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Archive for the 'Travels' Category

Wildlife - and the BBC

Caroline, Friday, October 13th, 2006

We’ve been travelling quite a bit through the desert. The roads aren’t that bad (relatively speaking)! There are patches where we can get up to 30mph, but most of the time it’s quite rocky and we try to keep it under 20mph. We’ve seen a whole variety of wildlife, including camels and dingos.

Camel in the Nullarbor Desert © Caroline Smith

Camel in the Nullarbor Desert © Caroline Smith

There are also lots of kangaroos, but it’s difficult to get a reasonable picture because they always start to run away any time they see the cars within a couple of miles of them! They are weird and interesting to watch as they jump along. They’re very speedy, but it does look like a tiring way to get about.

We’ve now arrived at Forrest, where we’re meeting up with some BBC people who are filming a documentary. Forrest is an amazing place, with an airstrip and six bungalows where people can stay. Darryl and Lynn, who run the place, also provide meals and sundries. Forrest even has postal services – a rare find in the middle of a desert.

Tonight we’ll sleep in real beds and we’ve all had a shower - just the most amazing thing after you’ve not had one for a few days. Tomorrow we head out again, with the BBC people who’ll be filming along the way.

There’s gold in those hills

Caroline, Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Saturday’s footie game was great – and I won $5 as my guess about how the final score would end was the closest (85-84 to the West Coast Eagles, much to the delight of all in Perth)!

View of Kalgoorie from the top of Mine Head Gear © Caroline Smith

View of Kalgoorie from the top of Mine Head Gear © Caroline Smith

Then on Sunday we travelled to an outback mining town called Kalgoorlie. Gold was first discovered here in the late 1800s, and there was a large gold rush once news got out of the amazing finds.

Phil, Caroline and Martin sitting on large bulldozer blade © Caroline Smith

Phil, Martin and me sitting on large bulldozer blade © Caroline Smith

Now minerals are mined as well as gold - most of the 30,000 or so people in Kalgoorlie work either in the mines or in a related industry like engineering or metallurgy. My first impression of the town was ‘It’s the Wild West’! The main street’s called Hannan Street, after Paddy Hannan, who originally discovered gold here. This is where most of the shops, bars and restaurants are - many of these date back to the days of the gold rush and are quite ornate. Kalgoorlie residents in the early days apparently wanted to show their wealth and prestige to people coming into the town.

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Final preparations

Caroline, Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Yesterday was a national holiday to celebrate the Queen’s birthday, so Kalgoorlie was very quiet. We went to the DIY warehouse to buy more equipment for when we’re in the desert. We need a huge amount of jerry cans – not just for petrol and diesel but for water, because we have to bring enough to cover all we need for drinking and cooking.

Today started very early, with all four of us catching up on email and other work-related items back in the real world.

We then went and picked up our second car. This one’s a ‘ute’ – a 4WD that has an open bed in the back for carrying our massive supply of the jerry cans.

The town was much busier today and we could begin to understand that this really is one of the major towns in Western Australia. We went shopping for food for our trip, and then spent a lot of time organising and packing everything. We even had to pack all of our vegetables individually in newspaper to help to stop them bruising and going rotten.

We’ll be starting off early tomorrow for our five hour trip to Kanandah, our first location out in the Nullarbor!

The golden pipeline

Gretchen, Monday, October 2nd, 2006

Yesterday, Sunday, we drove to Kalgoorlie – about 580km from Perth, which took us about seven hours. The road follows a large pipe through which fresh water flows to Kalgoorlie from Perth. This pipe, called the Golden Pipeline, was finished in 1903, within a few years of Kalgoorlie being established as a town.

Great Eastern Highway with the Golden Pipeline on the left © Gretchen Benedix

Great Eastern Highway with the Golden Pipeline on the left © Gretchen Benedix

Along the way we stopped in Southern Cross for petrol – it’s a small town where all the streets are named after stars or constellations. Very nifty for a geek like me!

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Some Australian meteorites

Caroline, Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

Today we went to the Western Australian Museum to visit Professor Alex Bevan. Alex is the Meteorite Curator there, though he used to do my job at the Natural History Museum.

During our visit we discussed the different aspects of our trip and Alex showed us around their meteorite vault. Although the Western Australian Museum has fewer different meteorites than we do at the Natural History Museum (they have about 200, we have about 2000), they do have some amazing samples and I was quite envious!

Caroline with the Mundrabilla meteorite © Caroline Smith

Caroline with the Mundrabilla meteorite © Gretchen Benedix

One of their star specimens in the Mundrabilla meteorite, which is so big that they have to keep it outside. It weighs 12.4 tonnes and you can see how big it is from these pictures that Gretchen and I took. That is the first time I have ever been able to sit on a meteorite!

We’ve arrived in Australia!

Caroline, Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

We flew to Perth on Monday morning and had another good flight – on Qantas this time. While we were in the air we saw some of the volcanoes in Indonesia and also a few thunder storms – the pilots had to fly around them to avoid too much turbulence!

We had to go through strict checks when we arrived, to make sure that we weren’t bringing anything into Australia that could damage the native flora and fauna. Because of its geography and the fact that it has been an isolated continent for so long, Australia has developed many unique species - koalas, kangaroos and the like. It could play havoc with the native species if people were to bring in plants or animals which then escaped or otherwise affected the local environment.

Perth is a lovely city. We’ve been very lucky with the weather, which is great for spring (it is spring here at the moment). It’s been warm, not too hot and very sunny.

Today, I met up with my friend Nardi, who used to live in London and moved back to Perth last year. She took me on a tour of the city, visiting Kings Park and also Cottesloe Beach.

Kings Park is the main park in Perth and there are great views across the city. There are lots of trails and paths in the park, as well as a huge range of plants and flowers.

Cottesloe Beach is about 15 minutes drive from the city and is a beautiful white sand beach. It is very popular with surfers and there were quite a few people surfing whilst we were there. I went paddling in the ocean and it was very cold – much colder than I expected and much, much colder than the sea around Singapore! I don’t think I will be going swimming while I’m here!

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We’re on our way

Gretchen, Sunday, September 24th, 2006

Here we are in Singapore! I’m relieved not to be feeling too bad - usually, when travelling east I get the worst jet lag, but we had a fantastic night’s sleep on the flight. Still, it’s always a bit of a shock to the body to fly this far.

Singapore’s really interesting. It’s East Asian and tropical and reminds me very much of Hawaii, where I spent four years at the university getting my PhD. The food’s great and it’s interesting to note how clean everything is.

We spent some time in Orchard Street, the big shopping area, where many of the stores were very familiar (including a Marks & Spencer).

But we spent most of our time wandering along Changi Beach, near our hotel. Again, it reminded me of Hawaii, even down to the fragrance of the orchids, plumeria and other flowers, as well as the beaches.

Tomorrow we’re heading off to Perth, to get ready for hunting the meteorites

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First stop, Singapore

Caroline, Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

We left London last Thursday and it seems like ages ago! We flew out to Singapore first, on our way to Perth. We were lucky enough to get free flights with British Airways, through their conservation scheme. It was a long flight – more than 12 hours – but it was very pleasant, especially as we were in Club Class seats!

Orchids outside our hotel in Sinagpore © Caroline Smith

Orchids outside our hotel in Sinagpore © Caroline Smith

We arrived in Singapore late on Friday afternoon. It was quite hot (over 30°C) and very humid. Singapore Airport is very nice and we got through immigration, collected our bags and out to our hotel within an hour of landing. The hotel’s in a place called Changi Village, which is very picturesque, with lots of trees and colourful plants and flowers, including fabulous orchids like the one pictured above. Near the hotel there are lots of green parrots, which we see most in the afternoons. There’s also a beach which we’ve visited a few times.

Changi Beach, Singapore © Caroline Smith

Changi Beach, Singapore © Caroline Smith

Changi has an interesting, though sad history. In the Second World War there was an Allied prisoner of war camp here, during the occupation of Singapore by the Japanese. It was then the site of a massacre, and the sand is reported to have run red with the blood of the people who were killed. Some of the prison camp is still standing and it has been turned into a museum and monument to the prisoners who were here.

Now the village is a popular destination for Singaporeans and tourists alike. There are lots of restaurants where you can get all sort of food for very reasonable prices. Singapore is a very diverse country, with people from many SE Asian and other countries living here. As a result, the food and culture is very varied. However, because Singapore used to be a British colony, English is still one of the four official languages and the majority of the road names and so on are in English. Orchard Road (pictured here) is the biggest shopping street and has loads of shops and shopping centres.

Orchard Road, Sinagpore © Caroline Smith

Orchard Road, Singapore © Caroline Smith

We’ve spent three days here, which has given us a welcome chance to recover from the flight and the jetlag, as well as giving us the opportunity to see a bit of the place.

Tomorrow we’re off to Perth, and our meteorite trip will really begin.

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Australia here I come

Gretchen, Thursday, September 21st, 2006

I’m very excited to be going to the Nullarbor desert. My previous meteorite hunting experience has been in the Antarctic (a frozen desert), but to prepare for this trip, I’ve had to rethink everything I know about desert camping. Conditions in the Antarctic are very different to those we’ll experience in Australia. The biggest difference, of course, is the temperature. For this trip, I won’t need to take along all my woolly winter clothes; just a good sleeping bag and regular hiking boots.

Gretchen on a meteorite trip to the Antarctic

Gretchen on a meteorite trip to the Antarctic.

Most of the gear we need is already in a storage locker in Perth. We’ll gather it all together when we get there, and make sure that nothing needs to be replaced or repaired. After that, we’ll get a day or two of rest before we head out into the desert.

While we’re in Australia, we’re also going to be shooting a video for a Nature Live presentation on meteorite hunting, which will be presented at the Museum in December. I’ve acquired a video camera and have had some preliminary training and advice. Stay tuned for this Nature Live program, which will also be webcast.

Caroline has summed up how busy we’ve both been getting ready for this trip to search for meteorites. As well as all the paperwork we’ve had to fill out, we’ve also had to have medicals to make sure we’re in tip-top shape for working in such a harsh environment. We both passed with flying colours!

Since returning from travels to conferences I’ve also spent much of my time getting a variety of research projects to a point where I can leave them for a few weeks. This included writing an abstract for a meeting in San Francisco in December.

I just can’t wait to get out there and start looking for meteorites.

The summer of a meteorite curator

Caroline, Monday, September 18th, 2006

One of the aspects of my job that I really enjoy is that I get to travel quite a bit. This summer I’ve already been to Morocco, Zurich and Glasgow to attend meetings about meteorites.

Because I have been travelling so much I haven’t really had much chance to do as much curation and research as I would normally do. Saying that, after a big meeting I always receive a lot of requests from scientists for samples that they can work on. When they hear about something exciting at a big meeting, they want to work on that sample themselves!

So I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the past few weeks weighing out and preparing samples for study. This involves a fair amount of paperwork – and there’s lots of paperwork for the Australian trip too. Not my favourite part of the job.