Whangarei Falls to Abbey Caves

This gorgeous walk takes you past waterfalls, along a beautiful stream, past meadows and all the way to the adventurous limestone glowworm caves. The scenery is very divers for such a small walk. You really feel that you are in ‘The lord of the rings’ country. The forests look like the lothlorien elven forest, the meadows make you feel like you’re in the shire and the caves make you think about Gollum creeping around and talking to himself.

a 300 meter walk from my accommodation brought me to the Whangarei Falls. The view from above is alright but the view from down below is pretty amazing. Down there is a bridge with a good view that leads to a viewing area for a closer look.

Whangarei Falls

I recently bought a new gadget for my camera. A 10 stop ND filter and a graduated ND filter. The first is basically a really dark peace of glass you put in front of the lens so almost no light comes in. This allows for a much longer exposure during daylight creating movement in your shots. sp perfect for water. When you see pictures of waterfalls and streams with silky smooth water then the photographer probably used these tools. Below you can see what it does. On the one you see that the water is ‘frozen’ showing every water drop. On the other you see how smooth the water looks due to the long exposure.

Whangarei Falls
Without ND filter
Whangarei Falls
With ND filter

After taking many pictures of the waterfall I started walking along the river. Couple meters further I looked back and the view of the waterfall was even better so there I went again setting up my tripod and everything.

Whangarei Falls

This sort of became the way I spend the whole day because every couple steps I took there was another view I wanted to take a picture of. All along the river are some cool photo opportunities.

Hatea river walk

At the end of the walk along the river lies an area with some amazing Kauri trees and there is another (less spectacular) waterfall.

Kauri park at Whangareikauri forest loop track

If you are going to do this part and the caves on separate occasions I suggest to start on the Kauri park side and make your way to the Whangarei Falls. This way the waterfall will be much more rewarding.

Continuing to the caves, the second part of the walk is along a road. There is no footpath so be careful with passing cars. On this part you can make up for the extra time you spend on the first part by walking at a higher paste because there is not much to see. You do pass some meadows with animals like sheep, cows and deer.

After crossing that I arrived at the entrance of the cave loop track where the landscape changed again. The loop is 1.3 km long and takes you through small meadows, forest and past the 3 caves. There is the Organ cave, the middle cave and the Ivy cave.

Because of the way the path leads you, most people walk clockwise. I decided to go counter clockwise. This way the Ivy cave would be the first cave and if I remembered correctly I read somewhere that this cave was the best out of the 3. This part of the walk is lovely. The track passes through small meadows with limestone rocks dotted around. Because I was there in springtime there were flowers everywhere.

meadow at abbey caves

From the Whangarei falls to the caves took me more then 3 hours because of all the picture taking. Walking at a normal speed it would only take 1 hour.

At 2.30 pm I finally arrived at the first cave. The Ivy cave. It’s a bit of a climb to get in. At first I went in with my backpack but decided to go back and leave it outside. This way I can manoeuvre a bit easier.

Ivy Cave entrance
entrance Ivy Cave

This one has the most water out of the three which adds to the adventure level. The cave goes from corridor to a larger open space to small opening that lead to another corridor. Just meter in you can see the first glowworms. It’s not that there are millions of worms but it’s magical non the less. After turning my torch off I could tell the distance between the different worms creating an image of where the cave walls are. I was the only one there at the moment so it was just me in the darkness with the sound of running water and a galaxy of glow worms. The same as outside I wanted to take a picture of every thing I saw. I mounted my camera on top of the tripod that was set up in the water. After putting in the right settings it was time to take pictures. Most of the time I used a 30 seconds exposure so for 30 seconds the camera registers all the light that enters it. Because of this you can do some light painting. This means that you shine your light at places you want to show on your picture. The brighter the light and/or the longer you shine your light, the brighter it will be lit up on the picture. To get a picture that I’m satisfied with takes a while. dozens of tries are necessary before I got the one I wanted. So every time it’s 30 second and every time it’s trying new things with the torch and seeing what the result is. After 3 hours I went back into daylight! 3 hours long I was there by myself. Absolutely awesome.

Ivy caveIvy CaveIvy Cave

I only had 2 more hours of daylight left and the walk back would take me an hour as well so I had to hurry up a bit. luckily the caves are just minutes away from each other.

The second cave was a lot smaller but the glowworms were better. In the first cave little groups were dotted around. In the second cave all the worms are situated in 1 big stream at the highest point of the sealing like the milky way.

The rock formations in this cave weren’t that spectacular so I didn’t spend much time in this cave.

Middle Cave
Glowworm highway
Middle Cave
Glowworm highway

 

Middle Cave
Natural light at the end of the Middle Cave
Middle Cave
Glowworms at the sealing and natural light in the back

By the time I arrived at the third cave it was about 7.15pm. The entrance of this one is the most challenging one. You’ll definitely need some sturdy shoes. The rocks are slippery and the entrance is pretty steep. quickly I went in. Because my limited time I had to turn around at one point but it seemed to be the biggest of the 3. I think this cave had the most glowworms. They were on the sealing as well as on the walls all the way down to knee hight. I got my best glowworm picture in this cave.

Organ Cave entrance
Entrance Organ Cave
Organ cave glowworms
Magical Glowworms

After a short time I went out the third cave and made my way back to the hostel. The sun was already set and it was just about to turn dark by the time I got back at 8.30 pm. I could have easily spend more time in those caves.

Organ Cave

Every cave had something else to offer. The Ivy cave was really adventurous and had the best rock formations. The middle cave was less challenging. but cool because it led to some openings with natural light coming in and the Organ cave was the biggest and had the most spectacular glowworms.

Can’t wait to see some more caves in the country.

Breezy Byron Bay

Surfing or watching surfers do there thing and the lifestyle that goes with it is what Byron bay is all about. Everywhere you look you see beautiful people with style and a chill out vibe. Cool handsome dudes with tattoos and matching surfer hair and elegant mesmerising girls with flower print dresses or sexy shorts. Driving through town you’ll see beat up old cars with surfboards and beds in the back filled with surfers eager to use every minute of daylight to catch waves.

Surfer Byron bay

Even if you don’t surf (like me) it’s hard not to get effected by the relaxed and feel good vibe. I’ve extended my stay a couple times and went out every day trying to capture the soul of Byron. The weather wasn’t so good so I had small windows of opportunity to go out and stroll through town and along the beach. I will let the pictures speak for themselves now.

Surfer Byron bay

I wouldn’t be me if I would not try to look for some wildlife so besides all that is surf I also found some time to wonder around some hiking trails. The one activity to do on land for tourists is to go up to the lighthouse. This beautiful walk that takes you along all the surfing hotspots and up and down cliffs for some breathtaking views.

I also found a short track on the other side of town in Arakwal national park that no tourist seems to know about. Here I was able to find 2 Echidnas. one of my favourite animals out here in Australia.

Echidna Byron bay

To the untrained eye these beautiful little animals resemble a hedgehog but are in fact a lot more special. It, along with the platypus are the only 2 surviving members of the order Monotremata and are the only living mammals that lay eggs.

The Echidna has a long nose that it uses to find ants and insects underground. When you’re quite enough and don’t make sudden movements it may not notice you because it’s to busy looking for food. That gives you time to observe these cute animals. truly fascinating.

Strolling through Brisbane

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I wasn’t really planning on going to Brisbane. Not at this point at least. I’m actually looking for a farm job in the rural areas of Australia but apart from all that web surfing I off course also have to pay a visit to town and have a look. I’m trying to save the money I have left so I’m afraid I haven’t done much apart from doing some sightseeing.

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I’ve been walked around a couple times now and got a good feel of the city. its a very cycle and pedestrian focussed city so strolling around is a good way to see the city. Right trough the city runs the Brisbane River. Most public places are orientated on the riverbanks along with many miles of cycle and pedestrian paths. The most popular places are South Bank Parklands, the Botanic Gardens, Fortitude Valley, Roma Street Parkland and the New Farm park.

South Bank Parklands is without a doubt the most popular amongst Travellers. It is home to Museums, Theaters, the library, a Ferris wheel, a Laguna and a foodcourt. Along with all that it also has a good view of the river and Skyline of the Central Business District. It has a lot to offer making it the hotspot of the City. In my opinion there is to much happening making the park disorganised and chaotic. Aiding to that feeling is the Design of the place and the materials used. I get the main design (see image) but it’s clouded by all the other things happening.

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south bank parkland

Hidden gems

Australia seems to have a neck for building Massive CBD’s (central Business Districts). It’s always the centre and heart of the city. It’s full of residential skyscrapers and huge office buildings. As with a lot of cities world wide this location used to be the ‘old city’. For that reason It’s also home to the very few Cultural Heritage Buildings that the country has. These important buildings rich with history deserve a podium. Instead they are being devoured by the many many Skyscrapers and multilevel highways. They are tucked away and made feel inferior to its surroundings as you can see on the picture below. Compared to the second picture you know what I mean.

Brisbane city
All the historical buildings are being devoured by its surroundings

 

budapest.JPG
now this is a stage. a stage it deserves. (Parliament building in Budapest)

Instead of the obvious historical buildings and places, it is the hidden places that will give of a more special feeling. the hidden gems. They are there but not where you expect them. it’s places that you as a tourist stumble upon when you are strolling through the street. Here are a couple.

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Another One of those places is the Roma street parklands. if you look at the city this park looks like a patch of left over space that they decided to transform into a park. Most backpackers probably walk past it at least ones during there visit to Brisbane but they won’t enter it. It’s located between the more well known hostels and the city centre but it doesn’t look like much walking past it. The south side is blocked by a huge transit centre with only a small entrance.

roma street park-web
Roma street parklands

Me being a nature addict I decided to have a look and I was presently surprised. Even though there is a lot happening It has the peaceful feel of what a park is suppose to be. There is a little peace of jungle, flower gardens, a amphi theater, a pond, waterfalls and a big grassy field for people to picknick and relax. There is even a little train that give free guided tours through the park. It is full of hidden places that keeps surprising. The huge variety of plants and trees make it feel more like a botanic garden then the actual botanic garden situated a couple hundred meters further down. When I was there I thought, this would probably also be a good place to do some wildlife spotting at night so I went back on another day just after dark. I saw 5 cute little Common Ringtail Possums. That one along with 2 birds makes 3 species that I had never seen before. Who would have thought that the busy centre of a huge city would be a place where I would see some new stuff.

Common ringtail possum
Common Ringtail Possum
Buff-banded rail
Buff-banded Rail

There is also a new exciting public area in the making. The Howard Smith Wharves. Located at the base of the most recognisable bridge of Brisbane, the ‘Story Bridge’ (I know, it’s a lame name) the council is building a huge new public area. Walking there and not knowing what they are planning to build my imagination ran wild with ideas. Looking at the plans later on, my imagination wasn’t far off from what they are actually going to build there. As usual they are filling it with way to much stuff in my opinion. I would have kept it a little bit cleaner and simplistic with more large open spaces instead of using every inch. There is already a brand new cycle and walking pathway over the water. When finished this will complete a chain of high end public spaces in the city. At the moment they are working on the next fase. Too bad I won’t be here when it’s finished.

Story bridge pano
Howard Smith Wharves being build on the right side

city park network

placemaking-plan

Check out the following link if you want to know more about the project. https://brisbanedevelopment.com/howard-smith-wharves/

Brisbane cityBrisbane city

Wildlife spotting in Australia’s most biodiverse place

The Atherton Tablelands is a Paradise for animal Lovers. The Rainforest that this area has is considered the oldest Rainforest of the world. To paint a picture, The Brazilian Amazon is 60 million years old, this rainforest is about 130 million years old. You can imagine how many plants and animals have evolved throughout all those years.

The forest has more then 150 tree species, thousands of plant species and many different animal species.

Sadly most of the rainforest got cut down to make room for farms so the rainforest that’s left only covers 0,01% of Australia. Besides rainforest the Tablelands has wetland, woodland, grassland, lakes and farmland. This off course aiding to the biodiversity of the place.

On the Wildlife tour of ‘Wait a while rainforest tours’ we went looking for some of the most Iconic and/or special animals that Australia has to offer.

 

Agile Wallaby
Agile Wallaby

 

We made our first stop in White Rock, one of the suburbs of Cairns. The grass lawns of the people living here attract many Agile Wallabies. Always Cute to see and fun for those who just arrived in Australia. We also got to see Spectacled Flying foxes, Helmeted Guineafowl, wagtails and Ibis in the Neighbourhood. Soon after we made our way to the Atherton tablelands. We made a stop at Lake Barrine. This is apparently a good place to spot the smallest kangaroo specie, the Musky Rat kangaroo. We went for a 650 meter long bush walk but unfortunately the little guy did not show himself.

 

Spectacled Flying Fox
Spectacled Flying Fox

 

On to the next spot then. The next stop was all about spotting the Lumholtz’s tree Kangaroo. Endemic to Australia and only found in the Atherton Tablelands makes spotting one a nice addition to my checklist. Luckily our guide knows a place where changes of spotting one are greatly increased. With 11 people scouting the trees, one of the people on the tour soon found 2 of them. a mother and a young adult. At first they where sleeping but minutes later the young one looked at us and became active. After a while the mother also woke up to go fetch her young.

 

Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroo
Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo

 

It was almost time for dinner but before heading to the restaurant we made a stop at a little creek to find the platypus. For good reason this is one of Australia’s most Iconic animals. This weird creature is 1 out of 4 animals out of the monotremes family. It is part mammal and part bird. Along with the 4 species of Echidna it is the only egg laying mammal. It has the bill of a duck, the tail of a beaver and feet like an Otter. Save to say that this is a unusual looking animal.

When we went looking for it before dawn we couldn’t find it so we gave it another try after dinner. Armed with a huge torch our guide spotted one within minutes of arriving to the creek. I didn’t get to take a great shot because of the other people in the tour that rushed and took the good spots for taking pictures but it was still cool to see this elusive animal. Because we where on a time schedule we had to move to the next location to go spot possums and other wildlife creeping through the jungle.

 

platypus
the platypus finally showed himself

It was nice to see the platypus but I think I will give it another try sometimes when I’m by myself so I can take my time and take all the pictures I want. As always with wildlife tours I take, they are focussed on spotting the animals off course but not so focussed on giving the people the change to take a awesome picture. That said, most of the time I’m the only one in the group that’s so obsessed with photography so I have to accept that the tours don’t focus on it like I want to. There are probably lots of wildlife tours for photography enthousiast but the price tag is probably a little higher for those tours as well. Being a backpacker I have to make choices on what I spend my money and going on tours often don’t fit in my budget.

Ok, back to the tour. I still have a couple of cool animals to show you. Most animals in Australia are nocturnal and this area has some cool ones with some being endemic to the area like the tree Kangaroo I told you about earlier. We saw 2 more animals that can only be found in this little peace of Australia like this Green ringtail Possum.

Green ringtail Possum
Green Ringtail Possum

Another one of those special animals is the Coppery Brush tail Possum. Similar to the Common brush tail Possum that we saw a little later (see below) the most obvious difference is the color of it’s fur. Like the name says, it has a coppery red/brown colour. And just like the Common brush tail it has a very cute face.

 

Coppery Brush-tail Possum
Coppery Brush-tail Possum
Coppery Brush-tail Possum
Coppery Brush-tail Possum
Common Brush-tail Possum
Common Brush-tail Possum

The last animal I’ll show you is the Giant white tailed rat. A little less rare but still native to the tropical rainforest of north Queensland.

Giant white tailed Rat
Giant White-tailed Rat

See the checklist below for all the animals I saw on the tour. Although I always want more time to take pictures of animals during a day trip, I did enjoy the day trip very much. And… every day that I see a new animal to add on my checklist is a good day. Today I saw 9!

  • Agile Wallaby
  • Helmeted Guineafowl
  • Willie wagtail
  • Spectacled Flying fox
  • Long eared Micro bat
  • Straw necked Ibis
  • Australian Ibis
  • Pacific Heron
  • Huntsman spider
  • river turtle
  • Giant white tailed rat
  • platypus
  • Lumholt’s Tree Kangaroo
  • Green ringtail Possum
  • Coppery Brush tail Possum
  • Common Brush tail Possum
  • Sooty owl (sound)
  • Bandicoot (sound)

Near death by bird experience?

Cassowary, mission beachBefore heading north
to the very popular Cairns city I decided to make a stop at Mission Beach. Due to bad weather I thought I’d skip it but on
a last minute call I decided to go there anyway. What convinced me is because Lonely planet says it has an estimated 40 Cassowaries in the area. It makes this place have the highest population and therefore biggest change of seeing them in Australia.

A Cassowary is a awesome big dinosaur looking flightless bird. It’s a little smaller then a Ostrich and has beautiful bright colours on there neck and head as you can see from the shots I managed to take. It is one of the most iconic animals of Australia.

They have huge feet with a sharp 15cm claw on each foot. If threatened they can deliver a powerful kick in the stomach, neck or groin that can possibly kill a person. keeping distance is therefore advised.

At the hostel the staff told me about a road nearby where they are often spotted. At 6am I got up and went out looking for these cool birds. after a 10 minute walk I arrived at the road they where talking about. It didn’t take long and there he was, crossing the road about a 100 meter or so away from me. It stood still on a grassy field so I was able to get closer. When I got closer another one appeared a bit further behind him and I was able to get a shot with both of them in it. my guess is that it was a male and female.

 

Cassowary, mission beach

 

soon they walked off in the jungle but they stayed just a couple meters away from the forest edge so I got to take some shots of them in the dark and dense forest. This makes for a far better and natural setting for taking pictures but also makes it harder because of low light and branches and trees in between me and the birds. I was able to take several pictures before the disappeared in the jungle.

 

Cassowary, mission beach

 

Cassowary, Mission Beach

 

After walking further along the forest egde I stopped at a certain point because I heard something. When I looked closely there was another one in the bush! and after looking even better I noticed yet another one. They showed the same behaviour and stayed in the same spot in the jungle for a while. The distance between me and them was probably 5/7 meters. Suddenly one of them decided to come even closer to the forest egde so I backed off a little bit. The photographer in me always want to get closer to get the shot but within limits. Just on the egde it went and laid down so my thought was that it was comfortable with me being there taking pictures om him. But then… It got up and walked out of the jungle towards me.

The special moment I had with these animals suddenly turned in to a sticky situation. I slowly backed up but it kept walking to me. Let me tell you, having a bird that is the same size as you staring at you and walking towards you knowing that they can give a lethal blow gives off a pretty scary vibe. It’s hard to tell with these birds if they are  just curious or if they feel threatened. Maybe I’m just over exaggerating but I didn’t want to take any risk to find out so I acted like it was up to no good.

It is advised that if one approaches you, you should slowly back off and try to get something solid like a tree in between the two of you. There weren’t any though so I used my tripod with it’s legs out to defend myself from a possible strike. at this point it was me walking backwards with my tripod in front of me and him just 1 meter further walking to me.

 

Cassowary, mission beach

 

It got confused by the tripod and it suddenly ran off and a feeling of relief went through my body only to find out that when I turned around there was another, even bigger one about 10 meters away from me also coming my way. The fear came back very quickly and I was playing the same cat and mouse game all over again. I was literally shaking and my heart was pounding. I’ve come across some deadly snakes before and walked in jungles where jaguars live but they never gave me the fear that these birds gave me. jeez

I did the same thing with the tripod and also this bird got confused and stopt paying interest in me and walked away.

after that I decided I had my share of Cassowaries and I soon made my way back to the hostel.

Looking back I’m glad that I got to see them but they definitely came to close for comfort. Next time I’ll keep a greater distance. I think. I did get the cool shots sooo…

Sailing the Whitsundays

 

whitsunday map.jpg

After working in Airlie beach for about 2/3 months I still didn’t see the Whitsunday Islands. Every week lots of tourist come and go to Airlie to go visit the Islands and whitehaven beach in particular. This is the most photographed beach and the 4th most photographed place in Australia. As a photography enthusiast a visit to this beach had to be made. What hold me back from doing it is because the prices are a bit steep. a 3 day and 3 night sailing trip would set me back around $500 dollars.

When I was talking to a friend of mine that worked at the hostel where I was staying she told me about the possibility to do volunteer work on one of the ships. This sounded like a great way to save some money and see the whitsundays. It would mean that I had to do some work on the boat like doing the dishes and in return I got to see the Whitsundays and do all the activities that the guests do, for FREE.

In the past there where several tour operators that offered this but because they often couldn’t rely on backpackers they stopped doing it except for one ship, the Solway Mass. This ship departs every Tuesday and Saturday on a 3 night/3day tour. I signed myself up for the Tuesday trip because I was still working in a restaurant in Airlie. On Monday I got a text that the tour had been canceled because of low numbers. I signed myself up for the one going next week but also that one got canceled a couple of days later. I Decided to try it one more time because I wanted to leave Airlie in that week. Third time the charm, the tour was a GO.

solway mass at sunset

On Tuesday at 4.30 pm I had to be at the beautiful vessel you see above. I arrived and got put straight to work. I had to do some cleaning to make everything shiny before the guests arrived.

I was part of a 6 man crew, the captain, the bosun, the barman, the dekkie, the hosty, and (me) the volly.

At 7pm they arrived and after a short introduction talk from the crew we made our way out to the Islands to the first place to spend the night.

on the way there I helped a little with cooking and once the anchor was out we had dinner. After, Luisa the Hosty (cook) did the dishes and I dried everything. Then at around 11.30pm it was time to go to bed to wake up again at 6.30am

After taking some pictures of the beautiful sunrise at 6.30 I made my way back in to the kitchen to start prepping breakfast and setting up the buffet.

sunrise at the whitsundays

The first stop of the day was the famous Whitehaven Beach. When googling ‘Whitsundays’ images of an arial shot of this beach probably comes up first and it looks beautiful. On arrival to the beach though, my first reaction was: is this it? really? hmm. It is a lot less spectacular as I hoped it would be. The sand was white yes, but the beach isn’t vast and wide as I imagined. My guess was that seeing it from higher ground would be better.

panorama of whitehaven beach

I spend my time on the beach taking many many pictures and looking for rays in the shallow waters. After 1.5 hours we got a little guided tour by Stewie the barman up to the viewpoint. This was indeed a lot better then seeing it from ground level but still not breathtaking.

Whitehaven beach white tree

Back on the boat we made a short trip over to south whitehaven beach where we would spend our second night. We got to chill on the beach for 2 hours before getting back on the boat.

Back on the boat it was time for dinner so time for me to get back to work. Luisa already did all the cooking so I just had to set up the buffet and help cleaning afterwords. My tasks weren’t demanding at all and I kept asking if there was something else I could do because I started feeling guilty towards the other guests for hardly doing anything.

Luckily I had lots of time to take pictures and so I did. The skies and the views where amazing so I was constantly taking pictures. The Crew must have got tired of me grabbing my camera every time.

sunset at the whitsundays

At night the clear dark skies made it possible to see the milky way every day. If the boat wasn’t moving all the time I would have taken some pictures of that too. haha

On Thursday the weather conditions where good so we where able to do some sailing. The guests got to help pull the ropes to set the sails. It’s cool to see the crew climbing up in the masts like 21st century pirates.

Funfact: the Lastest Pirates of the Caribbean was partly filmed at the Whitsundays. Being on Solway Mass my mind definitely wondered off into that world a couple of times.

Back to the sailing. When the sails where out and the engine was turned off we got to relax and listen to nothing but the ocean. The light breeze and the sunny weather made this a very peaceful experience.

After some snorkelling and a lovely dinner we got to see yet another beautiful sunset and even a Dolphin swimming in the reflection of the sun. In the evening Captain Petie and Bee (the Bosun or petty officer) told us about the history off the ship, the discovery of Australia and the Great barrier reef and its inhabitants.

sunset from Solway mass

 

On Friday, before heading back to Airlie Beach we made one more stop to see some aboriginal paintings in a little cave on hook island. Back in the day the aboriginals used to live on the islands during the wet season and the area is considered holy by the aborigine.

On our way back I had to help out in the kitchen one last time and help clean the boat. At 3pm we arrived back in Airlie and at 4 the ship had to go back out at see for a private function so we had little time to get the boat ready again.

after lunch we needed to start cleaning and packing everything because after 1 hour in the docks the ships had to sail out again for a private function

I didn’t find the whitsunday Islands to be spectacular but I still had a very enjoyable time. The weather was nice, the many views and skies where amazing and the time on the boat was very relax. I’m grateful for volunteering on the ship and being part of the tight crew. They made me feel very welcome and made my time on the boat very enjoyable. Although I had the feeling that I didn’t do much, the crew was very happy with me and told me that I was the best volunteer that they have seen in a while so that made me feel good.

I definitely plan on doing some more volunteer work like this in other places. I heard that you can do something similar a bit north in Cairns but then on a dive boat and you get to dive for free every day. how cool is that. Luckily for me I’m heading over there right now.

Whitsunday Island

From Paradise to natural disaster

This was one crazy week. All along I thought Australia was a country where little to no rain would fall and where it’s always hot and sunny. I didn’t expect having to deal with a Cyclone on my travels!
Airlie Beach, A place popular because of the nearby world famous and breathtaking Whitsunday Islands. The week leading up to the cyclone we knew it was coming but we didn’t do anything until we where forced to act. The cyclone was predicted to arrive the North Queensland shore on Monday or Tuesday and was probably going to be a category 5 storm. The week leading up to those days everything and everybody continued as normal in Airlie acting like it’s just a little storm coming our way. Being in a place where locals have had to deal with cyclones before and seeing them not worrying was reason enough for me to not worry myself. later on that changed really fast…
IMG_7207-web
Airlie Beach, Calm before the storm (sat 25/03)
IMG_7236-web
Airlie Beach, Main road (sat 25/03)

On Saturday evening I was still working for accommodation at the hostel bar at hostel Beaches in Airlie Beach. Sure, me and my roommates talked about Cyclone Debbie coming our way but we where more exited than afraid and weren’t even thinking about bad things happening to us. As a photographer I actually couldn’t wait being in that storm to take some awesome and unique pictures.

Sunday I read that the storm was going to be a lot more severe then we thought and we started to worry a little about our own safety. Me and my two roommates Gimi and Kishan decided to take some preparations. We bought some tape to put on the windows and barricade them with mattresses and our bunk beds to be safe from flying debris.

FullSizeRender 2
printscreen of a news update about the trajectory of Cyclone Debbie, Airlie is just below the word ‘Bowen’

All set we thought it would maybe be wise to cook a big meal to get through the next couple of days just incase we run out of power. I went in the kitchen around 4pm and half way through cooking my meal the reception lady walked in the kitchen with some disturbing news. We had to evacuate the hostel because it’s in the red zone meaning it will probably flood due to the rising sea level during the storm. That was the first moment we actually started to worry. At that moment we realised that we could be in some serious trouble and our change of survival was slim if we stayed there. The police didn’t arrange for transport to take us out of there so it was up to ourselves to find another place to stay. It was already 4pm so it was quite late to make any arrangements.

“we have to evacuate NOW”

Gimi and Kishan started to freak out a little and decided to go back to the room and start working on a alternative plan. I myself decided to keep my cool and finish cooking my meal first. After all, food and water are one of the most important things to have during a crisis like this. I made a lot of tuna pasta because it can also be consumed cold in case of a power-outage and canned tuna lasts longer than chicken or other meat. I even thought about Kishan not eating beef just in case we have to ration and share our food. After cooking I also went upstairs to check what the other guys where up to. They where working in housekeeping for the same hostel and walked over to the girls staffroom to check on them. We where talking about maybe taking a bus, go to another hostel or stay at a friends house. However, leaving the safety of our current hostel with the change we couldn’t find an alternative didn’t seem wise so we stayed put for now and waited till we got some more answers. Minutes later the reception lady walked in again and told us we have to evacuate NOW. Luckily they provided us with a alternative. Xbase hostel further up the street still had some beds available and we could stay there for free because it’s owned by the same people. Xbase is on higher ground so as of yet there was no flooding risk there. So, me, my two roommates and the three girls from housekeeping finished packing our bags fast and walked up to Xbase hoping they still have beds available. The line was long and when it was finally our turn to check in we found out that we got the last beds.

At around 8pm we finally where in our room in Xbase and safe for the night. We where still thinking about going back to our barricaded room in Hostel Beaches the next day because it was probably safer then the building we where staying in now.

Although we where afraid at the time, it’s pretty funny having those conversations because everybody turns in to crisis experts. every option available is discussed and all the pro’s and cons are mentioned. After all this talk it is still frustrating to know that none of them are completely safe because Cyclone Debbie is coming and it can destroy everything. After talking all night over a game of cards and drinking boxed wine we had a couple of options. Which option to take will depend on the course of the next day. My thought was, If we are in a red zone that is expecting to be life threatening, the police will execute a forced evacuation meaning they will get us out of there. If that’s the case they will tell us in the morning so waiting for that before making other choices seemed wise to me.

we woke up early and went over to the reception to get the latest information. The hostel actually decided to book some busses going south to Mackay to get there guests out of there for those who wanted. We decided to take that offer because the cyclone was predicted to hit as far north as Townville and as far south as Airlie Beach so going south is always better. In the time some of us where at the reception, Gimi was on the phone with a local friend and decided to stay with him. minutes later he got picked up and we got on the bus shortly after. Getting on the bus we had to pay $20 which came as a surprise to us. At the time we got on the bus Debbie was expecting to hit land at 4pm that same day. At around 2pm we checked in the motel we booked prior to getting on the bus so we where just in time.

Me, Tishan and Hilla(one of the girls from housekeeping) stayed in one room and the two other girls from housekeeping stayed in another. The room has a TV, a microwave and a fridge all of which turned out very useful for our ‘survival’. We turned on the news and found out that Debbie slowed down and was going to hit land early Tuesday Morning. It also changed directions and was going to hit Airlie Beach for sure. after knowing that I was happy we got on that bus. The rest of the day we watched the news and kept our families updated about our ever changing situation. Conditions worsened and Mackay was thought to get flooded because of the rising sea level and severe rainfall. Monday evening 25.000 people where evacuated from low lined areas. We weren’t in those low areas so we just had to stay put and hope for the best. The news urged the rest of the city to get further south if you can but being a backpacker without own transport that’s not an option.

“Throughout the whole cyclone situation I was surprised that the news wasn’t giving any information about how people without there own transport can get to safety. Especially for a country that is used to having thousands of backpackers year round you expect that the government also has a plan for them in a time of crisis but nothing was offered.”

Again we went over all possible scenario’s and re-packed our bags to prepare for a fast escape just in case. We where far enough south from the eye of the storm causing the storm to be less severe then in places further north. Reason to evacuate was small. After watching the news for hours we got some sleep.

after a good night sleep we woke up on Tuesday and turned the news on again. Debbie slowed down again and was due to arrive around 1pm. Winds of up to 264 km/h where measured on nearby Hamilton Island and also Airlie was struggling. Life news feed showed debris flying through the streets and fallen trees and branches. It also showed the bar where I was working just three days before. A palm tree fell over and destroyed the fabric roof and parts of the bar. Showing to see something familiar being totally destroyed.

Tuesday for us was about the same as the evening before. On and off the storm picked up from strong to severe and back to strong again. Luckily all this rain and wind wasn’t enough to flood or damage our motel. Throughout the storm we didn’t even had a power outage, running water was still working and telecommunications where still up. I was able to keep my phone charged and let people back home know how I’m doing. I always told the truth without holding any information or thoughts back. This obviously caused my loved ones to worry. It’s disturbing having to them that I’m ‘save’ but that there is a change that the roof can fly off or that the room can flood and that we might not be able to get back to safety if that happens.

 

Looking at the news we realised that we where lucky and that we by coincidence booked a random Motel that was in just the right position so not to get flooded. At 10pm on Tuesday the worst was over for us and we had nothing more to fear. The next step now is to wait until buses and planes start operating again so we can get out of here. One week later, on the 3th of april, as I’m writing this I’m still waiting.

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a fallen tree and a damaged powerline in the streets of Mackay
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debris on the streets of Mackay
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Fabric roofs ripped to shreds at the parking lot of the local mall

Tomorrow I can finally take a bus. A bus BACK to Airlie beach that is. I’m going back to see the damage, to see when everything will be up and running again and to offer to help where needed. I’ll decide from there if I’m going to stay longer or if I’m leaving.

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the Crisis team: Hilla, me and Kishan

Another Friend of mine that stayed back in Airlie said that he may have a payed job for me doing random labor work. That would be a great way to make some money until I can start working at a restaurant where I was supposed to start last week.

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The crisis Room. Glad to leave this room after staying indoors for 4 days.

My story may not be so exciting and I haven’t had to endure the worst but that is because we where able to take action and get ourselves to ‘safety’. Other people that where in the area where Debbie hit land definitely have some more extreme stories to tell. Although the photographer in me wanted to stay in Airlie to witness the full strength of a Class 4 Cyclone, the other more sensible part of me is glad I got out of there. Not only for my own wellbeing but also for my worrying loved ones back home.

Looking back at everything I found it sad to see how people are still focussed on making money in a time of crisis. No hostel for as far as I know had more people staying there then the amount of beds they had. Even for the bus they arranged for us to get to Mackay we had to pay $20. The hostels in cities that weren’t hit by the storm are even raising there prices because they know that thousands of people are leaving those areas. I get it, it’s good for business but I think it’s just sad. humanity teaches us again that when people are suffering, others will take advantage. Luckily there is also good in the world and it makes me happy reading about others handing out free food and water to those who need it.

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peace is back in Mackay

Often backpackers talk about how cool it would be to start your own hostel. Well, one thing I would do in a situation like that is open up my doors to everybody and let them stay free of charge. I myself don’t mind sleeping on the floor as long as I’m safe, I don’t care sharing my food as long as I have enough for myself. Helping people does not only feel rewarding, it’s just the right thing to do.

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first sunset after Cyclone Debbie

Shining light on the Jenolan Caves

The Jenolan Caves are the oldest discovered caves in the world and the most famous of Australia. The caves are still being explored but 11 illuminated caves are open for tourism. One of which is the River cave shown on the pictures below.

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Queen Esther’s chamber

fun fact is that shortly after Thomas Edison invented the Lightbulb, the first of Australia was installed in 1880 in the caves and powered by hydrodynamics. So cities where still lit by candle light, but the caves had electric power. People traveled from far by horse and carriage to see this invention that we can’t live without today.

Once under water but pushed up forming the blue mountains they hold many fossils.The caves started forming after the limestone got raised above water level. And very slowly the impressive formations got formed.

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The minaret, about an impressive 4 meter high column

The Stalactites, stalagmites and other formations take hundreds of years to grow to big sizes. Unfortunately because of tourism many got damaged. Once you touch it, it starts to decay and break of. But there is also many still intact for us to enjoy.

The most impressive thing to see in the River cave is off course the river itself. In one room that is called the River Styx or the Pool of reflections the river is beautifully lit. The almost motionless surface of the water produces a spectacular reflection. Shown on the 2 pictures below you see that the one without the lights in the water causes the water to look like a mirror. The other one on the other hand shows how clear and beautifully coloured the water is.

breathtaking blue mountains bush walk

The plan was to go into the forest to find some wildlife. I did see some but I spend most my time taking pictures of the trail itself. About every few minutes of walking I came across another beautiful view that I had to get a picture of. What you can normally walk in a couple of hours took me 9 hours because I had to set up my tripod and get the right picture every time.

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Here the trail begins and goes down into the valley

I started my hike at the start of the prince Henry cliff walk but instead of walking along the cliffs I went down into the gorge. To get down it takes you through the Leura forest that eventually comes out at the Federal Pass. Before going down a little detour to the Leura waterfalls is definitely worth it. walking along the cliffs on narrow paths makes the walk an amazing adventure.

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The Leura forest.
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Feeling adventurous and curious about what lies around the corner.
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The Leura Waterfall. Not so much water coming down but still a beautiful sight.

After seeing the waterfall, a Big metal staircase that lies a bit further back goes further down into the valley. The dense and intens green forest gives the place a magical feeling. At times it felt like I was in a different world. a mixture of Indiana jones meets jurassic park meets the lord of the rings.

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Even though I didn’t walk that much. It took me a long time and combined with the heat after a few hours a energy boost was needed. Some milk with Granola and a muesli bar with chocolate should do the trick. The location I chose looks peaceful right? It’s not really. While I was sitting there I was constantly being attacked by dozens of mosquitos. they really seemed to like my ankles. I had to stomp my feet every 30 seconds to get them of.

Time for lunch

 

After lunch I continued on my hike. Besides beautiful views I also managed to see some animals. A day in nature for me wouldn’t be complete without some wildlife shots so here are a couple. I hoped to see some more but every day that I see a animal that I haven’t seen before is a good day. Checkout my checklist to see how many I’ve seen.

To end my day of hiking I got treated with a couple more views. The one more breathtaking then the other. Next time I’ll trie a different hike that goes even further into the jungle to a place called The ruined castle.

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The view seen from the ridge of the waterfall

Walk in the park

Today I spend most my time walking around the royal botanical gardens behind the Sydney Opera house. All geared up I wondered around looking for some animals. The first animal that got my attention was the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. It makes a deafening sound so it’s easy to recognise. Besides there sound there clear white feathers and its size makes it a pretty impressive bird.

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Being my first day in Australia, every animal I hear and see is special and new and that’s what makes it fun. my favourite animal of today has to be the Rainbow Lorikeet. seeing the picture below explains it all. It’s colours are simply amazing. I’m still looking for some good websites for the determination of the animals I’ve seen. Finding out the names of most birds will not be a problem but when it gets down to spiders, beetles and other insects it get harder and harder.

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sooo, after spending a couple of hours in the park I finally arrived at the Opera house. My first day in Sydney wouldn’t be complete without seeing that of course. after walking around this iconic building I explored the city centre and slowly made my way back to my hostel. I was stupid enough not to buy sunscreen lotion so after walking around all day my arms and head got pretty sunburned. hopefully it will be better tomorrow. on the agenda tomorrow is the famous Bondi beach and it’s coastal walk to Coogee.