Family vacation

Category: Ships Log
 

April 2016

This month we enjoyed a visit from both of our families.

 

We have been in Australia almost a year and a half, and no one from our family has been to see us yet. Well, all that changed this month. Around Easter we had a family invasion; both my parents and aunt, and Chris’s mom all flew in to see what this strange country Down Under is really like (and I think to see us as well :)). None of them had been to Australia before. To make the most of their short time, we planned a week-long road trip around Queensland to show them the highlights: beaches, reef, and rainforest. My parents rented a 10-person van and early Saturday morning all six of us piled in with our bags; we were setting off on our own Griswold family vacation, except our destination was the Great Barrier Reef instead of Wally World.

 

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The typical pose you would find our family in at stops we made along our route.

 

Eight hours later, we arrived at our first destination, Agnes Water. Agnes Water is a tiny town about 480km north of Brisbane. It shares a small peninsula with another tiny town called 1770. Yes the town is named after a year. This is the site Captain Cook made his second landing in Australia in May of 1770. I guess the town founders wanted to make certain people wouldn’t forget the date. Agnes Water has a lovely beach, but its main claim to fame is it is a jumping off point to reach the southern Great Barrier Reef and its atolls, which lie offshore about 32 nautical miles. We had a boat ride booked for the day after tomorrow (Monday) to Lady Musgrave Island, one of the atolls which is also a national park. In the meantime, our plans for tomorrow are to recover from the long car ride by relaxing on the beach and introducing our parents to the joys of boogie boarding. The weather is still hot and the ocean temperatures warm (even though it is supposedly Fall) so it is a perfect time to be on the beach and in the water.

 

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Sunrise at Agnes Water. Chris woke up extra early to snap this pic.

 

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Hanging out at the beach in Agnes Water. Most of the family is huddled under the beach umbrella as the sun was pretty intense.

 

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Chris's mom and my dad took us up on our offer to intoroduce them to boogie boarding. They did really well!  Here is my dad catching a wave.

 

In the evening after our day on the beach, we went to check in with the boat cruise and get our boarding tickets for the next morning. They mentioned the wind was predicted to pick up a bit and the trip out may be a bit rough, but shouldn’t be too bad. We figured it couldn’t be that bad, or they would cancel the trip right? Besides, we would be on a giant catamaran.

 

The next morning we took our seasickness meds and got to the boat ramp bright and early to board the catamaran, excited to spend a day exploring Lady Musgrave Island and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. As the catamaran reached the mouth of the river, large breakers crashed on either side of the channel. As soon as we made it out of the channel, waves started crashing all around us. The catamaran revved its engines and started flying over the waves, literally launching off the crest of one wave, flying through the air for a couple seconds, and crashing into the trough of the next wave. The wind was over 25 kts and although the swell was only about a meter and a half (~5ft), the wind made for steep waves with not much space between them. All in all, this wouldn’t be so bad, except for the fact that we were bashing into the waves at high speed, not going with them, since the wind was from the southeast. It felt like being on one of those broken elevator rides at a theme park; except we were stuck on this ride for an hour and a half instead of 5 minutes. Needless to say, by the time we finally made it to the protected lagoon of Lady Musgrave Island, at least 90% of the boat was sick and our family was likely wondering what they had done to us in our childhood to deserve such treatment from us. We felt terrible about putting our family through the ordeal and definitely learned our lesson to not trust commercial boat operators to cancel a trip if conditions are bad – always confirm conditions yourself!

 

Luckily, things improved from there. We shakily made our way to the glass bottom boat which would take us to Lady Musgrave Island. The wind was still fierce, but the lagoon kept out the swell so the water was just a bit choppy. Walking around the island helped everyone feel a bit more normal. The island is home to nesting black noddies and we got to see several noddies hunkered down in their nests among the branches of Pisonia trees. Unfortunately the Pisonia trees were quite bare, as a recent caterpillar infestation stripped all the leaves from the trees. A friend of ours who was at the island just a couple weeks earlier said he had been walking on a carpet of dead caterpillars. The caterpillars were gone by the time we were there, and the trees even had some tiny green leaves emerging from the tips of their branches. It’s amazing how quickly some ecosystems can recover!

 

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Walking around Lady Musgrave Island. See the black noddy in its nest and the emerging new leaves on the Pisonia trees.

 

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Walking along the beach - it was fun to be on an atoll again with its coarse coral sand and lovely lagoon views.

 

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Group photo on the island.

 

Following the island walk, we enjoyed a lovely tour of the reef with the glass bottom boat. By the time we were returned to the catamaran, most people could even think about lunch. After lunch, we enjoyed a couple hours snorkeling on the reef. The northern Great Barrier reef is experiencing one of the largest coral bleaching events in history right now due to warmer than usual ocean temperatures lasting for much too long. Many corals form a partnership with algae, which gives them their color. However, when a coral is stressed out, such as by higher than normal ocean temperatures, it expels its algal partner which causes it to appear white. This leaves the coral in an extremely weakened state and if the coral is unable to recover its algal partner in a few weeks, it can die. We were wondering how the southern Great Barrier Reef was faring and were relieved to see only minimal bleaching here – the majority of the coral was still quite colorful. Too soon, we had to leave the corals and head back. The return trip to the mainland was much more enjoyable since we were going with the waves instead of against them, and everyone made it back in good spirits.

 

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On the glass bottom boat.

 

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View of Lady Musgrave Island from the lagoon.

 

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Some clown fish defending their anemone and a neighboring giant clam.

 

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There was some minor bleaching, but for the most part the coral appeared healthy.

 

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Tuesday morning we loaded back into the van for our next destination: the Sunshine Coast hinterland. We rented a house in the countryside and enjoyed expansive views of rolling green hills covered in rainforest and pasture. Wednesday, we introduced everyone to the subtropical rainforest at Kondalilla and Mapleton National Parks. Kondalilla boasts a lovely swimming hole and because of the warm temperatures, we even got lucky enough to see several monitor lizards hanging out around the pool and in the forest. Thursday, after our days of swimming and hiking, we finally let everyone loose in the town of Montville for some shopping. Montville is a small town that is beautifully landscaped in the hinterland, and is filled with boutique shops.

 

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The view from the front porch of the house we rented in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.

 

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One of the resident kookaburras.

 

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The resident guineafowl. These birds are originally from Africa, but are used by farmers as pest control (they eat ticks, leeches, etc.), as "alarm fowl," and for their meat. Several feral populations wander in Queensland.

 

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The swimming hole above Kondalilla Falls.

 

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One of the monitor lizards (called goanas) poking around in the forest.

 

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View of the Glass House Mountains in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.

 

Friday we returned to Brisbane, and wrapped up the tour with some sightseeing around the city, including the aerial view of Brisbane from Mt. Coot-tha and exploring the Mt. Coot-tha botanical gardens. The week went by much too quickly, and before we knew it, we were back at the airport Saturday saying goodbye to our family. Hopefully we managed to convince them this is a nice place to hang out and next time they will come for a longer visit!

 

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View of the city from the top of the Kangaroo Point Cliffs (about 5 min from where we live).

 

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View of Brisbane from the top of Mt. Coot-tha.

 

 

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