Ever since I read the book 20,000 leagues under the sea in school, I've dreamt of going to the Great Barrier Reef, the planet's largest coral reef system stretching over 2,600kms. The opportunity came when I was invited to represent India at the Australia India Youth Dialogue held in Sydney and Melbourne (My journey can be seen on tripline). The thing that mesmerised me the most about Australia, is its coastline.
The crystal blue water and the steep cliff edges make for some breath taking views. The Loch And Gorge on the Great Ocean Road are part of this unbelievable landscape.
While on Great Ocean Road, one cannot miss the Twelve Apostles, the star attraction. The harsh weather conditions from the Southern Ocean gradually eroded the soft limestone to form the Apostles, some of the stacks have collapsed over time leaving the Twelve Apostles incomplete.
Along with great landscapes, Australia's beautiful shores are home to a large number of bird species. The most common are the Silver Gulls
Australian Pelicans are also among the common species found on shores but stand out gracefully and elegantly among the noisy and pesky Gulls.
Another very interesting species and one that's not very commonly seen are the soldier crabs, these are found on beaches with less habitation and are found in millions
While the shores are mesmerisingly grand, the forests are another world all together. A majority of trees in Australia belong to the Eucalytpus species, they are locally known as gum trees and are a native species.
The gum trees are home to the Koala and its the only animal to almost exclusively feed on their leaves. The Koala has no natural predator and that explains its 3-5 hour feeding and 16-18 hour sleep schedule.
While Koala is one of the most loved icons of Australia, the most famous ofcourse is the Kangaroo. The Forester Kangaroo seen here is the second largest mammal in Australia.
The other common marsupial in Australia is the Wallaby, these are much smaller than the Kangaroos but look very similar.
Most animals in Australia are marsupials, which means they carry their young ones in the pouch. But the peculiar Echidna is a monotreme, an egg laying mammal. This is among the only two egg laying mammal species in the animal kingdom.
The only other mammal species to lay eggs, the Duck-billed Platypus is also found in Australia. The platypus usually lives in burrows and is mostly visible when it comes down to the river to hunt for food.
While mentioning the mammals of Australia, one cannot miss the Tasmanian Devil. The devil is a small mammal, the size of a small dog and is endemic to the island state of Tasmania. It got its name because the early settlers mistook their fighting sounds to that of a ghost or evil spirit. These animals are as far from any real devil there might be, they are mostly scavengers and are active in the late evenings.
Tasmania is also known for its amazing natural beauty as much as for its devil. The state is dotted with beautiful lakes and rolling hills. One could say its the scotland of Australia.
A hidden secret of Tasmania is the Tarkine Rainforest, this is the largest cool temperate rainforest in the southern hemisphere and second largest in the world. The giant tree ferns and Myrtle trees here take you back to the era of dinosaurs.
And as the light enters the forest, the giant Eucalyptus trees appaear to be white giants from mythology.
Though the big trees dwarf everything around them, the intricate beauty in the small ferns is no less a feat to the eyes.
Along with Rainforests, Tasmania is also known for its marine life. A 2 hour cruise on to the Southern Ocean from the little island of Bruny (south of Tasmania) takes you to four steep dolerite rocks called "The Friars" and on this are a large colony of Australian Fur Seals.
These species of Brown Fur Seals are also the world's largest fur seals. The males can weigh between 190-280kgs.
The waters around here are home to millions of Short-tailed Shearwaters. The Shearwaters fly large distances in search of food and warmth. They fly all the way upto Kamchatka in Russia and California before returning home to Tasmania.
Another bird to be seen in large numbers are the Little Penguins on Phillip island south of Melbourne. Every evening thousands of Little Penguins (the smallest penguins in the world) swim back from the sea to nest on land. Photography is prohibited here, but thanks to the good people at Phillip island I was allowed to photograph. I had to use no flash and the camera was hidden between the bushes and then remotely triggered. The extreme low light is the cause for the loss in sharpness.
In the morning the footprints left behind by the penguin parade clearly shows the large numbers.
All the proceeds from tourism on Phillip islands goes towards conservation of the island and the penguins. Danene, the communications officer tells me how tourism has been able to save a large part of the island from destruction. Researchers Leanne and Paula are part of the team who have created artificial nests for the penguins on the island and are also studying their behaviour.
Though the seals and penguins are classified as marine life, to see the real marine world, a trip to the Great Barrier Reef is a must. The barrier reef was all that I had dreamed and more. Taking a 3 hour cruise on crusie whitsundays out into the open sea off the shore of Queensland takes you to the planet's largest single structure made by living organisms. This reef stretching for more than 2,600kms can be seen from outerspace. The greenish color is a clear indicator of the reef, while the dark blue is the deep ocean.
To experience the Great Barrier Reef for real, a dive is quintessential. I decided to dive with Reef safari which specializes in dives at the Great Barrier Reef. The underwater world of corals is simply beyond words or photographs. The colors go beyond our wildest imagination.
Shoals of Yellow tailed Fusiliers brush right past your eyes. The yellow tails moving in groups almost looks like a choreographed event.
Colors are not just restricted to the underwater world, Australia's common bird life is quite colorful. The King Parrot is among the most vibrant of parrots.
The Galah is another common bird. The Galahs among with other species of Cockatoos are found commonly in most Australian cities. They are usually found in parks and open areas.
While a lot of the Australian land mass is open and dry, as you travel further north towards Queensland, it gets tropical. The rainforests here resemble those here in India.
Even the species of plants found here resemble the ones in India.
The bats flying back to their roost is another sight that reminded me of home. It's not surprising that the same phenomenon that I've witnessed in Bangalore happens in a far out town on the East coast of Australia. The whole planet is a lot more connected than we think it is.
The same issues that face Indian biodiversity is also faced by Australia. Australia has one of the highest roadkills in the world. In one drive of about 400kms in Tasmania I saw more roadkills than I've collectively seen in India. The mining problem is another common issues across the globe. What once used to be a pristine forest in Tasmania is now a mining town.
Austrlia is a beautiful country and still a lot more to explore and document. Here are some of the links to help anyone who wants to travel.
And finally I'd like to thank AIYD, its wonderful people and the delegates with whom it was great exchanging ideas, discussing issues (not cricket), talking solutions and painting the cities red.
When you travel, it's not just the places but also the people that make the journey special. A round of thanks to all my lovely friends who made the trip special.