Australia as you’d imagine it

When talking about our Australian adventure, non-Australian people tend to respond with some envy and tell us how they would love to live in Australia for a while and what a great country it is. I frequently get the sense that when this happens, two things are conveniently forgotten: #1 – Australia is mindbogglingly huge and, as a result, most of it is about as far away as any typical holiday destination in Europe would be. #2 – we’re not actually on an extended holiday here, so most of the time, Australia is just a strange country with a strange culture in which we work and have our daily lives; not the wonderful beach, diving, outback and jungle experience that the word ‘Australia’ evokes in people’s minds.

However, recently we treated ourselves to a bit of exactly that and chose to ignore the distance for a bit. We headed out to the west coast, through Perth and up to Exmouth for a diving and snorkeling trip that turned out so much better than we’d hoped for. And hopes were high, because we weren’t going out there alone. My sister Trudy and her husband Eric were along for the ride – for them, this was the final leg of a long trip that took them up the east coast, including the Great Barrier Reef and this was to be the grand finale.

The Ningaloo Reef is an amazing place. Remote, relatively untouched and fairly close to the West Australia coast. Exmouth is a town of 2,200 people, although at the height of the tourist season, its population will swell to about 6,000. With a few 100 more in Coral Bay, that’s pretty much all the people in an area 200 km long and 50 km wide, with most of the reef just off its coast. Just the flight in offers views of a land that really resonates with that National Geographic stereotype of Australia we’re familiar with.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We went diving and snorkeling on the Muiron Islands to the north of Exmouth, as well as on the Oyster Stacks to the west and in the Coral Bay, but the absolute highlight of the trip must have been our experience with the humpback whales. This is one of the very few places in the world where you can actually swim with them, something the local diving outfits are trialing for the very first time in West Australia – and we were lucky enough to be on board for a trip that had even the crew jumping for joy at the end of the day. Whales swimming underneath us, next to us and rising to the surface to greet our boat, almost inviting us to swim – we had several opportunities to literally look these wonderful creatures right in the eyes.

After all that, Trudy and Eric left and would soon after return to Europe. Between them and Simone’s parents earlier this year, that was likely the end of family and friends visiting from Europe as well – we’re out here by ourselves and just Australian friends and colleagues for some time now.

Simone and myself weren’t quite done enjoying Ningaloo though – Sail Ningaloo took us on the Shore Thing, a catamaran with a crew of two and up to eight guests. Us and four other guests were taken out onto the Indian Ocean, to parts of the reef that are too far for the day-tripping diving outfits to visit. A diving trip straight out of your dreams, 5 days and nights of every need being taken care of and just great diving on untouched sites with lots of life and variety.

Most days, Australia is just a country, where you need to work, shop for groceries and take care of everyday jobs. But every now and then, we find the time to be reminded why Australia is high on the list of countries people would like to visit. And it can really deliver, if you accept its tremendous size…

16 years togetherness

Selfie time for this old couple in West End.

Last week we renewed the lease on our West End unit and tonight we celebrated the 16th anniversary our first kiss in some of the local establishments. Seems like we’re here to stay a while longer 😉

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I work out

I’m in need of external motivation to work out, so I’ll be counting my buttons in public in this post.

Big button equals 25-30 minutes on the cross trainer at level L, followed by a mini circuit of 3 x B repetitions of weight lifting , with stretching as an active break in between.

Small buttons equals a mini circuit of 3 x S repetitions elbow planking for x seconds, body weight squats and push-ups or  backwards push-ups, with stretching as an active break in between.

2016-08-01/07 – Mon/Wed Canberra Fri/Sun Charrette, aka workworkwork
2016-07-25/31 – Sat boat and jet ski license, Sun Mnt Glorious bike ride
2016-07-18/24 – Thu radio exam, Fri Urban climb + Northbrook gorges, Sat Straddie snorkel
2016-07-11/17 – 3 x Urban climb
2016-07-04/10 – Thu Habitat drinks, Fri whiskey tasting, Sun Cherub dive
2016-06-27/03 – Wed/Thu trip to Sydney
2016-06-20/27 – Botanica gym, pool night, urban climb, mooloolaba reef
2016-06-13/19 (3kg, L10, B10x. S10x, 40s) Visit to Canberra messed up my schedule, but I made it up in the weekend.
2016-06-06/12 (2kg, L9, B10x, S10x. 30s). First full week
2016-05-30/5 (1kg, L8, B10x. S10x. 30s)
2016-05-23/29 (1kg, L8, B10x, S10x)

6 months

According to some random blog (by the New Zealand government), 6 months in is about the time when you enter the “fright state” and should be preparing for the low moods to come. According to a trusted friend, this is when you enter a limbo state where you’re done settling in in the practical sense, but are still months away from building a network of friends and acquaintances.

I’ll formulate my own opinion on this in a few months time, but for now the 6 month milestone seemed reason for a celebration. So we baked cookies :).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This weekends rainfall had a much more sensible timing, so we enjoyed a walk in the rain at dusk. When it rains it pours!

I do hope that this concludes the very wet weekends for now. It’s the second weekend in a row we had to cancel our scuba diving plans, while the weekdays remain familiarly sunny. But I guess there are worse things, like damaged houses, flash floods and power outages.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And then there was one

We came to Oz for me to replace my colleague Alex, but there was a comfortable overlap of almost 6 months. This has now come to an end, as Alex and his family have boarded the plane that will bring them back to Europe. There have been plenty of good-bye-lunches, drinks and barbies this last week, one of the benefits of having multiple offices.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of the things I was not looking forward to coming out here was to have no direct colleagues around in the same room, or even the same time zone. I’ve really enjoyed the company of Alex in this starting up period. Always good to have someone to talk shop with and complain to and have fun with. Monday is the start of a new era, where I still have plenty of friendly people around, but will fly solo on all company matters. Hey ho, here we go!

I hope Alex and family have a safe journey back home and find it easy to settle in again. They weren’t looking forward to leaving Brisbane, but are happy to be closer to their family again. Jaap and me both are happy it’s not us yet that are moving back, so I guess we like it here :).

In unrelated news, I’ve been plenty active these last few weeks with some sewing. You can find more details on my sewing blog: purr-purse  and you-say-mens-shirt-i-say-my-shirt/

The photo at the top is to show it’s not -always- sunny in the sunshine state. (By the time I found my way to the roof on this lazy Saturday morning the worst had already passed.) Today we saw quite some rain in South-East Queensland, although from the comfort of our apartment it was less impressive than I had expected. There was enough excitement elsewhere though:


Climb every mountain

If it is true that we do not conquer the mountain, instead we conquer ourselves, then today I have defeated myself… At least it was a worthy opponent :).

My airbnb host Morgan from Melbourne was visiting his parents in Brisbane with his girlfriend and invited me and Jaap to come along for a hike up mount Tibrogargan. Morgan warned me that we would spend most of the time on all fours hugging the mountain, but he assured me we wouldn’t be needing climbing gear like ropes and things. With our bush walking experience in the mountains of Flinders Ranges, I figured we’d be all right. Long story short, I climbed farther than I initially dared, but when my muscles started to twitch involuntary, I decided enough was enough and found my way back down.

So today I learned a thing or two about rock climbing, and I now fully understand the difference between bush walking, rock climbing and mountain climbing. That, and I know fear when I smell it.  I guess we’re not in Holland anymore.

Fortunately, there was a lovely plan B. So while Morgan and girlfriend made their way successfully to the top, Jaap and I found our way to the lovely Victory tea parlor around the corner, where the host got stuck in the fifties, serving tea and cakes in style to all who venture into her garden.

But no worries, I’ll be back. Just give me some time to grow actual muscles. Next time I’ll make it a bit higher up (I hope), but in any case there’ll be cake in the end.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Expect the unexpected

We know how to prepare for life changing events. Ask anyone who ever helped us move or who were involved in the planning of our wedding. We prepared for our move down under the only way we know how: thoroughly. The number of to-do- and where-at-lists we made (and length thereof) is probably more than normal people can stomach. But hey, that’s how we roll. As a result our move and settling-in went quite smoothly. Yay us :).

Still, some things here are not as expected. Not in a bad way, just unexpected. Which is telling in its own way I think, so mostly for my own memory I made a list of things that come to mind.

  • The weather. How could I not start with the weather. It’s amazing how much simpler life is when the weather is always sunny. I hoped I would adjust to it, but I did not expect I would like it as much as I do. It’s just so easy. Even though some of the other points in this list might seem to contradict this, they don’t. They’re just a different side of the same coin.
  • Your stuff. No matter how well you try to imagine your new life when you decide what to bring and what to leave behind, you make mistakes. For example, I hardly wear any t-shirts down here and I brought so many! Between the Deltares polo’s and my singlets (of which I made a bunch before we left) a T-shirt is just too warm. Things might change in winter though. This is just a silly example, but many a time I have found something, wondering why we brought it and other times missed the stuff we left behind. Maybe this should teach you to just leave everything other than a suitecase with clothes. Especially considering the next item in this list.
  • New stuff. Starting a new life starts with buying loads of stuff. And then some. And some more still. It got to a point that I decided against buying some things, just because. Silly of course. I just wasn’t mentally prepared for it. All you do those first weeks/weekend is hang around in malls. It can suck the life right out of you.
  • Adventures. Life down under is pretty much just that: life. We work, eat, sleep, repeat. No exiting trips every weekend, discovering this whole new continent; no diving all the time; no coffees and lunches and dinners out every day. Basically we’re still boring old us, just in a different location. What also doesn’t help is the sun. You can be dissuaded from leaving the shade of the apartment pretty easily in the middle of the day. You really need to plan your outings for the start of the day, or else you might not find the courage to go out.
  • Exercise and diet. Since I no longer have a proper bicycle ride in the office every day I actually have to make an effort to exercise. It looks like I found my rhythm though. I try to hit the gym (cross-trainer) and pool at least twice a week. Should be more, but what can I say. Food wise, lunch in the office is generally not a cheese sandwich over here. Often people go out for lunch, which basically means you have dinner twice a day. All the more reason to exercise!
  • Internet. Emigration nowadays is not a big deal as it once was. Especially for folks like us, who live half their lives online anyway. You stay in touch with friends and family on Facebook and Skype, and with you colleagues on email. Apart from the timezone difference, which is less inconvenient now because of Daylight Saving Time, you hardly feel the distance. Also, sites like help you navigate a new language more easily. And stuff like Netflix is just as available as anywhere :). Did I already tell you Oz TV sucks balls even more than Dutch telly? But to be honest, these are things we did foresee while planning, so I’m cheating by putting them on this list.
  • Kids. Don’t worry, I mean other people’s kids :). Those are the people in your life with whom it’s hardest to stay in touch with over the internet. Just talking gets boring pretty quick. And at the same time, they are the ones who change the most. We’ll have to get to know them all over again in a few years time. Which will be fun too, no dramas!
  • Visitors. I sure did underestimate how much I would want to share the fun bits of our new neck of the woods with the people I love. These blogs help, but I can’t wait to show my parents around town next weekend! Also, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law will be here in winter. Good times!
  • Books. I actually read a lot more down here. Less distraction maybe, but breakfast on the balcony every day without a proper newspaper to be found in Queensland sure helps. Maybe this is not such a good thing after all.
  • Sewing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’ve learnt here that – even more than I thought – I’m happiest when I can sew. Can, not must. Just knowing it’s one of the possibilities is sometimes enough.

And on that note, and because I wanted to add a photo, I started work on Project Purr Purse this weekend. More on that as the story unfolds.



Hot cross buns

A good three months in and we’re checking all the boxes. By now we’ve had our first visit to the GP, gotten a haircut, (some of us) got a facial, went on a short holiday in SA (more on that will follow), had our first dive and most importantly, our first barbie. Still no thongs though, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere!

During the long Easter weekend (Good Friday is exactly that over here), we joined the lovely people of UniDive on a one day trip to Tweed Heads (NSW) for a shore dive. We saw a spotted eagle ray within the first minute, and a turtle soon after that. But the highlight of the trip was an encounter with a super chill porcupinefish, that did not mind us checking him out while he was getting his scales cleaned. Never knew they had such puffy lips! Jaap shot an amazing video, but I got an image online for this post. According to the sign on shore there’s plenty more fish to be seen, so we’ll definitely be back. Also because it’s practically the only shore dive you can make from Brisbane. At the barbie afterwards we made many an omnivore envious of the shashlicks and burgers we made. Go veg!


And Easter over here is all about hot cross buns. It’s like a krentenbol, but different. For some reason, everybody goes apeshit over them.


Discovering Straddie

We ventured off to North Stradbroke Island, or Straddie for short. It’s to Brisbane what Texel is to Amsterdam, but with more whales, sharks, rays, turtles and dolphins.  It’s about a 45 min drive and a 45 min ferry ride across the Moreton Bay. You book the ferries in advance, so you have to to guess how long you want to stay before you even get there. However, this also means they greet you by your first name when you arrive.

We weren’t sure what to expect, but wildlife is what we got. During the North Gorge Walk we saw big sea turtles, wallabies, a sting ray, no less than two groups of dolphins and quite possibly a shark in swift succession. Yay! All of that on a backdrop of beautiful beaches. And in winter this is the place to be to spot whales from land, so we’ll definitely be back!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We also tried our first shore snorkel session at Deadman’s beach. It was pretty strenuous to cross the surf, but we got through it. Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually not that bad. However, no flora or fauna was to be seen anywhere within a comfortable distance from the shore. Fortunately, on our way back we stumbled on a group of Jacks and Snappers (somewhat like this). Maybe we should try a guided tour next time, so we know where to look.

Our interest was piqued by UniDive with their stories about the under water flora and fauna at Moreton Bay and at Point Lookout. They ran a project called Point Lookout Ecological Assessment (PLEA), where they mapped the flora and fauna at the local reefs – we even managed to get our hands on one of the last copies of their photo report “Straddie”. They’re starting up a new project called Flinders Reef Ecological Assessment (FREA), which we hope to participate in.

Things that go bump

Cycling in Brisbane, it’s quite the adventure. Don’t take my word for it, take a look at this research paper to cycling injuries in Australia. Of course you are required by law to wear your helmet. Safety first, right?! Instead of making a helmet obligatory, how about getting some bike lanes, like, everywhere (Feb 2015)! And while we’re at it, let’s change the rules and regulations as well, since “Achieving high levels of safe cycling begins with acknowledging that cycling is a legitimate form of transport” (Sept 2011). And then we don’t mean “higher fines for dodgy cyclists“. NSW, I’m talking to you (Jan, 2106).

But Australia says it wants to change. The national bicycling council aims to double the number of cyclists between 2011 and 2016, inspiring all with this H.G. Wells quote: “When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.” But double a few is still only a few cyclists. In 2001 nearly 20% of the Danes cycled to work, while only 1.2 % of the Aussies were so inclined. The report does mention a lot of good points, but unfortunately doesn’t touch the topic of regulations. Which is a pity, especially since this comes from a national council. The update from 2013 shows promising progress and good intentions, but the financial numbers show that investing in safe cycling is no priority. Australia invested $4.83 per capita on Cycling Infrastructure in 2012-13. This is only 0.61% of the total transport expenditure. And that while bold spending makes all the difference  and most Australians want the government to spend more on biking and walking facilities, according to this report.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In my research for this post, I found a lot of information online. However, the average Joe will only consume information that is brought to him. Like Pedal Brisbane, an exhibition and event celebrating and promoting cycling in Brisbane through photography, film, talks and initiatives associated with cycling in a fun, positive way (promoFacebook). It started in 2013, I visited it 2014 and in 2015 they teamed up with APPC to become Bicycle Fringe Festival, together with the Bicycles Welcome Here Festival, presenting Brisbane as a bicycle friendly city. Instead of creating more bicycle lanes or other such novel ideas, they made another promo  – don’t bother watching this, unless you like to hear random people saying “Bicycles welcome here” for a couple of minutes. Really people, that’s not helping. Festivals like these give me the impression that Australia is not taking this seriously, but maybe I’m underestimating the bad rep cycling has with most Aussies?

There are other initiatives, like Space for cycling in Brisbane, which contacts individual council members to get bicycle lanes higher priority on the local political agenda. This leads to friendly posts in my Facebook timeline, and I hope it will lead to actual change as well.

Clearly I don’t have the answers, but I’d hope Australia can learn from other countries, like The Netherlands and Denmark in the 70’s. In the meantime I will at least contribute by reporting pot holes with Brisbane City Council. I’ve reported on the crack that brought me down and got a response that they’ve received my report. We’ll see…

And I will cycle to work of course!

Edit: with the upcoming elections, the group Space4CyclingBrisbane has made this excellent video.