Thursday, January 17, 2008
Australian Outdoors: Plants, Animals, Birds and Places to go
Australia is an absolute paradise for those looking for encounters with exotic animals or plant life like none other in the world. Since it has been an isolated continent for approximately 50 million years, the plants and animals have been able to develop unusual and intriguing characteristics while trying to survive in a challenging, unique habitat. Forests cover five per cent of Australia s land mass, and it has amazingly picturesque green regions, many of which are easily accessible from various big cities. In these forests you can see some of Australia s 20,000 species of plants, including amazing living fossils like the Wollemi pine and the grass tree, as well as vibrant carpets of some of the 12,000 species of wild flowers that bloom in this continent. Or you could watch animals like the platypus, the kangaroo, wallabies, possums, bandicoots---the list is almost endless, and includes fascinating marine animals like sea lions, seals, whales and dolphins, and you could even possibly interact with some of them. The oceans surrounding Australia contains one of the finest examples of marine biodiversity on earth, and host nearly 4,000 varieties of fish, and almost innumerable species of invertebrates, plants and micro-organisms, and almost 80% of Australia s southern marine species are not found anywhere else in the world. These can be seen firsthand at nature resorts on Australian beaches, while swimming and snorkeling around its many beaches. Australia is home also to around 800 species of birds, 400 of which are only found on the continent. The 55 species of parakeets found here are a riot of color and other birds like large kingfishers, brightly plumed rainbow lorikeets, the staid emus are all a treat to watch, and hearing the boisterous laughter of the kookaburra is an experience you will be unlikely to forget. In order to protect its wildlife heritage and allow regulated interactions with enthusiasts, Australia has established a number of national parks and protected areas all across the country which help showcase the incredible diversity of flora and fauna with which nature has blessed this continent. Here are a few of the prominent places to visit, but this list is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, because Australia is practically chock full of such places. Kangaroo Island is a mere half an hour by air from Adelaide or you could opt for the scenic 45-minute ferry ride from the mainland. It contains the sprawling Flinders Chase National Park, where you can watch kangaroos, wallabies, possums, koalas, platypus, fur seals and a variety of birds, including the rare Cape Barren geese. Activities on the island include wildlife observation like watching sea lions, right whales and penguins at Seal Bay beach or bird watching at Lincoln Bay Park and Gawler Ranges Park. If you like adventure, you could try wading in the wetlands, exploring the longest cave systems at Murrawijinie Caves or walking on the spectacular Nullarbor Plain above them, snorkeling near the coasts, or scuba diving. For those who want to take it easy, there s fishing or farm visits to taste Ligurian honey and sip Chardonnay and Riesling from the local wine producers, or try the fresh lobsters, local cheese and crisp farm produce. The Blue Mountains near Sydney is one of the recent most World Heritage areas in Australia where you can go for bush walks and see exotic animals like swamp wallabies and myriad species of birds against a background of dramatic canyons, steep valleys, thundering waterfalls and gum forests. You could step into the Mount Tomah Botanic Garden or explore the Jenolan caves. In short, there is more than enough to do at Blue Mountains for a day trip and more. Close to this are the forests of Wollemi Pine that form the Wollemi National Park. If you want to watch Humpback whales in winter, Byron Bay is the place for you where you can also do a spot of surfing, diving, shopping, clubbing or pubbing. The Daintree Rainforest north of Cairns in Queensland is an incredible hundred and thirty-five million years old and is remarkably stocked with unique birds, reptiles and marsupials. A spectacular national park, it is a wonderful document of the process of evolution itself. You can enjoy the untouched beauty of a tropical forest, put up at camping sites, go for hiking, trekking trips, picnics, scenic tours, loll about on golden beaches and sample local cuisine. A completely captivating sight at sunrise and sunset, Uluru(Ayers Rock) is an enormous monolith at the absolute heart of Australia. Rising majestically out of the desert, it has been held in great veneration by the aboriginals throughout living memory, and aboriginal beliefs do not recommend climbing the rock. In fact, only the very fit should even attempt it, because heart attacks while climbing the rock are not uncommon. The paintings in the surrounding caves will fascinate you or you could explore the surrounding smaller monoliths called the Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). In sum, the Uluru and its surroundings are a feast of visual delight. The Great Barrier Reef is a 2000km long structure that hosts a carnival of corals, polyps, sea urchins and an array of marine life unparalleled anywhere in the world. Snorkeling, scuba-diving, watching coral and marine life in a semi-submersible and a host of other activities make this a paradise on earth for all sea-life enthusiasts. Ningaloo Reef is the smaller than the Great Barrier, but is quite spectacular as well, and you can swim with a whale shark in its aquamarine waters. You can spot Humpback whales and manta rays here or head over to Shark bay to meet its bottle nosed dolphins at Monkey Mia and catch a glimpse of school sharks and dugongs. Fraser Island, Rottnest Island and a host of other beaches like Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, Cable Beach near Broome in WA, Four Mile Beach near Port Douglas in Queensland will have you entranced with their sunny weather, astonishing surf, sapphire blue waters and an overwhelming choice of outdoor activities. Other places worth a visit are the Kakadu National Park, with its spectacular waterfalls, sandstone embankments and abundance of wildlife, including extraordinary birds from jabirus, to magpie geese and egrets. The temperate rainforest combined with alpine trees in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage shelter a host of rare and endangered species of wildlife, from the Tasmanian devil and pademelons, to oystercatchers and pelicans. Fur seals, dolphins and whales can be spotted along the coasts. And if you are headed towards Western Australia, you canâ™t miss the Bungle Bungle Range, in Purnululu National Park, a geological site with orange and black stripes of silica and algae across beehive-like mounds, deep gorges and hidden pools. All of Australia is dotted with nature preserves, and a genuine nature lover would never run out of wildlife destinations on this continent---Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve near Canberra, the Moreton Island near Brisbane--- the list just goes on. Tips for wildlife watching: Keep recommended distance from wild animals, do not deviate from specified roads, and do not feed animals in the wild. Do not deplete the environment, especially the coral reefs, because they cannot be easily replenished. Take all precautions against insects and other critters; Australia has a host of venomous animals and insects. It is the only country in the world with more venomous than non-venomous snakes, and is home to the deadly Taipans and brown snakes. Before going for a swim, make sure it is safe to do so, because there are saltwater crocodiles in the inland waters, and box jellyfish, sharks, stonefish and an assortment of other poisonous creatures in the seas around Australian coasts. Be aware of the nature of wildlife you can expect in an area by reading written matter or browsing the internet, before you plan a trip. Sport As the recently concluded Commonwealth Games in Melbourne proved yet again to the world, Australians are ardent sports enthusiasts and excel at a whole lot of outdoor sports. It is a country where more than 25% of the population are registered sport participants. Every Australian child knows how to swim, and takes part in some form of organized sport like football, cricket, tennis or softball, and grows up into a sports-loving youth. Fishing, boating, bush walking, horse-riding and golf are popular pastimes for adults. This is because of the wide open outdoors, beaches, waterways and grounds available to Australians, with a suitable climate and easy access to sporting facilities. Being devoted sports-watchers, Australians run up high numbers as audiences of Rugby League, Rugby Union , Australian Rules matches, International cricket matches, and at Australian Football League matches, not to mention the annual Melbourne Cup horse race. So if you are a sports fan, you will feel naturally at home in Australia. Urban destinations The cities of Australia are modern, vibrant, cosmopolitan and offer great opportunities for shopping, food and entertainment. Their easygoing ambience and sophisticated lifestyle makes it very easy for a tourist to blend in and have fun. Each has its unique charm, history, tradition and lifestyle, one maybe famous for its excellent dining fare, another for fashion or art. Sydney of course is the best known of the lot, for the stunning Sydney Opera House which does not require an introduction; and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which you can climb in order to catch a breathtaking view of the marble-white Opera House against the sparkling dark waters of the vast ocean. A city that never sleeps, Sydney can dish up any cuisine you fancy, from Greek and Lebanese to Indian or Japanese, a legacy of its immigrated population. This gorgeous capital of New South Wales dazzles with its beaches, water and land transport, exquisite hinterlands and a whole host of eateries that serve rich wines and all other manner of liquor. Also famous for its award-winning epicurean delights and elite dining precincts is Melbourne, the trend setting city: it sets the style for lifestyle, food and fashion for the rest of Australia. It is a clotheshorse s delight. Designers who retail here include the likes of Collette Dinnigan, Akira Isogawa, Lisa Ho, Jodie Boffa and Robert Burton, to name but a few, who fashion a varied range of clothes for men and women. There are also clothing artists who capture the spirit of Australia, like Ken Done and Jenny Kee. Melbourne is also renowned for its arts scene, with hosts of private galleries, theaters, the NGV International - the National Gallery of Victoria s headquarters and the Federation Square where art, architecture and events meet at a unique public space. Those who have been to the recent Commonwealth Games held in the city vouch for its hospitality, its friendly people its spreads of food and wine, and how cuisine here is made fashionable by the avant-garde chefs. Or you could choose to experience a laid back outdoors life style in Brisbane, gorge on exotic sea food platters, check out the weekend markets at Riverside, South Bank, and Fortitude Valley and absorb the gregarious street theater and live music scattered across the city. Brisbane has a lot of adventure to offer, and you can explore Moreton Bay with its 155 islands. Alternatively, head over to Perth, and enjoy its sophisticated, picturesque beauty. Visit the famous Kings park with its 400 acres of green, or sample the wines at Swan Valley. You could drive down to the Cottesloe Beach for street food or up to Subiaco for a formal dinner. Adelaide is another must-see. Steeped in art and culture, the Adelaide Festival of Arts and the Fringe Festival, among a host of other dos, keeps the arts scene in the city bubbling with energy. Make sure you shop till you drop for artifacts in stone, leather and metal, because galleries like JamFactory Contemporary Craft and Design, Metal and Stone and Gray Street Workshop are simply irresistible. The city has charming examples of architecture, which you can admire when on a drive, and for the more active, on a walk. It is also famous for its fresh farm produce, grown at the Adelaide hills and sold at the Central Market, where one can have a scrumptious breakfast. Other hot urban destinations include the capital of Australia, Canberra, and cities like Darwin and Cairns which can be fun to explore under the hot Australian sun, and the balmy, starry nights. Places to stay Australia is very well geared towards tourists with different budgets, from camping caravans and bed and breakfasts to resorts and five-star hotels and the entire range in between, which can be pre-arranged as part of travel packages or individually chosen as you blaze your own trail. 5-star hotels are for those who like to travel in luxury and will spare no expenses in order to have the best the market has to offer. From excellent furnishings to dining services and every modern convenience imaginable are all available for a price in these hotels. These are specially suitable for you if you want to make a particular city your headquarters and take short trips around it for adventure and exploration, combined with lots of shopping, good dining and exceptional night-life experiences. 4 to 4 1/2 stars are also good as great quality establishments at an affordable price, and also come as parts of great travel packages at reasonable rates. Serviced apartments and resorts are often a good idea in this category, as they are usually located in areas outside major cities and are closer to natural locations, and offer an experience that is part of the entire ambience of the place: you can enjoy a poolside drink, cool off at your own private beach-front, relax at spas, or enjoy a barbecue as the night around you comes to life. You can even find well-equipped single or double-storey cottages, with great furnishings, wood-burning stoves and up-to-date kitchens that provide great views, or opportunities to watch the local fauna. You can find yourself a Bed and Breakfast accommodation that could include your breakfasts in the tariff and feature communal dining and lounge rooms, or go for a Self-contained version where you can cook your own breakfast, and separate dining areas. In similar categories are the Guest houses, which however, rarely include breakfasts in their tariff. Each Bed and Breakfast has its own little piece of Australian history or uniquely regional feature, and can add to the experience of your trip. These could be budget accommodations or luxury premises, depending on your choice. If you love the big outdoors and want to experience it up close and personal, Tourist Parks are the choice for you. They feature powered and unpowered tents, on-site caravans, and cabins-- you can take your pick. They can be self-contained or serviced, depending on how you like it, and in every kind of budget. They overlook stunning locations: bushlands and beaches, coastlines, hills and forests, depending on your location and interest, and can be great if you are driving out on your own. There are even fully furnished yachts and houseboats available for hire, where you can stay for the duration of the trip, taking advantage of Australia s beautiful waterways, lakes and oceans. You can skipper your own craft or find someone with the right experience for a sail guide: learn about the marine life, snorkel, drive and swim. It is a safe yet intimate way to explore places like the barrier reef of Queensland, the virgin beaches and mangroves of Western Australia, to take in the grandeur of the Twelve Apostles or watch the sailors on the docks and marinas of Sydney Harbor. Australia also has the most number of Backpacker Hostels, for all sorts of budgets and locations, starting from the very well-heeled rooms with spacious guest kitchens and swimming pools to others which simply provide a warm bed, hot shower and efficient staff. These are great places to meet new people, exchange stories, get excellent tips for onward travel or simply enjoy the general bonhomie of a pancake breakfast or a barbecue cookout. In short, Australia welcomes all kinds of age groups, budgets, preferences and caters to each one of them, presenting them in affordable yet unforgettable combinations. On a trip to Australia you can be assured of an accommodation that is just to your liking. Communication Australia is well known for its efficient communications which consist of well-connected nationwide postal services, Internet as well as cellular coverage. Media services like cable and network television stations and a wide variety of magazines and newspapers inform as well as entertain, so while on a trip to this country you never feel out of touch. You can access the Internet from Internet cafes, hotels, hostels and libraries, and there are a variety of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Australia who can provide log-on numbers, so your e-mail goes with you where you go. Australia uses RJ-45 telephone plugs and Telstra EXI-160 four-pin plugs, which can also be found as part of multi-plugs from various companies all over the world. If your connection is not a match, the local electronic shops will have the right one. To be sure that your PC-card modem works in Australia, purchase a global modem before you leave home, which is compatible to a variety of locations. All major hotels provide access to fax machines and international calling services. Local calls from public pay phones are not timed and are very cheap, private phones are even cheaper. Public pay phones accept all Australian coins and a variety of credit and phone cards. Australia s has an extensive cell phone)network with a range of carriers and call rates. You can bring your own phone after getting international roaming service activated by the local carrier when you leave your country. Australia s mobile network operates on the 900 and 1800 bands for GSM, and 800 for CDMA, so your SIM will have to be unlocked for these frequencies, and your phone set needs to be compatible for you to use a local SIM card. Phones and SIM cards are also available for rent and sale in America from planetomni.com . This service offers free incoming calls from all countries at all times and calling the states is just US $.27 / minute. Of course you can call anywhere in the world. That same company also has SIM CARDS and phones for use in 98% of the world always with incredibly low call rates. In conclusion, Australia has something for everyone: the history buffs, art lovers, sports enthusiasts, outdoor lovers, adventurers, shopaholics and leisure seekers will all find something right up their street. Accommodation, transport and communication are all a phone call or mouse click away, the people are friendly and cosmopolitan, there is an unmatched variety of wines and cuisines, the weather is mostly favorable, and crime rate is low. All you really need to do is decide what you want from your trip, make those bookings, pack your stuff and catch a plane to experience some of the most unforgettable moments of your life in Australia. John Dulaney, born Dec. 11th, 1946, married with children. Living most years since 1969 outside the USA and working in motion pictures since 1965 I started QuantumStar.com with my wife, Jojo, in March of 1994 in San Francisco, Ca. I ve lived in or been to approximately 36 countries and have lived under Democracies, Socialism, Communism, dictatorships, kingdoms and others. There is nothing like home. I participated at Channel Four in Manila, Philippines during the People Power Revolution and stood, with my wife s brother, along with half a million others against the threat of tank attack. I have witnessed the ruinous effects of Socialism /Communism /Dictatorship in dozens of countries and today enjoy the remains of our freedoms and protections of the Constitution in the USA here in California. Working in front of and behind the camera films around the world we removed to the suburbs and a quiet life, for a few years. We still have property in Umbria, Italy, some is for sale. After all is said and done I count my children, wife Jojo and my friends as my only real treasure.