Monthly Archives: April 2008

Planning New Guinea

Posted by on April 29, 2008

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 brocures 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 Britian and then fly to Papua and go hiking up in the highlands.

I’ve been many places where I really no 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 Kosrea 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 internet while I’m in PNG (out of Port Moresby at least). I’m working under the assumption that I wont, 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

Posted by on April 28, 2008

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

Posted by on April 27, 2008

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 a 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 criss-cross 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 waring 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.


Posted by on April 24, 2008

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