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

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.

Location: Sydney

Crossed another item off the bucket list.  I have always wanted to go to a professional rugby game.  Last time I was down under, everyone but me went to a match as I was dealing with a family problem at the time.  This time I got to go.  Took five students with me this time.

We saw the South Sidney Rabbitohs play the Paramatta Ells of the National Rugby League.  The secondary excitement with this event was that it was held in ANZAC Stadium, home of the 2000 Summer Olympics.  There were 17,077 people at the match and it looked like the stadium was empty (capacity is now just over 85,000).  The stadium was huge.  The nice thing about it was that although it was pouring rain, the seating was covered so we were all dry.

One of the outcomes of going is that I think that I finally have an understanding of Rugby.  It may not be complete, but it is enough that I can finally see the goals and strategy involved.  My next big task it to figure out the difference between rugby leagues and unions.  How the national teams fit in and how all the different cup plays fit in.

It was also fun to see the fans.  They certainly do not have to take a back seat to fans in the states.  The cheering section for the Rabbitohs was every bit as excited, boisterous, ritualized, and loud as the Doug Pound in Cleveland, Block O at Ohio State, or as loud as the Bears fans.  The difference is that they do not seem to be as fueled with alcohol.  There did not seem to be any tailgating at the stadium.  The fans that want to drink and watch go to a pub.  The pubs are where the alcohol flows and the arguments seem the loudest.

Getting to the stadium was easy.  Our hostel is next to the Central Railway stadium.  We took the Western line train from tack 18 to Lidcombe Station.  From Lidcomde station there is a shuttle train that takes you right to Olympic stadium.  It was painless getting there and back.

Oh, and the score,  Rabbitohs 30 and the Ells 6.  Rabbitohs are in first place in the league and the Eels are in last.

9/20/2013 Update - Rabbitohs are in  the Preliminary Finals (that is a new one, not only finals but Finals Week, Semi-Finals, Preliminary Finals, and Finals)

Location:  Cairns

I did it!. I walked up the “mountain” that makes up most of Fitzroy Island.  It is only 883 feet high.  The track up the hill is steep at times.  The actual trail is about 1.8 Kilometers.  Not much for most people but in my trying to get back to responsible shape it was an accomplishment.

Fitzroy Island is what is known as a continental Island.  A continental island is an island that is formed when a body of water rises separating the island from a larger land mass.  What makes this island so interesting is that a reef has grown up around the Island making it very accessible for viewing, snorkeling, and swimming.  You just have to be careful of the coral as the beaches are full of broken coral warn down by the sea.  So, bring your beach shoes.

The Island is about a 45-minute ferry ride from Cairns Australia (about 30 Kilometers).  It is basically south east of Cairns.  It is off Djujbirri (formally Cape Grafton).

Coral on the beach on Fitzroy Island

We bought a package deal, ferry, lunch, snorkeling equipment, glass-bottom boat ride for about $110.00.  It was a full day of sun, beach, swimming, and walking.  The lunch included a chicken wrap, a ham and cheese sub sandwich, apple, snack bar, apple juice, and water.

There is a resort on the Island which meant that there was a bar and restaurant.  So, if you only wanted to take the ferry to the Island you could do that and then purchase your meals there.

I think that in some future adventures I would like to take the family to the resort for a long weekend.  It certainly seemed calm and quiet.

 Location:  Sydney

This is the fifth time that I have been on this basic trip.  In previous experiences, it would rain a day or two during the entire 33 days.  This is the first time that it has rained the majority of the 33 days (so far).  On the bright side, it was not as cold this trip and we missed the major snow falls that hit the islands while we were there.

When we do the orientation for the program we do explain that the field experience occurs during the winter and that it is possible to get bad weather.  In the event of bad weather, we would not cancel activities.  We would soldier on.  Program participants needed to take this into account when planning (bring warm clothes for New Zealand and rain gear).

The rain has had two compensating factors.  We saw many rainbows (five just today waiting for our flight from Auckland to Sydney) and waterfalls.  I know that that last sentence sounds like the lyrics to some sickly syrupy song, but it is true.

Hopefully by the time we get to Cairns and Port Douglas the weather will clear.