Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Jacksons in Canberra

So, after our epic Great Barrier Reef vacation the group scattered. Laurel and Greg went back to Canberra and work, while the Jacksons went to Melbourne for the week. For pictures and stories of what they got up to during that time . . . I guess you'll need to call Bob.

Then it was time to reunite in Canberra. Most of the family went straight to our house to relax, but Olivia wanted to finish out the day with Laurel at work. So she went along on a site visit for the project Laurel is working on. They are suprisingly cute in flourescent green and a helmet. Safety first! In the middle is Joel, Laurel's site foreman.  He also does photography and travels to exotic locations in his downtime.  Olivia was a fan.

The following night we took Olivia to a concert to see the band Cellblock 69. Cellblock 69 is a Canberra institution, and is made up a group of Australian National University alumni who reunite for one epic show around Christmas every year. I believe this was their seventh annual Last-Show-Ever. Opening for Cellblock 69 was a really awful, wanna-be hardcore pop-metal band. They sucked, but they were dressed as vikings, so at least they had that going for them.

For some reason they had a hula hooper who was amazing. However, if your band gets upstaged by a chick with a few light-up hula hoops you are an awful band.

Us with Robbie! Robbie had neglected to tell us that everyone comes dressed in full-on 80's attire. The headband he's wearing is actually a child's belt he found at a thrift shop. Nice.

Now Cellblock 69's gimmick is that the lead singer wrote every significant hit of the 80's, but had all of the songs stolen from him for various reasons. Each song would have an extended rather funny explanation of how he was ripped off. For instance, one day he was hanging out with Eddie Van Halen when he suggested they write a song together. They did, and Eddie did none of the work. After that, Eddie said, "Hey, we should go abseiling. You go first." When he got back, Van Halen was topping the charts with "Jump."

We had a couple of nice, low-key days to just show the Jacksons around Canberra. It was really nice to be able to show off our new city.

The National Gallery of Australia (NGA!) had a special exhibit on Renaissance painters which Tina had read about on Qantas' inflight magazine on the way over, so we checked it out. It was really good, if a little small. It was particualarly good at showing how the styles and techniques changed over the period. Now, we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the exhibit, so we offer you this one of us outside the museum.

After all that learning we were hungry so it was off to Gold Creek and Adore Tea for tea and snacks. So classy!

Bob was our primary picture taker so you may have noticed he's been absent from the group shots. We can confirm that he was actually in Canberra. There he is! Over there, by the statue of Don Quixote!

Laurel took one day off work and took the family down to Tidbinbilla, a nature reserve south of Canberra. Guaranteed critter sightings. Run emu run!

A nice shot of the Canberra countryside as some storms were rolling in.

Everyone has the exact same reactions to kangaroos. The first time you see one, you freak out, squeal and take about a zillion pictures. Then you see another one, and you take a few more pictures. And then you see a whole mob of them and take a few more pictures. And then you get really bored, and you're like, "Yeah, it's a kangaroo, whatever. I've seen that already. Show me something new." The Jacksons went through this whole cycle in the space of about 15 minutes. Kangaroos are the deer of Australia, but they're still pretty cool.

This is hard to see, but it's some sort of giant black Macaw. The only color on it was a yellow splotch on its head. Very beautiful, but hard to photograph.

Laurel's English co-worker, Karen, had a holiday party one night. She'd tried to make it as Aussie as possible. Party pies! Baked brie! Beer fridge! The food was fantastic. Everyone had a great time. We somehow didn't get a picture with her, but instead here are the three sisters with Laurel's boss, Marcelo, and his wife Bernie.

We also took the family to Mount Majura vineyard for a wine tasting, which you may remember from a previous blog post.

This is the awesome sign in the shop.  Another great day, but hey, with wine how could it not be?

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Great Barrier Reef

Now, the day we had all been waiting for. Ever since we moved to Australia, the Great Barrier Reef had been the number one thing on our to do list. I mean, how can you come all this way, and NOT see it? Bob felt pretty much the same way, so when we started planning for Laurel's family to come out here, it pretty much centered around visiting the Reef.

Laurel and Olivia were the planning champions for our Cairns trip. They found a full-day tour that picked us up in the morning, took us to two reefs for snorkeling with optional scuba diving and helicopter flights to see the reef from the air, and fed us lunch and snacks. Olivia was the only one who was interested in scuba, but we all wanted to ride in the helicopter. Here are most of us on the boat ride out to the first reef.

Our boat as seen from the water. A boat from some other, not as good, tour is in the background.

The helicopter! We're never flown in one before, so were pretty excited. They had a pretty good system set up, where four people flew at a time. While one group was in the air the next group was being taken out to the platform, so the chopper was never on the deck for more than a few minutes. Fuel is expensive!

Since there were six of us and there were only four to a flight we were split into two groups of threes. The three sisters and then Greg, Bob, and Tina. Bethany and Olivia, ready for take-off.

This is Laurel your co-pilot speaking...

A very small piece of the Great Barrier Reef, seen from above.

Before and after the chopper ride there was plenty of time for snorkeling and swimming with the fishes. Literally. This is a giant barracuda that the guides said was perfectly harmless. They told us this as they threw about a pound of dead fish into the water to feed him before we got in. We made sure to stay well clear of him.

We've been referring to this photo simply as "What Lies Beneath."

Laurel found a sea cucumber! She later described it as, "like a giant booger."

Bob enjoying the water.

While Olivia scuba dived Laurel followed her around and took pictures. Olivia is kind of a big deal. She travels with her own fish papparazzi.

The whole family snorkeling! Or nearly. After much debate we decided it was Bethany who is being blocked out by Olivia's flipper. It was hard to tell because everyone kind of looks the same in snorkeling gear.

And now just some fun underwater snorkeling and reef pictures.  As you can tell, we had an amazing time!

This fish was clearly tired of being followed around and having his picture taken repeatedly. He looks like he's saying, "Back up off my reef!"

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cairns Esplanade

Today is the day Bob and Olivia finally made it to Australia. Full Jackson family unite!

After a quick trip back to the house so they could drop off their bags and shower, we headed to Cairns for lunch. Cairns is a nice little town, with a population of a little over 125,000 and a surprisingly vibrant downtown area.

Now, the funny thing about Cairns- it's a beach town in a tropical zone where its main claim to fame is that it's the jumping off point for seeing the Great Barrier Reef. So, beach capital of the world right? Nope. Between the marine stingers (jellyfish) that inhabit the waters eight months of the year, and a suprising lack of actual beach coastline, there is no beach in Cairns. This really surprised us. To compensate Cairns has the Esplanande, a public saltwater pool about three blocks from the city center that overlooks the ocean.

Greg was a big fan of the Esplanade. Nice place to cool the feet. And to be silly.

It's no beach, but it will do. Not a bad view. And we love the fish statues.

Yep, that is definitely not a beach.

It was a nice way to spend the afternoon. We can totally understand why it looked like all of Cairns was at the Esplanade.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cairns- Kuranda Skyrail

So, this is actually from Cape Tribulation yesterday, but, pretty much everywhere we went that was adjacent to an ocean, lake, river, or creek there were these signs warning about the danger of horrible death by crocodile. Also, they were in German. But, strangely, not in Chinese, which judging by our fellow tourists would probably have been more helpful.

Clearly, Laurel does not listen.

Our second day in Cairns was again devoted to the rainforest. We were traveling to the small town of Kuranda which is nestled in the midst of the rainforest up a mountain. It's very scenic. You go up by train or skyrail and then down the other way. Here's our train coming into station.

During World War II this railroad was the vital lifeline for the Australian military.  It supported its bases and outposts they were setting up along the N. Queensland coast to, at first, defend from Japanese attack and then, later, to support attacks to re-take Papua New Guinea. It was built almost entirely by migrant labor, mostly Scottish, Irish, Italian, and Chinese. Kind of like US railroads.

We were in a car towards the end of the train, which was rather convenient for taking pictures while going around hairpin turns. It's absolutely incredible this rail line was ever built. It's literally on the side of a mountain, and goes over a dozen bridges and through 18 tunnels. All of it done by hand. That blows my mind. Oh and if you thought that was bad, the workers also had to supply their own tools.  Yes, seriously.

Here's the four of us. The trainride, while beautiful, was brutaly unairconditioned. There should be some kind of law about mandatory A/C in tropical zones. No wonder we all look like we're melting.

Just beautiful. About halfway down the gorge is a large pool. Greg knows it's impossible to get to, but really, really wants to go for a swim there. How awesome would that be!?

We spent about four hours in the town of Kuranda itself. It was fairly touristy, but for lunch we found a burger place that specialized in every kind of meat. Laurel had barrimundi (a fish, delicious!), Bethany had emu (mixed results), Tina had kangaroo (only okay), and Greg had crocodile (Greg says amazing, everyone else disagrees). It tasted kind of like a fishy pork, which doesn't make it sound great but it totally was.

At the rear of the town (total walking time, 7 minutes) was a small zoo, which allowed us to see alive some of the animals we had just eaten. Greg was more than a little concerned word had gotten around to these guys.

Koalas! This guy was really posing well for us- we swear he's a real live Koala and not a stuffed animal. He's awake and everything!

Different states have different rules about Koalas and what you can and cannot do with them at zoos. In New South Wales and Victoria, it's no touching! South Australia will let you pet them a little bit. In Queensland you can hold them...for an exorbitant price. Everyone will of course pay it though, because, well, where else are you going to hold a Koala? After a brief discussion, Bethany won and got to hold him.

The zoo also had an open area where a few wallabies were wandering around. Yes, you may have seen this exact picture a few times already, but we are powerless to resist their adorableness.

Since we had taken the train up, it was time for the skyrail back down. While it was completely an arbitrary decision at the time, we definitely think we did it the right way. The train up gave some facts and explanations about the place we were going to, and then on the ride down we could just appreciate the rainforest.

This is the same gorge from earlier, but now for above. Still amazing.