Archive for January, 2010

Accidental Staycation

January 31, 2010

I was a tourist today – in my own city! Not on purpose, of course…it was a result of MTA cutbacks, I assume.  Being that it’s been below frigid here in NYC, I just could not take another day sitting on the couch waiting for Spring thaw.  So, James and I bundled up and headed to the Museum of Natural History to say “Hi” to the blue whale and see what was new.  Well, getting to the museum in the first place would be an adventure in and of itself.

Getting to the Upper West Side from Midtown East isn’t easy to begin with, but with all of the weekend subway route changes nowadays, it’s almost impossible to make a definitive plan on how to get from point A to point B.  We went as far west as we could, and then tried to go north towards the museum, but no trains were going our way.  In fact, no trains were stopping from Columbus Circle (60th Street) to 125th Street at all.  Which is just a little inconvenient.  We only learned this after watching 3 trains go by while waiting for a specific one, and then getting on the next one that came regardless of where it was going.  The conductor on that train then explained in a garbled announcement, “If you’re waitin’ for the B, you better get on this train ‘cuz that one ain’t coming.” We felt completely clueless in a city we’ve lived in for almost 10 years.

We ended up taking a taxi the last 20 blocks, but the effort was worth it.

The blue whale at AMNH never ceases to amaze!

My favorite moment of the day was when James asked me if the animals in the museum were real, and if so, were they killed to be put on display?  I always assumed the specimens (yes, of course they’re real! um, right?) in the world-renowned habitat dioramas were…”gently” collected in the name of science and then taxidermied with care, but James’ questions never cease to amaze me.  If anyone knows the answer (Google has failed me, for once), please comment!

(Planning)

January 18, 2010

Our travel legs are getting itchy (already!), so we’re researching how we can put to use the 160,000 credit card bonus points we received from buying tickets to Australia & New Zealand last year.  It looks like we are leaning towards HAWAII.  I have always wanted to go here, have flown over it several times, know so many people that have been (including my grandmother, who went at least 4 times), and owe it to my friend Amy (who went there on her honeymoon) for convincing James that even though it is technically still the U.S., it’s very exotic!  (I’m also currently reading Moloka’i by Alan Brennert, about the leper colony on this island.)

I’m waiting for my Loney Planet Hawaii book to arrive in the mail so we can decide which two of the six main islands we want to visit in the 10 days we’re allotting for this trip.  Front-runners are Maui and Kauai, but they all seem to have some unique to offer.  Suggestions??

The Great Barrier Reef…Finally

January 8, 2010

I have been procrastinating this post for days, weeks, and months…mainly because I knew it was going to be a massive project and also because I am not quite sure I will do the Great Barrier Reef the justice it deserves. But I’ll try (finally).

Quick Recap: If you’ve been following my blog, then you know James and I decided to try SCUBA diving so we could experience the reef up close and personal. We ran out of time to get our complete certification before the trip, but went in with the best intentions to SCUBA at the reef if possible, even if it was a resort course (which means you don’t go as deep or for that long). In short, it was tough to book diving sessions from afar when we didn’t know all of the options. We thought we were getting a head start by calling from Brisbane airport on our way to Hamilton Island. However, we got some bad news: the boats that were going there were already booked, and the other boats weren’t going because of the wind (seriously?? yes). We then booked a SCUBA trip to a closer reef, not “THE GREAT” one, but it was then we both realized we had some issues with SCUBA diving in general (James had trouble equalizing and I, well…I just freaked out underwater).

Fast forward to finally being able to find/reach FantaSea Cruises once we get to Hamilton Island and finding out that their Great Barrier Reef tour was in fact operating one more time before we left. This was our only chance to experience THE reef, so we jumped on it. While booking the day-long trip we learned that FantaSea has a docked pontoon (“Reefworld”) in a set spot along Hardy Reef. They actually have two – but the larger one was closed down for renovations (and that one had a waterslide…boo!), so we would be traveling to the smaller of the two. Luckily, it didn’t seem like the tour was sold out, so there wouldn’t be as many people as in high season.

Since FantaSea had a very large catamaran which holds a couple of hundred people, the tour outfit could still travel to the outer reef, otherwise the winds would have been too severe. We had experienced a bit of the windy seas the day before on our way to Whitehaven, so we kind of knew what to expect, and we came prepared with seasickness pills. It was a rough ride for many, but we were able to watch some video of the reef and talk to some of the tour guides. We also signed up for a helicopter ride over the reef to get the ultimate view.

I bet you wanna see some pictures by now. Well, let me just explain the different things we did while at Reefworld:

Snorkeling – This is the main attraction at Reefworld since it’s an all-ages activity. Unfortunately, the area cordoned off over the coral has some drastic tide changes, and the coral itself is dead (for the most part). You might know that coral can die as result of touch, and well, let’s just say this area has been molested. This means the fish here are limited, but you get a pretty good sense of what the reef is like in general. Fortunately, they haven’t moved their snorkeling area, so the damage is contained. The coolest part about this snorkeling area, though, and above all other snorkeling I have done, is the coral shelf. Imagine floating in a few feet of water and then suddenly seeing a drop-off hundreds of feet into an endless abyss. That’s where the real stuff is! Lucky SCUBA divers get a little closer to this, but the snorkelers are allowed just to the edge of the coral, where it meets the channel (dark blue, very fast-moving water). We took the channel to reach the reef once we survived the windy open seas:

Stark contrast between the channel and the reef. That dark blue water is deeeeep. And the light blue stuff is just a few feet!

The snorkeling area is barely visible because it is so tiny in comparison to the reef's actual size. There was a small area roped off just at the edge of the coral (light blue water) in front of the pontoon at the far left in this photo.

Helicopter Ride – Do this. Non-negotiable! It is worth every penny (around $95 each person). The FantaSea folks schedule you for a timeslot and then you are ferried over to the helipad, where you take a quick flight over Hardy Reef and are able to really get a sense of just how massive the Great Barrier Reef really is. The word “great” is the understatement of the universe. The pilot takes you over famous Heart Reef – a coral formation in the shape of a heart, and flies around so you can get some pictures (I think I took about 100 just on this helicopter ride alone). It was very interesting to see the huge catamaran we arrived on in reference to the reef and how minuscule it seemed in comparison to the coral.

Our heli-pad, covered in bird poo. Yep!

I got to ride shotgun.

The boat and heli-pad in the distance as we fly towards Heart Reef.

Getting low!

Closer shots of the coral.

Unlike anything I have ever seen.

Coral formations about 25-30 feet in actual size.

Heart Reef

*It’s also an option to fly by helicopter all the way back to Hamilton Island, but it’ll run you a few hundred dollars each passenger. This ride goes over Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. I would have done this in a second if I were made of money.

Semi-Submersible Coral Viewing – This was James’ favorite aspect of the reef, (I think) probably because it was the most unexpected. Essentially, it’s a glass-bottom boat that travels along the coral shelf so you can see the many different kinds of coral that grow “uninterrupted.” The sound of the boat probably scares away a lot of the fish, but we still spotted giant grouper and a sea turtle. The only downside of viewing this way is that the colors are distorted from water depth and glass, so the photos don’t really convey the complete awesomeness of this experience.

The area of view here is about 20 feet tops, so we were very close to the coral - and it's huge.

This round-ish coral was several feet wide.

This type of coral seemed the most prevalent where we were. It can even grow above the water's surface.

This photo shows a bit of the coral wall drop-off...you can see some fish congregating about 30 feet down.

The combination of these three activities really gave us a phenomenal sense of the coral and just how massive the Great Barrier Reef really is – it’s just indescribable (but I tried).

This doesn't even look like planet earth!

We loved being able to see Hardy Reef via Hamilton Island and hope to be able to SCUBA dive at another barrier reef location sometime in the future.

Say Cheese!

January 5, 2010

Wow, I have something in common with Andy Roddick!  We took the same awkward photo of us holding a koala in Australia.  I guess no amount of star power and finesse can make this pose seem cool.

Replace Andy's head with mine, and there you go - my awkward portrait with a koala.

What I learned at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is that each koala “works” or poses for photos for about 30 minutes each day (and actually, I think the koala above is juuuust about at his 30 minutes).  The “basket hold” makes the koala feel secure, and if they get freaked out they can get pretty violent, which is why I think most people make the face that Andy is making.

Koalas are extremely sedentary animals – the ultimate couch potato!  They rest/sleep about 18 hours of the day and spend three of their five awake hours eating eucalyptus leaves while lodged in a tree by their insanely long and sharp claws.  Koalas are a threatened species (hunted for its fur in the early 1900’s), and wildlife sanctuaries take their status very seriously.  It’s definitely worth the $20 bucks for a five-second cuddle.  Such a strange animal, but so cute!