Friday, December 22, 2017

Traveling Australia


Sunset from our dive boat on the Great Barrier Reef!

After I got off the Ice, I think I needed to clear my head a bit. Being at the South Pole for a year can have a mental impact, but more than that, we had the delays getting out as I mentioned in the last post. That being said, now I have been traveling a bit, and I think I am going to try to blog a little more frequently. Of course I have said that many times, so we will see how things actually go. Also, I have updated the name of the blog. Originally, my intention was to focus a little more on science, but given that most of my posts have been about and will be about travel, I have changed it up a little for the time being, not that I am particularly thrilled with the title anyway, but it will do for now. Also as a side note... Photo album links at the bottom for those who want more pictures!

Starting out - Cairns

As I stated in my last post, I wasn't able to spend much time in New Zealand, due to my flight delays out of Antarctica. After we made it to New Zealand, I spent my time getting ready for the rest of my travel. The first stop, and the topic of this post, was Australia! I have been a scuba diver for number of years.  During grad school, however, my diving along with many of my other hobbies slowed way down. Right before I was offered the position at the South Pole, I decided that it was a good time to get back into it a bit. I went down to the rock quarry in Pelham, Alabama and did a quick refresher and got a few dives in.  I was gearing up for more diving over the next couple months, when I got the call about the job at the South Pole... So my diving stopped AGAIN! Though that was a small price to pay for the most amazing job in the world. While at the South Pole, I decided that I would have to go diving when I got back, and where better to dive than the Great Barrier Reef? So in my post-ice travel planning, the first stop became a dive trip in Australia. I talked to a few people and one company was recommended, Prodive. Actually, it was only thing I booked while in Antarctica, outside of my plane tickets. I didn't even start booking hotels anywhere until I got off the Ice.

So my first stop on my tour home was Cairns, Australia. I got in a few days before the dive so I could relax and wonder around the town a bit. I ended up hitting up a few pubs throughout that time, including an Irish pub that at one point had Sweet Home Alabama playing. I also decided to hit up the local aquarium before my dive. I'm glad I did! I got a few interesting pics while there, primarily for my nephew who was in a bit of a shark phase a while back.

A hammerhead shark I saw in the Cairns Aquarium

Getting ready for a dive on the Reef!
The dive trip itself was a 3-day 2-night live-aboard. That means, that I was picked up at my hotel on Monday morning and they took us to a boat that we lived on for the next couple days of diving. We ended up getting 11 dives in, including 2 night dives. Here is where I have to make a small confession. At the start of the trip, I had around 50 to 60 dives under my belt (if I remember correctly). I was even a certified rescue diver through SDI/TDI. That being said, all of my dives were in rock quarries up until this point. So my first ocean dives were on the Great Barrier Reef! I enjoy diving in quarries, espcially when they are the only nearby place to dive, but diving the Reef was amazing. There were even a few others on the boat who actually got their dive certifications on the trip.  That is an epic place to learn how to dive. One common question I have been asked about my dives so far is "did you see any sharks?" Yes, I saw sharks, but sadly, I didn't get any pictures of the ones we saw. Mostly, they were trying to get away from us! We saw several very interesting fish and
coral structures. We also saw a few turtles, as you can see below. It was an amazing experience.

A turtle we saw while diving


Everyone in Australia was getting ready for Christmas!
Sydney

After the dive trip we went back to Cairns where I spent another couple days relaxing and planning. At this point, I actually had no idea where I was going next. I even had to extend my hotel an extra night so I could figure things out. I toyed with a few ideas, but then settled on a quick hop to Sydney and then Adelaide. Honestly, the biggest reason I wanted to go to Sydney was to see the Sydney Opera House. IceCube has some collaborators in Adelaide, so I figured I would show up and see if they were around. I figured between Cairns, Sydney, and Adelaide I'd get a little bit of varied Australian Experience.


The iconic bridge across from the Opera House... I think this is where they shoot off fireworks during new years!
Me with the Opera House in the background

Sydney was actually pretty nice. It is a much bigger city than I realized. I hit the ground running there. The truth is I am probably spending way too much money on some parts of travel, but since this is supposed to be an epic travel vacation, I figure I can live with it to some degree, but in order to mitigate the costs a bit, I decided not to spend to much time in Sydney since it was so expensive.  I was able to get a pretty nice tour of the Opera House early on my first full day in town. It turns out the Royal Botanical Gardens are right next to the Opera House, so I went there as well. It was a great time. Other than that I did a little exploring and hit up a couple local bars/pubs. It was a pretty laid back trip.

A view from the tour inside the Opera House

Another inside shot of the Opera House
An interesting bird I saw in the botanical gardens
A sundial in the botanical gardens


Adelaide

After Sydney, I flew off for a few days in Adelaide, which has a much smaller feel to it. I actually went to the mall there on one day since I had to get a few things. While I was there, I was able to meet up with a few of my IceCube friends Sally, Gary, and Ben. The truth is that ever since I heard IceCube had people down in Australia, I kinda wanted to visit. Thankfully, they were actually in town when I got there! I probably should have checked ahead of time, but where is the fun in that? It was really great to see them and hang out with them for a couple of evenings. Another surprise along those lines was meeting up with a fellow winterover Rick. He and his girlfriend happened to be passing through Adelaide on their way from Darwin down to Sydney. I was able to hang out with them and have a couple drinks as they passed through town. That was great and totally unexpected!

I was told these were pretty iconic for Adelaide
Another Adelaide Icon
Sunset on the beach with Gary and Sally

While I was at the South Pole, a couple of guys there gave a wine class that I partcipated in, and one of the regions they actually mentioned was called the Barossa Valley near Adelaide. So, one day while I was there I joined a tour of the Barossa Valley that included a couple of wine tastings including one at the Seppeltsfield winery and the Wolf Blass winery. The truth is, I still don't know much about wine and am not very sophisticated in respect to wine, but it was a fun time. At Seppeltsfield they had a port (which I think they call a tawny for legal reasons since port has to come from Portugal?) that was aged 100 years. They didn't let us taste that one, but I did get a picture of the bottle of ~$2000 AUD port.

This was NOT on the tasting menu... around $2000 AUD for that bottle!

But they let us take a picture with it, and I was very careful not to drop it!

Me at the Wolf Blass Winery


On the last part of the tour we visited Hahndorf which is one of the oldest German settlements in the area if I remember correctly. It was ok... nothing spectacular. On the way back, however, the bus driver told us to keep our eyes open in the top of trees on the side of the road as there might be Koalas up there. One lady with a sharp eye spotted one. The bus driver actually pulled over, and we all got out of the bus to look and take pictures. It was actually pretty awesome.

Koala!!!
For Martin! (kind of an inside joke)
Getting ready for Christmas!
Overall, it was a pretty amazing trip in Australia. There were a few things I didn't get to do, but due to the way I am traveling, I am a little limited on time in many of the places I am visiting. I also have the problem that my drivers license expired while I was in Antarctica, so I can't exactly rent a car right now! That being said, I don't really have any regrets about my time there. Hopefully, one day, I will make another trip down under and experience even more of such an amazing country!

And as promised... here are the links to the full albums!






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