Well after spending the last month in national parks, visiting a cattle ranch station, and spending an amazing week at Heron Island, our adventures of the semester are coming to an end. We finally arrived back in Brisbane at midnight on Wednesday, and got up the next morning to dive straight into finals.
However, before we talk about how sad we are that our time in Australia is over, we’ll tell you a little bit about the past monthh. Sorry again for not posting in so long, but our internet connection was virtually non existent since we left Brisbane homestays. We started by traveling to Lamington National Park. The fact that it is a rainforest was made very evident to us almost every day by the fact that it did not stop raining (and there was an unfortunate abundance of ground leeches!). We slept in safari tents with many spiders, bush turkeys, and even a carpet python. While at Lamington, we also got to go on a bunch of beautiful hikes. The trails were amazing and there was so much to see from Antarctic Beech trees to huge waterfalls. We also completed two projects about resource partitioning within the rainforest ecosystem. There were a couple groups studying spiders, others looking at the partitioning of moss and lichen, and also some research focusing on invertebrates. We also compared the different forest structures found throughout the park from rainforest to eucalypt. On one of the last nights at Binna Burra Lodge, some of us went to the lodge and did some bush dances with other guests staying at the park as well. It seems like Lamington was so long ago, but we all really enjoyed being there.
After we left Lamington, we traveled to Carnarvon Gorge. We got to hike through the gorge on two different days of our stay, and felt like we had traveled back to the time of the dinosaurs due to the vegetation and landscape. Carnarvon was very different from Lamington and we all thoroughly enjoyed our days of 20 km hikes, learning about aboriginal rock art. Two locations along the gorge have giant rock walls covered in hand stencils and rock engravings. During this week we did another set of projects looking at the social organizations of animals. Groups looked at meat ant colonies and also kangaroo groups, exploring behavioral and social processes. We also completed a big group project on fire ecology and controlled-burning regimes. For the record, parents- if you are worried we have only been exploring and having fun this semester, be comforted in the knowledge that we have also learned SO much about Australian flora and fauna, management of national and marine parks, conflicts of land ownership within aboriginal communities, policy challenges, and so much more.
One of our last stops was the Kroombit Park Cattle Station. Our bus ride took us through the “outback” and we traveled for many kilometers without seeing any signs of towns or communities. Funny sidenote, our lunch break was in a town called Banana (not kidding!). We felt tlike we were in the middle of nowhere most of the time. At the cattle station we learned about the hardships of agriculture and ranching within Australia, particularly in relation to the current mining industry boom. We also go to experience “real” ranch life by going horseback riding and mustering goats. For some of us, this was the first time horseback riding and overall we had a fun, yet bizarre experience. We also had the chance to ride a mechanical bull…. or at least try! :)
Our final stop and major highlight of the semester was our week at Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Everyone had been anxiously awaiting this week throught the rest of the semester, and it really did live up to all of our expectations. Not only did our caterer, Maggie, spoil us with tons of food and dessert at meal times and also morning and afternoon tea/snack time, but we had two incredible researchers with which to work, Jimmy and Andrew. We spent time exploring the reef flats at low tide, conduting two research projects on substrate and species diversity and also a specific fish species’ impact on the coral reefs, and got to snorkel at least once every single day. We also got to go on a night snorkel in the harbor! The wildlife we experienced during this time was unbelievable, ranging from lemon sharks and blacktip reef sharks, to a variety of rays species, TONS of colorful and unique fish, and even giant loggerhead turtles! Our group was even lucky enough to witness turtle nest erruptions. I don’t think anyone will forget the last week we spent on this beautiful coral cay!
Yesterday afternoon we completed our last final exams and had a goodbye dinner at the Joyful Chinese Restuarant by our hotel. It seems so long ago that we were saying goodbye to our friends and families and leaving for four months study abroad. Through all our experiences, we have truly come together as a group and made many new friends and memories. While we are all very excited to return home and begin our next summer adventures, it is hard to say goodbye and end this chapter of our college lives.
As this is our final post, we would like to thank you all for patiently awaiting these blogs, reading them, and responding to us while we were away. It has been fun for us to share our trip and experiences with you and feel a little more connected to home.
~The 2012 Aussie Crew