Vox Clamantis in Deserto
Courtney's Journal - This chapter sees Carol and Courtney on their big trip to Australia - Expedition Ocean Vision 4.

  Links to chapters:

Calmer Waters: Paul and Carol Courtnage in Australia

Courtney's Journal - Man's Flight Through Life is Sustained by the Power of his Learning. Vox Clamantis in Deserto. This chapter sees Carol, Courtney and the world around us settling down. Our big trip to Australia.

On this page:Expedition Ocean Vision 4 (Australia):   Daintree Rainforest,  
                     Great Barrier Reef,   Taronga Zoo,   The Rocks,   Slideshow.

I've decided to devote this chapter to our trip to Australia in 2010 (Expedition Ocean Vision 4) because it was a big trip and there's lots to talk about. It's basically our diary from the trip, which we wrote as we went along. If reading about someone's trip isn't your thing, simply jump to the next chapter; I won't be offended.


Australian Flag - Expedition Ocean Vision 4, Australia.


Expedition Ocean Vision 4 was our big trip to Australia and very different to previous expeds in that the diving and underwater filming would make up a much smaller portion of the trip. We would spend much more time exploring new places, researching and filming on land. Most significantly, the highlight of the trip would be Sophie's wedding.

Australia is a massive country and a massive subject to describe - well beyond the scope of this site. We'll give the background on a couple of the places (Great Barrier Reef, Taronga Zoo and the Daintree Rainforest), but for the rest, I'll give you links to a couple of short articles. The first is a brief history of Australia, which is here.

On with our expedition. Here's the story...


EOV4 Day 0: Thursday 25th November 2010


19:00 Pre-position at London Heathrow - Sheraton Heathrow. Supper and some wine before an early night and ready to go in the morning.


19:15, no taxi. Called Sky Travel Executives to enquire why not. It appears they had written tomorrow's date 'in the book', but would have a driver to us within 30 minutes. He arrived at 20:30 - good job we weren't catching a flight tonight! The Heathrow Sheraton is exactly what you'd expect - an adequate motel, suitable for the night, but nothing special. Winter has come early to England; snow in some parts and the forecast looks grim. Best we get out while we can and then stay away until it gets better.

Today's big question: how far over/under our weight allowance are our bags?

Of course, every time we travel on one of our expeds we have to choose which airline might suit our needs. Although we ended up flying with Malaysia Airlines on this occasion, we may have been better off going with the operator featured in the following video.


Malaysia Airlines

EOV4 Day 1: Friday 26th November 2010

07:25 bus to Terminal 4. 10:50 fly from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines MH3 (Boeing 747-400). Check in was the usual fun and the nice lady informed us that we were 4kgs over our baggage allowance. As excess baggage would cost £640 for the whole trip we took her advice to remove something from a bag and carry it. Now, follow me through on this one. First, Malaysia enforces a strict 'one item of carry-on' policy and we already had at least three items each, but that didn't seem important. Second, the reason for the baggage limit is to keep the aircraft's all-up weight under control and it doesn't matter if the weight is in your luggage or your hand, it still adds the same weight to the aircraft. But, again, this didn't seem to matter and arguing the point would only take us back to the point where we would have to pay £640, so we removed Carol's BCD from her dive bag and I carried it - no one seemed to mind at all.

And, of course, there was Security. Those lovely people that work for BAA hadn't been idle since last we set foot in a London Airport; they had clearly been busy dreaming up new ways to extinguish the last, tiny, flickering flames of pleasure from the travel experience. Today they managed to keep hold of us for 45 minutes and to x-ray our precious video tapes three times before allowing us to pass. No smiles!

The flight departed late, eroding our already tight transfer time at KL for the Sydney flight. But at least we were surrounded by the kids from hell to keep us entertained and awake for the entire flight. But it did feel like Expedition Ocean Vision 4 was finally under way.

Expedition Ocean Vision 4Expedition Ocean Vision 4


Kuala Lumpur


Carol Courtnage's Passport Stamp

The Russell Hotel, The Rocks, Sydney, NSW, Australia
The Russell Hotel, Sydney


EOV4 Day 2: Saturday 27th November 2010

07:10 08:15 arrive late at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Dash to connecting flight and join a long, slow queue to have our carry-on x-rayed again. This damaged the mic holder on big cam and tore off the eye cup. It also gave our tapes a fourth, much needed dose of radiation.

09:00 depart KL, Malaysia Airlines MH141 (Boeing 777 - one of the first ones built, by the looks of it). 19:55 land at Sydney Airport (33° 55' S 151° 17' E) in strong, gusty winds, making for an interesting approach and landing. But the autopilot handled it well, without complaint and it doesn't even get to stay in a nice hotel when away from home. Total distance flown, 17,000 km. Project Ocean Vision were in Australia!

Aussie immigration looked a lot like Heathrow's - a 40 minute queue for passport and arrival card inspection. But I must say, the Aussie officials know how to smile, be polite and treat new arrivals like human beings - UK Border Agency please take note. Of course, like all immigration officers, they are unable to use the pages in your passport in any kind of order; instead they open it at a random page and deface it wantonly.

Thirty-five minutes scrutinizing baggage carousel number 3 revealed that Malaysia Airlines had kindly delivered our 2 dive bags to Sydney in reasonable shape. Another 30 minutes of queuing at the Customer Services desk revealed that our third bag - the one with all our clothes in it - was in Kuala Lumpur, but that it would make its own way to Sydney on a flight very soon, which was both useful and completely reassuring. And we could now look forward to another day in the same clothes we'd been wearing for, what, three days now?

We snagged a taxi driver that had recently arrived from the Lebanon, spoke 25 words of English, didn't know his way around Sydney and certainly hadn't heard of the Russell Hotel, which was a shame because that was where we wanted to be. His aimless wanderings cost us an extra $10 on the meter and he eventually gave up and dumped us somewhere near the Sydney Harbour Bridge with (almost) all our kit. We struggled along with this on foot for about half an hour or so until we stumbled across the Russell Hotel.

22:15 - Check into The Russell Hotel (left), The Rocks, Sydney. We'll talk about The Rocks later.

Wine, tucker, sleep.

The Rocks Very small map of The Rocks. The Russell
is outlined in red, near the bottom, left
of George Street. Didgeridoo players at the red square near Jetty 6, Circular Quay. Click image for a big map.


EOV4 Day 3: Sunday 28th November 2010

Breakfast in The Rocks. Still no sign of our missing bag and the contact number I had been given for the baggage handlers connected me expensively via my mobile, through the UK and finally back to someone's voice mail in Sydney. I left several messages asking them to call me as we really wanted our bag back so that we could put on clean clothes. We had a milkshake while other tourists remained upwind of us and we found the best didgeridoo players in the world, playing on the pavement outside jetty number 6 at Circular Quay.

Meanwhile, my clever daughter, Sophie, had somehow managed to secure the personal mobile number of the baggage handlers' manager. A further expensive call to him enlightened us to their plight. Apparently a lot of people hadn't shown up for work that day and there was a huge number of lost bags. So that was all OK then. I was tempted to say, 'Oh, in that case don't worry about our bag,' but decided instead to explain that we were fed up with waiting here, please could they deliver our possessions to Sophie and Matt's apartment in Dee Why instead. They said they would, but I didn't believe them.

Sophie came and met us in the Russell's fantastic new Wine Bar - much more on this to come. Scenes of great emotion and joy and reunion - it had been over two and a half years since Sophie and I had seen each other. Matt came and collected us and took us to Dee Why. At this point I think we need a map of Sydney and the surrounding areas so you can better understand where all these places are.

Sydney, New South Wales
Sydney and surrounding area. Map by Google Maps. Dee Why Northeast, Bondi Southeast,
Manly to the East. Places relevant to the story outlined in red, although this doesn't really
show you the whereabouts of The Rocks very well; sort of under the "s" in "The Rocks".

Our errant bag finally found us that evening, slinking sheepishly into the apartment around six o'clock. Finally, all the elements of Expedition Ocean Vision 4 were assembled in one place. We were able to become less like tramps and slightly more socially acceptable. This was good because we were about to meet Matt's parent's, Mike and Di, for the first time - it would not have been good to smell bad at the first meeting, would it? We also met Matt's sister, Sarah, who was very kindly going to put us up for the next few days. All such lovely people.


EOV4 Day 4: Monday 29th November 2010

Monday started by sounding like we had woken in an aviary. The Australian air was alive with the calls of mynas, parrots and kookaburras. We took a grand tour of all the local sites: Palm Beach (sorry, just off the top of the map above), Curl Curl, Dee Why, Freshwater and Manly Beach. We lunched at Burger Me - flathead fish for Carol, kangaroo burger for Courtney. We repaired to the Manly Winery on 'the front' to enjoy some New South Wales fine wine and to watch the surfers flopping about in Australia's shark infested waters - at least we hoped they were shark infested; imagine the video opportunity! We had already dipped our toes in the Pacific and decided that total immersion could wait until warmer waters later in our trip.

Paul Courtnage (Courtney) and Carol Courtnage Courtney (Paul Courtnage) and Carol Courtnage going for their first Pacific contact at Palm Beach.
Photo by Matt Geraghty, Expedition Ocean Vision 4, 2010.

Project Ocean VisionProject Ocean Vision in Australia  

We had an excellent supper at Sarah and James's and a reasonably early night. The jet lag was still mildly upon us, but we were determined to stick to local time and force our slightly confused bodies to conform to their new location. We were liking Australia very much.

Oh! And after a very shaky start, England were doing remarkably well in the first Ashes test. Best not to mention this really.

Also, I'm fascinated by the things a skilled didgeridoo musician can do with a hollow piece of tree. In fact, didgeridoo is a European word for the instrument. The aboriginal tongue (actually many completely separate languages) has dozens of names for this instrument, so we have settled on yirdaki, as that's what our friend who plays at Circular Quay told us to call it. It is the name used by the Yolngu people of The Northern Territory. Here's some modern didge music to listen to whilst you read...

Icebergs Dinning Room, Bondi BeachIcebergs, Bondi Beach.


EOV4 Day 5: Tuesday 30th November 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Sarah leaves home for work early each day and James works nights, so by the time we rise she has gone to work and he has returned and is sound (very sound) asleep. So James has very kindly welcomed us into his home and we haven't actually seen him yet. Such kind people!

Sophie and Matt collected us mid-morning and took us on a grand tour of Sydney, taking in North and South Heads, the Harbour, the various city areas and the famous Bondi Beach. The rain let up just enough to allow us to take some great photographs of Sydney, but as we arrived in Bondi it was somewhat grey and drizzly;  giving Australia's most famous sun spot the appearance of an English sea-side resort on a dull day in winter. 

We ducked into the much celebrated Icebergs for lunchtime refreshments.  The restaurant commands a fantastic view of the bay and its huge, modern windows lets one watch the surfers from beautiful, comfortable surroundings whilst enjoying Icebergs' fabulous, and I do mean fabulous, food.  Our fellow diners included Curtis Stone (Aussie's most famous chef) and Donna Hay (chef and writer of cookery books – sort of Australia's Delia Smith if you like).  Can't be bad!

In the evening we went to Charlie's Bar in Manly to meet up with some of our soon-to-be fellow wedding, revellers.  Ben had come over from Canada as a surprise for the Big Event, what a guy!  The pub, unbeknown to us, was having a quiz night so we formed an international Aus/Can/UK team and enjoyed ourselves, showing the others how it was done.

James James

Sarah Sarah


EOV4 Day 6: Wednesday 1st December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Today is officially the first day of the Aussie Summer, cheerfully marked by more rain. We had formed a quaint little theory about this place. Having been told how wonderful the weather is in Aus, we'd seen virtually nothing but grey skies and rain and we were starting to doubt this. We now think there is just one nice day in Australia every year and on that day everyone dashes outside and takes copious pictures to put online throughout the rest of the year and to place in travel brochures. We hope we're here on that day!

We did some sorting and planning and then Carol, Sophie and I went into Manly - Sophie for some pre-wedding pampering, Carol and I to walk on the beach to film the grey, foaming waves and to watch the surfers. We observed that the sport appears to involve very long periods floating in the Pacific waiting for the right wave to arrive. Very long periods. Probably fine in the height of summer in the sunshine, but in 16° water, under grey, oppressive clouds, some surfers just in shorts, well, not for us.

We walked along the beach a little, only to find that the rough seas had bought in a huge number of bluebottles again. So we carefully retreated to the Manly Winery (again) and drank Krinklewood in the safety of the bar whilst the rain smeared the windows, making the surfers melt into a dark, monotone turmoil.

The cottage The bride and groom's cottage, Sea Farm

Sea Farm


EOV4 Day 7: Thursday 2nd December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Thursday morning and the weather has turned around, just in time for us to move up to the Central Coast for Sophie and Matt's wedding. Quite an amazing logistics operation run by Sophie & Matt to ensure all the wine, food, beer, decorations, people, clothes, shoes, cameras and of course surf boards made their way to Sea Farm near Copacabana Beach.

It was only a short drive up here through the bush – Carol and I wedged in between mountains of bags, equipment and the huge box of snags made by the excellent butcher in Dee Why. Sea Farm really is as much a paradise as it appeared to us from the internet and Google Earth. 

Accommodation comprised "the cottage", in this case the bride and groom's residence, and the main house (below left).  The latter was spacious, very well thought out and nicely appointed. Three lovely seating areas, a large reception, an indoor and several outdoor dining areas, a huge, totally equipped kitchen, at least three, maybe four bathrooms and sleeping for about twelve. This was a lovely place, well designed for weekend parties and weddings.

Our bedroom boasted the biggest (and tallest) bed we'd ever seen, a bright, airy bathroom with the world's largest shower, walk-in wardrobe and massive windows overlooking the grounds.  The only other couple staying tonight was Scott and Christine, friends of Sophie and Matt's from Landmark in Henley-on-Thames, but we were joined for the evening by Mike & Di and Sarah & James.

Sea Farm - agapanthus Agapanthus at the cottage - Sea Farm

EOV4 Day 8: Friday 3rd December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Woken just before dawn by the most amazing bird calls - alien screeches, whistles and whoops; and so loud! Tempted to get outside with the cameras and sound recorder, but bed was so comfortable that I elected to stay put, enjoy the soundscape and; perhaps venture out early tomorrow instead.

Matt wanted a surf and we fancied a visit to the beach before Carol's hair appointment in preparation for tomorrow.  Matt's car decided to have a dead battery. So Matt had to join the NRMA and call them out. Fifteen minutes later they were there. Five minutes more and the car was running – really impressive. We had a lovely stroll on the beach and fruit juice before we were whisked back to Sea Farm for a wedding rehearsal.  Apart from a couple of emotional moments, all went well and we all had a rough idea of what we were doing.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent doing the last minute shopping for the reception and to make provision for those staying at Sea Farm for the weekend.  It's an Aussie tradition that the bride and groom are apart before the wedding so the boys were all shipped off to the pub, whilst the girls socialized together at the farm.  The two dads elected not to try to keep up with the youngsters so stayed in.  We lit the fire and sat around it with a few glasses of wine and some great tucker.

Sophie Courtnage and Matthew Geraghty

Sophie and Matt Matt Geraghty Sophie Geraghty Sophie and Matt Geraghty

Sophie Geraghty
Sophie Geraghty and her Crew

Sophie Geraghty and Matt Geraghty Sophie and Matt Geraghty

EOV4 Day 9: Saturday 4th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Roused again by the amazing dawn chorus. Our usual ritual of morning tea before starting to set things up for the weeding of my daughter, Sophie Courtnage, to Matthew Geraghty. After a couple of hours the place was transformed and decorated for the big event – all Sophie and Matt's planning coming together nicely. 

We brunched on left-over quiche and then it was time for Sophie to start preparing herself – or be prepared – for the ceremony. The boys came back from their morning surf and set about getting ready. Everyone looked very happy and eager to get going and the weather was really smiling on us.

After a bit of filming and photography, I wandered over to cottage at about 14:10 to collect Sophie who was looking stunningly gorgeous in her beautiful dress and having last minute portraits done by Ben, the official photographer.

At the appointed hour we assembled ourselves, ready for the walk across the lawn to the crowd of gathered family and friends. The two bridesmaids set off ahead of Sophie and me – our first highly emotional moment. Sophie looked at me and said, "Don't, or you'll set me off too!" I can't think what she meant!

And off we set, slowly and gently, occupying our thoughts with talk of the people watching and photographing, Carol filming, with Sophie rising wonderfully to the occasion.  I think catching Carol's eye briefly also brought a tear to Sophie's eye, but we stayed focused and dignified.

At the end of the aisle we hugged and a few last words of encouragement, reminding Sophie to focus on Matt, making it their ceremony.  I gave Matt a handshake, a hug and final words of encouragement.

Sarah, their celebrant, ran the ceremony beautifully – informal, inclusive, just the right balance of serious and fun.  Full of joy and smiles.  Sophie and Matt were beautiful together, spoke their lines and their vows perfectly. Probably the easiest way to see everything, watch the video and slideshow.

The four parents, Mike and Di, Carol and I were asked to stand and affirm that we gave our blessing to this union – a resounding "Yes!!!!" And so Sophie and Matt were Mr and Mrs Geraghty, joyfully embarking on another of life's great adventures.

There were the usual photographs and then drinks, followed by games on the lawns: quoits, croquet and the like. Speeches came a little later, all of which were mercifully short and, again, with a perfect balance of joy, seriousness and happiness. The party went on well into the night, culminating with Matt picking up Sophie and launching them both into the pool.

What a truly fantastic day!  Sophie, in her own words, said the one person she really wished could have been there was Chris.  But he excelled too and sent a really good video for everyone to watch - it must have taking him weeks to make. Bless Sophie and Matt, may they continue to have a long and happy life together. A wonderful couple! A fabulous day! And so good that so many people had made so much effort to be there from all over the world.

Paul and Sophie Courtnage Paul Courtnage (Courtney) Sophie Courtnage, Sophie Geraghty Courtney and Sophie Sophie and Matt Geraghty's wedding, 4 December 2010 Sarah Carol Courtnage Sarah and Carol Sophie and Matt Geraghty's wedding, 4 December 2010 Sophie Geraghty Matt Geraghty Sophie and Matt Geraghty - 'Pinky Swear' Paul Courtnage (Courtney), Carol Courtnage, Sophie Geraghty, Matt Geraghty, Di Geraghty and Mike Geraghty Paul Courtnage Carol Courtnage Sophie Geraghty Matthew Geraghty Di Geraghty Mike Geraghty Happy Couple & Proud Parents
Courtney, Carol Courtnage, Sophie Geraghty, Matthew Geraghty, Di and Mike.

EOV4 Day 10: Sunday 5th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Massive, post-wedding clean up! We managed 4 dishwasher loads and 6 large bins of rubbish and after only a couple of hours you wouldn't have known there had been a wedding here, which was the effect we were after. Thereafter, the rest of the day was free. So we set off to Copacabana Beach for sunbathing, exploring and drinks in our favourite café, Sirocco. Later we moved on for further drinks at Terrigal.



EOV4 Day 11: Monday 6th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Up at dawn to record the amazing bird song and to film the cockatoos. The early morning was beautiful, clear skies, warm, the faintest of breezes. Other birds much more difficult, impossible actually, as they liked to flit about in the trees, not exposing themselves to my waiting lens. But the sounds of the mynas, parrots, whip birds, bell birds and several others yet to be identified made for a great recording.

The drive back to Sydney showed a good view of the bush and we were back at Sophie and Matt's around midday. Time to sort out our kit and turnaround our bags for the trip north tomorrow and prepare for the next phase of Expedition Ocean Vision 4 - back to work! Once packed and sorted we walked back down to Stella blue to meet up with new friends, Heidi and Otto, and the big Canadian, Ben, for drinks and on to an Italian.

It's worth mentioning at this point that Sophie has a really good blog, The Lotus Through the Lens, showcasing some of her totally amazing and intriguing photographs. Really do check it out at http://www.imagesbysophie.blogspot.com. Definitely look through the blog archive on the right her page - I promise you it's worth the visit.

The Lotus Through the Lens
The Lotus Through the Lens

Virgin Blue


EOV4 Day 12: Tuesday 7th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Up at 05:45 to get ready to head north to Queensland. 6:30 taxi into the early morning Sydney rush hour - it is easily as bad as London's, New York's or Washington's. - typical huge city, just mayhem every day as the massive tidal flow of thousands of commuters clog the city's already overstretched arteries. Having inched our way through the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, we made it to the domestic side of Sydney's airport in good time for check in.

As usual, weight and its distribution was a minor, slightly irritating issue, but we eventually made it through Security without the usual bag disassembly and quizzical examination of our video equipment and tapes. Honestly, you'd think we were the only people in the world that make movies! I made things a bit easier by removing the underwater housing for big cam from my dive bag and carrying it; so the check-in stuff was lighter, although the housing attracted a lot of interest. That, in fact, seems to work in our favour as airport officials all over the world get so engrossed in talking to us about that, that they fail to notice the weight we're lugging or the excessive number of carry-on items we're struggling with!

Our Virgin Blue flight to Cairns afforded us a great view of Syders and the CBD from the air, but broken cloud over New South Wales meant we saw little more of the ground until Queensland. NSW had been taking a hammering from the rain for some time now and was suffering some of the worst flooding for years - Queensland would suffer the same fate in a few weeks. As we headed north, arable land turned to fields of grass, which turned to patchy bush broken scrub land. Small communities gave way to occasional farmsteads and roads to tracks. We were behind (west of) the Great Dividing Range and, so, away from the lush coastal strip. No outback here, of course, just very big open spaces and plenty of tropical weather.

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Sydney from the air. Photo by Courtney, Dec 2010

Queensland storm Tropical weather in Queensland

Treetops Hotel, Port Douglas Treetops Hotel, Port Douglas

Paul Courtnage, Carol Courtnage, Matthew Geraghty, Sophie Geraghty. Paul Courtnage, Carol Courtnage, Matthew Geraghty, Sophie Geraghty.
Project Ocean Vision in Port Douglas

As we started our descent into Cairns Airport the sea below was flat, the beaches golden, the forest lush, the dark green-blue of the Great Barrier Reef was visible closing on the shore and a few brown rivers snaking through the green. As we neared Cairns it became apparent that there were a lot of areas of forest that had been cleared for agriculture and building, but I resolved to put that aside for now and find out more later. The islands off the shore were similarly verdant green, fringed with gold and surrounded by vibrant blue; no centres of population, maybe just the occasional boat.

Cairns is three hours north of Sydney and a very different place. Queensland is one hour behind Sydney at this time of year. The airport is small, neat and efficient. They clearly do things differently up here. When we bought tickets for the bus to Port Douglas ($35 return) we weren't directed to a bus by its number, rather we were instructed to 'get on George's bus.' And we did.

The drive north took a little over an hour along a simple road sandwiched between the Coral Sea to our right and either rainforest, palms or fields of sugar cane to our left. Massive storms sailed menacingly over the dark sea, contrasting white, grey and blue-black against an impossibly blue sky - the tropics on the cusp of the summer monsoon. The radio in the bus played great music from the 80s and we were soon to discover that this was the regular radiophonic diet here.

George didn't appear to have a timetable or regular, set stopping places. Instead he enquired of each passenger where they would like to be dropped and took them there. He dropped us at the Treetops Hotel, helped us with our bags and chatted a while. He asked us to call the number on our ticket when we wanted to be taken back to Cairns. Wonderful.

Treetops is not carved out of the rainforest, it is part of it. There are even 8 large, exotic trees growing through the floor and the tin roof of the restaurant. Aerial roots hang from high branches down to the pool. Ferns and saphorites grow out of the end of sturdy wooden beams that support the roof. In the jungle, plants will grow anywhere they can.

We settled in and went in search of transportation into town - about 4 miles away. Shuttle busses run every 15 to 20 minutes and, again, the drivers engaged us in brief conversations and dropped us where we wanted to go. Signs identified busses as 'Into Town' or 'Out of Town'. That was about all we needed to know. Port Douglas has no traffic lights nor any parking meters.

We sat by the water near the marina and had cocktails and then dined at the iconic, but gastronomically mediocre Iron Bar, famed for its cane toad racing. That night we were thrilled by the most spectacular thunder storm we had ever seen. The thunder made the room rattle.


Port Douglas: 16°29'5.26"S 145°28'0.08"E. Port Douglas was founded in 1877 as the port town for the Hodgkinson River Goldfields. The Australian gold rush caused the town to boom, the population reaching around 12,000 with some 27 hotels. Important industries included silver, tin, cedar logging and sugarcane. After the gold dwindled, Port Douglas went into sharp decline. In 1911 a severe cyclone devastated much of the town and it became little more than a fishing village and a gateway to ship sugar from the Mossman Central Mill. By 1960 the population bottomed at about 100 people.

In the early 1980s, Port Douglas started a revival, becoming a popular destination for wealthy Australians to spend winter months or holiday throughout the year to visit the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Today the town boasts a population of around 4,000 and a booming tourist industry brings visitors from all over the world.

Great Barrier Reef


Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

Great Barrier Reef from space Part of the Great Barrier Reef from space - courtesy of NASA, from MISR, 2000.

EOV4 Day 13: Wednesday 8th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Up early this morning to catch the bus to the marina to join the Silver Sonic, state of the art catamaran - 32 kts with ride control. Only 1½ hours to cover the 72km out to the outer Barrier Reef, right on the continental shelf at Agincourt Reef. Quicksilver run a very smooth and professional operation. Safety, presentation, comfort and style. This was stinger season; Box Jellyfish Chironex fleckeri are the most venomous marine creatures on earth and have killed nearly 70 people in Australia in the last 120 years. So despite the 29°C sea, we went for full wet suits, gloves and hoods. We were not cold in the water.

We had breakfast, lunch and late afternoon wine on the boat, interspersed with three good dives. Diving here is not deep and the water is reasonably clear. We found most coral in good health, with some mechanical damage and occasional patches of bleaching. Some good video of the sea life and coral.

Sophie, Matt, Carol and I dined at Harrisons this evening – very up-market and very, very good: seafood (bugs), scallops, pork belly, chateaubriand, fish. A small misunderstanding about the bill saved us $140.

The diving and filming were two of the things we came here for so this was an important part of the expedition and a very successful day in the water. I was pleased because we had lugged some 60 or more kilos of dive and video equipment half round the world for this.

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef, located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland, is the world's largest reef system comprising over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands. It stretches over 2,600 km and covers an area of approximately 344,400 km2. The Great Barrier Reef is the world's biggest structure made by living organisms.

A large part of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which helps to limit the impact of human use such as fishing and tourism. Other environmental pressures on the reef and its ecosystem include runoff, climate change accompanied by mass coral bleaching and cyclic population outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish, shipping accidents, oil spills, and tropical cyclones. Skeletal Eroding Band, a disease of hard corals is caused by the protozoan Halofolliculina corallasia and affects 31 coral species.

The Great Barrier Reef has long been known to and used by the Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander peoples and is an important part of local groups' cultures and spirituality. The reef is a very popular destination for tourists, especially in the Whitsunday Islands, Cairns and Port Douglas regions. Tourism is an important economic activity for the region, generating AU$ 1 billion per year.

Thirty species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) have been recorded on the Great Barrier Reef, including the dwarf minke whale, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and the humpback whale. Large populations of dugongs also inhabit the reef. Six species of sea turtles come to the reef to breed: green sea turtle, leatherback sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, flatback turtle, and the olive ridley. Fifteen species of seagrass in beds attract the dugongs and turtles, and provide fish habitat.

Around 125 species of shark, stingray, skates or chimaera live on the reef. A little under 5,000 species of mollusc have been recorded, including the giant clam and various nudibranchs and cone snails. Forty-nine species of pipefish and nine species of seahorse have been sighted and at least seven species of frog inhabit the Great Barrier Reef's islands.

215 species of birds visit the reef or nest or roost on the islands, including the white-bellied sea eagle. Some 1.5 million birds use the reef's islands to breed. The islands of the Great Barrier Reef also support 2,195 known plant species; three of these are endemic.

More than 1,500 fish species live on the reef, including the clownfish, red bass, red-throat emperor, and several species of snapper and coral trout. Four hundred coral species, both hard and soft, inhabit the reef. Corals on the inner Great Barrier Reef spawn during the week after the full moon in October, while the outer reef corals spawn in November and December.

More diving to come...

The Courthouse Hotel, Port Douglas The Old Courthouse Hotel

EOV4 Day 14: Thursday 9th December 2010

Sophie and Matt headed south this morning for Palm Cove (just north of Cairns), via Daintree, to start their Honeymoon. Carol and I explored PD further, took some film and stills and got thoroughly over heated. Clear skies and very hot - very, very hot and humid. We discovered a lot about this wonderful place today, including a little more about its fascinating history.

We found the back-packers bar (Rattle & Hum - right) and decided to dine there – spag bol x 2, one of our favourite staples when travelling and very good they were too.

Oh, and we booked our Daintree Rainforest exped. Lots of planning and I think we've come up with a good trip for a couple of days' time. Made some good contacts.


Carol Courtnage, Port Douglas Carol Courtnage at Rattle 'n' Hum,
Port Douglas

Flames of the Forest

Flames of the Forest

EOV4 Day 15: Friday 10th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

We are meeting Matt and Sophie this evening at an Aboriginal Experience and dinner, so we decided to have brunch in the hotel before continuing our exploration of PD and Four Mile Beach (where we photographed a beautiful Osprey - below). Most importantly we booked a table at the excellent looking Nautilus restaurant for dinner tomorrow evening. We worked hard at relaxing and keeping as cool as it is possible to do here. Plenty of stops for fruit juices, milkshakes and water.

The main event today was the ‘Flames of the Forest’ Aboriginal Experience. We were collected from our hotel soon after 7pm and were driven, in the dark some 30 minutes into the rainforest. The road became narrower and less suited to ordinary vehicles until we found the road blocked by barricades of fire. Clearly going no further, we disembarked and followed a candlelit path through the forest, across a tumbling stream and into a gorgeous clearing, half enclosed by a magnificent jungle canopy. Here guests were served champagne and canapés.

Soon we were led to a huge marquee, the air filled with the low drone of a didgeridoo played by a lone aboriginal man and backed by nature's chorus of a hundred clattering insects. Tables were beautifully laid and we were joined by an Irish family, also here for a wedding. We dined magnificently on seafood, fruits, salads, kangaroo. During dinner, our aboriginal hosts treated us to music and stories of their tribe, the Kuku Yalanji, their childhood in the Mowbray Valley and the wonderful tribal lore of the duck and the water rat. What a truly wonderful evening. Their finale was to turn off all the lights so that we could experience the sounds of the rainforest.

Osprey at Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas    Carol Courtnage, Expedition Ocean Vision 4

Four Mile Beach (which is actually 3.6 miles long). Left: Osprey. Right: Carol Courtnage.
Project Ocean Vision on Expedition Ocean Vision 4

Carol at Nautilus on her birthday Dinner at Nautilus

EOV4 Day 16: Saturday 11th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Carol’s birthday this week so, as this is a down day, it's a good opportunity for some pampering and celebrations. After breakfast I took Carol to the spa for an hour’s treatment and relaxation whilst I went and took some photos of the amazing location that is our hotel; tall, slender tropical trees, vines, aerial roots, saphorites, epiphytes, ferns and palms and creepers, filled with the calls of exotic birds and the shrill chorus of a thousand unseen insects. The whole is woven through with tumbling water and sparking pools with fish and lily pads.

After the morning spa treatment I took Carol to town to visit a really wonderful little beach fashion shop, Tshinto, to seek out something special. We had a cooling beer before returning to Treetops for Carol’s afternoon facial. We had a lovely dinner at a really good restaurant in PD called Nautilus – highly recommended. We love this life!

Carol Courtnage - Project Ocean Vision Carol Courtnage - Project Ocean Vision

Bronze Whaler Shark - photo by Paul Courtnage, Project Ocean Vision
Bronze Whaler Shark. Photo by Courtney


EOV4 Day 17: Sunday 12th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Sunday and back to Silver Sonic today for another trip out to the GBR - Agincourt Reef. And what a day it turned out to be! Again, the operation on the boat was highly professional and we hooked up with our old diving instructor friend, Matt, who was able to show us the best places to go – especially for sharks.

We dived with and filmed some awesome whitetip reef sharks and some half-dozen bronze whalers (see below and left). All were very peaceful and enjoyable until someone decided to start feeding them from the boat on our return from the final dive of the day. Those that have read my articles, An Introduction to Sharks and Diving with Sharks will know my feelings about this.

I managed some rushed and somewhat unsteady footage of them feeding in the waves at the back of the boat – it neatly demonstrates the change in shark behaviour when food is introduced into the equation. See the video at the end of this chapter.

After a full, happy and successful day, we dined at the hotel and celebrated our good day’s work with a bottle of Oyster Bay Merlot. Beautiful sharks.


EOV4 Day 18: Monday 13th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

A restful day today at the Treetops Hotel – plus time to sort out our dive gear and prepare ourselves for filming in the rainforest tomorrow. So a down day on Expedition Ocean Vision 4, time for a few domestic chores, getting in supplies for the rainforest tomorrow and a couple of beers (Pure Blonde) in the pool. Supper in the hotel and an early night. Excited about the morning.

Pure Blonde
Pure Blonde, the official drink of Expedition Ocean Vision 4

Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Rainforest
Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Car Ferry Daintree Car Ferry

Daintree Rainforest Sugar Cane, Daintree Rainforest

Surface water run-off - Daintree Rainforsest Run-off - Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Rainforest
Inside the Strangler Fig - Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Rainforest - Cape Tribulation Cape Tribulation - Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Forest
Daintree Rainforest

EOV4 Day 19: Tuesday 14th December 2010 - Daintree Rain Forest

Sophie & Matt fly back to Sydney today after their week or so in Palm Cove. Further north, Carol and I left the hotel after a hearty breakfast and were collected in a smart 4x4 transport. Out of Port D on the Captain Cook highway, through Mossman, up to the Daintree Forest and across the mighty Daintree River on the cable drawn ferry. We climbed the north side to the Heights of Alexandra lookout, which afforded us an impressive view of the mouth of the Daintree River, the GBR, Snapper Island and all the way back to PD.

We discussed the natural history of Australia and this part of tropical Queensland in particular with our guide, Rick. He was under no illusions about the fragile ecology of this ancient, diverse and extreme continent. We gained a new insight into this land and the challenges it faces. The problems date back to Captain James Cook's (actually a Lieutenant then) first voyage to Australia in 1770. He arrived in Botany Bay on 29th April after a particularly wet year and recorded a land that was lush and bountiful, suitable for settling and farming. Had he arrived in a different year or in a different place he may have had very different ideas.

As it happens, Australia could hardly be less suited to farming; lack of water (the driest vegetated continent on earth), poor, thin topsoil and a terrible lack of nutrients. And yet, here in the north, agriculture centres around three of the most water-hungry crops in the world; cotton, rice and sugar cane (below/left). At least 80% of the irrigation water for these crops comes from the aquifers, depleting the region's store of water - it won't last forever! Although the tropical north receives up to 4 metres of rain a year, its total store of freshwater could be drained by just a day's flow of the Mississippi! It is only this strip of land on the eastern coast that receives this much rain; west of the Great Dividing Range we find that 5 out of Australia's 7.8 million km2 is desert.

Even in the wetter East, farming is really not really practical. To compensate for the poor, thin soil, farmers must add thousands of tonnes of nitrates and phosphates every year, most of which ends up as run-off, severely threatening the survival of the coral that forms the Great Barrier Reef. I took the picture below/left from the air to show you just how far out to sea run-off from the land can spread.

The Daintree Rainforest itself is some 1,200 km2, making it the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest on the Australian mainland; it is both diverse and fragile. The Daintree Rainforest occupies only 0.2% of the landmass of Australia, but it contains 30% of its frog, marsupial and reptile species, 65% of its bat and butterfly species and 18% of bird species.

Large areas of the Daintree Rainforest were cleared for timber, building and agriculture, eagerly encouraged by the Queensland Government who really didn't understand what they had here - they had declared that these were invasive Asian plant species that needed eradicating, whereas these are actually locally evolved, some species unique to this region. Further afield, no one had really heard of the Daintree Rainforest and the world was equally ignorant of what it was until someone noticed that the massive, unwanted forest being systematically wiped out was, in fact, the oldest rainforest on earth, containing many unique, rare and ancient species.  It wasn't until the mid-1980s that steps were finally taken to preserve at least some of it and this is why the Daintree National Park is here today.

We went on to the Daintree Discovery Centre, which gave us the opportunity to explore the rainforest's ecology and we managed to get ourselves right up into the canopy, some 25m or so above the forest floor. We discovered the amazing parts played by all its birds, mammals, insects and reptiles in maintaining this system. We found a large carpet python on the roof of the Discovery Centre and learnt how the vines and creepers establish themselves. We recommend the Daintree Discovery Centre to find out more.

Beneath its canopy, the Daintree Rainforest holds a wealth of wildlife including Cassowaries, freshwater and saltwater crocodiles (crocodylus porosus), the Boyd's Forest Dragon, some of the world's most poisonous snakes, fascinating insects and lizards and some amazing trees and creepers. Of course, it is also true that Australia has the highest percentage of poisonous plants and animals of any continent; so care is required here. Life here for plants is all about getting your head into the sunlight and the local flora has found ingenious ways of achieving this. For example, fig seeds are deposited high up in the canopy by birds, they germinate there and send down long roots in search of water. If and when these reach the ground the original roots start to thicken and a fig tree starts to grow up the tree where the seed started to grow. The branches of this new tree divide, encircle the tree and reconnect to form a cage that slowly strangles its host. Its race is to be a self-supporting, self-sustaining tree before its host dies and rots away. The picture on the left was taken looking up inside a strangler fig, showing its hollow interior where its host used to be before the fig destroyed it.

We moved on to Cape tribulation, which is beautiful, ecologically significant and brings us back to Captain Cook. Around here the Great Barrier Reef meets the land and, unexpectedly the Daintree Rainforest actually helps to protect the coral. We were diving here just a couple of days ago; it was still early Summer and the water temperature was already 29ºC, close to the upper limit for coral. As Summer progresses, temperatures would soon reach into the low 30s and the coral would start to bleach. But as rain would be falling on the forest at maybe a metre in a month during the summer, there would be significant, cooling, freshwater run off, helping to keep temperatures at sea under control. There were calls to divert the run off for freshwater supplies to towns and farms, but this would be at the expense of the Great Barrier Reef.

When James Cook was sailing North from New South Wales, returning to England, he found himself inside the Great Barrier Reef. He also found that the further North he travelled the closer the reef came to the land until he arrived exactly here. He looked for a safe path through the reef, but on 11th June 1770 The Endeavour struck the reef, was stuck fast and holed. The crew were able to re-float the ship at high tide and came ashore here whilst repairs were affected - this took several weeks. It was because of their difficulties and near disaster that James Cook named this place Cape Tribulation.

He also had some minor difficulties with the local aboriginal population before he left. The Daintree Rainforest is home to the Kuku Yalanji tribe, as I mentioned earlier. Today they appear to have been moved into a "community", housed in small, cheaply built bungalows. The younger generations are exposed to modern, western life and, understandably, wish for the lifestyles they see on television and that they see the European immigrants leading.

But the influences of McDonalds, alcohol and drugs do not sit well with these people. Despite the efforts of the tribal elders and well-meaning white Australians, many of these communities give rise to appalling levels of alcoholism, drug abuse, burglary and child abuse. Religious groups have wasted no time carrying out their missionary duties; for better or for worse. And so the culture and tradition of these fascinating people is slowly eroded away, leaving hapless people trapped in poverty, envious and resentful of their white neighbours. Of course, that is not the unhappy lot of all Aboriginals. Many are fine artists, making a living from the tourist industry, offering magnificent experiences such as Flames of the Forest. Some communities have been very successful and these are held up as shining examples and shown off to all of Australia, but we rather think that these are the exceptions, not the rule.

Daintree Saltwater crocodile Daintree - Saltwater Croc.
Photo by Carol

Daintree Rainforest Mangrove Daintree Rainforest Mangrove

Coastal Taipan - Daintree Rainforest Coastal Taipan - Daintree Rainforest

Cassowary - Daintree Rainforest Cassowary - nastier than they look

Cane Toad - Daintree Rainforest Cane Toad - Daintree Rainforest

We had a wonderful lunch in the Daintree Rainforest; steaks, fish and snags on the barbie with salads and lots of delicious, tropical fruits. Then we joined a small river boat to search for the giant saltwater crocs for which the Daintree River is famous.

These prehistoric creatures are found in various tropical and sub-tropical regions around the globe, but here in Australia they have two endemic species: the freshwater croc (or “freshies”), which are largely harmless to humans and live on fish, and the enormous saltwater species that can grow to over 8m in length and will happily eat pretty much anything it can catch – fish, cattle, dogs and humans included. They are the largest, most aggressive and by far the most dangerous crocs in the world.

Unlike alligators and freshies, the saltwater (or estuarine) males will not tolerate other males in their territories – including their own offspring. So the Daintree River hosts only one male per 1 km of river. The smaller females are slightly less territorial, but equally dangerous. All salties live in the salt and brackish waters of the tidal zone. We found three big crocs this day.

This is mangrove country and we were lucky to learn a great deal about how these amazing plants have adapted to live immersed in these salty, oxygen-depleted waters – an environment that would kill most other land plants.

These mangroves are also home to a huge number of other flora and fauna. Ferns, creepers and numerous epiphytes grow on the mangrove trees. Spiders and insects inhabit the forest behind and this is where we got a bit of a picture of just how dangerous and hard life must have been for the early settlers. For example, when they first started to clear areas of the Daintree Rainforest to grow sugar cane here, the crop was planted and harvested by hand by the cane cutters. These men worked in the extreme heat and humidity of the tropics and the cane fields were home to numerous, highly dangerous species. Rats had inhabited the area, brought here by ships from Europe. The rats quickly infested the cane fields and carried plague and Weil’s disease, both of which killed hundreds of cane cutters. The rats also attracted predators, most notably the Coastal Taipan (Oxyuramus Scutellatus). At 2-3m in length, these are among the most venomous snakes in the world. They are also very aggressive and are active during the day – when the cane cutters were working.

As if these dangers weren’t enough, the inhabitants of the Daintree Rainforest lacked water for half the year (the winter here is almost totally dry) and their homes, such as they were, were infested with all manner of nasties: the Death Adder (Acanthophis Proelungus), Redback spiders (Latrodectus hasselti), mosquitoes that can carry Ross river virus, dengue fever or malaria, poisonous centipedes, scorpions and many others. And as if all that wasn’t enough, they would also meet Cassowaries (Casaurius casaurius) a bird from the same family as the ostrich, rhea and emu. These ancient birds are now rare in Australia and found only in NE Queensland. But they are very dangerous, possessing a long sharp dagger on its inside toe that it can use to attack humans. At nearly 2m tall, these birds can, if approached too closely, startled or threatened, kill a human; stories of slashed throats and disembowelments!

And then they did something really stupid! They had a problem with cane beetles that would feed on the young cane shoots. So, in 1935, they introduced a species of toad, Bufo Marinus or cane toad, in an attempt to control the beetles. The toads ignored the cane beetles and set about the other native species. A female cane toad can lay 35,000 eggs in a season, so they soon exploded in numbers and quickly started to spread well beyond the area they were brought in to protect; their range is still expanding today. They are also poisonous, producing toxin from glands in the skin behind the head, so indigenous species that thought to eat the toads soon died horribly. Today cane toads are a plague of almost biblical proportions and their numbers continue to boom. There are plenty of other examples of alien species introduced to Australia where they face no natural predators - the Dromedary Camel (1840), red fox (1855) and rabbits (1859). None of these belong here, but none has been quite as disastrous as the cane toad.

After the Daintree River we moved on to the Mossman gorge. but not before Carol decided to sample the delights of squeezing green ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) for their formic acid spray - she says it tastes rather like sherbet. I'll take her word for it. We found better flavours at the Daintree Ice-cream Factory - acacia, raspberry, apricot and jack fruit - although the last of these is unpleasantly like sour milk. At Mossman gorge we were able to see the granite that makes up the mountains here in the form of massive boulders in the river. This is also where PD gets its water from, taken down from the mountains in a single, large diameter pipe - but it didn't seem that big for the whole town and all these hotels. They must work hard at conserving, we thought, an idea borne out by the signs on the golf courses, etc, announcing that 'recycled water' is used for irrigation. Our tour of the rainforest was complete for now and we had certainly learnt a lot, but that's what Expedition Ocean Vision 4 was all about.

By way of a change, we met two iron ore miners from Western Australia. Actually one was from Cardiff (Jonesy) and his wife from Brazil. These guys work a massive, open cast mine in horrible conditions and were making the most of a rare, well-earned leave. the Big Aussie miner, Bing (surname of Crosby) was relaxing by drinking a sequence of, now this is true, large, lime-green cocktails with straws and the like. Not what I'd have expected a huge tough-looking guy like that to drink, but maybe he can't do it at the mine and feels the need outside that environment...

EOV4 Day 20: Wednesday 15th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

A quiet day today to relax, do some final tanning, swimming, shopping, etc as well as a few domestic chores and packing ready for our trip south tomorrow, back to Sydney. We paid our final visit to Rattle ‘n’ Hum for a few cold ones, taking maximum advantage of their happy hour.

Scallop and shrimp risotto with salmon sauce and an early night.

Virgin Blu
Flying south for the next phase of Expedition Ocean Vision 4

EOV4 Day 21: Thursday 16th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Up early to sort ourselves out and catch the bus back to Cairns. Fun to be on a bus that happily detours off its route to drop people at their front door.

The road from PD to Cairns looked even better to us than on the way north nine days ago. Knowing more about the environment, the country, the people and the rainforest in particular gave us a better understanding of our surroundings and a greater appreciation of this natural wonder. Check-in involved the usual juggling of weight to try to make it look like we were inside Virgin Blue’s baggage limitations and 'you-pay-for-everything' policy – we made it, somehow.

Cairns airport is very nice; new, clean, bright, lots of places to eat and drink or just to sit. Everyone is friendly and there are no massive queues anywhere. The loos are nice, everything is well sign-posted and even the security people manage a kind word and a smile. Now, again, I ask, ‘why can’t some of those sour-faced, petty-minded, miserable norks that run or work at Heathrow Airport, Britain’s proud gateway and the first thing that millions of visitors to the UK see on arrival, take a look at all the wonderful airports all over the world and learn a thing or two?

Virgin Blu

Queensland Large areas of Queensland's forest cleared for human use. Floods just starting

Virgin Blu


As we flew south, the northern rainforest appeared to become increasingly cleared for agriculture. Finally, around mid-Queensland, the rainforest, once again, gave way to patchy green and brown scrub and grassland. Possibly some rice cultivation and what looked like a number of open-cast mines, great white scars on a man-made landscape.

It's about 2,000 km from Cairns to Sydney and someone had already done the cross-word in the in-flight mag (if you're reading this, whoever you are, 17 across is 'sodden' not 'sadden'). Virgin Blue make you pay to watch any channel other than the map with the giant plane on it. A screen would appear at regular intervals inviting one to,

‘Watch something more entertaining - then swipe your credit card to enjoy 24 Foxtel and Austar channels’.

I mentally declined and put my headphones on to listen to Ozric Tentacles and Pink Floyd on my MP3 player. Around Brisbane we crossed into NSW and the landscape had turned into a patchwork of regular, rectangular fields. Ranch land had given way to arable.

We dined handsomely on a shared mars bar and 4 small bottles of wine to prevent deep vein thrombosis setting in, or at least from getting too serious. This worked. And our bottled water had the most precise ‘best before date’ ever...

Best Before Date
I wanted to keep this to see what happens at
exactly 13:17 on Wednesday 18th January 2012.
One o'clock: fine to drink, one thirty: rancid?

Virgin Blu

As Flight DJ1416 was approaching Sydney the Captain informed us that our destination was having a really hard time (I paraphrase) with thunderstorms and that we were now going to hold or divert. We loved the idea of a diversion to somewhere nice for the night - get to see more of Aus. Unfortunately we held for 30 minute or so in relatively clear airspace and then started a very bumpy IMC penetration – stuff that makes the flight crew earn their instrument ratings. We landed safely at Sydney.

Arriving at the Russell Hotel felt a bit like coming home. A quirky old place that certainly wouldn’t win many stars in today’s hot hotel market, but more than makes up for it in character and style. It looks and feels like a place where people in old, black and white photos would stay.

Russell Hotel, Sydney

We tried an afternoon photo and video session, but were cut short by an encroaching rain cloud so we retreated to the new Russell wine bar before venturing out into The Rocks to find supper. Apetito provided the goods. A night cap and then to bed. Good for us!! Expedition Ocean Vision 4, Phase 5 - Sydney.

The Rocks
The Rocks, Sydney

Carol Courtnage and Sydney Harbour Bridge - Expedition Ocean Vision 4
Carol Courtnage - The Rocks, Sydney

EOV4 Day 22: Friday 17th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

The Rocks

The Rocks is arguably the most historic area of Sydney's city centre. The Rocks is located on the south side of Sydney Harbour, north-west of the Central Business District. It is adjacent to Circular Quay on Sydney Cove, which is the site of Australia's first European settlement in 1788. Traditionally the area that is today The Rocks, was the ancient home of the indigenous Cadigal people.

The original buildings were built of local sandstone, from which The Rocks derives its name. From the earliest history of the settlement, the area had a reputation as a slum, frequented by visiting sailors and prostitutes. During the late 19th century, the area was dominated by a gang known as the Rocks Push.

In 1900 bubonic plague broke out in The Rocks and the state government resumed control of the area with the intention of demolishing and rebuilding it. For the next 70 years, parts were demolished and rebuilt, work that was interrupted by the two world wars. Local residents campaigned to save the remaining historic buildings in the 70s and thanks to this action renovations transformed the area into a commercial and tourist precinct.

Today The Rocks' surviving 19th century warehouses have been converted to chic restaurants, stylish bars and pubs. There are interactive museums, street markets, wonderful shopping and loads of free events. The Rocks has a vibrant atmosphere and the people that live, work or visit here are lively and friendly. It is a place of secret alleyways, lanes and little hidden courtyards.

The Rocks and the Russell Hotel at its heart was perfect for us. You should all go there.

The Rocks    Paul Courtnage (Courtney)    The Rocks, Sydney
Project Ocean Vision in The Rocks (Expedition Ocean Vision 4)

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Carol Courtnage at The Rocks Museum Carol Courtnage at The Rocks Museum

Supper at Mike and Di's. Mike Geraghty, Di Geraghty, Carol Courtnage, Paul Courtnage (Courtney) Mike Geraghty, Di Geraghty, Carol Courtnage, Paul Courtnage

Supper at Mike and Di's


We may have had a sensible day yesterday, with an early night and everything, but today was going to be a bit different. We’ll come to that in a minute or two.

We slept in, which meant we were well rested and the hotel staff kindly rustled (or should that be Russelled) us up a cup of tea. We ventured out into Sydney to start our exploration of The Rocks. It is a place to meet people and watch the world go by. We started with a milkshake at the Lowenbrau Keller, Sydney’s best known and highly authentic Bavarian Bar and restaurant. Right down to the lederhosen. www.lowenbrau.com.au.

We spent an hour looking through The Rocks Discovery Museum, located on the cobblestoned Kendall Lane. Artefacts from the area’s aboriginal people and from the early settlers painted a fascinating picture of The Rocks’ history, the lives of the early convict settlers. The museum is open daily and is small, but full of interest and is free to visit. www.therocks.com

We refreshed ourselves with a cool Pure Blonde in the courtyard of the Orient Hotel, well worth a visit and maybe even a meal if you are really hungry – the plates looked like they were fit for a giant on a really hungry day.

Time then for some souvenir hunting, gifts to take home to Chris, George and Laurence – kangaroo scrotum bottle openers and a wine cooler. Carol really wanted some genuine Ugg boots and we found the grooviest pair in the world – fox fur exteriors for a foxy lady! We got a good deal too, which was good in an expensive country at a time when the Australian dollar converts to about 65p.

We took a wander around Circular Quay and found ourselves at the magnificent Sydney Opera House. We weren’t supposed to be exploring the Opera House until tomorrow – plans were laid – so we made ourselves comfortable in the Opera Bar on the harbour wall which has seating build into it and cushions for added luxury. It is a brilliant place with great wine and appears to be where the better class of tourists – like us, of course - and smart locals go.

It started to get very warm in the late afternoon so we retreated to the hotel and snagged ourselves a couple of glasses of wine whilst we waited for Sophie & Matt who were taking us to Matt’s parents’ house for dinner.

Mike and Di live on the edge of town and their charming house backs on to the bush. In fact the bush is their back garden, complete with wallabies (left), flying foxes, brush turkeys and cockatoos – wonderful! They treated us to a fabulous dinner and a thoroughly charming evening. We have made some great new friends here.

Anyway, Sophie dropped us back at the Russell and this is roughly where things went a bit pear-shaped. First off, the place was swarming with police. Our friend Daniel, the security guard, informed us that there had been a mega fight – witness the main player with his face covered in blood and a real mess. Apparently some Aussies are keen drinkers, but capable of an impressive turn of aggression after a few.

Paul Courtnage (Courtney) and Carol Courtnage, Australia 2010 Paul Courtnage (Courtney) and Carol Courtnage, Australia 2010

The Russell Wine Bar

The Russell Wine Bar

Inside the Russell’s exquisite wine bar (opened just in time for our arrival) we met Rico Gonzales from New Zealand – Rick to his mates. He is the wine bar manager and creator of this fine establishment. He greeted us, eyed us up and decided what we should have to drink. A lovely, but unidentified white wine for me, a cheeky red that announces itself as Bugalugs for Carol. Seriously, it is called Bugalugs and to prove it I took a picture of it for you (left); I also include this link to The Russell Wine Bar's tasting notes - click here.

We stood and chatted to our host and the wine flowed freely. Sometime later it transpired that the bar was shut and strangely devoid of customers – apart from us. Rick led us to a table and demanded that we join him in another drink.

And another drink. And another. And so forth. We exchanged life stories and then he rushed off for his laptop on which he summoned up our website and we started exploring our world, watching videos and listening to Elysium Strand.

More wine. Rick told us the story of his Grandfather, fighter in the Spanish Civil War. Chris, head barman, joined us and the four of us, new friends, whiled away the night. More wine. Suddenly it was 5am and we decided, not unreasonably, to retire to bed. Waking 5 hours later, we probably weren’t at our absolute best. But it was a night worth remembering and we have certainly made good, life-long friends...

The Rico Gonzales Big Night Memorial Shrine

Rico Gonzales, The Russell Wine Bar  Rico Gonzales, The Russell Wine Bar  Rico Gonzales, The Russell Wine Bar

EOV4 Day 23: Saturday 18th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Hmm. A bit wuzzy. We had booked ourselves onto a lunch cruise of the harbour with Captain Cook Cruises today. We didn’t do much with the morning, well, nothing much that we wish to discuss. We wandered down to Quay Number 6, Circular Wharf, and embarked on to a massive catamaran – they seem to like them here – which was beautifully presented. The cruise plus lunch came in at $75 and is well worth it. Amazing food laid on – oysters, prawns, salads - Courtney went for the chicken curry for ‘breakfast’. The cruise lasted for around 1¾ hours and gave us a superb, new prospective on the city. Great views of the bridge and the Opera House, the Prime Minister’s residence, the suburbs out to North and South Points and round to the King Street Wharf.

Captain Cook Cruises

Sophie and Matt met us from the cruise and we walked around the Royal Botanic Gardens and marvelled at the flying foxes hanging in the trees, occasionally flying gracefully from one to another. The gardens are a favourite spot for weddings, we counted at least six going on in various parts of the park in the couple of hours we were there!

Our walk took us round to Mrs Macquaries Chair – an impressive outcrop of coloured sandstone. The gardens curve around Farm Cove, site of the early settlers’ first attempt at growing their own sustenance here. It wasn’t a great success; it seems they (the convicts, the guards and other settlers) lived on the point of starvation for a number of years before achieving even a meagre level of success. Some resorted to stealing food and were, somewhat harshly I thought, hanged for their trouble. We walked back to the Opera Bar and had a couple of wines. Back to the hotel and half an hour of international news – Courtney feeling a bit cut off from the world.

We were very good this evening and had a couple of red wines and dinner and left at a respectable hour. Rick is great at hosting and getting people together. We met two American girls who were in Sydney doing their PADI divemaster courses and who were very interested in our project. So lots of fans tonight including an American pilot who had heard about my RAF background and very kindly came and introduced himself. A good day! We even escaped from the bar before the wee small hours.


Sydney, Australia
Sydney, Australia - The Central Business District from The Rocks.

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge

Taronga Zoo

Expedition Ocean Vision 4

Expedition Ocean Vision 4
The Rocks from Taronga Zoo

Taronga Zoo
Koalas in Taronga Zoo

Taronga Zoo
Taronga Zoo

Taronga Zoo
White Lipped Tree Frog, Taronga Zoo

Taronga Zoo - Expedition Ocean Vision 4
Taronga Zoo

Taronga Zoo
Taronga Zoo

EOV4 Day 24: Sunday 19th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Taronga Zoo. From the very earliest planning stages of Expedition Ocean Vision 4, we very much wanted to check out Taronga Zoo, Sydney’s zoological park, so we set today aside to do that. We caught the Sydney Ferry across to the zoo from Circular Quay. This in itself was quite a treat as it gave us another grand view of those famous landmarks – it was still hard to believe that we were actually looking at them. The Sydney Ferries are no youngsters, but they are very well built, brilliantly looked after and operated. We could well imagine how much better it would be to commute to and from work by these wonderful boats than to be packed into a commuter train, struggling to get into somewhere like London.

We arrived at Taronga Zoo and set about finding our bearings. It is superbly located, overlooking the harbour, bridge and opera house. Built on a hill on the north shore. Cable cars transport visitors from the jetty to the top of Taronga Zoo, affording us an aerial glimpse of the huge site and some of its residents. We had about three hours available, which wouldn’t really be enough to take it all in so we chose the bits that interested us most. In particular we wanted to see some of Australia’s native species and, most importantly, to get an idea how good Taronga Zoo is in ecological and conservation terms, how well the animals were looked after and what efforts they were making to contribute to breeding programmes for endangered and rare species.

The koala enclosure looks slightly small at first glance, but it is important to remember that these animals in captivity don’t actually need a lot of space as they are well fed, don’t need access to new trees for food all the time and spend some 20 hours a day sleeping. Koalas eat eucalyptus leaves, which are very poor in nutrition and they have had to make a number of adaptations to survive on them; the main one being to evolve a much smaller brain than other mammals of similar size – large brains are expensive organs to run. So they are easy to keep in captivity and these ones looked healthy and totally contented with their location at Taronga Zoo.

Similarly the insects and arachnids are happy to live in relatively small spaces as long as their basic needs are taken care of. Some of the larger reptiles, the big snakes for example, could probably use a bit more space, but again they only really need a large range if they have to hunt for their own food.

Giraffes and zebras looked fine and well accommodated and the Asian elephants are happy enough to have bred recently and were raising two youngsters when we visited – a good sign of contentment.

A lot of bird species are kept at Taronga Zoo and we found it hard to judge whether they were happy in captivity or indeed whether they really needed to be there instead of out in the wild. Their Big Cats collection boasts three lions and a tiger. These were well housed, but again it was difficult to judge if a zoo enclosure is the right place for predators of this size. They also have single snow leopard; zoos are probably becoming the only places one will ever be able to see these beautiful and extremely rare animals. Taronga is certainly doing a good job in raising awareness of the fate of the big cats and the threats to their survival – which are many and very serious.

The Taronga Zoo gorillas put on a magnificent display for us. The big – very big – silverback was clearly displaying a degree of aggravation about something, probably some domestic issue that required sorting out, or maybe it was behaviour that captivity induces in these highly intelligent, mostly gentle and social animals. Anyway, there was a screeching and whooping from their den followed by the sudden, high speed emergence of a young gorilla rapidly pursued by the big male. The pursued was clearly scared as if the much larger group leader was going to do something violent and unpleasant if he were to catch his smaller, slightly faster roommate. The smaller gorilla could certainly run and the pen was a reasonable size, but there was no escape if old silver wanted to press his point home. The youngster was peeing madly in his retreat. The big old man decided not to continue the pursuit, but instead charged back and forth, shouting and making everyone else in the ‘whoop’ very nervous. He was clearly king and wished to impress this point on everyone. The females in the group looked embarrassed and nervous. Another youngster put her hands over her ears and looked about nervously. Soon it all died down and order was returned. Whatever the matter, it was either resolved or it could wait for another day.

Were the gorillas acting normally or is this a symptom of some frustration, brought about by a confined world and captivity? We think we recognized perfectly normal family behaviour – for gorillas – but maybe slightly, ever so slightly, exacerbated by confinement. But the gorillas generally looked in good condition and when simply going about their normal business they looked and acted like normal gorillas.

We skipped the Taronga Zoo Rainforest Trail as it was time to try to catch the Wild Australia area. Tempus Fugit. It was also very hot! This area was good and we enjoyed the collection of marsupials and birds from down under. Most were well housed and seemed very content. The night animals were in a dark cave so as to encourage them to think it was night and to go about the sort of things that nocturnal animals do when the sun is down. The duck billed platypus swimming in his huge aquarium was a real treat; someone just has to stop the Japanese tourists from using flash guns in there to photograph them.

We found some really positive stuff; Taronga Zoo is deeply involved with breeding programmes that would protect and repopulate threatened or declining species, looking for ways to overcome diseases and to maintain habitat. This is clearly a working zoo, for the most part, actively engaged in conservation projects and provided a safe environment for its residents. Some species were probably there purely as displays, but these were mostly well accommodated, obviously well cared for and the vast majority were content and in very good health.

Many zoos around the world have earned themselves very poor reputations. In the 60s and 70s, maybe the 80s, many were downright seedy, existing purely to exploit the animals for money. Things are changing and Taronga Zoo is certainly one of the world’s top zoological gardens in our opinion.

More about Taronga Zoo.
Taronga Zoo

We met Sophie and Matt and went to Manly. We found a niche in a very nice bar, sat out a passing storm and Carol and I caught the famous Manly Ferry back to the Rocks. We were entertained on the way back by some party revellers who sang us a song whilst we filmed them! Waltzing Matilda of course...

We had a couple of night caps with our new friends and then we retired.

Passport Stamp

EOV4 Day 25: Monday 20th December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

Well, our last planned day in Sydney and the beginning of a new adventure. This adventure was called 'Getting home with Britain under feet of snow, Heathrow closed and no way to find out what was actually going on'.

We packed and prepared ourselves for departure. Malaysia Airlines called to say that London was in the grips of major snow and offered us some options:

Stay in Sydney for the next available flights (in two weeks, earliest) – not acceptable or financially viable (but tempting); work and family grounds kept us on track on this one…… press on in hope LHR was open by the time we needed it or take a chance on being delivered to another European airport and then finding our own way home. Malaysia added ‘a full refund at a fee’ which really wasn’t any use at all.

Although they were doing everything they could to dissuade us from starting our journey (and becoming their responsibility), we had no choice but to strike out for home as we had planned (and as Malaysia Airlines had contracted to do).

Sophie and Matt took us to the airport and we all said a long and sad farewell. We embarked on the first leg, Sydney to Kuala Lumpur, which went very smoothly. Carol did well and managed three or four hours sleep Courtney didn’t – not much of a sleeper on flights. Our planned wait in Kuala Lumpur was just under 8 hours, a horror, but manageable. With the travel chaos caused by the snow in Europe, who knew what would happen next.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur Stranded at Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur Second attempt to leave Kuala Lumpur

EOV4 Day 26: Tuesday 21st December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

It was a very long night and morning at KUL, but we made ourselves as comfortable as we could and toughed it out. Carol managed a bit of sleep, Courtney decided to save himself for the flight – it didn’t seem like a good idea for us both to fall asleep. By 10:00 we were both more than ready to get on with this next leg and then see what the roads were like between LHR and home. We were taking bets on how close the taxi – if he actually shows up this time – can get us to home.

And so, hopes soaring, we were called forward to the departure gate. And that’s where it all went horribly wrong. It was 10:15 on 21 December 2010 and this flight was clearly signposted as MH004 to London Heathrow departing at 10:45. Our boarding passes clearly said all the same things. However, the ‘nice’ lady at the gate pointed to the date and said,

‘This flight is for 20th not 21st.’

‘But today is the 21st and we're booked on this flight it says so here on my boarding pass.’

‘See manager there.’

She was clearly not going to let us on so we joined the long queue to 'see manager'. The people ahead of us were all there for the same reason. I eventually ascertained that our flight would now be departing at 01:00 tomorrow morning and that this flight was one delayed from yesterday that very mysteriously just happened to be departing exactly in our slot. Or that was what they wanted us to believe!

Even more mysterious was the fact that some people were getting on, others not.

‘Those are the people from yesterday’s flight, today’s flight is delayed until 01:00 tomorrow.’

OK, so how come only 160 people didn’t get on rather than the 359 that the Boeing 747-400P can carry? And, as no-one had previously been told about this supposed delay, how come all the passengers from both flights weren’t there at the same time? That would have been 718 people – you'd have noticed a crowd that big. I could go on about this but there is too much to tell. Instead let’s go on with the story. When we had checked in at Sydney we had been given a letter telling us... ‘accommodation will be at your own cost in the event of delays’. Now mysteriously (again) Malaysia Airways was suddenly taking us to a hotel for the afternoon. A sweetener for the barefaced lies we had been told?

Getting out through immigration, customs, etc was a shambles. Arrangements for coming back to the airport, a shambles. Chance to wash and get a few hours kip, wonderful. We had some nice food and a time in the bar being entertained by a rather good band and then a man in a porter's uniform shouted at us to let us know that the bus was here and we should get on it immediately. We went to our 11th floor room, packed and got hold of a luggage cart and moved our massive amount of ‘carry-on’ (which was getting heavier by the day) to the coach.

An hour later we were back at KUL and, while Carol attended the bags I went to check the departure board. I was pleased to see MH04 still there and, supposedly, on time. I was not so pleased to note that the destination had changed to Stansted (not Heathrow) especially as we had received intelligence suggesting that our baggage had already gone to Heathrow - a conclusion for which we had much evidence, but strenuously denied by the airline.

Emigration – pain – security – pain, to the departure gate – painful struggle – I asked a few fellow passengers if they thought this flight was going to LHR. They did. Pretty much all 359 did. I went and snagged a passing Malaysia Airlines chappie and told him that the airline should really let people know so that they could alter arrangements for taxis, collections and onward connect ions etc. They wouldn’t, but the facts had started to leak to our fellow passengers who busied themselves making expensive international mobile phone calls to amend their arrangements.

We boarded, but then went nowhere. By 01:20 the doors were still open. Then we were told we were waiting for a slot at London. That’s 13½ hours away. We finally left at 02:20. At 03:00 the captain told us we were now going to Heathrow. Lots of happy passengers who had diverted their taxis (us), families etc to Stansted. Too late to change now. We’re airborne - that at least was a wonder. But what an incompetent, lying, uncaring bunch of gits. NEVER FLY MALAYSIA AIRLINES. They’re rubbish. Actually there was one really nice member of the cabin crew and, luckily for us, he was on this flight. Realizing how badly we the passengers had been treated, someone had clearly issued instructions to keep pouring the wine and beer until the collective mood improved. We did not refuse their belated generosity.

We did manage some sleep and whiled away the remainder of the 13½ hours to LHR; a long trip but no complaints from us as we were making progress now.

Kuala Lumpur Finally back to a snowy England
Expedition Ocean Vision 4 complete.

EOV4 Day 27: Wednesday 22nd December 2010 - Project Ocean Vision (Paul and Carol Courtnage)

We landed at Heathrow at about 8am and immediately set about redirecting our cab. He was already at Stansted so it took more money to get him to where we were.

We even found our bags, but not on the carousel – heaped up in a corner of the airport along with 1000 others….. it seems they had come in on what should have been our flight yesterday so the various assurances from Malaysia Airline, even the bit where they typed the numbers from our baggage receipts into the system, were al lies again. Had we landed at Stansted I really do not believe we would have been reunited with them for months, if ever.

Ours were just three of dozens of piles of hundreds of bags scattered around various European airports. Chaos. Everyone, newspapers included, were talking about ‘the chaos caused by the weather’. Actually, the delays to and diversion of numerous flights were caused by the weather, but chaos was caused by the airlines and airports who had simply abandoned the usual functions such as handling and tracking bags properly, keeping their customers informed or even trying to keep some form of organization going. It doesn’t matter when or where flights go, they could still have kept these functions going, but they just seemed to give up.

One of our bags had a broken handle, one bag had broken contents and a bloody great boot print on it – thank you so much Malaysia’s baggage handlers. More total disregard for the people that keep you in your jobs.

Heathrow to home was fine although we had to pay the driver another £65 and he could only get us to the end of our road.

Finally we were home. Whilst Carol organized domestic things – snow shovelling, sorting post, unpacking and preparing for our move onward to Yorkshire for Christmas, I loaded hours of video and thousands of photos onto our computers and made a rushed wedding video for Facebook and a very brief exped video to show those that were interested. The version below is a later and less rushed revision.

We love Australia.

Buckinghamshire was deep in a blanket of snow, even our river was frozen. We had come in a matter of days from the tropical north of Queensland to frozen Britain where earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

Arithmetic: Left Russell Hotel, Sydney at 18:00 20 December (Sydney time) = 7:00 GMT. Arrived home 11:00 GMT 22 December = 52 hours door-to-door. Exhausting and worrying, but I think we did very much better than thousands of other travellers.

Projectr Ocean Vision
Project Ocean Vision


Expedition Ocean Vision 4 was not without its trials and tribulations, mainly thanks to the airline industry who we believe really let themselves down. That said, our efforts and determination saved us from a very much worse experience. What a shame that we had to push so hard to get anything like the service we had paid for. Malaysia Airlines will not feature in our future travel plans - unfortunately we have little choice about the airports we will have to use.

And it's not just us that thought badly of the airlines and airport authorities. News pictures showed squadrons of snow ploughs clearing snow in European airports and a picture of two mini snow clearers trying vainly to clear Heathrow. Could this have anything to do with the fact that BAA is owned by the Spanish company Ferrovial? Things were bad enough to spark the Government into action, promising legislation to allow them to punish the authorities for failing to tackle the problem properly. Public opinion was so bad that even BAA’s chief executive, Colin Matthews, stated that he would forgo his annual bonus. The new legislation will penalize the airport authorities for waiting times, passenger service and ‘lack of winter resilience’. Get a grip!

Take a look at this short clip of Heathrow from BBC News on 18th December 2010.
Can you see any snow ploughs or any effort to clear the hard surfaces?

Stupid, stupid, stupid  

But in every other respect it was a fantastic trip. Half holiday, half working expedition and both bits were amazing. We love Australia, the wedding was superb and it was excellent that so many people that care about Sophie and Matt had gone to the not inconsiderable trouble to get there. Sydney, the rain forest and the Great Barrier Reef were the real highlights, as was meeting so many people and making so many great new friends.

Thank you everyone that made this trip so special.

As usual, we now have months of work to sort and edit all the photos and video.

Expedition Ocean Vision 4 was a real success.



Whilst we were in Australia, there was an unusual and unfortunate cluster of shark attacks in Sharm el Sheikh. Five people were attacked, four seriously injured, one fatally. The attacks led to a spate of shark hunting in order to reassure tourists that the 'rogue' sharks had been caught and that the sea was safe again. More shark slaughter driven by money. Please read my thoughts on this in my article 'Diving with Sharks'.

Now, here's the slideshow from 2010. To start the slides from the beginning, just hit your browser's refresh button or press the F5 key.


Scenes from 2010
Paul & Carol Courtnage's 2010 in Pictures

Paul Courtnage

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