Monthly Archives: July 2012
This trip has been interesting so far in many ways. Firstly I am experiencing a new love: one for Australia that has been continually growing within me. It’s a love that sometimes just bubbles over and makes me giddy with joy when I look out of the plane window for example as I am coming in to land, or when I meet a stranger who treats me like a friend, or when I am sitting on the beach watching the surf and I just feel very happy to be where I am. That’s what travelling is all about isn’t it? Finding happiness in the places you visit and learning more about the world and yourself as you go along.
So the first destination on my 10 day reprieve from the bush is Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast to visit my grandmother’s brother who I last saw about 10 years ago. My uncle (B) referred to his street as “God’s waiting room” and when I asked him what people did in Caloundra, his response was “retire!” That should give you a clue about the people and their lifestyle in this seaside destination. I found it rather a pleasant place to live, but it does have an alarming number of retirement villages, luxury apartments and mobility scooters buzzing around. Perhaps it was because I spent time with the elderly for two days that I noticed more elderlies than I otherwise would have, or maybe there are just no young’uns there.
It has a big fishing and boating lifestyle and only 5 minutes after meeting B’S neighbour I was invited on a fishing trip that evening! It seems anyone who isn’t out catching the surf is either fishing or just boating around. A little walk along the waterfront in front of B’s house and I learnt a remarkable amount about local flora and fauna that I otherwise wouldn’t have paid attention to.
The climate is temperate and the sun nearly always shines on the Sunshine Coast, so there’s little to complain about in a town as such. B told me there is a saying about the weather on the Sunshine Coast which says it’s fabulous one day and marvellous the next, or words to that effect. It’s near enough to Brisbane for those that need a city hit now and again and far enough away to enjoy life on the water’s edge. It made perfect sense to me why so many of my relations journeyed across the world to the Sunshine Coast to resettle for a sunnier kind of life.
Here we go. A little trip back to civilisation.
Brisbane is the arrival and departure city and over the course of 10 days I will be making memories with various family members I have never met before!
First of all though I have to survive a night in a caravan with the family, and share a bed with E, whilst C sulks on the floor. I can’t say I am looking forward to this part of the adventure and would sooner wake up at silly o’clock to get there in the morning than have an uncomfortable and awkward night sharing a room with mum, dad and the kids…
Watch this space!
The chook… ( see previous post for this first installment of this busy day!)
After a rather rubbish start to the day, having a lost a ten grand bike because no one got up to check… I try to keep the children animated and organise a treasure hunt in secret whilst they are watching a film out of the midday sun. (This is my favourite time to be outside, because the winter sun is nice and warm and does what I need it to do, but of course here in Queensland no one enjoys the sun the way I do)
I get really into my treasure hunt and write inventive clues in imaginative places. I even enlist the Labradors to help, asking Maggie kindly to hold onto a clue in her collar. I do a run around once it’s complete and make sure all clues are coherent, cleverly placed and far enough apart to get them running around a bit.
We start. 4 kids, all two years apart in age, start racing around trying to outsmart each other to find each clue first and I am feeling pretty chuffed with myself until disaster strikes.
One of my clues is in the chook pen. So they race down there and open the door. The rest happens rather in slow motion. The door to the chook pen is left open as they are searching for the clue (hidden amongst today’s eggs) despite my screams from the other side of the yard to shut it. Two dopey chooks think it’s time to go out for a peck and out they strut, just as Milo, the male Labrador cottons onto the situation. Like lightening he is across the yard, followed by Missy and Maggie who copy whatever Milo does. Chooks squawk, I screech louder. The kids come out of the chook pen and stand in daze/shock/disbelief as Milo lunges for a chook and gets her first hit. The other chook runs the other way, whilst the dogs fight over who gets to break the chook’s neck.
This story does have a happy ending. I am screaming at the children and the dogs (you should know I cannot get there fast enough to break up the fun) and the other chook who has run away. The two lady dogs lose interest and Milo runs off with his prize clamped in his mouth. Stupidly when K comes out to see what all the fuss is about, he pokes his head up out of the grass, chook still in his mouth and the chase ensues. K is now running across the yards, after Milo screaming blue murder at him. He gets caught, severely bollocked and miraculously the dear chook survives! We put her back on her perch and to my knowledge she hasn’t fallen off yet.
I am so pleased I didn’t blow up a bike and kill a chook in one day!
The tree, the bike and the chook.
I write this retrospectively, but hope it will be just as amusing.
“Do you know what a bonfire is?” C asks me not long after I arrive back from my jaunt on the east coast. I often get these questions and have long since ceased to get offended by such ridiculous queries. “Yes, I know what a bonfire is”, I respond. “Cool, we’re having one on Thursday. We’re gonna burn down a tree and toast marshmallows. Dad’s gonna chuck petrol on it”. Right, I see. I choose not to buy into this too much.
Sure enough, Thursday rolls around and it’s bonfire night. I am still unaware as to what tree is being burnt and also aware that no one had been preparing a bonfire the way I would have done and of course I am alarmed to find the two boys, no shoes, in the dark with boxes of matches trying to set fire to a tree with the light from the quad bike.
I am wonder whether to intervene when I am asked to go and supervise the activity and having heard rumours of throwing petrol on it, I rush over there. I teach them how to build the house that jack built and we stuff the hole they’d previously cut into the dead tree trunk with newspaper and dry twigs. After setting it alight a very annoyed toad crawls out. I feel terrible about this, wondering what else we are burning inside that old tree trunk. The boys play golf with the toad! “It’s ok, we hate toads” was their excuse for putting it across the yard!
I should point out the size of this tree before going further. This is no sprig; it’s a huge tree of about 20 metres in height.
I get the fire going inside, and, aware that the tree is damp thanks to heavy rain; I get it going outside too. Gathering up plenty of dry wood, we get some healthy flames going at the base of the trunk, and then go away to have dinner.
And hour or so later, I look outside and to my disappointment, it seems to have gone out. I relay this insight, and rather than anyone doing anything about it, they just shrug and that’s that. The children, having been looking forward to a bonfire all week are sorely disappointed and feel my efforts are rather shafted, but what can I do? On my way to my room later, I notice that it hadn’t gone out; there were still embers glowing inside the trunk. I relay this message before wending my way, not wanting to be responsible for any unwanted burning…
The dogs bark incessantly throughout the night and when I wake up, I see why.
The tree continued burning. It burned all night. It split in half. It fell to the ground. It blew up the quad bike left nearby. Oopps. I hear some shouting in the morning and ignore it until it’s my time to make an appearance. The tree has burnt a tree shaped scorch mark on the grass and there are still flames dancing around the yet-to-burn branches on the ground and inside the trunk. The metal frame of the bike sits there, parked but useless at the foot of the now very dead tree.
I am writing this in a notepad I bought in my boredom yesterday, as I am sitting in the most decadent teashop I have been in outside of the UK.
Devonshire Tea seems to be something rather popular here, although I often wonder if the Australians understand the meaning of such a delight. One in Bacchus Marsh (VIC) I delightedly pulled my hire car into a parking place outside a cafe offering just the same, hoping for a taste of England. Not knowing that ‘Devonshire Tea’ was a generic name for scones, jam and tea, I had asked excitedly where the proprietors were from, thinking I could bring up the Devon/Cornwall cream tea debate (jam the cream, or cream then jam). I was so pleased to see this taste of home – I had pangs of desire to sit on a sunny patio in a beautiful garden to enjoy what I was about to eat. Anyway – that particular ‘Devonshire Tea’ disappointed me tastewise and more so that the guy who served it had never been to England, let alone Devon, so had no idea what I was chirping on about.
This time, however, in this delicate setting, I feel quite at home and quite quite sure I won’t be disappointed. A Deja Vu Experience is the name of the tea shop/ boutique.
I am sipping Lady Grey tea out of vintage English bone china. My scones are fluffy and light ( unlike the rocks I manage to bake) and are complemented with crystal glasses of jam and cream. The cream, of course, is not clotted – I was told that that level of pasteurisation is not allowed anywhere outside of the UK!
The setting is idyllic. A shop draped in china, lace, glassware, floral crockery and lavender, rose and orchid products. I am sitting at a table with silk roses, a lace table cloth and listening to soft jazz. The other clients are also ladies, sitting here enjoying their scones and jam too. We are offered 15 different teas and 5 different types of scones, all for $11:50, which is very reasonable, considering that you might pay that in pounds at home.
Sitting in a place like this often makes me dream of the house I may one day have. Part of me would love to have a really English country garden cottage with cream floorboards, wooden furniture, white lace and flowers, and somewhere to sit and write. Who knows where I’ll go next though…
On to Mackay…
Weather: sun and cloud
Temp: 20-25 C
I had to get up at 3:50am today, to get a bus at 4:10, to get a 6:am flight, 2 infact, to fly all the way to Brisbane and then back up to Mackay. Why? Mackay was the easiest place to get back to the bus from. That’s really all there is to it. There is nothing else there!
There is no public transport from Mackay, to go 6km to the city centre. The options are hiring a car or spending $20 on a taxi! Hmph.
I arrived at Gecko’s Rest hostel and went to check in. Bed wasn’t made, so I went back to reception, to leave my bags and pass the time looking for a much needed coffee.
“So what I can I do here?” I asked the receptionist who seemed just so bored of her life. “My budget’s low, so where should I go today?” Despite the array of tourist paraphernalia adorning the walls of the reception, her response was; “there’s nothing much to do here.”
Me – ever bright and positive: “Well, I’ve heard that the sun is going to come out later, so I’d like to go to the beach, how do I get there?” “There is no beach here, and no buses; you need to take a taxi” What?? If it costs me 20 bucks to get here from the bloody airport, I shudder to think what the price of a round trip to the seaside 16 km away would be!
As a last resort I asked for a map, and said I would like to have a coffee and breakfast so she got a photocopied map and reluctantly highlighted the “main” streets for me and just about managed a smile as I wished her well and sloped away. I was exhausted. I hadn’t got up that early since catching a red eye flight to Barcelona last summer, so all I wanted was to sink into a comfy chair with a large coffee and ask the Lonely Planet what to do. Could I find such a place? Don’t Australians drink coffee? Do they not need breakfast? Is it not the school holidays? Where IS everybody?!
I spent the day wandering around, in and out of a few shops. I found a charity shop, which made me happy. I found a nice place to sit down and try and sunbathe at the Bluewater Lagoon, which I enjoyed until the sun went in and an ant bit me on the bum. I browsed a few shops and finished a very long day off at the cinema, which as you’ll now know is a rare treat!
Waterfalls, waterfalls and waterfalls. 27th June Weather: cloudy Temp: 24C The next day in Cairns was indeed poor weather again. At this point, I had not seen the sun now for days. My money was dripping away but without a hot beach to sit on and not spend it, I decided to spend it and enjoy every moment I had in the “sunshine state”. I hired a car. I met a Polish girl the previous day on my Daintree trip and a Swiss girl in my room the night before. I took the plunge and, so with two new friends, the lonely planet and vague idea of where we were going: I put the Toyota Corolla into Drive and off we went. (I hate automatics)
With ONLY the Lonely Planet for reference (I don’t bother with GPS) we headed out of Cairns hoping we were going south. After a few wrong turns we got onto the Bruce Highway (does anyone else find that funny?) heading towards Gordonvale, took a sharp right and drove up into the hills towards the waterfall circuit. The view was spectacular and although I loathe automatic transmission, It made the hairpin bends, steep hills and frequent road work stops ( due to landslides!) much easier, if a little boring, to handle.
First stop was the Cathedral Fig tree; an ENOURMOUS, ancient tree strangler tree whose root grow down from the top. The first and probably most exciting fall was Malanda falls. We picnicked here, and then, as I hadn’t had a decent swim at the beach, I jumped in! I wasn’t the only one and the water was surprisinglynwarm, so the shock I had prepared myself for as I gingerly stepped in was totally unnecessary. I swam out to the slippery rocks behind the fall, trying not to think of whatever might also have been there, and also avoid thinking about how slippery the rocks were. I hasten to add, this wasn’t a dangerous whimsical swim: there were many others and no snake warnings, hence deeming it safe to swim. As I swam through the fall, I was surprised at how gently the cascading water fell. It really was akin to walking under the shower.
The following falls were each different in their own right. We took left and right turns and guessed our way to some 10 different falls. Some you could hear long before you saw them: some were mere trickles: others pounding, almost deafening demonstrations of water’s power. I enjoyed my day. I loved behind behind the wheel for the day, and was pleased to have seen something much more cheaply than a chartered tour would have allowed. As I handed back the keys, I found myself going back to that familiar dream of buying my own set of wheels and touring around Australia before I leave… Hopefully you can appreciate the difference of each waterfall as I have finally found a way to up load pics…
No Worries…. Too easy!
Or… a visit to Mossman Gorge, The Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation.
Weather: Cloudy and drizzling
Temp: 25 C
Having had relatively little sleep, thanks to the difficulty of getting the boat to stop moving (see The Great Barrier reef) and some noisy neighbours and not having had a decent night’s sleep for over 5 days AND getting up at 6.30am again, meant I staggered onto the tour bus in a zombie like fashion, desperate for a coffee but with ever the optimistic smile of a good day ahead on my face.
3 Backpackers got on the bus at the next stop having rolled out of the hostel bar not long before and personifying everything I hate about backpackers. I was grateful for the Polish girl who sat next to me, who later became the following day’s travel buddy and someone for me to repeat the phrase: No Worries, Too Easy with as many times as we could.
That catch phrase was coined by our guide who was every stereotype he could be. A skinny, shaggy- haired, smiling Queenslander with a laid back, slow drawl, who finished EVERY sentence with “Noooooooooooooo Wooooooooooooooooooories” and very often followed that up with “Tooooooooooooooooo Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeasy”. It went something like this: “Ok guys, just relax and take in the scenery as we head up the coast, nooooooooo worries”. “ Ok gang, we are about to arrive at Mossman Gorge, where we’ll be be getting out for a walk noooooooooooooo worries”. “So the saltwater crocs here are the most aggressive in the world, so don’t go anywhere near the water nooooooooooooo worries”. “we’re gonna head up towards the Daintree now and I’ll be giving you some commentary on why I think rainforest is awesome, noooooooo worries, tooooooooooooo easy”. Get the picture? I wish I could have recorded him. Now I’ve spent so long telling you about the driver, and not anything about the amazing things we saw or the interesting anecdotes this guy had to tell us (someone who loves his job as much as this guy makes trips like this such a pleasure) which I learnt so much from.
So first to the Mossman Gorge. ON the way up here, we had interesting stories about Sugar cane farms, their history, the geography of the area, the aboriginal tribes and also the nasty things in the rainforest like the Stinging Tree, which if you accidently brush against it will leave you in pain for at least 6 months. He told us about a guy he met in the Daintree, who he told this fact to, to which he responded “six months? Mate ( all Aussies say that, doesn’t matter if they’re your mate or not) I was held up by that for 10 years!” Message? Don’t touch ANYTHING!
Mossman Gorge: I went a bit snap happy here, as I couldn’t get over the tranquillity of the calm green water and the rushing splendour of the waterfall within metres of each other. My photos, are (as you should know by now) totally untouched by photoshop and what you see, is exactly what I saw.
Onwards to the Daintree. The rainforest mist and rain added to its atmosphere and the smell of freshness is nothing like shower gels claim it to be. It’s a million time fresher. Crossing the Daintree river on the cable pulled ferry, the stories started about things that go on in the Daintree, due to the fact that there are NO police THAT side of the river, so pretty much anything goes. Our driver at this point took off his seatbelt, telling us that there were no police around to fine him for not wearing it. This is a concept I found difficult to comprehend. Do people in Australia only wear seatbelts for fear of being fined if they are not?
The Daintree is the oldest rainforest in the world being at least 115 million years old and the number of species of EVERYTHING in it are almost uncountable. Rainforests need 2 metres of water a year to survive, London has 0.6 metres a year, but some parts of this rainforest have between 8-10 metres per year! It’s one of the most toxic in the world, thanks to its many poisonous flora: although these hopefully will be the basis of cancer cures in the future.
Cape Tribulation is where we stopped for our picnic lunch and a nervous stroll along the beach. We were advised that if we wished to swim, we had about a 60% chance of survival right in front of the picnic area, but going near the water anywhere else, no chance! We were also reminded that crocs can hold their breath for 3 hours, so they can quite comfortably sit in the water waiting as
long as they want.
The river trip, on the flimsy little boat took us up stream through the territory of Scarface, the 5m alpha male, who didn’t make an appearance, but we met 2 of his girlfriends: Dusty and I can’t remember the other’s name. We also saw Lumpie, and smaller male and several baby crocs resting on the river. We were assured that thanks to a lack of sun of late, the crocs were particularly lethargic and unlikely to do any jumping! We learnt about Yellowtail, who took a 9 year old boy from the river bank and Fat Albert who killed one-too-many cows, so was shot by the farmer.
The ride back to Cairns was scattered with more stories and anecdotes of all of the above, amidst stops at lookouts and the most amazing icecream I have tasted from the Daintree IcecreamCompany. Wattle seed was my personal favourite.
A good day? No, a fabulous one that made me laugh, gasp, question and relish in the true beauty of the world we live in and the things we can love and learn every day.
The Great Barrier Reef
Weather: cloud and strong wind
I fondly remember my first scuba diving experience, almost 8 years ago. It was a day where everything looked postcard perfect. The sun was doing what it does best, the sea was sparkling and calm and the wind was non-existent. Perfect. But that was 8 years ago.
Today there was no sun. It was chilly. It was windy. The sea was not calm and not sparkling.
On booking, I had no inclination of bad weather ahead of me, nor of the choppy sea, waves, wind and other non-desirable conditions. Not until we were speeding away from Cairns and out towards the reef did they tell us, or more accurately, did we become unmistakably aware of such things.
As we were lurching our way out to the reef, the only thing you could do was watch the horizon and try to ignore the smell of disinfectant that was unquestionably masking yesterday’s vomit. The tea and coffee was a challenge to drink and I caught my ginger beer in the nick of time as it tried to slide off the table. I grabbed a “plan B” paper bag from the bar in case of an emergency and decided to grin and bear the rolling boat.
On our way to the reef was the briefing for the Introductory Dive, which I had opted for. I listened raptly to all the safety instructions and practised everything that was demonstrated. I did everything I could have done to prepare for my dive whilst still dry and not feeling too sick.
Wetsuit on; Weights attached; spit in the mask; sit on the edge of the boat; tank strapped on; gauges checked; flippers on. The boat was rising and falling at least a metre if not more with the surf. The sun wasn’t shining. The sea wasn’t calm. I was placed in the water and just turning round to hang onto the back of the boat was testing. Hanging onto the boat as my shins were bashing into the bars below the surface and my face was constantly punched in the face with waves, whilst trying to go over final safety instructions was hopeless. All this amounted to a total rush of panic once I was under the water. Unable to trust my breathing equipment, I hyperventilated and totally freaked out. Desperation rose over me as I waved frantically at the instructor to let me back up. He pressed the magic button that filled my suit with air and I was sent back up the one metre I had descended. Pulled to the surface by another member of the boat team I struggled again with the rise and fall of the boat whilst trying to explain what was wrong. “I’m freaking out, I am sorry!” I gasped. “Why are you freaking out, love?” was the reply. ”I don’t know WHY I am freaking out, that’s what freaking out IS!!” I could go on giving a minute by minute account of the terror I went through to get me back under water, buggering up my breathing to getting a lungful, smacking my shins again, but I did eventually get under water. We didn’t descend until I was breathing regularly and not sending a mask of bubbles everywhere. As we swam downwards, I clung onto the instructor’s arm for my life. We saw Nemo, turtles and giant clams and once I had got over myself I even managed to sign W O W when we saw such things.
Was it a mind-blowing-must-do-again experience? No. Why? Once I got over myself, I was indeed fine, and safe. But there was no sunshine to light the magic of the underwater world that I so lovingly remembered and I just didn’t feel the reef was making a big enough effort to impress me.
The snorkelling was a disappointment too. The winds, waves and currents prevented us from going out to the second reef, which is supposed to be even more outstanding than the first. The choppy sea, lack of sunshine and strong currents made snorkelling too arduous to be pleasurable. I was thrashing around, breathing through my snorkel like Darth Vader, trying to swim away from the boat, whilst fighting with my snorkel which was constantly being filled with water thanks to the waves and exhausting my arms thanks to the current. The view down there wasn’t that special either, as nothing really looked that great with no sunlight to point out all the good stuff.
The ride home was entertaining. We were given a glass of “free” wine, which annoyed me. How could it be called “free”? It’s what we had paid for! It was also hard to keep the wine in the glass as the captain seemed to be keen to race back to port, making air over the waves as we flew past other reef cruisers.
It’s certainly a day that has left me with stories to tell. After 8 hours rolling up and down on the boat, I could still feel the motion as I lay down to sleep, which was not a sensation I was happy about.
I prefer to hold onto my previous memory of diving; the sparkly, panic free, awe-inspiring one.