Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sometimes I Just Don't Understand People

Let's say you're bored at home on a Saturday night.  What's the first thing that comes to mind that you could do to entertain yourself?  If it's not "attack someone on the internet" then congratulations, you're not a dickhead.

A good friend of mine, the fabulous Fat Heffalump, was subjected to a dickhead attack last night.  Someone created a fake account on Twitter that is similar to her Twitter name, used a photo of her without her permission, wrote a hateful personal bio, and linked the account website to the "thinspiration" tag on Tumblr. Then spent their evening replying to everything the real Fat Heffalump tweeted with abusive messages.  To get this abusive account removed as an impersonation, she has to send Twitter a copy of her passport to prove she is the real person.  Her friends and supporters can't even report the account as an impersonation because the report has to come from the person being impersonated.  The best I can do is report them as spam.

The media in Oz recently shone a spotlight on trolls and online abuse in the wake of the Charlotte Dawson incident.  I'm not going to go into that in-depth here (and I only reluctantly link to that article - I disagree with the Laurel Papworth commentary), but some good points were raised about how social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr need to take more responsibility for their content.  They have hid behind the "We don't create the content" shield for too long.

This is a tricky topic for me, and I'm sure for many other people.  I'm anti-censorship and pro-freedom of speech, anti-regulation and pro-personal responsibility.  Where do you draw the line?  Who decides what is offensive?  It's a fine line and I'm still not convinced that censorship is the way to go.  The better solution, the grander solution I suppose, is societal change.  Social media has given people a platform to publicly say things directly to their target instead of just hurling abuse at their TV, while still being anonymous and in the safety of their own home.  For them, there are no repercussions.  There is no friend saying "dude, not cool."  They don't see what happens to the person they are abusing.  And when they see articles in the media saying that the target of their abuse deserved it because she's not a nice person anyway, that their abuse doesn't matter because their target can choose whether or not to be offended, that the victims of abuse should just follow the old adage of "don't feed the trolls" - they're not getting the message that what they are doing is wrong, are they? They're being told what they are doing is just fine, and that it's the victim's problem if she can't handle it!  (I say "she" because it's overwhelmingly women who are targets of this sort of abuse, and I'm not trying to sideline the men here - I know this happens to men too, but it's certainly more prevalent for women.)

This isn't good enough.  Everyone - me, you, the media, everyone - needs to stand up and say "dude, not cool".  Online abuse is never okay.  It baffles me that people can't think of anything better to do with their spare time than systematically abuse someone simply for who they are.  There are much better ways to spend your time, people.  Why don't you try enriching your own life instead of throwing someone else's life in a hole?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Roadtripping Part II

We're home again (have been for several days in fact) and have had an amazing holiday.  Taking up from where we left off in Part I, here is a recap of the second half of the trip!

Still based in Cairns, we agreed in the end to do Mossman Gorge / Port Douglas / Daintree / Cape Tribulation as a day trip and so we took off north for a day.  We decided to drive up to Cape Trib first, and then visit the other stops on the way back...But a little bit south of Cape Trib on the Daintree River is a car ferry which was really expensive ($28!) and only took cash, and we had no cash - talk about bad planning!  However, conveniently located right next to the car ferry were several croc spotting tours so we pulled in to check them out instead.  They all looked a bit sketchy, but there was one leaving in 20 minutes that took credit card and I didn't want to have driven all that way for nothing!  So we decided to do a croc spotting tour with Solar Whisper.  It was a really excellent tour - the guide was really knowledgeable about not only crocs but all the other wildlife in the area and had an eagle eye for spotting crocs and birds (although unfortunately we didn't see any snakes).  There were only 6 of us in total on the tour so he could give us all attention when we asked questions.  It was quite early in croc season and a fairly cool day so we were lucky to see crocs out of the water.  We saw several adult crocs and even a "creche" of baby crocs!  He also shared several anecdotes about croc attacks and how to stay safe around crocs which was really interesting.

After the croc tour we drove down to Mossman Gorge, which has recently had a new visitor's centre built.  We had lunch in the cafe which was really good and very reasonably priced, then took the (paid) shuttle up to the gorge area.  Apparently you used to be able to drive up yourself but since the visitor's centre opened you have to walk the 2km up or pay around $5 each for a shuttle, which seemed reasonable to me but apparently has caused some outrage.  The gorge was very pretty and the walks were very well-developed.  Afterwards we decided there wasn't really a reason to stop in to Port Douglas so we headed home.

The next day we did the first of our two reef trips, to Green Island, which was fun.  The boat ride out was quite rough and there were a lot of seasick people on the boat (although we were fine), and the island itself is very pretty.  Unfortunately low tide was right in the middle of our snorkeling time and the lagoon is very shallow, so it was quite awkward to snorkel.  The island is heavily touristed and the reef was pretty but there were patches where it was clearly struggling.  We still had fun exploring the island and experimenting with our hired underwater camera, but we were happy we had booked a second reef trip the next day.

Our second reef trip, with Seastar, was just amazing.  We chose them based on the low numbers and excellent feedback they had received and we weren't disappointed.  They take up to 35 people, but on our cruise they only had 12, which meant we all had personalised service.  The crew were all great and the two spots on the reef we visited were both beautiful and had varied corals and fish.  We even saw a turtle!  It was again quite rough which did make it a struggle at times to snorkel, and I had some issues with my masks leaking and had a bit of a freak-out, but the staff were great and I felt very safe.  Another highly recommended activity!

After Cairns, we turned around and started the long drive back home.  We saw several waterfalls (including the excellent Josephine Falls, and had Devonshire Tea at the tiny cafe nearby) and did plenty of bushwalking.  We stopped a couple of times at the same place we had visited on the way up, but we did do a few different things on the way back too...

Our first new thing was Paronella Park.  We didn't know much about it other than that it was RACQ's Number 1 Must Do! in Queensland, and that there were Spanish castles involved.  It was actually really interesting and a very intriguing story.  We stayed in their teeny campground overnight which got us both the day and night tour as well which was the best value.  The tours were different enough that it was worth doing both, and having two different guides meant that we got different views on the story of the place which was interesting.

The second new thing we did was the Capricorn Caves.  The Caves are about half an hour north of Rocky and again have a tiny campground attached, so we did the tour and camped overnight.  The tour was really cool, it was really interesting to see the caves and the different rock formations.  They have one cave called the Cathedral Cave which often hosts weddings and also hosts opera performances due to its excellent acoustics.  During the tour they play music in the cave to let you appreciate the acoustics.  The Caves were excellent but the camping ground was disappointing, with very basic kitchen facilities and no unpowered sites for vans.  I'd recommend staying in Rocky instead, as there's no night tours of the caves or anything, so no reason to be there outside of the middle of the day really.

As we'd hoped, we stayed at 1770 instead of Bundaberg on the way home.  Several people had said 1770 was beautiful and it certainly was.  The 1770 Camping Ground (warning: ridiculously Flash-heavy website!) is absolute beachfront and we managed to snag a beachfront site which was just gorgeous.

Finally, in the middle of the home stretch we stopped at the Abbey Museum just north of Brisbane.  It's a small, private museum that was excellently curated and had some really interesting pieces.  They host a medieval tournament in July each each year so I've already made plans to go to the next one!

After the museum, we pushed on for home and made it back a couple of days earlier than planned.  We were both ready for our own bed (and bathroom!).   We had an excellent trip and saw some really amazing things, but it's always good to be home!  I'm still working through the 1600-odd photos we took (!) and hopefully will have some up soon.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Roadtripping Part I

We've been on the road now for 13 days so we're officially halfway through!  It's been amazing so far, we've had some fantastic experiences, and have plenty more still to come.  Unfortunately I somehow left the cable to connect the camera to the laptop at home so I haven't been able to share any camera photos.  I've taken plenty of photos with my phone though and shared those on Facebook and various other social media places.  Once we return and I can compile all the photos together I might do a post here with the best.  I will definitely have Facebook albums in any case!  In the mean time, this post is going to be photo-free and just a summary of the highlights so far, for those people not on Facebook (or Twitter).

We took it easy for the first couple of days because I wasn't sure how much driving I could handle and how well the van was going to go.  We stayed a couple of nights on the Sunshine Coast and went to Australia Zoo, which was much better than I expected.  I was never a fan of Steve Irwin but his passion for nature shows through in the Zoo and it was quite good.  We also went to the Eumundi Markets which were really cool, and bought a neat wind ornament for our patio.

After the Sunshine Coast we stopped at Hervey Bay for a whalewatching tour with WhaleSong which was completely mindblowing.  I'd never experienced anything like it before and would highly recommend it.  We got to see plenty of whales that came right up to the boat to check *us* out. WhaleSong were great - the numbers were small, the food was good, the staff were friendly and helpful, and the price was very reasonable.  Highly recommended experience!

We'd changed our mind about which whalewatching operator to go with, and because the tour we did left a bit later and then also ran late, we got halfway to 1770 then realised we were never going to make it before the reception at the caravan park closed.  So we had our first deviation from the itinerary and went to Bundaberg instead, staying at Bargara Beach which is just out of the city.  We might still do 1770 on the way back now that we don't need to do Bundaberg.  We did the Bundaberg Rum Factory tour, which was really interesting (and included free rum!), and then the Bundaberg Ginger Beer tour, which was in a cool barrel-shaped building but wasn't as interesting as the Rum Factory (but also included free ginger beer!).  On the way from Bundy to Rockhampton we stopped at the Mystery Craters which were overpriced and very disappointing.  They had so much potential to be interesting but were just tacky.

Once we got to Rocky it was pretty late and the YHA had no beds so we splashed out on a hotel room for the night at the Criterion Hotel, a Rocky icon.  The hotel rooms are period rooms and quite old-fashioned, with really high ceilings, but ours did have an ensuite with a toilet and a shower so we were set.  It was actually kind of inconvenient, sleeping away from the van, because we kept remembering things we'd wanted to bring up.  With the van we have everything in one spot, its very convenient.  Between Bundy and Rocky we also ticked over our first 1000 kilometres and at Rocky we officially crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and arrived in the tropics!

After Rocky we had a very long drive to Airlie Beach.  The Bruce Highway fatigue-busting signs are hilarious and included suggestions such as playing trivia games to keep your mind alert (they even asked the first question: what is Queensland's floral emblem?).  We finally also spotted some kangaroos each, but no live ones on the road, and thankfully didn't hit one (and thus avoided carrying on the family tradition of taking out a kangaroo on Aussie roadtrips).  There is a LOT of sugarcane in North Queensland, it's EVERYWHERE.  It smells like molasses when you drive past even.  The Airlie Beach Nomads had a deal where we could pay $5 a night each to park our van in their "caravan park" spots and use the hostel amenities.  It was really cheap, but the Airlie Beach Nomads is very much a party hostel and it was pretty noisy.  We didn't do anything in Airlie Beach other than chill out before moving on to Townsville.

Once we got to Townsville, we realised that the Adventurers Resort backpackers $5 a night deal was literally parking in their carpark and so we ditched that idea and stayed in a caravan park instead.  It turned out to be an excellent idea, because we met this great old fella who was doing an extended roadtrip all over Oz on his Honda Valkyrie touring motorbike with nothing but a little bike trailer and his swag - and a pipe and several bottles of whisky!  He'd been on the road for 4 months so far and still had a long way to go to weave his way back to Perth.  It would have been awesome for my Daddy or some of my uncles to meet him, they would have had a great natter.  While in Townsville we did a day trip to Magnetic Island and rented a moke for the day.  It was great fun to hoon around in.  We also did a walk to the Forts which was a military base in World War II and I saw a snake but Dave (thankfully) didn't.  We went up to a couple of lookouts on Castle Hill and Mt Stuart which had amazing views.  Townsville was a great stop and much nicer than I expected.

On the way out of Townsville we notched up 2000km and headed to Girringun National Park, our first campground and first night away from civilisation.  The road through the national park to Wallaman Falls runs through a cattle station and there were plenty of the weird-looking NQ cattle (brahmans) on the road.  The falls, which are the highest single-drop falls in Oz, were really spectacular and the campground was surprisingly busy and practically full.  Another JUCY campa turned up which was a huge surprise also, and I'm sure it was the same trio of German backpackers we had also seen at Airlie Beach!  The night away from civilisation passed peacefully and on the way back down through the rainforest we saw a wild cassowary which was amazing!  There had been plenty of warning signs saying they were in the area (along with warning signs about feral cattle!), but we still never thought we would see one in the wild even though we were so hopeful.  It was just such a moving experience and we were so excited.

Once back on the highway we decided to skip Mission Beach for now (because we didn't really have anything planned there) and shoot straight through to Cairns, so we arrived in Cairns 2 days earlier than planned, on Thursday, and checked in to the Cairns Holiday Park which is a very backpacker-oriented caravan park and really convenient.  There's many more foreign tourists here instead of just Australian grey nomads so its a bit more interesting.  So far in Cairns we've done a daytrip to Kuranda on the Scenic Railway and the Skyrail (a gondola) which was lovely (although Kuranda itself is overrated), and a self-driving daytrip to the Atherton Tablelands where we did a Skybury Coffee Plantation tour and had Devonshire Tea at Mungalli Creek Dairy.  Dave is really not keen on going to Cape Tribulation so we may just do Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge as a daytrip (or trips) and stay in Cairns a bit longer before heading back south.

Stay tuned for Part II!