It has been three months since I got back to the States.  The summer was busy and I am just now redoing my Website and had the chance to review the blog and the stories within.  

I was sitting the other evening with a student and faculty member who had been on the 2011 study abroad trip.  We were at a friends house and one of the people we were visiting asked a couple of basic questions.  What was the trip like?  Who are the Maori?  How is New Zealand different?  What followed was almost an hour of questions, comments, and discussion about the New Zealand experience.  They talked about the Maori, standing under the first electric generating wind turbine in New Zealand and listing to it hum and vibrate.  Visiting the Lord of the Rings sites, and the interactions with the Maori at Te Puia, Mitai, and other locations around the country.  

What I realized while listening to the conversation was how much of an impact those three weeks had on both of the people I was with that evening.  There world views and general perspective on the States and its place in the world as well as having more global frame of reference could not have been better demonstrated. 

All of this because the Chicago Bears recruited/drafted a converted rugby player from New Zealand who is teaching the defense the haka.  

So, below is the blog from the 2013 trip from the beginning.

Location:  Charleston Illinois

I am back home for two days now.  I am still recovering from either a small case of jet lag or just having my circadian rhythm reversed.  I just could not sleep for the life of me last night.  So, I read all night.

I thought I would finish this year’s blog with an entry about returning home.  It is a very long trip.

  • Cairns Australia to Auckland New Zealand – 4.5 hours
  • Layover Auckland – 1 hour
  • Auckland to San Francisco –12.5 hours
  • Layover San Francisco – 2.25 hours
  • San Francisco to Chicago -  4.5 hours
  • Drive to Charleston – 4 hours
  • Total Travel Time: 26 .75 hours

We left Auckland at 7:15 pm on July 3rd and arrived in San Francisco at 12:15 pm July 3rd.  For those that are math impaired, that was seven hours before we left.

Cabin crew on Air New Zealand flight from Auckland, were helpful, wanted to make sure you relaxed, had enough water, wine, etc to drink.  Made sure you were comfortable as possible.  I was up during the night and spent about an hour talking with three of the cabin crew and a service manager that was on the flight.  There were knowledgeable about the company and their aircraft.  They were just willing to have a conversation with you. I might add you received a full dinner and breakfast.  We boarded in an orderly manner.

Cabin crew on United Flight from San Francisco – You got 1/3 can of beverage, had to purchase food if you wanted it.  I was in the back of the plane, stretching my legs and the two cabin attendants simply ignored me while eating their lunch.  They did keep looking at me like I was invading their space.  They boarded everyone and their brother that paid for or had special privileges while announcing that the plane was full and that if you wanted to you could check your carry-on. They went on to say that those boarding the plane last were unlikely to get any space in the overhead bins.  Of course we were boarding in the last group.  You would be amazed at what people are using as carry-on luggage these days to save the $25 baggage (or greater) baggage fee.


Location:  Cairns, AU

I have now visited the four major locations out of Cairns for trips to the Barrier Reef:  The outer reef, Low Isles, Fitzroy Island, and Green Island.  Green Island is hands down the best of the locations for the average traveler.  I know that this may create controversy but for someone that wants the best experience in the shortest time accommodating as many people’s different wants, desires, and needs, Green Island does it.  For those who want snorkeling, you have it.  Scuba and helmet diving are available.  Sitting on a beach (something that does not move and get you sick) it is there.  You want to walk on the island, there are cleared walking paths that are bricked over or are raised ramps.  There is rainforest and crocodiles (in a zoo like part in the middle of the Island).  There are restaurants, bars, shops, and other amenities that make the trip fun for all (even those who do not want to sit on the beach or go in the water.  In our case, the excursion we booked included a buffet lunch on the boat.

At low tide, you can snorkel within inches of the reef, you could (but please don’t) reach out and touch the coral.  The fish are almost as plentiful as on the outer reef.  In the day we were there we saw:  sting rays, sharks, turtles, grouper, octopus, clams, and hundreds of varieties of tropical fish.  The colors were explosive:  reds, purples, yellows, blues.  The mixture of coral and sea grass made it a perfect location for viewing sea turtles. We were not disappointed.

Green Island Beach

The front half of the Island was the developed area.  The back half of the island was a national park.  There is a stark contrast between the two.  The national park was left pristine (except for the low impact walkways).  You could see how the island looked 100 years ago.  It was also educational.  As there were signs in the park that provided explanations for how the rainforest grew, how the island developed, and for me, most interesting of all, how the aborigines have used the island over the years.  The ocean and reef around the island is a food basket for them.  On low tides they have come to the Island in the past to hunt and fish along with collecting bird eggs from nests on the Island.  A fun day in the sun and an education experience, what more could you want.

Sea TurtlePerhaps the best part of the experience is that it was not even crowded.  The boat over was full but when we got off, people scattered and so when snorkeling there were perhaps three or four other people in the water with you.  The beach was not crowded.

There are two controlled swimming and snorkeling areas on the Island.  One is for beginners that have lifeguards on duty and the other for those who have some experience (and is unguarded).  I spend three hours snorkeling in the unguarded area and felt perfectly comfortable.  None of the fifteen or more foot drop-offs you experience in the outer reef and there were multiple areas of sand where you could stop, put your feet down and relax, catch your breath.

Fish off Green Island FeedingThe only downside to the experience was the boat ride over and back.  If you are prone to seasickness, you want to prepare yourself.  The crossing was parallel to the prevailing seas and winds and so there was a great deal of rocking motion.  They had rated the seas as moderate on the day I traveled.  This meant one-half to one meter swells. I traveled with someone who does get carsick and she was feeling it.  On the plus side, the Green Island boat ride is one of the shorter rides.  Fitzroy Island takes about the same time and the Lower Isle and outer reef are longer trips.





Location:  Port Douglas

Last time the program was in Port Douglas, I had the flu.  I decided that it was best to skip the Walker Brother’s Walk, talk, and hunt on Cooya beach.  This time I was not going to miss it; and I didn’t.  I spent the day hunting crabs on Cooya beach mud flat.  I only caught two crabs (Okay speared one and let a student spear the other), but the group caught over a dozen.  We also saw puffer fish, sea snakes, sand crabs, and signs of many other kinds of life.

Part of the experience included hearing stories about aboriginal culture and habits.   The lands have been inhabited for tens of thousands of years.  The stories include when the aboriginal tribes lived on the Lower Isles and Bat Reef and they were part of mainland Australia.  The “great wave” and rising seas created the reef and the separation of the island from the mainland.

Turtles seem to be part of the culture also.  The Walker’s showed us several green turtle shells that are legal to hunt and eat in Australia.  It takes a full day to catch, clean, cook, and eat a sea turtle.  They only do it for special occasions.  I wondered if they were going to do it tonight as there were celebrating one of the children’s 18th birthday.

The Walker Brothers are very interesting.  They not only do cultural tours, they are involved in a project to record the oral stories of their family and clan.  In the basement they have a small studio were they bring in the elders and storytellers to record the stories.  They also record their family band.

Spears on Cooya Beach

Green ants.  They taste like a lemon lolly.  One of the final treats that everyone got to try a green ant.  There was a nest of them in the tree just outside the gate to the Walker Brother’s home. You old them by there heads and lick their back ends.  You get a burst of lemon flavor.

One of the final really positive parts of the morning spearfishing is that everyone finally put aside their electronics.  There were no mp3 players, ipads, ipods, or computers.  It was just people, spears, and the mud flats.  It was rather refreshing.

Location:  Port Douglas

I have been coming to the Port Douglas/Cairns since 2006.  In those last seven years even I have noticed significant changes in the relationship between the native indigenous people and the Australians (I find this distinction to be even more interesting as the aboriginal people were first Australians.)  This struggle is similar to what happened in America with native Americans.  What do we can the people that immigrated?

I have noticed name changes, dual names, more and more references to the aboriginal people and statements of how use of a particular area is possible with permission of the local tribe.  I wonder how much of that is real?  How much of it is national or State guilt, and how much of it is for tourism? Finally, how much of it is because of where we are, far north Queensland?

If you have not done so, you should read the history of the aborigine in Australia post-English arrival.  It is a history that is not very good.  Denial of land rights, forced removal of children from the home, efforts at extermination, all tell a history of violence and denial.  Fortunately, in the last forty years there has been a national recognition of this behavior and there have been efforts to ease the plight of the aborigine and return in some cases of what is theirs.

What I have seen in Port Douglas I believe is a sign of that change.  There is no longer the appropriation of aboriginal places and things.  There seems to be an evolution in at least local society to recognize the place of aboriginal values, beliefs, and traditions.

Perhaps the growth of the “green” movement was a part of this.  As I mentioned on another post, there is a strong concern for the environment here.  When you consider we are dealing with fragile rain forests and the Great Barrier Reef, you can bet that global warming, pollution, trash, recycling, construction limits, people limits, are all on top of everybody’s agenda.