Rachel Down Under!


Posted in Adelaide, Australia by rssmith218 on January 30, 2011

I recently returned from a trip to South Australia, a truly brilliant blend of arid landscapes, delicious wines, incredible wildlife, and friendly people. We began our trip to the “driest state in the driest continent” with a lovely day spent in Adelaide, a large-scale country town (also known as “The City of Churches”), that was recently determined to be “Australia’s most livable city” by the Property Council of Australia.

Thomas and I found it to be beyond livable, and in fact we found Adelaide to be quite enjoyable, as we stopped by the famous Central Market to pick up the makings of a picnic lunch.

After perusing the many stalls…

…we were ready for lunch!

We took our lunch to Adelaide’s botanic gardens, a beautiful spot in the middle of the city.

In the midst of sprawling lawns, bright flowers, and magnificent trees, my favorite part of the gardens was the Victoria House, a glasshouse designed for the cultivation of the Victoria water lily, Victoria amazonica.

I loved these spiky water lilies…

…in addition to the story behind them. According to an Amazonian legend, there was once a young girl who fell in love with the moon. One night, she noticed the moon’s reflection in the waters of a pond, and the girl jumped in to be with her lover. The girl was never seen again, and in recognition of her sacrifice, the moon transformed her into a “star of the waters”, the water lily that only blooms at night when the moon is watching her.

We ended our day in Adelaide with a trip to the seaside suburb of Glenelg, where we escaped the raw heat of the afternoon with a quick swim.

Look at that hot Australian sun!

Thomas even joined in on some local teenage antics.

We awoke early the next morning for the second stage of our adventure….a trip to Kangaroo Island! Kangaroo Island is Australia’s 3rd largest island, and it is located just off the coast of Adelaide.

Kangaroo Island was the first official settlement of South Australia, although today it boasts a population of only ~ 4,200 people. Needless to say, the island was amazingly isolated, and we enjoyed 4 days of island explorations. I will try to be brief in my description of our travels, and here is a day-by-day account of our trip.

Day 1: Kingscote and surrounds

1. Prospect Hill + Pennington Bay

After a rocky morning ferry trip to Kangaroo Island, we began our day with a walk up Prospect Hill. Prospect Hill is highest point on the island, and like the early explorer Matthew Flinders (who first explored KI), we used the view from the top to get our bearings. Check out these 360 degree views- we could see the whole island!

And look, here’s the next stop on our trip- Pennington Bay!

We headed back down the hill to take  a quick nap on the beach at Pennington Bay…

2. Food!

Kangaroo Island is well known for its local food production, so we had to check out some local farms!

First, we made our way to the Gifford Honey Farm, where we sampled fresh honey, drank sparkling honey, and ate fresh honeycomb.

Kangaroo Island is the oldest bee sanctuary in the world, and it is home to the only pure genetic strain of Ligurian Bee. Imported from Italy in the 1880s, the Ligurian bees on isolated Kangaroo Island remain free of bee diseases.


We also visited a lavendar farm,

a dairy farm,

and even a boutique distillery for some fresh spirits!

3. Night out with the Kingscote locals

We joined our hostel proprietor, Bob, for a rowdy raffle night at the local pub. I didn’t take pictures, but it was definitely a different taste of KI culture.

Day 2: North Coast + Wild West

1. Stokes Bay

We took a morning jaunt out to Stokes Bay, sight of an apparently “safe” (no sharks, no rips?) beach. However, when we got there we had trouble locating the beach!

Oh wait, there it is!

At last!

2. Flinders Chase National Park

We soon headed out to the “wild” west end of the island, site of Flinders Chase National Park. Here we enjoyed the Remarkable Rocks…

…from afar…


….and right up close!

We also took a walk down to the Admiral’s Arch, and went on a hike to Snake Lagoon.

The views from the walk down to the arch were incredible,

and we even spotted some New Zealand fur seals!

And of course, there was the arch, itself-

The hike to Snake Lagoon was equally beautiful, and luckily we didn’t spot any snakes!

Beach at the end of the hike!

3. Flinders Chase Farm

We spent the night at Flinders Chase Farm on the edge of the national park. We had a lovely dinner before sitting on our stoop to watch some kangaroos (what else would you do on Kangaroo Island, really?).

We even got fresh eggs from the farm’s chickens to have with dinner!

Kangaroo watching….haha, watch the dog in this video.

Day 3: South Coast

1. Hanson Bay + Kelly Hill Caves

After a quick stop by Hanson Bay,

we made our way to Kelly Hill caves for a quick cave walk. Beautiful!

Can you see the ballet slipper in this photo?

2. Vivonne Bay

Rated the best beach in Australia by Sydney University professor Andrew Short, this beach did live up to its name. Check it out!

Of course we had to go for a swim!

3. Seal Bay

Our next stop was Seal Bay Conservation Park, where we watched adult seals relax in the sun, and seal pups play in the waves.

Seal pups at play!

Day 4: Eastern Peninsula

1. Little Sahara

On our way back east, we stopped by the Little Sahara, a mini desert on the southern coast of the island.

Got sand in your shoes, Tom?

2. Murray Lagoon

We went on a quick walk through Murray Lagoon, a bird sanctuary off the backroads of Kangaroo Island. What an amazing landscape!

Thomas may have gotten lost in some bushes along the way…

…and here’s someone else who was hiding in the bushes!

3. Cape Willoughby Lighthouse

Our last stop of the day was at the Cape Willoughby Lighthouse on the Dudley Peninsula. Here we enjoyed a quick walk, and as usual, great views of the lighthouse and surrounding area.

Well maybe it wasn’t our last stop….we were diverted to Sunset Winery on our way back to the hostel for a quick tasting and some wine! Look at this view!

Our trip to Kangaroo Island came to an end and we headed back to Adelaide for a couple of hours before our flight back to Sydney. We enjoyed lunch in Chinatown, a South Australian Migration Museum, and, upon Thomas’s request, a quick trip to the Adelaide Casino. Overall, we had a wonderful and relaxing trip full of good food, exciting wildlife, and the exploration of some beautiful landscapes. What more can you ask for?


Don’t whine…wine!

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on January 19, 2011

Ready for an adventure?

You can tell by my hat that this previous weekend was full of adventure. I will be brief, as I am simultaneously packing for my upcoming trip to South Australia, but here is a quick glimpse of the weekend’s exploits.

Thomas and I spent a lovely afternoon at Watson’s Bay bef0re heading downtown for an evening in the Domain with Los Lobos.

Always love to see North Head!

And of course we had to stop for fish and chips at the local fish shack!

Greasy enough for you?


The good food continued as we enjoyed jelly donuts and beer (maybe not as good of a combination as fish and chips, but still delicious) with a twilight picnic in the company of Los Lobos.

And Los Lobos (from afar!)

I mean, really far away!

Thomas and I awoke early the next morning for a trip to Hunter Valley, also known as wine country! By 10 am, we were already enjoying our first tasting, as you can see here.

We visited 3 wineries over the course of the day, and even learned a bit about the wine-making process.

Mostly, though, we just enjoyed the wine.

Tomorrow we head to South Australia for a trip to Kangaroo Island, off the coast of Adelaide. I’m looking forward to seeing some wildlife (great white sharks, too?), spending some time at the beach, and exploring some new Aussie wilderness. For now, though, I should probably get back to my packing. See you in a week!

I do believe it’s true

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on January 14, 2011

This is a zoo….

…and this is a zoo with a view!

Over the weekend, Thomas and I made our way to Taronga Zoo, a Sydney landmark since 1916. The word Taronga means, beautiful view, and you can see that it lives up to its name. We spent the day exploring the Australian Outback, the Great Southern Oceans, Wild Asia, and even the African Waterhole, as you can see by these giraffes.

We watched penguins dive-bomb underwater,

we monkey-ed around a bit,

and even saw elephant moms teaching their babies how to throw trees!

Up until 1967, elephant rides were one of the zoo’s main attractions. The lovable elephant, Jesse, who was brought to Taronga from Moore Park Zoo in 1916, gave rides to up to 10 people at a time, as you can see below.

(photo taken from Taronga Zoo display)

With the zoo’s current focus on education and conservation (rather than entertainment!), visitors can no longer ride elephants at Taronga Zoo…..or can they?

Our day at the zoo was followed by an evening spent with Jose Gonzalez, one of my favorite guitarists. He was performing in Sydney with his band, Junip, which you can listen to here on NPR. Great concert!

A trip to Sydney isn’t complete without a visit to the Blue Mountains, so Thomas and I made our way north to the mountains on a dreary and rainy Sunday morning.

The last time I visited the Blue Mountains, I was pumped to see this iconic view of the 3 sisters.

However, on Sunday, Thomas and I only had this view, taken from the same vantage point….3 sisters, where are you?

Luckily, as the day went on, the clouds began to clear, and by the end of our hike, we were enjoying a bright sunny day!

Clearing up…..view from one of the sisters!


We took a lovely hike through the Leura Forest and Federal Pass; in addition to the views, we enjoyed the countless waterfalls,

giant rocks,

innumerable stairs,

and of course, the giant leech that attached itself to my ankle! Can you spot it in this picture?

We ended our day with a huge ice cream sundae….

…and then with homemade sushi with my housemates back in Sydney! Yum! Thanks Pablo (Paolo?), Ziggy, and Aude for a great dinner!

…sushi prep…

What a feast!

Another great weekend comes to an end, and I am already looking forward to next weekend’s adventures!

Take it easy, baby

Posted in Uncategorized by rssmith218 on January 6, 2011

In the words of Tom Petty


Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on January 4, 2011

Christmas may have finished last Saturday, but the generous Aussie holiday break continues on.  Here are a couple of highlights from the past week:

1. Trip to Cronulla to visit Heather and Jesse

One of Sydney’s “best kept secrets,” Cronulla is a lovely beachside suburb in southern Sydney. Located within “the Shire”, a collection of southern suburbs where “everyone knows everyone”, according to my labmate (and Shire native) Katelyn, Cronulla is a great escape from the bustling Sydney CBD.

We spent most of the day exploring Royal National Park, the world’s second-oldest national park (next to Yellowstone!), and we enjoyed two glorious (and extremely hilly hikes) through this mini-wilderness.

Hey there Heather and Jesse!

Check out this waterfall that empties directly into the ocean…

And now we head down to the beach…

…where we find hundreds of blue-bottles!

Blue-bottles littered the beach, almost on the scale of the below photo, taken for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2007. Blue bottles are often confused for jellyfish, but they are actually hydrozoans known as siphonophores. They are in the same genus as the Portugese Man-of-War, although the blue bottle sting is not quite as dangerous or painful as that of the Man-of-War.

Our day of hiking was followed by a delicious dinner of Macaroni and Cheese Soufflé- yum! Thanks Jesse!

2. Bondi Beach Bumming

Alice was in town for New Years, so of course we headed to the beach! We enjoyed a sunny day at the Bondi soaking up the sun and enjoying the clear, cold waves. Many people had the same idea…look at these crowds!

3. Happy New Year!

I welcomed in 2011 with a relaxed afternoon picnic, which, in addition to being delicious, ensured us a great a spot from which to view the famous Sydney NYE fireworks.

Here’s the view from our picnic spot…pretty good, eh?

And now, enjoying our picnic! Don’t forget to put on sunscreen!

Wait, who doesn’t belong in the above picture? That’s right, Thomas is here for a visit!

And what a good day to come into town- Thomas got to enjoy the Sydney Fireworks with us….and you can too!

4. Sydney Explorations with Thomas

Thomas has gotten a full tour of Sydney these past couple of days, despite fighting a furious case of jetlag…

Sleepy, much?

From the ANZAC War Memorial in Hyde Park…

…to the Opera House and the Botanic Gardens…

…to the Manly Coastal Walk…

…we have seen a great deal of the city over the past few days. We’ve even thrown in a couple of new things, including

a) the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, home to some 50,000 convicts (over the course of 29 years) that worked to build Sydney in the early 1800s.

The history of these barracks is well known thanks to the heaps of rats that hoarded thousands of items in the “ratacombs,” or rat nests,  beneath the Barrack’s floorboards.

Check out these ratacombs!

Apparently the museum curators were extremely thankful for these rats….all of the displays were rat-themed!

and b) We tried kangaroo for the first time!

Kangaroo Pizza!

It has been a great couple of days in Sydney. I’m looking forward to future adventures while Thomas is in town!