Rachel Down Under!

Happy 4th….belated!

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on July 28, 2011

After an afternoon of cheering the Swans to victory (go Sydney!),

we made our way back to my apartment for an impromptu America Party, where we mixed North and South America in a belated celebration of the 4th of July!

With caipirinhas in one hand, and US flags in the other, we brought one of my favorite holidays to life with party favors sent all of the way from Virginia!

Housemates!

Having fun, Luana?

We may not have had firecrackers or icecream (too cold!) or a poolside bbq, but our belated 4th of July party was definitely a celebration I will remember when I think back on my time in Australia.

Wild West

Posted in Australia, Perth by rssmith218 on July 13, 2011

Think this photo was taken on the Great Barrier Reef?

Guess again! Last weekend, I made my way to Western Australia (my last Australian state!) for a week in Perth, the state capital, and the largest remote city in the world. Western Australia is huge- you could fit three Texas-sized states into its boundaries- and, like a good deal of Australia, the state is mostly empty. Well, mostly empty of people anyway- as you can see above, there was plenty of wildlife! Photo credits in the post to Joey and Damon.

I traveled to Perth to attend the Australian Marine Science Association annual conference, where I presented a poster, and caught up on the latest marine science research from all around Australia. The conference was actually held in Freemantle, a historic port just outside of Perth’s city center. These maps should help you get your bearings:

West coast, baby!

And here’s Freemantle!

The AMSA conference was a great opportunity to hear presentations in the broad field of marine science, and it was great to mingle and make contacts with people from all over Australia. The conference was very student-friendly, and it was great to get feedback on the work I’ve done this year…here I am with my poster!

However, sometimes it did feel like we were spending about as much time taking in conference presentations as we did taking in the delicious beers at Freemantle’s local microbreweries.

Little Creatures!

After four days of presentations and numerous pints of beer, the conference came to an end, complete with marine animal balloons and Johnston lab antics.

Happily, several of us stayed on for the weekend in Freemantle, and it was great to have time to take in the local sites. We spent a lovely day exploring Rottnest Island, a public reserve just off the coast of Freemantle, as you can see here.

We took a ferry over to the island, and rented bikes and snorkel gear for a day of explorations.

Ready to go?

On the road!

On our tour around the island, we took in the natural features of the landscape- the beaches,

lagoons,

and dunes.

We evenutally made it to the end of the island, and we stopped for lunch at this remarkably beautiful bay!

Some of us were too distracted by the clear blue water to focus on lunch and Damo jumped in right away to have a snorkel! Can you spot him in the photo below?

Of course, it was hard not to jump in after him!

Swimming in the Indian Ocean in the middle of winter isn’t as warm as it sounds…are you guys cold?

Post swim, we hopped back on our bikes to venture to the other end of the island; of course, we found another beautiful snorkeling spot and had to test the waters yet again!

So what is under all of that water?

An amazing temperate reef! I couldn’t believe the number and diversity of fish here…

Baby Australian Salmon- how many can you count?

Beautiful corals!

Damon even spotted a giant crayfish!

During our bike trip, we spotted some terrestrial wildlife as well. Check out these ospreys that were nesting in the bay at the end of the island.

And on the road, we came across this blue-tongued skink, who was not as happy to see us as we were to see him!

And lastly, we came upon the island’s most distinctive species, the quokka, a small marsupial that is found only on one other island off of Western Australia and in a small colony in another Western Australian bay. Quokkas are not afraid of humans, and we came across several of these little guys on our ride.

So cute! We finally returned to the ferry terminal for the ride back to Freemantle- you can even see Perth in the distance!

The next morning, Mel and I wandered around historic Freemantle, picking up a crepe at the Freemantle Markets as we enjoyed these historic buildings.

Beautiful buildings!

In the afternoon, I took to the water with Joey, Damo, and Glenn for a lovely sail around the Indian Ocean.

Let’s get the boat in the water!

Who’s ready to go sailing?

Just have to get the sails up and then we’re on our way!

The catamaran was fast, and, even though we were cold and wet, we passed a lovely afternoon out on the ocean.

Of course, you have to stop for a break every now and then….

Our time in Freemantle quickly came to an end, and we headed back to Perth to catch our flight home to Sydney. I made my way into the city early before the flight to check out Perth on my way out of town.

Surprisingly, Perth felt a good bit like my hometown of Richmond, Virginia. The cities are similar sizes and both are cut down the middle by a river, in the case of Perth, the Swan River. I spent my morning hiking up to Kings Park, a beautiful botanic garden that overlooks the city. Check out this view from the gardens-beautiful!

Overall, my trip to Perth was a good mix of work and play, and I am happy to have had the chance to see a bit of the other coast of Australia.

Working it out

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on July 1, 2011

Over the past few days I have been putting together a poster for a conference in Perth next week, and I realize how much my blog has recently neglected the “working” side of my life here in Australia.

Between counting the hundreds of plates we collected in February and March for the linkage project and analyzing the data from my niche opportunity experiment, I have been pretty busy with work these past couple of months (haha, when I’m not on holiday, that is…).

I am presenting the work from my niche opportunity project at the conference next week, so perhaps I’ll go through an update on this project. The last time I mentioned it here, I had just set out panels with my complexity/heterogeneity treatments attached to them, last December, I believe it was. Remember this?

I then returned to my plates a month later, removed half of them from under the dock, and took these plates back to the lab to see what communities had developed over the previous month. The other half of the plates remained out in the water to allow me to observe community development over time.

Time to get these plates back to the lab!

Back in the lab, I began to count the plates. So, what’s under the microscope?

All sorts of good stuff! Bryozoans like Watersipora subtorquata (left) and Bugula flabellata (right),

ascidians like Botrylloides sp,

barnacles like Megabalanus rosa,

and, of course, heaps of serpulids, among hundreds of other species!

You can see that after one month, many of these critters were settling into my different types of structure- can you see the grooves and rows of holes on these plates?

After counting the species on all of my plates within a couple of days, I scraped the plates clean, and brought them back out to the field to develop new communities for another month.

I repeated this process for the following two months and during the last month I also brought in and counted the plates that had been out in the field for the full three months. Look how different they look!

I am still analyzing my data to see whether there were differences between complex and heterogeneous treatments, but I am presenting my preliminary results next week.

Since I am using this post to catch-up on old field work, I also want to quickly highlight a fieldtrip up to Port Stephens from over two months ago (note the short-sleeves in these photos!). In April, a bunch of us volunteered to help Luke and Christine with some experiments at the Port Stephens Fisheries Institute, and what an epic few days it was!

My labmates’ experiments were significantly more large-scale than anything I have attempted this year and we spent three l o n g days in both the lab and the field setting up these experiments. Their work focuses on how genetic diversity and propagule pressure interact to play a role in larval recruitment, and we set up two experiments during our time in Port Stephens.

In the lab, we mixed batches of different oyster strains and added them in different numbers to petri dishes to see how settlement would differ between these combinations.

Larval oysters!


Did I mention that there were a thousand petri dishes?

And that we had to add specific numbers of the tiny oysters to each dish? Yes, this was time-consuming!

The next day, we did the field component of this work, where we made panels (like the ones I made for my experiment) and then performed larval dosing, in which we added a set number of oysters to each plate under the water.

Step one- making the panels!

Almost done, Christine?

Just have to add the lids before they’re ready for the water!

Finally- they’re ready to hang!

While the panels were hanging, we added a certain number of larvae to each plate using a syringe- larval dosing!

A long day of work- are you guys tired?

Overall, our trip to Port Stephens was a crazy whirlwind of science, larval oysters, and some hard-core teamwork!


Now that I have finally caught up on some of the work I’ve been doing the past couple of months, I can begin my next adventure to the other side of Australia- Perth is supposed to be lovely and I can’t wait to see another part of Australia!

Boiling Point

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on June 21, 2011

Just wanted to give a quick plug for my friend Luke’s radio show, which is on 89.7 Eastside FM every Tuesday night at 6:00 pm.

Tune in to hear some of the latest science articles, news and facts, to enjoy Luke’s deep voice and witty Aussie banter, and if you’re lucky, you might even hear me put in my two cents. Happy listening!

 

Red, wet, and wild

Posted in Australia, Central Australia by rssmith218 on June 13, 2011

Amazingly, this photo aptly sums up my recent trip to Australia’s red center- wet, red, and muddy! Central Australia is a semi-arid desert, which means it receives less than 12 inches of rain per year. And yet, during my trip to the Outback, it rained almost continuously for 3 out of the 4 days of our trip!

We began in Alice Springs, also known as “The Alice.” Alice is the second largest town in the Northern Territory, and yet it has a population of only 27,481- this gives you an idea of just how sparsely populated the Australian Outback is! From Alice, we camped our way through to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which you can see in the below maps.

Sydney to Alice Springs!

And now, Alice Springs to Uluru-Kata Tjuta!

We arrived in Alice Springs at mid-day, and after a delicious lunch, we spent the majority of the day preparing for our camping trip- for example, you’re not supposed to travel in the Outback with less than 3 liters of water per person per day, even in winter- but we also found time to explore the quiet, and mostly empty Alice Springs.

Alice is empty!

As the sun began to set over Alice, we climbed to the top of Anzac Hill at the end of town. Little did we know that this would be the only sunset we would see over the next few days, but can you believe how beautiful this is? Alice is surrounded by the MacDonnell Ranges, which glow red in these photos with the setting sun.

Look how small Alice is!

The mountains extend all of the way around Alice….and I was expecting the Outback to be flat!

We stayed until the sun finally set, and the clouds became increasingly spectacular….

Great sunset, right guys?

Our next stop, of course, was the local saloon, where we celebrated Christine’s birthday with some unusual delicacies….

When you’re in the Northern Territory, you’ve got to try some NT Draught….yum!

….but do you really have to try crocodile spring rolls,

an Outback “mixed grill” platter ((Kangaroo, Camel, Buffalo, Venison, more Crocodile….would you be game?),

or (especially!) an oyster-vodka shot?

Well, we did! Happy Birthday Christine!

After a freezing night at the hostel, we were happy to wake up early to meet our camping tour. We spent the next 5 hours or so driving through the outback…which you can see here in the early morning light….

It may be hard to see in the above photo, but one of the things that struck me most about the outback was the green-ness of the scenery. I always imagined that the red center would be, well, more red. Apparently this year has brought record rainfall to Central Australia (which we were soon to find out first hand….), making the landscape unusually green. In the rest of my photos, you will notice how much the greenery stands out against the bright red earth.

Nowhere was this distinction greater than in Kings Canyon, where we stopped for an afternoon walk.


As soon as we climbed this steep hill,

we were met with incredible views of the surrounding area…Beautiful!


As we continued to walk through this strange landscape,

the rocks only became more incredible….

…..and the views became even more amazing.

For example, here is King’s Canyon from one side…..

…..and now from the other!

Pretty amazing, eh? In between the two sides of the canyon was the Garden of Eden, a lovely stretch of waterholes and river plants….

….where, among other things, I saw my first poisonous snake!

After our hike, we headed to our campsite, gathered firewood, and made a fire for the night.

We made dinner, ate, and quickly climbed into our sleeping bags just as the first drops of rain began to fall on our campsite.

The record amounts of rain have also led to record amounts of mice in the outback, and we found our campsite to be completely infested with mice. We pulled drowned mice out of our washing water, wrestled with mice in our sleeping bags, and watched hundreds of mice scatter with every one of our footsteps around the campsite.

We awoke the next morning in a rainshower, and pulled our wet, sleepy heads from our soaked sleeping bags. We jumped into the wet and smelly bus and drove to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Here, we stopped at Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas, where, despite the rain, we enjoyed a breath-taking hike through the Valley of the Winds.

Kata-Tjuta, which means, “many heads,” in the indigenous language, was one of the most amazing places I have ever been. These photos hardly show the size and scale of the rock formations, and the pouring rain actually added to the experience by creating waterfalls off the tops of these features. Remember, normally this area is completely dry- rain events like this happen less than 10 times a year on average, according to our guide.

A promising start to the walk- water rushing down the red rock path leading into the Valley of the Winds!

But it’s definitely worth the rain for these views…

Look how many waterfalls are coming off the rocks here! We walked up a giant incline through this valley,

and from the top, we had two of the most amazing sights. First off, this view of the valley below-

So big!

and secondly- this view of a massive waterfall on the other side- incredible!

And, of course, another photo for scale…do we look wet or what?

Our walk through this magical place took us past more rocks and waterfalls than I should recount here, but I will leave you with one last photo of this unbelievably big and beautiful landscape.

As if that walk weren’t enough for one day, after a quick lunch we headed to Uluru, where we did the Mala walk around some of the features at the base of Uluru that best highlight Aboriginal culture and interactions with this great rock.

Uluru is an Australian and Aboriginal icon, and I’m sure you’ve seen photos of the sun setting over this infamous rock, such as this one here.

Or maybe you’ve seen photos of Uluru from space, like this amazing photograph taken from Space Imaging’s Ikonos satellite in 2004.

Either way, I bet you’re less likely to have seen photos of Uluru the way we saw it last week….covered in waterfalls!

And I mean BIG waterfalls!

It is really difficult to show what it looked like and felt like to be there in photos, but hopefully these have given you a small taste of  Uluru. We followed this walk with a “sunset” view of Uluru….can you see it in the distance?

Soaking wet, we hurried to our campsite (thankfully covered!) where we made dinner, and started a fire to dry off our freezing, soaked clothes.

Let’s dry off those clothes!

Cheers for a great trip (and for surviving the elements!)

Christine and I passed a dry night sleeping in the bus, and we awoke early the next morning to catch the sunrise over Uluru. Again, rainy weather foiled these plans, but we still got a slightly clearer view of the rock than we did the day before.

We ended our trip with a morning walk around the base of Uluru. The rain stopped for the first 2 hours of our walk and this time we saw Uluru without waterfalls. It was a beautiful and peaceful walk, and it was amazing to see so many sides of Uluru.

Just as we were ending our walk, the rains began again, and it was amazing to watch the waterfalls begin to work their way down the sides of the rock once again.

Here, you can see the waterfall starting at the top of the rock. After about 10 minutes, water was pouring all of the way from the top to the bottom.

My trip to the Outback was one of the most unforgettable and unique experiences I have had in Australia. It is hard to explain why this area is so special, but I love that the Outback is a place of extremes. With contrasts between red and green, dry and wet, native and non-native, the Red Center is truly a place of its own.

Goodbye, Aish!

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on June 2, 2011

I am sad to say that my good friend and fellow Aussie explorer, Aisha, has officially left the continent to return to her studies back in the States.

Together, we have taken in innumerable Sydney sights, and have also toured some of Oceania’s most beautiful beaches, mountains, and forests.

We have consumed more sour straps that either of us would like to admit,

spent hours searching for bandicoots in the Sydney bush,

hung out with the 3 Muskateers,

and have found ourselves trapped in all sorts of awkward social situations.

We’ve read eachother’s emails,

we’ve marveled at the magnificence of ferns,

and we’ve found some of Sydney’s most special and secret spots.

Together, we discovered the deliciousness of haloumi,

we’ve enjoyed some of Australia’s most amazing cultural traditions,

and we’ve taken more photos of eachother than I can even sort through!

We have truly had some unforgettable adventures these past 10 months, and I know that Sydney isn’t going to be the same without Aish!

Of course, before Aisha’s departure, we managed to have a couple final adventures, which I will quickly recount here. We were joined by Aisha’s brother Rasheed, and Aisha’s college roommate, Selam, and for some last Sydney signatures before Aisha’s return to the States.

What about a day at the beach? Hello, Bondi! And hello to Selam!

Who loves Watson’s Bay? We do!

Wait, why am I wearing a Snuggie?

And lastly, we had to give Aisha a formal goodbye (and also celebrate her birthday!) with all of the great friends we’ve made this year!

From the beginning….

…..to the end….

…it has been quite the adventure. Best of luck in Baltimore, Aisha!

Have you planked yet?

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

Yep, the newest Aussie craze is “planking,” which, as the name suggests, basically involves laying face down (like a plank?) in unusual places and then taking photos of it. Seem a bit bizarre?  It did to me too, but planking is the newest fad that is sweeping Australia, New Zealand, and perhaps soon, the rest of the world?

Almost 190,000 people are already Facebook fans of planking. How can something so simple (and so strange) become so popular so quickly? Perhaps it is the seemingly endless number of places and objects that it is possible to “plank” that makes planking so appealing. Trees, telephone booths, the local tattoo parlour, even police cars, are all fair game for plankers.

Or maybe the fact that planking is so simple is its greatest appeal. Planking is a truly accessible “sport,” as anyone who can lie down for a nap can just as easily plank. I guess the challenge of planking is then to find ways to set yourself apart from all the mediocre plankers….what’s the most outrageous thing you can plank?

Not bad, eh?

I admit that I have yet to plank anything, although I will say that my workmates and I have spent plenty of time thinking of things to plank in the office. Here are just a few of our attempts….photo credits to Karina…..

Karina and Sarah planking!

Wait, is Lera planking Karina?

Even in the confines of the tiny postgrad room, the options for planking are endless! Although maybe we should all spend a bit less time planking and a bit more time working…..

Sounds of Sydney

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

Believe it or not, over a month has passed since I last left the sweet city of Sydney. Here in New South Wales, summer has quickly slipped into winter, and over the past few weeks, I have been doing my best to take advantage of this great city. My Sydney guidebook is faded and worn, but still I have insisted upon flipping through its pages in search of signature Sydney sights I may have missed in my earlier explorations.

Here are some highlights from my past month of Sydney adventures:

1. Brett Whitely Studio

Behind this unassuming doorway in the quiet neighborhood of Surry Hills lies the studio and gallery of Brett Whitely, one of Autralia’s most esteemed avant-garde artists. Whitely died in 1992, but his studio remains open to the public, with his work exhibited in the space below.

The current exhibition, Endlessnessism, centers on one main piece, Alchemy, a massive self-portrait that is spread over 18 panels.

Whitely’s work is so personal that it felt almost eerie to be wandering through the space where he worked, lived, and showed his pieces without him actually being there.

2. Hoopla Festival

Of the many Sydney festivals I have found myself at this year (Africa Festival, Portugese Festival, Chinese New Year Festival, Glebe Festival, Chinese Noodle Festival, Crave Food Festival, etc.), I have to say that the Hoopla Festival was perhaps the festival that I had the lowest expectations for, but surprisingly, it ended up being one of the festivals that I have enjoyed the most.

Set in Darling Harbour, the Hoopla festival is dedicated to Sydney’s circus and street performers, and we sat in on some great performances, such as this one….

Crazy stunts!

3. Powerhouse Museum

The Powerhouse Museum is Sydney’s museum of Science and Design. In comparison to other science and technology museums I have visited, the Powerhouse Museum was a bit confusing and disorganized, but they still had some cool exhibits, such as a Top Secret spy exhibit, an interactive climate change display, and my favorite, a Zero Gravity Space Lab, which had a real-life simulation of weightlessness…

4. Pott’s Point

Aisha and I spent a beautiful fall afternoon exploring Pott’s Point, a quiet neighborhood that overlooks the harbour. We wandered along streets lined with 19th century mansions, and enjoyed the view out over the Garden Island Navy Base and the Sydney skyline.

Pott’s Point is just one of many beautiful Sydney neighborhoods, and it was a lovely place for an afternoon walk!

5. Karaoke

Thomas shows off his karaoke skills at the Rege, a UNSW must-do! Don’t worry, I won’t post the video!

Love Your Swans

Posted in Australia, Sydney by rssmith218 on May 10, 2011

Who’s keen for a game of footy?

Wait, footy? Don’t you mean soccer? Rugby? Nope, I’m talking about Aussie Rules football, a hybrid of soccer, American football, and rugby, that will quickly have you on your feet and cheering! This promotional video says it all….

From this video, you can see that it was definitely worth the trek out to Sydney Olympic Park in Homebush, where, a couple of weeks ago, I joined thousands of other footy enthusiasts for my first Aussie Rules game.

On the train…..getting pumped for the game!

So what sets Aussie Rules apart from other footy sports?

First of all, unlike soccer, you are allowed to touch the ball with any part of your body, including your hands, and you are definitely allowed to tackle, which you can see here, if you dare….

Unlike American football, the game is free-flowing and play is continuous. Players must bounce the ball on the ground at least every 15 metres when running with the ball and if a player catches a ball that has been kicked, they, in turn, get a free kick, and are allowed to kick without any pressure from the opposite team.

Unlike rugby, where points are scored primarily by grounding the ball in the opponent’s end zone, in Aussie Rules, points are scored only by kicking the ball through the opponent’s goal.

Overall, Aussie Rules is a fast-paced, high-scoring, and aggressive game. It is easy to understand why the sport has so many devoted and exuberant fans.

We joined these fans in the red zone….


…..and you can see just how many fans showed up to cheer on the mighty Swans! SYD-NEY! SYD-NEY!

Check out these fans!

And while at an American football game you might enjoy a hotdog, burger, or a cold beer at halftime, what do you think you’ll be grabbing for a snack in Australia?

Meat pie, of course! (As well as the cold beer?) Yum!

We cheered the swans on to a close victory against the Essendon Bombers…

…which meant that we got to sing the Swan’s fight song! Cheer, cheer, the red and the white!

Love your swans!

Mom Down Under!

Posted in Australia, Sydney, Whitsundays by rssmith218 on April 23, 2011

Two weeks ago, my mom made the long trip across the US and the Pacific Ocean to pay me a visit in the land “down under.” We had a lovely visit, and we packed an enormous amount of activity into our short time together. For the first half of our trip, we enjoyed Sydney and then for the second bit of our visit, we headed north to the Whitsunday Islands at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

Despite the long flight, Lenore took quickly to Sydney, and we immediately began to see the sites.

Within her first 8 hours in Sydney alone, she not only glimpsed the lovely Bondi Beach,

experienced her first flat white,

and explored Sydney’s Botanic Gardens,

(and caught a glimpse of the infamous flying foxes!)

but she also caught her first view of the Sydney Opera House, and of course, had her first taste of some delicious Australian wine.

The busyness of her first day in Sydney continued for the rest of her time in Sydney, and I had a great time showing her around my favorite parts of Sydney. Here’s a top 5 “hits” list of my favorite things in the Sydney area that I got to enjoy in the company of my mom!

In no particular order….

1. Manly

We took the Manly Ferry out to the beachside neighborhood of Manly, where we spent the day scouring the sands of  Shelly Beach for shells and enjoying the views from atop the Manly Cliff Walk.

Find anything good?

What a view!

2. Circular Quay

My mom treated Thomas and I to a fancy dinner at Cafe Sydney, which has amazing views of Ciricular Quay. Dinner was delicious, and check out these views!

Afterwards, we met Aisha at the Opera House for a Bell Shakespeare theatre production of “Much Ado About Nothing”, a great comedy about two pairs of lovers who are tricked in different ways.

3. Hunter Valley- wine!

What would a trip to Sydney be without a foray into Australian wine country? My mom and I made the trek to Hunter Valley for a day of wine tasting- Yum!

4. The Blue Mountains

Another one of my favorite Sydney activities is hiking in the Blue Mountains. We began our day in sunny Sydney, but by the time we got to the Blue Mountains, the weather had turned cloudy and rainy. Still, we managed to grab a shot of the Three Sisters (with a rainbow in the background!) before the storms set in….

Despite the rain, we enjoyed a cliffside walk from Katoomba to Leura. By the end, we weren’t too wet, were we?

5. Watsons Bay

Watsons Bay is perhaps my favorite Sydney spot, and we welcomed a full (and sunny!) day of wandering the cliffside trails and relaxing at the quiet harbourside beach.

Beach!

As you can guess, our time in Sydney passed quickly, and we soon headed up north to the Whitsunday Islands in the Great Barrier Reef. Here’s a map to give you a bit of perspective….

Upon landing in the Whitsundays, we were convinced that we had arrived in paradise. For example, check out this view of the airport from the ferry that took us to Airlie Beach on the mainland.

Have we landed in paradise?

From there, the ferry trip through the islands to our lodging on the mainland was just gorgeous….

Do you feel like you’re on vacation yet?

Yep! Upon arrival in Airlie Beach, we checked into our bed and breakfast and made arrangements for our sailing trip, which would leave the next morning.

After a delicious breakfast,

we trekked down to the marina to meet our boat and to begin our sailing adventure. We were led aboard the Eureka, a beautiful racing boat, and our captain, Mal, proceeded to get us out on the water.

Of course, we all had to lend a hand as well…

Our sailing trip was amazing. We spent 3 days out on the water, during which we explored many of the Whitsunday Islands, visited some truly stunning beaches, and went diving and snorkeling on the reef. There were only 8 other people on our boat, 7 of whom were female, and we passed a happy few days out at sea.

Here are some photos from our time on the boat:

On the first day, we sailed across the Whitsunday Channel to Blue Pearl Bay, next to Hayman Island.

There, I went for a dive, and the rest of our boat went for a snorkel in the clear blue waters of the Whitsundays. The reef was incredible to say the least; I wish I had photos to share, but unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera. The number and diversity of fish and corals was astounding; I could have spent all day taking in the underwater scenery!

After our snorkel, and Mal dropped us at Cataran Bay to watch the sunset from this quiet beach. Beautiful!

Sunset view of our boat!

The next morning, we were dropped at Whitehaven Beach, probably the most breath-taking beach I have seen in Australia. Pure white silica sands met the clear blue waters. We firs t walked to a lookout where we viewed the beach from above….

….and afterwards we all ran down to the beach to enjoy these beautiful waters!

But don’t go swimming without your stinger suit! We had to wear these truly fashionable suits to protect us from dangerous jellyfish stings….although mostly I was glad for protection from the sun!

The tide went out during our swim, so afterwards I walked down the beach to check out how things had changed. Can you believe how beautiful this is? I love the patterns in the sand that are left behind by the outgoing tide….

All too soon, we were picked up by our boat and we spent the afternoon snorkeling on the reef, sunning ourselves on the deck of the boat, and sailing to our evening resting place, where we watched the sun slowly set over the islands.

Of course we need some snacks to accompany the sunset!

Can you believe these colors?

We spent the last day of our trip as we had the previous days; we sailed around the islands, stopping at prime stretches of reef for a snorkle.

Our captain also dropped us off on a sandbar that was slowly being uncovered by the outgoing tide.

Here we passed a pleasant afternoon of snorkeling,

wandering, and of course, bumming on the beach!

Soon enough, it was time to set our sails for Airlie Beach and, with the wind behind us, we sped to the mainland. Our sailing trip had finally come to an end! After another night in Airlie Beach (and several drinks at the local Rum Bar….), we were on our way back to Sydney. It was to be my mom’s last night in Australia, and after a quick and rather fruitless search for some Australian beer, we returned to the apartment to pack for my mom’s departure.

My mom’s time in Australia was full of action, and I feel like I was able to show her a good bit of what my life is like in Australia. I hope she enjoyed the trip as much as I did, although I’m sure she’s glad to return to her garden in Virginia!