Monday, January 31, 2011

Hogwarts Academy...?

No castle; no potions or parseltongue, but as Adam, Galen and Leah walked to their first day at Brisbane State High School (surrounded by 100s of other uniformed kids) it seemed closer to JK Rowling's universe than to Seattle Schools.

Ok, we all know that it's really just the British influence on Australian schools, which also flavored Rowling's writings, but I couldn't help myself. There really are prefects with extra privileges and responsibilities and special coats with status-denoting "pockets." All the other schools have their own uniforms and their own color schemes; each group of kids was bustling to their own school at roughly the same time in the morning. So as we passed a mob of girls all dressed in green, I muttered "Slytherin!"

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Empress Canyon

On 1/27/11 we did our third canyon, Empress, near Wentworth Falls - overhanging walls, dripping with prehistoric ferns and stunning grottos with deep pools.  We were overtaken early-on by a group whose friendly guide clearly knew the canyon by heart. He did some spectacular parcour-inspired moves, bouncing dynamically high through a narrow chasm and ending with a high flip into a shadowy pool. Alas, the canyon was sadly short; a 100' abseil through Empress Falls marked its end.  The overhanging start through rushing white water was awkward, but the buffetted ride into a deep, blue pool was fantastic.  A guided group of 30 Chinese tourists cheered our arrival and marveled at the ingenuity of my dry keg.  The fog parted making the hike out almost as pretty as the canyon itself; I wished we had time to hike the cliff-top loop trail.


Leeches! (in Wollongong 2)

1/26/11 - Leeches! 

Ah, yes. Don't want to forget the one _small_ annoyance, which interrupted the fun of our second canyon. Don't want to forget  Galen's squeal of discovery nor the panic in Margaret's voice as she repeatedly failed to prise the bloody parasite off him... 

And as we soon discovered, there were _lots_ of them...

 For our second canyon, we chose a nontechnical trip which required "lilos" (inflatable rafts) due to the vast amount of swimming.  It was super-fun, except for one thing.  The leeches got us on the hike in and out.  Craftily, they slimed their way up shrubs and to the tops of tall grass and waited for us to walk by.  I never saw one pounce, but I'm sure that's what they did, before oozing into our socks and under the waistbands of swimming trunks to gorge themselves. 

Once we reached the canyon, put on  wetsuits and got in the water, we were safe. But we knew they'd be waiting for us on the hike out...
Just inflated the"lilos" - now it's time for fun.

Three technical canyons entered the river along the length we swam - they were quite tantalizing!  This is the mouth of  Serendipity.

The mouth of Whungee Wheengee was incredibly dark and narrow!  I so wished we had more time for exploration!

Waterfall of Moss ends in an abseil, so we couldn't explore this side canyon.

This is the view from the hike out at sunset

The Eucalyptus were especially pretty in the afternoon light.

Grand Canyon (Blue Mts)

With our apt in Brisbane uninhabitable from the floods, we flew to Sydney, and drove to the Blue Mts for three days of canyoneering.  It was fantastic!
As we approached the "Grand Canyon" the shrub transformed into incredibly verdant rainforest.
Adam starts to abseil into the canyon
Margaret starting the descent
Galen looks down the overhang

The canyon was incredibly lush

Swim, scramble, repeat.

At one point a slender beam of light illuminated a tiny corner of the canyon.

After the long hike upwards, we enjoyed expansive views from Echo Point.

...and an amazing sunset on our drive to Lithgow.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Brisbane at Last!

1/23/11 We arrived in Brisbane about 5 days after the flood peaked and it was incredible to see how much work had already been done to clean up the city!  In most areas, you could see nothing amiss. In our West End neighborhood, however, cleanup was still progressing.
From a trail near the river, I'm pointing to garbage and dead foliage stuck high above my head in the foliage of a tree. The water crested 4.5 meters over the top of the gage.
This sign was knocked over by the flood and has detritus stuck up high.
But the Australians seem to know how to take these knocks in stride - tomorrow is Australia Day, apparently time to celebrate by drinking vast quantities of beer.
This is just a random piece of street art (on a power transformer) which captured by interest during our walk around Brisbane yesterday.

Haast & Cross Canyons

The rainforest around Haast was incredibly lush
1/16/11 - Haast was underwhelming, but we enjoyed two short hikes: Mataketake Dune Walk, through rain-forest by the beach and Kahikatea Swamp Forest Walk along a boardwalk above murky tannic waters. On the drive back east, we later explored Cross Creek, a great canyoneering adventure which required warmer wetsuits than we could rent.
This small lake is captured by an old sand dune - now covered with rainforest.

The Tasman sea crashed loudly on the nearby beach

This and the next shot is from the Kahikatea Swamp Forest 

A fall in Cross Creek near Haast Pass.

Galen thought it was beautiful...

... as did I.

Lake Wanaka as viewed from the drive back from Haast Pass.