"Arctracer" Letters

Sara's Journal, by Sara Diaz (age 13), Jan-Mar 2001

I visited the Australian States of Queensland (capital Brisbane), New South Wales (capital Sydney and abbreviation NSW), Victoria (capital Melbourne), and Tasmania (capital Hobart). I also visited Canberra in ACT (Australia Capital Territory). The three places I didn't visit were the Northern Territory (capital Darwin), South Australia (capital Adelaide) and Western Australia (capital Perth).

These are the places we went in order of the date we went to them. I have also written what we did at those places:

Dorrigo National Park, NSW - January 11, 2001 Here we went on a sky walk and went on a nature walk during the day and we went on a spotlight walk during the night. On the spotlight walk we saw 3 possums.

Coffs Harbour (Australian spelling) Zoo, NSW - January 13, 2001 Here we saw lots of different animals. The animals we saw were the Tasmanian Devil, the Common Wombat, a Rufous Bettong (a type of wallaby), an Echidna, 2 REALLY CUTE Koalas, a Tawny Frogmouth ( a type of carnivorous bird), Noisy Miner (bird), a Rainbow Lorikeet, Peacocks & Peacock chicks and a lot of other animals.

Brisbane Science Museum, Queensland - January 17,2001 Here we saw a safe driving exhibit and then we left so we did not see much else.

Tin Can Bay Dolphin Feeding, Queensland - January 18, 2001 Here we actually got into the water and fed the dolphins fish that we bought ($2.00 for a bucket of 3 fish). The dolphins came really close and let me slide the fish into its mouth!!

Lady Elliot Island, Queensland - January 21-24, 2001 To get to the island we had to go on a really small plane! To get back we had to go on a small plane too. It was really neat!! Here we did a lot of snorkeling! We saw 3 turtles total! The island is very small, I could walk around it in about 10 min. We had a lot of fun! We met a really nice family there and I went snorkeling with the father of the family on the last day on the island and we saw a lot of colorful fish. I saw 2 sting rays and unfortunately I did not see any manta rays :'(

Australia Zoo, Queensland - January 25, 2001 This is the zoo that Steve Irwin, "The Crocodile Hunter" owns. Sometimes he is there to do the performances with the crocodiles, but the day we were there another person performed the show, so I actually never got to see him. We saw a Burmese Python at the snake show there and had our picture taken with it around our necks. We saw laughing kookaburras, koalas, Australian camels, Tasmanian Devils being fed, and other birds and animals.

Brisbane Planetarium, Queensland - January 25, 2001 Here we saw some of the stars and constellations in the Southern Hemisphere. The main constellation in the Southern Hemisphere, and the one on the Australian Flag is the "Southern Cross." They have Orion in the Southern Hemisphere, but he is upside down. We didn't see the "Big Dipper" in the sky of the Southern Hemisphere. This Planetarium is bigger than the Christa McCullough Planetarium, but there aren't as many seats for the show.

The Outback, NSW - January 29 to February 4, 2001

White Cliffs We stayed at an underground motel in White Cliffs which is an opal mining town. The underground motel was really cool because it was very hot outside and cool in the underground rooms. We stayed here for three days and two nights. The dinner there was in one big room and the second night we were there we ate with some people from Sweden whom we met. We saw them several times as we were driving from White Cliffs to Broken Hill. In White Cliffs we went on a tour of the town and saw a house that was made by a man who died before it was finished. When we left that house we went to one of the sections of the opal mining fields and fossicked for opals for about an hour with our tour guide. We found small pieces of opal that weren't large enough to make jewelry so we got to keep them. A couple of years ago a woman found a piece of opal worth $ 8,000, but we weren't that lucky. We also went to an opal store to buy opals. The owner of the store invited us to her house to see her personal collection of jewelry that she made with opals. Some of this jewelry contained bugs that she had found and covered in silver to glue to the opal stones. She also covered chicken eggs with silver after blowing out the insides. Some of these eggs had spiders, flies, scorpions or dragon flies on them. All the private houses in this town are underground. My brother bought a didgeridoo in this town and we had some really good grapes that were growing there.

Broken Hill In Broken Hill we stayed at John's friends' house. John is the Australian who drove us to the Outback and he used to live in Broken Hill. The husband in the family we stayed with is a body guard for movie stars. The last person he worked with was Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible 2." This family had six horses which I helped clean and feed on one of the days we were there. We went to Broken Hill to see a lead-tin-zinc mine. I couldn't go down into the ground to see it as I was too young. Only my Mom could go because it is dangerous. The only reason she was able to go was because our Australian friend John had a friend who owned one of the mines there.

Jenolan Caves, NSW - February 5, 2001 These caves had stalactites and stalagmites like other caves we visited later, but it was boring because the tour guide didn't seem to like his job. In the end there was a glow-in-the-dark cube that someone put there because he had a fight with his girlfriend and didn't want her to find it.

Opera House, Sydney, NSW - February 7, 2001 The Opera House was really cool. We went on a tour of the Opera House and saw "The Play House" and the "Concert Hall." In the concert hall we saw some Argentinean tango dancers practicing for a show that evening. The whole building is made of cement with lots of windows and the roof has lots of tiles of two different colors of white - a creamy white a pearly white. I bought a shirt there. We went on a short cruise of Sydney Harbour and got some good pictures of the Opera house.

(view photos of Sara's visit)

Captain James Cook's House, Melbourne, Victoria - February 11, 2001 This is the house that Captain Cook grew up in when he lived in England. It was packed up in boxes for a millionaire and moved to Melbourne as a gift to the people of Victoria, Australia. It was a two-story building with very short ceilings and doors. Cook discovered a lot of places in Australia. He was the first European person to go into Sydney Harbour. Aboriginals had been there before them.

IMAX Theater, Melbourne, Victoria - February 11, 2001 This theater was not what I expected it to be. I expected it to be like an OMNI theater. It was just a flat screen, but they called it "The World's Biggest Screen." We saw "Fantasia 2000" there.

The Melbourne Museum, Victoria - February 11, 2001 Here we saw lots of Aboriginal Art and we saw Phar Lap. He was a racing horse during the 1930's. It is believed that he was poisoned in California and he is a "True Legend of Australia." He is stuffed and one of the most popular exhibits in this museum. We saw some Aboriginal Dances by very white Aboriginals. Some people who believe themselves to be Aboriginals have ancestors who were full-blooded Aboriginals. We saw other Aboriginals weaving baskets. These Aboriginals looked like full-blooded Aboriginals.

Great Ocean Road & Grampians National Park (Victoria) - February 13th to 17th I saw some waterfalls on February 15th. One of them, called Silverband Falls, disappeared into the ground and seemed to go nowhere.

The "Spirit of Tasmania" (Bass Strait between Victoria and Tasmania) - February 18, 2001 and March 10, 2001 To get to Tasmania we had to go on the ferry "The Spirit of Tasmania." It took about 13 hours to cross Bass Strait. While we were on the ferry we had gourmet meals which were really good compared to the meals we'd been having. We spent most of our time making place mats of the things we'd been doing and seeing in Australia. On the way back from Tasmania we had to get on the boat later in the day than we did on the way to Tasmania. We got back to Victoria VERY early in the morning (before daylight). We slept on the boat on the way back to Victoria since the trip was during the middle of the night. We had breakfast at 4:00 in the morning!

Platypus at Latrobe, Tasmania - February 19, 2001 We saw platypus (platypi) in Latrobe on a river. We saw at least three of them. It was really exciting because most people don't get to see platypus in the wild. I tried to take pictures but they didn't come out very well because they blend in with the water very well. They have good camouflage. They are monotremes like the echidnas which means they have a pouch but they lay eggs in a burrow.

Gunns Plains Caves, Tasmania - February 20, 2001 These caves were the best caves that we went in during the trip. The tour guide was really funny and was joking about everything. He has been running the cave for seven years and once he got struck by lightening. It scared him a lot but not enough to keep him from doing his job. The government owns the land that the cave is on, but he leases it and plans to pass the lease on to his son. There were some formations in the caves that this guide called "bacon" and he told us they were the largest of these in the world. He had names for several of the formations in the caves. Tourists pointed out several things and told him what they thought they looked like. Some of these included the sinking Titanic, Godzilla (I thought looked like a frog.), the Simpsons, and a camel. When we got far into the cave he turned out all the lights and it was pitch black with no sign of light anywhere. When we moved our hands in front of our faces we couldn't see them. The only things we saw in the dark were glow worms which are really insect larvae that glow brightly in the dark. The longer these glow worms were in the dark, the brighter they appeared.

Henty Dunes, Tasmania - February 21, 2001 These dunes were awesome! They are about 30 meters high (about 100 ft.). When we got to the top of them we wrote our names in really big letters. We did this with our feet. We ran and rolled and jumped down the hill on the way back down. On the way up we pretended that we were in the desert and that we needed water and that it was really hot. Actually it was a perfect temperature and it was right next to the ocean on the west coast. I saw a really neat bluish-purple bug in the huge dune there. I was going to pick it up on the way back, but I forgot to look for it.

National Penny Farthing Championships, Tasmania - February 24, 2001 The penny farthing bikes looked really strange. They had huge front wheels and a tiny back wheel and no brakes. They are totally different from our bikes. They are really tall. The champion for this year, from Victoria, won last year too. There were two men from the U.S. One was from California and one was from Colorado. They both came in last. The guy from Colorado rode his penny farthing bike all the way across the United States. The way the penny farthing bikes got named was from the old English penny which was very large and the farthing which was very small. A farthing was worth penny and hasn't been used in Great Britain since 1961.

Port Arthur Ghost Tour, Tasmania- February 26, 2001 Port Arthur was one of the main places where convicts went when they arrived from Great Britain in the 1800's. We went on a "Ghost Tour" at night. It was really strange! On some of the tours people actually see ghosts. We went into four of the "haunted" houses. One of them had lots of cells for prisoners and a chapel. Another house that we went into was a house that had the ghost of a mother and her child who died during childbirth. One of the ghost's names was Sara(h) according to our tour guide, who was dressed in black boots, a black trench coat, black jeans, and a black shirt and looked really spooky. He had long, black, curly, puffy hair too, which made him look even spookier. After the tour I got a certificate saying: "This is to certify that Sara did with bravery and courage complete the Port Arthur Historic Ghost Tour."

Tasmanian Devil Park - February 27, 2001 This park was really neat. We saw a video about the Thylacine, better known as the Tasmanian Tiger. According to this video the last Tasmanian Tiger died in a zoo in the capital of Hobart in 1936. Most people believe they are extinct, but there have been sightings throughout the years. There was an interview with one man who said he saw one in 1982 at about 2 a.m. in the morning in the wilderness of Northwestern Tasmania, but the video also said there have been sightings of them throughout all of Tasmania. The Tasmanian Devils that we saw here were fed differently than in the other zoos we'd seen them in. They gave the two Tasmanian Devils only one piece of food and they would run around in circles getting exercise while fighting for the food. I thought this was a neat way to feed them because it gave the Tasmanian Devils lots of exercise. The people at the park fed the Tasmanian Devils road kill which was good because they are scavengers and this is their natural food. While we were at the park we saw a bird show. It had a variety of birds including a galah who opened the show, a tawny frogmouth, a brown falcon which is a close relative of the peregrine falcon, a little corella who got a coin from a person in the audience, and a whistling kite who went between someone's legs. This bird show was neat. We went to the world's only tiger snake farm which was near the Tasmanian Devil Park. While we were there we saw day- old tiger snakes and we saw different enclosures that had tiger snakes from different parts of Tasmania. It was neat to see the tiger snakes and learn about them because we saw at least four of them while on walks that we took in Tasmania. I learned that the tiger snake is the fourth most deadly snake in the world.

Cadbury Chocolate Factory, Tasmania - March 1, 2001 The Cadbury Chocolate Factory was loads of fun! We went on a tour of the factory to see how the candy is made from start to finish. First everyone on the tour had to put on "glamour hats" so that hair wouldn't get into the chocolates being made. We got lots of samples of all the chocolates they make. After the tour we went into the gift shop, that you can only go into if you've been on the tour, and I was going to get a 10 kg. candy bar for $138 Aus (about $70 U.S.) but they were all out because they only make two at a time. I was REALLY disappointed, but it would have been difficult to get it back to the States with the hot summer weather in Tasmania. I was going to share the large chocolate bar with everyone in the 7th grade, but instead I got two boxes of chupa chup lollipops that would not melt in the hot car. After this we went to Bruny Island on the East Coast of Tasmania and saw one of Captain Cook's landing places. He stopped there for water in 1773 and 1777. It was really boring because it just looked like another beach. There didn't seem to be anything special about it, except a plaque (which was also boring).

Hastings Caves, Tasmania - March 2, 2001 Before we went into Hastings Caves we went swimming in a thermal pool with 28 degree Celsius (about 80 degrees Fahrenheit) water. The water was heated by magma from the earth's core. It wasn't what we expected. We thought it would be warmer, but it felt good because it was a cold, rainy day. After swimming we went into the Hastings Caves which was opened in 1935 for the public to see. The men who discovered it were logging near the opening in 1916. The cave is 1.6 km long but only one-fifth is open to the public. There are adventure tours for divers and they can go into the Hot Springs Creek to explore more of the cave. I thought this tour was not very exciting because the tour guide was not a very energetic person and didn't seem too excited about her job.

Cockle Creek - The Southernmost Point in Tasmania - March 2, 2001 Cockle Creek is the southernmost driving point in Australia. It was just another campground with only a long-drop dunny and no running water or drinking water. It wasn't the most exciting thing on the trip, but it was neat to have everyone in Australia "standing on top of you."

Narawntapu National Park (formerly called Asbestos N.P.) - March 5, 2001 Narawntapu is the Aboriginal name for the land, so the park was recently renamed. This national park has a lot of wallabies, padymelons, forester kangaroos, wombats, tiger snakes, Tasmanian devils, black swans, and a variety of ducks. This was the first place that we saw wombats in the wild. We attempted to see a Tasmanian devil in the wild, but it didn't work out for us. On one of the walks that we went on there, we went REAL bush-walking. I got really scratched up going through the bushes after we lost the trail to the ocean.

Fossil Rocks, Tasmania - March 8, 2001 Fossil Beach was a beach that had lots of rocks loaded with fossils millions of years old. Some of the rocks were small and only had one or two fossils on them and there were cliffs that were loaded with fossils too.

(view photos of Sara's visit to Tasmania)

National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, ACT - March 12, 2001 Here we saw a special art exhibit called "Monet & Japan." The exhibit had 37 Monet paintings which is the most Monet paintings ever under one roof. There was one painting that was clouds during a sunset on the ocean reflecting off the water. It had a lot of blues, purples and greens in it. This was my favorite Monet painting because of the way it was painted. The exhibit was called "Monet and Japan" because Monet had Japanese woodcuts in his collection of paintings. After seeing the Monet and Japan exhibit we went to see the rest of the gallery. One of the paintings we saw, called "Blue Poles" looked like Jackson Pollock, the artist, got in a fight with a paint brush and lost! This was my favorite painting outside the Monet exhibit.

Canberra Day (ACT) - March 12, 2001 We were in Australia's National Capital, Canberra, on the day of its "Celebration for the Centenary of Federation," which means that this celebration was to celebrate the day that Australia became a united country. They had a big celebration that had lots of famous singers, comedians, actors and actresses. We saw the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, on a video because he wasn't able to be at the celebration. We got to hear the national anthem called "Advance Australia Fair." We saw fireworks over Lake Burley Griffin. Griffin was the American who designed this city. Since he is American it is probably the reason that it is set up much like our national capital in Washington, D.C. I was glad to be at this celebration because now I know more about Australia, its history, its entertainers and the sense of humor that most Australians seem to have.

(view more photos of Sara's visit)