(Final) Notes from Down Under: the highlights, part 2

3. The colors of Rangitoto, Auckland, NZ

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“It’s as hostile a spot as you could find anywhere in New Zealand, yet when I turn around, there is downtown Auckland in plain view just a few kilometers away.”

The words are those of Alastair Jamieson writing for New Zealand Geographic about Rangitoto, a volcanic island located in the Hauraki Gulf near the country’s largest urban center. Much of Auckland’s metropolitan area is underlain by a volcanic field, a collection of about 50 small volcanoes the first of which erupted about 250,000 years ago. The largest of the volcanic cones, with almost 60% in volume of the material erupted in the entire field and rising 260 meters above sea level, forms the island of Rangitoto. It is also the youngest formation in the region, having been created by a series of explosions that started only 600 to 700 years ago.

“Rangitoto is of international significance as a volcanic landform because each stage, from the initial colonisation of raw basalt and scoria to the formation of scrub to immature forest, can be seen,” according to the Auckland Council website. There is no soil per se, just dark dirt eroded from the lava rocks by winds and rain that is gradually accumulating in the fissures. The native flora—-there are over 200 species of endemic trees and shrubs—-is still in the process of making the island habitable for most plants.

The place also has interesting geologic formations. There are seven known caves shaped by molten lava that drained out from the inside of the volcanic vent. This hot material developed a crust that hardened as it cooled forming a roof above the still-flowing lava. The result are hollowed cave-like tubes, the longest of which being about 50m long. Some of these caves have easy access and can be explored with the aid of a torch.

If you go off-track like Jamieson did, Rangitoto may seem a bit of an hostile spot. But the uneven ground, the bouldery lava, the hot black rocks and the dense bush just add to the beauty of the place. So, if you live in Auckland or are visiting the city, make sure you get on the 30-min ferry to the island and walk around the place. If you keep to the track, it’s an easy, short and pleasant hike to the summit. You’ll also be rewarded with beautiful views of downtown Auckland and Hauraki Gulf’s islands along the way.

4. Cycling for a smoothie, Melbourne, Vic

In a blender, combine fresh fruit, ice cubes, a bit of milk or yogurt and, why not, a dollop of honey. Turn the appliance on and wait until the ingredients are smoothly mixed. Your drink is ready.

At home, with the convenience of electricity, it is easy to prepare a smoothie by making use of a modern-day appliance. At the annual Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne, the 12th edition of which took place in February, preparing this drink requires a bit more effort, but zero electrical energy.

In the words of Dr Moss Cass, former Australian Minister for the Environment and Conservation, “the Sustainable Living Festival is a manifestation of a commitment to healing our environment, a demonstration of diverse proposals for changing our behaviour and reducing the damaging impact we are having.” The highlight of the event is the Green Market which showcases all that can be labelled green, fairtrade, organic, and, of course, sustainable. The list ranges from solar-power systems to electrical appliances made of recycled plastic and conservation volunteering programs. Everything needed to present Melbournians to a more ecological and sustainable way of life.

I happened to be in Melbourne during the Festival’s Big Weekend when the Green Market took place. But as an international traveller, I had to resort to the “sustainable activities” that could be done on the spot. Indeed, I couldn’t exactly carry those giant vases made out of old tires in my backpack or sign up for an Australian car-sharing program. So I drank pedal-powered smoothies instead.

The setup was simple, really: a blender attached to a bike in such a way that the blades turned when pedaling. No electrical energy required, just enough effort from the smoothie seller to guarantee the ice was crushed properly and the ingredients well blended. The drink was as delicious as one prepared by making use of electricity. 

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The idea behind this initiative is, of course, that it is possible to prepare a smoothie—-or make guacamole or pesto or any other food that requires a blender, a food processor or a similar device—-without making use of electricity. If you want to save a bit of energy, maybe it’s worth keeping in mind the Festival’s pedal-powered juice bar. A simple concept that can be used at home. (Read: give dual function to your exercise bike. Do not take the Festival guy home to pedal for you!)

5. Wildlife in Tasmania

For this one, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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Echidna, a spiny and furry egg-laying mammal. This one was on the side of a road.

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Wallaby on the beach, Wineglass Bay.

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Cute wombat on a parking lot at Freycinet National Park.

Unfortunately, I did not see a Tasmanian devil in the wild. Hardly surprising given they are now close to extinction. However, I did see them in captivity on a visit to Devils@Cradle, a sanctuary in Cradle Mountain where I adopted a devil named Ossie. If you’d also like to support the center, you can find information about adoptions here.

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