A blonde, a beard, at The Great Barrier Reef!

Hello!

We are so excited to share some photos and stories from our recent scuba diving trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. Diving the reef was the number 1 item on our Oz bucket list, and it most certainly did not disappoint.

A Blonde, a beard, a blog- Great Barrier Reef Scuba Dive
Getting ready to dive to 30 meters (98 feet)- possibly the happiest we have ever been (besides our wedding day)!

First things first, we headed up to northern Queensland, more specifically, Cairns (pronounced Cans). Next, we knew we needed to get certified. I have a bit of experience with scuba, but hadn’t dove since the last time I was in Australia at age 11. My certification was no longer valid (as I was under 12 when I received it), and Mark was new to diving altogether. We did our research, and decided to book into the 5 day ‘Learn to Dive” course with ProDive Cairns, in order to become PADI “Open Water Certified” divers.

Day 1 & 2 were spent in the classroom and the deep pool learning the theory and practicing the skills that would make open water diving more enjoyable for us. Mark was not particularly fond of sitting at a desk and taking quizzes, but I didn’t mind it too much ;).

We had an awesome group of classmates, including another American, a father/son duo from Scotland, some lovely ladies from Canada, Germany, and The Netherlands, and even a few Australians! Our instructor James pointed out that it was rare to have Aussies actually get out and explore the reef, as just like the rest of us, they are often more keen to explore far away places then things that are so close to home.

I have never seen Mark get out of bed at 5am as happily as he did on day 3. This was the day we boarded the live aboard boat and headed to the outer Great Barrier Reef for a few days of diving! We embarked on our 3 hour boat ride to the outer edge of the reef, and were quite thankful for the seasickness pills available on board (those who passed them up had a rough ride).

Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017- Whale Tail
The passengers and the crew were equally as excited to spot whales (tail pictured above!) a couple hours into the journey- a good omen for the trip!
Great Barrier Reef Dive
Our first dives of the trip were at Milln Reef. We also dove various sites of Flynn Reef. Both are yellow on the map!

Boat day 1 was all about completing 2 of our open water certification dives. We were thankful to have our instructor with us to help us adjust our buoyancy in the salt water, as we had only practiced in the fresh water pool.

Getting into the ocean for the first time was incredible! There is just so much to see, even the simple task of descending down to the ocean floor was a rush. On our very first dive, I got to see a White Tip Reef shark (but struggled to get Mark’s attention before it swam off)! This shark is considered “the puppy of the reef,” typically only growing up to 2 meters (6 feet).

Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- Sea Turtle- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017 Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017Look close, you’ll spot a sea turtle // Safety stop photo op at Pittaj Bommie @ Milln Reef! // A coral “bommie” or formation

Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- 2017 Sunset- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017 Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017Each night on the boat was punctuated with an amazing sunset, and good times relaxing with our dive mates. The crew on board was incredible, we really couldn’t have asked for better people to spend time with!

Day 2 on the boat consisted of 4 dives, which was amazing, and exhilarating! We started out at The Whale Bommie @ Milln Reef, and then cruised on over to The Tennis Courts @ Flynn Reef. We saw a shocking amount of beautiful aquatic life. Sea turtles, barracudas (hanging around a coral bommie- very Finding Nemo), sting rays, and more colorful fish than I could ever hope to count.

Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017 Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017

On our second dive of the morning, Mark made an incredible wildlife sighting– he got to see a Minke Whale swimming underwater. Our instructor also saw it, and later said that in the over 1,000 dives he has completed, he had never seen a whale swimming underwater. No photos, but what a lucky duck!

Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017

Two dives into the second day on the boat, we were officially “PADI Open Water Certified Divers” with the ability to dive to 18 meters (60 feet). We. Were. Hooked. The underwater world is indescribable, and exploring it together has got to be one of my favorite things we’ve ever done as a couple (that’s saying a lot!)

Dive 3 of the day was on our very own- we attended the certified diver briefing, did our buddy check (BWRAF, woo!),  and away we went! We navigated our way around the Mickey Mouse Bommie of the Gordon site, saw a puffer fish, and visited “the fish bowl.”

Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017 Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017 Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A BlogBefore each dive, the dive master goes through the features of the site, and gives us navigation coordinates // Can you spot the family of clown anenomefish in the “fish bowl bommie”?(What’s up, Nemo?!) // Heyyyyyy!

Our 4th dive on this day was a night dive. Let me set the scene for you: we eat dinner with a beautiful sunset as the background. We’re feeling a bit nervous about diving into pitch dark water (with torches, but still!), but trying to stay calm. The crew is washing the dinner dishes, small food scraps are falling into the water, and its attracting fish. No worries. But you know what those fish attract? Sharks! Yep, from the top deck, under the bright boat spotlights, we can see sharks in the water.

Now guess what time it is? Night dive time!

This dive was a whole new level of exploration. It was SO dark. We were able to see a completely different side of the reef- just like on land, this is when the unique creatures come out! We saw lots of Red Sea Bass, and I got alarmingly close to a Humphead Parrotfish. During our safety stop, we had the thrill of seeing a Grey Reef Shark prowling around (just like we had seen from the boat)- what a rush! It was probably 1.5 meters long, and didn’t get close to us, but you can bet our hearts were racing!

We started the next day with a deep water dive at sunrise.

Great Barrier Reef Scuba dive- sunrise- 2017- A blonde, A bear, A blog

We were able to do a deep dive because we decided to continue our certifications to “Adventure Diver” status, meaning we are now able to dive to 30 meters (98 feet). It was so worth it. I was nervous to dive to such depths, but it turned out to be incredibly peaceful. Being in the water as the sun rose was surprisingly different than our other dives. There was almost an… electricity down there (not literally, don’t worry), as the aquatic world woke up and started their day.

You’ll note that some of the photos are very blue, that’s because at those deep depths, the light doesn’t reach far enough for our eyes (or cameras) to detect other colors. What a wild world!

Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017 Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017 Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017 Mark in his element // 30 meter underwater selfie // A school of Humphead Parrotfish dispersing as we approached (those fish were easily the size of my torso!)

We got to finish out the day, and our trip, with a couple exploratory dives at Tracy’s Bommie @ Flynn Reef. I’m quite fond of my diving buddy, and loved spending time underwater together with my husband.

Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- Sea Turtle- A Blonde, A Beard, A BlogScuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A Blog 2017I’m still working on my underwater photography skills // It’s hard to pose underwater! // Sea turtle! // We’re extremely happy- it’s just really tough to smile with a regulator in your mouth

To say that we were sad to get off of the boat would be an understatement. We really had the time of our lives learning to dive, and experiencing the Great Barrier Reef in all of its glory. Truly a once in a life time opportunity, and the perfect memory for our (extended) honeymoon.

Scuba Dive Great Barrier Reef- A Blonde, A Beard, A BlogCheers! – Chels and Mark

 

A blonde, a beard, a day on Moreton Island

Today I’m excited to share some photos from our recent adventure out to Moreton Island. A visit to this unique land mass has been close to the top of our Brisbane bucket list, and it did not disappoint!

Moreton Island is located in Moreton Bay, off the coast of Brisbane. 95% of the island is considered a protected national park, and from north to south it stretches approximately 40 kilometers. There are also no “sealed” roads on the island, so a four wheel drive is necessary to get around.

Moreton Island Ferry


We started out our morning early, and left from Brisbane on the MICAT ferry. After a 75 minute ferry ride, we arrived directly on the beach.

‘Moorgumpin,’ the aboriginal name for the island means place of sandhills, so it was fitting that our first activity was sand boarding. We took a four wheel drive to and area in the middle of the island called ‘The Desert.’

You’re looking at the 1st and 2nd place holders for the furthest ride down the hill

After waxing up our boards, we zipped our way down the giant sand hill. The hike back to the top was a bit of workout, but we actually really enjoyed ourselves! We’ve had the chance to sandboard in the past, but we always passed it up. We’re glad we didn’t this time.

Moreton Island is the third largest sand island in the world. Interestingly enough, the 1st and 2nd largest sand islands are in the same region off the coast of southeast Queensland (Frazier Island and Stradbroke Island are also on our list!)

There were starfish all over the beach, and many tourists kept picking them up. We used the “we want a photo” excuse to take them back to the water safely (but naturally did snap a couple photos)

After lunch, we spent some time in the water! First up was a paddle around the Tangalooma Wrecks in transparent kayaks. The Wrecks are made up of 15 vessels that were sunk deliberately to create a break wall for smaller boats. The result is an incredible area to view marine life.

Our favorite part of the day was snorkeling the Wrecks. We were able to see a lovely array of tropical fish, and a stingray! Those experience definitely has us excited for future water adventures.

We had such an awesome time snorkeling- the ocean is amazing!!

We had an awesome day out on Moreton Island. Huge shout out to Sunset Safaris for putting together a wonderful day tour. So much fun was had that Mark even fell asleep on the ferry ride home.

Cheers!

A blonde, a beard, a heap of animals- Australia Zoo

G’Day! (Yep, I said it.. Living down under is really rubbing off on my vocabulary).

When we travel, we try to find the balance between participating in the “top 10 best tourist activities,” and finding unique little places to call our own. Living in Brisbane for an extended period of time has allowed us to experience a good mix of used books stores & hole-in-the-wall pubs, in addition to popular & well documented destinations.  We enjoy each type of activity, and always try to keep an open mind when planning what we want to do next (never rule anything out!)

Today, I’ll be sharing some photos from a place that definitely lands on a few “must see” lists for our area- Australia Zoo. Considered the “Home of the Crocodile Hunter,” the zoo was founded in 1970 by the father of Steve Irwin. It started out as a 2 acre wildlife park located about an hour north of Brisbane, in the Sunshine Coast region. Today, it encompasses over 100 acres and is home to more than 1,000 animals. It is now run by Steve Irwin’s widow, Terri.

Australia Zoo Day Koala Australia Zoo

We took the bus from the Roma Street station in Brisbane, and got dropped off right at the front entrance. We arrived just before the gate opened at 9 am, and wouldn’t be picked up until closing time, 5  pm. I was a bit nervous that a full day would be too long, and we would be ready to go by noon, but I was definitely mistaken.

Arriving early in the day meant our first hour inside the park was very calm and quiet. We took it slow, and barely saw any other people, save for the khaki clad zoo crew.

Wombats at Australia Zoo
Our first stop was the observe the wombats. 

These mammals are Aussie natives. They are marsupials, and the closest relative to the koala. Wombats are known for their burrowing, and typically live in burrows up to 30 meters long. The female’s pouch is backwards facing, so that when they dig, they don’t fill the pouch with dirt! They typically live between 5-30 years, and the little cutie pictured above out for a walk is 32!

Australia Zoo Tigers
I may have purposely planned a route that walked us by the tigers multiple times…

We spent a lot of time watching these big cats, which is no surprise to anyone who knows us at all! Each time we passed by their enclosures, at least one cat was up and active, which is a rare treat. They have many mannerisms similar to our cats at home, like eating grass and rubbing their heads against surfaces to spread their scent.

The zoo is home to many Sumatran tigers, one of 5 surviving tiger species. They are native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Sadly, 80% of the forests on this island have been destroyed, shrinking their habitat. Though tigers are a protected species in Indonesia, they are still killed for profit. These tigers are listed as “critically endangered,” and many conservation efforts are being made all around the world. Australia Zoo has a partnership with the Indonesian government to work toward saving this species, and other endangered animals.

Tiger Australia Zoo Tiger Australia Zoo

We decided to check out the Wildlife Warriors show in the Crocoseum, mostly because we were ready to sit down for a bit after walking around for a couple hours. Goodness, are we glad that we did! The zoo keepers put on a great show that included slithery snakes (at a safe distance), swooping birds, and a very exciting crocodile encounter!

Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors

Wildlife Warrior Australia Zoo
Risky business

Australia Zoo is home to 2 types of crocodiles, saltwater and freshwater crocs. Freshies are the smaller of the 2, and pose much less of a threat to humans. Salties, on the other hand are the largest reptiles in the world. They can grow up to 7 meters long, and I certainly would not get as close to one as those croc handlers!

Africa Australia ZooAustralia Zoo

After snack time we took a stroll over to the Africa area of the zoo, and then swung by Bindi’s Island.

Lemurs Australia ZooLemur Australia Zoo

Ring tailed lemurs have free roaming rights on the small island within the zoo. Native to Madagascar, these animals are very curious and social, living in troops lead by a dominant female (girl power!). Sadly, due to habitat distruction, these creatures are endangered.  Second to the tigers, the lemurs were definitely my favorite!

Red Panda Australia Zoo

Thank goodness for Mark’s good eyes, otherwise we may not have seen the red panda sleeping up in the tree. Though the red panda is not closely related to the giant panda, it does share a similar diet. Bamboo does not provide much in the ways of energy, so these critters most of the day resting. We were lucky enough to witness this cutie getting some exercise in the late afternoon!

Red Panda Australia Zoo

Our last main stop of the day was to spend time with the Roos. Though they do live in an enclosure, it is large and open, so people can feed them and interact with them. This is something I really love, they’re so unique, and so soft!

Kangaroos Australia Zoo

Kangaroo Australia Zoo
Still working on our roo selfies

We saw heaps of other animals throughout the day, including birds, snakes, dingos, Tasmanian devils, and tortoises. It wasn’t difficult to spend an entire day here. The zoo is involved in many education and conservation efforts, and focuses on providing high quality habitats for the critters that call it home. We really enjoyed our trip, and would highly recommend to anyone in the area!

Cheers!

A blonde, a beard, an Amazon adventure

A few days ago, someone asked me what our craziest travel experience was. We sat and reminisced over some of our favorite “what were we thinking?!” moments. Inspired by that conversation, here’s a little throwback post to our time in the Amazon Rainforest back in the spring of 2015!

So there we were.. eating dinner that included piranha that we had caught just a few minutes before, in a house on stilts, that had water the water of the Amazon River nearly coming through the cracks in the floor boards. How did we get here? Let’s go back a bit.

Our original South America plan included only visiting Peru. But as we travelled around that incredible country and met other backpackers, we quickly added many more places to our list, including Colombia and the Amazon. We worked our way around the western side of the continent, and then finally (after days worth of bus rides) found ourselves in Bogota, Colombia. From there, a quick flight to Leticia, Amazonas (Colombia’s southernmost town) put us in the heart of the jungle, exactly where we where hoping to end up.

Our hostel (La Jangada) helped us put together a little jungle adventure, and before we knew it Mark and I were aboard a fairly rickety boat with a few other travelers, cruising down the Amazon River. It was spring, which means the wet/rainy season in this region.

We stopped at Santa Rosa Island (which is actually belongs to Peru- this region includes the Amazon boarder towns of Leticia, Colombia, Santa Rosa, Peru, and Tabatinga, Brazil, and travel between the 3 towns in unrestricted**), and discovered that there was at least a foot of water covering the entire place. But life went on, as it does in the jungle. There were even kids playing futbol.

Taking a swim in the Amazon River

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A blonde, a beard, a Greek Festival (Paniyiri 2017)

καλώς ήρθατε!

Any guesses on what that means?! Pronounced kalos irθate (easy, right?), those Greek symbols literally mean “well you came,” or “Welcome!” This weekend we attended Paniyiri 2017, an incredible celebration of Greek culture here in Brisbane. It is Queensland’s largest culture celebration, and this year was the 41st annual event. Turns out that Oz has one of the largest Greek populations in the world, and my goodness do they like to have fun!

Brisbanites really know how to show up for a celebration!

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A blonde, a beard, a Sunny Coast road trip (part 2)

Welcome back, wonderful people. I’m excited to be able to share what the second half of our trip up to the Sunshine Coast hinterland had in store for us. After our beautiful Noosa Beach day, we headed back to camp at the Noosa North Shore Campground. This involved taking the vehicle ferry, which felt bizarre each time. The car tent was amazing, in that we were able to scope out an even better spot for our second night at the ground- more on this a bit later!

Our evening was relaxing and peaceful, and included a nice beach stroll, some fun bird encounters, Mark making friends with a couple of parrots (further proving that the man can’t just have a snack for himself- if he’s not sharing with me, he’s sharing with birds), the discovery of a rogue beach swing, and more wild kangaroo sightings (will that ever not be exciting?!)

Mark had to give me a significant amount of assistance to get up there.

Mark making friends // Is my husband destined to be a pirate? // A wild Laughing Kookaburra // Hello little Roo!!

Our next day started with another incredible sunrise, right from the tent this time: This campground has a special place in our hearts- you simply cannot beat that view

We spent a good chunk of our next day at the Eumundi Markets. This large artisan market is full of delicious food, traditional Australian crafts, and lots of other unique creations. We bought green curry paste and a set of organic bamboo cotton pillow cases.. So not the most exciting thing to report! 

The next area we chose for exploration was the Glass House Mountains, also a part of the Sunny Coast hinterland. We headed that way, checked into our campground, and then went to scope out the area. We started at the lookout, an easily accessible spot where you can see the entire range of the Glass House Mountains.

The range was formed somewhere between 26 and 27 million years ago, as molten lava cooled in the cores of volcanos. In total there are 11 peaks making up the range, which was given the name Glass House when Captain James Cook first saw them back in 1770. Each peak has it’s own traditional name that dates back farther than that, and in Aboriginal legend it is said that 2 of the peaks are the mother (Mount Beerwah) and father (Mount Tibrogargan), and the other 9 are their children.

We chose to hike Mount Ngungun (pronounced na gun gun), and started up the trail about an hour before sunset. The trail to the top is only 1.1 km, so we were up top in about 30 minutes.

The stunning panoramic view from the top of Mt Nugngun (only listing the largest peaks, this was not an easy task):  Mt Tibrogargarn // Mt Tubbubudla (the twins) // Mt Beerwah // Mt Coonowrin

It was a cloudy day, so we weren’t sure how the sunset would turn out.

Mt Tibrogargan from the track up Mt NgungunSome photos of Mount Coonorwin and Mount Beerwah from the summit of Mount Ngungun

We decided to take some photos, and just as we were about to head back down, this happened:

We watched the sky light up like fire, and then scurried our way back down the trail. It really was stunning, and we plan to go back (potentially for our “wedding” photos). We had another relaxing night playing cards and chatting in our tent.

Our final day was spent packing up, stopping for a “Glasshouse Country grown” pineapple (yum!), and hunting down breakfast at an awesome cafe near Beerburrum, another small town that’s a part of the Sunny Coast hinterland. 

We loved this little getaway, and are excited to continue exploring other areas of this incredible country that we are so very lucky to call home!

 Cheers everyone- Chels & Mark

A blonde, a beard, a Sunshine Coast roadtrip

This past week we finally decided get out of Brisbane! As much as we love the city, it was time for a break from the concrete jungle we call home. We chose to head up to the Sunshine Coast region, an area northeast of Brisbane. There is an actual city called Sunshine Coast, along with many small communities, beaches, and national parks. We picked a couple spots we wanted to check out, booked our rental car tent (yes- we drove!!), packed up our stuff, and away we went!

Mark drove the first day, and we split the mileage (Kilometerage?) after that. I was super nervous to drive on the opposite side of the car and road, but we adjusted quickly!

On our way up we stopped for snacks and fuel, and then drove 1 and 1/2 hours up to Noosa North Shore. We got to take the car across the river on the ferry at Tewantin, which was a little adventure all on its own! We pulled into the Noosa North Shore Beach Campground, parked the car tent and headed right to the beach. Brisbane is not located directly on the coast, so this was our first ocean experience of the trip.

We spent the afternoon walking the beach, relaxing in the hammock, and watching the sunset. As we are nearing winter here in Oz, the days are quite short. The sun was down by 6pm, and we spent the evening in our tent playing card games, chatting, and listening to music.

Our awesome car tent- the whole thing folded over onto itself, and set up/tear down only took about 3 minutes each!

The next day started out early, watching the beautiful sunrise. I took an absurd amount of sunrise and sunset photos on this trip- I’ve always been a sucker for a colorful sky.

A truly stunning way to start the day. Mark relaxed in the tent while I walked the beach and watched the day begin. When I got back to our campsite (which was just a 1 minute walk from the beach), there were WILD KANGAROOS in our campsite! Mark got a very quick wake up.

SO CUTE! We (of course) kept a safe distance. But oh my goodness was that difficult.

After the roo’s hopped away, we packed up our stuff, strapped the tent down to the car, and headed into the town of Noosa Heads for the day. We started out with a delicious breakfast, and then spent a couple hours strolling Hasting’s Street, the main drag of the town that’s lined with sweet shops and restaurants. We eventually changed into our swim suits, and hit the main beach. The Noosa Surf Club flags off a portion of sea where it’s safe to swim (the ocean can be a scary place), so we spent a good chunk of time swimming and playing in the Pacific.

Much needed fuel after some serious ocean time (because diets don’t count when you’re on a vacation during your year-long vacation)

Stay tuned for more details and photos from our road trip get away! (aka- more sunset and animal photos)

Cheers!

A dingo, a koala, a (lot of) kangaroo(s)

This week we decided that it was time to see some animals! We were both surprised it took us this long to get up close and personal with some native fauna. There are a few different wildlife sanctuaries near us, as well as the Australia Zoo (which is a little over an hour away by car). Since we are not quite ready to try our hand at driving (see my last post), we opted to visit the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

Lone Pine is located 12 km (7.5 miles) away from Brisbane City, in the suburb of Fig Tree Pocket. There are a few ways to get there- by car, on foot, or the original way- by boat. We went with the water way, and booked our round trip ferry tickets with Miramar Cruises.  We left the dock at 10am, and after an hours ride up the Brisbane River, arrived at Lone Pine.

First stop- Koalas! These adorable marsupials (not actually bears) are nocturnal, so they spend most of their day sleeping- up to 18 hours. When they aren’t snoozing, they’re usually eating eucalyptus leaves. We got to observe them doing plenty of both!

Next we swung by the Dingo house, where the sanctuary cares for their brother/sister Dingo duo. Oh my goodness are they cute. Despite my best attempts, Mark would not let me steal one to bring home as our new dog. Look at that little face!

We spent the most time at our next stop, the 6 hector kangaroo and wallaby reserve. This was a really cool area, full of free roaming roos. You could buy food to feed them, and plenty of people did. There were many breeds roaming about, sunning themselves, and getting their pictures taken with visitors (including us). It was fun to see the difference between the different breeds, and between kangaroos and wallabies.

Look closely, you’ll see a little joey in his mom’s pouch!

We were also able to visit and observe a few other native Australian animals during our trip, including a couple Tasmanian devils, a wombat, some sinister looking crocodiles, and a collection of snakes. We made some serious mental notes about which snakes to avoid, especially the taipan & eastern brown snake, as they are the most dangerous snakes on this continent.  (I will note that we are always actively avoiding all snakes, dangerous or not.)

And to help us all feel less creepy and crawly after discussing slithery things, here’s our favorite photo from the day:

Tonx and Theo’s new sister??

Cheers!