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.


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!

Catch this

Posted in Australia, Melbourne by rssmith218 on December 15, 2010


Greater things than frisbees went flying this past weekend, and my ultimate-enthused companions and I made our way down to Melbourne for the weekend. There, we took part in the Melbourne Hat, an ultimate frisbee tournament in the backdrop of Victoria’s beautiful capital city. It was a weekend full of frisbee, sore muscles, Irish dancing, twins, and as always, a bit of sight-seeing.

And now for the highlights…..


First of all, what is a hat tournament, exactly?

Basically, it’s a frisbee tournament where players don’t enter as part of a team, but instead each person registers as an individual. Teams are then drawn “out of a hat” or in the case of the Melbourne Hat, based upon experience level to allow for the creation of fair teams. Such tournaments are a great way to meet new people, and in my case, to gain more experience with the game by playing with more advanced players.

I am a relative newcomer to ultimate and my limited frisbee skills definitely place me in the “beginner” experience category. Thus, imagine my surprise/horror when I heard my name called out as captain of my new randomly-selected team. Yikes. As the only beginner on a team with many Worlds and Nationals ultimate players, I clearly did not have much to contribute in the way of leadership or expertise, but I did yell out some spirited “hip-hip hoorays” in my unfortunate end-of-match speeches.

Captain material…really?

Despite my inexperience, my team, Grape Shots, was patient and kind with me, and we played hard through ten 70-minute games over the course of two days. We went 4-1 the first day, but after a loss during our first game on the second day, we were out of the formal tournament competition, and our games became increasingly more fun and light-hearted as the day went on.

Go Purple!

Team Grape Shots!

By the end of the second day, I embarassingly was still the only one on our team who had not caught a goal in the endzone, so my team rallied hard for me to catch the final point of our final game. Maybe not as epic as this catch, but it was pretty exciting for me!

Awesome catch, huh?


Most of our time in Melbourne was admittedly spent on the frisbee field, but we did have time for some quick city explorations.

For example, here is Federation Square, Melbourne’s controversial cultural center and an architectural curiosity. Pretty neat!

But of course, there’s always time to live up the Melbourne Night life.

We went to several Melbourne pubs, including the Bull and Bear Tavern, which hosted the official Melbourne Hat twin-themed party. Unfortunately I left my camera at home so I couldn’t document the amazingly creative costumes we saw there, but you can see that Jonny, Kim, and Zac made a pretty convincing Mario, Peach, and Luigi!

We also enjoyed a rowdy dinner at an American-themed diner…they had everything American, from Elvis to Reese’s cups (a rare find here in Australia!) to Bazooka bubblegum to “exclusive” Sam Adams Boston Lager (for $10 a piece, if you can believe it!). They even had Twinkies!

My Australian friends were overwhelmed by the sheer number of greasy options…

….and our table was soon filled with milkshakes, tater-tots (!), buffalo wings, burgers, chili-dogs, and even a bloomin’ onion! We quickly became friendly with our waitresses, “Peggy Sue”, “Misty”, and “Debbie”, and they joined us on a bar hop around Melbourne’s finest Irish pubs. Needless to say, we partook of a fair bit of Guinness while enjoying some good Irish folk music and dancing.

And finally, it wouldn’t be a weekend in Melbourne without experiencing some of the city’s famous coffee culture. Our walk (and tram ride!) along the hip and happening Chapel Street culminated in delicious  flat whites at a local cafe.

Mmmm is that good coffee!

The weekend flew bye (along with the frisbees!) and I am left with good memories and supremely tired legs. I can’t wait to go back to Melbourne- there is so much more to explore!