quiet side street, good price, friendly staff, includes breakfast, and has an awesome pool.

image
I know - hard to believe that this place fit with our budget!

On our first night in Indonesia, we were excited to be able to go to a restaurant, since New Zealand and Australia were too expensive. Here, you can get a great meal at a Warung (local restaurant) for 30 000 rupiah or 3$. And, Indonesian food is really good. Most of it is goreng, or fried. There’s Mi goreng (fried noodles), Nasi goreng (fried rice) Idak goreng (fried fish), and many others.

image
At a warung (say "varoong") in Padang Bay, with my very favourite meal, "Gado-Gado". It's mixed veggies, egg and tofu with a peanut sauce on top. Yum!

Another one of my impressions of Indonesia is that almost all the men smoke. Sometimes I feel sick because it smells so bad.
The next day in Ubud, we took some lessons at the library. They offer a variety of classes for arts and crafts. My mom and I chose Balinese dance, and Jake and my dad chose the Gamelan, a traditional Balinese instrument similar to a big xylophone or marimba. Now I’m going to try and explain Balinese dance to you, because it’s nothing like anything I’ve seen before.
It’s all about posture. At home, dance is very athletic, but in Bali it’s more of an art. You hardly move your legs, but your eyes, arms and fingers do the most dancing. Our teacher Kutuk was a really good dancer, and she taught us the Welcome Dance, a dance for women.

image
See our eyes?

Here’s the link to a YouTube video of us dancing: http://youtu.be/V-JXjGs27Z4
Now I’ll let Jake explain how their Gamelan class went.
We met our teacher Nyoman and he brought us to a covered music room open to the outside.  It had every kind and size of gamelan, but my dad and I played the “standard” gamelan.  As Kaia said earlier, a gamelan is like a big xylophone.  You play it by hitting the flat metal bars with a wooden hammer, and there are bamboo tubes under each metal bar to give the sound a stronger echo.  Nyoman taught us a bit about its origin and importance in Balinese culture.  We learned that there are only 5 notes in one key on a gamelan, instead of the usual 7 on European musical instruments: dong, deng, dung, dang, ding.  I thought it was easy to remember, but my dad didn’t think so, or at least not the order.  Nyoman then taught us the first song in steps, and we eventually learned it by heart.  It’s was a slow repetitive tune, so it seems pretty easy while watching it being played, but you need to hold the metal bar you played last while hitting the next so the sound doesn’t drown out the next note, so you need to keep your mind on two things at once.  It’s also hypnotizing music, so if you really concentrate on the music you’re playing, your mind wanders and you forget to damp the notes, and then it’s hard to get back on time with the other people playing.

image

image
See my other hand damping the last note.

We then learned a second song, a little more challenging than the first.  Here’s a YouTube link to us playing: http://youtu.be/eClhHKOdI60
At the end of the class, Nyoman showed us his bamboo gamelan skills, a bit different from the metal ones we were playing.  Incredible!  He said he plays the gamelan every day, performing at a restaurant with a gamelan group.  I really enjoyed the class, and I think it’s a really cool musical instrument.
-Jake

After just one hour of classes, I think we all felt more connected with Balinese culture. It was perfect, because that evening we went to a dance and gamelan show, so we could relate to it a lot more. Let’s just say… the performers were WAY better than us!

image
The outfits were so exotic
image
And the backdrop was a stunning Hindu Temple!
image
This awkward-looking dancer represents a witch in Balinese culture
image
This one was done by six VERY talented 10 or 12 year olds who were dressed as rabbits.
image
The music players were also really good, and Jake and my dad were especially impressed because they could relate to the gamelan players. We all really enjoyed the show!

If you are ever in Bali, watch where you step! There are little offerings to the Hindu Gods everywhere. They’re made with banana leaves cut and woven in a special way, and then some little things are put into them. We mostly saw flower petals, but we also saw candies, cookies, even cigarettes!

image

We learned that people in Bali are named after what number they are in the family. The first-born is named Wayan, the second is Made (pronounced “Ma-day”), and the third is Nyoman, so my dad’s and Jake’s gamelan teacher was the third born.
We’ve been to some places where they mix up certain letters. In Namibia, it was the “R” and L”. In South America, it was the “B” and “V”. But Indonesia is the first place I’ve been to that mixes up their “F” and “P”! We noticed this when we saw that Wood-pired fizza was on the menu at a warung in the Gili islands.
Our second day in Bali, we did a cycling tour where they drive you up to the mountains, and then you glide back down with a guide. In the group there was us, Tracy from England, Alana from Perth Australia and Hema from Mumbai, living in Dubai. And of course, our guide Made (so second-born child). It was a fun group.
On our way up we did a stop at a coffee and tea sampling place. This place is famous for its “Luwak Coffee”. It’s made like this:
1. The luwaks (small wild cats) walk around at night and eat the coffee beans from the plantation. Their stomachs cannot digest the coffee, so the whole beans come out in their poop.
2. Some people wake up very early every morning to collect this poop from the area.
3.They dissect the poop to take out the coffee beans, and then they clean them.
4. The beans are then roasted and brewed into coffee.
5. Each cup is sold for 50 000 rupiah or $5!
My parents didn’t try any because it was expensive. Also, they weren’t too sure how going through a luwak’s digestive system would make it taste different, let alone better…. we met some people later who had been to that  same place, and said that there was no difference between the coffees.
Anyway, the good news about that place was that they had about 20 different teas that you could sample. I’m not a tea lover, but man that was good. I can’t remember what most of the flavours were, but we ended up buying some lemongrass tea and some ginger tea.
We drove up some more, then at the top we stopped at a warung for some food. We had a view of a huge volcano right from our table!

image
This volcano erupted twice recently, and you can tell where the lava flowed down.

Then we got fitted for mountain bikes and helmets, and we started gliding down. Sometimes we were on a big road, but sometimes we would go off onto tiny twisty hilly roads. The mountain bikes were important, because some of the roads were in really bad shape. On the twisty roads, I had to anticipate that there would be a motorbike around every bend, because there usually was one and they go fast. Before the biking, we had only really seen urban Bali, so it was great to see the rural part too.

image

Tracy was the first one to fall. Then Hema went down too, and my dad happened to have the GoPro going, so we have a great video of that. At the end of the day, Alana fell into a 1 metre deep ditch, then started laughing. It was a great day!
Of course, Bali’s main resource is tourism, but another huge one is rice. We made some stops along the way to see the people plant it. Made explained to us that “every pamily has its own rice pield”.

image

 

image
To plant it, they throw the rice seedlings out in clumps, then spread them out equally.

At around 3 pm, we had some late lunch before getting driven back to Ubud. We loved our bike tour, it was a great way to see more of Bali and get some fresh air.
The next day we got a taxi to the Green School of Bali, because we had a meeting scheduled with a middle school teacher. Now, I could go on and on about Green School, but we will leave that to a separate blog entry. Long story short, it’s a very environmentally conscious international school, built completely out of bamboo… it’s beautiful. We ended up doing a little presentation there a few weeks later. I won’t talk about that now… here’s a photo to give you an idea.

image
This structure is called "Heart of School". It has some classrooms, office space, and common area where everyone eats lunch together.

After seeing Green School, we got a taxi back to Ubud, but not to our hotel. We went to the Sacred Monkey Forest, a park in Ubud where a lot of long tailed macaques hang out (they get fed). The park was really nice, with lots of big tall trees, little creeks, Hindu temples, and macaques!

image
They were playing with the statues!

image

image
Of course, lots of tourists.

image

image

image
I got a lizard! I did it!
image
I'm the king of the castle and you're the dirty rascal!

Bali (and Ubud in particular) is known for it’s massage, meditation, relaxation and yoga. Early the next morning, my mom went to a yoga class overlooking rice fields. She said that it was a really beautiful view, especially at sunrise. She really loved her class!

image
Namaste.

We’ve been to a lot of countries now, and we’ve met a lot of really friendly people. Some countries stand out, like Vanuatu. But I think we all agree that the Indonesians win the prize for the most friendly, open and smiley people. We feel very welcome here. Ubud was a great introduction to Indonesia for us, and we’ve done a lot of great things here.
Kaia (featuring Jake)

Advertisements

Our Northern Queensland “Hotspots”

We arrived in Labuan Bajo on the west side of Flores Island, Indonesia today.  We will dive/snorkel and visit the Komodo Dragons tomorrow. I noted the lead story on the CBC news page this morning was of the unimaginable amount of plastic that is dumped into the oceans.  It’s worth a read.
http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/plastics-dumped-in-world-s-oceans-estimated-at-8m-tonnes-annually-1.2954813

8 million tonnes per year.  If the plastic was spread out ankle deep, it would cover an area 34 times the size of Manhattan.  You may have read my earlier entry about plastic bottles on beaches in Fiji.

https://1year1family1world.com/2014/12/28/fiji-water-washes-up-on-the-beach/

The report featured in today’s story gets around to ranking the countries with the largest contribution to the plastics in ocean problem, and Indonesia is 2nd worse, behind China.  We spent an hour on the beach in Kuta, Bali, and the high water mark is made not by branches or leaves, but by plastic.  And here is a photo I snapped earlier this evening while walking along a beach here on Flores Island.

image

This was an average section of beach.  Clearly a very large problem.  I agree with the report in the CBC piece that the problem in these countries is essentially one of waste management infrastructure has not caught up with their quickly escalating “western” consumption habits.  OK, really it’s about western consumption habits …. That all said, there are lots of clean stunning beaches in Indonesia.
—————————————————————- 

Northern Queensland, Australia is tropical.  It’s HOT.  And we were there in the middle of their summer, so we had it full on.  Dealing with the heat took a significant portion of our attention as we traveled north from Cairns. Our rental car had AC but we were camping with our tent, so sleeping was a challenge, and we were always looking for shade and swimming holes.
The last day in Cairns I took Kaia and Jake about 10km north of Cairns on the bus to Smithfield to do some mountain biking.  The facility there is world class, literally, as they’d hosted the world mountain biking championships the year before.  We got outfitted at Espresso Biking (yes, they specialize in coffee & bikes) and after downing my cappuccino we headed off into the forest.  K&J were a bit rusty on their bikes as the trail got technical and had some confidence draining wipeouts.  But as the ride went on they found their legs again and we sailed through some pretty nice trails.  But the extreme heat (36degC I think) got the better of them, and Kaia’s head started to pound so we didn’t stay out too long.
We set out heading north with the car the next day to Port Douglas (yes, we felt very much at home).  We looked at the beach there and found a rather innovative approach to safe Queensland swimming.  As Kaia mentioned, the beautiful beaches of northern Queensland are generally off limits to swimming, due to very poisonous “box”
jellyfish, sharks (a 17 yr old boy was taken 3 weeks before we got there) and of course, the ever present crocodiles.

image

image

So this Port Douglas beach had an elaborate system of cables and nets that allowed a swimming area to be enclosed, then moved in and out on the beach as required by the tides. 

image
There were anchors well out into the ocean to pull the outside corners out.
image
Here's the winch to move the net in our out with the tides.

Port Douglas is another big access point to the Barrier Reef – they also had a big reef tour terminal with all sorts of options (platform, dive from boat, sleep aboard etc). 
Our campground had exceptional kitchen facilities … perhaps the best we’ve ever seen.  Covered, stove tops, microwave, kettles, fridges, lots of sinks, and very clean.  So that part of the evening went well.  But falling asleep in the tent without a fan was much more challenging.  I think we were in the swimming pool 4 times between that evening and the next morning.

image
Kitchen at Pandanus campground.

We spent most of the following morning at “Wildlife Habitat” – a large zoo-like center with loads of “habitat” right in Port Douglas.  Some animals were enclosed, but the birds and wallabies were free ranging.  This center was really well setup and interpreted and well worth the visit.  I’ll leave it to Jake to tell you about the animals we saw there.  He is certainly our resident family wildlife specialist.  Mossman gorge was our stop of the afternoon.  It had been really built up by everyone we spoke to.  But essentially it wasn’t much more than a nice clear and cool river in the forest.  That said, we gladly dove in.  It was the first water we’d hit in Queensland that was actually refreshing.  Our overnight camp at Wonga Bay was rather uneventful (again, couldn’t swim in the ocean) save for the very lean, yummy “kanga bangas”.  First time eating Kangaroo for all of us.

image

Early the next day we arrived in the what is known as “The Daintree” – it is Daintree National Park.

image
Access to the Daintree is across the Daintree river on this cable ferry.

This area of Australia (stretching north along the coast) is home to the world’s oldest tropical rainforest that also supports a vast array of biodiversity.  We made a point of spending time at the “Daintree Discovery Center” near the entrance to the Park.  This place was fabulous.  I have seen interpretation at so many places through my life, but I think this one was the best.  They are not out to entertain.  They are genuinely passionate about the Daintree biodiversity (we spoke with the managers) and want people to understand and appreciate what they’re seeing as they drive and walk through the park.

image
You are given devices with recorded interpretation, each corresponding to one of the 40 or so stops along the various trails. For each site, you can also listen to an Aboriginal explaining the significance of the feature to their people (food, medicine, housing etc etc).
image
The "epiphytes" (plants growing off trees) seen through the forest here are characteristic of tropical rainforests.

The Center regularly conducts eco and carbon audits of their operations and is actively working with local community members and schools to replant disturbed forests.  This has resulted in a carbon negative status. 

image

image

I could go on and on.  But their almost endless wall of eco/sustainable tourism awards perhaps corroborates my observations.  We spent hours there.  Good on ya, Discovery Center.  Funny though … the managers encouraged us to leave feedback on tripadvisor because they often get negative reviews from people who are more looking for a zoo … and are disappointed that they didn’t see the rare cassowary bird or snakes right in front of them..  HELLO …. you’re more or less out in the wild here, folks!

From there we explored north through short trails, beaches, water holes, ice cream shops, swimming holes, cold beer … and had quite a relaxed time.  In cooler weather some of the more extended hikes would have been lovely.

image
The mouth of the Daintree River.
image
Beaches were gorgeous, but not so welcoming. 36degC but you can't swim, so you don't hang around. This is at Cape Tribulation - named by Captain James Cook in 1700s after he ran aground on the Barrier Reef which started a sequence of other unfortunate events (the details of which were never explained to us).
image
Most of the rope swings we try have water to drop into. Kaia burned her hands swinging back and forth on this one.
image
This water hole is hidden a ways down a trail at the northern end of the park. Locals assured us that the crocs don't come this far up the river. Jake is looking down to do a last minute check before dropping in off this rope swing 😉
image
Bliss ... relief from the heat.
image
We went as far north as we could ... this is the end of the line for regular cars (rental companies forbid crossing the river). To head north to Cooksville from here you need full-on 4WD.

From the Daintree we headed south to the other well known area near Cairns – the “Tablelands”.  A dramatic 1000m escarpment parallels the coast in this region and the land to the west is very flat … and very fertile.  Where it drops off towards the coast waterfalls abound, so we drove what is popularly known as the “waterfall circuit”.  We started in Kuranda and did a fantastic short walk to see Barron Falls.  January is normally in the full-on rainy season.  And when they say full-on, they’re talking about several meters in a month.  So these falls should have been crazy spectacular.  But with the rainy season more than a month overdue, what we saw was spectacular in the absence of water!

image
This whole scene is apparently white with spray when the rains set in.
image
Best. Tarzan vine. Ever.

We were still in “Australia animal” mode, so we took in the “Reforestation” center.  It started out as a reforestation project and the owner brought in a WWII amphibious craft to tour people around the site.  Fast forward 20 years and you have a huge wildlife area surrounded with fruit and coffee plantations set around a large pond/river complex and now 12 of these amphibious WWII craft to tour you around.  For what it’s worth (really not very much …) this is the largest collection of these WWII “duckies” in the world.

image
OK, OK, it looks a little bit like Disneyland. Our duckie broke down but because there's a few sketchy animals around they wouldn't let us walk back to the center - we had to wait to be rescued by another duckie. Sure glad we didn't have bullets flying overhead as we waited.

Jake will tell you lots about the animals we saw in these parks in the next blog entry.  Again, great interpretation throughout the park.  Another feature they’d wrapped into this attraction was an Aboriginal dance/didgeridoo/weapon session.  I have to say that I’m generally skeptical about these “indigenous” type cultural dance presentations.  They make me feel awkward.  But the four of us agreed that this dance presentation was really really well done.  You could see the connection to land/animals clearly in the dances.  And the “didge” (didgeridoo) music accompaniment was divine.

image

image

image
An opera is not over till the fat lady sings. Well, a cultural dance show is not over till they invite/cajole audience members up to the stage (ouch). Kaia and Jake actually volunteered, and did a pretty decent job maintaining their dignity.

image

We had a chance to try throwing boomerangs and were amazed with the speed and accuracy of their spear throwing.

image
The wooden pole/attachment gives them a mechanical advantage and crazy speed.
image
This guy was imitating various animals on the didgeridoo, with remarkable likeness. Here he is telling us we're now hearing a bouncing kangaroo.

image

The tablelands are fantastically productive agriculturally.  We enjoyed the roadside stalls for mangoes, bananas and avocados.  Lots of coffee, cocao and wine grown here, and especially peanuts.  We LOVE peanuts, so stopping at the “Peanut Place” for warm chilli/lime peanuts was a no brainer.

image

A short walk took us into Hipipamee crater which is a bizarre geographical anomaly.  A lava plug eroded away leaving this 60m deep shaft with water in the bottom.  Apparently the crater drops for another 60m (of water) then changes direction and slopes away … it has not been explored yet.

image
Hipipamee crater.
image
Dinner falls, near Hipipamee.
image
We found a big open space to play with the boomerang we bought. Oh what fun! You have to pay attention ... they really do have a habit of returning ... towards your head.

The highlight of the one overnight we did in this region was the platypuses on the river in Yungaburra.  They are delightful little guys, and I was lucky to see one out of the water on my early morning run. 
Yungaburra is known for two other local attractions:

image
Tree kangaroos are very rare. Best way to see them is from the water, at dusk. It didn't happen for us.
image
The "curtain fig tree" inspired an impromptu yoga session. This is a "stangling fig" tree - it starts as a small vine wrapping around a tree. It eventually strangles its host, but is strong enough structurally to live on, and sends shoots down to root in the ground. In this particular case, the host tree partially fell over while the fig was still pliable, so the dropping vine/shoots have formed a remarkable "curtain" effect.
image
The vine curtain is about 15m wide at this point!

We were running out of time with our rental car, but were told we couldn’t miss Josephine Falls, and after all, we were on the waterfall tour.  So away we went.  This was a very popular spot, owing to the two big pools of water, some great jumping rocks (yes, of course we jumped!) but mostly the great little natural water slide.

image
Waterslide on the left.
image
Yvonne and I had a few goes. But Kaia and Jake must have taken 30 runs each through this - in every conceivable position, with no bruises, remarkably.

And so ended our little North Queensland Australia stint.  It was all we’d hoped it would be.  We’d have loved to make another trip out to the reef, but otherwise our 10 days was the right length here, for us.  We saw a teenie tiny part of the country.  We’ll need to come back a whole bunch longer to be able to appreciate the scope of this enormous country.  Keeping with our tradition of ridiculous flight departure times, we rose at 3 AM the next day to pack and taxi to airport for a 5:45AM flight to Bali.  But I’m not complaining!

Cam

OMG!! we went to the GBR!

As Kaia mentioned in the previous entry, our main motivation for a 10-day stopover in Cairns, Australia, was to visit the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).  Having heard reports of its beauty and diversity, as well as its decline due to many factors, we wanted to see for ourselves how tourism and other economic activities are affecting it. 

A few stats about the GBR:

348 000 = the number of square kilometres it covers (making it the world’s largest coral reef system)
8000 = age in years of the coral systems we see today (they are growing on top of much older reef platforms)
1770 = the year Captain James Cook ran aground on a portion of the reef in his ship the Endeavour
1500 = number of fish species that live in the GBR
400 = number of coral species
4000 = number of mollusc species
240 = number of bird species (there are about 600 islands of various sizes within the GBR)
250 = how many km it extends off the coast of Queensland
1981 = the year it was named a UNESCO world heritage site for its outstanding universal value
2 000 000 = the number of tourists who visit annually
5 000 000 000 = dollars generated annually by tourism to the GBR

image
Not our photo, but it shows what we saw better than our own pictures.

image

image
The whole reef is divided into different zones.
image
Permitted activities depend on which zone you are in, and these maps and tables are widely displayed along the coast.

Getting out to the reef is an undertaking that requires at least a full day.  We were looking for something that would allow us to get to a section of the outer reef for a combination of snorkeling and SCUBA diving, and chose Reef Magic, a locally-owned company that uses catamarans to carry people out to a reef platform.  Sounds pretty high-impact, doesn’t it?  Actually, the platforms, or stationary pontoons, cause less damage due to dropping anchors on the coral since it is anchored once and permanently.  However, there is certainly a lot of localised human impact around the pontoon since about 150-190 people visit it each day.

image
The dock in Cairns was a busy place (and the check-in process was similar to that of an airport!)

The trip out took 1.5hrs and we were going to have 5hrs on the platform (including a buffet lunch).  Jake and I had decided to do 2 dives and Cam and Kaia were going to snorkel and perhaps take advantage of the semi-submersible or the glass-bottom boat.  During the trip out, we got a briefing about the dives from Josh, our divemaster.  There were also a series of short and very informative talks about snorkeling techniques, introductory diving opportunities, underwater photography, and aquatic animals.  By the time we got there, both Cam and Kaia had decided that they wanted to give SCUBA another shot by going for an introductory dive.  If you’re on the GBR, might as well make the most of it!

image
I was impressed with the young, energetic, and knowledgeable staff.
image
arriving at the platform
image
here's what it looked like inside (although we didn't spend much time there!)

The seas were a bit rough on the day we were out there, so the glass-bottom boat and semi-sub weren’t really working.  Luckily, we were planning on spending our time under water!

image
That's me waving at the camera. We had to wear full lycra suits because of the jellyfish risk. Also good for sun protection!
image
Jake is holding a sea cucumber.
image
Look closely and you can see Nemo. At a depth of 12m, the colours are somewhat muted, having lost the red and yellow end of the spectrum. It takes fancier camera equipment and high-powered lights to bring out the colours.

Even in our limited experience on the reef, we saw an amazing diversity of corals and fish.  We came face to face with clownfish and moorish idols, we saw sharks (small ones) and clams (big ones!) Cam and Kaia both had great experiences with the diving.

image
Here is Cam with the local celebrity, "Wally", a humphead Maori wrasse who patrols this part of the reef.
image
Jake and Wally, who obligingly poses for photos!

Unfortunately, the reality is that there are significant threats to Wally’s world.  Tourism can be seen as a plus and a minus:  money generated from daily park fees is mostly used to manage the marine park (monitoring the status of the reef and enforcing laws and zoning areas), and tourists leave with a better understanding of the reef.  But all these tourists need accommodation, food, water, and transportation, not to mention the social and cultural impacts for a region that receives 2 million visitors each year!

So, adding to those GBR stats, I guess I can list…

6:  major threats to the health of the GBR

— coastal development that often involves loss of wetlands,
— agricultural runoff that can add nutrients to the water (corals thrive in low-nutrient environments),
— rising sea surface temperature as well as acidification (more CO2 in the atmosphere means more dissolved CO2 in the ocean which means more carbonic acid H2CO3),
— more frequent extreme weather events (such as flooding and cyclones that cause sediment plumes to enter the ocean as well as increase the occurrence of dugong and turtle strandings)
— overfishing (or the residual effects of overfishing),
— dredging of the seabed to keep shipping channels open.  This is a biggie.  The cruise ship terminal in Cairns alone requires 9 million tonnes of dredging and dumping!  Kaia described the attractive and well-used Cairns waterfront.  Apparently the shoreline has undergone many changes over the years due to depositing sediment.  At low tide, it was better to have one’s back to the ocean (large tidal mudflat).

image
This type of container ship has to be able to navigate through the GBR to get in and out of Cairns. It's quite a bit bigger than Captain Cook's ship that struck reef 250 years ago.

On the suggestion of the marine biologist onboard our Reef Magic catamaran, Cam and the kids paid a visit to CAFNEC (Cairns and Far North Environment Centre:  cafnec.org.au/ ).  They do a lot of monitoring and education about the reef and according to them, it is in trouble.

While we were in Australia, Queenslanders were in the final days of an election campaign (held on Jan. 31), and conservation of the reef was one of the key issues (alongside privatisation, mining, health, and, believe it or not, “bikie” gangs).  In fact, CAFNEC had organized an all-candidates meeting to specifically discuss the reef.  One of the main concerns is where to dump the dredge spoils — either into the ocean where it affects water quality and clogs organisms, changing the habitat significantly (very unpopular among voters) or dumping it into wetlands (where it has the same effect but on different organisms — more acceptable to voters).  A lot of reef protection has to do with concentrating the negative effects on a few areas.  The platform we visited would be one.  However, it is certainly in Reef Magic’s best interest to educate their clients on reef conservation (which they did) because their business depends on it!  If they allow their section of reef to get damaged, it’s unlikely that they could get access to another. 
A couple of things about the Queensland election surprised us.  First of all, we were shocked to see people campaigning right outside the polling stations on election day. 

image
Polling station in Kuranda (just outside Cairns). Voters had to run the gauntlet of campaigning volunteers.

And secondly, we couldn’t believe that the results were not available the next day.  The voting system used in Australia is quite complex and requires voters to number each candidate in order of preference.  The ballots are then counted, but if no candidate receives at least 50% of the vote, they drop off the candidate with the least votes and redistribute his or her ballots to the remaining candidates (based on whoever was marked as preference #2).  Sounds complicated and time consuming, but allows for more sophisticated voter input than our system.  Actually, it is now Feb 11 and it appears that the Labour Party won (taking over from the Liberals), but the final election results are still kind of up in the air!  I really hope that the new government makes the GBR a priority in their planning and legislation so that this awesome and ancient ecosystem can survive.  It truly is a wonder of the world.

Yvonne

p.s. One more stat to add to the list:
4:  very satisfied Canadian visitors who marvel at the complexity and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef and are concerned about its future.
 

Awesome Amazingly Adapted Animals of Australia

Last year when I was in grade 6, I was learning about the classifications of living beings.  My class got an assignment to make up a new animal by mixing the different animal classes, and create it using modeling clay.  When we presented them, there were mammal-birds, fish-amphibians, and my friend and I made a reptile-fish-insect-bird.  I wished that they could come true, but I never imagined that animals as bizarre as these actually existed.  Until I went to Australia that is.  See if you can guess this animal: It has brown fur, a wide, flat tail similar to a beaver’s, webbed feet, has a big beak like a duck, and males have spurs on their hind legs connected to venom glands.  They lay eggs, but mothers feed their young milk and carry them in a pouch on their belly.  They eat shrimp and worms.  They’re approximately 35 centimetres long and live in murky rivers in eastern and southern Australia.  Make your guess now…

It’s the platypus.  They are one of only five species in a branch of the order of mammals called monotremes.  They have fur and feed their young milk like all other mammals, but lay eggs and have a beak, characteristics more like birds.  And the venomous spur on males seems more like a characteristic of a reptile or fish.

image
We got to see wild platypuses in a river in Yungaburra.

The four other kinds of monotremes in the world are all types of echidnas.  They live only on land, and their beak is short and skinny.  They have spines on their back like a hedgehog and eat ants and termites, giving them their other name, spiny anteaters.  Males do have spurs on their hind legs, but they no longer inject venom.  They live in Australia and in New Guinea, which makes sense because the two islands were once connected when the sea level was very low during the last Ice Age.

image
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see an echidna when we were in Australia, so I got this photo off the Internet.

Australia’s animals are so unique because they evolved in isolation for so many years.  Bigger, stronger and smarter animals that evolved on other continents thrived and spread around the world, but never made it to Australia, so the misfits are the only ones.  We went to 3 wildlife parks in and around Cairns and saw lots of these awesome creatures.
All native species of land mammals in Australia belong to the marsupial  “infraclass”, which means babies are born very small and undeveloped and their mother carries them in a pouch for the first part of their life.  Baby marsupials living in their mother’s pouch are called joeys.  Dingoes aren’t marsupials and are often considered native to Australia, but they got there later than the rest.

image
Dingoes are similar to North American wolves. I got this photo from the internet too.

Australia’s most well known animal is the kangaroo.  They’re a kind of macropod, which is a group of marsupials.  It seems like all kinds of macropods have the same body shape, but can be completely different sizes.  The biggest is the red kangaroo, which can be the same size as an average adult human.  Going down the list in size, there’s the grey kangaroo, many different species of wallaroo, wallaby, tree kangaroo, pademelon, potoroo, and so on.  The smallest is about the size of a rabbit!  We went to a wildlife habitat in  a place called Port Douglas north of Cairns.  We saw a lot of these kinds of animals, and even got to feed and pet the wallabies!

image
This kind is called the northern nail-tail wallaby, one of dozens of kinds of wallabies.

image

image
They’re really soft!
image
This one is a swamp wallaby, a bit bigger than the kind before.
image
These are called agile wallabies, which we heard are the most common kind of wallaby in the wild.

 

image
You can see the joey’s ear and hand sticking out!
image
This is a grey kangaroo, the second biggest macropod.

These animals also have really strong tails, so they’re like tripods.  My mom came up with this expression: “The wallaby isn’t wobbly!”

There are lots of other kinds of marsupials too.  I definitely won’t name them all, but my favourites are tasmanian devils, possums, wombats, and of course, koalas.  They’re often called koala bears, but have absolutely no relation to bears.  They sleep for 18 to 22 hours a day on average and eat nothing but eucalyptus leaves.

image

image
Those two thumbs make it easy to climb and hold onto trees.
image
Kaia and I held a koala at a wildlife dome in Cairns!
image
The way you’ll see a koala most of the time.

image

image
This is a tasmanian devil.

An exception to the marsupial rule is the flying fox, for they aren’t marsupials but are mammals and are native to Australia.  We saw tons flying over us every night.

image
They’re much bigger than normal bats.

Many kinds of reptiles live in Australia, both big and small.  There are tiny geckos, frogs, snakes, turtles, lizards, and 2 kinds of crocodiles.  The freshwater crocs are the smallest of all crocodilians, but the estuarine crocs are the world’s largest.

image
No, this isn’t an estuarine croc…
image
This is. Here’s Babinda, a big male.
image
A group of male freshwater crocs.

Australia also has the huge cane toad, a terrible invasive species that was introduced around the year 1900 to eat the cane beetle that was eating all the sugarcane.  It didn’t eat the beetle, but with no predators, it spread like crazy across northern Queensland.

There are tons of deadly animals in Australia. There are the crocodiles and sharks of course, and lots of venomous spiders and snakes, but we didn’t get all cuddly with them like we did with the koalas!

And I haven’t even mentioned the birds.  Australia  has the world’s 2nd and 3rd biggest birds, the emu and the cassowary.  We saw a cassowary at a park in Port Douglas.

image

Cassowaries are critically endangered because of destruction of habitat and because of  being hit by cars.  There are lots of speed bumps and signs saying “slow for cassowaries”.  There are fewer than 1000 of them left in the wild.

image
Their heads are so cool, with that big flat horn and bright colours. They date back millions of years.
image
This is in the Daintree National Park.

There are so many other birds too.

image
These are Eclectus parrots. The males are green and the females are red, so it took scientists a long time to figure out that they’re the same species.
image
These rainbow lorikeets are the most brightly coloured birds I’ve ever seen.
image
This is the iconic kookaburra, Australia’s laughing bird.

And this is my favourite bird of them all, the tawny frogmouth.  I call it the eternally stunned bird.

image

Now, I’ll give you a little Australian animal quiz. Keep your guesses in your head and the answers will be under the quiz.

Q1:What do the kangaroo and the emu have in common?:
a) they can both jump twice their height
b) they both have a layer of eyelid to act as sunglasses
c) neither of them can walk backwards
d) neither of them have taste buds on their tongue

Q2: How long can male estuarine crocodiles grow up to be?
a) 2 metres
b) 5 metres
c) 7 metres

Q3: Why do koalas sleep for 18 to 22 hours a day?
a) because they don’t get much energy from their food
b) because their eyes are very sensitive to light
c) because they need to save energy for catching insects to eat
d) because they need to camouflage from predators like the tree kangaroo

Q4: Why are cassowaries so important to the regeneration of the rainforest?
a) because when they walk, their big claws churn and soften the soil, making it easier for plants to grow
b) because they eat fruit and spread the seeds by pooping them out
c) because they eat cane toads, which are invasive to the rainforest
d) because when they moult their feathers, they give nutrients to the soil

Q5: Which of these characteristics do kangaroos and wallabies have but koalas, wombats and tasmanian devils don’t?
a) they have tails
b) they only have 1 stomach
c) they have venomous spurs on their hind legs
d) the opening to their pouch faces up

Now, I’ll give you the answers so you can see how you did.

The answer to Question 1 is c). neither the kangaroo nor the emu have the ability to walk backwards. They can both jump high, but not twice their height! They are also the animals holding up the crest on Australia’s Coat of Arms.
image

Question 2’s answer is c). Male estuarine crocodiles can grow up to a whopping 7 metres long! That’s the length of 4 adult humans lying down! Unfortunately, because of trophy hunting, the gene pool that makes males grow that big has been almost completely wiped out. An average full grown male is about 4 metres long, and females only get to be about 1.5 metres long. Just make sure you don’t go swimming in any estuaries in Australia!

If you answered a) on Question 3, you’re right. Like I said earlier, koalas eat nothing but eucalyptus leaves. They don’t contain many nutrients, and in the heat of Australia, they use up their energy really fast, so they can’t afford to move much, and the only time they come down from their tree is either to get to another tree, or to go drink water. And by the way, the tree kangaroo isn’t a carnivore!

The answer to question 4 is b). Cassowaries eat the fruit and berries from trees, and they travel quite long distances through the rainforest. They spread the seeds when they poop them out, and the poop also fertilizes the seedlings and helps them grow. But because the cassowary population is going down, the rainforest isn’t regenerating as well.

And finally, the answer to Question 5 is d). The marsupials that I named second in the question have pouches that face down, a bit towards their mother’s bottom! But it makes sense, seeing as they spend their time more horizontal to the ground, so it wouldn’t make much of a difference in terms of the joey falling out, and it makes it easier for the joey to get into the pouch when it’s born. All marsupials have 1 stomach only, and the venomous spurs are only on male platypuses.

If you like, you can tell me how you did on the quiz in the comments.

So, I won’t blame you if you tell me my reptile-fish-insect-bird will never exist, but after seeing how strange animals can exist in Australia, why not?

Jake

Cairns, Australia -or- Cans, Straya

It is spelled like Cairns, Australia… but with an Australian accent it’s pronounced like “Cans, Straya”. At our last night in New Zealand, in Christchurch, we talked to some other kids there. When we told them where we were going next, we weren’t sure how to pronounce it in a Kiwi accent! “Tomorrow, we’re going to Australia, to a place called Cans… Cairns…”. They weren’t too sure what we were talking about. When we spelled it out for them, they said “Oh, you mean Keens!”.

On January 23rd, we arrived in Cairns, in Queensland Australia, for our shortest leg of the trip so far (tied with Seattle/Oregon): only nine days! Our main reason for visiting Cairns was to see the Great Barrier Reef, which most of you would know of as the setting for Finding Nemo. No, we weren’t planning on visiting all of Australia – It’s huge! Since we had nine days there, and only one day on the reef, we had some time around Cairns.
It was stinkin’ hot, 36 degrees Celcius. Luckily, we found a hostel with air conditioning and a pool for a good price! Even better: the pool had a slide, so Jake and I spent many hours there, to cool off.
Some things I’ve noticed about Cairns:
-It’s very multicultural. There are lots of Australian Aborigine, Asian people, islanders from Torres Strait, Papua New Guinea and South Pacific, and people of European descendence
-It’s a mid-sized city of around 150 000 people
-Every night, thousands of flying foxes take to the sky, giving off a great show!

image

Here’s something we did in Cairns that you cannot do in any other country: trying the didgeridoo! This is an instrument invented by the Aborigine, made from a hollow tree, that you blow into in a special way to make an awesome sound! Not so easy though… you have to master “circular breathing” to get that continuous sound. Trevor, the owner of the didgeridoo shop, is half Aborigine, and very in touch with his culture. He is very happy to teach anyone about not only the didgeridoo, but also his culture, traditions, and how this great instrument fits in with all that.

image
A hostel we stayed at had some didgeridoos and after some practice we actually sounded pretty good!

One thing that Cairns has really figured out is how to make use of their waterfront. Sadly, in northern Queensland, you can’t swim at beaches because of crocodiles, jellyfish and sharks. But in Cairns, the waterfront or “Esplanade” is the place to be. It’s great for everyone who loves exercise. There is a trail stretching 2 kms where you see lots of people running and walking. There are even little outdoor weight gyms that anyone can use for free!

image
The municipality of Cairns is really focused on getting everyone active and healthy so you can take free drop in exercise classes on the Esplanade every day.

Aussies are known for loving their barbecues. Yes, there are multiple free BBQs with picnic tables, so throw another shrimp on the barbie!
The very best part about the Esplanade is a HUGE swimming pool they call The Lagoon. It’s so unique because one of the sides is actually sand, like a beach! There are deep parts, shallow parts, so there’s plenty of room for everyone.

image
The lagoon is well used of course. What other activity can you do in Cairns without melting?

image

In South America, we somehow arrived at every place during their annual Fiesta. Well, continuing that trend, January 26th is Australia Day, their national day, also the last day of summer holidays for the kids (keep in mind, it’s the southern hemisphere, January is summer). It was a great day for everyone to be at the Lagoon, having a swim, cooking on the barbecue, eating some street food and taking in the live music. Which was awesome! The band was called Busby Marou, an Australian band. The lead guitarist was probably the best I’ve ever seen, they were upbeat and great performers. Thomas Busby is white, and Jeremy Marou, the guitarist, is from Torres Strait.

image

Even though you can’t swim at the beach, there are still lots of great things to do in Cairns!

Kaia

Christchurch still stands tall

You probably heard about the 2 big earthquakes that hit New Zealand’s 3rd biggest city Christchurch in November 2011 and February 2012.  280 something people died, thousands were injured and many buildings were reduced to rubble.  We ended our visit to New Zealand there before flying to Cairns, Australia.  Christchurch has lots of attractions, many of them because of the earthquake.  First, we visited the container mall, replacing a mall that had collapsed.  We had a yummy lunch at a Lebanese food stall there.

image
This temporary mall attracts tourists because it is quite unique.

While driving through the city, we saw a lot of construction.  Every collapsed building must be rebuilt with an extra-strong foundation and a lot of stabilising bars, so they’re taking their time on rebuilding to get it right.

image
A lot of downtown looks like this.
image
Some of the fronts of wrecked buildings are propped up by scaffolding. We think they will build new buildings around these fronts.

We also visited the Cardboard Cathedral.  It was built as a unique cathedral to replace the town’s namesake, The old Christchurch cathedral that had it’s steeple collapse in the earthquake.  The Cardboard Cathedral is made with typical material on the outside, but the inside is all made of cardboard, laminated wood and paper.  The chairs, the altar, even the big cross at the front.

image

image
Kaia was happy to find these statues of her favourite animal in the cathedral lobby. Giraffe statues are all over Christchurch and they represent that the city still stands tall and that the people keep their heads high and are moving on from the earthquake.

Christchurch is also one of the world’s southernmost big cities, so it is the “port to Antarctica”, or at least the eastern side of Antarctica.  We visited the Antarctic Centre, a museum with all things Antarctica.  The ticket seller at the entrance told us to hurry to the Antarctic storm simulator.  We were given Winter jackets and rubber things to go over our shoes, then we went into the storm.  The room has snow on the ground and a snow dome as a shelter for those who need it during the storm.  It simulates a research station getting hit by a nasty storm, but of course not as nasty as Real Antarctic storms.  It started with a bit of wind, then it got really cold and the wind started howling.  It lasted about 5 minutes, but I imagined myself as an emperor penguin, standing in storms like that all winter with no sun, keeping one little egg warm!

image
As you can see, apart from the jackets we were given, we weren't very well dressed for an Antarctic storm!

After the  storm, we gave our jackets back and went to my favourite part of the museum, the blue penguin display.  Blue penguins are the world’s smallest penguin, and are native to New Zealand.   We just missed the feeding so most of them were back in their nesting holes, but a few were still out and about.

image
Blue penguins are only about 30 centimetres tall.

There were also windows into the nesting holes, so we could see the others too.  The penguins in the museum were found unhealthy and were saved and brought to the museum, so wouldn’t have survived in the wild.
Most people associate all species of penguins to Antarctica, but only 4 of the world’s 17 kinds of penguins can survive in that kind of harsh climate.  Other species are found in New Zealand, southern Africa, Australia, South America, many islands in the southern ocean, and the kind found the furthest north is the Galapagos penguin, which we saw during our time there.
We also watched a 4D movie that  blew snow and wind at us, and even shook the seats as the big icebreaker we were on went over big waves.
We also learned about the race to the South Pole between Norwegian Amundsen and British Scott.  Amundsen got there first, and Scott and his comrades died on their way back.
After the Antarctic Centre, we went to find a campground.  Since we had to get up early for our flight, we went to a Holiday Park (fancy campground) and stayed in a little cabin.  It was a lot more expensive than all our other nights in New Zealand, but we wouldn’t have to take the tent down in the morning, so it was worth it.  The next morning, we got up at about 3:45AM to get to the airport.  The day before, my dad found a place near the holiday park that would drop our rental car and shuttled us to the airport.  It seems like we always have horrible flight times on this trip, but they’re also the cheapest ones, so we’re not complaining.  I was hoping we would fly out on Air New Zealand, but we get the cheap airlines too.  We have two flights with Malaysian Airline, and I don’t think we’re flying with Emirates on or way through Abu Dhabi either.  Since the Cairns airport is pretty small, we had to go via Brisbane.  When we were about to land there, it was raining and the clouds were very low.  As soon as we got the ground in view, we heard the jets roar and we rose up again.  I guess the pilot realised the plane wasn’t in the right position to land, either too high or too low.  We had to do a big loop to land again, and there was a lot of turbulence.  For the first time in a long time on a plane, I threw up.  Fortunately, the landing in Cairns went smoothly.

Jake

Mueller Hut & Mt Cook – a High point in our New Zealand

The south island of New Zealand is perhaps best known for its spectacular geography & scenery  – snow capped mountains, glaciers, rugged fjords etc.  As Yvonne mentioned in the last entry, we tried to access this part of the island experience from the west coast, but got rained out … either directly or because the risk of mud and rock slides was too great.  So we made a point of trying again from the other side of the coast range – this time in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.  I’d had my eye on a hike to a high alpine club (Mueller) hut for several weeks, and we had just enough time left in the country to pull it off.
Mt Cook is NZ’s highest point, at 3700m.  It towers over everything else.  The approach to the mountain/park along lake Pukaki is breathtaking … especially since in our case it was the first time the clouds lifted in about 3 days.

image

image

The park has many beautiful hikes, but we wanted to get up high, so the Mueller hut route seemed perfect … at least for getting up high.  The downside was that it was essentially straight up for 1 vertical km.  The park has a long history of mountaineering, and there are about a dozen alpine huts tucked into various nooks and crannies below the towering peaks.  They are built as approach bases from where very early morning departure ascents can be attempted on the most difficult routes.  Many people climb here, and it is dangerous climbing.  On average,  4 climbers die each year just on Mt Cook.  We were quite happy to think of Mueller Hut as a destination – not as a starting point!

image
Each plaque on this monument commemorates a climber or climbing party's death. They are on all sides of the monument.
image
our route in yellow

We were cold that night in the tent, but awoke to a clear sky and warmed during our breakfast on the picnic table outside the visitors center.  A late morning start had us feeling relaxed and excited about climbing into what we’d heard was some significant amount of fresh snow up near the hut.

image

image
The first 90 minutes were 90% straight up stairs. But beautiful stairs they were, representing hours and hours of hard work of park staff.

I hadn’t been getting as much exercise as I like to, so actually quite enjoyed slugging the pack up.  Really!

image
The views opened up beautifully as we gained altitude. That's Mt Cook rising in the background.
image
Here are two ponds within a glacial lake. The different shades of green colour owe to the different size of glacier flour that is suspended in the water. The more the water has had time to calm, the more flour sinks out, and the deeper the green colour becomes. You can see these ponds in the previous photo.
image
The parking lot where we started is small now ... in the bottom left corner of photo.
image
Lunch at the "Sealy tarns" (tarn is a small mountain lake) was a welcome break after gaining 500m of vertical.
image
Mostly boulder hopping here, then started into the snow. We're headed to the saddle in the middle of the ridge at the top.
image
There were regular small avalanches on the mountain faces all around. You'd first hear them thunder, then look to find them.
image
The view from the "saddle". Ahhhh! Now just a gentle climb along the ridge to Mueller Hut.
image
The last 20 minutes was in the fresh snow from the night before. Gotta say, it was actually good to be in snow again. Easy for us to say as it was only up to our ankles ... I understand that Ontario has a bit more than that now! And 2m fell on Kitimat BC yesterday!
image
Almost there, now (hut is in distance on right). This photo taken just after a lovely little snowball fight.
image
About half the folks who make it to the hut are day hikers - up and back down in one day. Almost all of the overnighters were hikers like us - only two groups were attempting serious climbing.
image
This renowned Kiwi climber has since passed away, but apparently the smallish mountain that rises up behind the hut (we hiked it the following morning) was Hillary's first climb ... quite a few years ago! This hut that he opened is actually the 5th rendition. The first was back in the 1920s I believe. The second one was carried away in an avalanche.
image
It's about a 50m walk to the outhouse. Solid human waste needs to be helicoptered out, so they coach you with instructions on the wall how to "pee forward" so it goes into a separate pipe (released into the environment) - all in the interest of minimizing helicopter servicing!
image
Mt Cook looms large even from our very far away vantage point. It even creates its own weather.
image
There were a few "Kea"s about - they are the only high altitude parrot. They are very friendly and cheeky - so much so that there are signs everywhere asking you to avoid feeding them.
image
Mountains have a way of making you feel small. Here I am on Jake's shoulder whispering congratulations for a good climb.
image
Ever since I worked out in the Canadian Rocky mountains in university, high up in the mountains has been one of my favourite places to be.
image
I can't recall ever having such an inspired setting for a game of onze!
image
These huts are very well set up with bunks/mattresses and great cooking facilities.
image
We watched Mr Cook fade into the twilight from our perch.

We were about 20 folks at the hut that night – many Europeans, some Kiwis and us.  Kaia and Jake were the only kids.  I thought there might have been some local kids, as they hadn’t gone back to school after their Christmas holidays yet.  We slept well and after breakfast retraced Hillary’s steps up the mount behind the hut.  I guess that means we’ve taken our first steps towards our Everest attempt when we’re in Nepal this April 😉

image
On our way back down to the hut. Thick clouds had literally "rolled" in, so couldn't see too far.
image
This is the Mueller glacier. It continues for much longer that it appears, as the bottom part is covered in gravel.

We packed up and started down the mountain through the clouds.  We passed many people puffing and sweating coming up … and were glad to have that behind us.

image
Jake setting up an ambush on Kaia

About half way down the mountain we finally broke out of the clouds to a perfect day and snapped a family photo.

image

I had been looking at another trail across the valley that goes 5k into Hooker Lake.  It was pretty flat and followed a gushing river and over 3 suspension bridges.  So I went ahead for the 2nd half of the descent and then ran into Hooker Lake.  It was pretty hot down at that elevation so a dip in the glacier lake was refreshing.  What a perfect trail to run on. 

image
I love the light weight and wide angle of the GoPro camera but the wide angle does create some interesting distortions.
image
End of the trail at Hooker Lake. And of course ... Mt Cook in the background.

I met up with the rest of the family for lunch back at visitors center.  This had been our last outing in NZ, and it really felt like we were going out on a high.

Cam

3 days later …. the fast descent with a full pack and then quickish 10k run, after not doing much for weeks, meant I could barely walk for about 3 days.  Yvonne did not fare much better.  Must be getting older or something …