Rachel Down Under!

Rach Down South

Posted in Australia, Georgia, Virginia by rssmith218 on June 3, 2012

Over the past few months, I have officially transitioned from Rach Down Under to Rach Down South, as I have left my digs in Bondi for a new life in Savannah, Georgia. During this move, I have unceremoniously neglected my blog, but now that I am finally settled into life “Down South”, I figure it is time to catch up on my last few months in Australia, Virginia, and finally- Georgia!

I rode the rainy Sydney summer through February and March, and during these last two months, I was mostly busy with work, although I did manage to fit in some remaining bits of Aussie joy. I enjoyed some freshly-speared fish caught right from Maroubra,

Perfect shot, James!

attempted to catch some waves out at Bondi,

Surf’s up, ladies! And yes, we did actually take these boards out into the water…

and experienced my first Korean bbq.

…complete with some special Asian drinks….thanks Shin!

I turned 24 to great fanfare,

(and some midnight tequila shots!)

became addicted to the local sushi shop,

and even ran in a Warrior Dash!

Compare before the race when we were still clean…

with halfway through while we were still crushing the course….

to the muddy end!

My last few weeks in Sydney quickly turned into a “Rach-a-palooza,” during which I said goodbye to my favorite Sydney hang-outs, bars, and of course, my mates. From Fancy Cocktail night and Roast-n’-Games night (neither of which I was sadly able to document), to the infamous Ladies Night and my final Goodbye Dinner, I truly sent Sydney out in style. You can see yourself from the photos…

Ladies night started out with a few glasses of bubbly at Katie’s…

…but quickly escalated into some full-on karaoke madness!

We were joined by my lovely housemates…

my fellow labmates,

and some of my favorite Sydney-siders!

My time in Sydney was also brought to a close with my final lab discussion group,

Thanks for the cake, Graeme!

and a final lab dinner at my favorite, Lebanon & Beyond…

….where Luke and Wills tried unsuccessfully to finish the cake! You can already see the defeat in Wills’s face….

After one last barbecue at Tamarama,

I said my final farewell to Bondi and began the long journey back to the States….

Finally home! Do I look exhausted or what?

During the short time I was home, I took in my favorite Virginia sights with a visiting Aussie…for once I’m not the biggest tourist!  I showed James around my hometown of Richmond, including Belle Island and Maymont Park….

…and we even snuck in a quick trip up to the mountains before my big move down to Georgia!

From the top of Old Rag!

After conquering Old Rag, I was ready for my next big adventure….Georgia! Welcome to the South, and more specifically, to Skidaway Island, my new home!

I’m living out at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, where there is plenty of solitude among the live oaks, Spanish Moss, and the beautiful views of the marshlands…..

Pretty gorgeous, eh?

There’s also been plenty of time for science,

which happily includes boating around the marshlands….

…and playing in the mud!

Even though I have spent a good amount of my time here wallowing around in the mud, I’ve also enjoyed some local Savannah events, such as the SCAD Sidewalk Arts Festival,

bringing in the Super Moon with a few cold Blue Moons down at the Skidaway dock,

and I even got to take in the Savannah sights in the company of my mom, who came down for a weekend!

I also had some Skidaway visitors that came from even further away to soak up the Southern lifestyle….hello to Luke and Jenna who came to visit all of the way from Australia!

Having trouble lighting that true American barbecue?

There we go!

And as long as we have the barbie on…why not try an American novelty- SMORE’S!

What do you think Luke? Pretty good?

The next morning, we awoke to a full day of sight-seeing around Savannah. We engaged with Savannah’s many squares….

wandered around Forsyth Park,

and took in the many mysteries of Savannah, including the existence of squirrels (!),

Savannah’s oyster tabby streets,

and salt-water taffy!

After a long day in the city, there’s only one thing to do…relax with a Gin and Tonic for some good ole’ southern porch-sittin’!

But our night was still young, and we soon headed to a minor league baseball Sand Gnats game, prior to a crazy night out in Savannah.

Go Gnats!

A big difference from Australia….$3 beers!

Our tour of Savannah continued the next day with a trip out to Fort Pulaski, where Jenna and Luke kept an eye out for Northern invaders….

We then headed to lunch out at Tybee Island, where we enjoyed some fresh Georgia shrimp- yum!

Our day of touring concluded with a relaxing afternoon at Tybee Beach…it’s not Bondi, but it has its own charms….

Finally, time to relax!

And lastly, it’s not a trip to Skidaway if you don’t get a little bit dirty with some fieldwork! Jenna and Luke joined us in the field for some heavy-duty mud digging…having fun, guys?

We made it back to the boat!

I was sad to see Luke and Jenna go, but like any good visit, I am left looking forward to the next adventure. The same can be said for my time in Australia. I’ve had an incredible year-and-a-half down under and I am left with amazing memories, great friends, and an appreciation for a vast and beautiful country.

Hopefully I will be able to return to Australia someday soon, but until then, I will enjoy my new adventure….Down South!


Welcome to “God’s Country”

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on February 8, 2012

In the midst of a ridiculously rainy summer, I awoke on Sunday morning to a shockingly sunny day. And what better way to enjoy a sunny Sunday than with a trip down south to “God’s Country”?

Shire, here we come!

Thus, with sunnies and hats in tow, we headed down to the Shire, eagerly spotting Australian flags and Southern Cross bumper stickers along the way…

We drove through Royal National Park to reach Maianbar on Port Hacking estuary.

Here, we unpacked the car, grabbed our fishing poles and swimmers, and set out to enjoy a day on the mudflats.

Have you ever seen such beautiful mud?

Got your fishing rods, mates?

Careful, the mudflats can be treacherous!

At last, the gang’s all here! Time to go fishing!

However, before we could start to fish, we needed to capture some bait. Does anyone know how to work this yabby pump? Hmmm…..

Good thing we had Gordy to help us figure it out!

Spot any yabbies?

Natty found one!

So cute!

Finally, with a bucket full of yabbies, we headed to the beach for an afternoon of fishing.

However, some of us soon became antsy, and we set off in search of a rumored secret basin.

Is that the secret basin lurking among the mangroves?


Must be time for a swim by now-beautiful!

Eventually, it was time to head back, although our return to the car was slightly hindered by the incoming tide. As you can see below, the once tiny creek that we had effortlessly forded on the way out to the beach gave us a bit more trouble when we tried to come back in….

We celebrated our successful return to the car with sunset fish and chips at Katelyn’s parent’s house in the Shire- what a perfect end to a beautiful, sunny Sunday!

Visa Run, Christmas, and a new year!

Posted in Australia, New Zealand, Sydney by rssmith218 on January 11, 2012

Happy holidays from the land down under! Do I look festive enough for you? Yes, that is a kilt!

Several people (ie: my mother) have brought to my attention the fact that I haven’t updated this blog for quite a while, so I think it is high time to catch up on the past couple of months! My time in Australia has been extended yet again, and over the past few months I have traveled to New Zealand and back, started a new job as a research assistant, celebrated another Christmas “down under,” and, finally, welcomed in the new year, Sydney-style.

If you can’t tell from the above photo, it has been a busy couple of months, so I will break it down into points to make it easier to take in.

1. New Zealand, AGAIN!

I never thought that I would be lucky enough to return to New Zealand, the great land of sheep, glaciers, mazes, mountains, and ghost chips. However, when I was offered work as an RA, I had to leave Australia to apply for a new visa, so I jumped on the opportunity to dash over to New Zealand for a few days. And of course, while I was waiting for my visa to come through, I was glad to have a bit of time to explore some more of the New Zealand countryside. On my last trip to New Zealand, I enjoyed the sights of the South Island, so this time I chose the North Island for my latest traveling escapades.

As I embarked on my solo North Island adventure, I found myself missing my previous Kiwi traveling companions….

….and so, I vowed to have a week full of adventures in their honor!

I flew into Auckland, and, after hurriedly applying for my visa, I spent the day wandering the city and enjoying the skyline, sailboats, parks, and museums.


Ever the eternal tourist, the next day, I embarked on a tour of the North Island’s Northlands, which, as you can probably guess from the name, is the northern-most part of New Zealand. Here’s a map to help orient you.

New Zealand –> North Island –> Northlands!

On the way to the top of New Zealand, I stopped for all sorts of touristy-goodness. I even hugged a GIANT kauri tree,

and braved the ICE COLD New Zealand waters for a snorkel at Goat Island.

At least the beauty of the scenery actually did distract me from my shaking arms and legs!

Also, is that a sting ray? Yikes!

Finally, we reached our destination for the first night- Paihia in the Bay of Islands! Upon arrival, I took a quick hike to a local look-out to take in my surroundings…pretty beautiful, eh?

The next morning, I awoke early for a day trip up to the very tip-top of New Zealand to Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean! It was a rainy, cloudy drive, but we eventually made it up the coast. Even in the fog, you can see that this is a pretty amazing place….

Can you see the waters converging?

The waves were apparently pretty weak on this day, but you can see the convergence, right?

Post-convergence, what else would you want to do but go SAND-BOARDING? Yep, that tiny black dot, is actually my friend Janis!

Fun, huh?

The next stop on our journey was 90-mile beach, a beach that, despite its name, is actually only 55 miles long. It’s not every day that you get to drive a bus full speed down a beach…

It looks 90 miles long to me!

Hey Rach, can you spot Sydney from across the Tasman Sea? Normally I’m trying to spot New Zealand!

And of course every good day ends with fresh fish and chips….

…and sunset beers with new friends on the beach!

I spent my last day in the Northlands kayaking around the Bay of Islands. Again, it is so beautiful here!

Haha, and here’s some proof to show that I actually took the kayak out onto the water….

My time in the Northlands had come to an end, but I still had one more full day in Auckland. I spent the day at the nearby Rangitoto Island, a volcanic island that is only a short ferry-ride away from Auckland.

Rangitoto was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions which occurred about 600 years ago, and its volcanic past is evident from the remnant lava fields,

the shield cone,

lava tubes,

(…yes, these were a little spooky…)

and, of course, the crater!

The view from the top of the crater was incredible, as you can see here.

Hello Auckland!

I spent the rest of the day exploring Rangitoto, which basically meant stumbling upon views like this every few minutes.

Overall, I had a great time on the North Island, and after a week, I returned back to Sydney, visa in hand!

2. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

….which means its time for the annual Johnston Lab Christmas Party! This year’s party was significantly less messy than last year’s (at least for me…) and we all took part in some friendly competition at the Clovelly lawn bowls!

And what would a Christmas party be without a Santa?

A Sleazy Santa, at that?

We all took turns sitting on Santa’s knee to receive gifts from a secret-Santa gift exchange…

…although in the end, most of us received nerf guns, which have ultimately turned into a post-grad room productivity killer.

Meanwhile, as more drinks were downed and the hats became progressively sillier,

we ended up moving the party to the beach,

and ultimately to the pub!


For Christmas itself, my newly PhD-ed friend, labmate, and radio co-host, Luke, invited me to spend the holidays with his family up on the Central “Cenny” Coast of New South Wales.

Ready for some family time, Luke?

It was a wild four days, and during my time on the Cenny Coast,  I was exposed to all aspects of the “Australian experience,” or maybe, more accurately, to all aspects of the “Hedge family experience.” I took part in all family traditions, including the New Years Eve Beachcomber “Beachy” Hotel gawk-fest, Santa’s Runway, the 7am Christmas beer,

and even some Christmas Call Of Duty. Very serious stuff, here.

I watched Jordan down about a hundred Budweisers,

played some intense bat-and-ball (a true Australian sport!)

and I even finally glimpsed the infamous “Cave of Death 1” at Soldiers Beach.

On Christmas, we spent the day at Nanny Peg’s house, where we relaxed

and played a bit of footy,

that is, until Luke’s work caught up with him….

Boxing Day was spent in celebration as well, and Luke’s mom put together an amazing spread…

Merry Christmas! Have we had enough Jacob yet?

Maybe its time to put him back in his bath….

Overall, I definitely had one of the “best Christmases ever”! Thank you so much to Luke and his family!

4. Happy New Year!

I welcomed in the New Year with a lovely crowd-free swim at Bondi, dinner with friends, and watching the Sydney fireworks from atop Dover Heights. 2011 has been so good to me…I can only hope for the same in 2012! Happy New Year!


Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and even though my Aussie mates don’t usually celebrate this holiday, we took a weekend trip away to the bush to celebrate the newly-deemed, “Camps-giving.” Credit to Aria for many of these photos.

Of course, prior to our trip, we had to track down some meat for the barbie at the weekly meat raffle- can you believe that I won this ham? Nora can’t!

With our meat stowed away, we packed up our cars and began the journey up to Seal Rocks, a lovely spot on Australia’s eastern coast that is about 4 hours north of Sydney.

Now all we need is a sausage roll, and we can get on the road! Let’s hit it, Luke!

Having fun back there guys?

How about now that we’re a bit better stocked?

Our car turned into camp just in time for an evening bbq and campfire.


And what would a campfire be without a campfire sing-a-long?

….or tequila shots?

We started the next day early with a family breakfast….

…but we soon headed out to the beach!

Ready for some sun and surf, girls?

We made it! So beautiful and so empty- quite a change from Bondi!

Upon arrival, we quickly began to make the most of these beautiful surroundings with a bit of sunbathing,


and of course, sport!

I also had a fishing lesson from expert anglers Nat and Luke….

…and even though I didn’t catch anything, I got a lot of practice on my casting skills.

After a great day in the sun, we headed back to camp. However, things can get pretty dicey when you try to stuff 5 people and a surf board into a car…watch your head, Luke!

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing back at camp….

…..before preparing the evening bbq. We particularly enjoyed Damo’s spearfishing catch-of the-day- abalone and Bonito sashimi!


The next morning, we packed up camp, but we still had a bit of time to kill before heading back to Sydney. I joined Damo, Luke, James, and Aria for a snorkel out to “Make-out Island,” seen below. 

Let’s do it!

We saw all sorts of great sea-life, including an ancient sea turtle, gray nurse sharks, and giant sting rays!

Back on shore, some fellow spear fishermen had caught a massive king fish- check this out!

All too soon it was time to head back home, and we piled into the car for the ride back to Sydney, making only a quick stop for lunch.

Now that’s a real Aussie burger!

Hello, Luke!

There may not have been pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and gravy, or even a turkey, but this Australian “Camps-giving” was definitely one-of-a-kind. I mean, it’s not every Thanksgiving that you see a DINGO in the WILD!

Anyway, for the real Thanksgiving holiday, I will find myself in the great land of New Zealand, as I am heading across the ocean tomorrow in search of a new visa. I wonder how the Kiwi holiday will compare to the Aussie experience…only one way to find out!

Fun in the sun

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on October 22, 2011

October is flying by, but I thought I would stop in to give a quick update on all of the fun that I’ve been having in Sydney these past few weeks.

For simplicity’s sake, I am going to break the fun into 3 categories:

1. Lab Celebrations (a.k.a. Luke-a-palooza)!

Several members of our lab have handed in their theses over the past few weeks, so there have been plenty of reasons to celebrate!

We have celebrated Luke and Andrew’s exit seminars with drinks at the White House….

Can you tell that everyone in the following photo is related?

We toasted James, Joey, and Luke with afternoon champagne in the post grad room….

…followed by post-champagne drinks at the White House….

We took advantage of a UNSW Science forum to celebrate James handing in….

Enjoying the free drinks, ladies?

And finally, we finished up our thesis celebrations with a lab barbecue at Coogee Beach….

Enjoying your steak, Luke?

And yet, in addition to the thesis celebrations, we also needed to celebrate three birthdays- Katie, Damo, and Jaz! Might as well have another bbq- this time in Centennial Park!

Mel and I cooked up some summertime snacks for the day,

and we headed out to the bbqs!

As ever, Luke attempted to educate me in the ways of footy….

….but as rain started to pour, I was pretty happy to give my athletic skills a break!

So, are we out of things to celebrate, yet? Well maybe we should celebrate something arbitrary….hello Formal Friday!

2. Spring arrives…let’s head to the beach!

It has finally warmed up in Sydney, which means it’s time to head to the beach!

Ready for an afternoon at the beach?

This is how they dress in Maroubra…

Enjoying the sun and surf!

And yet another day in Maroubra…

Time to play some Bocce!

Who’s winning?

Team Green Lantern!

3. Plates beyond plates!

My plates definitely fall into their own category of fun! Yes, I am finally beginning to see the end of my project, and I have counted all 500 linkage plates, organized them, and entered the data! I’m working my way through the statistics now, so I am on my way to pulling together all of my work from this year!

Time to organize this jumble of plates!

Workin’ on it!

I only have a few more months here in Sydney, and hopefully my remaining time will be full of sun, science, and friends. And maybe a little less beer- if you can’t tell from these photos, the celebrations of the past month have definitely taken a toll on my liver!

One of the MANY perks of being an Aussie PhD student….

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on September 29, 2011

….new Macs….for FREE!

Luke and Katelyn can barely contain their excitement…are there really Macs in these boxes?


So shiny!



Rach and Al’s FULL ON Adventure!

Posted in Australia, Cairns, Darwin, Melbourne, Sydney by rssmith218 on September 11, 2011

Over the past month, I have said goodbye to two great friends here in Sydney, Thomas and Christine, but I have also had the pleasure of experiencing Australia with one of my best friends from the States- Alex!

Bye guys, it has been a great few months!

And hello to Alex….are you ready for some Full On Adventures?

Alex and I have had all sorts of adventures over the past 3 weeks- urban adventures, mountain adventures, laneway adventures, tropical adventures, indigenous adventures, reef adventures, and even some dog-sitting adventures! Let’s just say it was pretty full-on! Kind of like this photo….

We started off in sweet Sydney, where I introduced Alex to all of my favorite Sydney things!

We fortified ourselves against the Sydney rain and cold with some scones (it’s only a scone til’ its gone!)

prior to a tour of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks (even in the rain!).

Up close…

…and far away!

We spent a day exploring beautiful beachside Manly.

Of course, before we even made it there, we had to brave the rough seas of the Harbour!

Once in Manly, we enjoyed some downtime and shell-searching at Shelly Beach…..

….before checking out the flora and fauna on one of Manly’s scenic cliff walks.

Next, we spent a windy day in Watson’s Bay, one of my favorite Sydney spots….

although we had to come back early in order to prepare a gourmet dinner!

We spent our last day in the Sydney area on an excursion to the Blue Mountains for some hiking. Our hike was lined with beautiful yellow flowers, as you can see here,

and we passed by some absolutely beautiful views!

We also may have taken the adventuring a little too seriously, as one of us got stuck on one of the “unusual rock formations,” as described by my hiking guide.

Just jump, Rach!

Overall, a wonderful (if not cold!) day in the mountains!

Although our time in Sydney had sadly come to an end, our adventures had only just begun. We packed our bags and the next morning we were off to Melbourne!

Do we look ready or what?

Our time in Melbourne was mostly spent wandering the city and moving from cafe…..

…to cafe….

….to pub!

We scoured the many laneways for graffiti,

and we found some pretty amazing artwork!

We lounged around Federation Square….

…and when we were finally tired of eating, drinking, and sitting in various Melbourne locations, we rented bikes and took to the streets of Melbourne!

We biked through Melbourne’s parks and gardens and made our way out to the beachside suburb of St. Kilda before heading back into the downtown.

Even though we only had two days in Melbourne, we managed to take advantage of its many restaurants, bars, museums, markets, and laneways. However, before we even knew it, we found ourselves back at the airport and headed for our next destination- Darwin!

Tired already, Alex? Our trip has just begun!

I, of course, never get tired of traveling!

Well, naybe some in-flight Bundy-cokes will cheer us up!

We arrived in Darwin in time for the sunset over the Darwin night markets and mentally prepared ourselves for our next 3 days of touring Kakadu National Park.

Our tour began early the next morning with a sunrise cruise along the Adelaide River.

Yes, that bump in the middle of the river is a CROCODILE and we were actually on a “jumping crocodile” cruise. Our guide, Genda, used pieces of chicken to lure nearby crocs towards our boat, as you can see here.

And then, with enough pestering, these crocs actually jumped out of the water to grab the snack- check out these photos!


Even higher!

I’m not sure how wise it is to go around teasing crocodiles, but these photos really show how strong, powerful, and prehistoric these creatures are. Pretty amazing.

We 4WD-ed our way into Kakadu National Park, a park that is known both for its natural beauty and its Aboriginal cultural sites.

We quickly saw the beauty of the area as we stopped for lunch at this beautiful spot!

We spent the afternoon hiking up to Barramundi Gorge, a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole that is full of pristine, fresh spring water, heaps of fish, and, according to some members of our group, snakes!

The walk to the gorge was beautiful as well, and we passed plenty of enticing swimming holes, although the nearby signs made me a bit wary to go swimming….

Want to go for a dip?

Hmm, maybe not!

Eventually, we did make it to the Gorge, which as you can see, was croc-free! Beautiful!

Following our hike, we made our way to our campsite, where we watched the sunset over this peaceful Billabong.

That evening, Alex and I also learned how to play the didgeridoo (terribly!).

Arnhem Land is an Aboriginal Reserve that lies adjacent to Kakadu National Park. It is Aboriginal-owned and is known for its isolation, pristine landscapes, and for the strong, intact cultural traditions of its owners. Access to Arnhem Land is generally restricted, but on one day of the year, one of the Aboriginal villages is opened up to the public. Alex and I were lucky enough to be in the area for this day, and our tour spent the day in the Aboriginal community of Oenpelli.

This was one of my favorite days of the trip, and I found Arnhem Land to be remarkably beautiful and different from anywhere I have visited before. As soon as we crossed the East Alligator River to pass from Kakadu into Arnhem Land, we noticed a distinct change in the landscape. The colors of the land immediately jumped out and it was amazing to see the red of the dirt against the blue of the sky and the green of the floodplains. These photos don’t really show what it was like to be there, but I loved the scenery in this area.

Here is the view from right behind the community- beautiful!

In the village, Alex and I learned how to make baskets from these dyed natural fibers- I love these colors!

We also watched a very violent AFL game,

and tasted some freshly caught barramundi and some dug yams- yum!

In the afternoon, we went on an Aboriginal-guided tour of a nearby cave, where we saw some truly incredible paintings. For example, here’s a painting of the local “menu”- you can see how diverse the diet is in this area- barramundi, kangaroos, flounder, turtles, among others.


We heard the stories behind many other paintings in this area, giving us a tiny glimpse into the depth of the local culture.

We came through one of the caves and were greeted with this amazing view- can you believe how expansive this is? So beautiful!

Alex and I couldn’t get enough of it!

I wish we could have stayed in Arnhem Land even longer, but we made our way back into Kakadu for one last day of adventuring!

The next morning, we went 4WD-ing out to the start of the Twin Falls hike, and we spent the morning climbing our way up to the top of the falls. Here’s a view of the falls from the hike….
We continued our way to the top, where we then looked down at the valley below!

We then followed the water feeding the falls back to its source creek….

…and here we cooled off from the hike with a swim and some freshly cut pineapple!


Unfortunately after our hike, it was time to head back to Darwin, and we were hot, sweaty, and tired as we piled back into the car for the ride back.

How are we feeling post-hike?

Of course there was some excitement on the way back, as we saw an EMU running at full speed through the bush! Go!

Back in Darwin, we packed our bags once again, and prepared ourselves for a 6 am flight to Cairns early the next morning.

Upon our arrival in Cairns, we immediately laid down for a nap, which, as you can see by our expressions, was absolutely necessary!

After a lazy day in Cairns, we made an authentic Aussie barbecue on the Esplanade to prepare ourselves for our next couple of days out on the reef!

Early the next morning, we headed out to the reef for a day of snorkeling and sailing!

Ready for a snorkel, Alex?

We even saw whales on our way out to the outer reef!

We made it to the reef!

We went snorkeling at Michaelmas Cay, a bird sanctuary that apparently can have up to 17,000 birds on it at a time! We spent more time looking at the fish than the birds, but it was pretty amazing to see so many birds all in one place!

It’s hard to see, but all of the black dots on the cay are birds!

We spent an amazing day snorkeling here and also at Paradise reef, whose underwater community truly lived up to the name.

The next day, we made our way back out on the reef, but this time, we were on a boat that went only to the inner reef and stopped off at Green Island.

Here, we went for a dive (Alex’s first!) and then continued to enjoy the reef with a post-dive drift snorkel!

We also were dropped off on Green Island for an afternoon wander.

W-O-W! It sure was beautiful there!

Haha, we were having fun on these white beaches!

Finally, it was time to head back to Cairns and we sailed all the way back home!

Finally on to the last leg of our trip! We rented a car in Cairns to drive down the coast to stay with a friend’s parents in Mission Beach. First, however, we drove north to Port Douglas, where we had Breakfast with the Birds at the Port Douglas Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary.

Here’s a quick map
to make things clearer- the pink star is Mission Beach!

We enjoyed a tropical Australian buffet breakfast among our feathered friends, as you can see here.

We really loved the birds!

We also used our morning at the wildlife sanctuary to introduce Alex to some of the Australian wildlife that we hadn’t been lucky enough to see in the wild yet.

We then headed into Port Douglas proper, where we checked out this view of the beach from a local lookout- pretty, huh?

Of course, when we headed down to check out the beach, we were immediately dissuaded by the following signs, and instead decided to have lunch- the classic Aussie meat pie!

We then continued even further north to see some rainforest in the Mossman Gorge, passing through sugar cane farms along the way.

Cane train!

Mossman Gorge! How many different types of ferns can you spot in this photo?

We finally turned around and started the long drive down to Mission Beach along the Cassowary Coast. We may have got a bit lost along the way….

….but eventually we made it!

We spent a relaxing few days in Mission Beach. We checked out some local trails, including this beautiful walk up Bicton Hill.

If you think this is good, check out the view from the top!

In addition to these views, we came across some pretty sizable spiders….yikes!

We also took advantages of the local beaches,

watched over a puppy that was both a sweetie and a devil,

and of course, took up cassowary hunting as a serious hobby (I mean, we were on the Cassowary Coast!).

Unfortunately the only place that we did see one was in the Port Douglas Wildlife Sanctuary.

Our days in Mission Beach passed quickly- Thanks to Viv and Mick for hosting us and making us feel at home! We eventually made our way back to Cairns, and ultimately back to Sydney, where we enjoyed one last afternoon at the beach and dinner with friends.

I was sad to see Alex go back to the States, but I am so happy that I had the chance both to show her some of my favorite parts of Australia and to explore some new parts as well. This set of adventures may be over, but I can’t wait to continue them when I visit her in Cambridge later this year. For now, though, I am excited to get back into lab and to start pulling together all of the work I’ve done this year.

Who’s a winner?

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on August 17, 2011

What is the most Australian thing you can think of?

If you had asked me this question one year ago, I probably would have mentioned kangaroos, the Outback, and probably Steve Irwin. Over the course of this year, my view of Australia has obviously expanded beyond these clichés as I have traveled this great continent, made fantastic Australian friends, and learned more about the Aussie culture.

As a foreigner in the land “down under”, I find myself in a constant search for the true Aussie experience. I jump at any opportunity to do or see something “Australian” and so when my labmates mentioned that dinner at the local RSL club was, in their words, “the Australian experience,” of course I begged to go.

Thus, a couple of weeks ago, our lab went out to dinner at the local Maroubra Seals Club. Every Thursday evening (and I think on Fridays and Sundays as well), the club has, what else, a meat raffle!

We joined the local club members as we reveled in the $6 dinner (fish and chips, schnitzel and chips) and $3 beers, and bought numbers for the night’s raffle.

Check out how much meat was up for grabs!

My ticket!

You can see that I didn’t splurge on too many numbers, but it didn’t matter because both Christine and Nat won plenty of meat!

And even more, Nat!

So much meat…we put this towards a post-City-to-Surf bbq!

Meat, beer,  and great Australian company- I guess this is the heart of the true Aussie experience!



Why the Australian Census is awesome

Posted in Uncategorized by rssmith218 on August 13, 2011

August 9th = Census Day!

Festivals upon festivals!

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on August 5, 2011

The celebratory spirit of Sydney never seems to waver, and over the past 11 months I have attended more festivals than I can even remember, a good deal of which have already been recounted here. And yet, even in the chilly months of winter, Sydney continues to offer the opportunity to celebrate, as you can see below. Here is a quick view of some of the festivals I have attended over the past few months…..

1. Vivid Sydney Festival

Back in May, the Vivid Sydney Festival “took over the city after dark” and Sydney was transformed into a beautiful world full of colorful light projections, interactive light sculptures, and even a wild “fire dance.” I think the photos speak for themselves, but we enjoyed a night out in Sydney’s downtown checking out the many beautiful lights. Apologies for the blurriness of these photos.

Many of the downtown buildings had massive light displays projected onto them. Check out the Sydney Opera House!

The harbour was also lined by some spooky light sculptures….

….some of which were pretty hard for the marine biologists in the group to resist!

Lastly, FIRE! In perhaps the cheesiest part of the whole night, we watched this “fire dance” overlooking the Harbour Bridge. The flames jumped in rhythm to both Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” and Stravinky’s Firebird Suite, and then the audience was supposed to choose (by cheering) which song they wanted to hear again….would you guess that we listened to Katy Perry twice in 10 minutes?

2. Brazil Festival

My two Chilean housemates moved out back in February, and for the past couple of months, we have had a new Brazilian housemate, Luana! One of the perks of having international housemates is getting to experience different cultures, which is exactly what Thomas and I did last month at a local Brazil Festival.

Here, Luana introduced us to all of her favorite foods, including Brazilian rice and beans (Feijoada), Brazilian bbq, and churros, among others.

What are you eating there, Luana?

Rice and Beans- yum!

And of course, no festival is complete without a nice cold beer….!

3. Alpine Winter Festival

The Alpine Winter Festival is perhaps the silliest festival I have been to in Sydney. The festival is centered around a model German alpine village that is temporarily translocated to Bondi Beach.

I find myself complaining about the Sydney “winter”, but temperature is definitely relative, and on average, the weather stays in the mid-to-upper 60s (upper 20s Celsius). Thus, it seems extremely silly to see a fake alpine village in the middle of beautiful Bondi Beach.

It was particularly funny to watch Sydneysiders struggling to make their way around the tiny ice-rink, while simultaneously watching skilled surfers in the background taking on some of Bondi’s iconic waves.

4. Aroma Festival

Finally, this past weekend, we made our way to the Aroma Festival in the Rocks. The Aroma Festival was devoted to the “divine world of coffee, chocolate, tea, and spice” and I have to say after a full day of wandering the many stalls, I had my fill of each of these magnificent tastes and smells.

In the backdrop of Circular Quay,

we wandered through the hundreds of delicious-smelling stalls. The festival offered aromatic delicacies from all over the world, and we wandered from Australia (pavlova!) to Belgium (chocolate + waffles!) to the Middle East (baklava!) and beyond. Here are some photos from a day of indulging my sweet tooth!

Of course we had to start the day with some cold-drip coffee….


And now, why don’t we travel to Portugal for some chocolate mousse? Too good!

Soon we found ourselves in the Middle East, where, in addition to some Whirling Dervishes, we also found some amazing baklava….

Of course we had to try every type!


By the end of the day, I was floating on a caffeine and sugar high, but there are few things better than spending a day with friends and good food in the wonderful surrounding of the Sydney CBD.

Whew! Are you festival-ed out yet? Sydney’s abundance and diversity of festivals rarely cease to surprise. I’m already getting ready for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas which is coming up in September….