MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “January, 2014”

Aotearoa Road Trip

It is a long drive north from Christchurch to Auckland, and we had a few days to get up there for Christmas. Setting off early from the South Island’s largest city we made it to Picton, the departure point for the Interislander ferry, with the afternoon to spare. I’d previously just passed through Picton swiftly on my first arrival in the South Island nearly two years previously, and finally I had a bit of time to enjoy it. Picton is a beautifully set harbour town nestled within the Queen Charlotte Sound at the top of the island, and it is the gateway to the north. Due to its location, it is also the gateway to exploring the sound itself, with multiple boating options, and departures for the Queen Charlotte hiking track as well. But with my love of cetaceans, I was drawn to the wildlife adventure, and headed out for a few hours on a wildlife spotting cruise. There is plenty of bird life here, and we saw the very rare King Shag, a species that only exists in this one location in the entire world, and has a population of only about 500 birds. We found 2 sunning themselves on a rock amongst some more plentiful cormorants. We stopped off at an island far up one of the channels which, following a brief hike to the summit, gave a fantastic view of the peninsulas around us. Heading back to port we finally came across some of the shy and rare Hector’s dolphins that were busy hunting for food in a sheltered bay. We were even lucky enough to see another rare animal, the little blue penguin out for a swim. Away from the ferry terminal, Picton has a small beach and a large marina, and there are a few local walks that can be taken from there which offer alternate views of the sound. In short, I love Picton, and the Queen Charlotte Sounds is a definite gem in the South Island’s crown.

 

The original plan had us catching the early morning ferry to Wellington, allowing us to drive quite a way up the North Island before pausing another night. Unfortunately, right before the peak season started, one of the ferries lost its propeller and went out of service, completely disrupting the schedule of sailings. As a result, our crossing was delayed by 7hrs, and we set off north in the early afternoon. The cloud hung over the South Island as we sailed through the sounds, but as we entered the Cook Strait, the sky above us was clear, and we had sunshine for the rest of the crossing. It is a beautiful 3hr sailing: firstly there is the stunning sight on either side of the boat of the peninsulas and islands of the sound, then as you cross the Cook Strait, you can see along the coast of the South Island spreading out behind you whilst the North Island comes clearer into view ahead of you. Tracing the coast of the rugged North Island coastline for a while, the ferry eventually enters the narrow entrance into the wide expanse of Wellington harbour, and the view to the east is of barrenness, whilst the view west is of development with planes coming into land at Wellington International airport and pleasure boats sailing around Miramar peninsula. As the city centre looms closer, the lovely Oriental Bay with Mt Victoria behind watches as the ferry makes its final approach into dock.

 

We headed straight out of Wellington on state highway 1 (SH1) as soon as we got off the ferry. Snaking out the back of the city, the highway initially follows the coastline travelling up the Kapiti coast with Kapiti Island visible just off the shore. The region makes an exceedingly tasty ice cream, but today we were just passing through, eager to get some kilometers behind us on the next leg of the journey. We spent the night in Foxton, a rather unassuming little place that neighboured Foxton Beach, which had, as the name suggests a beach. There was a glorious sunset that night which we watched from the warmth of the truck, facing the lapping sea as it hit the shore.

 

SH1 continues snaking north, and as it does so, the scenery changes dramatically. From the Kapiti coast it turns inwards and cuts through a rolling green landscape rife with gorges and forests and rolling green hills. Then it turns into Desert Road as it gains altitude, and from here, on the edge of Tongariro National Park, on a clear day, you can see ‘Mt Doom’, or Mt Ngauruhoe and its neighbouring volcanoes. Within the national park there are 3 distinct volcanoes which were the filming location for Mordor and Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The vegetation in this region around SH1 is barren and dry, resembling a desert, and with its altitude and exposure to the elements, it is the most commonly closed road in the winter months. At the time of writing, I have driven this road 3 times, each time in the summer months and each time, the volcanoes have been partly or completely hidden from view. Despite this, the stark scenery is still mesmerising. Eventually though, the great expanse of Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand, comes into view, and SH1 follows the eastern edge of it up past the town of Taupo itself where we took a brief stop to stretch our legs. Rounding the top of the lake, the highway then heads north-west towards Hamilton and Auckland beyond. My memory of Hamilton was very vague, and last time we had driven through from a different direction so I saw much more of the city this time than I had last time. What impressed me about the place was the large gardens and river walks which I hadn’t seen before, and in the glorious hot sunshine, the place looked lovely.

I will always love Auckland. It doesn’t matter how many times I go there, I always find my way down to the Viaduct and the road round to Mission Bay and beyond. The sight of Rangitoto Island across the harbour, Auckland’s most recently active volcano, and the Sky Tower amidst the city skyline, always bring a smile to my face and make me feel at home. I always make a point of getting round to Mission Bay and going to Movenpick for the most delicious ice cream which is best enjoyed sitting by the beach. After taking a walk along the Viaduct, we took a drive round to Saint Heliers and up the hill to a lookout on the tip of the coastline which gave a perspective on the city that I had never seen before. On Christmas Eve, once the sun had gone down, we headed into the city centre to walk up Franklin Street. Every year in the run up to Christmas, the houses on this street are decorated with bright and flashing light displays. What started as one household has now become an annual tradition with houses trying to out-do each other with their displays. It has become an attraction, and the walkways were packed with people taking photos and videos and carrying their young children on their shoulders so that they could see. On top of this, the cars were queuing to drive up and down the street leading to traffic jams at the top and bottom. People were carol singing in the street, a balloon artist was making shaped balloons for the kids, and a coffee shop at the top end was doing good business selling hot drinks whilst people wandered around. It was amazing to witness.

 

After disappearing to Queensland for a week, we returned to Auckland in the new year and had a week before we needed to be back in Christchurch. Joining up with some friends, there were 4 of us setting off on the next leg of our road trip round Aotearoa. The Coromandel coast road was something I had wanted to do since skipping across the peninsula on my last visit. The weather stayed with us and with blue skies, blue seas and green hills surrounding us, it was a beautiful drive. Hugging the coast for most of the drive up the western side, it cut inland for a while and climbed up to give us some amazing views, before heading back downhill and eventually coming out at Coromandel Town where we based ourselves for the night. From here, we headed further north on the unsealed road to Fantail Bay near the tip of the peninsula. The road comes to an end a little further along the coast from here, so we headed back to town to relax. Near the marina, there is a path winding up to a lookout which affords a wonderful view of the town itself, the hills behind, and the coastline around. It was an uncomfortable hike up in my jandals but the view was worth it.

 

The following day we were intent on staying one step ahead of the weather. We could see some unsavoury weather heading our way, but it was coming from behind us, so we got round to Hahei as fast as we could. On the east coast of the peninsula, Hahei is the nearest place to Cathedral Cove. Last time I was here, it was a beautiful sunny day, and we had kayaked here prior to taking a swim in the surf as it lapped gently on the beach. This time round, we walked from the car park along the coast and down the steps to the beach. Straight away I noticed the stark contrast: the tide was high, covering half the beach and also making passage through the cave a bit wet and hairy; and the sky was grey and the sea a little squally making a swim out of the question. I was a little disappointed. But we managed to have some fun trying to get through the cave from one beach to the other without being drenched by an impending wave. Some of us were more successful than others. It may have turned into a dull day by the time we left, but the crowds were still coming in waves. On the trail from the car park I was excited to come across a stick insect, a creature which went through a fad as a popular pet for a while in the UK when I was in primary school, and had never actually seen anywhere else. In fact, I didn’t realise they existed in New Zealand, but as it was wandering across the path, I lifted it up and let it wander across my arms for a while before setting it loose on a tree. Sometimes the simplest things give enormous pleasure.

 

Finally, the bad weather caught up with us and the heavens opened. We were shrouded in rain for the drive to our next stop, Mt Maunganui where we waited out the rain watching a terribly long movie at the cinema. The clouds only lifted as the sun lowered to the horizon and we had to wait till the following day to see this place in its full glory. In stark contrast to the neighbouring Tauranga, a very industrial harbour settlement, Mt Maunganui is a beautiful town nestled on a peninsula on the great expanse of the Bay of Plenty, with an apparently endless stretch of beach spanning its length and capped at its tip by the mount that gives the place its name. I walked along the beach from our motel towards the mount, breathing in the sea air and smiling at the other people who were out enjoying the sunshine. At the base of the mount I joined my friends whereby we first circled the base of the mount due to a slight navigational error, and then as the day heated up, we started the slog to the top. From a distance it looks like an easy walk, but close up it is evident how steep the sides are and as a result, parts of the path involve either a lot of steps or a steep gravel path. But the view is very much worth it. Looking out into the expanse of the Bay of Plenty in one direction, the peninsula of Mt Maunganui stretches inland in the other direction, and the port of Tauranga and Matakana Island can also be seen. By the afternoon, the sand was almost too hot to walk on, and we lazed on the beach soaking up the rays and paddling in the sea. I had heard a lot about Mt Maunganui and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

 

Heading south, we skirted Lake Rotorua and headed straight for the ZORB centre. I couldn’t believe the change in the place in 2 years. Last time I was there, I got a printed certificate when I signed up, there were lockers to store my belongings, I got a free digital photo to upload direct to the internet, there was a dedicated desk for ordering photos, and the high quality photos came on an official looking CD in a ZORB-shaped container. Stepping into the office this time round it was sparse. The lockers had gone, the photo desk had gone and it looked run down. The certificate on sign-up was only available via email (and to this day the email has never come), the photos were of a noticeably poorer quality (and it took an hour to get them), and they were presented on a plain CD-R in a plain CD case. Despite plenty of people being there, the whole experience just screamed out that the company is struggling financially which is a shame. With a competitor on the main road whilst they are hidden away down a back road, perhaps their business had taken a bit of a hit. I was nervous about injuring my back, as I had spent the previous 4 months recuperating from a back injury, but after a solo run down the zig-zag hydro-slide and a dual run down the straight hydro slide, I came out soaking wet and happy. It was a beautifully sunny day, and with a regular run of people coming down the hill, we stayed and watched for a while.

 

Back towards town, we pulled in at the Skyline Gondola and headed up Mount Ngongotaha for a view over Rotorua and the lake of the same name. The real reason for coming up was to do the luge, a milk-cart style rally down a variety of tracks winding down the side of the hill. I’d loved this last time I was here and with a competitive boyfriend it was inevitable that we would stop here on this trip. With 3 routes to choose from: scenic, intermediate and advanced, I did each run once, and again noticed that things had changed in the 2 years. This time it was merely the route which had had a few new chicanes put in, and I was sadly beaten on every single run. Still, it was a good feeling for me to be able to do something fun after all the months I’d previously spent unable to do much exercise.

 

Following the Thermal Explorer Highway south, we passed a multitude of geothermal parks before arriving in Taupo on the shores of New Zealand’s largest lake. Taking a break from motels, we pitched our tents for a couple of nights at the back of town and settled into holiday park life. The rain rolled in the next morning and everything took on a grey hue but by lunchtime the weather had eased slightly. We took a boat trip out onto the lake for a water’s view of the town, but more specifically to go and see some impressive Maori carvings. Viewable only by boat round at Mine Bay, they may only be about 40 years old, but they are impressive none-the-less, in particular the giant face carved into a large rock face. To the side of this are lizards, dragons and more faces, and we hovered there for a while taking it all in.

 

On getting back to shore, we headed out to the Craters of the Moon geothermal park, one of the cheapest of the paid parks in the area. It was a relatively new geothermal area, having been created when a nearby power station was being built. The earth’s crust is exceedingly thin in this part of the world and there are bubbling pools and steam vents in abundance in the region around Rotorua and Taupo. I am fascinated by volcanic and geothermal activity so wandering around these parks has me in my element. The park itself is mainly a large open space filled with steaming vents of varying sizes and intensities. The ‘rotten egg’ sulphuric smell was thankfully barely noticeable. There was little to compare it to the two parks I had been to on my previous visit but it was still worth the wander around, and there are still other parks I would like to explore on future visits. Back at the campsite, wandering around in the dark by torchlight, I got a thrill when I came across a live possum halfway up a small tree not far from our tent. Its eyes glowed in the torchlight and it contemplated me as I contemplated it. This was the first real sighting I’ve had of a possum in New Zealand despite estimated numbers being in the millions. I’ve seen plenty of dead ones driving around the Port Hills in Christchurch, and on 1 other occasion seen the rear end of one running away in the distance, but this very cute little creature was close up and in no hurry to go anywhere. I savoured one of those glorious private moments that are yours and yours alone before it eventually scarpered off into the gloom.

 

The temperature had started to drop, and on arriving in Tongariro National Park at our next lodgings in Ohakune, as the clouds lifted and fell over the mountains, we could see that fresh snow had fallen. Suddenly, we were in a 3-layer of clothing situation, a stark contrast to just a few days before. Whilst the boys hit the pub, my friend and I took to the hills and went for a walk through the forest and across an alpine region to the park’s highest waterfall, an impressive 39m. On arriving there, a lot of the waterfall was hidden behind trees, so we didn’t linger long, but on the way, during a brief break in the clouds to let the sunshine through, we got the best view yet of Mt Ruapehu. I had been keeping an eye on the weather whilst we were so close in Taupo in the hope of finally being able to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, an impressive day walk across a couple of volcanoes, an experience which had eluded me last time. Alas, for the second time, the weather got the better of me, and I had to accept that once again, it wasn’t going to happen.

 

Paraparaumu is a lovely seaside town on the Kapiti coast. Kapiti Island sits directly out to sea, but otherwise the coast is exposed to the full brunt of the Tasman Sea, and the stretch of sandy beach is littered with an incredible amount of flotsam. For me, a lover of sea air, I was thrilled to be back by the coast again. A relaxing walk along the sand was followed up by fish and chips which seemed so fitting. Growing up in Scotland, battered fish and chips was always such a ‘Scottish’ thing, a weekend treat until the day I moved out of my parent’s home, but even on the other side of the world it is loved just as much. I don’t eat it very often, but when I do, it conjours up so many memories of Scotland and just feels so normal.

 

Even a brief trip to Wellington has to involve a trip to my favourite cafe, the Boat Cafe on board a converted tug boat. It was a beautiful day and the small beach at Oriental Bay was dotted with sun worshipers and a volleyball tournament. We only had a few hours before our ferry south so it was a brief respite by the sea before a brief catch up with family who lived in the city. Before we knew it, it was time to get round to book in for the ferry. With the ferry port being across the bay from Oriental Bay, it was an excellent spot to watch the ferry come in and dock. This was the smallest ferry of the fleet which didn’t take long to explore before I found my prime viewing spot on deck to spend the crossing. The sea looked and felt calm but there was a wicked wind whipping around the ship as we left the safety of Wellington harbour and headed out into the Cook Strait. I could never get tired of doing this crossing, the view is just spectacular, and although it feels so familiar, every time I ride that ferry, it still feels like a new adventure. On this crossing I was overjoyed to see a whale in the distance behind us. It was the blow that alerted me to its presence, a tall blast of steam shot high above the waterline, followed by a dark shape breaking the surface briefly. This occurred several times before it got too far away to keep a track of with my eyes. It was hard to determine the species, but given the location and the elongated back with lack of obvious dorsal fin from a distance, I’m assuming it was a humpback whale.

 

The sun beamed down on us for our passage through the Queen Charlotte Sounds, and disembarking at Picton, we continued south to spend the night in Blenheim. Notorious for it’s closeness to a multitude of wineries, we were here primarily to break up the journey home. Having said that, I’m glad we did, for the simple reason that we ate at a fantastic restaurant with probably the best chef-come-waiter that I have ever met. Next door to our motel was Gramado’s, a Brazilian bar/restaurant. Our waiter, who was also one of the chefs, was from south Brazil, and he sat with us and spent time talking us through the menu, and giving us suggestions on what to try and what drinks to have. He was enthusiastic with a permanent smile on his face, and his attitude was infectious. The cider he recommended was delicious and sweet, the white wine he offered was local and scrumptious, the Brazilian bean stew he recommended to me was amazing, but at the end of the night, he brought us out a Brazilian delicacy to try: barbecued chicken heart. Of the 3 of us, I was the only one who tried it, and I ended up having 2. As a vet, I sometimes find it difficult to eat some cuts of meat without analysing the anatomy first (a trait which can be quite displeasing to other diners who join me on a trip to Nandos!). This was no exception. I’d never looked at a chicken’s heart before and I couldn’t eat it without first looking at the various blood vessels poking out of it, and examining the cut surface with each bite I took. I’m not normally an offal eater, but despite the slight mental battle I had to overcome with the thought of what I was eating, it was delicious.

 

The drive from Blenheim to Kaikoura and south to Christchurch is stunning. Past wineries, rolling brown hills, and pink salt pans, it hits the coast and hugs it all the way to Kaikoura. The sea is turquoise blue and crashes on the rocks right by the roadside. At Oahu, the New Zealand fur seals come ashore to sleep and there was a nursery of babies playing around a rock pool when we stopped to watch. As Kaikoura approaches, the Kaikoura Range shoots up on the inland side of the road, and from Kaikoura south the road winds through tree-strewn valleys and hillsides, cicadas thrumming loudly as we drove. It was magical, and sums up everything I love about New Zealand: the Great Outdoors.

Terra Australis – Queensland

Within an hour of landing in Brisbane, I was eager to get home to New Zealand. It was so hot and humid, and on top of the flight and the time difference, I felt utterly lethargic. Thankfully, the next day I felt much better, and more adjusted to the incessant heat. After getting out to explore, it wasn’t long till I was in love with Queensland.

That first night there was a beautiful red sunset, and sitting out in the back garden, we listened to the raucous noise of the frogs in the creek behind the property, whilst overhead, the fruit bats headed off on their nightly forage. Geckos scampered around the lights in the hopes of catching insects, whilst loudly chirping at any other gecko on their turf. I was reminded how much I love the wildlife in Australia. The following day we headed out on an errand, after which we went up into the Tamborine Mountains to the south of Brisbane. It felt muggy, making the view slightly hazy, but I was happy to be getting out amidst nature. We came across a sky walk, similar to that which we had done on the Great Ocean Road, and wandered amongst the tropical vegetation. We looked in vain for wild koalas and saw none.

 

Heading north to the Sunshine Coast, we detoured to go to Australia Zoo, the late Steve Irwin’s legacy. I’m not normally a fan of zoos so I went with no great expectations, and was happily proven wrong. Set on large grounds, it houses an impressive collection of animals, both native and foreign, and we spent a good part of the day sweating our way round the exhibits. I was as much taken aback by the wild animals parading around the zoo – there were bush turkeys and water dragons all over the place, and the lizards especially were getting as much attention as the inmates were. From the great lizards and alligators, we headed into the snake house to eyeball the ridiculously large number of venomous species of snakes that reside in Australia. I tried hard to memorise the appearance of the venomous ones, for there are several species of non-venomous ones that I would have no issue with coming across, but alas many of them look so similar I think it is safest to assume that any snake happened upon is potentially deadly.

 

From the reptiles, we wandered through a native bird aviary where there were several kookaburras. I had struggled to see these on my last trip to the more southern parts of Australia, but these guys were in abundance near where we were staying outside of Brisbane. Their call is so distinct and travels far, sounding like a troop of monkeys. They are a bane to the locals, waking everyone up at 4.30am with their ‘laugh’, and we were warned to expect their wake-up call, but thankfully, I slept through them every morning.

 

In the kangaroo enclosure, I got to touch a kangaroo for the first time. They have such a fuzzy, short fur, and the ‘roo patiently sat there, munching away whilst I petted it. Ever a favourite though, is the koala, who really can fall asleep in any position possible. They sleep for 20hrs out of the day, thanks to their non-nutritious diet of eucalyptus leaves. Tree upon tree had a koala fast asleep with heads and legs hanging over branches in all sorts of manners.

 

The Africa section is relatively new, a mock up plains with giraffe (including a youngster), zebra and rhino. Two young tiger cubs were out in public not far from here, and for a small donation, the keepers took our cameras and took some up close shots of the cubs whilst they slept in the shade.

 

The highlight of the trip though, had to be the crocodile shows. These were definitely Steve Irwin’s baby, and as we were there during the school holidays, both of his kids, Bindi and Robert, were there with their mum for the midday show. Bindi especially seems to have stepped into her father’s shoes, getting right into the show, and the gift shops were full of her merchandise from books, to dvds, and clothing. She even sang Disney TV-style songs prior to the show beginning. There were some ace flying displays of various species of birds, but it was the crocodiles, and Robert’s first encounter with a couple of the zoos crocs, that made the show. First they brought out a juvenile, very nimble on its feet, that he ‘wrestled’ and picked up a-la-Steve Irwin style, but then the big boys came out. It’s hard not to be in awe of the sheer size and power of these massive, strong beasts as they lunge out the water, and on one occasion, one of the staff got a little close for comfort as he accidentally let out an expletive whilst jumping away from the water’s edge.

 

After lunch, and a wander through the native wildlife section to see storks, cassowary, dingoes and Tasmanian devils amongst others, we stumbled across another crocodile show. Whilst the keeper talked about the crocodile, all that could be seen were two tiny nostrils poking out the murky water. Occasionally they would move position, but ultimately, they stayed put as if waiting a command. Eventually, when some bait was taunted at the water’s edge, my jaw nearly dropped to the ground at the monstrosity that exited the water attached to those two tiny nostrils. I couldn’t get over the size of this thing, and how small I had assumed it would be based on its nose size. Whilst the zoo as a whole was great, this place is really all about the crocodiles.

 

Back at the coast, we spent a couple of days in Noosa, a lovely, low-key town in a stunning location. The place was mobbed over the busy festive period, and it was perpetually hot. Following a lovely dinner at the Surf Life Saving Club, the main street was lit up, and we had a wander along it, before walking back by the beach. Someone had spent several hours building an amazing sand castle that was now lit up with candles. The next day, we took a walk down to Pelican beach, so named because of an abundance of these large birds. It was a glorious hot, sunny day, and we walked for a while along the busy waterfront watching the jet skiers and boats dancing along the channel. When we eventually walked enough, we took the ferry back to Noosa, surrounded by boat after boat of holidaymakers enjoying the calm waters, protected by the outlying island. Chugging along, it was very clear that there was a lot of money living in Noosa, with fancy and exclusive apartments and houses crowding the waterside, and large yachts littering the waterway. The lack of high-rises was fitting with the area, the tallest building being just 6-storeys high. Anything higher would have looked an eyesore.

 

It was a good walk back to our motel in the baking heat, and after another delicious meal at the Surf Club, it was not surprising to see an amazing and impressive lightning storm roll in. The last incredible lightning storm I had seen was in South Africa many years ago, when a brilliant fork had struck the road miles ahead of me, but this one trumped that one by miles. The cloudy sky lit up in utter brilliance, the flashes illuminating the clouds in a dazzling white and purple. But it was the forks that stole the show: large, branched forks stabbing violently at the ground in a blinding second. In between these, other forks flashed laterally across the sky towards us like fingers reaching out to touch something. Never before have I seen forks spread across the sky like that, and I stood grinning on the beach, filming it all. The thunder when it eventually came, sent shivers through me, and I stood happily in my element, my senses lapping up the experience. Eventually, heeding the warning from our taxi driver about the man who had been killed the day before by a lightning strike, we headed back to our motel, where I sat under the eaves for a while watching the storm as it came overhead. I was shortly to kick myself for accidentally deleting the video I shot of the lightning at the beach.

The day we left Noosa it was overcast, turning the sea grey as we headed down the coast road back to Brisbane. In the city, the clouds were broken enough to let the sun through, and we made the most of the free red ferry to cruise along the river on the edge of the city centre. Looking slightly like a glorified bathtub, it was a peaceful way to travel up river, and we got off at South Bank for a wander through the gardens. Brisbane impressed me on several accounts, but within the gardens, was one of the reasons: a man-made beach and swimming pool. Being inland, Brisbanites are denied the chance to swim at the coast, but nestled in the South Bank was a decent sized lagoon-like swimming pool and beach-side crammed with locals and tourists alike. I loved it. We took a ride up the Big Wheel further along the park for a higher view of our surroundings, during which the cloud began to pile in again.

 

On New Year’s Eve, we took another boat trip far up the Brisbane River to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Small in size, it was full of koalas of varying ages, as well as a few other native species such as wombat, kangaroos and wallabies. They also had a rare platypus, a shy creature that I would love to see in the wild. The sanctuary is one of a few places where you can handle a koala. After a wander around, smiling at the many sleeping koalas in the branches, I queued up to get my photo taken. Apparently, I looked like a kid on Christmas Day as I impatiently waited my turn. The whole thing was over very quickly, and the koala was removed from my possession as soon as the photograph was taken. She was a sweet and soft little thing that I just wanted to cuddle and stroke all day, but she had better things to do like eat eucalyptus and sleep, and no tourist was allowed to get in the way of that.

 

The Brisbane CBD skyline is an eclectic mix of high rise office blocks, and is best appreciated from the river or the opposite bank. After a wander around the Queen Street Mall, and past City Hall, we headed back to the South Bank where we found a spot amidst the gathering crowd to await the New Year’s Eve fireworks. Queensland does not have Daylight Savings unlike its neighbouring state New South Wales, so the time difference had had us in bed by 9.30pm every night. It was dark by 7pm, and my internal body clock had me yawning within an hour of this, so we made the decision to watch the family fireworks at 8.30pm, and head home to either bed or to try and stay up for the midnight show on the television. As the ignition time grew closer, the crowd got tighter and tighter, and people jostled for a prime spot to watch the show. Some of the earliest people to arrive ended up being hemmed up or close to trampled by the late arrivals who squeezed through the gaps in the crowd along the promenade. It was a shame to see some very selfish people shoving themselves around, but when the countdown started, people stopped in their tracks, and everybody looked skyward. For 10 minutes, the Brisbane sky lit up to the sound of music in one of the best firework displays I have ever seen in person. It was definitely worth the wait and numb bottom from sitting on the edge of a wall. I was again impressed with Brisbane with the efficiency of the free bus service that ferried the crowd away from the riverside, and once home, the tiredness quickly took over and I failed to see the turning of the year, falling asleep 10 minutes before the bells struck.

Having spent most of my life in a country where New Year’s Day is in the middle of winter, and therefore everything is closed up, I had to remind myself that it was the peak holiday season in Australia, and everywhere was open for business. The first day of 2014 was a brilliant sunny day, and we headed to Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. In stark contrast to Noosa, Surfers is big and brash and loud. A long stretch of beautiful sandy beach is shadowed by a large collection of high rise buildings all jostling for the best sea view. It is heavily commercialised amidst these, and it was clear to see that this was a party town. But it is beautiful. Stunning in fact. I could have stayed there for days and never got sick of the sight of the place. To make the most of our time there, we booked in for a helicopter flight over the coast. In a mesmerising 20-minute flight, we got a bird’s eye view of the never-ending sandy coastline, the sparkling turquoise waters and the marinas and houses behind and around the main hub. My eyes struggled to take it all in. Further down the coast at Burleigh Head, the beautiful beach came to an end, but from here, there was a lovely vista north towards the distinctive skyline of Surfers. On heading north back to Brisbane, the air hung thick with the smell of smoke, and the sky was an eerie pink colour. We had heard word of a bush fire but had no idea where it was. Stepping out the car on our return, the smell of burning wood was so strong, and the cloud so evident, it was hard not to be concerned that the fire was nearby. On the news we saw that the fire was on Bribie Island some distance north of Brisbane off the coast of the mainland. It was unbelievable how strong it smelled from such a distance, and how far the cloud had travelled.

 

Leaving early for the airport the following day, we kept west of the city and headed up Mt Coot-tha to the lookout at the summit. The wind had changed direction, and despite the fire on Bribie still burning out of control, it was barely visible. We had an amazing view of Brisbane and the river as it wound its way through the Queensland countryside. We could see south towards the Tamborine Mountains which seemed somewhat fitting to end our trip in view of the first place that we visited the week before. It was a lovely spot, and was quite a busy place with a few bus loads of tourists filling the cafe and look-out spots. Whilst waiting on a drink in the cafe, I felt a tickle on my forehead, and swatted away what I assumed to be a fly. However, on my hand when I lowered it was a completely white spider. It gave me such a fright, and I flung it across the room without a thought. On the way back down the hill, we took a detour to visit a waterfall, but after following an exceedingly dried-up creek, there was not a waterfall to be found. There was however, some Aboriginal paintings on the rocks, the first I’d ever seen. There were just 3 pictures next to each other, but it was enough to make me glad I’d come. At the bottom of the road, we spent a short while at the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. Here we saw the largest concentration of spiders in some rather elaborate webs. I don’t like spiders, but I was fascinated by the bell shaped webs that they had spun, and they had quite ornate patterns on their body.

 

I continue to be surprised by Australia, and the more ground I cover in this land, the more I love it. Whilst Tasmania still remains my favourite state, I have loved each of the four states I’ve visited in different ways, and can’t wait for the next trip!

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