Archive for the ‘Oceania’ Category

Wonderful Australia and New Zealand

Friday, February 7th, 2014

692_thumbnailGeorge Losey, Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii, received his Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography working on the behavior and ecology of the fishes of the East Pacific. His research, mostly on coral reef fishes, includes cleaning symbiosis, intraspecific aggression and learning behavior. His most recent work on ultraviolet vision and coloration in reef fishes led him to Australia’s Lizard Island Research Station on two research expeditions.


During our farewell banquet on Coral Princess II, an interesting question arose: What color best represents this Smithsonian Journey to you? The majority answer was Green. As an ocean fanatic my choice was (and always is) Blue. I had to admit though, if I could add a “blue modifier” to some of the greens, green was indeed the correct choice.

Starting with the carpet in the ANZ waiting room in the Christchurch airport, green predominated. The carpet was modeled after aerial photographs of the surrounding farms on the Canterbury plains. On the flight to Queenstown, the squares of each shade of green to brown reflected the productive agriculture – a real-life version of the carpet.

Agricultural greens were soon replaced by the deep greens of alpine forests topped with a dusting of snow. These endless greens and craggy peaks continued right into our landing between the peaks near Queenstown. The valley greens covered the lower, glacier-scoured valleys that spread between the more sharply cut peaks that had escaped the glacial smoothing. Snow again provided a white contrast on the peaks to complement the ever-present white of sheep grazing in the valleys.

My favorite, blue, finally appeared in lake Wakatipu, the third largest lake in New Zealand, that ends at the Queenstown beach. But even here green had to be included to form the turquoise color of the lake’s waters. Recent runoff of glacial silt from the mountains had greened the lake to a beautiful compromise between blue and green. As the afternoon progressed, the waters seemed to spawn a growing population of the “young and beautifuls.” Twenty-somethings in their backpacks and leisure garb grew to cover the park in front of our Queenstown hotel with their drum music, tightrope walking, acrobatics and sit-and-talk groups. My temptation to join was tempered only by my age and lack of acrobatic skills.

The greens during our outing to Milford Sound took on deeper shades of the temperate rain forest and towering tree ferns. My blues finally ruled as our boat cruised out over the sound with the almost mandatory rains feeding the waterfalls.

In Sydney, I had to venture into the extensive Royal Botanic Gardens where green replaced the sandstone and concrete buildings. Australia Day in Darling Harbor provided a rainbow of people and fireworks to satisfy anyone’s choice of “trip color.”

Finally the Coral Princess II cruising up from Cairns to Lizard Island gave me my blue colors but most were again modified by a green tint of either coastal water or sandy patches on the numerous coral reefs. Weather provided a challenge for our captain to navigate to areas where we could enjoy the promised colors of the Great Barrier Reef. He mastered the increasingly rough waters to Ribbon Reef 9 for a great glass-bottom boat,  snorkel or scuba excursion to the reef face. Green dominance suffered here as the reef fish enjoyed presenting every color of the rainbow in a beautiful example of evolutionary extravagance.

A quick dinner and relaxing evening at the Shangri La Hotel in Cairns gave us a finale to the story of our journey that is certain to turn our friends at home green with envy. I’m ready to go again!


To learn more about our Australia and New Zealand Tours, click here.

Contrasts of a Journey Through Australia and New Zealand

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

692_thumbnailGeorge Losey, Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii, received his Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography working on the behavior and ecology of the fishes of the East Pacific. His research, mostly on coral reef fishes, includes cleaning symbiosis, intraspecific aggression and learning behavior. His most recent work on ultraviolet vision and coloration in reef fishes led him to Australia’s Lizard Island Research Station on two research expeditions.


I love the contrasts in traveling. I look forward to the contrast of my destination with my home. The destination may be inspiring, challenging or awesomely beautiful, but usually makes the return home very comfortably familiar. Our Natural Wonders of Australia and New Zealand Journey was a stark contrast with nearly every day distinct from the previous day. The Great Barrier Reef challenged some of us to snorkel far out to the coral and giant parrot fish. Others near the beach were suddenly yelling “turtle” as a green sea turtle swam between their legs. Then when I was silently admiring a giant clam, my flippers were brushed aside as a turtle passed just beneath, either oblivious to my presence or possessing a cheeky desire to startle me (successfully!).

Kuranda and the awesome beauty of the rainforest were, for me, almost belittled by the beautiful olive-backed sunbirds nesting in the middle of the food court yard with their nest hanging from a vendor’s display. They busily traveled out and back, feeding their young, despite our violation of their privacy. Then walking down into the lower market it was transformed into a familiar set of commercial activities to a holdout hippie-style community as an echo of the old days in Kuranda.

Travel to Alice Springs and Ayers Rock brought additional contrasts. I was very pleased to have a stop at the local headquarters for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. Years back they had evacuated a very sick me from Mackay to Townsville in a rather nasty storm. Thanks Mates!

On to the outback, that contrasts not only with other places but with itself. The harsh red of the ground clashes almost violently with the stark blue sky. The remarkably complex and ancient culture of the people from Uluru is difficult to rationalize with our own. Many carry on with the traditional lifestyle that dates back many thousands of years. I chose my aboriginal painting purchase to remind me of that contrast AND the wichitee grub that I was challenged to eat during the bush tucker demonstration. (It was actually quite good!)

Then iconic Sydney from Opera House to Bondi Beach that all fit nicely into expectations only to clash that night with dinner in a Bavarian Bier House complete with sausage, Oompah band and nail hammering contest.

Mount Cook with clear skies and a sprinkling of snow forced us to dig a bit deeper into our luggage to stay warm. Our group split into various activities ranging from bush walks to a glacier to scenic cruising on an alpine glacial lake.

One portion of our trip that had little contrast was the quality of our accommodations. They were absolutely top flight with delicious meals, great wines and friendly conversations. Our Tour Guides contrasted in style but not in the depth of their presentations as the bus portions of our tour progressed. All of us left this journey with a contrast in the scope of our knowledge of Australia and New Zealand and an eager desire to visit again.


Read more about upcoming departures of our Natural Wonders of Australia and New Zealand

tour here.

Adventures in Australia and New Zealand

Monday, February 25th, 2013

David ClappDavid Clapp is a respected naturalist and teacher who worked extensively in land conservation and habitat management. David has taught at Northeastern University, lectured on strategies for land protection in the United States, Africa, Europe, and Asia, and consulted for an array of governmental and conservation agencies. He has led Smithsonian Journey adventures for about thirty years.  Especially through his involvement with ecotourism he has been able to train naturalists, provide natural history materials and work with conservation organizations worldwide. His lectures run the gamut from plate tectonics and the history of the world to flight and migration as it relates to sites being visited.  David is also an extremely gifted photographer. He is a popular study leader and our travelers consistently express their appreciation for his efforts and enthusiasm.


Australia and the tropical coast were a welcome treat for Smithsonian travelers escaping from winter’s grasp in America this February. We snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef and rode the old train up through the mountains to the rainforest town of Kuranda and walked the Esplanade on the edge of the town.

noddy terns

Both Sooty and Common Noddy Terns are on Michelmas Cay in abundance; often more than 20,000 birds join us out here on this Great Barrier Reef cay. Photo courtesy of David Clapp.

cairns to kuranda

The gondola ride over the tropical rain forest has two stops along the way to provide opportunities to learn about this rare habitat. Photo courtesy of David Clapp.


The train from Cairns to Kuranda, a tropical forest ride. Photo courtesy of David Clapp.

The great Red Center of Australia was also hot and the views of the Olgas (Kata Tjuta) and the great Ayer’s Rock (Uluru) made each day and each outing quite wonderful. The sunset on Uluru was very nice and the morning views of Kata Tjuta were glorious.

uluru, ayers rock

Uluru, Ayer’s Rock, reddens as the sun sets. Photo courtesy of David Clapp.

The Opera House in Sydney is the location of innovation, a human soap opera, and the pride of Sydney-siders. The tour of the facility is always a highlight of the tour and the engineering feats and the stories of those involved in designing, planning, and building the opera house are touchingly human.

sydney opera house

The Sydney opera House is lovely from any direction, but a water view is special. Photo courtesy of David Clapp.

New Zealand provided a green counterpoint to Australia’s browns. Mount was a cool destination in many ways. The change from the sunburnt plains of Australia to the glaciated and snow-covered mountains of New Zealand made for a mind-boggling day. The trip to Doubtful Sound, a fjord on the southwestern side of New Zealand’s South Island, was quite wonderful. We had bottle-nosed dolphins, southern fur seals, and Buller’s albatross providing a sense of wonder and remoteness as we traveled the inundated edges of the rocky glaciated canyons, now covered with hardy southern beech forests (Nothofagus).

doubtful sound

Doubtful Sound is a grand fjord its rocky walls harbor forest of Nothofagus beech – offering the trees no soil! Photo courtesy of David Clapp.

Three Smithsonian travelers bungy jumped at A. J. Hackett’s famous bridge near Queenstown. We had airplane fliers, boat riders, bridge jumpers, gondola riders, and zip line aficionados as well!

aj hacket bridge

Every now and then someone wants a bigger thrill, here an SJ traveler reaches for a closer view of the river below. Photo courtesy of David Clapp.

Our last group outing was through the Ruakuri Cave; an intricate, large, active cave with a remarkable entrance and internal walkway. The access is down a spiral staircase attached to the side of a large silo.  From the bottom you enter the cave system through an air lock that helps control the inflow of air and allows the cave to maintain its humidity and temperature. The entrance alone is worth the visit. A river still runs through the bottom of the cave, and was occasionally heard in the depths as we passed along the walkway.


Inside a limestone cave is not the place to take pictures, but this gives an idea of the features that water, time, and a bit of calcium carbonate can accomplish. Photo courtesy of David Clapp.

Another great meal was served to us in Auckland as we gathered for a final evening. This is the time when we look at pictures, remember, reminisce, and appreciate the trip as a whole. This Smithsonian journey down under is packed with adventure and excitement, and is a truly unforgettable experience.  See below for three more pictures highlighting our spectacular trip.

New Zealand Norht Island

New Zealand’s North Island has many geothermal features. Photo courtesy of David Clapp.


The Pukeko, or Purple Swamphen, is a common birds of fields and golf courses on New Zealand’s North Island. Photo courtesy of David Clapp.

dry reiver bed, australia

Dry river beds are normal in central Australia; a few Eucalyptus can survive by sending roots down to permanent water. Photo courtesy of David Clapp.


To learn more about our Splendors of Australia and New Zealand trip click here

Splendors of Australia and New Zealand

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Ed Kanze’s love for Australia and New Zealand became a major part of his life after his first trip there in 1984. In 1996, he made a 25,000-mile journey around Australia’s mainland and Tasmania. Further adventures in both Australia and New Zealand have expanded Ed’s wealth of knowledge and stories to share. Ed has published several books, served as a national park ranger, won a prestigious John Burroughs Award for one of his nature essays, and shared his love of nature, literature, and history at venues great and small. Here, he recounts his recent adventures as Study Leader on our Splendors of Australia and New Zealand tour. Click here  for more on Ed, including Q&A.

Ed Kanze at Ayers Rock

The author at Ayers Rock.

Up we went into the wild blue yonder, and down we came into Queensland, in northeastern Australia, just as Cyclone Yasi, the biggest storm in Australia’s history, was bearing down on the coast. But thanks to a high-spirited group of travelers, an excellent hotel, and Yasi itself, which veered to the south, we were spared major discomfort. After a few minor adjustments, all went well, and our intrepid group was off and running.

After riding a train into the Great Dividing Range and seeing Australia at its wettest, we flew off to the dry desert interior. Here we found another surprise. Recent rains had turned the desert green. So instead of a very red Uluru, or Ayers Rock, rising out of red sand, we saw the world’s most famous monolith as few ever get to see it, rising from a landscape of green. Temperatures were mild, and we enjoyed memorable visits to “the Rock,” as locals call it, at sunset and sunrise.

Sydney came next. Here we immersed ourselves in Australia’s early history as a British penal colony, wandering narrow streets where the early settlement at Sydney Cove sprang up. Some members of the group chose to take in a performance at the world-famous Sydney Opera House, while others rambled in the botanical garden that entranced American conservationist John Muir when he visited in 1903 and 1904. In the garden we saw massive native trees, delicate wildflowers, and wild parrots—rainbow lorikeets and sulphur-crested cockatoos–up close.

Smithsonian travelers enjoy a walk in the desert. Photo: Ed Kanze

Smithsonian travelers enjoy a walk in the desert. Photo: Ed Kanze

From Sydney it was off across the Tasman Sea on a flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. From this point on, weather and temperatures were sublime. We enjoyed a specially arranged tour of the richly endowed Canterbury Museum, walked through gardens bursting with color, and zoomed off into the South Island’s Southern Alps. A visit to Mount Cook National Park, where Sir Edmund Hillary honed his skills as a climber before taking on Everest, led to a stay in the mountain resort village of Queenstown. This was the base from which we enjoyed an epic day touring through high mountain passes and cruising on Milford Sound, a fiord so grand and magnificently walled in by cliffs and forest that to see it on a sunny day (as we did) is to grasp the full sense of the word “awe.”

Our last days were spent on New Zealand’s North Island, only slightly smaller than the South Island and my home state of New York. Here the focus was on the rich cultural history of New Zealand’s original Polynesian inhabitants, the Maori, who still form a vibrant part of this South Pacific nation’s populace. We ended our memorable time together with a Maori dance performance, visits to geysers and hot springs, a cave tour, and a visit to New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. A farewell banquet produced tearful goodbyes and sent us home in a state of irony—full, yet hungry for more adventures in this exciting part of the world.

Ready to go? Explore Australia and New Zealand on our next tour.

Have you been to Australia and New Zealand? How was it? Share your thoughts!

Video: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is home to some of nature’s most unusual animals – corals. Corals are animals, not plants, and have a remarkable way of reproducing to build their reef societies.

Secrets of the Great Barrier Reef

If Australia’s on your life list, now is a great time to go. Click here for more information on our tours to Australia. If you’re interested in coral reefs, click here for Smithsonian’s interactive coral reef exhibit, or here for more on the amazing Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, which will be at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History through April 24, 2011.

What’s on your life list? Let us know!