30 December 2014

Australia (Queensland) - Champagne Pools : The Toast of Fraser Island

Date of Exploration : 21 Nov 2014

What : Champagne Pools

Where : Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia

Landscape view of Fraser Island's Champagne Pools. Low tide exposes the volcanic rock fortress that created these incredible dipping holes right next to the gregarious ocean.

Just by its name alone, my enthusiasm to visit bubbled profusely with excitement. I can foresee getting high on an attraction whose christening conjures images of celebrations, good times, and epic fun.

When I finally arrived, however, my anticipation fizzled out. The Champagne Pools didn't look as delicious as the picture I had in my head. But that's because our visit coincided with low tide when the aquatic playground receded to just a sliver of seawater behind a rocky lip. Nevertheless, as I got closer to the water's edge, I became drunk on the unusual phenomenon where the tug-of-war between danger and tranquility are nowhere more apparent than here.

Azure seas and pretty powdery beaches are aplenty, but few could offer the natural thrill of soaking in a calm basin while being up close to waves crashing into rocks.

Our visit started with using the toilets and changing facilities on the hill (where the carpark is) before descending the steps to Champagne Pools. There are no sanitary amenities on the beach so better release when available.

Formidable waves constantly attempt to breach the rocky stronghold, creating many heart-stopping moments to behold.

Barnacles cement themselves onto the stone surfaces, making a barefoot trek into the outermost pool a test on balance and pain tolerance. Beach sandals, not slippers as they may get washed away, are highly recommended.

Flirting with danger... but it is actually rather safe as long as one stays within the protective rim.

Big splash! Welcome to a saltwater jacuzzi powered by nature.

Enough of splashing around? Then just chill on the beach. Some locals top off the experience by bringing along chilled champagne to sip while drinking in the seaside drama.

Is this what is meant by a rocky relationship? The grand view on the volcanic bedrock out into the vast Pacific Ocean is bound to rekindle romance. 

What you don't see in this photo is the schools of small marine fish swimming in this deeper inner pool. Loving it here at nature's handcrafted aquarium!

Albeit our visit ran into low tide, the Champagne Pools still impresses with its rare proposition of swimming at the edge where titans clash.

Incidentally, this is also the only place you can swim in the sea on Fraser Island as swimming anywhere else along the island's coastline is discouraged due to rough waves, strong under currents and the presence of sharks and stingers.

For an unforgettable experience on Fraser Island, the Champagne Pools definitely has it made.

This post has been made possible by Tourism Queensland Singapore and CTC Travel

29 December 2014

Australia (Queensland) - Lake Birrabeen : A Serene Slice of Paradise

Date of Exploration : 22 Nov 2014

What : Lake Birrabeen

Where : Fraser Island, Great Sandy National Park, Queensland, Australia
Escaping into the calm of a hidden heaven.
Peaceful, tranquil, and cut off from the world, Lake Birrabeen is a refuge inside a hideaway and my favouritest spot on Fraser Island. This place is mediation for the senses. Except for the few pesky horse flies that were emerging as summer approaches.

At least twice the size of the hor sin (Hokkien for 'housefly') back in Singapore, the Australian ones are not just bigger, but deliver a painful and nasty bite that felt like tiny bee stings. Plus, they are persistent in their pursuit for a blood meal and rather hard to kill. I shudder to think when summer is in full swing to the buzz of hundreds of these biters.

But the flies are only a minor bother worth putting up with for the smooth, pristine white sand and beautifully placid lakewater.

I'm jealous of this melaleuca tree which gets to enjoy this scenic lake everyday.
Fraser Island is home to around 100 natural lakes and depending on how they are formed, they can be grouped in one of 3 categories - perched lakes, barrage lakes, or window lakes.

Lake Birrabeen belongs to the perched lake category which came into being when dead plant sediments line the bottom of a raised sand crater. The lining forms a waterproof layer beneath the crater that prevents rainwater that fell in from seeping through the sand. Over time, the collected rainwater forms a lake with no water getting in or out except through rainfall and evaporation. As these lakes sit higher than other terrestrial water bodies and aquifers found locally, they are classified as "perched".

There are some 40 perched lakes concentrated on Fraser Island, which is half the number of such lakes known on our planet.

Panoramic view of Lake Birrabeen.
The most popular perched lake on Fraser Island is Lake McKenzie but Lake Birrabeen is equally stunning with the prized advantage of being a lot less crowded. Our visit on a late Monday morning met with only 3 other visitors. When they left, we had the whole lake to ourselves.

As the water is slightly acidic, few aquatic species can survive in the lake which should ease the nerves of people with thalassophobia (fear of the thought and sight of creatures in deep waters). Didn't see any fish when I swam in the lake but the best thing to do is just sit by the pristine shore and let stress dissolve away.

The lake beach is unbelievably white and clean.
Lake Birrabeen is surrounded by eucalyptus and melaleuca trees (tea tree) which impart a slight hint of medicinal fragrance to the air.
Numerous blackened shrubs stripped of leaves dot the shoreline masquerading as sea fans on a beach.

The bald and wiry shore side shrubs look very artistic against Lake Birrabeen's immaculate sand.

Came across these miniscule brilliant red rosettes buttoned onto the shore like furry embroidered flowers. I think they are a species of sundews, a carnivorous plant native to Queensland that produces a sticky liquid at the tip of tentacles sprouting from fleshy leaves. Lethal beauty.

Taking it slow is the way to go at Lake Birrabeen.
Nature's beauty box... apparently, the water-steeped humus of eucalyptus and tea tree leaves (the black stuff in the water) has a refining effect on the skin. Rub it onto skin, leave for 15 minutes and wash it off with a swim. Awesome!
Soaking in bliss that is at the level of divine!

While most visitors to Fraser Island would head over to Lake McKenzie, our guide from Sunset Safaris decided to show us Lake Birrabeen instead. And just like that, one of my most memorable moments of the trip was born.

Paradise does indeed reside on earth! 

This post has been made possible by Tourism Queensland Singapore and CTC Travel.

28 December 2014

Australia (Queensland) - Maheno Shipwreck : A Ghostly Sculpture by the Sea

Date of Exploration : 21 Nov 2014

What : SS Maheno Shipwreck

Where : 75-Mile Beach, Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia

Maheno Shipwreck, a must-see attraction on Fraser Island.
Built in 1904 in Scotland, the 122m SS Maheno had the honour of being the first triple-screw steamer ever built and also the earliest ship to cross the Pacific Ocean. Historical records tell of it being used as a trans-Tasman trading ocean liner and luxury passenger cruise before being converted into a floating hospital by the New Zealand government during World War 1 in 1915.

After 5 years of transporting injured soldiers to Australia and New Zealand, the Maheno returned to civilian charge but was subsequently decommissioned and sold to a Japanese shipping company in 1935 as the ship became obsolete. Its new owner intended to salvage usable parts before melting the vessel down to sell as scrap metal.

For safety reasons, refrain from getting too close to the shipwreck so a camera with a powerful zoom lens would be handy to snap close-up shots.
To fund Maheno's journey from Australia to Japan, its huge brass propellers were sold off and the ship was slated to be towed by a ship named Ottawa to Osaka, Japan. Unfortunately, a freak cyclone broke the link between the two ships and without propellers to regain its course, Maheno drifted ashore to Fraser Island.

After numerous failed attempts to refloat the ship, efforts to remove it was abandoned and the ship became one of the top sights on Fraser Island.

Maheno's collapsed stern. As time passes, the ruins disintegrate further while the sand slowly swallows up this once magnificent ship.

During World War 2, the Maheno served as a target for bombing practice. We were told that none of the 2,000 plus bombs dropped on it managed to get a hit.

A ghostly shell of the past. Maheno means "island" in the native Maori language of New Zealand. How befitting that its final resting place is by the beautiful coastline of Fraser Island.

The end is eerily beautiful with the Maheno Shipwreck.

I see a face.

Ashes to ashes, rust to dust.

When I first saw a photo of the Maheno Shipwreck, "Ghost Ship" came to mind and I was really excited to see it in person. While it is still impressive, the ship had sunken further into the sand and not as tall as the brochures depicted. It still makes for a interesting photography spot though and I would imagine that the wreck will serve as a unique foreground to frame a sunrise.

So before the Maheno disappears totally into the sand beneath it, make a date to see this accidental sculpture by the sea that became the centrepiece jewel of 75-Mile Beach.

This post has been made possible by Tourism Queensland Singapore and CTC Travel.

18 November 2014

Wild Sydney : Taronga Zoological Park

Date of Exploration : 29 September 2014

I love zoos but their remote locations usually make them quite a trip to Mars. Not Taronga Zoo though. Located just a 15-minute boat ride from downtown Sydney at Circular Quay, the city's resident wildlife attraction is as easily accessible as a dog's tongue finding its nose.

Opened in 1916, the 52 acres zoo houses more than 2,600 animals from 340 species. Of the species, most of them are found exclusively in Australia with a collection of animals from other continents. I've wanted to come by Taronga Zoo during previous vacays in Sydney but the steep ticket price would have its teethmarks felt on my travelling budget.

Thankfully, on this trip, my friend from Sydney graciously lent me his transferable annual pass to the zoo so my wish for a visit was realised. It's for me to visit my 'relatives', he said...

Stepping onto the park grounds, this Australian Eastern Water Dragon strutted across my path to bake on a nearby rock. Such a delight!
Getting to Taronga Zoo

There are 2 ways to get to the zoo... by bus or ferry. I took the ferry option as it is the easiest and more scenic. A ferry departs half-hourly from Circular Quay (Wharf 2) for Taronga Zoo. A return ticket for adult costs around A$12 - 15. 

You can also get a cruise-cum-zoo-entrance-ticket package with other operators such as Captain Cook (approx. A$99 per adult, includes whale watching cruise) and Yellow Water Taxis (approx. A$65 per adult) at Circular Quay.

Do get your camera ready to snap photos of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge as the ferry pulls away from the quayside. 

Pictured here is the Taronga Zoo Wharf looking out towards downtown Sydney.
Portraits at Taronga Zoo

Cascading down the side of a hill, the city zoo gathered unique Australian wildlife distributed across the country onto one zoological park that also serves as a vantage lookout point to take in all of Sydney's vibrant cityscape. So the zoo is kind of a two-in-one attraction to see the exotic animals and city view.

Plus, if you took the ferry, you would've drifted across the scenic Circular Quay precinct of Sydney Harbour. And if you stayed till the zoo's closing time, you can catch a sunset on the cruise back (see end of this post)! My camera never had a dull moment.

This is not the main entrance of Taronga Zoo but the queue to board a cable car (Sky Safari) to the top of the zoo. If you hold a season pass or bought a packaged ticket at Circular Quay, you can join the queue immediately. Else, go to the main entrance to purchase a ticket.

Main entrance of Taronga Zoo. Coming out from the Taronga ferry jetty, to the left is the cable car boarding point and to the right, up a road about 200m away, is the main entrance. This is where you can purchase the admission ticket to the zoo.

Seeing double... Met this pair of adorable twins while queuing for my cable car ride.

There are 2 ways to visit Taronga Zoo... Take the cable car from the foot of the zoo to the top and sightsee all the way back down, OR enter from the main entrance and sightsee all the way up then take the cable car down.

A living mascot of Australia... The Koala bear is actually not a bear but closer in relation to wombats and kangaroos. Due to its highly specialised diet of eucalyptus leaves which are low in nutrients and energy, koalas sleep for up to 20 hours a day and have a small brain compared to other mammals.

Their small brains contribute to slow learning and adaptability which is why captive koalas must be kept with live eucalyptus trees as they will not recognise the trees' leaves and branches when they have been plucked and fed to them, thereby leading to starvation.

The king of Australia's outback. Not known for lions and tigers, Saltwater (Estuarine) and Freshwater Crocodiles are the top predatory jaws in the continent's tropical wilderness. It is estimated that crocodiles kill an average of 2 persons a year.

Aviaries within Taronga showcase a kaleidoscope of feathered hues found throughout Australia. My favourite was the Emerald Dove (bottom right) for its electric green wings contrasting with a mauve body.

Scarlet Macaw... the facial patterning on macaws are unique like fingerprints.

One of the many foliage pockets at Taronga Zoo that offer a beautiful glimpse of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the city skyline.

This is not a rat on steroids but the Quokka, a mouse-like relative of kangaroos and wallabies found mostly on Rottnest Island off Perth.

This walking ball of needles is the Short-Beaked Echidna. It is different from the hedgehog (insectivores) and porcupine (a rodent that is herbivorous) in that it feeds on ants and termites and lays eggs instead of live young like the other two spiky mammals. The three are of totally different species who have evolved a similar defense strategy.

"Never skip your breakfast to jump-start the say," says Mr Kangaroo.

Taronga is zoned into various sections and trails that showcases Australian wildlife in the woodlands, arid regions, wetlands and ocean as well as non-indigenous animals imported from Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.

There are also a couple of themed exhibits such as this farm-based one that replicated the barn and ranch complete with livestock.

Mutton's gonna stop me from getting close to you! Totally enjoyed the face time with sheeps at the barn where I got to stroke their coats. They never stopped eating the whole time I was there.

Inside the barn is an opportunity to learn about the animals and pests Australian farmers have to deal with.

A kid drinking from a toilet bowl shaped water trough.

Eastern Blue Tongue Lizard... a skink commonly found in gardens and the open country. Because its legs is hard to see, it is sometimes mistaken as a snake but the brilliant blue tongue within its pink mouth is an identifier of this gentle crawler.

A free-ranging Australian White Ibis doing its best impression of a hawk. These birds are notorious for giving off a foul stench. Perhaps coz they air their armpits so much like in this photo? LOL.

A handsome pair of Mandarin Ducks at an Asian themed enclosed garden.

A Royal Spoonbill fluffing its white plumage while sifting the faux pond for an afternoon snack at the Wetland Aviary.

Red Panda sighted at Taronga Zoo!

Giant koala plush near the zoo's exit for a huggable photo op. There's a huge kangaroo plush nearby to pose with too.
An Unofficial Sunset Cruise

A bonus to visiting Taronga Zoo is that if you stay till its closing time at 5pm and catch the ferry back, depending on the season, the ride will probably coincide with an early sunset. And that becomes something of an unofficial sunset cruise down Sydney Harbour to end a day's outing to meet Australia's wildlife.

Sydney Opera House wrapped in the evening's gold.

5:17pm : The single yolk radiating behind Sydney Harbour Bridge. What a sight to behold and a beautiful full-stop to my visit to Taronga Zoo :o)

Taronga Zoo, Sydney

Address : Bradleys Head Rd, Mosman NSW 2088, Australia
Opening Hours : 9:30am - 5:00pm daily (till 4:30pm from May to August)
Entry Price : A$46.00 (adult) / A$23.00 (child). Price includes Sky Safari cable car ride

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