Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Nitmiluk National Park

(7/10-12/11) Our last Australian adventure was a backpack along Katherine Gorge in the Northern Territories Nitmiluk National Park. While the daytime temperatures were similar to the Alice Springs area we had visited five weeks before, the nights were balmy warm and swimming was delightful ... if nerve wracking; inconsistent warning signs and ranger directives made me wonder: Was the area really free of man-eating, salt-water crocodiles? Anyway, if present, they failed to eat any of our family. 
The wide trail traversed exotic eucalyptus drylands separating stunning cliffside oasis, where creeks joined into Katherine Gorge. 
Shortly into the hike, we encountered pygmy flying foxes...

...lots of them!

Termites mounds ate trees.
An occasional stream fed the parched wilderness.

Just above the river lay the serene Lily Ponds, which is annually replenished by a torrential waterfall in The Wet.

The afternoon light bathes trees in the Dunlap Swamp. 

The landscape glowed with the falling sunlight as we approached our camp.

Moonlight illuminates the white sand around our Smitt Rock campsite.
The sunrise slowly filled the gorge... 
...it was stunning!

Galen surveys the narrows bordering Smitt Rock.

Swallows darted in and out of the distant caves.
Adam and Galen on day 2.
Palms and eucalyptus make strange companions.

This pool drained thru a waterfall into Eighth Gorge, where we spent our second night.

Margaret and I explored upstream to Tenth Gorge; bushwalking offtrail felt good, and it just kept getting prettier.

Looking back towards Ninth Gorge.

The high dive into Ninth Gorge.

On our return, we discovered what should have been called Lily Pond, a remote billabong, formed from an old oxbow.

Wild Kapok grew on the cliffs. 

It reminded me so much of Utah!
Sunrise from Eighth Gorge.

Sunrise at Smitt Rock.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cape Huay, Tasman National Park

(6/26/11) We spent today day scuba diving in the clear but frigid (12c) waters on the Tasman Peninsula, swimming among swaying kelp forests and through narrow caves between glistening purple rocks. That night we watched for tiny Fairy Penguins returning to their beach-side burrows at sunset. Alas, they must be shy because we saw not a one, just stunning stars wheeling through the gathering darkness. Eventually, the chill winter breeze eroded our resolve and we hobbled back to the car to warm our stiff limbs. While driving back to Port Arthur, however, I saw a Tasmanian devil prowling the bush, and we saw numerous wallabies and paddymelons. The next day we hiked along 1000' sea cliffs to the tip of Cape Huay.  While the sky's threats never materialized, the severely stunted vegetation suggested that the peninsula's typical weather might be horrific. The scenery was simply stunning!
The surreal patterns of the Tessellated Pavement stem from fractures due to  expansion from repeated salt crystalization.

One of the many stunning arches along the coast

Adam, Galen and Luca hiking out towards Cape Huay.

The basalt hcliffs are over 1000' tall
Some of the sea stack formations are incredible!  The small pillar crossing the horizon on the right side of this picture is a sheer column - see the next photo for a better vantage.

This 350' free-standing pillar is called the Totem Pole and lead to an epic first ascent, when the climber fell and was badly injured.

Galen enjoys the ambiance. 

The delicate flowers contrast with the rugged environment.

This 50 lb Bluefin Tuna will feed a large family.

Windswept forest on a nearby beach

Pied Oyster Catcher

Anticipating Seattle

Ok, we actually just arrived home this weekend, but on (7/3/11) Margaret writes: As the sun sets over my last weekend in Brisbane, I’ve been reflecting on our stay here. It’s been an amazing ride!

What I’ll miss most about Brisbane

  • Leading a life that’s not perpetually on the brink of out-of-control
  • Time to think and to follow my own priorities rather than someone else’s
  • Claire Wainwright and my other new friends and colleagues
  • Watching our kids make friends and expand their views of the world
  • Great family time
  • Sun, sun, sun!
  • Awesome adventures in Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Russia
  • Living in a squeaky clean modern apartment with a pool and gym, 5 minutes from trendy cafes and restaurants and Coles (the QFC of Brisbane)
  • The Saturday farmers’ market at Davies Park
  • Cooking almost all our dinners on the “barbie,” eating on the deck and watching the incredible view of the city
  • Fantastic coffee on every corner (puts Seattle to shame!)
  • Cycling, walking or taking the bus everywhere

What I’m most looking forward to when we return:

  • Reuniting with our friends and colleagues!!!!!!!!
  • Being close to those I love in troubled times (and good times)
  • Our big, beautiful house (though it is ridiculously big) and Lake Washington
  • Our cats
  • Lots of hiking in our incredible mountains
  • Long summer days
  • Keeping that sabbatical energy and perspective with me for the long haul

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Heron Island, At Last!

(6/24-28/11) Twenty-odd years ago, when I was a young Assistant Professor, I was invited to a workshop on Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef, all expenses paid. Alas, I somehow decided that i was too busy and declined the offer, which was never repeated. Several years later I met a NASA colleague and noticed that he was wearing a Heron Island polo shirt. "Did you go to that workshop?" I asked excitedly. "Hell, no" he replied, "I went there for my honeymoon!  Splendid place, truly paradise!"
Live and learn.
Last week I finally made it to paradise. Taking Adam, Galen and their Seattle friend, Luca, we flew to the rough and tumble, industrial port city of Gladstone where hotel rooms were in short supply due to the accelerated efforts to complete an offshore deep-water dock and natural gas refinery. Next day, we boarded the Heron Islander and headed east through some disturbingly large swells. 
Heron Island is a tiny emerald jewel set in a huge turquoise reef. A rusting wreck marks the entrance channel to the tiny harbor.
The resort is surrounded by national park with lush and exotic plants creeping across perfect white sand. Sheoak, Pandanus and Birds Beak are seen here.

Ineptly named. There are no Herons on  the island, instead we saw a multitude of Eastern Reef Egrets. 
Both white and grey color morphs are common. 

Also common were Buff Banded Rails (above) and Black Noody Terns, which roosted in the Pisonia forest at night and hunted the seas during the day.
Much of our time was spent diving and we saw too many extraordinary fish to list. Green Turtles were very common, but I was especially thrilled when a twenty-foot Manta ray soared above my head!

To Russia with Love

In mid-June, Margaret and Galen (how did he get to be the lucky one?) traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg to watch Margaret’s father Art receive the Russian Global Energy Prize, touted as the “Russian Nobel Prize in Energy.” It will be all down hill from here for us, as we were treated like royalty – ferried every where it black Mercedes, wearing tuxes and ball gowns, and trying to avoid all the vodka that went along with the interminable toasts!

It made Margaret burst with pride to see how revered her father is, and how engaging, gracious and witty he was even when in the presence of President Medvedev, who himself bestowed the prizes. The most tender moment was when Art was giving his acceptance speech in front of all the hoi polloi of Russian energy. At one point, fumbling with his notes, a sheet fell to the ground. President Medvedev (a spry 45 year old) leapt to his feet, ran over, picked up the page and handed it back to Art, whereupon Art exclaimed, “President to the rescue!” and the whole crowed erupted in laughter.

Galen was a fantastic traveling companion, always up for another adventure, enthusiastic, mature, flexible, and a professional-level navigator of the Moscow subway, never mind the Cyrillic! He also seems to know how to pick his (girl)friends… And we had an incredible time with Art’s assistant Steve exploring the canals and streets of St. Petersburg and watching the 10,000 people out on the streets at 2 am because of the “White Nights.” It’s so cold and dark the rest of the year that they definitely take advantage of the long summer days, even if it’s raining and 60 degrees!

For more info an Art’s Global Energy Prize award, see

Monday, July 4, 2011

Freycinet National Park, Tasmania

(6/29-30/11) When Adam and Galen's home-town friend, Luca, arrived for a visit, we headed to Tasmania for a backpacking circuit through Freycinet National Park.  Although it was winter, the days were warm and sunny. But when the sun descended, you had to reach quickly for a parka.
Adam, Luca and Galen above Wineglass Bay, ranked one of the world's ten most beautiful  beaches by National Geographic.  
After savoring the beach, we passed an inland lagoon our way across the peninsula. On the next day, we would return by traversing Mt Graham, the 2000' peak just left of center.
Besides stunningly grand vistas, the park had many smaller treats. 

Even the raucous croaking of the crows sounded more exotic in Tasmania.  
The boys seemed very happy to be reunited and the miles of walking went quickly. 
Our campsite was at the far end of this isolated beach. It was an incredible treat to have this stunning place all to ourselves!

Signs of wildlife were everywhere.
On the side of the trail I spotted where a Wallaby had scratched the earth before leaving this scat. 
At dusk a troop of Bennet's Wallabies grazed in a field nearby our tents. When ambling, they use their tail as a third leg to prop themselves forwards, but they are cutest when quickly hopping.
Back from the beach lay another secret freshwater lagoon, guarded by reeds. High on the left side of this tree rests a Sea Eagle. 

Our campsite afforded a wonderful view of The Hazards, two granite peaks, which we had crossed at the beginning of our hike. 
Sheoaks formed an airy canopy by our campsite and sheltered us from the breeze. 
Sunset over The Hazards. 
During the day we saw Possum tracks on the beach...
...and that night several Brushtailed Possums came by to try and sneak some of our food. While the camera's flash sent them waddling away or up trees, looking rather miffed, they kept coming back.
The next morning we started our return journey, this time climbing through thick eucalyptus forest rich with parrots and then up into a stunted, alpine zone. The view back showed an incredible and rugged coastline.

When we reached the summit of Mt. Graham, we could again see the stunning Hazards which we'd soon have to cross. 
A long but scenic descent led back to Wineglass Bay and I explored reflections where a stream crossed the beach.
Crossing back over The Hazards, we savored our last view of Wineglass Bay and Mt. Graham. Just stunningly gorgeous.
This picture is out of order, but I wanted to end with a panoramic view from the top of Mt. Graham.