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An Aussie Experience - Mark Connors

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Posted: November 3, 2011

A loud roar of engines fills my ears as I’m pushed back into my seat. The plane goes barreling down the runway and Qantas flight QF008 takes to the air bound for Brisbane Australia; flight duration 16 hours. The realization has finally set in, I’m going to Australia.

I met up with the rest of the Penn State group while on a long layover in Brisbane before we all made the final flight to Townsville. It was nice to final see the group and begin the speculation of how the trip was going to be. The first place we went was Magnetic Island (Maggie as the locals call it). While there we learned about the people, cultures, politics, and an introduction to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). All the lectures were held at the Reef HQ a ferry ride away from where we stayed. Reef HQ was an amazing place with a lot of good information and the largest coral system in a tank. The time spent here made the anticipation for snorkeling on the GBR rise a couple notches.  Also while on Maggie we got to hike and see wildlife. It was incredible to see the amazing array of birds, koalas, and rock wallabies. Everything combined on Maggie; the group was getting along great right from the start, the people running the accommodations were awesome, cool new wildlife was everywhere, and the weather was perfect. It was a great start to an amazing trip.

Once we left Maggie we headed up the coast to Port Douglas. Port Douglas was a nice tourist town where the highlight was the GBR. We met Jimmy and JR from Eye to Eye Marine Encounters and learned a lot about the reef.  We learned a lot about the flora and fauna that make up the GBR ecosystem and got to view much of it up close. The time spent snorkeling and learning about the GBR was in my opinion the highlight of the entire trip. The colors and different survival methods implemented by the corals was incredible and unable to be captured by a picture. I still find myself dreaming about the reef sometimes at night. Besides the GBR we got to take a guided walk of an area of rainforest. The walk was fun and full of interesting facts. I was amazed at how the aborigines had managed to determine what plants could be eaten, used as a medicine, and which ones would kill you. Trial and error must have been a scary process back in those days. It was also in Port Douglas where I noticed the night sky. The southern sky was amazing. You could see the Milky Way and shooting stars were a common occurrence.  Big fruit bats could also be seen in the night sky, they were 10x bigger than any bat I’ve seen in PA.

ConnorsAustralia1.pngCape Tribulation was the next stop. Here we actually got to stay in the Daintree Rainforest and learn a lot about the effects on different ecosystems. Throughout the trip it was continually reinforced how all the ecosystems were tied together. There’s a chain that links the interior, agriculture fields, rainforest, mangroves, coastline, and the GBR all together. When one link of the chain is affected it in turn causes an effect in the rest of the chain. For this reason everything must be taken into consideration as the GBR is a fragile ecosystem that should be protected for future generations to enjoy and to ensure the continued tourism revenue that is such a large portion of AU’s GDP. We also got to take part in two guided hikes while in the Daintree Rainforest. One took place during the day and the second took place at night. Both times we got to see some interesting wildlife.

Following Cape Tribulation we headed for Yungaburra. Here we got to view the landscape just inland of the rainforest. We did two main things while there, a day long trip going from one waterfall to the next and an evening spent with an aboriginal family. The waterfalls were bigger than any I’ve seen in person before. We also learned a little bit about how the natives had considered the waterfalls spiritual areas. The time spent with the aboriginal family was fun. My favorite part was learning how to throw a boomerang.We also were taught how to play the didgeridoo and enjoyed a meal cooked by hot rocks buried in the ground. It was definitely a learning experience and a good way to learn firsthand about the culture.

Farm stays were next on the itinerary. Me and two other guys from the group spent a couple days on a 400 acre cattle ranch learning how they make a living on the “tabletops” as they call it. It was a relaxing couple days spent doing light work, eating delicious home-made food, and I even got the opportunity to watch platypus in the creek located on the property. Seeing the platypus was a highlight of the trip for me as I think they are an incredible animal (one of two mammals that lay eggs).

ConnorsAustralia2.pngAfter the farm stay we headed inland toward the outback for our stay at Tyrconnell. Tyrconnell was an old gold mine located in the bush. We learned how gold mining was big business and even got to watch some of the equipment in action. While we were there I got the chance to take a day long hike by myself through the bush. It was incredible to see the landscape and wild kangaroos; it’s a hike I’ll never forget. I was amazed at how the landscape just kept going and going and never seeming to change. I was amazed to see how much of the landscape was burned. We learned while there that fires are routinely set in the outback to burn small areas to keep large uncontrollable fires from occurring. I’m trained to fight fire in PA and was very interested in the fire management that they implemented to control the under growth.

It was sad to leave Tyrconnell since we knew Cairns was next and the last stop. It was a quick 2 days. We wrapped up the last work we had to complete and stocked up on souvenirs before departing for the airport at 3am and just barely making our flight.

Overall the trip was absolutely incredible and hard to put into words. Every time I tell someone about it I can’t help but smile and there is never enough time to tell them about everything. I learned a lot on the trip and fell in love with the country. I’m currently working on moving there to work for a year or so and hope to be on Australian soil once again before the end of the year. Thank you for the support you provided to make my trip possible. There was no better way to end my college career.