Our family's stay in Shanghai, China

Archive for April, 2012

Watching a Koala

Two koalas playing in their enclosure.

Okay, time to get back on the branch and take a nap.

Last Tuesday on our visit to Symbio Wildlife Park, we were thrilled to be able to see koalas.  You might be thinking, didn’t they see and hold koalas last week?  The answer is yes, we did, but can you see too many koalas?  The girls and I would probably say, absolutely not!  More about Symbio in the next blog, but the koala in these photos was so cute, we thought he deserved his own blog.

I'm coming, just as soon as I get up there.

As we approached this koala enclosure, (they have at least two at Symbio), we saw two koalas playing on the tree branch.  One decided to meander off to the tree, probably to nap.  The dangling koala was, apparently, ready to join him, but had a little trouble.

First, he tried climbing back on top of the branch on one side with his face toward us.  He tried and tried and tried, but could not seem to pull his body up.  Seeing him struggle made us want to reach out and give his little body a nudge up!

It sure was easier getting down than it is getting back up.

Almost there.

Then he tried to climb up on the other side of the branch with his back toward us.  After multiple tries, repositioning his arms and legs, he finally made it up and bounded off after his friend, probably to take a nap too.

Koalas sleep about 18 to 22 hours every day.  We have never seen koalas this active before.  You have to be at the right place at just the right time to see them do anything more than sleeping or a little eating.  They only eat eucalyptus leaves and are pretty particular which of those leaves they eat.  Eucalyptus has only a little nutrition, so they simply don’t have a lot of energy to do much else!

I made it!! Now for my nap.

Hope you enjoy these photos of this little guy as much as we enjoyed watching him.


Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House is one of the most recognized buildings in the world, known for its distinctive “sails-shaped” roofline.  It is estimated that at least three-fourths of the world’s population knows the building if they see it in a photograph.  Whether you are interested in architecture, history, arts, or just visiting Australia, it is almost always a “must-do” on your list.

Laura and Jenna at the Sydney Opera House

We went on Monday afternoon after David rejoined us from his bike travels in New Zealand.  The harbor is a busy, bustling area with tourists and residents alike.  What you see on your tour of the opera house will vary depending on what is happening in the theaters at the time.  We were fortunate to see four of the five theaters on our tour.  The facility is used for plays, operas, the ballet, concerts, recordings, etc.  And with five theaters, multiple events can and do happen every week.

Opera House interior with the concrete framework visible.

The opera house was started in 1957 with construction beginning in 1959.  They originally estimated it would take 3 years and cost $7 million to build.  It took 16 years and cost $102 million.  The design was incredibly difficult to build and they almost gave up.  During the construction process, the architect was even forced off the job and never returned to Sydney to see it completed.  He did, however, design an addition when he was in his 70s.

Ceramic roof tiles on the opera house

Unfortunately, he was never well enough to visit the site.  The opera house is in the Brutalism architectural style, which highlights the building’s structure with less ornamentation.  We found it interesting to see the white “sails” were not solid as they often appear in photos, but are covered in white ceramic tiles.

Our tour guide was excellent.  He was very knowledgeable and well-versed in the building’s history, architectural style and changes.  Jenna was thrilled when, during our tour of one of the theaters, members of the Australia Ballet were rehearsing on stage.  We could hear the ballerina’s toe shoes as she stepped on the stage floor!

Orchestra Hall interior. The pipe organ, which has over 10,000 pipes, took 10 years to build and two years to tune.

The Sydney Opera House was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.  It is the only building on the list that was placed there during the architect’s lifetime.  Since it has been placed on this list, no additional changes will be made to the building, preserving its design and history.

If you ever make it to Sydney, make sure to visit the opera house.  Even if you aren’t an historian, architect or love culture, the building is very neat to see.

Sydney Opera House

Our Weekend in Sydney

Laura and Jenna on the coastline of La Perouse.

Exploring the coastline

Last the weekend the girls and I returned to Sydney.  Sydney is a bustling big city with a mix of historic architecture and modern towers.  After we arrived, the girls and I purchased tickets, which allowed us to ride the trains, buses and ferries to travel around the city.  We did well on the trains, but struggled with the buses.  For people living in Sydney, who know the area they live and work in and are accustomed to the stops, I am sure the bus system works well for them.  Unlike Shanghai, the buses are not overly crowded and drivers will not stop to pick up additional passengers unless they have room for them.  The biggest difficulty is finding the correct bus stop and knowing when to get off.  The signs area not always ready visible.

The cannon the seven veterans buried to make room for their billiards table.

We visited an area of Sydney called La Perouse, after a French explorer who landed there.  The area is connected via a pedestrian bridge to Bare Island, which has a fort.  The area has beautiful sandy beaches, rocky shoreline and a rich history.  We toured the fort, which has a very interesting history.  One story the guide related was about a cannon they have at the fort.  After the fort closed in the early 1900s, seven veterans from WWI, lived there.  To make room for their billiards table, the veterans buried a cannon, but didn’t tell anyone they had buried it.  Years later, officials knew the cannon was gone, but didn’t know what had happened to it.  In the 1980s, the guides told tourists they were missing a cannon.  It had been “lost” and no one knew where it had gone.  A visitor said he was a relative of the veterans who had lived there.  His relative’s diaries talked about how the veterans had buried a cannon.  Sure enough, when they ran tests, they found the cannon buried underground!

Bare Island from La Perouse

After we finished our tour of Bare Island, the girls and I tried to find the right bus stop to take to a lighthouse   We never found the stop to catch the right bus, unfortunately.  Instead, we called it an early day and went to dinner.

On Monday, the girls and I braved the rain to visit Macquerie Lighthouse.  It’s a pretty recognizable Australian lighthouse and I have a model of it.  We also wanted to visit Hornby Lighthouse.  We realized we had missed the right stop for Macquerie lighthouse as we went sailing by it on the bus.  Not too much of a problem, just a couple extra blocks to walk.  We didn’t make it to Hornby, however, because when we asked the driver if the bus stopped where we needed to he said yes.  What he didn’t tell us was that it was at the end of the route he had just started.  We needed to get on the same route going in the opposite direction!  We realized our mistake when we started seeing things we saw on the way up.

Laura and Jenna exploring the rocky coastline on Bare Island.

Macquerie Lighthouse in Sydney, Australia

I think, if we were to live in Sydney, we could get accustomed to public transportation.  It seems to function well and the trains were quite easy to use.  Living where we do in Noblesville, it just is not something we are accustomed to and there is a “learning curve” for public transporation.  Vehicle traffic is pretty bad, so the public transportation is probably more economical and timely.  The girls and I have not tried it on our own in Shanghai.  The system is incredibly crowded, much more than in Sydney and the language is a significant barrier in Shanghai.

Up next, the Sydney Opera House, or as they seem to say here, The Opera House.

Our Day at the Beach

Laura and Jenna enjoy the boisterous waves!

Jenna builds a sand barrier around the treasures she collected.

The girls and I took one day in Cairns as a “beach day”.  Cairns itself has a lot of oceanfront, but no beaches for swimming or even sunbathing.  The geography just doesn’t lend itself to that here.  We were able to find a nice area about 30 minutes north of Cairns called Trinity Beach.

One of the difficulties about swimming in the ocean here is the threat of jellyfish.  Swimming is only allowed in areas where they have a netted space to keep the jellyfish out.  We found the swimming area at Trinity beach and set up “camp”.  The girls were in the water as quick as they could get their cover-ups off and sunscreen on.

Hi Mom! Come on in, the water's great!

We had no toys, buckets, or sand shovels, but “riding” the waves was very entertaining.  Jenna enjoyed finding all sorts of seashells and spent quite a bit of time making a protective sand barrier around her special finds.

It is the low season in Australia since they entering their fall and winter seasons.  The seas are rougher, so it’s less conducive to visiting the reef and the temps are cooler in the southern part of the country.  With fewer people vacationing here, it was not crowded in the swimming area; there were never more than a dozen other people while we were there.

The day flew by incredibly fast.  The girls played by themselves and together.  Jenna even convinced Laura to lie still for a while so she could bury her in sand.  Laura took Jenna into the deeper area and the two played as the waves rushed over them.  We took a short walk down the beach.  We couldn’t go too far because Jenna was pretty slow, examining almost every shell she passed by.

Laura:  It was incredibly fun to have a relaxing day at the beach.  I had fun jumping in and out of the waves.  Jenna and I were constantly splashed in the face as the big ones came through.  My least favorite part of the day was getting buried in the sand by Jenna!

Jenna:  My favorite part at the beach was burying Laura in the sand.  I almost decorated her with shells, but Laura said not to because when she got up, we would lose them in the sand.  Another of my favorite parts was riding up and down on the waves.  I also liked collecting seashells.  My least favorite part of the day was getting sand in my swimsuit.  It made a big mess in the bathroom when I took a shower!

Most of our vacations are busy, go, go, go, see as much as you can before it’s time to go home.  Our beach day was the exact opposite, slow, meandering, and relaxing.  I waded into the water a few times and played in the waves, but actually had just as much fun sitting on the beach watching the girls and the beautiful scenery.

Horseback Riding at Wonga Beach

Jenna, Laura and Mom horseback riding on Wonga Beach, Queensland

The sun was setting as we drove back to Cairns at the end of the day. We captured this photo at a lookout along the drive back.

Last Wednesday, we got up lazily and meandered toward Wonga Beach, about 1 ½ hours north of Cairns.  We had signed up for a horseback ride along the beach and through the rainforest.  Laura, Jenna and I all enjoy horsebacking riding, Jenna more than anyone.  We don’t indulge very often because it is an expensive hobby.  But a ride along the beach and through the rainforest was hard to resist. After lunch in Port Douglas, an oceanside town about an hour from Cairns, we headed north to ride horses!  It was a warm afternoon, but with a constant breeze, even dressed in jeans and boots, we were not overly hot. The guides matched us to horses based on our abilities.  Laura rode Sunny, Jenna rode Rej and I rode Duke.  There were nine riders with three guides.  The guides were very patient and helpful.  Most everyone had limited experience riding horses. Duke was a tall horse.  I didn’t realize how tall until I was mounted and looked down at most everyone else.  He was pretty easy to handle, but he loved to munch on most anything green he found and thought he could get to before I pulled his head back up.  He also preferred to follow, not lead.  He would trot if a nearby horse started trotting and would follow whatever path the horse in front of him took.

Jenna and Rej

Jenna rode Rej who took great care of her.  The guides could tell as soon as they got her on that Jenna had ridden before.  When we got to the beach and the guide asked who wanted to trot, hers was the first hand up.  She smiled and giggled the entire way, loving every minute of the ride.  “The horseback ride through the rainforest and along the beach was fun.  When we got to the beach, the guides asked who wanted to trot and I raised my hand very quickly!  We got to trot three different times on the beach.  Then we stopped and the guides took our pictures.  Rej didn’t try to eat anything until we were riding back toward the stables.  After we got back to the stables, one of the owners asked me if I wanted to feed the foal.  I said yes with a big smile and she gave me some bread.  We went over to the paddock and Emma came over.  Her Mom followed Emma.  I held out my hand and she ate some bread.  Her Mom munched some from Laura and I too.  Emma felt very soft.  I would love to go back!”

Laura and Sunny

Laura was on Sunny.  He also enjoyed nibbling along the ride whenever he got the chance.  “Horseback riding was so much fun!  I rode a brown horse named Sunny.  The ride on the beach was beautiful, getting to stare out at the ocean.  I was a little nervous about trotting, but didn’t do too badly at it.  Sunny liked to do whatever the other horses were doing, and when the one in front of her would trot, she would trot also.  And as we rode back through the rainforest, she always seemed to go under the lowest branches, making me duck down.  It was so much fun being able to ride her despite it being a little bumpy.  It was definitely one of my favorites on this trip.”

Emma munches bread from Jenna

The ride itself was great.  We took a short path through the rainforest to get to the beach.  One minute we were in the rainforest and the next we emerged on a wide span of beach and oceanfront.  It was beautiful!  We could walk, trot or canter, whatever we felt up to.  Riding along the beach with the rainforest on the left and ocean on the right was quite memorable.  On the way back, we meandered through the rainforest and across several small streams.

Emma gets a little more attention from Jenna

At the end of our ride, the owner gave Laura and Jenna bread to feed their 5-month old foal.  Emma, as they called her, was a beautiful horse and loved both the bread and the attention.  Her mama, Scooter, was very protective, always by her side, and reaching in for a nibble and some attention herself. We all really enjoyed the afternoon and were very glad we went horseback riding at Wonga Beach!

At sunset, on a beach between Wonga Beach and Port Douglas

Koala Cuddles

David, Carol Ann, Laura, Jenna and Tillie, a female Koala in Kuranda, Queensland

During our visit to Kuranda, we visited a small zoo, which had several animals native to Australia, including Koalas.  We saw kangaroos, several reptiles, turtles, and alligators.  This zoo offers “Koala Cuddles” for a small extra fee.  We were very excited!!  We’ve seen koalas a few times, including once at the Indianapolis zoo when they were on loan from a zoo in California.  They are absolutely adorable animals and we could hardly wait to hold one.  Fortunately, Jenna was just a couple inches taller than the minimum size.

Laura and Tillie

Laura went first.  The koalas take turns, some enjoy the human contact more than others.  It was Tillie’s turn.  Tillie is a little larger than average and doesn’t like children because she doesn’t feel supported.  She also likes larger trees.  She tolerates cuddling with humans, but gets tired of it faster than some of the other koalas.  Her favorite activity is eating.  She snuggled into Laura’s arms, gripping her shirt with one paw.  Laura’s Thoughts:  Tillie’s fur was so soft, and she was so cuddly.  She just sat in my arms, and held on with her paws.  She didn’t squirm at all, and leaned against me a little.  It was so cool to get to hold her, and at first I wasn’t sure if I could support her, but she wasn’t too heavy.  She was adorable, and holding her was definitely my favorite things we did in Kuranda and one of my favorites we’ve done on the trip so far.

Who could resist a face like this?

Mom went second because the zoo keepers weren’t sure Tillie would even go to Jenna because Jenna is so small, kind of like a short tree.  Mom’s Thoughts:  “Their fur is so soft, much softer than I was expecting.  Tillie settled into my arms with her head on my shoulder.  She didn’t move around or wiggle or try to get away.  Just sat there comfortably resting in my arms.  The zoo keeper offered to do a family photo for us with our camera.  It was not busy at all when we were there, so the staff was relaxed and let us have extra time and even brought Tam closer when each of us had a turn.”

The zoo keepers show Jenna how to hold her arms before giving Tam to her.

Jenna was last.  They tried Tillie with Jenna, but as soon as they started to place Tillie in Jenna’s arms, Tillie began pushing away.  Instead, Jenna held Tam, another girl koala.  Tam had been dozing in her enclosure.  But, even though her nap was disturbed, she didn’t mind Jenna holding her at all.  She went right into Jenna’s arms and looked as if she could doze right back off.    Jenna’s Thoughts:  “I was really looking forward to seeing the koalas and getting to hold one was very special.  Tam was so soft to hold and a little heavy too.  I enjoyed holding her a lot.  It was my favorite thing we did that day!”

Jenna and Tam, a girl Koala at the zoo in Kuranda, Queensland

Cuddle a Koala was a highlight of our day in Kuranda and one of the favorite things we have done in Australia.  It’s not something you can find just anywhere and we feel very lucky to have held these adorable animals.

Kuranda Visit

A view from our tram car after we left the first station. We went over the mountain. The tram car on the right is coming toward us, carrying a trash container from the previous station. We are heading toward the mountain.

The view from the tram. It's beautiful, but the photo captures only a small snapshot of the view we had.

Kuranda is a village/small town in Queensland in the mountains of the rainforest, east of Cairns.  It’s become a tourist-attraction, particularly with the SkyRail transportation there.  We went on Tuesday and the weather was the exact opposite of the previous day, warm and sunny all day long.  Hope you can “forgive” the numerous photos in this blog.  There were so many great views, it was was hard to choose just a few.

A view from our tram.

In the morning, we took the skytram to Kuranda which carried us up the mountain and through the rainforest, or I should say above the rainforest.  It’s amazing what you can see from the tram looking out across the area toward the ocean and then right beneath you at the rainforest.  It takes about 1 1/2 hours to ride the tram, but that includes two stops where you can walk through the rainforest and to views of the Barron Gorge and Falls.  The views were gorgeous both on the tram and on the walks at each station.  We saw incredible views to the ocean behind us and out across the rainforest and mountains, including waterfalls.  The photos are amazing and yet do not do justice to what we saw in person.

Coming into one of the two stations where we stopped and took walks in the rainforest.

Besides being a tourist destination, Kuranda is a small quaint town where people live and work each day.  The town has a number of tourist shops, but also grocery stores, churches, homes, etc. for the people who live there.  Although it is possible to drive to Kuranda, the ride up on the skytram and back on the railroad were half the enjoyment of the day.

This tree was HUGE and had absolutely no low branches. They were all at the top of the tree, creating shade for the forest below.

We tried a jungle walk which was interesting, but very hot and muggy.  We cut our walk short when, despite the inspect repellant, we became lunch for any number of mosquitos in the area.  One of the main things we had looked forward to on our Kuranda visit was the Koala Cuddle in a small zoo they have in Kuranda.  That experience was so incredible, we’ve saved it for the next blog, so stay tuned!

Laura gingerly touches a large, spikey vine on the jungle walk. It was definitely spikey, not fuzzy!

After the koalas, we visited the butterfly sanctuary.  We’ve been to White River Gardens in Indianapolis which has butterflies during the spring and summer.  This sanctuary is much like it, but it seemed like there were more butterflies and there were definitely ones we had never seen before, that are native to Australia.  They landed on us multiple times and some we even convinced to sit on our hand.  The literature even encouraged you to wear bright clothes to tempt the butterflies to land on you.  After the butterflies, the girls and I browsed around town while David finished the nature walk.  It seems even the threat of mosquitos is preferable to shopping!

Jenna eyes a butterfly that landed on her shirt.

The Cairns Birdwing Butterfly

The day ended with a return trip on the Kuranda Scenic Railroad.  The railroad was built in the late 1800s replacing another railroad which had been continually affected by flooding.  Before the new railroad was built, residents in the mountains were sometimes cut off from supplies, including food, for extended periods of time.  The new railraod was an amazing engineering feat requiring more than 15 tunnels and a massive bridge.  Small towns sprung up along the line during its construction.

The Kuranda Scenic Railroad as we went round a large curve.

Today, what was once a lifeline for the people in the mountains, is now a tourist attraction.  Many of the train cars are historic, some as old as 100 years and others from the 1930s.  On the train ride back, we stopped at an overlook for  better view of Barron Falls.  The falls are huge and incredibly powerful.  I wish photos could have captured the sounds as well as the sight of this waterfall.  The rest of the train ride was comfortably lulling, tempting us to doze after a long, busy, exciting day.  However, our seat mates probably would have objected if we had slid into their knee space.  We think they were speaking French, but couldn’t tell for sure.  We heard a number of languages that day besides the lovely Australian accent.

Baron Falls from a lookout point just off the skytram. You can just see a rainbow in the lower left corner of the photo.

Another view of Baron Falls from a stop on the train. You can see the mist from the rushing water.

Stay tuned for the Koalas!

Laura, Jenna and Dad enjoy the view from a lookout at one of the tram stations.

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