A Travellerspoint blog

Australia Day 10

Hervey Bay to Noosa

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At 09:00 we catch the Greyhound at the bus depot based at the new Hervey Bay Shopping Centre - mind you, nearly every building in Hervey Bay is new. As usual, the bus is full of young backpackers, and as usual we're about forty years older than the next oldest person. We head off down the Bruce Highway. We soon learn that the air conditioning is not working; the bus is full and Monica has a seat on the sunny side. We know how to travel in style.

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Given the long distances between towns and cities, the authorities are concerned about road safety - especially, drivers sleeping at the wheel. There are exhortations everywhere to take a break. There are also signs posing trivia questions, the answers being given on a sign a mile or two along the road e.g. "Question: Who is the Bruce Highway named after?" Hands up those of you who said Bruce Willis or Bruce Lee. Wrong. The answer pops up a mile or so later. "Answer: Henry Bruce, Minister of Works." How many of you got that? Questions are posed at regular intervals, and then it is suggested you make up your own questions. If you are travelling alone this might be rather pointless. The aim of the exercise is to keep the brain alert and prevent accidents.

After two hours, we make a scheduled pit-stop at the Matilda Roadhouse, Kybong (think open-plan motorway service station). Our bus is continuing on to Brisbane, while we are swapping to the 'Noosa' bus. There is time to photograph Monica with a kangaroo. This makes up for her failure to snap one yesterday.

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Noosa is a very upmarket resort. It has a look of a town that has been manicured and pedicured. Rich people live here. It is an expensive place. This is where Australian fashionistas come to flaunt their holiday gear. The main street, Hastings street, is filled with Australian models on holiday, and yacht owners with their second or third wives in tow. All women look as though they live on lettuce leaves and Perrier water. Monica is at home here. I feel like a creature from another planet with my paunch, my baggy shorts and bush hat. I fear that at any moment, the fashion police will seize me and eject me from the town for lowering the tone.

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After eating a few lettuce leaves, we head for the beach. I body surf in the breakers, feeling like a fifteen-year-old as the ocean repeatedly throws me back onto the beach. When I've had enough, I notice a sign about not swimming there. Well, you couldn't call what I was doing swimming, so I don't think I broke any rules. And I was not alone. I return to find a Bush Turkey rummaging in my bag. These birds are everywhere. And it's true: they are pests.

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Noosa Heads is, apparently, the most popular National Park in the country - visited by a million people a year. Where are they all? The place is virtually deserted when we visit in late afternoon: just a few joggers and power walkers. The park consists of a huge forested area situated on a large headland that projects out into the Pacific. It is crossed by four walking tracks. There is an easy route around the coast that should take about three hours; a simple, circular half hour walk; and two strenuous routes, up and over the mountain, that should come with a health warning.
Against my better judgement, we select one of those. We climb all the way to the summit Noosa Hill which promises 'restricted views', and delivers on that promise. We are on the lookout for Koalas and Possums - in New Zealand, Possums are regarded as invasive pests, and shot. Here they are viewed as charming tourist attractions. None of these animals makes an appearance.

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We return to Noosa in the twilight. The only noise comes from the sea and the beach wedding parties.

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Posted by mikemonica 05:04 Comments (0)

Australia Day 9

Fraser Island

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Fraser Island is yet another Australian World Heritage site. It is the largest sand Island in the world: seventy-six miles long, sixteen miles wide. The island is covered in rainforests, eucalyptus woodland, mangrove swamps, and has over one hundred freshwater lakes and creeks. There are also a couple of holiday resorts but less than two hundred people live there permanently and it's heritage status means it is no longer possible to build new homes. We elected to travel to Fraser Island with Fraser Explorer Tours (Premier). This promises a bus carrying less than twenty people. Most buses carry parties in the region of thirty or forty, though you can get more expensive 4x4 tours carrying a maximum of nine.

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We rise early and are serenaded by chattering White Cockatoos while we eat our first cooked breakfast of the tour. The Italian owners of our B&B previously managed restaurants and take a pride in their cooking and presentation. We're impressed and so, seemingly, are the Cockatoos.
Kirsty, our cheerful guide picks us up at our B&B and advises us that there are only four in the party today. Just the four of us in the huge bus: we've really struck lucky. We pick up the other pair, a German couple, Martine and Andre and set off for River Heads to catch the ferry. The Great Sandy Strait is as calm as a millpond and there are dolphins swimming backwards and forwards in the water. These are cool dolphins: no jumping or showing off - unfortunately, not great at being photographed.

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We land at Wanggoolba Creek and pick up our bus; a huge vehicle designed for driving on the sandy roads here: all the roads are tracks cut in the sand. Our first stop is Central Station, one of the few clearings in the rainforest. This was where loggers made their base from the 1840s to 1990. There were huts here and a school. All of that is gone now, except for a sample hut or two left standing for tourism purposes. More remarkably, there is no evidence that the area was ever logged. The loggers' policy of leaving the most mature trees for seeding and the youngest trees for growth has paid off. It looks as it has done for thousands of years. Kirsty takes us on a trek through the rainforest telling us all about the qualities of the various trees. "What do you think the loggers called this tree that sheds its bark?" she asks. We don't know. "The dead dog tree. It has no bark." Andre practises his Tarzan imitation by swinging on a vine. I compare his effort unfavourably to the Tarzans I've seen. He reminds me that Johnny Wiesmuller, 'the best Tarzan ever', was German.

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After morning coffee and cakes at Eurong Resort, we drive on to Seventy-Five Mile Beach. The forest on our left, the ocean on our right. According to Kirsty, this is treated as a highway, complete with standard driving regulations, speed limits and traffic police to enforce them. They also land small planes here. You can book fifteen minute flights over the island. "Doesn't the ocean look inviting?" Kirsty asks us. "Wouldn't you just love to swim there?" We agree we would. But we're simply being drawn onto her sucker punch. She tells us about the sharks and lists them: tiger, hammerhead, and great white. They're all out there waiting for us. Then there are the stingers; they're here too. And finally, there's a huge undertow that will transport you to the shores of Chile. We get the message. Kirsty tows another bus which has got stuck in the soft sand on the beach: a male colleague.

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Our first stop is the Maheno wreck. Everyone comes here to see a ship stranded on the beach since 1935. It is an impressive sight as the huge waves break over her. Once a proud cruise liner and then First World War hospital ship, she was sold as scrap to the Japanese but broke free in a storm to end her days here, a tourist attraction (after being used by the Australian Airforce as a bomber target during the Second World War).

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After a look at the coloured sands of The Pinnacles, we head back down to Eli Creek, where we are given the chance to cool off in the fresh water. The sand around the creek is too hot to walk on. Monica walks through the stream carrying camera, towel, bag, and other essentials, while I float lazily downstream, carefree, carried by the current. In the summer it is too hot to stand on the sand and picknickers park their tents and awnings in the wide mouth of the creek.

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Kirsty is in storytelling mode on the way to Lake MacKenzie. We learn how the Island got its current name from the unfortunate Captain James Fraser. He and his enterprising wife Eliza were shipwrecked there in 1836, and were saved by the Island Aboriginals among whom they lived until eventually Eliza was rescued. The Captain died in mysterious circumstances. Eliza later made a fortune writing books about her experiences among the Aboriginals.

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Lake MacKenzie is a freshwater lake surrounded by white sandy beaches. The high acidity levels of the water is reputed to make you look ten years younger, while you can use the fine sand to exfoliate, and clean gold jewelry. It is a perfect place. The earliest known name of the island is 'K'gari' in the Butchulla people's language. Appropriately, it means 'paradise'.

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On our way back to the ferry, we see a dingo puppy, about two months old sitting by the edge of the road. It looks lost and a bit forelorn; there is no sign of its mother. Kirsty warns the buses following of the potential photo opportunities. Fraser Island is famous for its population of dingoes, the purest bloodstock in Australia since they have no opportunity to breed with other dogs. Great care is being taken to preserve the packs. Back on the mainland, en route to Hervey Bay we spot a large upright Kangaroo standing in a field about fifty metres from the road, two smaller ones grazing nearby. Another box ticked: the perfect end to a perfect day.

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Posted by mikemonica 04:51 Comments (0)

Australia Day 8

The Sundowner to Hervey Bay

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We are not due in Maryborough West until 10:15 so we breakfast on the train. The Cane Cutter's Breakfast looks tempting if somehat high in chlorestorel: eggs, bacon, the works. We settle for the healthier option of fruit juice, cereal, toast and eat this while watching fields of humped, large-eared cattle pass by. This is a stress-free way to travel. Bo

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The train doesn't go to Hervey Bay. Instead a linking coach is provided which takes everyone to the bus station in the middle of Hervey Bay's new shopping centre. From there we catch a taxi to our B&B in Point Vernon, a northern suburb of the town. On Google Maps it looks like a short stroll into the centre. At 13:20 we leave the B&B "Only 50 meters from the esplanade" and head into town along the seafront. We are both hungry and wish to find somewhere to eat. We soon learn that the esplanade runs for miles. It may well hold a world record for length. Along the route there are exercise machines, BBQ facilities, playgrounds, toilet and shower blocks, and strips of parkland full of exotic birds - but nowhere to eat.

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On our way we see some large curlews tiptoing around on the grass. Also, a Brahminy Kite first chased by some territorial black birds; and later, perched in a tree eating a fish it had caught - it may have been a different bird, of course. After an hour and twenty minutes we find a cafe, and order some sandwiches. We sit outside and admire Billy Connolly's motortricycle parked opposite.

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After our meal we retire to the beach for a swim. I leave Monica to her book and stroll along the sand. On my short journey, I count, without much effort, ten jelly fish washed up on the shore. This is somewhat troubling. I had been advised repeatedly that jellyfish don't venture this far south. I decide to seek advice. I approach a young guy sitting on the sand, near a half-buried jellyfish. By way of an opening preamble I ask: "Are you an expert in Jellyfish?" He is evasive: "What d'you wanna know?" "What kind is this?" I say pointing at the transparent creature beside him. "Dunno, mate. But they're harmless. You can pick 'em up". As his children are playing in the sea nearby, I am reassured he knows what he's taking about. When I get back, I communicate this news to Monica. She is not impressed.

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We never do get to see the centre of Hervey Bay. Or rather, we have seen it but don't know it. It was where we came in: the new shopping centre with its coach terminal. The town is a linked set of suburban estates spread around the seafront. The esplanade is the town's best feature. And that's where we find a Thai restaurant where we eat before walking home in the dark.

Once home, Monica opens the French windows. Sitting on the verandah (we're on the first floor), immediately outside is a Green Tree Frog. According to Wikipedia, these creatures are drawn to houses to feed off insects attracted by the light. It says they scream when in danger, to frighten off their foes. Coincidentally, this is Monica's tactic too. It's a close run thing between Monica and the frog as to who will scream first. I break the spell, and close the windows.

Posted by mikemonica 04:45 Comments (0)

Australia Day 7

Still in Airlie Beach

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We have another day in Airlie Beach. This was necessary because of the nature of the Sunlander schedule. We are due to catch the sleeper tonight at 21:00 hrs. We intend to make the most of our time here exploring parts of the shorefront we haven't seen, and having another swim. But first we head to the laundromat with some washing. This is situated in a small beachfront mall. Opposite, there is a herb (sic) shop - tag line: "step in, float out". This has closed voluntarily for the duration of Schoolie Week to avoid corrupting the youngsters.

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While the washing is being done, we kill time in nearby shops. I succumb to temptation and buy an Australian Bush hat. It'll keep the sun off my neck and ears, I rationalise. This is not just any bush hat (vegetarians, please look away now), but one of buffalo leather made by Jacaru, a Queensland company. I am seduced by the advertising: "Jacaru hats are as unique as the people who wear them. The Jacaru brand reflects the spirit that is Australia - wild, untamed, strong and courageous". This speaks directly to me. I ask whether it comes with corks. I shall certainly cut a dash wearing this back in Cardiff, walking the dog.

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We take a stroll along the Bicentennial Path in the heat of the early afternoon sun. The historians among you will recall that the Bicentennary was in 1988. We pass a large black bird with red head markings. Monica attempts to photograph the bird but it is uncooperative, and as you will recall she has no zoom capability on her camera and so must get close to the fowl to obtain a reasonable picture. This is not easy and all efforts end in disappointment.

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We pass a gardener along the path and I ask what kind of bird this was, describing it briefly. "That's a Bush Turkey", he says. "A useless bird. You can't eat 'em. They dig up my mulch making their nests. They throw the stuff everywhere". I sympathise. "You know how to cook 'em?" he asks. "You put the bird in a pot of boiling water with a stone. You cook it for a few hours. Then you throw away the bird and eat the stone."

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We make our way to Shingley Beach and meet a Kiwi from Wellington. He's sitting on a shaded bench looking at a stationery digger standing next to a giant pile of fresh sand. It turns out he has the contract for creating man-made (sand) beach on (the very small) Shingley shoreline. The digger should be spreading sand, not sitting idle. The Kiwi's father came from Tipperary so he and Monica are practically related. Monica wonders if it is possible to swim at Cannonvale Beach The Kiwi is horror struck. There is no way he would swim here. He tells us of the suffering and deaths of jellyfish victims. He tells us that the sea temperature is 2 or 3 degrees warmer than usual - something to do with El Nino. He tells us this year will see more jellyfish than ever before, and they're all headed for Airley Beach, a veritable invasion - they may already be here. We proceed further along the path in the direction of Cannonvale. On our return leg, we see the digger is now spreading sand. The end of an era for Shingley beach.

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We return to the lagoon. After my swim I go for a stroll around the perimeter of the lagoon in an attempt to dry my shorts. I notice that many of the people at the pool have foreign accents. I hear Germans, Dutch, and French. It is a backpackers' paradise. I eventually return to Monica, reading her book in the shade. I observe, that with the hat, most people will take me for a local, if not an actual kangaroo rustler. "Not with those pale legs", she says. She has a point. There are no pale Aussies. I'll have to work on my tan.

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We make for our favourite Deli and order a couple of coffees. We sit on a wicker two-seater settee with cushions. Monica observes that I have my shirt buttoned up incorrectly. The buttons are in the wrong holes. I am adjusting my attire when the girl returns with the coffees. "Are those trunks dry?", Monica asks. "Mostly", I reply. "I may leave a damp patch.". "God. She's really going to think you're geriatric", says Monica as she starts to laugh uncontrollably. I drink my coffee.

The minibus picks us up from our B&B and transports us to Proserpine station without incident. The train is on time, and after the usual double shunting manoeuver, we board the train and find our cabin. We're due in Maryborough tomorrow at 10:15, en route to Hervey Bay. We ought to get a good night's sleep.

Posted by mikemonica 04:23 Comments (0)

Australia Day 6

The Whitsundays

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The reason people come to Airlie beach is to visit the Whitsundays, a collection of beautiful islands just off shore. The passage between the islands was discovered by Captain Cook on Whitsunday 1770, hence their name. Our courtesy coach brings us to the jetty on Abel Bay Marina.We are travelling on the Whitehaven Xpress launch and the trip is due to take us to Mantaray Bay on Hook Island for some snorkelling; to Hill Inlet Scenic Lookout for a view of Whitehaven Beach; and finally onto the beach itself for an "Aussie Beach BBQ".

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Once onboard we are introduced to the crew: Captain Brian and crew members Mike and Maddy. These guys do everything during the day - they're sailors, lifeguards, snorkelling instructors, trekking guides, environmentalists, cooks, and dishwashers. Mike runs through the schedule, and safety instructions, while Maddy mimes the actions such as putting on the lifejacket or donning a mask. The patter is practised and professional. "If the boat is sinking, the women and childern, and captain will get in the dingy. The men will jump ito the sea and cling to the life raft, their legs dangling in these shark infested waters". We are told there is a strongish Northerly wind today. This means we will avoid the exposed Mantaray Bay and make instead for the sheltered Mackerel Bay.

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We snorkel in the bay, anonymous in our stinger suits. The coral is not so good here, much of it is dead, and the fish fewer and more nervous than their cousins on the Barrier Reef. The water is calm and the surroundings dramatic. Most people are snorkelling but Captain Brian has taken a small party on a tour of the coral in the glass bottomed boat. He's keeping a particularly wary eye on a middle-aged Chinese woman who has already demonstrated an awkward streak. As she swims, her mask fills with water and she flails around. Brian tries to advise her. "I can swim", she insists. "I'm a good swimmer". "I don't wan't you to swim. Just listen". But she won't and splashes off. Later, when we return to the boat she refuses to remove her stinger suit. She is told we will be going for a trek at Hill Inlet. No. She insists, the suit stays on. It is with difficulty, that her family persuade her to remove it. The crew remain remarkably patient during all of this.

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We are ferried to Whitsunday Island, small groups at a time, in the rubber dinghy. There are several very large people on the tour and watching the crew manoeuver them into the dinghy is to behold masters at work.We wait on the shore until our party assembles. Then Maddy leads us on the bushwalk through the forest, up to the observatory point on the other side of this thin neck of land. On the way, he gives us the rundown on the local flora and fauna. The walk is mostly uphill but not too steep. The view from the observation platform, once we reach it, is spectacular.

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Next, Whitehaven beach itself. Again, we are ferried ashore in the dinghy. The choppy waves raised by the Northerly wind make the journey more of an adventure this time - especially landing and departing. There is a short delay while the crew prepare lunch. As we sit on the beach, we watch a young girl from another party emerge from the BBQ area in the trees. She is carrying two plates of food. Immediately, a flock of aggressive seagulls swoops on her, snatching the food from the plates. She runs back into the trees still clutching her plates, pursued briefly by the birds. Monica is filled with admiration. "She did well. I'd have just dropped those plates and ran". The incident serves as a warning: don't try to eat on the beach. In some small way, the gulls are acting guardians of this pristine environment. We are called to lunch and eat in the shelter of the trees - no seagulls here, just a couple of large brooding blackbirds, a snake and a lizard.

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Whitehaven beach consists of the most beautiful, soft white sand, mostly silica, drawn up from an underwater volcano. It reflects the heat so it is possible to walk on it barefoot even on the hottest days. The powdery sand squeeks when you walk on it.

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Back on the launch, while we are waiting for the dingy to return the remaining passengers, a few foolish souls leap into the sea without wearing their stinger suits. I'm one of those. This may not be the wisest thing I've done, but I enjoy the moment. Monica captures me in mid-flight - doing an Aidan, as its known in the family. The photo makes it look as if I'm standing on the water. Don't be deceived. This is not the case.

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We return home, sailing past Hamilton Island where, we are told, the rich and famous come to holiday or have second homes: the likes of Oprah Winfrey and the late George Harrison. Mike tells us that in winter the winds are southerly and dry. In summer the winds come from the north and it rains every day. We feel we've been lucky. We're on the cusp of this change and there wasn't a suggestion of rain. You really need a sunny day to bring out the different colours of the seas.

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Posted by mikemonica 02:36 Comments (1)

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