Spencer and I arrived in Australia at Perth Airport, but we spent most of our time in Perth’s little sister city, Fremantle. Fremantle is a low-key, historical town that is all about good food, good beer, and chill beach vibes. We could have happily never left. Continue reading “Fremantle and Around”
For four days, Spencer and I drove up and down the Indian Ocean coastline in Western Australia, in an area named the Coral Coast. We braked for kangaroos, fought off hoards of flies, and enjoyed some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Here are a few of the highlights of our whirlwind tour.
The town of Lancelin is home to huge dunes of fine, white sand piled high as far as the eye can see. In the adventurous Australian spirit, we rented a pair of sandboards and trudged up the slippery slopes of the giant dunes, and then sandboarded right back down. Stand-up sandboarding proved to be more difficult than either of us expected (the dunes put some ski slopes to shame in height and gradient), and usually ended in a spectacular crash less than halfway down the dune. Sitting down, on the otherhand, allowed the board to pick up some erious speed without the risk of eating sand. It was a blast, with the only downside being the sand that managed to cake itself onto every inch of our bodies. Still worth it.
The Pinnacles National Park is a place unlike anywhere else on earth. Out of the yellow sand rises an army of sandstone columns. These pillars, of varying sizes and shapes, dot the desert landscape, making it look like the surface of a sci-fi planet. It is a mesmerizing and beautiful place.
Hutt Lagoon would be a fairly uninspiring body of water off the side of the highway if not for the fact that it is Pepto-Bismal pink. The flamingo-tinted lake gets its color from algae that produce Beta Carotene and thrive in the super-saline waters of the lagoon.
Western Australia has no shortage of geological oddities, including the stromatolites of Cervantes. Stromatolites are essentially living fossils – they are rock-like features that are made by a single-celled organism called cyanobacteria, the earliest complex life form on earth. Fossils of these bacteria colonies exist all over the world, but Australia is home to some of the only living stromatolites left in the world. They aren’t terribly exciting to look at, but it is fascinating to try and grasp just how long these creatures have been chugging along.
Our northernmost destination on the drive was Kalbarri National Park, a testament to water’s ability to carve nature and the rugged beauty of Australia. With deep red sandstone gorges and stunning oceanside cliffs, Kalbarri is a treasure chest of incredible Australian sights. On the ocean side of the park, towering cliffs plummet into the water below. We hiked down one to find our own private beach.Further into the interior of the park, the Murchison River has carved deep red sandstone gorges into the landscape. It is a strikingly beautiful place, but we did not check out any of the longer hiking trails because the temperature was topping 100 degrees and the merciless flies were insufferable.
Of course, all other attractions in Western Australia are secondary to its primary draw – the beaches. It was hard to wrap our head around the fact that for hundreds of miles from Perth northward lies a line of nearly unbroken, unpoilt beaches. Across the entire length of the country, white sand spills into shimmering, turquoise waters.Driving along, we could pull off at countless hidden beach turnoffs, each as perfect and quiet as the last. So many happy hours were spent snorkeling over the reefs and simply laying out on the sand under the hot sun.
One fantastics afternoon in Kalbarri was spent on a rented boat, that we rode up the Murchison River. Spencer captained the boat to a spot near an island, where we jumped off and swam to shore to cool off.
It was so hard not to fall in love with Western Australia.
Tomorrow, we fly to Australia! Before we embark on our next, great adventure, I still have a few highlights from our trip to Cape Town to share. Continue reading “Cape Town Highlights”
Just off the coast of Cape Town, there is a small, rocky island. During its history, this island served as a leper colony, a military base, and a quarry, but it is famous (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) for another reason. Robben Island was a prison where South Africa’s apartheid government kept undesirable political prisoners. Nelson Mandela was one of these prisoners, and he lived and worked on this chunk of rock in the Atlantic ocean for 18 of the 27 years he spent imprisoned. Continue reading “Robben Island”
Hurricane Matthew has left a trail of destruction from Haiti up the southeastern seaboard of the United States. Savannah, GA, where my family lives, took a significant battering on Saturday, but I am grateful to say that they are all safe and their homes are all relatively unscathed. Many of their neighbors cannot say the same, and many people are still dealing with the aftermath of the destruction.
Alright folks, it’s time for another history lesson! You might remember from school, or from playing Oregon Trail, that during the 19th-century hundreds of thousands of Americans loaded up their wagons and headed west to the American frontier, to strike out new homes for themselves and fulfill “Manifest Destiny.” As it turns out, around the same time thousands of South Africans were making similar wagon journeys across their country. These were the Voortrekkers who undertook the Great Trek during the 1830s and 1840s.
I have been researching illegal gold mining in South Africa for the past few months, trying to understand this illicit industry and see what drives people to become zama-zamas (illegal miners). To help me get a better sense of what their underground lives are like, Spencer put me in touch with Lloyd, the owner of the mine he used to work at. Lloyd granted me a useful interview, and then invited us to visit his mine and meet with some of the illegal miners working on the property. We jumped at the chance, as it was also a great opportunity for Spencer to revisit the site where he worked from 2010-2011.
When not busy traveling and blogging, I have been working on an investigative report about the dangerous practice of informal gold mining here in South Africa. Here is the final story, published by GroundUp, a news website focused on social justice news.
Lethal toll of informal gold mining
While deaths on formal mines have come down, zama-zama fatalities have gone up
1000 years ago, a city formed where no city had existed before. On the top of a steep rocky outcropping, a king lived with his many wives.
It’s election day here in South Africa, and the polling station is right up the road from our house. Our landlady and friend Lauren brought me along when she voted, so I got to see South African democracy in action.