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!