The International Congress of Speleology 2017, Penrith, Australia


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Following my stay in Cairns I flew to Sydney and arrived at the airport at the same time as several others from the Chillagoe trip. Barbel who had also decided to fly to the Congress from Cairns and I wound up taking the same train to Penrith where the congress was being held. Fortunately I had read up about Opal cards before arriving in Australia and knew we would need one of these to take the train. These cards turned out to be very handy as they could be used not only for travel on trains but on the ferries and buses in the area. The train trip to Penrith was fairly simple we only had to change trains once. Arriving in Penrith we were surprised to see an old style steam train rush into the station. We both turned to each other and exclaimed ‘The Hogwarts train?” Sadly I didn’t get a photo of it as I was encumbered with my luggage at the time. I returned to the station on another occasion when they were running and old electric train and got some pictures though it was not nearly as impressive.

The station at Penrith was undergoing some remodeling and we exited on the wrong side which delayed our getting a taxi for awhile but eventually we realized our mistake and once we got to the other side of the station we quickly found a taxi which dropped us off at our respective hotels. I was staying at a hotel that was a ten or fifteen minute walk from the conference center but it didn’t take me long to figure out the bus system which made the trip just a few minutes long.

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Luckily the hotel had pretty good sound proofing since I was greeted daily by the sound of dozens of lorikeets, parrots and cockatoos that  lived in the trees out front. I stopped to take a few pictures most mornings on my way to the congress.

The congress itself was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the talks and presentations. I did miss the 3D stuff that had been shown at the prior ICS’s I attended and hope that future ones will have more displays along those lines. I was also a little disappointed that the photo salon was a continually playing slide show which made it a little difficult to focus on a particular image and decide which would make a good candidate for a particular category for the cavers choice award. The obstacle course was particularly imaginative and the sump simulation provided for some good entertainment.

It was a great week and I really enjoyed myself. Especially the field trips on wednesday but I’ll write about that in another post.

 

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Hanging around Cairns


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As I previously wrote I chose to fly to Cairns primarily because It allowed me to visit the Barrier Reef and join the caving trip to Chillagoe, but as it turned out, Cairns was a pretty neat destination on its own.

I had chosen to save a few bucks by staying at a backpackers hostel and consider myself fortunate to have chosen one that was not on one of the blocks crammed with nightclubs etc. so I was able to get some sleep though like with all hostels there was a fair bit of noise at night. I picked Caravella on Esplanade, the pictures on the website were a little misleading though. The bay is not really visible from the hotel and consists of a tidal flat so most of the time  your looking at mud not picturesque water. It was a great opportunity for bird watching though and the boardwalk the ran along the shore makes a great place for a stroll.

 

 

The unplanned shopping trip I had to make due to my bag being delayed gave me a chance to walk around town and see what was there. I spotted a large colony of flying foxes roosting in the trees near the city library.

 

 

These are amazing to watch not only because of their huge size but their social behavior and the way they interact is very interesting. Just watch where you step.

Perhaps to make up for the fact you can’t swim in the bay they have one of the largest public pools I’ve ever seen over looking the waterfront.

 

 

I went for a walk out towards the edge of town and founf the botanical gardens which was a great spot to spend some time and photograph Australian bush turkeys, flowers, interesting plants and butterflies.

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Then it was back to walking along the Esplanade to find a restaurant for dinner. I really enjoyed Cairns and of course its proximity to the Barrier Reef!

 

 

Caving and Chillin in Chillagoe


 

img_6603-x4Chillagoe, a small town in Northeast Australia, is about three hours northwest of Cairns. Having decided to visit Cairns prior to the International Congress of Speleology in order to see the Great Barrier Reef the pre-congress trip to see the caves in Chillagoe was a great fit.

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I had managed to pick up an Australian sim card for my cell phone while shopping at the mall in Cairns so I gave the trip organizer Paul a call to let him know I was in town. He answered that several people who were going to Chillagoe were meeting for dinner at a restaurant on the pier and I was welcome to join them. since this was a short walk from where I was staying in Cairns I agreed. I was a little late since I underestimated how far a walk it was to the botanic garden but It was nice meeting a lot of people who I’d get to go caving with over the next few days and dinner was good.

The morning came all to soon and once more I got up before the sun to pile in a van, now we were on our way to Chillagoe. Geoff and Jean who I had met at the Texas ICS were on this trip , and a number of new-found friends from Germany, UK, the US, and Switzerland. Kim who had been on the Barrier reef trip with me was going on this one as well, George however, was driving down to Sydney so wouldn’t be joining us.

Our first stop was for snacks at an interesting site- Camp 64. This shop in Dimbulah featured a variety of memorabilia, items for sale and delicious meat pies. several people opted to try the locally grown dragonfruit and I spotted passion fruit growing on the fence outside.

Then it was on to Chillagoe. Most of us would be staying at the Chillagoe caving  club house. The club was an impressive setup. They have an old schoolhouse converted into sleeping quarters, principal’s house converted into the kitchen and dining hall, and a newly built bathroom and shower block. This was at the base of a hill that provided an excellent view of the surrounding town.


The karst of the area was fascinating the caves are strangely above ground formed in limestone which through faulting followed by volcanic activity and secondary mineral deposits were shaped over time into karst towers that were some of the sharpest limestone I have ever climbed over exhibiting rillenkarren, rinnenkarren and grikes. You can read more about the terrain and wildlife at the Chillagoe-Mungana parks website.

Club members had brought three landrovers, which with the rental vans made getting to the caves simple as all the caves we visited were within an easy drive from the clubhouse and accessible by a short walk through the bush. I had not brought any SRT gear as the large amount of photo gear I was lugging around made my pack heavy enough. Fortunately there was plenty of cave to see without climbing though they did have a cable ladder and rope belay for one of the sections I went through, and Valentin seemed to really enjoy the parts of the trip where he got to repel and climb. Cave temperatures were warm, reminding me of caves in Mexico and Guatemala, though not as humid there was enough to cause my glasses to fog up.

After this first day of caving Winifred announced he’d be happy to take people caving at night after dinner. I was the only one who took him up on this but we had a great trip. He spotted a tarantula which was so still we wondered if it was alive but while I was photographing it it took off convincing us it was indeed alive. We also spent some timephotographing the night sky through an opening in the cave and came across some roosting swiftlets. We backed out of the chamber so as not to disturb them but one bird continued to follow us through most of the cave. Eventually while photographing formations I actually caught some pictures of the bird in flight. The  best result is at the top of this post.

 

During breakfast the next day at the nearby eco lodge this guy dropped in for a visit on someones chair.

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Then it was back to caving.

A big thanks to our organisers- the Chillagoe caving club for leading us on some wonderful trips and allowing us the use of their clubhouse. It really was a great and memorable time.

Before the I.C.S – The Great Barrier Reef!


img_3989-x3When I began planning to attend this years International Congress of Speleology in Australia (Nearly four years ago) , one of the thoughts for-most on my mind was here was my chance to visit the Barrier reef. I did some quick research and found out that most visitors to the Barrier reef set out from Cairns. Once the field trips for the I.C.S were posted I noted that there was a pre-congress trip to the caves near Chillagoe which would depart from Cairns. This seemed like a perfect opportunity.  With some suggestions from the organizer of the caving trips, Paul, I began choosing a dive outfit for the trip. I ended up choosing Pro-dive and this in turn was an excellent fit. I booked a 3 day trip aboard one of their live aboard dive boats which included 11 dives. Then I anxiously awaited my departure day.

My adventure began with the airline cancelling  my flight out of LAX. I nearly panicked when they informed me they wanted people to wait in motels or go home and they would notify them when they would be re-scheduled. I explained that I had a scheduled trip on a boat that couldn’t be rescheduled and they said they would see what they could do. Eight hours later I was scheduled on a flight to New Zealand and thanks to a much shorter layover in Auckland then the one I was originally scheduled for in Manila I arrived in Cairns just a couple hours later than originally scheduled. Sadly my luggage didn’t do so well and I was informed it was still in L.A. The folks at the pro-dive shop were very helpful in setting me up with some extra gear and I did a little shopping for clothes so I was all set to head out on the boat the next morning.

 

 

 

 

(while shopping I spotted Dead-Pool hanging out by the local mall?)

After dragging myself out of bed at what seemed a crazily early time I was met by a van that drove us first to the dive shop and then out to the boat. On board I was pleased to find two other cavers from the U.S.A were aboard, Kim from Maryland and George from West Virginia. We had a few hours ride out to the reef so we were able to grab coffee and a little breakfast as we sailed. It was a little rough heading out so the crew offered sea sickness meds which they encouraged people to take as a precaution. I declined and did just fine, though I noted a few passengers who were looking a little green by the time we reached our first dive site. Once the boat was secured to the permanent anchor points set up to protect the reef things calmed down considerably and soon everyone was readying to get in the water.

 

 

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After a dive briefing about what to expect in the area, what depths and when we were expected back on the boat we began diving the reef. We started at Petaj Bommie, part of Milln reef. I did the first dive without a camera since I wanted to focus on the dive and not a rental camera I wasn’t familiar with, but there was so much to see, I knew I needed to bring the camera along on my subsequent dives. I did find a lost snorkel someone had dropped near the anchor point- looked like it had been there awhile.

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The boat crew kept us on a busy schedule- dive, eat, dive, eat etc. and the food was exceptional. Of course nothing works up an appetite like spending time in the water but really the food was great. The crew was also great- high energy and very positive as well as very knowledgeable about the sites we were diving which was very helpful.

 

After the first two dives we dove on to Flynn reef where we dove Tracy, ski slope, tennis court Gordon’s Mooring, little Tracy’s reef and Coral Garden. Over the next three days we did 11 dives including 2 night dives. It was a busy and tiring schedule but very rewarding getting up early for the sunrise dive on the last day was especially tough but seeing the reef come alive as the sun rose made it very worthwhile.

A highlight of the trip was after one of the dives when someone spotted a Minke whale. Many of us were able to jump back in and watch underwater as the whale circled the boat a few times to see what we were up to.

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A big thanks to the crew for making it such a memorable trip and proving us with some wonderful memories.

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You can see all the pictures I took at https://captnemo.smugmug.com/Places/Australia/Barrier-Reef/ (including the bump headed parrot fishes grouped together for the night pretending to be a coral bommie)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return to Vegas or the T-rex ate my bike!


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It turned out the reason we didn’t have reservations in Henderson for the trip home from Ely was because I had booked a non-refundable night for the following weekend, So what the heck it’s only 700 miles or so round-trip so I loaded the bike and off I went.

My first obstacle was as I neared Baker a huge dust storm hit. These are pretty impressive in a car, on a bike not really something I’d recommend experiencing. The pictures don’t really do it justice since I hid my camera away to protect it during the worst of it.

I made it through though and stopped in Baker to wash off some of the dust and check out Alien jerky.

I also stopped by a large solar collector field that had an unearthly glow as the focused sun beams shone through the dust still in the air.

I arrived in Henderson Nevada to find Dinosaurs had taken over the town!

I made it safely to my hotel though (T-Rex didn’t get me) and checked in and went and got some dinner before heading out to see the Vegas strip. I decided to take a ride on the new “High Roller” Ferris wheel. you start out by stepping into one of these.

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Before long you are climbing into the sky, they have screens that remind you how high.

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and the view once you’re up there is wonderful…

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I walked along the strip a bit then cruised it a couple of times on the bike before the crowded traffic got to me and it was time to call it a night. So I headed back to the hotel in Henderson.