Sunday, October 13, 2013

Did somebody say beer?!

 As some of you may or may not know, I love beer, and not just any beer but craft beer. My home city is among the cities with the highest craft breweries per capita in the nation. Friends of mine brew beer and introduced me to the wonderful world of craft beer, creativity, taste, and fun. Going to microbreweries is a definite hobby of mine. Microbreweries are more about taste than volume, and that's what sets them apart from Coors Light and Millers.

Well I thought I would try and tap into that while here in Australia. One of the traditions I have while traveling is to collect the beer labels from all the different beers I get a chance to drink while abroad. To clarify, I have to drink that beer to be able to take the label and it has to be drank in a country other than the U.S.; however, it doesn't necessarily have to be a beer brewed in that country (although 95% of the time it is). The only unfortunate part is that sometimes you drink "frothies" in a glass, not a bottle, so I've missed some here and there (Frothies is what Aussies call beer).

Well Australians drink more than Americans. Yes I said it, and yes there is proof. But not only that, their preferred drink is beer, not spirits like in Russia or wine like in France. The unfortunate part of living in the state of Victoria is that they have some of the highest taxes in the nation when it comes to alcohol, so going out can be somewhat expensive.

These maps by the World Health Organization (WHO) show some interesting trends in not only Australia alcohol, but alcohol consumption world wide.



I have been fortunate enough to try some really good beers. I've put a few of the labels of beers I've had while here, beers from Tasmania to the remote Northern Territory to breweries in Melbourne.

Delicious! - Some great names like "Beez Neez," "Little Creatures Pale Ale," "Mountain Goat Organic."
Some of the more unique ones, including a tasty Tasmanian cider.
Some really cool bars in Melbourne....

English pub in Melbourne - Charles Dickens pub

I'll leave you with this thought: Could it be true?! - Australians hangover free beer :

Until next time. ----- To read the previous blog post on the Great Barrier Reef, click here ------

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Where the rainforest meets the reef

Going to the Great Barrier Reef was a complete and utter disappointment, a small collection of reef with a few fish that isn't worth anybody's time. All that hype, all those beautiful photos...fake and unwarranted.


The beauty of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is absolutely unimaginable, and the diversity you see is overwhelming. The GBR is 2012 km long (approx. 1250 miles) and 21 million hectares (approx 81,018 square miles) of extreme diversity, color, and life.

Lucky enough for me, my friend is up working in northern Australia at a reef operator known as Ocean Safari which is the most rural reef operator in Australia. So one my main goals on this trip and on my bucket list is to see the GBR, and that dream came true when I was in Cape Tribulation. We left on a small boat carrying about 30 people and rode a half an hour out to the reef. Yes, I was already thinking, oh my goodness I'm in Finding Nemo!

So once arrived to the middle of nowhere, the middle of the ocean, but the middle of something as gorgeous as the GBR; I grab my snorkel gear and jump right in the water. It takes about 45 seconds for the water to fill in my wetsuit and warm me up, and for me to put on the snorkel and fins. I'm the first one in the water, which is an eerie feeling, but I push passed it and swim a bit away from the boat and dip my head under water. To my frantic surprise, there is a shark no more than 50 feet from me!!!! My heart skipped a beat!
The white-tipped reef shark swims casually by, and thank goodness they are classified as not threatening. "Deep breaths Kristin....deep breaths....OK....that was awesome!!! Let's do this!" It was actually a beautiful experience to watch it, it felt majestic.

So, I just keep swimming, just keeping swimming (as Dory the fish would say). This is what I see....

Not a bad view, welcome to the Great Barrier Reef

Such a beautiful purple and blue coral color

Giant Clam

There is a Blue Lagoon Sting Ray there under the rock, can you see his stinger?

The Green Sea Turtle munching away on lunch

The Green Sea Turtle looking for food

It is hard to capture the beauty of the reef in words, I think pictures are the best way to try and convey what I saw. There are crazy amounts of fish, so many different sizes, colors and shapes; some are chunky rainbow fish, others are streamline nearly-invisible-when-sideways fish, groups of bright blue small fish, and more. I can't even remember everything I saw because it was overwhelming. I think certain attractions in the world that most people hear about can be played up beyond their actual beauty, but in my opinion, the Great Barrier Reef is not one of those things. It lives up to your expectations.

Me with the green sea turtle hunting for food

Now you may be wondering why this post is called "where the rainforest meets the reef?" Did you know Australia has a rainforest, in fact it is the oldest rainforest in the world at 135,000,000 years old. The Daintree Rainforest is a beautiful example of Mother Nature and diversity; all within 1200 square kilometers.This World Heritage Listed added this area in 1988, saying that this area contains the highest number of plant and animal species that are rare, or threatened with extinction, anywhere in the world. As for its importance to Australia, the Daintree Rainforest contains 30% of frog, marsupial and reptile species in Australia, and 65% of Australia's bat and butterfly species. 20% of bird species in the country can be found in this area. And it all lives in an area that takes up 0.2% of the landmass of Australia.

View from the Donahue range

Mt. Sorrow peak - view from a canopy crane

I have to admit, you see so many animals and insects, so I spent a lot of my time walking though the forest worrying about what creature was going to bite me. But, after a few days, you just accept all the weird noises and sounds and learn to enjoy and appreciate them; the loud geckos, the clumsy iguana things, the snakes on the paths, and the sing-song birds. One thing I never got over though, was the concept that when you walk at night you always have to watch out for pythons. Although they are little threat to humans, you can easily step on one on the street or on a pathway while they are out hunting at night. A bit creepy.

Just being in this rainforest was amazing. So much of it reminded me of being back in the Amazon and being surrounded by all that natural beauty. I was also fortunate enough to go up in the canopy crane that is sponsored by the James Cook University. This isn't open to the public, but my friend knows somebody. It was like being in a BBC documentary, floating about the rainforest canopy with the ocean and the great barrier reef off in the distance.

I was fortunate enough to have a friend working here in the rainforest (same friend), she works at Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours, a zip line operator. So I got to zip line through this beautiful rainforest, and hang upside down. Zip lining is quite a rush! You fly 70 feet above the ground.

Hanging upside down in the oldest rainforest in the world

My best friend (Giggles) and I (Stiffler's Mom) :-)

Up here in northern Australia, the rainforest meets the reef, and it is an unforgettable experience.

To read the previous blog post on what it is like studying abroad, click here