Sydney, Australia

Lake Parramatta Reserve

December 31, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

On Saturday, we were bush walking at the Lake Parramatta Reserve, a 73-hectare bushland reserve located within two kilometres of the Parramatta central business district. It is the largest bushland remnant surviving in the Parramatta Local Government Area. It is also recognised as one of the most significant and beautiful bushland remnants in Western Sydney.

We enjoyed the many Eastern Water Dragons that run away when approached as well as the colourful flowers. 

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More pictures here.

 


Singapore

December 27, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

In October, we used our strategic geographic location to visit Singapore--an 8-hour flight that is considered a short flight, given the relative distance of Australia from pretty much everywhere. Singapore, a city-state, is comprised of 75% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indians and 3% other minorities.

Gisela and I explored the city at 30 C combined with 90% humidity—the normal conditions in Singapore located only 137 km away from the equator. 

We visited the Gardens by the Bay, with the Cloud Forest Flower Dome probably the most impressive plant display that we ever encountered anywhere. We were impressed by the lushness of the vegetation:

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The Super Tree Grove is illuminated at night:

Super Trees

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While walking between the domes, we spotted a Water Monitor Lizard in close proximity to our path:

Water Monitor Lizard

The entrance of the Marina Bay, where the Gardens by the Bay are located, is guarded by the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel. "The complex is topped by a 340-metre-long (1,120 ft) SkyPark with a capacity of 3,900 people and a 150 m (490 ft) infinity swimming pool, set on top of the world's largest public cantilevered platform, which overhangs the north tower by 67 m (220 ft)." HEI_0519HEI_0519

Inside the Marina Bay Sands:

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More pictures from the Gardens by the Bay here.

We used a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to learn more about Singapore and also to get around. We learned that the port manages 90,000 containers per day making it the largest trans-shipment container port in the world. Singapore has also a thriving medical tourism with half a million foreign patients per year. We also visited Chinatown which is a cultural centre of the city given the large proportion of citizens with Chinese background.

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More Singapore pictures here.

Based on recommendation by our Faculty’s General Manager who is from Singapore, we had breakfast  at Tiong Bahru and actually found something to eat from the thousands of different offerings. Our breakfast was delicious, but it was so much that we could not finish the SGD 3.50 meals.

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More pictures from Tiong Bahru here.

On our last evening, we had dinner at the Salt grill & Sky bar on level 55 of ION Orchard in the heart of Singapore enjoying the stunning panoramic views of the city and sea. As we only left at 10 pm from Singapore flying overnight back to Sydney, we spent our last day at the Singapore Botanic Gardens with its National Orchid Garden that impressed us beyond comprehension. The variety and lushness of orchids seen here appeared to be unreal and we wondered several times if these are actually real plants or fake ones. Since 1859, orchids have been closely associated with the Gardens. The products of the Gardens' orchid breeding programme brings over 2000 hybrids to the Orchid Garden. Due to the high humidity, we speculated that the gardeners are mostly busy cutting back the overgrow, but pretty much everything else is taken care by the natural conditions in Singapore. We also learned that Singapore is the biggest orchid exporter in the world—we did not need to be convinced to believe this as orchids grow everywhere like weeds.

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When leaving the Botanic Garden, we observed huge catfish, a water monitor lizard and turtles in a large pond:

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More pictures from Singapore Botanic Garden here.


Cairns, Queensland

October 09, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

In August 2017, we flew to Cairns to explore the tropical north of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. We landed in Cairns in the evening, right on time to explore the city’s landmark Esplanade which fringes around the shoreline for two kilometres.

Esplanade, Cairns Esplanade, Cairns We saw a colony of huge Australian Pelicans and Fig Birds. We enjoyed a seafood dinner right next to the boats at sunset.                                                             Australian Pelicans   Fig Bird sunset, Cairns                                                                                                      
The next morning, we took a ferry to Green Island for a day of snorkelling.

Green Island

While snorkelling, we saw a sea turtle eating underwater as well as starfish and all kinds of tropical fish including coral eating parrot fish.

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I explored the Green Island National Park in the afternoon letting the drone fly above the water for over a kilometre away. We also watched Pale White-eyes, feeding in bushes along the western shore of the island.

Taking a break from the water, we headed to Wet Tropics World Heritage in Kuranda on Saturday. However, I first spent two hours in the early morning at the shoreline to view the sunrise over the bay.

HEI_7696HEI_7696 HEI_7709HEI_7709 After a bus ride to the station, we entered the area via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway across the canopy of the rainforest.

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HEI_7753HEI_7753 During the trip, we learned from a botanist that a small part of the rainforest plants grow taller than the canopy of the rainforest, and these plants are collectively referred to as "Emergent" trees. The mature Kauri Pine is an example of such a rainforest giant that uses as little leaves as possible to work up and concentrate on the sunny place to grow. It is continuously peeling bark to shed all other plants that might grow on its bark. The Kauri Pine can grow up to 50 meters, is the tallest tree species in Queensland. However, it is difficult to determine the age of these trees as there is no dry season so all plants grow all year around, resulting in the absence of any growth rings.

Kauri Pine

We also saw a blooming King Orchid that flowers only every 3-4 years and wilts after just a few days.

King Orchid

The Southern Cassowary is a huge endangered seed eating bird. They are usually shy birds, but are dangerous and unpredictable as they use their clawed toes as weapons, jumping and kicking with both feet at once. We learned that the rainforest plants need big seeds because they require a lot of food reserves for the seedling to get to sun. So big seeds mean big seeds eaters. In fact some plants will die out if not passed through the Cassowary's gentle digestive system.

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eggs, Southern Cassowary

We looked at the Barron Falls that carried almost no water at this time of the year, but can become dramatic water falls after a Cyclone. The falls are located in the traditional homelands of the Djabugay Aboriginal people. We read about the Barron Gorge Hydro-Electrical Station that produces 60 Megawatt and was commissioned in 1963.

Barron Falls
In Kuranda, we first visited the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary which is the largest butterfly flight aviary and exhibit in the Southern Hemisphere with over 2,000 butterflies from a variety of species. We spent most of our time in the main aviary, but also checked out the laboratory and the egg laying area. We were most impressed by the Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera euphorion)--the largest of all Australian butterflies found along northeastern Australia. "The female’s wingspan can measure 18cm. As soon as adult butterflies hatch they mate quickly because they only live for 4 to 5 weeks.”

Cairns Birdwing They are mating only once in their lifetime—between 8 and 14 hours with the male hanging upside down.

Cairns Birdwing, mating

In the hatching area, we saw a Hercules Moth appearing from its cocoon. This is the world’s largest moth that is only found in North Queensland and New Guinea. "The largest Hercules moth ever recorded was a huge female caught in 1948 at Innisfail, just south of Cairns. The Guinness Book of Records states it had an incredible wingspan of 36cm (14.17 inches).”

We then visited the Australian Venom Zoo which also serves as harvesting station for spider, scorpion and snake venom. The dungeon-like facility showed some of the most venomous snakes of Australia, and the world, on display. One of the harmless snakes was trained to be carried around the neck by tourists. 

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On our way back, we used the Kuranda Scenic Rail—a historical railway line established in 1891. But before we boarded the train, I had my drone explore the Barron River near the Kuranda Railway Station. 


The next morning we explored the Great Barrier Reef from a boat. We signed up for a full day snorkelling tour including lunch on the boat. It took the boat about two hours to reach the outer reef. 

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On our departure day, we visited the Cairns Botanic Garden with its unbelievable diversity of tropical plants. We saw many heliconias, cacti, orchids, bromelia and tropical trees, such as Teak with huge leaves.

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We were particularly impressed by the Tassel Ferns that evolved 400 million years ago—150 million years before flowering plants.

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Many leaves were of enormous size.

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Other plants showed spikes on their stems to scare off any unwanted guests.

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Near the mangroves, we were able to observe Mudskippers and colourful Fiddler Crabs.

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More pictures here.

This is a photographic diary of our adventures in Australia with emphasis on Sydney and its surroundings.
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