Sunday, June 24, 2012

Springbrook National Park and Fingal Head, Australia

When people think about Gold Coast, they often see Surfers Paradise, beaches, bikies, gambling, sky scrapers. Yes, it is all there, but for me Gold Coast is a magical, warm place where both civilisation and nature are within an hour's drive: libraries, universities, international airports, theatres, museums, amusement parks, botanical gardens, city beaches and wild beaches, national parks, mountains, lakes, forests, old volcanoes, colourful and loud parrots, kangaroos in my front yard.

The name "Gold Coast" was officially adopted only in 1958, and in my opinion it was a mistake. I wish it was still called South Coast. I can only come to terms with "gold" in the name when I think it refers to the colour of sand and sun, not the precious metal.

Our visit to Springbrook National Park in Gold Coast hinterland started with a look at a monument to bad planning:

Springbrook National Park has many lookouts, and to make life easier for tourists spoiled with choice, we proudly present "Best of All Lookout":

It is a truly great lookout, starting with Mt Warning to the south:

And ending with this view to the north:

After checking the lookouts, time to set up the tent. Red skies over Settlement camping area:

At night we went to Springbrook Glow Worms to see the "glowing worms", which turned out to be larvae of an ancient fly. While there, my suspicions about killer Australian leaves were confirmed:

Our guide, Garry Maguire, is a scientist. He discovered a number of glowing mushrooms in Springbrook:

While checking the forest floor for new kinds of glowing things 16 years ago, Garry was bitten by a funnel web spider. I thought that funnel web spiders were limited to Sydney. Another myth busted, they are in Queensland too!

The next day we checked out the Purling Brook Falls lookout:

And the Canyon lookout:

And then the Natural Bridge section, on our way out of Springbrook:

We left cool Springbrook and drove towards the coast. This is Fingal Head, just behind the border in NSW. Looking towards Queensland.

Nearly symmetrical stones of a Giant's Causeway. A brother of the Irish one.

Looking south. Mt Warning looming in the distance.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Currumbin, Gold Coast, Australia

First stop at a hill near Carrara. Looking east: towards the coast and Surfers Paradise. The blocks (plots of land) around the top are for sale with prices starting at $220,000 for the smallest 700 square meter block. You can get one with a view like this or towards the hinterland.

Currumbin. Looking north: a view towards Surfers Paradise. The cliff on the left is Burleigh Head National Park. The jet ski belongs to the life guards. 

Basia. Remember, it's almost Winter here, hence the attire. When the sun comes out it gets quite warm. It was up to 23 degrees Celsius today.

Basia and the big rock.

Tomek and the same rock.

Looking south: a view towards Coolangatta - the southernmost suburb of the city of Gold Coast, and Queensland. Collangata is practically one city with Tweed Heads in New South Wales. For half a year, the time is different between the two. Queensland doesn't observe Daylight Saving Time, NSW does. It must be quite confusing for the people living in Coolangatta or visiting at that time.

Looking west: houses on a hill and the parking lot of a popular beach restaurant located at Currumbin Beach Surf Club. Today it was empty, because recent storms deposited tons of sand and it is being pushed back to the beach by the city council.

Here is the city council bobcat cleaning the parking lot.

 Looking north.

Something alive in the sand.

A sculpture of Sun Spirit by Frank Miles, 2006.

Looking north.

Looking up. A Jet Star plane landing at Gold Coast Airport in Coolangatta.

Boiling water for visitors to make tea or coffee. Very useful when you have small kids and need to prepare a warm meal.

No Australian park/beach would be complete without a public BBQ.

A computer in a children's section at a public library in nearby Elanora. See the size and colours of the keys?

And a plaque in the sidewalk in front of that library commemorating Dashiell Hammersmith.   Funny, Google search on "Dashiell Hammersmith" brings 1 result about a fictional character. Nothing on the real person. Either the plaque is wrong or Google search is wrong.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hinze Dam, Gold Coast, Australia

The Hinze Dam on the Gold Coast was designed to be built in three stages. Each stage made the dam bigger and increased capacity. Stage 3 has been completed late last year. 

This is the view from the top of the dam towards spillway - the only part of the dam made of concrete: 

The rest of the dam is made from rocks and clay:

The artificial Advancetown Lake:

The spillway seen from the bottom:

Countries of Southeast Asia - Part 3

The last group of countries by population consists of three small states. The smallest is also the most populous of them.

Singapore. Population: 5 million.
Area: 710 km2.
Capital: Singapore.
Official languages: English, Malay, Chinese, Tamil.
Religion: 33% Buddhist, 18% Christian, 17% atheist, 15% Muslim, 11% Taoist, 5% Hindu.
GDP per capita in PPP: 59,700 USD.
Currency: Singapore dollar.
Democratic? Yes.
Singapore was part of Malaysia for two years, when Malaysia was formed, but it proved to be irreconcilably different and it was expelled from the Malaysian federation. Singapore's armed forces have been created with help from Israel. Singapore's military is based on Swiss and Israeli models.
The territory of Singapore is so small that Singapore Air Force has training bases in USA, France, and Australia.
Singapore is one of the most business friendly countries in the world.

East Timor. Population: 1 million.
Area: 15,000 km2.
Capital: Dili.
Official languages: Tetum, Portuguese. English and Indonesian have a status of "working languages". 15 local languages are used.
Religion: 97% Christian.
GDP per capita in PPP: 8,700 USD.
Currency: US dollar.
Democratic? Yes.
East Timor became a state in 2002 after decades of occupation by Indonesia. 50% of the population was illiterate in 2010.

Brunei. Population: 0.4 million.
Area: 6,000 km2.
Capital: Bandar Seri Begawan.
Official language: Malay. 8 other languages are used.
Religion: 66% Muslim, 13% Buddhist, 10% Christian.
GDP per capita in PPP: 49,400 USD.
Currency: Brunei dollar.
Democratic? No.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Countries of Southeast Asia - Part 2

This group of middle to small population countries of Southeast Asia contains three countries scarred by war and lack of freedoms. Malaysia stands out as the only democratic country, although it has laws discriminating some of its minorities. Interestingly, Malaysia is also the only country in this group with a Muslim majority and the only one with GDP per capita bigger than some European Union countries. The rest are predominantly Buddhist and very poor.

Burma (Myanmar). Population: 60 million.
Area: 680,000 km2.
Capital: Naypyidaw.
Official language: Burmese. 111 languages spoken.
Religion: 89% Buddhist, 5% Christian, 3% Muslim.
GDP per capita in PPP: 1,300 USD.
Currency: kyat.
Democratic? Not yet.
Myanmar has been in a state of civil war since gaining independence in 1948.

Malaysia. Population: 28 million.
Area: 330,000 km2.
Capital: Kuala Lumpur.
Official language: Malaysian. 137 languages spoken.
Religion: 61% Muslim, 20% Buddhist, 9% Christian, 6% Hindu.
GDP per capita in PPP: 15,600 USD.
Currency: ringgit.
Democratic? Yes.
The Malaysian king is elected for a 5 year term from the 9 hereditary rulers of Malay states.

Cambodia. Population: 14 million.
Area: 180,000 km2.
Capital: Phnom Penh.
Official language: Khmer. 23 languages spoken.
Religion: 96% Buddhist, 2% Muslim, 1% Christian.
GDP per capita in PPP: 2,500 USD.
Currency: riel.
Democratic? No.
Cambodia is infamous for the Khmer Rouge terror led by Pol Pot, which killed 1/5 of the population.

Laos. Population: 6 million.
Area: 240,000 km2.
Capital: Vientiane.
Official language: Lao. 84 languages spoken.
Religion: 67% Buddhist.
GDP per capita in PPP: 2,700 USD.
Currency: kip.
Democratic? No.
According to this shocking article in The Guardian, between 1964 and 1973 US bombers dropped more ordnance on Laos than was dropped during the whole of the second world war.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Countries of Southeast Asia - Part 1

Coming from Europe, via Florida, I knew very little about the countries of Southeast Asia. I knew a bit about Vietnam - because of the wars, and because there is a Vietnamese community in Poland. In the U.S. I worked with a Vietnamese, and a Filipino, but still my knowledge of Southeast Asia was pitiful.

This has been changing since I moved to Australia. Countries of Southeast Asia (SEA) are Australia's neighbours to the north, and north-west. From the Australian viewpoint to the west there is the Indian Ocean and then far far away Africa, to the south - Antartica, to the east: New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji, and lots of smaller islands, and then far away South America. SEA countries are Australia's closest big neighbours. They are a varied and interesting bunch. Let's start with the four biggest by population size:

Indonesia.  Population: 237 million.
Area: 1,900,000 km2 on over 17,000 islands, the biggest of which are: Java, Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea.
Capital: Jakarta.
Official language: Indonesian (form of Malay). Over 700 local languages.
Religion: 86% Muslim, 9% Christian.

GDP per capita in purchasing power parity (PPP): 4700 USD.
Currency: rupiah.
Democratic? Yes, since very recently.
Indonesian island of Bali, where 88 Australians died in 2002 bombings, is a popular holiday destination. The almost 4 mln inhabitants of Bali are very different from the rest of Indonesia in terms of religion: 92% are Hindu.

Philippines. Population: 92 million.
Area: 300,000 km2 over 7000 islands. Capital: Manila.
Official languages: Filipino (Tagalog) and English. 170 local languages.
Religion: 90% Christian, 5% Muslim.

GDP per capita in PPP: 4000 USD.
Currency: piso/peso.
Democratic? Yes.
Philippines is famous for exporting nurses, doctors, and even priests, mainly to the U.S.

Vietnam. Population: 91 million.
Area: 330,000 km2.
Capital: Hanoi.
Official language: Vietnamese.
GDP per capita in PPP: 3400 USD.
Currency: dong.
Religion: officially 81% atheist, but traditionally Buddhist with 6% Christian minority. See Religion of the Vietnamese.

Democratic? No.
Communist Vietnam is famous for fighting first the French and then the Americans for a total period of 31 years after end of WW II.

Thailand. Population: 67 million.
Area: 513,000 km2.
Capital: Bangkok.
Official language: Thai.
Religion: 95% Buddhist, 5% Muslim.
GDP per capita PPP: 9400 USD.
Currency: baht.
Democratic? Yes.
What is Thailand famous for? The only thing that comes to my mind are Thai ladyboys.