Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In Bloom

Ben and I took an unexpected 2 mile walk today because we had to drop the car off for routine maintenance and it wasn't going to be ready for several hours so we walked home.  The flowers have really started blooming around here-it is almost spring after all, and luckily I had my camera to take some pictures.

I love the palm trees in the picture above.  They are lined up in the median to the road and remind me that we are living on an island now, even if it isn't a tropical island.  :)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Aussie Money

We've been fascinated with the money since we got here.  It is very unique.  The bills are made of plastic which means they can get wet and last 4 times longer than our paper money in the States.  Australia was the first country in the world to have plastic money and makes money for many different countries including Bangladesh, Brunei, Chile, Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Western Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.  The bills are very difficult to counterfeit as well and each have a small clear window (see $10 bill with black arrow below) on them as another security feature.  There are the following bills: 100, 50, 20, 10, 5.

They are all different sizes from each other so that visually  impaired people can distinguish between the different bills.  They are also each a different color.  The coins are $2, $1, .50, .20, .10, and .05.  No pennies!  We are especially fond of the $2 coin. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

First Dinner Out

Ben and I have been enjoying cooking at the apartment after eating out so much in the previous weeks that tonight was our first dinner out in Launceston.  We found a fun tapas place called Manhattan.  We shared melted Brie cheese in thyme and red wine with crackers, tempura zucchini and cauliflower with beetroot relish, and duck spring rolls with plum sauce.  I think we will go there again sometime because there were several other things on the menu we wanted to try.  We hardly ever go to the same place twice so this is saying a lot about the restaurant.  Watching AFL right now and figuring out what we want to do this weekend.  I went for a nice 4 mile run today and did not get lost this time and was able to avoid the hills until the end.  I'm going to do a post soon about the money in Australia so be on the look out for that.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Ben and I took a nice 3+ mile walk around Launceston today and found a great path for me to run on along the Tamar River with no hills! 
We also walked through City Park and saw the Macaque Monkey exhibit.  The monkeys are from Japan and have been in the Launceston City Park for 30 years.  We saw about 16 of them in the enclosure. 

Finding my Way

So I've gone on a couple of runs in our new town and it is so hilly here!  I am either going to have to embrace running on hills or really do some research into some flat places to run.  Yesterday afternoon I headed out to do three miles.  I found a nice park to run around and to avoid going back up a big hill took a "side" road and ended up getting lost.  I stopped 3 different places to get directions home and finally made it, but Ben was outside looking for me.  Today I think we are going to walk together to a trail I read about so I won't get lost again.:) 

We finally did laundry the other day.  Guess it's been a while since I went to a laundromat because I was shocked that it cost $4 to wash a load!!  I thought it would only be a dollar or two.  We had five loads and then had to pay $2 per 15 minutes of dryer time, so it was an expensive errand.  Still hoping for a washer and dryer in the next place.  We move in there a week from today. 

Seems like Ben's work start date has been delayed once again but at least we are here and ready when they are.  We're looking into maybe taking another trip to the mainland to see some more sites in the interim.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cataract Gorge

Yesterday we drove about ten minutes from where we are staying to Cataract Gorge.  It is a beautiful area with trails, a suspension bridge, chair lift across the gorge, and even a couple of small cafes.  We did a short steep hike to a lookout over the gorge and ate a lunch we packed and brought with us.
We hiked back down and across the suspension bridge.

We even saw some peacocks wandering around.
The weather was great and there were lots of people out enjoying the day.  I am sure we will be back to try out some of the other trails.  Today is laundry day!  I am going to have to go to the laundromat since the laundry facilities we have here consist of a washer in a shed that only washes in cold water and clothes lines to dry.  With the temperatures only in the fifties it would take a while to dry all of our clothes.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

No Hanging Chads, but Trouble in Oz!

Aussies woke Sunday morning to the prospect of a hung parliament for the first time since World War 2.  The election was held on Saturday and as an outsider, it's been a fascinating campaign to watch.

The Aussie election system is made up of a Senate and House of Representatives. Aussies don't directly elect their prime minister. Instead, the PM is the leader of the party with a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. As a rough comparison, in the States this would make Nancy Pelosi the President.

There are several parties in Australian politics. The Labor Party is currently in power and Julia Gillard is the Prime Minister. She took power in June when the prior PM, Kevin Rudd, was ousted by his own party!  The Labor party had swept into power in 2007 with a large majority, but was unable to capitalize on a strong economy.  The Labor party could be characterized as center-left.

The opposition party is the Liberal/National Coalition. Technically, this is two parties, but on a national level they always vote together. The leader of the opposition is Tony Abbott.  The Coalition is center-right.

Other minor parties include the Greens, an environmental/socially progressive party, and the Family First Party. The Greens are hoping for their first Representative seat in this election.

Aussies use full preferential voting.  When Aussies go to the polls, they rank candidates in their order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first preference votes, the candidate with the least number of first preference votes is dropped and those ballots are recounted using the second preference. Since this is a close election, results may take awhile to determine the final makeup of the House and the corresponding PM.

As of Sunday morning, the Coalition has a 72-70 lead over the Labor Party in the House.  There are 3-4 independents and 1 Green that were elected.  The rest of the seats are still undecided.  76 seats are needed for a majority in a House and neither party looks like they will reach that mark.  The remaining seats will be decided this week, then both leaders will try and woo the independents to try and create a majority.  This result seems to be a major rebuke of the Labor party and a "win" for the Coalition.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Aussie Rules Football!

Today is election day in Australia (more on that later), but more importantly the Hawthorn Hawks are in town to take on the Fremantle Dockers in Aussie Rules Football.

Aussie Rules, or "Footie," is one of the more popular sports in Australia.  The AFL has 16 teams and plays a 22 week schedule leading up to an 8-team tournament to determine the premiership.

As I'm learning, Footie is a relatively straight-forward game played by two teams of 18 players on an oval-shaped field.  Players attempt to kick a ball through goals at either end of the field.  The goals are made by 4 vertical posts with no crossbars.  A "Goal" (6 points) is made by kicking the ball through the central two goal-posts, while a "Behind" (1 point) is scored between the outside posts.

The footy ball is larger than an American football, and less pointed.  Players pass the ball up the field by kicking or punching the ball to each other.  The game can be pretty rough and there's little protective equipment.

Tasmania has a strong following for the AFL, but no local team.  However, the Hawthorn Hawks play 4 of their home games in Tasmania and become the "Tassie Hawks."  Leigh was feeling better and we managed to get some standing room tickets yesterday. 

For food, we sampled traditional AFL fare:  a meat pie, some wedges (potatoes), and a dagwood dog (a deep-fried corndog on a stick).  The game was fun and resulted in a lopsided 155-39 win for the favorite Hawks.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


We're here! The flight down went well except for an hour or so delay. We sat next to a veterinarian who was very interesting to talk to and even gave us his contact information if we are in the area where he lives sometime. The assistant to our contact in Tasmania picked us up at the airport and took us to our apartment where we will be for two weeks. It is small, but very nice. There is a little yard and deck, and the basics-living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom. It is a studio style. There are pots, pans, etc, but we need to get some essentials such as soap and paper towels. The car we have been given to use is a Toyota Camry and luckily an automatic. We were a little worried it would be manual.

Ben went to the grocery store last night (I'm still not feeling well and can't seem to shake this bug that I have.). He made us pasta, bread, green beans for dinner. He is at the hospital now where he will be working meeting our contact and the doctor he interviewed with. We are hoping to explore the town a little today and maybe figure out how to get the internet working. I would also like to unpack a little even though we will only be here for two weeks. We are both tired of living out of suitcases and not knowing where anything is!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Short Walking Tour of Melbourne

Well, we didn't see as much of Melbourne as we were planning on since I woke up this morning still feverish and not feeling well.  Luckily, it is relatively easy to get to Melbourne from Tasmania (a one hour flight or a ferry ride) so I am sure we will be back at some point.  We ate breakfast at the hotel and I took a nap in the morning.  At lunch time we headed out to see a bit of Melbourne.  We walked over to Federation Square and by the Yarra River.  We walked over to the Rod Laver Arena where the Australian Open is played.  We also saw the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Grounds) where there was a plaque commemorating the 1956 Olympics which were held in Melbourne.  The Gold medal winners from all of the events were listed.  At the 1956 Olympics the furthest distance the women athletes ran was 200 meters!  There wasn't a women's marathon event back then.  We went back to the hotel and Ben successfully repacked our luggage to a manageable level.  We were craving some American food and free internet so we got Hungry Jack's (aka Burger King) for dinner.  Our flight to Launceston, Tasmania is at 12:30 tomorrow and our contact in Tasmania is picking us up to take us to the apartment we will be at for two weeks until we move into our accommodations for the duration of our stay.  The car they are letting us use while we are here is even going to be waiting at the apartment for us.  I can't wait to get to the grocery store and cook some meals instead of eating out.  Next time we post we will truly be the Tassie Twosome living in Tasmania.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mini Disasters

A bit of a rough day today.

We had a good dinner last night, but Leigh woke up in the middle of the night not feeling well.  We're not sure what it is, but we think we're ready to settle down.  It's been more than 6 weeks since we've been in our natural routine...

We drove to Melbourne today and encountered a few more troubles.  Our hotel is down a narrow lane and parking was tricky.  I parked in a spot I thought was o.k., checked in (maybe 15min total), and found a A$119 ticket on the windshield for parking in a loading zone.  Welcome to Melbourne!

I dropped off the car at Hertz and after coming back to the hotel, we realized we had left an iPod behind in the car!  We managed to retrieve it from Hertz and get a late lunch.

On a good note, we managed to stop by the ANZ bank and pick up our debit cards which had been sent after we activated our account in Sydney.

I didn't take any pictures today, so here's a map of our route.

View Larger Map

A:  Sydney
B:  Katoomba (2 hours)
C:  Jervis Bay (4 hours)
D:  Gipsy Point (5.5 hours)
E:  Metung (2.5 hours)
F:  Melbourne (4 hours)

Gipsy Point Birds


We awoke this morning to a cold room and chirping birds. Ben had forgotten to close the windows! The managers feed the local birds in the morning. Around two hundred parrots arrived for the handout. There were Australian King Parrots

and Galah

and Rainbow Lorikeets

and Crimson Rosella. 

Leigh even fed them!

Our drive today took us from Gipsy Point to Metung, through Lakes Entrance. This area of the country is known as Gippsland. The predominant feature is a series of fresh-water lakes fed by local rivers. These lakes are separated from the ocean by a narrow sand dune with 90 Mile Beach facing the ocean. 

The village of Metung is a quiet (it is winter!) town with a few good restaurants—all we really need!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hoppin' along the coast!

I woke up early this morning at the Jervis Bay Guesthouse and went for a great 3.5 mile run on a path along the beach.  I saw three Laughing Kookaburra birds while out on my run.  Our hosts at the bed and breakfast made us a great breakfast, we packed up and stopped at the Booderee National Park.  We saw some more beautiful beaches.  These beaches are honestly some of the most beautiful we have ever seen.  One of the beaches we stopped at today, Hyams Beach, has the whitest sand in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. 

Our trip today to Gipsy Point took 5.5 hours.  We were both very ready to be at our accommodations for the night, but it was a great drive.  The scenery varied from sea views to pasture views and at several places the road was lined on either side with tall trees.  We were thrilled to see kangaroos in the wild for the first time today!  We saw one on our way out of Booderee Park just sitting at the side of the road and then we saw 17 standing around on a golf course.

Wanted: Kangaroos!


Today we drove from Katoomba in the heart of the Blue Moutains to Jervis Bay, south of Sydney. The total drive took around 4 hours, but we stopped at Fitzroy Falls on the way. The falls are dramatic, plunging 80 meters into the Kangaroo Valley.

There are some nice walks with viewpoints overlooking the falls. Signs describe some of the native plants and wildlife. Supposedly, wombats, rock wallaby, and platypus live in the area, but we're unconvinced. Other than birds, Ben and I are striking out so far on native wildlife viewing. 

We did see a Superb Lyrebird near the falls. This pheasant-sized bird is named after it's tail feathers which look like the Greek instrument, the lyre (harp). It spends most of it's time on the ground scratching in the dirt and detritus looking for insects.

We continued our drive through the picturesque Kangaroo Valley. While there were plenty of roadside signs warning about kangaroo and wombat crossing, we didn't see any. 

Our hotel tonight is the Jervis Bay Guesthouse, barely a stone's through from the ocean. The sand is some of the finest we've ever encountered. A crashing surf rounds out the picturesque location.



Today we tackled a challenging walk. We started at Echo Point, the lookout for the Three Sisters and then walked down the Giant Stairway. (It's always a good idea to walk down anything referred to as a “Giant Stairway!”) 

The Giant Stairway is built into the cliffside and totals about 900 steps . Many of the steps are carved directly out of the rock, others are steel stairs. The stairs were very steep, and an overnight rain made it seem more treacherous!
As we descended the Stairway, we entered the temperate rainforest. The rainforest is dominated by large Ribbon Gum trees. These trees shed their bark yearly giving them their name. They will also lose their lower branches, making them very smooth and straight to the canopy. Ferns dominate the forest floor. One distinctive version is the tree fern which can reach 30 meters. The Eastern Spinebill was flitting among the flowers near the forest floor. This small bird is one of the honeyeater family and has a long bill for reaching flower nectar. We didn't see any, but the White-spotted Quoll and the Bush-tailed Possum (both nocturnal) are known to inhabit the area.

After a 2.5km walk along the Federal Pass, we reached the Scenic Railway. This is the steepest railway in the world and carried us from the valley floor to the ridge. A Scenic Skyway ride and a short walk brought us back to our hotel. Lunch was in Katoomba at the Parakeet Cafe.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Blue Mountains

Today, we picked up our rental car and drove west to start our trip toward Melbourne. Once some mild trepidations regarding driving in Australia were overcome, we were on our way (after a stop at Hungry Jack's the Aussie Burger King equivalent). 

The Blue Mountains are about 2 hours west of Sydney. These mountains are part of the Great Dividing Range separating the east coast from the interior. They get their name from the refraction of light through the eucalyptus oil in the air.

Our hotel is the 3 Sisters Motel in Katoomba.

The motel gets its name from the 3 Sisters, a geologic formation just outside Katoomba and only a few blocks from our hotel.

According to aboriginal folklore, the three sisters once lived with the Gundungurra people in the nearby Jamison Valley. These ladies were in love with three brothers from the Dharruk people. Unfortunately, marriage was forbidden between the two peoples. The brothers were warriors who decided they would take the women by force. The impending tribal war forced the Gundungurra people's clever man, Kuradjurri, to turn the sisters into stone. Kuradjurri planned to restore the sisters after the danger had passed. Unfortunately, he died in battle and to this day the sisters remain trapped in stone. (Ben's still working on a cure). 

Nearby, there are several good bushwalks to explore the mountains and the rainforest around the sisters, including the Katoomba falls.

I also made a new friend: