Monday, February 11, 2013

And the fun begins!

Well... I'm here! Been here twelve days and have been having so much fun! Driving on the wrong (ahem, left) side of the road is an adventure, even just as a passenger. Get ready for roundabouts! The region I'm in has very few traffic lights or stop signs (though they are common in the larger cities), but it's all roundabouts. As a point of interest for my wildlife/forestry friends, here's a wildlife overpass on the highway between Brisbane and Lismore:

And a closer-up one...

Dad and I stopped in Byron Bay for a look around and to get some grub (we arrived in Brisbane airport at about 6:45 am and left Brisbane around 9 am. Last meal had been around 4 am on the plane). Byron Bay is two hours south of Brisbane and about half an hour east of Lismore, where Southern Cross University is. Byron was perhaps the first test of sticker shock (everything's just more $$$, that's all there is to it). My first meal in Australia:

Breakfast tapas. I didn't really until the waiter set the plate down that I had never eaten tapas before and wasn't quite sure how to... It was delicious though! Smoked salmon, avocado (notice the way it's arranged, in a ridged spiral), and cream cheese with a fresh roasted tomato. Classy.

Anyways, Dad and I went hiking to Minyon Falls at Nightcap National Park on Saturday (2 Feb), the day after we got there. It's a beautiful hike and I love the forest ("bush"). As we were leaving, my spider sense (I wish) picked up on some movement off the path. Saw a large (~1.5 m long) black goanna. It was too quick for a photo but here are some shots of beautiful Minyon Falls!

From next to the falls:

 From a distance:

Lismore is a very art-oriented town full of laid-back people and a friendly vibe. There's a town called Nimbin less than an hour's drive that, according to my guidebook, is highly recommended. Nimbin hosted an Age of Aquarius festival in the early 1970s, a sort of Aussie response to Woodstock, that left a lasting impression on the town. It is now the "Alternative Capital of Australia" featuring a no-judgment community and lots of interesting "hippie"ish shops (not too far from some areas of Downtown Flag). I'll take more photos when I revisit but here are a few photos to give you some idea...

 Notice the Happy Herb Shop. I believe this is the original Happy Herb Shop (there's one in downtown Flag and dotted throughout some towns here too) but in Nimbin it's name is the Happy High Herb Shop...

You get the idea.

The next day, Dad and I went to Bald Rock National Park. Bald Rock is the largest monolith in Australia and almost as cool (well, maybe) as Ayre's Rock. It's a nice climb to the top but there are stunning views in all directions. The drive to Bald Rock was very windy and the forest was my favorite type so far (more temperate eucalypt forest).

Fast forwarding, the International Office here at SCU organized a trip to Byron Bay for all the international students. The beach is absolutely beautiful and Byron Bay is a fun town with lots of neat shops. I worked on my tan, forgot about my back, and have been suffering ever since. Plus side though, drank fresh coconut water straight from a coconut AND had two bottlenose dolphins swim by while I was in the water.

I know you're all jealous (I have a very high opinion of myself and therefore am sure you wish you were on a beach sipping from a coconut). You're in the throes of winter and I'm in the height of summer here in OZ. Well, to add insult to injury, guess what I saw on campus yesterday?
This little guy was hanging out at eye-level in a tree no more than ten feet from the footpath, chilling out while all us internationals scrambled for our cameras to take annoying photos.

 One more for y'all to admire...
Koalas are in decline in Australia from fragmented populations. Australia went through a similar history of logging and agriculture as did the southwestern US. The rainforest that Lismore abuts has been reduced to only 1% of its previous size from land clearing activities. Unless the canopy is interlocking, koalas move from one tree to another on the ground. They're prey for dogs and other introduced species and because their populations are so fragmented, they don't have the genetic diversity to resist most diseases. Chlamydia is actually a widespread disease among koalas. They suffer conjunctivitis and cystitis as a result. SCU has a koala hospital on campus that is volunteer-run and works to treat and re-release wounded wild koalas. There are a few to be seen around campus and this little guy gave us a quite a treat yesterday :)
Fun fact: In their evolutionary development, koalas sacrificed brain power (intelligence) for energy efficiency. Brains take a lot of energy to work and koalas' diet has very poor nutrition (hence the reason they sleep so much. It's not that they gorge themselves on food, it's that they're trying to conserve energy). So they're cute, but they're not the brightest bulbs in the box. Nevertheless, there are lots of reasons to keep them around. Just look at that proboscis!

That's all for now, more to come later :) Smurf party tonight!


P.S. Aussies (pronounced ozzies) are big partiers. I will elaborate some other time =P

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