Sunday, 16 October 2011

2500km, 6 Days, 4 National Parks, 2 States...

Nearly one month on from my outback adventures, I have finally been able to sit down and write about my adventures for all my dedicated fans. I should really apologise once more for abandoning my blog, but I'm sure you've all had enough of my apologies and think they don't have much credibility anymore. In my defense, life has been pretty hectic since my return; I've been rushing to get everything complete before I leave on my next adventure in two days time.

Having been in Australia for 21 months, I recently realised that my "Australian adventures" were actually extremely limited and mostly restricted to Tasmania. When coupled with my desire to escape the urban jungle that is Sydney and the confines of the CCRC (and thus sea-ice), a road-trip was planned. The destination was Outback NSW, somewhere the craziness of urban life can be easily forgotten, and somewhere far-removed from sea-ice.

The trip was far too action-packed and adventuresome for me to describe all that happened in detail (OK, that's just an excuse so I don't have to try and remember everything that happened), so instead I will provide specific highlights and idiotic moments that happened throughout the entirety of the trip.

1) Driving around Sydney airport trying to figure out how to change gear in an automatic car. Turns out the car was in semi-automatic mode...

2) Driving on unsealed roads in the equivalent of a Vauxhall Vectra in the middle of nowhere - turns out everyone has 4x4s in the outback, well everyone except us!

3) Mice climbing into our tent and dive-bombing onto me in the middle of the night (this happened 4 times)

4) Burying myself so deeply into my sleeping bag in the foetal position trying to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures

5) Stopping on the side of the road to check out what appeared to be watermelons growing everywhere and having a snake hiss at Laura as she threw one on the floor. I through this was hilarious and cried with laughter...Laura did not and probably cried from fear...

6) Singing bad 90s music at the top of my voice

7) Seeing a wild emu!

8) Driving 1000 km to visit one national park, only to find that the main attraction was closed except on official tours...

9) Seeing Venus set


Saturday, 10 September 2011

Tales of an abandoned blog...

Finally, after two months of zero-blogging action, I'm back! For those that have continually pestered me to blog again (you know who you are) over the past month or so, I hope this keeps you happy for a short while at least.

So what's my excuse? Laziness? Forgetfulness? Stupidity? Although common features in my everyday life, none of the aforementioned reasons are to blame...instead, it comes down to the fact that I have done very little that is exciting enough to blog about. See, really I am thoughtful and making sure you don't end up reading paragraph after paragraph of nothingness, but as you asked for something, nothingness if what you'll get.

Since you last read about my exciting Svalbard adventures, my life has become pretty mundane, and will likely remain so for the next few weeks at least. I do have a few things up my sleeve but I won't give everything away in order for you to come back and check my blog each and every day. Just so you don't think I've become a total bore, I will be travelling to the US of A in 6 weeks time so fun times will be had! Best of all I get to see one of my bestest friends who I haven't seen for nearly 14 months now, cannot wait!

One thing I am very excited about is the shiny new wide-angle camera lens I bought myself this week. I probably shouldn't have treated myself so extravagantly, but it was totally worth it, and hopefully you guys can attest to that when I get out and take some proper photos with it in the coming weeks.

In the mean time, here are just a few snaps taken over the past few months in Sydney and surrounds. The star snapshot isn't great, but considering the light pollution in Sydney, I was very impressed that the cloudiness of the milky way can at least partially be seen. The other two photos were taken on a little jaunt to the Blue Mountains.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The summer school comes to an end – 8th July 2011

As you can probably tell, I have skipped a few days with the blog. I know I originally said I would blog every day, but sometimes life just gets in the way; in this case, life is the summer school and the resulting very little time off. I’m sure my ramblings aren’t interesting to most people, but to those who were excited about my antics, I apologise.

Following a speedy recovery from the previous days near death experiences, the last week of the summer school began with a pleasant boat trip up Isfjorden to Nordensjoldbreen (the Nordensjold glacier) and the abandoned Russian mining settlement of Pyramidden. The glacier, as one would expect, was amazing, especially for a geography geek like me...what made it even better was the whisky on the rocks that we were served, the “rocks” being glacial ice! The whale that was served for dinner, however, was not so pleasant. Needless to say, I didn’t eat it. Pyramidden, by contrast, was an extremely eerie sort of place which gave me the definite heeby jeebies, just like its counterpart, Barentsburg, which I visited last year. I don’t know what it was, but I did not get a good feeling from the place; our “tour guide”, however, thought it was the greatest place on Earth! Saw a fair amount of wildlife whilst on the ship: many puffins, other Arctic birds, and even an Arctic Fox. Unfortunately no polar bears or whales.

The rest of the week flew by so quickly, but a few highlights included:
- Being attacked by yet another Arctic bird...I was casually walking across the tundra to a tent where some evening activities were being held, and all of a sudden some massive bird swooped by and hit my head with its feet! Scared me half to death...
- Watching people complete the “Arctic beer challenge” – drinking a can of beer whilst shoulder deep in Arctic water. People’s facial expressions were priceless!
- A trip to the dog yard to visit the huskies
- On the way to the above, running frantically down the road in order to avoid being attacked by the Arctic Terns. I have no idea why so many birds were attacking me this trip...
- Baking skillingsboller, my favourite traditional Norwegian delight!
- The final farewell party – details not needed here...
- The fact that the weather was so crappy for most of the two weeks, but cleared on the final evening: typical
- And many, many more...!

Before I knew it, the summer school had come and gone. It was great being back on Svalbard, and I learnt a hell of a lot. More importantly, however, I made some good friends and laughed A LOT! Next stop, Oslo!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

“This is the worst place in the world” – 1st/2nd July 2011

Friday on Svalbard means “Friday gathering”, essentially a party for all staff and students of UNIS, which, of course, includes the sea ice summer school participants. This couldn’t have come at a better time after some particularly gruelling lectures which left many feeling really stupid. The evening was complete with slack-lining, dancing, and general fun and banter, which all made for a very entertaining night. Before you ask Dad, no I wasn’t drunk! After getting back to the barracks at 2am, I was up at 7.30 to get to lectures. For those that know me, you will all realise that 5 and half hours sleep usually doesn’t make for a happy Graham – somehow this wasn’t the case and I felt particularly awake, well until the lectures began anyway...

Following some particularly tedious lectures, the summer schools one and only free afternoon began. In traditional Svalbard style, this meant a hike, and a long hike at that! Four of us head out with the aim to reach the abandoned mining settlement of Grunzzz, a pretty challenging target according to many of those experienced in these matters. Let’s just say the hike started badly (we couldn’t figure out how to use the preparation of course), and got worse and worse with every passing minute! This time I am not exaggerating. The hike began with a river crossing; not wanting to get soaking wet feet before the hike had started, off came our boots, and into the river we went. As you would expect, the water was bloody freezing (it is glacial melt-water after all), which was made worse by the fact that slippery rocks meant carful footing was necessary at all times. River crossed, boots donned, we continued up a seemingly never-ending steep slope. Now uphill walking really is not my forte, resulting in heavy breathing and profuse sweating. My thankfulness having reached the plateau was short-lived – we soon realised our path for the next 7km or so was bog, bog, and more bog. The going was very, very hard, and when coupled with the frequent crossing of knee deep snow drifts, and numerous streams, you can understand my fatigue when reaching our target....

...only that we didn’t really reach the target. Upon reaching that valley that would take us to the abandoned settlement, it became obvious that it was just too far, and would add another 4 hours or so to our journey. Instead of traipsing back through the bog, we thought it would be clever to evolve our route so that we walked straight down a different valley which would lead us to the starting point. Sounds wasn’t! With hindsight, this was a very stupid decision. I would go into details here, but let’s just say that in order to complete the hike, scrambling on loose scree slopes, clambering on precarious and often unsafe snow drifts, and crossing raging river torrents became commonplace. I don’t think I have never been so concerned for my safety! Emotionally and physically drained, after 8 hours, ~20km, 500m elevation gain and loss, the hike in “the worst place in the world” as it was named, was finally (and thankfully) over. Despite the trials and tribulations of the hike itself, we all had a really good time – I know I haven’t laughed that much for a long time.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Arctic Terns - 30th June 2011

A trip to the mine – 29th June 2011

Longyearbyen remains overcast, but temperatures have risen somewhat due to a drop in the wind. I remain hopeful that blue sky WILL return before I leave again...optimistically, this will be by Saturday in time for our “free afternoon”. The monotony of daily lectures was broken up today by the beginning of the student poster presentations; these are not normal posters, but A0-sized scientific posters summarizing ones work...just wanted to make that clear. When coupled with free alcohol, these poster sessions make for good discussion starters, and a nice way to find out what everyone is presently working on. Fortunately I didn’t get asked too many horrible questions...

Presentations over, a few of us students decided to go on an impromptu trip to the local mine up in Nybyen, mine 2a I believe. The abandoned mine (probably better to describe it as the mine buildings – I don’t think you can actually go underground) is located a couple hundred metres away from the student barracks, half way up the valley side, within easy reach for an evening wander and photo session. The mine is a pretty strange place, slightly dilapidated, but everywhere you see objects reminding you of the fairly recent mining activities that took place there, albeit rusty and/or ice covered. When I first visited Svalbard, I also visited this mine, and was made to walk on an unstable plank of wood with no hand-rail supports for probably 10m or so; needless to say I was pretty petrified, especially considering that if I fell, I would probably roll all the way down the slope back to the student barracks. This year, I conquered my fears and walked these planks of doom without thinking twice; in fact, I even stopped half way to snap some photos – photography is clearly a good incentive to conquer fears. It was nice to get out and about, I hope these evening activities continue!

Friday, 1 July 2011

“Wilderness Evening” - 28th June 2011

Much to my disappointment, yesterday’s prediction for improved weather was completely wrong. Cloud remains an ever present eye-sore over the Svalbard landscape, producing the odd spot of rain, and in doing so, shattering my illusions of escaping the rain from both Australia and England! The wind has also picked up considerably, bringing the temperature down with it – what temperature it is I don’t know...but I do know that it is cold enough and windy enough for me to cry and shiver constantly whilst outside. I could easily resolve this problem by staying inside, but then I couldn’t take any outdoorsy photos could I? Needless to say, I endured the Arctic weather to snap some shots; my subject, the Arctic Terns that attacked me a few days previously. These birds are so quick that it proved rather difficult to get a good shot, but my patience eventually paid off. Well worth the threat of frost-bite (I exaggerate) to snap these birds fishing on the shores of Longyearfjord.

This evening we had a scheduled social event, which our programme simply described as a “wilderness evening”. I was hoping that this would somehow involve being outdoors, enjoying the Arctic wilderness, despite the wind and threat of rain. Boy was I wrong! Instead, we travelled 5 minutes by bus down the one of very few roads in Longyearbyen, into Adventdalen, towards a place with a dog yard and a few huts. Our “guide” tells us that this is on the edge of the wilderness...I don’t consider being 5m from a road, with views of a mine, wilderness. Nevertheless, a pleasant evening was had enjoying a lecture on Svalbards history in a wooden hut, complete with fire and lanterns; very cosy.

The summer school begins – 27th June 2011

Today marked the start of the summer school, and with it, the start of all-day lectures which I have not experienced since my Master days, almost 2 years previously. Luckily the cloud has returned to Longyearbyen, making it much easier being stuck indoors all day - nevertheless I would still like to be out and about exploring the Arctic wilderness and taking photos (no photos taking today :( ). I won’t bore you all with the details of my lectures because frankly, I know you all couldn’t care less, but I will just say thus far, they have been intellectually stimulating, very interesting and pretty intense! Apparently jumping in the deep end, so to speak, is the Norwegian way. The weather seems to be clearing slightly now (10pm), so hopefully tomorrow will bring brighter skies in preparation for our “Wilderness Evening”, whatever the hell that is – hopefully it will involve some photography...

The Return to Svalbard – 25th-26th June 2011

After a 4am start, and over 13 hours in transit, I finally made it back to Svalbard, and boy is it good to be back. The flight in over Spitsbergen itself was absolutely amazing; clear skies afforded fantastic views of snow covered peaks, glaciers and glacier tongues, sea ice and fjords as far as the eye could see, it was truly amazing. This fantastic greeting to the Arctic made me forget my extreme fatigue (I should mention that I forgot to pick up my boarding pass from the self-service machine and had to harass a helpful staff member in my panic – it was all fine...) so that I could head down to the annual beach party in celebration of midsummer with a few fellow sea-ice summer school people. In addition to enjoying the midnight sun and watching foolish people swim in the Arctic waters, I was lucky (if that’s the right word) to receive a free half burger-bap and some crazy potato flat bread thingies from the BBQ due to the lack of vegetarian or chicken options – GET IN! Eventually, however, the tiredness greeted me once more (and with a vengeance) and so we promptly walked back up the Nybyen (the barracks where we are staying – about half hour walk from Longyearbyen), but not before being attacked by Arctic Terns!

Despite extreme fatigue, the midnight sun made sleep rather difficult and therefore getting out of bed even harder....but a hike had been planned, so out of bed I got! The IPY summer school (which I attended the two years previously) is going on concurrently with the sea-ice school I am attending , and so a few of the sea-ice people joined the IPY crew to go on a hike to Nordensj√∂ldtoppen. It seems that despite losing some weight and doing a fair amount of walking in Australia, I am still pretty unfit, at least by Norwegian standards anyway. The hike took probably 6 hours in total, but what killed me was the 1080m climb from sea-level to the peak! The bloody, sweat and tears were totally worth it though – the view from the peak was amazing and just difficult to describe in words, so I will let my photos do the talking in that respect. Luckily the walk down was much easier, mostly because I just leaped down the snow-covered slopes and hoped for the best...luckily it worked out fine and I didn’t injure myself. All in all, it was an amazing hike (I will probably take that statement back tomorrow – I’m already finding it difficult to move), and definitely an amazing start to my time in Svalbard. Great people, great views, great weather – let’s hope it continues!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Home Time!

I'M COMING HOME! England, I shall be seeing you in 30 hours or so! CANNOT WAIT!

Monday, 23 May 2011


See how good I am at keeping up with my blog nowadays...

Sydney has a definite Autumnal feel to it at the moment, not those crappy rainy Autumn days you get in England, but those all so rare days of beautiful clear skies with a slight nip in the air and leaves changing colour and falling all around. This weather has been around for about 2 weeks now, which has been a nice change from the weeks of rain that fell beforehand. It's started to get a bit warmer now, but it has been FREEZING cold; 2 weeks ago now it snowed in the Blue May! Now you all know that I never used to feel the cold and wandered around in shorts in winter in the UK - that has not been the case here; even though it only dropped to ~8C at night in Sydney, I've been layering up and even wearing gloves. I can't believe what a wuss I've become and am slightly concerned how I will cope in Svalbard...

This past week I have once again been a busy bee social-wise. I met up with my old house mate for the first time in a long, long time and enjoyed a good ol' catch up over some chocolatey delights at a chocolate cafe - YUMMY! My friend from Tassie (who I was working with in Antarctica) also came up for a very brief visit and it was great to catch up with him and in the process, try and persuade him to persuade his boss to let me go on more Antarctic voyages! I'll keep you posted on that one.

On Saturday I also had the pleasure of helping out on the field trip for which I do some marking. Imagine 270 exchange students (mainly American), all of whom are mostly hungover, trying to get the answers from you. I actually had a pretty good time and learnt that I look like someone from the film Clueless (I didn't agree when they showed me a photo), and that Americans are easily amused by the name Graham ("Gram"), especially when I have the same full name as someone from another movie, The Holiday. The offer of wedges from the students was a personal highlight of the trip...I think that was their way of bribing me to give them good marks!

All of the above, in addition to beginning the packing up of all my stuff (how organised am I?) has meant that I haven't had any time for more astro-geeking and photo-taking in general; Booo to that!

I'll end my ramblings there.

Fred ut ("Peace out")

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Socialising and More Astro-Geeking!

Halaien everyone,

How good am I posting again so soon after my previous post? This past week has been pretty busy, mainly because I have been a socialite...who knew? I finally made it to the Opera House to watch a play last week, Shakespeare nonetheless! Unfortunately we were in the "basement", not in the fancy and extravagant convert hall; myself and a few others did, however, manage to talk our way into the concert hall foyer to enjoy the view of the Harbour Bridge by pleading to the Opera House manager - being international does sometimes work in ones favour. On Saturday it was the leaving do of a fellow PhD student, so many drinks were obviously consumed and I got to experience 3 new bars/pubs including one "trendy" bar which made me feel like I'm getting too old for that sort of thing; at 24 that's not a great feeling. Still, I had a good time and it was nice to get out and socialise.

Now for the astro-geeking part...On Sunday night/Monday morning, I once again awoke at 4am to go and check out the planetary alignment and attempt once more to take a star-trail photo. I can't remember if I mentioned in my previous post, but my last attempt at star-trails in Sydney culminated in essentially a photo of pure-white thanks to a combination of upper-level cloud, and Sydney light pollution; after an hour and 15 minutes, I was not happy about that. Being the optimist I am (!) I thought I would give it one more go, and the result isn't half bad. My trail was limited to 30 minutes thanks to the sun rising, but the movement is still clearly visible, as you can see below. The other photo is again of the planetary alignment which has shifted a fair amount since last week. After watching the sun rise, it was time to head to uni; I'm such a dedicated student...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Correction to Previous Post

Since posting the previous blog entry all of 5 minutes ago, I have since been moaned at about not given enough credit to others.

I would therefore like to take the time to thank Laura and Karin for organising the observatory trip and inviting me, and also Laura for suggesting a 4am start to see the planetary alligment.


Hi everyone,

This post is going to be very astronomy-based, basically because I have recently become fascinated with all things stars/planets/space; I'm such a loser and/or geek...

Last week, after a couple of days um-ing and ah-ing about when the best weather would be had, I took an evening trip to Sydney Observatory, hoping to delve deeper into all things "space". Unfortunately, after an amazingly clear day, the sky became quite overcast in the evening, but that didn't put me off. As was expected, the tour was pretty touristy/lame: we watched a few short 3D movies about how big/small objects in the universe are, and then went to the "planetarium", which was basically a big umbrella with the stars projected onto it. The part of the tour I was most excited about was looking through the telescopes, to see what exciting wonders could be seen. As I said before, the weather wasn't great for this, but luckily there was a break in the cloud which allowed a view of...SATURN! I have to say, I was incredibly excited about this, and have since been mocked for that reason. Anyway, it was pretty damn amazing; the telescope wasn't particularly strong but you could easily make out saturn and it's rings, and two of it's satellites, Titan and Rhea. It was definitely an awe inspiring sight, and it somehow made the planets more "real". Here is a picture of roughly what I saw.

The space-fetish doesn't stop there...

On Sunday morning, I awoke at 4am to go and see an allignment of 4 of the planets: Venus, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter. Usually a 4am start would not be something I would do, but this was totally worth it. Armed with my camera, I headed down to Coogee, and snapped happily away until sunrise, and then I snapped away some more! I think that was the first proper sunrise that I've seen in Australia.

I have now also learnt/seen:
- the Eta Aquarid meteor shower (I think I saw 7 - almost doubling my lifes total of shooting stars)
- constellations - I have seen, and will now recognise, Scorpio and Sagitarius
- The Pointer Stars, Alpha and Proxima Centauri
- The Southern Cross
- Canopus - the 2nd brightest star in the sky
- and probably a lot more than I now have forgotten