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Nature Hike in Paradise: 5 Must-Do Nature-Based Activities on Orpheus Island

Morris EscapesTeam 3·1 Jun, 2024

At 11 kilometres long, and built on volcanic rock, Orpheus Island rises from the Great Barrier Reef in a symphony of granite-studded headlands and sandy arcs. Moreton Bay ash and wattles proliferate across the island while there are also pockets of rainforest, sheltered bays and grasslands.

Part of the Palm Islands group, Orpheus Island was gazetted as a national park in 1960 and during your stay at Orpheus Island Lodge, nature-based experiences co-exist with luxurious accommodation, degustation dinners, and pampering spa treatments.

Make these five nature hikes part of your stay.

#1 – Low-Tide Walk
With the Great Barrier Reef just offshore, you don’t even need to slip into your swimmers to have an encounter with its marine residents. When the tide is low, don a pair of rubber booties to explore the flats and keep an eye out for stingrays and crabs.

Low-Tide on the island

#2 – Nature Hike at Pioneer Bay
A short boat ride away from Orpheus Island Lodge, you can join a guided nature hike from Pioneer Bay (tide dependent) up to a viewpoint on the northern end of the island.

#3 – Self-Guided Lookout Nature Hike
Choose your own adventure with an early morning nature hike – climb to a vantage point that looks out over Hazard Bay and the mainland, or to the southeast where you can see the entire Palm Island Group. Look up and you’ll likely spy ospreys and egrets dancing on the breeze.

You’ll also spy the lodge’s 810 glistening solar panels – the eco power source that can save up to 450 litres of diesel fuel in a day.

Orpheus Island Lodge’s 810 glistening solar panels

#4 – Hinchinbrook Island Rainforest Nature Hike
Looking like something out of Jurassic Park, Hinchinbrook Island is known as Munamudanamy by the Bandjin and Girramay peoples – a rugged land of cloud-covered mountains cloaked in rainforest and eucalypt forest.

In its entirety, the 32-kilometre Thorsborne Trail is a challenging hike with only 40 permits handed out at one time. But organise a boat charter from Orpheus Island to Hinchinbrook Island and you can spend half a day on one of Australia’s most renowned nature hikes without lugging all your gear.

Usually guided by Orpheus Island horticulturist, Jen Truasheim (who has lived on the island for 22 years), you’ll experience the diverse topography as you move between lush rainforest, wild swimming holes, waterfalls and lookouts – like the popular Zoe Falls.

#5 – Picnic Bay Beach Clean Up
Combine a nature hike with protecting the Great Barrier Reef when you take part in a beach clean up at Picnic Bay. With over 40,000 pieces of plastic estimated to be floating in every square kilometre of ocean, it’s one of the easiest ways to play your part in preventing injury to marine life.

Occasionally staff will lead group clean ups but you’ll also find a Tangaroa Blue container set up at Picnic Bay for you to pop in any plastics found during your island ambles.

The hidden stories behind these stunning Great Barrier Reef islands

Morris EscapesTeam 3·1 Jun, 2024

They say, ‘no man is an island’ and no island is alone either, at least in the case of the Palm Island group, which Orpheus Island Lodge calls home. You’ll play eye spy with the group of 16 Great Barrier Reef islands as you enjoy your helicopter transfer to Orpheus Island – some which have a vivid and chequered history. Bookended by other Great Barrier Reef islands like Hinchinbrook and Magnetic, there are plenty of stories waiting to be explored.

Pelorus Island

You may have never heard of it, but Pelorus Island – just 15 minutes from Orpheus Island by boat – will soon play host to one of the most exclusive holiday homes in the Great Barrier Reef islands. Opening from October 2023, Pelorus Private Island will feature four luxurious suites on an unspoilt sandy spit, from where you can snorkel straight from the beach, cruise the Palm Island group on an amphibious yacht, and fish for the most sought-after reef species in the world.

 

Pelorus Island

Great Palm Island

The largest in the group, Great Palm Island has made the news for not-so-positive reasons in the past. The 1999 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records controversially named it as the most violent place on earth, outside a combat zone. But out of punitive beginnings, strong community and cultural ties have been bound. Known by the name Bwgcolman, meaning ‘one people from many groups’, traditional owners from up to 57 language groups were forcibly moved to the island from 1918. Today, with one pub, a small township and spectacular fringing reef, Lonely Planet has named it as one of the world’s most unique destinations to visit in their book, Offbeat (2022).

Fantome Island

These days, Eumilli Island (Fantome Island) is uninhabited but join a historical tour from Orpheus Island and you’ll be privy to the heritage-listed ruins that remain, offering a glimpse of its less-than-paradisiacal past. In the 1920s-1930s it was home to a lock hospital (for those with venereal disease) and leprosarium, known as the lazaret.

Hinchinbrook Island

You’d need months to begin to penetrate what lies beneath the Jurassic exterior of Munamudanamy (Hinchinbrook Island). North of the Palm Island group, between Cardwell and Lucinda, this is the home of the Thorsborne Trail – a bucket list, self-sufficient hike that traverses 32 ungraded kilometres. You can enjoy a taste tester by joining a half-day charter from Orpheus Island under the masterful guidance of horticulturalist and longtime local, Jen Truasheim, and score the money shot from beautiful Zoe Falls.

Uncovering the secrets of the islands

Magnetic Island

One of the better known Great Barrier Reef islands, Yunbenun (Magnetic Island) is home to over 2100 residents and even has its own postcode. Blessed with great tracts of national park, boulder-strewn beaches, and the largest colony of free-roaming koalas in Northern Queensland, ‘Maggie’ is becoming increasingly popular as a pre- or post-stay after Orpheus Island. Book a direct helicopter transfer to the island to save time travelling back to Townsville then over on the ferry.

Must-do Eco Friendly Tours on the Great Barrier Reef

Morris EscapesTeam 3·1 Jun, 2024

Travelling anywhere comes with a level of responsibility but perhaps nowhere is there a greater need to be environmentally conscious than when visiting the Great Barrier Reef.Thankfully, eco-friendly tours on the Great Barrier Reef are part of the modus operandi at Orpheus Island Lodge.

With the island playing host to a scientific research station, regular beach cleanups, educational dive and snorkelling trips, and citizen science opportunities, these eco-friendly tours will keep your footprint low and your experiences high.

Research Station Tour

Fascinated by marine scientists and wonder what they get up to all day? The James Cook University Research Station has held an important position in Pioneer Bay on the western side of Goolboodi (Orpheus Island) since the late ‘70s, facilitating more than 600 scientific papers written about corals, fish and seaweed in the area.

On this eco-friendly tour, you’ll all but don a lab coat as you explore the wet and dry laboratories and the live reef touch tanks of the research facility. During specific times of the year, you’ll find marine scientists conducting integral research on climate change, sea level rise and their potential impacts on the local reef and ecosystems.

The James Cook University Research Station

Picnic Bay Beach Cleanup

The harmful effects of plastics and other debris on marine life is a problem we can all play a part in reversing. Twice a year, the Tangaroa Blue Foundation conducts clean ups on Orpheus Island to remove, sort and record marine debris, entering the tally and details into the Australian Marine Debris Database (AMDI) – and they’ve collected more than 1736 tonnes of rubbish from Australian waters thus far.

Even if a formal beach clean up isn’t scheduled during your stay on the island, you can play your part in the protection of the reef by collecting any rubbish you see and putting it into the Tangaroa Blue container set up at Picnic Bay.

Play your part in the protection of the reef by collecting any rubbish you see.

Eco-Educational Dive and Snorkel

When we have a connection to something, we’re more likely to rally to save it, which is why a half-day dive charter or a snorkelling trip to the protected giant clam garden at Pioneer Bay are ideal eco-friendly tours to book during your stay on the Great Barrier Reef.

Planted in the 1980s in an effort to save the species from the brink of extinction, the giant clam nursery is now populated by 300 of the world’s largest bivalve molluscs, weighing up to 200kg each.

DIY Research Volunteering

While not an organised eco friendly tour per se, participating in a citizen science project during your stay at Orpheus Island Lodge is an easy (and free!) way to take action against the climate crisis. Choose from local projects where you can complete surveys, and provide data and photos – in or out of the water – to assist professional scientists and conservation groups.

Download a coral health chart from Coral Watch and you can contribute important information to help scientists understand more about coral bleaching events. With The GBRMPA’s Eye on the Reef app, you can record reef health, animal sightings or incidents to help those who manage the Great Barrier Reef. There are projects covering everything from turtles to manta rays, and mangroves to coral.

3 spots for your perfect island picnic

Morris EscapesTeam 3·1 Jun, 2024

Degustations are nice. Long lunches are fine. But nothing says, ‘I’m on holidays’ more than a secluded island picnic on the Great Barrier Reef.

While staying at Orpheus Island Lodge, a chef-prepared picnic can be prepared for any adventure – whether you’re bundling your basket into a kayak for a paddle, venturing to a private cove in one of the motorised dinghies, or hitching a ride in a helicopter.

This is not your average sandwich picnic, either. With a Japanese theme, you’ll find chicken katsu sandos, soba noodle salad, seafood, and a sweet of the day in your gourmet hamper, accompanied by fruits and cheese.

Make the most of nature’s dining room, like at least half of all guests do, and include an island picnic at one of these secluded spots during your stay.

Yanks Jetty

Anchor up on the sand to enjoy a lazy island picnic at Yanks Jetty on the south-west side of Orpheus Island (Goolboddi). Serving as a reminder of Australia’s involvement in the World Wars, the jetty was used as a station to demagnetise American ships and submarines, protecting them from mines in the surrounding waters. There’s a bush camping site here, which means you’ll also find a composting toilet, picnic tables, and plenty of shade.

Yanks Jetty

Sandy Bay

This island picnic spot is tide-dependent, but closer to Orpheus Island Lodge if you’re keen to kayak your way to lunch. Don’t forget your snorkelling gear!

Sandy Bay

Havannah Island

Rock stars have riders. On Orpheus Island, you have helicopter-access-only island picnics. Climb aboard a helicopter for a lunch date like no other, where you’ll be set up with a picnic blanket and umbrella on the shores of the reef. You won’t find any residents on Havannah Island – the southernmost island of the Palm Island group – instead, picturesque green hills and fringing reef glinting through turquoise waters

Havannah Island

Around the world in 4 dishes – themed lunches at Orpheus

Morris EscapesTeam 3·1 Jun, 2024

If you thought travelling to an island on the Great Barrier Reef was going to be the one big adventure of your holiday, you’re wrong. At Orpheus Island you’ll go on adventures all day, everyday. There’s snorkelling trips, island hikes, and visits to the research centre on the island. To fuel it all, each lunchtime you’ll go on a different epicurean adventure that takes your taste buds around the world with this daily-changing menu. On the island, Head Chef Josh and his team’s destination-specific dishes are legendary so let’s get a taste of what the stops could look like over a four day island adventure.

Singapore

From night markets to Michelin-starred restaurants, Singapore is a city bursting with flavours. It’s this melting pot that the chefs have captured when lunch is plated up at the lodge each day. You’ll tuck into Malay fried chicken wings and Singapore noodles and fire up the taste buds with a traditional Rojak salad. A trip to Singapore isn’t complete without chilli crab, and on Orpheus Island it’s served up on soft, moreish bao buns. Dessert is a palate-cleansing tropical shaved ice bowl.

India

Close your eyes and imagine: the vibrant stacks of spices in the markets, the beeping horns of tuk tuks in the street, the flash of brightly coloured sari in shop windows. India is a feast for the senses, and Indian lunch on Orpheus Island is no different. There’s rogan josh made on slow roast lamb shoulder, onion bhaji and turmeric rice and prawn tikka masala. To go with it all, the chefs have whipped up house made garlic naan, as well as raita and island mango chutney.

Eating lunch while enjoying Coral Sea views

Australia

Closer to home and close to our hearts, our top-notch produce is the star of the show on the Australian lunch menu. There’s tiger prawn cocktail ‘sandos’, salt baked Chris Bolton coral trout straight from the ocean at the front door, triple cooked Sebago potatoes and a classic watermelon, feta and mint salad. And for dessert, it’s our national dish given a lodge spin – the Orpheus pavlova.

Korea

Classic Korean dishes are the name of the game when it comes to the Korean lunch menu. That means you’ll have your fill of steaming beef Bulgogi, glass noodle Japchae salad, and Korean fried chicken. There’s house made kimchi for the kimchi pancakes, and you’ll have plenty of banchan to choose from – traditional Korean side dishes. Save room for dessert, as the cinnamon and peanut-filled hotteok cakes are not to be missed.

Top wine picks from our sommelier

Morris EscapesTeam 3·1 Jun, 2024

An island in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef isn’t the most likely home for an award-winning wine cellar, or a sommelier for that matter, but Orpheus Island is no ordinary island. It has both.

In fact, it has a carefully curated list of more than 160 wines showcased spectacularly during nightly four-course degustation dining in addition to daily recommendations at your table. The sommelier offers a taste of further afield if you fancy, but the emphasis is on showcasing showstoppers from our own backyard. Here’s four top Australian wines our sommelier has paired with the dishes that make them really shine.

2022 Jim Barry Florita Riesling, Clare Valley SA

A classic Clare Valley Riesling, this micro-batch drop has white floral aromas and a long, concentrated finish that sing so sweetly alongside a first course of Chris Bolton’s fish wing crepe with a sea herb emulsion and head jus.

2019 Freycinet Pinot Noir, Freycinet TAS

Ripe berry and plum are on the tip of the tongue with this cool climate pinot noir that pairs perfectly with the chef’s second course – a seven day dry aged lamb tartare, with spent sourdough cracker, dried yolk and cheese.

Exploring the award winning wine cellar

2020 Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River WA

Cabernet Sauvignon is the true hero of Wilyabrup, a small pocket of winemaking territory in the north of the Margaret River region, and Cullen’s Diana Madeline has the awards to prove it. A hot vintage with low yields produced an elegant, berry-forward wine that can match a powerful third course of Kimberley red eye fillet with short rib croustillant and parsnip bordelaise.

Frogmore Creek iced Riesling, Cambridge TAS

Say goodbye to super sweet and sticky dessert wine when you’re in the hands of the sommelier. This cool climate Tasmanian Riesling has a fresh acidity that elevates all the right notes of a caramelised white chocolate, raspberry marshmallow and beurre noisette streusel.

This wine cellar at sea certainly showcases some of the best drops Australia has to offer.

The best times of the year for whale watching, dugongs & manta rays

Morris EscapesTeam 3·1 Jun, 2024

Want to whale watch this year? Don’t forget the dugongs and the manta rays! There’s no better place to catch these creatures of the deep than smack bang in the middle of all the action. Here’s when to be on the lookout when staying at Orpheus Island Lodge.

Whale breaching off the coast

Whale tales

Is there anything quite like the thrill of spotting a whale spout in the distance or seeing a breach right before your eyes? The answer is no. Humpback whales hang out near Orpheus Island during their winter months as they migrate north from Antarctica seeking warmer waters from June through to September.

Don’t miss the dugongs

Year round, dugongs like to hang out in the shallow seagrass around Hinchinbrook Island. Hop on a bespoke charter out to the island and keep your eyes peeled for these beasts. They can weigh in at 400 kilos and be as long as three metres but it’s still a rare, special moment when you see one in the wild.

Humpback whales hanging out during their winter months

Ray time

Mantas are the largest rays in the world and you’ll find them off Orpheus Island Lodge from May through to August. They are around year-round, but this is when there’ll be larger numbers out and about. Unlike their cousins the sting ray, manta rays have no barb, so you can swim or snorkel with ease, though it’s important to still respect the personal boundaries of these undersea beauties.

Swim with sea turtles

Snorkelling alongside a sea turtle is a rite of passage, or it should be. You’ll find them year-round off Orpheus Island, but it’s later in the year, from November through to January, when the female turtles come out of the water to lay their eggs on sandy shores.

Love Stories: Phoebe & James

Morris EscapesTeam 3·14 Feb, 2024

Meet Phoebe and James. If you’ve visited any one of our luxury lodges, there’s a chance you may recognise these friendly faces. Currently acting as the general managers of Beechmont Estate in the Gold Coast hinterland, James and Phoebe have worked at each of Northern Escape Collection’s lodges at one time or another over the past five years.

This husband and wife duo first met in 2013 whilst working at a hotel in Port Macquarie on the New South Wales coast. Phoebe was working during her university holidays and was set to return to her studies, but destiny had other plans. After meeting James and hitting it off, she decided that she didn’t want to be away from him and stayed working at the hotel. Fast forward five years and the pair married in 2018 at the very same hotel where they first met.

In late 2018, Phoebe and James joined Morris Escapes as Sous Chef (James) and Food and Beverage Attendant (Phoebe) at tropical island paradise, Orpheus Island Lodge on the Great Barrier Reef. The couple’s dedication and talent meant that within a few months, Phoebe was promoted to restaurant manager, and together they worked through COVID until they reached the next milestone in their love story, purchasing their first home together in 2020.

After a brief break Phoebe and James returned to the collection, first to Orpheus Island Lodge where James was promoted to head chef before taking on general manager roles at Daintree Ecolodge in the World-Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest. Not long after, James and Phoebe welcomed their firstborn, a little boy named Luca, into the world in 2023.

After spending some precious time together with their families, they embarked on a new chapter venturing into the Queensland outback to take on the responsibility of managing the luxurious Mt Mulligan Lodge – with little nine-week-old Luca in tow.

Phoebe, James and Luca at Mt Mulligan Lodge

“We are so fortunate to be able to have Luca full-time in the office with us. He has always been surrounded by lots of different faces, he can sleep through anything and is the best team mascot. He absolutely loves the attention of all the staff. At Mt Mulligan he goes by the name Baby Boss.” Phoebe says.

Mt Mulligan Lodge closed for renovations over the 2023/2024 wet season which bought the pair a little further down south to Beechmont Estate where they’ve spent the past four months working as general managers in the heart of the Scenic Rim.

“We love being a part of people’s lifelong memories, it’s what drives us to be better every day in the work we do,” Phoebe says.

“I think having the backgrounds that we do in food and beverage in the hotel industry really helps us to be able to support our team to create the best experiences possible for our guests.”

Phoebe

Phoebe, James and Luca will return to Mt Mulligan Lodge for the re-opening in late March.

“Mount Mulligan is such a beautiful sacred place. We believe it’s one of the best luxury lodges in Australia, and we’re excited to keep pushing the property forward and exceeding guests’ expectations whilst indulging them in a truly immersive experience” James says.

“We are looking forward to heading back out to Mulligan; it holds a special place in our hearts, and to get to raise Luca in that environment is truly amazing. He already has a fascination with ATVs and helicopters and all the staff are looking forward to seeing him after a few months since the closure.

“We can’t wait to welcome guests back to the property and show them this spectacular part of the country.”

A day in the life with the marine team on a private island

Morris EscapesTeam 3·2 Feb, 2024

Snorkels, flippers, kayaks and hobie cats are tools of the trade when you’re part of the marine team at Orpheus Island Lodge. Divemaster Charlie Bennett takes us behind the scenes for a few days in a job where the brief is simple – ensuring guests get to experience the best of the Great Barrier Reef.

Getting started

My most typical day would start at 7:30 am, opening the activities desk for the day. I’ll then head down to the beach and pop the sails up on the hobie cats and get the dinghy engines running and set up for the day.

A host of marine activities

One thing is for sure, you won’t get bored on the island! We offer a range of signature and bespoke experiences, as well as eco-tours. Our signature experiences include guided snorkels, guided walks, dinghy adventures (either snorkelling or fishing or both with a picnic lunch), paddleboarding, kayaking, sailing and sunset cruising. Our more bespoke experiences include scuba diving, Hinchinbrook Island tours, fishing charters, and diving at the Museum of Underwater Art installation. And finally, our eco-tours include tours of the James Cook University Orpheus Island Research Station, Picnic Bay beach clean-ups and our eco-educational dive and snorkels.

Guests’ agenda for the day

When guests start arriving for breakfast, I’ll check in with each individual table to see if they would like to join our daily activity (the 10:30am local snorkel is always popular) or if there is anything else I can organise for them. This might be a dinghy out to Yanks Jetty or a spa appointment with one of our incredible spa therapists. I’ll prepare each guest’s snorkel gear and grab the towels for the snorkel charter, while the skipper heads down to the boat and gets her all started up and ready to go. Then the fun begins!

Out on the water

Once we’ve got everyone on the boat, the skipper will take us out through the channel while I give a quick briefing and decide on our snorkel location based on the wind direction and conditions. We’ll all hop in the water for 45 minutes, then pop back onto the boat to head back to the lodge. On the way home, most of our guests will enjoy a glass of bubbles or a beer to celebrate such a gorgeous day on the reef.

Industry jargon

The best days are when you wake up to what we like to call ‘glass out’ weather conditions – no wind, clear water and sun shining. On these days, we’ll encourage guests to get out on the water early to make the most of the great conditions.

If I have the day off, I’ll hike straight over to Picnic Bay with my snorkelling gear and a packed lunch so I can snorkel all day, only stopping to hydrate and refuel before heading back out to snorkel again!

An ideal day on the Island

In my experience, the winds are typically calmer in the mornings plus the sea creatures have come in close to the shore overnight. So, I would say if you’re an early riser, take out a stand-up paddle board or kayak before brekky, during whale season especially! If you’re more of a ‘don’t talk to me until I’ve had a coffee’ person, head out for a snorkel after brekky, whether that be from a skippered boat, a dinghy or hiking over to Picnic Bay, all are incredible options.

First timer tactics

If you’re new to snorkelling, or out of practice, take your gear into the pool before heading out on the boat. Feel free to ask any of our marine staff for a hand too. It’s much easier for us to help out in the pool – we can give you our undivided attention in a controlled environment.

Insider tips – where to snorkel and what to look for

Make a beeline to the eastern side of Curacao, where there’s the most incredible display of coral diversity I have ever seen. From the colours to shapes and sizes of the corals, everywhere you look has something different to see. The reef fish variety and the iridescent clams here are also incredible to see.

Keep an eye out just off the western side of Pelorus Island too. During one of our snorkels, I saw my first ever Bamboo Shark! He swam under me and parked right up on a sand patch below me for another five minutes. It was the most incredible experience just watching from above.

Guided Snorkelling offered by the team on the island

When to visit

The corals and reef fish will remain all year around, however, over Spring a lot of fish spawning occurs and you’ll start to see smaller fish popping up all over the place! Especially in the branching corals, the mangroves and around the jetty. And of course, the humpback whales during whale season are spectacular. If you’re visiting mid-year, pop your head all the way under and you may be so lucky as to hear the sounds of the whales communicating with one another – this is referred to as echolocation.

Round two

After lunch, a lot of guests get back out on the water – you can’t go wrong taking a dinghy out with some bubbles and a cheese plate! We’ll run safety briefings and quick lessons, and meet them on the shore when they arrive back in. Our team stays busy organising the activities desk, new arrivals snorkel gear, or even just giving the back room a clean.

If there’s anything I’ve learned working here, it’s that when you’re in the Marine Team there is always something to do, that’s for sure. No day is the same, and that makes it the greatest job in the world.

Coral Spawning on the Great Barrier Reef

Morris EscapesTeam 3·31 Oct, 2023

Did you know Christmas arrives early on the Great Barrier Reef? It really does. While the rest of the world is counting down to Santa’s arrival, at Orpheus Island we’re waiting for coral spawning – it’s the best gift there is. 

Coral spawning 101.

What is it? In a few words, the phenomenon is the mass fertilisation of new coral. Each year, sometime during November through to December, millions of coral eggs and sperm bundles are released into the waters around the island and reef. The act is called spawning, which kicks off at night-time, under the light of the full moon. If it sounds mysterious, it is. Dictated by the moon and warm water temperatures, predicting the event is not an exact science, but observing it is a once in a lifetime experience.

Why does it happen?

The biggest reproduction show on the planet is really a numbers game. By mass spawning, the coral has more chance of fertilisation occurring. Climate change has caused damage to almost half of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals over the last few years, so it’s a very good thing the coral tries to change the odds. Many different species will spawn around the same time, often in waves, so spawning might last a few days to a week.

How can we help?

Reef restoration is serious business. During coral spawning, the Orpheus Island Research Center, local tourism operators, and even recreational boaters help out, including conducting ‘coral IVF’ – capturing unused coral eggs and sperm in special floating pools, and once they’ve done some growing, relocating them to damaged reefs.

Millions of coral eggs and sperm bundles are released into the waters around the island

Where can you witness coral spawning?

The inner reef spawning takes place in October, but if you want to see the outer reef spawning and are lucky enough to have timed your visit, book a charter today.

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