Melbourne Trip Day 2: The Great Ocean Road

The whole reason I decided to take a trip down to Melbourne was to meet up with my friend, Carlie, and to take a tour of the Great Ocean Road.  The Great Ocean Road is a coastal highway that follows the southern shoreline of Victoria.  It was constructed after World War II, mostly by veterans who returned from the war without work.  It was designed to rival the Pacific Coastal Highway in California.  For the record, it’s gorgeous and much easier to drive, but still can’t compare to the PCH in my opinion.

The day began a 5:30am as I had to meet Carlie down at her hotel in South Melbourne at 6:45am.  From there we got picked up directly by the tour company and started on our 12 hour journey.  Yup, that’s right 12 hours on a bus (more like a large minivan).

Our first stop was Bell’s Beach, a famous surf beach featured in the final scene of Point Break.  We were walking down the beach and Carlie asked me if we could find the species I study here.  I said that I thought it was too sandy here and that we would have to walk out to the point.  Of course, 14 seconds later, Carlie looks down in the middle of a sandy beach and finds one.  I couldn’t believe it and am still convinced that it’s more an example of Murphy’s Law than anything else.  Look how excited she is! Being a marine mammal scientist, she promptly anthropomorphized her finding, naming the sea star Sandy. That’s what happens when you spend too much time studying dolphins.

This first stop also illustrated how entertaining a few members of our tour group were going to be.  First, there was this british women that was just absolutely crazy.  Sputtering all kinds of ridiculous muttering, she “befriended” a korean girl and called her “her daughter.” She also asked the tour guide to talk to god about the rain.  As most of you know, I am pretty versed in British dry humor and sarcasm, and I promise you that this woman was totally serious.  Carlie dubbed her Photobaggins and this was appropriate as she had the Korean girl take all sorts of pictures of her and Carlie always seemed to be in her way. The best part is that we all found out she was actually on the wrong tour and our poor guide had to spend her lunch break sorting her out on the other tour.

The other hilarious event involved a Chinese man who was on the tour with his family.  During our first stop, he snuck off and stole coffee from one of the other tour buses.  Our guide saw this and told him nicely that it wasn’t for our tour.  Five mins later, he went to go get some more, prompting our guide to have to chase after him.  Considering it was only 7:45am, it was a pretty funny morning.

Another good find by Carlie at Bell’s Beach

One thing the PCH doesn’t have, a really cool wooden sign for the start.

I can’t say that we had great weather; it was rather gray they entire day.  However, there was still enough light to take some good photos.  The tour basically consisted of stopping at every scenic lookout along the road.  I’ve posted all my pics on Facebook, so feel free to check them out there.

We also had some “bonus” stops.  We got to check out a small Koala colony and see and feed some parakeets.  Unfortunately, they give you seed to feed the birds.  The next time any of you see Carlie, you should ask her about her bird feeding experience.  If you don’t start laughing at her uncontrollably after she tells you the story, then come see me and I will tell it to you properly.  I also learned a funny bit of trivia at this stop.  I am not sure if my elementary school music class was unique, but we had to sing the song, “Kookabara sits in the old gum tree.”  At this stop, we got to see a Kookabara, and low and behold, it was sitting in a gum tree (eucalyptus tree).  Suddenly, that goofy little song made a little more sense to me.  It always amazes me when something that sounds so exotic is really very simple.

We also stopped in a temperate rain forest.  This was also pretty interesting to see.  It was filled with large ferns and giant eucalyptus trees.  It felt a lot like some of the giant Redwood forests in California mixed with some of the rain forests of Olympic National Park in WA, just filled with eucalyptus trees instead.  I certainly wasn’t expecting to see that on our tour.  Although, it was an extremely short walk (hike) track they took us on.  Carlie and I felt like we were on the strenuous Manoa falls track.

We stopped for a nice lunch in the sleepy fishing town of Apollo Bay and then we quickly passed by an important geographical milestone for me.  Right after the bay, I went on past the most southern part of the trip and that is also the furthest southern point that I have ever been, just around 38.78 degrees S. Not bad for a kid from Jersey.

The highlight of the trip is at the very end of the Great Ocean Road, and that is the Twelve Apostles.  The Twelve Apostles are actually eight rock stacks that line a limestone cliff face and sandy beach near the Port Cambell National Park.  There used to be nine of them, but no, there were never twelve and no one knows why they are named as such.  All of the remaining pictures below are from the park:

I don’t think I will ever get tired of these amazingly blunt signs.  Please note the googly eyes.

If only it was sunset…

We both have been in Hawaii a little too long.  Carlie has around 5 layers on and it’s about 60 degrees out.

These two are on their own.  This is maybe my favorite picture.  It looks like an oil painting.

One more look.

We decided to spread some Aloha.  Well, Haole to you to. (Props to the lady who took this photo for actually framing it properly).

From there, it was a long 4 hour ride back to Melbourne via an inland highway.  Luckily, I had my iPad and we could watch a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory to ease the long ride home.  I also got massacred in a game of Battleship.  Embarrassing.  When we got back to Melbourne, we capped off the day with a great dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant in South Yarra.  It was the only place for 4 blocks that was crowded on a Sunday night, and it turned out to be a good indicator of tasty food.  It’s kind of interesting to eat Mexican here as it is much more of a specialty dining experience than the US…even Hawaii.  The place is called Fiesta and has been made famous by a couple tennis pros.  For example, I had the Andre Agassi burrito.  For dessert, I introduce Carlie to the dangerous and delicious Tim Tam cookie.

I think we were both a little scared about taking a 12 hour bus tour, but in the end we both really enjoyed it.  If you go to Victoria, go see the Great Ocean Road.  If there are only two of you, it’s worth it to take the tour.  If there are more of you, than hire (rent) a car and do it on your own.


Melbourne Day 1

Melbourne Day 1

Started with waking up at 4 in the morning, so that I could catch the 5am bus and train to the airport. Got to the airport with plenty of time, but mistakenly left a small pocket knife in my carry on bag. Not sure how because I checked the bag before as i had been using it for field work and always carry at least one knife. Apparently, under Australian law, any knife that has a locking mechanism is considered a weapon and because I had one in my bag I was supposed to be turned over to the Australian Federal Police. Luckily the security woman seemed to think that my 1.5 inch blade knife wasn’t that dangerous and said she would just confiscate it. I felt lucky in the end, but that was a handy little knife.

I flew Qantas down to Melbourne. What a great airline. They have a super fast machine based check in procedure with lots of staff to help people. The planes are big and comfortable and they feed you a meal on every flight FOR FREE! I highly recommend them for all domestic Australian travel.

Melbourne doesn’t have public transit that goes out to the airport, but a company called SkyBus runs a bus service direct to one of the city transit hubs and you can buy a return ticket for $26. So, I hopped on the bus and made my way to the city via Southern Cross Train Station. From there it was just a few blocks to the hostel I was supposed to stay at for the night. However, something got messed up when I changed my reservation and I didn’t have a reservation for that night anymore. Luckily I got a room in the other YHA hostel in North Melbourne. Though, I hadn’t taken the time to figure out the tram system in the city, so I walked up there with my two bags.
It only took about 30 mins, but was just an extra little insult to injury.

Finally after my room situation was all squared away, I went out to explore the city. I checked out the Queen Victoria Market (but wasn’t there on the right day for the famous foodie tour). Then got on the free City Circle Tram. Melbourne uses a tram or streetcar system as its main system of public transit. The city circle tram is a literal circle around downtown and has a narrated guide. A nice way to start off your Melbourne visit. My one complaint is that it was quite crowded with low windows that made picture taking near impossible.

Although, I found Melbourne, on the whole, a bit drab with more of a dirty urban look to it. It wasn’t until I got to Federation Square that I started taking some pictures. This is some really unique architecture there with a nice contrast between very contemporary Film ands Art Museum contrasted sight an old Cathedral, and the really classic looking Flinders Street Train station.

Here’s Flinders Street Station and a good view of the City Circle Tram

Federation Square

Quite a unique look. Apparently Melbornians either love it or hate it. I thought it was pretty cool.

A full view of the ultra classic looking Flinders Street Station. I think this was my favorite building in the square.

I had to eat here. I always loved this book and am known to appreciate a good reference. It was a little pricey, but the burger was quite good. The fries were very fresh tasting, but a little soggy for me to really like them.

This was the view from the rooftop lounge of my hostel. On the whole, I found the Melbourne Metro YHA a little too cramped to be comfortable, but this rooftop lounge was a nice unique feature that makes up for it.










The highlight of day one was finding this awesome jazz club, The Bennetts Lane Jazz Club.  It’s hidden in this back ally but is well known as Australia’s best jazz club. It certainly was an awesome little venue. A small stage and a tiny bar, but the perfect size to fit a lot of people and still make the feel very intimate. I ended up making some friends waiting in line to get in to the show. I met some expat Britts who now live in Brisbane and they were kind enough to invite me to join them at their table. They even bought me a couple beers. People really like that I am from Hawaii. It seems to be a rare place to visit from and everyone in OZ loves it. Plus, people can’t ever place my accent and get a kick out of learning about my past places of residency. No one ever can believe that I was born and raised in Jersey. Ha!

I truly was fortunate to be in Melbourne for the second night of Vince Jones and his band.

He’s a bit of an Aussie jazz icon, and I was really excited to get to see him at one of the clubs that he calls home. I have to say that after the first two songs, I was afraid that Aussie jazz just wasn’t going to hold its own compared to American jazz. However, after that point the concert just took off.

Vince Jones is a soulful performer who you can just see pour himself into the music. His band was top notch and followed his every musical whim. It’s been far too long since I saw live jazz, and this concert just blew me away. I never thought I would find music of that quality here, 10,000 miles away from where jazz was born. Truly sublime.

It was a strange and somewhat hectic day of travel and tourism, but it ended with magnificence.

Finally Some Science

After returning to Sydney on Friday night, I was, as the Aussies would say, very keen to get started with my field work. I targeted Monday as my start day, and spent most of the day Sunday preparing by planning out my sites and filling and labeling vials. After much consideration, I decided to go “green” with my transportation needs and buy a bike.   I spent Saturday checking used bikes and new bikes on the web and at two different bike shops.  After all my research, I decided to buy a new hybrid bike, the new 2012 Giant Roam.

So, Monday began with a trip to the bank and then straight off to the bike shop. Luckily, the low tide was late in the afternoon and I had time to take care of all of this and make my way to the site at a purposeful, but not stressful pace. It was a beautiful day and I had a great first bike ride up to Circular Quay (pronounced “key”). From there, I took one of the many ferries to Manly Beach. I have to say that I really love that ferries are a form of public transportation here. Steven Colbert once said that he doesn’t take public transportation because you can’t spell “emotional abuse” without “bus.” You can, however, spell it without “ferry.” They always seem to put me in a good mood, and the ride to Manly is a stunning 30 mins across much of the harbor. I’ve posted a bunch of pics on FB recently to that effect. The other great thing is that all the ferries (and trains for that matter) have space for bikes. Shelley Beach is a quick bike ride down a promenade and beach bike path to Shelley Beach from Manly Wharf. I locked up my bike and set off on my hike, or bushwalk, towards the rocky intertidal area. Yes, Australians call hiking bushwalking.

This is where things get exciting for a field biologist. You can plan and prepare to your hearts content, but you still never quite know what you’re going to find when you get out there. You have to be ready for anything, make quick decisions about the best use of your time, you experimental design and, most importantly, make quick decisions about your own personal safety. In the intertidal, you are constantly aware of 3 primary forces: waves, tides, and daylight. Tides and daylight can be planned for but easily lost track of, and waves need to be carefully minded at all times. Your head has to be on a swivel and you need to be constantly watching and listening. It’s one thing to get wet, it’s virtually guaranteed, but it is quite another thing to be swept out by a wave. The other part of the excitement is the prospect of new discovery. Will the animals be there? Will you be able to find them? And most importantly, will you see something really cool?

The first thing that I noticed when I got out there was that the tide was probably going to be too high for me to find my sea star species. Calcar likes to hang out in the low to middle intertidal on bare rock that is fairly wave exposed. If the rock bench is stratified and wide, they can be found easily, but this rock bench was much shallower and much of the area I needed to get to was still under water. Given that I only had two hours of day light, I was pretty certain that I was going to come home empty handed, but you never know what it might look like over the next boulder field.

Along my hike, I did encounter some cool looking sea creatures. This anemone was extremely abundant in the huger intertidal, and it has this amazing bright color to it. It is known as a Waratah Anemone or as a Cherry Anemone.

This sea star is Parvulastra exigua and is another species that I am studying for my dissertation. It’s common on the same shores as calcar, but is usually found much higher in the intertidal. They are also pretty small, about the size of a half dollar coin. This one has a really striking mottled red color pattern, and is the only six-rayed individual that I have seen.

While the tide was still dropping, I noticed that the swell had begun to intensify over the last hour as well. I did finally find calcar along the rock bench here in the picture. You might notice that it’s still completely covered in water. The waves were crashing over it regularly and I only had a few seconds at a time to scope out this effectively giant tide pool. I stood, waited, and watched. After I had to runaway from a couple of big waves, I decided that it would be best to leave this site for another day and another tide. Sometimes you need to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. I was by myself, far from help, and the waves were only getting bigger. I also wasn’t in full wet gear (previous experience in the Sydney intertidal never got more than my socks wet), so I would be risking a lot and guaranteeing an unpleasant, wet ride home.

This wasn’t easy for me. Truthfully, I have never walked away from samples before. I have not gone out to a site or left a site after not finding anything, but never left known unsampled sea stars behind. However, I also realized that I usually am under a much bigger time crunch for sampling and spending lots of money to be out there. Thankfully, my fellowship gives me both time and money. I have to keep reminding myself that I can relax a little bit. It’s day one of many. So, I sat happily on my ferry ride home. At the very least, I now had valuable info and GPS coordinates for the future. My samples vials were empty, but day one in the field was still a success.

Just a few thousand miles

Traveling from Hawaii to Sydney is a much easier trip than what most of my fellow EPSI fellows will have to endure. 10 hours on an plane and suddenly you’re more than 5,000 miles away from where you started. Air travel still marvels me that way from time to time. For 99.9% of life on the planet, migrating that far in that such a short amount of time is nothing short of impossible, but we make it seem trivial, easy. Not that we have brought plenty of other species along for the ride. I am sure that there are probably a few roaches sharing this trip with us right. The transportation of species across large, natural biogeographic barriers, intentionally or unintentionally, is one of the primary ways our species has changed ecosystems across the globe. As you keep reading this blog (I hope), you’ll see that I I’ll constantly come back to this theme, or perhaps since this is a science blog, back to this driving question: how do human beings change the ecosystems around them and what are the evolutionary implications of these changes? How are we, as a species, shaping the evolution of all the other species around us?

These are the questions that drive me as a scientist, and it is often the context and lens I use to observe the world around me. I am setting out on this Fellowship today to try figure out one small piece of the puzzle, trying to answer a single question: does sewage effluent limit the ability of populations of sea stars to exchange larvae (and genetic material) with themselves? Or, in other words, does sewage waste genetically isolate populations of sea stars?

Sea stars, or starfish, might seem a little esoteric, but they provide a good model system to ask these kinds of questions. As adults, they don’t move around a lot, so larval exchange is their primary means of genetic connectivity. Additionally, they a fairly abundant and are mostly ignored as a food species, so they aren’t a lot of other direct human impacts upon them. There a lot of relatively ignored invertebrate species that have crucial roles in our coastal ecosystems, and the results and conclusions that I obtain from sea stars very well may apply to them as well. Plus, sea stars don’t run away from us eager scientists, and they quickly and easily grow back the tiny tissue sample that I need for DNA extraction.

Well, I am eager to get started. Too bad I have about another 5 hours on this plane!