Saturday, December 28, 2013

then and now

[Michele] The last time Gavin and I were in New Zealand was the same time of year in 1998.  We've been eager to show Robin and Will this amazing part of the world. A few segments of our itinerary on this trip are the same as in 1998.  Some things are too good not to do twice, including a half-day hike on Fox Glacier.
Gavin and Michele on Fox glacier in Dec 1998

Gavin, Will, Robin and Michele on Fox
Glacier in 2013.
Fox glacier has changed a lot in 15 years and so have we!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Fenian Caves Track: a tale of two viewpoints

[Michele] Like all good stories, today's tale comes with two very different view points.  The tale is about a 4 hour tramping adventure along the Fenian Caves track outside of Karamea, New Zealand. The differing viewpoints belong to Will and Robin.

The first part of the track was an old bridle path used for gold mining back in the day.  The second was a much more rugged track that went past two caves and through the 100 m long tunnel cave.
Yes, this really was the track!

What were some highlights from the first part of the track? 
[Robin]: I thought that the trees were very pretty in the first part.
[Will]: I liked he beautiful scenery and all the great photo opportunities.
[Michele]: You took some nice photos.
Will captures a NZ icon

When we first turned off the bridle path and onto the rugged track, what were you thinking? How did you like the path?
[Robin]: This is going to be fun scrambling over the uneven trail. It was really fun.
[Will]: I was kind of thinking, wait is it going to be like this for a while or will the path change back. I was nervous because I was carrying the camera but I persevered with care.

When we saw the first cave what were you thinking and what did you did?
[Robin]: Thank god we don't have to go through that!
[Will]: Oh, wow! I can't wait till we get to go through one.  Then I scrambled in to the cave, hopping on rocks and avoiding stalactites to get some cool photos.

What was your first reaction reaction when we got to tunnel cave, the one that the track goes through, and we saw that there was no optional track around the cave.
Robin: "No no no no no no no no no!"
Will: "Wow, cool, I wonder how long it is?"

What did you do?
Robin: We went into the cave. Daddy was with me and mommy was with Will. Each group got a torch. In my group Daddy had the torch and he was in front of me.

intrepid explorers.

Robin: Daddy and I went into the cave first. At first, I wasn't too scared, but then we had to almost crawl and I started crying because I thought that I would never get out of the cave and I though that I would be trapped inside.
Will:  The cave was very fun. At first walking through the cave was easy but then the cave started getting deeper and darker and I realized that the torch that mommy and I were using wasn't very strong. It was very hard to see where we were going.  We tried calling out to Daddy to let him know about our torch but he couldn't hear above Robin crying.  So we kept going. Mommy and I both slipped on the rocks into water; especially mommy, who doesn't have have good balance in the dark.

Robin: After the crouching part, there was a steep drop that we had to climb down. It was especially hard since the rocks were muddy and slippery. I did not like this part AT ALL! I was already upset and this part didn't help.  After that, the cave widened and when I looked up between some stalactites I saw some glowing blue dots. I pointed them out to Daddy and he said that they were glow worms.  That made me feel better - they are so cool! They look like stars.

Will: We caught up to them at the glow worm cavern.  We turned off our torches and watched the glow worms for a while. It was really cool!  Then we shined our torches on the worms and we could see the mucusy thread that they dangle from to catch bugs.

Robin: At the glow worm cavern was could see the end of the cave and that was reassuring. I felt better when we got out and everyone gave me high-fives because they were proud of me.  But then I realized that we had a long walk back to the campervan.  Also I got stalactite mud on my favorite hat.

Will: I was glad to be out of the cave and proud of myself for getting through it.  Ten minutes later though, I wanted to do it again, but with a better torch.

Would you do the Fenian Caves track again?
Robin: No way!
Will: Now that we have bought a better torch, definitely!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bicycle versus RV

[Gavin] We traveled through New Zealand by bicycle and bus in December of 1998. We're traveling some of the same roads again, this time in a big honking campervan.

I feel guilty.

Self-contained bicycle touring, where you carry all of your camping gear on your bike, is hard work. Every hill is an effort. Every evening it is a chore to set up camp, as is every morning when it is time to pack everything back on to the bike-- especially if it is raining.

But the top of every hill is a victory, and every downhill is a thrill. And it feels really good to zoom over the road on the most efficient vehicle ever designed.

Self-contained caravan camping, where you carry your refrigerator and shower and bed with you, is easy. Hungry? Thirsty? Pull over and get a refreshing beverage from the fridge. The only worries are whether or not the next town's gas station is open on Sunday and sells diesel, and whether you can find a place to park your behemoth.

I don't think we'll ever travel in a huge RV again; neither Michele nor I like driving, and driving a truck is even less fun. It is nice to be able to stop and camp almost anywhere; that is one way a caravan and bicycle/tent camping are alike.

As I write this, I hear the rain beating down on the roof of the campervan; if we were on bicycles, we'd be dealing with two VERY grumpy, wet, exhausted children. Part of me thinks "that would build CHARACTER!" ... and then the sane part of my brain kicks in and is grateful for a clean, dry place where I can write a blog post.

Monday, December 16, 2013

What a difference a day makes

[Michele] Yesterday we were trying to escape the 32˚ C tropical heat and humidity and today we experienced -18˚ C at the Antarctic Center at Christchurch.

Our solution for escaping the heat in Cairns was to go for a swim. Lucky for us, we got to swim with the cutest 2.5 year old in the world and her parents.  Lots of giggles!

Then today, our first day in New Zealand, we donned rubber boots and parkas in order enter the Antarctic Experience room at the Antarctic Center in Christchurch.  The room temperature is set to -8˚C, which is about 17˚ F.  This approximates a balmy day in the Antarctic. Then they dim the lights and turn on the wind machine to simulate a storm event when the wind chill does down to -18˚C (-1˚F).  It felt just like being back in New England!

In the Antarctic Experience room

Saturday, December 14, 2013

last day of school

[Michele]  Yesterday was the last day of school for the year at Mission Beach State School and they had a special parade on Friday afternoon. Parade is what they call the school assembly -- I'm not sure if this is a Mission Beach thing or an Queensland thing or what.  This special parade marked the end of the academic year and graduation for the 7th year students.  School is now out for the summer and won't resume until Feb.  I should also mention that on the last day of school the kids didn't have to wear their uniforms.

First the students sang the national anthem - -they do that for every parade. Then there were some announcements.  Will was in a selected group of 6th years that spoke about the on-going wetlands revitalization project going on next to the school.  His American accent sounded a little odd amongst all the Aussies but he did a great job delivering his 'speech'.
Will discusses the wetland maintenance at the final parade of the year.

There were songs and dances, including some special performances by the graduating 7th year students. The 7th years with help from Robin's teacher Ms. Willis also made an awesome wall panel of breaking waves made from washed up pumice bits -- it is beautiful.  Also, I'm an idiot for not getting a picture of the panels!

This is the second graduation from elementary/primary school that Robin gets to have.  She graduated from 6th grade at Wildwood last June.   Like the ceremony at Wildwood, the ceremony at Mission Beach also involved singing and dancing but was more informal and thankfully much shorter.

Each 7th year was called to the stage, which meant that Robin AnDERsen was first. Yeah, they will never get her name right.  Then they had the younger grades make a long 'tunnel' for the graduating students to pass through.  It was hysterical to see some quite tall 7th year students, like Robin, crawling between the tunnel of preps (kindergardeners).
Everyone crawling under the wee preppies

The tunnel wound around the courtyard outside

Robin emerges from the end of the tunnel.

The event was lots of fun and marked a poignant end to our time in Mission Beach.

As I type this blog entry on Saturday evening, we have packed up and moved out of our house. We are staying in Cairns tonight and leave for New Zealand tomorrow.   We don't quite feel ready for the next phase of our adventure but I know that we will have a blast once we get going.

Since New Zealand is also 'down under' we will continue to blog about our adventures over the coming weeks. You can look forward to stories of life in small campervan for 2 weeks and whiny posts about the never-ending rain.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Moral dilemna

[Michele] It the time of year again for that age-old dispute between neighbors over passionfruit. If your neighbor grows passionfruit and the vine spills over to your side of the fence, are you obligated to give them the fruit from your side of the fence?

We've been watching the fruit slowly ripen over weeks and within the last few days we have greatly enjoyed the bounty of our neighbor's efforts.  The fruit is a tad tart at the moment but with only a few more days to partake, we aren't letting that stop us.

So to the answer the morality question posed:  it is to each of us to decide our own answers within the shifting moral landscape of today's society.  As for us, we will enjoy the passionfruit while we can.

Shhhh!  Don't let the neighbors hear you picking them.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sun bird nest in the garage

Sun Bird nest gets prime garage space while
Elvis has to park outside in the sun and rain.
[Michele]  About a month ago some sun birds were scoping out the garage door opener cord in our garage.  We had gotten into a habit of leaving the door open and so the birds thought that this might be a good place to nest.  It is out of the rain and wind and away from tree snakes. Or maybe they just really liked Elvis, our car.  We put  up some other strings under the awnings around the house but for whatever reason (Elvis?) the garage was the top pick.

The nest is an amazing construction complete with awning.  It really is incredible how strong it is and the whole thing was built by two birds in about 1.5 weeks while Betsy was visiting. This is much much faster that the construction of the Sea Wall at the Kennedy Esplanade -- that 3 month project was 2 months late in getting completed. Since building the nest, they've lined it with feathers but no sign of eggs yet.

Since they started building the nest, we've taken to parking Elvis outside of the garage. Gavin also uses the side door so as not to disturb the nesting Sun Birds.  We would love to see eggs and chicks in the nest but we may not get a chance. The new tenants move in on Dec 16th. We don't know if they are bird lovers or not but we will leave a note asking the new tenants to consider leaving the garage door open.

Robin the gypsy

[Michele]  I will be honest, this blog post is more blackmail fodder for my eldest child than anything else.

Robin in gypsy mode! Hey!
You see Robin got trapped into performing as a gypsy in her dance school's end of the year performance.  The only way that she could take ballet classes was to agree to be in the show.  If you had told her before hand that she would have to wear a corset, dance on pointe, wear false eye lashes and wear a wig, we can all guess what her reaction would have been. The teacher wisely gave her these details one by one over several months.

The show was the 5th and 6th of December and it was great fun for Larry, Coreen and Kamin to come out for the opening night.  Well, it would have been more fun if the malfunctioning spot light weren't aimed at the audience. But nevertheless, it was fun to see the show with them. Even with the wig we could recognize Robin flashing across the stage doing her gypsy thing.  She did great!  I am particularly proud that she committed to her role in the show, gave it her best and danced with a smile.

How Robin really feels about this.
Both Robin and Will have over the past 5 months thrived under strange and foreign conditions. They have mastered new classroom dynamics, navigated well established social circles, contributed to the various group efforts and deepened their love for a part of the world very different from where they have spent all their lives. I hope that these experiences guide them well as they tackle future challenges.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Katie's turn to blog

Editor's note: We have the sweetest niece in the whole world and we are thrilled to include her guest blog.

[Katie] I’m sure it’ll come to my father’s surprise I’m writing a blog post, since I so adamantly refused to write one with him. And as awesome as a job he did at describing our adventures, I wanted to bring a more reflective side to Cassowary Tales.

At the ripe age of 17, I’d already consider myself moderately well traveled. Sure, I’ve never been to many of the South American countries many of my fellow classmates have, nor have I volunteered over in any African country, but I’ve already visited both France and now Australia. All thanks to Aunt Michele, Uncle Gavin, and Bitcoin, no less!

Not having many responsibilities, I feel it easy to elevate my own teenage problems to level of that of an adult. Pre-Australia, I was performing as a part of the marching band color guard (Google is perhaps your friend here), operating as captain and often times, main instructor as our coach was dealing with illness, plus taking SATs and filling out college applications and chasing down guidance counselors. Suffice to say, I felt like I was at a stress level equivalent to that of a paper-pusher come deadline time.  Not only did I have school and band on my plate but also I was in charge of ensuring the airline transportation for our trip went as smoothly as possible. So as we entered the Philadelphia International Airport, I felt that same level of stress. But with each and every flight, baggage claim, and immigrations checkpoint we cleared, I felt better and better.

One of my favorite sayings, living in a dumpy little tourist town (and not the “cute” kind) is that “home is not a place, it’s a feeling.”

“Home” is exactly the words I would use to describe my entire trip through Australia.

 I think it’s very easy, in American culture, to overschedule ourselves and to jam ourselves up with things to do and buy and see and people to call and people to send letters to, and in Australia there just isn’t that jaw-clenching sense of “go!”

Cashiers smile at you and say thank you when just asking for change. Everyone ends a transaction with “See ya later,” instead of goodbye. I met not one single person there who was unwilling to help out any fellow mate, foreign or family.

I also felt that there’s an urge to just appreciate natural beauty and the things the Earth has give us. I felt this way in both South Mission Beach and in Sydney. In South Mission Beach there was rainforest and rivers and creaks and ocean with tide pools and turtles. Sydney has a huge botanical garden, and the fantastically beautiful bay.

Again, all this time I felt peace with everything around me. Perhaps it’s just my teenage angst speaking, but I often feel here in Pennsylvania, at the place I call home, I do not often feel completely at peace. There’s always some sort of stimuli going on around us.

Now that I’m back in America, I try to employ this sort of “ground yourself” way of life all the Aussies (I encountered) seemed to have. I can’t say I’ve felt quite as happy as I was back in South Mission Beach, but I can certainly say I feel better. And I have the memories, and the pictures, to remind me that once I felt was home was like.

And as I look at colleges and their study abroad programs, I hope that someday I’ll know what it feels like when your heart and your head both agree:   
You’re home. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Human Flumin' at Tully Gorge

[editor's note] This was posted 3 Dec but the event described happened on 17 Nov.

[Greg] I didn't think it would be possible to top the Great Barrier Reef, but I was wrong. OK, maybe we didn't top it today, but this was one of the neatest things I have ever done. We drove to a place called Tully Gorge, to swim in a jungle stream. We heard that Chris and family tried this one, but were chased off by March flies. (US equivalent of horse flies) There were a handful of those nasty critters, but we weren't bothered too badly. There was a waterfall coming out of the side of a cliff, and a deep, swift-moving stream underneath. We were able to get into the stream about 30 yards ahead of the waterfall, swim in, and the current carried us along right into the waterfall!! It was like an amusement park ride! I did it 3 times. I have never experienced anything quite like it in my life.
This is Chris' picture of the waterfall at Tully gorge.  Despite
March flies on that visit, he got a really nice pic of the site.

Greg and Michele start the flume up stream. 
Fun ride under the waterfall!

After that great jungle adventure, Gavin and I went looking for cassowaries. I drove for the first time, on the wrong side of the road. That is so hard to get used to. Good thing I only drove about 2 miles there and back! Well, we didn't see any cassowaries. I truly was lucky seeing one on my first day. We are leaving Mission Beach tomorrow, to have some adventures north of here. Don't know if I'll be able to blog about that while we're there; if not, I'll send copy to Michele to post once we've returned to the states. That return will be bittersweet; there are people back home we miss very much, but this journey has been incredible! And it's passing by so quickly. More to come..........