World Trip HomePost Thirteen

Post Thirteen - Welcome to Oz

4-bying, Ozzie Style4-bying, Ozzie Style

Our friend Jaybe knows how to off-road.

You know those SUV commercials where they show a glossy new vehicle splashing through mud, bumping through a deep, dusty wash, or clinging to precariously graded hillside? They inspire us to buy the car, but let's face it, for most of us those vehicles see more "utility" than "sport" use.

Not so for Jaybe. He drives his car like it's built to be driven, and was happy to take us for a spin. Our two-hour bush ride near his home in Coff's Harbor saw us climbing up bumpy, torn-up dirt roads and pointing the nose of the ute straight down steep tracks. At one point, Jaybe tackled a four-foot drop with the skill of a monster truck driver.

All the while, lush bush plants licked the sides of the vehicle as the bright Australian sunlight filtered down through the trees. I was beginning to like this place. -- Karen

Cicada ShellCicada Shell

I don't have any problems with bugs--unless they're crawling on me. So Scott was delighted to find a cicada shell and prop it on my shoulder, not only to see my reaction, but to get some good scale for the photo. These cases were everywhere, fastened to trees and littering the ground in the bush.

Of course, there was no bug in this case; the mature cicada was long gone. Cicadas spend years growing in their cases just below the soil, then once they're mature, climb up a tree and fasten themselves on to molt. They emerge, spend a few hours drying out, mate, and then eat until they die about a month later. Whatever it takes to propagate the species, I guess.

It's an unforgettable sound to hear thousands of cicadas calling each other on a sunny day - part whistle, part buzz, and part screech - an intense, single-note hum that seems to mirror the urgency of their adult life. -- Karen

Strangler FigStrangler Fig

By the time I got to Brisbane, Karen had been there for over a week. Over the next couple of days she showed me the sites. It was great, I didn't have to consult a map or read the guidebook, Karen knew where everything was.

We picked up our rental car and immediately headed south to visit a friend of mine living now in Coff's Harbor. From our map, it looked like Coff's was only a short drive away. It ended up taking almost 5 hours to get there. Australia is a big country.

In Coff's, JB and Shelley set us up with a place to stay, and then JB took us for a ride through the rainforest in his 4-wheel drive. There were bird songs in the air, huge trees, vines everywhere, and (undoubtedly) poisonous snakes lurking under every log. This is a photo of a strangler fig. The seeds for this plant are deposited in a tree by a passing bird. It then sends a shoot down and once it finds soil, the host tree is doomed. The strangler wraps vine after vine around the tree and slowly kills it, taking over the former tree's shape. Very cool and exotic. -- Scott

Dorrigo National ParkDorrigo National Park

This lush landscape is found slightly southeast of Coff's Harbor, New South Wales, on a gorgeous stretch of two-lane highway called "Waterfall Way." Jaybe brought us here to show us a slice of Australia's remaining rainforest.

To give people a bird's-eye view of life in the canopy, the park has built a boardwalk about 10 meters above the forest floor. (The boardwalk also lessens human impact). It's a brilliant idea that gets you up close and personal with the flora as well as with the wildlife. We soon found out that boardwalks are common on nature trails in Australian national parks, and we enjoyed many more as we traveled through New South Wales. -- Karen

JB and FamilyJB and Family

I met JB in Seattle, but previously he had been working and living in Australia with his family (from left, cousin Michelle, wife Shelly, Nick, and Rachel). After a few years in the States, they returned back to Australia, this time for good. They said they had come to prefer life in Australia. At first Karen and I didn't understand. Why live in Australia, we thought? It's so far away and seems to offer the same things the US does. As you read on, you'll discover how we came to understand their decision. -- Scott


This is another photo of an exotic flower. I have tons of images like this and someday I may post a section just on flowers. -- Scott

Wine CountryWine Country

Leaving Coff's reluctantly behind, we drove next to the Hunter Valley. We are quite familiar with Australian wines and were eager to have a look around the region that produces some of our favorite brands. I was expecting a lush climate like Napa but the Hunter Valley is hot, dusty, and barren. In fact, I thought we were in the wrong place until I started seeing winery signs like this one.

Similar to Eastern Washington and the area around San Luis Obispo, the harsh climate produces excellent grapes. We tasted wines, bought some, and stayed in some plush accommodation that was very affordable. Driving down to the valley from Coff's, we had one of the best steaks I can remember at what looked like an average country pub (or Hotel as they call them). Australia was looking better and better. -- Scott

 Hunter ValleyHunter Valley

Eager for fresh air after a long day of driving, we walked down a deserted dirt road in front of our hotel, past fields of green vines. In the distance rain clouds roiled, but only a few drops reached us. Scott shot this photo.

Later that evening, driving down another deserted road, Scott saw a wallaby munching grapes. We slowed the car, then stopped right in the middle of the road to get a better look. The wallaby watched us, munching the fruit. We stared back, willing him not to run away. He looked at us a few seconds longer. Then he made out for a safer row of grapes, further back from the road.

Jaybe told us he liked Australia because it was "exotic, but familiar." I was beginning to understand what he meant. -- Karen

Next Up: Sydney

Copyright 2002
Scott & Karen Semyan