Planning New Guinea

I’m getting ready to go to Papua New Guinea (PNG). My original plan was to fly to Port Moresby back in July when I was in the Solomon Islands. However, the flight schedule from Honiara was too unpredictable. There was only one flight a week and it was expensive and really didn’t fit into the flow of where I was going in that part of the Pacific at the time.

PNG is only about 500 miles away from Cairns. Walking around Cairns I can find brochures for attractions in Sydney, Tasmania, Perth, Darwin, Fiji, New Zealand and Vanuatu. I can’t find a thing about PNG even though it is much close than any of those places. I had to go to the office for Airlines PNG to get any information.

I’ve been in Australia quite a while now and I’m getting antsy to go someplace that isn’t so…..Australia. I think PNG will deliver that in spades.

My current plan is to spend two weeks in PNG. I’ll go diving on New Britain and then fly to Papua and go hiking up in the highlands.

I’ve been many places where I really had no preconceived idea of what to expect because they are so small and unknown that they don’t have real impact in the media (Marshall Islands anyone?) PNG is sort of like that. I know a bit of the history of the country and structure of the country, but the basically the only real image I have of the place in my mind is that of a “primitive” country. Most of the people still live in villages and live like they did for hundreds of years.

I have no idea if that is actually true, but that is the image I have from what little I’ve heard of the country. What little exposure I’ve had to the country since I’ve started my trip has surprised me:

  • One thing you should always check is where a can or bottle of Coke is bottled. Usually is it whatever the nearby major metropolitan area is. In the Pacific, I saw Auckland, Suva, Singapore and Port Moresby as cities where they had bottling plants. The Port Moresby one I didn’t expect.
  • I was talking to the owners of the resort I stayed at in Kosrae in Micronesia. I told them of where I was planning on going in the future and one of the places was PNG. She mentioned that they had gone to a tourism in the Pacific conference and the group which was the most organized and professional was the group from PNG.

I’m not sure what I’ll find.

I also have no clue if I’ll have the internet while I’m in PNG (out of Port Moresby at least). I’m working under the assumption that I won’t, so be prepared for a whole lot of daily photos for the time I’m away.

If you are a traveler and would like to do a guest post while I’m up in the highlands, send me an email. (I’m only interested in stories about places you’ve been or things you’ve done. Photos and video are big pluses).

Diving the Reef

Me and a giant wrasse on the Great Barrier Reef
Me and a giant wrasse on the Great Barrier Reef

I’m staying in Cairns a bit longer than I had originally thought for a few reasons: 1) It is warm and sunny here. 2) There are lots of girls in bikinis walking around the beach. 3) I have an opportunity to take my camera in a super fancy water proof housing and go diving with a real underwater photography professional this week.

If you’ve been following the site, I’ve posted some underwater photographs before, but it has all been with cheap point and shoot cameras rented for the day. The goal here would be to go nuts for one day and try to get as many underwater shots as I can. In the long term, underwater photography just isn’t possible for me. The equipment is too expensive, used too infrequently, and to bulky and heavy to carry around. While I’m sure I’ll be doing move diving after Cairns, this is probably the best opportunity I have to do this given the number of dive shops and underwater photography experts in town.

This is the third time since I’ve been in Queensland I’ve gone out of my way to get better photos. I took the short plane flight on Fraser Island, the helicopter flight in the Whitsundays and now this. I’m pretty excited.

I hope to hell the seals on the camera casing don’t leak.

Visiting Fraser Island

Fraser Island from Space
Fraser Island from Space

Perhaps the biggest attraction on the drive from Brisbane to Cairns is Fraser Island. Fraser Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and holds the distinction of being the worlds largest sand island.

If you look at a map of Australia, you will notice that the east coast of the country curves. Right after the point where it bulges out the most and starts to curve westward, you will find Fraser Island.

I bring this up because Fraser Island is, on a very large scale, the result of the exact same phenomenon which creates sand spits and sand bars. Given the nature of the ocean currents around the east coast of Australia, sand is constantly transported up the coast. At the point where Fraser Island is, is an extinct volcano. Today you can barely see it because it is covered with sand, but you can see basalt peek out at a few places on the beach. The sand which was transported up the coast basically got stuck on that volcano and started to pile up. Looking at an aerial photo of the island, you can see how the shape of the island is defined by sand getting extended down the island making it longer.

Sand creep into the forest on Fraser Island
Sand creep into the forest on Fraser Island

All this sand piling up also makes some interesting things happen on the islands. For starters, the interior of the island in forested. Parts of the island are in fact rainforest. The Fraser Island rainforest is the only rainforest in the world which grows in sand. As substrates go, sand is a pretty poor medium for growing plants. There is little in the way of nutrients to be found and it erodes easily. (It should be noted that Fraser Island isn’t sandstone, it is sand. It hasn’t been around long enough to become sandstone.)

Although you have forests growing, you also have sand dunes which are being created as sand blows around. From the air you can see large rivers of sand encroaching into the forest. The island is a constant fight between forest and sand.

Tire tracks on beach sand
Tire tracks on beach sand

Being the worlds largest sand island also sort of makes it the worlds largest sandbox for adults.

Getting to Fraser Island requires about a 45 min ferry ride from Hervey Bay. Hervery Bay is about three hours north of Brisbane by car and is the launching point for everything Fraser Island.

All the vehicles on Fraser Island have to be 4×4’s. I’m not sure if this is a law or just reality. Attempting to drive on the island with a normal car would probably be impossible within the first 100m of getting off the boat. You can rent your own car to explore the island or you can take a multitude of packaged trips. I took a day tour, which in hindsight, was probably not a great idea. Most of the day tours I’ve taken on my trip have been with very small groups and a guide. This one had 28 people and a bus (albeit a 4-wheel drive bus) and it really felt like I was on an assembly line. If I were to go back I think I’d rent a car and camp on the island for a day or two. You can fish on the beach and there are plenty of places to camp. You can drive right on the beach as well as many of the roads which crisscross the island.

The forests on Fraser Island are some of the most remarkable Ive seen on my trip
The forests on Fraser Island are some of the most remarkable I've seen on my trip

Getting a tour or renting a car is pretty easy if you can just get to Hervey Bay. Like most tourist towns in Australia, every hotel, bar, and store will have a desk where you can book tours. They pretty much beat you over the head when you get there.

One thing which is heavily promoted is the dingoes on Fraser Island. While I didn’t see any when I was there, there is a population of dingoes on the island which are slightly different in breed from dingoes on the mainland. There are signs all over warning people about the dingoes and provide advice on what to do if you encounter them. I was told, and I don’t know if it is true or a rumor they tell tourists, that a 14-year-old boy was killed several years ago by a pack of dingoes.

Plane landing on the beach
Plane landing on the beach

While traveling in a bus with 28 people wasn’t my idea of fun, an opportunity did present itself on the island that I took advantage of. There are pilots on the island who do short flights right from the beach. You can get out of your bus and meet up with it further up the island after taking a 15 min spin. I figured “what the hell” and plunked down the money for a flight so I could get some interesting photos out of the day. I am told that Fraser Island is one of the few places in the world where planes can take off and land on the beach. It was easily the smallest plane I’ve ever flown in and you can really get a feel for turbulence when you are in a plane that small. I was glad I did it and the photos I got made me do something similar in the Whitsunday Islands when I took a helicopter out to the Great Barrier Reef.

Fraser Island is definitely worth seeing if you are in the area. If I had to go back, I’d rent my own vehicle and explore the island by myself over two days, camp and fish on the beach.


Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Today is ANZAC* Day in Australia, New Zealand and several countries in the Pacific (Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji I think). It is the day which Australians and Kiwis remember their war dead. In the US it would be the equivalent of Memorial Day, or Remembrance Day in the UK.

ANZAC Day, from what I’ve gathered, has actually become the biggest national holiday in Australia. Bigger than Australia day. During the drive up to Cairns, I had been listening to talk of ANZAC day on the radio for the week leading up.

Every nation seems to have some sort of day similar to ANZAC day where they honor war dead. The thing which makes ANZAC Day different than most is the day which they celebrate. April 25 is the anniversary of the 1915 invasion of Gallipoli in Turkey during WWI. The reason why picking this day to commemorate is odd is that Gallipoli, in a strict military sense, was a disaster. Most nations tend to pick days which coincide with victory, which is why many European countries pick November 11 as Remembrance Day (the end of WWI) or the end of WWII like the Russians (May 9).

The Battle of Gallipoli was an attempt by the Allies to land in the Dardanelles, capture Istanbul and link up with Russia by sea. If successful, it would have knocked the Ottoman Empire out of the war. Planning for the invasion was done by then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. You could sort of think of it as a WWI version of landing at Normandy.

It never worked and the Allies never made any serious ground in Turkey. Even though Turkish casualties where higher, the defeat of the Allies, the Turks felt empowered to try and take other British possessions in the Middle East. (go watch Lawrence of Arabia for that part of the war).

Diorama at war museum
Diorama at war museum

The total number of deaths at Gallipoli was close to 100,000. 45,000 Allies and 55,000 Turks. About 7,500 Aussies and 2,700 Kiwis were killed. Australians had the highest casualty rate in WWI.

Gallipoli looms large in Australian history. My knowledge of it primarily came from the movie Gallipoli with a young Mel Gibson. When I visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the exhibit on Gallipoli took up (what I thought) was an unusually large portion of the entire museum.

Even though the battle didn’t go so well, Gallipoli was perhaps the first time when Australians and New Zealanders fought and considered themselves as such, rather than just British subjects overseas. That is, as best I can figure, why this is honored here, as opposed to November 11.

Today Gallipoli is a very popular tourist attraction for Aussies and Kiwis. ANZAC day is celebrated there at dawn each year. ANZAC Day has a big Australian Rules Football game every year (sort of like how the NFL plays on Thanksgiving). There are also smaller ANZAC celebrations around the globe. The US Marines have hosted an ANZAC Day celebration in Hawaii for Australians and Kiwis for many years.

The other big tradition are ANZAC cookies, or ANZAC biscuits as they are called here. They are basically an oatmeal cookie sent to troops in WWI. They aren’t bad, but I can think of many things I’d rather eat for dessert.

*ANZAC = Australia New Zealand Army Corps

My Weekend At Tassies

I didn’t plan on spending a lot of time in Tasmania. It had nothing to do with Tasmania per se, it just had to do with my schedule and the fact is Tasmania is an island, it is really far south, and it is now autumn here in the southern hemisphere. I planned five days in Tasmania knowing that I’d never really be able to experience the whole place, but hoping that I’d be able to at least get a flavor for the place. Also, as is the case with so many of the places I visit, I really had no idea what to expect. If Warner Brothers hadn’t introduced the character of the Tasmanian Devil, it is a place that most people would have never even heard of.

I arrived in Hobart late on Friday night. While Hobart is one of the “capital cities” in Australia where most of the population lives, it is certainly not on a par with the other major cities. When I arrived at the hostel, the office was closed and it was only 9pm. (in fact, I noticed a lot of things closing down early in Hobart). One of the things I try to avoid when traveling is arriving in a new place after dark. You can’t see anything and if you have problems, the odds of getting them resolved are much less likely if all the businesses are closed.

I did manage to eventually get checked in thanks to an elderly Australian couple who had a cell phone. (They were also quick to tell me that they were planning a trip to the US and have been following the exchange rate closely the last few weeks. They locked in their trip when it was 94 US cents to the Aussie dollar). I planned on just walking around Hobart on Saturday exploring the city and signing up for some day trips on Sunday and Monday.

One habit I’ve unconsciously developed is comparing places to other places I’ve been. The place which reminds me the most of Hobart was Halifax, Nova Scotia. Both are coastal cities closely tied to the sea. Hobart has more topography than Halifax, but both have similar harbors and somewhat similar climates. There is nothing between Hobart and Antartica. While the location near the ocean ensures it never gets too cold, once you move up in elevation a bit, the temperature can drop quickly (as I was soon to find out).

Hobart is not a big city. It has a population of 200,000, which would put it on a par with Montgomery, Alabama. The temperature had dropped into the 40s and 50s (7-15C) while I was there. Which was quite a change considering I was Mungo just a week earlier where the temperature was 105F (40C). I had to bundle up in all my layers, which I haven’t had to do since I was in South Korea. (Travel Tip: no matter where you go in the world, take a stocking hat with you.) I picked up a cold in Tasmania which I still haven’t gotten over as I write this in Cairns.

My primary goal before leaving Tasmania was to take some photos of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which includes a good chunk of the land and national parks in Tasmania. I booked a flying tour of the South West Tasmania for Sunday and a day trip to Mount Field for Monday. I figured that would give me the overview of the region I was looking for.

I wake up on Sunday to get picked up at the hostel for my plane flight. I go outside to wait at the appointed time….and wait….and wait….and wait. I eventually went into the office can called the company which I booked with only to be told that the flight was canceled due to weather. Given how they reacted, a part of me thinks they didn’t even realize they had anyone signed up and just say “oh, its canceled” as an excuse. Oh well. That gave me another day in Hobart and one less day of exploring Tasmania.

This has really been a round about way of saying that my exploration of Tasmania really consisted of a single day outside of Hobard. I got a lot in during my day, but nonetheless only a single day and I really can’t say I did Tasmania justice.

Nonetheless, I got to see the major things wanted to see. The trip I took was good because it was just me and a girl from Germany on it. Unlike my tour to Fraser Island which had 28 people, you aren’t rushed and you don’t feel like you are part of a mob.

We started at Mt. Wellington, the mountain which overlooks Hobart. I was stunned at the difference in weather between the summit and Hobart. The summit was snow and ice with a really sharp wind. The wind chill up there was probably colder than anything I experienced on my trip. Colder than it got in Seoul and colder than the glaciers in New Zealand. It was very cloudy at the summit, which made for some really stunning photos of the sun over Hobart.

Beautiful photos aside, freezing my ass off isn’t my idea of fun. I packed for summer, not winter. So we hightailed it off the mountain and headed to Mt. Field National Park.

Mt. Field had the thing I most wanted to see in Tasmania: Eucalyptus regnans, or the Swamp Gum. The second tallest species of tree in the world and the largest hardwood tree. I don’t think that any particular grove at Mt. Field had the biggest examples, but what I saw was pretty damn big. Unlike most trees, you can’t age these trees by counting rings. (I don’t know if that is true of all species of eucalyptus or just these). The estimates of age are just that: estimates. The largest trees are thought to be over 400 years old, and possibly quite older.

Because they are hardwoods, they don’t seem as big as redwoods when you are up close. The trunks are thinner so they don’t give the illusion of being as large as they are. I don’t think there are any swamp gums so large you could cut a hole in it to drive a car through.

We spent about two hours hiking around the park. In addition to the swamp gums, we also were able to explore several waterfalls, one of which, Russell Falls, was rather impressive. It was a very wide waterfall with two distinct levels. The tree growth on the second level made it very difficult to see the whole thing however.

The actual peak of Mt. Field was Lake Fenton, and the very strange site of palm trees covered in snow. The weather up near Lake Fenton was almost as bad at Mt. Wellington, but not quite. There were at least trees to block the wind. People from Hobart used to come up to Lake Fenton during the winter to ice skate when the ice was thick enough. It seldom has ice thick enough to skate on now days.

We ended the day at a private zoo that had various native Australian animals including the Tasmanian Devil. The Tasmanian Devil got its name because it is a scavenger which eats dead meat. They are actually sort of cute. They have fangs and red ears. They also had wombats and koalas. I didn’t know that wombats had a thick layer of skin on their butts which they use as a shield.

I was hoping to get a glimpse of a platypus, but no such luck. It had rained the night before and the level of the nearby river was high. I guess that makes the platypuses less likely to be running around looking for food. The wombats they had were interesting. I had seen wombat road signs all over Australia, but didn’t really know what they were warning. The signs sort of looked like pigs. They are burrowing animals and the animals at the zoo are kept until they can burrow on their own, then released into the wild.

A single day to explore really wasn’t much and I’d certainly go back to Tasmania if I ever have the chance. Tasmania is probably the most unspoiled part of Australia given its distance from the mainland. While I more often than not end up leaving a place with a list of things to see and do, that list is probably longer in Tasmanian than in most places.

The Banana Republic of Cairns

I’ve finally arrived in Cairns. Total damage done: nine days, four World Heritage Sites, and 3,030 km (1,882 miles).

I’m staying in Cairns for five days to catch up on my photos and get my things together for Papua New Guinea. I’ll also be able to spend ANZAC Day in Australia, which should be interesting. (more on that later)

The drive was long, but Queensland is very beautiful. Espcially considering I didn’t have any rain to deal with.

I was surprised by the farming I saw on the way up. From Sydney to Cairns, I saw two and only two crops being farmed: bananas and sugar cane. It sort of surprised me if for no other reason that I usually associate those crops with developing countries. I had never given any thought to the agircultural products of coastal Queensland, but I always just associated Australia with cattle, wheat and wine.

I’ve had to really change my diet while I was driving up here. Most of the food you find when driving is McDonald’s like fast food, or junk food at gas stations. I have never seen fruit being sold at a gas station in Australia. I’ve been going out of my way to stop a grocery stores more often just to buy apples, grapes and bananas.

The pronunciation of “Cairns” is the oddest linguistic thing I’ve encountered in Australia so far. It is pronounced like you are nasally saying “cans”, or like the French city “Cannes”. The city seems very reliant on tourism. There seem to be more Asian tourists here than I’ve seen in other parts of Australia. I’m guessing that is a funciton of its latitude (warmer than the rest of the country) and proximity to Asia.

Disaster Strikes

All the effort I went through to back up my photos may have been for naught. I took everything to a FedEx/Kinkos store in Sydney to send it back to the US. So far, the package hasn’t been entered into the FedEx system to track packages, and there hasn’t been a charge to my credit card. To the best of my knowledge, no phone calls have been made, no emails have been sent to notify me of a problem. Nor has the package been delivered.

This is highly unusual for FedEx, considering I was told it would be in the system the afternoon I sent it out. The only thing I can think of at this point is that the contents were opened and stolen at the store before it was ever picked up.

Which means that every photo I’ve spend the last year taking has been lost. Gone.

I used FedEx instead of the post office precisely because I could track the package and I have never heard of something like this happening.

I’ve contacted FedEx via thier website, but I don’t know what else to do.

You Do Not Need A Guidebook To Travel

If you have been reading the news the last few days, you have probably come across the “scandal” about the Lonely Planet writer who wrote parts of the Colombia guide book without ever traveling to Colombia.

Actually, it is a non-story. He was never supposed to go to Colombia. He was just supposed to write background material, not get on the ground data for hotels, restaurants, and attractions. You can read an interview with him here and it all sort of makes a lot more sense. (that being said, the reviews on are critical of ALL the authors)

But I really don’t want to talk about him. I want to use the story as an excuse to talk about the general use, and over use, of guidebooks by travelers.

Here is your travel hint of the week from this long term traveler: you don’t need a guidebook.

I see backpackers all the time who pour over their guidebooks like it was the bible. They treat it more like a user’s manual to a country as opposed to what it should be…a guide. I’m here to tell you that for your next trip, leave the book at home or better yet, don’t even buy one, to begin with.


Since I started my trip, I have used a grand total of one guidebook, and that was for the first leg of my trip. The book I used was the Moon’s Guide to the South Pacific. It was a fine book (if a bit heavy) but much of the information was out of date, even though it had been published only two years before. Much of the early planning I relied on the book for was thrown out the window because flights which no longer existed and airlines which had gone bankrupt.

This was no fault of the guide book. The author of the book, David Stanley, is an expert on that area of the world. A book, however, can’t keep up with changes in the world. I ended up carrying around this heavy tome for a good chunk of the time I was in the Pacific, but ended up using the Internet to get most of my information anyhow.

I purchased the book before I left for my trip and really used it more as a wish book than a guidebook. It was the adult version of the Sears Christmas catalog. People who dream of traveling can page through the book and dream of all the places they want to go. There is nothing wrong with that, but there are probably better books you can drool over than a glorified white pages. Go buy a photography book or a compilation of travel writing. (…or follow your favorite travel blog :)


Killing Batteries is a website I read on a regular basis. The author, Leif Petterson, is a fellow Minnesotan and a travel writer. He did a lot of the research for the Lonely Planet guide to Romania. The way he describes doing research for creating a guide book isn’t much different than what you would do when traveling on your own. When I move from point A to B, I ask other travelers for recommendations, check the internet, and read the brochures which can be found in most hostels and hotels. There is little in the way of magic when it comes to researching guidebooks. It is mostly grunt work on the front end, and sitting down and condensing it into a compact form on the back end.

Lonely Planet and their ilk are not in the business of providing reviews. They aren’t like Michelin or Zagat’s. They don’t have secret reviewers checking into every hotel and restaurant in a country. They just compile data. If you want to get reviews, get online and check what other people have to say before you go. Or, if you are traveling like me, ask other people you meet who are going in the opposite direction. Taxi drivers are also good sources for information. When I arrived in Bali I told my driver to take me somewhere good and cheap. The place he took me to was great and a block from the beach. I have no idea if he got a kick back, but I also don’t really care.


Lonely Planet has a guidebook for the United States. The whole country. Likewise, they have a guidebook for Western Europe. I cannot fathom how you could possible cram everything you would need for such large areas into a single book. At best they are leaving lots of information out. At worst, you aren’t getting the information you would need.

Lonely Planet also has separate guidebooks for Australia, New South Wales, and Sydney. Each in some respect is just a subset of the other. They wisely charge less for whatever the smaller geographic area is, but it is still just sort of a scam to get the maximum bang out of each guidebook. I don’t blame them for trying to make a buck, but as a consumer, you should be wise to what they are doing.

Remember that no matter where you go, there is an entire industry built around getting you the information you need so you can go see and do things. This industry exists because they want your money. I have literally shown up in a strange city with no idea where I was staying and managed to get by. The process of getting the information you can personally collect is no different than the process that guidebook writers go through. Throw away your book.

Buh Bye Brisbane

My very brief time in Brisbane is over. I have several people in the area who contacted me, but I wasn’t able to meet up with anyone. My apologies to everyone.

Queensland is really big. It is bigger than Alaska and 2.5x bigger than Texas. I still have over 800 miles to go to get to Cairns and it took 10 hours of driving just to get from Sydney to Brisbane.

Yesterday I managed to take advantage of the only free wifi connection I’ve found in Australia to get totally caught up on my photos. If you go to my Flickr page, you can see all my photos from Tasmania and Springbrook National Park. This is the first time I’ve been totally caught up on my photos in months.

Today I’m off to Fraser Island. It is the world’s largest sand island and a World Heritage site. It is also one of the big east coast backpacker destinations. I’ll probably do a day tour of the island, which is probably one of the only places in the world where the buses have four-wheel drive. I’ll also do a few other stops on the way to Cairns, probably to do some diving.

I also have a request to make to the masses. I am having problems with iMovie 08 on my Mac. When I try to edit clips from my camera (Sanyo Xacti 1000) they seem to work fine in editing mode. When I export to anything, however, the video is gone. The audio works and the text overlay is there, but no video. The video is black or just a still image depending on what I try to export as. Back in the US, Kris seems to be able to edit things just fine on his Mac, so I think the problem might be a codec issue or something. I have all the updates that I know of installed. Anyone have any ideas on how to solve this?