A great little piece of the Great Barrier Reef

Thursday, January 19th. During our second day on Lady Elliot Island, we had the opportunity to enjoy several unique experiences. Our morning started early with a 5:00 am wake up to walk the lagoon reef at low tide, to learn about the treasures of marine life from Dr. Sheila Peake of the University of the Sunshine Coast. This early wake-up also allowed us to view one of the most sensational sunrises of the trip. (Maybe because we actually got up for this one!)

Sunrise on Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sheila began with some basic marine animals such as sea cucumbers, star fish, and clams. She even caught a two-foot long Epaulette Shark with her hands. Just simply walking through the reef gave us an idea of how rare and exquisite this environment really is. (I should note that walking through the reef entails walking on the sand bottom that exists between the corals, not walking on coral itself.) My favorite marine animal was the clam because they camouflage well into their surroundings. In a sense they are hidden treasures, and most times I didn’t even realize there was one right in front of my eyes until it was inches away.

Early morning reef walk on LEI
Clam and coral.

After a fun and educational morning, groups split off for an unforgettable day. Snorkeling was at the top of the list for nearly all of us. The Lighthouse and Coral Garden snorkel areas were choppy in the morning with waves crashing in along the west coast of the island. Eventually we were able to get out into water deep enough to snorkel without being scraped up by the reef. We saw some stunning marine animals, including a massive eel that was over five feet long and a reef shark. We ventured over into the lagoon on the east side of the island around 11:00 am to snorkel during high tide. This snorkeling is a bit different, since the water is much lower- only a few feet above the reefs- but the corals and animals were more vibrant with them being much closer to the surface and sunlight. We swam with a green turtle, and a few of us encountered another species of reef shark, which is generally non-threatening to humans in these shallow waters where it has readily available fish as food to snack on. Overall, a beautiful morning filled with sun and ocean.

Zoe at home in the water.

After lunch and a power nap we decided to venture back to the coral gardens to give it another go with the high tide. Taylor and Zoe spotted an octopus and what appeared to be a sting ray!

Later that afternoon, we were guided on a behind-the-scenes tour by Kendall, the island’s maintenance engineer, who showed us how the island practices sustainability in its operations despite being isolated far off the mainland. Among other facilities, we toured the desalination plant, which uses reverse osmosis and UV technology to extract out the hydrogen and oxygen in order to use it as drinking, showering, and cleaning water. The resort takes in 75,000 liters of salt water per day from the ocean through a pump and is able to desalinate 1/3 of it for use. Given how far the island is from the mainland, it is pretty incredible how Kendall and his staff have implemented technology here to provide tourists an enjoyable experience.

LEI’s desalinization water works – responsible for producing all of the island’s potable water.

In the evening several of us walked the west shoreline to view the sunset. The view was simple, yet beautiful–the waters were perfectly still with no one in the water. We walked down the beach a little way, accidentally stirring up some reef sharks who seemed to be hanging out in the shallow waters waiting for dinner. They went a little deeper in the water and we sat and watched as they circled for nearly 15 minutes. It was pretty incredible to see their fins just barely touching the surface of the water and their dark silhouettes continually moving. We walked down the beach and on the way encountered ghost crabs and hermit crabs, which were larger than anticipated and a bright red color. Even though we only spent one full day on the island, the variety and amount of flora and fauna we saw was absolutely incredible.

Hatchling bound for the sea.

Our final destination on our evening walk was a turtle nest. When we arrived there were several people already on watch. One of the resort staff, Jessica, walked the beach earlier in the morning and saw a turtle hatchling free from the nest. Since it was still early in the day, if it left the nest then its chance of survival would be slim, so Jessica placed sand over the top of the turtle to keep it until night when it would likely venture from the nest to the waters.

We stood at the nest with a single headlamp illuminating it, waiting for any slight movement from the depressed sand. A micro movement revealed the nostrils of a turtle, but it would be two more hours before the head would come through the sand completely. Soon after the flippers broke free, and the turtle was on the move scooting its way down the beach. The staff used the headlamp to light a path in front of the turtle, both so the turtle would follow it to the water and for us to see the hatchling. (They told it was uncommon for them to intervene in this way, but given the group assembled, they wanted to minimize confusion for the hatchling and use the light to guide it to sea.) Viewers stood in two lines flanking the turtle in its stumble down to the water. I have only seen this in the media; to see it in person was breathtaking. We were told a statistic that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survive into adulthood, due to predation. Still I was in awe seeing a live turtle hatchling. A few hatchlings remained in the nest, but we were satisfied with seeing just one emerge, so we headed off to bed.

Day 19 in Australia proved to be one of the best. I can’t speak for others, but Lady Elliot Island was the pinnacle of the trip. Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, witnessing breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, and watching a turtle hatchling emerge from its nest are not ever day occurrences in Wyoming. Without any doubt, I can say I checked off more than one item from my bucket list today. Thanks for the unforgettable experiences Lady Elliot, I hope I see you again in the future.

~ Holly



Island Hopping

Wednesday, January 18th. We departed Fraser Island on the same ferry that took us there two days before. On the mainland, we traveled by bus to the Hervey Bay airport and after waiting for a little bit and making use of the free wi-fi to catching up on social media and message folks at home, we boarded our 18-seat twin turbo prop passenger plane for the Lady Elliot Island eco-tourism resort.  At the airport, we sadly parted ways with fellow student Sarah and Rafael our travel assistant from U. Sunshine Coast International Programs, but were happy to have the Sunshine Coast’s own Dr. Sheila Peake join us for our next adventure.

Preparing to board at the Hervey Bay airport.
Every seat’s a window seat!


The plane had only a few spare seats after our group boarded, and was by far the smallest plane I have ever ridden on. All of us had to follow strict weight requirements with our luggage to ensure that the plane would be able to take off and land properly. We each packed a minimal backpack with swim gear and towels and loaded it into the nose of the aircraft. The community of Hervey Bay grew smaller and smaller as we headed northeast across the gorgeous waters of Platypus Bay.  We flew over the top of Fraser Island and got to see the true entirety of the seventy-five-mile beach, the longest sand beach “highway” in the world. Seeing it from the air definitely was different from the vantage point of driving along it all day the day before. After two weeks f travel, I think everyone was getting a little worn down and after Sarah and Rafael leaving, we were becoming even wearier…  And then we say the island.

Lady Elliot Island, southern most point of the Great Barrier Reef

Our first glimpse of Lady Elliot Island was unlike anything I had ever seen or experienced before. The vibrant blue waters against the nearly white sands of the naturally forming coral cay was breathtaking. We landed on the “airstrip” – an open patch of coral sands with a creeping grass sprawling across, holding the sand in place. We were scooted through the entry process fairly quickly, and before we knew it, we were in the pool practicing our snorkeling skills. For the duration of our time here, each of us got a pair of flippers, mask and snorkel for us to use at any point in the day we wanted to go snorkeling. All of us succeeded in staying afloat in the pool, so we walked to the western side of the island to go snorkeling on the reef surrounding the cay. We boarded a glass bottom boat named Elliot One. The tour guides drove the boat across the waters of the reef and we saw two manta rays and several green turtles both through the boat hull’s glass panels and on the water’s surface. Sea cucumbers dotted the shallow ocean bottom and dozens of species of fish swam in schools throughout the coral. We came to a stop at the beginning of a long rope of buoys. The weather was perfect for snorkeling, with very minimal winds and no waves. We assumed positions along the metal benches along the side of the boat, put on our flippers and masks, and slid into the ocean. We swam around through the salty water and immediately saw one of the larger green turtles up close and personal. She was beautiful! Tori, Tevyn, and Taylor saw an octopus that changed colors, which was pretty lucky. Giant clams in all sorts of colors stuck into the coral. The coral was beautiful even though their colors were mostly drab. The majority of the coral we saw are night feeders, so their true colors aren’t displayed until nighttime when the polyps emerge from their “shells”. Huge schools of all types of fish swam past us. Four more turtles were spotted during our adventure. There is so much life present in the southern most point of the Great Barrier Reef, too much to count or put a value on.

Afterward, we ate dinner, followed by a lesson from Sheila on the types of sea cucumbers surrounding the island. She took them out of the water properly so that we could see them up close and even touch them to see what they feel like. She continued educating us about the island and its ecosystem later that evening in the resort’s education center. She told us that one of the original uses of the island was by Chinese merchants who caught the sea cucumbers to smoke, dry, and ship them back home to serve as a delicacy. It is now illegal here, but some people still try to collect them to sell to the black market in China. Sheila also touched on many of the environmental issues they have along the Great Barrier Reef and also shared the process of the island’s origin. Originally, the island was just a few grains of sand that stuck up out of the water. Other grains would attach to the starting grains and continually build the size of the island. Sea birds started to fly to the small area and would leave behind some nutrient rich fertilizer to encourage plant growth. As plants grew, more humus was added to the sand and created an even more suitable growing medium. The island currently supports a diverse amount of vegetation. Another impact that man has had on this island besides the collection of sea cucumbers was the mining of guano. Many coral cays similar to this one have been mined at one point or another. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, three feet of almost pure guano was taken off the top of the island to use and sell for agricultural fertilizer back on the mainland. In the case of Lady Elliot Island, tourism has actually saved the area from destruction from continued mining.

Sea Cucumber

In the evening, we all met up for a nighttime walk along the beach. Sheila showed us how to gain our night vision, how to spot turtle tracks, and all about the nesting process. Turtles nest from November to February, and hatchlings are due to start coming out soon. Our big group saw a lot of tracks from the previous night along with some crabs that were also waiting for the hatchlings to emerge. It started to get late so we sat and star gazed and went to bed while a group of three stayed on the beach to keep looking. They stayed out till midnight and suddenly they were surrounded by ten turtles coming onto shore to nest! Courtney and Sheila even got visited by a nesting turtle who decided to make her nest late at night near their bedroom window. We are hoping to go out later as a group tomorrow to see if we can all get to witness the turtles’ amazing journeys.

Lady Elliot is a gorgeous place and has been my overall favorite part of our venture through Queensland.



Dingoes and Funnel Web Spiders

Tuesday, January 17th. Today we did King Fisher Bay’s “Beauty Spots Tour”. And, no it did not involve going to a spa and getting a facial. Instead, we boarded a four-wheel drive tour bus, driving along old sand roads that used to be used for the forestry industry and along the world’s longest sand highway at 80 Km/hr. We visited some of the most stunning sights on the world’s largest sand island. Our driver/tour guide Craig has been leading tours on the island for over seven years and was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the island.

En route to our first stop, Lake Mackenzie, Craig told us about the history of the island’s wildlife, trees, and roads. The road we took was Mackenzie Road, which had been the route of a railway for loggers to go from the coast to Lake Mackenzie. Once at Lake Mackenzie we had an hour to swim and enjoy the views. The lake was absolutely stunning. The water is crystal clear and the sand is coated in silicon and mineral depleted, making it incredibly white. I guess we did get a spa day after all since we used the sand to exfoliate! Slightly further into the lake the bottom turned almost black. This is due to the coffee rock that forms the relatively impermeable bottom of the lake. Mackenzie is a perched lake, meaning that the lake is able to exist in sand because the mixture of foliage and sand became compressed enough to form coffee rock on its bottom. Rainwater then filled in this area and is the only source of water for the lake. There are over 40 perched lakes on Fraser!

Next we headed to Central Station, which is now one of the main hubs for tourists, information about the history of the island, and hiking. During the drive, Craig told us more about the logging industry that was on the island until 1960’s, and how trees had been cut down from nearly every portion of the island and certain areas had been burned to plant tree plantations. Only some of these plantations were successful in growing trees and can still be found throughout the island. Along our hike at Central Station we walked along a sand creek that is feed by rain water and saw Satany trees, the largest trees on the island and one of which is over 700 years old. We also saw Hoop Trees, strangler figs, an orchid, and other foliage. Amongst the animals that we saw were an eel, a carpet python, and a goanna. The hike was gorgeous and over way too quickly for me!

Next, we stopped at the Maheno ship that beached on the sand during a large storm in 1935 while being towed to Japan for scrap metal. The ship was originally registered in New Zealand and used during the First World War to carry over 16,000 wounded men to England, including 1,141 men during its first crossing. The sight was amazing – and popular, as we shared a visit with almost 50 others tourists on the beach. We made it a quick stop, bit still had plenty of time to take in the sheer size of the wreckage. Our next stop was The Pinnacles, where many colors of sands can be found. Aboriginal girls went there to dig holes and make a dye for their faces as a coming of age ritual. We also learned the aboriginal story of how these sands became so colorful. The story included a girl that was captured by a man and fell in love with a rainbow and the rainbow with her, in the end the man tried to kill the girl with a boomerang as she ran away, but the rainbow came down and shielded the girl. The boomerang shattered a part of the rainbow coloring the sands, but the rainbow survived and it and the girl lived happily ever after together.

Our last major stop was at Eli Creek, a beautiful rain fed creek that runs into the ocean. Many people floated down the creek. Upstream from the final bridge the water is safe to drink from, and of course several of us more curious people gave it a try. It tasted delicious! Although it was not the most beautiful of beauty spots, it was a wonderful way to cool off after a long day of adventuring. As a quick side detour on our way back to the resort we stopped at a sand blow. This is where areas of looser sand continuously change the landscape by overtaking trees and foliage, creating large barren spaces. These can also create barrage lakes, which are formed when streams are blocked off by sand and form a large pool or lake.

Once back to our lodges, most of us went down to the jetty to take in the sunset. We got some phenomenal photos. Afterwards, six of us ran down to catch the ranger’s night walk, one of the coolest things that I experienced on the island! We were able to see a golden ob spider in the trees, and a couple of highly venomous funnel web spiders. We also learned how every animal, including spiders have an eyeshine and how to see that eyeshine. The ranger could spot a small spider from over 30 feet away! We also encountered cane toads, microbats, flying foxes, and several dingoes on the beach. Lastly, in the water along the jetty we were able to see several flat head fish and squid, we even saw a squid and a stingray get into a skirmish ending with the squid zooming away. The things we experienced and saw during our one full day at Fraser Island could not have gotten much better!

– Jaimie

The road to K’gari

Monday, January 16th.  This morning we said goodbye to the University of the Sunshine Coast and Sippy Downs community as we headed north to new adventures on Fraser Island. The three-hour bus trip gave us the opportunity to take in some of the rural countryside. The horse and cattle properties, farms, wide open spaces, and billboards reminded of the countryside we see in Wyoming and elsewhere in the western United States, but with tropical trees and grasses instead of cottonwoods and sage brush.

On our way, we stopped at a truck stop for snacks and the restroom. Many of us took advantage of the mailbox there to mail postcards back to the United States.  By noon, we had reached the mainland offices of the Kingfisher Resort, our eventual destination on Fraser Island. There were lots of buses coming and going and it was there that we got organized for our ferry trip across the water to the island. There were also some small shops including a pharmacy where I and a few others bought some sunburn remedies. We checked bags for the ferry and finally boarded a bus with another 30 or so visitors that shuttled us to the Mary River Headlands ferry dock.

The “KingFisher Bay” ferry barge: our transport to Fraser island

The bus ride was relatively short, maybe five minutes.  We got to a small pier with a concrete ramp entering the water. There, painted in blue, white, and yellow was our ferry to Fraser Island.  The ferry boat even proudly displayed a nautical Australian flag.  On board, the boat was very cozy. There was an interior with shaded benches and a little bar/snack stand and the upper level provided a roofed but open air view with benches and the captain’s bridge easily accessible.  During the actual ferry ride, the captain told the passengers facts about the Great Sand Strait, the water body we were crossing.  As we neared Fraser Island, we could tell that the island was comprised entirely of sand even from afar.  I pulled out my binoculars to try to spot any dingoes.  My efforts were futile but I did get close-ups of some fantastic scenery:  sandy cliffs, undeveloped beaches, and lush rainforest vegetation growing on sand.  Overall, I think the ferry ride lasted about 45 minutes.

Alek and Brody enjoying the view.

When we landed at shore, we had to wait for the vehicles to get off the ferry before pedestrians were allowed to disembark onto a long, narrow wooden jetty.  It reminded me of those kind of welcome piers that you’d see in movies like Jurassic World.  We got a warm welcome from a hostess who quickly settled us in the restaurant/resort area for a nice welcome lunch consisting of sandwiches, salad, ice cold water, and ice cream.

Unloading at KingFisher Bay Resort. Vehicles take priority.

Our accommodations at the resort were great. My classmates and I, along with our USC guide Rafael, all shared a communal lodge with 3 to 4 of us per room with bunk beds and shared bathrooms/showers. I really liked how at this resort, the wi-fi wasn’t exactly perfect.  It makes the guests want to enjoy the island more.  Also, our lodge had plenty of screens for sunlight to get in.  This was a nice touch with a natural feeling.  I know that as an eco-tourism resort, the resort itself was camouflaged so that it looked like it were part of the rainforest and lights that may attract dingoes weren’t terribly visible.

Wilderness Lodge accommodation at Kingfisher Bay Resort.

After salad and pizza for dinner, we had a campfire presentation from one of the resort rangers.  The campfire was even complete with a marshmallow roast.  The ranger, named Regina, had an environmental science degree and was very knowledgeable about the island’s history and flora and fauna. According to Regina, Fraser Island hosted some of Australia’s most poisonous snakes including the Eastern Brown Snake. The large Golden Orb-Weaver Spider and the tiny yet highly venomous Funnel Web Spider also call Fraser home. While Fraser has some mammals including the monotreme (egg-laying mammal) echidna, wallabies, and wombats, oddly Fraser is devoid of kangaroos.

A Golden Orb-Weaver visited our campfire. Such a cute little guy.

Dingoes are arguably Fraser’s most iconic wildlife. The top apex predator, they are the main source of interest on the island. Rangers track every dingo on the island as the Fraser population (numbering between 100 and 125) is one of the most genetically pure strains of Dingo left in all of Australia. Throughout Asia, dingoes have been the victim of genetic pollution, as domesticated dogs have bred with dingoes and it’s impacted their gene pool.

From Regina, we learned that Fraser Island got its anglicized name from the Frasers, a couple who got shipwrecked on the island prior to European settlement. The couple was taken in by the local Aboriginal tribe. Mr. Fraser died on the island of unknown causes, but Mrs. Fraser eventually left Fraser Island where she spent the next years telling unsubstantiated tales to other European Australians about her terrible experiences with the Aborigines. Unfortunately, this started a period of terrible history for Fraser Island in which native peoples were killed or relocated and the island degraded by overlogging and sand mining.  The Fraser label for this place had European origins, but the island’s original name as established by the Aborigines was actually K’gari (pronounced, “gari”). I want to get into the habit of using K’gari instead of Fraser.

In terms of sustainability and my experiences on K’gari, I believe the island would benefit from more vehicle regulation. There were more vehicles than I thought there would be. In my mind, if there are so many people on the island, why not just add an extra bus or two. It would be better than tourists blocking the narrow roads or driving into locations where people are doing a hike or nature walk. (This happened to a group of us the next night on our ranger night walk.)

I’m dealing with some bad sunburns but I’m enjoying K’gari Island and so is the rest of the crew.  Down the road, we have Lady Elliot Island to look forward to and our eventual return to the United States.

– Chris

Slip, slop, and slap

Sunday, January 15th – They say that you have to put in the work to get your reward, which has been very true for our group of 13 students who are now two weeks into a three-week tour of south-east Queensland, Australia. After a busy week filled with guest lectures, article discussions, and field excursions from our University of the Sunshine Coast base, our outstanding “mates” – professors Jeff and Courtney, gave us a full day off to regroup and recharge before the travel yet to come. Given the current heat wave (and super high humidity) on the Sunny Coast, most of us welcomed the opportunity to head to the nearby beach to cool off a bit in the surf, though not before catching a little extra sleep before starting our days.

The swimming was great, and an adventurous few even tried their hand at something not possible in Wyoming: surfing! Suffice it to say, none of us will be on the professional circuit any time soon but a few did manage to stand on the board and start to get a feel for the sport. Some students soaked up a little more sun than they maybe should have and came away with some sunburn. The sun’s UV rays are particularly strong in this part of world due to the ozone layer being particular thin overhead and you see reminders everywhere to “slip, slop, and slap” – slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, and slap on a hat…  we’re learning slowly but surely. After the beach, most of us grabbed a bite to eat at the ‘best fish and chips on Alex Head’ (short for Alexandra Beach and Headlands, location of the surf break we visited) and afterwards walked the beachfront streets, seeking a few more souvenirs and gifts to take back to the States with us.

Alexandra Headlands on the Sunshine Coast

Spending time on a subtropical ocean coast (the Coral Sea no less) has been a truly unique experience for our group. Even on our day off, I believe we all were impressed by how magnificent the ocean landscape is, further informing our own ideas of what “landscape” is really all about. Coming from the US Mountain West, landscape for us is often times defined as rolling prairies and mountains, but getting to observe the ocean in a different part of the world really helps to broaden our viewpoints.

Dusk in Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast

In the last three days, we’ve spent time at two quite different beach areas on the Sunshine Coast: the beaches of Mooloolaba and Alexandra Head, near the “uni”, and the internationally known Noosa Beach area about an hour north of here. To me, the Mooloolaba / Alexandra coastline seemed much more developed than Noosa. I say this because of the presence of many high-rise beachfront condominiums and apartment-style hotels, as well as the location of the main local road right on the bluffs above the water. Noosa is developed too, but in different ways. While the main street near the beach – Hastings Street – is clogged with cars and pedestrians, there are also height restrictions on buildings near the water and development just seems to blend in better with the surrounding environment. It also helps that most of the Noosa Headlands is designated as a national park, as are the long stretches of more remote sandy beaches just to the north of the Noosa River. This leads me to think that the Noosa landscape may support sustainability practices in a wider variety of ways than the Sunshine Coast to the south, but it’s difficult to say for sure without more information.

After our time at the beach, we used the afternoon in a bit more practical way, catching up on laundry and our academic and personal journals back at the Varsity Apartments on the University of the Sunshine Coast campus. It’s been great to stay at the university apartments, as it has given us the opportunity to meet and hang out with some of the other apartment residents, many of whom are from places other than Australia as well. Sunday evening a few of our new friends took us for a “short” hike to Kondallila Falls, which involved a trek in the rain through a rainforest (go figure!), complete with misty vistas and a few leeches just to add to the experience.  Quite the contrast from the morning’s beach outing, but memorable nevertheless.

Varsity Apartment Complex, University of the Sunshine Coast
“The Lake” on the USC Campus, part of the Moololah River National Park

Our “Sunday Funday” was a great last opportunity to immerse ourselves further into the culture of the Sunshine Coast area through beach visits and surfing and a great hike with some local students. Feeling rejuvenated, we are all in good spirits and looking forward to our last week in Australia as we head north to Fraser Island.

– Brody

To market, to market…

Saturday, January 14th – Today, we had the cultural experience of going to the Eumundi Markets as well as the largest ginger factory in Australia. Established in 1979, the Eumundi Markets is an area of several street blocks hosting several hundred outdoor vendor stalls. Half of the vendors were selling products that they had made themselves, including food, soaps, jewelry, wood carvings, and artwork.

These markets were set up like a farmers’ market would be back in the States. The vendors all had their own ways to get the public’s attention.  For food vendors, this was usually done by offering samples. One vendor who was selling handmade jelly and salsa, also displayed pictures of herself carrying out the canning process.  I thought that this was the best tactic because people are more willing to buy something if they can see where it came from, as well as seeing who made it. I think that it makes the product more trustworthy. In addition to the food stalls, the market included performers who would either play locally traditional instruments or instruments that they had made themselves. One instrument that stood out to me was a string instrument that was like a guitar with only three strings. It was fashioned out of a cigar box and wood. The vendor was actually playing the instruments and then selling them to curious shoppers.

Year-round, the Eumundi Markets cater to Sunshine Coast locals and tourists alike every Wednesday and Saturday morning.

Even though there was a lot of shade from all of the tents that were set up, the weather was still very hot and it was very humid. For a person from Wyoming, the humidity feels like you are walking around in a room with a swimming pool in it. The temperature was in the 90s, which is hot in a dry heat, but feels that much heavier when the humidity is so high. When we stopped to eat lunch, we decided to order frozen fruit smoothies.  I ordered one that was passion fruit flavored. It was passion fruit that was frozen and blended. It tasted a little bit bitter and had a lot of passion fruit seeds in it. It was still the perfect refresher on a hot day walking around in the sun.

In the afternoon, we visited The Ginger Factory, production site for Buderim Ginger and a local tourist attraction.  We received a guided tour of the actual factory where the ginger is processed. The tour began with us learning a little bit about how ginger farming was started in Australia. As it turns out, during World War II, there was one farmer who decided to plant a ginger root in the ground, just to see if it would work. He found out that the soil and climate in south-east Queensland was perfect for growing ginger. From there, production took off and by the late 1940s, Australia had the largest ginger production in the world.

Next on the tour, we walked into a room where we could see where the ginger was being sorted.  First the ginger would be washed, sorted and washed again. There were several different types of conveyor belts where the ginger was sorted by fiber content (the perfect amount is 33%), size and shape. The different areas were the ginger was sorted depends on where the ginger will be used. It could be packaged as raw ginger, ginger candy, ginger spices, other flavored products, or just whole ginger roots.

Vats of ginger!

This ginger factory supplies Australia with 75% of their ginger consumption and exports ginger to 17 different countries. Every part of the ginger is used. Even the stem is used back at the farms as compost. There are 30 different farms that grow the ginger and only five of them have any machinery to take the ginger out of the ground. At the other farms, the ginger is picked by hand by traveling student ‘backpackers’ or other people who needed a temporary job.

The next room on the tour was the cooking and storage room. The ginger was put into large containers, would soak in water then would cook for a short time – less than 20 minutes. There were some of the containers that looked clear, and that meant that they were waiting to be cooked, and the ones that had a yellow color to them were ones that were already cooked and ready to move on to whatever they were going to made into.

The next part of the tour was my favorite- the tasting room. There were drinks and plates of food prepared for all of the guests on the tour. The drink was a non-alcoholic ginger beer Kind of like a less sweet ginger ale soda), then there were five different types of samples that everyone could try. As the tour guide talked about each sample, we were able to try each one. There was a piece of pineapple that was soaked in ginger, a meatball that was covered in a ginger sauce, a ginger cookie with frosting, a cracker with ginger on it, and a piece of ginger that was coated in sugar. My personal favorite was the meat ball and there were even recipe cards that were given out for each of the samples.

Creative cuisine in the Ginger Factory tasting room

I learned about the different uses of ginger such as that 55% of herbal medicines use ginger, it helps with motion sickness, an anti-inflammatory, and helps thin the blood. I enjoyed this part of the class because we got to learn about something that was agricultural, which is part of my field of study. I like to see where food comes from and how different products are used. Now I even have a product to counteract my motion sickness as we board the ferry to Fraser Island. I look forward the rest of the trip as our time in Australia comes to a close.


Sustaining Noosa

How ya goin’, mates? Here on the Sunshine Coast, we’re assimilating quickly, and earning our Aussie summer tans nearly as fast.

Today we headed up coast. The day began with cloudy skies but by the time we arrived at our first stop, Coolum Beach, things cleared up and we got a spectacular view of the Coral Sea from Point Perry. There were surfers and kayakers all over the water, and beaches

Looking south from Point Perry toward First Bay Beach, Coolum, Queensland



stretching north and south. Everyone soaked up the sights before we wandered down from the overlook into the town of Coolum. It’s amazing how the character of a beach town like Coolum mirrors our ski resort towns in so many ways, despite the very different weather and topography. There are the trendy clothing stores and the hip eateries that are so common in mountain towns powered by tourism. The big difference is the beach front that doubles as a park. You don’t see many runners and families building castles at the base of the ski hills of the American West.


After some Australian brunches, we piled back in the bus and headed towards Noosa. Our interest in Noosa is its much famed sustainability, especially as that relates to the massive tourism industry based there. Our first stop was the Noosa Spit. An interesting feature of the spit can be spied on a map: the beach’s northern end is ruler straight.

Sand recycling pumping system on the Noosa Spit

The Noosa River’s delta normally shifts up and down the coast, which makes development very hard. To mitigate this natural shifting, the community anchored the mouth of the river with stone piers on the beach. Giant sand pumps constantly move the accumulating sand beachside. It is one of the most prominent features of human influence in a town known for protecting its small town identity with tight restrictions on development. To see an entire river essentially pinned down is to witness a seriously impressive feat of engineering.

By the end of fifteen minutes exploring the Spit, people were feeling the effects of the ferocious 90°F heat/ 80% humidity, and we eagerly crammed back into the bus with its blessed AC to head to our next stop. That reprieve was shockingly short: five minutes later we found ourselves standing in front of the entrance to Noosa National Park, where views of the Pacific are even better than those at Point Perry.

Our goal was to hike to Hell’s Gate, a viewpoint a quick 2.7 km hop, skip, and a jump down the trail—or “track,” as trails are known here. It was still stiflingly hot, and growing hotter, but that didn’t seem to concern anyone. We walked along the shore, listening to the susurrus of the waves, looking out into the bluest waters I’ve ever seen. Let me tell you, life here is pretty amazing.

The national park, which opened in 1939, has some beautifully conserved ecological features. These really varied with the lay of the land. Depending on the direction and slope the hill faced we could either be in a lush forest full of hoop and kauri pines, or in arid scrub filled with heath. These species are unlike anything in Wyoming–I’m still trying to figure out whether or not one of the trees we saw on our hike actually belongs in the conifer family.

Hell’s Gate and Alexandria Beach, Noosa Headlands

By the time we trickled into the point called Hell’s Gate everyone had traded layers of clothing for swimmers and thick sunscreen. Turns out the Sunshine Coast is currently experiencing a midsummer heat wave. Even the locals had started to sweat by now—and they normally don’t seem capable of that. Up on that scenic vista, we learned that Hell’s Gate is a misnomer created by some locals trying to keep the view to themselves. From it you could see the curve of the beach all the way up to Fraser Island, with Alexandria Bay on the other side. Here the great expanse of the Pacific is profoundly illustrated. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay long, as we had to turn around and start making our way back. But we were treated to a sleeping koala sighting on the hot trek out.

Back in Noosa Shire, we gathered ourselves and got right down to finding…ice cream. (Just one of those necessities of life in the subtropics.) Once everyone got some cold food and drink, our group struck out to find some locals. As a follow-up to a few papers we read on Noosa’s tourism and sustainability balancing act, our professors asked us to visit with the locals to get their first hand perspective on sustainability in Noosa. Each of us ended up finding someone cool and making a connection—it’s still remarkable to me how friendly the people are here. From these conversations, a few common themes emerged as central to Noosa’s identity: approval of building codes to prevent the construction of beachfront high rises, the importance of creating community expectations for how best to keep town clean and sustainable, and plenty of criticism of Noosa’s sustainability efforts too.

It would seem that when it comes down to it Noosa residents know where measures fall short or can just be improved. I believe this is actually encouraging: the residents aren’t putting forth token efforts and greenwashing. They are truly committed to keeping their community thriving far into the future and to keeping a close eye on the details that will get them there. By the end of it we all got back on the bus and headed for home base, but not before finding the time to pop over to the beach and jump in the surf. It is unbelievable how clear, blue, and warm the water is here, and it’s a treat to throw yourself in it!

Noosa Main Beach international tourist destination.

We can’t believe we’ve only been in Queensland for two weeks. We’re still learning some of the basics of living in Australia–like that one must reapply sunscreen constantly–but we’re also taking a pretty deep dive into really important topics and themes related to landscape, sustainability, and the environment in this region. The academic learning combined with the flood of experiences makes it seem like we’re drinking from a fire hose, but you won’t see any of us stopping yet! We’re going to dive into Fraser Island (the world’s largest sand island) and Lady Elliot Island (the southernmost point of the Great Barrier Reef) next, and we look forward to relaying more awesome stories from our next stops!

Until then, as the Aussies say–naw woorries mates!


Exploring the Hinterlands

You probably know the saying “The mountains are calling and I must go.” We have all seen it on quirky gift-shop shirts. Today marks the eleventh day in our excursion here in Australia. We are nearing the half-way mark of our trip, and the group of students from Wyoming did what we do best–head for the hills!

The morning started off bright and early at 6:00 am. For those of you who have not been updated regularly by the peculiarities of the sun in the southern hemisphere, sunrise is generally at 5:00 every morning, so most of us were already up and ready to go! At this early hour we hopped on the bus and wound our way into the heart of the Glass House Mountains, just south of our current home in Sippy Downs. The Glass House Mountains were originally named by explorer James Cook in 1770. He thought that the mountains appeared similar to glass furnaces found in his hometown of Yorkshire, England.

These mountains are quite different from the mountain ranges in the western United States. The highest is Mount Beerwah at just over 1800 feet. The mountains rise abruptly out of the coastal plain and do not form a continuous line or structured grouping as so many peaks do in Wyoming. Instead, they are scattered almost sporadically. However, our knowledgeable bus and unofficial tour guide, Jeff Park (not to be confused with Jeff Hamerlinck, one of our professors) shared with us the aboriginal legend about how the Glass House Mountains came into being.

This is the story: at one time in history, a great flood threatened the land as a family watched: Mt. Beerwah, the mother mountain and the largest mountain on the far right, below; Mt. Timbrogargan, the father and largest mountain on the far left; Mt. Coonowrin, the eldest son and the skinny mountain directly in the middle; and the twins, Mt. Tunbudbudla and Mt. Miketeebumulgrai, located between Mt. Beerwah and Mt. Coonowrin in the picture.

The Glass House Mountains

As the legend goes, the family was trying to escape the incoming floods from the sea. Timbrogargan was scared for his wife and children. He sent Beerwah and Coonowrin towards the mountains first while he gathered his other children. Timbrogargan went to check on his wife and was upset to find that Coonowrin had fled on his own and left Beerwah to fend for herself. Timbrogargan hit his shameful son over the head with his nulla nulla, causing Coonowrin to have a permanently crooked neck (which sadly is not depicted given the angle of the picture above). The family was not able to make it out of the flood and they all drowned at sea, forever turned to stone. Beerwah, ashamed of her family, still cries tears continuously. These have now become the three rivers flowing out of the mountain. Timbrogargan was also ashamed with his family, particularly his eldest son, and turned his back on them. Now he always faces the ocean.

Today our group climbed Mount Ngungun (pronounced noo noo). In the language of the Gubbi Gubbi indigenous peoples, this means faces. From the top we were able to see the family of mountains from the legend. The Glass House Mountains were once lava plugs within volcanic cones. We traveled through dense woodland vegetation on our hike to the summit of Mt. Ngungun. At the top of the mountain, we gathered for a group photo with our UW flag. The view at the summit was stunning. If we squinted, we were able to see as far south as the skyline of Brisbane, where we had been all of last week. Below the mountain in its valleys were many plantations of trees, including macadamia trees. Neat geometric fields dotted the areas of dense vegetation, pictured below.

View from the summit of Ngungun

After the hike up the mountain, we traveled west away from the coast, up to the Blackall Mountains and the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve. Here we were able to walk through a remnant subtropical rainforest that has been preserved, even after decades of intense logging in early 1900s. Originally the area belonged to the aboriginals, the Jinibara People, who used the land to support their way of life for thousands of years. When Europeans began to settle in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they realized the value of the timber that could be harvested from the forest. In particular, red cedar was valuable wood because of its similar appearance to woods already found in Europe via India. After years of deforestation and destruction, the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve was formed, saving only a small portion of the once abundant rainforest. While on our tour of the rainforest, we were able to experience many of the sights and sounds that others have only seen and heard on TV (including a lace monitor lizard and carpet python). We saw the swinging vines and heard the call of cat birds and kookaburras as we enjoyed interpretative talks from our guides Iain and Pauline. We even watched small wallabies nibble on leaves and hop away from us if we disturbed their lunch.

After the rainforest, we continued on our way to Montville, a quaint little town in the mountains. The town is in prime tourist country–many of us who visited there today purchased nice lunches or stocked up on gifts for friends and family back in the States. After lunch, we piled into the bus once more for a stop at the region’s iconic Big Pineapple. When we arrived, we found just what we expected–a very large pineapple on the side of the road, marking a site where pineapple farms were historically abundant. We stopped for a quiet picture and a look around. We finally returned to the USC Campus, weary from our day in the sun, and retired to our rooms for a relaxing afternoon.

If it had been 50 degrees colder, and much less tropical, I could have almost sworn we were home in the mountains once again. After all of our city traveling, a quick trip up into slightly thinner air for a hike was all we needed to feel revitalized and restored for the remainder of our trip in the Land Down Under.



Campus Sustainability

It never fails to be absolutely gorgeous here in Queensland, Australia.  Today was no exception. It is currently Tuesday, 10 January* in Australia (a Monday back in the States) with sunny weather and a current temperature of 28 degrees Celsius. The thirteen of us students are staying in the Varsity student apartments, just minutes away from the impressive University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in Sippy Downs.

To start the day, Emma and I gave a presentation on place and place-identity in the state of Queensland. We determined that “place” is a relevant term that encompasses physical geography aspects, as well as an individual’s viewpoint and interpretation.  Although two people might be in the same location, they could be absorbing widely different information when it comes down to place. This concept is considered “bottom-up processing” since the specific place is built on factors such as wind, temperature, landscape, and more, which are by the viewer. For instance, someone visiting Laramie during a tranquil summer afternoon might have a positive view of the place, while another student might have been blown off his/her feet from a 45 mph wind during their winter visit. The two visitors would leave with two very distinct image associations. This goes to show that a place is extremely subjective and built from various physical observations.

The second concept, place-identity, refers to the individual’s ability to process information from a “top-down” perspective. This means that any emotional-ties and feelings of belonging arise because of experiences and attachment within the location. For example, a Coloradan might feel strongly about being an outdoorsman or a snowboarder after spending so many years in nature. That same man identifies with a specific mentality and, in turn, acts according to the aligned beliefs of a Coloradan snowboarder. Such experiences, attitudes, and values drive our connections to place and space, and form the foundations of our cultural and national identities.

Free water bottle filling station at University of the Sunshine Coast.

Here at USC, a student pitched the idea to prohibit plastic bottles on campus in order to significantly reduce the University’s environmental impact and boost environmental pride. The student took her place identity and sparked a new identity to “sell” to her campus, and now USC is sharing that idea with other campuses like UW. The idea is innovative and, quite surprisingly, a good monetary investment.

We also had the pleasure today of speaking with USC  Sustainability Officer Hailey Bolland who, with the help of the Sustainability Department, implemented this project in 2015. She informed us that the initiative has been widely successful. USC has saved over 1.5 million dollars and 30,000-40,000 bottles every year by installing water stations throughout the campus.  There are chilled and micro-filtered stations where you can quickly purchase water at a cheap price (much cheaper than a $4 or $5 bottle), as well as free drinking fountains. These encouraged the use of reusable bottles and ultimately led to a 100% plastic-bottle free campus. Even the cafeteria in the Brasserie does not sell them! A pre-implementation survey showed that 82% of students were accepting of a ban on plastic water bottles as long as they were replaced by a sufficient alternative. Even with this base of support, it still took the teams several months to realize the Water Refill Campus Initiative.

At USC, you can even fill your water bottle with sparkling water!

USC Sustainability has also played a key role in pioneering new infrastructure. The college has channeled their rainfall and local water sources through a massive filtration system, so that all the air conditioning and swimming pool water can now utilize the otherwise static and untapped water. As in Wyoming, new buildings can receive green certification to reduce energy use and carbon footprints. Here in Australia, such buildings are recognized as examples of Environmentally Sustainable Design where green buildings in the US are commonly certified through the LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Common features of ESD buildings are: rainwater storage, CO2 room detection, solar shading, motion sensors, and various others. In addition to their water allocation, USC has built an OSCA on campus, empowering them in the area of waste management. OSCA stands for On Site Composting Apparatus and takes a 6:4 wet-to-dry ratio of all compostables, crunches them up, oxygenates them, and puts them back into the earth to continue the life cycle. The majority of what humans throw away is actually organic, and it is organic waste that produces so much gas emission. OSCA segregates paper/cardboard, bottles/cans, compostable, and landfill materials throughout campus. It has reduced USC waste by 22% and increased recycling in other areas.

Hunter and “OSCA”

After about a year, the campus gained the support of its entire body and staff, who adapted to the changing environment. In the future, many of us hope to implement some of what we have observed during the trip in our own homes.

Globalization has aided the world in many areas, but a massive environmental change might be the largest negative externality due to population and technology. Just as USC adapted to accommodate the needs of the environment, so should we, and the rest of the world.


Editor’s Note: The author drafted this post on his birthday. Happy birthday, Hunter!

Discussions and Digeridoos

It’s been a very full day here in Australia! We are at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) starting our first day of guest-led classes.

This morning began with a lecture by guest speaker Dr. RW (Bill) Carter welcoming us to the campus and the Sunshine Coast. Dr. Carter studied Forestry, Marine Biology, and Tourism and Cultural Change. He spends much of his time for the university working in Cambodia and Indonesia, introducing those international students to USC. Dr. Carter gave us a wonderful, well-rounded orientation to Australia, comparing and contrasting the country to our own. It was particularly interesting to see the many features that link the US and Australia. Both countries share a similar central land mass size, as well as many common cultural views, beliefs, and styles of life. Australia seems to be a very multi-cultural, fun, and sport-loving country that holds fast to their mate-hood values. Just watch out for the plethora of deadly animals!

Presenter Dr. Bill Carter and UW students Taylor (left), Sarah, (middle), and Tevin (right). 


After our introduction to the country, we met Simon Osborn, who took us downstairs to USC’s high-tech CAVE2. The University of Wyoming has had our own CAVE, a 3-D visualization center, for a few years now. USC has one of their very own, this one with more screens! As we stepped into the visualization studio, we were welcomed by around 60 screens showing an array of 2D videos. Then we donned our glasses and entered into the 3D realm, where we were shown a variety of the university’s projects including one that was designed to showcase the Engineers Without Borders students. We “flew over” an entire African village in the Cameroon, all of it laid out to scale. Simon explained that he and fellow designer David Dixon created every object in the scene from a real-world still image in order to maintain authenticity.

Designer Simon Orsborn introduces us to the University of the Sunshine Coast’s very own 3D Visualization CAVE2.

Our day at the university ended with a lively presentation from Lyndon Davis–from the Mooloolah River Gubbi Gubbi country–who showed us many of his own handmade tools and instruments, and who shared with us stories from his people, life, and philosophy of interrelationships in the world around us. He gave a wonderful introduction to the culture of the Gubbi Gubbi (also referred to as the Kabi Kabi) people of the Sunshine Coast.

Lyndon Davis preparing to play the digeridoo.

There was one particular story Lyndon told that stuck with me. He told us about the red stringybark tree and the fish who share the same name in the Gubbi Gubbi language. The two, he said, were “one in the same, connected in the dream world, connected in creation.” He told us that it was no mistake to call these two entities by the same name because they relate to each other. When the stringybark trees bloom, it is a sign that the first fish have come to spawn, Lyndon explained. And after the fish, the eagle comes. The eagle waits and watches as the first fish go by, allowing the thick, meaty leaders to pass so they can return another year to lead the next generation of fish. He waits patiently before striking the next, slightly smaller line of fish. Then the hunt begins. This is when–finally–the humans join.

This story illuminated the concepts we are looking at in class. Lyndon’s narrative did not assume the separation between humans and nature that we are so familiar with in the western world. In his story, humans were merely another entity held within the sphere of the natural world–a piece of the puzzle, patiently awaiting our part, our turn, our piece.

Canvas painted by Lyndon depicting the story of the fish, eagle, and stringy bark tree.

Here’s to another great day in Australia! Hope all is well wherever you find yourself today.

As they say in Australia, cheers!