Broadreach Adventures Down Under
Summer 2002

I was offered a job to work in Australia the summer of 2002 working again for Broadreach leading Adventure Programs and teaching SCUBA diving. It was a hard gig to refuse especially because that meant I got to spend two months exploring from the Outback to diving the Great Barrier Reef. Upon arriving in Sydney after the fourteen hour flight, one of the first thing I did was to go to the bathroom to see if water really does drain in an opposing way as in the northern hemisphere...However, my scientific research was never concluded because I ended up being stumped by the two knobs I had to choose from to flush wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.

I arrived a few days early and chose Bondi Beach as my base in Sydney to get things set up and get over jet-lag. My CO-leader and 14 teenagers from the states would arrive later. Each program ran for three weeks and we ran two consecutive programs. The itinerary started with some fancy rock climbing outside of Darwin followed by bumpy 4-wheeling into Kakadu National Park. I learned that leading adventure programs means that you can't act surprised by things like the incredible abundance of flies that exist in the outback. I had to keep a happy face on as they flew into every facial orifice then picked out for days. We camped in swags under the Southern Cross with wild wallabies and poisonous spiders all around. Once, while setting up camp, we even dodged a rogue water buffalo, which made headlines a couple days later after it gorged another group of unlucky travelers. We spent the evenings by the campfire dining on juicy kangaroo burgers and lamb chops. One special night our aborigine guide, Kevin, and his friends invited us to participate in a Corroboree, which is a nocturnal festivity of dancing and playing the didjeridoo around a blazing fire.

We learned about bush tucker and bush medicine. For example, in the remote outback where survival can seem impossible, we learned that the leaves on a certain tree next to you could be used to deoxygenate the water and bring fish to the surface for eating. Licking green ants (which tastes bitter, like a lime pop) is high in vitamin C, which helped keep the early Aborigines from getting scurvy. And there is even a certain berry that if swallowed whole will be fine, but if you chew it up it will kill you, however if only half is eaten, will induce an abortion. You soon came to realize that just about everything in Australia could kill you.

With that in mind we boarded a flimsy tin boat for a cruise up the Mary River, which is reputed to have the most crocodiles in the world. For example, in about 100 yards we saw about 10 crocs. Freshies and Salties...truly amazing!! Our guide then told us that for every croc we see, there are 9 more that we don't...hands with cameras quickly came in from the edge. They can't eat you whole, however, since they have the stomach about the size of a football. They will, of course, have no mercy when they decide to attack you in the death roll and pull you underwater. If it's any consolation, it won't eat all of you, but will stow you underneath an outcropping and then feed on the fish that feed on you! It's most amazing that they are as susceptible to salmonella poisoning as you and me so they won't eat rotten meat. Their bite pressure is similar to having a semi-rig dropped on your leg, however you can keep their jaws shut simply with two fingers or a piece of string since all their muscles are reserved for closing their mouth.

With all our arms and legs accounted for we then hopped on the "Flying Kangaroo" (Qantas Airlines) and headed east to Cairns for our Rainforest Trek. It started with a day of white water rafting on the Tully River splashing through class IV rapids on high water from the dam above. Next, we loaded up the backpacks for a trek through the lush Mulgrave Valley, which was quite a contrast to the Outback. There were giant strangler fig trees in which we were able to easily fit 17 people into the hollow of one trunk! You had to watch every step for fear of either the "stinging tree" or the "wait-a-while". One, if touched could induce a pain as great as sticking your hand in boiling oil and whose only known treatment is putting hydrochloric acid on to stop the pain. The other, is a spiky vine that strings its way across the path and will snag your clothes or hair and can take forever to untangle...thus it's name. There was the giant "black bean pod" which encased seeds as big as eggs and would fall out of the high trees like a knife. The good side to this is that it was used for making the drug AZT (which is now produced synthetically). We finished our rainforest trek with some sea kayaking in Cape Tribulation and stopping snacks of fresh coconuts and banana bread. This was where the rainforest meets the reef and a place where I could easily have stayed forever.

Two of the best weeks in Australia for me were spent aboard the boat the Undersea Explorer diving in the Great Barrier Reef. The Undersea Explorer is both a diving boat and a research vessel. The first week we assisted Dr. Allistair Birtles, one of the worlds leading experts, with his Minke Whale research involving documenting whale and human interactions in the Ribbon Reef. He has a documentary called "The Mystery of the Minkes" due out this winter on National Geographic. We had many close encounters while snorkeling and even were lucky enough to see a dolphin "spy-hopping" while we were with the whales. (Spy-hopping is when the animal raises its head out of the water for a prolonged look at what's going on.)

The second week we steamed to the Coral Sea, which is known for its sharks. Osprey Reef is where the big currents converge, which brings large schools of tuna, barracuda and sharks. It has enormous drop offs and walls of 3000 ft. earning the name the "big blue". White tips, gray and silver tip whalers, leopard sharks, thresher sharks and schooling hammerheads all call this area home.

To sum up the whole adventure, even if I never concluded which way the water drains, I certainly learned that Vegemite was as deadly as the crocs...blech!. I learned that a simple cup of coffee isn't as easy to come by as I'd like. I learned that the Outback isn't as beautiful as Utah. But you have to look at all the small things to be amazed. I learned that didgeridoo is an instrument that is as fun to play, as it is to say. And I learned that the two handles on every toilet was for the option of a whole and a half flush.

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