Rachel Down Under!

Gore from the GOR

Posted in Adelaide, Australia, Melbourne by rssmith218 on March 15, 2011

Four crazy girls + one extremely patient Thomas + one tiny car + one glorious week off from work = GREAT OCEAN ROAD TRIP 2011!

And what an epic journey it was! We traveled from Melbourne to Adelaide, touring the Southern coast despite frequent rain, flying insects, and the deteriorating cleanliness of the backseat of our rental car. I will try to be brief as I recount the journey, but here are some highlights from a truly unforgettable trip.

Weekend in Melbourne:

1. Philip Island

My trip began with a weekend trip to visit Thomas’s relatives in Melbourne, although upon arrival in Melbourne, we quickly relocated to their beach house in Phillip Island, a small island located off the coast of Melbourne, as you can see below.

Our time in Philip Island was truly relaxing, as we spent our weekend drinking good wine, enjoying the beach, and as always, checking out the tidepools.

What do you see out there, Rach?

Beach time!

We also enjoyed a quick icecream in the island’s main town of Cowes- perhaps reaping rewards from some local cows?

2. Penguin Parade

Aside from its beautiful beaches and delicious ice cream, Phillip Island is also home to the famous “Penguin Parade”, as the island hosts the world’s largest colony of Little Penguins.

Which way to the penguins?

Every evening at sunset, Little Penguins come in from the ocean to spend the night on land. We joined hundreds of other tourists in watching the penguins make the perilous voyage from the ocean to their burrows onshore. We weren’t able to take photos of the penguins, but here are some photos from the Phillip Island Nature Parks website.

Groups of penguins in the water are called “rafts.” When rafts of penguins make their way on land, they are known as “waddles.” Could that be any cuter?

Overall, Thomas and I had a wonderful and relaxing stay in Phillip Island. Thank you, Fay and Gary, for a great weekend!

Great Ocean Road:

Our return to Melbourne marked the beginning of our Great Ocean Road trip. We met up with Aisha, Lindsey, and Sarah early on Monday morning to begin the journey. Here is a map of our trip…

…and now a day-by-day view!

Day 1: Melbourne to Apollo Bay

Although it took us several round-abouts and more than an hour to navigate our way out of Melbourne, we finally managed to get on the road, and after a coffee stop in Geelong, we found ourselves in coastal Queenscliff with a lovely view of Port Phillip Bay.

We were excited for our first view of the ocean on our “great” road trip!

Our next stop was the famous Bell’s Beach, home to the world’s longest-running and “most prestigious” surf competition, the Rip Curl Pro Surf & Music Festival. I was expecting the waves to be huge…

…but we caught the surf at Bell’s Beach in the calmest possible conditions.

Do you even see any waves?

Our afternoon continued with a gorgeous drive through the coastal towns of Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, and Lorne.  Along the way, we took advantage of the stunning lighthouses and amazing views.

For example, Split Point Lighthouse,

and Eagle Rock were both prominant roadside distractions.

Finally, we reached the official start of the Great Ocean Road (!), which is known for its cliffside curves and incredible views.

This photo shows off both the curves and beauty of the Great Ocean Road.

At last, we made it to Apollo Bay, our endpoint for day one. We enjoyed sunset views from both the ocean,

and from the top of Apollo Bay’s largest hill, where we also enjoyed the company of some local cows. Pretty beautiful!

Day 2: Apollo Bay to Port Fairy

We awoke early for our biggest day of sight-seeing along the GOR. We started out with a rainforest hike in Otway National Park, where we hiked within a giant beech and eucalypt forest.

The trees were truly enormous….

…as were my favorites, the giant ferns!

We continued to drive through Otway National Park, where we were lucky enough to spot some koalas- my first time to see them in the wild! We saw perhaps 50 koalas within a stretch of roadside trees, so of course I had to take photos!

You can’t really tell from these photos, but they were everywhere!

And finally, we reached the most famous stretch of the great ocean road- the site of the 12 Apostles!

The 12 Apostles are giant limestone stacks that have slowly eroded from the cliffs that frame the Southern Ocean. The formation used to be known as the Sow and Piglets although the name was changed in the early 1920s to improve tourism. Mysteriously, there are only 9 stacks in the 12 Apostles, and one of them collapsed in 2005. Ready for the view?

Pretty amazing, eh? And now from a bit further away…can you tell it was about to rain?

The road following the 12 Apostles was riddled with more rock formations. Here’s a quick recap…

1. Loch Ard Gorge

2. London Bridge

3. The Grotto

4. Bay of Islands

Equally as impressive as the 12 Apostles? Maybe just not as photogenic…

Day 3: Port Fairy to Coorong

Much of the next day was spent driving towards Adelaide, but we still managed to sneak a bit of sight-seeing into our trip.

For example, we stopped in Mount Gambier to see Blue Lake, a crater lake that changes from brilliant cobalt blue in the summer to a dark grey in the winter. We were lucky to catch it at the tail end of summer-you can see where the lake gets its name from!

This photo from the Mount Gamber tourism website accentuates the color of Blue Lake.

Another oddity in Mount Gambier was the Cave Garden, a giant sinkhole that makes the craters plaguing my mom’s garden seem inconsequential.

On our way to Coorong, we also passed by Larry the Lobster, one of the most impressive of Australia’s Big Things.

Run, Rach!

The Big Things are giant sculptures that are located all over Australia. Mostly, they act as tourist traps that break up big stretches of road in the great Australian wilderness. We also unknowingly came across another Big Thing at the end of our trip, the Big Church Block Bottle, which is composed entirely of wine corks!

Day 4: Coorong to Adelaide

The last stretch of the trip was not nearly as scenic as the previous days, but I feel that we got a good taste of the typical South Australian small town. For example, we pulled into Meninghe (which sounds like some sort of disease) for breakfast, and found that one of our only options was the local Coorong Mullet (a remarkably smelly whitefish) on toast, for a whopping $12.

Mullet for dinner, too? Yum……

Needless to say, we hurried on to Adelaide, where we attended a Fulbright dinner for the newly selected 2011 Australian scholars.

In the lovely surrounds of the Adelaide convention center, I happily toasted the new scholars, and enjoyed the company of the American-Australian Fulbright family.

Time to toast!

Overall, our great ocean road trip was a GREAT success, and it was wonderful to have a break from fieldwork. I now feel refreshed and I am ready to jump back into my experiments! 2 more weeks of counting plates before the next great adventure- New Zealand!

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Boing-a-boing-a-boing

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.

Bzzzzzz….

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…

…closer…

….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?