Thursday, October 30, 2008


I'm kind of a nut for accents-- I like to listen to folks and figure out where they're from. On the ice and in New Zealand, I watch the TVNZ news, just to listen to the reporters talk. I love it. I have said that I can't really tell the difference between the Ozzie accent and the Kiwi accent. Now that I've spent a good amount of time in Oz, I think I have it nailed.

The differences are pretty subtle, but I bet I can spot 'em now. The main difference is the way they say words with "I". I've asked Kiwis how they spot Ozzies, and they say Australians say Feesh and Cheeps, and most Kiwis claim that they say Fish and Chips. Ozzies claim that Kiwis say Fush and Chups. What I've observed is that given a word like "pit", Ozzies will sometimes pronounce it peet. Kiwis will sometimes pronounce it pit, and sometimes putt.

Words with an "E" are a giveaway, too. Directions in NZ are Right and Leafed. In Oz, they're Roit and Left. In my observation, an Australian will NEVER say leafed. And only a few Kiwis would say roit.

Here are some common Ozzie words, and the Kiwi equivalent (if applicable).

Beah: Favorite breakfast beverage. XXXX, VB, Toohey's. Beah is everywhere.

Bibey: Toynee person.

Bite: A small sheep. A water vehicle. (Kiwi: Boat)

Boy: Purchase.

Bye: A body of wodda.

Cah: Automobile.

Cheese: Thanks or Thanks/Goodbye.

Cheesemite: Thanks/Goodbye, my friend.

Droive: How you operate your cah.

Dola: $

Goodonya: Good for you.

Goy: Not a girl, rather a lad or a mite.

High Ya Gine?: How are you? (Equivalent to "hayadoon?" the US. No answer expected).

High Ya Gine Mite?: How are you, my friend?

Hobba: Where you keep the sheeps in the bye.

Ite: More than seven (seeven in NZ).

Noice: Good. Often an exclamation-- NOICE!

Noin: One more than ite.

Noeries: You're welcome, no problem.

Oilin': A body of land surrounded by wodda.

Pint: The colored stuff you roll on your house. Picasso was a pinter.

Point: About 16 oz of beah.

Roid: What soofas do on the wives.

Sheep: A big bite. (Kiwi: Ship)

Sooffa: Goys that roid wives on their boads.

Straila: Huge oilin' in the South Pacific.

Strailin: What they speak there.

Theeweegigh: Here it is for you.

Toynee: Very small.

Wives: Bumps in the wodda. Sooffas roid them.

Wodda: H2O

Here's a typical conversation:

Customer: G'day.

Proprietor: Highyaginemite?

C: Doyin' a hunga!

P: What'll it be then?

C: I'll have a sausage roll.

P: Foive dolas then.

C: Heeyagigh.

P: Exact change! Noice! Goodonya! Cheese!

C: Noeries.

P: Heehagigh. Cheesemite!

C: Cheese. See ya lighta.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bluehair Island

I spent the day on a one-day tour of Fraser Island, just offshore Hervey Bay, where I'm staying. Fraser Island is an incredible place-- basically a 100-mile long sand dune, with temperate rain forest, tropical rainforest, and other habitats mixed in. It has big freshwater lakes-- the biggest collection of dune-top lakes in the world. Saw some dolphins on the way down, and on the way back.
The tour was exactly the kind of bluehairs-on-the-big-bus tourist thing that I usually studiously avoid. This time, it was kind of a bonus day for me-- I only had the one day to check out the island, and the tour seemed like the best way to actually see something. The island is too big to hike around, and it is covered with rutty, soft sand roads, so a car is out of the question, barring renting a 4WD in addition to the little car I've already rented. I swallowed hard and joined the bluehairs. Actually there were quite a few young German tourists and other "traveler" types, so it won't be so bad if someone actually saw me with the grannies.
I was prepared to be underwhelmed. I mean, how cool can a big sand dune be? Very cool, as it turns out. The tropical rain forest was amazing. HUGE trees, with all sorts of clingy vines and strange, parasitic-looking plants. Australia is like the anti-New-Zealand. In NZ, there are no poisonous snakes or spiders, and you can bash through the brush anywhere you like. In Australia, the bush is trying to kill you. There are six of the top 30 most venomous snakes in the world, just on Fraser Island. There was even a sign that said there are a certain variety of pine cone that can wound or kill you. Evidently, Kauri Pines are so tall that a ten-pound pine cone might just bust your noggin if you are unlucky enough to be present when it sheds one. Yikes.
I hopped a plane and did a quick 15-minute flight over the island. Really cool. Another highlight was Lake McKenzie. I gorgeous, fresh-water pond with sugary white sand beaches all around. A dingo came out of the forest and cruised for munchies for a while. Fraser Island has the purest strains of dingoes in existence, due to its isolation from the mainland's dogs. I swam around a bit, and got back on the bus, dripping wet. On a one-day trip of a hundred mile island, we didn't stop anywhere for long. I'll definitely be back here some time.
I'm glad I did the one-day tour, but if I had it to do over again, I would plan on spending a week there. This whole trip has been kind of like that, though-- check out NSW and Queensland in two weeks, with the intention of gathering information for a future trip. In my experience, sometimes that is the best way to travel. Do a quick "blitz-trip", scouting for places to return to.
Speaking of venomous creatures, I was just victimized again. I was standing in line at my backpacker to stock up on Internet time, when I felt a bug land in my hair. I reached up to brush 'im out of there, and the little bugger stung me. A bee. I guess I'm glad it wasn't a Purple-Banded Death Adder. Traumatic, though. Almost as bad as the incident with the Ibis.

Tomorrow: The Glass House Mountains.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cackle, Splash!

I'm staying at a very cool backpacker here in Hervey Bay. It's called the Colonial Inn YHA, near the boat harbor. It's like a tropical resort, but cheap. The only thing I have against the place is the cacaphony of tropical birds that goes off like at 4AM, and continues for most of the morning. Yikes. I'm used to the silence of the ice, or at least the monotonous droning of the air handler through my dorm air vent. I might get some earplugs before I hit the sack tonight.

I took a whale watching cruise today, and got to ogle some breaching Humpback Whales. I gather that this is kind of the end of the whale-watching season. Mostly mothers with baby whales, which aren't too curious about tourist boats. Earlier in the spring (August), teenager whales come up from Antarctica, and they get quite cheeky with the whale watching boats, sometimes "spy hopping" up out of the water to check out the folks on deck.

The mom-baby teams did some breaching and splashing, but stayed away from the boat. Still, it was definitely worth the trip. I'm glad I did the half-day, though. Eight hours of whale splashing might get a little tiresome.

Tomorrow: hiking Fraser Island.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Attack of the Ibis

Had a nice day yesterday. I had a leisurely breakfast at one of the many sidewalk cafes near my backpacker on the West End of Brisbane. Walked down to the Cultural Centre, and hopped a ferry up to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Got to see a lot of Koalas, lizards, birds and things-- even fed a kangaroo right out of my hand. Kind of a touristy thing to do, but I'm glad I did.

The whole South Bank of the Brisbane River near where I'm staying is a huge complex of libraries, museums, and other cultural buildings. There is a river walk full of sidewalk cafes, restaurants and shops, and there was kind of a craft fair going on. There is an incredible arbor, with bright pink flowers on it, that seems to go for miles along the river walk.

I stopped at one of the food stands and got a shrip and chicken roll and one of the incredible Aussie ginger beers. I turned my back on my lunch for a split second to get a napkin, and an ibis jumped up on my table and ate half my lunch in one bite. These ibises (ibi?) are big, creepy looking birds with odd, hooked beaks. They're about twice the size of a chicken and (now I know) evidently quite aggressive. Live and learn, I guess

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Well, I've been in the land of Oz (Australia) for four days now. I was really impressed with Sydney, but had the itch to get farther up the coast. I can always spend more time in Sydney on the way out.

So far I've feasted on Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian food. I was walking about 10-20 miles a day, though, so I don't feel too much like a pig.

I hopped a train early Wednesday morning, and ended up in Brisbane fifteen hours later. This is one HUGE country! I covered about a fourth of the east coast in a twelve hour train ride, and a three hour connector bus from Casino to Brisbane. For some odd reason the trains don't make it all the way to Brisbane if they arrive at night. Go figure.

Where Sydney was a dream to visit, Brisbane is more of a nightmare. It's big and spread out, with a big winding river running through the middle of the city. Like most river cities, the streets run at crazy angles, and for some reason only about every fifth intersection has street names posted. I've been doing a lot of walking around, cussing the Brisbane public works department.

Tomorrow, I'm going to take a boat up the Brisbane River to a Koala sanctuary. The weather today has been perfect (about 80F and breezy), and I have my fingers crossed for more of the same.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Well, I got to Sydney about eight this morning. Never been to Australia, save for a couple of times through the Sydney airport. I like it a lot more that I thought I would. I reminds me quite a bit of Seattle and Chicago.

It's a big city, for sure. Lots of polyethnic culture going on. At least half the faces I see on the street are Asian, and young. I'm guessing there's a college near here, though I haven't learned the neighborhood yet.

I'm near Chinatown, right above the central train station. The public transportation here is amazing-- by far the best I've ever experienced. I got off the plane, on the train, and was in the middle of downtown in minutes. There is a monorail, light rail, busses, and real train service within a block of the hostel where I'm staying. My room is a converted train car-- quite appropriate.

I went to the Sydney Aquarium today-- a rare "touristy" outing. I generally stay away from the places all the tourists go to, but I had heard great things about the aquarium. It was totally worth the trip. I guess it's the #1 tourist destination in Australia. Really quite amazing. There is a huge tank that's part of the bay, with big glass tunnels where you can actually watch huge rays and sharks swimming over your head. Quite an experience. I'm going to spend another day in the big city tomorrow, then head up the coast to explore some beaches and get away from the big city scene.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wide Eyed in the Real World

I've had a great last couple of days. Incredible fiery Thai food last night, and a ton of exercise. Must have walked ten miles around Christchurch yesterday, rounding up a bus pass, calling card, exchanging cash, etc.

I'm staying at the YMCA, which might sound like a rescue mission, but it's a hidden gem. It's a type of hotel that I've never seen in the states. I rented a tiny room with a balcony overlooking the Arts Centre at the edge of downtown Christchurch (still within easy walking distance of anything I might need). Five of these tiny rooms share a common bathroom-- the rooms have no TVs or fancy things. I think it's because Kiwis are spartan travellers that there are so many backpackers, cheap, simple hotels, and holiday parks. My room is about $35US a night.

Seems like in the states you can either pay huge bucks for a very fancy room, or you can pay less depending on your tolerance for old appointments, and filth. Never would you get a clean, tiny room with no TV. I think the Kiwis have really hit on something here. You get a tiny, immaculately clean room with no frills for a cheap price. No cockroaches, and no TV. I like it.

I was having a tough time sorting through eight months of baggage in the tiny room, though, so I decided to upgrade. I now have a nice room on the top floor with a queen size bed, a private bathroom, a TV and a huge balcony overlooking the gorgeous Botanical Gardens. It's amazing, and it's about $75US a night. In the YMCA.

I had a weird night last night-- woke up at 4AM and couldn't get back to sleep. I started a book called A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe on the flight down. Devoured about 250 pages of it on the plane. Great book-- highly recommended. Since I couldn't sleep, I got up and read a couple more chapters.

Went back to bed, but still couldn't sleep. I just kept at it, trying to get back to slumberland, and finally did-- about 6AM. My little room was right across the street from the Arts Centre, which is being remodelled. About 7AM the backup alarms and concrete saws started up. Somehow I managed a fitful sleep through it all. There was so much weird noise going on that I had the most incredible set of lucid dreams. I knew I was dreaming, and was aware that I was right on the edge of waking for two hours. I had dreams of singing loud Scottish songs, immense paintings, astral travelling, being a ghost, with a moral lesson in ghost behavior-- Yikes, it was psychedelic.
I finally got up about 9AM, well rested if tripped out. I packed up my stuff for the room upgrade, and went downstairs to check out.

They said my new room wasn't ready, so I stepped out to an old Victorian house converted to a cafe that an ice friend had recommended. Pretty hungry (it was 10:30 by this time), I ordered the special. Holy cow. It was a big, thick piece of wheat toast with six huge chunks of thick bacon, a big venison sausage, two poached eggs, two baked tomato halves with herbs, and portobello mushrooms. Holy gut-bomb, Batman. I ate about half of it and waddled back to my room. I may not have to eat again for a month.

New Zealand is such a cool place. There seems to be very little crime, and the people have a charming naivete, as though they've never been to the nasty real world of criminals and rude people. My room key is a regular old metal key, with the room number on the fob. The doors are not even set up to lock, unless you lock them. I just rode the bus from downtown out to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center, where Raytheon's NZ offices are) to use the free internet service. A guy on the bus notified the driver that someone had left a bag on the bus-- he brought it up to the driver, who tossed it up on his dashboard. No rifling through the bag, no bomb squad. Weird. I could definitely live here.

Today is the day for getting caught up on e-mail, and getting ready to mail some of my excess stuff back to the states so I can travel lighter. I could not believe the amount of stuff I had, leaving the ice. Now that I've gone through it, I can see why it seems so huge. A pair of Carhartts, a pillow, and a big towel just about fill a suitcase. Not to mention my down jacket and fleece vest. I thought I was travelling light, as those are the bare necessities. Don't need 'em in New Zealand, so away they go.

Well, better get back out in the sunshine. We're supposed to get some rainy weather in the next couple of days-- better get out and enjoy the rays while I can.

Monday, October 13, 2008


My plane got in from McMurdo a little after 10PM last night. It was past 11 before I got to my hotel and my head hit the pillow-- a long day.

This was the day to get bus passes, calling cards, and talk to the travel agent about my Australia trip. Absolutely unbelievably gorgeous here. Probably 75F, bright sun, and a little breezy. It feels a little hot after being on the ice, but I'm not complaining.

I ran into an ice friend this morning, and we went out to breakfast. I had two huge pieces of toast, piled with roasted mushrooms, red and green peppers, cauliflower and broccoli, smothered in homemade hollandaise sauce. It was to die for, especially after eating flavorless, frozen galley chow for eight months. I'm in heaven here.

Dinner tonight was Phad Poong Ga-Ree at the Ironsides Thai Cafe, near my hotel. Huge, fresh prawns, mussels, calamari, and vegetables in a fiery hot creamy sauce. That was worth the eight-month wait, and I'm just getting started.

Tomorrow: Sun Worship!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Invasion and Retreat

Well, McMurdo has been officially invaded. There are over 700 people here now, and the summer season is underway. Time for me to go. "Bag drag" is this afternoon-- I get my gear weighed for the flight tomorrow.

Soon I will be experiencing things I haven't experienced in almost eight months. Humidity. Plants. Warm sun. I'm planning to keep my blog updated with my continuing travels-- I'm really looking forward to New Zealand and Australia.

See you in the real world,


Thursday, October 2, 2008


I've posted before about the advantages of wintering here-- less people, more privacy, slower pace. One of the disadvantages of wintertime is the lack of science going on. In the summer there are "beakers" (scientists) everywhere, and contract workers like myself get the opportunity to soak up a lot of cool science.

There are volcanologists from New Mexico up on Mount Erebus, studying its eruptions. There are seal people in their huts out on the sea ice, glueing video cameras to seals so they can watch 'em eat. Microbiologists counting germs, physicists counting neutrinos-- a lot of cool stuff.

The beakers like to give presentations, where they explain their work to us in layman's terms. There is usually a presentation every Sunday.

Some of the research being done on the ozone layer doesn't lend itself to summer conditions, though. A team of atmospheric scientists from the University of Wyoming comes down every year to do some experiments on the ozone hole. Jen Mercer of UW gave a science lecture a couple of Sundays ago that was very informative. (

Turns out that ozone-depleting chemicals build up in the stratosphere in the dark polar winter, and are activated when the sun comes up. That's why the UW crew likes to get here when it's still dark. They can launch a balloon in the evening, and correlate the data they get with information gleaned from the LIDAR (which I mentioned in an old post). The LIDAR is a powerful laser, aimed straight up from the Crary Lab here at Mac Town. It bounces off particles of ice in the Polar Stratospheric Clouds; reflected light tells about particle size, temperature, and altitude. PSCs, or nacreous clouds are where the chemical reaction takes place that destroys the ozone. The reason it makes a hole over the pole is that the stratospheric wind is in the form of a vortex, centered on the pole. Wind circles the pole, and extremely cold winter temperatures make a kind of atmospheric cauldron where chlorine and bromine accumulate. Add sunlight, and a catalytic reaction occurs that turns ozone into oxygen.

I've worked a little bit with the balloonatics, getting their radios and gear set up for them. A month or so ago I had to climb a tower to install a small antenna for them. It receives telemetry data from the balloon as it travels through the stratosphere. When they've made their pass, they trigger an explosive charge that separates the payload from the balloon. A parachute opens, and the device falls to the ice. Another explosive charge cuts away the parachute, so it doesn't drag it off to infinity. The balloonatics will ride out in helicopters in a few weeks to try to find the balloon payloads and bring them back in. Interesting stuff.

(Picture from the UW website


Well, "Springfly" is all but over. Normally the first flight after the long winter is called Winfly, as is the following period of time until "Mainbody", when the summer season is officially over.

This season is different. The winfly flight in August was cancelled, and our reinforcements came in for springfly in September instead. Winfly was supposed to end on September 30th with the arrival of the first mainbody flight. We've had a bit of weather lately, so the first flight is now four days late.

If weather is perfect, a planeload of people arrive in Christchurch, to depart on the Air Force C-17 a day or two later. When the flight is delayed, it dumps more people in NZ that can't leave. I heard today that there are 480-some folks backed up in "Cheech". Not good.

Twice, the flights have actually taken off, and "boomeranged". They get part of the way down, and the weather doesn't look promising for a landing, so they fly back to Cheech. In the days when folks flew down on C-130s, a boomerang flight could be over eight hours. A friend of mine here boomeranged for five days in a row. Yikes. And that's sitting crammed in a cargo plane with no windows.

The C-17s are actually very nice-- my ride down here was better than commercial travel. A boomerang on a C-17 is probably only 3-4 hours, because they're so much faster.

The irony is that often they call off the flight, or boomerang it, and the weather turns out to be gorgeous. Like today. It is a beautiful, sunny day with little wind. A calm day here is unusual, and very welcome. The picture above was taken out my office window, about noon. That area is called the VXE-6 transition, named after the old military support wing that operated here before us civilians took over. The transition is the shore of the sea ice. We stage equipment there, such as seal huts, fish huts, snowmachines-- things like that.

Right now the huts for the NPX traverse are out there. Pretty soon a fleet of big tractors towing sleds will head out for the pole. The trailers have big bladders full of jet fuel for pole. Before the traverse, pole station got all of their fuel by pumping it out of overfueled C-130s. Very expensive way to move fuel. The new guys from my shop have been putting radios, GPS units, and Iridium phones in the huts and heavy equipment down at the transition.

Speaking of radios, I had better get back to work...