We have settled into a dull routine here, I’m afraid. Even though the tax work is done, my good wife has conscripted me to help with the book she is under deadline to complete by the end of the month. I have been looking for something new to blog about and it occurred to me that I have accumulated a lifetime (seven years) of material, so it may be time to start plagiarising myself. All the best writers do. Spring has sprung here in Melbourne and I have written about that before. At this time of year we see almost every kind of weather, from sun to rain, clouds and clear skies, all in the same day. Today is quite spectacular.

From 2007, “The birds go berserk at this time of year. The squawkers get up at first light, but they also make sure you know when the sun is going down. Magpies dive-bomb cyclists under the mistaken impression that their nests are under attack. Lorikeets and parrots fly in colourful formations, but the bell birds are my favourites. Riding through trees full of bell birds is like being delivered into a temple in Bangkok. The tones are resonant and beautiful and stay with you long after the birds have gone.”



In September of 2007, we made our first big trip in Australia– up to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree. Our daughter was with us then and she is back with us now, so it seems appropriate to start this re-blogging exercise with that holiday. It was a pricey trip, but we saw some spectacular countryside. We flew up to Cairns, then rented a small car to travel North to the chic, quiet little town of Port Douglas. The rainy season was still a month or two off and the lethal, stinging jellyfish were waiting for their cue to come toward shore and scare the living daylights out of swimmers. As if huge, saltwater crocodiles can’t do the job.

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We chose a relatively small, snorkelers-only boat to visit the reef. A limit of thirty passengers meant we were unlikely to get left behind and we were virtually guaranteed individual attention. The trip out on the Coral Sea was an all day event. Port Douglas is the closest town to the reef, but it takes two hours to reach the reef from the small, busy harbour. There are 2900 separate fringing reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef, all under fairly constant threat from mining companies bent on trashing a World Heritage Site in order to increase revenues and dividends for their shareholders and supply more coal to China.

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Fortunately, the weather was fine. Unfortunately, the brand new underwater housing I had purchased for the trip did not allow me to actually see what I was shooting. I aimed, shot and hoped for the best. Pixels are cheap. It didn’t occur to me that I might actually snap the shutter 150 times and then spend hours on the computer trying to turn fairly drab results into sparkling, colourful photos. With digital photography, all that requires is patience.

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The reef stretches for about 2300 kilometres, supporting the most diverse ecosystem in the world. All thanks to a tiny critter called the polyp. Its proclivity for warm, clear water and the sturdy support of Australia’s large continental shelf make these ideal waters

After our trip to the reef, we headed North again, up into the Daintree area of the rainforest. We settled in at our lovely Bed and Breakfast within walking distance of Cow Bay beach. There are no hydroelectric lines north of Daintree river. Every home and business has to have a generator or solar power. Needless to say, we turned in early, grateful for the sunlight that fed the batteries that powered our reading lamps.

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Despite its poor soil base, the rainforest covers about 1200 square kilometres. Its plant diversity is unrivalled in Australia. Some species date back 110 million years when the continent was much more humid than it is now. There are trees that may be unchanged from the time of Gondwana. While the trees, ferns, vines and other greenery is stunning, the animal life inhabiting this world is difficult to spot. A private zoo in Port Douglas makes all but the shyest creatures accessible. We arrived in time to see a stork making lunch out of another bird’s chick, so the visit was not entirely without distress, but it was fascinating.

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Cassowaries are among the few diurnal creatures in the rainforest. They are huge, scary-looking birds. The males raise the young. Since they have the talons, size and sometimes the inclination to rip unwary humans wide open, visitors are encouraged to keep their distance. They are a key species to the rainforest, the only animals capable of eating large fruit, such as cassowary plums, and dispersing the seeds with a nice pile of fertiliser. Someone with a clever hand doctored a speed bump sign at a Cassowary crossing point to encourage motorists to slow down for the big birds. The end message gets the point across bluntly, but some motorists need that.

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We took advantage of our carefree days of relaxation and exploration to go swimming, walking, bicycling, hiking, snorkeling, horseback riding, and kayaking. It seemed like each beach was more inviting than the next; each boardwalk through the rainforest beckoned with an air of mystery. It was our first major expedition out of Melbourne, an enchanting visit to the land at the top of the continent down under.

Here is a simple breakdown of the seasons in the Southern hemisphere. Summer: December to February; Autumn: March to May; Winter: June to August; Spring: September to November. This is a rough comparison. Australia is almost the same size as the continental United States and has a number of different climate zones. Up in Queensland and in the Kimberley, it is simply “dry” or “wet.” It gets very, very wet up there even though this is the driest continent on the planet. Summers are hot.