Rachel Down Under!

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.