Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bushfires in Victoria, Australia

Thanks to all my overseas friends who expressed concern over the effects of the horrific Victorian Bushfires on me. My heart is heavy for the people killed, injured and affected by the Victorian fires, but I want to assure my overseas friends that I am quite safe.

It is a long while since I added to this blog, but I felt this was the easiest way to let people know. This shows that I am a long way from the action:


I am on the coast just above the most Easterly point. On the map I am just below the NSW/Queensland border just South of Brisbane. I'm in the lucky area for the moment, far from both the fires and the floods. It's a big country.

Pottsville is 2000km(1250 miles) north of the Victorian bushfires and 1600km(1000 miles) south of the massive floods in Ingham. We have had fires around us here in the recent past, but not so far this year.

Australia is roughly the same size as the contiguous US. Victoria, at the bottom of the continent, is where the fires were worst. This map shows why.

Victoria's climate leads to good tree growth, with lots of eucalypt forests. But the lush winter growth becomes a hazard in summer when the harsh hot winds come out of the central deserts, drying the countryside. A couple of weeks ago the temperatures started exceeding 40C (104F), day after day, in South Australia and Victoria. Then, with the bush like a tinderbox ready to go, it only needs a lightning strike or a chance spark or a depraved firebug and it erupts. This was many separate fires, not one big one. Then the wind fans the flames, or sometimes the blaze becomes so powerful it creates it's own winds.

The problem is similar all the way from West of Adelaide to North of Brisbane within a few hundred kilometres of the coast. This time the major fires were all in Victoria but there are also several lesser fires burning in the other states.

To make it worse, eucalypt forests emit oil when they burn, which vaporises and results in "crown fires", infernos that actually burn above the trees and can move at the speed of the wind to ignite anything in their path, well ahead of the ground fire. That is why some towns disappeared with so little warning for the residents. American readers might note that one of the problems in California is that a lot of our eucalypts have been planted in forests there.

Unfortunately those who manage our forests and bush tend to forget the lessons of history. I watched Ash Wednesday from my home in 1983 and will never forget it. Black Friday in 1939 was before my time but I learned all about it in History class. I was in the district during the Shoalhaven fires in 2002.

I'm a "greenie", a firm supporter of preserving and maintaining Australia's fragile ecology and environment. But there are several different shades of green in the "greenie" community. Too many forget that fire is part of our natural ecology and that this continent has caught fire regularly since long before Europeans appeared here. In fact, some of our flora needs fire to germinate. But some greenies hold protests if anyone cuts down a tree and others deter those who manage our bush from controlled burning in the winter because a few koalas and wallabies may be singed. They forget the past, when the uncontrolled build up of fuel in the bush leads to days like last Saturday. The human toll is terrible and horrifying, but whole populations of native fauna also disappeared that day.

I'll stop there. I get too angry and emotional on this subject.



Saturday, July 07, 2007

Mossman Gorge in the Daintree Rainforest

On the way back from Daintree to Port Douglas the rain got heavier. As we passed through Mossman we noticed a sign to Mossman Gorge; I had never heard of it, so I decided to have a look despite the deluge.

The Mossman Gorge is only about 5km, or 3 miles, from Mossman township – but another world away.

It is part of the Daintree National Park, which is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage. This Heritage area stretches from Cooktown up near cape York right down to Townsville. We were almost alone; two other cars in the carpark. While wandering through the boardwalks and tracks I met only a couple of other hardy souls braving the weather – that’s the way I like to wander around when I can. At my own pace in solitude.

The only fauna I saw was flying; a brilliant iridescent blue Ulysses butterfly, a couple of small brown birds turning over foliage looking for insects. The rain was keeping all the others under cover. I must admit, I wasn’t disappointed about not meeting one of the 8-metre pythons.
The strangler fig’s host has long disappeared and the strangler now has to support itself in the fight to reach the light.I protected the lens and camera as much as I could, but many of my photos were spoiled by drops of rain on the lens; however, those that are left still give some idea of the beauty and peace of this magical place. The only noise was the river, bouncing and leaping through the rocky gorge, running hard and fast because of the runoff from the myriad tiny creeks suddenly running with water in the unseasonal rain. The power of the water is hard to describe; these pools are usually still and full of swimmers, but not this day.

I departed sopping wet after a couple of happy, slow hours, eventually back to the studio in Port Douglas for a hot shower and takeaway Thai for dinner.

Cheers, Alan

next: Atherton Tableland


Friday, July 06, 2007

Port Douglas and Daintree

On our fourth day we picked up a Hertz car from the Cairns agency, declined the cheap upgrade because I quite liked the little manual Getz, and headed North towards Port Douglas.

For those new to "Blogger", click on any picture to see a bigger version.

Just a side note on rental cars. We’ve found in our travels that insurance is often a major pain for rental cars; either the premiums are excessive, or the excesses are ridiculous or the exclusions can catch you. Eventually I found that it was cheaper for us for short-term rentals like this to take out travel insurance, which covered all those insurances and excesses, and gave the bonus of other travel insurance covers for loss of goods and so on. Check it out next time you need a rental away from home, even if it’s not far away. If you think your Gold credit Card insurance covers you - check carefully.

We wandered up the coast in no particular hurry, taking side trips occasionally whenever we saw interesting signs. There are a number of coastal communities and resort developments. The first photo is Holloway Beach, not a resort, just a nice seaside community; the next few are Palm Cove – mostly expensive resorts and overseas tourists here.

The coastal plain is a very narrow strip as you follow the road to Port Douglas. The large photo at the top of this article is from the Rex lookout about halfway to Port Douglas. It appears that someone liked Mr Rex, but not the politician who opened the lookout.

Port Douglas, to us, was a much more pleasant and more laid back town than Cairns. The shot is from the lookout on top of the headland, an idyllic beach.

Everything was on a smaller scale. While it is obviously a tourist town there wasn’t the same feeling of "tourist central" as Cairns or Kuranda. We only stayed two nights, but regretted not being able to stay longer. We were in a lovely studio apartment at the Port Douglas Queenslander. The price was great, the studio and facilities were superb, the management were friendly and helpful. The only jarring note was the list of charges for "extras", such as a ban on using the room towels for the pool with pool towels for hire for $6. Seemed a bit petty and dollar-squeezing for a place like that; so did the note of possible extra charges if the room didn’t pass inspection after we left. Ours did, of course, and we had no extra charges, but the attitude dampened our enthusiasm for the place a little. But only a little - we did enjoy our stay.

The weather closed in the next day as we headed North to Daintree. The sky was becoming overcast but there were still patches of sunlight. As we entered the cane-growing districts North of Cairns we noticed 2’ narrow-gauge railway lines beside the road, then came across this cane-train. They start harvesting much earlier up here, compared to the Tweed Valley back home. As we passed through Mossman we saw this fascinating tree; I have never before seen so many weird and wonderful trees as I did on this trip; this was just one of them.

It was unusually wet for this time of year, but we happened to choose the period when life-saving rains swept across South-East Australia; hopefully drought-breaking rains but it’s too early to say that yet. In the NSW Central Coast and later in East Gippsland, Victoria, they became flood rains.

Some of that rain came North. But it’s a bit silly to complain about the rain when that is going on down South – and you’re heading off to view a rainforest; I mean – what else did I expect?

It did put a dampener on activities though. So we visited the village, and enjoyed the drive in the country, but didn’t take the boat ride as we heard that the crocs were unlikely to be doing much in the cooler damp conditions. However, if you read the signs you'll see a swim was out of the question, even if George is no longer in the river a lot of his relatives are. The beautiful garden shot was in the grounds of a small shop selling tourist items in the main street.

We had a pleasant light lunch in the "Big Barramundi", pumpkin and leek soup for me and an interesting hot-dog for Lorraine, wandered around the village of Daintree and then slowly wandered back home to Port Douglas. There were some wonderful glimpses of the river on the way back, but only a couple of spots where it was possible to park for a photo.

Cheers, Alan.
next: Mossman Gorge


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Kuranda Skyrail near Cairns

This was a magic part of the trip.
The SkyRail operates from close to Kuranda rail station, up and over the hills and then down to the coast North of Cairns.
There was controversy when it was first proposed; consequently it was constructed using helicopters to airlift the pylons into position to cause the minimal possible disruption to the ecology.
If you need to get back to Cairns or Freshwater Rail Stations then mention that when you book and a ticket on a shuttle bus is included.

The cars are designed for a maximum of six, but most only had two, three or four passengers so there is plenty of room. The views are simply spectacular. The day had become overcast and gloomy, a prelude to the misty and rainy conditions of the following few days, so my photos don't really do it justice.

However, I'll let the photos tell most of the story, with a few notes.

There are two stops en-route. At the first, there is a short walkway through the rainforest to views of Barron Gorge and Falls. These are the same falls we saw from the train on the way up from a different viewpoint. Not the thundering roar of Niagara - but beautiful and spectacular all the same.

Then another viewpoint as we returned to the cable-car and swept silently up and away from the stopping point.

The second stop, unlike the first, is also a change of cables so the cars arriving here return to Kuranda and Caravonica respectively. At this stop there are two features. There is a small but very well done exhibition explaining the science of the rainforest in audio-visual displays and presentations that were full of fascinating detail at all levels; not just kids and tourist stuff but really informative and interesting. Allied to that is an easy walkway with stops along the way to see various features of the rainforest in situ; explanations of the different tres and ecology, the struggle for light on the floor of the forest and the constant death and renewal of the flora. Rangers are available for small guided groups.

Returning to the cable-car we then continued further up and over the crest to suddenly come on breathtaking vistas of the coastal plain North of Cairns. The trip takes about 45 minutes over the 7.5km (nearly 5 miles) journey plus whatever time you spend at the stops; as I left Kuranda at 2:30 pm and the bus wasn't scheduled at Carvonica until 4 pm I took my time and enjoyed a leisurely stroll at the stops.

And finally the Caravonica station appeared, beside an Aboriginal display centre with tourists being taught how to throw boomerangs in the field at the back.