Thursday, May 30, 2013

Weekend Getaway to Melbourne

The best hot chocolate I have had to date. Period.
I realized around month ago that I only had a few weeks left in Australia and still had not visited any major cities. As a last "big tri" before leaving, I knew I needed to visit some major city of Australia. It was a toss-up between Melbourne and Sydney. I had heard a lot about Melbourne and Sydney and while considering the two, got far more recommendations for Melbourne so that's where I went.

I haven't visited a ton of big cities in the US, so my perspective is a bit limited, but Melbourne to me was like a mesh of Washington D.C. architecture and Portland (OR) culture. It's a huge coffee/cafe city with a great public transportation network, historical 19th-century era buildings, amazing street art, and love for cultural and artistic expression. One weekend was not nearly enough time to enjoy it fully but here are some highlights from my trip. I visited the Queen Victoria Market, saw a couple plays, spent a lot of time exploring the historic downtown area, visited Abbotsford Convent, went to the National Gallery of Victoria, visited a few green spaces in the city, and gawked at all the architecture, variety of restaurants (where in the world should I eat with all these options??). 

Federation Square
My hostel was right next to a park in town called Flagstaff Gardens, named for the flagstaff that was used to send messages throughout the city.

Me in Flagstaff Gardens

One of the many amazing delicatessens at the Queen Victoria Market

Next to the Yarra River with the CBD in the background

Federation Square again - there was a Buddhist festival on the weekend I visited.

Flinders Street train station. This building was so long (spanned the length of an entire block) and had incredible architecture.

Street Art throughout the city:

I also visited Abbotsford Convent, where I found this neat little message in one of their functional art gardens.

Part of the Convent

Convent as viewed from gardens behind.
Anyone who went to Pine Forest will appreciate this statue. It's Saint George slaying the dragon, placed outside the amazing state library building.
Saint George slaying the Dragon

Army barracks with deciduous vine growing across it.

Beautiful fountain outside the the Royal Exhibition Hall

This was a neat find: If you can see, the building says "Foresters' Hall" at the top. I'm not sure what it's used for now, if it was for forestry professionals, or simply named for a Mr. Forester, but I was excited when I found it :)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Home Stretch

I have three weeks left here in Australia. In three weeks, I will be back home, in my room, with my cat (as soon as she forgives me and graces me with her presence), in Flagstaff, AZ, in close proximity to my dear friends and family. The thought "home stretch" occurred to me today. I've been thinking about that term in all of its possible meanings. Not just as a symbolic reference to the last leg of a journey, but also as a yearning for home and an irrational desire to be both here and there. 

Over the last week or two, I slowly realized just how homesick I really am. It was so subliminal that I had to have it pointed out to me. And everything made sense. And I could deal with the emotions and move one. Or try to (who's kidding who, really?). In an effort not to wax poetic, I'll just say that sometimes being too self-reliant or resistant to opening one's shell is highly overrated. 

Three weeks from now, I will no longer be able to view the expanse of the Northern Rivers, see Mount Warning on a clear day, or spend a day at Byron Bay. In three weeks I won't be able to walk down the hill and watch the bats fuss in the trees or hear the nearby kookaburra make its call as twilight descends. Australia will once again be halfway across the world, perceived as that great island somewhere down south. And yet it's not just any random continent. It's a wonderful place filled with wonderful people. Where else in the world can you see koalas on campus? So while I'm here in the home stretch, the key is not to stretch for home too quickly. After all, we've still got one and a quarter bottles of Sriracha to finish. 



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Scuba Diving

Julian Rocks
Not only did I bring all my camping gear to Australia, I also brought my scuba fins, snorkel, and mask. Since I was coming to the home of Great Barrier Reef, I assumed I would be  going scuba diving at some point. After three months of stowing my gear in my closet, I broke it all out and went diving last Saturday. I'm not going to make it to Great Barrier while I'm here but I did go diving at another popular spot here in Australia: Julian Rocks. This spot is located a few clicks offshore of Byron Bay and has a great range of biodiversity because cool and warm waters meet in this area. Above-water, the rocks are sparsely vegetated and a resting spot for some birds (I'm really not sure what they were...).

Julian Rocks is really awesome! Despite the bleak conditions above-water, underwater visibility was about 12m. I saw heaps of great marine life including wobbegong and leopard sharks, butterfly fish, spotted grubfish, Moorish idols (I'm pretty sure "Gill" from Finding Nemo was a Moorish idol), and loggerhead turtles! I didn't have a camera with  me because mine is only rated to 10m depths and we went about 12m down. As we were practicing skills in the sand, I almost disturbed a resting wobbegong shark with my fin which would have been interesting.

Since I don't have any underwater photos of my own, here are some photos from Google:

Wobbegong shark:
 leopard shark:
loggerhead turtle:
We actually saw three turtles over the two dives, two swimming and one resting on the bottom. One of the turtles was massive and our guide estimated it to be at least eighty years old. 

Moorish idol:

I saw tons of other fish as well and a lot of neat sea squirts, corals, sponges, and anemones. It was wonderful and I definitely recommend it. If I could go again, I'd just float above one area and watch everything move around me. There were so many small fish and other organisms running around that it would have been awesome just to watch them for a while. If you're ever in the area, I definitely recommend diving Julian Rocks. Even snorkeling when visibility is good would be rewarding.
Julian Rocks as we approached

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bringing Southwestern flavors to the Northern Rivers

Happy Cinco de Mayo! 

As part of my care package from home, I received eight cans of green chiles from my parents and two large cans of green chile enchilada sauce. Ohhhh mama! In the spirit of Cinco de Mayo (mostly coincidental) and celebrating real [New] Mexican food, I cooked my roommates chile verde for our first group dinner using most of the chiles sent from home. I'm happy to say it was a hit! I got to give everyone a taste of green chiles and even my Aussie roommates loved it! Here are some photos of our lovely dinner :)

If you're interested, here's the recipe I use for chile verde, from my Southwest Slow Cooking recipe book:

Chile verde about to start cooking.
One onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
2 lbs chicken (the recipe actually calls for pork but since I don't eat pork, we're going with chicken)
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp oil 
15 green chiles, roasted, peeled, and chopped
1 tsp cumin
Salt to taste
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (or more depending on how soupy you want it)

The preparation is so simple (especially if the chiles are from a can and already chopped up, though freshly-roasted green chiles are always desirable when they're available). Saute onions and garlic, add to slow cooker. Brown meat in oil and add flour to chicken, and throw everything in the slow cooker. Cook 6-8 hours on low. I had just under 4 lbs of chicken for 7 people and luckily everything fit into the slow cooker I borrowed from my awesome RA. 

Chile verde is one of my favorite southwestern dishes of all time and it did not disappoint. My roommates all loved it! To go along with the theme, I also made simple cheese quesadillas and one of my roommates, Taylor, made some guacamole to share. For dessert, Bayleigh and her newly-arrived, fresh from the USA beau, Gary, made delicious chocolate chip cookies. Not southwestern-themed, but definitely an American classic. 
Taylor showing off the goods.

Bayleigh sneaking a taste
Gary and Bayleigh

Left to right: Zoey (Aus), Kinji (Japan), me, Bayleigh (USA), and Taylor (USA).
Our unit: Bayleigh, Harry (also Aus), Zoey, Kinji, Taylor, and me.
It was the perfect day for a hot dinner. It's autumn in Lismore and the nights are quickly cooling off. Today was the coldest day so far with rain microbursts in the afternoon and all throughout the evening. 

I might just have to make this again for everyone. I've got some green chiles left over and green chile enchilada sauce that I could use for basically the same thing. But maybe I'll just have to mix it up and make green chile enchiladas instead :). All in all, it was a great evening and wonderful to share some of my beloved Southwestern culture with my roommates. 

Next up is Kinji, who's planning to make authentic Japanese sushi for us. I can't wait! One month left and we're definitely all making the most of it.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Making the most of it

I have exactly one month left in Australia. Three more weeks of school that promise to keep me busy with two 3000-word papers to finish in the next two weeks and another 2000-word essay the week after, followed by three exams just to make things sweet. My last week here I plan to spend lots of time in Byron Bay, the local touristy beach town that has an awesome assortment of local restaurants, cafes, and shops as well as a beautiful beach and scenery. I plan to lie on the beach, swim in the ocean, and enjoy the end of my undergraduate career. But first, I must make the most of my time left!

I'll never admit how much luggage I brought and I sure as hell ain't posting the one piece of photographic evidence but I will say that I lugged my scuba fins, snorkel, and mask all the way here expecting to go diving willy nilly (apparently; I also thought I'd be camping more often). I finally got it together and joined the SCU Dive Club's last certification class of the semester (I'm already certified but four years of no diving with only a cert dive in turbid Rocky Point doesn't really count). This weekend, I'm hoping to dive out at Julian Rocks east of Byron Bay. I hope because I conveniently came down with a cold earlier this week and as some of you may know, if you can't equalize the pressure in your ears, you can't go diving. So, fingers crossed that tomorrow I will have no issues. 

I also realized over the last two weeks that I haven't spent any time in an actual large city here in Oz. How could I contemplate leaving without visiting someplace? So, on the advice of several Aussies, I'll be heading to Melbourne in two weeks for a long weekend. Melbourne, while not as well-known as Sydney, is the most multicultural city in Australia and sounds like an awesome place to spend some time. It'll be my last [big] independent traveling experience and I'm really nervous and looking forward to it! Gotta finish those two big papers first, though.

Additionally, I'm finally going to go hiking in the Border Ranges National Park which has been closed on-and-off due to damage from all the storms that occurred in January and February. We'll see how good my hiking is after a semester of fighting colds, injuries, and periodic sedentariness.

Other plans include a 6k fun run, making chile verde for my roommates, driving to Brisbane before flying out (for the first time in four months, on the other side of the road...and car...), and revisiting the Aussie/SCU/Wilsons College social activities once all my studies are done, not in that order.

This month will fly by but I intend to live in the moment and enjoy each day to the fullest.


I've mentioned in previous posts that I had a bit of difficulty learning some of the trees here because everything is so different! After two months of plant identification in a biology lab, I learned enough to appreciate the advantage of growing up with the flora being studied. It is a considerable disadvantage to have no level of familiarity with most everything around. I forgive all of you who got ponderosa pine wrong in FOR 220 (but really, really?! It's so basic!).  I've decided the key with Australian trees is to assume they're an angiosperm (flowering tree) unless they clearly aren't, as is the case for hoop pine:
(In case you forgot what hoop pine looks like)
This assumption is especially useful since so many plants have woody flowers. Take this Banksia integrifolia (coast Banksia) flower, for example:
Banksia flower - Banksia integrifolia 
In this first picture, I have shown you how it starts before it actually flowers. Take a look at this second picture and look at all those woody things hanging in the tree (I apologize for the sideways shot). When I first saw these I automatically thought why that HAS to be a conifer! The leaves are thick in a way that is reminiscent of conifers and just look at how cone-like that thing is!

Needless to say, when I went home and looked up Banksia and learned that they're a flowering tree, I was flustered. I had gotten so excited when I saw all those "cones" in the trees on a field trip. Nope, it's a flowering tree. Psych!

It doesn't help that most trees in the Northern Rivers area (warmer, wetter part of OZ), despite being flowering trees, are evergreen because it doesn't get cold enough here to necessitate being deciduous. Take, for instance, the casuarinas. At first glimpse, they look pretty damn pine-y. Those needle-looking things are actually cladodes: modified photosynthetic stems with tiny little reduced leaves that look like scales on the stems. Their fruits are also woody and made up of lots of samaras. So, they're flowering trees. Not conifers. Take a gander. They look a helluva lot like sparsely foliated, fluffy pines from a distance:
Here's a fun fact: Casuarinas are commonly called she-oaks, allegedly because their timber resembled oak by early loggers but was found to be women, apparently. That's one story. Another interesting fact is that several species are invasive overseas, like in Hawaii. They were planted for windbreaks but are suspected to be allelopathic (exude chemicals or hormones into the soil that prevent other species from growing nearby) and spread both sexually and asexually through their root systems.

I've mentioned plum pines before. For some reason, the ACTUAL conifers here frequently have the suffix "pine" attached. To be clear, NONE of the native trees are in the Pinaceae family. And nor is it a plum tree. Whoever thought to call this thing plum pine was crazy in my opinion:
Plum pine "needles" and cones
I admit, the cones are similar to juniper berries (which are cones, not berries), so I give on that. But those leaves/needles/what-the-hell-do-you-call-them?! I don't get it.

Bottom line when you're in Australia: woody fruits DO NOT equate to conifer! Easy enough to remember. But when it comes to appearances, I remain con[ifer]fused.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


This weekend, I was in Byron Bay (Lismore's consolation factor) refreshing my scuba diving skills to be able to go dive at Julian Rocks off the coast next weekend and...

I met another forestry student! A first-year/freshman forestry student! She's awesome AND SHE'S INTERESTED IN COMING TO NAU!!! Oh happy day. Someone who already knew about the exchange opportunity and is interested! *giddy inside* I love this girl and I've only known her about thirty-six hours. Fingers crossed that she goes! It wouldn't be for another year or so. My planning personality has already kicked into overdrive thinking of the classes she should take before she goes and what to expect. Ahhh! I'm so excited :) She would be the first SCU student to study at NAU since 2008. About damned time! This deserves a repeat of the Captain Picard meme:
(Last time, I promise =] )
How does it figure that I spend three months taking environmental science classes and only meet another forestry student scuba diving outside of school (apart from the upper level students I met a few weeks ago)? I love it! Now, to find the rest of these forestry rascals hiding about.

Hope you are all well.