31 January 2007

Advancements in Archaeology

On our way to Hobart, we stopped at Ross to see an old female factory, a women's prison. As luck would have it, we walked into a tour of the grounds, where an archaeological dig was underway. Basically, there isn't much left standing of the prison. There are, however, remains of walls and flooring buried underground. In this first picture you can see the students digging, collecting or drawing on the site.
In the second photo, you can see the tool of a 21st Century 'dig'. This is a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) device. Basically, it looked and was used like a lawnmower with a computer subbed in for the motor. It was run over a grid in half metre increments and the image was put together to give an idea of what was hidden underground. The technology is still pretty new, and it doesn't really tell you a whole lot for the cost ($35,000), but it allows scientists to get a glimpse without disturbing the site.
We stopped for about an hour in Ross, listening to a brief report of the findings the whole time. The purpose of the female factory was to house women who were sentenced to punishment in Tasmania. They worked to manufacture goods, but not much else is known about the site. So far, they are working on identifying building structures and have found small items such as needles, buttons and glass and pottery fragments. Much is still to be learned at Ross, but for us, it was an unexpected and interesting surprise on our drive to Hobart.

28 January 2007

Cradle Mountain

Before we went to Cradle Mountain, we stopped at Mole Creek Karst National Park to see Marakoopa Cave. Inside we visited the cathedral, where the formation below was shot. Our guide explained that the formations were created by water seeping through the limestone. When he asked if there were any questions, one of our fellow spelunkers came up with this winner: 'What if it never rains again?'
You have to understand that this was from a woman in her late thirties, and the look on her face showed genuine concern that rain would never again fall. I admit that drought is a problem in Australia, but not so much in Tasmania, and even then, it isn't going to stop raining forever. The guide did his best to answer: 'Well, I guess the cave would stop growing.' It was crazy. She was with a group of I believe two families, including about five or six kids. They all seemed a little crazy. The kids were all loud and obnoxious, and one of the men, dressed in board shorts and a t-shirt, was adamant that he wasn't cold, even though it was 45°F in the cave.
The next day we visited Cradle Mountain Park. In a word: beautiful. The mountain is pictured here overlooking Dove Lake, taken from Marion's Lookout. We did a lot of walking and came prepared. Almost. Tasmania is notorious for rapid weather changes. We were ready for cold. We were ready for rain. Instead, we both got a sunburn. There wasn't a cloud in the sky all day. It made for great pictures and views, but not so good on the skin, and we drained all our water. We stopped for a break before a steep climb to Marion's, and when I turned around, guess who I saw--Drought Lady and company from the cave. We also saw an Asian lady and two university students, apparently from Wollongong, who we had also seen at the cave.
This picture was taken overlooking Crater Lake, further along the trail from Cradle Mountain. Notice there are no rails. Trust me, it was a long drop to the water. I was surprised Heather got this close to the edge since cliffs aren't her favourite. Pretty easy to get dizzy standing up there.
We didn't see a lot of animals out, but this was the evening that we did the spotlight trip. The next day, we decided to stay out of the sun, so we went to Strahan. More on that next.

26 January 2007

Tasmanian wildlife

It's been a long delay again, but we're back from another holiday, this time to Tasmania. Updates about the trip will be coming over the next few days, but I wanted to start off with a few pictures of some of the animals we met.
The first thing we did was visit Devil's Heaven in Launceston, where we saw the devils feed. Almost every picture you see of a devil is open-mouthed, but the truth is they are likely only yawning. There was a little growling before the food was tossed in the pen, but otherwise a lot of sleeping. Having said that, though, you still wouldn't want to be bitten by one. They are about the size of a cocker spaniel, but they have the jaw strength of a mid-sized salt water croc. They snap bone the way you would bite through a piece of chalk. If you like that sort of thing. Heather said they looked like ROUS's from The Princess Bride.
This wombat picture isn't great, but you generally only see them at night. We went on an evening animal spotting excursion at Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park to get this one. The pictures we took weren't the best, but we saw about ten wombats, a few brushtail possums, a bandicoot, and a couple hundred wallabies and pademelons. In this picture, the wombat has managed to hide his face behind a clump of grass. Guess he's shy.
The devil was in a pen, the wombat was in the dark, but this echidna was up close, personal, wild and in the full light of day. We spotted him right next to the road--they feed there often because the runoff from the road makes for better food. Of course, that also makes driving around Tasmania dangerous at night. Heather jumped out and got this picture kneeling just a couple feet from him. When she stepped close, he curled up in a ball and stuck his nose in the ground, but when she didn't move, he went about rooting around for lunch.
So yet again, wildlife was a major highlight of our holiday. Next I'll share some pictures of the scenery around Cradle Mountain.

14 January 2007

Medibank International

The Australian Open begins in Melbourne this week and there were several tune up tournaments around the country last week, including the Medibank International here in Sydney. A friend and I went on Wednesday and had a great time. We saw several great matches, even with ground passes rather than centre court tickets, although we did get to pop in to the arena for a quick picture. There was other entertainment as well, including these lifeguards and a couple seagull mascots that stuck their
beaks in my food.
The first tennis shot is Richard Gasquet (FRA), seeded sixth and ranked eighteenth in the world. I like this shot because I caught the ball on the raquet, just like the pros do. The second shot is Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) seeded second and ranked number three in the world. I found it very interesting that the third best player in the world was not playing on centre court in a warm up tourney. I also found it interesting that he apparently has no endorsement deals. I
also found it interesting that I had never heard of him before. Anyway, he withdrew after losing the first set, citing a leg injury. The reason he is noteworthy is because of his post-match press conference, where he said a lot of players were withdrawing from the tournament because 'I don't think
nobody care about here.' James Blake, defending champ and vice president of the ATP player council, slammed Davydenko, citing disrespect to the paying fans. He also took a little swipe at Davydenko's lack of a following--guess I'm not the only one--saying 'I don't know how many of those people that paid for tickets are here to watch Davydenko - but there's some - and in my mind he should be thankful for that.' The tour fined Davydenko $US10,000 for his comments, but did acknowledge the numerous withdrawals. For more, see 'Davydenko blasts Sydney Intl, cops fine' and 'I care, says defending champ Blake'.

13 January 2007

Sculpture by the Sea 2006

The post is coming late, but Heather and I went to Sculpture by the Sea again this year back in November. I thought it was even better than last year's. Here is a sampling of what we saw.

Last year it was the fried egg on the beach, this year a melted ice cream van, complete with flashing light and warped ice cream van music.

A lizard made from spare industrial-type parts and hardware. They had several creatures like this, including a coiled snake and a jellyfish.

I thought the colour of this rusty giant dish was nice, especially against the ocean background.

This sculpture was interesting. When viewed from the left, it read 'more', from the right, 'less'. There was also a miniature version of the arrangement as well.

12 January 2007

Chevy Volt

You might have seen Chevy's latest concept that was just unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show: the Volt. It is a new and interesting take on the hybrid car. Hybrids today use an electric motor primarily around town and kick in the gas when extra power is needed. The Volt has an electric motor strong enough to be used in all driving situations and the gas engine never directly propels the car. Rather, it is used to recharge the battery when it is depleted. In other words, if you are like eighty percent of all Americans who drive forty miles or less each day, you will never stop for a tank of gas. And if you do commute more than forty miles, or forget to plug it in overnight, you will get much better mileage: up to 150 mpg. In addition, when you do have to stop to fill 'er up, you will have the option of gasoline, E85 or biodiesel.
There are a few flaws, starting with price. If the car were to come off the line today, it would cost several hundred thousand dollars, primarily due to the exceptional battery. But this is a technology that GM sees going in to production in ten years. By that time, with further technological advancements and mass production of the units, the price will be much more reasonable. Also, I would like to see the electric-only range edged closer to eighty or a hundred miles. Forty might get me to and from work, but what about catching a movie Friday night? If GM can double the battery capacity, reliance on the pump would be largely forgotten.
But all in all, I applaud GM for this innovative take on the hybrid car. You can read more in this article from cnn.com. Also, please consider a Vote for Volt to show GM you support alternative fuel technologies.

Koala thumbs up

When we arrived at Waves on Christmas day, we turned on the TV and saw the Wiggles. It wasn't their show, but rather a commercial promoting Save the Koala. And they kept saying 'koala thumbs up!' while holding up their thumb and pointer (index finger), since koalas have, well, two thumbs. So that became the official seal of approval for our holiday. See something you like? Koala thumbs up! It was our week-long running joke, 100 percent Australian, now available for your enjoyment.

Heather at the Twelve Apostles. Yes, it was that cold, even though it's summer.

Heather and koala. This was taken on the roadside on the Great Ocean Road between Port Campbell and Melbourne.

Heather and wombat, Wildlife Wonderland.

Heather feeding kangaroos at Wildlife Wonderland. Her koala thumbs are a little busy warding off the flies.

Heather with creepy giant koala. This was taken at the koala reserve on Phillip Island.

Koala thumbs and little penguin, Seal Rocks.

Me at seal rocks. This was the only incident of the koala thumbs down. I was really bummed about the seals.

Heather and curious kangaroo, Bawley Point.

11 January 2007

Bawley Point

When we left Melbourne, we had a long drive up the coast ahead of us. Our destination was Bawley Point NSW. It was an interesting drive, twisting and turning through the mountains and up the coastline. We were pretty tired when we finally reached The Bawley, our Bed and Breakfast. I am pleased to highly recommend it: the rooms, the atmosphere and the breakfasts were all wonderful.
We spent New Year's Eve at Pebbley Beach. We went in the afternoon to relax on the beach, reading a little and collecting shells and pebbles. After a short nap back at the Bawley, we returned to Pebbley to watch the kangaroos come out at dusk. The first one we saw hopped right up to Heather to see if she had
anything to snack on in her towel (she didn't). We counted at least twenty-five grey kangaroos grazing in the grass. We really enjoyed just sitting there watching them, but there were others out there who weren't content with just watching.
The first was a group of kids
who kept running around and petting them. Many of the kangaroos ignored them, but if the kids got a little rough or surrounded one a little too tight, they would hop away. The kids would then, of course, chase after them. Before the kids got there, the kangaroos were staying relatively still, grazing in
one place. After their arrival, however, they were constantly on the move, trying to stay one hop ahead.
At least the kids were relatively harmless, if annoying. An adult couple out at the beach had no such excuse. There were signs everywhere warning against feeding the kangaroos because it is unhealthy and makes them agressive. Despite the signs, this couple was feeding them potato chips. Greasy potato chips! Justice was served, however. A kangaroo hopped up to them and stuck his nose in their bag. The man tried to wave him away, but the 'roo would not be denied. The man had to stand up to ward him off, and the couple quickly left. Heather says that the kangaroo then attacked me, but he really just hopped over to see what I had in my hands (a camera and towel). But the point is well made: he likely wouldn't have approached me like that if this couple and others like them didn't feed the animals.
Here is a video clip we took of a few of the kangaroos grazing. Notice how Kanga gets a little aggressive with the other kangaroo to protect her joey. I like the little hand fake she throws in.

We watched the Sydney Harbour NYE fireworks that night, then got up the next day and drove back to Sydney. We had a great week seeing more of the country and we are looking forward to our next trip.
But there is still one more thing to share from this trip: koala thumbs up.

10 January 2007

Feeding kangaroos

When I found out we could feed kangaroos at Wildlife Wonderland, I knew there was potential for video gold. I must say I was rather disappointed--this was well short of some of Heather's typical experiences. The best you get is a couple 'ow's and a 'hold on' to the 'roo. But watch it to the end anyway: it turns out the kangaroos weren't the biggest problem, but rather the flies.

On Phillip Island

On Thursday we drove down to Phillip Island, a small island about two hours outside of Melbourne. On the mainland a few kilometres before the island is Wildlife Wonderland, a refuge for wombats, koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, dingos, emus, birds and giant earthworms. Well, it's not really a refuge for the worms, since they are all in tubes of formaldehyde, but there is a large exhibit celebrating these worms that can grow to three metres. The earthworm wing of the Wonderland is even shaped like a giant earthworm that is covered with Aboriginal art. According to their website, it is the largest Aboriginal art in Australia, which surely qualifies it as the largest Aboriginal art in the Southern Hemisphere. I'm telling you, you can view history everywhere you look down here.
I learned that there are two types of wombats. The ones you always see are the common wombat with the bullet noses. They had a few of these but they were hiding in the dark and we couldn't get good pictures of them. This is the hairy-nosed wombat in the sun, which looks (and sounds) like a hairy pig. If I
was a little disappointed with Pig Nose, it was more than made up for by the kangaroos. Heather grabbed a bag of food and we walked on in to an enclosure with about twenty red kangaroos, the largest of the species. Heather is pictured here making one beg a little for his food. The next photo is one of my favourite photo styles: the 'stand-next-to-someone-and-reach-out-as-far-as-you-can-and-take-a-self-portrait'. I've taken this photo with many different people. Now I've taken the shot with a
kangaroo. Click on the picture and you can see the 'roo reflected in one lens and my outstretched arm with camera in the other. You can also see two flies on my face--they were EVERYWHERE.
Our first stop on Phillip Island was the Koala Conservation Centre. This was basically a eucalyptus forest inhabited by koalas, but there was a nice twist: In a couple areas, a footpath was built a few metres off the ground to get you a little closer to their level. We found a couple on eye level right by the rail of the footpath and got a good look at them. One even climbed onto the rail to pose next to this sign: 'I'm free to do as I want'.
The next stop was Seal Rocks. Let me first say that it is very pretty: there's sun and water and rocks and waves. The only thing missing is the seals. I know they're out there, but they are really far away and you can't see them. We even brought
binoculars, and I could only make out little bumps on the rocks that might have been seals. So I was kind of let down. But it was pretty, minus visible seals.
We had a couple hours until the next animal encounter (hold on a minute), so we decided to take a few laps in the go carts. The
Phillip Island Circuit has a scale replica go cart track that Heather is posing in front of. As you can see it's right on the coast. My best times were a couple seconds faster than Heather's--she said she took it easy to admire the views. Not sure about that one.
As twilight neared, we headed out for the penguin parade. They don't allow photography, so be sure to click the link and look at some of their pictures. The picture of the Little Penguin (yes, that's their real name) here was taken earlier at Seal Rocks. What happens is this: every night, the penguins return to their burrows after fishing all day. They wait until it is dark for protection from eagles--their colouring is fantastic camouflage in the water, but horrible on sand. They gather in groups in the surf, build up their courage and waddle up the beach. And in almost every group, there is one that will get half way up the beach, then bail out and scramble back to the water. Hilarious.
I'll leave you with another koala photo. Next stop: Bawley Point.

07 January 2007

The most worthless paper in the Southern Hemisphere

The main purpose of our trip to Melbourne was to go to Day Four of the Fourth Test of the Ashes Series. I have been looking forward to this since we bought the tickets last June. I watched the first three tests with great interest and anticipation, and Heather was actually disappointed when Australia took a 3-0 lead after the Third Test, hoping we would see the clincher in Melbourne. We made our plans for Day Four: I would go to the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia's Yankee Stadium) in the morning for the start, and Heather would meet me there later in the afternoon to watch the last few hours.
England batted first on Day One, and were all out for 159 by the end of the day. Australia began their first innings late in the afternoon, then batted all Day Two, ending that day 7/372. That evening, I was grateful we had tickets for Day Four and not Day Five, because it was looking like there wouldn't be a Day Five. I have my mobile set up to receive text message updates of the series, including each wicket fall. As Day Three began, I got three early buzzes, telling me that Australia was all out for 419. England began their second innings well, getting 41 runs before their first wicket. Three quick buzzes later, they were 3/49. I told Heather she should probably come to the cricket in the morning, because Day Four was looking like it might end early. She agreed. But my phone wouldn't stop buzzing--England was losing wickets at an alarming rate. By mid afternoon, I had given up hope. England was in total collapse, and each buzz from my mobile was a nail in my Ashes coffin, or urn as it were. A few minutes after the message announcing the ninth wicket, my phone buzzed again. I said, 'that's game,' but was relieved to see it was a message from a friend in Sydney. It read, 'Hope you like Melbourne sans cricket.' A few minutes later, it was over. England was all out for 161, giving Australia the win by an innings and 99 runs. Day Four never happened.
The Fifth Test here in Sydney ended on Friday, a day early, Australia taking another victory, this one by ten wickets. They reclaimed the Ashes, sweeping the series 5-0, the second five test sweep in the series, and first since Australia did it 86 years ago. Total domination by the number one ranked side in the world. But this wasn't a poor English side that opposed them--they are ranked number two. But my unused Day Four ticket is a testament to the vast gap between them.

05 January 2007

Melbourne: The southernmost big city in the Southern Hemisphere

This headline comes from a claim Melbourne made at one time that a friend here told me about. I love the frequent use of the 'in the Southern Hemisphere' qualifier here.
For a 'Melbourne' vacation, we only spent two days in the city, but we packed quite a bit in. Our first stop was the State Library of Victoria to find Ned Kelly's armour. Just realised I haven't covered Ned here yet. Basically, he was a bushranger (outlaw) who was part Robin Hood, part Jesse James, and is
considered a folk hero in Australia today. The claim by genealogists is that he was a relative of Buffalo Bill. His armour is held at the library, although the helmet it on tour, so a replica was standing in. The armour was made out of spare parts from a plough and weighed nearly a hundred pounds. We learned an interesting story about this at the library. The police had heard a rumour that the Kelly Gang was assembling armour from plough parts, so they asked a local metalworker if it was possible to do. He
made some attempts before declaring it impossible. When Ned was captured, they found the metalworker's name stamped into the metal of Ned's armour--metal from his forge had been used in the construction. We also saw the dent in the breastplate from a test round fired by the gang. So how was Ned caught? The police shot his unprotected legs. Click here and scroll down to see 'Ned Kelly at Bay', the classic illustration by Thomas Carrington.
We also visited the Melbourne Gaol (say it aloud, the 'G' like a 'J' as in 'George'),
which also has an extensive Kelly exhibit, including his death mask. Actually, they had a lot of death masks, since 136 people were executed there. Most of the cells on the ground level contained a death mask and a plaque telling the story of a particular prisoner. The second level contained various exhibits on the gaol throughout it's history and the original gallows used to hang the condemned. The gaol also had a replica suit for the kids to 'dress up in Ned's armour', according to the sign, so I
immediately gave the camera to Heather and suited up. That's the folk hero himself looking over my shoulder.
There is a river that runs through Melbourne with restaurants, museums and galleries lining its banks. This gondola was photographed cruising the river. We have heard that Melbourne is
much more European than Sydney, but we felt it was much the same. The most noticeable difference, sadly, was that Melbourne was much cleaner than Sydney.
We also visited St Kilda, a suburb in south Melbourne on the beach. Good views, better pastries. Lots of sad soldiers in the Barmy Army, too--more on that next.

02 January 2007

The Great Ocean Road

Heather and I just got back from holiday in Melbourne. We had such a great time, the trip is going to have to be split over several posts, so be sure to check back often over the next few days. In addition, I am behind on some other planned posts that I'll probably mix in as well.
We start with the Great Ocean
Road, which follows the south coast of Victoria west of Melbourne. This is also the location of the GO Marathon that I am planning on running this May. Our flight landed in Melbourne Christmas morning, where we picked up our rental car. We got a free upgrade from a Toyota Corolla to a Camry to
help the Queensland-plated Camry back towards home, so we were touring in style. We decided to cruise about 60km up to Ballarat, the largest inland city in Victoria to see a gold museum only to find it closed--Christmas. As for the city of Ballarat--well, I could have passed. So we headed to Port
Campbell on inland roads, saving the big coastal views for the next day. About five minutes before we arrived in Port Campbell, Heather spotted a koala in a tree on the roadside, so we did a quick u-turn and got this picture--our first wild koala sighting. When we got to Port Campbell, we checked in at
Waves, a very nice boutique right off the coast. Not many food options on Christmas day, but we were able to get this monster helping of newspaper-wrapped fish and chips. A little later, we went out to view the Twelve Apostles, a coastal rock formation created by buffeting ocean waves. Great colours at
sunset. Also visited Loch Ard Gorge, the site of the 1878 sinking of the Loch Ard, where fifty-two people died. The only two survivors washed up on the beach in the gorge. We also saw the Blowhole, a giant hole in the ground connected to the coast by a one hundred metre tunnel that sprays water when the waves hit it right.
The next day, we got an early start on the day (and spotted a wallaby roadside) by taking a helicopter ride over the coastal sights. Pictured here is London Bridge, which was attached to the
mainland by a land bridge until 1990, when it collapsed after two visitors crossed over it and had to wait three hours for a rescue helicopter to lift them off. We also got this postcard-picture view of the Twelve Apostles looking down the coastline. Our pilot was very informative during the tour, and
threw us a little hang-ten sign in this photo.
When we hit the road again, we were treated to great coastal views on the twisting roads. Heather got to do a little more watching than I did--if the driver looks out over those cliffs for too long he's likely to go over them. We also spotted more wildlife on
the drive. When we turned a corner and saw seven or eight cars pulled off the road, we knew something was up, so we quickly pulled over, too. We were treated by koalas everywhere, including this mother and joey on eye level about five metres away. We snapped pictures for about
fifteen or twenty minutes before we moved on. In the first picture, Joey is learning how to use his leg to scratch by imitating Mum. In the second, Mum is trying to get a little breathing room after being climbed on and almost knocked out of the tree by Joey. But we're in Australia--koalas are a dime a dozen. The real sighting of the drive was the goat.
Next stop: Melbourne.