Australia Ecotourism 2015

January 21 – Ku Ring Gai Chase National Park, Sidney

Our final day in Australia began at Ku-Ring-Gai National Park outside of Sydney. We met Les, an Aborigine, and several park volunteers who guided us through the day’s activities. Les welcomed us to the land and acknowledged the ancestors, a necessary action to maintain the spirits’ satisfaction.

 The Ku-Ring-Gai National Park protects the land that was once inhabited by Aborigines. Stories were recorded by stone carvings and ranged from various punishment tactics to a wedding celebration. Scientists estimate these drawings to several thousand years old, but Les is confident that they are much older.

We proceeded to one of the seasonal shelters that had handprints outlined in red ocha, a soft stone often used for paint. Les demonstrated this Aboriginal art by mixing ocha and water in his mouth and spitting the mixture onto the student volunteers’ hand to form the handprint. Les continued the presentation by offering various plant samples that were medicinal or high in nutrition. He emphasized the relationship with Gaia, Mother Earth, and asked us to think before we use her precious natural resources.


We soon arrived at the cliffs of the Pacific Highway. The Pacific Highway is a large body of water that leads into many different paths. Its name comes from being a type of roadway for many sea mammals such as Southern Wright whales, humpback whales, dolphins, and seals. It is also a natural habitat for Australia’s Fairy Penguins. The southern wright whales use this highway of the ocean for their migration from Antarctica to Australia and vice versa. The water is clear and beautiful.

 Many people take residence next to the water on a strip of land that stretches out into the ocean. One of the rangers explained that to live here is extremely expensive because of how pristine the view is and the proximity to the water.

 The rangers then led us down the cliffs and through the forest in order to reach a small beach. Wearing bug spray and sunblock are encouraged since there are plenty of bugs while walking though the woods and the UV light in Australia is harsh. It is also highly encouraged to wear sneakers so you have additional comfort on the hike down and your feet are protected from bug bites.

 We finally reached the beach and although it was tiny, it was quite nice. The water felt amazing, even though there was a lot of seaweed. There was also some paranoia about the water since we all wanted to avoid jellyfish and other foreign creatures. The rangers warned us not to swim too far out into the water because of the possibility of sharks. None of us wanted to test our luck, so we stayed close to shore and had a great time.


 After cooling off and laying in the sun, we left the beach and we headed up the cliffs back to the bus. The way up was rough. The stairs up the cliffs were extremely steep and even after swimming in the cool water, we were drenched in sweat. Going up is certainly much harder then heading down. We eventually ended up back at the bus and said goodbye to the rangers. Many of us fell asleep on the bus ride back to the hotel, which took about an hour. Overall, it was a successful and eventful day.

 We concluded our day with several hours of free time. Two students chose to see the opera Tosca at the Sydney Opera House while others spent time at Bondi Beach, explored the Sydney Festival, or shopped. Sydney is an incredible city with a wide range of opportunities for all to enjoy.

 As we prepare for our flight back to the states, we reflect on how fortunate we are to study in Australia. Thank you to the family and friends who helped make this experience possible; the friendships and memories made are irreplaceable. We will return to Elon with new insights on Australian culture, history, and the value of environmental sustainability. Thank you again to all who supported us!

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January 20 – Sydney, Bridge Climb

Tuesday was full of adrenaline and adventure.  The day began with a 40 minute walk through Sydney to get to the bridge climb. On the way, we trekked though the botanical gardens while it rained.  It felt like another walk through the rainforest.  When we got to the bridge I was excited to see how high up we would be able to climb.


The day started quite dreary but the sky luckily cleared up and the sun broke through right after we got to the bridge.  After suiting up in jump suits and harnesses we were guided along narrow platforms to start the journey up the 440 foot high bridge.  Many of the platforms were grated allowing us to look straight down to the rushing cars and the beautiful harbor.  As we got higher, we could see how massive and incredible Sydney is.  At all points of the climb we could see the opera house jutting out into the harbor.  I was thrilled and full of adrenaline as the powerful wind pushed us away from the platforms. It took us over an hour to get to the top of the bridge and when we got there I leaned over the edge holding my arms out allowing the wind to hold me up.  We had a safety line attached so it was safe.  The architecture of the bridge was incredible. The bridge was built during the depression and little was known about building such a massive bridge because there was not another one built in Australia.  Today the bridge is still the largest in the world in terms of length, width, and strength.  Our guide told us gut wrenching stories of how the bridge was built.  There were no safety lines or modern building technologies so the entire structure was built by hand.


After the bride walk, six of my friends and I took a taxi to Bondi beach to hangout and surf. Every Australian that I encountered was so nice and I even got to rent a surfboard for free purely out of kindness.  I was the only one who knew how to surf, but I had a great time surfing for hours and talking to the locals out on the water.  The rain and stormy weather that rolled through in the morning brought a great clean swell to surf. I caught so many waves and landed cutbacks and other steezy maneuvers.  It was sick.
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January 19 – Blue Mountains, Sidney

On January the 19th we took a 2 hour bus ride from Sydney to the blue mountains. Our first stop in the Blue Mountains was an aboriginal dance exhibition. The performers were Waradah dancers and came from several different tribes. The beginning of the demonstration consisted of loud shouting and yelling. The Waradah dancers were calling out to their ancestors, so the ancestors would know they were still worshipping. The next phase of the show consisted of an explanation of the various languages and traditions of each tribe. The aboriginal body paint is referred to as their law. Each tribe has its own specific law, and the individual dancers took some time to explain their own. The body paint was a make up of different colored dots and stripes. In the next dance, the performers acted out various animal motions like emu, echidna, and kangaroos. It was interesting to see the slight similarities between the Waradah performance and the one our group performed a couple of days before. The final take away of the exhibition was the story of the musical instrument, the didjeridu. As the story goes, an aboriginal man heard a strange sound coming from hollow and termite infested log. He picked up the log to recreate the sound of the wind blowing through it. At first, the man failed to play any worthwhile sound. After secretly practicing in the bush to avoid ridicule, he was able to imitate the wind, as well as other noises. Overall the aboriginal dance exhibition of informative and gave another perspective on the native Australian people.

After the aboriginal dance exhibition we took a series of sky lifts, trains, and trams so we could take in the sights while walking through a rain forest. One of the trains we rode was similar to a roller coaster and was the steepest incline for any train in the world. The entire class rode this train up, down, and then up again. Unfortunately the sky was filled with fog so we couldn’t enjoy the sights as much as we had planned. The sky lift rides were interesting due to the fact that we couldn’t see where we were going. Even though the storm and the fog prevented us from seeing the famous “three sisters” at the blue mountains the class still had an enjoyable day where we spent a little more time in the gift shops rather than the rain forest or the edge of the mountain. The weather was certainly unfavorable today but when looking back on the trip we can’t complain because we have been extremely lucky weather wise other than today.


Our return to Sydney was more exciting than our initial departure this morning because we rode a river taxi back to the city instead of taking the bus back to the hotel. As the catamaran pulled into the harbor students separated into different groups to get food, shop, or see some more sights.


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January 15/16 – Thunderbird Park

Yesterday we arrived at the Thunder Bird hotel, where we would participate in a traditional aboriginal ceremony. Preparing for this ceremony was certainly no easy task and required us to work hard for both days. Luckily with the guidance of our aboriginal guides Mark and Douglas and his family, we managed to be ready in time. 


During our travel day yesterday we arrived to the hotel where we were greeted by a massive pile of sand that needed spreading. At first we were unsure why we were shovelling sand for an hour, but we soon learned we were building our stage for tomorrow. Today the real preparations began. We started the day by using rocks as hammers to crush ochre into a consistency of sand. This soft white rock would be mixed with water later into a paste that we would use as full body war paint. The boys and girls were then separated to experience the differences in tradition. The boys spent the day cutting kangaroo pelts to make belts, painting our cloth that we would wear with the ochre paint, chopping branches and sanding them with sandstone to make instruments. Never have we wanted a sander more in our entire life after hours of this. Finally we spent hours learning the 3 song and dances we were to perform at the ceremony. Once again we found ourselves in a workout and having fun doing it. The boys were told repetitively throughout the day that this ceremony should show our strength and the dances should impress the girls, which we obviously did. Unfortunately, it is tradition to keep the girls day of initiation a secret and so I can not share their activities. 


By 8 PM we were ready to start the ceremony.  Everyone was painted and dressed for the occasion and we additionally carried spears, torches and instruments. We performed the ceremony under the stars for an hour and it was a truly awesome experience. We danced, sung and laughed as Douglas spoke in his native tongue. It was really amazing to see all the work we did come together to something so memorable.

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January 14/15 – Lamington National Park, O’Reilly’s

This morning everyone was awake and ready to go due to a good night’s sleep and a great dinner the night before. Last night’s dinner consisted of a huge meal that could have kept us going for weeks. We had vegetables, bread, steak, salmon, chicken, dessert, and more. We are staying at a family owned business that is part of a national park. They have different activities for us to do each day and we can choose the activities that we would like to do.

Our entire class arrived the night before and we all went on the Flying Fox, a zip line that we all enjoyed. Some people did flips or went backwards as we waited our turn to go. It was cool because we saw a bunch of wallabies, or “kangarats” as we like to call them.


This morning, we had the option to wake up early and attend a 6:45am bird walk that lasted for about an hour. About 8 of us woke up and went on the walk with Luke, our bird guide. While we were listening to Luke discuss the different types of birds, parrots were flying around us and landing on our heads. The parrots were very friendly and joined us for most of our walk. We also saw other birds such as the bow bird, eastern yellow robin, eastern whip bird (whose call sounds like a whip), southern log runner, and many more. We also heard a lewens honey eater bird whose call sounds like a machine gun. The most interesting bird for me was the bow bird, who collects dark blue and yellow items to put in a nest to attract a mate.

We all then met at breakfast at 8am where we had many other options to choose from. First, we could go to the animal show or go on a two hour walk to a wishing tree. Most of us chose to go to the animal show, where we got to see a black bird magpie named Jackie (who was stubborn and didn’t want to do one of her tricks for us), a plains rat, four squirrel gliders, and a coastal carpet python named Paige. We learned a lot about these animals and about marsupials in particular. Marsupials are not defined here as an animal with a pouch, but rather an animal that has very underdeveloped young. The shortest pregnancy for a marsupial is 11 days and the longest is 35 days. The other group, the one that did the wishing tree walk, seemed to really enjoy it and they said that they leaned a lot about the trees and plants in their walk.

Our next choice of the day was to either go on a hike with Dr. N and see different waterfalls, or go on a guided eco-tour. On the hike we were able to see 4 different waterfalls and some crayfish as well. The ecotour group learned about the different types of trees and plants that are in the rainforest. They learned about a leaf that looks normal, yet if you touch it it will give you a nasty burn that will last for months.


We then all watched a movie presentation about the rainforest. It was interesting to see and learn more about plants and animals that we had encountered earlier on our tours.

Later that night we had our last activity: the glow worm tour. We met with our guides and took a short bus ride to our drop off point. From there, we walked into the woods, with only small torches to light the way. After about a 15 minute walk, the guides asked us to turn off our flashlights and we filed into wooden benches. In front of us was a creek bank covered in what seemed like hundreds of tiny, bright glow worms. It was interesting because for some people the worms appeared to be glowing green, some saw blue, and others saw white. We learned about the glow worms’ lifecycle and how they team up with spiders for protection against predators. After a great informative talk, we filed back into the woods and out to the buses. Before getting back on, we took some time to admire the beautiful night sky and the clear, visible stars. We learned about a couple of constellations and were even lucky enough to see several shooting stars!

Overall, it was a very busy day, but everyone seemed to have fun and learn a lot along the way.

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January 13 – Cairns, Great Barrier Reef

Today was the day we have all been waiting for.  Today, we checked a wonder of the world off all of our bucket lists. Today, we snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef.


After a relaxing two hour boat ride to the reef, we geared up and made our way into the ocean. From the instant we entered the water, there was beauty everywhere.  The vibrant colors and elegant designs of fish and coral combined to dazzle and mystify as we explored the reef. We came across many of the fish we learned about during the helpful reef teach. We really enjoyed the watching the fish from the slides come to life in front of our eyes.

The first stop allowed us to get a look at some of the deeper reefs; many small fish made the large coral formation their home, while larger fish enjoyed the open water nearby. There were even a few sharks that we managed to see exploring the reef as well.

The second stop featured a much shallower reef, and we were able to get a much closer look at the life below us. The sights opened our minds to the wonder of marine life, and the majestic beauty of the ocean around us. Whether we were floating above, Some of us were even graced with the opportunity to swim with sea turtles.

The Great Barrier Reef was truly a stunning sight with much to offer. Overall, the experience left lasting memories that we will cherish forever.  While we depart from this natural wonder of the world, we look forward to what lies ahead, and the possibility of returning to the reef again someday in our future.

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January 12 – Cairns, Skyrail + Kuranda

Good thing we love animals. Because the animals at Kuranda loved us.

Today, we had the opportunity to spend most of the day in a small town, called Kuranda, which is located right outside of Cairns. We started the day by riding the Skyrail up to the town. The Skyrail is similar to a ski lift, but is consists of an enclosed pod, instead of just a chair. Each compartment could fit six people, so we were able to experience the wonderful views of the forest below with a handful of our classmates. The Skyrail made two stops up the mountain, where we could see the forest and Baron Falls, a waterfall in the area.


The last stop was Kuranda. It is one of my favorite places we have visited because it possessed a little more of the Australia culture than the larger, more populated cities.

Not only were the shops and Aboriginal art interesting to learn about, we also had the opportunity to learn more about some of the local species in the sanctuaries. The town had four different ones: birds, butterflies, venom, and the koala gardens.

Since we were given some free time to explore the town on our own, I choose to go to the koala gardens and bird sanctuary. The koala gardens had a wide range of animals, including wombats, kangaroos, and snakes. You were also able to feed wallabies and hold a koala. I am very much an animal lover, so I really enjoyed getting to interact so closely with some native animals. Even though I was excited to see my first kangaroo on this trip, I’m still hoping we can see one in the wild. The bird sanctuary contained a variety of birds from all over the world. You could feed them, and they would land right on your arm or your backpack. One even stole Ginny’s earring right out of her ear.


After our day in Kuranda, we took a train ride back to Cairns. The train track was created in 1886, the same year that Elon College was founded. Unfortunately, it was extremely foggy, so we couldn’t see to much of the view.


However, the markets of Kuranda are a sight to see. It is here that you can find anything from witty t-shirts to opals to aboriginal art. The further that you venture into the markets the more interesting the shops get. The original market opened in 1978 and it is here where you can find a mini golf course. Kuranda is a beautiful tropical town that one must see!

Overall, it was a great, relaxing day.

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January 10 – Melbourne, Sorrento

Today January 10th, we arrived to Melbourne via the Spirit of Tasmania. We then drove to Sorrento. We were all super sore from yesterday’s hike, but excited to do some kayaking! Upon arrival in Sorrento, we stopped for a quick breakfast a few miles from the beach. A group of us ate at Bakers Boys Cafe, which was delicious despite the fact that the Australian bacon is really just crispy ham.  Everyone in the town was super friendly and the town can be pretty much described in one instance we saw in the cafe: a group of grandma’s all gathered for coffee and scones, on a first name basis with every waitress and barista.

Once we arrived at the beach, we got a safety brief from our instructors.  Each student paired up and got into our kayaks.  We struggled at first making it past the breaking waves, but eventually it was smooth sailing.  Our guide Andy shared with us the story of William Buckley, an Australian criminal who escaped from the prison and sought refuge with an Aboriginal tribe outside of Melbourne, only to turn himself in about 20 years later. Australians now use the phrase, “You’ve got Buckley’s chance” when they believe your chances are slim to none. It was quite ironic that Andy chose to tell us about this phrase in the middle of the ocean with a long paddle still ahead. Thankfully we all made it to shore, where we split into teams and played the Surfer’s Safety game — a sort of relay that required us to begin by laying on our stomachs, then jumping up and running about 30 yards to grab a branch in order to avoid elimination. It was tough goings for all the girls, as we competed against Sam Brown who is a star on Elon’s track team.


Though we were all tired from yesterday’s hike and this morning’s kayaking journey, the end was a bittersweet moment as it meant that we’d finished with phase 1 of our trip and had to say goodbye to our 3 tour guides. Though we’ve only been here with Andy, Scotty, and Lucy for 6 days, its felt much much longer. The three of them did such an amazing job at showing us the wonders of Melbourne and Tasmania, and the journeys that we’ve shared will be truly unforgettable. I think we’re all in agreement that this trip would definitely not be the same without them.

We’ve got one final free night in Melbourne to bring phase 1 of our trip to a close before jetting off to Cairns tomorrow morning. Wish us luck as we hit the town tonight to perfect our “juicy wiggle”. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more adventures to come!

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January 9 – Tasmania, Cradle Mountain

The Cradle Mountain Challenge

Life if full of challenges and pushing yourself to the limit to see how much you can achieve. Today was most certainly one of those days. Last night when we agreed to take a more challenging route, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. After a 6 am wake up, quick clean up of the cabin and breakfast we were off into the unknown. Upon arrival we faced Cradle Mountain far in the distance. Most were excited, some nervous, and all looking forward to the views from the top.


As the hike began, we were all wondering just how long the hike would be. I think we would all agree looking back that it was much more challenging and strenuous than we had all expected. The trail began with many steep & rocky steps, which then turned into a more open land journey. The fun was only beginning. We then began climbing, or should I say, bouldering up hundreds of feet of rocks. It was definitely challenging, but I think everyone that partook in the journey would agree it was well worth it. We all ate our packed lunches at the summit, which was 5,069 feet in height, and our bodies surely felt every foot of it.

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January 8 – Tasmania, Marakoopa Cave + Honey Farm

Rain Delay

As some of you may know, we were scheduled to hike up Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. However, heavy rains all of Wednesday night and continuing showers throughout the day meant a change in plans. Instead of hiking, we visited Marakoopa Cave and a honey farm.

First, stop: Marakoopa Cave. While all of us shivered in the 9 degree Celsius, or about 48 degrees Farenheit, cave, our guide Alwyn was perfectly comfortable in shirt sleeves. The cave is kept at a constant 9 degrees Celsius because it is the exact average of the temperature year round. It is important to note what a character Alwyn was. He looked like a professor straight from Hogwarts, glasses perched on the end of his nose and all.


Marakoopa Cave was first discovered in 1906 by two brothers living on a nearby farm. The cave was kept a secret until 1910 when they finally sought government permission to obtain the land and open it as a show cave. The cave was formed by limestone that is over 500 million years old. Small rivers continue to flow through the cave, causing formations to continue to grow as well as causing flooding 3 to 4 times a year. Some of the formations are estimated to be 30-40 million years old, but their exact age is not known because they are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Another fantastic feature of the cave was the glow worm chamber. Marakoopa Cave has the largest population of glow worms in Australia. But glow worms aren’t actually worms at all. Glow worms are actually the larval phase of an insect called the fungus gnat, which is similar to a mosquito. Once glow worms reach adulthood, they only live 3 to 4 days because they don’t have a mouth. The glow worms glow to attract food, and the population is still thriving because female glow worms glow brighter to attract males to mate with. The best way to describe what the glow worm chamber looked like with all of the lights off, is like looking at constellations at a planetarium. No pictures, but it was truly spectacular.

Second stop: honey farm to see what the buzz was all about. The farm included a museum that had a working hive on display as well as fun facts about bees. It also had a shop that featured dozens of types of honey available to sample. The leatherwood honey was unique to Tasmania. Other types included blueberry, chocolate hazelnut, orange blossom and rose. Other honey products included marinades, soaps, nougat and ice cream. The honey farm shop was definitely a hit with our whole group.

We rounded out the evening with some home made pizzas and hoped that the weather would improve for our hike tomorrow!

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