Friday, January 20, 2017

More travel log

Ok. Still going with the travel log here.

Next day of the fabulous holiday, we drove back to Wilson's Prom, and did the 90 minute hike to the top of Mount Bishop. The views were spectacular!
What you don't get from the photos is any sense of temperature. So I will tell you about the temperature. It was hot. And a little muggy. There had been some rain earlier, and the sun was heating all that haze. We were kind of sweaty.

And then we got to the top, and we all took pictures in which we were smiling and acting happy.
But what the selfie doesn't show is that there were dozens of biting flies living up there at the top of the mountain. And they thought that I looked really good. (Because I do, don't I? I look really good there with my gorgeous finger and my hiking hat and the turquoise waters far off in the distance.)

Anyway, the flies thought I looked really good and so they started sampling my flesh and decided that indeed, I tasted really good.

And so that was enough for me. The views were not worth the flies. We trekked back down off the mountain before taking the group photo up at the top. Sorry.

To cool off, we spent the afternoon on Norman beach. This time, I brought along a boogie board.
You have no idea how much I love those things. The waves weren't too huge, but there were large enough waves every now and then to go for a ride. Jonathan tried the boogie board for a while, and he had fun, but he let me have the board back when I asked for it nicely. Then Tim and Jonathan walked up and down the beach, looking at shells. And my parents camped out on the sand, occasionally venturing into the water to get their feet wet. It was lovely. This is the right way to spend January, my friends.

What else? In my travel log, I have not yet said anything about the wildlife we saw, except the birds. We also saw kangaroos and wallabies and Tim and Jonathan saw a wombat. We were hoping to spot an emu, because that could go onto our bird list, and because emus are supposed to live in Wilson's Prom. But no luck.

I have also said very little about driving. I was the only driver on the car. Tim was the designated navigator. For a while, that meant he sat in the front, until my Dad got voted out of the back for being too tall. Tim does ok navigating from the back seat. In any case, the driving was mostly just boring, especially driving home from the adventure.

And then we were home. And this would be a good place to stop, and start again another day with the next adventures, but I've got some momentum, so I'll finish up.

Monday after our return, we took a walking tour of the city centre of Melbourne, and we saw a lot of lovely sights. Like a possum in a tree.

And the Royal Exhibition building, built in the 1880s.
And Parliament House. And the QV market. And laneways. And Skeletor.

Great walking tour. I recommend it.

Tuesday I sent my parents off on the Great Ocean Road on their own. I also recommend that.

Wednesday we somehow ended up taking trains for about five hours. Just to do something different.
My parents sat on the train writing their memoirs.

Then we got off the train and saw ... some mud.
Then we got back on the train and they wrote their memoirs some more.
One last picture: Jonathan in front of his school. Grandma and Grandpa wanted to take a picture of him there.
And that was it! That was all. The parents boarded a plane, and we went back to plain old boring life without them. And that's where we are now.

Next post: something about the plain old boring life, I guess.


I need to finish my travel logs so that I can stop feeling like I need to post a travel log before I write anything else.

So let's finish up the travel logs.

Our second day in Prom Country, we drove to Tarra-Bulga National Park. The park includes a large temperate rain forest, with fern trees, myrtles, and tall mountain ash (eucalypts). As we drove into the park, the narrow two-lane road turned into a one-lane road, but still with traffic in two directions. And yup. I was driving. On the left.

You are asking yourself, if the lane is only the width of one car, then why does it matter whether you are driving on the right or the left? And you are correct, it doesn't matter so much. Until the other car comes speeding around the bend towards you, and you have to quickly pull to the... LEFT! Into the river at the bottom of the gorge.

Anyway, luckily the road was pretty empty, and almost all traffic seemed to be heading in the same direction that we were. So no car crashes. Only a handful of close calls. *Phew*.

Honestly, the biggest problem with the drive was the conversation in the back of the car. People kept calling the park "Terra-Bulga", with an "eh" sound. Or like Gone-With-The-Wind: "Tara". I told them that I would guess it was pronounced "Tar -ra". With long "ah" sound, since the A is followed by a double R.

These people all pronounce Tarra differently.
When we reached the visitors centre, we asked the two guys there at the desk how it was pronounced. And with their Aussie accents, they said something somewhere in the middle. I think the best approximation to what they said would be to give the A the same sound as in "cat". "Ta-rra". But they opened the vowel so it sounded closer to "Tara". Gone-With-The-Wind.
A few minutes later, we were sitting in the visitors centre watching the informative film. And the narrator said over and over what a lovely place "Tar- ra-Bulga" was. With the "ah" sound. Directly contradicting the two guys at the desk.

So nothing was settled. Nothing! So I'm sticking with "tar".

It has now been more than two weeks since we were in the national park, but clearly the pronunciation is still bothering me.

The other thing still bothering me is the elusive lyre bird.

The day before, my brother Bryan emailed the whole family and said that in 2017, he would be keeping track of all the birds he sees in the wild, and if we'd like we could turn it into a family event, sharing all the birds we identify.

The timing of his message was super convenient, because on our Wilsons Prom adventure, we were seeing four types of cockatoo (little corrella, galah, yellow-tailed black, sulphur crested), black swans, cape barren geese, Australian magpies,  two types of parrot (rosella, lorikeet), and even one morning a spectacular pair of wedge-tailed eagles that swooped low over our farm house -- an amazing sight!

Anyway, Tarra-Bulga was famous for being home to the super rare and super exotic lyre bird. And we were going to be there, in lyre bird territory, two days into Bryan's birding event! What timing!

So we looked it up: where had lyre birds been recently spotted? We walked all the walks -- the extra long loops. And then the extra long loop after that.

And we were rewarded with amazing views and an amazing experience!
Just no lyre birds.

Until the very end, when we heard one! We heard it! Making its loud distinctive call. It was just around the bend, hiding in the fern trees. Just right there -- probably only a few meters from the path!

But it was no good! No luck, readers. We identified the bird. We knew it was there. We knew its call. And we knew where to find it. But we did not venture off the path to whack through the underbrush to see it. We did not.

Why not? You may be asking. Why not just walk a few meters off the path for the chance to see a lyre bird in the wild? Among other reasons, because just a few minutes before, Jonathan had been startled by a very large black and red snake slithering across the path nearly under his feet. White faced, he ran back to us to tell us, and when we looked up its picture it seemed to be a red-bellied-black-snake, which is highly poisonous: "dangerously venomous and bite can be fatal."

So no bush-whacking for us.

(Honestly, the ferns were too dense for that anyway, snakes or no snakes.)

So Tarra-Bulga National Park. Spectacular. Amazing. "This definitely deserves to be a national park," said my dad.

But no visual on the lyre bird.


We will have to go back.

("Go back when it's raining," said my colleague. "We saw dozens of them....")

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Prom country

We rented a car for a week.

Monday, we drove to the Healesville Sanctuary, to make sure my parents saw as many Australian animals as possible during their visit. They would never see a platypus otherwise, and probably not a koala. They're too expensive to house in zoos outside of Australia. My dad wasn't too excited about going to a zoo. But I think he liked it: the bird show, the echidnas, the kangaroos.
Echidas: surprisingly cute spiny anteaters and egg-laying mammals.
Tuesday, we drove to Philip Island, and saw the pelicans at San Remo, and the mud crabs in the mangroves on Conservation Hill.
Australian pelicans are big birds.
From there, we drove to Foster, Victoria, to a farm house where we had booked a four night stay. The view from the porch of the farm was pretty spectacular: rolling hills stretching off to the ocean. Well, technically the hills stretch off to the Bass Strait, which separates Victoria from Tasmania, and not the ocean. 
The blue hills in the background form Wilsons Promontory.
Foster is only a half hour drive from Wilsons Promontory National Park, typically called Wilsons Prom, or the Prom. We were in Prom Country. On our first morning of waking up in Prom Country, we drove south to the National Park entrance, and then further and further south, to where the road ended at a place called Tidal River. We were going to see the national park!

Norman beach, near the Tidal River campground.
Visiting Wilsons Prom during the summer school holidays is like visiting Yellowstone during the summer school holidays. There is a lot of traffic, very little parking, and the campgrounds have been booked two years in advance. But for all that, we found some very nice walks through woods and hills and river.
Boardwalk to Tidal River.

Norman beach, at the mouth of the Tidal River.

Hike from Norman Beach to Squeaky Beach.

Squeaky Beach.

More Squeaky Beach.

More Bass Strait.

Picnic Bay Beach.
Ok. I've realised I have too many photos to do the whole week in one blog post. I'll have to do one day at a time. Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


My parents have been visiting since just before the new year. We've been touring a bit with them, which means I've been taking pictures, but not taking the time to post them! I'll try to do a few updates in the next few days.

This post: They arrived!

 -- But only after getting rerouted to take 10 extra hours traveling. So the day of their arrival, we took a quick walk into the park to see the fruit bats, then went straight to bed.

The next day, we headed first to the Queen Victoria Market, shown in the photo above, and bought some fruit and supplies. In the afternoon, we visited the Old Melbourne Gaol (pronounced "jail"). Here we are in the old holding area.

And here's a photo of the jail itself, where many notorious criminals were imprisoned and hanged, until capital punishment was abolished in all of Australia.

Just before going into the jail, the sky opened up and we got completely drenched in record-breaking flood-causing torrential rain. We look a little wet, but at least we weren't out on the flooded roads.

Home. Little nap. Anyone still have energy? Want to go out again?

We headed to St Kilda to walk up the beach. Luna park was closing early because of the rain.

The beach was unsuitable for swimming because of the rain. But the sunset was gorgeous.

There were about a gazillion people waiting and hoping to see the little penguins come in to shore.

We waited as well, but we only saw a couple of the little guys. Too crowded for them. Also, apparently by this time of year, most of the chicks are grown and the parents need to stay out feeding to put on weight to survive a few weeks of moulting. Still, the sunset was lovely, so the evening wasn't a total loss.

The next morning we took a walk to the Botanic Gardens...

... and the Shrine of Remembrance.

The little sore throat my mom brought to Australia had been morphing with the jet lag into a big sore throat and then a full fledged cold. So we went home and she spent the afternoon in bed. Later in the evening, my dad confessed that he wanted to go on the roller coaster back at Luna Park -- it is the world's oldest continuously operating roller coaster, opened in 1912. I wanted to go too. Tim came along for the ride, and Jonathan, turned off by the idea of another walk in the city, stayed home with Grandma.

Here I am with my dad near the roller coaster. It was pretty fun! I'll take Jonathan one of these days. Tim isn't interested.

After the long line and the quick ride, we caught a tram to the river, and walked along the south bank of the Yarra past the casino for more sunset views.

The next day: New Year's Eve! After taking a vote, we decided to take the train to the end of the line to see the Dandenong mountains. Except remember that torrential rain from two days before? Turns out it damaged the train line between Upper Ferntree Gully and Belgrave. So rather than riding to Belgrave and taking a walk there, we got off at Upper Ferntree Gully to walk a trail called the 1000 steps. We were still in the Dandenong Ranges National Park. All good. 

Along the way: Lots of ferntrees and some tall eucalyptus trees.

At the top:

Grandma, with the developing cold, wasn't up to the walk. She stayed in the picnic area at the bottom and waited for us, watching the kookaburras. And then we all caught the bus to the train back to home.

It was New Year's Eve. Time for fireworks!

Grandma wasn't feeling up to the fireworks, so we left her at home and headed out. As we waited for the family fireworks near the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, we saw hundreds of fruit bats flying south, I guess for their nightly feeding.

My phone camera can't capture a stream of huge fruit bats winging their way over the city at dusk. But at least it can capture a handful of darker blobs against a gray backdrop, for you to appreciate. You are very welcome. Very welcome indeed.

After the family fireworks, at 9:30 pm, we walked back into the city. This year, since we live within walking distance (about a half hour walk from home), we were determined to watch the midnight fireworks with the rest of the million people celebrating the holiday.

We found a nice place to wait up near the Arts Centre.

And then at midnight, fireworks!

You know what fireworks look like, and my phone doesn't do well at fireworks photos. So I decided after that one shot to turn the phone off and actually enjoy seeing the show with my own eyes. So you will have to imagine choreographed bursts shooting from the tops of the major buildings in the Central Business District -- including the Arts Centre behind us. It was pretty awesome.

Happy New Year, World!

And then we walked home.

And went to bed. 

And I think that's a good place to stop for now.

Monday, January 2, 2017

My 2016

So technically, looking back, I have to pin the beginnings of my midlife crisis on the year 2014.

But it was a good midlife crisis, and slow forming and carefully thought out. By 2015, the exit plans were all in place.

And in 2016, those plans came fully to fruition.

Because it isn't worth having a midlife crisis unless you move your family all the way to Australia. And take two years to do it.

In 2016, I really started my new job for keeps, not for a brief stopover betwixt sabbaticals.

And one of the first things that happened in 2016 was that our permanent resident visas came through. We're very grateful to be able to live and work here in Australia long term. And to be eligible for drivers licenses, state health insurance, and all sorts of other things like that.

We found a really wonderful apartment in a really great location. 

And my child started attending a school that has been very good to him.

Professionally, I a lot of research articles appear in good journals. True, these were mostly articles that had been written in 2014 or 2015, but still their appearance was a good thing.

I realised all over again how much I really like the two people I spend most of my time with, although they argued more this year amongst themselves. I really like these two.

My health was good. No cavities in 2016, and even the gum disease that was supposed to plague me the rest of my life disappeared when examined by a new dentist. The migraines, while frequent, were almost completely under control.

We went on a really great family vacation.

I made new friends, in many places. Work. Church. I missed old friends. But it looks like I may have some semblance of social health going forward into the future.

I know that 2016 wasn't the best of all years for everyone, but I think I'll look back upon it fondly when I am old, and likely delusional about how great the past was anyway.

Happy new year!