Latest Update (Part 3)
March 4, 2018 - June 4, 2018
* Australia: Ripped Roos, Gossipy Emus, And Why Wombats Have Square Turds
* Camel Balls: An Aussi Delicacy
* Peyote Pete
* We Discover Mushrooms
* Crispy Pigs Ears
* Exile At The Bottom Of The World
* Melbourne -- The Best City We've Ever Seen
* We Actually LIKE Modern Art?
* A Surfing Champ In Diapers
We needed another trip overseas at the end of March, in order to reset our New Zealand visas.
So we flew to wild Tasmania, in Australia.
March 23, 2018 - April 5, 2018
And started our trip at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, near Hobart.
Tasmania has a big problem with cars hitting wildlife. The Bonorong Sanctuary helps by rescuing injured and orphaned animals, releasing them back into the wild if possible and providing a permanent home for those who can no longer hack the real world.
It turns out that "wombat" isn't just an insult –– there's a real animal behind the name.
This sweet looking guy had been orphaned when his mother was killed by a car.
Despite their plans to release him back into the wild, the staff lavished lots of love and cuddling on this fellow. Wombats need affection when they're young, and would be miserable without it. But the habituation to humans isn't a problem, because at a certain age the wombat will just decide he doesn't want to be cuddled anymore, and will start biting anybody who tries. Sort of like teenagers...
All told, we decided that you should be flattered if somebody calls you a wombat.
Wombats get rather large –– up to almost 80 pounds. And we learned that they have thick cartilage plates covering their lower backs.
Wombats use the plates to block the opening to their burrows. And if a predator like a dingo (a wild dog) bites them and won't let go, they move forward –- dragging the dingo's head into the burrow –– and then they crush the dog's skull against the top of the tunnel, using their powerful hind legs.
Guess we won't be sticking our heads into any wombat burrows.
We also learned that wombats have square turds. They use them to mark their territories, leaving them on top of rocks, where the square shape prevents them from rolling off.
Just in case you needed to know that...
Here we have emus (the creature on the right) –– large flightless birds similar to ostriches.
Ken wanted a picture of Beth nose-to-nose with these guys, although Beth wasn't entirely sure that was a good idea.
But she agreed to try.
And pretty soon she had thoroughly warmed up to them.
Gossip across the fence.
This fellow is an echidna. Although he looks like a hedgehog, he's really one of the very few egg-laying mammals -- a relative of the famous platypus.
He was plenty cute, but the sanctuary staff seemed to prefer cuddling the wombat.
And here is the infamous Tasmanian devil -- doesn't really look that ferocious, does he?
But you don't want to mess with him, as he can chew right through your leg bone. His jaws generate 1200 psi! And his claws look pretty nasty.
Sniffing around for lunch but didn't find anything of interest. Mostly they eat carrion –– guess we weren't quite ripe enough yet.
We got to meet lots of kangaroos.
Kind of like bunny rabbits on steroids.
The roo is thinking "hmmm, bet those shoes would fit."
Here's a typical kangaroo pose –– everybody intently staring in the same direction.
Speaking of steroids, the big males get pretty ripped. This guy was as tall as we are.
We decided not to challenge him to a boxing match.
And, of course, kangaroos are marsupials.
And you know what that means.
It's warm and protected, but the view kind of sucks.
Yikes -- can you imagine letting somebody with claws that big climb around in your pouch? If you had a pouch, we mean...
Beth gives this hard-working mom a nice scratch.
And speaking of a nice scratch... Awww...
Into the Wild
We pressed on, up into the mountains near Lake St. Clair. We wanted to get the real Tasmanian experience, out in the bush.
The real Tasmanian experience: cold, wet, and lonely.
We can understand why the Brits punished criminals with exile to Tasmania.
We stopped for provisions at a small-town grocery store.
Australians are famous for their wisecracking sense of humor. This candy probably wouldn't sell very well in the US or New Zealand.
That slightly criminal background really does color the place.
Tasmania hangs down into the Southern Ocean, and the mountains get buckets of rain. So what do you get when you mix rugged terrain with lots of water?
Electricity in Tasmania is cheap as chips, as they say down here.
We rented a snug, two room chalet in the little crossroads of Derwent Bridge.
The chalet included a great wood-burning stove, supplied with lots of wood. Which was a good thing, because the weather was absolutely wet, cold, and miserable.
Even the kookaburras looked cold, huddled out in the rain.
By the way, they really do sound like they're laughing when they make their raucous calls.
Our chalet did not serve any food, but fortunately we found great eating just down the road at the Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel. Again, the only heat came from a roaring fire. We got up periodically from our table to go over and warm up.
We talked to some of the other guests, as you do in a place like that. And we got another bit of proof that Australians are different.
We met an older guy named Pete who had a ranch out in the countryside. He was there by himself, as his wife had died a few years ago. He looked exactly as you might expect for an Australian rancher –– weathered, and tough.
And then maybe 10 minutes into our conversation, we found ourselves talking about the time that he experimented with magic mushrooms. He felt that it had been a good experience overall, although maybe he wouldn't take quite as much the next time…
Privately, we nicknamed him "Peyote Pete".
(Technically, Peyote is a cactus, not a mushroom. But "Mushroom Pete" wasn't as catchy.)
But he really seemed like a sensible guy, and we have subsequently read that psychedelic mushrooms are now a hot topic of research in the US, because of their potentially beneficial effects. For example they seem extraordinarily effective at helping people quit smoking.
But that conversation wouldn't happen very much in the US or in New Zealand. At least not with a tough old rancher. The Aussies really are a bit different…
We visited the Lake St. Clair Nature Center to get information about the local hiking trails.
And found further evidence of that Australian humor.
Roadkill really is everywhere –- not very appetizing, however.
Well, it obviously wasn't going to stop raining, and we didn't want to just sit in our chalet. So we sucked it up and hiked up the mountain in the pouring rain. We had "waterproof/breathable" jackets and pants, but nothing that could stand up to four hours of serious rain.
This picture doesn't quite capture the whole experience –– most of the time it was raining much, much harder than this. Which explains why we only took one picture on the whole hike…
We've done this kind of thing before, and we know that -- if you have clothing that will break the wind -- you can stay warm as long as you keep moving. Even though you end up completely wet, your clothes trap a layer of warm water -- like a wetsuit.
However in the past we would've done this in heavy leather hiking boots. Right now we have lightweight synthetic boots that breath well and are comfortable in the tropics. Unfortunately they allow a complete change-over of all the water in your boot every time you step in a deep puddle –– which kind of destroys the wetsuit effect for your feet. The water was maybe 40 degrees F, and ten inches deep in places.
We did okay, but we were acutely aware that we were just one twisted ankle away from hypothermia. No cell phone reception, either. And since we were traveling we didn't have a survival blanket or fire starting equipment. This isn't our usual style.
But, of course, once you survive something like this it becomes one of the high points of your trip! We like to say that an adventure is just a past ordeal that you are describing to someone else...
Question: What's the difference between an adventure and an expedition?
Answer: Planning …
Fortunately, we had our snug chalet and a warm fire to dry our gear.
Less fortunately, the water pump quit on us, and the chalet proprietress was off traveling for a couple of days.
Without the water pump we couldn't wash dishes, or take showers, or flush the toilet.
So, being a cruiser, Ken went out to see if he could figure out how to restart the pump.
Guess what he found out behind the chalet? Evidently we have a wombat around, marking his territory.
Ken was able to get the pump started again. It probably had a bad wiring connection somewhere, but cycling the power switch got it going. Of course it still quit every 15 or 20 minutes, which meant another trip out back into wombat country…
We had a little more luck the next day, as the rain lightened up enough for us to take some pictures out in the bush.
Not surprisingly, the Tasmanian climate supports some great fungus –– over 900 species. So we got into photographing these things. After some debate, we decided not to follow Pete's example by actually eating any of them.
We'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
We were enchanted. Maybe we could take up fungi photography when we are too old and feeble to go diving for fish pictures. Fungi are considerably slower than fish, and you don't have to worry about the Tiger sharks.
Although you do get kind of wet from crawling around on your belly in the dripping bush.
Actually there are occupational hazards out there. Beth got this the thorn buried in her finger, straight down into the knuckle.
And, truthfully, the Australian bush is packed with stuff that can kill you. Poison snakes, poison spiders, and lots of other nasties. We later learned about something called Jack Jumper Ants. These things are maybe three quarters of an inch long, and they can jump about 2 feet in the air. They are aggressive, and their bites often cause anaphylactic shock.
If you blunder onto one of their anthills, they will start jumping all over you before you even know they are there.
Turns out that a lot of people in Australia die every year from anaphylactic shock, and Jack Jumper Ants are one of the major causes of anaphylaxis in Australia. Arguably, this is the most dangerous creature in Australia.
We were just as glad that we didn't know about these guys while we were crawling around in the brush taking pictures of mushrooms…
Anyway, our short visit to Australia was ticking along, and it was time for us to drive back to Hobart. So we bid goodbye to Lake St. Clair and our snug chalet at Derwent Bridge.
We thought these chalets were a first-class operation physically –– notwithstanding the water pump problem. Unfortunately, we feel compelled to say that the proprietress, Louise, was just a very ornery person. We won't waste time on the details, but every interaction we had with her left us riled up for the rest of the day. It's too bad, because she obviously puts her heart and soul into those chalets. But she seems to have made a business model out of picking completely unprovoked fights with her paying customers. Enough said.
The rain stopped as soon as we left the mountains and got into their rain shadow. By the time we approached Hobart everything was brown. It turns out that Hobart is actually one of the driest provincial capitals in Australia.
Our first order of business in Hobart was sad –– to pay a visit to our cruising friends Dorothy and Steve Darden. Steve was suffering from a metastasized cancer, and died shortly after our visit. Our hearts go out to Dorothy, their daughter Kim, and the rest of their family.
Hobart is a quaint seafaring town.
But the tourist industry supports a thriving ecosystem of highly useful businesses.
We are really going in the right direction here…
Even the touristy stuff is pretty high quality.
There are also lots of interesting restaurants. How often do you get to choose between wallaby leg, crispy pig's ears, pork tongue tortilla, and potted eel?
If you're interested, this is what crispy pigs ears look like. They weren't bad.
Food cooked to order.
We tested out some interesting dishes with our friends, Cindi and Adam, who were in Hobart on their boat "Bravo".
Ken had the duck neck. It's stuffed with meat, of course, but they didn't mention that the head was still attached…
This is starting to seem like a Facebook post, so we better move on.
The Prison At Port Arthur
For many years we've heard Irish songs about Van Diemen's Land -- and never good stuff. So we went for a visit to the heart of it, the huge prison complex at Port Arthur.
Here are the ruins of the prison church.
Irish songs always talk about some poor guy who steals an ear of corn to feed his family and ends up getting shipped off to Australia. The tour guides at the prison –– some of whose family members came here as convicts –– told a somewhat different story. In their version, you had to be a pretty bad actor to get "transported" –– like maybe that was the 20th time you got busted for stealing.
In any event it's hard to wrap your head around how isolating this would've been. They say about Tasmania (and New Zealand) that it isn't the end of the earth... but you can see the end of the earth from there.
This courtyard allowed prisoners in solitary confinement to exercise. Alone.
The whole facility at Port Arthur was a prison, but most of the time the prisoners were allowed to work and socialize outdoors –– but it wasn't an easy place to escape. The prison complex itself was only connected to the mainland of Tasmania by a narrow causeway, which was guarded by fierce dogs.
The center of the facility houses a maximum security prison, where you got sent if you were really irritating. Port Arthur pioneered the concept of solitary confinement for recalcitrants -- authorities of the time viewed solitary as a kind of therapy which allowed a man to contemplate his sins.
They didn't realize that it drove people insane.
The chapel of the maximum-security prison. Each stall in the congregation area accommodated exactly one prisoner, who was walled off from the prisoners on either side and in front and behind. So even in church, you weren't allowed to see anyone else. Except the preacher.
The Tasmanian Tiger
Wherever you go in Tasmania, you will find images of the Tasmanian Tiger.
This animal wasn't a real tiger, but rather a marsupial version of a coyote, or a very small wolf.
Unfortunately, they were intentionally annihilated by the Europeans, who considered them a threat to livestock. They are thought to be extinct now, although stories persist about sightings in the bush.
Personally, we're pretty sure that they are not extinct. We think that there is a Tasmanian Tigress living in Derwent Bridge, running some chalets...
The Museum Of Old And New Art
We will finish our visit to Hobart with a brief mention of the Hobart Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). This place has a really fantastic physical presence –– it's carved down about three stories into solid rock, with galleries extending out into tunnels. And the collection itself is pretty interesting.
But mainly we wanted to mention it so that we could show you this picture from the parking lot. There's that Australian sense of humor again.
Our Tasmanian adventure was coming to an end, so we flew from Hobart to Melbourne, where we would spend a few days before flying back to New Zealand.
Melbourne: The Most Livable City We've Ever Seen
And, unexpectedly, we were blown away by Melbourne. It turned out to be one the high points of our whole visit to Australia.
So what is missing in this picture from one of the main streets of Melbourne –– a thriving, rapidly growing metropolitan area, with 5 million people, and the second largest city in the whole South Pacific?
How about cars? Where are all the cars?
There's nothing unusual about these pictures, at least for Melbourne. Night and day, on pretty much any street in the city, you can cross without even really looking for cars!
And it's not like people don't come downtown to work. In fact, the businesses are expanding so fast in Melbourne that the new skyscrapers can hardly keep up.
The skyline didn't seem big enough to hold all the buildings, which are springing up like Tasmanian mushrooms.
But fewer than 150,000 people live in the city proper –– everybody else lives out in the suburbs and commutes in every day to work.
So how does Melbourne accomplish this miracle?
Trains. Lots of fast, comfortable, affordable trains.
With more on the way.
Here's the scene outside the major train station at rush hour.
Of course once you get to the city, you still have to get from the train station to your business. So you use old-fashioned electric trams.
They run about every eight minutes, up and down every major street. And because Melbourne is laid out on a grid, you need a maximum of two trams to get anywhere in the city. With an expected total wait time of eight minutes.
They are comfortable, clean, and fast. And they are FREE anywhere inside the downtown.
Or you can rent a bicycle –– available on most street corners.
All done using your smart phone.
Serious bike lanes, too.
Ken found himself making rueful comparisons to Chicago, where he walked across the city for 25 years in all kinds of weather. Catching a cab in Chicago often took longer than walking because the traffic was so bad And the cabs cost plenty of money.
Thanks to good planning and the fact that people don't have to live in the city itself, Melbourne has lots of room for green space.
And for public art.
We love cars as much as anybody. But we have to admit that they don't work in crowded cities. Commuting every day in heavy traffic is a nightmare.
So American businesses end up moving to the suburbs –– because that's where most people live, and that way they can attract a workforce that doesn't have to commute three hours a day.
And once businesses spread themselves around the suburbs, then suburban traffic becomes its own terrible problem.
At which that point there's no way to make public transportation work, because there's no central hub.
Rush hour in Los Angeles, What's wrong with this picture?
American cities compete with each other to attract businesses. Melbourne has to beat them off with a stick. Go figure.
And this isn't just a problem in the US, or in big cities. Whangarei, New Zealand, a town we love and where we have spent our summers for over a decade, only has about 80,000 people in the whole Metropolitan District. And yet it chokes on its own traffic.
While Melbourne accommodates more people than the ENTIRE COUNTRY of New Zealand without any traffic jams.
We've got to solve this problem.
With cheap transportation from residential areas and lots of jobs, young people find Melbourne affordable.
Which makes for an incredibly vibrant restaurant scene. Many of the smaller alleys between the major streets have been converted to partially covered arcades –– often devoted to scores of small restaurants.
We think you could eat every night in a different restaurant in Melbourne for several years without running out of good food.
And you can always use public transit to get home after dinner.
And because of its huge ethnic diversity, Melbourne has food from all over the world. There are a large Chinese, Greek, and Italian communities, and lots of smaller enclaves of different nationalities.
Like many big cities, Melbourne has a lot of graffiti artists. But instead of fighting it, the city decided to legalize and even encourage graffiti in certain alleys.
Needless to say, the graffiti artists responded with enthusiasm.
And energy and color.
Sometimes moving beyond paint into three-dimensional artwork.
Graffiti art has now become a tourist attraction.
There's now even a tradition of graffiti marriage proposals. Where the guy brings the girl down to the alley without telling her what's up, and then confronts her with this...
We took a walking tour with Meyer Eidelson, a local guide. Here Meyer points out a chimney pipe which has been turned into a mushroom.
Graffiti artists who have really "made it" may be allowed to paint whole buildings.
Of course there are still pirates who paint illegally.
We can't say much for this guy's artwork, but you have to admire his initiative. He must have done this by rappelling off the top of that building
Because of its building boom, Melbourne has become a hotbed for creative architecture.
The city also makes a big effort to preserve its historical buildings, often by incorporating them into modern structures.
Here an old commercial building has been incorporated into a modern shopping mall.
All inside –- thanks to the dome.
In other cases we have pristine original facades.
With radically modern interiors.
Some original buildings are fully preserved, like the Metropolitan Library.
Here's the library dome.
And other buildings are just thoroughly modern.
Like the Melbourne Arts Center.
And here is an architectural touch you don't see every day. That's a swimming pool up there, with a glass bottom so that the swimmers can look down onto the street many stories below.
Ken would've killed to get this picture with someone using the pool – – but alas, no swimmers today.
Melbourne also has plenty of street art. Here a calligrapher offers to write people's names in Chinese script.
Were not sure how "Ken" or "Beth" would translate into Chinese characters. But then again, how would we know what this thing actually said?
Here's another bit of street art. You probably think this is a sculpture.
But if you compare the two pictures carefully enough, you'll see what's going on.
We wouldn't have the patience to make a living this way.
All told, Melbourne just seemed like a fantastic place to live. On the other hand, we had nice blue skies for our visit. We understand that the weather gets kind of nasty in the winter.
Art As A Tourist Attraction
We finished our visit to Melbourne at the National Gallery of Victoria -– a museum of modern art.
We've never particularly been art fans. We "appreciate" classical art –– but it's not like we go out of our way to see it.
And "modern" art doesn't necessarily appeal either –– we have limited patience for paint splatters.
But, to our surprise, we found that contemporary art actually makes a great visit when you are playing tourist. Often playful and engaging, and it can provide insights into the local culture that we wouldn't otherwise have.
Here's a good example. This sculpture seems to be making an Asia-centric comment about the relative importance of Eastern and Western traditions.
Here's a view from above.
Whether we agree or not, we get the point.
There was also a moving exhibit by aboriginal artists. The Australian aboriginals really got shafted –– this painting depicts the practice of taking their children away for "education."
There seemed to be a lot of anger about Christianity's role in all of this.
We kind of like the flow and energy in this piece, but it tells a dark story about construction of a highway across an aboriginal burial ground.
Those graceful shapes of the road and the wheels are barbed wire –– an angry material for art.
The hands of the dead reach out from under the road.
This piece talks about the taking of aboriginal bones for museum exhibits. (Somewhat ironically, of course, given the setting.)
The artist has given the skeleton a giant megaphone to tell that story.
On a lighter note, here is an engaging exhibit. It's a comfortable carpet, woven to look like a landscape, with a huge mirror above it in the ceiling. It was kind of mesmerizing.
Can you find us?
An eerie exhibit –– abstracted, alien–looking "death masks". They were 3-D printed out of polymer resin by Professor Neri Oxman and her team from the MIT Media Lab in the US.
The masks seemed more real than the visitors.
Of course, art doesn't necessarily have to be "about" anything.
Here's an exhibit we found captivating. It's made out of very simple materials –– old plastic water bottles, some electric lights, some mirrors, and some woven fabric.
But it created a magical visual experience.
We assumed at first that this artist must be making some kind of political statement. But it seems he was just interested in the shapes of the skulls…
The museum exit had a giant glass wall covered with running water.
Kids loved this.
Fortunately, we were too mature to get involved.
Our Australia trip had been short, but incredibly interesting. But we had work to do...
April 6, 2018 - June 4, 2018
Back to Reality
Now it was time to get back to "real" life.
Not always such a pleasant experience. It appears that the swallows figured out how to defeat our swallow-stoppers.
Ken had to make some modifications to get the fishing line closer to the wires.
And we had to start getting the boat ready to go to sea. Here's one important step –– taking the covers off the solar panels.
Our nice light-weight solar panels have an important flaw. Their transparent plastic skin eventually fails when it gets too much UV. So basically, we have solar panels that don't like the sun…
Covering the panels in New Zealand probably increases their life by a factor of three, because of the terrible UV down here.
And then there's all the other stuff that has to be done.
Three of our winches have retaining rings which can only be reached from the bottom of the winch. We don't want to dismount the winches from the deck every time we clean them, so we end up spending about an hour per winch to get these doggone rings on and off.
Anyway, this gets us up to date. We're now sitting in New Zealand, waiting for decent weather north to the tropics. It's been a tough season so far –– about six weeks without a good sailing window between New Zealand and the islands, since the end of April.
But we're patient –- we know what happens when you say "we just got tired of waiting…"
To end on a light note, here are a few pictures taken by our friends Don and Janet.
Their son Tom and his daughter Maddy -- enjoying the New Zealand lifestyle.
A surfing champion in training.
Maddy shows off her brand-new Tasmanian Tiger, fresh from Tasmania.
Goodbye for now from Eagle's Wings!