Friday, April 19, 2013

Moreton Island + Dolphin Feeding

I've brought you the world's biggest sand island and the second biggest.  Today I present to you....the third biggest, Moreton Island.  Alternate working title: The Most Expensive 24 Hours of My Life.

We started our journey by being picked up in Brisbane and, like all sand islands, took a ferry over.  This island is super duper close to Brisbane; it takes an hour to get there, max.  It's somewhere you should totally go if you ever visit Brisbane, and if you have assloads of money.

Like all sand islands this:

Means you're going to have to get out and push your stuck vehicle, which we had to do.  It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't hotter than the center of the sun out there.  Seriously, some of us got blisters on our feet from the heat of the sand.  It was so, so, so, so hot there.  So hot.  But worth it:

Sand tobogganing!  It was super duper fun, but I only went twice because of the aforementioned hotness.  My absolute least favorite thing about sledding has always been walking back up the hill once you reach the bottom (hey, I was a fat kid) but add to that 110 degree heat and painfully hot sand under bare feet and that equals minimal sand tobogganing for me.  It was ever so much fun, but you need to be aware that if you sand toboggan you will eat it and will find grains of sand in your ear for weeks to come.

We then cooled off and washed the sand out of our crevices in the freshwater lake which is a barfy shade of brown:

The barfy color is due to all the tea tree oil that's in the water, and tea tree oil is a big thing here.  It's supposed to heal wounds and be really good for your skin.  We went with our Canadian friends (who I shamefully did not abseil with), their friend from home and a colleague of Martins.  That's not just a picture of a bunch of randoms.  Once again Martin found himself the only dude in a sea of women.  Pimp, Martin, pimp.

We then got escorted to a lookout point with expansive views of the island coastline.

Our tour guide guaranteed us that we'd see turtles from this vantage point, but I hadn't seen one up to that point so I was skeptical.  But we totes saw turtles!

See that dark splotch there?  That's a turtle!

After a few "Is that a shark?" false alarms it was time for us to be dropped off at our accommodation/entertainment for the evening, Tangalooma Island Resort.  Besides camping (umm, no) this resort is the only accommodation option on the island.  And for that you better sell a kidney so you can afford to put a down payment on a night here.  It's nice, though.

Before I continue to whinge (Aussie slang, definition here) about the price point of this place I would like to point out that this was the first time I used my wine purse out of necessity, rather than novelty.

No $9 beers for us that night!  This thing is brilliant and I highly recommend everybody get a goon bag of their own.  "Goon" is Aussie slang for boxed wine and this word has forever been adopted into my vocabulary.  The word is so....grotesque and uncouth - the perfect description of boxed wine (particularly the kind you smuggle in a purse to save a few bucks).

After a few cups (yes cups, not glasses) of wine we headed out for The Main Event: Hand. Feeding. Wild. Dolphins!

That is obvs not us but it's the clearest picture I got.  Martin tried taking a picture with his left hand while he fed the dolphin a fish with his right.  It was not successful, and I wasn't about to pay $20 for the official photo the resort photographer took of us.

Every night at dusk a few wild dolphins swim up to the shores of the resort for some free food.  They even keep attendance of "who" shows up each night:

Three were there on our night, and a bit later a mama with her baby came and hung around.  OMG the baby was so cute.  It was about the size of my lower leg from knee to foot.  Adorbs!

They don't publicize this fact enough: If you want to feed the dolphins you need to sign up earlier in the day.  We damn near missed the sign-up time because we didn't know we had to do this.  I repeat: If you stay at Tangalooma you need to sign up for the dolphin feeding by 4 or 5 p.m. (there was conflicting information, but we signed up at 4:30 and were fine).

This is the kind of fish we fed them:

Classy, eh?

All the fish they get only make up 20% of their daily diet.  You are not allowed to touch the dolphins or the resort staff will shiv you.  However!  My dolphin totally touched my leg, and there's nothing I could do to stop it.  It felt just like how you'd expect dolphin skin to feel.  Not rough, not smooth.  Kind of slimy, though.

They are such playful little buggers!  They were riding the waves as they crashed into shore and they were just having a gay old time.  I'd never seen a dolphin before, and on my first time I got to touch one!  The dolphin experience was nothing short of incredible and 95% of the reason I wanted to visit Moreton Island (the other 5% was the sand tobogganing).

After a night of drinking sweet, sweet goon we had the whole next day to chill at the resort and use the facilities and activities, at varying levels of expense.  Keeping with the whole feeding-animals-for-entertainment theme, we watched a pelican being fed the same type of fish the dolphins got:

And Martin went on a "quad bike" tour.

That means 4-wheeler.

For your cultural literacy, I will review the new terminology I've taught you in this post:

Whinge = complain
Goon = boxed wine
Quad bike = 4-wheeler

You can do a day tour to the resort which departs back to the mainland after the dolphin feeding is completed.  I recommend this because you can do the main things you gotta do on Moreton without spending a thousand bucks for a single night.

For that price I expect to have all access to a live dolphin all night long!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Reefer Madness 1

Now that I'm back to having unlimited internet at home (ugh, don't ask) I can get back on the blogging horse.  Apologies for the extended absence and fuckyouverymuch, TPG internet.

Back in November the go-to Australian low cost airline JetStar was having a mega sale.  I used this opportunity to buy up ALL THE FLIGHTS.  Well, all of our flights for the first half of 2013, at least.  I've since learned that JetStar, as far as low cost airlines go, lies somewhere on the continuum between Ryan Air (shite on toast) and Norwegian Air Shuttle (probs a better airline than Emirates).  It's not cheap-cheap, but the frequent and generous sales help a lot.  Gold star to them.

"To the reef!" proclaimed I.  Easter was the perfect time to go, since the flights to Cairns, FNQ (that's Far North Queensland) aligned perfectly and affordably with our Friday and Monday public holidays off work.  JetStar allowed us to class it up a few notches compared to last Easter, where we traveled by Greyhound.  We had three full days there, and ne'er a day could go to waste.  I wanted to be on the reef all three days but Martin had other desires.

Day 1: Daintree Rainforest and Mossman Gorge

I think this is debated, but the Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest on the planet.  It is tropical, as where the rainforests around Brisbane are sub-tropical.  Personally, I don't see much of a difference but in my vast experience rainforest walking in the Brisbane area I've never seen a tree like this:

As per usual, we were lazy tourists and booked a tour instead of renting a car and seeing the sites for ourselves.  It's just so much easier and you know you're seeing all the must-see sites in one fell swoop.  Cairns is 110% a tourist town, so it's what they do.  Why would I trust myself (or worse, Martin) when these people subsist on knowing the ins and outs of the place?  I rest my case.

We took a river cruise down the Daintree River.

Looks so calm and peaceful, doesn't it?  Well it ain't.

We saw wild crocodiles!  Toddler crocodiles, but still!  This one was about three feet long.  We saw a total of three in the wild (more croc talk on Day 3) and the tour guide reckoned they were all around 1 and 2 years old. The big'uns were hiding from us.

When crocodiles hatch they're like the size of your finger, so 99.9% of them get eaten before they reach adulthood.  Even one of this size isn't safe from the freaking bull sharks that live in this river.  Sharks!  I told you this river ain't calm and peaceful.  This is what separates the sub-tropical from the tropical, huge-ass predators.  And even more humidity.

This picture was obviously taken in captivity, but we saw a wild cassowary, which is rare because they are endangered:

Perhaps they are endangered because we saw it taking its sweet-ass time walking across a busy road.  Stupid bird.

I had never even heard of cassowaries until I moved to Australia.  I've heard it described as an "emu in drag", which is hilariously true.  However, this fruity looking bird is not something to mess with. Those big talons and bone-hard nub on its head can do some damage.

Then, I licked an ant's ass.

Yes you heard that right: I licked the ass of an ant.  It looked a lot like this one:

The tour guide alerted us to the fact that if you grab an ant (just hold it, don't kill it) and lick the butt bulb you will get a little electric jolt on your tongue.  I actually licked it twice because I liked the flavor so much (and because I wanted the perfect picture for bragging purposes on this blog).  It was like the most super concentrated, strong lime flavor ever.

Martin was too chicken to do it, and I was very proud of myself for my bravery.  Until later when we saw a dead beetle and these very ants were swarming all over its dead carcass.  Um, eew.  That's the price you pay for going around licking the ass of other species, I guess.

We rounded out our day trip with a stop at the Mossman Gorge, with ice cold, crystal clear water.

I don't know water can get so cold in a place that is consistently so hot.  Martin loves this picture he took of some Aboriginal kids who were swimming there:

Day 2: Great Barrier Reef

It's taken us 13 months but we finally got ourselves to the GBR.  It won't be the last trip (hence the title of this post).

OMG we saw a shark!

Ha, no I'm totally kidding.  I wish!  It's just a big fish like a barracuda or barramundi or some other delicious species.  The boat kept feeding them so they stuck around, and I got within a few feet of them snorkeling.  They were huge, like longer than my knee to my foot.

We don't have an underwater camera (d'oh) but the wildlife highlights for me were a sea turtle and 2 Nemo's.  The two stops we made were surprisingly shallow.  Like at one point you could climb up onto the sandbar and be completely out of the water.

Because of this, in my expert scientific opinion, the colors of the reef weren't as spectacularly brilliant as I was expecting them to be.  The colors of the fish, though, definitely delivered.  I can't believe colors like that exist in nature.  I thought only high fructose corn syrup-laden candy could produce colors like that.

We "only" snorkeled, as we've made the decision not to get scuba certified.  We still get to wear sweet gear, though!

This is the reason for the dive suits:

It's "stinger season"!  Conveniently half the year is jellyfish season.  Some jellies can kill you, but most just hurt a lot, so beaches come equipped with vinegar stations so you can sooth the pain if you're unlucky enough to get stung.  Kindly note that there are also saltwater crocodiles in the ocean (not as far out as the reef, though), so you're lucky if your biggest run-in with wildlife is a jellyfish.

Day 3: Kuranda and Hartley's Crocodile Adventure

Kuranda is a teeny, tiny little town on a mountain top just outside of Cairns.  They fancy themselves quite the tourist attraction, and I guess if you've got a whole day to kick around there is some stuff to do up there.  We didn't have much time to spend in town, as really we just went so Martin could get his kicks from the oh-so-exciting transportation.  On the way up we took the Scenic railway:

And on the way down we took the "Skyrail", a.k.a. cable car that takes you hiiiiigh above the rainforest:

I can't speak much about Kurada itself as we only really had time for lunch up there, but there is a butterfly sanctuary, "Birdworld" and koala gardens to entertain the day trippers.

Fun fact I learned on this day: Koalas are a $1 billion industry in Australia.  I don't know how they can quantify that, but someone did.  Nowhere milks their koalas more than our state of Queensland, which coincidentally is the only state where it is legal to hold a koala.  Another not-so-fun fact I learned: Koalas might get endangered because many of them suffer chlamydia and are sterile.  Koala STDs!

I was ready for some action after our trip to this sleepy little town, so off to the crocodiles we went!

Hartley's is a crocodile farm and zoo.  My favorite thing about it is the boat ride where they dangle meat and make the crocs jump out of the water to grab it.

The sound their jaw makes when snapping shut is amazing.  They have the strongest bite of anything on earth, as their teeth really aren't that sharp.  They thrash and drown their prey, rather than killing it instantly with a bite, which makes me think death by shark > death by crocodile.  It's not known how old crocodiles can get, because once they run out of teeth they can't catch food anymore so they die.  I can see why Steve Irwin loved them so much.  They're genuinely interesting and they are, like, dinosaurs.

Look at the king sized cojones on this guy:

There are 2 types of crocodiles in FNQ: salt water and fresh water (though they both can live in the opposite type of water).  The salt water variety, "salties", will hunt and eat humans.  And they do.

Hartley's is definitely a crocodile adventure and there's other types of animals there, too.  I'm so sad this picture is blurry but I love it so much I'll post it:

Do you love my fetching hat?  A must-have under the Australian sun.  That little pademelon is totes adorbs!

We didn't spend much time in Cairns proper, though we stayed there.  It would have made just as much sense to stay in Port Douglas because many tours depart from there or pass through there, and you'd escape the scuzzy backpacker vibe.  Like Brisbane, Cairns has a man made beach.  This is probably a useful feature because of the sharks, crocodiles and jellyfish in the natural body of water.

And if the wildlife doesn't kill you, there's always melanoma.

It's not very high, it's extreme!