A Travellerspoint blog

Entry 19 B - More Koalas

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Saturday, May 20 – St. Bee’s

We arrived home from night tracking at 10pm and I was so jazzed up, I didn’t shut my eyes until midnight. Even so, I was up and out of bed by 7am.

I had asked the universe for a repeat of my original team of Karin, Chris and Digby and today I got most of them with Chris, Digby and I off to find Abby, Tea, Olivia, Honey, Winston, Jackaroo and Stud.

Chris was tracking and Digby doing the main amount of spotting. We crossed paths with Delma and Tashina as they made their way around the island changing weather monitors and observing animals. Nothing new today except I FOUND MY FIRST CLEAN SKIN!

Chris was on a rock searching down the hill and in the tree just behind him, was a koala, about 12 feet above the ground heading up the tree. I think it was a girl and she was very beautiful. Yaah!

On our final sighting, I was standing next to a small bush looking through my bino’s and my right elbow was right next to a green ants nest. The next thing I knew I was brushing ants off and Digby was pulling off my backpack and brushing ants out my hair and my back. We had been told that if you disturb a green ants nest and are covered, you need to take off your shirt to make sure you got everyone. Luckily, we didn’t have to go that far and I was not even bit once.

We have the afternoon off and there may be night tracking again. I am not sure if I will go, as I am on kitchen duty tomorrow, which means a very early morning.

Sunday, May 21 – St. Bee’s

I was on kitchen duty after a not too restful night and broke a blood vessel in my right eye. I was pretty pooped and as I look back on it, the last three days were pretty intense. I am able to do most of the hiking, with sufficient rests, but it becomes more difficult if I have to carry a lot of extraneous equipment. Usually when you go out as a team, each member carries some of the load. Some people don’t have backpacks or don’t care to carry too much. Bill is wise enough to know that this is strenuous and unaccustomed activity for most of us and is very reasonable if someone wants to take some extra time off the mountain. The two half days of rain helped to give us a rest. I am torn, because at some times, I would like to have a little rest, but how can I skip a chance to see these beautiful animals.

Delma left today but she will met us at the marina on Tuesday. She is very friendly and we have lots of common interests such as dancing, music, and animals and are of similar age. I may have the chance to see her for dinner once I am back in Mackay.

My team today was Digby, Tashina and Me going after Abby, Tea, Olivia, Honey, Stud, Digger, and Winston. There were two koalas that were normally close together and on the way home, so whatever team got there first was to go after them as well, Natasha and Macaroon.

Digby on tracking, Tashina on self-doubt and Jane on spotting, off we went. It was lovely sunny weather again and we had lots of friendly swamp wallabies that accompanied us.

Photo – Wallaby

I was happy that I managed to spot the first three and I finally feel that my eyes are dialed in to seeing them. They are still hard as they are a small grey animal, next to grey bark and on this trip, against a grey sky. It also doesn’t help that some of them love to hide, high up in dense foliage in the dark. Tashina spotted one and I mistakenly thought that was her first that she had seen and announced it over the two-way radios. I was corrected that she had seen one before. Digby saw almost all the others and was adding to his cleanskin/unassisted scores during the day. We got a call that the other team had Stud and had found Natasha.

Bill was hoping for us to catch Frontier and Stud at least as their collar batteries are running low and once you loose the signal, it is hard to find them. We got the call after we had finished Olivia that there were two clean skins to be caught, so we went back to base to get the gear.

Karin at spotted two on the top of the knoll and up we went. Usually, we stop quite a lot to listen and reposition, but this time it was straight up. I brought up the rear with several stops and lots of sweating.

We started with the poles but when Digby’s pole separated and beamed Antonio on the head, we ended up with the tarp method to catch the koala. I was on the tarp and just as we brought it up in the center, our koala popped out over the top on my left. She leapt to the ground and I dropped the tarp and helped to pin her to the ground. As I had a hand on her, as she was a clean skin I would get to name her. She turned out to be blind, corneal scar on the right eye and left eye totally opaque. She was quite old and the letter I had to name her with was F. I decided on Freedom, as she had been free for so long. She was a little feisty, but I did not want to saddle her with a difficult name for the rest of her life. We did the normal data collection and I was scribe for Bill and when it was time for release, I got to do it. Normally, you get to the base of the tree that she was in, put down the sack and seat the koala and then slowly open the bag and let them see the tree. Freedom was already climbing out to the sack as I approached the tree and I did not get her to the ground. I positioned her near the trunk, but she took off to the right and kept going until she found a larger tree to climb. She would approach an obstacle, bump into it and then modify her position and keep going. I felt very bad about not getting her back into her tree, but I am sure her first priority was to get away from the large smelly things and up into a very safe tree.


The next cleanskin was very close to Freedom, so we did not need to move the equipment. This one really tested our resources. Again we began with the pole and both Digby and Bill ended up with a shower of urine. They the koala moved into three different trees before we finally got her after no luck with the tarp, with Antonio and Damien pinning her to the tree. Antonio got a slight scratch for his trouble. She turned out to be Quince, who had been caught before and had successfully gotten rid of her previous ear tags. She was very happy to only have one ear tag and happily went up her tree and as far up and over as she could get.

We sent down the hill as a combined group to locate the last 4 koalas on our lists and Karin found another cleanskin. Again, catchable, we managed to tarp a koala that turned out to be an un-named koala that we named Groucho. We didn’t have a proper catch bag, so Bill collected him in a canvas shopping bag and as I had never held one during data collection, I had the honor. Bill found he did not have a proper sized collar and as we were close to base, he left us and went off to get the equipment. We put Groucho back in the bag, as he was whinging. He would sit with his head out of the bag and let out a long, grouchy sound, not necessarily moving around, but letting us know of his displeasure. He got a little quieter in the bag and finally settled down. It began to sprinkle so we moved under cover and put on coats.


When it was time to release him, I asked if I could do it so I could do it properly once. Antonio was with me, thank heavens. As I went to release him, I had him on the ground and in the correct orientation, but as I opened the bag, her had pulled the handle of the bag into him and had it around his neck. We ended up having to pin him to the tree again in order to get the sack off him. Both he and I were relieved when it was over.

We finally found Frontier in a place where we could get her and did our forth and most entertaining catch of the day. Tarp in place, we were tired, but ready to catch her. It was a heavily leaved tree and as they could not get her off the perimeter of the tree, she ended up going back down the truck. Just as she was pinable, she turned around and launched herself over Karin’s head and was off down the hill. Chris and Antonio went scampering after her with Bill shouting, “Go get her, don’t let her get away”. It had been raining and it was wet, but Chris managed to get his hands on her, but she got away up the tree. Luckily Digby with his pole managed to get her going back down the tree and then Chris, Damien and Antonio pinned and got her into the bag. Antonio took a few more scratches. With her new collar in place, Damien released Frontier, and she also did a right hand turn and selected a larger blue gum tree farther away. That made me feel a lot better about the release of Frontier.

All during the day as I spotted a koala, I was able to say goodbye, thanked then for the tolerance of our interference into their lives and asked Francis and Lilith to look over these special little charges.

When we got back to base, we began to download everyone’s photos to my and Bill’s computers in order to combine them, along with Bill’s data so that we can leave with both reports and everyone’s photos. What a wonderful idea! This way everyone should end up with photos of themselves and other interesting views, as everyone has a different way of looking at things. We will have a fair number of duplicates, but we will be able to pick and choose and keep the very best of them.

We had guests for dinner and Cynch, Karin and I made pasta and three types of sauces, garlic toast, salad and chocolate M&M cake for dessert. Another success, but the cake was still soggy in the middle. Not sure if it is the oven, the recipe or what, but no one turned down chocolate cake. After the wine and the excitement of the day, I was pooped and slept very well.

Monday, May 22 – Last Day at St. Bee’s

Today we would not be going to search for koalas but would be packing up the equipment and getting ready to leave very early on Tuesday. Breakfast was at 7 and we were transcribing the rest of the photos from 8-10. At 10, Karin and I packed the pantry, and from 12-2 there were more computer gyrations as Bill was burning DVD’s. After 2, Karin and I transcribed the pantry inventory on the computer for Bill. We all gathered at the south house for social time, I to my blog and to watch most of the men play beach soccer/rugby/football.

Tashina was queen of the kitchen and made the team lovely meat curry and dal with red lentils. We were eating up the last of the desserts so we had both a plum pudding and a chocolate pudding with cream or custard.

This was our last night on the island and the final presentation from Bill showed us all the data that we had collected. Over 300 observations, 14 catches, and new animals tagged to increase the tracking data in the future. After the presentations, each of us received a DVD with all of the data and everyone’s pictures and even some videos. Along with the DVD, we received individual awards.

Jane – Queen of Organization
Antonio – King of the Catch
Karin – Quiet Achiever – 2nd best at spotting
Damien – Unrealized Potential to Spot Cleanskins
Cynch – Can Spot Unassisteds!
Chris – The Koala Whisperer?
Tashina – Queen of Sleep
Digby – King Spotter May 06

Team   Quen1.JPG

We all hung around and kept talking, not wanting it to end and asking lots more questions of Bill. Finally we did need to get back and pack and clean up our areas as the boat was arriving at 7:00 am the next day.

Tuesday, May 23 – Back to Mackay

Up at 6 to shower, pack and get the laundry down to the pick up site. We were all there at 7:00 waiting to be told that the boat had just called and they were running late. Drizzled rain, but when the boat finally appeared, it had cleared enough to load. Only three trips, as we did not have to take back any of the food, only the recycling and Cameron.

As the second boat shuttle trip left the beach, I had the feeling I had to check our house once more, so off I went. I didn’t think I had been gone that long, but by the time I was heading back, everyone was loaded and waiting for me so I ran across the sand to the boat. I guess I did not want to leave. I will miss the koalas, but must admit that my feet will appreciate some time on level, non-sandy ground. Even with showers, sometimes it is hard to get all the sand and gravel off.

The trip back to the mainland was a little rougher than our other crossing, but no one had problems while we were on the boat. Chris and I were up top with the captain and I was sitting right up front with my left foot propped against one of the panels. When the boat hit a particularly nasty swell, my left foot pushed the triangular panel out and it disappeared into the sea. This allowed lots of spray into the top deck and Chris was eventually drenched and retreated down stairs. I moved over to the other side. The Daryl, the skipper, was very nice about and refused to let me pay for the repair. We finally settled that I would buy him breakfast when we landed.

no panel.JPG

We were running a little late and as most of the team was catching the 11am to Brisbane and out to other locations, they showered quickly and called a cab. Only Tashina, Cynch and I remained and had breakfast with Bill, Delma (who came to meet us at the marina), and Daryl, the skipper. Before breakfast we had to say goodbye to the team and with lots of hugs, off they went.

Breakfast was great and after goodbyes to Bill, Delma dropped the three of us off at my motel. Tashina and Cynch were taking a 5pm flight to Brisbane so they had the afternoon to shop. I dropped my bag in the room and found that my stored luggage and coat were already in my room. As we were approaching the motel, I had this feeling that I had packed my “supposedly forgotten” sandals in my stored luggage. That was indeed the case. Anthony, you are so good to me!

We walked in the drizzle to the local mall, called Caneland for all the sugar cane fields in the area. Typical mall with a Target, Woolworth’s (a grocery chain), a second grocery store and lots of little shops. Tashina and I kept loosing Cynch, so when we finally spotted her, we stayed with her. I walked back to my motel and the ladies went off in a cab to collect Tashina’s other luggage and they met me at my motel. Two more hugs, and my team experience with the koalas officially ended.

What will the team remember about our experience on St. Bees? The Robinson Caruso style living, the curlew alarm every morning, the gyrations to light the gas stove toaster and oven the banging of the trees and the house during the rain storms, Tashina’s naps, Esmerelda, the race down the hill after Frontier, Damien’s mosquito bites, the boys planning coconut patenque, beach rugby/soccer/Aussie rules football, George’s coconut? Hopefully all of it and more because it was truly one of the most unique two-weeks any of us have seen to date.

I spent the afternoon unpacking and planning the next phase of my adventure; sailing the barrier reef and getting back to Rockhampton (Rocky) for my next placement with the wallaby’s. It should be a quiet next few days with dinner with Delma, maybe a hair trim, a little shopping, blogging and hopefully posting it, and post card writing. I do have one half-day trip to the Eunagella forest for platypus sightings and then the bus to Airlee Beach where I catch the boat to the Whitsundays, some islands near the Great Barrier Reef.

I had dinner at my motel and had a chance to get to know Dawn, the owner. She is lovely and is just beginning to think about the next phase of her life, as her daughters are soon to leave home and she and her husband Mark know they don’t want to stay in motels forever.

Next posting, the days between my first two Australian animal volunteer placements.

Posted by ladyjanes 03:31 Archived in Australia Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Entry 19 A - Koala's continued

Still on St. Bees Island, Australia

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Australia Diary – May 9 – July 13 – Second Week

Monday, May 15 – St. Bee’s – I AM ON THE MAP!

Karin took a big stand for herself yesterday and declared that today was the day that she would be able to see another koala without help. She inspired me and when I picked my vibes card for the day, it was Call in your Runners – Time for me to find a koala!

Ah, the luxury of being able to sleep in a little as I am not on kitchen duty. Today our team was only three people, as Cynch, who was on kitchen duty today, opted to stay in the kitchen and cook. So my team of Digby, Damien and I, with Sean as the shadow, left the base with 6 koalas on our list and most of them, I have seen before. YAAH! Abby, Tea, Olivia, Stud, Yoshi, Digger.

I am finding that I am very popular with the mosquitoes, especially around the elbows??, but at least the gecko is not peeing on me anymore.

I told the team that today was the day that I would see the koala’s unassisted. I asked if they found one, to let me try and find it before they pointed it out to me. Embolden by my new stand and commitment to have fun and let my runners help me, as we were going for Abby, I thought I had spotted one, but it was only a branch. We were to approach her very quietly and let Delma know as Abby is one that she is following and she wanted to make sure she stayed put.

Next the team went up the gully for Tea and again, I finally spotted the animal after it had been sited. At this point, Sean determined that our PDA was not talking to our GPS, but with some radio assistance and Sean’s determination, it was finally working.

Our third koala was Olivia who you may remember was Miss Elusive and originally was very high in the tree and almost obscured by branches. As the tracking device indicated that we were close, I looked up and way in the top branches was a little grey face looking down at me. When I got my bino’s in place, the eyes were closed and she was taking a nap. I was very happy that I had finally found one by myself! THANK YOU OLIVIA AND THANK YOU RUNNERS! I felt wonderful.

Olivia was not in a tagged tree so we went into action. Delma wanted to see Abby, Tea and Olivia in order to place a monitor near them and she was with us for the nearest neighbor’s data collection. Sean left us to go do some other work and inadvertently walked off with our PDA and GPS device.

Our next two were in a totally different area so off we went to find Stud and Yoshi.

I was on tracking as we went after Stud. My team was very patient with me as I had them up and down the mountain and both left and right. We found Stud and this time, he was not as hidden as before. Bill sent Sean back with our PDA so that we could continue to get full records.

Yoshi was problematic so we opted for lunch and then we would try again. About this time, we were asked to look for Winston instead of Yoshi and then do Digger.

We found Winston and on the way to going after Digger, I spotted my first unassisted koala (Albie), which means we were not using the tracking device when I spotted him. He was very small and looked very sleepy. (We found out later that he was about 18 months old, had already been collected by the other team and was determined to be too small to collar at this time. No wonder he looked so beat!)

It was lovely to see Digger, the koala that I had seen caught the previous day. I fancied that I could recognize his face, although I am not sure that I can. He was very curious about us and a little concerned we might be after him again. I kept assuring him that he was all right. Digger was in an untagged tree, so we were running around underneath him for a good 15 minutes. As I had seen before, as soon as we started nailing the tree tag in place, he climbed higher.

Just as we were finishing Digger, Bill, Delma, Sean marched past on the way to a catch of a clean skin. We went along to see if they needed help and we got to watch Bingo being caught and collared. He was only about 6 feet up in the tree and he put up quite a struggle but finally made it into the bag. He received two yellow ear tags in his left ear and a maroon one in his right. Two tags in the left means male, two tags in the right is for females. (According to the crew, the females are always right).

I got to hold him, but he refused to pose for photos and kept his eyes closed. When Antonio set him free, he sat at the bottom of the tree for a minute. Then decided he liked the larger tree behind him and moved over and scampered up.

We returned to the base camp for a Mexican meal made by Cynch, assisted by Karin, with me as the consultant. We have added Alistair to the team, who is the other primary investigator for St. Bee’s Island. He will only be with us for 2 days and when he leaves, he takes Sean with him.

Tuesday, May 16 – St. Bee’s – Rain Rain Go Away!

Woke to overcast skies but started out at our normal time. With more koalas tagged, our lists increase every day. Luckily, we have people who are very adept at tracking so we don’t take too much time between finds. The competition for clean skins and unassisted is fierce and at times, it appears that people are more interested in adding to their total then enjoying the animals.

I still find is amusing that as soon as we find the koala, the team generally ignores it and scurries around the base of the tree collecting data and then heading off to the next find. I long to just sit and admire them for a time.

My team today was Antonio as tracker (known for his ability to get you there quickly and almost always pinpoints the tree exactly), Damien (the man who tends to lead us in the wrong direction as we begin), Cynch and I. Sean joined us after our first find today. Bill stayed in on the radio to directed us from afar and Delma accompanied the other team.

Our list included Natasha, Honey, Yoshi, Winston, Yellow, Elizabeth, Gizmo, Frontier and Jackaroo.

Closest to us was Natasha in an untagged tree, but when we found her, we only tied a tag on a pink ribbon on the tree so as not to disturb her. Delma wants to monitor her later on, so we will have to return later to do nearest neighbors. Delma’s group was after Abby, but she was not were she had been found for the last few days, so we had a listen for her and she was somewhere close to the point of the hill. Once we got through out list, we would try for her if they had not already found her. We went straight up the hill to find Honey, who was considerably higher then we have seen her before. A gentle rain began, but we continued. Sean caught up with us and we found we had Stud not far away, so we told the other team we would take him, if they would take Gizmo. They agreed. (Gizmo has not been seen yet this trip and we are having a devil of a time getting a signal on the receiver for him.). By the time we found Stud, it was raining in earnest and we ducked under the cover of an umbrella tree to wait it out. After 15 minutes and we were all pretty wet, the rain lightened and as we were already wet, we decided to continue to try and locate Yoshi. Sean told Bill that I would like a thermos of hot, milky tea sent up with biscuits and after we decided on both types of biscuits, Bill signed off. We continued across the top of the hill and the rain increased. Under another tree we stood and got wetter, but we had also located a koala that we were not tracking but was marked. Luckily, it was in a tagged tree but it was not on our small list, so we had to consult the expanded list and go off the ear tags. We determined that is was Vertigo and the rain continued.

Bill said the other team was heading back and we began to descend as the rain increased. It was slick going down hill so we were even slower than usual but we finally made it to the goat highway close to the bottom of the hill. As we got closer to the gully, we came across a dead, collared koala right on the path. We tried to quickly determine who it was, but our short list was beginning to disintegrate with all the water. Sean carried the male koala by the hind legs and we continued towards home. By this time, every part of me was wet, I had removed my glasses as there was nothing to dry them on and I could not see with all the water drops. If I inadvertently raised my arms, I got a cold shower of rain into that armpit. We were soaked.

One wet team.JPG

At the North house, we determined that the koala was Cameron, the one that we had tracked for the last several days and I had seen the day before. Upon closer inspection, there were no apparently signs of reasons for his death, other then he was elderly, (8 years) and not in good body condition. His hipbones were very prominent under his soaked skin. Very sad for the team. It was 11:40 am when we arrived back at camp. As I arrived back, I realized that I had lost one or my leather gloves that I had taken out the previous day.

Alistair had been on the mountain with us and was also soaked. Nonetheless, he went back out as he needed to do some research and only had two days on the island. He headed back out. THEN IT REALLY BEGAN TO RAIN – BUCKETS OF WATER FOR THE NEXT TWO HOURS. I kept expected to see Alistair shooting past on a torrent of water from the hill. (It was determined that we got around 68 mls or around 2.5 inches of rain)

I ended up reading for most of the day and tried to nap. By 3:30, the rain had pretty much stopped. The sun did not come out, but it was clearing, so the teams were back on the hill by 4pm. There had been a chance that we would begin night tracking tonight, but Bill said we would just try to sight everyone on the list and leave the night tracking for another day.

With only had about 2 hours of good light left, so we started off to find Yellow on the farthest tip of the point. The ground was wet and slick in places and there were little rivers coming off the hill that we normally did not see, but we were amazed how comparatively dry the foliage was around us. Found Yellow and then went after Elizabeth. Sean was again going to join us. At this point, the other team kept spotting animals that we needed to get, so after Elizabeth and a few unassisted (Nell, Winston and Marina) and one very complicated nearest neighbors data collection, we were asked to go back and finish nearest neighbors on Natasha.

I was going to get the team back to the original tree with the GPS coordinates we had taken earlier that day. I found the coordinated and off we went. I found that the arrow on the device kept pointing in the wrong direction but the distance kept going down. At this point, we found Natasha in another tree and had to collect that data, so I went back to assist with the PDA on her and Sean and Damien went off with the GPS. By the time Cynch and I got there, the light was really fading and they were well into nearest neighbors.

We went very slowly down the hill to the bay, as it was very steep and slick and walked across the bay to home. Luckily, we were not too wet this time, as most of us are on our last set of dry clothes.

At dinner tonight Bill discussed night tracking and a possible change in our schedule for tomorrow. We were supposed to have tomorrow afternoon off, but if the weather improved, we might do am tracking, partial afternoon off, early dinner and night tracking. Night tracking is done with considerably smaller groups and involves finding every koala we tracked during the day and just seeing if they are in different trees or with different koalas around them. I indicated that for me, on the day I would do night tracking, I would definitely want my afternoon of down time, as it could be a very late night, followed by another full day of tracking. Bill said that would be fine and that night tracking would be optional. We will come up with a roster so that the teams are small and everyone gets a chance to do it if they want to.

Off to bed, but not much sleep as the rain and wind returned and it was a very loud night.

Wednesday, May 17 – St. Bee’s – Here comes the rain again!

I went to breakfast a little earlier today, Karin was already was at the South House because she was on kitchen duty today and the other two ladies were also up and moving much earlier than usual. It is just as well because literally one minute after we arrived for breakfast, the sky opened and down came the rain. Bill indicated we would not be going out any time soon, so I spent the morning down loading photos and blogging. The rain may also mean that Alistair and Sean will stay another day, as the plane will not be able to arrive at Keswick Island.

The weather finally cleared, so we were going to head out at about noon. The fine weather meant that Sean and Alistair would also be able to leave. Hugs and pictures at the boat, we waved them off, ate lunch and then put on our boots.

I was finally on a team with Bill, the PI, along with Karin, Chris and Antonio. Both teams made short work of our lists and with Digby tracking for the other team, other people were able to score a few clean skins and unassisteds. Karin also found my leather glove that I had lost during the big rain the other day. YAAAH! It spitted rain on and off, but we only were half soaked by the time we made it back in just under 2 hours having found every koala on our list plus 4 extra one. Our list today included Natasha, Jackaroo, Yellow, Winston, Elizabeth, Frontier and Digger.

Natasha was our first and easy to find the same as yesterday. Just up the way, we came across Jackaroo, and since we did not have him on the radar, he was an unassisted sighting. Next we found Yellow and Bill helped us see that she had a large pouch and a little guy hiding in there. As she is one of the ones to be caught so that they can change the battery in her collar, we may get to see little guy.

Elizabeth was no problem and on the way over to Winston we also found Nell and Frontier.
Digger was out last to find and as I stood on a rock and surveyed all I could see, Karin spotted him directly above me. I had already checked to see if this was a day I would find one, and the vibes said no. I caught him in mid chew and he had a eucalyptus leaf out both sides of his mouth with a worried look on his face. When I looked back again a few minutes later, he still had it in the same position. I spoke to him and told him he was all right, we weren’t going to disturb him today and that he could go back to eating, he began to chew again. He really does have the most wonderful face. I hope to see him again soon.

Our teams are knocking off the lists within 2 hours now, especially when we have our super trackers in the lead - Digby and Antonio. Damien is also very good as is Chris. Chris, bless his heart, has had major shoe difficulties on this trip. The old boots he brought from home had the soles come off within 2 days. The sneakers he wore the next day, was the day it poured, so they are wet and the borrowed boots from Bill are rubbing sores in new places. Add to the complication he has big feet and there just aren’t any second hand left over shoes that fit him. Even so, he continues on with a can-do attitude.

Both Karin and I have tracked some, but we don’t feel as comfortable with it. We can do it; it just takes the teams a little longer between animals. Cynch and Tashina have not tracked yet, but will be given an opportunity soon.

I blogged for most of the afternoon. We had an early dinner because some of the team would be going out for night tracking. I opted to stay back and make a birthday cake for Karin, and Cynch and Tashina also stayed. During the night, the teams try and find the same animals we saw earlier during the day. As koalas are usually nocturnal, there is usually more active and moving around even between trees. Bill likes to do day, night and then day tracking on the same animals to see what patterns can be found in their movement and home range, followed by an afternoon off. Those who did not partake the first time will have two more opportunities, but it is optional, but apparently, addictive.

They all marched off at 7pm with large torches (flashlights) and headlamps if they had them, two teams to find 9 koalas. Bill estimated they would be back around 10pm. I began in the kitchen at 7:30 and thank heavens I did, because they made it through the list within 90 minutes and were heading back. The cake was baked and the hot chocolate ready, but the cake was still too warm to ice. I finally had to ice the cake as the waving lights approached the kitchen, but the icing pooled in the middle of the cake and made it very soggy. It still tasted nice to them. It was a different taste than I was accustomed to and I left it sort of tasted like dish soap. No one else had that problem, so I guess it was a success. Karin would not allow us to sing her the song, because it was not her actual birthday. We will have to wait until tomorrow.

Karin and cake.JPG

We ended the evening eating cake on the beach, drinking hot chocolate (or beer for some) and watching the stars. It was fun.

Thursday, May 18 – St. Bee’s – No rain and the afternoon off!

I woke up and met Karin on the porch between our rooms on the way to the bathroom and sang her birthday congratulations.

We determined that during the eating cake episode on the beach from last night, that Damien attracted every sand flea within 20 miles and has red spots over 30 % of his lower body. Not only awful to look at, very itchy and painful especially when brushed against.

The morning started the same with the exception that today some volunteers would be doing two-hour observations on individual koalas. I had volunteered and so I was put on Delma’s team this am. Damien, Cynch, Tashina, Karen and I struck off to find Abby.

I was to be put on the watch with Abby, and then the team would leave Delma and I and proceed to the next koala. Cynch was trying her hand at tracking and got us to Abby without too much difficulty. Luckily Abby was in a tagged tree so the data collection was minimal and then they moved on. Before we began the observations, Delma set a weather monitor in the tree near Abby. Delma showed me the data collection sheets that were in 5-minute increments. Every five minutes you would indicate the koala’s position in the tree, posture, exposure to the sun and activity. She changed positions just before we started and then sat in one part of the tree for 2 hours. There was heavy cloud cover so exposure stayed the same for most of the time. She essential slept for most of the time so her posture did not change much. Pretty much the only thing I was monitoring was her activity was mainly, sleeping, scratching, slightly changing her position and swaying in the breezes that came by. Delma left me after about 30 minutes and went to set Cynch up to observe Tea farther up the rain forest gully. The time went pretty quickly as soon as I had a fresh spray of mosquito juice and ate my apricot bar.

The pattern that I found was that she usually stayed in one position for over 4 minutes and then in the last 30 seconds of the 5-minute blocks, she would do something. It was a gift to have the time to just sit and watch one animal. Even though she wasn’t jumping around very much, I had the luxury of time to really examine her through the bino’s and see her coat pattern, ears and watch her work with her pouch. I think she has a little someone in there. They really do look cuddly and their fur is very dense. I am glad I did it and had the chance to sit with one koala and admire her for a long time.

Friday, May 19 – St. Bee’s

Tracking all day – I had been feeling like a team lightweight recently with not much ability to spot the Koala’s and not tracking. Today, I asked to track and my team was Cynch, Damien and myself. We had a short list – Yellow, Elizabeth, Yoshi, Winston, Digger, Frontier and Natasha.

Bill asked us to go after Yellow first as she was a female that needed her collar changed and we had seen that she had a large pouch and probably had a little guy inside. On the way to Yellow, Cynch (our primary spotter for the entire day), found Natasha as an unassisted, so we had one off the list. I took my team for an hours’ walk as we went up the hill, down the hill, across the hill and to the right and the left. Once I settled myself down from my frustration of not being perfect at this and with coaching from Damien, I became more confident. I still find that I loose track of where I have been on the hill and am not quick to determine other locations to try to verify my position.

Finally, we narrowed in on Yellow and Cynch found her in a medium tree under cover. The other team and Bill were another 40 minutes coming to us as Karin was finishing a 2 hour observation. During our time, we snacked and Damien had a wee nap in the weeds.

Damien nap.JPG

Once everyone had assembled, we started with just a pole catch, but that did not get her out of the tree. Out next attempt was with a tarp where four of us were underneath the tree and the poles were used to back her into the outer branches and then she dropped into the tarp. Once in the tarp, all of us on the corners came quickly into the middle and held the tarp high. She was then moved into a white canvas bag. Standard procedures ensued with changing her collar, measuring her head, looking at her teeth and checking her body score. There was a little bit of blood and Bill assumed she might have torn a claw when she was fighting with the pole.

Yellow and cynch.JPG

After all that, Bill gently extracted the little baby from the pouch. It was a little girl, who kept bleating for her mum, and she was about the size of 4-week-old kitten. She was very sweet and Karin, whose birthday was yesterday, had the honor of naming her. Her name had to begin with an E and we considered Erica, but the final name was Esmeralda. Once Bill had measured Esmeralda, took a small ear sample and put in the small metal ear tags, we tried to put her back in Mum’s pouch. No luck, so we left them in the bag together for 10 minutes. After 5, baby was still holding on to Mum’s belly. But when we looked in again, the baby put her head in the pouch and climbed in. It was a very easy release and Yellow immediately climbed high in the tree and found an even taller one to go to. She did some acrobatics as she transferred trees, but as she was quite a good gymnast, no problems. It has been very reassuring to me to see the animals the next day doing normal activities and not very bothered by us. I know that the catching is stressful for them, so to see them apparently recovered so quickly is very positive.


After doing the nearest neighbors and a quick lunch, I lead the team on. We were slow going and the other team contacted us when we came across one of our animals and did the necessary work. We ended up with about 5 animals, and I did manage to spot Winston in the tree when were tracking him. All in all, a good day in the field, but I did buy each of my able-bodied crew a beer at dinner as a thank you for their patience.

Just as we were finished with our list, Bill asked us to join the group on the way back to base to assist with the catch of clean skin. The koala seemed to be in a low enough tree, but there were two trees nearby that we had to guard so that once on the ground, the animal could not escape up the tree. Once it began, the koala ended up on Delma’s pole. She began to collapse the pole and brought the animal within catching distance to the team members on my right. However, we had been told not to try and pluck a koala off the tree, they need to get a foot on the ground. Well, he did, and then he managed to get up a tree just past two team members and up the tree before we could do anything. The after-the-fact coaching that we received was that if that happens again, is to press the koala against the tree at the shoulder and rump area until the expert arrives. Bill was a little disappointed, but recovered well.

Night tracking – After dinner, the entire group donned our boots, grabbed our large torches and headlamps and headed back up into the hills to find the koalas and what they were up to at night. Usually, you can find them in a gum tree eating. During the day they are in other trees, usually the ones with heavier cover and are just hanging out and napping. So by focusing on the gum trees only, once the koala in range, you had a better chance of finding them. I found it very surprising that the hiking in the dark appeared easier then in the day, no ants to be seen and fewer spiders to walk through. I must say, however, that the koalas were as hard to see in the night as in the day. The earlier group had said all you had to do was shine your torch into the tree and see the glistening eyes. All the koala’s had their eye shades on or knew enough to not look at the lights, because I saw not one set of glistening eyes.

The other wonderful thing about the night tracking was the great view of the night sky. With only the bright glow of Mackay in the distance, you really had a good chance to spot and identify the constellations. The most famous constellation in the Southern Hemisphere, the Southern Cross, was bright and highly identifiable not only this night, but most of the others as well.

Posted by ladyjanes 03:27 Archived in Australia Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Entry #19 - Koala placement - Australia, where else?

Cute cute cute

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Entry # 19 - Australia Diary – May 9 – July 13 – First Week

Tuesday, May 9 – Auckland – Sydney – Brisbane – Mackay

I just re-read my NZ blog. I used LOVELY a lot. Isn’t that Lovely? I took most of them out!

As I was leaving NZ, I had to be up at 5 for 5:50 pick up. Woke Bette to give her a good-bye hug and off I went. I was sorry to leave NZ, but I was very much looking forward to Australia and getting to see the animals. Both bags weighed 27 kg. (Not bad!) I had a Qantas flight to Sydney with two seats all to myself. The movie was Match Point, which I had not really expected to watch, but once I was in it, I could not stop until the end. A sad movie I found. I had no problems in customs because I took Annie’s advice and went into the something to claim aisle. I always say that I have candy and that I have just been hiking and I get ready to hand over my shoes. I also showed them my raw almonds from NZ and they did not let me keep them. No problem.

I knew that I would have a 6-hour wait in Sydney until I got on my connections to Brisbane and finally Mackay. The best thing about my new airline, Virgin Blue (VB) is that they accepted my luggage immediately! YAAAH! Another bonus was that VB had a special offer going where you could access their lounge for $5 for a day pass. The best $5 I spent all day.

I had changed the last of my NZ$ into Aust $, but I figured I would need some more. I was a little taken a back when the ATM had said that I was already at my daily limit. I hadn’t taken any out that day, but I had done a withdrawal the night before to give Bette money for my packages back to the States. I went off to have a sit and a think about my options and to do some computer work. During my sit, which also involved eating all the candy in my backpack, I had two plans of attack – I had US$ cash I could exchange until I could get to a bank in Mackay and I also had traveler’s checks I could cash. As I sat there longer, I realized that maybe I had asked for too much, and by asking for a lower amount, I would be successful. That was the case, so I felt a little better with some more money in my pocket for cab fare in Mackay and lunch in Sydney. YAAAH! Sitting and thinking and not panicking does work!

Virgin Blue is very similar to the old People’s Express flights – the food on the flight was concessions. Not a bad way to go and they did have quite a nice selection of snacks, as both my flights were less than 2 hours each. On my flight between Sydney and Brisbane, I did have a window seat, but there was no window next to me. No problem, I read.

When I landed in Brisbane, I only had 30 minutes to make my flight, but I only had to walk one gate down, No worries! On my flight from Brisbane to Mackay, I again had a row of seats to myself and I was pretty tired by this point of my day. We landed in Mackay and I was trying to do the math of when was the last time I had stood on Australian soil. I figured it was right around 35 years, as I celebrated my 12th birthday in Australia.


By the time, my bags arrived, all the taxis had left the taxi stand, but there was a phone to call for one. Some people had not called and just waited until the next one came back, but each cab that arrived was looking for a specific person. My cab driver was Andy and he was very nice. He told me about his other jobs including selling lots of things on EBAY. He told me his favorite store in Mackay was relocating and was having a huge stock reduction sale. As I needed a few things, I decided to go the next day.

I made it to the Pioneer Village Motel (Mackay is next to the Pioneer River) and my room was #12. As I walked to it the room numbers read 11, 12, 12A, 14, 15. Hmmmmm! I arrived around 9:30 and found I was in a very residential area. The only thing open was a KFC. The chicken wrap wasn’t too bad! GOOD NIGHT!

room numbers.JPG

Wednesday, May 10 – Mackay

I slept in late, or at least it felt that way due to the time change. I called a friend to wish a happy birthday and it is always fun to connect with someone at home and tell them how the trip is going.

I found I did need a few things for the trip to St. Bee’s, such as a belt, a different hat, sneakers or reef shoes and bug spray, so I decided I would follow Andy’s suggestion. As I started out, with my map of Mackay, I came across houses with an interesting architecture. I learned later that they were called Queenslander’s. With their elevation and the large, covered porch that goes all the way around the house, they are much cooler than the traditional houses would be. I keep forgetting how very hot most of Australia can be for most of the year. I am sure I will get a good feel for it, even though, I am technically here during the fall and going into winter.


The store that Andy mentioned was a thrift store, and while most of the inventory was gone, I went it to see what I could find. No shoes or hats that would work, but I did find a lightweight shirt ($1.00). By the window there was a large bin with belts. I had to go through practically the entire bin in order to find a belt large enough and without decorator flourishes. All the while I was at the window with the belt bin, there was a dragonfly that kept fighting to get out, but wasn’t making it. It appeared to be tiring, so I managed to get him onto a purse and out the door. I asked Francis to please remind him that he is better outside than inside.

Mackay is a small town with a river on the south side and a harbor that faces the Tasman Sea. It is very flat here and appeared pretty tropical. I heard lots of birds that I could not see and walked about 15 minutes into town. The downtown is about a 4 X 4 block grid of shops and restaurants, banks, etc. I found an ATM and managed a larger withdrawal. Also on my ramble, I found a New Age Store and was lured in my their wonderful incense. I looked through their books and did not find any by Sonia. They had several sets of her cards though, and when I asked the shop owner, she indicated that she had a hard time keeping the books in stock. She had gone to a seminar where Sonia was one of 5 different speakers and was very drawn to her and her energy. I bought some lovely Bergamot oil (ground and elevate mood) and a book.

I treated myself to lunch at a gourmet shop that also caters and had a delicious chicken wrap and Camembert and a Greek salad. As I exited lunch, I decided to walk home and stop by the art gallery and see if any of the Earthwatch people had arrived yet. On my walk, I saw my first Aussie man in shorts, knee socks and leather shoes. They do still exist.

As I continued to walk, I saw a lady on the street corner and asked directions. Her name was Kaye and we spent an absolutely lovely 40 minutes together. She was from Sydney and was in Mackay to play with the new grandbaby. She was searching for a shop that had calendars and I followed her. Within 5 minutes of meeting, she had given me her business card and suggested that I call her when I arrive back to Sydney. Confirmation that reaching out and asking for assistance leads you to the nicest people.

I stopped by the art gallery, but by that time, I was pooped and wanted a little rest before I hoped to meet Karin (an EW volunteer) for dinner. I had left a note for Karin when she checked in and I had a note under my door when I arrived back. She had planned to meet two of the other volunteers for dinner in 20 minutes. So, I went to meet her, checked my laundry that was on the clothesline and washed my face. Out the door and down the street I walked with Karin (from Germany) and Digby (from Perth) back to town for dinner. We were supposed to call Damien (from England) to join us for dinner, but the cell phone wasn’t working. So I took out my newly acquired Aussie phone card and we found a phone booth.

Photo – Jane and Digby calling Damien

I made contact with Damien, but I was having a hard time understanding him, so I handed the phone to Digby. Damien was staying at a place across the river and was going to catch a cab and meet us. They said he had no hair so that I should be able to find him. Karin admitted that she had difficulty understanding Damien.

When we finally met Damien, I learned that he was from Liverpool, so the difficulty in comprehension was explained. (I am not sure if Damien changed how he spoke during the trip, but we all began to understand him generally much better within three –four days.) Damien is great fun, has a very dry sense of humor, and was a stitch when describing the rustic nature of his accommodations. “Do you want bedclothes? That will be an extra $5!”.

This is the first Earthwatch trip for each of them and all of them are being sponsored by their work. I am the only one paying my own way for this experience. After dinner, Digby and Karin wanted to stop by a bottle store and pick up beer for the two weeks. Meals were going to be included, but alcohol was on our own.

Between the three of them, we ended up buying 8 cases of beer and Damien took 2 with him, Digby carried 4 in a box and Karin and I both carried one back to our rooms. Digby was right across the street for us and we had planned to share a taxi to the marina at 8:00 the next morning.

Home to pack. I was so sleepy, I decided to get up early and do it. Maybe not the best decision I could have made.

Thursday, May 11 – EW on St. Bee’s Island

Unbeknownst to us, we had another volunteer staying at the Pioneer Villa Motel – Chris from New York, a journalist for a kid’s science magazine. When the taxi arrived, Karin, Digby, Chris and I with luggage, food bag from me, and 8 cases of beer stuffed into one taxi and went off to the marina.

At the marina, we met the two researchers and the rest of the team. Bill Ellis – Aust (Brisbane) is the primary investigator and Sean Fitzgibbon – Aust (Brisbane) his assistant for most of the trip. Bill is usually pretty quiet, has a lovely, calm energy and is very good with the volunteers. Sean has just gotten a job at the university, also has a lovely calm energy and is very patient. The rest of the team members are Tashina (Bangladesh), Cynch (Philippines), and Antonio (Aust – Adelaide). This is my first volunteer team where there are an equal number of men to women and out of 8, only 2 from the US.

We are team one of four for 2006 and Bill has been working on the island since 1998. They are publishing data from the research and expects to be gathering data for at least another 5 years. The other trips are in July (Winter), Oct (Spring) and Jan (Summer). If I come back, it will be in July, much better weather and fun things to see. More on this later.

We had to take off our shoes before we loaded on the boat, and in addition to our luggage and all the beer, we had to take all the equipment we would need and all of our food for two weeks that was delivered by the grocery store. We had a 60-minute boat ride to St. Bee’s Island, which is next to Keswick Island, on medium seas, and several people had turned green by the end. Only one person spoke to the fishes at the end of the trip, Bill our PI. He was very professional and cute about it, apologized to the group and then turned and hurled over the side of the boat. In all of his trips, this was his first bought of seasickness. We landed in Homestead Bay and had to ferry people to the beach to be the landing team. We were ferried to shore by Peter (a double leg amputee) who has been on the island for 30 years. As we arrived on shore, we also met George (Peter’s female Dalmatian) who was friendly enough but not overly so. Tashina is very afraid of dogs, so of course, George always ran up to greet her.

Arrival at St.JPG

It took about 5 trips to get everything unloaded from the boat. It was unloaded from the boat on to the beach, and while they went back for another load, we hauled the food up to the South House. We left the luggage and equipment on the shore until we knew who was staying in which house.

Once all was unloaded, Sean and the ladies organized the pantry and divided all the perishables into individual boxes, one of each day of our stay. These boxes were then transported to the cold room, which was located closer to the North House. In addition, Karin and I took all the dry food and unloaded it into the pantry. The rest of the team transported all the equipment up to the North House and began getting supplies ready for our trips up the hill.

Kitchen duty and kitchen assistant was allocated on a rotating basis for meal preparation. The main kitchen person for the day would monitor the radio, sweep out the house, prepare breakfast, lay out lunch supplies for preparation when the team would go into the field and cook dinner. This would give each of us basically a light day where we could rest a bit. Menus were provided for those of the team that were uncomfortable in the kitchen and generally with the kitchen helper, one of the team had some experience. Based on what I saw unloaded and what Karin and I handled, we will have more than enough food and it will be good food.

kitchen crew.JPG

The menu sheet showed meal and snacks for the entire time. Breakfast was between 6-8 am, lunch was packed by each individual and included sandwiches, fruit, gorp, cookies and sometimes cut up veggies and left overs. We were usually supposed to be back around 4pm and there would be cheese and crackers and then dinner around 6pm.

Bill and Sean handled cooking the first night and we all chose the days that we wanted to cook, based on what the menu of the day. As we had 12 days and only 8 of us, Bill would assign some of us to more than one day.

There are two main houses for the team to use for sleeping - South House and Kitchen –that is the main social area, sleeps 10 and has only one bathroom. The boys took that house. The North house – sleeps 9 and has two bathrooms. My room has two twin beds, a lovely view of the Homestead bay, Karin has the double bed and the door into our shared bathroom, Tashina and Cynch are in the quad room with their own bathrooms. Yah, a room to myself. Think of the Swiss Family Robinson or Robinson Caruso but with flush toilets, warm showers with low water pressure and gas oven cooking. We have two strengths and intensity of power, 120 and 240. The 120 power cells are photocells and if we are careless and leave on lights, we may not have that power source until the sun shines again. From 4 until 10 every night, we have a generator that gives us 240 power. Water is also a limited commodity and we are encouraged to use restraint in flushing the toilets and the length of our showers. Because we are a small team, it may not be that bad. When we do dishes, we are encouraged to file basins for soap and rinsing.

After we settled in and a brief lunch, we went for a little walk to see the knoll and we saw two koalas. They are as cute as they claim. Our first one was very clear to see and kept giving us great shots. The second was very shy and very hard to see. During our trip we learned about several species of trees that we would need to know for our data collection, what the termites look like, not to touch the caterpillars or cacti and how to avoid the green ant nests. If we find ourselves covered in green ants, we are to remove our clothes, literally. I asked first thing if there was anything similar to poison ivy on the island and was told no. At least I can push leaves and vines out of the way without fear.

From Bill, we learned that koalas have great arm muscles to hold on to their trees, but they do not have the capacity to push off. They also have very sharp claws and toes. Their back legs are also able to reach all parts of their bodies, but when subdued, they tend to roll into a ball.

We are in the tropics, and although it is fall, the mosquitoes are still around. So, with the help of Digby, I installed my mosquito netting. There were lots of unfamiliar noises as I went to sleep and my window will stay permanently open to capture as much of the lovely breeze as possible.

Mossie net.JPG

It looks to be very much fun, a little rustic, but with interesting people and lots of good food.

Friday, May 12 – St. Bee’s

Lots of wind and intermittent rain during the nights and banging doors and equipment that we did not nail down.

Breakfast was a little light as we did not have any bread, but more was being delivered by plane to the next island and ferried over by Peter.

I realized when I arrived that I only had my hiking boots with me. This would be very uncomfortable for me, as I would not have any shoes to change into as a break. Luckily, Karin had a spare set of sandals that I borrowed and my feet really appreciated it.

The morning was spent watching the video on capture techniques and learning how to use the reporting forms, GPS and PDA as alternative data capturing devises. We also learned to use the tracking equipment and how to measure the height of the trees. Bill hide transmitter collars in trees around the North house and two teams with receivers and hand-held antennas would go up and down the beach trying to triangulate and find the collar. It normally took 2-3 readings before we found it, which is good.

Lunch was quick and then we divided into two teams and set out to track at least 4 koala’s each. My team was lead by Sean and included Digby, Karin, Chris and I.

If you see a koala that is not the one that you are tracking, they come in two categories; clean skin or unassisted. A clean skin is when a koala does not have a collar or any ear tags. This is an animal that has never been captured. Unassisted means it is an animal that has been caught at some time and you can tell by the ear tags or collar who they are, but you found them without the assistance of the radio tracking equipment.

Once we spot a Koala there are several things to do.
If it tagged, collared and in a tree that already has an ID Tag – fill in the short form with date, name of animal, time, animals location in the tree, activity level, exposure to sun and posture. You also use the PDA and do a full set of records on the sighting.
If tagged and collared and not in a tagged tree – major data collection. GPS of Tree, type of tree, height of tree, height and specifics on 4 neighboring trees. PDA all collected info.

Our first Koala spotted by Karin was Honey. She was right up in the canopy and very easy to see.


Number 2 was Stud, spotted by Chris, who we were able to spot when we stood on a rocky outcrop and looked directly across from the rock to the exact top of his tree.

Number 3 was Cameron finally spotted by Karin – who gave us fits – Also in a non-tagged tree, we got our first try at all of our equipment. I found it amusing that as soon as we found a koala, after verifying we had the correct one, we would essentially ignore it and scurry around collecting data. I tried as much as possible to say hello and goodbye to each koala and to thank them for their involvement in our team experience and also the data that Bill is collecting. They sure are wonderful.

Number 4 was Olivia – who also gave us even more fits – very high, very dense leaves and Sean was the one who found her. She could not have been higher in the tree or better concealed. At this point of the day, I was getting hot and a little cranky. I was plugged in because I could not see them quickly enough and in order to see Olivia, I was standing on a steep hill with no footing and looking directly into the sun. I was not at my calm and most balanced best at this point of the day.

During this day we also saw Swamp Wallabies, rust and black faces and rather tame. Also a Sea Eagle that was huge and the ubiquitous wild goats. Apparently, Captain Cook and his crews would leave small numbers of goats on these islands in case a ship was wrecked. This way the survivors might have meat as they made repairs to their boats.

Both teams ended up together and on our way out, in a clear stand of trees in beautiful profile was Cyril or Tribble (not sure exact who we had because no neck collar and therefore, no way to conclusively verify). He also was very high in the tree and not way we could get a definite confirmation him.

On the way back, Karin and I participated in an unintended wild goose chase with Damien at the lead as he was trying to show us Abby. When Damien’s group had found her, Abby was only 2 meters up in a tree and close to the dump that was close to home. Abbey had moved on by the time we got there, and I realized, I was tired, hungry, cranky and not able to work the antenna very well. Not my most powerful position to be in.

It was lovely to be home for a warm shower and clean clothes, and after that, I felt much better.

Saturday, May 13 – St. Bee’s – First full day in the field

Digby on kitchen duty today and a lovely spread prepared for us to make our lunches.
Group Meeting at 8:30 and a change of team configuration with everyone assigned to specific tasks. I was with Sean, as leader, Chris, Damien and Tashina today. Damien started off at tracker and Tashina on PDA. Chris and my first function would be to help with the nearest neighbor data collection if required, koala look out at all other times, and eventually to be trained on all the other functions including the PDA and tracking.

Team at tramp.JPG

Our list of Koala’s to find was very similar to yesterday – Honey, Stud, Cameron, Olivia, Tea and possibly Abby, Elizabeth, Gizmo, Yoshi.

Our route was also very similar to yesterday. Goat highway to the knoll and climb up. First we found Abbey spotted by Chris and in a tagged tree. She was easy to see, once it had been pointed out, but she was a little wary of us and began to move higher on the branch. After PDA training, up we went to find Stud. Stud was located in a very similar tree in that is was right at the top and was almost totally obscured by another tree. Very Shy. Sean spotted him and again, another tagged tree. Our team felt very smug, two koala’s within one hour. A short break up on the ridge and we looked for the clean skin we had seen for the last two days. Luckily, he or she had moved off. I would have been concerned had it been in the same tree again. I had asked Bill if he was planning to catch him and tag him, and he said at this point, his main effort would be to capture the already collared animals to change batteries or up grade collars.

Chris took over tracking and we headed down the ridge into the valley on the backside of the knoll and I had another slide down the hill on my left buttock. Ouch! Very steep and the last nights rain had made it slicker. Sean located Cameron again and he was only two trees away from where he was yesterday. His tree was not tagged so we all went into motion to collect the data. Label the tree, measure the girth, determine the species, check on the compass and find the 4 nearest neighbor trees in the four quadrants. Determine their species, height, girth and distance from the KT (Koala Tree). The researchers are trying to see what trees they find the Koala’s using for eating, sleeping and just hanging out. This data will help researchers in other islands who have found some troops that are destroying their habitat or over breeding.

From the tracking devise, Olivia was supposed to be located close to where we found her yesterday. As we headed her way, Sean looked up and spotted another Koala. He turned out to be a clean skin (no collar, no ear tags) that means he has never been caught. He was a very large Koala and he very clearly showed us that he was a male. Sean shimmied up the tree to get a better look at him and to verify that we had not been caught. At this point, we noted that we found him, but did not take any more data.

Back on the hunt for Olivia, we all hoped that she was lower in her tree and a little easier to find. Sean located her almost immediately and luckily lower in the tree, but again, not a tagged tree. The best thing about her situation however, was that two of the 4 nearest neighbor trees were already tagged so that we did not have to do detailed data collection on them. I was on the clinometer (the tool that helps you determine the height of the trees). It took me a while to dial in my eyes and remember how to use it. It didn’t help that I was facing the sun while trying to read the dial with one eye, but we made it through.

We took our lunch break after Olivia and I would be on tracking after lunch as we searched for Tea. Before that I went off to find a pink tree and then off we went with me in the lead. You would think I would like that, but I found it a little daunting especially as I had only done minor tracking the day before on level ground and no interference from gully’s and bounce back from the neighboring hills.

On the backside of the hill, the main goal is for the tracker to stay high and take 2-3 samples in order to triangulate the proper direction. I found I was so focused on finding the signal that I kept loosing my orientation on the hill. After 4 measurements, we were down enough on the hill and getting closer, although the reading was just showing me a wide stretch of trees that she might be in. As I proceeded down the hill, Sean spotted her and we confirmed by the color of her ear tags and me taking two more readings that we had indeed found Tea. Again, not a tagged tree so off we went again. I was on girth measurements and holding the tape for Chris to take the height measurements. We were very close to a dry riverbed and Chris found a tree full of the black and blue butterflies that we had been seeing. He threw a stick and lightly hit the tree and all the butterflies flew up into a flurry of wings. It was lovely.

We were scheduled to meet the other team back at the house with the possibility of more tracking. As we proceeded down the riverbed to the house, the beautiful, blue butterflies accompanied us.

After a short rest and snacks at the house, the other team arrived. It was determined that the two other signals we had been picking up, were just bled over from a Koala that we had already found. So, we were released from duty at 3:00 today. YAAAH!

I went back to my bunk for a short nap, but people were listening to the football on the radio, so I got up and blogged instead.

Digby on dinner duty tonight. I will help with dishes tonight and learn about the layout of the kitchen, as I am on kitchen duty tomorrow, starting with breakfast at 6am.

Sunday, May 14 – St. Bee’s – Second full day in the field and my cooking day

Slept off and on and watched the clock. Heard the gecko squeak above my head. At 4:45 he peed on me through the mosquito net.

Breakfast no problem, thanks to Digby who knew how to work the oven toaster and how to make the coffee. Did I mention we are working on a gas range and stove? I now know how to light the oven and the toaster between the stovetop and the oven. The crew helped to clean up and we were ready at 8:30 to go into the field.

Tracking again, my team of Chris, Karin, Cynch and I with Sean as our shadow. Our list has mostly animals that I had not seen before – Abby, Natasha, Jackaroo, Elizabeth, Yellow. Abby was behind the dump and not too high in the tree.

We got the call that we might be needed to assist in the catch of a koala.

We added Delma today, a researcher who is studying the temperature and how that affects the koalas. There is always a bit of energy shift as new people enter the area.

Bill’s team had Marina in a tree and we tried to get her down, but she ended up going too high for the poles. Then we tried the shaking the tree technique and the tarp, but again, no luck. After 2 tries, Bill lets the animal be until another day.

The teams separated and we went after Natasha and Jackaroo. Chris was tracking and Sean did most of the spotting early in the day.

We were called in to assist in another catch. I carried one of the sacks up the hill that was full of equipment. (I think that each team member should carry their own equipment, because although the bag was not heavy, up a steep hill added lots of weight). This was an adult male that had never been caught and he is now called Digger. He is very handsome and has two yellow ear tags.


Lunch and we split up again and we were after Elizabeth. Chris’s confidence was a little down, but off we went. She was farther away then we thought she would be. On the way, Karin broke her dry spell and spotted two clean skins within 5 minutes of each other. Both not in a position to be caught. We finally located Elizabeth and she was very much in reach so we took a GPS position on her to be able to find her again.

This was the last one I got to see before I went off to cook dinner. I walked across the mud flats to home.

The menu was lasagna – I made a lovely batch of sauce but that only covered the first lasagna, so I quickly had to make more sauce. The burners kept going out and I was concerned that the gas was low. Not a good sign as I had two lasagna’s to cook and garlic toast to make.

Dinner was well received. We decided to move a lot of the extra food out of the very tiny fridge into the cool room.

I seem to be having one major issue a day here. I think I am trying to hard and am feeling a little unworthy as I consider myself such an animal person and I have not been able to spot one yet without assistance. Forcing the issue never solves anything.

Bill gave a presentation after dinner on Koala life cycle.

A koala in brief - 5 digits on the front legs, two thumbs all with claws and very soft palms. Back legs, no claw were the thumb would be, index and middle fingers (monodactyl). Heavy coat that has various colors of light gray. White at chin and on chest at times. Cat like eyes with vertical pupil. Excellent hearing, eyesight and smeller. Pelleted poo. Eats almost exclusively eucalyptus leaves. Most water from leaves.

The female is bred in October, baby is born 40 days later and climbs unassisted from Mom up her belly and into her pouch. The baby attaches to one of her two nipples. Twins are rare. The young stays in the pouch and grows for 6-8 months eats some of her poop to introduce gut bacteria to break down food. Eucalyptus is very toxic and they have special enzymes to break it down in order to digest and absorb the nutrients. After 6 months, the young rides on Mom’s back until she is bred and at that time they are usually weaned. Mom almost never nurses two different aged young at once. They are not a social animal. Come together for breeding and that is it. Once the kid is weaned, they don’t stay.

Posted by ladyjanes 03:25 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Entry #18 A - New Zealand Continued

Still wonderful

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I had stayed at the Albatross B & B the last time and I was looking forward to being back. The first thing I did was take a lovely warm shower! Ah, the joys of being clean!

I wanted to walk that day to make up for the lack of walking the day before and I left messages for both Charles and Tim from the Thailand Earthwatch project in February. Charles, the primary investigator was free the next day for lunch and Tim agreed to meet me for drinks that night.

The city had not changed much, in fact the only thing that I found different was the location of the yarn shop where I had shopped last time. It was still close to the Octagon, sort of the center of town. There wasn’t much on at the main theatre, but the alternative theatre looked good and I decided to watch Keeping Mum. I also located the wonderful University Bookstore again and got my bearings of where to find Charles tomorrow. I went to the Isite in Dunedin to make some reservations for the Wellington and to confirm my bus ride from Waitoma back to Auckland. The Thai lady who was helping me was having a very bad day and although her voice was pleasant enough on the phone, she did a lot of eye rolling. We kept working on my little list of things to accomplish and by the end of our time, I think she was having a much better day and I gave her a hug.

I met Tim at the Octagon for a little drink, but I ended up ordering hummus and bread, as I did not have lunch. It was good to see him and see what he was up to. We ended up at another bar for a glass of wine and then I was invited back to his apartment to meet his roommates and eat cake. Grad students in NZ live and look just like grand students in the US. Thrift store furniture, bookshelves made out of planks and blocks, ramen for dinner and interesting books and videos. It was fun to talk to them. On the way to his apartment, we went to the local grocery store and Tim advised me about the distinctive NZ candies to sample. Pineapple lumps, Maro bars, peanut slabs and various other Cadbury’s that we can’t get in the States. Pineapple lumps are pineapple-flavored candy (sort of the shape and consistency of Bit-O-Honey) covered in with a thin layer of chocolate. I really liked them and after I had opened them, I had wished I had bought some more. Mayby Australia will also have them. It was a great evening.

The next day I sort of doodled around until it was time to met Charles. I went to the good bookstore and picked up a book by Charles so that I could get his autograph. It was fun to be on the campus and to stand on a bridge over the New river, which was a thoroughfare for the students across campus, and just watch the students. Again, the uniform of the NZ student is very similar to the US. The main color is black, the main look is baggy, and it is not uncommon to have 2 if not 3 different colors of hair on both sexes.

Charles has officially retired from his chair of the department, but is still adjunct faculty. His office is small with lots of papers and one reconstructed pot from Thailand. It was a cold day so we had soup and wine at Butterfly’s. I sure hope that I can make it back to work with him next year in Thailand for the last year of his data collection.

Next I revisited the Otago Museum, one of my favorites from my last trip to Dunedin. There were many of the same exhibits, but with more knowledge under my belt, I saw them with a different eye. By the same token, with more knowledge under my belt, the museum did not take as long or hold my interest as it had before.

I went to the little, tiny alternative movie theatre near campus and saw a documentary called In Search of Mozart. I was the only one at the viewing and had a cup of tea while I watched the film. The seats were incredibly comfortable and wide and in front of the first row, there was a pile of huge red cushions and two red couches where you can stretch out.

I needed to do some laundry and just up the hill from the Albatross, was a coin operated laundry facility tied to local Mediterranean eatery. I ordered a chicken wrap and got change for the machines. The wrap was excellent and the machines did not take too long. I was able to catch up on last year’s gossip from a NZ Woman’s Day magazine (similar to our People Magazine). By the time I got home and was folding the laundry, I realized that I had left behind my washcloth. I am not sure if it didn’t make it out of the washer or the dryer, but when I went back the next day, it was gone for good. I had left a black glove in Dunedin before, so maybe it is off to join it.

I have found a British TV show that I like called Judge John Deed. When I can, I try and catch it wherever I am and it was on the telly that night.

On my last full day in Dunedin, I took on two new places I had never been, the Cadbury Factory and the historic Olveston House. The Cadbury Factory gave us a tour of behind the scenes of chocolate making. After donning our very attractive hair nets, and beard nets for the gentlemen if needed, and collecting our little goody bag that we would add to along the way, we followed the young man in the purple overalls around the factory. (The hair net will be available for inspection once I get back home). We learned about all the ingredients that go into the chocolate – milk, cocoa, cocoa butter and sugar. I also learned that the US leads the globe in annual chocolate consumption (16 kg per person or 35 pounds of chocolate per year). At several stops, we were given small bars of chocolate of various types. We were told that there was also a shop at the end of the tour that only ticket holders could patronize. We learned that the hollow eggs that are bought around Easter are all made between the months of June and January. Obviously, that division was not working as we went past. Actually, the only line running was a boxing line and we watch small bars of the Dairy Milk bars being loaded into boxes. Finally, we were about to enter the large purple silo. I asked if this was where the Umpa Lumpa’s lived, but apparently not. This was the chocolate waterfall. Sure enough, he opened the shoot and out poured 100’s of gallons of liquid chocolate. I ended up being collected and recycled and was changed out every year. It was fun and it smelt wonderful.

I went off to the little shop, but based on what I had bought the day before, I selected a few of the sample size of both varieties I had never seen and old favorites such as Crunchy, and paid my $1.80 NZ (slightly over $1US) and left.

Like most cities in NZ, Dunedin surrounds water and climbs steeply up the hills that line the natural bay and harbor. The Olveston was up one such hill and it was just one of those “wee hills” I had heard so much about. As I was coming down the hill towards the Albatross, I saw a student was a huge backpack trudging up the hill almost parallel to the incline. If you have ever seen the pictures of women carrying sticks on their back, that is was the student looked liked. Just a wee hill!!!

The Olveston House was built between 1904 and 1906 by an English architect for a Jewish Family of four – dad, mom, son and daughter. When the daughter died in the 1960’s, she gave the house and contents to the city and with the stipulation that it be turned into a museum. It was absolutely gorgeous. At the time of its initial occupation, it had very modern conveniences included in-door plumbing and even a shower, electric lights and an internal phone system between the rooms. As it was a kosher house, there were two sets of copper sinks in the butler’s pantry and kitchen for washing the meat separately from other items. The family traveled extensively and collected many things including pictures and ceramics from around the world. My favorite room was an alcove they called the Persian room as it had a peak out window that overlooked the formal entryway and staircase.

The grounds were beautiful and the antique car was in a glassed in garage.

I went home to pack and get ready to fly to Wellington the next day.


I love Wellington. It was the first city that I really got to know in NZ and it is small enough to feel intimate, yet large enough to have everything you want.

I stayed in my second YHA and found it very nice. It was the largest with 150 rooms, no tv in the room, but an excellent book exchange, central location, very quiet and an excellent bed. I also learned that when you have a shower curtain with a squeegee but no tub, even though the floor slopes to the drain, it is best to wait to put down the bath mat until after you have showered and squeegeed the floor. This YHA also had two tv lounges and a video selection, but the rooms were very small and were usually filled with tons of people, some of which needed a shower. They also had an internet room with phones and also an internet computer up in the laundry room on the 6th floor, also with a TV.

I always pick up the local tourist info when I arrive at an airport, and on the shuttle ride to the city, I learned that Te Papa (the National Museum) had a special exhibit of the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) Movie Memorabilia. Some of you may know that I am a huge fan of these movies, so that was a definite must see for me. I learned in the brochure that there were special guided tours on Sunday only, (I arrived on Sunday) and I was going to just be able to make it as my YHA was just around the corner.

I had a wonderful time on my tour. My tour leader, John, was originally for Portland and had a bit of a stutter. I was the only one on his tour and as I had viewed most of the extended DVD’s with the making of the movies, I was pretty up on the back-story. It was a fabulous exhibit and very well done, with movie clips to illustrate certain things and interviews with the actors and technical crew. When we got to the palantir (the all-seeing-glass ball), John admitted that he was the glass artist who made the balls for the movie. One of my favorite displays was the wax image of Boromir in the canoe that they sent of the imaginary digital water falls. The guide said that at times, his hands seem to move due to the humidity in the room and the heat from the lights. If you look long enough, you really do expect the figure to breath because it is amazingly life-like. The scale models were very intricate, even to see the miniature washing hanging on the lines.

There was one area where you could have your picture taken with a friend, and you would appear to be similar to Frodo and Gandalf in the cart. The man who works that station had been in the movie and had been just to the left of Sean Bean in the counsel of Elrond. He sat with me and I have the photos, one with me hobbit-size and one of me Gandalf-size. It was good fun. They also introduced me to a Maori gentleman, who was both a guide and a film instructor in college. He had many stories to tell about the movies. Everyone I met in the exhibit was wonderful and I had a totally enjoyable three hours. So much fun.

After the museum, I stopped at the grocery store on the way back to the YHA and bought yoghurt, fruit, cheese and apricot bars for my snacks. I had bought tea and a little cereal from the front desk at the YHA, so I was set for a while.

That night I decided to henna my hair, as it was looking very dull. I spent the evening blogging in my room and waiting for the Henna to finish.

The next day I did a little shopping, got a ticket to the play that was on right next-door, called Kirsty who I had met in Doubtful Sound and arranged to meet her for dinner. I checked into the other theatres but did not find anything else that I wanted to see.

I went to the art gallery and saw a modern photo exhibit and revisited my favorite museum, the Wellington Museum of the City and Sea. It still had the delightful hologram movie of Maori legends.

I met Kirsty for dinner and we walked to a little café near my place. It was wonderful to share a dinner with someone who was close to my age and who was having her own adventure in a different culture and country. I ended the evening feeling wonderful and very happy with the world and myself.

The next day I had planned to take a trip on a local train to an outlying suburb of Wellington called Porirua to see an art exhibit. I had spotted this brochure in the airport when I arrived. On the bus to get to the train station, the bus driver got into an altercation with a car in front of him. Not good energy after that on the bus.

The train was fun and very easy, but I could not see much on the landscape as we went through lots of tunnels. I followed by vibes and very wisely asked for directions to find the art gallery, as my first inclination would have taken me in the totally wrong direction. The gallery was small and had two exhibits, one with ancient Maori totems that had been presented to an Englishman who was in NZ in the late 1800s. There was also an excellent exhibit about the Tiki image and how it had been taken into popular culture. I wanted to take a specific train back in order to try and get to the Katherine Mansfield house, a famous NZ writer. I ended up getting back with only an hour to go up a step hill and tour the house, so I went back to the YHA instead. I did not have anything planned for the next day and was beginning to loose power over this. I felt I was not spending my time in NZ wisely and was getting lonely. My time with the groups recently had shown me again that I was missing people to share things with.

I went back to the YHA and got onto the web. In my present mood, emails that were really no big deal, felt scary and I made the mistake of answering some of them, not always with a generous heart. I finally realized what I was doing and gave myself a good talking to. I realized that I needed a routine for tomorrow so I went downstairs to see what they could recommend. There were brochures for half-day trips to the recently opened natural gardens, but that was only in the afternoon. I needed a full day. I found a tour of local LOTR’s sites, but the person at the front desk said that it was full. I found another brochure for a very similar tour and I asked them to call and see if it was available. It was, so I was all set up. Instantly, I felt much more grounded and happier. I was also going to the theatre that evening and was very much looking forward to that. I realized at this point that reading and/or more importantly answering my emails when I am not in a good space is not a wise idea.

When I arrived in the theatre, I went up stairs to the drinks lounge and there was a lady with white hair playing beautiful classical piano pieces. I had a glass of white wine and talked to the orange tabby cat that was on the landing.

The play was called Mum’s Choir. It was about the 5 children, 3 girls – 2 boys, of Mum who were returning to the family home to coordinate Mum’s funeral and wake. Mum’s sister, Auntie Nola, was also going to be there. There was a large grand piano on stage and from time to time, almost all of the actors went over and played a song on it, or sang at it. Mum had been very musical and over the course of the play, you found out that all during their childhood, the siblings had sung and put on musical productions. One of the sisters was unmarried and had been living close to Mum and taking care of her. The oldest son was a music teacher and had promised Mum that the kids would sing Favre’s Requiem at her funeral. That did not go over well with the group. The youngest sister was heavily pregnant and the middle sister kept hoping her son who was in the army would be able to make it back for the funeral. He did in the second act. The younger brother had emigrated to Aust and had a lovely tenor but appeared to be the black sheep and was the only one who had not made it back to her bedside before she died.

Auntie Nola was a stitch and commandeered Mum’s electric lounge chair before anyone else could put his or her name to it. There was a wonderful scene with her sitting in it for the first time and using the mechanism that would both eject you out and recline you back in the chair. At one point she was totally reclined and dozing when the phone rang. You can imagine how funny it was to watch her try and get out of the chair, when she could not remember were the switch was to get the chair to sit up straight.

Early on in the play, the casket with Mum was brought in center stage and they opened the casket. From then on, during all the musical numbers they would gather around it, pose by it or actually sing into the casket.

Before all the kids knew that Auntie Nola had arrived, she appeared from the kitchen in one of Mum’s polyester dressed, with matching cardigan and hanky in the pocket. She gave the one’s who did not know she was there a fright. Mum had a special cookbook that they all wanted and the sisters were all arguing about who made the best meals and argued themselves off stage to the kitchen. The next thing you knew, out came the sisters in Mum’s dresses, cardigans with hankies, hose that ended at the knees and bedroom slippers and gave us an Andrews Sisters song.

The actors were great and the voices were of normal people, not trained MT performers. The actress that played the youngest pregnant sister was the actress I had seen the last time I was in Wellington. It was wonderful.

Long story short, they made it through the Favre, the spinster sister gave a wonderful eulogy that had me in tears and the play showed the tender and yet funny side of a family dealing with the death of their mother. At the end of the show, the entire cast, including the Maori man who played the middle sisters son, sang a Maori song with movements and invited the audience to join in which they did.

I am not sure if I mentioned this, but sing-a-longs are ever present and very popular in NZ and Aust. Music is big and people don’t seem to care how they sound, they just sing along. Does that happen in the US in anyplace other than churches and baseball games?

This experience brings to mind again how different it feels for me to watch white European people know, sing and feel in touch with Maori music and culture. Do we do that in the US? I know some of the words from God Save the Queen, and I am of English ancestry, but I don’t feel incredibly closes to the UK. It is interesting to watch.

I was up and ready the next day by 9am for my LOTR’s tour. Again, I was the only one on this tour. I constantly amazes me that in NZ, tours go with only one person. I love it and really feel that I get a wonderful insight into not only the tour but also the NZ culture. Ted was wonderful. His brother works for WETA Digital, the side company that did all the digital computer work on the LOTR and King Kong movies. We drove around to various sites, most of which are totally restored to their former look after the movie finished filming. We went to several parks and even three years later, you could see the exact branches and plants that were in the film. Quen had his picture taken in the Frodo Tree and Quen and I sat where the four hobbits had hidden under roots as the Black Rider went by.

I had a wonderful day. Note to self – Not too many days back to back without an agenda from here on out. Flexibility is great, but I am better on a least a tentative schedule, especially when I am on my own.

The next day, I had an 8-hour train trip from Wellington north towards Auckland. I was going to get off the train in Otorohanga and then take a shuttle to Wiatomo where I would get my tour the next day of the black water rafting and glowworm caves. There was nothing exceptional of usual about the train ride, it was very pleasant and I had both seats to myself. Most people slept so I spent the time with my knitting and remembering how to knit in the continental style. We did have a bit of a delay and I was a little concerned that I would miss my shuttle but Bill, with the shuttle service, met me at the train and took me to the local grocery store to stock up on food and money as it they would be closed when we made it to Wiatomo. He had lots of local history to tell and very cute humor. I love NZ and Kiwi’s.

Posted by ladyjanes 03:24 Archived in New Zealand Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Entry #18 Vacation in New Zealand - Nothing could be finer!

It is still beautiful

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Vacation in New Zealand – April 17 – May 9th

I took three weeks of vacation in NZ and did not attend to my blog on a daily basis. I have summarized where I went and what I did. I found I needed a break from the typing as I began to see my trip through my viewfinder of my camera and more alive on the computer than I was experiencing on a daily basis. The vacation allowed me to reverse the order and see how it fits.



Bette – What a love! She is an excellent hostess with the right balance of helpful advice, solicitude and allowing you to move at your own pace. The most wonderful thing was that she had wireless so I could do a lot of my computer work at her place and that saved me buckets of money. Wireless café’s are abundant, but not always reasonably priced. Bette had to work quite a bit when I was with her, but we still managed to have fun times, meals and giggles. She was also excellent as a second set of eyes to help me decided what I could ditch and what would be good to continue to carry as I continue my trip. It was great to be able to discuss it with someone who has done lots of international travel. She commented that I did spend a lot of my time organizing things. It was so wonderful to have the time and space to focus on things that needed time to plan and implement. As you can imagine, for me, some of the fun of my trip was the year of planning and the assessment of what still needs to be done in a timely fashion.

FEDEX package from Thailand – Well, after more phone calls to Fedex and the US embassy in NZ, Bette advised and I decided to ask FedEx to mail the returned box from Thailand to NZ. I would be away when it arrived, but Bette said she would wait for it. Sure enough, it arrived, safe and sound and has been repacked with my stuff from Cook Island and NZ. The stuff sure looked innocent when I unpacked it. I will send it through the NZ Post Office and see it that helps.

Travel Dr – I had an appointment with an international travel clinic to see if I could get a prescription for Malarone, an anti-malaria med. I had been on doxycycline for Cambodia, but wanted to see about malarone because doxy increases your sun sensitivity and you have to take it for an additional 28 days after you have left the malaria risk area.

As with any responsible clinic, they processed me as a new client and reviewed my entire record, including shots. After review, they did not feel that I was protected for Hep A and they wanted to do a rabies titer on me to see if I was protected. Regarding Malarone, I could get it, but it would be $500 US for all the pills I would need, vs. $48 for Doxyclycline. So I rolled up my sleeve and gave a blood sample and had a Hep A shot and told them I would decide about the anti-malaria pills and if I wanted another rabies jab when I returned to Auckland at the end of my time in NZ.

McDowells – When I lived in Thailand, the representative from NZ that worked with Dad was Max McDowell. He and his wife Eleanor still live in a suburb of Auckland and I contacted them to see if we could get together for lunch. I knew him immediately when he came to pick me up at Bette’s. A little grayer, but still Max. Eleanor also was easy to recognize and although she has experienced some hearing loss, was still lovely and chatty as ever. They have two adorable cats, LULU – black, elderly female with only one eye due to cancer, was a love and liked her pets. Max is her favorite and they have a daily yoghurt sharing ritual. Tawny is a pretty red marble tabby and very photogenic. She is more selective in her pets and I was warned that she did not like people to become overly friendly with her. We had a lovely lunch and caught up on what was new with them. I had another trip down memory lane as Max brought out the photo albums from Thailand. Lots of picture of Mom and Dad and even Annie. It was wonderful to catch up with them again.

Max and Eleanor.JPG

Ferry to Devonport book colony – Auckland reminds me of San Francisco in that it is a city that wraps around a bay. Sometimes, it is easier to catch a ferry directly across the water, than it is to drive. Bette and I had a ferry ride over to Devenport, a residential community that is attached to the main land, but more quickly accessed by ferry. It felt like a real neighborhood and had the most delightful collection of bookstores. I could have dropped a lot of money there, but with the weight allowance, I was very restrained.

Mrs. Henderson Presents – I love going to movies in other countries. I really enjoyed this movie and the seats were incredibly comfortable, more like cloth armchairs than theatre seats. I also enjoyed one of Annie’s favorite candy treats, Jaffa’s. Think of a milk chocolate ball with orange flavoring and covered with a red M&M shell, and you have a jaffa.


I adored Queenstown the last time I was in NZ and I was very much looking forward to returning.

On the shuttle to the airport, all 4 of us were going to Qtown, a couple to tramp and camp, a man who would spend 4 days mountain biking, and me. The man, Brandt Dunstan was very chatty and I ended up having lunch with him before the plane and sharing a shuttle with him into the center of town. It was autumn in Queenstown complete with cooler weather, lovely color in the trees and the need for long sleeves and sweaters. After the heat for the last few months, I WAS IN HEAVEN!!!!!

Bette had advised that I consider staying in Youth Hostels for two reasons – they are less expensive and they tend to be a great place to meet people who are traveling like I am. The QTown central YHA was a good first choice as it had all the usual things that a YH has (communal kitchen, TV lounge, laundry facilities, lockers and luggage storage, travel booking assistance), but it was also a former motel so the rooms that tv’s and in room tea service. I had joined the association when I booked so I had reduced rates for all nights, one night free, $10 in phone cards and my membership would give me discounts at many suppliers.

I left the YHA to get my barring and figure out what I wanted to do before I did my trip to Doubtful Sound in two days. I had decided to do the HMS Earnslaw (A coal fired steam ship) sail on the lake the next day and to go to a little gold mining town near by called Arrowtown. As I was wondering around having done some window-shopping, I ran into Brandt again. We ended up at a curry house for dinner and then moved on to a coffee bar that he highly recommended. It was fun to have someone to talk to and to share stories with. Sure enough, you do meet interesting people when you travel by yourself and strike up conversations with people around you.

Arrowtown – Arrowtown was delightful and absolutely stunning with color. It was very similar to any small mountain mining town in Colorado in the fall. There were lots of art galleries and a metaphysical fair going on. I also enjoyed a stroll by the river to enjoy the leaves, the smells and the feeling of fall. I found a marvelous chocolate store called Patagonia. Yummy! One art gallery owner, was especially nice and gave me excellent recommendations for coffee and lunch options. Quite a sage, we discussed taking what appear to be big risks and the benefits for the jump once you can see it from the other side. I picked up a brochure from a realtor that he recommended. Whether for good or for a short time, living in Arrowtown would be a wonderful place for retreat and contemplation.


HMS Earnslaw – This old steam, coal-fired boat was charming and the wind was brisk as I returned from Arrowtown for my tour. We began at 4 and steamed across the water to the other side. There was a beautiful farm that is still functioning, but we only stopped to pick up people who had gone for a day trip. On the way back, we all gather around the piano and joined in the sing-a-long. The pianist was excellent and could sing a song is any language represented. We did Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Maori and English. The American contingent was asked to stand and do Take Me Out To the Ball Game. In between songs, I was charmed by a littlie of under 2 who was very friendly when I offered to share my potato crisps with her. It was good fun.

Earnslaw hair.JPG

Little gir..arnslaw.JPG

I was very much looking forward to my overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound in Fiordland National Park. If you remember, Milford Sound was a highlight from the last trip. Doubtful Sound is considerably larger than Milford and the thought of being able to spend more than 2 hours on a sound was very exciting.

Doubtful Sound

I boarded the bus in Queenstown for a trip to Manipouri, where we would be taken by boat across the lake. Then, we were bused up over the hill to board the boat for the cruise.

The first people I met on the bus were two gentlemen from Australia, Robert and Ron, who were traveling all over NZ. Very lively and talkative, they were a stitch and very happy to be on the road. Ron was in the dark about where we were going and Robert had scared him to death telling him that there would be no food until 7 pm that night.

Before we got to Manipuri, we took a tea break in Kingston, which was on a lake. There was a steam locomotive that would take you 30 minutes down the road and we were given the option of riding the train or staying on the bus and then driving and waiting for the train riders. Robert, Ron and I opted for the train. We were in a proper compartment with leather seats and a closing door and a table. We chatted and laughed for 30 minutes, and hardly looked out the window and sure enough, the bus was waiting for us.

In Manipouri, 16 of us alighted for our tour and the bus and the rest of the original riders went to Milford Sound for an overnight. We would join up with them tomorrow when we were dropped off in Te Anu.

On the boat ride across the lake, our group of six formed and they ended up being the people with whom I spent most of my time and shared meals and giggles.

Kirsty, is a British woman who is working in Wellington for a year in an IT firm. In her spare time, she keeps her hand in the professional tailoring world, which is what she had been doing in London before she moved to NZ. She had quite her ‘real job’ as a corporate trainer several years earlier and had done a course and internship with tailors in London.

Robert and Ron, my wild gentlemen from Adelaide Australia. Robert had done the Doubtful trip a few weeks earlier and loved it so much, he convinced Ron to do it. More on them later.

Steve and Kate – a friendly couple from Melborne, he Australian and she Kiwi, who have traveled widely and are delightful.

You will get to know these people as most of my pictures from the trip with people include at least part of this group. We ended the trip with each other’s emails and I intend to try and see Kirsty in Wellington and Robert and Ron when I am in Adelaide

After the boat ride, we loaded into two huge buses and went up over the pass and back down to the start of the sound. We are a group of about 65 with several families with kids between 1-13. We have one toddler who was auditioning for the upcoming opera in loud, happy tones and a pack of little girls who are either all sisters or cousins. We made sure that we were in the bus without the kids. We got out and took pictures of the first glimpse of the sound and I also took the time to take a photo of the back end of one of the buses. The grill openings were in the shape of little Kiwi’s, which I thought was charming.

Bus Grill.JPG

Once on the boat, they separated the group of us that were sharing a quad bunkroom and bathrooms. Down we went and I found I was in a compartment with three sisters – Francesca – 8, Emily – 10 and Madeline – 12. They very graciously allowed me one of the lower berths. The room had a curtain for a door, two sets of bunks, one set of stairs and a porthole with the water lapping at the bottom edge. There were 8 total quad rooms that shared 4 toilet cubicles and 4 shower stalls with outer locking doors.

We all scrambled back up stairs because we were underway and there things to see. We did see some dolphins, from a distance, and we hoped for more later. There was one penguin, but I was on the wrong side of the ship and by the time I got around, he was gone. Farkle! We finally slowed down and stopped and there were two activities to choose from; a group tour in a boat with the science crewmember, or kayaking. As I had not brought a complete change of clothes, I opted for the dryer option, the group tour. We all went to the back of the ship and donned life- jackets and waited. I met Dave (Dad), Hope (5 yrs), Noah (4yrs). Dave is also the dad of the opera audtioner , but I never got his name. He really was the happiest, loud baby I had ever met and I never heard him cry in anger the entire time we were on the boat.

Noah and Hope posed for photos for me and they were really sweet. I saw them lots during the cruise and they were fun.

Dave, Noah and Hope.JPG

Richard was our science guy and the group tour was fun. We heard about how the sound (which is really a fiord and not a sound) was formed, how the trees thrive and what early explorers said of this amazing place. A fiord is glacially formed and has salt water throughout, were as a sound is typically formed by a river meeting the ocean.

After the boats were back and the kayaks stored, there was one more activity that we could do, but only the younger set took part. It involved getting into your swimsuit and immersing yourself in the VERY COLD WATER OF THE SOUND. We heard one loud screech, which I think was from Francesca, and that was the end of that activity.

Steve, Kat..Christy.JPG

Similarly to my experience at Milford, I spent as much time at the front of the ship as I could, but the wind and the cold was quite fierce at times. I kept returning in doors to get cups of tea and warm up. I wanted to be on the top most deck for the best view, but when we were underway, there was absolutely no cover. I held out until the last rays of the sunset and took many photos. Hopefully some of them will be worthy of the landscape.

Doubtful sound.JPG

Dinner was a lovely buffet and the group of 6 was at one of center tables with Dave, Hope, Noah, the opera star and the mom, who again I can’t remember her name. I was following the family group through the buffet and Dave was helping both Hope and Noah load their plates. At one point, Hope wanted an offending piece of food removed immediately, but Dave did not want to hold up the line. At once, every bone in her legs disintegrated and she collapsed into a sobbing heap at my feet. Luckily, Mom was right there to remove her, but it was a stitch to watch. These are great parents, not only to their kids, but also to the group around them. While the kids had lots of energy, they were great kids and never got beyond the breaking point.

The food was great and Kirsty and I celebrated the dinner with champagne. The first to eat the dinner were the last to received dessert, but they did not run low on anything, except pudding sauce, which Robert commandeered for Kirsty.

After dinner was Richard’s (science crew member) slide show of the fiord nature and wildlife on the world’s oldest slide projector. As the anchor had been lowered, we were parked for the night and it was time of stargazing. It was lovely, freezing but lovely, but would have been better had all the ships lights been turned off. That probably happened later, but I was too tired and cold to go out later. We had been advised by Robert to be up prior to sunrise to see the colors change and the crew invited us for naked anchor raising just prior to 7am. We’ll see.

I slept pretty well, but wished my bunk had a continuous lip on the outer edge so that I could have braced myself in the bunk. When I faced out, I felt I was falling out. I kept being hit by the falling duvet from the bunk above me, but was not disturbed by the girls. I only heard the snoring from the next cabin when I woke in the middle of the night for a potty break.

I got up early, but had missed the naked anchor raising. Dave, Noah and Hope were out on deck when I arrived and Dave said he had just returned to deck having donned his clothes again. It was fantastic to watch the sun rise, (which it had already risen, so we were really only watching the sky continually lighten) and to hear the birds come to life. As you may be aware, the majority of the native birds are in low numbers on both islands due to nest thefts from cats, possums and other non-native birds. The best thing about being this remote and close to uninhabited islands is that the native birds have a chance to come back.

Breakfast was again a buffet. After breakfast they took us up one of the arms of the fiord and asked all the quiet people to come on deck. They very nicely asked the children who might be unable to hold still, to remain inside during the 10-minute “Sounds of Silence”. They asked us not to talk, or take pictures and to just sit and listen. It was magical and very soothing. 10 minutes went really quickly and I look forward to the time when I can return and do it again.

robert and ron.JPG

It was time for us to return to the dock as we still had a 5-hour bus drive back to Queenstown. RECOMMENDATION - When you come to NZ, pick one of the fiords that sounds the best to you and do an overnight. You will adore it.

We reversed the order in transportation and I had to say good-bye to Kirsty in Manipouri, to Steve and Kate in Te Anu, and Robert and Ron at the Qtown airport. I knew I would probably see Kirsty in Wellington and hopefully, Robert and Ron in Adelaide.

Robert, Ron and I had our lunch break in Te Anu and had been told about a wonderful video of the fiords. As we were walking to the cinema, we ran across Steve and Kate again. The more I travel, I find it is not uncommon to see people again and again. It is always a welcome surprise and really helps me feel connected.

It was nice to be back at the YHA and after I retrieved my luggage from the lockers, I thought I would take a little nap and then go find dinner. I woke up 14 hours later.

Trip to Dunedin

I had until 3pm the next day to do a little shopping before I took the Atomic Shuttle for my 4 hours trip between Qtown and Dunedin. It had rained all night and I woke to find that all of the peaks that surround Qtown with a dusting of snow. ABSOLUTLEY LOVELY! It looked more like Aspen than before.

I found the original Patagonia Chocolate store in Qtown and on that cold morning, they had four kettles of flavored hot chocolate to chose from; regular, ginger, chili, and the one that I selected Lavender. It was fabulous. I spent my time in the store helping to shoo the sparrows back outside. They kept running into the glass and becoming stunned. Luckily, by the time I left, all were free again. I asked Lilith and Francis to step in and help them understand where they needed to be, which was outside.

I arrived at my rendezvous location in good time and when the shuttle arrived, the driver upon exiting the bus said that we were not going to Dunedin. All the rain during the night had caused many roads to flood and nearly all the routes to Dunedin were closed. Norm, our driver, said that he had an idea of a road he could take. So in his hands, the bus and our group of 16 headed approximately southeast to Dunedin. We took our dinner break in Rockburgh, and I sat with two young women from Hong Kong and Norm tentatively booked rooms for us for the night. We decided to continue down the road in hopes that by the time we got to the flooded area, the waters would have receded. Norm kept radioing ahead to get news and it looked like we would make it. We turned a corner and there was a cop at a roadblock. We stopped and Norm talked and we ended up going through the blockade. Again, the thought was that the water might go down before morning.

We ended up fording over-the-axle stretches of water with Norm exclaiming, “As long as I can see the white line, we’ll be right!” Well it was getting dark, so seeing the white line would be ending soon. There was a permanent roadblock at Milton, because a bridge was out with road erosion on either side of the bridge. As we stopped and Norm talked to the officials in charge, on to the bus came a local farm woman who said this might be the last food we would get through the night and offered us the British/Kiwi/Aussie favorite, beans on toast with cheese. We all took one and were touched. Norm said this was an example of Kiwi #8 Wire Technology in action. (Basically, you can repair anything with #8 wire and also the rule of the rural communities that during a time of crisis, everyone pitches in and does what it takes). I must admit, as I had just eaten my dinner, my piece of toast ended up in the trash.

Norm gave us the choice of going back to Rocky where he had tentatively booked rooms, staying in the bus all night, or going out of our way to a town called Balclutha where we might be put up in the community center. I asked if we weren’t better off staying closer to the water instead of going back North another 30 km to Rocky. The bus opted to go to Balclutha and we ended up in individual dorm rooms at the Telford Technical College. My room had the mechanism to turn on the heater on the same wall as my bed and the heater at the foot of my bed. So all I had to do was sit up in bed, hit the button, and I received another hour of heat. Wonderful.

Telford campus.JPG

The ladies form Hong Kong indicated that they did not sleep very well as they were uncertain how to work the heater. They fed us tea, coffee or chocolate and toast and butter and jam. We ended up leaving the next morning at 8, and then were stuck in a long line of traffic for about an hour as only one lane was allowed to go a once. Too many cars going too fast would lead to waves forming. Once we were in the flood area, we understood exactly how high the water was and how much damage had been done and was yet to be discovered. The amount of water that was flowing over the very flat pastures and cascading like a dam into one pasture was amazing. No loss of human life, but hundreds of sheep drowned and millions of NZ $ in damage to the area.

We did not know until after the fact that on the computer in the office of the College, there was a program showing all the rivers in the surrounding area and which of them were past flood stage. All but one of them were in flood status the night before and Norm told us after that fact that if the last one had gone into flood, we would have had to load into the bus and go to higher ground in the middle of the night.

I had called my lodging in Dunedin to tell them I would not make it that night and they said that they had people who were stuck on their end as well. I was again amazed that this very small and connected community in NZ had the most incredibly accurate and connected network of information flowing. I finally made it to Dunedin at 10:30 the next morning and walked from the rail station. It was great to finally be there.

Posted by ladyjanes 03:19 Archived in New Zealand Tagged postcards Comments (0)

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