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Getting Down… Under…

Award-winning writer and all-round funster, Thomas Breathnach hails from from Cork in Ireland and loves his travel. His adventures abroad regularly feature in internationally-respected publications such as the Irish Times, Men’s Health, Cape Times and the Mail & Guardian.  

Thomas recently visited Queensland’s boho capital Brisbane before bumping into a neighbour in the middle of nowhere (read: #fraserisland) and heading off in a pink 4×4 called Priscilla. The story was published in The Irish Independent and is re-published here with Thomas’ permission.  Get ready for a wild ride…

Brisbane changed my travelling tune. While newbies to a city might traditionally make a beeline to a tourist office or consult their eBook, I realised that in this age of pop-up urbanism and ever-vacillating culture scenes, there’s truly only one way to procure a city’s insider’s guide: Ask a hipster.

Brisbane's hidden laneway secrets

Brisbane’s hidden laneway secrets

After arriving in Australia’s third-largest metropolis, my first lead was Winn Lane, a hole-in-the wall alleyway in the boho district of Fortitude Valley. Alongside boho bookstores and Alexa Chung boutiques, I began by hitting Flamingo Cafe, a 70s-style kitsch joint fitted with an astro-turf patio and just the antidote to the cookie-cutter CBD I was looking for. A quirky club-sambo of poached chuck and bacon jam and a side order of local tips from my server was the perfect Brissie starter.

Despite its size, A to B-ing it around Brisbane is a breeze. The compact city is wonderfully walker-friendly. It operates a similar bike rental scheme to Dublin, and the city’s water-taxis are a fun way to shuttle up and down the Brisbane River. After grabbing a ferry ride from the Valley, I was soon hovered down to South Bank, the city’s happening cultural precinct and all-round urban utopia.

The district features its own man-made beach, a lush rainforest park home to exotic ibis birds and swooping flying foxes and a magically ambient peace pagoda. Together with a gleaming futuristic skyline, it conjures an almost Asia-Pacific fusion vibe to this sub-tropical city.

South Bank’s most captivating attraction, however, is GOMA, Queensland’s modern art museum which rates as one of Australia’s finest collections. I whiled away a couple of hours inside its mammoth mezzanines, eyeing its exhibits of indigenous contemporary art from watercolour landscapes by Torres Strait Islanders artists to vibrant Roy Lichtenstein-esque cartoon strips.

Paired with its burgeoning arts scene, Brisbane also boasts a well-stockpiled events calendar, with my own visit syncing with both the Regional Flavours Food Festival and the Queensland Music Festival. I began at the former, taste-testing my way through the stalls and food-trucks of Little Stanley Street which were vending all manner of local fare from buffalo halloumi to kombucha blends. At the festival’s Hunting Club (a garden marquee moonlighting as a boutique beer garden), I opted for a tasting paddle of local craft ciders with a delicious batch of wattleseed fried tiger prawns. Queensland tucker at its finest.

Come dusk, my Brisbane swan song led me to the Black Bear Lodge, one of the city’s top music venues, lofted above the heaving clubbing strip of Brunswick Street. Upstairs off the main drag, I was met by a mellowing homage to nostalgic reverie; bearded check-shirted blokes and hillbilly-skirted sheilas lay poised around a retro Rocky Mountain bar, candlelit tables and vintage sofas.

Grabbing a brew and pulling up a pew, I soaked up the awesome scene amid a lounge of merry musos while local singer Ben Salter plucked and chimed his way through an acoustic set. And how did the patrons rate Brissie? “It’s just got that friendly village vibe along with a big city buzz,” said Gwen, a recent transplant from big bad Sydney. “And we’re the only city in the world where drivers have to yield right of way to birds!” piped her mate, Sara, over her vodka-soda-lime. Real-life pelican crossings? Cheers to that.

Fraser Island's famous dingoes

Fraser Island’s famous dingoes

Protected urban fauna and culture vultures behind me, my next Queensland leg took me to the UNESCO-listed wilderness of Fraser Island; the world’s largest sand island, four hours north of Brisbane. After bussing through the Sunshine Coast to Hervey Bay, I made my transit to Fraser via a one-hour ferry hop from River Heads. Joined solely by an elderly Melbourne couple reliving their honeymoon heyday and a curious fur-seal piloting our route off the mainland, we skirted across the Great Sandy Strait towards one of Oz’s easternmost outposts, the air of relaxation lingering more with every passing knot.

Named after the Scottish seafarer Eliza Fraser who was shipwrecked here in 1836, Fraser Island has retained a consistently deserted demographic over the centuries. Today fewer than 200 residents live on the island (which covers an area larger than Leitrim), but it didn’t take long to detect the diaspora.

Checking-in at the Kingfisher Bay Resort, a quick game of accent ping-pong with receptionist Corrina Long revealed, rather extraordinarily, that we were in fact East Cork neighbours, separated by a mere mile of forestry and a parish border. After the initial Irish formalities of establishing mutual acquaintances, Corrina went on to explain that she’s been living offshore for almost three years now. “When I leave the island, it’s just to Hervey Bay to go shopping or stock up on supplies,” she told me. “I’m very lucky to live in such a place!”

Strolling on to my eco lodge, it was easy to appreciate the island’s allure. Known as Kgari — or Paradise, to the

Aborigines — my new demesne was a fantastical lush rainforest chorusing with the calls of kookaburras and cockatoos. Sure, the solemnity was quickly and incongruously interrupted by the blare of Will.i.am from the Dingo Bar’s speakers, but I was in backpacker country, after all.

The Great Sandy Strait, Fraser Island

The Great Sandy Strait, Fraser Island

I’d signed up for a Cool Dingo Tour — a three-day Fraser Island exploration, where I would be joined by a truckload of fellow adventure tourists hailing from Slovakia to Seoul. The next morning, once huddled down and buckled-up aboard our pink 4X4 off-roader (named “Priscilla”), local guide Kirstey was cranking us into Fraser’s almost impenetrable wilds. The tour focuses on outdoorsy surf-and-turf pursuits, and a dip and dive at the screensaver setting of Lake McKenzie was the first invigorating pit stop. Serene hikes followed through the pristine jungles of Wanggoolba Creek and Pile Valley, until we finally navigated our way to where the Coral Sea collides with the island’s eastern shore.

Being the novelty home to Australia’s only beach freeway, this coastal leg made for an adrenalin-gushing ride. Speeding along 75 Mile Beach, we diced our way between boulders, driftwood and fellow-off-roaders, occasionally being dramatically gulped by the ebb and flow of the tide. Given the name of the tour, it also wasn’t long before we spotted some of Fraser’s most infamous residents. With the news of a whale-calf washed up at Cathedral Beach, we soon encountered a plucky pair of dingoes (said to be Australia’s purest sub-species) bounding out of the sand-dunes to give chase to our truck.

I chased my own visit with a sightseeing flight with Air Fraser Island, local operators who offer 15-minute flight add-ons for a not too exorbitant €50. Tucked into the shotgun seat of my eight-seater craft’s rickety monocoque, we heaved off the same beach runway to panoramic Robinson Crusoe moments: lush broccoli-floret rainforests, crystal butterfly lakes and the obligatory rusting shipwreck.

Sunset over the Great Sandy Strait from Kingfisher Bay Resort, Fraser Island

CASTAWAY: Sunset over the Great Sandy Strait from Kingfisher Bay Resort, Fraser Island

As we rumbled out over the squally Pacific, looking for migrating humpbacks breaching beneath us, I could only cross fingers that we wouldn’t meet a Sierra-Oscar-Sierra moment.

Paradise, however, wouldn’t be the worst spot to find myself a castaway.

Getting there

Thomas travelled to Brisbane on Emirates Business Class (01 517 1600; emirates.com) where rates including chauffeur transfers start from €3,550 return. Economy fares are available from €930 return. Bus transfers from Brisbane to Hervey Bay cost from €70 return; Greyhound.com.au or Torystours.com.au are your best bet for a good fare.

Staying there

The Diamant Hotel (+61 7 3009 3400; 8hotels.com; €47pps) in Brisbane’s Sunny Hill district is a bright boutique-style bolthole and a great base for some urban wandering. Free yoga mats are gym passes are also available to help you work off a great brekkie.

On Fraser Island, a three day Cool Dingo Tour (+61 7 4120 3333; cooldingotour.com) including lodge accommodation, meals and ferry transfers costs €280, while a stay at the same resort’s hotel starts from €49pps (+61 7 4120 3333; kingfisherbay.com).

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2014 in Guest Bloggers

 

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Photographer Mike Larder Unearths Fraser Island’s Hidden Secrets

Lake McKenzie in spring
Lake McKenzie in spring

Hot on the heels of his daughter, Luka, snapper Mike Larder shows us ‘Fraser Island in spring time’ through his lens and the results are nothing short of spectacular.  September 2011

FRASER ISLAND lay moodily enshrouded in the early morning mist like some silent slumbering giant enveloped in a shadowy grey doona of cloud. The rising suns rays split through the low lying cloud and mizzleing rain creating angelic patterns of translucent light that splayed across the mirror calm of the Great Sandy Strait.

Kingfisher Bay Resort’s shiny blue vehicular barge nudged lightly upon the shores of Fraser Island’s Kingfisher Bay Resort so gently as to not feel the bump. I expected a Normandy beaches style assault but we disembarked along the jetty in silence and were enveloped immediately by a heady fragrance of Wide Bay Boronia and lemon-scented tea tree.

Fraser Island's stunning western side
Fraser Island’s stunning western side

World Heritage protected Fraser Island appeared to be hiding from us, keeping her secrets until the last tantalising moment….

…If you are a Star Trek fan you might imagine that the futuristically designed Kingfisher Bay eco resort on fabulous Fraser Island-Queensland and the world’s largest sand island bears a striking resemblance to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

The resort – that pioneered eco friendly resorts in Australia-sits lightly apon the Earth. It is essentially a huge pole house that squats atop a wetland. Staying there ensures you get very close to nature. Beam me up there Scotty.

Words and images are copyright.   To see Mike’s amazing images visit:
http://www.pbase.com/lardershots/fraser_islandqueensland&view=slideshow

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Guest Bloggers

 

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Whale Time, The Humpies of Hervey

NakedHungryTraveller.com’s Tom Neal Tacker visited Hervey Bay last year and discovered what all the fuss is about.  Here’s an excerpt from his story from July 2011…

Do southern humpback whales frolic?  It’s a question I often ask myself whenever I get close to a group of “humpies” in the Great Sandy Strait off Fraser Island.

Like kids on a sugary-lolly rush, two adolescent male whales play near our boat with boundless enthusiasm, flipper slapping, tail wagging, body rolling and head bobbing.  They run the full gamut of recognised southern humpback whale play, to the audible delight of the passenger about Quick Cat II.

I’m inclined to say yes, humpbacks do frolic in the limelight.  A touch of anthromorphism?  Possibly, yes.  Irresistible? Definitely, yes.

Nowadays, passengers are encouraged to create lots of noise when whales are sighted to attract their attention, hopefully encouraging enough curiosity in the whales for them to linger around the boat.  When I first ventured on a southern humpback whale sighting adventure off Hervey Bay 12 years ago, the overall experience was marked by hushed solemnity, as if by simply being silent in the presence of these endangered animals was sufficient thrill in itself.  But times have changed and much has been learned about southern humpback whale behaviour.

The number of whales that migrate along the eastern seaboard of mainland Australia has increased to such an extent that whale sighting are no longer considered rare events.

From late winter until mid-spring they begin the long migration south, heading back to Antarctic waters.  Now it’s commonplace to see southern humpback whales all along the eastern shore, from the northern extremity of Queensland’s outer Great Barrier Reef to southern Tasmania.  But Queensland’s Great Sandy Strait is undoubtedly whale watching centre.

To read the rest of Tom’s story visit http://nakedhungrytraveller.com/article.php?story=1208.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2011 in Guest Bloggers

 

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Super Mum Symantha Perkins Takes A Holiday With Her Kids On Fraser!

This month’s guest blogger Symantha Perkins writes about her stay at Kingfisher Bay during a recent visit to Fraser Island. Sam is a ‘Super Mum’ to three gorgeous kids, is the Features Editor of ‘Holidays With Kids’ magazine and is married to ‘Super Fish’ Kieren Perkins.

Sam writes: We just had a fantastic getaway on Fraser Island, relaxing at Kingfisher Bay Resort. A huge thank you to all the Kingfisher team, especially Ranger Bec who taught the kids some valuable lessons about Aussie wildlife and eco-living, and gave Kieren daily updates on which tracks were safe for 4WDing.

Bush, sand, surf, beaches, rock cliffs, sand dunes, freshwater lakes, you names it Fraser Island has it!  When we weren’t lazing by Kingfisher Bay Resort’s pool or soaking in the spa tub on the deck of our treetop villa, we spent our days 4WDing around the bush tracks and cruising along Fraser Island’s awesome beaches. It’s the ultimate 4×4 destination and family vacation spot.

Our highlights were floating down Eli Creek and in The Champagne Pools, swimming in Lake McKenzie and hiking to Lake Wabby from Hammerstone Sand blow. A game of family ‘eye spy’ has never been so much fun with so many interesting things to spot, including dingoes (look but never touch), dolphins, turtles, kingfishers; no whales this trip – but maybe next time.

We’re already planning our next Fraser Island adventure. Keep and eye out for my action packed story, complete with all our family snapshots in the Spring issue of Holidays With Kids magazine – http://www.holidayswithkids.com.au.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2011 in Guest Bloggers

 

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Sunsets on Fraser Island – snapping the perfect pic

Kingfisher Bay’s Resort Ranger and resident Fraser Island photographer Peter Meyer, chats about cool spots on Fraser. August 2010

After a day and a half of just rain and wind the skies began to clear and created one of those sunsets that takes your breath away. These are just a few photos of the sunset as it progressed. No photoshop, just truth.

I was actually very lucky to be at this place. Wasn’t out there to take any photos. The day didn’t really look like anything special. Was heading home but thought a walk on the beach might be nice. There were tracks taken and others not, a cup of tea and a biscuit and then bang you get a sunset from heaven.

Check the photos out at: http://petermeyerphotography.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/the-study-of-nature-is-a-romantic-and-passionate-affair-between-the-student-and-this-all-knowing-woman-who-bestows-her-gifts-on-those-she-deems-worthy-freud-civilization-and-its-discontents/

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2010 in Guest Bloggers

 

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All ‘Tuckered’ Out On Fraser Island

Writer Shirley Sinclair hits the bush tucker trail at Kingfisher Bay Resort and discovers why it is becoming so popular.  Shirley is the Features and Travel Editor for The Sunshine Coast Daily Newspaper.  August 2010

FRASER Island has long been known for its harvest of the sea, with surf fishermen from near and far casting out in the hope of landing “a big one”.  But these days, visitors are discovering the real bounty of the world’s largest sand island lies a little further up the dunes.

Bush tucker has always been the mainstay diet of the indigenous Butchulla tribe, but now Kingfisher Bay Resort guests are savouring its use in everything from cocktails to desserts in innovative creations from the resort kitchen and bars.   

Those with a thirst for more knowledge can digest information on the smorgasbord of ingredients available on the island and beyond, and how to cook with each, during the popular Bush Tucker and Taste Talk – just one of the ranger activities on the menu at the resort.

Our journey of discovery pans out on the Seabelle Restaurant veranda, as head chef Ian and indigenous Ranger Jermaine take us step by step through a right royal taste-test where common plants, humble nuts and seeds, and “workaholic” spices are the stars of the show.

From the simplicity of adding wild lime to a margarita to the complexities of cooking game, we look, listen, learn and, more importantly, eat their words.

We dip into sauces – green (bunyah nut pesto), orange (bush tomato salsa) and beetroot- red (based on native rosellas), scoff down whole macadamia nuts, squish berries between our teeth, and take generous pinches of ground spices.

We dare to lick pepper berries, inhale lemon myrtle and ginger leaf fragrances, and gladly chew over the differences between pan-fried farmed croc or emu and our favourite rump steak.

Ranger Jermaine also shares stories of his auntie’s bush tucker recipes, and his uncle’s goanna dish that was made for special occasions.

Chef Ian says the challenge for Seabelle chefs and apprentices is to successfully marry bush tucker ingredients with conventional flavours, seasonal local produce and fresh seafood to create new dishes alongside signature favourites.

Some bush tucker additions are so subtle in taste, they are hard to recognise. Others create a sauce, rub or marinade that lift a piece of fish or slice of lamb to celebrity status.  Taking the leaf out of traditional cooking methods, such as baking in paperbark, also produces melt-in-the-mouth taste sensations worth writing home about.

But the proof of the pudding (and entree and main meal) is always in the eating.

And dining in the award-winning a la carte Seabelle Restaurant – with its diverse selection of dishes incorporating bush tucker – is certainly a wake-up call for disenchanted tastebuds.

You’ll find yourself playing a guessing game over dinner to distinguish what added the zing here and the velvety smooth pizzazz there.

You’ll be blown away by entrees such as stuffed whole roasted quail
with lilly pillies and sage served with rice pilaf, baby carrot and thyme jus.

And you’ll need to re-read the menu to see why the half duck
twice cooked, on celeriac puree with poached quince, broccolini
and a muscat quandong jus – tasted so heavenly.

You’ll never look at the rainforest in quite the same way again.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2010 in Guest Bloggers

 

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No man is an island, and no island is Fraser Island.

Freelance journalist Antal Roos is currently travelling up the East Coast of Australia and shares her experience at Kingfisher Bay Resort, Fraser Island – May 2010.   Antal regularly blogs on http://chicasontheroadcom.blogspot.com/

After ten months of travelling around the world, I must confess that some things get old. A waterfall will never be as impressive as the Iguazu Falls, no historic site will ever top Machu Picchu, and it’s hard to beat a city like Buenos Aires. Still, there is one thing that will always trigger me, and that’s an island. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful ones in the world, such as Tortuga Island in Costa Rica, Caye Caulker in Belize, Isla Mujeres in Mexico, and Ilha Grande in Brasil. All of them had their own special character and attractions, but I was told that none of them can be compared to Fraser Island.

I’ve heard the big stories from backpackers, who have all done a self-drive tour on the island, camping on the beach, drinking goon, getting eaten alive by mosquitos and having sleepless nights because of the dingoes. This probably sounds very attractive to most young backpackers, but to me, it didn’t. I decided to do something completely different. I was going to spend my days on Fraser in the Kingfisher Bay Resort.  A resort that stands out because of their eco philosophy. Modern, but still one with nature. A combination that sounded a bit strange to me at first, but the first glance I got from the resort, as the ferry anchored at the jetty, was a real eye-opener. The green painted, wooden buildings totally blended in with the landscape, and the oddly looking roof of the  main building rose just a little bit over the canopy of the trees. I couldn’t wait to see it from up close.

When I got to the main building, the first thing I noticed was the architectural design. Industrial shapes are combined with wood and tent-like structures, which almost give you the idea that you are walking into a modern greenhouse-slash-circus tent. Later on I was told that because of this design the main building hardly needs any air conditioning because it keeps itself cool. The interior design is stunning, everything you would expect from a classy resort, but you can still see the eco philosophy shine through as you are surrounded by beautiful plants and birds are regular visitors to the reception area. This goes for the rest of the resort as well as I noticed on the walk to my room. The hotel buildings are built at least half a metre of the ground, to make sure nature can still go its course, and they are surrounded by swampy areas, lots of plant and trees,  and many boardwalks. These boardwalks are very well lit, but these lights are pointed down so that they don’t interfere with the nocturnal life around the resort. If you take a walk on these boardwalks you’ll be surprised by the sound of nature that surrounds you, no noises of cars or loud music, just singing birds and quacking frogs.

When I got to my room I was impressed by the beautiful view.  I could oversee the swamps with the rare window lakes, and looked out over the ocean, with a stunning view of the jetty. After I had settled in, I spend some time in and around the heated pool and spa area. Not too long after that it was time to go and watch one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world (so they say). I could have watched the sunset from my balcony, but I decided to walk down to the beach and have a drink at the Jetty bar, just down at the end of the jetty. It was absolutely breathtaking.

After that, I had dinner in the Sand Bar, located just a couple of minutes away from the main building, where you can swim in some saltwater pools, have a nice bistro lunch or dinner and dance the night away in the bar area. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to all of this, because Ranger Emilio was awaiting me with some of the many Ranger Talks and activities that are offered by the resort. I was going to participate in de Dingo Talk, the Fraser Island presentation and the Ranger guided night walk. All of these were very interesting and informative, and they were a good preparation for my Beauty Spots tour the next day. The resort organizes these activities to inform their guest as much as they can about their surroundings, and to make them aware of the beautiful but sometimes dangerous flora and fauna. I learned what to do when you come face to face with a dingo and which snakes will kill you within two hours and which ones are actually quite friendly.

My second day on the resort I started my day with breakfast in the Maheno restaurant . This is also a cocktail bar, you can enjoy an a-la-carte lunch and it’s famous for its seafood buffet dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. After that I went on the Beauty Spots Tour. Ranger Steve was our guide for the day and he was going to show me, and 21 other guest, all the beauties of the Island in a 4×4-wheel drive coach. The rugged terrain made the bus ride into a rollercoaster ride from time to time, which made it extra exciting. We spend our day visiting the most beautiful sights on the island, walking around in a rainforest, swimming in Lake McKenzie and listening to all the wonderful stories that Ranger Steve was telling us. Lunch was provided by the Eurong Resort, one of the three other resorts on the island, and we were given tea and cookies on several occasions during the day. We were very well taken care of, and despite the rain, it was an amazing tour.

When I got back to the resort my day wasn’t over yet. I was going to participate in a Palatable Pairings course, where I was going to learn a lot about -mostly Australian- wines and how to combine them with traditional Australian dishes. My favorites were the deep-fried crocodile served with a sweet mayonnaise and a beautiful Chardonnay, and the duck with an old Australian Shiraz. My tasting senses have never been this spoiled before and the amount of information we were given was overwhelming. I enjoyed it very much! After the tasting I just had to have dinner in the beautiful Seabelle restaurant, where the Palatable Pairings was done. All the things we had tasted were on the menu, together with kangaroo, emu and a big range of vegetarian dishes. I went with the French onion soup as an entrée and had the kangaroo with baby leaf spinach, sweet potatoes and a mustard-munthari berry sauce  as a main. And me and my dinner companions of course ordered a lovely bottle of Shiraz, Australians best wine. The service was excellent and the food exquisite, I couldn’t have ended my day in a better way.

After one more night in the resort, and one more morning of waking up to the sound of birds, the sun rising behind the jetty, and the smell of a new day, I got to spend one more day in the resort. I had nothing planned for the day, so I spend most of my time on my balcony, enjoying the sun and the view. I also went for a little walk on the beach and had lunch at the Sand Bar. I could have easily stayed here for another week, but all good things come to an end.

My conclusion about Fraser Island? It really is something special. Fraser is not your typical tropical island, it has so much more to offer then most of the other islands that I’ve visited. The fresh water lakes and creeks are something you won’t find anywhere else and there are so many different activities you can participate in, you’ll never get bored.

I’ll be going up North now, off to visit my next island, Great Keppel Island. I don’t think it is going to be easy for this island to impress me after Fraser, but I’ll try to give it a fair shot!

Antal Roos 21 may 2010

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2010 in Guest Bloggers

 

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