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Sightseeing

While I saw a lot of awesome animals and ecosystems on my trip, at the end, I did do the standard tourist sightseeing and saw the Sydney Opera House.

It’s incredible how many years went into making this structure (16 years).  It consists of three parts: the Opera Theater, the Concert Hall, and the restaurant.  The concert hall is the largest of the three parts and, while on a tour of the Opera House, I was able to sit in and observe a small portion of a rehearsal of the Australian Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker.

When I was in Melbourne, I went along the Great Ocean Road, a road with many tourist attractions along the way, as well as nice beaches and cute little towns to stop in for lunch at.  I also saw the Twelve Apostles, a group of massive limestone monoliths that were separated from the mainland.  There might have been twelve originally, but there are definitely more than twelve if you go further down the road.

This picture doesn’t even do them justice.  They were amazing to look at.  You also can’t see them all from this picture, but there were two more behind the part of the rock I was standing on and more further down that are blocked by the first few monoliths.  While it was a very tourist-y spot, especially at sunset, which is when we got there, it was definitely worth going to because the sight of all of them with the ocean behind them was incredible.  I was also able to go down on the beach and, before the tide got too high, put my feet in the water.  This is where the Southern Ocean borders Australia, on the southern coast.  I feel happy to be able to say that I have been in the Southern Ocean, since not many people have been, as far as I know.

It’s strange to think that while I feel like I had a very fulfilling trip to Australia and was able to take classes there, live in a primarily Australian community on campus, went scuba diving, visited the rainforest, and was even able to visit the most popular sites, such as the Opera House and the Great Ocean Road, I still feel that I could travel and experience more.  I definitely want to go scuba diving more and possibly visit Ayers Rock in Uluru, as well as visit more rainforested areas, Tasmania, and Phillip Island, where Little Penguins, the smallest penguins in the world, are inhabitants.  I suppose the only solution is to start saving and head back to Australia.  Trip number two, here I come!

Crocodile

This was my first crocodile siting.  I went on a boat ride to specifically go crocodile watching, so while it was in an area that was known to have crocodiles, it was still my first time seeing a wild crocodile.  This is an estuarine crocodile, the more vicious of the crocodiles.  Apparently these will attack a human for no other reason than the fact that you are in the water.  I usually hear these referred to as “salties,” while the more mild freshwater crocodiles are referred to as “freshies.”  There was a river near campus (the Ross river) that I would always bike ride along or go to swing on a rope swing from a tree into the water with friends from my dorm (or college, as Australians call it) and apparently there were supposed to be freshies in the river.  However, I was never really all that nervous about it because I was always told that they won’t bother you unless you bother them and whenever I was swimming, I was always with a group of people so I knew that it would be very unlikely that freshies would bother us.  Meanwhile, if we were in an estuary, I would absolutely not feel safe and would not dare swim there.

It is also unfortunate how there really is only a small window of opportunity for swimming in the ocean.  In winter (our summertime), even though the temperature is still really high for a winter season, the water is generally too cold to swim in without a wetsuit.  Then it warms up and you can swim in it for a few months until it becomes stinger season and it is unsafe without a lycra stingersuit.  Jellyfish become very abundant and some, such as irukandji, will sting you without you even seeing them because they are so small, but their sting is very venomous and is incredibly painful.  Then there is the deadly box jellyfish that is also a potential danger in the oceans off the coast of Australia, which is why when summer approaches, ocean swimming declines.  However, as a safety precaution, all the public beaches that I saw had mailbox-looking containers that held bottles of vinegar in them to put on the stings if someone should encounter a stinger.

Vegemite

One of the main things Australia is known for is Vegemite, so I knew that I had to try some while I was there.  I got the scoop on how it should be eaten because apparently, if you just try to eat it by itself, you will be turned off from it forever.  I was told to eat it on buttered toast with just a thin layer of Vegemite on top.  So I tried it and, to be honest, I really did not enjoy Vegemite.  it just tasted salty and weird and I’m a fan of sweet things for breakfast and am used to putting cinnamon and sugar on my toast in the morning.  So Vegemite wasn’t my thing, but I did bring some back for my family to try.  My brother’s response was “what is wrong with Australians and why would they eat this.”  Meanwhile, I do know a few people who tried it and ended up really liking it.  Interestingly enough, enough U.S. exchange students enjoyed putting cinnamon and sugar on their buttered toast enough that a lot of the Australians got into it and soon enough, the dining hall staff was putting a cinnamon-sugar mix out with every meal.  I thought it was cool the way we exchanged a sort of cultural practice there and were able to leave a bit of our U. S. culture with the people living in my dorm.

Spectacled Flying Fox

These are Spectacled Flying Foxes sleeping in this tree.  While in Australia, I would see these huge bats coming out at dusk every night.  I never saw them during the day, however, until my last week.  This picture was taken at the Botanical Gardens in Sydney and I looked up to see hundreds of these bats hanging from the branches of the trees.  This picture was even one of the emptier trees, so it doesn’t show just how many bats were there.  When I first saw these bats, it was difficult to distinguish them from birds because of their huge wingspan, but then you notice that they fly like bats which is how I could identify them.

The Bush

Welcome to the bush.  In Australia, “the bush” essentially refers to any rural, undeveloped land.  This is an area that was basically halfway to the outback.  It is more inland than Townsville or Cairns, which are very close to the coast.  Once you get out here, you are in the middle of nowhere.  There was a certain point where we reached a small store and gas station that had a sign saying that it was the last gas for thousands of kilometers.  Luckily, I was traveling the other way toward the more populated cities, but it was clear that getting stuck out here would not be good.  The store was named “Oasis,” appropriately so.  Out here we also saw the site of an old volcano that had been overgrown with grass and trees.  A lot of what was out here was dryer climate trees and shrubs and red rocks.  When driving, you are also on the same road the entire time and I ended up just passing a lot of cows feeding on the side of the road.  They seemed fine, but we did see a sign that said, “Beware” and had a picture of a cow pushing over a vehicle.  Apparently they can get excited.  Fortunately, I did not have to witness this, however.  I also found it funny that there were also a large number of huge termite mounds.  When driving past these and all the cows, after a while it became difficult to tell the two apart because they appeared to be the same color and height and, when you’re looking at the same things over and over again, they have a tendency to blend together.  I suppose that’s the bush for you, though.

Street Signs

There were a few interesting street signs in Australia.  This is what their speed limit signs look like.  Now, don’t worry too much.  It isn’t 100 miles per hour.  It’s 100 kilometers per hour.  This roughly equates to 60 mph which is pretty standard.  It was still shocking at first to see these signs because it took a little while to get used to using the metric system for all measurements, including distances, weights, and temperature, especially.  I also saw some of these signs:

I did not see these signs the whole time I was in Townsville, though.  It wasn’t until the last week when I was visiting Melbourne and Sydney that I saw these signs.  I think that it is probably due to the fact that they are larger, more tourist-y cities than Townsville is, so they need to remind the tourists of this.  Luckily, I was already used to this and I even found that for at least a month, when I returned to the U.S., I still looked right and then left when crossing the street.  It’s a wonder I haven’t been killed yet.  When I was in Australia, I did not drive at all.  I usually just walked, biked, caught a ride, or took the bus to get to various places.  It did take a little while before I was used to looking right and then left, but apparently, once I learned it, it stuck with me.

There were also other signs that had slight differences that I enjoyed.  For instance, the walking legs

This was just a standard pedestrian walkway sign but, as you can see, it only shows walking legs as opposed to the two people that we have on our signs.

Scuba Diving

While in Australia I took a scuba diving certification class.  This is me in all of my scuba gear.  Once certified, I was able to dive on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns and later on a shipwreck that was a little bit north of Townsville, where I was for most of my time in Australia.  Unfortunately, I do not have any underwater photographs to show off, but I did see the most amazing things while underwater.  I saw numerous sea turtles (mainly loggerheads and green turtles), nudibranchs, brittlestars, a huge variety of fish, sea snakes, sea cucumbers, anemones, corals, stingrays, and I even got fairly close to a large nurse shark that was resting in the shipwreck.  Watching these creatures for yourself underwater in their natural habitats was the most amazing thing.  I think that scuba diving was one of the most rewarding things that I was able to take away from my experience.  Of course, now I feel spoiled because after diving on the Great Barrier Reef for my first few dives, I feel that nothing that comes after will be able to compare, at least nothing close to here.  One of the main reasons that I would go back to Australia would be to scuba dive there again.

Different Names

In Australia, a lot of the products are the same but I found that the names are all slightly different.  For instance, jello is called jelly and raisins are called sultanas.

For the longest time, when people referred to sultanas, I could not figure out what they were talking about and, as they don’t use the word raisins often at all, they were not able to easily tell me.  When referring to what we would call “jelly” they usually use the word “jam” instead.  Even some famous cereal brand names that are well known have been changed slightly for Australia, though they are still similar enough for us to know immediately what type of cereal they are.


There are also a lot of sayings that people in Australia use that we do not.  I always remember people saying “hey?” in place of our “what” so when that was first said to me, I thought that I was being greeted again and was thoroughly confused.  Oops!  Their accents are also not too difficult to understand, though some people have extremely thick “bogan” accents that are difficult to understand.  The main thing, however, is that they do not pronounce ‘r’s when they are not the first letter of the word.  This sometimes confused me, but I learned to pick up what they were saying fairly quickly.  They also are well known for saying “no worries” and refer to things like sunglasses as “sunnies.”  Most of their abbreviations seem to just be cuter versions of ours with the “-ie” added to the ends of words as a form of shortening.  They also consistently use words like “keen” and “heaps.”  All of these phrases and words were a little bit difficult to get used to at first, but then I picked them up.  The sad fact, however, is that I feel like I’m already starting to forget them, having been back in the US for a while now and because I’m not hearing them regularly anymore.

Mangroves

While I was up at Cape Tribulation there were also Mangrove forests present.  These are trees that are able to survive with their roots in the water.  In this picture, some stilt roots can be seen in the background (characteristic of red mangroves) and I definitely saw mangroves with pneumatophores too (characteristic of black mangroves).  These are various ways for the trees to receive oxygen while their root systems are anchored in the mud.  I did enjoy observing these mangroves but, sadly, after some time the strong mud smell became overpowering and I continued on my way to the beach.

Cassowaries

This was a sign that I saw on my way up to Cape Tribulation, a rainforest up north in Queensland.  Someone had turned a road bump sign into a dead cassowary and, later, a “before” sign was added.  Southern Cassowaries are found up in the Northeastern region of Australia and are an endangered species.  Much of their decline is due to habitat loss and some is also from cars hitting them.  I, sadly, was not able to see any while I was up at Cape Tribulation.  They are rare to see.  I was able to see one at a zoo, however.  They look like this:

Cassowaries cannot fly, as they are members of the ratites and they feed primarily on fruits, though sometimes on other parts of plants and small invertebrates as well.  Because they eat the fruits of trees and their seeds, Cassowaries are responsible for seed dispersal.  One species, the Ryparosa tree in Australian rainforests has become almost completely dependent on Cassowaries, as the seeds do not germinate unless they are digested by a Cassowary.  When I stayed overnight at Cape Tribulation, I wandered through the rainforest several times in the hopes of catching a glimpse of one of these massive, incredible birds, but I was not successful.  I did have a nice, relaxing day enjoying how the rainforest is right along the beach and stops just as sand is appearing.

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